Hank knew, of course, that a world in which Erik Lehnsherr walked – or, he supposed, floated – free was by definition a world in which Erik Lehnsherr showed up periodically at Charles Xavier’s door – or porch, or window, or balcony, if he were feeling like a particularly dickish Romeo (which he usually was) – to cause trouble. He had not necessarily expected “periodically” to mean “eleven months after the White House incident,” given that the nationwide manhunt for “the mutant terrorist going by the name of Magneto” was still going strong. Still, Erik had never exactly been known for his tactical prowess.
“Oh,” Hank said, straightening up from where he crouching on Charles’ balcony, and brushing off his hands. “It’s you.”
Erik looked less than pleased that his dramatic entrance had been spoiled.
“It’s the middle of the night,” he growled. “What are you doing in Charles’ – bedroom.”
Hank looked at him.
“Adjusting the satellite reception,” he said. Erik, who was still floating a few feet away from the balcony, blinked.
“It’s always fuzzy,” Hank added deliberately, and Erik twitched a finger at the antenna.
“There,” he said, glowering. “Now move out of the way.”
Romance, Hank thought, and obliged.
The school didn’t have very many students yet, partially because they didn’t have any accreditation and partially because Charles had spent ten years stoned out of his mind and had forgotten how to pretend his default setting wasn’t unintentional lechery. Hank wished there were some way to explain to the parents of the mutant children in question that he didn’t really mean it, that he didn’t actually want to – well, but the only real explanation for Charles was that he was just – kind of a prick, which probably wouldn’t have helped anything.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on where you were standing – there were enough parents who simply could not deal with their unruly mutant children anymore that Charles had enough pupils to keep himself occupied. Regrettably this also meant that the kids they wound up with were almost all terrors, with only a couple of exceptions. Hank liked those students. He appreciated them deeply.
“Fucking – asswipe – punks,” Alex had taken to muttering, glaring at all of the preteens running around, causing mayhem. It had taken him around three days to go from smirking at them in solidarity, in recognition of his own, to hating their guts. And thus was born adulthood.
“Remember when Charles was teaching all of us?” Hank said to him one night, when they were sitting on the dumpy couch in Hank’s basement wing of the mansion, feet kicked up, watching grainy reruns of Star Trek and eating Pringles.
“I try to forget,” Alex said, not entirely joking, since most everybody else had, by this point, died.
“I don’t think he’s very good at… teaching,” Hank said, and Alex snorted.
“He’s crap,” he said. “But that’s not going to stop him.” He looked over. “He’s an asshole who won’t take no for an answer, he can literally read your mind, and he’s got money.”
This, Hank reflected, hit the nail on the head.
Mostly what Charles did was pontificate at the kids, prattling on meaninglessly over their heads while they ignored him and messed around, until he got suddenly very intense and focused in on them one at a time, at which point they cowered and couldn’t do anything but pay attention to him, since he was inside their brains. It wasn’t really a fair fight, but then, it never was, with Charles.
Hank, of course, was immune to his dubious charms by this point. He had seen him at his worst. He had more blackmail material than anybody else who knew either of them could possibly dream of, and Charles knew it.
Sometimes, Hank thought with a kind of grim satisfaction that did not come naturally to him but which had been a necessary and inevitable result of that last decade, Charles looked at him with something approaching fear, and Hank felt reassured about his place in the world. It didn’t happen often, because Charles didn’t actually enter reality very often. But it happened sometimes.
It had taken them a shockingly short period of time to get the mansion back into some semblance of order, and it was only a few months after that that their first students had arrived, along with Alex and his twerpy little brother, whom Hank disliked immediately.
“Long time, no see,” Alex had said, and grinned like the asshole he had always been. But Hank, who had been stuck alone with Charles in a moldering house for ten years, had been very, very happy to see him.
The real trouble was what to tell the students about Magneto, whom they had all, of course, seen attempt to murder the president on national television, and whom they were mostly either deeply terrified of or deeply unsettled by, or some combination of the two. One or two of the older boys had initially expressed some kind of admiration for his mutant supremacist ideals but had quickly given up on that line of thinking when Charles had done his staring intently thing and told them that they must always choose the better path and also that Magneto was an asshole who didn’t know what he was talking about and that he had terrible dress sense.
