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The Path No Longer Lit

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Hank doesn't fall in love with Alex right away.

(This is true.)

Later, when Alex talks about how he had 'a thing', as he so cleverly puts it, for Hank right from the start, how he can never not be an ass to guys he likes, Hank doesn't say anything. He listens to Alex's apologies, all said with a smile that makes him look boyish, mischievous, as Alex drags his nails over Hank's shoulders in a way that embarrasses him by how good it feels.

He doesn't say anything because he doesn't want Alex to know that he hated him at first. That Alex's teasing was hurtful, had stung, had made Hank wish Alex would just go away. He embarrassed him, in front of Raven and everyone, and didn't seem to care.

After the transformation though, well.

Well.

It's Alex who brings him lunch when he won't come out of his lab, Alex who sits with him and talks about stupid things, weird things that only Alex would think of.

Sean and the Professor treat Hank differently now.

Alex treats him like an equal now.

After awhile, Alex is the only one he can talk to, the only one he wants to talk to. When he talks to Alex, he feels normal again, feels like a person and not a monstrosity.

It makes sense later, when he's in love with him.

(That might be only a half-truth. Love doesn't make sense.)

Being in love isn't like what he thought it would be though. Being in love is complicated, and it hurts more than he thinks it should. He and Alex fight a lot more than he thought they would, over stupid things, things that aren't really worth a fight, in retrospect. Sometimes, Alex takes off for days, not telling anyone where he's going, not telling Hank, leaving him to wait and worry.

He starts leaving the porch light on for him, every night until he comes home.

He's gone for a month once, and comes back with a bag full of sea glass and boots full of sand. Hank's angry and upset and scared, but then when he comes back to the room, the sea glass has been strung up with twine, little holes drilled in. They hang in the light like a church's stained glass window, beautiful.

He forgives him.

(That's more truth than lie, at least)

They get older, which tends to happen, and Sean meets a woman named Maeve. He marries her, and years later, they have a daughter named Theresa. Hank can't help his jealousy, because Sean gets to marry the person he loves, gets to tell people he loves her, kiss her in public. He gets a daughter, a beautiful girl to cherish.

Hank watches, and his heart aches.

“Alex?” He asks one night. “Did you ever want kids?”

Alex scoffs, and grins at him.

“Can you see me with kids?” He asks.

No, Hank supposes he can't.

(Truth, that's truth)

That changes, just a little, when they find Scott. Alex never even told him he had a little brother, never confided in him. Hank had always suspected that Alex's family was dead, but had restrained from asking out of respect. The sight of Alex with the much younger Scott, that changes things.

Because he's different, with Scott. Soft. Easy-going.

He reads him stories at night.

Sometimes, Hank listens at the door, listens to Alex's voice reading Shel Silverstein and The Jungle Book, listens as he does the voices of Baloo and Sher Khan. He closes his eyes as he rests against the wall, hears the patience and love in Alex's voice, and he longs for something he can't even name.

When Alex finally joins him in bed, Hank thinks to push the subject.

“You would be a good dad.” He says.

Alex snorts.

“I'd be the worst parent ever.” He contradicts, as he stretches out beside Hank. “Nah, you and me, we got something good just like this. Kids just mess things up.”

“What about Scott?” He asks.

“That's different.” Alex replies, without elaboration.

Hank wants to ask more, wants to ask Alex why he thinks Hank couldn't be a good dad, why Alex can't hear the want in his voice, why Alex won't see.

The words catch in his mouth though, trapped behind his teeth, behind his fear and doubt. Alex doesn't have to be with him, he reminds himself. Alex could pick up and leave at any time, and not come back with a bag full of sea glass. Why he even comes back now, Hank doesn't know.

So he drops it, and goes to sleep.

(That's a lie)

The years pass, and Scott gets taller, stops wanting bed time stories, stops needing Alex to hold his hand through everything. Hank almost thinks it's another loss to Alex, but he's not sure why.

(That's a lie too)

One day, a few days after Alex's birthday, Alex comes home to the mansion, excited, about an offer for a job.

A job with what would later be known as SHIELD.

Hank's against it every step of the way. Alex agrees without even talking to Hank about it though, signs away his life without so much as a thought towards how Hank feels about it. He starts coming home with guns, and not small ones. He tells stories that Hank can practically smell the white-out on, with smiles that start to hide more than they tell.

He's still Alex, and Hank still loves him, but he's not who he was. And a part of Hank is starting to be afraid of him.

When he brings home a gun safe, Hank won't have it.

“Alex!” He yells, furious at the sight of it in the den of their new home in D.C. “You can't be serious! It's bad enough you bring weapons home, illegal weapons I might add, now you want to flaunt them?”

“Gun ban doesn't apply to SHIELD.” Alex replies, distracted by the rifle, or whatever it is, that he's got disassembled on the coffee table. “I've got a special permit. We're not doing anything illegal.” His casually used 'we' earns him leeway, even if he isn't looking for it, but Hank's still seething.

“Oh, because that doesn't go against every single one of my beliefs.” Hank snaps. “Alex, do you not realize how precarious my position is here? I'm a physical mutant, a frightening one,”

“Hank, you're a fucking genius.” Alex replies, putting down the tool he's using to clean the gun. “You're all, fuck, what's the word, cultured and shit. Once people start talking to you, they stop caring about what you look like. It's me they stop liking.” He says it with a smile, like this is a joke.

“That's because you go out of your way to be unpleasant!” He accuses. “Which isn't doing me any favors with supporters, by the way.”

“Imagine how unhappy they'd be if they knew I wasn't just your bodyguard.” Alex says, with a wink.

