Actions

Work Header

Snail Mail

Work Text:

"I don't understand," Lehnsherr growls, "how it's possible for someone to break phones as frequently as my husband does."

Alex is mostly ignoring him, sitting at his desk and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and talking on GChat. They're between projects, and Lehnsherr between projects is bad enough. Lehnsherr between projects and letting his weirdass homelife bleed into work is even worse.

He glances at his chat window. His brother's fiancee had been telling him some story about her roommate before he got half-distracted by Lehnsherr.

Alex Summers: sorry, boss going on a rant
Jean Grey: Sorry, bro.

"He has two PhDs!" Lehnsherr continues. "A child can use an iPhone. Our eighteen month old child regularly gets her hands on our iPhones and doesn't manage to do as much damage as Charles. I bought him a fucking $75 case that was supposed to stop this from happening."

"It's a tragedy," Angel says dryly.

Jean Grey: How about you? Anyone special you're ready to induct into the family? Or even bring to game night?

Alex pauses, hands poised over the keyboard, wondering how he can phrase the response in a way that makes him sound the least pathetic.

"And of course--" Lehnsherr is still ranting. "--he's not picking up his office phone. He never does, I don't know why I bother."

"Can't he just replace the iPhone?" Angel asks. "Isn't the Professor like, a gagillionaire?"

Alex Summers: barely have time to date. boss is running us ragged lately.

A lie. A total lie. If they were face to face, Jean would totally be able to sense that, but he thanks the telepathy buffer that is internet-bridged distance for allowing him a pass.

"It's not about money," Lehnsherr says. "It's about personal responsibility. It's about...having respect for your possessions. It's about--"

"You having an excuse to rant about something because arguing is some weird sex thing for the two of you?" Angel suggests.

Alex can't hold back his snort of laughter, peeking up from his computer to take a look at Lehnsherr's face. Lehnsherr is glaring, of course. At him.

"I didn't say anything!" Alex protests when Lehnsherr narrows his eyes.

"You're encouraging her," Lehnsherr says. "You're not doing anything important."

"I'm looking for a present for my brother's wedding," Alex says.

Angel leans over her desk and glances at his.

"He's on Facebook," she tells Lehnsherr, because she's a dirty traitor.

"I'm chatting with my brother's fiancee about what to get them for their wedding while on Facebook," Alex says lamely, but Lehnsherr is already furiously scribbling on a notepad. He doesn't say anything until he's filled a page, which he then rips off and shoves in an envelope.

"Run this across the street and give it to my husband," Lehnsherr says, shoving the envelope towards him.

"Not your secretary, Lehnsherr," Alex says.

"Do it and I promise I won't come up with any pointless busy work to justify your salary between now and when we get our next survey assignment," Lehnsherr says. It's a hollow threat--Lehnsherr hates busy work and hates the idea that he has to assign it as it is. Still, Alex is pretty bored and it's a nice day; the university campus is a nice twenty minute walk, which means it'll be almost an hour that he'll get to be out in the sunshine instead of stuck behind his desk. He's not eager to play even a tiny part in whatever bizarre pony express sex game Lehnsherr and his husband are acting out, but it's better than playing Facebook games and talking to Jean about his lovelife.

Alex Summers: gotta go, work

"Fine," Alex says, and swipes the envelope. He grabs his wallet and his own iPhone--which he's like, almost flushed down the toilet and dropped down the stairs multiple times and stepped on and all sorts of shit, so he seriously doesn't understand what the hell is wrong with the Professor--and heads for the street. "I'll be back in like, an hour."

"Whatever," Lehnsherr says. "Tell him to call me on his damn office phone."

"You should have written that in the note," Alex mutters, but the door slams shut before Lehnsherr can reply.

His watch band tightens enough to be painful, though--Lehnsherr always has to get his digs in.

"Whatever, man," Alex mutters, and stalks down the hall and towards the elevator bank.

The sun is shining when Alex hits the street, and the walk up to the university lives up to his expectations. There are singing birds and a light spring breeze and sun filtering through the branches of the trees lining the sidewalk. Alex shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs as he meanders up the hill.

It's weird to think that Scott and Jean are getting married. He feels like they've been dating since the cradle, even though they only officially started dating when they were in college, five or six years ago. But Jean's been Scott's best friend forever--she wrote them letters all the time, regardless of where in the state they were shuffled to move in with a new foster family. She visited whenever she could and her family hosted Scott and Alex for mini-vacations almost every year. The Greys were the only real stability Alex had in his life, other than Scott, and while he always imagined Scott and Jean would marry one day, he had figured it would be when they were, you know, grown-ups.

