The sleepy little suburb of New York has a cheerful, if dilapidated, sign that welcomes them as they drive up to the city limits. Continuing on, they pass through the areas of the city that tell a story of expansion in what once was a one-stoplight town, but over the last twenty years has grown into a moderately sized bedroom community that still clings to that small-town feeling. The thoroughly middle-class, two and one-story building homes eventually give way to the older parts of town, those occupied by families who, if asked, would count themselves as middle class in only the broadest stretch of the term.
Alex glances at the instructions he printed out last night at the mansion and tries to remember if this is the route he took with the relator a few weeks back. Then, at last, he spots it. The two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom house which the previous owners had inexplicably painted bright purple is wedged in between a sensible yellow-brick house and another wooden house painted a light sepia. He winces anew at the color and then reminds himself just how little he’ll have to pay before the house is well and truly his, and he can paint it whatever color he wants. Then again, when he looks over at the wondering eyes of his little brother, he may decide to live with it. Scott is a sweet, thoughtful, well-behaved kid, but he rarely ever looks so excited about anything, much less the physical proof of their departure from the home where he has spent that last few years of his life.
Hopping out, he directs Scott to grab the small black duffel bag with the clothes he’d worn last night and takes out his own bag, giving silent thanks for Charles’ foresight in sending Raven ahead to direct the movers yesterday. If he and his little brother had been forced to drag all of their worldly belongings – it shocks him still when he thinks about how much had accumulated in the years since Charles tracked him down and told him he was fostering his little brother – things would have been pretty tense. The car ride alone had been fairly rough – three hours from Westchester – and physical labor on top of that would probably cause even Scott to rebel.
They make the short walk from Alex’s beat up red Ford in silence, and at their new doorstep he fishes his key out of his back pocket, reminding himself to add it to his key chain once he has Scott settled in for the night. He breathes a sigh of relief when the door opens just as easily as it had when Ms. Frost had shown him the house, and then he pauses, catching sight of something out of the corner of his eye. Covered in blue cellophane, a plate of cookies sits carefully hidden from the potential ravages of the elements, with a note taped to the top. From this distance, he cannot read the words on the slip of paper, but he can tell that the hand which penned them was deliberate and neat, and that, though it had been written in dark blue ink, nothing had been scratched out.
“Hey Squirt, could you grab that for me?” he nods to the gift as he pushes the door open further, noting the squeaky quality of the hinges and adding oiling all of the door hinges to his list of things to do tomorrow. At this rate, that list is going to be taller than he is. ‘The joys of home-ownership,’ he snarks in the privacy of his thoughts, not wanting any part of the move to seem negative for his little brother, because according to Moira, the caseworker who still keeps tabs on how he and Scott were doing, Alex’s attitude constantly influences the way his little brother feels about the world, whether they both realize it or not.
Alex kind of wants to tell Moira to stop using her touchy-feely psychology bull-crap to guilt him into acting like a happier, better adjusted person. Sadly, in spite of the fact that after knowing each other for so long, they are basically friends, he still never knows exactly how much of what he says around her goes into his and Scott’s files, and he refuses to allow his typical distaste for any sort of censorship on his self-expression to damage the system’s view of his guardianship abilities.
“Don’t call me that,” Scott snipes by rote, the argument so old he could carry it out in his sleep. Still, he swoops down and retrieves the cookies before following him into the house, so Alex is going to consider that one a win.
“Dude, I’m your brother – I’m supposed to embarrass and annoy you. I’m also your guardian now, which means I’m, like – doubly obligated to make your life as frustrating as possible.” While he delivers his imminently logical rebuttal, he searches for the switch to flip on the entrance light and then makes his way into the kitchen, flipping the light on in there as well. Scott joins him and sets the cookies on the little round dining table Alex and Raven had discovered in the mansion’s attic when Charles instructed them to take whatever they wanted for the new house, claiming that the mansion had far too much furniture cluttering its halls and rooms, and therefore could stand to lose several items here and there. It is a dark, smoothly polished wood that stands lower to the ground than the dining table used in the mansion; perfect for a shorter than average guy and his kid brother, whose feet might actually reach the floor when he eats now.
“Yeah, yeah. Are you going to feed me, or what?”
Eying his mouthier-than-normal brother, Alex cocks his head to the side. “I don’t know… You’ve eaten in the last twenty-four hours. You could probably survive another twelve without doing it again.”
