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this is only now (where do we go from here)

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The thing about eight-year olds, Hank muses detachedly as he bulldozes his way through the swinging ER doors, is that they had an endless thirst for knowledge coupled with all the self-preservation skills of lemmings which culminated into situations such as the one he was in right now.

Well, that analogy was patently unfair to lemmings since contrary to popular opinion they did not launch themselves off of cliffs just because all the other lemmings were doing it unlike children who would at the slightest provocation from their peers.

And this might be hysteria, Hank thinks, grabbing a random medical professional in The Wiggles-patterned scrubs by the shoulders and shaking her. "Scott. Scott McCoy."

The woman, who looks barely out of her teens, goggles. "I'm sorry, Doctor - ?"

"I'm here for Scott McCoy. Young boy, red hair, about three-nine?"

"I don't know - Is he a patient of yours, Doctor..." she squints at the laminated ID card clipped to his lab coat. "McCoy? Wait, do you even work here?"

Hank, realising she was going to be utterly useless, lets go of her and zero-ed in on the frowning elderly woman radiating authority heading his way. "Linda, thank god. Is Scott okay?"

"He's fine, Henry." She shoos the intern away and takes Hank firmly by the arm. "You know you aren't supposed to come bursting in like you did. Lord knows what security might have done if you hadn't been wearing your lab coat."

"Where is he?" he says, craning his neck. "I need to see him."

She pats his hand in a manner that from previous experience (ie, numerous lab mishaps) she knows really does soothe him. "Calm down, dear, it's a minor injury." She leads him to a relatively calmer area of the ER where he can see Moira bent over Scott with a stethoscope and Scott happily sucking on a blowpop.

Hank is not proud to admit that he was very nearly brought to tears at the sight of his baby alive, conscious and (somewhat) whole. He couldn't have cared less though, throwing his arms over Scott and smothering him to his chest.

"Ow, dad," Scott says, in the exasperated yet mollified tone only children his age can muster.

"Thank god you're okay," he chokes out, cupping Scott's face in both hands, examining him for damage of any and every sort before planting a kiss on his forehead and hugging him to his chest once more. "What happened?"

"Apparently, little Warren Worthington bet Scott five M&M minis tubes that he couldn't climb a tree," Moira answers, smirking and slinging her stethoscope around her neck.

"Warren's a snooty little twot," Scott adds from around his lollipop.

Linda makes a tutting noise and Hank suppresses a sigh. He really should try to limit Scott's unsupervised interactions with Raven and Charles. "Scott, what did we agree on about calling people terrible names?"

"'Snot terrible if they're true," Scott pouts but relents anyway in the face of Hank's wide-eyed chiding. "We shouldn't because then we'd be worse than them. Sorry, dad."

"As long as you don't do it again," Hank smiles, ruffling Scott's hair. "Also, please, for the sake of my blood pressure, no more climbing trees or taking dares."

"He called me a chicken!"

"But you know it isn't true, right?"

Scott huffs. "I just wanted to show him I could!"

"Being brave means that sometimes we have to refuse confrontation, buddy. Captain America doesn't go around fighting everyone all the time to show them that he's strong, right?"

"I guess," Scott mumbles.

"Look at it this way," Moira says, wearing that soppy expression women tend to get when they see him disciplining Scott, "Warren owes you those M&Ms. You did manage to get to the topmost branches."

Scott brightens. "Yeah he does!"

Hank groans. "You aren't helping."

"Would it help even less if I mentioned that he got a cool red cast out of the deal?"

"Dad! Sign my cast! You too Doctor McTaggert and Nurse Linda!" Scott cheers, waving around an uncapped purple Sharpie - and wait, where did he get that? Hank pats his pockets down and barely represses the urge to bang his head on the nearest hard surface. He doesn't know how Scott came by it but the boy has the stickiest fingers in the state.

*

Being a single father at twenty-six had never been something Hank could have imagined for himself if you'd asked him to come up with a thousand possible alternate realities for his life.

He'd been out on his early morning jog around the park when he'd heard that pathetic little whimpering noise. At first he'd thought it had been an injured puppy and he'd entertained thoughts of bringing it down to the animal shelter where Bobby, the vet with the kind eyes and easy smiles, volunteered on weekends but his thoughts derailed when he bent down to peer under one of the park benches to see a little boy curled up on his side and clutching a stuffed wolf, shivering in his footie pyjamas in the early September chill.

Hank had somehow managed to coax Scott out from under the bench and wrapped him up in his hoodie, mindful to let Scott initiate any contact, and bring him to the one diner her frequented for his post-run breakfasts.

He'd seen the yellowing bruises on Scott's arms, the garish scratch just below his ear and the way the boy flinched when asked about his parents and knew right away that he couldn't just not do anything.

But, not knowing what to do, he had called Raven who - by virtue of being an Xavier - dealt with problems the only way she knew how: by throwing her name and enormous sums of money at them until they resolved themselves.

It took him less than a minute to explain things before she'd ordered him to stay put and told him she'd be on her way. In the meantime, Hank tried to coax Scott to eat the pancakes he'd ordered for him and, when that didn't work, the cereal, the subsequent blueberry muffin and finally the waffle dinosaurs Sean the part-time fry cook presented him with because his dad used to make those for him.

Hank flashed his best sad eyes at Lucinda the head waitress and she allowed Sean to sit with them and between the two of them, Hank and Sean managed to pry out that Scott was four, that his mommy and daddy were in heaven and that he lived with Mr and Mrs Commisso.

He didn't like them so much, he'd quietly told Hank when Sean had been called back to the kitchen for the morning rush. Hank could feel Scott's little body tremble at that confession and he'd clutched his stuffed wolf tight to his chest until Hank could tell it wasn't enough and tentatively offered Scott his hand to hold and then the boy was sobbing, eerily silent that spoke of something learned and not at all natural, and Hank who was not at all violent wanted to completely annihilate a couple he'd never even seen.

Instead, he'd carefully put his hand on Scott's head and tried to project kindness by virtue of that alone and Scott had reacted by burying his face in Hank's side, shoulders wracked by soundless sobs.

That was the scene Raven had walked in on and she'd promptly pulled out her phone, called her brother, who woke his boyfriend the Sheriff and together both Xaviers bullied Social Services and the town's police department into somehow removing Scott from the custody of his foster parents and into their care.

Hank hadn't known if calling Raven had been the smartest thing to do until that very moment. He hadn't known how she'd react but looking back, he feels almost ashamed that he'd thought she'd react in any other way, that he'd thought that her being a runaway victim of abuse would supersede who she was at her core: one of the strongest people he'll ever meet.

*

Hank's in the middle of doing dishes when there's a knock on the door. He sighs and takes his sweet time rinsing the last of the cutlery because it can only be one person. The knocking escalates into this obnoxiously off-rhythm rendition of Smoke On The Water and Hank decides he can't put it off any longer if he wants to keep his sanity (and eardrums intact) and pulls the door open.

He's immediately attacked by a zombie.

"Raven! What the - what is this?"

Raven rolls her eyes at him and shoulders her way past him, taking the stuffed zombie with her. "It isn't for you; it's for my little man. Scott, dude, I heard you got a sick cast!" she calls into the living room where Scott's currently engrossed with the latest First Avenger episode. She makes her way into the kitchen and sets her bounty down. "Fine, ignore me. I guess me and your dad are just going to have to eat all this cake ourselves."

"Ice cream cake?" Hank bemoans, thinking of the inevitable sugar high. "You shouldn't have."

"Pfft, he's my only godchild. I think cake is the least I can do."

"No," Hank says, but resigns himself to pulling out bowls and a knife. "You really shouldn't have."

"Don't be a wet blanket," she says, smacking him on the arm and opening the cake box.

"It's my life calling, didn't you know?" he says, handing her the knife. "How did you find out about his accident so fast? We've only been home a couple of hours."

She gives him that look that so effectively conveys how cute she - the townie - thinks it is that the city boy still doesn't know how a little University town like theirs works even after a decade. "I was at hospital for this case and you rushing in like some bespectacled avenging angel through the ER was all anyone could talk about." She hacks off a big chunks of the cake, ignoring Hank's appalled look. "'That Doctor McCoy, such a good young man. He's such a good father and so accomplished too despite of that! All he needs is a good woman,'"she mimics. "Then it basically broke down into a pissing contest between all the nurses to see which of them 'deserves' to be said good woman."

Hank makes a face at that and moves to put the cake in the freezer.

"You could not imagine how much self-restraint I had to exercise to keep from telling them that Piotr the orderly with the arms is more your type," she quips, taking a huge bite of cake.

"Sorry, no, I don't want your sloppy seconds."

She sticks her tongue out at him. "Speaking of..."

He feels dread creeping up his spine. "No."

"What?" she says innocently. "It's just that I've got this old family friend coming up to visit and - "

"Raven, no."

"Hank, come on," she whines. "Brian's exactly your type! ...Physically at least."

"I've had enough of your 'old family friends' to last me a lifetime, thanks," he replies, backing away from her and effectively putting the kitchen counter between them.

