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and the people I like best, I hate you all

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“Holy shit, is that Mr. Lehnsherr?” Alex asks, way too loudly. The dull thunk of something metal hitting the floor follows immediately afterward, and Hank has to stifle a groan––Alex is secretly the most embarrassing person Hank has ever met, and that includes Alex’s older brother Scott, who practically waddles because the stick up his ass is so big.

“I’m pretty sure Mr. Lehnsherr doesn’t actually live in this town,” Hank reminds Alex patiently, but then a can of mushroom soup floats off of the shelf directly in front of his face and he’s forced to reconsider. He looks over his shoulder, cautious, collected, cool as a damn cucumber, definitely the most inconspicuous guy around despite all the blue fur, to see Mr. Lehnsherr’s unmistakable turtleneck disappearing around an elaborate stack of Oreos at the end of the aisle. “Or maybe it totally is him and he’s...doing some emergency science department ration shopping?”

“Let’s find out,” says Alex, eyes bright with mischief. Hank stifles a sigh but Alex hasn’t set anything on fire in like a year and hasn’t been arrested in at least two, so Hank decides reward-based incentive systems are the better part of valor and they wheel their shopping cart nonchalantly past the Oreos.

It’s always weird to see teachers out of context, but to see Mr. Lehnsherr, terror of Reed Richards High School’s M-Magnet Program and the bane of Alex’s short career in high school physics, pushing a shopping cart like a normal human being who eats and breathes and buys toilet paper is a particularly surreal experience. Hank wonders briefly if he could gather enough data to write a paper on psychological vertigo before he dismisses the idea as too disconcerting.

Alex is hiding behind Hank’s bulk and peering at Mr. Lehnsherr like it’s going out of style––of course, if you ask Alex, being creepy in the general vicinity of people who hold the keys to your future never goes out of style, like polo shirts, or cheap tequila––and Hank takes the opportunity to sneak a packet of gingerbread into the cart. Anne, their foster mother, loves it as much as Alex claims he is desperately allergic to the smell, and as a matter of principle Hank always takes any opportunity that’s presented to him to subvert Alex’s innate assholery.

“I think he has diapers in there,” Alex says, his voice aghast. “Oh my god, do you think Mr. Lehnsherr has children?”

“That or a fetish,” Hank says dryly.

“Oh god,” says Alex, clutching his face. “I can’t.”

Hank is fairly certain that Mr. Lehnsherr has noticed them by now if he somehow hadn’t managed to before, but he just continues slouching down the aisle, pushing his cart by gesturing with the one hand in front of him, occasionally grabbing a package of this or floating over a can of that with the other. The easy, constant use of his power is really quite fascinating to Hank, though Alex seems more stuck on the contents of his cart than how he’s getting anything into it––most of the mutants at Hank knows are his own age, with minimal-to-vanishing control of themselves, so casual use of any kind of power is just asking for trouble. Mr. Lehnsherr, who worked with Hank for six weeks to create Alex’s chest plate without revealing a single scrap of personal information and who is more or less the dictionary definition of self-disciplined, who can bring down skyscrapers and, Hank has heard, leech the iron from your blood, obviously doesn’t have that problem.

“Okay, so let’s leave Mr. Lehnsherr alone, then, and get the other stuff on this list,” Hank suggests.

“You’ve got no sense of adventure,” Alex says dismissively, but he removes his hands from his face and doesn’t look like his delicate sense of teacher-student decorum is going to come leaking out of his ears, so Hank leads the way.

Thirty minutes and only one very minor incident in the cereal aisle later, Hank is reaching for the carrots in the produce section when he spots a vaguely familiar blur out of the corner of his eye; he turns, and it resolves into Mr. Lehnsherr’s lanky, suspiciously V-shaped torso, holding onto a green-haired little girl who can’t be more than two or three years old, and talking to another, shorter man.

“Holy shit holy shit holy shit,” Alex screech-whispers into Hank’s ear, dumping a bag with rutabagas into the cart. “I’m going blind. May day, may day.” There’s an edge of actual hysteria underneath his sarcasm, bleeding out painfully into his voice; Hank grabs onto his arm, being careful of his claws.

“Calm down,” he says. “Breathe deep. One, two, three. One, two, three. Better?”

Alex shrugs him off and doesn’t say thank you, but also doesn’t blast anything or berate him needlessly for calling attention to the fact that he is one crazy-anxious motherfucker, so at least they’re making progress.

“Also, be prepared,” he adds, “because I think they’re coming over here.”

Alex’s face goes a little purple.

