Hank’s head was pounding.
He didn’t quite dare open his eyes. What had he done to himself? He didn’t remember falling or something hitting him but he supposed it must have done to give him a headache like this, unless Alex had accidentally blasted him with his power. Perhaps that was what had happened. He felt heavy and uncomfortable all over, as though things were weighing him down.
“He’s awake! Hank, love, how are you feeling?”
It took a moment for the voice to register and when it did, he was a little confused by it and what it had said. Still, he knew that he had to answer, so he did.
“Professor? Hank, really, there’s no need – ”
The Professor stopped speaking very suddenly. Hank wasn’t really sure what he was talking about. He tried to reach up to rub his forehead but his arm felt weirdly heavy. His other hand was being held by somebody.
Raven’s voice. He couldn’t help smiling and forced his eyes open to look up at her. To his surprise, she was in her blue form, her yellow eyes fixed on his. Her skin looked different in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on. It was almost as though he could see more details of it, as though his eyes were better than they’d ever been before – although they couldn’t be because he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Was he still dreaming? Or had the knock on the head confused his retinas?
“Hank,” the Professor said and his voice sounded strange now. “Hank, would you tell me the date please?”
“The date?” Why did his voice sound so husky? Why did his mouth feel almost full? What was wrong with him?
“The date. Please.”
Hank sighed and tried to dredge it out of his oddly muzzy mind. It wasn’t too hard, he’d written it above a sheet of paper not that long ago.
“It’s October 20th.”
He heard Raven give a small gasp and felt a cold twist in his stomach. Was he wrong? He couldn’t be wrong, he always noted the date down when he was doing any experiment, he’d been working a lot lately and he’d noted everything down as usual, he knew it was October 20th …
“And the year?”
The Professor sounded even stranger now. Hank forced his head around to look at him, trying to take him in, trying to get an idea of what was happening –
The Professor was sitting next to him, one hand still on the bed, as though it had been him holding Hank’s hand earlier. He was wearing a smart suit, nothing like anything Hank had seem him wear before – and his head was shining in the light.
He was completely and totally bald.
“What’s happened?” Hank asked and his voice sounded worse. “What’s happened to you?!”
“Oh, Hank.” The Professor sounded pained. “Oh lo – please. Tell me the year.”
“It’s 1962!” Hank choked out. “You, you know it’s 1962, you – ”
But the Professor was looking stricken. And he heard Raven give another tiny gasp and he knew without a doubt that whatever year it was, it was not 1962.
Panic filled him, choking him. He tried to sit up but his body felt all wrong, it was too heavy, too big. Raven was shouting at him to stop, to calm down, to lie down but he couldn’t, everything was wrong, something so, so bad had happened –
Then the Professor’s hand snapped out before his eyes and Hank slept.
He woke quite suddenly, his head no longer nearly so painful. His body wasn’t so heavy either and when he cautiously sat up, he felt queasy but not dizzy. Carefully, he put his glasses on and tried to focus.
Raven was beside his bed again and she was in her beautiful human form. Her blonde hair was different though, not the loose waves he remembered. She smiled at him and Hank smiled back, thinking that he’d never seen anybody else with a smile as lovely as Raven’s.
“I’m … feeling a bit better?” he ventured.
“I’m sure. You’ve slept for a long time. Charles will be here in a while, I told him to go and teach his class.”
“Teach his class?”
Raven bit her lip and looked away from him for a moment. Hank swallowed. His mouth felt dry.
“Raven, what year is this?”
“It’s the 9th January, 1984, Hank.”
Hank stared at her, hearing but not sure he could comprehend. 1984? How could it be 1984? That was the future, ridiculously far into the future, that was a book about the future, that was … it was twenty-two years …
“Oh, Hank,” Raven said. “I know this must be such a shock. I’m so sorry. We’ll get your memories back, I’m sure we will.”
“I’m forty-one,” Hank said blankly, staring at his hands. “I’m forty-one years old.”
“Yes,” Raven’s voice was soft. “You are.”
Hank couldn’t think of anything to say. His head was throbbing again but he didn’t think it was from his mysterious injury. How could he possibly be forty-one? He was twenty, he’d been twenty a few months ago and Platt had come down to wish him happy birthday specially and it had been so cool to have been noticed, to have been cared about –
– and Platt was dead now. Dead, murdered by Shaw and Shaw’s monsters.
“What happened to Shaw?!”
Raven looked at him, almost as though she didn’t quite know who he was talking about. Then she swallowed and bent her head slightly, hair obscuring her face.
“Shaw’s dead. A long time ago now. We … we won. We saved the world.”
She sounded all wrong, as though this hadn’t been something to be proud of at all, as though it had been strangely terrible. Hank didn’t know what to say to that. He wanted to feel glad that Shaw was dead, hoped too that the devil mutant that had killed so many of the men that he’d worked with was dead at his side but it didn’t quite feel real to just hear Raven say it like that in such a bland voice. It didn’t feel like it had happened at all.
“What happened to me?” he whispered and Raven looked up again.
“It was one of the students. You – you work in a school now, a school for mutants, you’re a teacher here. She didn’t mean to, it was an accident, she’s feeling terrible about it. Charles is sure that she can help bring your memories back with time.”
“Can’t he just unblock them?”
“No. They aren’t there to unblock, she’s erased them entirely. As far as your mind is concerned, nothing has happened to you since the 20th October 1962. But you know what Charles is like – ”
She stopped and Hank supposed she was wondering if he did. He thought of the brilliant man who had crashed into his life so abruptly only a few weeks ago, who had revealed his terrible secret with a smile and then swept him away to his beautiful home, promising to make him stronger and faster. He didn’t know Charles very well but from what he did know …
“I’m sure he won’t stop until everything is fine,” he said with a small smile.
“Exactly!” Raven said. She sounded relieved. “Charles is always determined. You’ll be fine, Hank. We’ll get you back to normal.”
Hank wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. He appreciated the comment in theory but … he already felt normal. Logically, it didn’t matter that he knew it was twenty-two years on in his life, emotionally he felt like nothing had changed since that morning. Raven had changed her hair, sure, but everything else seemed like it always had.
Although he’d never been in this room before. It was clearly designed to be a proper infirmary with multiple beds and curtains you could drag around them. The equipment he could see around the walls all looked quite fascinating. Different too. Nothing like he’d seen before …
He tried not to shiver. Twenty-two years of technology advances would probably do that to you …
Raven was watching him anxiously, playing with her hair. She seemed slightly uncomfortable and Hank supposed she was freaked out by his weirdness. He struggled to find something vaguely normal to say but he had never been any good at that. As he searched for something that would relax her, all he could really think to ask was “So, did my serum work?”
Raven jumped and stared at him. Hank could feel himself blushing. He wasn’t sure if it was because he felt stupid or because a beautiful woman was paying so much attention to him. God, twenty-two years, they might be married now, they might have been partners all that time, no wonder she was freaked out …
“It works,” Raven said, answering his original question. She sounded terse and Hank wasn’t sure what to make of that. If it had worked, why had she been in her blue form earlier? Perhaps it needed to be regularly re-ingested and she simply had had time? Yes, that made sense. A lot of sense.
And he’d succeeded! His feet would be normal! He would be normal! He’d be able to wear shoes that didn’t hurt and walk around without the risk of people finding out he was a freak! He itched to take a look but he thought it would be weird to peer under the sheets. He had time to look later.
There was a sudden sound and an odd displacement of air and a young man with silver hair was standing in the room with them. Hank managed to stop his mouth dropping open but it was a near thing. He hadn’t even seen the door open.
“Hey Mysty, there’s a fight going on between Roy and Les about something down in the Danger Room. Figured you’d wanna know before they bust that shit up. Hey Hank. You’re looking pretty good. Everyone’s worrying, you know?”
“If you ever call me “Mysty” again, I will make your life living hell,” Raven said, standing up. “Take me down there please. Hank, I’ll be back in a moment.”
“Um, yes,” Hank said and watched as the silver haired guy grabbed hold of Raven and seemed to vanish with her. A teleporter? That was … well, really pretty cool actually. He thought about what Raven had said about Charles being a teacher now. About him being a teacher now. Mutants – so all of them would have powers of some sort, he supposed. It was a strange, strange idea. Him, a teacher? With people like him? People he didn’t have to be afraid with?
He doubted that last part was true. Even when he was with people like him, he still had to be afraid. He was always saying the wrong things. Probably all his classes laughed at him behind his back …
But maybe not. Michael had always told him that he would make a brilliant teacher. Hank remembered telling him about the plane he was designing and Michael had laughed and put a hand on his shoulder and told him that somehow, he could make anything interesting. It was a nice memory –
– except that Michael was dead now.
And had been for twenty-two years.
Suddenly, the man with silver hair was back, beaming at him, removing goggles from his eyes.
“Hey! So, I dropped Mysty off, thought I’d come back and see you, I don’t care about their fights, they’re always at it. So you’re really okay, dude? Everyone’s been freaking out like mad, when you went down, wow, I’ve never seen the Professor that upset, even after all that shit with Apocalypse. He broke your usual rule, he was that crazed.”
“I … sorry … what?”
This man spoke incredibly fast and most of what he was saying sounded like gibberish to Hank. Except that he was still calling Raven “Mysty” which he supposed had to be short for Mystique. Did she actually use that codename? Did they all use their codenames? Did he have a codename now?
“Sorry, you not quite with it yet? Need something? Want a Twinkie? Twinkies fix everything!”
Before he could even finish blinking at the question, a Twinkie was being held out to him and his new friend was half-way through his own. Hank took the Twinkie, more than a bit relieved. At least they hadn’t stopped making them.
“Thanks,” he said and then. “I don’t actually know your name.”
“Huh? Oh … Quicksilver! Well, okay, everyone’s still calling me Peter but I’m hoping Quicksilver will catch on, you know? It sounds so badass.”
Hank grinned at that, although he couldn’t help being uneasy. Were they friends? Peter seemed so … confident, so bouncy. People like that didn’t usually like Hank, they usually avoided Hank. It wasn’t a game, was it?
“So you’re okay?” Quicksilver/Peter said again, looking at him with eyes that certainly seemed to be genuinely anxious.
“Yeah,” Hank said. “I mean … I don’t remember anything after 1962 but apart from that, I’m pretty good.”
“Man, that’s weird. Like, super-weird. So, like, you don’t remember meeting me? At all?”
“No,” Hank said, aware that he was stupidly blushing. “Sorry.”
“Wow,” Peter said again, shaking his head. “I mean, that’s just … yeah. Wow. Bet you’re feeling pretty confused, huh? Had the school even started by then?”
“N-not really … I mean, I think … I think I was one of the first students so I guess kind of?”
“Heh. Pretty neat. Well, now you’re like, the cool teacher rather than a student, that’s gotta be good, right? And like I said, the Professor was crazy-worried so you don’t have to fret about that.”
“That’s stuff’s changed there. You two are still super into each other, despite him being all old and old.”
“We’re super what?”
Hank half-felt that Peter was speaking in a foreign language again. Peter looked at him as though he were the one being ridiculously dense.
“You and the Professor? You’re all still good? You know? Still in love, all that? Yeah, I know we’re not supposed to know but come on, like, we all do, it’s like, the worst kept secret of the school and what with him stroking your cheek and all, it’s pretty obvious that you’re head over heels for each other and –”
“What the hell are you talking about?!”
Peter stopped his wild babbling and stared, apparently bewildered.
“You and the Professor …?” he said, finally sounding unsure of himself.
“What about us?!”
“Well, you … you know, you’re … In love. And stuff.”
Hank stared at him. He felt hurt, cheated. He’d thought this Peter was a friend. Clearly, he’d been wrong.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said, his voice sounding strangely distant to his own ears. “I’m not a deviant. Neither is the Professor.”
“I … huh? What? Dude, I never said deviant, what the hell? You … I don’t … you’re just in love, that’s all, why you getting all freaked out?”