"Oh, please, I am great at picking out blind dates for you."

Hank scoffs.

"I am! Just because you go in to these things with this defeatist attitude -"

"Remy," he cuts in.

"Huh?"

"I could list all the horrible things that happened with all these blind dates you set up with your old moneyed friends as proof and I'm starting with the most current one. Remy."

Raven makes a face at him. "Perfect gentleman, to-die-for accent, adored Scott," she ticks off on her fingers.

"Gambler, smoker, drank like a fish and, oh, let's not forget, psychopathic ex-fiancee," he shoots back.

"Okay, fine, I will admit that Belladonna completely slipped my mind but honey, I'm not talking about anything permanent here, just a good hard fu...-dging," she smiles brightly behind Hank. "Hi, Scott! There's cake! With fudge! Me and your dad were just talking about it!"

Scott scrambles up onto a kitchen stool and inspects his slice. "There's no fudge in this."

Hank squeezes his eyes shut and rubs at the bridge of his nose. It doesn't help the burgeoning headache go away at all.

"Yeah, me and your dad were just talking about how I should've gotten the one with the fudge," Raven lies sunnily, steamrolling over Scott's skeptical face. "How you doing, buddy? I got you a zombie, also, I heard you won a lifetime supply of gummy worms off of little Warren Worthington."

"Five M&M packs!" Scott corrects, shoving his hand in Raven's face for emphasis.

"Awesome."

"Let's not encourage this sort of behaviour, okay?" Hank begs, handing Scott a fork and ruffling his hair. "Scott and I agreed that this isn't the sort of thing good kids should do."

"Here," Raven says, pulling a Sharpie from the whiteboard Hank's set up in the kitchen to track his and Scott's schedules, "let me sign your cast."

"Nurse Linda and Doctor Moira signed it too," Scott says. "So did Dad and Lex!" Scott points out Hank's messy near-illegible scrawl and the misshapen pawprint Hank had drawn right next to it.

"Impressive," Raven signs her name further up along Scott's arm, near his elbow, and punctuates it with a little heart. "I didn't know stuffed wolves could hold pens."

"He didn't sign it, silly. He left his pawprint." Scott looks up at Hank. "Dad, can I eat this in there?" he tilts his head towards the living room. "The commercials are over."

Hank ruffles his hair. "Alright but use the coffee table, okay?"

"Thanks, dad!" Scott beams up at him and rushes off, bowl in his uninjured hand, maneuvering pretty well for someone who's only had his cast for a few hours.

"Ugh, he is so cute. I kinda miss the days when he'd still let us squish his tiny little face and smother him in kisses," Raven sighs, leaning on the counter, staring wistfully in the direction of the living room.

"Imagine how I feel," Hank commiserates.

Hank can tell they're remembering the same things, how in the beginning Scott had refused to go anywhere without Hank and how that two-person circle of trust had gradually expanded to include Raven then Charles then Erik and how it had taken years but then Scott had finally decided that he didn't need Hank to bring him to his classroom from the school gates anymore and how Hank had felt both so very proud and like someone had ripped his heart out of his chest that morning and had called Raven before he'd even gotten to his car and kept her on the phone for most of the day until the drive back to pick Scott up from school.

Scott's been through so much and Hank thinks it's a testament to Scott's own character that he's grown up to be such a well-adjusted kid and he's so very proud of that. Of his son. Most days he can hardly think that without choking up.

Raven gives him a one-armed hug, rubbing her hand up and down his arm until he feels better and won't embarrass himself by breaking down into tears and if this is how he is now, how is he going to react when Scott starts dating?

"Yeah, you're gonna make Jean Grey's life a living hell, huh?" Raven replies because apparently Hank's lost his filter and said that last bit out loud.

"Oh God, I'm going to turn into my mother, aren't I?"

"No doubt about it."

Hank groans and plants his face on the cool marble of the countertop. "Kill me now."

"Sorry, no can do. I need you alive to go on that date with Brian this Sunday."

Hank sits up so quickly that he almost topples off his stool. "What?"

"It's for your own good. Also, I'll owe you one. And if it goes great, then you'll owe me one," Raven says blithely, gathering their bowls and putting them in the sink.

"Jesus."

"Brian's a great guy, seriously. He's in law enforcement and shit so you don't have to worry about a criminal record or anything."

"Need I remind you that the most crooked crook's a cop?"

Raven rolls her eyes at him. "You seriously need to lay off the Law and Order. Do you not see how sad the state of your love life is?"

"Detective Elliot Stabler is the only man I can rely on."

"That you even know his name speaks greatly about how pathetic you are. Upside! Brian's got that whole silent, tough guy with a heart of gold thing going on only he's got a full head of hair."

"I'm assuming this Brian has a last name? Something hyphenated and screams I'm vaguely related to the Queen of England?"

"His last name's Braddock, so you can take your snark and shove it," Raven replies, turning her back on him and rinsing their bowls out.

"Uh huh."

"Okay, fine." She turns back around and makes what he calls her poor little rich girl face at him. "So there may be no hyphenated four-syllable surname but he's like a knight of the realm or something so yeah."

"Oh God," Hank groans, putting hisface back down on the countertop. "Sir Brian Braddock. That just fills me with confidence that he won't be a big bag of dicks."

"There's only one dick and from what I've seen, it is huge."

"Please shut up."

"Look at it this way, if it all goes to shit, you'll have yet another reason to say I told you so."

*

"Scott, what did I say about putting away your toys?" Hank calls from living room where he's currently busy tripping over a veritable landfill of Scott's things. He can't fathom how Scott's managed to accumulate so many things because he can't remember buying half of this stuff. He decides to blame Raven, and Charles on principle. Possibly Sean as well.

"I can't do it, dad! My arm hurts!" Scott replies from the kitchen where, when Hank peeks in on him, he's alternating between shoving Spaghetti-Os in his mouth and playing with his Nintendo DSi.

It's instances like this that reinforces that dreadful feeling that he's a terrible, terrible parent and that any moment now Child Services will take Scott away because Hank's been feeding him chemical-laden pasta out of a can and rotting his brain with video games he'd been talked into buying by Scott himself on the argument that said gaming device prides itself in being especially suited for educational exercises then up and stuffing Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies into the pile during checkout.

Hank can only hope that most parents share his justifiable fear that he is raising a conman.

"And it doesn't hurt when you play videogames?" Hank says from the doorway.

Scott looks up at him, eyes big and blue and projecting innocence. "I'm not moving my arm! And you said I had to finish my dinner."

Hank opens his mouth, ready to lainch into a spiel of how he'd asked Scott to pick his toys up before they'd even started dinner but then decides that it isn't worth it. "Okay, fine. But next time? Please listen to me and do as I ask and don't put it off at last minute."

Scott nods vigorously. "Sorry, dad, it won't happen again," he says, and Hank's didn't know what it felt like to run into a brick wall over and over again until he decided to raise a child.

"Dude," Raven calls from the hallway outside his bedroom, which makes Hank re-assess his conclusion because being Raven's friend? Is exactly like raising a child and repetitively running into a brick wall. "Get back in here. We still haven't picked out a shirt for you."

"We've been at it since you walked in the door and that was hours ago," Hank - and he is not at all ashamed to admit this - whines.

Raven rolls her eyes at him and shoves him the rest of the way into his bedroom. "You want to get laid? You gotta put in some effort. Highlight those assets."

"No, you want me to get laid."

"It's for the good of us all; you're such a pissy bitch when you aren't getting any."

"That's specious. I haven't got any in close to a year now." Hank flops down onto his bed.

"My point exactly," Raven replies, blithe. "Now, which one?" She holds out three dress shirts. "Blue to bring out your eyes, red to highlight those blowjob lips or white as a plain backdrop to highlight everything?"

"Oh, God, why," Hank moans. "You are a terrible, terrible person and I hate you."

Raven shrugs. "Hey, with Charles as a brother, you pick these things up. And it works! You can't argue with the results. This process made him the town bicycle and it bagged him the most eligible guy in town."

Hank rubs the bridge of his nose. "Why do you tell me these things? Why?"

"Someone's gotta knock Charles off that pedestal in your head." She throws a shirt at his head. "So it's decided. White, because you need all the help you can get. Also, keep doing that at Brian."

"What thing?"

"That whole, hand and eye thing you do," Rave gestures madly. "Draws a lot of attention to those gorgeous eyes," she says, pinching his cheeks. "Charles does that hand and mouth thing, which is more effective, in my opinion because men are dogs but I think that's way too advanced for you."

"I hate you, why do you tell me these things?" Hank says, pulling on his shirt and buttoning it up, physically fighting Raven over how many buttons should be left undone because he may be desperate but he isn't easy.

"Good luck, babe and don't worry," she says, holding out his blazer so he can slip into it. "Brian's a perfect gentleman and Scott's going to be staying with me so he'll be safe and if it goes great, you can bring Brian back here. Or, if you feel like that'll taint the sancitity of Scott's space or whatever child psych bullshit you're into right now is espousing, you can go back to his hotel and fuck there."

