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I.

"There, there," Charles said soothingly, as he packed away the first aid kit, "All fixed."

"Only the symptoms," Hank muttered, fighting the urge to start peeling at the band-aids and gauzes. He knew that Alex would be sporting his split lip and scrapes tomorrow in school, like he didn't give a damn, while Hank 'Bigfoot' McCoy was going to be bandaged up like a goddamned mummy.

Charles stared at him for a moment, his lips drawn in an unhappy line, then he sighed. "There's more, isn't there?"

Sometimes having a telepath for a foster dad could be a real bi... Charles' eyebrows were rising... err... pain. Yes. "Parent conference," Hank mumbled, "They want you to meet Alex's dad. Because we both keep fighting. Work out a solution. The principal's into this sort of top-down reconciliation strategy."

"Why, that's a wonderful idea," Charles beamed. Having expected this, Hank's heart tried to crawl a little further into his stomach. "An excellent idea, in fact. Oh, don't look like that, Hank. What did I tell you about getting into fights?"

" 'Just because you can, doesn't mean that you should'," Hank muttered in an undertone.

"Exactly. You and this young man... ah..."

"Alex Summers..."

"You and Alex are the same age. You must have some things in common. There's no logical reason that you can't get along. Alex's father and I will work out some sort of common ground, and then we can work from a mutually acceptable platform."

Hank reflected that the only thing that he and Alex had in common was a seething degree of mutual loathing, but he said nothing. Usually, he didn't need to, anyway. Charles, however, was bustling away as he replaced the first aid kit on a shelf on Hank's laboratory, clearly in such a good mood that he'd disregarded Hank's own frank opinion.

"And what is Alex's father like?"

"Uh." Hank was fairly sure that he knew this. Racking his brain, he managed to come up with a few dimly recalled lines of gossip. "He's tall. German. Alex's adopted. Single father." Probably also an asshole, Hank concluded, and this time, Charles turned to look at him, his expression drawn in mild disappointment.

"Hank."

"Alex starts all these fights." Hank pointed out reasonably. "Stands to reason."

"Possibly, his father doesn't know that Alex starts the fights? Single parenthood for the average person can be quite... difficult," Charles said, with the vagueness of a man who had been born into privilege, and to whom wealth had been not so much a constant companion but a constant, obsessive stalker. Xavier the elder had been a prudent man, investments and trust funds wise. "Hank, you've often told me that this is the most unbearable part of attending high school. Now we have an opportunity to resolve it."

The most unbearable part of attending high school was actually the insipid and elementary nature of its syllabus, but Charles had been insistent on everyone - except Raven, who had flat out refused and had threatened to walk out on her brother - attending local high schools to attain 'proper qualifications'. Given that this meant that Armando and Angel were forced to attend separate high schools due to the color of their skin, Sean remained his only ally, and they were in different classes.

"Sean didn't get involved this time, did he?" Charles looked up anxiously from where he was perusing a Cerebro printout. Hank suppressed a sigh. He had just designed a machine within a handful of weeks based on a subset of rarefied physics that was would defy most established theories, and yet he had to endure School. It was cruel and unusual.

"No, he didn't." Thankfully. Sean had Irish blood, and when he got angry, even Hank wanted to start edging away. God only knew what would happen if Sean let out one of his sonic screams in a local school to defend Hank from a bullying kid.

Ah yes. Charles would be Definitely Disappointed.

"Don't take that tone with me, young man," Charles' mouth was curling up slightly, though he kept leafing through the printouts. "Now, about this electrode array-"

1.0.

"Bloody hell, you look like you were run over by a fucking truck," Erik frowned as Alex sauntered through the door to their ratty apartment and dumped his bag on the couch. "Go and clean yourself up."

Alex nodded, sucking absently on his split lip as he ambled into the bathroom, rooting around the dubious cabinet for some bandaids. For someone with huge black glasses, a perpetual hunch and a usual expression of vapid absorption, when Hank was really pissed, he could punch. There was a coiled strength in those skinny arms that Alex hadn't really expected.

"Did you drink the alcohol?" Alex called from the bathroom, after five fruitless minutes.

"Why would I drink medical alcohol?" Erik growled, farther away now, probably in the kitchen. "Just wash it off with water or something, you won't die. Who was it this time?"

"Hank McCoy."

"I thought you said that he was a wimp."

"Yeah," Alex winced as he washed out his cuts under the cold tap. "But he can hit like a rock."

"What did you say to him this time?" Erik asked, sounding only vaguely curious.

"That his 'aunt' was one hot piece of ass?" Alex hazarded. It had definitely started from there. But hell, whatever her age was, Raven Xavier was fucking hot. If only she attended high school or something, Alex would have totally tried to tap that.

Erik snorted, as though in laughter. "And did you mean that?"

"Fuck yeah."

"In that case, what did I tell you about getting into fights?"

" 'Don't get caught'," Alex wiped himself down, stared into the mirror until he was fairly sure that he wasn't bleeding, and washed his hands as an afterthought, wiping them down on his jeans. "Fuck's sake, how was I to know that the principal had snuck out to meet his piece of ass out in the park behind the school at the same time?"

"Lesson learned," Erik was tinkering around in the stove, possibly either preparing dinner or a creative sort of poison, Alex could never be entirely sure with Erik. With what Erik had been through, growing up, then on the move by himself, he hadn't seemed to have bothered to develop much of an interest in food other than as fuel.

Alex braced himself against the sink for a while, lowering his head with a sigh. "There was one more thing."

"What?"

"There's going to be a parent conference thing. You have to go," Alex added cautiously, when there was silence. "And meet McCoy's dad... whoah!"

Erik could move like a goddamned cat. He was already leaning against the frame of the bathroom, arms folded, his expression unreadable. "Why?"

"Because the principal has this everyone-shakes-fucking-hands policy, that's why." Alex raised his palms in surrender. "His decision, not mine. It's tomorrow, after school hours, if you're not free, I'll just tell them."

Erik frowned, scratching absently at the back of his head. Alex wasn't entirely sure what Erik did in order to pay the bills, but he had to bet that it was nothing entirely legal. He owed Erik for getting him out of the slammer, anyway, and if keeping mum around the tripwires of Erik's life was what he could do to repay him, then he'd do that with all his heart.

When Erik continued to say nothing, Alex added, cautiously, "You're not going to kill him, are you?" Because although Hank McCoy was a candyass and a dick, nobody deserved that.

"No," Erik looked irritable. "What makes you think that, mein Gott, kid, go and make yourself useful. Dinner."

Alex slunk over to the kitchen, where thankfully Erik hadn't started mixing random ingredients into the pot yet. Pasta was fairly simple - as he arranged cans and dried pasta on the table, Erik slouched into the ratty armchair, rubbing absently at the tattoo on his arm. "Look, I can tell them that you're not free," Alex tried.

"You're my kid, of course I'm going," Erik said, annoyed at the suggestion, and seemingly oblivious to how Alex hesitated, biting down on a grin. "What's McCoy's father like?"

"Uh." Alex was fairly sure that he knew this, if only because Sean Cassidy, McCoy's not-brother, was really chatty. "He's loaded. Professor of genev... gener... genetics. Some Brit university, funny name."

Erik nodded slowly, as though planning a line of attack, and smiled his shark-like smile. "I'll talk to him."

Now Alex was worried.

II.

Hank had spent the last class of the day (advanced math) doing the requisite sums with 5% of his brain, focusing the remainder 95% on the clock. Hopefully, Charles would be called away, at the very last minute, into some sort of seminar, or Alex's father would be busy, or the principal would realize how much of a disaster a meeting like this was going to be, or Charles would have caught a cold, or have lost his voice, or have-

Really, Hank, I'm right outside, Charles said reasonably, in his head, then added, Oh my, the colors, which suggested strongly that Charles was not only right outside but right outside, in the goddamned puce-and-eyebleed-orange color scheme that some sociopath had once deemed necessary to decorate a school corridor with. Given that the School was full of lurking gems of artistic heights such as this, ready to slap the unsuspecting across the face when they turned the occasional corner, Hank felt that he'd solved part of the mystery of the county's fairly high crime and suicide rate.

Hank put his head in his hands as Charles started to keep up a steady chatter about how exciting it was to visit Hank's school and all the amazing children around and wasn't Hank going to introduce him to his friends, and as Miss Amerson asked, "Henry?" in a tone like she'd rather believe that he was a heroin junkie than suffering a headache, he muttered, "May I be excused for a moment, miss?"

"Of course," she said, with a curl to her mouth and narrowed eyes, and for a vicious moment Hank wondered if Miss Amerson had x-ray... No she doesn't, Hank, don't be silly... Stifling a sigh, and pointedly ignoring the corner of the room where Alex Summers was slouched with an air of arrogant sang-froid, Hank crabbed out of the room, grabbed his foster father by the elbow, and frogmarched him towards the godawful school library.

"Stay here please," Hank hissed, shoving Charles towards the bumblingly nice half-blind bat of a librarian, being one fine specimen of tweed and mothballs known only as Colbie to the vast array of disinterested students only interested in quiet dark corners for quick snogs, and hastily sprinted back to the class. Which was finishing up for the day. Thank God. Hank had never packed his books and pens so quickly in his life, his hands had to be a blur.

Charles had struck up a spirited conversation with Colbie about some book that had probably been out of print long before Hank was born, and he beamed - bloody beamed - when Hank tumbled back into the library, out of breath. "Mister Phelps here has a most fascinating collection of modernist literature-"

"This way, Professor," Hank said quickly, before Charles could start expounding on the subject and/or dig his heels into the discolored shroud of a carpet like a petulant child, and tugged him towards the principal's office, hoping that the end-of-day stampede would help mask his humiliation.

