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untie the balloons around my neck and ground me

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Charles Xavier says, how would you like to find more people like you?

Alex Summers, fresh out of jail, says, sure. By this he means, there are no people like me, but whatever, the air is crisp and clear and he's freshly-showered and everything's fine, right. Everything’s great. (It beats solitary. Maybe.)

Armando Muñoz holds the car door open for him and says, you'd better be a decent driver.

Alex stole cars for a summer. Sure, he says. I can drive.

--

Alex has this dream: chains on his ankles, on his wrists. Scott’s saying, Alex, Alex, Alex but he's drifting, floating away, and Alex can't follow him, because Alex is bound firmly to earth, Alex is stuck, Alex is-- lost and screaming, everything he ever wanted gone.

Alex has issues, okay. There is a reason he never got any visitors in jail.

It sucks. It’s not like he even has anything to lose, these days. And yet: he keeps dreaming.

--

Alex wakes up in a shitty motel, sheets stuck fast around his left leg and strewn loose around the rest of him; looks around hoping for minimal to no carnage-- no plaster's falling from the ceiling. His skin's cool when he touches his chest, everything's looking functional so far—he’s hoping he didn't scream, either; solitary didn't exactly teach him good room-sharing etiquette.

Hi,
he says, heart sticking in his mouth.

Hey,
Armando says, let's play pool, which is a nice way of ignoring Alex's eyes (bloodshot, too red) and Alex's skin (damp, dripping with sweat). He gets up, walking past Alex's bed in pajama pants and yesterday's t-shirt. His hand trails for just a moment along the line of Alex's shoulder, warm and comfortable, and Alex resists the urge to grab on, to say, don't let me go.

Instead, he says, I’m going to kick your ass this time.

Armando laughs, low and velvet. Yeah, he says. You keep on thinking that.

--

"Technically," Armando says, "I’m responsible for you. Did you know that? It’s because you're not in jail right now, and I’m older than you."

It stings more than it was supposed to; Alex hits him in the shoulder. Shut up, he thinks, and I’m still hungry.

"Okay, fine," Armando says. "Cherry pie, right?"

Alex almost says, how did you know that, you’re not a telepath, but he figures it's sort of obvious what with the eyes he’s been making at the display counter, so he leans back against squeaky vinyl and sips his Coke.

Armando buys him pie with ice cream, best ever. The grin he throws Alex over the top of it means, next time you're buying but also, sorry about that.

--

Their first mutant is a blind girl, Irene, whose sunglasses remind Alex of Scott's. Not this time, she says, sorry, boys. I’ll be seeing you around.

She sits and has coffee with them, though.

They're trying to figure out if Armando can drink all the coffee without getting wired or if his mutation only works in life-threatening circumstances, but they get bored before they can finish the experiment. (Armando mimics Charles Xavier; it's important to finish things if you can and both of them crack up laughing.)

Irene's funny and pleasant and before she leaves for class she presses a hand to Armando's collarbone, leans in and whispers in his ear.

Alex raises his left shoulder; what was that about?

Armando-- Darwin-- blinks, stares after her for a long moment, then shrugs. Nothing important, man.

--

Armando’s really touchy-feely; not in a weird way, just in that he uses his hands when he talks, touches Alex’s shoulder to make a statement, emphasise his point.

It’s a little weird getting used to it, after solitary. His skin isn’t used to sunlight, let alone someone else’s, but it’s—at first, he stares at Armando’s hands on his shoulder, wrist, hip; now he’s just used to it, now it’s just warmth that runs through his veins. (Now it’s comfortable, a reminder that he’s out here, that he’s a person.)

He feels like he should mention it, in case Armando’s—unaware. “You touch me a lot,” he observes, outside a diner with the taste of coffee in his teeth, Armando’s arm slung around his shoulders.

Armando blinks at him, leaning back a little, hint of worry in the brown of his irises. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” Alex says. The speed of it startles him. “No, I just—thought you should know.” (The first guy he kissed freaked out right after, never spoke to him again, and Ian had been paler than pale. Alex knows who he is, likes what he is, but it’s less shit for him, this line he and Armando are walking.)

Armando’s smile is gentle and careful and wide. “Of course I know, Alex.” His thumb brushes along the side of Alex’s throat, and they’re in the sun, in a world full of people, and it’s the nicest thing Alex has felt in a long, long time. I’m in if you are.

--

Darwin's driving and the sun is filtering in through the grimy windows of their shitty, barely-functional car; apparently it used to be Darwin's taxi. Alex spent a couple months in the back of a mechanic's; he can tell this one's done for, but he figures he can probably keep it going for the next couple months, if he has to (in high school his teachers always said, Alex likes a challenge, though it wasn't ever flattering). The sounds it makes occasionally worry him, but hell, they're mutants. If they get stuck on the side of the road, Darwin can probably grow superfast wheels and an engine. It's not like anyone could mug them.

Elvis is on the radio, singing about how he can't help falling in love with you.

"It's better here," Alex says abruptly, drumming his fingers along his windowsill. With you, he doesn't say.

Darwin blinks. "Well," he says, "yeah. Obviously." He doesn't say, you were in jail before. He has never said it again. This is something Alex really does appreciate about him, about this.

(Not that there was ever anything to compare this to.

Except prison, and before.

But that's not really comparable. Alex wasn't really a person, then.)

--

Moonlight falls on the road, curving around and around and around. Alex tightens his hands on the wheel, squinting into the night.

"Hey," Darwin says, head against the window, eyes stuck on his own reflection. "You should throw your-- things-- at me."

"Fuck no," Alex says, so startled it comes out of his mouth rather than the set of his shoulders or his fist against Darwin's ribs. "Jesus, Dar, what the hell."

Darwin's mouth is firm-set, calm. "I adapt," he says. "You might need to, okay. It might-- just. You need practice, I need practice."

They are in the middle of nowhere. The only thing Alex could kill would be some trees-- or Darwin.

He hates himself for considering it, even for a moment. "No way, Darwin," he says, overlight and too familiar, "the professor's boyfriend would be pissed if I killed you by accident."

Darwin touches his shoulder. This means: I’ll wait.

Alex kind of hates that he knows that, that he knows Darwin means it. (But it's, you know. nice.)

--

They get the occasional look, which is stupid since it’s not like either of them’s even made a move—sometimes Alex locks himself in the bathroom when Darwin goes out for dinner and wishes one of them would do something, but that’s the extent of it-- the occasional muttered comment, some asshole asking what kind of establishment he’s in.