He earns a distinctly unimpressed glare for his troubles. Scott rarely receives humor well when tired, and handles it with even poorer grace when hungry.
Sighing as though this is the most onerous task he has been given by anyone ever, he moseys over toward the olive green fridge – which clashes horribly with the vibrant fuchsia paint that covers the kitchen walls. The rest of the rooms in the house are all similarly garish, and he has to wonder, had the previous owner been blind, or just insane? He decides to reserve judgment until he can gather more data.
Opening the fridge door, he takes in the glorious sight of the chicken casserole Charles had sent with Raven, with a little note declaring, “Welcome to your new home, Alex and Scott!– All my love, Charles” in his gorgeous, flowing script. He is not going to cry over a freaking note. He is manly, and tough, and way too freaking old to get this emotional over a note from his dad/uncle/guardian/whatever Charles is to him and his little brother. Swallowing, he takes a few breaths in and out and then grabs the Pyrex pot as casually as he can muster and then sets about figuring out the ins and outs of the clementine oven. When he feels like he has a fighting chance against the impending waterworks, he tells Scott, “Looks like you’re in luck, Squirt. Charles must have known I was planning on sending you to bed with nothing and come to the rescue.”
Scott snorts, accusing him with childish scorn, “You are such a liar.”
“You heard me.”
Smirking, Alex goads, “What makes you so sure, hotshot?”
“Because you love me and because Aunt Raven would kill you. After letting Charles stare at you like you just kicked his favorite puppy.” This is a pretty serious threat, actually. Charles Xavier could make hardened criminals cry simply by gazing mournfully at them.
“Touche.” Glancing at the time remaining on the oven timer, he orders, “Since you’re obviously going to be fed soon, go to your room – it’s the electric blue one, you can’t miss it – and change into your PJs. I reserve the right to not do it for you if you fall asleep at the table.”
“Jerk,” Scott mutters as he rises from the table.
“I’m telling Ms. Moira.”
“No you’re not.”
About to disappear into the hall now, he concedes, “… No. I’m not.”
Plopping himself down in a manner reminiscent of his recently departed sibling, Alex stares at the plate of cookies, then toward the hallway. He has maybe two, three minutes before he needs to worry about being caught breaking the rule about eating sweets before a meal. ‘What could it hurt, really?’ Clear cellophane crinkles as he carefully eases one corner away and retrieves a cookie. In the light of the kitchen, he can make out the shapes of raisins and chocolate chips, as well as the distinct texture of oatmeal. Someone, somewhere, was either psychic or incredibly lucky, because what are the odds that one of his neighbors would be able to guess he favorite dessert? More than that, there must be well over a dozen cookies on that plate.
At the first bite, sweet, rich, earthy goodness explodes on his tongue, and he fervently hopes that whoever baked these is not only single, but very, very male. Kissing anyone else in gratitude would be kind of awkward, and Alex does not do awkward. He reads through the note, grinning around a mouthful when he reaches the bottom. “Dear neighbors, I believe it is customary to welcome newcomers with homemade foods. Ergo, in the spirit of friendliness and an attempt to be a good neighbor, please enjoy these cookies. If you have any questions or would like to become better acquainted, you may find me at 403. Sincerely, Hank McCoy.” Either the guy is older than dirt, or he’s a total nerd. The first option would be a little weird, but the second one Alex could definitely live with. His few attempts at romantic liaisons have taught him that he has a bit of a thing for the shy, nerdy types, and the guy baked him chocolate chip oatmeal raisin cookies.
It was meant to be.
At the back of the house, a door opens, and Alex shoves the last of his cookie into his mouth, regretfully rushing though the last bits of goodness for the sake of the façade of at least trying to follow the rules.
Walking in, Scott scrutinizes him suspiciously. “Did you eat a cookie?”
“Dude,” Alex objects, glad his mouth is crumb-free, “would I do that to you?”
Scott purses his lips and refrains from dignifying that with a response. Okay, fair enough.