"It would be nice to have a school like this," Charles was saying happily, just as they walked past That Painting, being a joint effort from a long forgotten class of freshmen who were probably high on illegal psychedelic drugs, or a possible projection of a far away post-apocalyptic future in alarmingly eye-watering yellows and reds. "Almost like this," Charles amended, too well-bred to comment.

"You'll go crazy in a week." If the mansion had this many kids, Hank would probably stab something. Possibly himself.

Charles was wearing one of his Disappointed looks, this one combining elements of Kicked Puppy with the wide blue eyes and Stern Parent with the pursed lips, but Hank's scraped arm had been itchy all through a practical in Incredibly Basic Chemistry even as his bruised jaw had ached all the way through Ludicrously Simple mathematics and he was feeling vaguely Neanderthal, social-graces wise.

Thankfully, they reached the principal's office, being the smoked glass door at the end of the drab gray Corridor of Shame, and there was a typed note taped to the glass, something about the principal having to Go because of a personal emergency involving his car, and if Lehnsherr-Summers and Xavier-McCoy could so kindly have the Conference by themselves and Resolve Their Differences he would be Much Obliged.

Hank felt his heart burrow deeper into his stomach as Charles dragged him into the office with a thief's curiosity for anything new, and they spent the next twenty minutes with Charles puttering around happily, poking at the principal's esoteric collection of yellowing encyclopaedia Brittanicas, while Hank sat in one of the iron gray Chairs of Shame before the desk with his forehead on the pitted wood and waited for death.

He lifted his head from the principal's cluttered desk when the glass door creaked open. Alex scowled at him, and it looked like the forced reconciliation was already working - they were obviously equally unhappy to be here. More common ground at last.

Behind Alex was a tall man who, had Hank been in a police line up as a witness to pick out a serial killer, would have picked out of the line even had the serial killer been in the line right next to him. Lehnsherr looked him over with a cool, calculating stare that seemed to measure him right up for a coffin, then he glanced sharply to the side when Charles chirped, "Mister Lehnsherr and Mister Summers? I am so pleased to meet you."

Much to Hank's horror, Lehnsherr looked Charles slowly up and down, as though not only measuring the Professor for a coffin but for the depth of the bog with which to weigh it down in, and smiled a smile that any shark would have been proud of. Hank quickly revised his previous estimate that Lehnsherr could not get any more fucking creepy. Good God. No wonder Alex had major personality issues.

"Call me Erik, please. Professor Xavier, it is my pleasure, I assure you," he said, his voice harsh with Germanic consonants, and he shook Charles' hand with a firm grip that suggested that he could quite easily crush bone if he wanted to.

The handshake went on. And on. Until in the unravelling silence Hank exchanged quick glances of mute and nascent horror with his arch enemy. "Erik," Alex said quickly, even as Hank cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Professor-"

"Oh, oh yes," Charles seemed to extricate his hand with reluctance. "Hank, you never did tell me that both, ah, Erik and young Alex here were also mutants."

"I'm sorry, what?" Hank blinked.

"What do you mean, mutants?" Alex growled, eyes narrowing, but Erik held up a hand and he subsided, with a grumble.

"You mean that you're a..." Erik trailed off as Charles locked eyes with him and brought the fingers of his left hand up to his temple, a playful smile toying on his lips. Hank knew that smile. It meant that the Professor was about to show off. It also usually ended in tears.

After five minutes of crawlingly disconcerting silence, Alex pinched at the bridge of his nose even as Hank fought the urge to rest his forehead back on the desk. Possibly by slamming his head down on it. It was, admittedly, vaguely amusing how of all the twenty-two different scenarios he had come up with where the Reconciliation could go awfully wrong, this had nowhere been any one of them.

"So what does he do?" Alex muttered, jerking his thumb at Charles.

Hank bristled, gritting his teeth. "He's a telepath. A psychic," he added, when Alex looked momentarily blank.

"You mean, he reads fortune cards and shit?"

"No." God, but one day he was going to try and stage one of Raven's histrionic sessions to get out of this School business. "He's a mind-reader."

Alex's face assumed the look of hunted guilt that people with screwed up lives tended to assume whenever they first learned of Charles' ability. "Uh huh. And you?"

"I, uh," Big feet never did sound quite so glamorous.

"Well, whatever it is, you hit like a piledriver," Alex muttered, saving Hank from profound humiliation. "I shoot light that cuts things."

This was possibly the longest conversation that Hank had ever had with Alex that hadn't ended up with them brawling. If not for the creepy private two-way that the Professor and Exhibit P for Possible Psychopath were having in the background, Hank would have given the principal a cautious thumb up for effort.

"That's very interesting," Hank found himself saying, honestly, "As in, anything?"

"Everything but trouble," Alex said, with an uneasy glance at their foster parents. "About that thing," he began, wiggling his fingers at his head. "What the fuck?"

Hank sighed. His heart had sunk its way past his stomach and was heading resolutely towards his very big feet. "If we interrupt them, we can just tell them we've made up, and then we can go, and never talk about this again, ever."

"Good plan," Alex said, with a moment's thought, marching up to the two-way and running his hand up and down between them. "Wake the hell up. We're done here."

Erik blinked, unfocused, while Charles dropped his fingers from his head with evident reluctance. "Oh. About, ah, that no doubt terrible misunderstanding-"

"We've both agreed that we were in the wrong, we can go now," Hank said hurriedly, before the Professor could do the Talk, or worse, invite Alex and Erik to the mansion.

"But-" Charles looked between Erik and Hank, then, as though held by an irresistible force, back to Erik, and Hank hastily grabbed hold of Charles' elbow even as Alex hooked his fingers on Erik's wrist.

"We're done here," Hank tugged Charles towards the door. As though dazed, Charles allowed himself to be moved, though he looked back almost wistfully over his shoulder when they were back in the Corridor of Shame. Hank allowed himself to breathe out a sigh of relief only when they were outside the School and they had located Charles' sleek black car. Crisis averted.

2.0

Erik was thoughtful all the way home and through dinner, which was never a good sign, not even during the forced weekly session of Going Through Alex's Disaster Homework, until Alex couldn't stand it anymore. "Erik."

"Mm?"

"What were you and that Xavier guy talking about?"

"This and that," Erik said vaguely, then he frowned at Alex's expression. "Spit it out, kid."

Oh, what the hell. You could only die once. "Because you're currently creeping me out, it's like the two of you were screwing or something while Hank and I were right there, the way you're grinning now like you're only missing a fucking afterglow ciggie-"

"What the fuck, kid," Erik growled, cutting through Alex's ramble. "Mein Gott, I have no idea what the fuck you're talking about, do your god-damned homework." Erik muttered to himself in an irascible litany of sullen German, and tossed the notebook that he hadn't even been pretending to look through back on the stilted coffee table.

"All right," Alex said, picking up the book, and after a few desultory attempts at advanced matrices, added, "Look, it explains things."

"Hmm?" Erik's tone was edged, his eyes closed, suggesting very strongly that if a certain idiot kid known as Alex so much as tried to insert sexual references into his dialogue again, the said poor sod by the name of Alex was very likely to find himself tossed out of the window with extreme prejudice.

"About Hank. He probably has super-strength, or something. And that Xavier guy, a mind-reader? That's just, hell, I wouldn't know how to live with someone like that." The way Xavier had looked at him, beyond and within him, like he'd never have any secrets, hell, maybe that was why Hank was so fucked up and sensitive like a goddamned girl. "I always reckoned that there were more people like us."

"Mm." Erik replied, non-committal and possibly not even listening, and then he said, mildly, "I'll give you five dollars if you can get me Charles' phone number."

"What."

"Ten," Erik amended, and then he smiled his shark like smile. "But you'll get it for me by tomorrow."

Alex choked. "You're not seriously thinking what I'm thinking."

"I hope not," Erik growled, a shade more like his former self, "Because I'll have solved all those fucking questions an hour ago."

"What happens if I don't get the phone number by tomorrow?" Alex asked, because he was stupidly curious the way a concussed kitten was curious, all the way until it walked out onto a highway and got run over by the Erik Express.

Erik's smile widened a fraction. "Then you go up to that Hank kid and punch him somewhere where you'll get caught. Now finish your goddamned exercises."

III.

Hank had crawled to school, mentally exhausted.

Charles had spent the entirety of the afternoon, the evening and the morning afterwards prattling about magnetic fields and groovy mutations and Nazis and the incredible screwed up strangeness that apparently made up Exhibit P's life, until even Armando had begun to look worried.

"Look," Armando and the rest had cornered him in the lab once Charles had wandered off to have his usual evening stroll around the grounds, "We know that you're going through something, but what the hell happened, man?"

"Parent conference, Summers' dad," Hank had said, then he'd blurted out the entire dreadful story to the lot of them, including Raven, which on hindsight had probably not been the best of ideas: she'd assumed a weirdly contemplative expression.

"So this Erik guy was hot?"

"Did I mention the bit where he looks like a serial killer?" Hank had asked, somewhat taken aback by Raven's priorities. At her growing frown, he had added defensively, "Come on, Raven. You know me. When have I last had bad instincts about people?"

"Yeah, remember that milkman," Sean had piped up loyally. "Hank disliked him on the spot, and later we found out in the papers that he had this thing for randomly opening up the milk bottles and-"

"Thank you very much I had actually forgotten about that episode thank you," Angel had said sharply, folding her arms. "Okay. So we've all established that there's something fucked up about this Erik cat. Right?"