"His hotel? I thought he'd be staying at the mansion. Isn't he an old friend of the family?"

Raven turns him around and starts brushing imaginary lint off his shoulders. "Because he and Charles used to bump uglies way back when." The implied so obviously Erik wants to kill him goes unsaid. "See? Good self-preservation instincts, which is one thing he's got going for him already!"

Hank doesn't deign to answer that and walks back out into the living room where Scott's currently pretending to be a plant engaged in battle against a stuffed zombie.

"Scott, I'm going to leave now, okay? Behave for Raven."

Scott immediately drops the zombie and rushes to Hank's side, wrapping his uninjured arm around Hank's leg and hugging tight. It makes something in Hank's chest ache and he feels like he's abandoning his baby and he almost wants to cancel his date but he knows that's irrational and some time apart is healthy for both Scott and himself.

"Have fun on your playdate, dad!"

Playdate? Hank mouths at Raven, who just walked in carrying Scott's Captain America backpack.

Raven shrugs.

Hank squints at her but decides to let that one slide. He bends down and plants a kiss on Scott's head. "Be good, okay?"

"Okay, dad," Scott sing-songs, exasperated. Hank is very much not looking forward to puberty.

"We'll be fine," Raven says, grabbing Hank and pulling him towards the front door. "Right, buddy?" She and Scott perform a synchronised thumbs up. "Come by the house to pick him up in the morning, okay?"

That gives Hank pause. "The house? I thought you were taking him to your apartment?"

"Yeah, but we're having brunch at the house because the red-headed stepchild's coming back from tour. Didn't you know?"

With that she pushes Hank out the door. He can hear Scott yelling out, "Sean! Sean! Sean!" before Raven slams the door in his face.

*

Brian Braddock is not at all what Hank expected him to be.

Physically, he was everything Raven had promised and more. He was handsome, blond and tall, taller than Hank even which is a rarity in itself, and built like a brick shithouse. Hank is ashamed to admit that his long dormant libido perked up in attention the moment Brian had walked through the restaurant doors.

Attractivess had never been an area of concern when it came to these things (Raven had beautiful friends and a discerning eye) but Brian had surprised him by being both charming and genuinely self-effacing.

He also had a Ph.D. in physics.

By that point, Hank was more than ready to crawl under the table and give the man a blowjob.

They kept up a steady conversation debating the applications of spintronics and gamma radiation, the validity of astrophysics as an argument for the existence of an omnipotent deity (Brian was a theist but despised religion while Hank skewed firmly on the side of pragmatic agnosticism), and their favourite physicists (Hank's had a crush on Richard Feynman for as long as he can remember while Brian had confessed to pathetically fanboying Brian May).

It had almost been a given that Hank would go home with him at the end of the night.

And what a night it was.

Which is why, in retrospect, Hank thinks he should be forgiven for not noticing the man perched on the motorbike parked on the street right across his building when he'd driven home early the next morning to change for breakfast at the Xavier mansion.

*

Sundays usually see Hank taking Scott out for brunch at Alison's cafe then to the park where Scott meets up with Jean, Warren, Shiro, Kitty and Jubilee for their longstanding weekly playdate. On this Sunday, the only difference is Sean's presence.

Scott, always a bit more impertinent after being so thoroughly spoiled at Charles and Erik's, had bullied Sean into joining them in their ritual and had also extracted a promise of a trip to go see the new Thor movie afterwards.

Hank's spread out his papers on the picnic table he likes to think of as his, grading his Intro to Physics Friday quizzes (because being fresh meat, he has to suffer through teaching a 101 class and his weekly Friday quizzes is just him spreading the pain around), occasionally sparing a glance at the swings to make sure the children haven't eaten Sean alive yet, when he notices someone in his periphery.

"Hey," the man says. "Mind if I sit?"

Hank looks at the space beside him and then pointedly at the three unoccupied benches in the immediate vicinity.

The guy doesn't take the hint and just stares at Hank impassively.

Hank, never one to consciously draw out uncomfortable situations, acquiesces. "Sure. I hope you don't mind the mess."

The man shrugs and sits. Hank tries not to feel overly conscious about...well, his everything, really. Hank's never particularly liked people, a charactersitic which he attributes to the bullying he'd suffered throughout childhood for being the token geek in any given class. And even when he'd 'grown into his looks', as they were, he'd by then decided to recommence his petitioning of his parents to let him graduate high school at fourteen and start university with a ferventness that would put saints at worship to shame.

His first ever friend had been Charles, his bright-eyed, overly earnest teacher who'd insisted on being saddled with Intro to Bio at the time despite numerous chairs' protestations. He'd wanted the rite of passage and, by virtue of being the University's darling and its most prominent faculty member, had gotten it. Hank never would have imagined he'd get on with Charles, that first meeting, because while they shared so many similarities, Charles seemed to defy every expectation and by brunt of his charm made everyone adore him his eccentricities.

But Charles had apparently set out to take Hank under his wing and had eventually worn Hank down through sheer force of his personality so that by the end of that first semester, he'd arranged for Hank to move out of the student dorms (and the room he'd shared with a Liberal Arts major who seemed to do nothing but smoke weed and have sex with women all hours of the day) and into his mansion.

That's where he'd met Raven and everything basically changed for him. Because she was his age and went to the local high school and they'd taken to each other as if they'd known one another their entire lives. It was friendship uncomplicated by neither attraction nor envy; it was the two of them against the world.

Admittedly, it wasn't the healthiest way of growing up and it's made him somewhat prickly around strangers.

If the man beside him can feel the tension radiating off Hank, he gives no indication of notice. He plucks at a stack of already corrected papers and grunts, "Teacher?"

"Yes," Hank replies, equally curt.

The man starts fiddling with a plain silver lighter, looking off into the distance. "Local high school?"

"At the University."

The man doesn't reply, just keeps on flicking his lighter open, then closed, open, closed. Hank goes back to his marking; as a father, he's experienced for more annoying things than that repetitive clicking noise.

Eventually, the man says, "Nice meeting you, doc," and gets up and leaves.

Hank, busy with tallying the score of the latest paper, nods absently. "You too." His marking finished, he looks up to offer a hand only to find the man's disappeared.

He shrugs and goes back to his marking and makes a note to maybe inform the neighbourhood watch about a stranger creeping around the park.

Sean and Scott run up to him just as he finishes stuffing all the papers in his satchel. "We're done!" Scott announces, climbing up onto the table. "Time for Thor!" He starts waving an imaginary hammer around and making helicopter noises.

"Yeah, Hank, you're going to make us late," Sean teases, grabbing Hank's satchel and heading for the car (Erik's prized, painstakingly restored '69 Charger because he has always been Erik's favourite, no matter how much they pretend otherwise) while Hank picks Scott up and proceeds to whoosh him into the back seat, strapping him in and handing him his iPad to play with for the duration.

"So," Sean starts, as they pull out into the street. "Jumping back in the dating pool, huh? First that blind date the other night and now hitting on guys in the park. What's next, bath houses?" Sean wiggles his eyebrows and flashes Hank an impish grin.

"Eyes on the road," Hank mumbles, blushing to his ears.

"Can't deny that you've got a type, though that guy just now was kinda smaller than your usual. Reeked of jock all the same."

"Can't be helped. Like your affinity for being shot down by older women," Hank shoots back, smiling innocently.

Sean sticks out his tongue. "I'll have you know that Emma Frost was extremely into me."

Hank's brows furrow. "The woman that hired you?"

"The very Ice Queen of the music industry herself. Sure, you might think she hired me to be Azazel's sound guy, but that was all a cover to get me alone and make sweet, sweet love to me."

"You're so full of it; she'd eat you alive."

"But what a death it'd be, buddy."

"So, Azazel? Is he-?"

Sean nods. "Just as crazy as Rolling Stone made him out to be but man's got mad skillz."

"Really?"

"Yep, voice like you wouldn't imagine and the way he plays the guitar, man - "

"No, I meant, really? We're still using that? Skillz?"

"Shut up."

Hank laughs.

"Wait, argh," Sean groans and receives an answering growl from Scott in the backseat. Hank turns around to check if Scott had been listening in on them while Sean uses the rearview mirror to do the same. Thankfully not; he's too engrossed in his game. Sean pretends to wipe sweat off his forehead. "Anyway, you changed the subject. Man, in the park, short but still your type."

"It was nothing. He just sat there then he left."

Sean gives him a skeptical look.

"That's it," Hank says in all seriousness.

"Do we have to stranger danger the guy?"

"I was just thinking that. I didn't get that vibe from him, though you can never tell."

"We should drag Erik along the next time, in case he shows up again. Erik's got like a sixth sense for these things."

"He's been in law enforcement for over a decade now and in the military before that. Of course he'd know the difference between a criminal and a down-on-his-luck kid who just needs adopting by a sheriff and his filthy rich husband to turn his life around," Hank retorts, exasperated and fond.

"Whatever, man," Sean replies, as breaking abruptly in front of the movie theatre and trying to parallel park between a pick-up truck and smart car and mostly failing. "You're just cheesed that mom and dad got a new baby and you got relegated to middle child."