“That's not funny, Alex.” Hank replies, terrified at even the thought.

“Never said it was.” Alex says, resuming cleaning the gun. “Gun safe stays. It's not safe for them to be lying around, and technically, some of them don't exist, so they shouldn't even be seen.”

“What?” Hank asks, shocked.

“Sorry, Beast.” Alex says, with a shrug that's a little too smug. “Your clearance isn't high enough. Just know that you're sleeping safe in your bed thanks to the innovative genius of one of our own kind.” He laughs. “Seriously, Hank, you should see this kid. He's fucking crazy as shit, but the way he builds, it's amazing.”

“Kid?” Hank asks, caught on the word. “How old is this kid?”

“Can't tell you anymore.” Alex says, frowning. “Trust me, he's better off under lock and key. You don't want this kid running around the streets.”

“Alex,”

“Drop it, Hank.”

The way he says it, so casually, so arrogantly sure of himself, it scares Hank.

He has no idea what to do with this version of Alex, this new man that SHIELD has forged from the one he fell in love with.

He's still Alex, still arrogant and happy and fun, still the man who makes Hank laugh when no one else can, still the one who loves him, still the one he wants to be with. But there's more than one side to him now, and Hank is frightened that the side he loves is slowly being swallowed up the other ones, that he's going to lose him.

He pulls away all the more, if only to protect himself from the inevitable.

(That's a lie, he pulls away because he's scared)

One day, he comes home from the Mutant Rights offices to find Alex packing his mission bag, humming some old song under his breath.

“Recon?” He asks wearily.

“Yeah, gonna be gone a couple of months.” He replies, zipping the bag. “Keep the light on for me?” He asks, with a self-assured smirk.

“Of course.” Hank says, distracted by the guns laid out on their bed so nonchalantly. There's so many, at least six, with their ammunition beside them. He counts at least four knives too. “Where are they sending you? Or are you even allowed to tell me?”

“Can't tell you where, but I can tell you what.” Alex says, looking cheerful. “I'm going after Azazel.”

Hank's heart skips a beat.

“You can't be serious.” He says, but Alex just nods.

The fight that follows, it's all Hank can do not to shout, keep his voice from shaking, because he's terrified that this is it, this is the last mission. That two agents in suits will be at their door in a matter of weeks to tell him that Alex served his country, that Alex will get a ceremony worthy of hero, that Alex won't even come home in a bag, because Azazel won't leave enough for a matchbox, much less a coffin.

Hank can take a lot of things, but he can't lose Alex, not like this.

In the end though, it doesn't matter. Alex leaves, and Hank spends every night afraid and angry, angry that Alex refuses to see reason anymore, that he refuses to see anything but SHIELD.

Doesn't he still love Hank, still want to make this work?

The thought, the doubt, it aches. It's always been there, prowling around at the edge of his mind, that Alex might leave one day, might grow tired of Hank holding him back, questioning him. SHIELD might pull him in completely, where Hank can't touch him.

He turns the porch light on.

He gets a call two months later, a call that starts with 'He's alive', and that's all that matters.

Alex is scarred, his ear mostly gone. He got Azazel pretty good, the young agent beside him says, blasted him right through a wall before he could teleport. Might even have fatally injured him, even if Alex doesn't think so.

He'll never get the hearing back in that ear, the agent says, in a lower voice. He'll be relegated to training, no more missions.

Strangely, Hank doesn't feel any better to hear that.

When he wakes, Hank never says 'I told you so', or anything else in that vein. He doesn't want Alex to think Hank thinks he deserves this, because he doesn't. He's content to take comfort in the fact that Alex came home, no matter what condition.

When he gets home, he turns the porch light off.

Then he breaks down, cries the tears of a man so relieved, it aches.

Alex is home. That's all that matters.

(This is the truth)

When Jean dies, it's like all the air has been sucked out of his lungs. Bright, shining Jean Grey, full of potential and genius, dead and gone like she was never here at all. He can't believe it, doesn't want to.

For the first time in years, Alex puts his head on his shoulder, like he did when they were young, when Jean was alive. He can't take the reminder, can't take the memories, and he recoils.

Alex stares, his gaze hard, and Hank looks away, ashamed of his weakness.

“Right.” Alex says, in an odd tone. “Jesus Christ, what the fuck are we even doing?”

Hank's at a loss for words, unsure of where exactly this conversation is going now.

“What?” He asks. “What are you talking about?”

Alex puts his back to Hank though, grabs his worn leather jacket off the hook behind the door, pockets his wallet, the one with his initials on it. It was a Christmas gift.

“Alex?” He's ashamed of how he sounds. He's a grown man, an old one, he shouldn't sound so afraid. “I'm sorry, I just, it's been a lot to take in, I didn't mean to do that.” He'll do anything to take it back, anything to make Alex look at him.

“Yeah?” Alex asks, his tone angry, but cold. “Funny. I think it's the most honest you've been with me in years.”

(This is true)

Hank waits up for half the night, afraid and yet, somehow, relieved. He's been waiting for this fight for a long time. Maybe this is what they need, he thinks. Maybe this is what will make them talk to each other again, make them honest.

He waits in the kitchen, with the porch light on.

They're going to be okay, he tells himself. Alex's temper always burns hot, but he loves Hank. Hank will just explain, he'll tell Alex what's going on, how afraid he's been for too many years, how he loves Alex so much, the thought of losing him makes him sick.

He'll tell Alex all of this, he thinks, as he sits and waits.

They're going to be okay.

(The difference between a truth and a lie is hard to see sometimes)

The porch light burns on until dawn.