There had been a slow circle of nods, with Armando's the most grudging. Militantly sunny and good-natured, Armando clearly didn't like judging someone before he met them personally. "All right. Raven, have you seen Charles like this, ever?"

Raven had seemed to think this over, slowly. "There was this incident when he was fifteen, we were in the new library downtown and there was this bitch who was older than him." Raven had shuddered, a picture of disconcerting possessiveness, if there ever was one. "This time's worse. Much worse. Possibly because this Erik person might be the first adult mutant that Charles has ever met in person."

"This Erik cat is probably hot. I knew that the Professor was gay," Angel had observed. "It's always the rich, single and hot ones," she had added, and then the day had thoroughly degenerated afterwards.

During recess, when he had stumbled to the library for some peace and quiet, he'd found Alex waiting for him there, shifting his weight from foot to foot as though spoiling for a fight. "I'm not in the mood," Hank had said instantly, dragging himself over to a corner to fall into one of the mauled old cloth carcasses that had once been respectable couches.

"I'm not here to fight." Alex said, hands clenching and unclenching. "I need your phone number."

Hank blinked dumbly and owlishly at Alex, long enough that he added, "I'll share half with you. Five dollars."

"You'll give me five dollars for my phone number?" Hank repeated, trying to parse the insanity of his day and failing. "What for?"

"Don't ask," Alex muttered, "But I might be in deep shit if I don't get it, all right?"

Hank's brain woke a fraction out of the enforced state of dormancy that it undertook whenever in School, a self-preservation method for retaining his sanity. "Oh. Your dad."

"Yeah." Alex looked defiant, as though he was daring Hank to say anything about it.

"I don't want your money," Hank said cautiously, "But surely you see that whatever it is that's happening has to be stopped. Or," he added, when Alex wavered visibly, "Do you really want to call me 'brother' at some point in time?"

Alex shuddered. "Fuck no."

"Precisely. Look. I'll give you the number," Hank relented, because he didn't want Alex's blood on his conscience, "But we have to call a truce on this thing. Agreed?"

"Deal." Alex said, looking visibly relieved, then he added, as Hank nodded slowly at him, "Hey, it's obvious what you think of my, well, of Erik, but I've never met anyone like me other than him, and he's not... oh, fuck this," he cut himself off, defensive again. "We have a truce. But this doesn't mean that I don't still think that you're an asswipe."

Double negatives tended to give Hank a headache where complex helix graphs didn't, but a truce was a truce, and Hank nodded, warily, looking around and lowering his voice. "About that 'light thing' that you can do."

"Yeah?" Alex's hands clenched.

"Plasma blasts?" Hank had grudgingly expended approximately an hour and fifteen minutes during the evening thinking about 'light that cuts stuff' and had come up with ten finalized possibilities, three of which were worth investigating, if only because he couldn't quite come up with any existing scientific explanation for a human's biological make-up being able to produce said blasts without catching fire or imploding.

"What blasts?" Alex's tone turned One-more-thing-and-I'll-hit-you unfriendly.

So much for his attempts at friendly overtures. "Nothing. Just that, uh, maybe someday when you're free, we could go somewhere quiet, you could show me the 'light thing'."

"Bad idea." Alex shook his head, his eyes narrowed.

"Okay. Okay. It was just a thought." Hank needed the truce until Charles grew bored of the latest item of novelty, aka Exhibit P, anyway. If Alex had any fraction of control or influence at all on his father, a strong opposition to any... thing... happening with Charles could be Hank's hidden ace.

3.0

"Ten dollars first," Alex demanded, the scrap of paper clenched in his hand, and watched Erik pull a ragged bill out of his wallet with a show of disinterest that didn't go quite too well with the way his eyes had quickly zeroed in on Alex's hand the moment Alex had come home from school. With the money safely in his pocket, Alex reluctantly handed over the paper and retreated posthaste to his room.

Apparently Hank lived with a lot of other kids, all of whom were going to carefully ensure that Xavier would never ever get the chance to pick up the phone. Alex wasn't entirely sure how a scheme was going to work when the mark was a bloody telepath, but Hank had seemed confident, and a frustrated Erik was vicious on spelling and mathematical errors, so it was best to stay hidden until the storm passed.

They didn't have a phone line in the apartment, and on hindsight Alex felt that Hank and himself had a truce on an uphill battle, given that (a) Charles Xavier had a telephone line all to his fucking self and (b) Erik somehow knew this, but didn't know the number. Conclusion: Xavier must have shown Erik a mental image of his house, or something, during the mindfuck (Erik might deny it, but Alex knew exactly what he had seen). Further conclusion: Erik probably already knew where Xavier lived. Alex might be shaky on math and shakier on physics but he had a fair grasp on common logic and a very firm understanding of the tenacity of Erik's resolve.

The door closed, which meant that Erik had left the apartment to find a public payphone, and Alex counted to ten, and then twenty, and then to thirty, before his concussed kitten curiosity overwhelmed him, pulling on his jacket and slinking out of the apartment on guilty feet. It wasn't difficult to tail Erik when (a) Erik was a tall man and (b) Alex knew the suburb like the back of his hand and knew where the closest yet most private payphone booth was. It was, however, somewhat more of a challenge to get into a position where he could eavesdrop without being spotted and possibly disembowelled with the closest fork.

He managed to sneak quickly around into a narrow alley when Erik's back was turned, looking around with a juvie veteran's practiced eye for a quick getaway route. A fire escape to his right would probably serve him well, if he was fast and quiet. Satisfied, Alex waited as he heard Erik slot coins into the payphone.

"This is Erik, could I speak to... I'm not a... what milk? I'm not the milkman... Look, put me through to..." There was a click, a muttered word in German, then more coins, clinking into place. "Erik Lehnsherr, looking for Charles Xavier... no, I'm not a fuc... I'm not a journalist, what makes you think... I'm not looking for a bloody interview, just put me through to..." Click.

That word in German again, only spat out and edged. Alex let out the breath that he was holding as he heard more coins get slotted into the machine. "I'm looking for Charles... are you doing this on purpose? Don't tell me that you're all sitting around the phone... you think this is funny, do you? Just..." Click. "Jesus Christ."

Erik had to be out of coins by now, which had probably been Hank's strategy, but he hadn't reckoned for Erik's ability. Alex had once seen Erik sitting slouched on the couch, eyes closed, while knives chopped onions at the kitchen counter and a spatula scraped a set of slowly charring bacon around a frying pan, working a coffee machine as well as a toaster. A mere payphone probably wouldn't even make him blink.

This time, Alex didn't hear any coins being slotted before Erik started to dial. "I could do this all day, kids..." Erik drawled, and Alex could see that shark-like smile between a hand's breadth worth of brick. Click. "Oh, the Professor's out, is he? Do I want to leave a fucking message? I don't need to, do I?"

Erik's voice register was dropping into That Voice, the one with which he could persuade little kids to give up their candy and birds to land on his hand out of sheer fucking terror. "You're going to have a lot of fun keeping yourselves from not thinking about this later when you see him, aren't you? Not thinking about the corner of South Street and Hillcrest? Yeah... Have a nice day, children."

The receiver was slotted back into the handle, and belatedly, Alex clambered up the fire escape, only for Erik to pause at the entrance to the alley and glare up at him, hands shoved in the pockets of his pants. "Finished your homework?"

"Almost," Alex lied.

Erik never, ever bought his bullshit. Sometimes Alex wondered if this was why, after such a godawful amount of time spent as one of the perennial failures of the child welfare system, he had stuck with someone as bad-tempered, as irritable and as unforgiving as Erik for this long. "Really."

Glancing quickly around for a second escape route, Alex abruptly noticed something, belatedly. "We are on the corner of South Street and Hillcrest. Right now."

"Are we?" Erik grinned, toothy and malicious. "What a fucking coincidence."

Hank might be far too smart for school, Alex realized, with a sense of awe, but Erik was devious the way only a total asshole could be devious. Sure enough, after an endless moment of dread, Erik abruptly tilted his head to the side, his eyes a little unfocused, as though listening to a voice that nobody could hear. At Alex's look of growing horror, however, Erik merely smirked, rooting in his pockets and tossing him a coin, before sauntering off, looking for all the world like a cat that had not only gotten the cream, the milk and the canary but had ripped the poor little singing fuck to shreds over a priceless carpet.

Alex looked at the coin only when he had edged out onto the sidewalk and couldn't see Erik anywhere. On the back, etched in Erik's angular handwriting, was a terse, Game on, brats.

"Hey," Alex said, once the line connected to Xavier's house. "Can you get Hank? It's Alex."

There was a muffled shout, then a fumbling, scratching sound, then a sharp, wary, "What do you want, Summers?"

"We're fucked."

IV.

"He might be an asshole," Angel muttered, from where they perched on the roof of a building overlooking the nice, parkside, open-air cafe at which Exhibit P and the Professor were having coffee, "But he's fucking hot. Why is it only the gay ones?"

Hank confiscated the binoculars. "Can we concentrate, here?"

"Do that too loudly and Charles will hear us," Raven pointed out, perched on an old crate stacked against a creaking water tower, default Echo Leader of Operation Cease and Desist. "Give me the binoculars, Hank." When he obeyed, she held the binoculars up to her eyes, adjusting the vision, then she pursed her lips. "God, Charles, I swear, you're easier than a chocolate bloody milkshake."