“Because it’s a lie!” Hank bellowed. His anger was surging, out of his control now. This liar, this freak was telling him that he himself was even more of a freak than he’d already was by suggesting he was some sort of pervert and he’d thought maybe they were friends but nobody was ever his friend, he was stupid to think –
Hank! Calm down!
Charles’s mind was in his, his words frantic. Hank clenched his fists, gritted his teeth. Peter had taken a step back from him, his face completely stricken.
Hank, I’m coming, I’ll explain everything. Just stay calm, please. Peter didn’t mean to upset you.
He’s a liar! Hank thought back fiercely. He felt hot and prickly, as though something was swelling inside him, trying to break out, to break free …
No. No, Hank. He’s not.
Hank felt himself still. Felt his anger slowly drowned by a strange sensation of cold that seemed to seep down his spine. How could Peter not be lying? It just wasn’t possible, it just wasn’t … it just couldn’t be …
But why would the Professor lie about something like that?
“I … messed up, didn’t I?” Peter mumbled. He was looking miserable and playing with his goggles. “I messed up, why do I always mess up?”
“You speak before you think, Peter.”
The door opened normally and Charles came into the room. Hank looked at him and saw what he had not seen earlier; that Charles had not been sitting by his bedside. Or rather, he had – but not in a normal chair.
Somewhere in the last twenty-two years, Charles had become wheelchair bound.
“But I figured … I didn’t … I’m really sorry.”
Charles moved his chair over to Peter and put a hand on his arm.
“I know you didn’t mean any harm, Peter. But this was why I asked you all to give Hank time to recover before coming to speak to him. You should have contained your curiosity. Now you’ve upset Hank quite badly and he needs time to recover. Think about that, Peter, before you disobey me again.”
“Good. Now, go. How about doing something useful with your time?”
Peter was gone in a blink and Charles slowly turned himself to face Hank. Hank realised he was clutching his sheets to his chest, as though they were some sort of barrier – although what he was trying to protect himself from, he wasn’t really sure. The Professor looked so different. Slightly thinner than he had been and his eyes looked slightly larger – maybe because he didn’t have hair any more? And the suit made him look smart and the wheelchair …
“Hank, I’m so sorry,” the Professor said quietly. “I hoped to break this to you more gently, to explain things but Peter has always had a big mouth when it comes to other people’s secrets. It shouldn’t have been revealed to you like that.”
“But Professor, he … we … ”
“We’re in a relationship.” The words were even quieter now. “We have been for at least eleven years.”
Hank stared at him, his mind spinning. It just wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t possible. In a relationship? With a man? He didn’t like men that way, of course he didn’t, he was normal. He liked Raven and her beautiful hair and her soft skin and the way she curved. He wasn’t a freak.
The Professor flinched and it suddenly hit Hank that the Professor was reading his mind, that he could hear everything he was thinking. He looked away, not sure what to do. He needed not to think maybe but he couldn’t help it, he couldn’t … this wasn’t right. None of it was right!
“I am sure we can get your memories back,” the Professor said in a voice that sounded all together too jovial. “I am afraid you may have to wait a while though, I don’t want to risk any more damage being done. Don’t worry, we will find a way.”
Hank said nothing. He didn’t know what to say.
“You’re quite right,” the Professor added. “Your serum does need regular reapplication. Make sure you inject yourself every twelve hours – there’s plenty in the drawer beside you and in your lab. You can get up if you like, there’s nothing wrong with you physically.”
Hank couldn’t help feeling there was nothing wrong with him mentally either. At least, not really. At least, there was because he’d lost memories but … he didn’t feel like he’d lost memories. He felt normal, he felt like himself. It was just that other people kept telling him that things were wrong.
Not that he could deny the evidence of his own eyes, of course.
“I’m so sorry, Hank,” the Professor said quietly. “I understand this must be difficult for you.”
“Do we have sex?”
He couldn’t quite believe that the words had come out of his mouth. Couldn’t quite believe that that was the question his mind chose to ask over any other. The Professor looked at him, not a trace of embarrassment on his face.
Hank said nothing. He tried to push his thoughts backwards, tried to block them but he knew that the Professor had felt his first, instinctive thought.
He hated himself for it instantly. The Professor didn’t say anything. He just quietly left the room and Hank hunched up, putting his head in his hands.
The Professor wouldn’t lie to him. He’d only known the man a few weeks (twenty-two years!) but he knew that much. This wasn’t a cruel game, the Professor wouldn’t allow it, Raven wouldn’t allow it. So this madness had to be true. It had to be real.
But how could it be? Homosexuality was illegal. Hank didn’t do illegal things. Yes, obviously, people with such proclivities existed but Hank wasn’t one of them. Hank had never been one of them. He was normal.
He could have sworn the Professor was normal too.
He got out of bed. He didn’t want to lie here any more. He wanted to find things that he knew, feel connected to something. Clothes that he assumed were his were neatly folded in a cabinet. At least they looked like something he would pick out. Apparently, his clothing hadn’t changed much in twenty-two years …
Could this be some sort of trap? He bit his lip, considering the possibility. It seemed a weird one but not totally impossible. Only why go to all this trouble? Why would anybody want to catch him and tell him he was twenty-two years in the future and sleeping with a man?
Besides, the Professor had spoken in his mind. That would be very hard for anybody to fake. So he had to assume that this was all real. Real and crazy.
But his feet were normal. He stared down at them, ridiculously delighted to see them. They were still large, of course, he couldn’t expect not to have big feet but that was okay, anybody could have big feet. He found himself unwilling to put his shoes on, enjoying wriggling his toes. They still felt flexible but not insanely so.
They were normal.
It just seemed that the rest of him wasn’t.
He swallowed, his excitement gone.
He jumped and whipped around. A girl was standing there, an incredibly beautiful girl with long red hair. Hank found himself blushing and then felt dirty for it – she looked about eighteen and he wasn’t twenty any more, he was forty-one. The girl didn’t seem to mind or even notice, she just smiled at him.
“I’m Jean Grey. I thought maybe you’d like someone to show you round the school?”
“Do … do we know each other?” Hank asked, trying not to sound too nervous.
“Yes. You’re one of my teachers. We get along well, we’ve been through a lot together. Please just ask me anything that you need to, I promise that I’ll try and help.”
Hank tried to smile, still nervous. He couldn’t quite believe that he was a teacher. Him. Was he any good at teaching?
“You are. You’re very popular.”
He jumped and stared. Jean smiled.
“I’m a telepath. I can hear your thoughts.”
Hank flinched. He didn’t want another person hearing all his appalling thoughts. It hadn’t bothered him before but now, he was hyper-aware of how nasty he seemed to be. He hadn’t meant to hurt the Professor that way, he hadn’t meant to do any of this.
“Don’t be ashamed,” Jean said quietly. “It’s not your fault, Doctor McCoy. You’re just trying to get used to things that have changed. I’m sorry – I promise I won’t answer any questions you don’t ask out-loud any more. Come on. Put your shoes on and you can leave.”
Hank put his shoes on, watching his normal feet disappear into them. Then he followed Jean out into the corridors.
It was odd – they were clearly in the mansion and yet something about it seemed different. It wasn’t just cosmetic – although Hank could see things had been redecorated, probably more than once in the twenty-two years. There was something else, something strange that he couldn’t put his finger on.
They walked down a flight of stairs and suddenly, Hank was surrounded by shouting children.
“Doctor McCoy, are you better?”
“We were so scared!”
Several of the younger ones actually threw their arms around his waist, hugging him. Hank fought the urge to blush and instead smiled back and patted their shoulders. They mostly looked normal, although he couldn’t help noticing that some of them had differences. One girl had a striped face, another had fur instead of hair. Why hadn’t he made serums for them? Were they too young, perhaps? And at least everybody here was a mutant themselves, would understand at least a little …
“Don’t worry, Wanda will get your memories back!” one of them said. So they knew he didn’t have his memories then. That was something anyway, at least they wouldn’t be confused by the fact that he didn’t know any of them.
A boy with red-lensed sunglasses beamed at him. Hank smiled uncertainly. Sunglasses indoors usually heralded people who didn’t like him very much. They were cool people and one thing that Hank wasn’t and never had been was cool.
“I’m Scott Summers,” the guy added helpfully. Obviously, he knew about Hank’s memory problem.
“Summers?” Hank repeated. “You’re not related to Alex, are you?”
Scott’s smile faded away. An awkward silence fell and Hank knew he’d said something wrong.
“How about you lot head off and leave us to talk?” Jean said gently and the children scattered. Scott stayed where he was, his mouth decidedly turned down now.
“Alex was my brother,” he said.
“I didn’t know he – ” Hank began, then stopped, the words catching up with him.
“Doctor McCoy, I’m so sorry,” Jean said and she sounded it, genuinely miserable. “Alex … Alex died a year ago.”
Hank didn’t know what to say. Alex … irritating, bouncy Alex … was dead? It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t. Not Alex. He’d been fine, he’d been fine this morning, calling Hank a Bozo and rolling his eyes like Hank was an idiot …
“A year ago?” he repeated faintly. “I … what happened?”
Jean and Scott exchanged quick glances.
“That’s quite a story,” Jean said. “We … it will take a bit of explaining … ”
Hank shook his head, not sure if he was refusing details or refusing the actual facts. He couldn’t get his head round it.
“Sean?” he asked and Jean’s flinch told him all he needed to know.
“He’s all right,” Jean said, looking relieved that he’d asked her about someone actually alive. “He doesn’t live here but he visits sometimes.”
Well, that was something. He didn’t even like Erik that much but at least they weren’t all dead and gone. So many people dead …
“Oh, I’m so very sorry,” Jean whispered and there were tears in her eyes as she looked at him. She reached out a hand and touched his arm and Hank leaned into it a bit, trying not to shake. He was a grown up, he was a man, his father would be so cross if he saw him like this …
Was his father still alive? Did they even still speak?
“It’ll take you to your bedroom,” Jean said quietly. “You … you might like to rest for a bit now.”
Hank nodded. Scott fell into step with them and they walked through the corridors together. They seemed suddenly oddly deserted and Hank wondered if Jean was using her telepathy to send everybody away from them. He certainly didn’t mind if she was.
“This is your room,” Jean said gently and Hank blinked. Clearly, he’d changed bedrooms in twenty-two years, this wasn’t where he’d been sleeping yesterday – or twenty-two years ago yesterday. Apparently, he had moved to the ground floor at some point. He opened the door uncertainly and stepped inside.
The room was bright and airy, just like the other one that he’d had. The bed was a double, rather than a single and covered with a bright bedspread. There was a huge bookshelf and Hank drifted towards that automatically. He couldn’t see any of his old books there, although there were new copies of some of them – had he read them to bits? A lot of the books looked almost pristine, as though they hadn’t been read at all. They looked interesting though and Hank found himself smiling. At least his older self seemed to have a similar taste in reading. One of the books caught his eye and be pulled it out, looking at it. A book of essays by Charles F. Xavier. Hank opened it and saw writing on the first page.
To my Hank. You helped more than you’ll accept, love. C. X.
It made him blush and he quickly put it back and moved away. There was what looked like a photo album on the bottom shelf and he pulled that out instead.
To his surprise, the first few pages didn’t contain photographs at all. Instead, they contained drawings, drawings of Alex and Sean and Darwin. There was one of him too, him looking the way he would have expected to look and no longer did. Charles with his hair and Raven with the wavy hair he was used to. There were more drawings of people that he didn’t know, the names written underneath meaning nothing. He turned to another page and found a photograph but it seemed that they’d missed a lot of years. Charles was bald and in his wheelchair, Hank was standing on his right and Raven – all blue – on his left. Jean and Scott were there too, and Peter, hanging onto Erik’s arm. Erik looked a little like he’d rather not be in the photograph at all. He had aged less than Charles seemed to have – but then, perhaps it was the hair. There were others grouped around them, students, he supposed.
Hank’s own handwriting said beneath the photo: The day we finished the rebuilding. He wondered what they had been rebuilding. Maybe he would ask later.
