If mutants are real, then ghosts could be, too, but Alex doesn't think he's gone that crazy. He also doesn't think he's gained any new abilities during his training.
"Whoa," Sean says, which confirms that he's seeing the same thing. Then he's running inside to grab Charles.
"Darwin?" Alex asks, and pretends it comes out pretty evenly and not choked up at all.
Pretending doesn't last for long 'cause Darwin's answering grin makes Alex's knees go weak. He clenches his hands into fists, locks his knees, and keeps himself together. "How?"
For a moment, Darwin looks like he doesn't know and raises his hand, staring at his own palm like he's not sure it's attached to him. Alex hopes Charles makes an appearance pretty soon. "Guess I adapted."
Alex doesn't know how to tell him it's been five years. Things have changed. At a first glance, Alex would say Darwin hasn't, though, but Darwin's still staring at his hand, turning his palm up, turning it back down, and five years worth of guilt keeps Alex silently rooted to the spot, waiting for Charles to show up.
Darwin's alive. It's the reality that keeps ticking in Alex's brain, swinging back like the pendulum of the stupid grandfather clock that Charles keeps on the east side of the mansion. Alex hates the sound that it makes, and the mansion's so big that he moved to the west end. That was years ago. Like Darwin's death.
Darwin never got to train with them, and that thought makes Alex turn his eyes out the window while Charles looks Darwin over. Alex thought it was going to be quick, but it's already an hour and counting before Charles finally says something.
"Stunning." He blinks a few times, smile slow but wide as he stares at Darwin.
Yeah, Alex silently agrees, staring at Darwin, too. Five years hasn't changed anything.
"I'll show you around," Alex says.
Darwin nods, and from there, it feels like they're wandering in circles as he leads Darwin through the mansion. There's a lot to fill him in on — Cuba, Charles, why Raven and Erik aren't here, all the new faces wandering down the hall.
"We're a school now," Alex says. "I, uh." He rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. "Teach sometimes."
Alex's room is the last stop on the tour, even though Alex is at the end of a long, empty hallway. Darwin has his pick of rooms. He's alive, and he can do anything he wants now.
"So how did you find us?" Alex asks.
Darwin walks across the room, slow and careful, and each step Alex watches make his throat seal tighter. "Heard there was a school."
"Dude," is about as much as Alex can manage before he's crossing the room and grabbing Darwin's arm just to prove to himself this is happening, that Darwin really is alive and okay.
He wants to say he remembers the shape and feel of Darwin against his palms, but that's a lie. What he remembers is Darwin's smile, the bold look in Darwin's eyes that's not there anymore, and it's Alex's fault, another reality that's ringing in Alex's head.
It's Darwin who moves first, just like before, cupping Alex's face and saying, "Hey, man," with a small smile.
Shit, Alex thinks, knees going weak, and then he can't stop, pressing, "Sorry. I'm so sorry," between each kiss, hand latched so tight around Darwin's arm that he can feel Darwin's skin adapting against the pressure.
"Hey, hey, it's okay. I'm okay."
All Alex wants to do is make sure that's true as he slides his hands up Darwin's shirt, backs him toward the bed. There aren't any scars, and Alex isn't sure he ever noticed that before when he was so desperate for control and so hard up that getting off meant not letting himself look too long. Every kiss feels like an apology stuck on Alex's tongue, and when he takes Darwin in his mouth, he's got an excuse for why it'll never be enough.