"Maybe we're taking this too seriously, guys?" Armando suggested manfully. "Maybe there's something about this Erik cat. Maybe the Professor's lonely for other people his age..." Armando trailed off when he realized that everyone was glowering at him, and held up his hands. "Guys, guys. It was just a thought."

"There are lots of other people his age," Hank waved an arm out to encompass a hotdog stand, people walking their dogs, an old lady shaking her cane at a bicyclist and a row of cars stacked up before a traffic light. "Lots. Many of whom are probably not even remotely sociopathic."

"Charles read his mind, didn't he? So he has to be all right," Sean said, dubiously. Sean's loyalty to the Professor was unfortunately higher than his loyalty to everyone else, Hank included. "He seems happy."

"Honey, men think with their dicks," Angel had taken the binoculars from Raven, perched on the crate beside her. "Erik could be a mafia communist spy or something and I can totally see the Professor still going for him."

Hank watched irritably as Raven snatched back the binoculars, a faint flush on her cheeks. "Just men, huh?"

"Hank, if you could make sweet love to your lab equipment I bet you'd do it," Angel bared her teeth at him even as Raven passed back the binoculars. "Don't judge."

Hank was still sputtering when Alex finally slouched out onto the roof, looking sour. "The hell, was this the best place that you could think of? Bloody amateurs."

"Guys, this is Alex Summers," Hank did introductions and did his best to resist the temptation to shove Alex off the roof when his eyes dipped down into Raven's blond-schoolgirl form's cleavage. Granted, it was technically fake cleavage, but still.

"At least your arch enemy is kind of cute," Angel observed, having apparently no sense of taste or tact whatsoever. Women were a strange species, Hank had once decided, so incomprehensible that it was entirely possible that they stemmed from separate evolution strains. "So what were we going to do, just sit here and spy on those two eyefucking each other?"

Hank and Alex blanched, even as Hank reflected that, sometimes, just sometimes, it seemed as though Angel's unfortunate exposure to the seedier sort of working life from a young age had created an instinct within her to say the most brain-bleach inducing statements at the worst possible times, without even batting an eyelash. Possibly maliciously.

"If we're going to do anything, I don't want to be caught," Alex said, with a scowl.

"We have a truce," Hank reminded him.

"We have a truce, not an alliance," Alex shot back, "And it won't be your ass in the fire."

"That's right, Hank," Armando said, patiently, "Crazy enough that we're doing this, but you don't have to drag the whole world into it."

"Exactly, Hank," Raven smiled sweetly at the both of them. "I mean, if he's too scared, you should have just left him out of it."

Hank covered his eyes briefly with a palm and waited for a plasma explosion, even as Armando added dryly, "That was not what I said, Raven," and Sean sucked in a breath and Angel sniggered, and then there was a dry, Children, sister, in all of their heads, judging from how everyone straightened up a little. What are all of you doing on that roof?

"Busted," Sean muttered, shuffling away belatedly from the edge of the building.

"It's such a nice day, Charles," Raven said out loud, kicking up her heels, "Why don't you invite all of us to tea? It's been so long since we've all gone out together in a group and we'll love to get to know your new friend better."

Raven was clearly an old hand at Operations of this nature. Briefly, Hank felt a pang of sympathy for Charles.

There was a very long pause, during which Hank idly wondered if Erik's 'groovy' magnetic field manipulation ability could arrange for them to be stabbed, long-distance, or collapse the struts of the water tower or something equally improbable and deadly. Alex was staring at Raven in a sort of horrified respect, and then Charles replied, his voice threaded through with a thick vein of wry amusement, Of course, Raven. I'll get the cafe to pull up some more chairs. Please come and join us.

"All right," Angel high-fived Raven, and they scooted off the crate with unseemly haste, binoculars forgotten. Armando trailed behind them like a long-suffering older brother, shaking his head, while Sean sighed loudly and dragged his heels, looking for all the world like he was about to go to his doom.

Left alone on the roof with Alex, packing the binoculars into his bag, Hank was about to follow them when Alex said, his expression unreadable, "Are your... are they always like that?"

"Crazy? Unbearable? Unpredictable? Yes," Hank said, though the edges of his mouth were moving up anyway, into a semblance of a fond smile. His adoptive family was insane, and living with them was far more disruptive than he would have liked, even in the quietest corner of the sprawling Westchester mansion, but he'd long known that he would never exchange it for the world, not Armando's occasional over-protectiveness, Sean's blithe disregard of property damage, Angel's viper tongue, not Raven's terrible pranks, not even Charles' interfering nature.

For a moment he thought he saw something akin to wistfulness in Alex's frozen face before his arch enemy cracked his knuckles and glanced over at the cafe. "If I get killed because of this, I'm coming back to haunt you."

4.0

Erik had looked all of them carefully over, expressionless, as though he was wondering whether or not to stab them all or flay them, when Xavier self-consciously attempted to scoot closer to him as more tables and chairs were pulled around, only for Raven to hook up a chair and plop herself down between them like a Bodyguard of Cockblocking Doom. Raven had balls of steel. Either that, or she thought that being Xavier's sister would give her some sort of plot armor. If so, she would probably be soundly mistaken in the future.

Alex sat down to Erik's right, with Angel, and Armando between them, Sean then Hank beside him, and kept his feet flat on the ground in case he had to beat a hasty retreat, even as a seemingly oblivious Xavier ordered juices, tea and scones. Scones. Alex didn't remember the last time he'd had a scone. If not for the constant, niggling sensation of dread between his shoulder blades and the hair standing to frozen attention on the back of his neck, he'd probably have looked forward to having one; he was hungry, and the cafe smelled pleasantly of coffee and baking bread.

As it was, Erik had a very strong projection of killing intent that was palpable enough for all of the kids, including Sean, to look uneasy and wary, and yet, somehow, it was sliding past the telepath; it was as though Erik and Xavier were connecting on utterly different wavelengths and yet in full sync. It had to be love at first fucking sight.

Watching Xavier natter away at his kids, checking on all of them with a clear if bumbling sort of paternal affection, Alex began to experience the first, tiny stirrings of doubt about the whole idea of this crusade. There was someone for everyone, after all, and if Xavier had looked deep into Erik's head and into the undoubtedly fucked up mess within it, with his malevolent bad temper and dark humor and his weird allergy to American spellings-

I'm American, came the helpful, dry voice within his head, making him sit up, blinking, But I have to admit that the British way of spelling words is the correct bar to take.

Scratch that. Xavier was bloody creepy.

Xavier immediately looked hurt, like some sort of goddamned puppy that had just gotten kicked in the ribs, and Erik narrowed his eyes at Alex in a way that they were possibly going to have some sort of Talk, afterwards - how the hell did Erik know that it was his fault, anyway, what the hell - and Alex was possibly saved from being stabbed on the spot by the nearest metal object via the arrival of drinks, warm scones, jam and clotted cream.

Given that nobody in the cafe at this predominantly affluent white neighborhood had even batted an eye when Angel and Armando had sat down at the tables with them, there was probably far more to Xavier than he was letting on. Alex had to concentrate and pay attention. It was entirely possible than Xavier would be far more creepy than he had originally imagined.

"So, Mister Lehnsherr," Raven said brightly, as Alex hastily piled his plate, in order to give himself an excuse not to put his foot in his mouth/brain further, "What do you do for a living?"

Alex paused. This was going to be good to hear.

Erik smiled his shark-like smile. "I'm a student of life."

"That's wonderful," Xavier said enthusiastically, even as his sister and Hank stared at him in disbelief and Alex wondered if it was possible to facepalm without getting stabbed in the eye by the jam knife. They were fighting a rearguard battle here. Somehow, Erik had found a rich guy who was crazy about his bullshit. It had to be like striking the lottery.

Angel was wearing a strange expression, sort of a conflict between You-Are-So-Fucking-Full-of-Shit and Why-Are-The-Crazy-Ones-Hot. "Uh huh. What's the syllabus like?"

"Survival one-oh-one," Erik counted the 'topics' off his long fingers, "Advanced information brokering, Creative Problem Solving and," Erik smiled a wider, sharky smile, "Getting rid of obstacles."

Alex chanced a peek under the table. Armando and Hank both had their feet flat on the ground as well. It was good to know which of the other kids at the table had decent survival instincts. "All good lessons," Xavier decided, with his puppy-bright eyes, as though Erik was reciting Scripture or something instead of firing off bullshit like a champion. Alex couldn't place his age, but he'd bet it was somewhere between the Silver-spooned Childhood of Forever and the Middle Age of the Cloistered Ivory Goddamned Tower.

Raven seemed to have been made of more normal stuff; she was glancing between her brother and Erik, as though she couldn't quite work out who to try and strangle first. "And to think that I had long thought myself way past being able to be embarrassed by you in public. Charles, that was bad and pathetic. Bathetic."

Xavier winced at the casual butchering of the English language, but Hank said blithely, "So you're unemployed," indicating to Alex's surprise that the kid was either (a) stupider than Alex had initially thought or (b) braver than he'd ever thought possible.

"Oh no," Erik said lazily, and as smooth as chocolate as his voice was, Alex didn't need to look further than his eyes to hope that Hank never, ever found himself alone in a dark corner close to their place. "We get by, don't we, Alex?"

"Uh," Alex said intelligently, caught between loyalty, self-preservation and the tentative truce drawn up with someone he'd never liked in the first place. "Yeah."

"So somehow you make enough to rent out a flat in Westchester county and support a kid through high school." Angel was inspecting her nails. "Whatever you're on, I want in."

