“Mort, goddamn it, use your hands,” Alex snapped, blowing on his whistle a few times for emphasis as the class stumbled to a halt.
The kid in question narrowed his eyes and then unrolled his tongue, letting the basketball drop to the floor in a puddle of goo where it rested briefly before slowly slug-trailing across the three-point line.
Mort curled his lip and his tongue slurped back into his mouth. “Other kids get to use their mutations in class!”
“Other kids’ mutations don’t involve drool.” Alex looked away from the mess, trying not to gag. “I’ll let you jump wherever the hell you want but there’s a strict no body-fluids policy in this gym.”
The kid crossed his arms over his chest and opened his mouth, and Alex blew on his whistle to cut off whatever irritating thing was about to spill out. Mort froze with his mouth open, and Alex took the opportunity to toss a towel at him off the bench. It hit him in the face, which felt good in a solidly petty way.
“Clean it up,” Alex told him, and when the other students started whispering (a hobby they seemed to like almost as much as breathing, eating, and not paying attention to him) he continued, “and 10 sprints for all of you. Stop groaning or it’ll be 15! No flying, either – that’s cheating, Ororo, you’ll run and get sore and pissy like everyone else.”
The gym erupted into a flurry of glares and skidding sneakers. Alex let them have at it, which was a pretty good description of what Charles loosely termed his “teaching style.” Mostly, he just got out some sort of sports equipment, stumbled his way through explaining the rules, and then let them beat out some aggression against one another until the bell rang. He figured that was good for them, to run off some of the teenaged angst that practically sprayed out of their pores. Alex didn’t ever remember being that bitchy, but then again, he’d been in prison; in the long run, maybe acne was healthier thing to be dramatic about.
While they ran laps, he walked over to the double doors that led into the gym, where Charles was watching with an expression of fond irritation. Well, Alex figured it was fond, anyway; Charles had turned that look on him enough times that Alex would have probably been turned into a vegetable by now if it hadn’t been.
“What’s up, Professor X? Come to test out the new wheels?” Alex nudged the wheelchair with a foot until Charles grabbed the wheels and glared.
“Alex, I do wish you wouldn’t curse so much in front of the students,” he began. “It isn’t professional.”
“I’m a 19-year-old ex-con,” Alex reminded him. It was a conversation they had rehearsed into perfection a long time ago, way before Charles had switched mental gears from ‘Alex is a child and cannot be trusted to feed and clothe himself properly’ to ‘Alex can be a Teacher!’ Just because Alex was now entrusted with massively more responsibility didn’t mean that either of them had come up with new aspects to this particular argument. “Professional isn’t exactly my middle name, Doc.”
“Well,” Charles huffed, “just because that is how you see yourself doesn’t mean that’s all there is to you. Underneath--“
“Dude, Professor, spare me.” Alex narrowed his eyes. “Did you seriously come down here to tell me to stop cursing? What’s the matter, you couldn’t just send me a memo?” He tapped his temple, then sobered. Hank had performed another update on Cerebro the night before, what if it had somehow messed with the Professor’s powers?
“Relax,” Charles said quickly, holding up his hands. “Nothing’s wrong with me, I came down here to give you this, that’s all.” He pulled something out from his suit jacket.
Alex raised an eyebrow but took it anyway. It was an unassuming brown envelope, addressed to him in feminine handwriting and had been mailed to him by – oh. Oh.
“Yes,” Charles said, sounding tentative. “I rather thought you might want to know that it had arrived.”
“Yeah.” Alex stared at the manila envelope. “Thanks.”
Jean’s bright red head bobbed into his peripheral vision. “Mr. Summers? Mr. Summers, we’re done, can we-“
“That’s another 10 sprints for interrupting,” Alex said absently, running a finger over the edge of the envelope and feeling it press back hard against his skin.
Charles made a disapproving noise. Alex rolled his eyes, but waved a hand at Jean. “Fine, nevermind. Class is dismissed, go shower so that Professor X doesn’t throw you out of English class for smelling up his books.”
“We’ve got math next,” Jean corrected, and Alex turned and glared at her until she blushed and ran off with the others.
