On Armando’s 21st birthday, he wakes up to find his tattoo curling around his ankle. In blocky, scratchy lettering, it reads simply, Take me to the airport.
It's a cruel twist of fate that this is the tattoo granted to him. He’s a taxi driver; he hears the words every day and sometimes more often. He’s taken to always responding in some way, laughing and joking with them, hoping that some recognition will flare, hoping someone’s eyes will light up.
And if that weren’t bad enough, he always gets bronchitis at Christmas. Busiest time of the year for people to be going to the airport- and he has no voice to even try. All the people who have “hey” tattooed onto their wrists or necks or hips have got nothing on him, nothing at all.
He glances up during one of his breaks to see that they’d arrested a man at LaGuardia who was suspected of… well, they talk about energy bolts firing out of his hands and chest and he takes in a sharp little breath, because there are other people who are mutated like he is. And then he looks at the kid again and realizes that he’d driven him to the airport the day he’d been arrested. He remembers this kid- because he’d been drumming his fingers on his leg whispering to himself.
“I gotta get out of here, gotta get out of here, gotta get out of here…”
But it had been Christmas, and he had had no voice, and so he couldn’t have responded to his breathless “Take me to the airport” if he’d tried.
Not that he had much more time to think about it, because the cops had come by to question him, and then they’d arrested him, and by the time he’d gotten out of prison he was too busy trying to get his cab back to be worried about blond kids with potential psychopathy.
Of course, then there were two men settling into the back seat of the cab, one of them small with an accent and the hint of a tattoo curling on the back of his neck, the other one with a strong jaw and a hard look in his eyes, and he realized he needn’t have worried about the cab after all.
Something that Lehnsherr did to the pinball machine makes it spit the balls out no matter how many of them Alex lets drop. So by the time anyone besides the Professor’s sister drops in, he’s racked up a hefty score.
“So,” says a voice in his ear, “you must be some kind of, uh, pinball wizard, huh?” Alex jumps- being in solitary for three years has taken its toll on his reaction time.
“Nah, I’ve only been playing for like two- wait, what?”
Because Alex has traced the writing on his hip for five years now, the writing that in large, perfect loops, says exactly what this man has just said to him. It’s just perfect, isn’t it, that not two hours after he plays pinball for the first time he meets his fucking soulmate.
Armando is giving him a confused look. Confused, but not altogether unwanting. But before he can even open his mouth to question it, the scientist is crashing through the door and Alex thinks, Oh fucking hell.
Hank is calm and intelligent and everything that Alex isn’t. His mutation isn’t defensive or offensive- it’s literally just a mutation, even though he can hang off the chandelier. It’s actually pretty cool, and yet Alex feels the need to antagonize him, like he does with everyone. Armando looks at him like he’s insane. He probably is insane. He finds he doesn’t really care.
He gets a quick glimpse of a tattoo spiraling up Hank’s calf as his pants ride up and wonders what his soulmate could say that ends up being that long.
He gets the last edge in, when he destroys the statue and has Hank staring at him like he’s insane and Armando basically glowing with delight. He never actually gets to talk to him, though, seeing as they drink and party until the Prof and Lensherr show up again, and then Alex plays more pinball and wrecks his high score to get his mind off of everything that happened.
Angel is beautiful, but it’s not until Shaw shows up that he realizes how much of an effect those high school Shakespeare lessons would have on his future. How the serpent hides among the flowers indeed.
And then he looks at Armando, and something passes between them. An understanding. Alex knows what it means that he can adapt to anything. Hopefully you can adapt to blasts of pure plasma, he wants to joke, but he can’t get the words to unstick from the back of his throat.
He watches Shaw press the plasma, his plasma, down Armando’s throat, and his voice ties itself in knots, he can’t fucking breathe, he’s watching his soulmate try to adapt to something he can’t and it’s wrenching at his heartstrings until Armando bursts and Alex nearly falls to his knees in the pain.
It doesn’t really click for a few hours, not until they’re all holed up in a shitty motel far, far away from the wreckage of the building- long after Raven left the room in tears and Sean uncertainly followed her out. When it does, Alex rolls over into his pillow and screams his rage until his throat gets hoarse with the sound. He’s never wanted to kill another man until that very moment, and he’s not sure how much he enjoys the feeling.
The house is big and lonely and every time Alex tries to shoot his beams he imagines that all the mannequins have Shaw’s face on them. It makes it easier, somehow.
He can never get a clear glance at the Professor’s tattoo. One second he thinks he’s finally got a clear view and the next second it’s like the image is out of focus, somehow. It’s probably all his doing. Asshole.
He writes a letter to Scott and gets all the way to the box before he realizes that he has no idea where Scott is. That just seems to make everything worse.
Raven has two tattoos. One stretches across her forearm, and she shows it to Alex one night when they get so blackout drunk that he doesn’t even remember what they say. Hank looked almost shy when she showed him the words, tattooed across her true arm in white.