Mostly Alex clenches his fists and deals with it because Darwin’s icy-calm, back straight, not looking like he wants to throw his cutlery into people’s eyes, unlike Alex. It sucks, though.

He drums his fingers on the table, thinking about how easy it would be to rip this place apart; just an exhale and the power would flip out, ricocheting everywhere; it would be beautiful and chaotic and teach them a fucking lesson.

Darwin steals a french fry from Alex’s basket. Don’t even think about it, his eyes say.

Alex can feel the chaos boiling under his skin. He shakes his head and eats his pie.

--

None of their mutants say, sure, we'd love to join your rag-tag team, but to be fair, it's not like Alex was expecting them to. They aren't exactly the most convincing symbols of mutant-solidarity (not like fucking Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, both of whom are stupidly handsome and articulate and like, not fuckups), and honestly, for most of them it's enough to know they're not alone. (To be honest, it's not like Alex really wants more people. He's got his head full with the idea that Darwin's not going anywhere anytime soon.)

After Proudfoot, John who very politely tells them to fuck off and die, Darwin drives them to the middle of nowhere and gets out of the car, shutting the door carefully behind him. (At this point, it’s basically held on with duct tape and goodwill.)

"Look," he says, hands in his pockets, "c'mon, Alex. Show me what you've got."

"Only if you get back in the car,” Alex says, because he's muttered, I destroy things, but Darwin hasn't seen it, and maybe if he sees it he'll be less stupid about this. And he thinks he can keep it away from the car. Probably.

“Fine,” Darwin says, sitting back down but leaving the door open.

Alex rolls his eyes and lets himself go.

The energy loops in rings around him, circling and screaming through the sky, bright and scorching and brilliant. The aftershocks catch in his eyes like fireworks; he rubs out the sparks, all of him thrumming, burning, on fire. He feels good, electric and powerful and great, but that’s the feeling that lets him know he’s in trouble (that he’s out of control).

He slides back into the car, careful not to touch the metal lest it melt. He’s still-- hot.

Darwin's hand on the back of his neck says, holy shit, Alex. His fingers are rock-cool, solid.

"See," Alex says. "I don't want pieces of you all over the car. It might violate the terms of my release."

Darwin squeezes just a little; this means, not going to happen, Alex.

--

Privately, Alex has decided that of all the powers he knows people have, Darwin's is the best. He wouldn't, he thinks, want to have it, but it's--

It’s good that Darwin does.

He’s not entirely sure what this feeling means, yet.

He watches Darwin knock on yet another door and says, "You should adapt to make people like you, we might have better luck."

Darwin says, "It's called natural charm, Alex, I have it in spades.” His teeth are white and his smile is wide and Alex finds his gaze sticking there, not leaving.

So yeah, Alex is glad Darwin is indestructible. It means he is allowed to like him.

--

A man in black shows up before they can book out of their shitty motel en route to Dane, Lorna, Mississippi. "Time to head home, boys," he says.

Alex wants to say, don't call me boy, and I don't have a home, but they get tangled up in his head and he doesn't say anything but vibrates angrily instead.

Darwin settles his hand on Alex's shoulder. "Sure," he says. "We're looking forward to meeting the others."

--

Raven-- Mystique-- calls him Havok. It sticks.

He kind of likes the idea; chaos, danger. This is, in itself, a sort of control. (Don’t fuck with me, he thinks, because I will bring down the world.)

That night he and Darwin sneak out (you ready, Darwin asks with the span of his thumb on Alex's pulse; quick, before I change my mind, Alex replies, punching Darwin in the shoulder) and he throws just a little of the energy into Darwin's chest.

Darwin lights up, glows from the inside and for a moment Alex's stomach falls out, everything's fucked and he's fucked it up--

but then Darwin smiles, brightest thing ever, light seeping out of his veins, light filtering through the dark paper of his skin. "Hey," he says, reaching out to put his hand on Alex's wrist, "can you feel this?"

The energy hums between them, sparks thrumming through Darwin's skin to Alex's and back again.

It’s kind of--

"Whoa," Alex says. He’s weak in the knees, in the chest. He’s incredibly turned on, like, he's going to die if he doesn't-- "Are you--"

"Yeah," Darwin says, gasps, "yeah," and then he's kissing Alex, all teeth and tongue and Alex's fire catching both of them, burning them both but it's all right, Darwin murmurs with the pads of his fingers and the bump of his forehead against Alex's, I'm not going anywhere.

--

Raven says, "So you and Darwin, huh," and she grins, all perfect teeth with her perfect hair falling down her perfect, artificial shoulders.

"So you and Bigfoot," Alex counters, matching her tooth for tooth.

"Unfair," Raven says, good-natured. "We're sort of a soap opera, huh."

"Oh," Angel says, flopping onto the couch beside Mystique, "are we talking about Professor X and Magneto? Because when I met them I was totally sure they were fucking but apparently no?"

"Ugh," Raven says, rolling her eyes, "I know, right? There’s a plan, though. I have a plan." Her eyes are gleaming and it's sort of incredibly terrifying.

"Oh god," Alex says, and exits the room.

--

The man in black falls out of the sky. There is a lot of screaming and a lot of blood and a fucktonne of uselessness on their parts because no one will let them move and Alex is so angry but not as angry as Darwin, screaming and screaming and screaming—

Sebastian Shaw stretches out his hand and Angel takes it. (What the fuck, Sean says, snaps, Angel--)

Darwin shoves Alex and Alex thinks, fuck no but he does it anyway, because Darwin is smart and Darwin is the guy with the plan and he remembers the light under Darwin's skin; he’s going to be okay.

"I adapt to survive," Darwin tells Shaw, pitched for Alex, so Alex knows to let go.

Shaw catches Alex's energy, holds it between his palms where it shimmers and Alex is caught, mesmerised, thinking I did that before Shaw is condensing it and
Alex hates

Alex can't even move all he can do is

Darwin--

the light spiders out through Darwin's skin as he ripples through adaptation after adaptation, rock through flesh through fire through rock again--

Alex looks at him, can't touch him, not like this but: it's going to be okay, he thinks, eye to eye, not letting go, you're going to be okay

Darwin's fingers cut the air, reaching across to Alex. The light inside him flares very bright (incandescent) and subsides.

Now he is Darwin again, flesh and blood and whole.

"Hey," Darwin says, shaking his head, smile stretched across his face like it’s painted on. "Told you so." He walks back towards them, stepping over broken glass and dead agents, hands in his pockets but Alex can see faint, very vague tremors in the slope of his hands.

Raven slips out of Hank's arms and punches Darwin in the shoulder before hugging him very tight. "Oh my god," she says, breathing in shakily, "don't you ever do that again." She lets go, reluctantly, and hits him in the shoulder again.