They are, Alex supposes. All three of them are sort of grown-ups now, though Alex doesn't really feel like it. He has a job, yeah, and a college degree and an apartment and all of that stupid grown-up crap. He pays taxes and insurance and rent and bills and he can drink legally and stay up as late as he wants, but he still feels a little like he's playing pretend. All his college friends are starting to settle down and Alex sometimes feels like he missed some crucial step, some class or seminar where you learned how to...be a person.

God, he hasn't even been on a date in, like, a year and a half. Christ.

Work doesn't help either--the only people in the whole building worth knowing are the people he works with directly, so it's not like he's meeting anyone on that front, plus they're all in gross happy relationships that he's kind of bombarded with all day. Lehnsherr and the Professor, of course, but Angel's been seeing a guy for a while now and even Sean, who's like twelve years old and annoying as hell, found true love at the grocery store.

Alex doesn't even need true love, though he wouldn't say no to it. He'd be happy with a guy who was willing to have a drink with him and just talk. He'd kind of really fucking lonely these days.

And, okay, having sex again before he dies would be nice.

At this point, he's going to have to trip over an available guy. He's not one for bars or clubs, he never gets out, and he's not really had success with online dating. He's just tired at the end of the day. He wants a boyfriend, but he doesn't have the energy to look for one. It's his own fault, really.

He sighs as he starts up the steps to the science building. Half the most convenient ways to get anywhere on campus are up endless flights of stairs. If Alex didn't already think the Professor was a masochist for being married to Lehnsherr, he'd certainly think so knowing that this is the sort of place he chooses to work.

Alex has been to the Professor's office a couple of times. In the three years he's worked for Lehnsherr, there were a few instances where he's half-volunteered/half-been volunteered to move some stuff from the Professor's car to the office or vice versa, and on one memorable occasion last year, he stopped by to pick up the baby when Lehnsherr got stuck in a meeting and couldn't get out before the Professor was leaving for a conference. He uses those memories now to navigate the halls to the best of his ability, ducking out of the way of three exuberant underclassmen as he turns a corner.

He's so busy glaring at them as they go that he barrels right into someone else and goes flying across the hall in what he's sure is a comical flailing of limbs to anyone watching, but really fucking hurts.

"Ow," he mutters.

"Oh man, I'm sorry!"

The guy he crashed into offers a hand up, and Alex rubs his head and looks up...

...and at a seriously attractive dude frowning at him in concern.

"Uh," Alex says.

"I was barely paying attention," the guy says. "I'm really sorry. Totally my fault."

"No," Alex manages to say. He imagines some back part of his brain must have turned on autopilot because the dude has seriously incredible arms and most of his brain is really into that as opposed to, say, coherent thought. "No, I wasn't paying attention either. I'm sorry."

He takes the guy's hand and it's like...like everything he's ever read in those awful romance novels that Alex pretends he doesn't swipe from Angel when he's bored. It's electric, it's shocking, it's like he's seeing clearly for the first time, it's all of those gross things, and also he's definitely staring.

Whoops.

"Sorry," the guy says again, but Alex isn't far gone enough yet to miss that the guy is definitely staring back. He also hasn't taken his hand back, even though Alex is now fully on his feet.

"Sorry," Alex agrees. "Uh."

There are papers scattered all over the floor, Alex distantly notices, and then slams back into himself.

"Oh!" he says. "Is that, uh, your stuff?"

"Yeah," the guys says. "Yeah. Um--" He finally let's go of Alex's hand--dammit, Summers, why did you say anything?--and bends down to start collecting the papers. Alex drops too, pulls the papers into a pile around him and scrounging them together. He needs to chill out. He's jumping the gun. He can't just lose his cool because one attractive man is looking at him. Deep breaths.

He starts roughly putting the papers into a pile and glances down at them absently. Then he pauses and takes a closer look.

"Professor Xavier," he says. "Do you work for the Profess--erm, Dr. Xavier?"

"Yeah," the guy says, taking the papers from Alex. "I'm his TA this term. My name's Armando, by the way."

"Alex," Alex says. "I'm uh--I have a message. For the Professor, I mean."

"A message?" Armando asks, raising an eyebrow. God, that's unfairly sexy. "Like, in code or something?"

"No," Alex says, rubbing the back of his neck, "uh, from his husband. Apparently he broke his phone again. The Professor, I mean, not Lehnsherr."

"Yeah," Armando says with a wince. "This is the third time in a year, or at least that's what Dr. MacTaggert tells me."

"And he won't pick up his office phone and Lehnsherr is cranky, so he's roped me into one of their weird sex games," Alex says blithely, then immediately backpedals. Shit. He doesn't want to sound like a prude or a homophobe or--what the hell was Jean always talking about--sex negative. "I mean--not that--I'm joking. Because, you know, I work with Lehnsherr. And they're always arguing. And we think it's a sex thing. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Whatever works, right? I don't care what people are into, sex wise. Um."