Hank winces as the rear right wheel climbs up the sidewalk. "Whatever lets you sleep at night, redheaded stepchild. And get out of the car and let me park before you total this car and Erik grounds you forever."

*

Their morning routine usually goes something like this: Hank's alarm starts blaring whatever Arctic Monkeys song is on rotation in his playlist (because nothing is a better motivator for getting up at six AM than having the pleasure of viciously silencing Alex Turner's grating Yorkshire syllabication), he stumbles half-blind into the shower, gets dressed in his uniform of a button-down, tie, slacks and blazer (with a sweater or cardigan thrown into the mix depending on the season), walks blindly into the kitchen and downs three shots of espresso in quick succession.

He then goes about making breakfast for Scott because while his own stomach protests the thought of anything solid that early in the morning, he has to set a good example. Hank usually makes oatmeal - pancakes if he's feeling up to it - and when he's done, he steels himself for the most arduous task of getting Scott out of bed.

Scott clings to sleep like a limpet making it so Hank has to physically drag him out of bed and dump him in the bathtub where he sprays Scott awake using the detachable showerhead. When they're pressed for time (ie, Hank sleeps through his alarm and/or hits snooze one too many times) they skip this part and Hank just drags Scott into the kitchen and force-feeds him cereal before sending him off to change.

Today is one of the latter mornings, where it's already eight AM and Hank's scrambling, barely dressed let alone caffienated and Scott's only had a Pop Tart because Hank had stupidly unplugged his alarm clock instead of his phone charger last night.

Hank's frantically stuffing his laptop and papers into his satchel and rummaging through Scott's backpack, trying to figure out if the maths homework they did last night is in there or if Scott left it in the living room.

"Scott!" he calls out, crawling on all fours and looking under the couch in search of said homework. "Are you done?"

He hears a muffled thump, some shuffling then Scott calling back, "Almost!"

"Hurry up, please!" Hank finally finds the maths booklet shoved unceremoniously between a stack of comic book back issues scattered on a side table.

"I'm hurrying!"

Hank puts the booklet in Scott's bag, realises that the bag is an environmental hazard waiting to happen, and starts pulling out gum wrappers, a half-full bag of Doritos, a coagulated mass of unfinished Mars bars and Nerds artfully arranged in an origami basket, and a landfill's worth of used tissues.

"We're going to be late!" Hank says one last time, throwing the lot into the trash. He makes his way to Scott's bedroom - Scott can not be late yet again because it's bullshit but the bar for single parents is set that much higher in comparison and he will carry Scott to the car if he has to - when Scott bangs out of his room with a flourish, dressed in the Captain America tee he slept in, cords, an orange down vest, a newsboy cap and the work boots from Prada Kids that Charles bought for no apparent reason other than they were adorable.

"I'm ready! Let's go, dad!" Scott grabs his backpack out of Hank's hand, pulls out his little wayfarers (also from Charles), puts them on and runs for the front door while Hank takes a moment to himself to think, Against all odds, I've managed to raise a hipster.

Hank has no time to linger over a possible (terrifying) future of Scott majoring in a liberal art while living in Williamsburg with a sapiosexual, bi-curious girlfriend and feeling too disenfranchised to protest anything or whatever it is kids will be doing when Scott turns eighteen. He bundles them both into the SUV, stops by a McDonald's (wincing when he imagines just what his mother would say about junk for breakfast) and drops Scott off at his school with seven minutes to spare.

He waves at Scott as he pulls out into traffic and almost misses the man leaning against a motorbike parked under a tree across the school. The man's wearing sunglasses and smoking, which Hank spares a frown at. Smoking in such close proximity to children, some parents just have no shame.

*

In order to make it in time to his nine AM Intro to Bio class, Hank had to forgo coffee and nurse a massive caffiene headache for the better part of the morning, so when Charles pops in just as the last of his students file out at 12:01 with a smile and a,"Care for a cuppa, old man?" Hank nearly weeps in relief. That is not to say he doesn't shoot cutting glares at the possible obstacle the freshmen loitering just outside his door, making eyes at Charles, present.

Charles smiles at them, oblivious, blithely chattering at Hank all the way to the tiny indie cafe just outside campus grounds, keeping a steady stream of conversation consisting mainly of department gossip, how fantastic Charles's grad students are and fantastic news that will just have to wait until they're settled with coffee.

The little bell jangles when Hank pulls the door open and the girl at the counter beams. "Professor, hi!"

"Valextra," Charles returns, pleased, clasping both her hands in his. "How's your grandmum? Still in fighting form, I hope?"

Valextra squeezes back and, unprompted, goes about making Charles his coffee. "She's great. Getting back in the dating scene, you know? Kinda weird for me but, hey, everyone's got needs."

"That they do, love. Pleasure is in the mind, after all. While you're at it, would you mind making Hank here a -"

"Large quad shot latte, please, Val. And thanks." Hank smiles at her and she spares him an absent smile.

Hank touches Charles's elbow in passing, signaling that he's off to find a table because Charles can be at this for hours and a little part of Hank thinks that one of the reasons Erik finally gave in and decided to cohabit with him is Charles's easy way with people. Charles's default is to love everyone and everything while Erik's is suspicion and distrust. He would've failed epically as sheriff of their little county if he hadn't taken up with its most favoured son and inherited their goodwill by keeping Charles in a state of perpetual ecstacy.

Hank spots an unoccupied table by a window and makes a beeline for it, Charles and Valextra's voices (by now having devloved into a discussion on the merits of VR sex as seen in Demolition Man as opposed to the filthy kind) fading under the sound of the keytar-heavy music in the background.

He slumps heavily into the chair, pulling off his glasses and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He leans his forehead against the cool glass of the window and contemplates taking a vacation somewhere warm and beachy and child-friendly. He and Scott need a vacation that doesn't constitute being smothered by his mother back home in Illinois or the French Riviera, as the Xaviers' guests, feeling painfully American and gauche.

He's thinking maybe Hawaii or Cuba while staring absently at the only person sitting out on the cafe patio, leant back in his chair, booted feet propped up on the one opposite, smoking a cigarette and nursing a cup of coffee, the very epitome of cool in his leather jacket and sunglasses when recognition hits him.

First comes shock, then fear, then angry indignation.

The little bell above the cafe's door rings merrily as he strides out, a strange juxtaposition to the roiling in his gut. He stops right in front of the man, blocking the sun.

The man takes a slow, deliberate drag of his cigarette and blows a plume of smoke out of the corner of his mouth. "Can I help you?" he finally says, tone disinterested.

Hank tries not to let that off-balance him. "You've been stalking me," he replies, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Have I?"

Hank feels himself go red with suppressed rage. "Yes. At the park, at my kid's school and now here."

The man looks at him for a long moment then pointedly puts out his cigarette in the ashtray on the table by his elbow. It's full of cigarette butts. "I think I was here before you, doc."

Hank drops his arms to his sides, hands clenching into fists. "That's not the point. The point is I don't like strange people hanging around my son. I want you to stop."

The man laces his fingers together on his chest, inscrutable. "Could just be coincidence."

"You're lying."

"Am I?"

Hank takes a step forward. "You will stop."

"Or what?"

Hank manfully resists the urge to hit this smug bastard across the face. "Or I'll call the authorities."

The man has the gall to smile. "And tell them, what? I've been hanging around public places?" He must then read something in Hank's expression because he adds, putting his feet down and straightening in his seat, "Hey, look, I'm not here to do you or your kid any harm, okay?"

"What do you want, then?" Hank asks, tone as forbidding as he can.

The man shrugs. "Maybe I just wanted to see what kind of guy you are, you know what I'm saying?"

Hank blinks, rage draining out of him. "Are you - are you coming on to me?"

The man grins, showing a row of perfectly even white teeth. "Would you like me to be?"

Hank gapes, then blinks some more. He's saved from having to come up with an answer when the bell above the door rings and he hears Charles's half-worried, half-curious, "Hank? All right there?"

Hank's face must have been quite a picture because Charles frowns. Hank's about to - he doesn't know, reassure Charles? Ask him to call the cops anyway? The scrape of metal legs against concrete forestalls further action and Hank turns back to the man just in time to see him pocket his pack of cigarettes, fingers gliding over the table.

"See you around, doc," the man grins, rakish and pleased with his deliberately poor choice of words. He nods pleasantly at Charles who returns it in kind, bemused.

When the man is just out of earshot, Charles asks, low and with all the ferociousness of a bear protecting her young, "Was he bothering you?"

Hank stalls by taking his glasses and coffee from Charles and taking the seat just vacated by the stranger. The chair's still warm. Hank takes a fortifying sip of coffee, avoiding the laserlike intesity of Charles's blue, blue eyes.

"Hank."

"I'm not sure," Hank honestly answers.

Charles takes his hand. "Do you want me to talk to Erik about it?"

"Jesus, no," Hank splutters. Charles turns the soulful look up to eleven. "Fine, I'll talk to Erik, okay?" Lord knows how Charles would phrase things and Hank does not want a repeat of the shitstorm that was Erik going DefCon 5 on Victor Creed when he was sniffing around Raven.