Alex says, "I’m with her," fighting to keep his voice level, and drapes his arm around Darwin's shoulder to hide his shaking knees, the sick feeling in his stomach like he's about to vomit. "Fuck, Darwin."

"Never doubt my mutation," Darwin says, light but not really, hand radiating warmth on the small of Alex's back. See, look. I’m okay. I’m right here.

--

"My brother's name is Scott," Alex says afterwards, curled up in the corner of the courtyard with his back against the wall, Darwin's arm brushing against his, solid and warm and real. There is blood on the stones, just a little. He squints at the red spot and feels like he is going to vomit. "He disappeared when I was fifteen, I don't know where he went. I tried to find him and it-- didn't work."

(Understatement of the century, Alex thinks; Scott said, look, there's this guy, thinks he can do something about my, pointing to his sunglasses.

Alex let him go; stupidest decision of his life. It took him three months to figure Scott wasn't coming back. By then, it was too late.)

He means: you can't leave me, okay, you can't. It had been the two of them, him and Scott, against the world. He'd felt safe.

Darwin's eyes are dark and deep. "We’ll get Shaw," he says, promises, "and then we'll find Scott." His hand tightens on the back of Alex's neck. I mean it. I’m here.

--

Alex can't stop touching Darwin; just a hand on his wrist, shoulder against his shoulder; you're here, you're alive, you didn't go anywhere. He thinks Darwin appreciates it too but he's kind of numb right now, frozen; his reaction times are all off. (He keeps thinking, you almost died, keeps seeing Darwin in a hundred pieces, glowing shatter shards of Alex's own power.)

"We're not leaving," Sean says fiercely, which is-- nice, Alex thinks, would think if he had much of that emotion thing going on right now, but his blood's all frozen.

He wonders how Darwin is managing to be so calm, so put together; maybe he's used to it, maybe it's the mutation. Maybe it's Alex's fault, because fuck knows Alex is a mess right now, and it's probably better for everyone that one of them is calm, but.

Erik is wearing sunglasses. Alex thinks of Scott, figures it's probably for the same reason; the intensity in Erik's voice is enough to cut through Alex's panic and tiredness and grief, without the laser-focus of his gaze. "We can stop him," Erik's saying. "He won't do this again."

Charles says, "Erik."

Alex says, "He's not going to do this again." He is surprised by the steel in his own voice.

Darwin's hand tightens on his wrist. Alex? His eyes are dark, careful.

"You almost died," he mutters; shakes his head. "Darwin almost died."

--

He can't sleep without Darwin. It’s not like, a thing.

It’s just.

He doesn't want to.

(He doesn't want to wake up and find that Darwin is gone.)

--


At the house in Westchester, Hank builds Alex a suit and a metal circle that sits on his chest.

Darwin's frown says, you know you don't need that.

Alex doesn't know how to explain that it's like the steadiness of Darwin's hand; like training wheels. He could do without it but he doesn't want to, he's not ready. (There is, he thinks, no way that he is ever letting this thing go uncontrolled again. There was that one moment where he thought Darwin was gone and it--

He is not going to feel that again. He can't.)

He shuts the door with Darwin firmly on the other side, double-checks it just to be safe because it's thick, no one else can see what he's doing and his paranoia that's not actually, you know, that ridiculous given how close he came to killing Darwin.

He takes a deep breath and energy arcs crimson out of his chest, chaotic and beautiful (and god, so dangerous).

So, okay, he sets Charles' nuclear bunker on fire. It’s kind of worth it for the look on Charles' face. (It will teach him to think there is anything about Alex that is under control.)

--

Erik is very calm and Alex likes that about him, that he is controlled and very, very dangerous; there's a kind of air about him that Alex aspires to one day achieve.

For now, though, he's a complete fucking bastard and it's a good thing Alex doesn't have the level of control Erik wants him to, because if he did Erik would be a smoking mark on the ground.

Erik's eyes are sort of sad when he says, "Havok, one of these days you're going to have to lose the suit; you need to be ready for it. You only make yourself weaker by relying on something else-- something artificial, something you can lose."

(Raven, melancholy and blue, says, "He and Charles are fighting. Ideological differences or something."

Darwin says, "Pizza says they have makeup sex on the breakfast table."

Alex and Sean throw pillows at his head at exactly the same time.

"Good team effort," Raven says, in a pitch-perfect copy of Erik's supremely irritating voice of condescension, "well done, children.")

--

So the good news is that he's mostly stopped dreaming about prison. The bad news is that he's got a new dream, and it's sort of worse.

This is how it goes: everything's dark, jet-black, quiet and damp and black except for the light coming from Alex, because he is on fire, he's burning up. This would be run of the mill, except: Darwin is burning too, Darwin’s skin is flaming out and he’s not moving and--

only one of them is adapted for this. The problem is that he doesn't know which one.

He sleeps restlessly until Darwin stirs both of them awake, his mouth and hands so hot Alex forgets that sometimes the fire scares him.

--

None of them talk about Angel. It's weird because they all sit there, together, Raven's knee touching Hank's, Darwin's shoulder against Alex's, and it's like back when they first met, all of them together, like they aren't missing someone, like she didn't leave. (Alex gets that he's kind of sensitive about loss, but out of them really, who isn't? It makes him wonder what they’d have done if Darwin had died; would they have just let his absence fester like this?)

They play strip I never with all the alcohol from the unlocked liquor cabinet and Alex watches Hank (still in a shirt, because of his five hundred layers and incredibly boring life) watch Raven, blue and gorgeous, hair bright in the lamplight.

Darwin touches his knee. He’ll get over it.

Alex brushes Darwin's hand to steal his drink; he'd better.

Sean, barely shirtless, says, "My couple-speak has never grossed anyone out," and smirks at all of them.

Raven says, "Banshee, it's because you're two," and then, "I’ve never had sex in the kitchen,"
which, obviously, was either a terrible call on her part or a challenge.

Alex grins at Darwin and strips out of his jeans, takes his shot and another for good measure.

Hank says, "Oh god, Raven, you really had to ask?" There is something just a little disconcerted in his voice, like for real disconcerted and Alex bristles just a little.

Darwin's hand on Alex's means, calm down, Alex. "Relax," he says, grinning, "we sanitized everything." (He’s lying, they didn’t. But mostly they didn’t make a mess, so.)

Sean's making gagging noises. "I am never going to be able to eat again."

"Until you get the munchies," Alex counters.

Sean frowns, "Speaking of which--"

That is how they end up attempting to bake brownies at two am, completely fucking wasted.

