It was only after Magneto and the newly-minted Brotherhood of Evil Traitorous Mutants teleported away that the heroes of the day realized they were stuck.
“Broken,” Hank replied.
“Smashed in half and quite probably radioactive.”
“You mean there aren’t any lifeboats on it?” Alex asked.
“Lifeboats underwater?” Hank snarled.
“Arrrrrrrrrhnhnnn,” moaned Charles.
“Professor? Professor, calm down, it’s going to be okay,” Sean frantically soothed him, petting his hair as if he was a kitten distressed by thunder, rather than a man in his mid-twenties with a grievous injury. Amazingly, Charles did calm down somewhat, taking deep, even breaths.
“And you didn’t think to put a lifeboat in the jet?”
“Havok, I swear-”
Moira huffed and rolled her eyes so hard they almost made a noise. “You people are hopeless.” She stalked off into the crashed jet, presumably to make another attempt at the radio.
Apparently, whatever magic she wrought on the radio worked, because not ten minutes later a boat came speeding up to the beach, manned by two muscular, mysterious-looking men in black. And not just any boat – an emergency boat, the kind that came equipped with medical supplies. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, except for the professor, whose eyes were closed, Sean, who was still murmuring to the professor, and Moira, who was directing the boat in. So really, the only sighs came from Hank and Alex, who looked at each other awkwardly once they realized they might have done something to bond with one another.
“Hank, help Fintan get Charles into the boat,” Moira ordered. Beast nodded and, using his brand-new super-muscles, helped the silent man in black maneuver Charles into the boat. The professor moaned a bit, but on the whole was far calmer than he had any right to be. Alex walked in behind Sean, who inclined his head in greeting to the second of the silent men.
Moira turned to Hank once the professor was settled. “You’re the most medically qualified person here. Do you think you can stop him from bleeding too badly until we can get to a hospital?”
Beast nodded, already sorting through a First-Aid kit.
The CIA agent turned to the men. “Get us to the closest American hospital. And make it snappy.”
“Yes, madam,” they replied in unison, and the boat sped off.
“This is so stupid,” Beast muttered.
“Aww, cheer up, you look great!” Banshee grinned.
“The man’s right, grandma,” Havok chuckled.
“I hate everything,” Hank pouted.
They were walking through the Florida hospital. Sean and Alex were wearing t-shirts and shorts. Hank was wearing an XXL-size muumuu with enormous white gloves and a great big floppy hat. With flowers.
Upon entering the private hospital room, Professor X burst out laughing. Then he started coughing. Eventually he settled on a light chuckle.
“You look very nice, boys,” he said.
Moira nodded her assent, hiding a smile.
“How long until we can all head back to Westchester, Professor?” Alex asked.
Professor X frowned a little. “The doctors want me to stay here for another week, for observation. So you’ll have to head back without me, I’m afraid. Do you think you boys can handle yourselves alone for a week?”
“Oh yeah!” Sean quickly agreed. “We’ll be so responsible!”
“If you throw a house party, I will know,” the professor warned, tapping his temple lightly. “Telepath, and everything.”
Sean deflated, just a little bit.
“How are we supposed to get back to New York from here?” Alex questioned. “I mean, we were lucky to get Grandma into the hospital without someone noticing, I don’t think we’ll be able to take a train-”
Charles motioned for Moira to hand them a satchel that had gone previously unnoticed on the bedside table. Hank took one look at it and his eyes went wide.
“Should be enough to get you a car and get you back to the mansion, if you spend responsibly,” Charles finished, smiling slightly. Alex craned his neck and looked into the satchel that was stuffed to the brim with cash, and also a map of the eastern seaboard of the United States.
“Is that yours?” Sean asked.
Charles shook his head. “We found it stored in the submarine. And while stealing is, of course, morally wrong, and not something I will condone, I think that in this case picking up what the Brotherhood left behind is perfectly acceptable.”
“Especially since they just left us there on the island,” Alex muttered.
“Exactly,” the professor said.
“Agent MacTaggart, will you be staying with the professor?” Hank inquired.
“I have…work to take care of, but I will be popping in and out, hopefully,” Moira replied.
Hank frowned. “Professor, maybe one of us should stay, you shouldn’t-”
“I will be fine, Hank, I promise,” Professor X cut him off. “But thank you for your concern. However, your concern should be to get back to New York. I don’t think anyone in the government is on our tail, but just in case, they’ll be sniffing around coast cities for information. The mansion is safest. So please, take the money and get back home as soon as you can. Hank, you’re in charge.”
Charles silenced Alex and Sean’s protests with a wave of his hand.
“Please, be safe. You must keep your powers under control, especially while traveling.” He looked directly at Alex.
“And don’t break the law,” Moira added, giving a pointed look to Sean.
Alex rolled his eyes, but Sean dropped his gaze to the floor.
“I expect all of you to act as mature, responsible adults,” Charles informed them. “Now, enjoy your week of rest, and I will see you soon!”
Obediently, the boys shuffled out of the hospital room, Hank tripping over the muumuu on the way.
“No. No way.”
“C’mon, man! It’s a convertible! A Mustang!”
“We cannot have an open-roof car.”
“Well, gee, let’s think. What will highway cops see when looking at the car?”
“One blonde, one redhead, and one six-three fuzzy blue thing.”
“Just wear the hat!”
“I am not going to wear the hat.”
“Guys?” Sean’s voice timidly came from the next row of cars. “Guys, what about this one?”
Hank and Alex stopped their squabbling and took a look over at the car Sean was proposing.
A Volkswagen bus.
“I mean, it’s big enough it fit all of us, and maybe more people, you know, in case our new mutant school needs a school bus, and I thought it was, you know, kinda cute, and it’s pretty cheap, and-”
“Sean.” Alex cut him off with a reverent whisper. “It’s perfect.”
Hank rolled his eyes and grumbled a bit, keeping his head down as Sean paid the salesman. The bus was ridiculous, but not nearly as bad as the muumuu.
Once the vehicle was legally theirs, Alex slid into the driver’s seat, Sean started poking through the glove compartment, and Hank hunkered down in the backseat, taking a notebook out of his bag and mumbling something about “differential equations” and “hoverchair.”
Everyone was grateful for the little frilly curtains on the windows. They were super-girly, but they stopped anyone else on the road seeing Hank in all his fuzzy blue glory.
“Dude, if I hear ‘the Hippy Hippy shake’ one more time…”
“Well, we could always sing.”
“Do you know any songs?”
“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer!”
“You take one down, you pass it around-”
(That was the approximate noise Hank made.)
(It shut Alex and Sean up very quickly.)
“Alex, could you have picked a skeevier-looking motel?”
“You really don’t want me to answer that.”
“I mean, since none of us probably has super-disinfecting powers…”
“It’s probably for the best,” Hank put in. “I mean, they’re most likely less apt to notice my little hair problem here.”
Alex sighed, and got them a room at the front desk.
It was as skeevy as they thought it would be.
Alex got the bathroom last, and when he got out, Hank was already curled up on one bed. A head of floppy red hair was peeking out from the quilts of the other. Alex sighed and tried to make a choice. On the one hand, if he shared a bed with Hank it would be kind of like having a giant teddy bear –
Hank snarled at him. He had very long canines.
On the other hand, Sean took up less room.
The reason Sean took up less room, as it turns out, was because the minute he was asleep, he glomped onto the nearest warm object like an octopus with separation anxiety. Alex found this out at three a.m., when a pair of surprisingly strong arms wrapped around his middle and a lightly snoring face pressed against the back of his neck.
Alex froze, as much as a person who had been pretty much asleep and not moving in the first place can freeze, tensing up before deciding that it was too damn early in the morning to care about anything but getting some more sleep. And besides, Sean was really warm. And soft. And calming….
Hank had a choice in the morning.
Wait in the hotel for food to be brought to him, or wear the muumuu.
He chose to wait.
“I’m going to need at least three sides of bacon,” he instructed Alex and Sean. “My increased size has, it seems, sped up my metabolism greatly, so the amount of nutrients I need to intake is directly proportional to-”
“We get it, Beast,” Sean cut him off. “Big guy, big belly to fill. We’ll bring home the bacon.”