"It's not a big flat," Erik's tone was self-deprecating, but he was grinning again, as though... as though he was enjoying himself, Alex realized, in a sudden uptick of astonishment, playing juvenile games and trading barbs with a bunch of kids nearly half his age. Having expected Erik to do something terrible with That Voice by now, Alex wasn't entirely sure if the sour curl of surprise in his stomach was fully pleasant.

There's much more to Erik than you think, Xavier's voice was gentle and warm in his mind, like a soft blanket, But you don't need to doubt that he'll ever-

GET OUT, Alex thought, as loudly as he could, and tacked on an image of loud red signs and barbed wire for good measure. Xavier actually flinched visibly, looking away quickly, and for a long, silent moment, as Raven straightened up sharply and stared warily at him, Alex calculated the probabilities of getting stabbed first by Raven or by Erik. He'd probably put money on Raven.

And then Erik was frowning, his smile dropping, with that studied look that he got sometimes whenever he was playing with that fucking weird non-American coin that he'd never let Alex get a close look at, that Alex had long learned to pretend that he'd never seen. Whatever it was - a trophy, or a reminder or something - it was bad business.

"I just remembered that I have an appointment to keep," Erik said brusquely, holding his eyes. "Alex?"

"Yeah. Sure." Alex got up from his chair, ignoring Hank's guilty look and Armando's mouthed 'good luck', and slunk after Erik's heels like a chastised goddamn puppy, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. When Erik got like this, he became unpredictable, and it was usually better to wait for some verbal cues instead of entering a full fledged sort of Cold War of silences and scare tactics and minor sabotage.

Erik kept a stony silence all the way back to their apartment, but once the door locked itself, he ran his hand jerkily through his hair. "Alex, was Charles doing something to you?"

When Alex blinked, confused, Erik glanced sharply at him, and exhaled, irritably, muttering something in German, then he added, with a vague wave of his hand, "Making you uncomfortable with his mind tricks? Or was it those brats of his? Tell me."

It took Alex another long, slow moment to understand. Erik had thought that Xavier was consciously trying to drive him away? Granted, Xavier was unnerving as all hell, but Alex knew that there hadn't been any malice in it. Xavier probably just spoke to his own kids that way, all the time. And as to Hank and the others... he still didn't like Hank, just out of common principle, but the others didn't seem too bad. "It was just weird having him talk in my head without actually talking."

Erik nodded, slowly, as though he was taking mental notes. "I'll tell him."

"And here I thought that you were going to be mad at me for ruining your date," Alex blurted out, because he was concussed-kitten-stupid, because he was still somewhat shocked that Erik hadn't gotten into one of his Moods, but Erik only rolled his eyes, pulling off his jacket to toss it into a crumpled heap on the couch.

"Mein Gott, just stop talking, you're a really dumb kid sometimes," Erik muttered, winding over to the armchair to settle down in it, that weird-as-hell coin slipping out of his back pocket to do that silent circling thing around his fingers, and Alex recalled being alone on the prison practice yard, doing exercises, and a tall man walking up to him who didn't look like a guard or a prisoner, the curt, you're special, kid, I've seen your records... Do you want to get out of here? If you stick by me, I'll stick by you...

Months and several state lines afterwards, it seemed that Erik still had the capacity to surprise him.

"A fly is going to land in your fucking mouth," Erik said, without looking up, rooting around the coffee table until he came up with today's copy of the Times. "Don't you have homework to do or something?"

"So you really like this Xavier guy?" Alex asked, honestly curious. "Seriously?" Because Alex really didn't think it was about Xavier's wealth - Erik never did seem to show much interest in money...

For a long time, Erik didn't answer, until Alex was beginning to think that he was going to be pointedly ignored, then there was a shrug, and a neutral, "He's interesting."

"What do you mean, 'interesting'? Baseball is interesting. Girls with short skirts are interesting."

"I mean that we're not going to have this conversation, Jesus," Erik growled, raising the newspapers up into a miniature Great Wall of Print around him. "Who are you, my shrink? If you don't have homework, I'll give you homework-"

Alex beat a hasty tactical retreat.

V.

At some point in time the school had entertained the concept of a vegetable garden, in the grounds at the back, which had through neglect, negligent use of fertilizer and freshmen shenanigans been transformed over time into a rambling thicket of strange smells that probably chewed up unsuspecting freshmen now and then and spat them out as vapid jock zombies. Hank had once seen Alex sneak off to the garden during recess, when glancing down from a third floor corridor, and had filed it away for future blackmail/locational use.

When he hadn't been able to locate Alex in the canteen or on the track during recess, he'd tried the garden. His instincts had proved to be correct - Alex was using the secluded spot to break one of the cardinal school rules.

"Hey." Hank paused, staring at the cigarette that Alex had nearly smoked to its narcotic, acrid end, and said, incredulously, "Are you smoking?"

"No, I'm having a fucking piece of candy," Alex snapped, having dropped the cigarette in his shock. Stubbing it out regretfully, he glowered at Hank, exhaling a thick cloud of smoke that made Hank wrinkle his nose and flap his hand before his face ineffectively. "What the hell do you want?"

Hank narrowed his eyes briefly, then he drew himself up, determined at least to see this through. "I just wanted to apologize."

"For what?"

"For getting you into trouble?" Hank hazarded, puzzled at Alex's blank expression. Was the kid concussed or something? "The cafe? Scones? Armando was right, I shouldn't have called you there, I'm sorry, I should have known that you'd get into trouble."

Alex was staring at him as though he'd just grown a pair of horns and blue fur. "I didn't get into trouble," he settled for saying, warily.

"All right." That had sounded too defensive to be true, Hank decided, but it wasn't really his business.

Something unspoken seemed to have happened during the gatecrashed 'date' that had Erik more or less storm off with Alex dragged behind him, and Hank had spent the rest of the weekend wondering if he had indeed ended up with blood on his hands. Charles hadn't been of much help, either; since the cafe, the Professor had been moping around the mansion, staring out of the window or holed up in his study like a pining schoolgirl (Angel's words). Expecting the worst, Hank had been so relieved to show up at the usual dreaded morning Simplistic Physics class to realize that Alex was (a) alive and (b) seemingly in one piece.

Alex was glaring at him now, his jaw set, his fingers curling and uncurling, and even as Hank could recognise the warning signs he stubbornly didn't turn tail. "You guys... you guys seriously thought what, that Erik was going to smack me around?"

"Well," Hank temporized, trying to find the words to explain that yes, Erik tended to give off those sort of vibes, what with that crazy grin of his, and it wasn't Alex's fault or anything, one couldn't help the cards that life dealt and not everyone managed to get to know someone like the Professor, and as such he was caught flat footed when Alex snarled and came up swinging.

The thicket smelled even worse when he was nose deep in it, but Hank rolled hastily to get to his feet, bringing up his arms to block the next punch, "Alex!"

"God, you guys don't even know him," Alex hissed, as he backed Hank slowly back by his wild attacks, far too furious to concentrate on getting around Hank's defensive.

"Alex, look, I didn't mean-"

"You didn't mean!" Alex grabbed him by the arms and slammed him against the wall, momentarily knocking the breath from Hank's lungs, "Are you normally this dumb out of the science labs, Bigfoot, or is it because your goddamned dad's crawled through your mind so many times that you've never ever needed to think before you open your goddamn trap?"

Hank sucked in a deep breath. Now he was pissed.

5.0

"This is what happens when you get angry," Hank muttered, as they crouched in the shrubbery in the adjoining parkland beyond the school. Erik and Xavier were walking together in the sunny, unkempt lawn, heads bent together in intimate conversation, clearly having forgotten about the both of them, the principal-initiated reconciliation, and the rest of the world. It made Alex want to throw up a little in his mouth.

"No, that was just me being annoyed. Things catch fire when I get angry," Alex disagreed. "You said it was that blast thing."

"Plasma," Hank said, in that annoying way that he did, like he expected any normal, sane human being to understand the jargon spewing from his mouth. Someday in the future, Alex thought sourly, Hank would probably be a rich and lonely scientist, going slowly crazy in a big laboratory, and then he'd invent something that'd cause the apocalypse.

"Whatever." Alex felt gingerly around his jaw, to the bruise on his cheek that was going to purple beautifully tomorrow. "Seriously, do you have super strength or something?"

"Sort of," Hank said evasively, looking embarrassed about it all. Alex supposed it was only to be expected. Hank probably needed super strength like he needed an hourglass figure. It wasn't conducive to scientific research, unless he wanted to bench press a steel gurney or something.

"Asswipe."

"Bastard."

"Bigfoot."

"Neanderthal."

"Candyass."

"Dipstick."

"I'm not sorry about what I said."

"Neither am I," Hank said, and they nodded warily if somewhat companionably at each other, the truce re-established, glancing back over at their adoptive parents. Erik had his hand splayed possessively at the small of Xavier's back, and Hank was glaring at Erik's long fingers as though hoping that they'd spontaneously fall off. "Since when did they get this close? The Professor's been all quiet all weekend."

That was a funny coincidence. "So was Erik." Erik had his occasional silences, but it was unusual for him to stay quiet, and for so long, in the apartment for the whole weekend, doing seemingly nothing. Usually, Erik would be out on unexplained business, or he would be poking around Alex's homework, criticising his working.

The realization took a second longer to dawn on Hank than it did on Alex, and then Hank was pinching at the bridge of his nose, with a deep, defeated sigh of exasperation. "Well played, Professor, well played."