The brown-haired man is headed their way with a determined sort of smile on his face; Mr. Lehnsherr is following at a decidedly more sedate pace, scowling, still gesturing at the shopping cart. The little girl is either asleep or a really good faker, her body hanging limp in his arms. She’s pretty cute. Hank wonders whether she’s his or his friend’s.

“Hello,” says the friend, holding out a hand to shake. His eyes are almost unbelievably friendly and unbelievably blue. “I’m Charles, Erik’s partner––what a delight to meet some of Erik’s favorite students.”

Alex literally cringes at that, even as Hank accepts Charles’s hand. Charles looks over at him, kind, amused, and says, “Or you can call me Dr. Xavier, if that would make you more comfortable, Alex.”

“I don’t know that I’d call them my favorite,” Mr. Lehnsherr points out, shifting the little girl into another position and raising an eyebrow. “Maybe just inescapable.”

Charles––Dr. Xavier––taps his forehead meaningfully, though Hank has no idea what that’s supposed to signify.

“How did you know my name?” Alex asks, which Hank can decipher as, Does Mr. Lehnsherr wax sarcastically eloquent about that one student who accidentally set the lab on fire during the Physics Olympics and the whole school had to be evacuated and everything smelled like burnt plastic for weeks afterward? Because that was totally an accident, I just got really startled. Don’t judge me, don’t judge me, don’t judge me.

“Telepath,” Hank says, suddenly, realizing. “He’s a telepath.”

Dr. Xavier beams at him. “Very good!” he exclaims. “You’re quite as bright as Erik said you were.”

“It’s only deductive reasoning,” Hank says, embarrassed.

“Oh, no, I can tell,” Dr. Xavier says, shaking his head and tapping his temple again. “And I saw those schematics for the plasma blast control plate, that was really brilliant, and Erik told me you did most of the heavy lifting on that. Simply amazing.”

“If you’re going to offer him a place in your lab, just do it, already,” says Mr. Lehnsherr, sounding amused.

“I couldn’t possibly until after he’s gotten into undergrad,” Dr. Xavier says delicately, and then smiles at Hank again, pulling out his wallet and digging around in it. “But I’ll give you my card and you give me a call afterwards, hmm?”

Hank takes the card, shellshocked. “Thanks,” he says automatically. “So what is it you do exactly?”

“Oh, I do genetics research, mostly, into the X-gene, but a friend of mine is looking into practical applications of new technologies in aiding young mutant training and she was quite impressed by the chest plate,” Dr. Xavier explains. Hank feels a little woozy at the thought, like he might swoon. A real scientist, liking his work!

“Wait,” says Alex, slowly, distracting Hank from visions of test tubes dancing in particolored array, “partner like partner or partner like partner?”

“Alex, oh my god,” says Hank, shielding his eyes with one hand.

“No, it’s fine,” Dr. Xavier says, and tucks his wallet back into his pocket, turning to Alex. Hank suddenly notices he’s got a ring on his left hand. “And you mustn’t be embarrassed, you know––it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Alex turns red again, and Hank doesn’t get it until he does. Oh. Oh.

“Whatever,” Alex says, rolling his eyes, and a weight Hank didn’t even know was tightening in his chest is somehow lifted.

The little girl starts making fussy sounds; Mr. Lehnsherr bounces her gently, brushing her hair back from her face. The whole thing is startlingly tender, considering Mr. Lehnsherr still looks like a religious statue made to worship the severe beauty of austerity, all spare lines and angles.

“It was lovely to meet you both,” Dr. Xavier says, headed back to his family, “Alex, think about what I said, and Hank, really, give me a call when you can, all right? Even if you don’t want the job––we should talk,” and then they’re headed to one of the checkout lines, clearly a unit, leaning towards each other, Dr. Xavier’s hand in the small of Mr. Lehnsherr’s back.

“We need mashed potatoes,” says Alex decisively.

“That’s not on the list,” Hank says, frowning down at where he’s still got the thing clutched in his fist.

“I don’t care, I need soul food to carry me through this trauma,” Alex proclaims, and grabs Hank’s wrist, leads the way.

Chapter Text

A week after Hank is accepted to Harvard, he skips out on dessert and calls Dr. Xavier from the upstairs phone so he can get some privacy, his hands shaking. It’s later than the business hours advertised on the card, so he’s planning on just leaving a voicemail, but six rings in the line clicks and an exasperated female voice is saying, “Hello, this is Genosha Genetics and Bioengineering Lab Services, affiliated with the Mann Laboratory at Columbia University, how can I help you?”