He waited until the gym was empty save for him and Charles. When he’d been in school, before the accident that had sent him to prison, he’d always felt more comfortable surrounded by echoing cement walls and wood-paneled floors. Life had seemed simpler, like none of the bullshit outside of the gym – foster homes, bullies, the cramp-in-his-style that was the ability to shoot laser discs from his chest when irritated – none of it had seemed to matter. He didn’t find the empty gym as comforting right now as he normally did; today it felt more like a giant amphitheater of judgmental silence.
“Would you prefer to be alone?” Charles asked, seemingly sincere. Either he was getting better at staying out of people’s heads uninvited, or he was getting a lot better at acting.
“No,” Alex decided, and ripped open the envelope, sliding out the paper and scanning the print. The numbers blurred together, a short column of digits and percentages and-
“Oh, excellent, Alex, well done!” Charles cooed, clapping his hands together. “Oh that’s brilliant!”
So just better at acting then. Alex scowled at Charles over the top of the test scores, but it was nearly impossible to maintain – he’d passed, in every section, and he’d even excelled in some of them. Most surprisingly, he’d done really well in math; top 9%, which was just… well, it took him reading it a few more times for it to really sink in. Then, even his resolve to not reward Charles’s impatient invasiveness couldn’t keep the grin from his face.
“I passed,” he said.
“You passed!” Charles’ voice cracked a little.
“Dude. You’d better not be crying.” The professor did have a suspiciously glassy gleam to his eyes, but considering that Charles had once started sniffling because Alex had brought him home milk duds from the store, it wasn’t that surprising.
“I would never,” Charles said tartly, wiping at his face in a way he undoubtedly thought was discreet. “But I’m very proud, Alex. You should be too. This is an excellent accomplishment.”
“It’s just a GED.” Alex lifted the test score page and found his diploma filed away underneath it. The certificate was embossed with metallic paint and gigantic, illegible calligraphy swirls. It looked official, and seeing his own name printed neatly as the recipient made his chest tight in ways that he wished weren’t happening around a telepath.
“It’s not just a GED! It’s the beginning of a whole academic career, if you want it, Alex.”
Alex tucked the papers back into the envelope. There was no way he could afford school, though he knew that if he ever asked Charles would give him the money. Hell, Charles had already offered, though he’d done so in enough of a round-about, vaguely-worded way that Alex couldn’t get mad at him for it.
“Don’t you have a class to teach?”
Charles didn’t reply for a moment, and when Alex glanced at him he saw the other man’s expression was the painfully earnest one he got only when he was about to spill out some sort of heart-rending emotional diarrhea that would make everyone in his vicinity incredibly uncomfortable
“Charles. Seriously. If you don’t want me to violate the no-body-fluids-in-the-gym rule, you’d better take whatever sentimental bullshit you’ve got set to launch and just… not.” He waved the packet of papers. “This is just a GED. It doesn’t change anything, not really. I’m still a mutant, and I’m still a fugitive, and no matter how much money you throw at a school those problems aren’t just going to go away. I mean, thank you – I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have passed if you hadn’t helped, obviously. But that’s all this is.”
Charles’ face fell briefly, then composed itself. “Congratulations, Alex,” he said, stiffly, then spun himself around and left the room. The slam of the door shut was startling, echoing loudly in the empty gym, and Alex felt like an asshole before strangling the emotion in its infancy. He wasn’t like Hank, wasn’t like Charles; he didn’t play well with others and he never had. Teaching here was almost beyond his capacity, and all he did was tell kids to chase balls. Having the paper wasn’t a ticket to genius; it was just a nice reminder that maybe he was more than just a really terrible gym teacher.
Rubbing a hand across his eyes, Alex went and turned off the gym lights. He thought, briefly, about leaving the papers in his desk in his office, or just tossing them in the trash. He kept them, instead, and without any other tasks for the next hour decided to go and harass Hank in the lab.
“Don’t touch anything!” Hank snapped as Alex entered the room.