He wants the ground to open up and swallow him, but Armando laughs.

"You're funny," he says.

"That would be a bigger compliment if I was trying to be," Alex says, but he does smile a little.

"Take it anyway," Armando says. "Professor Xavier is just getting out of a class. I can walk you to his office."

Even Alex isn't stupid enough to tell Armando that he knows where the office is.

"So, you work for that geological survey team that's all mutants, then?" Armando asks. "Charles is always going on about it's a great example of leaders integrating mutants into the workforce to best make use of their natural abilities, or something like that."

"Sounds like the Professor," Alex says. "Lehnsherr says all-mutant departments are the government's way of getting rid of all their mutant affirmative action hires in one swoop."

Armando laughs again, which Alex likes. He's not great at reading people's cues, but he figures as long as Armando is laughing, he can't be doing too badly.

"So, I've gathered from Charles that Mr. Lehnsherr's powers have to do with metal and magnetism, so I can see how he could be useful," Armando says, "but what do the rest of you do? Did you fall into it because of your powers, or do you just like geology?"

"Both, kind of," Alex admits. "I kinda got a degree in geology by accident. My last foster family thought it was important we go to college and we had this fund from our parents, but I just kind of drifted through General Studies for a couple years before I took Rocks for Jocks and realized I was really good at it. But yeah, the powers help. I blast plasma, so anytime we need to do something underground, it comes in handy."

They've reached the bend in the corridor that Alex knows indicates they're at Charles' office. He shoves his hands in his pockets as they slow down.

"So, how big are we talking?" Armando asks, and Alex almost chokes. "I mean, like, a laser pointer, a flashlight?"

His plasma blasts. Jesus, Summers, chill out.

"Uh, pretty big," Alex says. Armando smirks and Alex thinks maybe it wasn't entirely about plasma blasts after all. He clears his throat and hopes he's not blushing. "Lehnsherr calls them hula-hoops because Lehnsherr's an ass." Shit, why did he say that? It makes him sound as ridiculous as Lehnsherr tries to make him feel every time he brings it up. "But, uh, another guy who used to work with us made me this kind of...chestplate thing that sort of focuses them? It makes them easier to handle and more precise. With the chest plate, I could probably perform surgery." And he's damn proud of that. It took a lot of practice and a lot of control.

"Your chest?" Armando asks. "Not like...I don't know, your hands?"

"No, my chest," Alex says. "Pain in the ass when I was growing up. My brother's got the same type of energy, but his comes through his eyes. He can turn it off just by shutting them. He's not as good or as expansive as I am, though."

Scott's better than him at everything else, which is all well and good, but Alex is glad he can have this one thing, even if it's just a fluke of genetics. Plus, though it may be easy for Scott to turn off his blasts when he's already started them, when he was first learning how to control his powers he had to spend a lot of time with his eyes shut or his face encased in a weird red visor. It was hard enough being a weird foster kid without headgear, Alex thinks.

"Cool," Armando says. "What's--"

"Armando--Alex!"

Alex turns to see the Professor rolling down the hall towards them. He has a pile of things on his lap and the bag attached to his wheelchair is bulging with books and papers and blue books. He's grinning, though, like seeing Alex is the best thing that's happened to him today, and he probably genuinely means it. Lehnsherr and the Professor are a weird match.

"It's lovely to see you, Alex," the Professor says. "What can I do for you today?"

"Lehnsherr was trying to call you and you didn't pick up the phone, so he wrote you a note," Alex says, pulling the envelope out of his pocket. The Professor looks delighted.

"How thrilling," he says. "A love note!"

"Uh, I dunno if I'd go that far," Alex says as the Professor takes the note from him. "I mean, I didn't read it, but he was, uh, particularly Lehnsherr-like while he wrote it."

The Professor sighs and shakes his head.

"Of course he was," he says. "Oh well, nothing for it, then." He rips open the envelope and skims the note. "Oh, for god's sake, I was in class! I couldn't answer the phone for the same reason he couldn't contact me telepathically. He ought to--" He stops talking and keeps reading. "That man is impossible, I'm irresponsible? What a--" He drops the letter to his lap, pressing his lips into a thin line.

"Don't shoot the messenger," Alex says, raising his hands placatingly. Not that the Professor would. That's more Lehnsherr's deal.

"So immature," the Professor mutters. "Really! Well, thank you for passing the note along, Alex. I'll be in touch with him shortly, I'm sure."

"Great," Alex says. "Uh, I guess I'll catch you later. It was nice to meet you, Armando."