Miraculously, nothing burns down.

(Okay, part of it is that Erik walks in halfway through the process and instead of chewing them out directs them through it, reminds Sean to turn the oven on, throws away the bad milk before Alex can pour it in, stops Hank putting in salt instead of sugar. Then he steals all the brownies, but hey. It's all about the experience, right?)

--

It’s funny because like, Charles and Erik are the teachers, like the parents and Hank's the brain but really, Darwin is the leader of their little motley team, the guy everyone listens to even if they don't really want to.

Darwin's the guy with an eye for Sean's self-esteem issues and Hank's ridiculous overachieving workaholic tendencies and the guy who says, Professor X, really, you couldn't have said that any other way? He's the guy who looks at Raven and says, how's your marksmanship instead of who do you want to be today, and yells at Erik for having pushed Sean off the roof; the guy who stays up all night with Erik and Moira to learn how tactics work, comes back to their room with pen all over his hands muttering, Jesus Erik's brain is fucked up. There are strategy plans all over the walls of their room and Erik claps him on the shoulder and says, good job, Darwin, of which Alex is sort of jealous, but really, mostly, proud.

Alex really, really likes Darwin; beyond that, he trusts him. The trust is more notable, really.

--

Early evenings are Alex's favourite time to run; Erik and Charles play chess so there's little-to-no-chance of awkwardly bumping into Erik and having to run in a completely different direction and then getting lost (not that Alex knows from experience, of course, because that would be embarrassing) and the faint glow of twilight makes everything softer, less harsh.

(Okay, and

Darwin's usually inside, with everyone, watching TV or playing let's strategize as a group and Alex-- he's not saying it's rational, but he feels like everything's going to be okay if the Professor and Erik are there, like they won't let anything bad happen; c'mon, have you met Erik, there's no way anyone with a brain would get in his way.)

"Hey," Raven says, as he's lacing up his sneakers, "mind if I come too?" She’s leaning against the wall, blue skinned in her tracksuit, eyes steady on him.

(If Alex were an asshole, he'd probably have issues with Raven being faster and stronger than he is in her blue form. He's kind of an asshole; he kind of does. But he also doesn't want her to kick his ass.)

"Sure," he says.

He’s getting stitch around the third mile and she's totally fine and it's like, whatever.

"Hey," she says, pausing for a moment, hands on her hips, "you like Hank, right?"

"Yeah," he says, because he does. "I do." (It's harder to talk to people who aren't Darwin because he can't touch them, can't roll his eyes, can't lilt his voice and have that say everything for him. But he likes Raven a lot.) "I don't think he likes himself, though."

Raven rolls her eyes. "You're not Erik, Havok. You don't have to throw him out of a window; he'll find himself."

Will he, though?
If Darwin was here that's what he'd get out of the slope of Alex's shoulders, but he isn't so Alex says, "It's a lot funnier when he scowls at me, though. Like a little kid about to scream."

(The thing with Hank, really, is that he's a good guy, and he's funny and he's smart and he really likes Raven, but he doesn't like himself, and he's letting it get to Raven. And that's kind of not okay.

So what if Alex pushes a little bit? It’s not like it hurts anyone, not really.)

The weight of her gaze is heavy, considering. "You know, Alex," she says gently, "I don't need you to protect me. I’m perfectly capable of handling my relationships on my own."

"I know," he says, steeling himself to be punched. "You’re my friend, though. And he's being an asshole."

She ruffles his hair and he ducks away and it's all teeth-shatteringly domestic. "You’re sweet," she says, "I mean. Sweeter than you want to be."

"Darwin keeps saying," Alex says, and makes a face because emotion is gross and also, like, another level of shit he cannot control. "Hey, race you back-- if we leave now we can put spiders in Sean's sheets."

He basically chokes on her dust, but they get there in time and Sean's scream shatters all the windows. It’s awesome.

--

Charles and Darwin are doing this thing in case Emma Frost gets out (no one really thinks the CIA can keep her in, especially not Erik, but Moira's optimistic so they pretend it's an if situation, not a when), trying to figure out if Darwin's mutation can respond to telepathy even if it's not an outright threat. Pre-emption involves Charles and Darwin sitting in front of a fire while Charles thinks at Darwin until both of them are pale and drawn and shaking.

Alex hates it, likes hates it. It's not that he thinks Charles will hurt Darwin (not on purpose, at least), but when Darwin is shaking through adaptation after adaptation (rock solid skin to diamond to absurdly bright eyes, everything blurring into a shape that is Darwin but different, fluid and unstable and wrong) Alex can't help but think of the light under his skin and Shaw's fucking smile.

He sits there, through all of it, gritting his teeth so he doesn't speak, trying not to think too loud.

Darwin's hand on his shoulder squeezes, once, the first time; you don't have to do this, Alex.

He sighs and asks, "Does it help?"

Darwin's silence means yes.

Alex rests his head against Darwin's thigh, steady, unmoving; I’m not going anywhere, man.

The next night he steals one of Moira's field manuals and tightens his fingers on Darwin's shifting skin as he shakes, reading the step-by-step instructions on how to clean a gun, over and over and over until they all blur together.

--

Scott,
Alex says, reaching out, Scott, please come back.

Scott’s eyes are bright red and he is looking directly at Alex, a look that’s never been turned on anyone else alive because that is how they work, the two of them. I can’t, he says. Alex, I can’t come back, because you let me go. You abandoned me.

No,
Alex shouts, no, come back—

He wakes up in the dark with Darwin’s hand on his shoulderblades, fingerprints warm even through the sweat slicking Alex’s skin. “Hey,” Darwin whispers, rubbing small circles on his back. You’re okay, Alex.

Alex breathes out. Scott isn’t, he thinks. “I miss my brother,” he says, leaning into Darwin’s shoulder. He feels numb and weak, all worn out, like he’s come down from a ridiculous high. “I just—I let him go, Darwin.”

“Tell me about him,” Darwin says, careful. I’ve got you.

Alex tangles his foot around Darwin’s calf, twisting his fingers in the blankets. “He’s—he’s two years older than me. Smart. He does the energy thing too but it’s in his eyes; he can’t look at anyone except me. Our powers don’t work on each other. Our parents disappeared when he was five; he remembers them but I don’t. When I was fifteen some guy in a suit said he knew how to fix him and I said, go, Scott, it’ll be good.” His voice cracks and he sucks in a breath. He feels gross and slimy and sad and guilty.