That night after making sure that Scott is properly fed and watered – Moira would be so proud – he thinks about Charles. When Alex had been sixteen, his foster father at the time had handed him the phone while he was in the middle of fixing his foster sister’s bike. On the other end, a cheerfully British voice had informed him, “Hello, Alex. I’m Charles Xavier, and I’d like to offer you a chance to come live with me and your brother.” There had never been any question of it – of course Alex was going to move to Westchester – he hadn’t seen his little brother in the three years since that awful plane crash, ‘Don’t think about it,’ and like hell was he going to give up the chance to be with him now. He soon learned that Scott and Charles also meant Erik and Raven, and that was fine with him. They made a pretty decent family, all things considered. Charles and Erik may not have been the most conventional parents, but they made it work, and Raven pretty much thought that Scott made the world go ‘round, so she was always going to be awesome in his book, and Scott – Scott was everything.
A few months back, though, Alex started to feel that itch – that yearning – every young person feels at some point, to strike out on his own. He wanted to be able to make it on his own dime, and though Charles had been a bit sad, he had understood. Besides, he and Erik had been making plans to adopt a set of twins soon, and it didn’t feel right to take up the attention they could be paying to kids who actually needed them. He could acknowledge now, in his own room, that part of him would always need the two of them – not because he couldn’t take care of himself and Scott, but because he loved them, and he finally remembered what it felt like to actually belong to a family.
Counting lumps in the ceiling – which was, remarkably, still white; apparently the thought of putting crimson paint on the ceiling had stymied even the kook responsible for the kaleidoscope of colors on the rest of the house – Alex slips easily into slumber.
Alex hates mornings. They should be banned.
“Scott Summers, you are going to be late! Get your butt out here – I don’t care if your hair is still wet, and neither does anyone else.” The pressure of being what basically amounts to a single parent may have been something he chose, but that doesn’t make him anymore pleasant to deal with whenever his kid brother inadvertently does something to make it feel that much heavier.
“Okay, okay. Is my lunch ready?” He hands the small, far too enthusiastic earthling he is forced to call his blood his Captain America lunchbox and a Pop-tart before ushering him out the door.
“Keep on moving, Squirt-“
“Don’t call me that!”
“-I have orange juice waiting for you in the truck, and I will call you whatever I want, so deal with it.”
“Geeze. What crawled up your butt and died?” Oh you have got to be kidding.
Slapping an exasperated palm to his forehead, Alex demands, “Have you been watching TV with Raven again?”
Shoving his Pop-tart into his mouth, Scott opts to plead the fifth.
It’s too early for this. “Fine, whatever. But don’t even think about talking like that in front of your new teacher.”
Scott chews and swallows before giving him an innocent look. “Sure thing, Alex.”
He wishes he could say that his day improves from there. It really, really doesn’t. His first few classes at the dance academy down town are filled with bleach-blonde chicks who think Britney Spears is the height of cool and wish more than anything to be backup dancers in her next music video, and his one advanced hip hop group gives off this aura of jaded disrespect that kind of makes him want to drown himself in the shower. After that, he heads to the lockers to change into his jumpsuit and then drives over to his second job in the garage a few blocks from where he and Scott now live.
The other guys are huge by comparison, and they all pretty much heed the “Stay away from me,” vibe he puts off, because he can smell self-absorbed jerk from a mile away, and these dudes absolutely reek of it. At least he makes friends with Armando “but you can call me Darwin” Munoz, the manager who shares his shift.
Still, it is an unqualified relief when he finally leaves to pick up his brother, playing a Linkin Park CD from the days before they sold out and became just another mainstream group and telling himself that no, he does not need to call Charles and tell him how awful his day was. Even though he knows that Charles would be perfectly willing to listen, he would feel like such a failure if he admitted how much it sucks having to live in the real world.
Scott hops in and he makes himself act like an involved, caring provider, turning down the volume of his music and asking, “How was your first day?”
“It was fine.”
“Do you like your new teacher?” He gets a shrug that he sees in his peripheral vision and sighs. It’s like pulling teeth. Worse, actually, it’s like dealing with a miniature version of himself. Where exactly did the perky little pest from this morning go?
“Did you make any friends?” He glances away from the road for a moment, not liking the continued silence. His little brother’s nose is wrinkled, and he looks faintly disgusted with the world at large.
Finally, Scott gets out, “… This girl tried to kiss me.”
Okay, so. They are definitely getting somewhere. “And how did that go?”
“I ran and hid behind this kid called Logan. He smirked at me. But then he flirted with Jean and she left me alone, so… I guess it was okay.” Alex should probably feel guilty about how ecstatic he is that his brother ran from a girl’s lips, but he hopes and prays that the trend lasts long into his public education, because he wants to have The Talk about as much as he wants to die his hair pink and work on a street corner.