"Yeah?" Alex had thought that Erik had been more introspective than usual, but he'd simply thought that Erik had needed some time alone or something, given the disaster of the date and... "Yours too?"

"He'd seemed so sad, even Raven was giving him a bit of space," Hank muttered in a monotone. "So they'd actually been at it the whole bloody weekend."

Alex had been in the same room as Erik for part of the 'bloody weekend', thank you very much. He tried to will his memory to self-erase. No such luck. Still, if Xavier and Erik had gone to that much effort... and looking at them now, at how Erik was chuckling at something Xavier had said, and not in that evil way that he did sometimes in schadenfreude... maybe, trying to sabotage what fragile peace that he'd found was... wrong.

Turning to tell Hank as much, Alex therefore missed the sight of Erik leaning down to kiss Xavier.

He certainly, however, didn't miss the sudden spur of bright pleasure in his mind, or the ghost sensation of chapped lips brushing gently against his. And judging from Hank's wide-eyed shock, neither had Hank.

"What the hell?" Alex hissed, jerking backwards, and nearly braining himself on the trunk of a tree. Over on the grass, Erik and Xavier started apart, Erik with narrowed eyes, and Xavier with an embarrassed flush on his cheeks, then they walked pointedly and further away, falling back into conversation.

"I think I've been scarred for life," Hank said, with a moan, his head in his hands. "Did I just second-hand kiss your dad? I need therapy."

"If you think you're... look, I just second-hand kissed my dad!" Alex growled, rubbing hastily at his own mouth, "And that is far more fucked up!"

"Just kill me now," Hank muttered, though he winced when Alex got up and kicked him in the knee. "Hey!"

"Get up. Call the others. We're going to have to head this off somehow," Alex said grimly, all previous attempts at understanding and charity forgotten.

Hank blinked owlishly up at him, clearly still deeply disturbed. "What?"

"Or do you want to be within range of your dad when they fuck?"

"Thank you," Hank said tightly, after a long, horrified moment, "I really needed the additional stress and trauma."

VI.

"Un-fucking-believable," Raven muttered, when the situation was explained to the Echo Leader of the reinstated Operation Cease and Desist. Armando and Sean had been assigned to Professor-watching duties, while the rest of them had gathered surreptitiously in a quiet park close to School, sitting in a circle on the grass beside a desiccated fountain, the sun growing lower in the sky.

"It's happened before?" Hank hated his curiosity, but Raven was Charles' sister, adopted or not; he'd gathered that she had lived with Charles for most of her life.

"No," Raven shuddered, "Or it'll have been bucket of cold water time. God. I don't even want to think about it."

"I want to kiss Erik," Angel said, unrepentantly, with a wicked grin. "What was it like? Slow? Tender? Or did he bend that prim and proper Professor over and suck his face?"

Hank glowered at her even as he tried to mentally erase the last five minutes of his life. Judging from the identical expressions of disgust on Raven's and Alex's faces, he wasn't the only one. "Can we concentrate on the important bit of this conversation? Namely how Charles' projections are going to make us require extensive therapy?"

"I won't need therapy," Angel scoffed. "And I bet that it'd be awesome."

"Most of us," Hank amended, closing his eyes briefly as his brain failed to compute the concepts of 'awesome', 'Erik' and 'second-hand telepathic sex' all in one single equation without threatening a self-destruct.

"First things first," Raven glanced pointedly between Hank and Alex. "What the hell was it this time? The two of you look like you went three rounds in a boxing ring."

"Unimportant," Hank said, dismissively, even as Alex shrugged and muttered, "Nothing."

"Okay," Raven folded her arms, lips pursed. "I'm going to put it down to typical male stupidity, then. Where's Erik, anyway?"

Alex scratched absently at his head, "I don't know, he was out. I don't always know where he goes to or what he gets up to. Usually he doesn't have a routine, but he'll often be back at the apartment in the evening or late at night. What about Xavier?"

"Escorted home, if Sean and Armando knows what's good for them. They'll keep him busy with conversation so that he can't concentrate on finding Erik." Raven's eyes were narrowed. "This is what we're going to do. Two pronged solution. Firstly, Hank's going to invent something that can limit or keep down those projections, and then you're going to Charles-proof Charles' room, at the least, as a fail-safe, in case we don't get to break this up in time."

Hank choked on his lemonade. "I can't just... you can't just... you're talking theoretical physics! I can't just pluck inventions like that out of the air!" Although, if he could reverse-engineer some of the principles behind Cerebro it was entirely possible. Some alloys seemed to resonate with telepathic frequencies, apparently; Charles had mentioned something along those lines. "And what makes you think that I can do this faster than you guys can find a proper solution?"

"Well, make them un-theoretical and do it fast," Raven said, with a dismissive flap of her hands, "You're the smart one."

"Slave-driver," Hank muttered, though he was already mentally computing possibilities, absorbed on the cusp of further scientific discovery.

"What about the rest of us?" Alex, at least, looked impressed that his protests hadn't been more vehement.

Raven shrugged, spreading her arms wide. "I'm listening."

"Old tricks are the best," Angel said slowly, thinking something that was probably utterly scandalous and devious over. "Raven, didn't you say that Charles is a bit of a slut in a bar?"

It was Alex's turn to start coughing, but Raven merely snorted. "Yes, but the way Charles has been carrying on over this Erik cat, I'm not so sure that he'd go around flirting. Maybe. It'll be tough, though, and he's definitely going to try and invite Erik. Not to mention he'll never let any of us into the bar with him, what with his concerns about sticking to the bloody drinking age limit. We could try it though, if we can't come up with anything else."

"Won't Xavier just read your minds and find your motives?" Alex wiggled his fingers near his head in his annoying imitation of Charles' habit.

"It doesn't work that way," Raven shook her head. "Charles won't read my mind, he's promised. As to everyone else, he asks beforehand. It's just loud surface thoughts that he can't help but hear. So if we keep things on the low down, he won't realize."

Alex looked startled - and a little shamefaced. "Oh."

"We could find another adult mutant who is hotter than Erik," Angel suggested abruptly, perking up at the thought. "There're all those stacks of Cerebro readings. We could split them up between us, go searching. Someone in that lot is bound to be smoking hot and old enough."

"I think that only transmutes the problem, it doesn't solve it," Hank rubbed briefly at his temples, suddenly reminded why he didn't normally take part in the mansion's Raven-Angel schemes. His head often started to hurt, as though it was fighting a brain drain away from rationality into the realm of the patently ludicrous.

"No, it's a brilliant idea," Raven disagreed, indicating a strong vein of personal bias, "We don't need Charles to get attached, the idea is to get Erik to break up with Charles. Or vice versa. Neither of them have met another adult mutant before. If we add one into the mix..."

Hank sighed. His adoptive family had a way of taking simple concepts and skewing them down insane tangents. "I can think of at least ten ways how this can go horribly wrong. What if Charles just latches on to this new person and it's the same problem? What if they don't break up? What if all three of them hook up?" Worst scenario. Ever.

"Just copy us those Cerebro readings," Angel sniffed, looking unconcerned with the trappings of logic. "You do your lab thing, and we'll go and do the leg work and the real thinking."

The world had come to a sorry place when he had to appeal to his arch-enemy for reason. "Alex?"

"Sounds good," Alex's expression was distant, like a little kid religiously contemplating the biggest ice cream and candy shop that he'd ever seen. "So we go on the road to meet hot people who're like us? Sounds brilliant."

Suddenly Hank could see how Angel's crazy suggestion could appeal to the stupider species of hormonally charged human known as the Adolescent Male. "How are you guys going to get the money to fund your ill-advised road trip? What about school? And none of us can drive!"

"I can drive," Raven offered, rolling her eyes, "We'll borrow one of Charles' cars. I can make myself look old enough that nobody's going to ask me for my license. We'll tell Charles that we're helping recruitment or something, he'll buy that. We'll go on short trips around Westchester after school hours and on a longer one out of the county on the weekend if we come up with nothing. And I'll take some cash from Charles' wallet. Happy, grandpa?"

"This is all going to end in tears," Hank muttered.

6.0.

They'd had no real success working around Westchester county during the week, but thankfully, Erik had seemed engaged with something secretive if seemingly unrelated (hopefully) all week, having only come back to the apartment to check on his homework and sleep. The Professor had apparently thought that Hank's latest attempts to build an anti-telepathy field was most exciting and seemed fully occupied. This meant that the week had at least passed without second-hand kissing.

Raven had said that Xavier's range was two hundred fucking fifty miles, give or take. They weren't just doing this for themselves, they were doing this for the sanity of hundreds of the unsuspecting. Alex didn't want to think about what would happen of Charles projected this sort of thing onto any nearby elderly people prone to heart attacks, for example. They had to work fast.

"OK. We're in the Bronx," Raven muttered, wearing the skin of an older Hispanic woman, "Of everyone in this car, only Alex is going to stand out, so keep calm and don't panic."

"T'aint that bad," Sean was seated in the front passenger seat, looking out of the window even as he checked Cerebro's references against a map. "I grew up in this town. You just need to watch where you're going, aye."

"I can handle myself." Alex shrugged, slouched in the back seat with Angel. They'd left Armando back at the mansion just in case, given that it seemed that Armando's mutation was best suited for 'just in case' situations. Sean was chatty and blithely good natured - of all of Charles Xavier's kids, Alex liked him the most, accent and all.

"Just don't start punching people," Angel retorted, sprawled over the back of Sean's chair and peering at the map. "Where's our first victim?"