Alex ignored him and went to go sit in his chair at the far end of the lab space. He’d dragged it in shortly after Cuba, when Hank had been so overwhelmingly absorbed in reversing his blue misfortune that he’d refused to come out of the lab for anything short of a complete emergency and Alex had been forced to take up residence to keep the guy from doing anything even stupider. When Hank had locked him out, Alex had picked the lock. When Hank had gotten better at making locks (apparently this had been a good mental rest from redesigning his own genetics) Alex had used his abilities to blast through the lock, and then the door, and finally through an adjacent portion of the wall once Hank had resorted to reinforcing the door with some home-made adamantium.
After that, there’d been no more lock-outs, and Hank had eaten everything Alex had put in front of him (even the very adventurous casserole that Sean had made) and told Alex what he was doing and generally been a lot less psychotic. Alex had left his chair in the lab, though, even after Hank’s fur had fallen off and his skin had gone back to pasty white. It was nice to have somewhere to sit while Hank was working.
Hank was bent over a microscope today, his white labcoat stained with a variety of dyes, so he was probably doing something that Charles would find interesting and Alex would not. Alex really only liked the stuff that Hank made that facilitated explosions or flight, but he still like to watch Hank work. He liked watching the lab coat ride up over Hank’s thighs as he bent over, and found the way that Hank bit his tongue when he was thinking hard was totally entrancing. Hank called him a pervert; Alex didn’t bother disagreeing. It was either that or confess the mushy stuff, too, and just the thought of telling Hank how it made Alex happy to see him happy was enough to give him a miniature panic attack.
Lately, he wasn’t sure that Hank would have wanted to hear it, anyway. Sometimes it was hard to tell if Hank was ignoring Alex because of science, or because of the thousands of other reasons that people ignored people – because they were irritating, or tiresome, or their presence was unwanted. Alex couldn’t help the niggling suspicion that it was one of those, even though he told himself not to read into the late nights in the lab as anything more than just that. Hank loved science more than Hank would ever love anything else, which was something that Alex had known when they’d first started this thing. He couldn’t expect all of Hank’s attention all of the time. Hank was just… Hank was just distracted, that was all.
Hank worked away for a solid twenty minutes, which was enough time for Alex to decide to show him the papers. He hadn’t brought it up beforehand; it made him nervous, really, because what would Hank care about a GED when he had been speaking Latin while Alex was still in his diapers? That worry had made him hide it for the past few months of studying, turning only to Charles when he needed help with algebra and not his own… boyfriend, lover, whatever. Alex twitched in his seat, and tried not to wonder too much about Hank’s reaction, or wonder about his own motivations for not telling him in the first place.
Finally, Hank put the slide in the sink, snapped off a set of gloves and scrubbed his hands until his fingers turned pink.
“Not going well?” Alex asked.
Hank shrugged, which was a pretty clear ‘no’. “I can’t get the neurons to re-attach. I’ve still got some chemicals I can try, though, and I haven’t even gotten into viral mechanisms. Obviously, stem cells are a pretty big field for this sort of thing, too, though Charles and I haven’t exactly found a source of material. So, no, not really, but there’s still a lot of different avenues to explore so no panicking yet.” He tilted his head to the side and adjusted his glasses, and Alex shifted nervously as the full force of that academic interest focused on him. “You look odd. What’s wrong with you?”
“You charmer,” Alex replied drily, but though Hank shrugged off his lab coat and started jotting down a few notes in a journal, it was clear that he hadn’t actually lost interest in the conversation. That had been one of the hardest things, in the very beginning – Alex had never met anyone who could multitask like Hank, and had been pissed whenever it had seemed like Hank had just started ignoring him in the middle of a conversation. Now, though, he could tell Hank was still alert, and that he either had to come up with an excuse or come clean. Since Hank was a genius it was always better to go with option two. “I, um, got some mail today.” Jesus. Could he be any lamer?
Hank closed the journal and turned to him. He was wearing light khaki pants and a button-up cardigan, and though Alex knew from long, disappointed experience that it was hard to distract Hank with sex, the option was terribly tempting. “What sort of mail?”
Alex thrust out the envelope and stared resolutely at the floor as Hank read it.
“This is a GED,” Hank said finally. “This is… your GED.”