“Good for you, kiddo. Stick close to that Logan kid, and you should be fine.”
After Scott plays on the PS3 Erik gave him for Christmas two years ago, giving Alex some time to read the chapters for a few of the classes he’s taking online from the local community college, they eat another quarter of the leftover casserole and polish off a few more cookies, washing it all down with apple juice. To ease his conscience about their diets, he makes them both eat some grapes, as well.
He is washing dishes and listening to the local news report coming from one of the smaller television sets that had been in storage at the mansion – Alex thinks it must have been bought some time in the nineties, but Scott can still play video games on it, and it hasn’t died yet, so he refused to allow Charles to buy them a brand new one – when he hears their doorbell ring. “Scott, don’t even think about it.” He goes to answer the door before his little brother makes it so much as a foot out of his room.
Standing on his doorstep is what looks like a Flying Tomato Wannabe, his hair brilliant red and hanging low on his shoulders, an easy smile on his lightly freckled face. “Hey, man. Welcome to the ‘hood. I’m Sean Cassidy, and these,” he thrusts a plate of brownies into Alex’s surprised hands, “are the most amazing brownies you will ever eat in your life.”
Alex raises his eyebrows, silently asking, ‘Are you serious right now?’ before he nods and says, “Thanks, man.”
The guy nods and keeps on giving him that lazily pleased look and then he turns and walks ever so slowly away, heading back to 404, the house directly across from his own. For a while, Alex stands and wonders if that really just happened, and then he hears a curious voice asking, “Can I have one?”
He blinks and turns to tell his brother, “You just ate, Squirt. Go… read a book or something until it’s time for bed. I have to study.”
Scott frowns a little at this, but goes and does what he’s told. He knows better than to bug his older brother when he needs to study – a few years of interrupting him while he crammed for finals had taught him well. Besides, Alex won’t have a Saturday physics lab for another few weeks, and he promised him that they would go and do something fun on Saturday. He works to shove down the guilt that swells up at sacrificing time with his brother.
It’s for him, really – he wants to be able to provide for Scott, and the kid knew what he was signing up for when he said he wanted to move out of the mansion with him. Alex had made it Scott’s choice, trying to let him know he shouldn’t feel obligated to live with his big brother and promising to visit as often as possible. Scott had stared at him incredulously and said, “Hey, Alex? You remember that laptop you got for your birthday last year, right?” When Alex nodded, he had continued, “And you do know what Skype is, right? Right. So, I can ‘see’ Charles and Erik and Aunt Raven whenever I want. I want to live with you.”
He still becomes a bit choked up when he thinks about it for too long, so he cracks open his Statistics textbook and does his best to ignore it, absentmindedly scarfing on brownies he’s pretty sure he’ll be kicking himself for later. He hates dancing after eating too much sugar, and he’s already eaten quite a few of those cookies, but chocolate makes everything better and hey, are the words blurring?
The knock at the door is a bit surprising, but he gets up obediently, not wanting Scott to get curious and do it himself. “Heeey. How are you on the beautiful evening?”
The dork on his doorstep – and honestly, what else can he be with glasses like that and a Star Trek TOS T-Shirt and a freaking lab coat on – blanches and says, “I guess I got here a bit too late. Am I right in assuming you decided to eat some of Sean’s brownies?”
Alex grins and offers, “Yeah, heey, do you want some, dude? They’re pretty sweet. Not as amazing as the cookies, but still, they’re worth the calories and the sugar.”
Mr. Tall and Dorky bites his lip and fights a grin, shaking his head. “No thanks. In fact, I think you should probably refrain from having more as well.” He ducks and then looks up at Alex again. “So you uh, you liked the cookies?”
Leaning forward, Alex whispers, “Can I tell you a seeecret?”
“Um. Sure. Why not?”
“I’m gonna marry Hank McCoy.” He watches with a detached interest as the guy’s ears go pink, followed by his cheeks.
“Oh, really? Why would you say that?”
“He made me chocolate chip oatmeal raisin cookies. And they were the Best Ever.” He considers for a moment if he should be telling this guy about his Epic Love of Hank McCoy when it’s still so new, but well… Scott probably wouldn’t get it, since he’s still in the girls-have-cuties stage (may he stay there forever) and Raven would laugh at him.