He actually had said that, was the thing. “Look at what he’ll force you to wear if you join his cause,” he’d exhorted, shaking a newspaper at them. “Look.” (In his defense, it was a pretty compelling argument.)
Charles was improving, sort of, maybe, but he was still basically a dick.
But kids, Hank was learning, were also not stupid, which meant that they figured out pretty quick that there was something going on besides just a difference of political opinion where Erik was concerned, although he was pretty sure they had absolutely no idea what that was. One of the younger girls walked in on Charles watching a news report about Erik once, complete with old footage of him floating around like the smug asshole that he was, blinking tearily at the screen.
“I remember when he could barely move a satellite dish,” Charles had said, dreamily, and the girl had looked up at Hank with an expression of extreme confusion on her face, clutching at her composition notebook. She was one of the few good ones.
“Maybe later,” Hank had muttered, forcing her bodily out of the room.
Living with Charles, Hank often reflected, had also turned him into a jerk. It was really unfair, because he’d stayed out of – loyalty, and – duty, or something. And all that had happened was his becoming awful.
But not as awful as Charles. Which was what was important.
“That dude,” Alex said one night, vaguely drunk and definitely stoned, “has got such a fucking hateboner for that guy it is not even funny.”
“A what?” Hank said fuzzily. There were patches of blue hair sprouting up on his arm and vanishing again. He thought that what being on acid looked like, if you were – normal. And on acid. Which he wasn’t.
“A hate. Boner,” Alex said, with the overly precise enunciation of the severely intoxicated. “Wants to – bang him five ways into next week. Is that the expression? I can’t remember. If that’s the expression.” He paused. “Oh, shit. Can he get it up? Can Prof X get it up?”
“Yes,” Hank said.
“Oh, gross,” Alex said in tones of deep horror, toppling back into his armchair and throwing one arm over his face. “Why do you know that? Why do you know? Ten years in this house! All! Alone!”
“That,” Hank said, “is. Disgusting. That is. Disgusting. I know because of – science, okay, there are – science – reasons – ugh, shut up –” Alex was cackling to himself, halfway out of his chair.
“Anyway,” Hank muttered, sullen. “Yes. Well enough. Though obviously there are – complicating factors. I’m not going to go into it. With you. Right now.”
“Hate bonerrrrrr,” Alex said, singsong. “He wants to fuck himmmmm. He wants to have his little mutant ragey babiesssss.”
“You’re so annoying,” Hank told him. “You used to just be all – angry. Stop – mocking me.”
“Too stoned,” Alex said, sounding sage. “Nothing else to do.”
“Too bad they can’t have babies,” he said a long moment later. “That’d fix everything. Boom. Done. Everything settled.”
“No,” Hank said grimly. “It would make everything a hundred times worse.”
“Well,” Alex said. “They’re both dudes, so, unless one of them has a secret – baby-making gene –”
And then they both started giggling so hard that Alex fell out of his chair and Hank choked beer up his nose.
Still, Hank thought. It was lucky.
Of course, he did not at that point know about Peter.
Which complicated things.
Hank led Erik down the hallway to Charles’ study. It was a long walk, which was awkward, because Erik was sulking over his spoiled entrance, and also because he was dressed like a space alien, which was just – weird. Hank had had a lot of time to think about this over the past ten years, even though Erik’s previous stint as a space alien wannabe had been relatively brief, and he had yet to come up with any kind of good explanation for it, except for the obvious and self-evident one, which was that Erik was a self-obsessed drama queen. But there were so very many, many ways that could have – and, indeed, had – manifested that were… not. That.
They ran into Alex, naturally, at the top of the stairs. “Oh look, it’s the asshole,” he said, totally unfazed by Erik’s presence. Sometimes Alex got weird and quiet and went off into the woods, which Hank assumed was when he actually – really thought about Vietnam, but for the most part it was pretty difficult to faze him. He lived in a house full of pre-adolescent and adolescent mutant children whose parents had been so run ragged by them that they had let a strange lecherous Englishman take them away to his mansion in the woods. You had to build up nerves of steel to survive that, Hank thought.
Also, there was Scott. Which.