“Dr. Charles Xavier, please,” Hank says, trying to sound adult and professional and like he knows what in god’s name he’s doing.

“One moment, please,” the woman says, and then must just hold the phone against her shoulder because he can hear her muffled voice call, “Charles, pick up the phone, I am not a damn secretary!

Who is it?” he can hear someone call back.

Not your secretary!” the woman yells again, and then there’s the fumbling sound of a phone exchanging hands before Dr. Xavier says, breathlessly, “Erik, I know, know, but I told you I’d be late tonight, and everything’s gone a bit pear-shaped––”

Hank clears his throat. “I’m––uh, not Mr. Lehnsherr,” he says.

There’s a distinct and faintly awkward pause, before Dr. Xavier says brightly, “Henry McCoy! Hello! Sorry, I got––sometimes I get wires crossed and mixed signals, I can’t always tell who’s talking to me on the phone and who’s talking to me––well.” Hank sort of gulps at that, wonders vaguely how powerful Dr. Xavier is, before remembering that he’d read in an article just last month that there are only four known mutants ranking above a 5 on the Hussein-Onwuka Psionic Scale. Surely Dr. Xavier can’t be one of those, right? “How are you?” Dr. Xavier continues, sounding a little choked. “Wrapping up your senior year, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine,” Hank says. “I just––uh, well, I got accepted into Harvard.”

“Oh, Henry,” says Dr. Xavier, “that’s wonderful, congratulations!”

“You can call me Hank,” Hank says, suddenly embarrassed that he even called, the earnest enthusiasm in Dr. Xavier’s voice nearly undoing his resolve, which wasn’t that strong anyway. “So I––uh––I still have your card,” he hedges. He breathes in and out, because probably Dr. Xavier doesn’t really remember him and maybe he offers every budding scientist he meets compliments and a chance to work in a lab and it doesn’t mean anything anyway and he’s going to hang up and forget about this, when suddenly Alex’s hand is on his shoulder, his face concerned. Hank tries to shrug him off (when did he even show up? how much has he heard?), but Alex refuses to be budged, and Hank tries not to show that he finds the hand comforting. “I still have your card,” he repeats, and breathes again, “and I was wondering if you were still interested in a lab intern?”

“Oh, of course,” Dr. Xavier says, and Hank’s heart sinks: it is not the of course of star-crossed laboratory wonderlands; but then he continues much more enthusiastically, “and of course, in fact, let me just put you on the phone with my colleague here––Moira,” he says, “love, it’s that wonderful young man I was telling you about––”

“The one with the chest plate?” the woman from before asks.

“Just the one,” Dr. Xavier answers.

The phone makes a few mysterious noises as it, Hank assumes, changes hands. “Hi, Moira MacTaggert,” says the woman, brusquely, “Erik tells me you know your way around a circuit or two?”

“Uh, I mean––” says Hank. Alex squeezes his shoulder and Hank takes another deep breath. “Yeah, I do?”

“Hmm,” says Dr. MacTaggert. “All right, I normally wouldn’t do this, but I’m hideously short-handed this summer and an inch shy of impressed, so I’ll consider the chest plate your resumé and Charles and Erik your references on a trial basis. Come into the lab tomorrow afternoon and we’ll talk details. Bring your Telelasertubby friend for bonus points.”

“Uh, sure?” says Hank.

“And for god’s sake, learn how answer with something other than a question. Scientists can only use the productive kind of uncertainty.”

“Okay?” says Hank, and then, clearing his throat, “okay.”

“She’s lovely, really,” Dr. Xavier says into the phone, as Dr. MacTaggert’s footsteps fade into the background. “All right, and I really must be going as well if I’m going to be done before midnight, but I hope we’ll see you shortly, yes?”

“Yeah,” says Hank, the dissociatively giddy sense of a job well done and his surreal awareness of Alex’s proximity slowly starting float over him. “Sure. Thanks, Dr. Xavier.”

“Of course, Hank, and see you soon,” Dr. Xavier says, very kindly, and hangs up the phone.

“You cool, bozo?” Alex asks, looking much more concerned than he usually does underneath his constant veneer of cool.

“I’m fine,” says Hank, imagining Alex in a fetching big-bellied purple suit that left space for his plasma blast instead of a small and creepy television screen, snorting, smiling manically up at him. “Never been better.”