Mr. Tall and Dorky finally gives into that grin he’s been holding back, and while it is a bit embarrassed, it’s still completely gorgeous, and Alex feels a bit like a heel for kind of cheating on Hank McCoy of the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies but… he hasn’t come back since apparently leaving the plate of deliciousness on his doorstep, and that sort of estrangement puts a strain on relationships. “Look, why don’t I just relieve you of the rest of Sean’s brownies and help you get somewhere comfortable so you can sleep this off?”
“Oh, but I have to make sure Scott gets to bed.” He stares up, up, up soulfully at his visitor and asks, “Could yoooou do it?”
Opening and closing his mouth a few times – and what a pretty mouth it is – the dork finally says, “Sure, why not?” and that’s pretty much the end of Alex’s good decision-making for the night, but that’s okay, because Mr. Tall and Dorky totally has it under control.
The next morning, he wakes up in his bed still wearing his shorts and long-sleeved shirt from the night before, with no clue how he got there. He realizes this is fairly common for most kids his age – college is typically a time of fun and experimentation, or so the movies say, but he personally has never had time for it, so he takes a moment to settle into this new experience and then decides he never wants to have it again. He goes to check on Scott and finds that he, at least, made it into his pajamas before going to sleep last night, and then goes through the motions of getting ready for the day.
Scott gives him a few probing looks throughout munching on his Blueberry Eggo’s – just a bit crunchy, so that they make a little noise while he chews them – and sipping his OJ, but is apparently disinclined to elucidate on the nature of said looks, so Alex decides not to ask. When he glances at the kitchen clock, he swears and then orders Scott to never ever mention it to Moira, and hustles the kid out the door.
They sort of stumble through the rest of their first week, each acquiring a few bumps and bruises along the way – though not as many as his students claim they’ve been getting, the wusses – and both breathe a sigh of relief when Saturday rolls sluggishly around.
Alex kicks off the morning by donning a pair of faded old cargo shorts and mowing the lawn. It’s 10:30, so he refuses to feel bad about waking anyone else lazy enough to still be sleeping in on such a gorgeous day, pointedly ignoring how much he wishes he could sleep in ‘til about 12:00 during the week. Yeah, he’s a hypocrite. What’s the rest of the world going to do about it?
When he finishes with the front lawn, he hears the door of the yellow-brick house open and turns to wave. He doesn’t remember anyone ever coming or going from that place in the days before this, and he’s curious. The answering wave comes from a tall man who is similarly topless. “Hey. You about to do yours?” Alex asks, gesturing to his lawnmower.
“No,” his neighbor denies, “I’m going for a run.” He seems to hesitate for a minute before asking, “How are you?”
“Me? I’m fine…. You?”
“I feel quite well, thanks.” The guy examines him for a while. “You… don’t remember me, do you?”
Stumped, Alex tells him, “Sorry, man. Can’t say that I do.”
He strides toward Alex at that, offering his hand. “In that case, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Henry Phillip McCoy. But um, you can call me Hank.”
As they shake hands, they observe each other, and Alex is tempted to do a victory dance right there on the front lawn. He’s adorable. Alex had known he would be adorable. No man who baked his new neighbor chocolate chip oatmeal raisin cookies could be anything else. “Nice to meet you, Hank. I’m Alex Summers, and this kid,” he gestures toward the boy who has emerged from their purple eyesore, which he is reluctantly growing to love, “is my brother Scott.”
Scott glances between the two of them and then sticks his hand out. “Hi.”
Something passes between the two of them when Hank takes the proffered hand and genially tells him, “Hello, Scott.”
Chalking their ‘moment’ up to mutual nerd-recognition, Alex shrugs it off. “We were going to see what sort of trouble we could get up to in this place on a Saturday. You know of anything?”
“Well, there’s a wildlife preserve not too far from here. It’s three dollars for kids under twelve and five dollars for adults. The proceeds go to the animals, so, it’s for a good cause.” Oh, he likes Hank. He’s so earnest and awkward.
“Well, how could we deprive the animals?” He turns to Scott. “We would never deny furry creatures the right to their continued comfort, would we, Squirt?”
Scott predictably rolls his eyes, young enough to still fear girls but old enough to think adults are just plain dumb, and won’t be able to tell exactly how excited he is about the prospect of tiny animals. “Don’t call me that. And yeah, the preserve could be cool.”