Beast grumbled something and went back to his calculations.
It was only when they were seated in the diner, waiting for their breakfasts and awkwardly sipping their coffee did they realize it was the first time they had ever been alone together.
“So…” Sean began, with no idea of where he was going.
“Yeah…” Alex finished. Being in solitary for years made a person a crappy conversationalist, and he’d been a little bit busy saving the world to have any time to work on his questionable sociable skills. And even though he usually didn’t give a crap what people thought about him, there was something about Sean that made Alex not want to grievously offend him. “Uh…where are you from?”
Sean paused for a moment, looking slightly unsure of himself, and Alex almost started panicking that somehow he had dredged up bad memories – some people hated their hometowns or had tragic pasts, you never know – but then the redhead smiled widely, and answered. “Boston. My parents were from, uh, Dublin, though. Ireland.”
“No shit, dude, I thought you were French,” Alex deadpanned, reaching out to flick a lock of the blazing red hair.
Sean grinned, ducking his head almost shyly. “And what about you? Where are you from? Before prison, I mean.”
“California. Los Angeles. My mom and dad weren’t…the most attentive parents, and they weren’t exactly thrilled when I accidentally blew a flaming hole in the side of my extremely expensive private school. They were sort of pissed when I went to prison, I mean, because that was a shame on the family name and all, so they didn’t look too closely when the professor bailed me out and – I’m sorry, dude, I don’t mean to be telling you my life story and all.” Alex shook his head. He never talked this much about personal shit to anyone. What the hell was wrong with him today? Must have been the diner coffee.
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” Sean frowned, looking worried, and it was actually kind of nice, having someone being worried for him. (Well, someone who wasn’t Professor X, because that didn’t count, as Professor X worried about everyone and everything.)
“It’s okay. I don’t mind.” And the funny thing was, he didn’t. Being around Sean was really fucking soothing. Alex figured he just oozed natural marijuana chemicals or something. “I mean I went from one prison to another and now I’m in a mansion where it’s okay if I play with my plasma hula hoops. It’s…pretty groovy.”
Sean snorted. “You sound like the professor.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not the only one. I mean, have you heard him and Hank talking together?”
“I can’t understand half of what they say.”
“I know, right? I mean their science-speak about our uniforms and stuff is even more confusing than girls – I’m still not sure how mine works, all I know is that I can hit what I aim at now. Which is a nice change.”
“You don’t need the suit, you know,” Sean told him.
“To hit what you aim at. I mean, when we were on the beach, you hit Angel’s wing without slicing her in half or setting her on fire or anything. And your chest-thingy was burned off.”
Alex had been thinking about that. Yeah, he’d hit a target without the help of his suit, but it had been under…what was the word? Oh right. Duress. He’d been under duress, a huge rush of adrenaline. He hadn’t been thinking at all during that – just saw Angel, and realized she was aiming for Sean, and…
His only instinct in that moment had been to protect Banshee.
“Alex? Earth to Alex!”
Alex blinked. Sean was waving homefries in his face. “Sorry. Just zoned.”
I never left.
“Dude, what do we do?”
“Pull the hell over, I don’t think this junk bucket can handle a high-speed chase-”
“Hank, put your goddamn muumuu on-”
Sean pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and the police car followed suit, the siren mercifully being silenced. (It was making Alex a little edgy.)
“What seems to be the problem, Officer?” Sean inquired, in the perfect tone of puzzled innocence. The police officer leaned against their window.
“You boys have a taillight out. Can I see your license and registration?”
Sean nodded and bent over Alex to retrieve it from the glove compartment. Alex looked away from the ginger head that was practically in his lap.
“New car?” the officer asked, looking over the documents.
“Yep. Bought it from a used-car salesman. I’m sorry, sir, it looks like we didn’t check it thoroughly enough.”
The cop nodded, peering into the back of the bus, seeing in the dim light a bulky figure in the world’s most unflattering muumuu and a giant floppy hat, which hid the face.
“Oh, that’s my Grandma Flo,” Sean grinned. “She’s a real heavy sleeper, but if she wakes up she’s going to give me an earful.”
As if on cue, a gentle sort of snoring sound came from the muumuu-ed figure. Or at least it sounded like snoring to the clueless highway cop. Alex knew it was a low-level Beast Growl ™. He really hoped that the cop would leave soon…
…and apparently he had underestimated Sean’s charm, because the officer just nodded and handed back the license and registration. “I’ll let you go without a ticket, but get that taillight fixed. It’s not safe to drive without one.”
“I will. Thank you so much, Officer.”
It was only when they were driving again that they breathed a sigh of relief.
“Dude, that was like magical!” Alex gushed.
“I must compliment your acting ability,” Hank grudgingly concurred. “And also your self control.”
Sean blushed a little – the red standing out on his pale skin – and shrugged. “What can I say, it’s my Gaelic good looks.”
“Your Gaelic – Sean, have you ever been to Ireland?” Alex laughed.
The ginger mutant smiled wistfully. “Yes. It’s the most beautiful place in the world.”
When they break down somewhere in West Virginia – which is a surprisingly terrifying experience – Hank manages to not only fix their engine using a little bit of duct tape, three dimes, and some sheer elbow grease, but to also enables it to go 90 mph.
Alex suddenly develops a lot more respect for Hank.
The first thing they do upon safely arriving at Professor X’s mansion is make eight microwave dinners. One for Alex, one for Sean, and six for Hank.
The second thing they do is locate and raid the liquor cabinet.
“Dude, are you sure your mutant ability isn’t finding well-hidden alcohol?” Alex joked. “I mean, this place is enormous, and you found it in, what, three minutes?”
“Two minutes and forty-seven seconds,” Hank corrected.
“That’s not a mutant ability, it’s my Irish heritage,” Sean replied, extracting a bottle of whiskey. “Ahh, this is the good stuff. The drink of my ancestors. And yours too, Mr. McCoy.”
“Actually, I’m of Scottish descent.”
Sean gasped, eyes comically wide. “Sheep-shaggers!”
“Something shaggers,” Alex contributed, looking pointedly at Hank’s blue fur.
“Let’s just make with the drinking already,” Hank complained. Alex was a little surprised, to be honest.
“I’m a little surprised, to be honest,” Alex said. “I figured you would be the one to say ‘no, we shouldn’t do this, the professor said not to.’”
“The professor told us not to throw a house party. I hardly think this counts. Now, hand over the damn whiskey, I want to see how much it takes to get my drunk with my new body.”
“Good idea, man, you need to relax a bit,” Alex said. Hank growled a little and poured himself a damn stiff drink.
“Gentlemen, I think we should congratulate ourselves on saving the world,” Sean declared, raising his glass. The other two halfheartedly waved their alcohol in their air before draining their drinks.
“Wow,” Alex gasped. “That burns.”
“It’s the good stuff,” Sean grinned lazily.
“I need more,” Hank grumbled.
“Does this house feel kinda empty to anyone?” Alex asked half an hour later. “I mean, it’s freaking huge, but it didn’t feel like this before-”
“I miss the girls,” Sean nodded. “Raven was all friendly and stuff. And Angel would have been nice too, I bet, if she hadn’t joined the dark side.”
“Dark side, that’s catchy,” Hank mumbled.
“Plus she was a stripper,” Alex grinned.
“Perv!” Sean laughed, smacking the blonde with a throw pillow.
“Hey, I have an appreciation for the arts!” Alex retorted, fending off Sean’s vicious pillow attack.
“I hate everything,” Hank sighed, drinking straight from the bottle.
“Geez, you’re a melancholy drunk,” Sean frowned. “You really just need to relax.”
“Relax? How am I supposed to relax when we have a war with our former training partners looming ahead of us, and the professor is in a wheelchair, and I’m covered in blue fur-”
“Dude. Calm down,” Sean ordered, placing a hand on Hank’s shoulder. Amazingly – and Alex figured it was because of the natural marijuana chemicals that were probably stored in Sean’s hair or something – Hank’s breathing evened out. He blinked slowly, relaxing into the armchair. Alex was just in the middle of deciding that it made him look all docile and sweet, like a giant teddy bear, when something very bizarre happened.