Chapter Text

Alex has been looking forward to graduation since the day he started kindergarten––he is many things, but a natural-born scholar is not among them; Hank gives his stupid valedictorian speech, flushed up to his eyeballs with stage fright, and wins about a million awards for being a genius who isn't also a giant asshole (Tony Stark doesn't get anything but baleful glares from every single teacher on the field, and he's at least as smart as Hank, although probably not as given to helping kittens out of trees and discussing art history like a fucking nineteenth-century poet). Even Alex gets a little plaque for graduating from the Mutant Integration Services M-Magnet Program without accidentally killing anyone, and $500 from the local fire department, where he's been volunteering for the past two years. It reeks more of pity than actual hope for his future, especially since Hank's been in a frenzy of FAFSA forms and scholarship applications and phone calls from Dr. Xavier for weeks whereas Alex doesn't have any plans but to work at some ritzy country club this summer and try to figure out his life after that, but he'll take anything he can get.

So they graduate, and they go to a party at Tony Stark's house because despite being an asshole he's generous with his father's liquor cabinet when he's drunk, and then they go back to Anne's house and eat every single cookie they can find, which isn't that many because she's into healthy eating but is definitely enough to get crumbs in basically every body orifice that should never have crumbs in it, and then they pass out tangled up on Hank's bed, grubby fingers still clutched around the last cookie, locked in vicious battle. When Alex wakes up, he thinks––oh, I'm an adult now, with a sudden, terrifying surprise, and then clutches his head as the hangover sets in.

“Fuck,” Hank groans, and Alex can’t do anything but hide his face and agree. Here goes nothing.

The country club is––well, it's all right. The clothing they make him wear is embarrassingly clean-cut and a little clingier than it should be, obviously designed with bored trophy wives in mind, but he gets two meals a day and he keeps his tips, so it's not exactly the end of the world if he has to flex a muscle now and then. He's heard some of them whispering about his condition, glancing surreptitiously at the smooth shape of the chest plate visible beneath his classy button-down shirts, but obviously they don't care too much since even the owner's daughter, some blonde Broadway wannabe with a name that sounds like a dog breed, uses her jazz hands to cop a feel at least twice a week. Jazz hands. What even is that shit. Alex would be flattered if he didn't already have––

Okay, and that's not something he's thinking about. That is precisely the opposite of something he's thinking about.

"Yo!" someone yells, and startles Alex out of his bussing-tables trance; he looks up to see a deeply tanned dude with too-long hair catching the owner’s daughter up in a ridiculous bear hug. He sort of hates him on sight, and wishes fiercely that Hank were here, before scowling at the table in front of him and reminding himself that Hank is having the time of his life with Dr. Xavier at the lab and probably having petri dish orgies with him and Mr. Lehnsherr every afternoon, and also everyone here is a rich asshole and would probably stare at his fur because it’d be too awesome for them to handle, so fuck them all anyway.

Dog Breed lets out a squeal that no human should be able to produce––Alex wonders briefly if she's a mutant, too, but decides if she is he doesn't want to count himself among their number so never mind––and throws herself at him. "Troy, oh my god, what are you doing here!" she screams, and then turns and calls for her brother.

God, his ear drums. He’s not sure they’ll ever recover, and he’s been friends with Sean Cassidy for years now. That girl needs a year cut off from her parents’ credit cards and a punch to the face, and Alex can’t make one of those things happen but is itching to give her the other. He doesn’t even understand how she got that way––her brother is a normal human being, mostly, except for the weird hat thing, and her parents seem as all right as rich people ever get.

He trudges back to the kitchen, plates in tow, Dog Breed’s shrieks echoing behind him. God, it’s going to be a long summer.

Chapter Text

Alex quickly finds that Ryan Evans is the only member of the entire club worth talking to for more than five servile minutes at a time, even though he has a tendency to forget himself and start singing whenever he’s emoting.

“Jesus,” Alex says the first time it happens, sneaking a cigarette on his break while Ryan downs a a Vitamin Water and makes appalling high-pitched noises before breaking into the beginning few bars of a hideous pop tune.

“My fucking high school,” is all Ryan says by way of explanation, clearing his throat and shaking his head ruefully, “sorry, I got into some bad habits. I’m working on it. Sometimes when I’m in familiar territory it takes me by surprise––this place looks a lot like the one my parents have out in New Mexico.”

“It’s cool,” says Alex, edging away from him in case it’s catching. “The Evans brand of weird. I get it. Whatever.”

“Hey, now, I’m not Sharpay,” Ryan protests, throwing him a dirty-edged grin, and Alex has to swallow and look away, because he can finally admit that he’s got a huge embarrassing unendingly humiliating crush on––he’s not talking about that––but it’s not like he’s blind, and today Ryan’s dressed like a blonder, gayer James Dean, which works really fucking well once Alex does him a favor and relieves him of the stupid matching fedora. “Not every Evans is created equal.”