"Promise?"

Hank sighs. "Promise."

Charles smiles, pleased, and pats his hand.

"Now what's the news you wanted to wait to tell me?"

Charles looks away coyly, lashes shadowing his cheekbones as he bites his lip to hold back a smile. "Erik asked me to marry him."

Hank's taken aback for one nanosecond before he pulls Charles into a hug. "Congratulations," he whispers, smiling so wide he thinks his face might break because it was only a matter of when Erik would get his shit together and asked after news of the bill passed and he doesn't even care that he lost the pool to Sean.

Hank pulls back a bit, grinning idotically at Charles who's still smiling that pleased little smile and practically fucking glowing.

"Scott will be ringbearer, of course," he says, ruffling Hank's hair.

Hank laughs then realises something else. He pulls out his phone - oh, damn, he forgot to switch it on, no wonder - and is hit by a barrage of text messages, all from Raven which alternate between ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !, HOLY FUCKING SHIT, IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING???, I SWEAR MY HEART'S GONE AND UNSHRIVELLED ITSELF, UGH, SO HAPPEEEEEE and I AM GOING TO DIE ALONE WITH A HUNDRED ROTTWEILERS.

A new message comes in and it's Sean and all it says is: Where's my money, bitches?

Hank looks up to find Charles hiding his smile behind his coffee cup. "Sean won?"

"Sean won," Hank confirms. "He'll be even more insufferable now."

Charles laughs.

*

"Do you think there should be a theme? Are theme weddings tacky now? Have they always been tacky?" Raven picks up an apricot from the very top of a pile of the same on Farmer Johnston's table. "I went to a McQueen-themed wedding a couple of years back. Or wait, maybe it was a divorce party. Whatever, Guinesses were involved so it was McQueen or don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. Of course, they made an exception for Charles." Raven makes a face and starts to take a bite of the apricot before Hank snatches it out of her hand and puts it back on Farmer Johnston's table, offering the woman a diffident smile.

He picks another one from the pile and hands it to Raven.

"What was wrong with that one?" she asks, biting off half of the apricot.

"Rotten," Hank answers out of the corner of his mouth when he's sure Farmer Johnston's too busy looking elsewhere.

Raven frowns. "Really? How could you tell?" She looks down at the half still in her hand and squinches her face.

"There are black spots all over it. That's called fungus."

"Oh," Raven says in the tone of one who's never seen fresh fruit if it wasn't meticulously organically grown and hand-picked by her ex-Michelin-Star-restaurant-employed family chef.

"Anyway, theme weddings. Thoughts, opinions, violent reactions?"

Hank shrugs, not bothering to look at her from where he's preoccupied picking out the most mutated looking strawberries from the bunch because they're the only type of strawberries Scott eats.

"Tacky as hell," Sean chimes in, joining them.

"I don't recall asking the peanut gallery," Raven snarks, still very resentful about losing The Bet. She won the last one (The Bet on When Erik Would Just Accept the Inevitable and Move In Already) and takes it as a personal insult that she lost this one by a few days' estimation.

"Whatever, loser, there's no way you're going to get Erik to agree to a fucking theme wedding and there's no way in hell any of the folks here'll dress like Lady Gaga just because the invitation says so."

Raven gives him a look, snatches a huge chunk of his funnel cake. "Yeah, no. Do you know Erik?" She makes a whip-weilding motion with accompanying sound effect. "And the guests will do what-the-fuck-ever to attend it. Wedding of the century, buddy."

"I thought this was going to be a small, private affair, you guys," Hank cuts in, nicking Sean's Fanta.

"Hey!" Sean protests, though it's halfhearted at best. "Also, you really need to escape from that depressing as shit cave you call an office. This wedding's all anybody's been talking about the past week."

Raven nods agreement, darting in to take a sip of Fanta. "Dude, just the other day, I had the University Chancellor stop me on my way to get coffee and ask me about the flower arrangements . We do not invite the entire town? They will burn the house down. This shit is serious."

Hank makes a disbelieving sputter. "Exaggeration." He turns to pay Farmer Johnston, who smiles and hands Hank his change while saying, "Hear you talking about flowers. Tell those soon-to-be newlyweds that I grow the best damn orchids in the state and I'll give it to them half-price."

Raven smirks.

*

"Why don't you just hire a planner?" Hank finally thinks to ask.

They're sitting on a bench in plain sight of the petting pen and the arcade area, the two places Scott and his little band of friends are currently raising hell in, which makes it an ideal spot to break for lunch. Raven's stress-eating, demolishing four corndogs, a pulled pork sandwich as big as her head, chocolate-dipped bacon with a bag of cotton candy and two caramel apples waiting to be dessert and bemoaning her unsuitability as a wedding organiser.

"Because," Raven grits out through a mouthful of pork, "I'd have to hire one from the city. Mrs West's little operation can't handle something of this magnitude. And if I hire a planner from the city, word will eventually get around and then we'll have all these snobs calling to passive-aggressively complain that their invites got lost in the mail and that'll be twice as many people and the fucking town will be overrun and it will basically be armageddon."

"Word," Sean concurs from where he's sat on the table, finishing up a bag of popcorn.

"Won't they feel snubbed anyway when they hear about the wedding after it happens?" Hank points out, eating Scott's leftover hamburger and fries.

Raven waves a piece of bacon around. "We can pass it off as a romantic whim by then. They think townies are like Smurfs anyway. You want a gathering? You just yell out a meeting at town hall."

Sean makes a face. "Kinda insulting but true."

"Yeah, and get this: Charles wants it outdoors. It's like he wants me to kill myself."

Hank snorts because of course Raven knew all of this going in, knows that her brother has never heard the word no his entire life, probably doesn't even know what the word means, she just likes bitching about her lot in life.

"Dude, you need tents and a sick soundsystem? I've got it covered," Sean volunteers.

"You mean you'll have your little friends set up their grotty, used four-poles-and-a-tarp thing and crude huge-ass concert-grade beer-caked speakers on the front lawn."

"You don't know the first thing about this shit so shut up and take whatever help you can get."

"Oh God, Erik didn't make you best man, did he?"

"Hell yeah he did."

Raven squints at him.

"Well, he implied it."

At this, Hank too makes his skepticism clear.

"I helped pick out the ring, okay?" Sean huffs.

"Sure, I can just picture Erik taking you out ring shopping," Hank says, waving back at Scott, who's making flailing motions in the direction of one of the arcade booths, his little group of friends (and Shiro's older sister - their babysitter) right behind him.

"Fine, I was looking for a screwdriver and I found the ring box in the garage."

"Erik threatening you on pain of death to keep your trap shut isn't exactly equatable to him asking you to be best man, Sean," Raven says, poking him in the side. "Wait, is there even going to be a wedding party?" Raven turns and grabs Hank by the collar. "Hank, do you know if there's going to be a wedding party?"

"Scott's ringbearer?" Hank offers weakly, half his attention on Scott across the fairground, shooting wooden ducks with an air gun.

"This is a fucking disaster," Raven moans, burying her face in her arms, hair spilling out everywhere but mostly on her caramel apples.

"They should just elope," is Sean's contribution.

Raven starts in on that, declaring no brother of hers is getting married in a court house and Sean rebuts with how disgustingly elitist that makes her sound and their subsequent argument is sufficiently distracting that Hank almost doesn't hear the shouting coming from the direction of the petting pen.

It's only when the voices escalate over the general raucousness that he turns around to see one of the Shetland ponies careening towards the shooting range. Hank feels the blood drain out of him, body frozen and helpless as the pony knocks over the booth with Scott, Jean and Jubilee right in its path.

Only the booth doesn't fall on them.

There's a tremendous thump, a huge dustcloud and three little figures huddled under the man who pulled them away just in time.

Hank has to brace himself on the table because his knees are buckling (and when did he even stand up?) and then he is running, running as fast as he can until he's there beside Scott, wanting to pull his baby into his arms and know with certainty that he's alright and after this he will never ever allow Scott more than five feet away from him, fuck developmental psychology, only Scott's clinging to the man who just saved him.

It takes Hank a moment to realise that it's the man from the coffee shop.

It takes a bit longer for Hank to realise that the man's hugging Scott back.

"Alex, Alex," Scott's whimpering, little body wracked with quiet, hiccuping sobs.

And the man - Alex - is whispering back, "It's me, buddy. I'm here. It's me."

*

The drive back home is nothing short of heart-wrenching for Hank.

Scott had refused to let go of Alex since that moment in the fair grounds, arms wrapped tight around Alex's neck, face buried in his shoulder, tears making the fabric of his shirt transparent, oblivious to the furor going on around them, both ensconced in their own little world by virtue of Alex's body language.

Hank's gut hasn't stopped churning since.

He knows it's incredibly selfish of him, that the only thought that lingers is one of someone has finally come to take Scott away from him, that he's never had a legitimate claim in the first place, that his love isn't enough, that blood will always win out in the end in the court of law.

He had watched them, helpless, feeling an intruder before Raven had stepped in, cleared away the crowd and led them back to the relative quiet of their picnic table.