No, it’s okay! No one’s ever really… liked them before, that’s all.
(She’d been flipping out about his feet and had gone “That’s absolutely brilliant! I mean imagine everything you could do! You could play the piano with your feet if you wanted, they’re great, I… are you blushing?”)
Her other tattoo… she’d heard about people having multiple soulmates but she hadn’t expected to wake up one morning to find words tattooed on her ribs, just below her heart, in the small, gorgeous script she’d watched composed for six years.
I always knew I couldn't be the only one in the world. The only one who was different. And here you are, it read, and it almost broke her heart. She hides it, turns the skin blue with barely a second thought, because she can.
Charles never let her see the words on the back of his neck. He doesn’t let anyone see them, not even her, not even Erik, who she suspects has a tattoo to match one of Charles’ somewhere on his body. It just pains her to know that Charles will never be hers, that’s all.
Cuba happens and Raven leaves and Charles feels like his heart is breaking all over again.
He presses his lips to her knuckles and then he lets her go, and he watches her leave with Erik and feels all his hopes and dreams go with her.
Hank stays. Sean stays. Alex stays, although he’s still lost. Charles now knows how it feels to have lost a soulmate (perhaps, in his case, two, although he can't be certain for sure), although he can’t imagine how Alex must feel, losing a man who never even knew.
Charles touches the letters on the back of his neck- the ones he refuses to read or have anyone read to him because he can guess what they say- and shudders.
He asks Hank to start working on a serum the next day. He can’t abide the voices.
Sean dies and Alex goes to Vietnam and Charles shakes apart at the seams and Hank can’t be the only rational one, damn it, he’s barely holding himself together as it is.
It’s almost a relief when Logan shows up, babbling about Sentinels and being sent by Charles from the future and something about Raven and Bolivar Trask. It shakes both Charles and Hank back to something resembling their normal selves, and at least if none of it’s real, well, there’s one more crazy guy that Hank can drink with.
Logan has a tattoo on his shoulder, though it's getting fuzzy around the edges. It simply says, hi. Hank finds himself thinking that Logan’s soulmate probably got something a little more colorful tattooed somewhere on their body.
Alex runs fast and far after Raven gets him out of Nam.
He gets all the way to the mansion before he panics, unable to face the only family he has left in the world, and so he takes his army bag and heads west, not stopping until he hits Iowa, and even then only for a moment before he hitchhikes to Colorado.
He's in a shitty dive bar when the news turns to Washington, and his first thought (which also happens to be the first thing he's said since Nam) is, "God fucking damn it, he's doing it again."
God, wasn't trying to start one war enough?
Almost instantaneously, he hears a dry laugh behind him, and a voice says, "Who died and made him the king of the world?"
And, okay, that's just not fucking fair. How on Earth is it fair for someone to have the same voice as his soulmate, dead and gone for eleven years now? It takes every ounce of self control for Alex to not drop his glass. Instead, he sets it down. "Get me another," he says to the bartender, even as his hands shake.
He downs it and moves away, looking down, until he walks right into a pinball machine, lever digging uncomfortably into his leg. It’s interesting, he thinks, that he hasn’t played since the worst night.
He drops in quarters and starts the game. It turns out that playing for hours on unlimited balls has made him good, so when rules are standard, he racks up several million within minutes. It’s almost relaxing, if it didn’t have so many memories attached to it.
“So,” says the voice from before, “you must be some kind of, uh, pinball wizard, huh?”
“Nah, this is only the second time I’ve-” and Alex freezes.
There is a sharp breath from somewhere behind him and a hand on his shoulder, and the source of the voice swings him around and that source is Armando.
"Alex?" Armando asks, and Alex answers by wrapping his arms around Armando's neck and holding on tight, the game forgotten behind him.
Armando has been trying to explain how he came back, perched on the edge of his bed in their cheap motel room, but it’s full of science jargon that Alex knows would make Hank smile (he himself doesn’t understand a word of it) and Alex is gripping Armando’s hand tightly from his spot on the other bed. He’s watching him move and is only half-listening, and after a while Armando falters. "Alex?" he asks hesitantly. "Are you listening?"
Alex answers that by closing the space between them and kissing Armando. It becomes clear that that was easily the best idea of the night when Armando bites down on his lip and just lets Alex slide off his bed onto Armando’s to climb over him.
Armando freezes, though, when Alex pulls his shirt over his head and he sees the tattoo for the first time. He must recognize it- he has to. Alex can hardly bear it, holding his breath, heartbeat erratic and in his throat and-
Armando traces the letters with his finger, then with his tongue, and from there he bends to swallow Alex down like it's nothing and when he comes Alex nearly screams in ecstasy.