“It took me three months to realize he wasn’t coming back. He wrote letters, you know? Alex, I’m doing good, everything’s cool here. Nothing specific but I didn’t expect—and then they stopped but it was too late. I tried—I tried to find him, Dar. I would have ripped everything apart but I couldn’t, he was gone.” He can’t look at Darwin, can’t handle the expression he knows is coming. “It’s my fault. He was suspicious, that’s why he didn’t tell them about me, but he—I told him to go, Darwin.”

Darwin’s hand stills on Alex’s back. “Hey,” he says, fingers on Alex’s chin. “Look at me.”

Alex closes his eyes, shakes his head. You’re it, he thinks, if you don’t want me then I don’t—

“It wasn’t your fault,” Darwin says, very carefully, very gently, controlled like there is a world of emotion he is holding back. His forehead’s steady against Alex’s cheek and Alex can feel his breath shaking. “Alex, it wasn’t your fault.” Anger slips through, along the edge of his syllables.

“I should have—“ Alex says, weakly. He opens his eyes and meets Darwin’s; they’re steady and calm and sad.

“I’m so sorry,” Darwin says. “That shouldn’t have—We’re going to find him, Alex. We have a team, all of us, we’re going to find him. Charles reads minds, Alex; Moira knows people. Erik’s Erik. You didn’t do anything wrong, and we’re going to get him back.

Alex breathes in, shakily. What if he’s dead?

“You tell me. You’d know.” Darwin says it like he knows, smoothing back Alex’s damp hair with the back of his palm.

When Scott was eleven he broke his arm in gym, ran into a wall and had to get a cast. Alex didn’t exactly feel it, but he refused to go to class, walked to the office and waited for them to call him in. He’s felt bad, but never—really bad.

“Yeah,” Darwin says. “We’ll find him.” The way he says it, Alex can’t help but believe him.

--

They’re playing darts one evening and Sean misses the board completely. Darwin says, “I’m sorry, Sean, my sister’s four and she’s a better shot than you.”

Alex elbows him; you didn’t tell me you had a sister.

Darwin knows everything about Alex. Alex doesn’t know that Darwin has a sister. This isn’t fucking okay.

Hank hits a bullseye and Raven high-fives him. They grin at each other and it’s ridiculously cute; obviously, Alex has to stick his fingers down his throat and make the most realistic gagging noise he can possibly manage.

Without looking away from Hank, Raven says, “I am a much better shot than Darwin’s sister.”

Hank says, “She’s really very good,” and there’s a fondness in his voice that Alex thinks is very sweet, if really gross.

“C’mon, Sean,” Alex says, “time to go.” Maybe if Hank has the balls to make a move his attitude will change; out of all of them, Raven and Erik are the two most comfortable with their mutations, and even Erik’s isn’t as integral to him as Raven’s is to her. Maybe Hank will be less stupid when he figures this out.

Privately, Alex doubts it, but he’s taking a leaf out of Darwin’s book and trying optimism.

--

Later that night, Darwin wraps an arm around Alex’s shoulders. “I have two sisters and a brother. My dad left when I was a kid; Mom had me and Jessica and Antonio to handle but she did it, god knows how; all of us turned out great. Jess is nineteen, studying botany at the community college; she can talk to plants. We have the greatest rooftop garden, you couldn’t even imagine. Tonio’s seventeen, kind of an asshole but it’s that age, you know? He’s good at chemistry; he can see what’s in things, just knows by looking at them. Mom married this guy Diego four years ago; my sister Claudia’s four, like I said. She’s started reading, picture books about cats.”

See,
this means. I trust you. This is what I have to lose.

Alex fits his palm to Darwin’s. Thank you.

“I’ll take you to see them,” Darwin says, “after this thing with Shaw’s done. Jess will pick on you; it’ll be hilarious. Tonio might try and dissect you, you’ll have to practice glaring like Erik.”

“Yeah?” Alex can’t help smiling.

“Yeah.” Darwin’s fingers curl around Alex’s, calloused and gentle.

Alex stares down at their hands. “Look at us,” he whispers, warmth stretching through his whole body; everything feels good, magical, right. (He wonders what Scott would say about Darwin—what Scott will say. He thinks Scott will like Darwin. They’re both insufferably, unmatchably good.)

“Look at us,” Darwin whispers back, and kisses him.

--

Hank's poking through the mechanism of Alex's vest, all wiring and electronics that Alex doesn’t even remotely understand.

Alex is observing because that's what you're supposed to do, right. (Charles said, it might not hurt for you to have some idea how it works, Alex.)

"Hey," Alex says. "You and Raven."

Hank flinches. "Alex--"

Alex swallows; he's never been get involved guy, but this is Raven, and he likes this, them. "Don’t drag your issues into your thing with her, okay? I get that-- you think being normal is this great thing, but it’s not. Not for us, not for you; especially not for her.”

“You can say that,” Hank says, “you can pass.” There is all this longing in his voice and Alex both wants to hit him and hug him, in the same movement at the same time. He wishes Darwin were here (he’s not, he’s in hand-to-hand with Erik and Raven, just a couple rooms over but that might as well be half the planet); Darwin is better at knowing what to say.

“Raven can’t,” Alex says. “This is who we are, Hank. Normal can suck it.” (Don’t you just want to be normal? is what Alex’s first boyfriend said, all this want sticking to his syllables. Alex still remembers wanting to throw up.) "You're smart, Hank. Smarter than this. You know that."

“It’s funny,” Hank says, mouth twisting up, wry and sad, “that’s what Erik says, too. You sound just like him.”

There are worse people to sound like, Alex doesn’t say. He claps Hank on the shoulder and says, “We’re awesome, okay? We’re all awesome.”

(He feels like a hypocrite, but. Alex's problems have never been to do with his powers. They have always been around the mind behind them.)

--

"Hey," Darwin says, "do you remember Irene Adler?" There is something tense in his voice; his eyes shift away from Alex's.

"Blind girl," Alex says, curling and uncurling his fingers around his weights. "I don't remember what her power was."

Darwin sighs. "She could see the future," he says. "She told me that your power would kill me, if I wasn't careful."

Alex drops his weights; crash, bang.

(He can't unsee it: Darwin, falling apart, shaking and glowing with Alex's energy caught inside of him rattling around, unsurvivable.)

He can't breathe. "I threw it at you," he says, "Darwin, I threw it at you." He balls up his fingers, thinking, you knew that I could kill you.

"Would you have done it if I’d told you?" Darwin's eyes are very very calm. "Alex."

"Fuck," Alex says, and then, "I could have killed you, Darwin." He sounds helpless, faint and weak to his own ears. Before, he’d thought—yes, it was a close call, but Darwin had been sure. He’d trusted Darwin. "You knew that I could have--"

"It wasn't you," Darwin says, careful. "I didn't want to freak you out."