All of Beast’s fur lay down flat and began to recede into his skin. It looked sort of like Raven – Mystique – changing forms. It was surprisingly quick, and before anyone had a chance to freak out, nerdy-looking, definitely human Hank was dozing in the chair.
“Woah,” Alex whispered reverently. “Banshee, did you do that?”
Sean shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so.” He leaned back, retreating to the couch, as Hank looked down and contemplated his hands.
“Wait – wait, these weren’t – did I just –oh my god what is happening?!”
“Hank, take a deep breath-”
“No, seriously, what did you put in my drink-”
“Beast, man, maybe you-”
“Jesus Christ on a cracker, am I fucking hallucinating or-” Before Hank got a chance to finish his rather interesting exclamation, the blue fur sprouted up again, his hands converted into prehensile paws, and Beast was in the armchair. “Aw, damn it.”
“That was some crazy shit.” When it came to stating the obvious, nobody could beat Sean.
“I don’t understand,” Hank began. “I mean, you saw it too? I’m not just seeing things?”
“No, we saw it,” Sean affirmed.
It looked like Hank was about to start pouting – pouting – and Alex didn’t really think he was up for that.
“Um, dude?” he began tentatively. “Do you think that maybe you only turn into the Beast when you’re stressed or agitated? I mean it’s been a pretty crazy couple of days since you fuzzed out, and you haven’t had time to relax-”
Hank’s eyes widened. “Of course! Like Dr. Banner! Yes, yes, this makes perfect sense! Well, not the part with you being right about something, that is both strange and terrifying, but…I’ve got to go run some tests!”
With that, he bounded out of the room.
Sean blinked. “Well, now we have all the whiskey, I guess.”
“I guess,” Alex echoed, taking another swig. This was some weird shit, and there was no way he could deal with it sober. “Have you ever tried counting your freckles?”
“A couple times, but I got bored,” Sean replied. “There aren’t that many, actually.”
“You’re really pale.”
“Like a ghost.”
“I’d go with ‘like a banshee,’ but that works too.”
“You’re really pretty.”
Sean blinked. “Um. Th-thank you?”
Alex grinned, feeling all warm and fuzzy. “I don’t really miss the girls. You’re pretty like a girl. Except you’re a dude. And you’re not an evil traitor.”
“Well, not to you guys.”
“And I thought it was really cool when Mystique turned into you – I mean, before she went evil – except you were still prettier than her you. Than Mystique-you.”
“I don’t know about pretty, but I’m definitely more mysterious than her.”
“Maybe you should walk around naked. Like Mystique.”
With that, Alex giggled, batted the air a few times, and keeled over, passed out cold on the couch.
Sean sighed, and attempted to pick him up, presumably to put him to bed. As it turned out, that was much easier to do when he was flying and had the help of supersonic currents. The part of Alex’s torso that he had managed to lift on his own flopped helplessly back to the couch.
“I shouldn’t just leave you…” he mumbled. He looked around at the empty room and the almost-empty whiskey bottle, and decided that if Alex woke up first he could just blame it on the alcohol.
With that plan in mind, Sean curled up on the couch and went to sleep.
Alex woke to an explosion, which actually wasn’t all that unusual, except that he hadn’t caused this one.
“Hmmrrnnhh?” he vocalized, sounding mildly distressed as he lifted his head from the soft embrace of the couch pillows. Once his head had departed the squishy pile of cottony love, however, pain spiked through it, and he realized he was hung over. And that something, somewhere in the mansion, had exploded.
Coffee, the tiny, functioning part of Alex’s brain thought. Coffee will make it all better.
He stumbled towards the kitchen, his nose eventually picking up the smell of smoke. Soon he heard arguing.
“What were you thinking?” came Hank’s voice. “You could have burned down the whole house!”
“Relax, I had it all under control,” Sean protested. “Look, I had a pitcher of water at the ready-”
“Hrrrmnuhhh!” Alex interrupted loudly. As one, Hank and Sean ceased their bickering and turned to face the incomprehensible mutant.
“You want to run that by me again?” Sean asked, speaking slowly and clearly.
With a supreme amount of mental and physical effort, Alex managed to force out the word “Coffee.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” the redhead exclaimed, pulling out a chair and guiding the swaying Havok towards it. “Here, let me pour you a cup.”
A moment later a steaming mug of joe was slid across the table. Alex took a grateful sip, and promptly spat it back out.
“Strong!” he gasped.
“It’ll put hair on your chest,” Sean nodded sagely. “As you can probably tell, it’s from the second pot – Hank having drank the first.”
“Har dee har har,” grumbled the blue fuzzy scientist.
“Whiskey,” Alex mumbled in a confused tone, girding his loins and taking another sip of the coffee that was strong enough to sprout legs and walk away on its own. And maybe to do some bicep curls too.
“Yep. Ancient Irish folk recipe. Hair of dog, it’ll get rid of your hangover right quick.”
Sean snorted. “Nah, I’m not a demon.”
“That guy we fought at the beach might have been,” Hank sighed, scraping at a frying pan. “All he was missing was the horns. What was his name again? Azure? Asissy? Asswipe?”
“Azazel,” Sean corrected.
“How do you not have hangovers?” Alex questioned pitifully, having choked down half the mug.
“I’m magical,” Banshee deadpanned.
“And I have an increased metabolism.”
Alex nodded, the explanation – well, Hank’s explanation – making perfect sense. And now for his next query. “What about the explosion?”
“That was Sean’s attempt at breakfast,” Beast explained. “I’m not sure exactly what it was supposed to be, but right now it looks like barbequed porridge.” He peered closer into the frying pan. “Dear lord, I think it’s moving.”
“Was it…haggis?” Alex asked, almost afraid to know the answer. He still wasn’t entirely sure what, exactly, haggis was, only that it involved certain parts of sheep that weren’t mutton.
“That’s Scottish,” Hank and Sean corrected in unison.
Alex felt the tiniest bit threatened by their Gaelishness.
“So what are we doing today?” Sean asked.
Hank shrugged. “I’m working in the lab. Got a lot to do before the professor gets back.”
“Gotta make sure everything’s all set for your romantic reunion, eh, Beast?” Alex grinned and winked.
Hank rolled his eyes and huffed, refusing to dignify them with an answer. Instead, he just grabbed a banana from the fridge – and seriously, Alex almost commented on that because, really, Hank managed to pick the most phallic fruit in the house – and left.
“So I guess it’s just us,” Sean said.
Alex grinned, irrationally happy at the thought of getting Sean to himself for the rest of the day, and not having to share him with the professor’s lessons or Hank’s suit-fittings or Moira’s fawnings. He was pretty sure the CIA agent had a weird jailbait crush on Sean or something, the way she looked at him sometimes.
“Do you really think Beast has a thing for the professor?”
His general mental growliness due to the thought of Moira subsided, and he thought about it. “Well, I don’t know. They do spend a lot of time together. I can’t understand most of what they’re saying because it’s genius-talk, but for all I know they could be exchanging sweet nothings.”
“I think they’d be cute together,” Sean mused. “I mean, Hank’s smart enough to keep up with the professor. Or maybe the professor is smart enough to keep up with Hank. And they’re attractive enough in a smartypants sort of way. Or at least Hank is, when he isn’t, you know, blue. Although, having met Mystique, there’s something to be said for blue-”
“Hold up, man,” Alex stopped the other boy’s rant. “You can’t just say stuff like that.”
Alex swallowed. “Like, you know. That you find another guy attractive. People will think you’re a fairy.”
Sean looked absolutely stricken for a second. “A- a fairy?”
“Yeah. You know. Queer? A homo?” Those were the nicer terms he had learned for it.
Banshee looked almost relieved, which was of course ridiculous. Because from what Alex had seen, there weren’t many things worse than being gay. Except possibly being a mutant.
“Oh. Well. So what? There are worse things.”
Alex blinked. “Seriously?”
“I mean, why is who I like a big deal? What does it even matter?”
“And you don’t care?”
“People are going to think what they’re going to think.” Sean shrugged.
Alex narrowed his eyes, not entirely sure what the ball of emotion in his chest was. (He really hoped it wasn’t a plasma-beam buildup. They were inside the mansion, and that could get messy.) “So are you?”
“Am I what?”