"Same," Armando says, and Alex offers a weak wave before he heads back towards his office.

***

Alex kicks himself all the way back to the office.

(Metaphorically. He doesn't have a super flexible secondary mutation or anything.)

"Why didn't I get his number?" he mutters to himself as he drops back behind his desk. "Summers, you idiot."

He unlocks his computer and pulls GChat back up. Jean is still online, and while she's the only one he could even imagine sharing this with, he still hesitates and minimizes the window. Maybe he can turn around and run back up to the university. Or would he look stupid doing that? Was Armando even into him? It was hard to tell.

Lehnsherr comes back into the room, arms full of tubes of plans, cursing under his breath.

"Oh good, you're back," he mutters. "I emailed you an assignment. I need it by the end of the day. It shouldn't take you long. Did you give Charles my note?"

"Yup," Alex says. "He didn't seem super happy about it."

"Good," Lehnsherr says, and smiles with all his teeth. "Get to work."

Well, now he definitely doesn't have time to run back up to the university.

He checks his email--they're being audited, apparently. The task Lehnsherr's given him is simple enough, just double checking some reports. It shouldn't take him more than an hour, and that's including time to play some Facebook games and check his personal email five hundred times. He pulls open the report folder and then opens each file to start his comparison.

Then he glances at Lehnsherr, locked in his glass office and perched at his desk, muttering to himself. He wonders how much coffee it would take to get Lehnsherr to agree to ask the Professor for Armando's number.

Is he really that desperate? He might be.

But, well, they also haven't really talked much yet. Armando's hot, yeah--great arms and a nice smile and an amazing laugh--but they mostly talked about Alex. It could have been polite conversation and nothing more, right?

If it was a full pot of coffee, Lehnsherr might go for it....

He's interrupted from his thoughts by the door swinging open. To his surprise, it's not Sean or Angel, but Armando, glancing at the number on the door, then at an envelope in his hand. He looks up and spots Alex almost immediately, because Alex can say a word. The smile that crosses his face is brilliant.

"Oh, hey," Armando says. Then, "I think you were right--it's gotta be a sex thing."

"What?" Alex asks. His mind goes some very interesting places.

Armando waves the envelope in his hand.

"The notes," he says. "The arguing. Instead of calling, Charles sent me back with a note."

Alex rolls his eyes.

"They're so fucking weird," he says. "Why do they have to pull the rest of us into their weird roleplay?"

"Well," Armando says, "it did give me a chance to talk to you again."

Is that flirting? Fuck, Alex can't even recognize it anymore. He thinks it's flirting. He thinks Armando is flirting with him.

"Yeah," Alex says. "So, you asked a lot of questions about my mutation. How about yours?" Then, belatedly, "I mean, if you're a mutant. You are, right? Most of the Professor's TAs are, so I assumed, but, I mean, if you're not, that's still...you know. Cool."

Armando laughs. There he goes, being funny unintentionally again. At least it's got Armando laughing instead of being really fucking offended or something.

"Relax, I am," Armando says. "I can adapt my body to...well, I actually haven't found anything I can't adapt to yet."

"Adapt?" Alex asks. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, like, if it starts raining while I'm outside and I don't have an umbrella, I can adapt my skin to absorb it or repel it. Or, if I'm underwater, I can form gills. I can hold my breath for hours. If something hits me or falls on me, I can raise armored plates on my skin to protect myself."

Alex can feel his eyes widening. That is cool. Way cooler than his annoying ass power.

"That's awesome," he tells Armando. "Seriously. No wonder the Professor wants you to TA--that's like, the coolest mutation I've ever heard of."

Armando looks away and rubs the back of his neck, almost bashfully.

"It's how I got my nickname," he says without acknowledging how fucking awesome his abilities are. "People call me Darwin. 'Adapt to survive,' and all."

"Darwin," Alex says. "Very cool."

He's planning it out in his head, he's going to say So, Darwin, why don't we go get a coffee later when we're off work? and he's going to sound super suave and totally together and cool when he says it, but before he can even open his mouth, Lehnsherr is sticking his head out of his office.

"Summers!" he shouts. "Can you--" He looks up, then, and sees Armando. "Do you need something?"

Armando holds up the envelope and crosses the room to Lehnsherr's office.

"Note from Dr. Xavier," he says. "I'm his new TA."

"A note," Lehnsherr says. "He sent me a fucking note?"

"You started it," Armando says with a shrug.

If it was anyone else--any of the team and most strangers--Lehnsherr would have gone apoplectic on them. At Armando, he simply narrows his eyes and snatches the letter away.

"Go away," he says.

"Yes, sir," Armando says. He offers Lehnsherr a sloppy salute and then turns back to Alex.

"It was good talking to you again," he says.