Erik glowered and drew himself up even further, trying to look – more imposing, Hank supposed.
“I gotta see this,” was all Alex said, as he followed them down the hallway. “Hey, Erik, I hear you killed the president.”
“I did not –” Erik started, aggravated, and then cut himself off, huffing. “It’s Magneto, Havoc.”
“God, you are just as annoying as I remember,” Alex said.
“I could kill you with that wall sconce,” Erik told him snidely, but Alex just shrugged.
“Yeah, but you won’t, because it would make Charles sad,” he said. “And I know you like to, like, destroy cities to get his attention or whatever, but unless you think the fate of mutantkind is at stake, I know for a fact that you don’t like to make him sad.”
Erik looked like he was maybe thinking about strangling him with his actual hands. The helmet wasn’t doing him any favors on the dignity front.
“Besides,” Alex continued, “it’s sort of hard to take your threats seriously when you’re dressed like a cross between a gladiator and something from Star Trek.”
All the sconces in the hallway crumpled, leaving them in darkness.
“Not cool, man,” Alex said. “Not cool.”
“This is unbearable,” Erik said. “One more word –”
“And here we are!” Hank interrupted, grabbing the doorknob of the study door and slamming it open.
“Hmm?” Charles said vaguely, looking up from his book as they all shuffled in. The Princess Bride, Hank saw. Apropos. “Oh. Oh my.”
“Charles,” Erik said ominously, suddenly seeming to take up more space than he had previously.
“Erik,” Charles said, and beamed. “I was wondering when you’d stop by.”
That deflated him a bit.
Hank glanced at Alex. Hateboner? he mouthed.
Boner, Alex mouthed back, looking vaguely sickened.
“I am not – stopping by,” Erik intoned.
“He floated by, actually,” Hank muttered.
“Saves on gas, I hear,” Alex said. “Too bad we can’t all do it. Oil crisis, sorted out like that.”
“I am going to murder you in your sleep,” Erik told him.
“Oh, stop being such a prick,” Charles said. “They’re only teasing you because they missed having you around.”
Hank and Alex shot each other an alarmed look. Charles’ powers of self-delusion were really pretty impressive, Hank thought, for someone who could read minds.
“I have risked my safety and well-being,” Erik began again, sounding typically self-important, “to make – inquiries – about a particular, ah. Mutant. In your care.” He paused. “He came with you to break me out of prison.”
“Peter?” Charles asked, curious. “Whatever do you want with him? Don’t you dare try to recruit him for whatever terrible terrorist organization you’re working on setting up now, I’ll have your head on a platter. I’m very fond of him, you know, and also he is more than enough trouble as it is. I can assure you right now with total confidence that if you tried to get him to – commit terrorism – that you would just wind up in a bigger mess than you had planned in the first place.” He paused. “Although that does seem to be your modus operandi, does it not?”
“I have an – interest – in Peter Maximoff,” Erik said, somewhat grudgingly, glaring. “A – familial – interest –”
Everybody stared at him.
“In that – mutantkind is one – large – family –” Erik said valiantly, if pathetically.
“Oh, shit,” Alex said. “No way. No way.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Hank muttered.
“So much makes sense now,” Charles said, an expression of absolutely unholy glee on his face. “He’s such an utterly unbearable young man, and yet oddly winning. Thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Delusions of grandeur on a large scale. Just an absolutely horrific sweet tooth.”
Erik looked vaguely guilty for a moment.
“Wait,” said Alex. “What?”
Everything, Hank thought, was so weird.
“No wonder he’s related to you,” Charles continued, gloating unabashedly now. “The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree.”
“I thought you were learning to be charitable, Charles,” Erik said, smiling stiffly. Hank couldn’t be sure but he thought it looked like he was starting to sweat under his helmet.
“It’s a process,” Charles replied, smiling blithely. “There are at least twelve steps. I’m trying not to, you know. Rush into anything.”
“I’m sorry, I need to be absolutely certain that I understand what’s happening,” Hank said. “Erik, are you – Peter’s – dad?”
Erik didn’t say anything, just continued to glower. He did not look remotely imposing anymore, just like a weird man wearing a strange old helmet and body armor and an asymmetrical cape.