After that, they were all photographs, mostly labelled. Hank flicked through them, spotting several of Scott and Jean. There were strange ones too, including one of Charles with a large man who was entirely covered in blue fur and had sharp teeth. There was something half-familiar about the man but the label under the picture simply said Jubilee practising with her new camera which was entirely unhelpful so Hank ignored it. There was one of a garden with spilling vines and leaves and flowers everywhere, set around delicately carved stones. One of them had Alex’s name carved on it and Hank touched it, wondering if it was a graveyard.
He put the book down and realised that Jean and Scott had gone, apparently deciding to leave him alone. Hank wasn’t quite sure if he was glad or not. It meant he couldn’t ask any questions but it also meant that he could look at things and think. Not worry about what he was thinking or feeling.
He looked in the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. The clothes all looked pretty similar to things that he could imagine wearing, nothing very different or special. At least Charles and Raven hadn’t had to look far to find something that would make him comfortable – or was that depressing? Had he never become something different? Had he grown up at all?
There was another door in the room and he opened it, wondering if he had his own en-suite bathroom. Instead, it led to another bedroom and Hank only had to look at it for a moment to know without a doubt that it belonged to the Professor.
He closed the door and leaned against it, feeling his body shaking slightly. A connecting door between their rooms. Was it usually left open? Did he go to the Professor or did the Professor come to him? It was all impossible to imagine. He didn’t think he wanted to imagine it.
What was he going to do? His whole life was so different, so altered. How could he live in this place when none of it was what he expected at all? How could he face all these people who had such expectations of him when he clearly wasn’t that person?
He pushed the thoughts away and continued searching the bedroom. There were papers on the desk but not so many as he would have expected – perhaps he was working somewhere else? Maybe he still had his own lab here – that thought filled with some excitement. He found a folder containing old birthday cards and flicked through them hopefully. He didn’t know most of the names on them. His parents seemed to be conspicuously absent and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that. They’d always been a little uncertain about him – his father hadn’t thought that boys needed to be all that clever, his mother worried constantly about the state of his feet and how abnormal they were. He’d known when the Professor and Erik had swept him up that there might be problems …
He swallowed. It didn’t mean he was ready not to be talking to them any more. It didn’t mean he was ready for any of this.
Not for the first time in his life, Hank wished he was someone else. Someone normal, someone who these things just didn’t happen to. He just wanted to be a human who didn’t have to think about these weird, weird things and have his memories and not be this person. He’d never wanted to be this person.
He was such a coward.
Had he even got even slightly braver in these twenty-two years?
Somehow, he doubted it. He was probably the same guy he’d always been – with strange, weird differences that he couldn’t understand.
Suddenly exhausted, he lay down on his bed. It was firm with soft pillows, just the way he liked it. Within minutes, he was asleep.
His dreams were of Shaw and the CIA building. In the dream, he knew that he could do something, could stop Shaw and his demon if he could move, if he could just move but everything was frozen, his arms, his legs, even his eyes. He was just standing there, watching, hopeless, helpless …
The Professor’s voice cut through the fog. Hank jerked awake and stared wildly at him, trying to remember who the strange bald man was for a moment.
“I … you could see my dreams?”
He wondered if he’d asked the Professor this before. If he had, no sign was shown.
“I sense your distress more than anything else. I can view your dreams but I don’t usually – it’s an intrusion but also rather strange for a telepath to enter dreams. They aren’t structured like thoughts, you can get rather lost. But I knew you were unhappy.”
“Sorry,” Hank mumbled.
“You don’t need to be sorry. You can’t help it, nobody can help their dreams and as far as your mind is concerned, it only recently suffered appalling trauma. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Only recently. And yet twenty-two years ago. It was so weird, so … unbearably weird.
“If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know,” the Professor said quietly. “I promise, I will do my best. And you can ask me anything too, anything at all. I won’t lie.”
Hank knew that was true but at the same time, it didn’t help. How could the Professor answer his real questions? How could he expect the Professor to answer questions like “How did any of this happen?” and “Why are we in love when I fancy your sister?”
“Can you tell me what happened to Alex?” he asked instead because that was something that was preying on his mind.
“I can,” the Professor said quietly. “It’s … rather complicated though. I don’t know how easy this will be. Do you want me to tell you in here or shall we have a cup of tea first?”
Hank nodded his head and got out of bed. He hadn’t realised how late it was – the world outside was dark and the mansion was silent. Charles didn’t seem worried by this. He moved quietly through the corridors and Hank followed, wondering just how many students there were.
The kitchens looked the same as they had before, except that they were fuller than ever with food. Hank found himself going over and looking at the brands, trying to see how many he remembered.
“No more Lucky Charms?”
“Ah. No,” the Professor said with a small wince. “I found that they weren’t very good for me. Sorry. Here, let me put the kettle on.”
“N-no, let me, it’s fine Professor … ”
“You don’t know where anything is,” the Professor pointed out. “And please Hank, call me Charles. You’re far too old to be calling me Professor, you were too old when you were twenty!”
It was hard to think of the Professor as Charles. Hank wondered how long it had taken him to get used to it the first time around. Probably months. He just was the Professor, he was in charge, he was so clever and quick and filled with smiles and reassurances …
He felt so awkward. With a sigh, Hank sat down and pillowed his chin on his hands, watching the Prof - Charles make them tea. Several of the surfaces were very slightly lower than in most places and Charles could do everything easily. It was strange to watch. Hank didn’t think he’d ever met anybody in a wheelchair before and those he had seen, he’d rather shied away from, not wanting to think about what might have happened …
“Um,” he said, his mouth dry. “You … w-why are you in a wheelchair?”
Charles’s hand twitched very slightly and Hank saw the liquid in the cup tremble. It didn’t spill though, the Professor corrected himself very quickly.
“Oh Hank, that’s another very long story. Which would you prefer to hear tonight?”
Hank wasn’t sure. He wished that he could just know everything.
“Actually, it might be better to start with the chair,” Charles murmured, sounding almost as though he was talking to himself. “You’ll have to know … someone’s bound to mention … ”
“Know what? Mention what?”
Charles gave a sigh and handed him his mug of tea. He looked at his own for a moment, then pulled a face before sipping at it, despite the fact that it had to be very hot still. Hank was a little surprised that he was drinking tea. He had expected Charles to get out some wine, as he had done so often but Charles had made no move to do that.
“I am in the wheelchair because I was accidentally hit by a bullet,” Charles said, apparently unaware of Hank’s wandering thoughts. “The … circumstances will be difficult for you to listen to but I want you try and understand.”
Oddly, it wasn’t so hard, although Hank found himself oddly ashamed for his muted reactions. The story Charles told him felt like that, a story. He could imagine that living it would have been terrifying, seeing missiles fired at them, seeing Erik’s rage and anger, Charles accidentally hurt so badly … but it was impossible to connect with it, somehow. It felt so far away, so outside anything he had experienced.
The thing that surprised him the most was when Charles said that Raven had left with Erik.
“But … why?”
“Because Erik offered her something that I couldn’t, that I didn’t understand. I was too wrapped up in myself then, I hadn’t understood what she really needed. I just always did what I thought was right. Raven was unhappy, needed to be allowed to become her own person. Needed someone who could accept her. Erik offered that.”
“But you do accept her! You were always lovely to her! I was there, I saw you together, you gave her everything she could ever wanted.”
“Oh Hank. It wasn’t that simple.”
Hank scowled. He already felt like he didn’t like Erik and this wasn’t helping at all. In fact, it was making it rather worse. It sounded like Erik had made an unholy mess of things, then run off with Charles’s sister. Perhaps that was why Hank and Raven hadn’t been able to make it work. Erik had got in the way, again.
It didn’t explain … other things, though.
He winced, hoping Charles was staying out of his head. Charles didn’t show any signs of listening. He was staring at his tea again, clearly deep in thought. Remembering times past, probably. Hank didn’t understand. He couldn’t see how this had happened. How any of it had happened.
“Anyway,” Charles said suddenly, looking up. “That’s how this wheelchair became part of my life. I was … distressed at the time, I’m sure you can imagine but it’s been a while now, I no longer find it so. I like to think it’s helped me understand others a little better – I’ll never know exactly what it’s like to live with a physical mutation but I do know what it’s like to have people staring, judging, pitying, even hating. It gives me common ground with some of the children, common ground where it is needed. I’m a better person than I was, I think.”
“You were fine as you were,” Hank said firmly. “I don’t know why Raven left you but I’m sure it was Erik’s fault. She wanted to be normal – ”
“No,” Charles interrupted him quietly. “She didn’t, Hank. She wanted to be herself. Now she is and I’m glad of that. I wish the journey had been smoother but it was not. At least we are friends now.”
Hank didn’t know what to say. He felt awkward and strange. Raven had wanted to be normal, he knew that. He’d been making the serum for them both, he’d been so close, known he was about to reach the discovery that would make them both as they always should have been …
“Hank.” Charles’s voice was still quiet but there was something there now, something that demanded attention. “I want you to be very careful about the things you say here. I am trying to teach these children to love themselves, to help them appreciate their own beauty and power and talent. Normality – whatever that really is – may or may not come into that. To live, to be happy, they must accept themselves.”
Hank felt himself blushing. He felt as though he’d been scolded by a teacher and he hated that feeling. He didn’t like to disappoint the Professor.
“It’s all right,” Charles said, either reading his mind or just reading his face. “I just needed you to know that. We have such a responsibility to these children. It can be daunting sometimes.”
“I’m sure,” Hank said, trying to smile. “I … I’m feeling quite tired now. Can I go to bed?”
“Of course. I’ll stay a little longer, I think. I sense a few wakeful minds on the second floor, I think I might need to go and gently scold a few wanders before long!”
Hank managed a small laugh and then walked away slowly. He headed to his room, suddenly thinking about why he would have a room with no stairs leading to it and feeling strange and uncomfortable about that thought. Wondering if Charles really had heard minds stirring or if he simply wanted to give Hank time to go to sleep undisturbed.
He didn’t know what to make of everything Charles had said. It all seemed so far away, so wrong, so … meaningless. Erik had killed Shaw, he ought to have a feeling about that and yet … it was just a story. A story that didn’t tell him anything. He couldn’t believe that quiet, jovial, horrifying man was really dead because he hadn’t seen it. He hadn’t been there. How could it be real?
How could any of this be real?
This time, he hunted around for pyjamas before getting back into bed. He managed to find himself some warm, fuzzy ones and got into them, glad that they weren’t too different and at the same time, oddly distressed. Why couldn’t he decide if he wanted to change or not?
He dreamed of a beach, sun burning on white sands. Charles was lying on the sand, Charles as he used to be, face contorted with pain. Hank was sure that other people ought to be there but he couldn’t see anybody, just himself and Charles. He tried to walk towards him but every bone his body seemed heavy. He couldn’t seem to work out how to lift himself.
“Help me!” Charles gasped but Hank couldn’t. He could only stand.
He jerked awake to the sound of a loud bell. A school bell, he supposed, rousing all the children. How many people were there in this school? He should have asked. There had been a lot in that photograph. More than that? Less now?
So many mutants. It was a strange idea. He’d always felt like such a freak, like he was totally alone. Only a few days ago, he’d suddenly found out there were others like him, other “freaks” and now, now it was twenty-two years later and there was a whole school of people who were different. What different things could they do? What powers did they all have?
He was suddenly oddly excited. He wanted to go and ask everybody, find out. Did they have a list somewhere? Perhaps the Prof – perhaps Charles would tell him later. Although he was probably teaching right now … was Hank supposed to be teaching? Did he have a job?
He got out of bed and went to try and find a bathroom to take a shower. There was one very close by, a bathroom with odd modifications that confused Hank at first until he realised that they had to be for Charles and his wheelchair. It made Hank feel uncomfortable, like he was invading Charles’s space but he didn’t know where the other showers were and certainly didn’t want to risk accidentally going into the children’s bathrooms. That would be creepy, to say the least.