“You can say that again,” Alex snorts, cupping his hand around his cigarette and blowing a misshapen smoke ring. Dammit. One of these days he’ll get it right.

“Sharpay’s okay, once you know her,” Ryan says, softly. “She’s––yeah, I know, she’s difficult, but I think it’s because she’s so lonely.”

“I am not getting paid to psychoanalyze your sister,” Alex reminds him.

“Someone should,” says Ryan, laughing a little too hard, the kind of laugh Alex recognizes from years of moving around from family to family and being called that mutie behind his back, the kind you laugh because you don’t know what else to do. “We were always spoiled, but she hasn’t been this bad in years––she came home from college with a black eye she wouldn’t talk about and in a week she was back to manipulative ol’ Sharpay.”

“Fuck,” says Alex.

“Yeah,” Ryan sighs, and abruptly folds himself over in some kind of freaky ninja yoga move. “You shouldn’t smoke,” he admonishes from between his knees. “It’s really bad for you.”

Alex stabs out the cigarette and pats Ryan gingerly on the elbow before bolting out of there, tucking the end of the cigarette back into the pack for later––neither Anne nor Hank likes that he smokes, so he tries not to buy more than two packs a week, but that does mean that he keeps every cigarette down to the last scant scraps of the filter. He gets to the back of the kitchen before he realizes he’s still holding the damn hat. God.

He tucks it away in his employee locker for safekeeping and puts his button-down back on. It’s a little wrinkled where he folded it wrong, but it’ll keep.

“Hop to, Mr. Summers,” says Fulton, the manager, who’d be a terrifying machine of ass-kissing efficiency if Alex hadn’t seen him cooing over his eldest daughter’s new baby just a week into the job. “The clientele won’t serve themselves, you know.”

“Right, the clientele,” Alex says, shaking his head. “We even have to learn other languages to speak about them now? Is that what being rich gets you?”

“That’s the way of the world, my boy,” Fulton sighs, “when you have money––it’s your raison d’être and your je ne sais quoi in one.”

“Okay,” Alex says, because he’s not going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole even if it’s made of hundred-dollar bills, and heads into the storm.

The dining room at the club is casual, if you take into account that everyone in the room has probably grown up with family dinners that include eight forks and a course to match each one. There’s an unseemly amount of argyle in attendance tonight, the usual yuppie nouveau riche crowd (and there’s another one, Jesus, does everyone who makes six-figure salaries magically learn French overnight?), and then the one English lady who comes in once a week to down an impressive number of classic cocktails and tell Alex repeatedly that she preferred the establishment under its previous management.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Marko,” Alex always says as he hands her another whiskey sour, because Fulton takes one for the team and gives some of them very specific on-the-job training––what he calls Etiquette Lessons and Alex calls Coping Methods For Assholes.

Today she seems particularly agitated, clutching at her bracelets and actually snapping her fingers at him, what the fuck. “What is her problem?” he fumes, running into the kitchen and high-fiving Rosaria as she stirs the soup du jour. Usually the chefs don’t have any time for waiters, but somehow he’d sort of become friends with the sous-chef, a dude named Zeke who makes what Ryan assures Alex is a fucking awesome crême brulée––Alex wouldn’t know, he’d never had it before Zeke handed him one––and everyone else in the kitchen has pretty much followed his lead.

“Her son’s coming to visit today,” Fulton explains from the counter, where he’s inexplicably chopping onions. “What?” he says when he notices Alex’s confused expression. “It helps me with my rage.” He peels another onion in three extremely efficient gestures. “Be kind to her,” he says, raising his knife once more. “Her life hasn’t been easy.”

Alex stops himself from scoffing openly, but his disdain is no doubt clear on his face despite his best efforts. He gets that money can’t fix all that ails ye, but having spent most of his life before he got placed with Anne broke as dirt, stuck with shitty foster parents who didn’t know what they were doing and Scott for his only friend, makes it difficult to sympathize with the huge troubles that apparently come along with a huge inheritance. Still, Mrs. Marko’s face is lined heavily with grief and single malt––Fulton’s probably right.

The next time he heads over to her table, the son’s arrived, seated across from Mrs. Marko and fussing over a dark bundle on the floor. Alex hands them both menus as the son straightens up, revealing the bundle to be a little girl with bright green hair. All the bells in Alex’s brain go off at once as he realizes he’s looking at the singular subject of all of Hank’s weird fetishistic academic wet dreams, Dr. Charles F. Xavier.