"Yeah," Alex says. "Totally."

He does not ask for Armando's number, because he's an idiot.

The door to the hallway closes and the door to Lehnsherr's office slams shut a moment later.

Alex sighs and goes back to his computer.

***

Alex's last relationship was longer ago than he'd like to admit. He was not super into the guy in question and he felt like a heel, because the dude was totally into him. They just didn't really click on the level that Alex wanted--when they were together, Alex found he would rather be hanging out with Sean and Angel or even listening to Jamie Madrox tell terrible jokes. Things burnt out pretty quickly, and Alex felt bad--here he was, bitching all the time about being lonely and he couldn't even be bothered to try and maintain a relationship with another human.

"You've gotta put some effort in," Scott told him, sighing, at Game Night the weekend after The Breakup.

"Come on, Scott, if it wasn't going to work, it wasn't going to work," Jean had said. "Sometimes it's a wash. When he meets someone he likes, he'll know it."

Alex loves Scott out of brotherly obligation and a history of family bonding and inside jokes. Alex loves Jean because Jean is fucking awesome.

More to the point, she's right. He felt it with Armando, a lightning strike of oh and right, okay, I get it now.

He thinks Armando might have felt the same way. Or maybe he's just being friendly. Shit, Alex is terrible at this.

He finishes the report review in record time, focusing on work to keep from thinking about Armando. He emails it to Lehnsherr, then prints it out as well, mostly out of spite. Lehnsherr hates paper--he'd do everything electronically if the state would let him.

"Here," he says, tossing the papers on Lehnsherr's desk. Lehnsherr gives it half a glance and then leans over his desk again.

"Good," Lehnsherr says. "Perfect timing."

When he sits up, Alex sees another handwritten letter on his desk.

"I'm really not your mailman, Lehnsherr," Alex says, but it's a token protest. Here's a totally boss-approved reason to go talk to Armando again. Alex would kiss Lehnsherr if he didn't know the Professor is capable of doing really fucking scary things to the human mind.

"You're whatever I pay you to be," Lehnsherr says, grabbing Alex's report with one hand and holding out the letter with the other. He doesn't even look up.

Alex should shoot him another witty rejoinder, but he'd rather get moving towards the university, so he mutters vaguely under his breath and then hightails it out of the office and down to the street.

He walks a little more briskly up the hill and towards the university than he did last time. He doesn't stop to appreciate the sunshine or the birds or the pleasantness of the day. He practices his coffee invitation, he runs through every possible outcome to his request. He tries not to get caught up on rejection and humiliation, the outcome where Armando laughs at him incredulously and blows him off in front of a bunch of underclassmen who all laugh at him as well.

As if Bio major underclassmen give a rat's ass about some kid they've never met before getting turned down for a date. Fuck, he's gotta be more logical in his ridiculous panic.

He sprints up the stairs, which is a terrible idea that leaves him too winded to carry on a proper conversation. He pauses near the doors to the building, breathing hard and trying to come down from the exertion. He's probably sweaty and red-faced now, too. Goddammit, he's a moron.

He reverses the camera on his phone to check himself out. He's a lost cause, flushed and wired with his hair going in every possible direction. Still, the hair thing was at least true of their earlier encounters, so maybe it doesn't matter. And does he really want to go out with this guy if the fact that Alex looks like crap is the thing that makes him turn a date down?

Yes. Yes, he really does.

Alex steels himself and goes into the building, weaving through the hordes of students in the halls. Class has clearly just gotten out and there are undergrads everywhere. Alex sidesteps them again and again before he finds himself in the corridor that houses the Professor's office. Before he can do anything else, though, the door opens and Armando steps out. He looks surprised to see Alex, but he breaks into another one of those great smiles, even as he takes an unexpected step back.

"Hey," Alex says. Shit. How was he going to do this again?

"Alex!" Armando says. "Hey man. What are you doing here?"

"What do you think?" Alex asks, and holds up the envelope Lehnsherr gave him. Armando looks--crap, disappointed. He should have said, I'm here to see if you wanted to get a drink later.

"Well, Charles is in his office," Armando says. "I'd stay and chat, but I've gotta teach a class in about five minutes."

"Oh," Alex says. Shit, that's right, Armando has to do work, too. "Uh, see you later, I guess. Good luck?"

"Thanks," Armando says. "I could always use it with some of these kids. See you around!"

Shit shit shit.

Alex watches him go and smacks his own forehead. He should have said something. He should have at least given Armando his number.

The door opens again as Alex stares in the direction that Armando has disappeared in, long since swallowed up by the sea of undergrads.

"Mr. Summers," the Professor says. "To what do I owe the pleasure of another visit?"