Shiro's sister, pale and quivering, had come up to Hank spewing apologies and Hank had wavd her off, only able to spout platitudes in return, too focused on Alex's hand cradling the back of Scott's head, his mouth close to Scott's ear, whispering a world of secrets between them.

The next thing he knows, Raven and Sean are ushering them to the parking area, having decided for Sean to take them back to Hank's. Scott, still clinging to Alex, makes a grab for Hank's hand and then all three of them are in the backseat wrapped around each other like a parody of an almost nuclear family while Sean speeds them through the empty streets.

*

Scott finally allows Alex to put him to bed, clearly fighting a losing battle with exhaustion but stubbornly clinging on until he extracts a promise that Alex will be there in the morning.

Hank watches from the doorway, hands wrapped tight around his stomach and biting his lip, feeling unwelcome in his own home. The way Scott and Alex are curved around each other on the bed like parentheses reminds him of the time he used to live in the Xavier Mansion and used to walk in on Raven and Charles doing the same, their own little world of two.

He'd never thought he'd feel more alone then.

He was wrong.

Scott eventually drifts off and long minutes tick by with Alex and Hank just staring at his tired, tear-stained face before Alex sits up and turns his gaze on Hank.

"I think I owe you an explanation."

*

"I don't know where to start," Alex says, hunched over a mug of tea on the kitchen table.

Hank studies him for a moment from where he's leaning against the kitchen counter, his own tea going cold by his elbow, and seriously rethinks going for the whiskey because if there's one thing he's learned from his stay at the mansion it's that in times of crisis, tea and/or whiskey is the default answer.

"Start from the beginning," Hank replies. "They told me that you'd died before the car accident."

Alex snorts self-deprecatingly. "Did they tell you how?"

"They said you were in the army and then something about your vehicle being hit by an IED. I'm assuming that didn't happen."

"Got that right, doc."

"What did happen?" Hank asks, wanting nothing more than to beat Alex until he stopped with the recalcitrant tough guy act and the entire story spills out, in chronological order, without any of this stupid word-game bullshit.

Alex meets his eyes. "I was a dumb rookie and signed up for black ops. I got in."

Hank blinks and says, incredulous, "You were alright with your family thinking you were dead?"

Alex shakes his head. "No. No. They thought I was deployed somewhere in the MIddle East. They probably only got back a report saying I was deceased when they started looking around for family for Scott after the accident."

Hank looks at the slump of his shoulders, the bend of his spine, finally feels the anger seep out of himself. "So you didn't know."

"No." And there it is, as quiet as a whisper but with so much weight and implication and guilt in that one little word and Hank crosses the divide and takes the seat across from him.

"How long?"

"Before I found out?" Alex twists the mug between his hands. "A year and a half at the most. I got out, went home, only it wasn't home anymore."

"Then?"

"I used all the resources I had to go looking but it was a fucking closed adoption."

Hank winces at that. "It had to be."

Alex looks up, startled. "Why?"

Hank steels himself then starts telling Alex about the line of abuse Scott suffered at the hands of the foster system, an unfortunate and unlucky case, the social worker had said and Hank had almost punched him in the face for that.

He has to resort to the whiskey before he can finish.

Alex, though, looks absolutely wrecked.

"God," Alex breathes out, hands fisted in his hair. "God."

Hank fills his mug with whiskey and urges him to drink.

They polish off half the bottle before they can speak again.

"You found us though," Hank says. "Why didn't you initiate contact right away?"

Alex scrubs at his face, takes a deep swig of his mug. His eyes are bloodshot. "The thing is, when my parents realised that they were pregnant with Scott, I'd just enlisted."

Hank frowns. "I don't. . ."

"It's not that I didn't love my parents," Alex says, eyes taking that faraway sheen of remembrance. "Or that they didn't love me. It's just that sometimes you can love people and not get them, you know? So at that point, I'd been in military school for almost half my life and there they were, with their miracle baby - Just, you know? I thought they might've been glad to see the back of me, start right with a new kid. They'd be happier, I thought." Alex suddenly smiles. "I never thought I'd love the new kid so much, though."

"He is pretty lovable," Hank concedes.

"I saw Scott a total of, what? Five months in three years?" Alex sighs and takes another swig. "I didn't think he'd remember me."

Scott spoke so little about his life before coming to stay with him that Hank had always assumed that he'd either forgotten or repressed those memories. "I guess we were both wrong about that," he confesses.

"When I started looking for him, I'd always thought it was so that I could take him back, so he could be with his family," Alex says, after draining his mug. "Then when more time passed with nothing turning up, it got me thinking that he wouldn't remember me at all, he probably saw the mall Santa more times than me, you know? I decided that all I could do was find out if he was healthy and happy. I didn't want to go messing up a good thing." Alex looks up and holds Hank's gaze for a long time. "But I did."

Hank looks at Alex, really looks and for the first time, he doesn't see an asshole or this obstacle that might very well take his son away.

Alex turns his head but Hank takes his hand from where it's lying on the table and forces his gaze back. "All I want is for Scott to be happy."

"That's all I want too," Alex chokes out.

"Scott's been missing you and I've been a terrible father to not have noticed - "

"You're fucking great with him," Alex protests.

Hank shakes his head, shuts him up with a look. "Scott misses you and if your being here makes him happy, then I've got a spare bedroom you can borrow for as long as you like."

Alex squeezes his hand tight. "Thanks, thanks, doc. You don't know what this means - "

"You better not hurt him."

Alex shakes his head. "I won't, I won't."

Hank's taken a leap of faith. All he can do now is hope.

*

"You invited a complete stranger to live in your home?" Raven shrieks at Hank once the door slams behind Alex, Sean and Scott.

Hank winces because a) ow, she's got a set of lungs on her and b) accurate. In the clear light of day, what he'd done the night before seemed both naive and dangerous though he has yet to regret it...much. Granted, there isn't much that can happen in the fourteen hours since he'd shown Alex the guest bedroom except perhaps waking up to a home-cooked traditional breakfast, Scott being up early enough to have polished three-quarters of his plate and Alex, shirtless, by the stove.

It's the shirtless part that still gets him.

"It seemed like the right thing to do," Hank replies, dodging Raven's flailing arms and heading for the linen closet.

"The right thing to do if you want to get robbed or murdered," she says, trailing so close that her ridiculous, eight hundred dollar boots catch the hem of his jeans. He trips and throws out his hand against the wall to keep himself from slipping only for Raven to grab him by the collar and haul him up against the wall. He might have nine inches on her (five when she's in heels) but she still manages to loom threateningly and use her leverage to prevent him from breaking free. "Don't you understand that he could take Scott away?" she hisses, shaking him.

Hank wrenches free from her grip. "Of course I do!" he yells, chest constricting at just the thought of it. "You think I haven't thought of that? That's all I can think about!" He'd curled up next to Scott last night, cradling him close to his chest as he'd gone through every possible horrible scenario that might occur because he'd invited someone with more legal claim to Scott to live with them. He'd lain awake until the early hours of the morning before he'd fallen into an exhausted sleep. Nothing could describe how he'd felt when he'd woken up to find Scott gone. Only hearing Scott's laughter coming from the kitchen had prevented him from flying into a panicked rage.

"Then why?"

"Because," Hank chokes out, arms around his waist, leaning his head against the wall. "Because Scott loves him."

Raven seems to fold into herself at that. She sighs, takes a tentative step and then wraps Hank into a hug. "Oh, honey."

"Yeah," Hank agrees.

"Don't think I'm not going to have Erik run a background check on him."

"That would be wise."

"Who'd have thought I'd be the prudent one between the two of us? The world must be ending."

Hank snorts, rests his cheek on top of her head. "Just this once, I'll give you that."

"Careful," she says, rubbing his back. "It's a slippery slope. Next thing you know it's sacrificial rituals and satanic orgies."

"I highly doubt that."

*

"He's a pretty cool guy," Sean says through a mouthful of curry. He's just got back from driving Alex to get his things from the bed and breakfast he'd been renting a room in. Scott had been adamant about going with them and Hank had decided that if Alex were to try anything, he'd hardly do it in broad daylight even if he could overpower Sean easily.

Raven glares at him. "Consorting with the enemy?"

Sean shrugs. "Long drive. There's only so many Justin Bieber songs I can sing along to."

"So you decide to make nice with the enemy? Worst. Friend. Ever," Raven growls, poking him in the chest. Sean swats her hand away, shoving another spoonful of rice into his mouth.

"He's the enemy now?" Hank mutters, side-eyeing the hallway leading to the open guest bedroom door where he can hear Scott babbling away at Alex, 'helping' him unpack.

"Fuck yeah," Raven says with conviction.

"I don't need this right now, Raven," Hank scolds, unpacking the rest of the take away and putting them on plates.

"Yeah, Raven," Sean mocks.

Raven gives him the finger.

"Whatever, dude. Mission accomplished anyway."

Raven's eyes go wide and she grabs Sean's shirtfront. "Don't fuck with me."

Sean raises both hands in surrender. "Not even."

