“The most important thing,” Scott had said, five fingers spread over his chest and looking at Alex like he understood his brother might bolt at any second, “is that you and me, we’re family, always; nothing else matters.”
Alex can’t remember what happened before and he knows from whispered nightly conversations that Scott can’t either, that between the two of them there was something like panic and smoke and fire and then waking up to every inch of his body aching and covered in irritatingly scratchy bandages. The sense of losing everything that was important to them flowing freely like the drugs through their veins.
Scott still has a bunch of scars, the most visible one, a thin, pink line that’s tucked along his upper lip and stretches to a barely there silver when he smiles at Alex lopsided. It’ll disappear one day, just like the rest of the small cuts and nicks that have already vanished on their skin and can’t be seen now, unless one or the other goes looking.
“Brothers.” Scott had said. Thumping one loose fist into Alex’s shoulder and making him stagger backwards a step or two. His smile easy when he grinned at him; that one tiny scar hitching up his lip in one corner so that it looked an inch or two higher on one side than the other.
He stood there when they came to take Alex away from him, that small, pink scar shining as he watched.
Alex’s small arms and legs kicking out as they grabbed and tried to still him, telling him to calm down, his voice screaming for Scott, shouting out that they were brothers that they were meant to stick together. That he’d promised that they would.
The thing that hurt Alex the most, that he’d only ever admit to at night and in the deepest, darkest corners is the fact that Scott has never even come looking for him. That he’d never even bothered to try and search.
When Charles Xavier arrived and explained his search and rescue mission, taking Alex under his wing and into his too plush house, it all seemed a little too late for him, after being shuffled around so many times, Alex has kind of long ago given up on the idea of a family.
In between his second and third foster home, Alex spent a few weeks out on the streets trying to make a living.
He met a boy named Michael the second night in, the older boy offering him a couple of old and tattered, but warm blankets after spotting Alex wandering around the same street kind of aimlessly. Michael didn’t seem all that bad, not compared to some of the others Alex had seen; a soft voice and brown hair that constantly stuck up in place and even when flattened down with his fingers was kind of scruffy looking, a couple of years older maybe and gaunt in the face, but nice enough to make a space for Alex right alongside him on his doorstep.
Nice enough to help Alex and let him into his fold.
He taught Alex the best places to try and get yourself a quick bite to eat, how to stay warm at night, even when the temperature dropped below freezing, the way to avoid trouble at all costs, even if it was following you, and how best to make a quick escape if need be in the long run. Nothing was worth getting yourself caught, Michael had said, life on the streets was all about keeping moving.
He taught Alex how to slip his fingers easily into the waistband or pockets of a passerby and soundlessly extract their wallets. How to casually bump into someone and take out the loose change and notes from their bag. He taught Alex how to survive on the streets by any means necessary.
“Your face,” Michael had said, “that’s gonna be your killer.” And Alex had looked at him bewildered, chewing the side of his cheek in anticipation. “Blond hair and blue eyes and still all innocent looking, the older ones’ll fall for that hook, line and sinker. Nothing like a baby face to distract ‘em whilst I make away with the good stuff.” And Alex had beamed, finally feeling useful.
He first kissed Alex one night after the two of them had managed to buy themselves a couple of burgers; the meal fresh and hot and still wrapped tightly in their wrappers. His hand was warm and slippery with grease on the back of Alex’s neck, his mouth soft as it slid along his jaw line and effortlessly took control over his own mouth. Guiding Alex on which way to move and fold around him, their noses bumping together as his heart thumped out to the pulse of a hummingbird’s wing beat. Alex has never been able to forget the way that his mouth had felt dry after and he’d been able to taste nothing but the sweet tang of mustard in the back of his throat for days.
When he woke up a couple of months down the line, one side of him colder than usual, all his belongings gone and no sign of Michael - he’d even taken the blankets, Alex felt nothing but bitter.
Melanie had ash blonde hair that fell in a wave down her back and smelled of Marlboro’s when she threw back her neck and laughed at him.
When she smiled it was like the summer sun and despite the fact she was a girl; she could kick his ass at anything. This might have been the fact that she grew up with three older brothers and one hell of an abusive step-dad, or the fact that they were both stuck in juvy. (She never did admit to what she’d done to end up in there, nobody did, no one out loud wanted to admit to their secrets.)