Dr. Xavier chokes and Alex remembers he’s a telepath. Fuck his life. “Hi,” he says, to cover up his probably-a-mind-reading-social-faux-pas as best he can.

“Alex,” Dr. Xavier says delightedly, like he didn’t just most likely hear Alex’s most secret and terribly inappropriate fears, holding out the hand that isn’t busy removing the little girl’s pale sweater, “how lovely to see you again.”

“You know this boy?” asks Mrs. Marko, wrinkling her nose in clear distaste as Alex shakes the proffered hand.

“He was one of Erik’s students, he’s friends with Moira’s wonderful lab assistant,” Dr. Xavier explains, sounding strained, then glances dubiously at the third chair set up at the table. “Do you think you could bring a high chair, actually?” he asks Alex. “I don’t think Lorna’s quite ready for a full place setting of her very own.”

“Of course,” Alex says, and goes to find one, wondering why Mrs. Marko just didn’t ask for a high chair herself if she knew the baby was coming. Well, whatever. None of his business. He brings the chair to them and watches Dr. Xavier settle Lorna into it, glancing over his shoulder as he takes care of the other patrons––he’s good with her, the kind of ease born of long experience, and it hits Alex again that Dr. Xavier and Mr. Lehnsherr are, like, gaymo-married and have a kid. It is precisely everything Alex has never wanted to want.

The evening wears on; Alex heads out again to take their order, overhearing the tail end of a fight–– “It’s not a phase,” he hears Dr. Xavier hiss, “we have a child, Mother, for God’s sake,” to which Mrs. Marko huffs a desperate-sounding laugh and says, “No, you have a freak”––both of their faces are very white, and even Lorna looks a little distressed even though there’s no way she understands exactly what’s going on. Alex produces crayons and a piece of paper for her, since the club is too classy for children’s menus but Fulton realizes bored children are an emergency waiting to happen, which she takes from him with a smile that’s going to break hearts one day, selecting the green crayon with great care and scribbling happily.

“Thank you,” Dr. Xavier says, heartfelt. “I’ll have the fish, please. And––”

“Another whiskey, if you would,” Mrs. Marko says.

“Bring her the lamb,” Dr. Xavier says. “And some peas for Lorna, if you’ve got them.”

Alex brings them their food to another round of angry silence, watches them lean together to argue about something and then break away, faces tense. He’s headed towards the kitchen again when he sees a beturtlenecked Mr. Lehnsherr come through the coat check, glaring at poor Srutika, who’s trailing after him with a tie clutched in her fist.

“But sir,” she says weakly, “it’s policy––”

Mr. Lehnsherr holds up a hand and says, terrifyingly expressionless, “I can guarantee I won’t be here more than forty minutes. All right? I will not start a collarless, tieless revolution. Your status quo will not be disrupted. I just need to talk to my family.”

Srutika deflates and heads back towards the coat check, sending Alex a despairing shake of the head on her way out. Mr. Lehnsherr strides over to the table and sits down next to Charles, at the table setting that used to be Lorna’s––Alex wanders vaguely in that direction towards another table who might possibly need more salt or drink refills or something, more curious than he should be. But then, he thinks, justified, Hank will probably want to know.

“Hello, Sharon,” he hears Mr. Lehnsherr say.

“Erik,” Mrs. Marko replies, cold, and snaps her fingers at Alex. “Make yourself useful, take this mess away,” she orders, waving a hand at the table. Dr. Xavier is still picking at his food, but he hurriedly puts his fork down; Lorna has moved onto a purple crayon. There is an empty applesauce container in front of her, a sippy cup with an inch of unidentifiably purple juice still inside.

“Can I get you any dessert or anything?” Alex asks as he gathers the dishes in a fairly impressive balancing act. He hasn’t broken any dishes since starting here, which just goes to show that miracles still happen.

Mrs. Marko sniffs and shakes her head. Dr. Xavier shrugs into himself, reaching out a hand to hang onto Lorna’s foot. She kicks out at him, smiling.

“Coffee,” Mr. Lehnsherr says. “For my––uh––for Dr. Xavier and me.”

“Right,” says Alex, and runs away to the kitchen, where Ryan finds him and immediately accosts him with eight million questions about the two dudes with the toddler and Old Lady Marko.

“Nobody actually calls her that,” Alex says, annoyed, as he returns from serving their coffees; The tension at the table was so thick you could cut it with one of Hank’s claws. “The tall one was my physics teacher in high school, the rest of them are his family or whatever. This is not a teen movie for you to watch.”