From where he's pouring some Tom Yum soup into a microwaveable bowl, Hank looks up. "What are you crazies talking about now?"

"Pfft, you think I was driving him around out of the goodness of my heart?"

Hank raises an eyebrow. "You did it because Raven made you."

Sean sputters. "I was on a recon mission, baby."

"Which I sent you on," Raven cuts in.

"Details."

"Out with it, then," Hank commands, shutting the microwave door and hitting start.

"Okay, so," Sean says, lowering his voice and leaning in. "He lives out in California. Like Long Beach or Ventura or whatever. Close to the water."

"Isn't all of California close to the water?" Raven says, a true East Coaster but she and Hank lean in anyway, a little circle of conspiracy.

"He's got a job, so you don't have to worry about him being a deadbeat," Sean goes on. "Like at a garage or something. Auto repair? His friend owns it or he co-owns it or someshit. He wasn't very upfront about that. I'm thinking shady Fast and the Furious/Gone in 60 Seconds carjacking shit." And apparently done, he sits back in his chair and smiles, self-satisfied.

Raven slaps him upside the head.

"That's it?" she hisses. "That's all you've got?"

"Ow," Sean glares, half-heartedly rubbing at his head. "Well, he's not dating anyone, if that's what you want to know, Raven."

"Just what are you implying, Cassidy?"

"If you don't know by now, I'm not gonna spell it out for you."

Hank has to physically wedge himself between both of them before all hell breaks loose and it devolves into a slap-fight. "Cut it out, you two." The microwave starts beeping and Hank makes Sean attend to it to keep him occupied.

"We'll see how accurate your info is once Erik gets back to me," Raven can't resist sniping.

Sean's cut off from answering by Scott banging in, dragging Alex by the hand. "Dad! Dad! Dad! Alex has a bike! Can I ride it? Please? Please? Please?"

Hank sort of wants to laugh and/or coo at the look on Alex's face.

"Uh, we might've stopped for ice cream on the way back," he says, blinking at Scott, who'd started bouncing up and down with both his hands grasping Alex's arm.

Hank raises a disapproving eyebrow.

"Sean suggested it. He said it was okay," Alex adds, uncomfortable.

Hank turns his censure on Sean. "Really?"

Sean attempts (and tragically fails) a contrite grin.

"First thing you gotta learn, living here," Raven says to Alex, "is that Sean is full of bullshit. Never listen to him."

Scott, persistent as ever, pulls Alex in Hank's direction. "Please, dad? Please? Please? Pleeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaase?" He's got them both in each hand and is swinging their arms, jumping and trying to use what little leverage he has to stay in mid-air for a few microseconds.

Hank shoots Sean a scathing look. "You're putting him to sleep tonight." He turns back and, over Scott's bobbing head, meets Alex's little smirk with resignation. "We'll see after dinner, Scott."

*

"I have reservations about this," Hank mutters. He's standing beside Alex's bike, this flashy, compact racing number, nervously hovering while Alex plops Scott down on the fuel tank and shows him where to place his hands.

"Don't worry about it, doc," Alex grins, teeth flashing bright in the afternoon sun. "I do this with my friend Armando's kid all the time."

"Scott's never been on one before," Hank counters over the sound of Scott making vroom-ing noises and singing the Captain America theme.

"I solemnly swear to not go over 15 miles an hour," Alex says, mock-grave and drawing a cross over his chest.

Hank squints at him. "You better."

Alex's grin widens into a full-blown smile as he puts on his sunglasses. Scott looks up and copies him, taking his sunglasses from the collar of his T-shirt and zipping up his little brown leather bomber jacket which he'd pestered Hank into getting for him because Steve Rogers wore one all the time and it's so cool, dad. Hank's thankful that Scott's stopped insisting on wearing his Captain America jammies under his clothes while wearing said jacket.

"Be safe," Hank chides one last time before retreating to the foyer area of their building. He mostly ignores the salute Alex offers in reply.

"I gotta admit, they're pretty fucking cute," Raven says from where she's leaning against a column.

"Uh oh, should I go warn the guy that you're on the prowl again?" Sean mocks, sprawled across the steps, slowly going through a jumbo pack of Skittles.

"Screw you," she replies, kicking his arm lightly.

"My bad, he's not an asshole, so he's pretty safe from you, huh?"

Raven kicks him again, harder this time and he just laughs.

"The jury's still out on the asshole part," is Hank's contribution to the conversation. Raven smiles sympathetically at him and threads her arm through his.

"Hank, I know your social life's this sad thing of PTA meetings, crying at the stupidity of your students and making love to your little experiments," Sean says, head tilted back and looking at Hank over the rims of his sunglasses, "but I did not see any asshole behaviour in the park. What I saw was a dude trying to get into another dude's pants."

"And you're an expert, all of a sudden?" Hank replies, dry. He pauses to wave at Scott who's beaming and calling out to him as he and Alex complete a circuit of the courtyard. "You were almost twenty before you lost your virginity."

"It's called making up for lost time," Sean grins, cheeky.

"Wait, hold up," Raven says, pinching Hank's arm. "What park? What the hell are you talking about?"

"Like a week ago," Sean answers. "We took Scott to the park and Alex was sniffing around Hank or something. There was some sexual tension going on there."

"Henry Philip McCoy," Raven breathes out, punching him on the shoulder.

"Have I ever told you that you have extremely worrying violent tendencies?" Hank mutters, rubbing at his shoulder.

"I've been saying she needs anger management for as long as I've known her," Sean chimes in. "No one ever listens to me."

"That's because most of whatever comes out of your mouth is such shit, Sean," Raven says absently, her focus mostly on Hank. "And you. You never said anything about Summers trying to pick you up in the park."

"I don't think he was hitting on me so much as trying to gauge my character," Hank replies honestly.

"That's what you think," Sean says, annoying as ever.

Hank glares at him and Sean smiles back, unrepentant. Raven's phone beeps while they're busy waving at Scott who's come around for another circuit.

"Mind if I take him around the block, doc?" Alex calls out then doesn't wait for an answer, just makes the turn out into the street, waving idly back at Hank.

"Oh God," Hank moans, burying his face in his hands, trying to erase the horrid images of fiery crashes and huge, gaping wounds from his eyelids.

"Yeah, totally doesn't want in your pants," Sean supplies unhelpfully.

"Stop making everything a porno," Raven chides, kicking Sean yet again. She looks up from her phone. "So, that was Erik emailing me Alex Summers currently Alex Blandings's entire life history."

Hank stops doing his best impression of a weeping widow at that. "Blandings?"

"Apparently the US MIlitary was kind enough to supply him with a new identity after he was honourably discharged with a fuckton of medals," Raven informs them dryly.

"Wait, isn't that supposed to be classified information?" Hank asks, bewildered.

The look Raven gives him is longsuffering. "Erik called in a few favours, obviously."

"So what's the general consensus?" Sean asks.

"Barring a few KPs for fighting in military school, he's clean," Raven reluctantly says. "But that's just on paper."

"Can we finally give him the benefit of the doubt?" Hank asks.

"Well, you won't get better documentation if you were looking for a renter, that's for sure," Raven concedes. "I'll email you a copy."

"Can we finally stop judging his every little move?" Sean asks her.

"I'll consider it," she replies. "He's got to pass the Charles and Erik test first."

Hank gapes. "What are you talking about?"

"Dinner, tomorrow, at the mansion," Sean answers with a smile so wide it'd put hyenas to shame.

"Charles absolutely insists," Raven adds, smirking.

Hank's urge to repeatedly bang his head against the conrete pillar is curtailed by the loud roar of a motorcycle engine and he goes to meet an exhilerated Scott and Alex as they pull up in front of the building instead.

*

"Is this anything to be worried about?" Alex says from where he's leaning against the door, watching Hank dress Scott.

"You've been specially trained to withstand all kinds of torture, right?" Hank replies, buttoning up Scott's dress shirt (Armani - because Raven and Charles can't help themselves and actually get first pick on the new lines) and tucking it into his chinos (Osh Kosh, which was good enough for him, thanks very much).

"That bad?" Alex moves to sit on the corner of Scott's bed. Scott immediately tries to climb all over him.

"Scott, stay still please," Hank chides and Scott heaves a big sigh, crosses his arms and plonks himself down on Alex's lap. Hank tries to comb Scott's hair into submission. "Not bad, per se," Hank hedges, glancing up into Alex's amused face.

"Why do I feel like I'm meeting the parents?"

Hank finishes brushing Scott's hair into some semblance of order. "Okay, done. Go pick out your belt and shoes." Scott hops off Alex's lap and runs to his closet and starts pulling open his drawer of belts. Hank leans back on both hands and regards Alex critically. "Out of curiosity's sake, how are you with parents?"

There's a long moment where they're just looking at each other before Alex answers, "Did it once. Fu - messed it up real bad."

"Nice save."

"Thanks. Scott told me about the swear jar."

"I've almost got enough that he won't need any funding for post-grad research."

Alex laughs. Hank bites his lip; It's worrying that he finds it so attractive.