He washed quickly, noticing odd little differences in his new body. There was a scar on his leg that he didn’t remember, a small one right above the knee. His legs were more muscled and so were his arms, which was actually kind of nice but weird. He was used to being the skinny one with odd strength, he hadn’t expected to ever have muscles like Alex’s.
He couldn’t believe Alex was dead. He couldn’t believe Sean was dead. It was so confusing, it was so wrong. They’d both been young and happy and alive only a few days ago …
He had to stop thinking like that. Twenty-two years ago. They’d been fine twenty-two years ago.
Hank got out of the shower and dressed as quickly as he could, not looking at himself any more. He went back to his room and injected serum into himself, watching the liquid disappear into his blood. Normality. Normality that Charles didn’t appear to want for the students.
Would Charles be at breakfast? He suddenly didn’t want to face him, didn’t want to see anybody. A quick rummage in his desk revealed that some habits didn’t die – there was a pack of Twinkies hidden in there. Tearing it open, Hank tucked in, looking around his room again, wondering what he ought to do with himself. He was probably a teacher but how could he possibly teach? He probably didn’t remember the syllabus, let alone the kids.
So much had to have changed in twenty-two years …
Suddenly, he was excited again. What advances had they made? Had they build a space station yet? Had they discovered any more elements for the periodic table? So many things could have happened, so many things might be different …
Where should he start? His texts here were probably too complicated but there was probably information in the library, if the children were allowed to use it. Enthused, he scrambled into his clothes, took his packet of Twinkies with him and headed out.
It took a little longer than he expected it to. The library seemed to be in the same place but the corridors leading to it seemed to have changed. Had they done some remodelling, perhaps?
The thought went out of his head when he found the library. It was just as wonderful as he remembered it being, perhaps even better. There were more books than ever and although he couldn't seem to spot some of the old, familiar tomes that he'd admired, he could see plenty of other treasures – and plenty of books that were perhaps designed for younger children. Hank headed over to these, moving along the spines until he found volumes that looked relevant. Pulling them out, he found a quiet corner, curled up and began to read.
Not everything had changed, of course. There were all sorts of things that remained the same. Sometimes, strange and little things had changed and that the books didn't feel the need to explain. Hank started to take notes, things he wanted to look up, things that would be interesting to know about. So many wonderful things … man had landed on the moon. The moon! He wondered what it had been like to watch at the time. He'd have been fascinated, he knew that, glued to a television set somewhere, biting his nails, hopeful, desperate. He wanted that memory back, almost more than anything else. He was sure it had been wonderful. Perhaps the Profes – perhaps Charles remembered …
He wasn't absolutely sure that he dared ask. It was stupid not to want to, ridiculous to be trying to hide but questions always seemed to lead to distress, to unhappiness. He didn't know how he felt about anything.
He was aware that others came in and out of the library as he read. Nobody disturbed him and Hank was glad of that. He wanted time to take things in, not be bothered by odd questions or strange things in this new world.
He finally realised that he would have to stop reading when he heard a loud bell and his stomach rumbled, almost at the same time. He had run out of Twinkies and it had to be lunch time. He would have to face people sooner or later – and besides, now he had questions about what he ought to read next. With a small sigh, he got up, put his books neatly back and slowly headed out and followed a group of chattering students, guessing they would take him to the lunch hall.
They did. Hank had to force himself not to cringe away from it. He’d never liked going into the lunch hall. In school, it had always been one of the most unpleasant parts of the day. Too many people who wanted to shout things at him, pick on him, spill things on him. He was too weird for other people, even now.
Get a grip! You’re twenty – no, you’re forty-one! Nobody here is going to spill stuff on you!
He spotted Jean just as she spotted him. She beamed at him and waved and Scott waved at him too. Peter was sitting with them too, along with a girl with dark hair and bright pink earrings, another girl with white hair in an impressive style and a blue guy who waved a hand which seemed to only have two thick fingers. Hank wondered if he ought to walk up to them or not. They felt like they could be friends … but he was supposed to be their teacher …
He turned to smile with relief at Raven but the smile got caught somewhere because Raven was not just blue but completely naked. Hank looked away, panicked, trying to think of something to say, anything to say.
“Oh,” Raven said quietly and he heard the soft whispering ripple that was her power moving through her. When he looked again, she was human-formed and wearing jeans and a turtleneck. Hank sagged in relief, even though he couldn’t help feeling the clothes were an illusion. She had to still be naked, really naked and he didn’t know what to think of that.
Raven had moved away and was getting herself something to eat. Hank followed her, not sure what to say. He felt as though he’d offended her, but why? She’d been naked. How could he be the one who was being weird?
“R-raven … ”
“I prefer my natural form now. When I’m not working, I tend to be comfortable.”
Her voice was clipped. She was angry with him then. Hank shrank back, not sure what to say or do. He was getting everything wrong and he didn’t know why. He was always getting things wrong …
Raven turned round and looked at him. She gave a soft sigh and her face softened slightly.
“Oh Hank. I’m sorry, this isn’t your fault. It’s hard to remember how young you are right now.”
Hank wasn’t sure what to make of that but at least she wasn’t mad at him. He smiled timidly and wished he was good at thinking of clever things to say. He was always so … useless. Had he stopped being useless? Maybe he’d grown into someone better …
“D-don’t you take the serum then?” he asked.
“No. I … I never did. I changed my mind.”
Hank felt a stab of disappointment. He’d thought that perfecting the serum would have brought them closer together but perhaps it hadn’t. Perhaps that was why he and Raven weren’t together, because she hadn’t wanted what he’d made for her. It made sense … but she’d been so excited about it when he’d been making it. Only the other day, she’d been encouraging him to work harder …
The other day being twenty-two years ago …
He hated this. He hated it so much. Everything was wrong and he didn’t know how to fix any of it.
Raven had moved away from him and was sitting with Charles. Charles didn’t even look up. He was sitting next to a small boy and encouraging him to eat, smiling warmly at him whenever the boy took a bite. Hank didn’t feel comfortable joining them. He didn’t feel like he belonged. He’d upset Raven and he didn’t understand how. But if he went to sit on his own, it would be just like high school; Hank McCoy the loser …
He felt as though he was briefly caught in a breeze and then the silver-haired Peter was standing in front of him, grinning a wide grin.
“Hey Doc. Jean wants to know if you’ll come sit with us? C’mon, please? She’ll nag otherwise and there’s only so far a man can run.”
He didn’t need to beg. Hank was already heading towards the table. He didn’t care if it was pity, at least he wouldn’t be alone. Peter beat him back to the table by miles, of course. Hank wondered just how fast the guy could run. He hoped that he’d run a few experiment sand left the results in the lab somewhere he could find them. He would love to know.
“Hello, Doctor McCoy,” Jean said, her smile wide and warm. “You’ve met Scott and Peter but do you know Kurt, Jubilee and Storm?”
Kurt was the blue guy, Jubilee was the girl with pink earrings and Storm was the girl with the amazing hair. They all smiled at Hank as though they were pleased to see him and Hank smiled shyly back, not quite sure how to respond to it all.
“It’s good to see you!” Jubilee said eagerly. “Are you feeling a bit better?”
“Yes,” Hank said. “I mean ... I wasn’t exactly sick ... ”
“It is good to see you though,” Kurt said. He had a heavy German accent. “We miss you. I suppose it will be a while before you can teach us again?”
“Yes,” Hank said. “I’ve been in the library, there’s been so much that I don’t remember, so much has changed. I’m trying to catch up though.”
“Does this mean that I can’t learn to fly the plane?” Scott asked, sounding wistful.
Hank felt a flicker of happiness thinking about his beautiful jet. It was good to know that others apparently liked it too.
“Have I updated it since the sixties? I might need to refamilarise myself before I can teach you anything but otherwise, I’m sure you can carry on with your lessons.”
He wondered how much faster the plane would go now. He hoped that it was very impressive. So many wonderful advances ... he wished he remembered them happening.
The group around him didn’t seem to mind him having gone quiet. They chatted around him in a friendly sort of way about things and people that he didn’t really understand but was happy to listen to. It was better than being on his own, after all. And they all seemed so friendly and cheerful. It was easier than he’d thought.
He had finished his food and was thinking of slipping back to the library when the students started talking about their next lessons. Kurt said that Mystique was taking him for an extra class and it reminded Hank of the party that he’d had, only a few weeks ago to him where Raven had picked the name.
Remembering that party hurt. He’d never had a party with friends like that before. It had been so exciting, so much fun – and then it had ended so badly. Alex had been furious with him afterwards for “ratting” and they’d all been depressed and ashamed. And then they’d been in the CIA compound and people had laughed and then ...
He didn’t want to think about “and then.”
Jean leaned over and put a hand on his arm. Hank was puzzled, then remembered that she was a telepath. She must have sensed his unhappiness. Hank searched for something to say to distract his mind – and perhaps hers.
“So Raven calls herself Mystique still? Did I ever think of a cool nickname?”
“Of course,” Storm said, sounding a little puzzled. “You’re – ”
She stopped speaking very suddenly and Hank saw them all exchanging looks.
“I think you should talk to the Professor about that,” Scott said in a decisive voice. Hank felt a surge of irritation.
“Why? What nickname do I have that could possibly be so bad that you won’t tell me it?”
“It’s not that,” Jean said quickly. “It’s just a bit complicated, that’s all and we don’t know what the Professor’s told you – ”
“Well, you do. You’re a telepath so you know everything he’s told me, right?”
“I ... no, I’m not looking that deeply, that’s not quite how it works ... ”
Jean sounded upset but Hank found that he didn’t care. He was rapidly moving from irritated to almost irrationally angry. Why were they all treating him like this? Why couldn’t they just tell him things, instead of acting like he was made of glass? This was a lousy situation, yes, but he could cope, he could handle it, he had to handle it, it wasn’t them who were living through this, it wasn’t them who had to cope with people treating them strangely – just like people had always treated him ...
Charles’s voice was soft behind him. Hank turned round and found himself glaring, almost as angry with Charles as he was with anybody else. Charles stared back at him, quite composed.
“Hank, would you come with me, please? I’d like to talk to you.”
“Why don’t you talk to me now?” he said, only it came out like a snarl. A flicker of fear stirred inside him. What was happening? He felt oddly heavy, his skin was prickling, his teeth were aching ...
Charles’s voice was very soft now. Hank suddenly felt almost unnaturally relaxed. Without another word, he followed Charles out of the room and down into a room that had a plaque on the door, saying it was the study of Charles F. Xavier.
Then his strange calm was gone and he knew that Charles had been in his head.
“I’m sorry,” Charles said quietly. “I know that wasn’t very nice but I didn’t want you to scare or hurt any of the students and I thought that was a possibility.”
“You thought I’d hurt them?”
“Because you’re not in control right now and that’s quite understandable but I knew you’d never forgive yourself if something happened. Hank, please sit down, I need to talk to you about this, there are things that you don’t know and Scott was right to say that I should explain it.”
Hank slowly sat down. His anger was still there, flickering under the surface but stronger were the feelings of confusion and vague, dragging exhaustion. He hated this.
“I’m so sorry,” Charles said and he sounded it. “I’m so ... oh Hank, I should have explained before but this is hard, I know that you’ll ... be upset and I didn’t want to upset you. It was wrong of me, I shouldn’t have tried to protect you.”
“Just tell me, Professor. Please.”
Charles closed his eyes for a moment, then leaned forward, as though he was going to take Hank’s hand. Hank flinched back without thinking. He saw the look of hurt on Charles’s face but knew that he couldn’t take it back. Then Charles sat back, folded his hands in his lap and spoke, his voice very quiet.
“Your first batch of serum did not work as you hoped. Instead of suppressing the gene, it made it more powerful. Your mutation spread throughout your body, changing all of you, instead of just your feet. You became stronger, your constitution was improved, there were many benefits ... but your entire body was changed.”
“Changed?” Hank whispered.
He thought about his hideous, twisted feet, tried to imagine what that would look like all over. He must have been utterly repulsive ...