Alex finally pulls himself away from staring mournfully down the hall like a pining widow staring out to sea.

"Uh, Lehnsherr sent another note," he says, turning to the Professor. He hands it over, even as the Professor frowns.

"Oh, he did, did he?" he mutters. "And he tells me I'm immature."

"Hey," Alex says, holding up his hands once again in a desperate gesture of innocence, "I'm just a guy handing you a paper."

"Right," the Professor says. "I'll see you later, Alex. I'm sorry my husband is dragging you into these childish games."

"No big deal," Alex says, and means it.

"I'll bet," the Professor murmurs, then turns his chair around and wheels back into his office without explaining further.

Alex stands in the hallway alone for a moment to collect himself. The immediate post-class rush seems to have calmed, and there are only a few lingering students. He watches them for a moment, briefly considers crashing Armando's class, and then slumps his shoulders and heads back to work.

***

For the first time in his employment history, Alex is actually glad to be staring down a webinar when he opens his Outlook calendar. Two hours of listening to someone else drone on about environmental precautions and whatever the hell else he's supposed to be absorbing will be better than sitting at his desk thinking about how pathetic he is.

He knows he's pathetic, too, because ten minutes before it's slated to start, Angel shows up at his desk with two cups of coffee.

"I'm on this one too," she says. "Why don't we do it in the conference room with the door closed?"

"That's what she said," Alex mutters, but even that lacks energy.

"I don't know what could have happened between this morning and now to put you in this bad of a mood, but you'd better come out with it," Angel says. "That's the price of the coffee--all your secrets."

"Asking for the two bucks would have been a better deal," Alex warns her, and follows her into the conference room. Because Angel is way better at the whole 'being a grown-up with an office job' thing, she has the conference line written down on her notepad and dials it in on the conference room phone, then pulls up the webinar powerpoint on her laptop. As soon as the phone connects, she hits the mute button and turns the volume way down as they wait for the actual presentation to start.

"Spill," she says.

Alex shrugs.

"I've been taking those stupid letters to the Professor all day and I met his new TA," Alex says. "He's super hot and instead of asking him out, I've been making small talk like a dumbass and I finally got up the guts to say something and he had to run to class before I could get it out."

Angel stares at him.

"That's really it?" she asks. "You're right, the two dollars would have been a better investment."

"I told you," Alex says. "I'm an idiot."

"You're not an idiot," Angel says. "I mean, you are, but not for this. You missed your opportunity is all. It's not like you're never gonna see the guy again. I mean, you know where he works and his boss is fucking your boss and the sort of guy who would probably love to give you your stalkee's contact info. Can't you just imagine the Professor crowing about being a matchmaker?"

Alex pauses to think about it. Yeah. He totally can.

"Buck up," Angel says as the presenter makes his presence known on the phone. She reaches across the table to turn the volume up again. "Rally and bring him a coffee tomorrow morning or something. You're not strangers on a train, dude. This doesn't even warrant a 'Missed Connections.'"

"I guess you're right," Alex says, and tries to turn his attention to an overview of new laws dictating urban development and environmental protection.

It'll be easy. He's already worked out a script. He just needs to do like Angel says--go to the university, wait for Armando, and ask him out. No big deal.

He feels slightly better by the time the totally useless and pointless webinar is through, and he walks out feeling refreshed and ready to spend the rest of his day goofing off until it's time to go home to where his beer lives.

At least, he feels that way until he gets back to his desk. There's a post-it stuck to his monitor.

Hey, sorry I missed you :) - Armando

He even drew the goddamn emoticon, shit, Alex missed his chance again.

He didn't run to Lehnsherr's office. He just...walked with a purpose.

"Did Armando come by?" he asks. "Did he come by to see me?"

He imagines he must look a little frantic, judging by Lehnsherr's expression.

"Not to see you," Lehnsherr says. "To drop off a letter from my idiot husband. And he calls me immature."

Alex very carefully does not say that the Professor said the exact same thing about Lehnsherr. He doesn't want to be involved in this anymore than he already is.

"So he didn't say anything about me?" Alex asks.

"Charles?" Lehnsherr says. "Why would Charles care about you?"

"No," Alex says, resisting the urge to pull all his hair out, "Armando!"

"Oh," Lehnsherr says. "He said, 'Is Alex here?'"

"That's all?" Alex asks.

"Yes," Lehnsherr says. "I'm not your secretary. Get the hell out of my office if you don't have anything important to say."

Alex absolutely didn't sulk on his way back to his desk. Sure, Armando didn't ask Lehnsherr about him, but he did leave a post-it. That meant something, right?

Right?

***

Alex Summers: yo, question

Jean Grey: I can't promise an answer.

