March 12th, 1958
The lab was cold, and dim, and dingy. It tasted astringent, like body odour, ink and chemicals.
It smelled like home.
It was strange, being back in a lab after all these years away. Alien, yet familiar in the way that all things from childhood are- whispering echoes of hope, of science, the shadows of Crick and Banting and Lewis frightening and inspiring in the same breath.
Charles had thought he had forgotten that, that the years of heat and humidity and hatred had denatured that part of himself like so many proteins.
And yet... here he was, and he had to consciously remind himself to relax his spine, to loosen his gait. This McCoy fellow was not stupid- far from it- and he knew that he could be intimidating. No, best approach this head on, as one man of science to another. More could come later.
He wasn't expecting him to be a kid.
(Older than you were,, a traitorous voice reminds him, in a tone that sounds a bit like Raven and a bit like their housekeeper and a lot like his sixth form Latin teacher.)
That had been different. This was different. The kid wasn't going to be in the hot zone- he'd be a scientist, a researcher; far away from the risks associated with such a position.
The man- boy- was lanky, and had the skin tone one can only acquire through dedicated effort, furious smoking, and weeks subsisting on knowledge and caffeinated beverages.
"Henry McCoy, I presume?"
Charles stuck out his hand.
"Hmm?" The boy shook himself out of his stupor. "Oh, yes, I- I'm so sorry, I didn't- really, I shouldn't- uh, who are you?"
Charles cracked a smile. "Charles Xavier. I was under the impression Professor Stosius informed you that I would be coming?"
He trails off deliberately, sees rather than hears the boy relax as he remembered the old man telling him excitedly about the man- a former student- who wished to speak with him about a job.
Under normal circumstances, he would probably also have remembered the way the man seemed- off, slightly, in a way that would be unnoticeable if one did not know the man, but should have been obvious to Hank.
Under normal circumstances, he would definitely have remembered the way the man's eyes had flashed startlingly, momentarily gold.
"Uh- yes, yes he did. I'm so sorry, Dr. Xavier- please, sit down."
Hank may have been confused, but even he could not have missed the relief that flashed over the man's face at that point, nor could he have missed the slight uneven edge to the man's gait.
"I read your thesis with great interest, Mr. McCoy. Or is it doctor, now?"
Hank shook his head. "Not yet. Wait- how did you read my thesis? Professor Stosius hasn't read my thesis. It's not due for another three months!"
We all have our skills, Hank. The man's lips were not moving, and Hank had a momentary moment of panic before feeling a subtle, diffuse calm emanate from his spine like warm honey. Mine may not be as beautiful as yours, but I don't deny it has its uses.
"How are you doing that?"
The man smiled. How is it that you can climb walls, Henry? That you can run faster than anyone else you know? That you have a manual dexterity in your lower limbs that is completely unheard of in higher animals?
A flash of emotion. Wrongsickfreakcursecursecurse
Out loud, Hank said, "You seem to know more than I do."
The man smiled. "You are a physicist. I am a biologist. It seems only proper, no? But, to answer your question, mutation is the answer. Mutation took us from the prokaryotic to the eukaryotic with nary a twitch- and now she is moving forward again. It's a new world, Hank, and people like us need to make sure it is the right one."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm here to offer you a job, Hank."
"Would you believe me if I said the CIA?"
"No. I'm not doing it." Images, grainy and jumbled; his daddy, drunk and melancholy, muttering half-remembered things about nuclear physics, and the war, and burning snowflakes of ash destroying millions.
Charles laughed. "No, no, my dear boy! Nothing like that. Reconnaissance. The technological assistance thereof."
"I'm not helping you find Reds. I-I won't be responsible for another war."
"No, I wouldn't expect you to," Charles mused. "And yet... how juvenile, Mr. McCoy. The Reds are small potatoes compared to what's really out there, Henry. I couldn't give a damn about them, and neither do my bosses. There are real enemies on the horizon, Henry, real dangers that cannot be solved in the traditional manner, by traditional intelligence. That's where we come in."
"How do you mean?"
One never brings a knife to a gunfight, Henry. As we have evolved, so too have the threats.
Images whipped through his mind, memories that were not his own; red-eyed men and ancient shrines, labs and cages and blood and war, lizard-women and wolf-men, corpses and documents and politicians, vivisections and yellowed bills.
"We need you at our side, Henry."
"Wh- why me?"
I am a telepath, Mr McCoy. My sister is a shape-shifter. Every member of my team is gifted in some way. Alone, we are powerless. Together, we could topple armies.
You make it sound like it's a war.
Oh, Hank. We've been at war since before you were born, my dear boy. You've just done your best not to notice.
What do you do?
Lie. Cheat. Fuck. Steal. Whatever is necessary for the mission; because the mission is necessary.
Hank sighed. His head was spinning- he didn't even have his doctorate yet, for crying out loud! He was 18 years old, an engineer and physicist like any other- for heaven's sake, he was from Kansas! This wasn't-
"On the contrary, Hank, you are very special. I need you on my team."
"It sounds dangerous," is all Hank can think to say.
Charles grinned. "Oh, it is, absolutely- but doesn't it also sound bloody fun?"