There was no such thing as friends in the centre, just alliances, but Melanie was more than an able body to stick by his side in a tough spot, more than someone who watched his back when he couldn’t.
She used to pull him round the corner of one of the blocks, hidden from sight from both the guards and the cameras, poking a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, fisting a hand in his hair and dragging out the smoke slowly between her teeth to blow past him.
She used to call him Al and he’d never been one for nicknames, but the name rolling off her tongue never did seem to bother him as she punched him in the shoulder. And even though Alex wasn’t the only one to watch the swagger in her hips, he knew he was the only one the sway was intended for.
Punch ups and fights were always a day to day occurrence. It didn’t take long before somebody made a move on him and Melanie had a row of bloody teeth and scraped knuckles, screaming at Alex as he fell to the floor from a punch that knocked him sideways, the guards running to pull them apart and everybody shouting. He never does remember much after that, just the flaring taint of anger and bursting heat that flashed out and past the tips of his fingers.
What he does remember though, when the guards hauled him away and he let himself go loose and willing in their grip, was the look that Melanie threw him, not the self satisfied smirk or the roll of her hips suggestively, but the open look of fear that widened her eyes and the way that her mouth had sagged in terror. The way that she looked at him like he was a whole other person, not someone she’d spent the best part of her days with for four or five months, the two of them, as much as was possible, always together.
The way that the word freak had whispered down through the corridors and she’d made no attempt to put a stop to it.
He spent the next few days in complete lock down before being moved to a correctional facility, Melanie already disappearing into the part of his mind that Alex labelled reasons why he shouldn’t ever trust anybody.
iv and v (respectively)
“Why would you want that?” Charles had said and it had taken Alex a moment to remember that Charles Xavier could get into your head like no other social worker or guard or adult that he’d ever previously had to deal with.
The vision of Darwin, eyes staring at him, accusing and yet blank before they turned into a hard stone and cracked before his eyes had jumped forefront into his vision. Not Charles’ doing but his own guilt creeping over every inch of his skin until he was sick with it, heavy and drowning.
“No fault of your own, Alex. I can assure you that what Shaw did was not your fault in the slightest.”
It had been his energy though and Alex had imagined what the rest of them were all thinking, that if he hadn’t tried to attack like that, if he hadn’t used his own power, that Darwin might be there with them still, stood just over to the corner and breathing.
At this point, as in the past, Alex knew, it was his queue to start packing and get leaving.
“Not one of us is thinking like that, Alex. Not one of us would want to lose you. We’re a family now, however much rag tag and mixed up that makes us.” And he’d laughed then, the corners of his eyes crinkling up in genuine humour.
Alex had thought on the word family and the amount of people who had turned their backs on him or left him eventually.
A picture of his Father came to mind, golden blond hair that moved with the wind and smelled like a strong salty breeze in the morning, the image of his Mother holding him safe in the crook of her arms and humming; his brother, Scott, his hands pulling Alex into a warm hug before he was pushing him away with an exaggerated groan and laughing; the image of the three of them on a normal Sunday night, eating dinner together and talking, his favourite meal, his Mother’s pork roast with stuffing, the way that he’d always felt giddy with anticipation, his mouth watering for just a taste of it.
“That is family,” Charles had said quiet, “people who would never leave you and never truly do, not if they can help it.”
And Alex had felt soft warmth spread through his chest and flow outwards to the tips of his fingers. His mind going over and over the long ago forgotten memory of his family, remembering moments Alex had thought completely lost, like the fragrance of lemon scented gum that always seemed to cloud his Mother’s hair and the way his Father’s hands had always been rough and calloused, but he’d still use just the gentlest of touches. Charles’ hand strong and comforting as it landed on the plane of his shoulder and waited until Alex felt ready.
“Control,” Erik had said later. “Control is the key and the thing that you most struggle with and that, Alex, is the part that I can completely understand and sympathise with.”
And Erik could talk because he had been sat spinning a coin over and around his left hand and fingers. The circular piece of metal gliding through the air with ease like the room they were stood in was filled with water.