“Looks like you two kids managed to make a baby after all,” Alex said, and hurtled down when a candelabra shot across the room directly at his head.
It was the sort of thing, Hank thought, that would probably have given lots of veterans traumatic flashbacks, though that was very much not the sort of thing that Erik would ever have thought about, in spite of his own background (about which Hank, having lived alone with Charles for ten years, now knew an excruciating level of detail).
Alex just blew a hole in the wall, and then smirked.
“That’s going to cost an awful lot of money to repair,” Charles said mildly. “I hope you’re good for the damage, Erik. You wouldn’t want to back out of your responsibility, now would you.”
His wheelchair rattled.
The next day was a Saturday, and so everybody was permitted to sleep in as long as they wanted, which meant that the four of them found themselves sitting around the table in the kitchen drinking coffee at nine in the morning while all of the students were still in bed.
“He won’t be up until at least eleven,” Charles told Erik, who looked particularly ridiculous today for having slept in his stupid Star Trek clothes, and also, evidently, his helmet. He was drinking his coffee black and not eating anything with the grim determination of somebody nursing the world’s worst hangover, which Hank thought was maybe not far off the mark, metaphorically speaking. “Possibly as late as one.”
“Should we maybe have Erik wait somewhere – else?” Hank said once his brain had come online. “Since we’ve spent all this time explaining to everybody about how he’s like. The worst thing that could ever happen to them and that if he ever tries to seduce him to his cause they have to run screaming in the other direction?”
Erik gave Charles a look.
“I have a lot of years of built-up resentment that I’m working through,” he said primly. “Also your terrible terrorist organizations are terrible, and they shouldn’t ever join them, if they value their lives, and that is a fact. So there.”
“I suppose,” Erik said portentously, “that you would simply rather be wiped out by the government than stand up for your own –”
“Oh would you just shut the fuck up,” Alex said. “It’s too early for this.”
None of them heard the door open. Hank’s favorite pupil, the girl who had walked in on Charles gazing dreamily at Erik on television, was standing in the doorway.
“What’s he doing here,” she squeaked.
“I’m here to seduce you to my terrible terrorist organization,” Erik said, and then smiled with all his teeth. And that was it, Hank thought, remembering it all with a sudden clarity; that was why he had stayed with Charles lo these many years. Because as much of a dick as Charles was, Erik was so much fucking worse.
The girl stared at him for a moment before straightening up and saying, in her small voice, “No, thank you. I don’t believe in your principles.”
Alex threw himself back in his chair and crowed. Charles looked criminally pleased with himself, and Hank suspected – he suspected, though he was not entirely certain – that Erik was actually trying not to smile. That would be a first, he thought. The last time he’d seen Erik smile properly had been – what, eleven years ago, back when he and Charles had wandered around moonily making eyes at each other all day, and even then he hadn’t exactly smiled much, mostly stared intensely. Still.
“Bravo, Carolina,” Charles said. “Go have a bagel. There’s a love.”
She scurried around them, giving them a wide berth and trying not to stare too obviously at Erik, while Alex wheezed and dried his eyes.
“What’s that expression?” Charles said innocently. “Out of the mouths of babes?”
“Fuck off, Charles,” Erik said, and over his shoulder, Hank saw Carolina freeze, looking even more scandalized.
Everything about Erik, he reflected, was just such a disaster. But without him Charles had basically no reason for existing, and so here they were, sitting in the kitchen at nine on a Saturday morning with a man dressed like a gladiator from space. You had to pick your battles.
Peter’s arrival was heralded, around 11:30, by the door slamming open, seemingly for no reason at all. By this point they were all sitting around catatonically, staring at nothing, Erik having slid partway down his chair some time earlier, his head tilted back over his chair, which made his helmet look even more ridiculous. It would probably, Hank reflected, be pretty easy to just – pop it off, but there was really no point.
“Hey, Mag-nee-to,” Peter said, popping up in front of the refrigerator for a second and shooting him finger guns. “Long time no see.”
“Peter,” Erik said dryly, pushing himself up straight.
“That’s me,” Peter said from the other side of the kitchen. Erik blinked. Charles was smirking, far too pleased with himself. But the simple fact of the matter was that they were all very, very used to Peter’s antics by this point, although it had taken... some time.