Damn but he wished he had Kitty’s mutation. Or something like Charles’ – at least then he could tell what the hell Hank was thinking, or make him forget this moment had ever happened and let Alex slip out through the door without further humiliation. “Yup.”
Hank was quiet. “When did you… Oh.”
Alex chanced a look up and saw that Hank’s brow was furrowed in concentration as he stared at the diploma. His mouth was all screwed up, and as Alex watched Hank began to gnaw away on his lower lip, completely lost in thought.
“This is why you haven’t been hanging around the lab lately,” Hank said finally. “Why you’ve been off with Charles so much.”
“Yeah,” Alex said warily.
“I thought you were maybe…” The confusion cleared from Hanks expression and was replaced by blushing cheeks and an averted gaze. “I mean, you were distant, and you didn’t have as much time for me, and sometimes you would get mad at me and…”
“…Oh my god.” Alex blinked, his mouth dropping open in horror. “You thought I was cheating on you? With Charles?”
Hank’s blush spread all down his chest at this point, turning him almost as red as he’d once been blue. “Well, I just… I’m not very good with people, you know that, and that’s what all the magazines said were warning signs-“
“You read magazines!” Alex exclaimed gleefully. “What magazines – did you steal Jean’s Cosmo?”
Hank crossed his arms over his chest, the diploma dangling awkwardly out of one hand, and Alex burst out laughing. The grimace on Hank’s face only made him laugh harder, and by the time that Hank grew tired of his behavior and had started stalking over to him with a dark look on his face, Alex was completely incapacitated, his own arms wrapped solidly around his belly in an attempt to regain control.
“I thought that you were cheating, and instead you were… you were… doing geometry?” Hank shook the papers in his face, and Alex grabbed them and threw them to the side, only to replace his hold on the top buttons of Hank’s cardigan and pull him down onto Alex’s lap. Hank perched there awkwardly, but he was smiling again and his hands came up to cup Alex’s face and stroke over his cheekbones.
“You got your GED,” Hank said again, smiling now. “You got in the top 9% in the math section!”
“Yeah?” Alex said with a smirk, sneaking his fingertips up under the lab coat. “Does that turn you on? I could calculate the area of a circle for you, if it gets you hot.”
“Maybe later,” Hank said agreeably, and kissed him briefly before pulling back and saying with alarming enthusiasm, “you could go to college!”
The bright, ear-to-ear grin on Hank’s face typically meant some form of new invention was on its way, or that a puzzle long considered had finally been solved. To have that expression turned on by Alex’s own (meager, very meager) accomplishments was confusing enough that instead of the rude dismissal he had been preparing for just such a suggestion, he found himself stuttering out, “uh, yeah, I guess so?”
Hank made a pleased gurgling sound and launched himself back at Alex, biting bruises into exposed skin and sucking him off right there in the lab, which was something that Alex had been fantasizing about for months but could never figure out how to manipulate Hank into doing. Hank was so keyed up he ended up rubbing off on Alex’s leg; not specifically a fantasy prior to that moment, but it featured pretty heavily in his jerk-off sessions forever after.
So really, in the end, going to college was neither Alex’s idea nor Alex’s fault. Yes, he filled out the application and sent it in himself, but every time he dropped a word about it into a conversation Hank stopped whatever he was doing in order to ravage Alex in the nearest closet. What was he supposed to do, not have terrifyingly hot sex whenever he wanted it? It was like a spontaneously developed sexual superpower, and so casual side-bars turned into pamphlets dropped onto tables, and then into half-completed applications, and by then Alex was so sex-stupid he ended up finishing and sending in a few. When he finally got his letter of acceptance back, he’d basically been conditioned to get a boner anytime higher education was mentioned. He’d have been worried about it but after living with Charles and Hank, he’d come to understand that this was basically an unavoidable side-effect of academia.
Prior to admission, he swore to himself that he’d drop out if he started developing some sort of pre-cum related Pavlovian reaction to the smell of chalk. Hank had patted his shoulder at the proclamation and wished him luck. It was only after his first class that he realized Hank hadn’t actually been patting him fondly so much as consolingly, and that awkwardly nerdy fetishes were an inevitable byproduct of continuing education.
Fortunately, Hank looked pretty good in tweed.