"What about freaking yourself out?" Alex is snapping now because what the fuck. "God, Darwin, weren't you scared?"

"I almost die a lot." He sits down next to Alex, stretching his legs out. "Yeah, I was--" his voice cracks and Alex wants to hit him but only because he's terrified. "You'd have been worse, Alex. You're not-- used to it. When I use my powers, every time, it's a risk. There's a chance I'm not coming back. I weigh up the options."

Alex hits him, harder than he means to. He's trembling. "We're friends," he says. "We're more than friends. I'd have dealt with it." Something strikes him in the chest; he shakes his head. "Darwin," he says, slow and deliberate, "I only kissed you the first time we--"

Darwin hits his shoulder very gently. "No, idiot. Are you in this because you can’t kill me?”

"What the fuck, no,” Alex says, "okay, good." His heart is still beating too fast; he feels fuzzy, out of focus. "Don't you ever do that again, okay? If there's something that you know about me you tell me." (Lack of knowledge, Erik says, is just another level of out of control. If anyone would know, it’s Erik.)

"I’m telling you now," Darwin says, too light, but he presses his knee against Alex's and says, "yeah, I won’t. I’m sorry."

(Except like, Alex really likes Darwin, but he's not stupid; he knows Darwin is lying.

He thinks that for now, he's probably okay with it. There are a lot of things Alex has been pretending to not know; he can add this one to the list.

It’s not like Darwin's dead or anything. If Darwin was dead Alex would be seriously, seriously angry.)

--

Everybody's drunk; everybody meaning just the kids, Raven and Darwin and Alex and Hank and Sean. (Not Angel; never Angel. Angel flew away.)

"You're an asshole, Summers," Hank mutters into his wine cooler.

Darwin's hand is on Alex's shoulder, don't take the bait, but whatever. It's not like he's wrong; Alex hasn't let up on Hank since day one. (This isn’t exactly fair since no one’s brought up Alex’s time in jail, but whatever. Alex’s time in jail doesn’t make Raven frown and look away.)

"And you're a shitty boyfriend, McCoy," Alex says. "I'll take mine over yours any day."

Hank’s eyes are dark. He looks away.

Raven says, "Summers, a word?" She smells like flowers. Her eyes pass over his head to Darwin's, a conversation that's too wordless for him to deal with right now.

Darwin pushes Alex up, towards Raven. Traitor.

Alex shakes his head and follows Raven into the corner. Her eyes are flashing grey to gold; she's not drunk enough yet for full blue, but. He stares at the shift, mesmerised.

"Don't, Alex," she snaps. "This isn't your fight."

Alex says, "You’d do it for me."

Her eyes soften. "I'd back off if you asked me to. I'm asking, Alex."

He swallows. "Okay, Raven." (He figures he can stop doing it when she's around. That's close enough, right?)

--

Alex's least favourite part of training is, let's throw all our powers at Darwin hour. It happens every night and because Alex is a masochist he goes (and Erik says, Summers, like he should do it too, which no, Alex is not real big on either almost or for real killing his boyfriend) and watches everyone throw all they've got at Darwin, which is great when he makes it (ninety-nine percent of the time) and fucking awful when someone gets through a chink in the reactive evolutionary armour, goes too slowly or too quickly for Darwin's mutation to keep up with it.

There was a particularly awful day once when Erik locked Darwin in molten steel and it took him two minutes to be able to breathe; Alex's fists were balled up at his side; he was thinking let him out and Charles was saying, "Erik, do you think--" and Erik snapped, "no," at both of them.

Darwin did slip out of it, molecules becoming malleable as he slid around and out but Alex couldn't make eye contact with Erik for the rest of the day. You're supposed to leave all your feelings at the door but okay, sometimes Alex can't. Sometimes he just really doesn’t want to.

Darwin can survive anything they can throw at him. He can go hand-to-hand while everyone else is long-distance. Erik isn't saying, he is the front line, but Alex knows he's only avoiding the words because Charles is optimistic, thinks they can solve this problem without a war.

Alex has never been a big fan of compromise, but here he is, watching Darwin shuffle through adaptation after adaptation in the face of Sean's screaming and Erik's metal and the windmachine Hank's got going at the end of the bunker, even though Shaw's power is energy and Alex's is, too.

It’s only a matter of time, he knows; Erik sometimes snaps you're being selfish, Summers but. He just needs time.

--

Darwin elbows him, cut Hank a break because this is Darwin now, peacemaking all over the damn place.

Alex grins, rolls his eyes. Nah. See, Darwin's not the only person who knows a little something about human nature. Hank's-- looking for something. Someone has to keep pushing. (Plus, the way he looks at Raven kind of makes Alex want to punch him, sometimes. And okay, there was this one time that Hank walked in on Darwin and Alex and things-- weren't great.

Alex is pretty sure it's all Hank's issues with what it means to be normal but that doesn't mean it didn't sting.)

Charles says, "You're going to hit the mannequin," voice full of rampant belief in Alex, the kind of belief that makes Alex simultaneously want to slap him for being so naïve and do it right, because that kind of faith doesn’t come along often. Charles and Hank stand either side of the white mannequin; Hank, the asshole, edges a little more out of Alex's way.

Darwin taps Alex's shoulder-blade. C’mon, dude. "I’ll make it worth your while," he whispers, out loud, what the fuck.

Alex goes completely red and curses his pale skin, shoves Darwin's chest don't do that where there are people.

Darwin grins, just do it.

Miracle of miracles, Hank's thing works; Alex’s energy curls through his skin channelled and intense and perfect.

"You’re still a bozo," Alex says afterwards, because Hank is, but that was seriously cool. he's never felt that in control in his life (okay, once, in the courtyard, but). "Thanks, Hank."

"Good job, Alex," Charles says, smile echoed bright in his eyes.

Darwin raises an eyebrow. "Yeah," he says, his palm an inferno on Alex's back. "Good job, Alex."

Alex knows he is going red, like, bright red, like the colour of his energy red.

Hank grins, sweet and true. "C'mon, Charles," he says, practically dragging Charles out, not even attempting to grab the vest and dissect. "See you later, guys!"

He stops in the doorway, "Actually, wait-- be careful with the suit, okay?"

"Sure, Hank," Alex says, and pulls it over his head, drops it carefully on the floor and kicks it against the wall.

Hank takes the hint and backs out.

Darwin's mouth on his says, one of these days you're going to trust yourself enough not to need it.