“No lag time in the morning, then, I see,” Erik said.
“Nope,” Peter said, popping the “p.” He was holding a heaping bowl of some disgusting sugared cereal that Alex wasn’t supposed to buy but did anyway, which was why they all liked him more than they liked Hank.
“Yeah,” Alex liked to say. “That’s the only reason.”
“Do you ever get indigestion?” Erik asked, as the cereal vanished at a pace so rapid watching it made Hank feel vaguely ill. He usually tried to avoid watching Peter eat for precisely this reason, but this was a special circumstance.
“Never,” Peter said cheerfully. “Everything about me is fast, man.”
“Charming,” Erik said.
“So,” Peter said from the other side of the room, and Erik looked thrown for a loop again. “What’s going on? How’s terrorism?”
A muscle in Erik’s cheek twitched – or Hank thought it did, anyway; the helmet made it difficult to tell.
“Oh, do you prefer freedom fighter?” Charles asked.
“Commando,” Peter suggested, mouth going round on the “o.”
“I have come,” Erik said, turning back to where Peter had been standing –
“What’s this do, anyway?” Peter asked, turning the helmet over in his hands. “Fashion statement? It’s super ugly, I gotta tell you, so I don’t really get it if that’s all that’s going on, if you know what I mean.” He tossed it up and the air and toggled it back and forth between his index fingers so fast it seemed to be a floating blur.
Erik looked like he was about to have an aneurism. Charles was collapsed sideways on his chair, heaving with silent laughter.
“It keeps my thoughts,” Erik growled, “protected. From telepaths.”
“Ohhhh,” said Peter, and tossed it up in the air. The next thing Hank saw it was on his head. “Feels about the same to me.”
“Charles is very good at being subtle,” Erik said. “Aren’t you, Charles.”
“He’s actually – not,” Hank muttered, not because he liked Erik but because watching anybody proceed under such a fundamentally misguided set of assumptions was painful.
“Excuse you,” Charles exclaimed.
“You only think that because you never know when he is in your head,” Erik said, looking manic.
“No,” Hank said firmly. “Trust me. He just barely ever bothers.”
“I do – not – I – Hank!” Charles spluttered, turning red.
“That is objectively true,” Alex said.
“Sometimes he freezes me but the only time he got into my head he got a migraine,” Peter said, grinning with the peaceful expression of the profoundly insane.
“Motion sickness,” Charles explained.
“Peter,” Erik said, loudly and with sudden authority, “I have something to discuss with you.”
“Terrorism?” Peter asked. Charles looked suddenly worried.
“No,” Erik said portentously. “Something much more –”
“Eh, not interested,” Peter said, and then he was gone, helmet landing with a clunk on the table in front of them.
“Your progeny,” Charles told him. “You should be proud, he’s evidently only interested in terrorism.”
Erik looked like he’d been hit by a truck.
“You gonna bother with that?” Alex asked, gesturing at the helmet with half a piece of toast. “Cause it looks super uncomfortable, dude.”
Erik glared at him and waved a hand theatrically, spinning the helmet around and floating it towards him.
“Drama queen,” Charles muttered as it landed gently on his head.
Peter, Charles said, was down in the gymnasium on the other side of the complex, and so Hank and Alex found themselves walking behind him and Erik over the grass down to the building, in the dappled sunlight under the trees.
“Well isn’t this idyllic,” Alex muttered. Normally, if Charles had wanted to get down to the gym, he would have had to take the long winding cement pathway, but Erik was floating the wheelchair next to him as they bickered, so they were all walking along a more direct route.
His cape was billowing in the spring breeze.
“I don’t get why they don’t just get over themselves,” Hank muttered, folding his arms in front of him and hunching his shoulders.
“They get off on it,” Alex said sagely. “I told you. Hateboner. Except – ugh. Not even. Xavier likes playing righteous asshole and Erik likes playing righteous dickwad. They’re a match made in heaven but it’s all – Romeo and Juliet shit, right.”
“I think Erik just doesn’t want to settle down,” Hank said, having thought about it, and Alex snickered.
“He’s tied to no man,” he muttered. “Except for how he, like. Totally is.”