Charles moved over to the bookshelf and removed an album. He moved over to Hank and opened it, showing him a picture of the blue, fluffy creature that Hank had skipped over in his own album.
“That’s you, Hank. That’s your form, now.”
Hank stared at the creature in the photo. Stared at it and the long blue fur and huge teeth and the fact that it was a freakish, freakish monster and no, no, that wasn’t him, that was not him, he wouldn’t listen, he wouldn’t believe ...
“If you panic like this, you’ll bring it out,” Charles said quietly. “The serum suppresses your mutation but cannot remove it. When you get angry or frightened, often the new mutation returns and you will not be able to stop a transformation. Please Hank, try and calm down, everything is fine, I promise ... ”
“Fine?!” he screamed and Charles recoiled, face paling slightly. Hank couldn’t remember being so angry in his life before. His life had fallen apart, everything was wrong and twisted and he was some kind of monster and Charles was saying it was fine?
“None of this is fine! This is all some sort of nightmare, this is all crazy, I’m not this person, I don’t want any of this!”
He felt prickly with rage. His mouth felt strangely painful. He stared at Charles and it was all flooding him, everything this man had done. Revealing his desperately hidden mutation, snatching him away from his life, his friends and co-workers all dead, alone in this mansion and now being told that he’d turned deviant for this man and no, no, he didn’t believe any of it and he didn’t want any of it!
He slammed a hand down on the desk, only it wasn’t a hand any more, it was a paw with curving black fingernails. He could feel himself swelling, expanding, he was bigger now, he was bigger and he was a monster, the monster that had always lived inside him was finally free ...
He whipped round and found himself staring at Raven, Raven in her pretty girl form with her long blonde hair all loose. She was staring at him with big eyes and took a step towards him.
“Hank, please. I know you’re angry and upset and I’m sorry, we ... I should have told you earlier, I just didn’t want to hurt you. It’s ... you’ve had so much time to accept this, I didn’t think how hard it would be. Please.”
She stepped forward, put her hand on his arm. Hank stared at her, breathing heavily, trying to calm down. He could vaguely see that his thoughts weren’t fair, that Charles didn’t deserve to be the focus of such hate, that it was the enhanced animal emotions of the thing that he now was but it was hard to get back to himself when all he could think that it wasn’t fair.
“You don’t have to pretend to be nice to me,” he said and his voice was a rumbling growl.
“Hank, I’m your friend, I’m not pretending. No, it’s not what either of us once hoped it would be but we’re good friends now. You just don’t remember that.”
Hank looked at her. His anger was beginning to fade now but it was left with a bleak numbness that was almost more distressing to feel than the rage had been. Nothing was what he remembered. Nothing was what he wanted. He didn’t understand anything except that everything he heard seemed to hurt him more.
He pushed past Raven and ran from the office. The world zipped by him and he realised that he was faster like this, stronger. He could smell things all over the mansion. He had skills – skills that only came with monster transformation.
He followed the smells of metal and electrics and chemicals to find his lab. He had upgraded in twenty-two years. Now he was under the school in a huge room that resembled an air hanger with a beautiful, sleek, silvery plane. Hank scrambled inside and curled up in a corner of it, smelling nothing but the clean scents of electronics.
Why had he done this to himself? How had he been so stupid to make such a mistake?
No, he knew the answer to that. He’d have been rushing, excited, hopeful, wanting to be normal-looking, wanting to make Raven normal-looking too. He had been thinking that, excited and happy thoughts about how pleased Raven would be, how proud Charles would be of him for helping like that, how Raven might kiss him and Charles would put a hand on his shoulder ...
Stupid. Really stupid. All of it.
He’d made a mess of his life. He was damn lucky he hadn’t made a mess of Raven’s too. And now he was making a mess of everything all over again. He was ruining everything, he was so useless ...
He didn’t know how long he sat there, feeling miserable and bleak and useless. After a little while, he noticed that his fur had faded back into skin, his teeth were normal again, his body smaller. The serum he’d made was obviously very good now, perhaps he should take some comfort from that. He’d learned from his mistakes, that was nice. Something to cling to, since he seemed to have made so many of them.
He found himself staring at the cockpit of the plane. It was rather interesting to look at, not too dissimilar to his original design but still changed. Hank couldn’t resist getting up – stumbling on numb legs – to limp over and take a look. It all looked fairly simple actually – obviously, he hadn’t wanted to complicate things. He could probably fly this, although it would be sensible to check any manuals he’d left around first.
He jumped and turned around. Storm was standing there, holding a tray of food.
“Scott says you always forget to eat,” she said. “I thought I’d bring you something.”
“I ... t-thanks. I guess some things don’t change.”
“I guess not,” Storm said with a smile. As Hank took the tray, she began to move around the plane, obviously interested. Hank wondered how many of the young ones had been in the plane. Were they supposed to be there? Ought he be throwing Storm out? How was he supposed to know?
“Scott usually helps you in here,” Storm said. “He is so fond of things that go fast.”
“Technology can be very exciting,” Hank said, remembering the first time he’d realised he might get to build one of his prototypes. It had been incredible, one of the best moments of his life.
He wondered if he had any memories in the twenty-two years that had eclipsed it. The thought made him miserable and he turned away quickly, pretending to be very interested in something else.
“I have seen so much since I came here,” Storm said, apparently not having noticed his lack of concentration. “I have only been here a year and so much has changed inside me.”
“I’m sure,” Hank said, not sure what else to say. He looked at the girl again and saw her staring at him, an odd expression of understanding on her face.
“I think if I were to wake up tomorrow with no memories of the last year, I would be very unhappy. For you to have lost so much ... it must be very hard.”
Hank swallowed, not sure what to say. He was supposed to be her teacher, wasn’t he? He probably wasn’t supposed to let her see that he was upset, that he was angry, that he was scared. None of the teachers he’d ever known had let their emotions show like that – well, a lot of them had shown how annoyed they were when he’d known answers that they hadn’t. He’d always hated that, felt like he’d failed even when he’d known things ...
“Of course,” Storm said lightly. “A year ago, I was trying to kill you so I suppose it would be a rather dramatic change ... ”
“You were trying to kill us?!”
“Yes,” Storm said with a shrug. Although she was trying to sound flippant, Hank could hear the pain and regret in her voice. “Things were complicated. Luckily, Professor Xavier is a kind man and was willing to accept me here anyway. But the first time I ever saw you, I attempted to fry you.”
“Fry me? Do you have fire power then?”
“No,” Storm said and she smiled. “Would you like to see what I can do?”
Hank nodded, unable to disguise his eagerness. He supposed twenty-two years older Hank was probably used to this but to him, these powers were so new, so varied. He had thought he was alone and now there was an entire school of people who could do things even stranger than he’d ever dreamed.
Storm led him outside into the grounds. It was dark now and Hank wondered just how long he had been hiding in the hanger. Storm lifted her arms and Hank felt a sudden wind whipping up. Clouds abruptly covered the stars and lightning flashed gloriously down, seeming to strike one of the mansion’s turrets.
“It’s all right!” Storm called to him, hands still in the air, eyes white with power. “There’s a lightning rod there that you set up last year. You channel the power down to your lab and use it for experiments.”
Hank laughed. He couldn’t help it. It was wonderful, it was beautiful and wonderful and that sounded like him, it sounded like he still existed inside all the strangeness and changes that he couldn’t even fathom.
“Is it just rain and lightning?” he called and Storm laughed and the wind swirled and howled around him, almost a tiny hurricane. Hank had to hang onto his glasses. Then suddenly, soft snow was drifting onto his head and the wind was gone.
“You’re amazing,” he said. “Absolutely amazing.”
“She’s going to ruin the garden,” Raven said from behind them. When Hank looked at her, she was grinning at Storm and Storm beamed back. Obviously, they liked each other.
“Sorry Mystique,” she said, not sounding sorry at all.
“Of course you are,” Raven said. “Not as sorry as you’ll be if you ruin the vegetables that we’re trying to grow.”
“Vegetables?” Hank said.
“Yes. It’s good for some of the children to learn how to make things live,” Raven said. She was looking at him as he said it and Hank felt as though there was meaning there but it was meaning that he couldn’t grasp.
“They’ll be fine,” Storm said. She was allowing the world to clear again and the stars were returning. “I wanted to show Doctor McCoy what I can do.”
“I know,” Raven said. “I think you’ll have inspired a lot of imitators too!”
Hank didn’t think he would mind that. So many incredible powers ... the things that Storm could do ... were the others comparable? How strong were they all?
“Er, thank you,” he said to Storm because it seemed rude to let her go without anything. “That ... that was incredible.”
Storm smiled at him.
“It was fun.”
She headed into the building and Raven smiled after her.
“She’s a wonderful girl. Did she tell you anything about herself?”
“That she was trying to kill us a year ago,” Hank said.
“Ah yes. That,” Raven said. She shrugged her shoulders. “We all make mistakes, don’t we?”
Hank rather hoped that he’d never made any mistakes that involved trying to kill anybody but then, how could he be sure? His anger as that thing had been almost uncontrollable, without Raven interrupting, he was afraid of what he might have done to Charles. What he might have done to anyone.
Had he killed someone?
He couldn’t make himself ask.
“Hank, I wanted to apologise.”
He blinked and looked at her. Raven looked back, her expression serious.
“I didn’t think about how hard this must be for you. I ... it’s difficult, seeing you like this. For us, for me, you were like this so long ago that ... it’s hard to remember how to be around you. I should have sat you down, talked to you more.”
Hank shrugged his shoulders, not sure what to say.
“You ... you and Charles have done you best,” he offered because he knew it was true. Raven gave a small sigh.
“Yes, Hank, I suppose we have. But it’s all right for you to be angry and scared.”
Hank still didn’t know what to say. He felt embarrassed and confused. Raven was clearly trying to help and yet somehow, it didn’t feel right. But then, maybe that was just him. Maybe nothing felt right these days.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I mean ... it’s not fine, I’m more of a freak than ever but ... I learned to live with that, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Raven said quietly. “Yeah, you did. We all learned to live with things.”
“Well, what does that mean?” Hank said, feeling that flicker of irritation again. “What did you learn to live with? You say things like that and I don’t understand them. I’m sorry, I just ... don’t. I don’t know anything and I hate that. I hate not knowing things and nobody will tell me!”
“Because it’s hard to tell you everything at once!” Raven said. “It’s hard to go through twenty-two years of life and work out how to explain it all in two days!”
Hank knew she was right but somehow, it didn’t stop everything stinging. Maybe he was just being unfair because he was afraid. Afraid of what he was, at what everyone else was. Afraid of all the choices that he’d apparently made over the years that he simply didn’t understand.
“Charles told you that I left with Erik, didn’t he?” Raven said.
Hank nodded. Raven sighed.
“I wanted to be myself, Hank. I never really wanted what you wanted. You wanted to fit in, I wanted people to accept me for what I was. Erik ... seemed to offer me that.”
Hank tried not to scowl. He supposed it was unfair, particularly given how much time had passed but he found himself thinking that Erik had never been anything but trouble to him and Raven and this seemed like it was something that had continued.
“So then he got arrested for trying to kill President Kennedy and I was on my own.”
“He was actually trying to save him but the government didn’t see it that way so he went to prison and I got on with the things that I thought were important.”
Hank didn’t know what to say to that. He had a feeling that Raven was deliberately trying to yank the floor from his feet and it was working.
“So ... Erik went to prison?”
“Until you and Charles broke him out.”
Hank tried not to whimper. He’d turned into the kind of person who broke people out of jail? He’d actually brokensomeone out of jail?
“I think I need to go to bed,” he said. “I’m ... tired.”
Raven nodded her head and Hank moved away, trying to make sense of the conversation that he had just had. He was pretty sure that Raven was trying to make a point but he couldn’t decide if the point was the empathises how much had changed in twenty-two years or something else. Either way, it had made him feel tired. He didn’t know what to do about anything. He just wanted to rest.
What was he? What had he become?