It doesn’t really click for a few hours, long after Armando’s fallen asleep cradling Alex’s head such that Alex can hear his heartbeat. He presses his face into Armando’s bare chest and shakes his way through an attack and cries a little puddle into the divot of his collarbone. Armando tightens around him and holds him together through it, and there might be an “I love you” dropped into his hair, but Alex isn’t sure.
They walk halfway back to New York- taking their time relearning each other. Armando spends a full day berating Alex for not telling him sooner- “When was I supposed to mention it? In front of all those kids we didn’t know, or when Shaw shoved my plasma down your throat?” “During that second pinball game, maybe.”- and the next three days listening while Alex explains all the shit that had gone down in the eleven years since Armando had exploded right in front of him.
“Hey,” he says, as they paused under a tree for a moment, “At least we know that Lehnsherr is human, and so not a robot.”
“Huh?” Alex says, lost.
“Didn’t you see it?” Armando asks. “He has a tattoo. It was almost visible on screen.” He remembers it clearly. There’d been a hint of black peeking out from under his sleeve. He’d had a tattoo- he had a soulmate. There’d only been one word visible, and it was the word “alone.” Armando had wondered what Erik had done that had made him so afraid of being the only person in the world.
Hank opens the door and almost faints at the sight of Armando grinning at him. Charles doesn’t even looked surprised, just grins at them both and then even wider when he sees Alex’s hand enfolded in Armando’s own. He looks better- his hair was cut, the dead look in his eyes was faded and gone- but he looks exhausted.
“You gonna reopen the school?” Alex asks Hank, later, over a beer.
“We’re working on it.” Hank says, and points up. “He’s our first for now.”
Alex glances up to find a scrawny kid with silver hair sprawled on the chandelier, dead to the world, and he just puts his head in his hands.
Raven sneaks into Charles’ window one night two weeks later and says, “Is it possible for a person to not have a match for their tattoo?”
Charles looks startled, and then softens. “If the person dies before their words can be said, then yes. I’m not sure I’ve heard of anything otherwise.”
Raven sucks in a sharp breath, and then she undoes her jacket and shifts just slightly- enough to uncover the tattoo she’s been hiding for so long. Charles just stares at his own handwriting tracing words on her ribs, and then he looks up at her.
“Please,” she begs. “Please, please, show me the one on your neck, the one you never let anyone read. I need to know. I need to know. I won’t tell you if you don’t want to know. I just need to know for sure.”
“It is possible,” Charles says, “for platonic soulmates to have tattoos, you know.”
Raven brushes the little hairs on the back of his neck away. When she sees the writing there, small and curling and familiar, she bursts into tears.
Alex glares at Raven when she comes down for breakfast the next morning, but Hank looks like the sun has risen on the world again when he sees her, and Charles emerges from his study looking happier than he has for years, so Alex can’t be angry at her for too long.
They’re tangled together late one night when a loud thump startles Alex out of sleep, sending him jolting to the floor and almost igniting his plasma. (Of course, being around Armando means that Armando falls too, but he doesn’t complain when he blearily squints his eyes open.)
“What the hell-” Alex glares at their hanging lamp, which has swung up to stick to the ceiling. (Whose room is right above theirs but Charles’.)
They just stare at it for a long moment before Armando clears his throat and says, “Is that a thing?”
“Apparently,” Alex says.
“Well, I’m glad they worked out their issues.” Armando pauses. “Will that happen to us?”
“Let’s find out,” Alex grins, and rolls Armando over to press him into the floor.
Alex stumbles down the stairs in the morning to find Pietro (“Peter’s not my real name, my mother just can’t pronounce things right,” he explained, and no one called him Peter again) animatedly retelling the story of how he broke into the Pentagon to Armando, Hank, Raven, and a wide-eyed thirteen year old named Ororo Munroe, who looks up to Pietro like he is God come again. It’s actually adorable.
“Alex!” Charles says in his ear, and yanks him from the dining room before he can even grab a piece of toast. “We need you for this one.”
And, okay, it’s awkward being in the same car as two men who had sex in the floor above you, Alex discovers. It’s really awkward. They keep making obscure chess metaphors and laughing together and Alex wishes he had someone along on this ride so he didn’t have to listen to this.
He can see their tattoos clearly now- they’re keeping their sleeves rolled up and Charles’s says I thought I was the only one and Erik’s says You’re not alone, Erik, and Alex is suddenly grateful that they’ve found each other again.
Alex almost cries when the door to the house they go to is opened by his brother, and even when Charles and Erik are explaining everything to whatever family Scott was staying with Alex can’t bring himself to let go of him. It’s been twenty years, damnit, he deserves this.
They sprawl across the backseat of the car and Alex thumbs at the familiar tattoo on Scott’s neck (it just says hey and Alex really hopes that whoever his soulmate is has something a little more colorful tattooed on them) and they fall asleep like that, Alex with his ear pressed against Scott’s chest just like they did when they were kids, his last thoughts something along the lines of if this is how the rest of my life is going to be, then I could get used to this.