“I guess being in a relationship means having to compromise about things,” Hank said, and they both considered this for a moment.
“Impossible,” Alex said. “Never gonna happen.”
“Nope,” Hank agreed.
They did indeed find Peter in the gym, though he and the basketballs he was playing with were little more than a terrifying blur. Sometimes Peter sat around and watched television for hours at a time and sometimes he did… this.
Teenagers, Hank thought wearily.
“You again,” Peter said, his voice a ghostly echo from no distinguishable physical body.
“Yes,” Charles said. “Us again, indeed.”
“You bringing him into the fold or something?” Peter asked, appearing bodily for a moment. Erik still looked vaguely constipated. He’d get used to it if he stuck around long enough, but he probably wouldn’t. Or maybe he’d steal Peter away somehow, which would be really unfortunate, because then Charles would have to find Peter using Cerebro and Hank and Alex would have to go track him down, and Charles would be left alone with the rest of the students, which would be – not good.
“No,” Erik said.
“Bummer,” Peter said, and vanished again. Two of the basketballs slammed across the gym, bouncing off of opposite walls. They all jumped, except for Charles, who twitched.
“Peter,” Charles said, “Erik has something to talk to you about, and if you don’t come here and listen to him I will not hesitate to make you do it.”
“Can’t make me listen,” Peter argued. “You can make me stand but you can’t make me listen.”
“Peter,” Charles said. “I’m a telepath.”
“Okay, fine,” Peter said, appearing in front of them with his arms crossed, slouching in the way of teenagers. “What’s up, big man?”
Erik worked his jaw. “You – made a comment to me,” he said. “About your – mother.”
“Yeah, what about her? Nothing happened to her, did it?” He paused for a moment, eyes wide. “You didn’t do any – terrorism things, to her, did you? Cause I will kill you, man –”
“No, I did not do terrorism things to her,” Erik said, sounding disgusted. “She is – perfectly fine. We had a… brief chat.”
“Oh, okay,” Peter said, relaxing immediately.
“You said your mother… knew someone… who could… control metal… once…” Erik said meaningfully, lingering over the words. Peter blinked up at him, eyes gloriously, frighteningly blank.
“Yep,” he said.
“Oh, dear,” Charles murmured to himself.
“Your mother… knew a man… who could control metal…” Erik repeated, emphatically.
“Yeah, I know,” Peter said. “So?”
Erik let out a long sigh.
“I need some fucking popcorn,” Alex muttered.
“It was me, you idiot,” Erik said.
“Oh, gross,” Peter said. “That is disgusting. Why would you tell me that? I don’t want to know those things. Come on, dude! Come on!”
Erik stared at him. “Are you serious,” he said. “Are you – serious.”
“Yeah I’m serious,” Peter said, face screwed up. “Who wants to hear that about their mom? Ugh! God!”
“Charles,” Erik said, sounding strangled.
“You’re on your own, my friend,” Charles said, leaning back in his seat. “There was a time I would have helped you, but then you paralyzed me and left me for dead. I’m still working through the trauma.”
“I hate you,” Erik told him.
“You do not,” Charles said, beatific.
It was really unsettling, Hank thought, looking at the three of them standing there, and thinking back over the course of the morning’s events, how, even though Peter was obviously not related to Charles in any way, he still really, really seemed like he had been made from distilled portions of Charles’ and Erik’s personalities. They were all such insufferable assholes. Peter, at least, had the excuse of being a teenager, but probably he would grow up to be an asshole of an adult. This was just what happened.
“Did you ever have a father around?” Erik prompted impatiently.
“No, my mom always said my father was an asshole who wasn’t worth talking about, except then she did sometimes talk about how much of an asshole he was, so, not exactly following her own rules, huh,” Peter said.
“Wise woman,” Charles said, and then, “foul play!” when Erik jerked his wheelchair over a foot to the side.
“Do you really have no idea where this is going,” Erik said flatly.
“No idea,” Peter said, smiling, utterly clueless, and Alex collapsed into a silent, shaking fit of laughter into Hank’s side.
“I’m your father, Peter,” Erik said, a little too loudly. “Put two and two together.”
“No,” he said.