Alex Summers: say a dude comes to your office and you're not around
Alex Summers: so he leaves a note that says sorry i missed you :)
Alex Summers: is that like, a friend thing or an 'i'm into you' thing?

Jean Grey: Did he actually use the smiley face?

Alex Summers: yeah

Jean Grey: Tough call. Winky face is the International Symbol of Flirting.
Jean Grey: But the fact that he left a note at all probably means he's at least interested.
Jean Grey: I'm assuming this isn't hypothetical.

Alex Summers: nope

Jean Grey: What's his name? Who is he?

Alex Summers: armando. he's my boss' husband's TA. i met him...
Alex Summers: actually it's a long story
Alex Summers: it really only makes sense if you know lehnsherr

Jean Grey: I see. Well, go for it, bro. I think he's probably at least a little into you.

Alex Summers: we'll see
Alex Summers: sorry, boss needs me, talk later

Jean Grey: Good luck!

 

Alex glances up from his keyboard at Lehnsherr, who's lurking over his desk.

"Yeah?" he asks. Lehnsherr holds out another envelope. "Seriously? You two are so fucking weird."

He tries to school his expression into irritation and indifference, but he's not sure he succeeds, so he takes the envelope and turns away, ostensibly to grab something from his bag, but really so he can smile in private. Another chance! Score! He's totally not going to fuck this one up!

He walks determinedly towards the university. This is his second chance. Well, third. Or fourth. Or fifth. Whatever. This is his chance to say his piece like an adult instead of hovering and wondering if a cute boy likes him, as if he's still sixteen and nervous about fucking prom or whatever. He'd going to casually as fuck ask Darwin out and he's certainly not going to obsess over it every single step of the way.

Nope. Not obsessing. Not playing the scenario over in his head. Not panicking. Not at all.

He takes the elevator this time, because never let it be said that Alex Summers doesn't learn from his mistakes. The building is mostly quiet--Alex wonders if he's between classes or if class is going on--and he's so intent on his destination that he must miss Armando calling out for him, because he jumps a mile when Armando touches his shoulder.

"Jesus fuck!" he says, and drops the envelope on the floor.

"Hello to you too," Armando says. "Charles and Mr. Lehnsherr are still at it then, huh?"

Alex's heart is still beating its way out of his chest, but he's trying not to make a show of his heavy, panicked breathing.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, they are. Not surprising, really. You'll get used to it."

"That sounds ominous," Armando says.

They're slowing as they walk towards the Professor's office. This is Alex's chance, but the words die on his tongue for the second third fifth twelfth twentieth time today.

Buck up, Summers, he thinks.

"I'm going to drop this off," he says, holding the envelope up to Armando as they reach the Professor's door. "Then, I dunno, maybe we can talk?"

Armando smiles, warm and happy and possibly relieved?

"That sounds great," he says as Alex pushes open the door.

He expects maybe a sigh or an exasperated comment, but he hears nothing from the Professor, so he swings around to glance in the office and--

The Professor is asleep.

Like, full-on, zonked out, head-on-the-desk asleep. Right at his desk. Shit.

"Uh," he says, and steps out of the doorway so Armando can peer in too.

"Oh," Armando says once he takes in the sight of the Professor literally slumped onto his desk sleeping. "Dr. MacTaggert said this might happen. I'm not sure what to do, though."

"Let him sleep?" Alex suggestions. "Or, uh, maybe go get Dr. MacTaggert and ask?"

"That's a good idea," Armando says.

It's weird, seeing the Professor like this, unmoving and quiet. It's kind of...cute. When he's like this--not talking--Alex can kind of see why he makes Lehnsherr into a giant marshmallow.

Armando hasn't left to fetch Dr. MacTaggert and there are footsteps approaching them. Alex isn't sure if he should close the door or what, until he turns and sees who it is that's headed their way.

"What's wrong?" Lehnsherr asks immediately, his disgruntled frown smoothing into something closer to concern. "Raven called trying to get a hold of Charles. I was trying to catch up with you to add it to the note. Is he okay?"

Lehnsherr jogs the last few steps, and Alex takes pity on him, stepping out from the doorway and gesturing inside.

"He's fine," Alex says. "Tired, probably."

"Tired obviously," Lehnsherr says, but something about him relaxes once he's looking at the Professor and there's no bite to his words. He enters the classroom and slips behind the Professor's desk, shaking his shoulder. "Hey, baby, wake up. Charles."

The Professor makes a quiet noise and then yawns. Opening his eyes seems like it takes effort.

"Oh my," he murmurs. "I must have fallen asleep."

His eyes are the murky, befuddled haze that lingers after sleep, and the look he sends up to Lehnsherr is embarrassingly unguarded. Alex has to look away for a moment to collect himself.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" Lehnsherr asks. When Alex looks back at them, Lehnsherr has moved behind the Professor's chair and is embracing him from behind. "You look awful."