Shut up,
Alex mutters, biting Darwin's lip, and sticks his hand down his boyfriend's pants.

--

The thing with Erik is that Alex can’t help trusting him, can’t help believing in him; there’s something to the quality of his intensity that’s compelling, that’s brutally honest even as it’s terrifying. It’s not like Charles, who is friendly and charming and above all pleasant; while Alex likes Charles there’s a part of him that can’t help being suspicious (really, he thinks, what does Charles know about adversity?).

Alex is shooting long lines of energy out of his chest; Erik is waving targets around for him so that he has to twist to get them. It’s strenuous is what it is; even with Hank’s thing it takes all of Alex’s concentration just to keep the beam steady and straight, let alone when it’s moving. He lives in constant fear of fucking up and shooting Erik, because god knows if he hit Erik and Erik survived his life wouldn’t be worth living, let alone if he killed Erik because have you met Charles? He’d have to kill himself, essentially. Alex suspects this fear is what Erik is counting on, because he’s never met anyone this capable of being cocky in the face of Alex’s energy beams of death (except Darwin, but Darwin’s a survivor; that’s the point of him).

“So,” Erik says, flicking a large circle of metal behind Alex, “you and Darwin are using lubricant, right?”

Alex is so startled that he loses control of the beam and has to shut it off before he kills the both of them (well, okay, he’d kill Erik but then Charles would turn him into a vegetable, so either way they’d both be fucked). “What the fuck?”

Erik smirks, because he’s such an asshole; wait, no, bad choice of words. “Alex, how are you going to be able to operate in a firefight if you can’t remain focused during a simple conversation?”

Alex grits his teeth, turns his body away from Erik, and shoots the sheet metal. “Look,” he says, “Erik, this is difficult enough when I don’t actually want to kill you.”

He doesn’t have to look at Erik to know the man’s smirk is widening. “Because listen, I know both of you are adults and I’m sure you think you know what you’re doing, but you should know that Charles and I are here if you have any questions or concerns, all right?”

Alex tries very very hard not to imagine Erik with a hole in him, because his mutation responds to what he wants, and pokes four different holes in Erik’s next piece of metal.

“Summers?”

No,” Alex says, “oh my god, Erik.”

“And you know how to stimulate the prostate, right? That’s important.” His voice is so fucking smug Alex wants to die.

Alex is this close to putting his fingers in his ears and singing lalalalala until Erik shuts up. “Kill me now,” he says, instead. “Please. Just do it.”

“You don’t want to be a selfish bed-partner,” Erik says. Alex is entirely sure he is showing all of his stupid shark teeth. “Charles and I—“

Alex cannot handle mental images regarding whatever Erik and Charles do in bed. He closes his eyes and explodes out, energy snapping through every metal target in the bunker, so they are all smoking wrecks and totally unusable.

When he opens them Erik’s smiling, softer and calmer. “Good job, Summers,” Erik says, clapping him on the shoulder. “For the record, I was going to say Charles and I are always ready to find you some pamphlets to read. Some of them have pictures.”

“My brain is never going to function again,” Alex moans.

Erik raises an eyebrow. “It was functioning before?”

“Just don’t even speak,” Alex snaps, sinking down against the wall to put his head between his knees.

He can hear the smile in Erik’s voice, because Erik, like cats, completely ignores anything anyone says. “You did well, Alex.” He sounds proud.

Something curls warm and pleasant through Alex’s stomach. Despite himself, he smiles. “Thanks, you insufferable bastard.”

“We’re going to have to try that again, though,” Erik says, “you can’t just take out everything in the vicinity.” He smirks. “Well, not always. As a rule of thumb it’s debatable.”

Alex thinks, I sincerely doubt Sebastian Shaw is going to start giving me sex tips in the middle of a firefight. He runs his fingers through his hair. He feels fuzzy and good, a little bit high, a little bit fearless. “Sure,” he says. “Why not?”

Erik laughs. “That’s the spirit, Havok.”

Alex shakes his head, takes a breath, figures now is as good a time as any. He’s kind of electric, humming; everything seems like a good idea. It’s better than drinking, his power. Not better than sex.

“So,” he says. “I was in jail because-- my brother's name is Scott. I don't know where he is but I know-- wherever he is it's because he's a mutant. After we-- after we deal with Shaw-- I'm going to find him. I have to find him.“

Erik blinks, slowly, a flicker of something—maybe surprise? in his eyes. “We,” he says. His smile is sharp and fierce and primal, the grimace of a hunter, a wild animal. “We're going to find him.”

--

The door is locked firmly and there's a sign on the door in Darwin's firm scrawl do not disturb guys you know we love you but not enough to let you in now, someone's hands are in someone else's pants and someone is breathing fuckfuckfuck into the crook of someone else's shoulder, everything's good, everything's great--

"Hey, guys," Sean says through the door, "look, you have to come out now. The president’s on TV.”

Alex mutters, Darwin, please say I can kill him, thunking his head back against the wall like fuck.

Darwin bites Alex's lip, which means c'mon, I’ll make it up to you.

Alex pulls his shirt on and groans, "I hate being responsible."

Darwin laughs, ruffling his hair. “Since when were you responsible, Alex?”

Sean takes a look at their rumpled hair and Darwin's inside-out t-shirt, the marks on Alex's throat, and goes fire engine red. "Um," he says. "It’s urgent?"

Alex flips him off. "If it isn't," he says, "I’m holding you personally responsible." (Look, it isn't that he doesn't like Sean. He just likes sex a lot, okay.)

He is only marginally gratified by Sean's very audible gulp.

--

It is suitably urgent. The President is talking about missiles and war and it's-- stressful.

Darwin’s fingers are tapping I don’t think this is a good sign on the back of Alex’s wrist; Alex’s knee bumps against Darwin’s, I don’t think good was ever an option.

Moira says, “Charles?”

Erik says, "It’s going to be soon." The gun in his hand is gleaming.

Raven looks at Alex, raises an eyebrow.

He shrugs. Crunch time.

--

Alex is curled up on the couch, head resting against Darwin’s chest, Darwin’s fingers carding through his hair; in a different world Alex would think this was sickeningly sweet but right now it feels really nice so he doesn’t give a fuck. He wiggles his toes against the dark green fabric; they are warm, because of the fireplace.

Sean says, “Do you think we’re all going to die?” His voice shakes, just a little.

“No way,” Raven says, too quick, but honest all the same. Her knees are tucked up to her chest; Hank’s in the lab, working on something he won’t tell them about (Alex says, trying to remove the stick from his ass though he is in actual fact sort of curious) but she’s bright-eyed and restless and brilliant nonetheless. “Nobody’s going to die, Banshee. Have you seen us lately? They’re not going to be able to touch us.”