“A homo? Sexual? Homosexual?” Whatever the non-offensive word was. God, talking to people was hard. Sometimes Alex thought he liked solitary. He’d gotten wicked good at mahjong.
Sean shrugged again. “Not really. I mean, I kind of like everyone. And everything.” He grinned, this wide, goofy smile that did weird things to Alex’s internal organs. “Peace and love, dude.”
The man truly did not give a fuck.
Alex was snapped out of his slack-jawed awe when Sean started talking again.
“So, it’s a beautiful sunny day. What should we do? Explore the mansion for secret passageways? Go into town? Bother Hank?”
Havok’s mouth was moving before his brain got a chance to veto it.
“How about flying?”
Alex was starting to have regrets.
Last time he did this, it had been in the heat of the moment, with death on the line, all that jazz, meaning he didn’t actually have to think about what he was doing. It had all been sort of sudden. This was different – now he actually had to look at the potential consequences.
Also? The mansion was really, really tall.
“You’re sure you can do this?” Alex asked Banshee, who was finishing strapping himself into his – ridiculous – flight suit.
“Oh yeah,” Banshee grinned offhandedly. “I mean, it worked last time, didn’t it? And this time, Angel isn’t here to spit acid onto my wing-things.”
Alex peered over the edge of the roof.
“Um. That’s good.”
“Cool. Get on my back.”
“I fly way better if your weight isn’t dragging down one arm. If you stand behind me – come here, yeah, like this, put your arms around my waist – then I can keep both wings spread.”
Alex shifted nervously, arms loosely around Banshee’s waist. “Won’t my weight, like, push you down?”
Sean looked over his shoulder and grinned. “I’ll just scream louder.” He winked. “And Havok? I think you better hold on tight.”
The moment Banshee jumped off the roof’s ledge, Alex’s stomach felt like it had dropped out of his body, with only the vaguely reassuring solidity of Sean keeping him together.
(The only reason he wasn’t squeezing hard enough to suffocate Sean was because that might affect the flying mutant’s intake of air somewhat. No air, no screaming, mutants go splat. Logic the professor would be proud of.)
But suddenly he wasn’t falling, he was swooping upwards, and his entire body was vibrating with sonic reverb. He cracked open his eyes and looked to the right, gasping with awe – although if anyone accused him of doing something so girly he was ready, willing, and prepared to say it was because of the thin oxygen. The grounds of the estate were huge and green, covered with trees, paths, a pristine pond, and what appeared to be a golf course.
“Nice view, right?” Sean asked, craning his neck to he could see Alex.
“Beautiful…” Alex whispered, before realizing something. “Hey! You shouldn’t be talking, you should be screaming! Uh. I mean-”
“Relax, we’re gliding!”
Gliding, maybe, but gliding in a vaguely downwards direction. “You sure?”
Banshee huffed. “Well, if you aren’t sure…”
He let out an almighty noise, sounding sort of like the love-child of a hawk and a jet plane, with possible familial relation to a professional operatic soprano, and shifted his wings so that instead of staying steadily horizontal, they swooped upwards and did a flip.
“Holy shit!” Alex yelled. “Holy shit! Banshee, are you fucking crazy?”
“Pretty much,” Sean answered happily. “Oh, cool, a flock of geese!”
Alex had to look over Sean’s ridiculous mop of curly ginger hair to do it, but he too could see a flock of geese flying towards them. Banshee gave a little shriek, figuring that the birds would change direction or, really, do anything to get out of his way. However, both he and Alex underestimated the hearing and general stupidity of geese.
The boys had just a few seconds to ponder why the birds were getting closer when they, quite suddenly, were upon them.
“Fudge!” yelped Banshee, trying to swerve to avoid them, but geese are damn stubborn creatures, particularly the Canadian variety.
(It makes sense, really, when you consider that Wolverine and Canadian geese all come from the same place. For such a relaxed country, Canada certainly held some dark and dangerous secrets.)
(And the geese pooped like champion racehorses.)
The quiet tone of his voice and the feeling of going into a downward spiral was what really got to Alex.
“How is it that every fucking time I need this suit to function it gets holes ripped into the wings?”
“Don’t whine about it! Focus on us not dying!”
They were picking up momentum as they fell.
“Aim for the pond,” Havok choked out through gritted teeth, clinging to Banshee like his like depended on it. This wasn’t the first time they’d been in a situation like this, but the ocean was a much larger target to aim for than a pond.
“Brace for impaaaaact!” Banshee screamed – fortunately not with sonic resonance – and they hit the water hard. Which, as Alex found out, is not a painless experience. But the pain came after the water rushing up his nose and into his clothes.
He broke the surface a minute before Banshee and awkwardly swam towards shore, collapsing on the perfectly-kept grass on the pond’s edge. Sean followed, attempting to unclip his costume, which was busted and also very soggy.
“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a high diver,” he complained, flapping his “wings” around – and Hank was probably going to throw a hissy fit when he saw what they did with his suits – while simultaneously attempting to unfasten them.
“Here, let me help,” Alex offered, spinning Sean around and carefully unbuckling the metal and unzipping the zipper. For some reason, Sean wasn’t wearing a shirt under his uniform – just shorts – so Alex got an eyeful when the redhead wriggled out of the damp cloth and chucked it away.
Alex’s jaw dropped.
Sean was soaking wet, vibrant red hair flattened by the water and clinging to his shoulders, skin glowing almost white in the sun. Despite his Irish heritage, he barely had a freckle on him, and Alex’s brain automatically associated his skin with vanilla ice cream, with subsequent musings on whether or not it was as sweet or creamy. But it wasn’t just the magnificently built male body – male, male, very clearly male – that he had been hiding under baggy shirts that interested Alex the most. It was Sean’s face, grinning golden in the sunlight, drops of water clinging like diamonds to his long eyelashes. There was a delicate beauty there, something he had always associated with femininity, so unlike anything he had seen before. That moment, with their uniforms ruined and the sun beating down on their heads and adrenaline singing in their veins, was magical.
“Uh,” Alex coughed, and when had he stepped so close to Sean?
“Yeah,” Sean replied, looking rather mischievous.
Alex couldn’t look away from him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that this was the part in all the trashy romance novels he hadn’t even liked, honestly, there just wasn’t that much literary material in solitary, where Prince Charming swept the heroine off her feet and kissed her as fireworks went off and the sun set crimson in the dazzling sky.
(So all right, there wouldn’t be fireworks unless he lost control of his plasma beams or Hank lost control of one of his experiments, and it wasn’t anywhere near sunset, and Sean wasn’t a girl, but whatever, he was pretty sure some of the basics still applied.)
Sean bit down on his bottom lip, just a bit, and Alex’s eyes tracked every motion. Caught up in the irresistible magnetism of the moment, he found himself leaning in just a little bit further –
And Sean’s face went completely white with terror as he looked over Alex’s shoulder.
“No,” he whispered. “No, they can’t be here-”
“The hell?” Alex whirled around, wanting to see what had interrupted his MGM moment, and found three figures in dark cloaks and hoods pulled completely over their heads looming ominously several meters away, spread out in a vaguely triangular manner and slowly approaching. “Banshee, what the-”
“Alex, you gotta run. You gotta run now,” Sean ordered, clearly terrified.
“I’m not going to leave you here-”
“Please, you can’t stop them-”
“I’m not leaving without a damn good explanation! What the fuck is going on?”
“They’re Reapers,” Sean said. “Please, just-”
“Cassidy,” the freaky guy in the middle said, or at least, said something that sounded vaguely like Sean’s last name. “You are edging ever closer to disobeying the law, and on orders from Her Majesty we are to bring you home to stop you doing further harm to yourself or others. If you refuse to come quietly, we will take you by force.”
It sounded an awful lot like an arrest to Alex. And Alex didn’t like that.
“Fuck you!” he responded, and threw a couple of plasma rings at them for good measure.
A lot of things happened very quickly after that.
The plasma blasts did nothing to the hooded creatures.
The hooded guys whipped out what appeared to be scythes from under their cloaks. Or something like that.
The hooded guys rushed them, and two of them grabbed Sean while one of them attacked Alex with the scythe. Fortunately, Magneto had given them some basics in hand-to-hand combat. (Against the professor’s knowledge, of course.)