"Last version of the Cerebro readings placed a trace in Wakefield," Sean pointed at the map, "There's also readings in Kingsbridge."

"More Irish mutants," Raven muttered. "Tell me if I need to change out of this skin or become ginger or something."

"We look like a bunch of plonkers," Sean looked aggrieved, having had to be cajoled into the Mission as their token Real Irish Person. Of all of the Operation, as Hank called it (God, that kid had to get himself laid), Sean was the only one stubbornly refusing to accept that the status quo was about to get disastrous, very quickly.

They reached Wakefield somewhat later in the day, partly due to Raven's inability to listen to basic street directions, and the readings had brought them right up and outside a ramshackle old pub. This was usually where things began to get tricky. Without Xavier around, they had no reliable way of picking out which poor sod in the vicinity was a mutant, so it was all trial and massive error.

"We'll just scan the pub for hot people," Raven decided, shifting as an afterthought into the skin of a heavyset, middle-aged Irish man with a unrelentingly florid nose, "If there's no one, we'll go."

"None of us are going to be let in there except you," Sean pointed out.

"Alex and Angel can probably pass. You'll have to stay in the car, if we get thrown out or get into trouble, do something Irish-y at the bartender," Raven said vaguely, clearly having little to no real experience with bouncers, Irish people, or bars like these. "We won't start getting smashed on beer or something, all right?"

Sean transferred his liquid and long-suffering puppy expression to Alex, who sighed. "I'll take care of them," he assured him, and to his surprise, he found that he meant it. He was slowly getting fond of Hank's insanity of a family, and it wasn't even because that they were all mutants like him.

The bar was empty except for a few old codgers semi-asleep in a corner, a bartender who looked them over with bored disinterest, and a broad-shouldered man with his back turned to them, black hair tufted up like a pair of horns, red flannel stretched over rippling muscle and faded jeans riding low on his hips, nursing a whisky and smoking a cigar.

The man didn't look up as Alex approached the bar, careful to keep himself between him and the girls, just in case, and the bartender narrowed his close-set eyes when Alex got close. "We don't serve kids 'ere."

"We're on important business," Alex retorted, trying to go for an Erik impression and thankful that his own voice had broken years ago.

"Pull the other one," the bartender replied, unimpressed, even as the man glanced up at Alex, all angular, swarthy features and feral eyes, looking him up and down, evenly, sniffing, then glancing back to take in Angel and Raven.

So much for that. He wasn't hot by any of Alex's measures. "Actually, we might be done here," Alex decided, only for Angel to grab him by the elbow and Raven to sidle onto the bar stool beside the man. Alex mouthed 'what' to Angel, only to be treated to an eyeroll, and puzzled, Alex hesitated.

"I'll have what he's having," Raven told the bartender, still in her middle-aged Irishman guise, even as the man frowned at her, tilting his head.

"You can drink. But take your sprogs out of my bar."

"Sprogs?" Raven repeated, puzzled, and the man knocked back the whisky, uncurling to his feet and beckoning to them, his voice gruff and uncompromising.

"We'll take this outside."

Once out of the pub, the man glanced at Sean, then around them, his eyes narrowed, before looking back at Raven. "Stryker send you lot after me, kids? Because if he did, you'd better all give it up before y'get yourselves killed."

"Who's Stryker?" Angel asked, and the man stared at her, lifting his eyebrows.

"So you're all just a bunch of stupid fuckin' mutie kids, runnin' around just askin' t'be bagged," the man shook his head slowly, taking a drag from his cigar. "Fuckin' hell. How did you even find me? Was it Fury?"

"Well-" Alex began, only for Angel's grip on his hand to tighten sharply.

"Why don't you come and take a look?" Raven asked, ingenuously. "I'm Raven, by the way." Looking quickly around to check that the coast was clear, she blurred into her schoolgirl-blonde form, and the man seemed impressed. Or at least, he was probably impressed with Raven's cleavage. Alex was.

"Logan," the man introduced himself, mouthing at his cigar thoughtfully, and just as Alex thought that they were about to get blown off, Logan drawled, "Let me get my shit."

VII.

Hank should have known that he should have supervised the road trip. Raven and the others had returned to the mansion after having located someone who managed, somehow, to look even more psychopathic than Erik Lehnsherr. As well as being thoroughly disreputable in appearance.

Hank had watched the Professor fawn excitedly on the newcomer until he couldn't take it anymore and had dragged Alex out of the foyer to give him a talking to. Possibly, Charles had a Thing for people who looked Crazy and Dangerous, and Raven and the rest should have known that. At the very least, Alex or Sean should have intervened.

"You guys live here? All by yourselves?" Alex said, in a sort of daze of astonishment, allowing himself to be dragged along, staring at the mansion's antique furniture, artwork and rich carpeting with open wonder.

Once they were in the kitchens, Hank muttered, "What were you guys thinking? Who is that?"

"Don't look at me, the girls were the ones who decided," Alex was looking around the huge kitchen with an expression of wide-eyed astonishment. "This room itself is bigger than our goddamned living room. Is this all old money or something?"

"Charles' father made a lot of money from nuclear physics," Hank said vaguely, having never been particularly interested in finances as long as his lab was kept supplied. "Look, I think I've made some headway with closed circuit anti-psi fields but you guys need to get your game on. Don't let Raven get her way on everything, she's crazy sometimes."

"She does seem that way, I'm surprised that you haven't gone batshit crazy living with her," Alex said, and then they realized, all at once, that they had both agreed on something, utterly companionably, without the danger of second-hand kissing lurking in the immediate background, and the silence stretched, awkward and alien, then Alex rucked his hand up over the back of his head. "You know, you're not as big an asswipe as I thought."

"And you're not a total dickwad," Hank conceded, a little uncomfortably. Alex Summers wasn't a total bastard, after all; he was fairly tolerable, his personal issues seemed to have logical reasons behind them, and... perhaps, just perhaps... Hank wouldn't go absolutely crazy if Alex somehow ended up living in the mansion with the rest of them. He was also a mutant, anyway, and Charles had opened up his home to protect and shelter all of their kind, not just people who Hank liked. "Look, maybe-"

"Who is that cat in the foyer?" Armando poked his head in the kitchen, then he frowned at the both of them, "You're not gonna both start smacking each other around, are you? Because we've got some bone china in those cabinets."

"No, Armando," Hank rubbed his hand over his face, "As to that most redoubtable specimen in the foyer, it looks like Raven and the others somehow managed to find the missing link."

"Right," Armando said, evidently failing to understand the joke, "I'm just saying, maybe, just maybe, things are getting a bit out of hand?"

Hank groaned. Things had, come to think of it, been getting out of hand ever since Hank had made the mistake of involving Raven and the others, but hindsight was always fifty-fifty. "Whatever it is, I need more time to finish the dampener, so it's all up to you guys if you want the failsafe in place."

"Think of all the old ladies in range with weak hearts," Alex added, and Armando sighed out aloud, visibly caving.

"Maybe we can play off the Professor and the New Guy. Or maybe you guys are going about this wrongly. Instead of finding competitors, why not find abandoned little kiddies or babies? There's sure to be kids born with visible mutations who get abandoned. If we had enough little kiddies, the Professor won't have time for anyone else."

"Didn't see any," Alex admitted, "Those readings tend to be pretty much like guidelines once we show up at a reading. For most of the places we went to, we couldn't even figure out who was the mutant. That guy we picked up seemed to be able to sense us, though. Maybe he could be useful."

Hank was of the private opinion that Missing Link was more likely to be useful in the way that a chainsaw was useful in civilised negotiations, but he nodded warily. "What does he do, anyway?"

"Enhanced senses, healing factor," Alex said promptly, his expression grudgingly impressed. "Ex military, Raven thinks."

Great. "So we have a military-trained wrecking ball." Against Exhibit P, this was going to be an interesting fight. At the very least, they probably wouldn't be able to get Missing Link killed by having dragged him inadvertently into their Operation.

"Uh, guys?" It was Sean's turn to poke his head around into the kitchen. "I think we've got trouble coming up the driveway. It's your dad," he added helpfully, glancing at Alex.

"Oh hell," Alex muttered.

7.0.

As it turned out, the latest attempt by 'Operation Cease and Desist' had been a miserable failure. Instead of World War III, Xavier had brightened up visibly when Erik had walked through the door, like the sun had come up or something, even as Erik's gaze had bloody softened, and they probably would have run into each other's arms right there and then or done something utterly embarrassing if Logan hadn't said something terse and rude about 'inviting in the whole fuckin' world', and then they'd all packed off to the Professor's study.

Crouched outside the oak door with all of the rest of the kids and feeling like a dipstick, Alex stifled a sigh. It looked like they'd been outmanoeuvred again on this one - for Erik to have shown up so promptly, Xavier had probably been in contact with him all this while. And whatever Logan had to say to them both, it was apparently Serious Adult Business. Alex didn't need Hank's brain to know that this could lead nowhere good.

Apparently, whatever mutation Hank had, enhanced hearing was part of it, though he looked extremely long suffering, pressed against the door with Raven crouched next to him. "They're talking about something called the Weapon X program," Hank muttered, frowning, "Apparently there's a government organisation that kidnaps kids like us and turns us into weapons."

Erik had to be happy, Alex thought. Logan had just validated all of his favorite conspiracy theories.

"Shite," Sean said, with feeling. "I knew it."

"We all knew that we had to hide," Angel pointed at her weirdly tattooed shoulders, her jaw set. "The government won't let people like us run around, would they?"