Alex bites his lip.

Darwin’s palm is flat on Alex’s chest. “She’s right, Sean,” he says. “We’re really good.

You almost died,
Alex thinks. I almost killed you. It’s not a new problem and he’s mostly over it (well, for given values of over it; he still dreams about Darwin cracking apart in front of him, reaching out in vain) but it’s not—he can’t sit here and say everything’s going to be fine. He looks away.

Darwin’s fingers still in Alex’s hair. I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.

“Relax, Sean,” Alex says. “Anyone gets near you they’ll have lasers to deal with.” He means it. He means it for all of them, really; even Hank.

Sean grins. “Thanks, Alex.”

He likes to think there’s something reassured in Sean’s voice, something better. (He likes to think he was part of that.)

--

Darwin says, “You have to shoot me, Alex.”

Alex says, “You almost died,” out loud, hands clenched at his sides, shoulders ramrod-straight, vest heavy over his shoulders.

“You understand my mutation, Alex,” Darwin counters. “If it almost happened once it won’t ever happen again.”

This is not Alex’s experience of anything ever. “Darwin,” he says.

Darwin's forehead rests gentle against his, hand careful on Alex's cheek. “C’mon, Havok,” he says. “You’ve done it before. We’ve done it before.”

That was before I knew you could die,
Alex says with the desperation of his teeth and tongue and this kiss, awkward and ragged, scorching through his bones.

"Everyone dies," Darwin says. I trust you not to kill me. The warmth of his hand trails across Alex's wrist as Darwin steps back, away.

Crunch time, Alex thinks. He takes a deep breath and memorises Darwin's eyes (dark) and his mouth (warm) and the line of his shoulders (steady like his eyes), and thinks three words before he lets himself explode.

It takes him a moment to open his eyes. He is terrified, fear sticking through his muscles, holding him perfectly still, but he does it.

Darwin says, “Hey, Alex.” He is all glowing crimson, so bright Alex's eyes hurt. He winks. "Told you so."

Alex kisses him. Darwin feels like energy, brilliant and calling to everything that’s in Alex’s blood; not that that’s a new experience.

Three words,
he mutters into Darwin’s shoulder. Guess which ones.

Back at you,
Darwin says with the curve of his fingers trailing sparks along Alex’s skin.

It’s beautiful, like this, the two of them. Alex lets himself fall into it.

--

Hank is blue.

Oh,
Alex almost says, but instead he says, “You look great, man,” and Mystique says, “You look amazing, Hank.”

There is something in her voice like Alex should be taking Hank out behind a bush or something (but that’s Charles’ job, Alex is younger than Raven, she’s just supposed to braid his hair and paint his toenails in his sleep).

Erik says, “seriously, Hank,” and then Hank has him by the throat

which was unexpected.

Darwin says, “Put him down, Hank,” deadly, deadly calm.

Hank puts him down. His eyes are very, very blue.

(Alex thinks: well, Hank. You're going to have to be a mutant now.)

--

Angel says, "I thought you were dead," and there is like relief in her voice, this edge of thank fuck that she really, really doesn't deserve, since she left.

Alex has a sudden and desperate urge to throw energy at her, watch the red pulse through her. (He has anger management issues, okay. It's not like he's Erik or anything, he's not going to do it.)

"Nope," Darwin says, "but thanks for caring." He pauses, hands linked behind his back. His voice is measured, level and careful. "Angel, you can still come back."

(Alex aims for his stomach but Darwin edges out of the way.)

"I’m fine where I am," she says, smiling faintly, "but thanks for the offer." Her wings hum through the air. She adds, "I’m glad you’re not dead."

(Look, it's not like Alex sets out to cripple her.

He’s not unhappy to, though.)

--

Shaw's body floats limply through the air. Darwin's ramrod straight, tense, worried but Alex can't feel anything other than relief, he's never coming back, he's never going to touch you again.

Charles and Erik destroy everything with two words, never again, and Alex should have seen this coming but he didn't, like he doesn't see the missiles or Moira's bullet--

Oh god,
Darwin says with his hand on Alex's bare chest, both of them powerless, immovable.

All of Alex's control, the fiery honesty, happiness, freedom that shot out of him when Angel set his chestplate on fire, means nothing now. He can't breathe, can't speak.

Mystique's hands are over her mouth and Hank's freaking out and Sean's-- Alex has the sudden urge to cover his eyes and his ears, say, it's going to be okay, Sean, it's going to be okay, even though, clearly, it isn't.

It’s funny, Alex thinks, all of a sudden. He wants to go home, wants to take Sean and Hank and Raven and Charles and Erik and Darwin back to the mansion, back where they’re safe, back where they’re a family--not Scott-and-Alex, but a family all the same, a family worth keeping, worth holding on to. Great timing, self, Alex thinks, and fixes his gaze on the curve of Darwin's shoulder to avoid the darkness of Erik's eyes.

The helmet's hiding Erik's eyes but Alex knows him, not as well as Charles obviously, but well enough to know this isn't the end of the world he thinks it is. He stretches out his hand and Mystique steps forward; Alex thinks, fuck you McCoy because come on.

He looks at Darwin. Darwin looks at him, wide-eyed, no, Alex. It’s like the same look Alex had before Darwin pulled his stupid stunt for Angel; but that turned out okay, didn't it? It turned out better than the alternatives, anyway.

Alex breathes in, thinks, Sorry, Scott. Hang in there a little longer, okay? It hurts, but that’s what life does.

My turn,
he says, tilting his head. I got this one. Somebody needs to keep the family together, right? Last time Darwin almost died for Angel; this time is Alex’s turn to take the hit for Raven, because Erik’s a loose fucking cannon and nobody’s thinking straight right now. He wonders if Charles can hear his thoughts; either way, it doesn’t matter.

You asshole,
Darwin says, elbow in his ribs (gentle, though, because Alex is all bruised up, not adaptive), shoving his chest a little. There’s a hole in your suit.

It looks stupid on me, anyway.
He grins, sort of. Darwin was always right; he never needed it. See you soon, dude. We’ll fix this.

He takes the first step, towards Erik, towards the stupid helmet and the sea.

Darwin's hand is warm around his wrist, warm and tight and an anchor. "You’d better come back," he mutters, very very low.

Alex twists his palm around Darwin's, winks though somewhere deep in his chest his heart’s getting all twisted up. Well, yeah. Obviously.

He walks away, but it doesn’t feel at all like letting go.