“I know that,” Ryan snaps; he always gets really antsy whenever Alex brings up shitty made-for-TV movies, Alex is just waiting for the day when he finds out Ryan accidentally starred in one or made a porno version of Twilight or something. “I’m just curious, come on––”

There’s a huge crash, followed by a wail, and Alex immediately runs for the front of the house, Ryan hot on his heels.

The entire dining room is in a shocked silence; Mr. Lehnsherr is covered in whiskey and broken glass, blood seeping out of a gash above his right eye, and Lorna, now in Dr. Xavier’s lap, is crying as he tends to––Christ, a cut on her hand, what the fuck happened?

“Get out, Charles,” Mr. Lehnsherr says.

“Erik,” Dr. Xavier protests, nudging him with his hip as he gathers up Lorna and their stuff, “come on, we don’t have to––”

“Charles, please,” Mr. Lehnsherr says, his voice breaking. Alex feels like he’s rooted to the spot.

Dr. Xavier takes a deep breath and nods, holding Lorna up so she can kiss Mr. Lehnsherr on the cheek. “Come on, baby,” he says to her, “we’re gonna go wait for your daddy in the car, okay?”

Mrs. Marko groans like she’s been slapped; Lorna nods vigorously, and blows her grandmother a kiss, turning to look anxiously at Dr. Xavier like she’s asking if she did it right. Dr. Xavier winces and shifts so she’s balanced on his hip, using his free hand to squeeze Mr. Lehnsherr’s arm. “See you in five minutes,” he says, “and I’m taking the keys,” and then they’re both gone.

Alex still can’t move. Mr. Lehnsherr is breathing heavily and is briefly haloed by all the nearby cutlery.

“Well, you didn’t have to cause such a scene,” Mrs. Marko says.

“A scene?” Mr. Lehnsherr asks, setting down the spoons nd knives and forks from whence they came. “A scene? Sharon, it’s not like I ever know what’s going on in that head of yours, but it wasn’t me who started the scene.” He advances on her, raising a finger; she shrinks back in her seat like someone used to being yelled at. “You did that when you threw your fucking high ball at me and cut my head open and, oh, right, how could I forget, injured my three-year-old child––your granddaughter, I hasten to add, much as you like to pretend she isn’t.”

Alex spies Fulton on the edge of his vision; he half expects him to intervene, but he seems to be as stuck in place as the rest of them, this train wreck of a life drawn out for everyone to see.

“I could forgive you for most things, because Charles loves you,” Mr. Lehnsherr says, picking glass out of his hair. His accent is slightly thicker than it usually is, faintly foreign; Alex wonders where he learned to speak. “I don’t care about the broken glass or the snide little names, I’ve had worse things thrown at me on a bad day at work. For myself, my God, you’re nothing more than a pest hovering around my shoulder, whatever––but for Charles, you’re like a nightmare he can’t escape, and we agreed that the second you hurt Lorna was the second we cut you out of our lives.”

Mrs. Marko turns her head away.

“Oh yes, we’ve talked about it––we knew it was inevitable,” Mr. Lehnsherr continues, cruel, inexorable. “We knew who, or should I say what, you’d choose in the end, and it’s never Charles.”

“I didn’t touch her,” Mrs. Marko says fiercely, still refusing to look at him. “I didn’t lay a hand on her.”

“Oh, that’s always your excuse,” Mr. Lehnsherr sneers. “You can’t hurt anyone as long as you haven’t actually touched them. Sharon, I regret to inform you, you can hurt someone even if you don’t touch them––and never touching someone hurts them, too.”

Mrs. Marko breathes in and out heavily, glaring at the floor, but doesn’t say anything.

Mr. Lehnsherr gentles slightly, pushing in his chair and grabbing Lorna’s sippy cup, which lay forgotten on the high chair. He takes a napkin and wipes at the blood on his face. “If you decide you actually want to see your son again, or your grandchild, call us and we’ll talk about it. But we’re not doing anything on your terms anymore, because your terms aren’t working, if they ever did.”

He leaves her there; Alex, Ryan, Fulton, and about half the staff end up at the same window, watching him kiss Lorna’s cheek and bend down to rest his face in Dr. Xavier’s shoulder, the valet tugging awkwardly at his stupid visor and looking away. Dr. Xavier strokes Mr. Lehnsherr’s hair; Alex sees his mouth move, Let’s go home, and Mr. Lehnsherr nods, his face still hidden, holding onto Dr. Xavier with one hand and Lorna with the other.

Fulton clears his throat. “Back to work, people,” he says, like he wasn’t just ogling as bad as the rest of them. “Our patrons aren’t going to serve themselves, you know.”