“Yes,” Erik said.
“No,” he said again.
“I’m afraid so, Peter,” Charles said.
“But he’s a – terrorist,” Peter said. It was funny, Hank thought, remembering how congenially he had used the word earlier that morning, how changeable teenagers were.
“Ah,” Charles said. “Well. Yes.”
“My dad is… a terrorist,” Peter said. “I always thought he was just like. A used car salesman. Or something.”
“A used car salesman,” Charles said.
“A used car salesman from Reno in D.C. on business my mom hooked up with at a bar one time,” Peter said very quickly.
“What?” Erik said.
“Why would a used car salesman from Nevada be in Washington D.C. on business,” Hank asked.
“Did your mother tell you that?” Charles asked, sounding boggled.
“No!” Peter said, voice steadily raising in pitch and volume. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this! In my head he looked like Cary Grant and was wearing a plaid sport coat!”
“There are no used car salesmen who look like Cary Grant, Peter,” Charles said.
“This got weird real fucking fast,” Alex said.
“I’m going for a walk!” Peter shouted, and the door slammed behind him.
“Well,” Charles said after a long pause. “That could have gone worse. I suppose.”
“Something could be on fire,” Alex said helpfully, which was his usual metric for things going poorly. “Erik could have smushed the building.”
“Shut up,” Erik snapped.
“Reno,” Hank said, baffled.
Fifteen minutes into Charles and Erik bickering about Peter for the sake of bickering, Hank left Alex to watch them and let himself out of the gym to go hunt him down. If Peter really didn’t want to be found, it was, obviously, completely impossible to find him, but he was a teenager and so he really just wanted people to pay attention to him, Hank was pretty sure. He wasn’t exactly a genius at psychology but if he had learned one thing from wrangling a bunch of teens and preteens for the last six months, it was that they all just wanted you to pay attention to them, always. This was the cardinal rule.
He found him all the way on the other side of the property, about as far away from the mansion as you could go in the other direction, sitting under a tree, with his legs pulled up to his chest, shoulders hunched.
Hank hated being the most emotionally competent adult around. He was terrible at emotions. This should not have been his job. But everybody else was so, so much worse.
He sat down tentatively a few feet away from Peter. He didn’t think he’d ever seen him this still for this long. Even when he was watching TV he always – moved. A lot. He was really just an incredibly exhausting person.
It made a lot of sense that Erik was his dad, but he was not about to tell him that. There was no real way to explain that even though Erik was an asshole and Hank didn’t remotely like him, he was just – Erik. It was impossible to hate him for any sustained period of time, even though he did things like try to kill you and your friends for stupid political reasons. He was just a psychopath, but underneath all of that psychopathy was a ridiculous person who insisted on wearing a cape and floated Charles’ wheelchair around because he wanted to have his – stupid impossible mutant babies.
Hank thought it often, but it was true: he had lived in that house alone with Charles for ten very, very long years. Nothing fazed him anymore.
“He’s not really – that bad,” was what he said to Peter instead of all of this.
Peter sniffled, and Hank glanced over. He was – crying. He was crying. Hank was not equipped to deal with this. He could deal with the little kids crying. “Mama Hank,” Alex called him at those moments, smirking, when they bawled and came over to him for a hug and he awkwardly patted them on the back and, if nobody else was around, gave Alex the finger where they couldn’t see. But – teenagers crying was something else.
“Um,” Hank said, eloquently.
“He’s a terrorist,” Peter said, voice wobbling a little.
“Terrorism isn’t… that bad…” Hank said, sort of weakly. “I mean, we broke into the Pentagon, which wasn’t exactly – legal.”
“We didn’t kill anybody!” Peter said. “I don’t think. Did we kill anybody?”
“I can’t really remember,” Hank said.
Peter’s shoulders slumped. Hank sighed.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s complicated. Erik is… Erik. He’s just sort of – what he is.”
“I thought Prof X hated him,” Peter mumbled. “Because of the – terrorist stuff. And the – paralysis.”
“No,” Hank told him. “He wants to bang him.”
Peter looked somewhere between horrified and disgusted.
“I know,” Hank said. “It’s gross.”
“Why?” Peter asked, horrified.