Hank, in full-on Badass Beast mode, came roaring out of the woods in a souped-up golf cart, snarled as he took stock of the situation, and hit one of the hooded guys – the Reapers – with the cart at full force.
The impact knocked the hood off the Reaper.
The Reaper was clearly not human, what with the large, pointed ears and greenish skin and freaky shark-sharp teeth and all.
Alex said “holy shit.”
The three assailants grabbed Sean, but before Beast could attack or Havok could try throwing around more plasma, Banshee screamed, with sonic, bringing Beast and Havok to their knees in pain.
And so there Alex stayed, watching helplessly, paralyzed by sound, as three things took away his best friend – and, maybe, he could have been more – and vanished into thin air.
His ears rang with the silence.
“Beast…” Alex began slowly, barely processing. “What was that?”
“I don’t know. I have a few ideas, but we need to get back to the house, in case they come back.”
“We’ve got to get him back, dude.”
“We will. But we-”
“What the hell were you doing down here, anyway?”
“The alarm went off.”
“The pressure alarm in your suits. It goes off if there is a high impact on the fabric – if you get shot, for instance, or fall from a several hundred feet into a pond-”
“Why didn’t you tell us that?”
“I figured you would try to sabotage it.”
“Why would you even – you know, that’s not important. We have to get Banshee back. Where is he? Where did they go? Did they teleport? Should we call-”
“Alex!” Hank roared, shaking him by the shoulders. “Calm the hell down! Get in the golf cart.”
Wordlessly, he obeyed, because who wants to argue with an angry cross between a gorilla and a Smurf?
“We’re going to get back to the house. We’re going to call the professor and do some research or something and see who took Sean,” Beast calmly planned as Alex sat in the passenger’s seat with shaking hands. Looks to me he could have been kidnapped by some of Er- I mean, Magneto’s mutants.”
“They talked weird,” Alex muttered. “Not like normal people. And they said something about ‘Her Majesty.’ Pretty sure Magneto’s not a chick.”
“Maybe they were talking about the blonde psychic,” Hank hypothesized, zooming the golf cart back to the mansion at slightly less than hyperspeed. “The professor said-”
“Is there anything the professor doesn’t tell you?!” Alex exploded. “Are you joined at the fucking hip or something? Does the professor know what took-”
“Look, Havok, panicking isn’t going to help-”
“I am not panicking! Who said I was panicking?”
Beast rolled his eyes. “We’ll get your precious boyfriend back, don’t you worry.”
“He is not my boyfriend! That’s – not cool, dude!”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re just friends, you would never do anything like that,” Hank muttered. “You’re not banging an aspiring evil overlord who tried to kill us or anything, you’ve severed all ties with him, of course, it’s only proper-”
Alex was starting to suspect the conversation wasn’t about him anymore.
They parked the golf cart shoddily – no time for a good parallel job – and rushed inside the house, heading for the telephone in the living room. Just as they opened the door, however, they heard a poof!
In an explosion of red smoke, the demon-guy and the sharp-dressed man from The Beach popped into the Xavier Mansion.
Beast’s eyes went wide. “Asswipe,” he whispered.
“I think you mean Azazel, friend,” Azazel corrected, eyebrow raised.
“What the hell?” Alex yelped. (He seemed to be saying that a lot lately.) “What are you doing here? Come to finish the job, huh? Well let me tell you last time Beast whipped your ass, demon-boy, and as for you, Mr. French Model, all it took was a piece of submarine metal falling on top of you-”
“I’m not French,” the non-French guy corrected.
“I don’t care! You’re a total pansy! You got knocked out by a door! And you know what, I’ve had a pretty shitty day, so if you’ve come here to kill us or something, well you can just bring it! I’m ready! Show me what you got! Do you feel lucky, punk? Huh? Do you?”
His voice cracked a little at the end, and he ran out of breath, standing there, panting.
“Uh.” Hank coughed. “Why are you here? Did Magneto send you? The professor is-”
“We did not come on behalf of Magneto. We came to protect Caiside,” Azazel answered.
“Who’s Caiside?” Alex and Hank asked in unison.
“You know him as- Banshee?” Azazel said, with a slight question.
“Sean? The hell do you want with Sean?”
“Ah. Yes. Sean, that is the name he called himself.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
Everyone ignored Alex.
“So…you aren’t here to kill us?” Beast checked.
“No. We came to protect Caiside. Where is he?”
“You’re a little late on that one,” Alex said bitterly. “He disappeared. Was kidnapped.”
Azazel and Riptide’s eyes widened.
“A bunch of guys in cloaks, with scythes,” Beast answered.
“He called them Reapers,” Alex added, grudgingly helpful.
Azazel looked pained. “We were too late?”
“You were too late.”
“I’m going to get him back,” Alex declared.
Azazel quirked an eyebrow. “Oh really? Then-”
The phone rang.
Everyone froze, an uneasy truce, and stared at it.
Slowly, making no sudden movements, Hank moved towards it, picking up the receiver and answering in a surprisingly calm tone of voice. “Hello?”
His eyes went wide. “Oh, hi, Professor. Is everything okay? How are you feeling?”
Alex tried to breathe very quietly, and wondered if Professor X could read minds through a telephone wire.
“That’s good to hear. No, we got back just fine. Used a Volkswagen bus, I guess the school has a bus now. No, no, it was Sean’s idea. Oh, Sean? No, I don’t know where he and Alex are right now. Probably somewhere ruining your carpets. I was down in the lab, working on your hoverchair – I’m trying for a working prototype before you come back. Why? Well, why wouldn’t you want a hoverchair?...Okay, good point….Okay. I’ll tell them when I see them. I hope you’re feeling better, sir….Oh, Sorry. Charles. All right. Good-bye.”
He hung up the phone and let out a breath.
“Does he know what’s happening?” Alex asked.
“Of course not. He’ll be home in a week, the doctors told him he’s looking healthier, but will need a lot of help in order to get back into his daily routine, which means-”
“Which means we have a week to find Sean.”
“We should wait for the professor. He can use-”
“We don’t have time! And what’s he going to do? He’s in a wheelchair.”
“Still. What are we supposed to do? The professor-”
“The lad is right,” Azazel broke in, pointing his tail at Alex, which was a mildly disconcerting thing. “We must get him quickly. And the Queen is…not very fond of your professor. She would not take kindly to him in her realm.”
“Wait, what? What realm? Who is this Queen? And why the hell are you still here, anyway?”
Azazel rolled his eyes. “You talk too much.”
“It does not make his questions any less valid,” the non-French guy corrected. His words carried a lot of weight. Everyone calmed down.
“My companion is right,” Azazel said. “And all will be answered in due time. But as to your first question: Tír Na Nóg.”
Alex blinked. “What the nog?”
“The fairy realm?” Hank asked, voice full of disbelief.
Azazel nodded. “Precisely. Our home.”
“Sean is a fairy?”
“Hey! Don’t call him that!” Alex smacked Hank on the arm. It was like smacking a brick wall. A fuzzy brick wall.
“What?” Comprehension dawned. “Oh. I meant actual fairy, not homosexual.”
Alex turned an interesting shade of strawberry, but Hank was already going off on a genius tangent.
“Yes, that’s fascinating, I mean it makes sense now, calling himself Banshee – is he one?”
“Interesting, I was under the impression they were all female, but Sean’s a bit feminine-looking, so there’s that. And I knew the term ‘banshee’ was derived from ‘bean sidhe’, meaning ‘fairy woman,’ but…hmm. He’s being held in the realm, you say?”
For once, Azazel looked puzzled. “You are aware of the folklore?”
Hank shrugged and shuffled his feet. “I took a class on Celtic cultures in school.”
“Very unusual for an American. They are so…monocultural.”
“I always thought it was so fascinating. My favorite of the mandatory humanities classes, to be certain.”
“Okay, so, how are we going to get there?” Alex asked. “We’ve got a bus, but the jet’s broken. I mean, teleportation guy-”
“Azazel could telepoof – I mean teleport us.”
“I am afraid I cannot move across dimensions. We must get to the nearest fairy fort.”
“Dimensions?” Hank exclaimed, clearly excited. He then went on a brief and incomprehensible rant, including the words “cross-universal,” “time shift,” “alternate plane” and “I knew it!”