"Muscle cramps," the Professor says. "Nothing to do about it, I'm afraid."

"I can rub your back," Lehnsherr says. "Make you some tea. When was the last time you ate?"

"Breakfast, probably," the Professor says, and Lehnsherr sighs and presses a kiss to the side of his head, just above his ear.

"You're lucky you're pretty, because you're stupid as shit sometimes, Charles," he says, but if anything, his grip tightens and he presses his face into the Professor's hair. "Raven called. I'll call her back and have her keep the baby through dinner."

"There's no need," the Professor says, but he's already leaning back against Lehnsherr.

"You're no use to anyone this exhausted," Lehnsherr says. "Come on. Summers can close up the office."

It takes Alex a second to realize Lehnsherr was directing that comment at him.

"I can," he says hastily. The Professor looks at him for a moment and then back to Lehnsherr.

"If you're sure," he says.

"I am," Alex repeats. "Totally. Go on, go home and sleep, dude."

"Thank you, Alex," the Professor says, and then tips his head to the side to get a better look at Lehnsherr, who smiles at him--a real smile, not one of those ones that gives Alex nightmares--and touches his cheek.

Lehnsherr around the Professor is scary in a completely different way.

"Let me help you pack up," Armando says, stepping into the office, and Alex goes from being slightly embarrassed at watching his boss turn into a cuddly toy to being outright dismayed. No, no, no, this was going to be his chance and he's not going to ask Armando out in front of Lehnsherr and the Professor. Shit.

"Uh," he says. He looks around. Armando is sorting through papers. Lehnsherr and the Professor are still staring at each other with soft, enamoured eyes. Alex just agreed to go back to the office.

Dammit.

"I'll, uh, see you around I guess," Alex says. "Feel better, Professor."

"Thank you," the Professor says and Alex once again turns around and trudges down the hall to return to his office.

His steps are heavier on his return and it definitely takes him longer than it should. He feels bereft, for all that Angel said before still holds true--sure, he can go back and ask Armando out tomorrow or the next day or the next, but he knows himself. He knows that if he keeps putting it off, he'll never actually do it. He knows that he should have done it today, that the universe gave him a million and one chances, and instead of taking them, he blew them off.

"You're being crazy, Summers," he says out loud to himself as he rides the elevator up to his office. Thus, you know, kind of proving his craziness. "Ask him out tomorrow. It's not like you're strangers."

Hearing it out loud makes him feel a little better, but he can't wash away the lingering sense of failure.

Angel, who leaves early on Fridays anyway, has already cleared out, and Alex hasn't even seen Sean today, so he doesn't wait to begin the task of shutting down the office. He closes his own workstation down, then gets up to hit the lights in the conference room and dump the coffee pot. He sets the timer for the next morning and slips into Lehnsherr's office to lock his PC as well. Sitting at Lehnsherr's desk, he hears the front door to the office open.

"I'm closing up early, Sean," he calls out into the room. "Lehnsherr left early to cash in on some weird sex thing he's been doing all day, so--executive decision--we get to go early too."

When he goes back into the main part of the office, though, it's not Sean waiting for him. It's Armando.

"Yeah, I'm leaving early too," he says, grinning. "I mean, not that I really have set hours, but I'm kinda blowing off some grading I wanted to do today."

Alex finds his voice.

"Cool," he says, but comes out as more of a squeak. He clears his throat. "Uh, cool," he says.

"So," Armando says, "since I suddenly have the evening free...well, I really enjoyed talking to you today. And I was wondering if you'd like to go get a drink and keep talking?"

Alex is smiling like a dope. He doesn't even care.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I really would." He laughs. "Uh, I've been trying to come up with a way to ask you out all day."

Armando laughs. Fuck, but Alex already loves that sound.

"Me too," he says. "I'm usually way cooler with this stuff, but something about you throws me off. I like that."

"I'm...not at all usually cool with this stuff," Alex admits. "But, uh, I think I really like you."

"Cool," Armando says. "Me too."

They stand there for a moment, grinning at each other like idiots. Alex really, really wants to kiss him.

And then Armando takes two steps forward and does just that.

It's a quick kiss--Alex barely has time to raise his hands to Armando's shoulders--but it still sends off fireworks and has Alex thinking about completely ridiculous things like taking Armando to Game Night and maybe marrying him and raising children and adopting a lot of cats.

He's grinning when Armando steps back.

"How about that drink?" Armando asks.

How about you come home with me? Alex doesn't reply, thank god.

Baby steps. He can work up to that one this evening.

"Lead the way," he says.