Alex gets a mop and a broom and cleans up the remains of Mrs. Marko’s temper tantrum as best he can; they’d usually escort someone who threw a glass out, but no one actually saw it happen and she’s just sitting there with a vacant look on her face, clearly defeated, causing no more trouble––and, as Alex hears Seamus whisper, you don’t want to fuck with anyone who’s related to mutants, because they might be one themselves and who knows how crazy they are; he has to restrain himself from throwing a punch, but Fulton draws him aside and tells him it’s not worth it. What do you know about it? Alex wants to ask, but he’s right.

“You doing all right, Mrs. Marko?” he asks out of courtesy.

She blinks at him, slowly. “I think it’s time for a change, don’t you?” she asks, her voice only slightly slurred. She straightens her hair and sits up further. “A vodka tonic, please. A little shot of joie de vivre.

“Coming right up,” says Alex, wishing Hank were here, his heart clenched tight.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, I can’t fucking believe you’re making me do this,” Alex hears as he’s dumping approximately eight million leaky glass bottles into the giant recycling receptacle behind the back door to the kitchen; he instantly goes on creeper alert, casually undoing the top few buttons of his shirt in order to make plasma beam access a little easier, Clark Kent-style, and leaning forward to snoop around the corner.

Two dudes are standing there, the older, stubblier one in a leather jacket and aviators like a bona fide member of the Asshole Squad, the other one, who looks about Alex’s age and is decidedly less stubbly, buttoning up a shirt very similar to the one Alex is in.

“Just do it, Stiles,” Leatherman growls.

“Oh no,” says Stiles, baring his teeth, “you don’t get to go Alpha on me, Broody McBrooderson, I know the only reason you’re making me do this is that none of you look nearly as good in this shade of periwinkle.”

Leatherman whuffs out a sigh full of existential longing or some shit and rolls his eyes, which makes him look enough like an annoyed thirteen-year-old girl that he goes down two full notches in Alex’s scale of creepy country club patrons.

“My periwinkle brings all the boys to the yard,” Stiles adds, grinning outright now.

Leatherman cuffs his ear, but gently. “Don’t mess this up, Stiles,” he says, not-quite-exasperated, like a mixture between a warning and something fonder.

“You can count on me, sir,” Stiles says, and snaps out a salute before arranging himself jauntily and whistling his way around the corner––where he finds Alex still standing there, one hand tucked into his collar.

“Hey,” says Alex, playing for cool.

“Hey,” says Stiles, appearing totally unfazed, although Alex hears him whisper something that sounds like, “Look, Derek, you have stalker company,” to himself.

Awesome. This is exactly what Alex needs: some guy with an imaginary friend who thinks Alex is the creepy one when he clearly spends his time infiltrating country clubs with questionable twenty-something-year-olds in leather. Jesus.

-

“So what’s with Tall, Dark, and Spooky over there?” Ryan asks Alex, gesturing over to where Leatherman is brooding at the bar.

“I don’t know,” Alex grunts, irritated. “Why do you always think I know things about the people here? They’re your clients.”

“Hardly,” Ryan protests, wrinkling his nose delicately. “My family’s, if anything. Although I wouldn’t exactly mind if he wanted me as his client, if you know what I mean.”

Alex manfully resists the urge to punch Ryan in the face and lets out his rage by grunting and shoving past Ryan’s plaid-clad self. Alex didn’t even know they made plaid suits anymore, never mind how Ryan actually pulls it off despite the lack of drug haze that surely made it acceptable the first time around in 1972 or whenever. “Yeah, yeah, I got it,” he says over his shoulder to the disappointed slump of Ryan’s body.

Fulton makes the rounds soon afterwards, showing Stiles where he needs to be and when. Alex can’t help but watch suspiciously––is he Leatherman’s accomplice in crime, or something? What the hell is going on there? Leatherman has an aura of danger and sharp edges that Alex recognizes from somewhere deep within himself, but Stiles is, like, a bag of talkative wooly socks or something––kind of weird, totally harmless.

He and Hank should meet, Alex thinks, the awkward babbling would probably rip a hole in the space time continuum and get Hank the Nobel Prize in physics or something, and Hank probably wouldn’t mind sharing as long as he got to bring Alex with him to Stockholm (because who else would the bozo bring, seriously? He carefully does not think of Dr. Xavier).

Anyway, Leatherman is still fucking staring at Stiles like a giant creep. Something is rotten in the state of New York and by the pricking of his thumbs, Alex is going to get to the bottom of it.