"Quiet," Raven hissed, "Hank, what else?"

"Logan left Weapon X some time ago," Hank said, in an undertone, "After he realized that it was more than a black ops thing. He said he isn't staying, he's just here to give Charles a warning. Since Charles is apparently responsible for us or something. What the hell, Raven, do you have a secondary mutation that attracts trouble? Did you just pick up a fugitive from the government?"

"Nice of him," Armando said dubiously, even as Raven rolled her eyes at Hank.

"Yes, well, he also just asked the Professor for money," Hank rolled his eyes, with a glare over his shoulder at Raven. "Seriously, you guys, what the hell did you bring home? Don't you guys have standards?"

"Hey," Angel objected, "That Logan cat, I'll have you know, is smoking hot."

Raven muttered something undoubtedly rude under her breath. "I'll make sure that Charles doesn't just hand over his wallet. Anything else?"

"Mm..." Hank closed his eyes briefly, then he let out a deep sigh. "Your brother just asked Logan to stay. And Erik and Alex. For their 'safety'."

Raven slapped her hand over her face, even as Alex blinked slowly in astonishment and Sean's jaw dropped, then Armando began to laugh, in a soft, low chuckle, not even stopping when Angel viciously kicked him in the ankle. "This is what happens when you guys go trawling for trouble."

"I hate you sometimes," Raven growled at him, if without much feeling. "Goddamnit. How much worse can this get?"

"Well," Hank said dryly, "Erik just accepted."

"What." Raven yelped, followed by Angel's muttered, "Oh, here we go," and Alex's incredulous, "Holy shit."

"I don't have a big problem with Alex moving in, but I'll have you know that I'm at least a couple of weeks away from fully understanding psi field manipulation," Hank growled, then he stared at the rest of them when they blinked at him. "What? What did I say?" Hank asked, a little panicky, then he paused. "Ah."

"Well, I'll be fucked," Angel said slowly, glancing between the both of them, "And to think that it was only about a week ago that you tried to kill each other. Boys."

"He's not that bad," Hank muttered, avoiding Alex's eyes and pretending to listen to the door. "I guess his dad isn't, either, if there's no second-hand anything involved."

Armando cleared his throat, and extended a hand. "If you're moving in, I for one am happy about it."

"I," Alex said, intelligently, still floored, numbly shaking Armando's hand, flinching when Sean grinned and slapped him on the back, still staring when Angel sniffed and said, "At least we've got one more person on the housekeeping roster," and Raven added, "He can have the empty room next to Sean's, it got aired this morning."

"Guys," Hank interrupted the babble, "It's still up to Alex."

Did he want to live in this big, old mansion, full of rooms to explore, full of kids who knew and accepted him, who were just like him, to be swept in their crazy machinations and insane adventures... to have family his age, to have a place where both he and Erik could have a little peace? Did he ever. "This doesn't feel real."

Welcome, Xavier murmured in his mind, and this time, Alex didn't try to push him away. Welcome home.

epilogue.

"He's adjusting well," Erik said, as he moved his bishop down to f3 without touching it. "Despite my earlier reservations."

"They're all around the same age," Charles disagreed, as he considered his next move, "It's only logical that they'd get along."

Erik's eyebrows rose a little at that, then he smiled faintly to himself. "And I suppose that everyone liked you, when you were at school?"

"Well," Charles said, a little puzzled at Erik's tone, "Yes," then he caught an image from Erik's decidedly filthy mind and laughed helplessly, "Stop that, stop that, where do you come up with these ideas, and besides, I was never spanked."

"You like it," Erik said, unconcerned, and this was untrue - Charles loved it, loved Erik's casual disregard of his fumbling moral compunctions about mind-reading and sharing, loved Erik's acceptance whenever he slid into his beautifully complex mind. He had never met another man so utterly unafraid of him, of his ability, who had thought it fascinating rather than something to shy away from. "Alex is a little different from them. I told you where I found him."

In jail, Charles recalled, and had tried to imagine the brash boy he'd just seen chasing the other laughing and squealing kids around the grounds with paint-filled water balloons in a jail, in solitary confinement, resentful, afraid of his powers and alone. "I remember."

"It was a reminder," Erik murmured, rubbing his tattoo absently through the wool of his turtleneck when Charles took his own bishop to b2. "I was like that once. Alone, marked, frightened enough to try and subsume everything under hatred. Getting him out of jail was an impulse, at first, then I had to learn how to handle him, learn how to take care of the both of us while we fled across state lines, find a way to put him into school, help him with his homework, listen to his problems... it was exhilarating. Humbling. A reminder that there could be far more to my life than vengeance."

"Then I'm glad that you met him," Charles said, with a smile, as Erik moved a black pawn to h5. "He needs you. There's no greater mutable force in this world as responsibility."

Erik snorted, resting his cheek on his palm. "Oh? You no longer wish that I'd met you first?" Considering how possessive you are?

It's 'possessive' and not 'obsessive' any more, is it? Charles retorted, and even as Erik smirked at him Charles had to admit that it was probably better this way, for the both of them to have first been grounded by others, Charles with his obsessive curiosity for novelty and Erik with his equally obsessive, dark drive for revenge. "It would have had its benefits."

"If we had, who would have reinforced your room for you?" Erik asked, with his shark-like grin and an afterimage of Alex and Hank flinching away in the shrubs when Charles had briefly lost control and started projecting over a mere kiss. "Honestly, Charles. You lecture the kids about learning control all the time, and then it turns out that you're awful at it."

"I'm not," Charles muttered mulishly, "This hasn't been a problem before, ask Raven."

The way Erik's eyes went narrowed and dark indicated that finishing the chess game was the last thing on his mind now, even if Charles didn't catch the hot, vivid swell of increasingly erotic images and sensations that crossed over Erik's mind. He rose from his chair, stumbling and flushed, and made it only partway to the bed before Erik pounced on him, and they shed clothes in a winding line to the window seat. Pressed up against the glass and smearing it with his sweat, Charles bit down on his lower lip to stifle the keening wail bubbling up within him as Erik pushed two long fingers within him, grinning as he stroked them easily deeper.

"Still so wet," Erik was panting against his ear, hotly, catching the lobe in his teeth then scraping a stinging path to the fading love bites from the morning on his neck, sucking over the marks again. "I'll fill you up again, Professor," Erik's voice was turning into a rasping purr that always made his breath hitch and his toes curl, "Make you walk around your mansion like this, wet from my come, you'll like that, won't you-"

"Yes, yes," Charles was tugging frantically at Erik's turtleneck, unable to master the coordination required to pull it off him, then he could only hang on with a choked moan as Erik pushed down his own trousers with a muttered curse in German, wetting himself impatiently with spit before pushing into him, Gods, it was always so glorious, they were in full sight of the garden and... and... they were in full sight of the garden.

Erik caught his wrists when Charles blindly tried to reach for the drapes, a low moan stuttered through his throat as he pushed all the way in, balls deep. Don't bother, the kids are on the other side of the grounds.

"Only for now," Charles hissed, with a quick, guilty peek down. Hank's closed circuit didn't need the whole room to be plated up, so he could still have windows, but still. "What if they see? What if Logan sees?"

Logan had elected, after much grumbling, to stay on in the mansion 'for now', despite his stated dislike of kiddies and 'you bloody sods fuckin' all over the place' (not that they did) and seemed to be nominally good at keeping the children out of too much trouble. Erik, however, seemed to dislike him on principle, and was always hovering around Charles in a sort of jealous protectiveness whenever Charles tried to speak with Logan.

"Stop talking about Logan," Erik muttered, rolling his hips roughly and making Charles squeak, curling his legs around Erik's waist.

"I don't see why, you don't have to be jealous," Charles said, as primly as he could, and grinned when Erik growled and thrust up with a sharp snap of his hips; Charles braced himself against the glass and snapped his head back, keening as Erik fucked him into it with deep, brutal strokes, all measured against the rough kisses that they took from each other, Charles' nails scoring bright lines down Erik's back, finger bruises on his own hips, teeth crescents on his shoulder, flawless.

Erik's pleasure was sharper, keener today, edged with exasperation and want and jealousy, a jumble of primal emotions and words in another tongue, until Charles grinned breathless and lopsided up at him and kicked him in the back with the heel of his foot, spurring him deeper, more, and then it was just his name, echoing in Erik's head, breathed in varying degrees of obscene reverence, Charles, charles-charles, and Erik was shuddering and moaning wetly into his ear as he ground his release deep into him, dragging a fist roughly up Charles' aching cock until he spilled over long fingers with a shout.

Breathing in shallow gasps, sticky and sated, Charles stroked his palms up over Erik's cheeks, carding fingers over sweat-soaked strands of fine hair, tugging him gently down for a longer, slower kiss, all warmth and belonging and l-

Someone was banging loudly on the door, Raven, and for a moment Charles nearly panicked and broke his promise about reading her mind. "Charles, god-damnit, Charles, what the fuck, you slut, keep it down!"

"Ah," Erik said, looking up over his shoulder. In the dampener's unobtrusive circuit of wiring and alloys that lined the ceiling of Charles' room, several portions were bent and warped out of shape or reckoning. As Charles stared, horrified, Erik grinned his shark-like smile, clearly unrepentant. "My mistake."

"You're... you're unbelievable, you did that on purpose," Charles moaned, as he caught the tail end of Erik's thoughts, a vivid, visceral sense of mine, mine, covering his eyes with his palm. "I'm never going to be able to look any of them in the eye again."

Thankfully, there were no fatalities.