He made it to his bedroom and leaned against the door, staring vaguely around at everything, trying to make sense of it all. Trying to see something, anything that would make him feel like this was his home.
Hank? Would you mind coming in here for a moment, please?
Charles’s voice was soft in his mind but it still made him jump. After a moment, Hank complied, walking to Charles’s room through the connecting door. To his relief, Charles was still dressed and sitting at the desk, his expression sad.
“Hank, I wanted to apologise,” he said, without preamble. “I am so, so sorry that I didn’t tell you before. I feel that I’ve let you down.”
“I ... you don’t need to apologise,” Hank said awkwardly. “I ... I was the one being ... I shouldn’t have got so angry.”
“That was hardly your fault. Your Beast-self has always felt emotions more keenly and in a less controlled fashion than you. And you didn’t know it was there, of course you found it overwhelming. I should have told you before, I should have made sure that you knew everything but ... I suppose I didn’t want to talk about it all. Tomorrow, I’ll make sure you know absolutely everything, I promise.”
It was odd, Hank thought. Charles was saying a lot of the things that Raven had said but in a quite different way. He’d never really thought about how different the siblings were before. He’d seen them as a unit, a glorious, exciting unit that had changed his whole world. It was weird to suddenly realised that they were quite different. That they weren’t the same at all.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I mean, I’d like to ... I’d like know things. Thank you.”
“Tomorrow then,” Charles said. “You’re ... you’re all right? If there’s anything you need to talk about, I’m here for you, you know that.”
Hank shook his head. He didn’t think there was anything he could possibly say to Charles about any of his feelings. He wasn’t sure he could talk to anybody about all his feelings.
“Go to be then,” Charles said softly. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Goodnight, Hank.”
“Goodnight, Charles,” he said and went back through to his room. He heard the door click shut behind him and then the definite sound of the door being locked.
Somehow, that wasn’t as comforting to hear as Hank might have found it earlier. He suddenly felt strangely alone, even though he was in a mansion surrounded by people, people who were like him.
He wasn’t the only freak any more. And yet somehow, he felt like he was a freak among freaks all the same.
He couldn’t bring himself to go to breakfast the next morning – or at least, he didn’t plan to. To his slight surprise, as he was searching for another pack of Twinkies, someone knocked on the door.
“Yes?” he called uncertainly, then decided he probably should actually open the door. He found himself facing Scott, Jean, Kurt, Storm and Jubilee.
“Um, is it okay if we have a breakfast picnic on the lawn?” Scott asked, sounding hopeful.
“Er … is it? Am I allowed to answer that? Is this a trick?”
“You’re allowed, the school belongs to you, partly. And we thought you could come and, you know, be the chaperone. It’s nice and sunny, it’ll be fun … if you say yes?”
Hank paused, trying to deal with the idea that he apparently had some power and could actually make decisions about people and what they did. Briefly, he felt a flicker of panic – what if he made the wrong decision? What if he annoyed everybody?
But right then, he was getting a lot of hopeful looks and he felt like he needed to deal with those.
“All right, if you like. Do you need me to get stuff?”
“Nope! We’ll fetch it! You go with Kurt, find a good spot – um, are you okay with Kurt taking you?”
“Taking me …?”
“I will show you!” Kurt said eagerly. “You will like it, I think.”
He took Hank’s wrist and for a moment, Hank found himself feeling a strange sensation of disconnect as the world disappeared and rebuilt in a flicker of darkness and smoke. They were standing in the garden and Kurt was grinning with rather sharp teeth.
“I did!” Hank said eagerly. “Is it always that quick? Can you do it more slowly? How many people can you carry at once?”
Kurt answered all of his questions quite patiently until the others came out to join them with trays of food. They settled down and began eating and talking while Hank pretended he was supervising and looked around the grounds. They had changed quite a lot too, although that made a lot of sense – a school ought to have a basketball court and more regimented places to play and work. Charles had told them he hadn’t been to the mansion in years and while it hadn’t exactly been in disrepair, it made sense that they’d worked on it since.
It was nice to feel like he understood something for once.
They had almost finished breakfast when Charles came out to them. Hank saw the happy looks on the children’s faces the moment they saw him and wondered at it. Did Charles still have that magnetism that drew people to him, even now? He was so different, more sombre and yet he had a feeling that they still flocked to him, wanted to be noticed by him, they way Hank had.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Charles said. “But I need to talk to Hank before I have to teach my class so I need to take him away now. Kurt, I’ve been asked to remind you that we do have a rule that says you aren’t allowed to appear in your chair directly the minute before class starts, please walk like everyone else – and stop giving Scott a helping hand.”
“Sorry Professor,” the two boys chorused, not sounding entirely sorry. Charles rolled his eyes and then smiled at Hank.
“Come with me, please?”
Hank stood up, waved goodbye to the others and slowly followed Charles, feeling more than a little reluctant. He’d been enjoying himself and somehow, he had a suspicion that the conversation they were about to have wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.
“I thought we might talk outside,” Charles said lightly. “It’s nice out today, surprisingly. We’ve had a rotten winter.”
Hank knew a lot of people hated weather talk but he always found it rather soothing. Everybody talked about it and it was easy, relaxing. You couldn’t really say anything wrong when you were talking about the weather.
Of course, it was slightly harder if you couldn’t remember what the weather had been like for the past twenty-two years.
Charles stopped them by a lake that Hank didn’t really remember. He looked at it, rather than look at Charles. He heard Charles give a soft sigh.
“I’m going to start at the beginning,” he said. “I know you’ve heard little bits of this before from myself and Raven but I think it would be better ... I know you’ll have questions and I’ll try to answer them but ... let me explain.”
He talked. Hank listened.
Charles laid it all out neatly and simply, a calm summary of twenty-two years of events. Hank listened almost silently. Charles seemed to anticipate Hank’s questions – perhaps that was his telepathy or perhaps he just had an idea of the things that Hank might want to know. Whatever it was, it all seemed to make sense – in so much a story where Hank found that he’d apparently helped save the world three times could ever make sense.
Charles told him other things too. He told Hank about friends that Hank had, about the correspondents that he kept up with. He reassured Hank that most of them knew about mutation and would understand Hank’s condition with minimal fuss. He seemed so calm, so practical.
Hank couldn’t help noticing that Charles skated over a few things. He mentioned that he had been very depressed in the late sixties and that Hank had stayed and taken care of him but he didn’t elaborate any more than that. It seemed rude to ask about something like that and so Hank didn’t.
He also noticed that Charles didn’t once mention their relationship.
He felt a little peculiar about that and he wasn’t sure why. He was so uncomfortable about it that he ought to have been happy and yet somehow, he couldn’t help wondering why Charles wasn’t mentioning it at all. Had he decided to cut his losses? Or was there something else, something Hank didn’t understand?
Probably. Despite all this, there was a lot that he didn’t understand.
“You don’t have to stay,” Charles said quietly. “Not if you don’t want. I wouldn’t advise going too far, we’ll need you when we try to get your memories back – if you still want them.”
“I … w-why wouldn’t I?”
“I got the impression you weren’t entirely certain.”
Hank shrugged his shoulders awkwardly and stared at the ground. He heard Charles give a soft sigh and wondered what it meant. Weariness? Frustration? Sadness?
“Well, it will be a while, I know that. Wanda’s very distressed about what happened and she still isn’t quite sure how she did it. We’re trying to work through it but we need to be careful as I don’t want to lose my memories too! But it will happen, Hank. I’m sure of it.”
“I’m sure,” Hank said, nodding his head.
“I’ll give you some time to think,” Charles said. “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
He moved away before Hank could say anything else and Hank was left alone, staring at the water and trying to put things together.
He couldn’t believe that they’d done so much. So many things. He’d been brave, really brave – he’d fought people, saved people. Him, Hank McCoy, the nerdy, pathetic one. He’d built more than one plane, got to fly them. Made Charles something incredible that could amplify his powers in a way that had helped them build a whole school, find people that needed help.
And yet, none of them felt like him. Charles said it was him and Hank knew that he wouldn’t be lying but ... how could he be that person? Him?
It just didn’t make sense.
With a low sigh, he sat down and put his head in his hands. Everything was so confusing, so impossible. Each time he thought he understood things a little better, it became bewildering again. Why couldn’t everything just be simple? Why couldn’t people just be simple? Science was simple, science was easy, once you knew what you were doing. Reactions were always the same and if they weren’t, you knew you’d mixed something wrong or contaminated your samples and then you could find out why. You could find out everything with just a little practical application.
The real world just wasn’t like that.
Sitting and doing nothing wasn’t helping. He got up and headed back into the mansion. It was currently quiet, though he could hear humming voices from the classrooms. Hank took himself to the library and went to the history section.
There were plenty of books of modern history there. Hank read about Kennedy’s death, Erik’s “trial”, his escape from jail, his attempt on Nixon’s life. There was very little about Apocalypse yet – it had only been half a year, not time for any really good books yet. Hank would have to go to journals and magazines for the articles about that.
Some of what he read seemed to match Charles’s accounts of the events. Some were clearly anti-mutant and had been scrawled in by angry students. Hank could hardly blame them. It made him shiver, to think how many people out there had to hate and fear them. And now, he was even more of a freak than he had been before ...
He blinked and found himself staring at a small boy who looked almost normal except for the fact that his hair quickly turned to fur that ran all the way down the back of his neck. He was blinking in a worried sort of way and clutching a book.
“Yes?” Hank said gently.
“I’m stuck on my chemistry. Can you help me? Please?”
“Yes,” Hank said immediately, feeling a wave of confidence hit him. This was what he knew. This was what he was always good at. “Let me see and let’s talk about it.”
The boy – whose name turned out to be George – ended up sitting next to him for quite a while. Hank liked to explain and George seemed interested. By the time the lunch bell rang, they had somehow moved from his homework and onto rather deeper things and Hank had promised to show him all sorts of experiments, experiments that he was rather looking forward to doing. When they reached the lunch hall, George went to his friends and Hank saw Scott waving to him so he went over to them and sat down, feeling a little bit more secure.
None of them asked him what Charles had said to him that morning. They just talked around him, like they had before and Hank relaxed a little. At least they didn’t mind him being there. At least he was all right.
“Hey, you and Storm were practising with her powers last night, weren’t you?” Jubilee asked suddenly, breaking into his thoughts.
“Do you want to see what I can do? It’s not quite as impressive as Storm but it’s pretty cool!”
“Yes!” Hank said eagerly “Please.”
“Brill! After school then?”
Hank nodded his head and Jubilee beamed at him, as though he was giving her a treat. Which perhaps he was. He remembered that flicker of utter joy when he’d been able to show off in front of Charles and Raven for the first time. Of having people see and appreciate just what he could do.
He might not be a hero but he might just be able to manage to do that.
His days fell into a rather strange sort of pattern.
He used his mornings to read, to catch up with the world. He’d ordered plenty of books and magazines and they were arriving regularly for him to devour, to take in as much as he could about everything.
In the afternoons and evenings, he found himself approached by the students, all of whom seemed to want to show off their skills. Hank watched and made notes and asked questions, trying to get an idea of how powerful they were. They all seemed to find it rather entertaining, even those who had strange or impractical skills. In an odd way, Hank liked those best. Not everything had to be on a grand scale. Sometimes the most interesting, fundamental science was what lay beneath, the simple movement of molecules and what happened then. He always made sure to tell those students how interesting they were and he didn’t think he’d sent anybody away unhappy yet.
He was beginning to suspect that being normal wasn't quite as important as he'd always thought.
He tip-toed around Raven and Charles and felt that they were tip-toeing around him. Hank found that he was getting more used to Raven’s blue form now he saw it regularly – in fact, he found that it was really rather beautiful to look at, except that he felt vaguely guilty for finding anything about Raven beautiful now. It didn’t seem appropriate when the self that he didn’t remember had made such a mess of things. He had apologised for being rude to her and she’d accepted the apology warmly but even so, it was easier to not be around her too much.