Alex had scoffed, watching as Erik let the coin fly into the palm of his hand and then moved to tuck it away in the pocket of his trousers. “Control is the reason I lost everything I cared about. I had no control over my power and not being able to move something as simple as a coin made me lose everything.”
Erik didn’t talk about his feelings, not with the kids, Charles maybe, but that was a completely different matter, and Charles, even though he could read minds, tended to weasel out everybody’s secrets. Erik was a loner though, somebody Alex could see himself quite easily growing into back on that old track, locked away from everyone and everything and nothing for company but his own anger.
“Control,” Erik had said, “is the key to the difference of growing up as an average weapon or a fantastic mutant.”
All in all, Alex had thought, the power of his plasma swirling through his chest comfortably and not forceful or overpowering like it always had been, still there on the tip of his vision waiting to burst out but when the call came or he needed it, no longer threatening to spill over at his edges, thanks in most part to Erik and Charles’ training – it was a strange new family he seemed to have found himself a place in, a mixed and varied bunch, but one that so far seemed to stick together through thick and thin, that maybe, just maybe would stay together in the process of this war that they’d found themselves fighting.
Hank’s hair had been leaning to one side from where he’d raked a hurried hand through it when Charles had suggested they be the targets.
It had distracted Alex after, when he’d come over, that one inch of hair that with a flick of his fingers would lay flat; a bounce to his steps from excitement and probably a healthy amount of terror that had been left over. “That was amazing,” Hank said, eyes flashing and a grin quickly taking over his face that Alex had found pretty damn addictive.
“It was nothing,” he’d said and Hank had laughed, running his thumb under his nose and sniffing.
“As a man of the sciences, I can safely say that that was not ‘nothing,’ and as a fellow mutant (he’d struggled over the word but Alex had pretended not to notice) I can definitely say that it was amazing.”
He’d shivered waiting in line alongside the dummy and Charles, side stepping a little more than necessary, maybe, but he’d stayed in place, eyes wide and open as Alex had let loose and sent an alarmingly hot plasma laser in his general direction.
The important thing, the one that Alex would remain convinced by and tuck into the corner of himself that he only liked to admit to and reveal at night, is that Hank didn’t move.
Hank trusted him – Alex - to stay put and in one place and not run out of the door screaming.
He’d moved then to run his fingers through that patch of hair, flattening it down with his hand and watching the movement of Hank’s lips round in surprise and maybe just a little bit of confusion.
“Sorry,” he’d said with just a slightest shrug of his shoulders. “distracting,” he finished, the room quickly filling up with a tense silence that a split second later disappeared with the easy roll of Hank’s smile, fitting back into place and making Alex’s heart beat just that little bit faster.
Surprisingly, Hank kisses Alex first. They’d been discussing some unique way that Hank could separate the genuine code for his and Raven’s natural appearances and powers, separating certain strands that were necessary in order not to lose the mutant gene itself, just its natural appearance, and Alex can’t remember the ins and outs, just the way that Hank had seemed genuinely invested, his hands bobbing up and down and a fire behind his eyes that Alex only ever saw after Hank outstripped Charles five to one in one of their training sessions.
He’d leaned over, his mouth capturing Alex’s before he had a chance to take a step back, his hand moving out to curl around Alex’s waist and press into the natural dip of his back, firmly keeping Alex in place but giving him enough room to move should he have wished to. Alex didn’t, he moved one hand up to cup the side of Hank’s face, fingers just brushing the side of his ear as he moved his other slowly up Hank’s chest, fingers skittering over his rib cage and tasting the gasp of air that Hank made at the movement.
His fingers fisted at the collar of Hank’s shirt and pulled him in as close as possible, the two of them pressed as tight as possible together.
It was only later, days later actually when Hank kept surprising Alex by being right beside him or pressing him up against walls with a stutter, surprising him with a kiss or dragging him in the lab to try on the batch of new uniforms he’d designed, his hands and fingers roaming all over him, light to the touch and at the same time heavy with longing, that Alex began to think that maybe this was it, maybe this was something that for once he would be able to keep forever.
Something that his power or circumstances wouldn’t be able to take away for once.
And maybe, Alex had thought, this was just the start of something beginning.