“Where’s that?” Alex ignored the stupid name in favor of time.
“Grasp hands, everybody,” Azazel said. “We’re shipping up to Boston.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“It makes an odd sort of sense. This is where the Professor and Er- Magneto picked him up.”
“Yes, Caiside always did like hanging around the fort. Many fae do. Makes them feel close to home.”
“Can you please just call him Sean?”
“This is so amazing. I mean, the implications on science and faith alone…”
“Also he likes fish.”
Alex looked down into the enormous tank uneasily. It was filled with sharks. Small sharks, to be certain, but sharks nonetheless. “Okay…now what?”
Alex snapped his head towards Azazel so fast that he almost gave himself whiplash. “What the hell? No fucking way! Maybe you have a death wish, but those are sharks! Sharks!”
Azazel quirked an eyebrow. “You do not trust me?”
“Hell no! You tried to kill us, in case you don’t remember!”
“Alex has a bit of a point. This could be a very elaborate ruse,” Hank put in. “Give us one good reason why we should jump into the shark tank.”
That was a sentence he never thought he would say.
“You want a reason? Here is a reason. We fought against you because you were interfering with our plans. We do not like humans. Humans are, as they have always been, destroying the earth, which is our home as much as theirs. However, unlike some fae, we do not consider mutants to be humans. There is much…how would you say it…internal debate about the status of mutants as they relate to the fae, but we believe that mutants are descended from the fae, which is the source of their powers. Also, we are very fond of Caiside. We are prepared to offer a truce while we look for him.”
“And we believe in True Love,” the not-French guy declared quietly, taking Azazel’s hand.
Alex blinked, too much information coming at his brain. After a minute, he gave up.
“Fuck this,” he said, and cannon-balled into the shark tank.
To Alex’s surprise, he landed in a field. His body registered dryness and warmth and a noticeable lack of shark bites before he even opened his eyes, and when he did open them, he saw green. A lustrous kelly green, in fact.
He rolled over upon hearing a thump, to find Hank crouched and sniffing the air, looking for all the world like a bright blue malamute.
“It smells different,” he said.
“The scent of magic,” Azazel explained, having landed with far more grace than Alex. He flung his arms wide and took a deep, joyous breath. “Ah. Home.”
Alex sat up and looked around for the not-French guy. Except-
The not-French guy had changed. Not just his clothes – which had gone from spiffy suit to a pair of what could only be called breeches – but his ears had become pointed, and his skin, formerly a smooth, deep tan, had taken on an oddly flattering bluish hue. He was still ridiculously good-looking, Alex thought. In a completely aesthetic way, of course.
(Also, Azazel looked like the jealous type.)
“This is my true form,” the not-French guy said.
“What about you, Azazel?” Hank asked. “You, uh, have a different form?”
“No. This is it. I prefer to keep to my true form at all times. Makes it easier for me to fight and focus.”
“Is Azazel your real name?”
Hank turned to the only other blue-ish guy in the group. “I’m guessing, however, that Riptide is not your real name?”
The man shook his head. “Janos.”
“Nice to meet another blue person.” His mind briefly skipped to the last blue person he had encountered, but he shut that thought down quickly.
“So where’s Sean?” Alex asked, looking around but not expecting to see anything.
“We must venture to the Queen’s Castle, and plead that he be returned to your loving bosom,” Azazel informed them.
Alex almost choked on the indignity. “Excuse me, but in case you were too busy staring at blue-boy – not you, Hank, sorry – I happen to lack a bosom!”
“Very well. Your loving, manly pectoral muscles.”
Alex was about to fruitlessly yell at Azazel again when the breeze switched directions and a haunting sound hit their ears. It was an echoing scream, a heartrending, terrifying sound that made Havok’s very bones shiver.
“Is that…just wind?” Hank asked tentatively.
Janos frowned, the blue hue of his skin making it extra-effective. “No. That is the sound of a banshee wailing for their lost love.”
“That’s…really depressing,” Alex said. It was a bit of an understatement.
“Come,” said Azazel. “Our presence will have caused an alert. We must go quickly. To The Forest.”
He pointed across the field to where a line of trees stood sentinel. But just as they collected themselves, and began walking, the thundering of hooves pattered across the plain.
A majestic creature emerged from over the next swell, pure white with a golden horn and hooves, shimmering in the sunlight. Its whickering sounded like a chorus of angels, flowers sprung up in its path, and its general aura made Alex think of rainbows and cuddles.
It was, of course, a unicorn.
“Holy shit,” Alex breathed. “Is that real?”
“Indeed,” Azazel said, waving to the creature, who ran, apparently in slow motion, past them.
Alex had never cared about fairy tales much, and he certainly wasn’t a twelve year old girl, but there was something totally awesome about a unicorn running by. He could almost hear background music. Something with gentle piano, or maybe ukulele, drifting in the sunlight…
And then the record screeched to a stop as the unicorn did, spinning on its heel and pawing the ground with a distinctly put out look upon its fair face.
“Um, Azazel?” Alex asked. “Why is it doing that?”
“Back away, Hank, slowly,” Azazel said. “It may be mistaken, and will not charge.”
“All right.” Hank took a few steps back and held out his hands in the (he hoped) inter-dimensional sign of peace.
The unicorn pawed the ground.
“I’m calm. I can’t say the same for Sparkles over here.”
The unicorn started huffing through its nostrils.
Alex edged away slowly. “Why is it doing that? Aren’t unicorns supposed to be peaceful and stuff?”
“Unicorns are friendly to the fae and to uncorrupted humans,” Janos said quietly.
“But…” he looked at the unicorn, and to Hank, and to the unicorn again. “But it’s bozo!”
The unicorn charged, and if Alex thought it was beautiful and majestic when it was contentedly loping across fields, it was batshit terrifying when it was running in your general direction, going top speed and with a very noticeably pointy horn pointed at you.
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit,” Alex muttered under his breath, and if he was clinging to Janos, nobody was noticing, because if Hank died, how were they going to explain it to the Professor…
Just as the unicorn reached Hank, he pulled back a mighty blue fist, and punched it in the face.
The unicorn dropped.
“Oh shit,” Alex whispered, fingers slowly uncurling from Janos’ arm.
“Ow,” Hank said, shaking his massive hand. “That hurt.”
At least he was still recognizable as Bozo. Alex needed to cling to some stability in his life.
“Is…is it dead?” he asked carefully.
Azazel crouched down and placed his hand on the creature’s head. “No. Just unconscious. We should get out of here, though.”
“Dude,” Alex whispered to Hank as they started walking towards the forest looming on the horizon. “Why did it charge you?”
Hank shrugged awkwardly. “Um. Well, you know.”
“Was it Raven?” he asked, vaguely jealous that Hank had apparently gotten together with a shapeshifting chick, who could turn into any girl you wanted. Or dudes. If you were into that, which, of course, he totally wasn’t…
Alex was so busy getting caught up in his own thoughts that he almost missed Hank muttering something about college.
“We passed the first test,” Azazel told them. “There will be more awa-”
“Wait, that was a test?” Alex yelped indignantly. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Janos shook his head. “Only those strong of mind, heart, and body may pass through to the Castle. You must prove your worth before you have a chance to rescue Caiside.”
“Can we please just call him Sean?”
“What’s the next test?” Hank ask, not wanting to think about what his grade on the first one was likely to be.
“In the forest there awaits the one who cannot die,” Azazel said mysteriously.
“Yipee ki yay,” Alex said. Alex was getting pretty darn sick of mysteriousness.
There was one thing he had never understood about fairy tales, and that was the part about the woods being evil. In his experience with forests they had never been particularly malicious. Filled with mosquitoes, maybe, but also sort of pleasant and woodsy, even peaceful half the time.
Now he understood.
These woods were dark, with nary a mosquito in sight, filled with moving shadows and weird snarling noises. Where the meadows had been full of life – and morally uptight unicorns – these woods had thorns, and snakes, and twisted, gnarled old trees that looked like fingers, waiting to grab him –
He walked into something tall and solid. And shirtless.
“Sorry, Azazel,” he whispered.