Charles always smiled vaguely when they saw each other but made very few attempts to approach Hank. It was common knowledge that he was working very closely with Wanda, trying to find a way to return Hank’s memories to him but that wasn’t taking up so much of his time. He had apparently just decided that the best thing to do was to stay out of Hank’s way.
Hank didn’t know how he felt about it so he did his best not to think about it. It had always worked in the past. Feelings got in the way of everything. Sometimes it was better not to feel them.
He found it hard not to though. Sometimes he found himself staring at the tightly closed door between their rooms and wondering what was happening on the other side. What it would be like to live in a world where he just sometimes walked through that door and sat with Charles, talked to him. Being close to Charles had always made him feel special, like he could do anything at all when Charles smiled at him. He missed that feeling.
Had that feeling been a crush? Had he actually always been thinking things about Charles that he didn’t consider appropriate? He had always known that Charles was beautiful but that was because Charles was beautiful, it wasn’t weird to think that, it wasn’t unnatural ... was it?
How could you possibly know? It was so frustrating. All he really knew was that he liked Charles and now they weren’t really friends any more, he was missing that. It was all just too weird and so Hank carried on trying to ignore it all.
He noticed the approach Valentine’s Day with a certain degree of depression. He’d always hated it. He was too shy, too geeky to take part in something like that. The only time he’d ever tried to give a girl a card, she’d laughed at him. Hank supposed he’d deserved it. He wasn’t exactly attractive after all. So he’d always tried to hide away and pretend that it wasn’t happening for the most part.
Annoyingly, it was impossible to ignore it here. Most of the students seemed more than a little bit excited. Scott was fretting over whether he should give Jean a card or whether it was pointless because she would already know he was thinking of giving her a card anyway. Jubilee had decided to decorate the place and was talking about pink paper hearts and streamers almost constantly. Hank chose to talk to Kurt instead, who appeared to be largely baffled by the entire holiday and Storm, who claimed to find it all rather silly – although they were both still going to go to Jubilee’s Valentine’s Day party that she’d organised for the evening. Hank practised his “I’m-sorry-I-can’t-go-I’ve-got-an-important-paper-to-write” story but Jubilee didn’t actually ask him. Hank couldn’t decide if he was hurt or not. He supposed it made sense – he was a grown up after all, even though he kept forgetting it. He was pretty sure forty-one year old men didn’t go to dance parties.
The actual day wasn’t so bad, a benefit of being forty-one and able to avoid it all, he supposed. He knew there was some drama going on between various students but his group seemed settled. Scott was positively glowing and Hank was sure his card to Jean had been happily received. He found that he was a little jealous and then felt stupid for it. He was forty-one, Scott and Jean were still teenagers. Of course they were excited and glowing about this sort of thing.
Evening came and he was just opening up what he expected to be the first book of the night when someone knocked on his door. With a small sigh, Hank went and opened it and found himself staring into Peter’s goggle-covered face.
“Um, yes?” Hank said.
“Sorry about this, bro. It’s for your own good. Don’t throw up.”
Hank was opening his mouth to ask Peter what he was talking about when the world blurred. For a dizzying half a second, everything was moving and tilting and swirling and then he was standing somewhere entirely different, fighting the lurching feeling in his stomach.
“Enjoy it!” Peter sang in his ear and then he was gone before Hank could ask what the hell he was talking about, a door slamming behind him. Then there was a poofing sound and Kurt was standing in front of him, gripping Charles’s wheelchair.
“Sorry,” he said and then was gone.
“What?” Charles said blankly and then. “Oh. Oh for goodness sake.”
Hank was still blinking and looking around. They were in one of the classrooms, except it had been redecorated. All the tables had been removed except for one in the middle, which had been covered with a white table cloth and clearly set for a romantic meal for two, complete with flowers and candles.
“Hank, I am so sorry, I had no idea!” Charles said. “I knew Jean was helping them block something but I assumed it was something party related, I didn’t want to push. I can make them let us out – ”
“That’s okay,” Hank said. It wasn’t quite okay but the idea of seeing his friends disappointed wasn’t pleasant. “I mean ...they’ve gone to a lot of trouble, we should probably ... eat.”
“If you’re sure,” Charles said, sounding rather doubtful. “We can leave at any time, you know. Locked doors aren’t exactly an obstacle to me.”
“Won’t Jean be shielding their minds?”
“I can fight with Jean,” Charles said, sounding rather interested by the idea. “Her raw power is probably higher than mine but I have had more practise ... ”
“I think you should have a psychic battle when Scott isn’t trying to impress her,” Hank said firmly, moving over to the table. There was an envelope propped against the flowers addressed to them both so he opened it. Out fell what was obviously a list of instructions and a small note that simply told them to follow the instructions and enjoy the date.
“Well then,” Charles said. “What’s instruction number one?”
“Sit down and open our fortune cookies,” Hank read, blinking.
“Fortune cookies?” Charles repeated. He shook his head and gave a small sigh. “All right. Why not?”
The fortune cookies were on the plates. Hank carefully cracked his open and unfolded the slip of paper.
Be open to new opportunities.
Hank raised an eyebrow. He couldn’t help thinking that this was a tiny bit too on point to be a coincidence. He looked at Charles, who was rolling his eyes.
“What does it say?”
“Oh ... that I ought to focus on the future,” Charles said lightly, screwing up his little strip of paper and then taking a bite out of the fortune cookie. “Ugh. Why don’t they ever make these things for flavour?”
Hank wasn’t quite sure that Charles was telling him the exact truth but he decided not to question it. He ate his own fortune cookie, then read the next instruction.
“Well, we start with the starters,” he said and Charles laughed.
“The ones with the red covers,” he said and Hank was confused for a second, until he realised that Charles could read whatever he was reading, just by looking at his mind. It was a weird thought. He wondered if he’d ever thought it before. Almost certainly.
Charles didn’t answer – if he was still reading. He was putting the dishes with the red covers in front of them. Hank noticed that one had an H painted on it, the other a P.
“How come I’m Hank and you’re Professor?”
“An attempt to forestall their immediate expulsion when they finally release me? Hmm, soup. I wonder if it’s home made?”
Hank lifted his own plate and found himself looking down a plate with something unfamiliar on it.
“Crabs legs,” Charles said.
“Do I like crabs legs?”
“Try them and see.”
Hank did and discovered quickly that he liked crabs legs very much. He tucked in as he read the next item on the list.
“Apparently there’s an envelope on your side with conversational topics in.”
“I hope topic number one is the many varied methods of making your students suffer,” Charles said dryly, pausing from his soup to open the envelope. “Oh look, we both get a selection. Very generous.”
Hank took his and looked at it, half-expecting it to be embarrassing. It wasn’t, just a selection of questions written in different handwriting. Obviously, the conspirators had got together for this part and just noted down things they might have asked on a date. Hank wondered who was responsible for “What’s your favourite colour?”
“Why have they gone to all this trouble?”
“Is that really your first topic?” Charles asked. “Mine is about comic books so apparently yours went cerebral faster ... ”
“No, it’s just ... my question. Why?”
“I suppose because they care about seeing us happy,” Charles said quietly, and then, with a more cheerful air. “Of course, why they think an assault course of a forced date is the way to this happiness, I couldn’t tell you ... ”
Hank didn’t say anything for a few moments and just focused on his food. Charles did the same and they sat in silence until neither of them had any food left. Hank wiped his fingers carefully – crab legs were messy – then looked at Charles and took a deep breath.
“This is the first date that I’ve ever been on,” he blurted out. “I mean ... I guess in the bits I don’t remember maybe I dated? But I don’t ... I’ve never actually done this before.”
He half-expected Charles to laugh but Charles didn’t. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, don’t take this as typical,” he said. “Although I ... suppose it is typical for you and I. We never exactly managed anything in the way of what you would call normal dating.”
“What ... what was our first date like?”
Hank couldn’t quite believe that he’d asked the question. The moment it slipped from his mouth, he felt a burst of panic, as though he’d dropped something extremely fragile and was waiting for it to shatter. Charles didn’t look too worried though. Instead, he grinned.
“We retroactively decided that it was the time we went to pick up Felicity – one of our first students, she’s left now, wonderful woman, working in Germany as an ambassador. We had to make our way all the way to Kentucky and everything that could go wrong did, it was quite magnificent really. We ended up staying in this appalling dive and we were both in dreadful moods so we went out to find some actual food. We ended up in this tiny cafe eating stale blueberry muffins and this strange man gave you a recipe for how to make chocolate LSD after you told him you were a scientist. It was completely ridiculous and somehow ... somehow.”
He shrugged his shoulders slightly and looked away. Hank continued to stare at him, thinking about the story that he’d just heard. It was all very slightly mad but he found that unlike some of the things that he’d been told, he could imagine doing that. He could imagine ending up on a trip to Kentucky and Murphy’s Law coming into play. He could imagine them eating somewhere ridiculous and Charles finding the whole thing a little funny and he, he had probably been awkward and uncertain and yet later, might have looked back on it as an exciting adventure.
“Was that ... the first time we opened the school or the second?”
“The second,” Charles said and his tone was a little bleak. Hank didn’t think he wanted to ask for any more details.
“So ... our first date was completely mad?”
“Yes, Hank. Yes, it was.”
Despite his laughter, his eyes hadn’t quite recovered from the mention of the first time they’d opened the school and Hank found that he didn’t like the oddness he saw there. He hated seeing Charles unhappy. He looked down at his list of date instructions quickly.
“It says after a small wait, we can move onto the main course, if we want. Do you feel ready?”
“Absolutely,” Charles said with a smile. “And if you could pass the jug of juice, that would be good. I do hope they’ve picked a flavour that goes well with whatever we’re eating ... ”
It hadn’t quite occurred to Hank that the liquid in the jug amongst all the food would be juice. He’d thought that it looked like wine and assumed that it would be – after all, he and Charles were both old enough to drink. Of course, the children weren’t but there was plenty around ...
He hadn’t seen any wine in the mansion since he’d woken up with no memories. Yes, he’d been avoiding Charles rather but it suddenly seemed so strange. Charles had rarely been seen without a drink ...
He looked at Charles, who was pouring himself some of the juice and bit his lip, wondering if he dared ask. It sounded so rude, so ridiculous. He was probably completely wrong ...
Charles’s voice was very quiet. He leaned over to pour Hank some juice, not meeting his eyes.
“I ... no longer drink alcohol. I stopped in the early seventies because I was an alcoholic. Jean certainly knows it, the others might. I have no idea if it is common knowledge, I’m afraid that the coward in me tends to avoid looking for such information. It isn’t something that I’m very proud of.”
Hank didn’t know what to say. He felt awkward for thinking of it, embarrassed and ... sad. Sad because he’d managed to make Charles think of something that obviously caused him pain. He didn’t want Charles to hurt. He didn’t like it.
“Please don’t look like that,” Charles said, obviously distressed. “I’m fine. Really. It happened a long time ago, it wasn’t your fault and there’s really no point thinking on it any further.”
“Sorry,” Hank said, almost automatically. “I ... oh look. It’s something roasted.”
Charles laughed and lifted the lid off his own meal. For a few moments, they went silent as they began to eat. Then Charles began to talk about the progress some of the students had been making lately and Hank encouraged this topic eagerly. It was easier to listen to that than to some of the other things that they’d been talking about.
His mind wasn’t so easily distracted though. They were on a date. Before, it hadn’t felt true, it had felt like a game but suddenly, he was very aware that he and Charles were actually on a date and it felt ... meaningful. He wasn’t quite sure that he was comfortable with that – but he also didn’t feel like he ought to try and stop it.
Maybe the problem was that he simply didn’t know what he wanted.
Discussing the students kept them going all through the main course and then Hank looked at the “date plan” again.
“Apparently, this is the point where we’re supposed to exchange Valentine’s Day presents. They’re under the table ... ”
“Oh good lord,” Charles said. “All right then Let’s see what “we” got for each other!”
Hank fetched the two presents, looking at them doubtfully. He didn’t think that the others would have got them anything horrifyingly inappropriate and yet he couldn’t help being a little suspicious.