“They’ve got a Romeo and Juliet thing going on,” Hank said. “He didn’t do anything for ten years except talk about him – and his sister; that's another story – but mostly about Erik and how much he hated him and would have killed him if he could have. Which was mostly, like. Him telling me everything he knew about Erik in great detail. Repeatedly. For ten years.”
Peter’s face curdled.
“Yeah,” Hank said. “Probably Erik spent all his years in solitary confinement doing the same thing, except to himself.”
The real surprise, he thought suddenly, given the whole – prison. Situation. Was really that Erik hadn’t gone crazier.
“Anyway, he’s not all bad,” Hank said. “Just sort of – nuts.”
Peter curled his arms around his legs more tightly and rested his chin on his knees. “I don’t want to kill anybody,” he said in a small voice.
“Nobody’s going to make you kill anybody,” Hank told him, and watched as he worried his lip.
“But,” he started, and then stopped. “What if,” he started again, and didn’t finish.
“Just cause he’s your dad doesn’t mean you’re going to – turn out like him,” Hank said awkwardly. “I thought I was gonna be a – monster, or something. Because of. You know. But I think I turned out okay. Not a monster, anyway.”
Peter blinked up at him, bleary-eyed. “You’re not a monster,” he said, sounding baffled
“Yeah, well,” Hank said. “Just try not to get arrested too many more times and you’ll probably be fine.”
They found Charles and Erik waiting for them outside the mansion, with Alex leaning against the side of the building, looking like he was watching some kind of theatrical production. Hank decided not to think about what the rest of the kids must be doing, and hoped that whatever it was wasn’t causing too much property damage.
“There you are,” Charles said. Peter was looking sullen – which was not actually very characteristic.
“I realize,” Erik ground out, “that this may have come as something of a shock.”
“No shit, dumbass,” Peter said, and he winced.
“Nevertheless,” he continued, pushing through, “I would like to – extend an invitation to you. To come with me. And join the Brotherhood. I feel that it is my – duty – as your –”
“Isn’t that your like. Terrorist club,” Peter said.
“It’s not a club,” Erik said. “It’s a radical movement.”
“Amazing,” Alex said from behind them. “Amazing.”
“Yeah, I think I’m good,” Peter said, and Erik sort of – deflated. Charles was looking up at him almost – shrewdly. Charles never looked shrewd, though he probably thought he did, often. Charles’ conception of himself and how he actually behaved were just so very, very different.
“You could just stop by to visit occasionally,” he said dryly. “Perhaps engage in some father-son bonding time before immediately asking him to start killing people with you.”
Hank watched as Erik very obviously forcibly stopped himself from protesting that that would be father-son bonding time. Erik, he reflected, was really so magnificently fucked up.
“I suppose,” he ground out, “I could – try. To do that.”
“Isn’t this sickeningly sweet,” Alex said. “I’m just about to cry.”
“Shut up, Summers,” Erik told him. He looked very uncomfortable all of the sudden. He was missing, Hank realized, a mission.
“Well,” he continued suddenly. “I should go. I have – urgent business. To attend to.”
They all looked at him. He cleared his throat.
“You’re lying,” Charles said, straight up.
“You can’t read my mind,” Erik protested, but it was half-hearted. “I’ve got my – helmet on –”
“Oh, so you’re impenetrable to anything except mindreading, now,” Charles said.
“Yes,” Erik growled.
“Grow up,” Charles told him. “Come have lunch. And do take that ridiculous thing off, you owe me at least a few minutes of getting to mock your helmet hair.”
Erik scowled, but reached up, and took the helmet off – with his actual hands, this time – and then stood there looking hunted for a minute before Charles reached up and patted his hand before starting to wheel himself forward, which seemed to snap him out of it, since he hurried along after him and the chair started floating again.
“Oh, man,” Peter said, looking nauseated. “You were right.”
“Hank’s always right,” Alex told him, walking over to them to watch as Charles and Erik made their way back up the path toward the French doors to the kitchen. “It’s disgusting.”
“Boners left and right,” Hank said mildly, and Peter made a theatrical gagging motion, compete with sound effects, before zooming off after them.
“Idyllic,” Alex said again, leaning into him and leering, and Hank turned pink.