Azazel held up a tail like most people would hold up a shushing finger. “He approaches.”
The red guy didn’t answer. Instead, he took Janos’ hand and teleported up into the trees.
“Asshole,” Alex mumbled.
“So how are we going to take care of someone who can’t be killed?” Hank whispered quietly as footsteps, soft at first, became louder, crunching ominously over dry leaves. “I could sit on him and we could try knocking him out. Or tying him up. Do you see anything we can use to tie someone up?”
“How about your pants? I could rip them into a rope. Quick, take them off.”
“Take your pants off! Our lives may depend on it!”
“I’m not taking my pants off! Go ask the professor!”
“The professor isn’t here right now, and anyway, why would his pants be any more useful than yours? He’s in a hospital gown, why would be need to be wearing pants?”
“Great. Now I’m thinking about the professor with no pants on.”
“Thanks for the mental image,” came a third voice. One that was startlingly familiar.
Hank and Alex whirled around and came face-to-face with a grinning Darwin.
“Darwin?” Alex’s jaw dropped. “Dude, you were dead – I saw you, like, turn into dust-”
Darwin shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry to have to leave you like that. But I’m no good in a fight. And I hate fighting, actually.”
“So you really can’t be killed?” Hank asked.
“Hasn’t happened yet. Your blasts aren’t that powerful, Havok.”
Alex felt a lot better about that.
“So…do you let us go by now?” he asked.
“Well. Sure, I guess. What are you doing here?”
“Trying to rescue Banshee. I mean Sean.”
Darwin nodded sagely. “Oh yes. I heard about that. So which one of you is his lover?”
Alex choked on thin air, and Hank pointed at him, rather unnecessarily.
“I’m not his lover!” Alex squeaked.
“That’s a shame,” Darwin sighed. “Only his true love will be able to rescue him from his prison.”
Alex blinked. “He’s in prison?”
“I’ve been hearing a wailing for hours now, but it stopped a little while ago. I think they must have gagged him.”
“They gagged him?” Alex growled. Admittedly, that image had its merits, but – goddammit, now was not the time to think about that. Sean was in prison.
Sean, who had said with absolute certainty that he was not going to have to go back to jail, was in. fucking. PRISON.
“Excuse me, Darwin, I’d love to catch up, but I have some ass to kick,” he said calmly, walking off purposefully into the forest.
“Is he going in the right direction?” Hank asked Darwin.
“Actually, yes, but the forest moves to guide,” Darwin answered. “I’d love to catch up with you later, do you mind if I come visit sometime? Where are you guys at?”
“Westchester, New York. In this enormous mansion the professor’s family owns.”
“Wow. So have you gotten with him yet?”
“Oh, never mind. I’ll get a cupid on it.”
“Oh, look, Havok’s getting pretty far away, maybe you should go after him-”
“Why does everyone insist on insinuating-”
“Farewell! Good luck rescuing the ginger!”
Sometimes, Hank really hated his life.
“Were you a boy scout or something?”
Hank snorted, adding some more wood to the fire. “Of course not, I just have common sense, unlike you city kids.”
They were setting up camp for the night in the woods. No shelter or anything, but apparently the rain here was magical and would just make your hair thicker and more lustrous – at least, that’s what it looked like what happened to Janos, who at the moment was curled up next to Azazel, fast asleep. Azazel looked like he was asleep too, but Alex seriously doubted that a warrior like that would just pass out. Still, it gave them the illusion of privacy.
“What were you doing down at the pond, anyway?” Hank asked.
“Um. Flying,” Alex confessed. “We hit a flock of geese and fell into the pond, though.”
Hank chuckled. “Yeah, that sounds about right. Just tell me next time, ok? I almost had a heart attack when the suit alarm went off.”
“I don’t think there will be a next time.”
Hank tilted his head curiously. It made him look like a big blue puppy.
“I mean, Sean got kidnapped or whatever by fairies…” Alex began, and then mumbled “- and I might have almost kissed him.”
To his surprise, Hank merely raised his eyebrows. “Oh? And that’s a bad thing?”
Alex didn’t have a good answer, except maybe “Because Sean isn’t a freak like me?”
Hank barked, or maybe it was sharp laughter. “Of course not. He’s just a literal fairy going to mutant school who happens to be in love with you.”
Alex sat bolt upright on that one. “What? No he’s not.”
“Of course he is. Have you seen the way he looks at you? Besides, I have all these weird new super-senses, and I can practically smell the sex pheromones. And let me tell you, it is damn annoying. I feel like spraying Lysol everywhere.”
“No excuses, they’re coming from you too. Now, as we are in fairy-land, I think you should give this tale a fairy-tale ending. When you heroically rescue him, you are going to give him a big damn kiss and live happily ever after. Understand?”
Alex nodded, because you don’t argue with Beast.
“Okay then. Let’s get some sleep then.”
Alex looked up at the great stone structure. It looked like a castle straight out of a fairy tale – all glittering gray stone, spires, even a moat. And in the center of what looked like an enormous courtyard, a tower, with a lone window near the top, out of which a weak light glowed. He narrowed his eyes, remembering that the princess was usually located in the tower. Well, not that Sean was a princess, but. Still. He could very well be in the tower.
He took a few very brave steps across the moat’s bridge, until he realized there were no echoing footfalls behind him.
Azazel shook his head calmly. “I am afraid you must do this alone. The Queen will only listen to the pleas of Caiside’s lover.”
Janos nodded in agreement. “You must prove yourself to have courage. You have made it this far – just a little further.”
Hank shrugged. “I wasn’t invited in, so I’ll just…stay out here. But if you could try to make it snappy? I think it might get dark soon.”
Alex nodded, swallowing his nervousness. “Is, um. Is she expecting me? Do I knock?”
“No. Just go in. Straight ahead through the entryway. You can’t miss it,” Azazel promised.
“Well then, I’ll just…go get Sean back, then,” Alex declared, walking up to the enormous carved wooden doors that were the entrance to the castle. He lifted one of the knockers to plea entry, but as soon as he touched it, the door swung open, seemingly light as a feather. Freaky.
There were no windows on the walls of the corridor, although torches provided an eerie light. While a few smaller hallways branched off the artery, Alex continued on the straight path, almost entirely out of instinct, until he came to an even larger set of doors, which were cracked open just enough to let a bit of sunlight through. He pushed them gently open and stepped out into the courtyard, which was large, and, like everything in fairyland, incredibly beautiful. And in the center was the tower, and in front of the tower, back facing Alex, was a figure of a woman.
She was tall, with a long, sweeping emerald gown, and an odd sort of golden headdress that cut upward, adding to her considerable height. She was an imposing figure, and that was before she spoke.
“Alasdair Somerled,” she began. “You have come far.”
Alex looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else there. “Um. Hi? My name is Alex. Alex Summers?”
“I know who you are, Alex.”
With that, she turned around, and Alex – did not exactly drop his jaw. Rather, he cocked his head to the side in a confused manner, much like a puppy.
Despite the gown, and headdress, and weird glittery makeup on her face (in the back of his mind, Alex assumed it was fairy dust), it was clearly the CIA agent. Or was it? Where she had been cheerful, if a bit harried before, now she was haughty, looking down on Alex from a great height.
Height. Tower. Sean. Right.
“My name is Mab!” she shrieked. “Queen of the fae! You will respect me as such!”
“Um, ok, Mrs. Mab, your majesty” he began, not sure what he was supposed to say. “Can…can I have Sean back, please?”
“Why do you want him?”
“Well, he’s just…you know, vital to the group and stuff. And Hank and I will get in trouble with the professor if-”
“The professor!” Moira-Mab yelped, the shrieking noise contrasting with her elegant stance. “Do you know what he wants to do to me? Do you?”
Alex blinked. He honestly had no idea. Fortunately, it was not required of him to say anything.
“He wants to wipe my memories of our time together. He wants to violate my mind. As if his puny human brain could-”
“But he’s not a human!” Alex protested, before remembering it was probably better if he shut up and let her rant. Women were really confusing. “And anyway, he was kind of a dick to me too, but it’s not about him, it’s about Sean, and can I have him back, please?”
She looked hard at him. “The first rule of the fae is not to fall in love with a human. I felt he was at risk, and so took him back. Although-” and here she gave him another appraising look- “I fear I may have been too late.”