“You first,” Charles said. “I hope you like it.”
He was grinning, obviously amused. Hank rolled his eyes at him, then carefully opened the package, folding the paper back neatly.
He couldn’t help grinning, even though he knew Charles hadn’t brought the book that he was now holding in his hands. Charles was smiling though, a very pleased grin.
“I should have known that Jean was asking strange questions about science books for a reason. It’s what I’d have picked for you. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
Hank opened the book and found a slip of paper instead. Someone had written on it “Awaiting signing.”
“You signed the book of essays that you wrote, I suppose that’s what this means,” he said and held the book out. “Do you have a pen?”
Charles took one out of his pocket and paused for a moment before quietly writing something. Hank made to pull it back but Charles caught the book.
“Read it later?”
“I ... all right,” Hank agreed, closing the book. He was desperately curious but knew Charles would have his reasons. He put the book down and then handed Charles his own parcel which was considerably lighter than the one he had received. Charles tore the paper off gleefully, tossing it aside and going still as he saw the contents. After staring at it for a moment, he held it out so Hank could see it too.
It was a photograph, beautifully framed. A photograph of him and Charles, standing together. Charles still had hair, hair that flowed down his neck almost to his shoulders and it was blowing in a breeze. He was looking up at Hank and Hank was looking down at him, smiling. The actual photo was clearly not a professional shot but it had captured something, something that made Hank’s heart flutter in a way that surprised him.
“We brought a camera,” Charles said quietly. “Quite expensive – you wanted to learn about it, you were thinking about making ... anyway, we let the students have a go and Jubilee was good at it. She took this one and I ... I liked it. I thought we’d lost ... I didn’t realise that ... ”
Hank was still looking at the photograph. He didn’t normally like looking at himself, it made him uncomfortable to see his face but this photo almost didn’t look like him. Maybe it was because he was older than he was used to seeing, maybe it was because of the look on his face in the picture but it was different. He looked so ... alive. So happy.
“They must have kept it secret,” Charles said. “I wonder if you – well. I ... ”
He sounded uncertain, as though he wasn’t sure what to say now. He shrugged his shoulders and took the photograph back, staring at it for a moment before putting it down beside his plate and quietly reaching over to the next plates. Hank waned to say something but he wasn’t sure what he should say. Things seemed to have become ... confusing.
“Oh, dessert,” Charles said lightly. “I bet this was Peter’s idea. He seems to think the more sugar it has in, the better.”
“I like sugar,” Hank said.
“Yes, I know. At least they haven’t given us Twinkies.”
“Twinkies are nice.”
“No. No, they aren’t.”
Hank willingly entered the playful argument, although he found it wasn’t really distracting. He felt confused, on edge in a way that he wasn’t sure that he’d ever felt before. He kept thinking about that photograph, about the way Charles’s face had been turned up to his, the way he’d been leaning down, smiling. Did he always look like that when he smiled? Had he just never noticed it before? Or was it something new? Something different that had only happened in the twenty-two years that he didn’t remember?
So much had changed ...
“I think we should put an end to this now,” Charles said quietly, putting his spoon down. “That’s enough for one night, wouldn’t you say?”
“I, I guess?”
Charles put his fingers to his temples for a moment and Hank knew he was requesting that the door be unlocked. Without really thinking about it, he started stacking plates, trying to make things neat and tidy. His mind felt as though it were moving super-slowly.
“Is that thunder?” Charles said. “I wonder if it’s a real burst of weather or Storm playing around again? She really is very strong but still, she shouldn’t throw power around needlessly. It isn’t good for anybody.”
He sounded so light, so airy. As though they were just chatting about something after a normal day before going their separate ways for the evening. Hank didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do.
The door opened and Raven was standing there, mouth twisted in a smirk.
“You can’t expel me,” she said.
“I can try,” Charles answered. “I’m going to double the homework for everybody in this school, that will teach them all. I hope someone is on cleanup – ”
Hank blinked and all the debris from the night was gone, as if it had never been. Peter had clearly breezed through, leaving the door empty and untouched. Charles laughed and shook his head, then moved out of the room, giving Raven a look as he went by. Raven didn’t move to follow. She was staring at Hank, almost expectantly. Hank couldn’t meet her eyes. He looked at the empty room again and when he looked back, Raven was gone too, leaving him alone.
There was one trace of what had happened left. Slowly, Hank bent down and picked up his new physics book, carefully opening the front cover and looking at the first page where Charles’s writing looped beneath the title.
I’ll never regret any of it. Thank you for all that you have given me.
Hank closed the book with a snap and left the room. He strode down the corridors, passing the door to his own room to knock on Charles’s.
“You can come in, Hank.”
When Hank opened the door, he found the room in darkness. Charles was sitting by the window, watching the growing thunderstorm. Hank stepped into the room and closed the door as everything briefly lit up with a flash of lightning.
“What did your fortune cookie say?”
“I ... what?”
Charles looked as him as though he might be mad. Hank supposed that he might be. He felt on high alert, as though something important was going to happen, as though this really, really mattered in a way that he couldn’t explain but he had to know ...
“What did your fortune cookie say?” he repeated, almost fiercely now.
Charles gave an odd sigh and looked away from him. The thunder boomed outside.
“It said ...it said that I shouldn’t let the mistakes of the past hold me back. Raven wrote it because of something that I told her.”
“What did you tell her?”
“It really doesn’t matter, Hank.”
Charles still wasn’t looking at him. Hank moved closer until he was standing in front of him. Charles’s face was all shadows.
“I told her that perhaps it wasn’t so bad for you that you and I ... that your memories of us were gone. I wasn’t always a very good partner to you and yet you ... stayed. Sometimes I thought perhaps I ... that you stayed out of obligation, out of things that were built when ... when you didn’t believe you could leave me. And that without those memories holding you back, perhaps you would ... find something else. Something that might be better. I suppose Raven felt the need to disagree.”
The lightning flashed again, bleaching the shadows momentarily away into pure blue light. Charles looked pale and bleached and uncertain and Hank sank down onto his knees and kissed him.
Charles felt warm. His lips were dry until they parted and then Hank felt the wet of his mouth, the tenderness of it and he felt a heat spark inside him, a burning jolt that wanted, that needed and he pressed his lips tighter to Charles’s, clutching at his shoulders, trying to press their bodies together, despite the strange and awkward angle.
“Hank,” Charles breathed and his arms were round Hank’s neck, fingers tangling in his hair and Hank groaned into his mouth, wanting in a way that he had never imagined.
Are you sure? Are you really sure, I don’t want to force you, I, oh, my Hank ...
Charles’s mental voice sounded almost dizzy, as though he wasn’t in control, as though he didn’t really know what he was doing any more.. It made Hank shiver and he kissed Charles harder. Yes, he was sure, he was so sure because it was mad, it was all totally mad but it was right.
He felt the prickly rush over his skin that seemed to herald a transformation into the blue creature that he had mutated into. For a second, he tried to pull back but Charles’s grip tightened and he pressed his face into Hank’s neck, his breath coming in gasps.
“I’m not afraid, Hank. You won’t hurt me. Please.”
Hank kissed him again. He felt his teeth growing, felt fur sprouting on his skin but it wasn’t like the other time. This time it felt warm and heady, almost right. It was strangely easy to fit Charles between his larger, bulky arms. Charles seemed to know just how to keep kissing him, avoiding the sharp teeth with ease. He showed no signs of fear or revulsion. When Hank looked at him with his enhanced eyes, he could only see love.
The same love that he’d seen in his own eyes in that photograph.
“Show me how?” he whispered and Charles smiled.
It was a while before they spoke again – at least, spoke with words. Hank felt like they were speaking in a whole different way. They spoke with hands and kisses and panted gasps of pleasure and need. They spoke with the way Charles’s arms curled around him and the way he clung and the way Hank felt when they were pressed tight together, as though there was no one else in the world.
He’d never felt anything like it.
“Are you all right?” Charles asked him later, voice soft and sleepy.
“Yeah,” Hank said dreamily, staring at the ceiling.”Yeah. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
It wasn’t what he’d expected and yet somehow, it was everything he’d expected. Completely different and yet all that he’d dreamed of when he’d tried to picture how it would go. Everything was strange and different and yet ... yet it was wonderful.
He felt wonderful.
He drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the rain drumming on the windows and the soft sound of Charles’s peaceful breathing. It was a good feeling, to be close to somebody else like this. It was all a good feeling.
He woke properly when Charles gently pushed himself up. Hank opened his eyes and stared up at him, a little blearily. Charles was trying to smile as though everything was normal but Hank could see the uncertainty there. The fear that Hank might have changed his mind, might think that he’d made a mistake.
“Good morning,” he said, trying to sound very casual.
“Morning,” Hank said, sitting up. He took a deep breath, then reached out and touched Charles’s cheek. Charles blinked and then smiled widely, hopefully.
“You’re all right?”
“Yes,” Hank said. “Although you know, you’re going to have to put up with the fact that Jean will tell all the others that their plan to lock us in a room together worked, you know. They’ll all gloat.”
To his delight, Charles began to laugh and leaned into the touch, shaking his head slightly. Hank stared at him and wondered why he’d feared this so much. Wondered why he’d let things get in the way.
He knew why. He knew everything that had held him back. It still lurked inside him, the doubt, the uncertainty. The knowledge that people would look at him differently. The knowledge that people knew things about him and would judge him.
But maybe, maybe it wasn’t so bad to be judged sometimes. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to looked at when you knew that you were doing something that was good. That was all right. He could do that.
He could be brave.
He leaned in and put his cheek against Charles’s, holding him close. He felt Charles’s arms slip around him and they sat for a moment, just holding each other.
“I love you,” Charles said quietly.
“I ... I love you too,” he said and he knew that it was more true than anything else he’d said.
Hank’s head was pounding.
He didn’t quite dare open his eyes. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d done to himself but he had a feeling that it was pretty big. That something important had happened in the middle of that banging headache, something significant. Had he messed up an experiment?
“He’s awake. Hank?”
“Charles?” he mumbled.
“Yes, love. Can you tell me the date?”
The date? What did Charles want to know the date for? He dug through his aching brain, trying to work it out. Everything seemed strangely on the surface, there were so many memories to push aside to try and work things out, memories of Cuba and New York like they had only happened yesterday ...
“It’s March,” he said, finally finding what he was sure was right. “The 9th March, 1984.”
Charles made a small noise like a sob and Hank opened his eyes because he didn’t want his Charles to make a sound like that, he didn’t want Charles to cry, why would Charles be crying? Had he got it wrong? Had he made some sort of mistake?
“Charles?” he said and then he remembered, he remembered everything in a bizarre flood of knowledge; the memories of remembering nothing and then everything that had come after. He remembered the confusion. He remembered how lost he’d been. And he remembered finding his way again.
He looked at Charles’s tired face and reached up a clumsy blue paw to touch it.
“I remember,” he said. “I remember everything.”
“I’m glad,” Charles said. “I’m so glad. I’m so ... I’m so glad.”
He was shaking slightly. Hank lifted himself up to a better position, noticing that his headache was already receding as the memories seemed to settle, as everything began to make sense again. Charles was smiling at him, a smile of utter relief. Hank touched his face again. He didn’t bother trying to find the right words for what he wanted to say or the right way to say them. He just opened his mind and let it swell there for Charles to read.
I never regretted how we came to be/I love you/never felt obliged/any wrong you ever did me I forgave years ago/love you ...
Charles closed his eyes for a moment. Then he wrapped his arms around Hank’s neck and Hank held him close and stroked his back, making the soft purring noise that he knew Charles adored.
“Hey! Does that mean Doctor McCoy’s okay and that it worked? Can I go tell everybody? C’mon, everybody’s dying to know out there, they’re just pretending to be polite and not interrupt.”
Hank had to hide his face in Charles’s shoulder so that Peter wouldn’t see him grinning. He heard Charles made a sound that was between a sigh and a laugh.
“Yes, Peter. You can tell everybody that everything is all right now.”