“I’m not in love with him!”
Moira-Mab shrugged. “That’s too bad. Only love can bring down that tower.”
Alex took a look at the prison. There was a tiny window, near the top, and as he looked up at it – perhaps summoned by the sound of their voices – a head topped with a familiar shag of bright red hair popped out.
Sean, thought Alex, and felt a stabbing low in his gut.
“Love and plasma beams, bitch,” Alex muttered, before taking a deep breath, gathering up every single one of his stupid emotional feelings, and flinging them out explosively.
The results were epic.
He hit the tower near its base with enough force to completely knock out a ten-foot-tall chunk. And he was no architectural expert, but he was pretty sure that one slim tower-type building would not hold up well to having an enormous hole in the base. And sure enough, there were three screeches – one of stone on stone, one from the fae queen, and one from Sean.
“Jump, man!” Alex yelled up. “I’ll catch you!”
Admittedly, this was not a very well thought out plan.
But Sean jumped.
Time seemed to slow down, as he drifted elegantly downwards. Alex knew, of course, that he wasn’t drifting elegantly downwards, and it was more like plummeting to earth while his hair happened to stream out artistically, but he still managed to reach out his arms and catch the fairy as he fell into them bridal-style. Although his knees buckled a little bit, a combination of adrenaline, sheer willpower, and all those push-ups Erik made them do kept him upright. Slowly, he let Sean’s legs down to touch the earth, but his arms remained linked around Alex’s neck.
He was panting, his hair was wild, and his eyes were ablaze with what Alex suspected were all the emotions he was feeling (although the plasma blast actually made him feel calmer, go figure).
“It’s been a really weird couple of days,” Alex began.
“You’re telling me,” Sean replied. “Thanks for, um, the tower thing.”
“No problem, always happy to rescue a damsel in distress.”
Sean cracked a smile and Alex swore it was like a ray of fucking sunshine. “I’m not a damsel in distress.”
“Dude, you totally are, and this was totally a fairy tale. I mean I didn’t kill a dragon, but Hank punched out a unicorn, and I busted down a tower, and there was an evil queen-”
“Sorry, Moi- Mab,” Alex apologized, not looking away from Sean’s face.
“You know what part of the fairytale this is, right?” Sean asked.
“Yep, sure do,” Alex replied, before kissing the prince with wild abandon.
It would have gone on for a lot longer than it did if it hadn’t been for the applause coming from the entrance to the courtyard. Alex tore himself away from Sean – not happily – and whirled to see Hank, Azazel, and Riptide.
“Azazel! Janos!” Mab began imperiously, although not as angrily as she had previously been. “Did you bring these outsiders here?”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Azazel said, lowering his head abashedly, although something about the sideways glance he gave Riptide seemed to say that he didn’t particularly regret his actions. “I am fully prepared to take any punishment you deem fit to deal.”
“As am I, your highness,” Janos quietly agreed, blue-tinted skin standing out even more next to Azazel’s crimson color.
“I’m not,” Hank said.
The Queen of the Fae made a noise that could only be described as a “harrumph.” “I suppose I knew you two would be behind this. Troublemakers. If you weren’t such a good warrior, Azazel, I swear- and you, Caiside! Don’t you feel the least bit ashamed of yourself?”
Sean thought for a moment. “No, your Majesty.”
Moira-Mab (Alex was still having a bit of an identity crisis and didn’t really want to focus his attention on whatever the hell her name was) crossed her arms. “You are foolish, you know. Young and foolish. Barely a century.”
Alex’s jaw dropped and he looked over to Riptide, who shook his head slowly. Clearly that was an issue to be worked out later.
“But the damage has been done. Go, then.”
Sean blinked. “Really?”
Mab sighed. “Yes. But do use good judgment in the future, please.”
Sean nodded fervently, taking Alex’s hand.
“Azazel, bring them home.”
The warrior nodded and lined them up, linking hands with Janos, who linked hands with Alex, who was already attached to Sean. It was a chain of love. Everyone in it was a little weirded out.
“Are you ready?” Azazel asked, before poof! – magicking them away.
“Welcome home, prof!” Alex greeted happily, standing at the entrance to the mansion a few days later, smile tight with nervousness. He grasped Sean’s hand for strength, awkwardly waiting for the professor to notice. Moira – well, Mab, Alex supposed, wheeled the professor up the path as if she everything was totally, completely normal.
At least the mansion was clean.
“Hello, boys!” Charles Xavier replied with a warm smile. He looked a little pale and wan, but on the whole, in good health, considering that barely a week ago he had been on a beach on a deserted island with a bullet in his spine. He briefly glanced towards their joined hands, which were dangling suspiciously inconspicuously between their bodies, mentally nodded to himself – it was a very Professor-X-y expression – and grinned back up at them, totally and utterly unfazed. (He personally thought it was quite cute, and quite frankly their adorably, romantically innocent thoughts were much nicer than things he had read in people’s heads many a time.) “Has it been a nice, relaxing week?”
Moira arched an eyebrow behind the professor, where he could not see. Alex and Sean nodded enthusiastically.
“Oh yeah. Great. Lots of, um. Academic discussion.”
“Yeah, and mahjong.”
“We played lots of mahjong.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re rested, because tomorrow we will be beginning classes!”
Alex and Sean groaned.
“And preparing the school for other young mutants such as yourself!”
“Cerebro is ready for you at any time, Professor, but you probably shouldn’t tax yourself yet,” Hank said, having snuck up quietly behind the other boys. He was getting good at sneaking, and it was becoming quite disconcerting.
“Why, Hank!” Professor X gasped. “Weren’t you a bit…erm, bluer? When you left?”
Hank awkwardly rubbed his very human-looking hand on the back of his neck. “Yeah. I’ve been doing some deep-breathing meditative exercises, and it’s helping me to keep a lid on the Beast. You want me to, ah, give you a hand inside? Take the load off Ma- MacTaggart? Agent MacTaggart?”
“Thank you, that would be lovely, I’m sure Moira’s had a long day and could do with a cup of tea, perhaps?”
“Certainly,” Hank said, taking the metaphorical reins on the Professor’s wheelchair.
“You know, I rather liked the blue,” Charles said, grinning up at Hank. “It looked rather snuggly.”
One thing about not having blue fur? It made Hank’s blush very, very obvious.
“Well, the transformation isn’t quite voluntary yet, but I’m sure I could, you know, figure that out eventually,” he babbled. “Also, I have, ah, been working on a prototype hoverchair for you. I honestly think it would be easier and cheaper than installing all sorts of ramps and elevators in the house – although that would be up to you, of course, but I’m pretty far along in the design stage-”
The two smart guys walked into the house, hashing science-y talk back and forth in a nerdily charming manner.
The boys turned to “Moira” with a near-audible gulp.
But she merely smiled at them.
“I am going to let your professor go along with his plan of ‘mind-wiping’ me,” she said. “And then I am going back to my realm, to fix that castle you blew a hole in-” Alex had the good sense to look ashamed “- and you are going to try to stay out of trouble, at least for awhile. And to ensure that, I have asked Azazel and Janos to look in on you from time to time.”
“Thank you, your Majesty,” Sean said.
“At any time they choose. Without warning.”
She let that statement sink in and smiled.
“Well, have a nice day then.”
With that, she snapped her fingers, and vanished. It was truly impressive.
Sean turned to Alex. “Should we go…inside?”
Alex shook his head. “No. Let’s go take a walk by the pond before it gets too late.” Together, they walked off into the sunset.
And they lived happily ever after.
(Well, mostly. Sometimes they fought and, consequently, the local window repairman was able to buy a Ferrari.
And of course their activities were occasionally curtailed by the professor and Hank, who were telepathic and had super-senses, respectively, and could therefore sense a round of library fun-times a mile away and put a stop to it.
Also there was that time that it turned out fairy biology was different than human and the mutant family got a happy new addition. Alex signed the birth certificate when Sean was still out from whatever drugs Hank gave him, and, although he couldn’t help but love the little bundle of joy, he was also a little annoyed at Sean’s Irish heritage and his brand-new, weird, magical extended family.
So he named their son Scott.)