"Not hard to believe," Alex says, blue eyes focusing on Hank with an intensity that the present conversational topic doesn't merit at all. "I've met Sean and Raven."

"A few more slip-ups and I won't have to worry about his post-doc funding," Hank smiles.

"Big dreams."

"Doesn't hurt," Hank shrugs.

Alex apparently has nothing to say to that, content to hold Hank's gaze and Hank, unable to parse enough of the moment to his satisfaction, studies him right back. Their strange stalemate is broken by Scott throwing himself at Hank. "Done!" he yells in Hank's ear as they both fall to the carpet.

Hank tickles him and he squeals, squirming away and rolling to his feet. Hank pushes himself to his elbows, hiding a fond smile at the sight of Scott executing a half-tuck with his shirt which ends up with him perfectly showcasing the bat symbol belt buckle on his extremely articulated for a children's toy accessory Batman utility belt. Hank can only be glad that Scott decided to forgo the WWF Continental Champion belt this time around.

"Here," Scott says, thrusting his Captain America belt at Scott, and continues, magnanimously, "You can be Captain America tonight 'cos you've got yellow hair and were in the army like Steve."

"Thanks, buddy," Alex says, ruffling Scott's hair and taking the belt, wrapping it several times around his wrist before buckling it.

Scott watches him do it, rapt, and Hank senses a new obsession in bloom.

"We better get going," Hank says, pushing himself to his feet and holding out his hand to Scott.

Scott pulls Alex to his feet and places his free hand in Hank's. "We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz!" Scott bellows, marching them out of the room.

Alex looks to Hank and they share an amused smile.

*

"Sorry we're late," Hank calls out as he and Alex trail behind Scott into the Mansion's informal dining room. "Scott saw Warren at the deli and they just had to play go-kart with the shopping carts."

Scott, oblivious, throws himself at Charles, accepting his customary hug.

"What were you doing there?" Charles lets go of Scott and watches fondly as he claims the chair beside Erik.

Hank thrusts out a bottle of wine in reply.

"Bless." Charles smiles, takes the wine and, chin in hand, turns his gaze on Alex. "And who might this be?" he asks, coy.

Hank shoots Charles a look of fond exasperation. "This is Alex, Scott's brother, which you very well know." Alex, who'd been visibly startled as they'd pulled into the Mansion's driveway and who'd basically gaped like a goldfish when they'd been led through the halls by the housekeeper, manages to shake himself back into some semblance of normalcy and holds out his hand.

Personally, Hank thinks surprised is a good look on Alex. It's a welcome change from his general default of smug self-assuredness.

"Alex, this is Charles Xavier," Hank says as they shake hands, feeling a foreboding chill run down his spine at the half-smile on Charles's face. "And that's his partner, Erik Lensherr. They're Scott's godparents."

"Pleasure," Charles smiles, not missing the way Alex jumps at the mention of Erik's name. Curious but sort of amusing to watch in contrast to Erik's deceptively placid expression.

"Sir." Alex executes what looks to Hank's untrained eye as a soldier's at attention position.

Erik continues to stare blandly at him. There's a weird tension in the room that even Sean and Raven, previously loudly bickering over the merits of one Drag Race contestant over another, shut up and notice.

"Erik," Charles chides.

Erik smirks. "At ease, soldier."

Alex drops his stance but Hank can still see the tension in his shoulders.

"Jesus, Erik, if you ever decide to quit your day job, Azazel's always hiring 'devils' for his tour. You wouldn't even need make up or anything." Sean can always be relied on to defuse any given situation.

"You know, Sean, you're getting soft in the middle there. It's all that driving around. Remind me to rescind driving privileges for the sake of your health."

"Hey!"

"Huh, what do you know," Raven pinches Sean's side. "Erik's right. You're getting flabby there, son."

Hank takes the opportunity of Sean yelping, "Charles! Charles! They're picking on me! You won't let them make me walk everywhere, would you? I'd be a walkng sunburn!" to hip-check Alex into an empty seat. Alex hunted expression speaks volumes at his opinion of their general craziness and Hank can only bite his lip to hide his laughter.

"So, Alex," Charles says after placating Sean and listening to Scott regale the table with a story of that one time he managed to get a sunburn the shape of a star on his back. "What is it that you do? Besides propositioning men outside coffeeshops?"

Erik, from where he's spooning potatoes onto Scott's plate, lifts an eyebrow. "He propositioned you?"

"Lord, no," Charles laughs, as if the idea were preposterous. It really isn't. Before Erik, Charles used to get hit on about as many times as there were hours in a day and still gets hit on by the odd tourist or visiting academic who doesn't know about his very scary, very jealous boyfriend. "I was talking about dear Hank."

Raven and Sean shoot Hank twin smirks.

Hank's ears redden. "Charles, you completely misread the situation."

"Have I?" Charles does that thing where he manages to both innocently and coquettishly bat his eyelids. "Then please enlighten me. Ta, darling," he smiles when Erik tops off his wineglass.

Feeling trapped, Hank blurts out, "I thought he was stalking me."

"To be fair," Alex says, coming to his rescue. "I sorta was, doc."

"Really?" Charles says, poorly feigning shock, and turning to Erik, asks "Stalking's a criminally punishable offense, isn't it?"

"A year of hard time. Three, if the DA's particularly vicious," Erik confirms, smiling predatorily.

"Ororo is quite vigilant about prosecuting harassment suits."

They think they're so funny with their little routine. It's why none of them bring anyone home.

"Well, as the purported stalkee, I'm exercising my right to abstain from bringing up charges against Alex, so you can both just drop it," Hank says, sour.

Charles pouts.

"Getting back on track here," Raven says, elbows crossed on the table, leaning in Alex's direction. "What my easily side-tracked nosy brother means is: Tell us everything about yourself."

"Pretend that we haven't already invaded your privacy and checked up on you," is Sean's contribution. "Hilarious profile pic, by the way."

"Uh, thanks," Alex replies while glancing nervously at Erik who still looks like butter won't melt in his mouth. "There's not much to tell? What do you want to know?"

"Oh, just the usual, love," Charles smiles encouragingly. "Where do you live? What do you do?"

"Long term goals? Ambitions?" Raven adds.

"Hopes, dreams, deepest, darkest secrets of your heart," Sean snorts.

"What you plan on doing now that you've found Scott," Erik finishes.

Hank blanches. This is a conversation he'd hoped on putting off for as long as he possibly could and if it never came up? He'd have been so very grateful. He doesn't want to think about it, doesn't want to hear what Alex has planned because there are only two courses of action and either would break Scott's heart.

He can tell from the calculating gleam in Charles's eyes that he's already established contingencies if Alex's reply isn't what he wants to hear - isn't what they all want to hear, save perhaps Hank, who doesn't know if Alex eventually leaving might be better or worse for Scott's well-being than him planning to fight for legal custody.

It's not an appropriate dinner conversation topic, which is why he wasn't expecting it though in retrospect, he should have expected it because nothing about his friends is ever appropriate.

He wants to tell Alex that he doesn't have to answer that, not here, definitely not now but Alex is apparently braver than Hank, or stupider, because he actually very calmly replies. "The truth is I never actually thought about what would happen after I found Scott. I had all these ideas floating in my head that if I ever did find him, he'd be in some bad place and I'd come in and take him away from it."

Raven frowns. Sean actually puts his fork down and crosses his arms. Erik's white-knuckled grip on the table is the only thing that betrays him and while Charles posture remains relaxed, his fingers at his temple is a clear indicator of his unease.

Hank focuses on Scott who's managed to appropriate Charles's phone and is playing a game on it, thankfully oblivious to the conversation.

Alex takes a deep breath, exhales loudly. "I always prayed Scott had been taken in by a good family. Someone up there must've been listening because he ended up with you guys. I don't know what'll happen. The doc's been great, letting me stay. I don't know. I guess we'll play it by ear, huh?"

He shoulders Hank companionably. Hank manages a half-smile.

"If that's the case, then you simply must come to the wedding," Charles finally says, having apparently decided that Alex isn't a threat. Yet.

"Uh, thanks? Who's getting married?"

"We are," Erik answers, and Hank can hear something like a challenge in his tone.

"Congratulations," Alex replies, not missing a beat. "When's the wedding?"

"The end of July," Charles answers at the same time Raven says, "August."

Alex blinks.

"Oh come on!" Raven says, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Are we still on that? You're seriously crazy if you think there's enough time to plan a July wedding."

"If you don't want to be involved in the planning, you could've just said," Charles sniffs, affecting wounded like a professional thespian. "I'm sure Moira will be more than happy to assist in your stead."

Raven turns a facet of apopleptic Hank's never seen before. "You are so lucky Scott is here or else I'd smash this wine bottle over your head."

"Resorting to physical violence now, are we? And in front of company too. I daresay I hope you don't act like this during the reception."

"You know what? You can take your bridezilla act and shove it."

"Language, really, Raven."

Hank taps Alex on the arm. "We should go retire to the parlour." Out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Sean's already ducked out of the dining room and that Erik's discreetly scooping Scott up in his arms, ready to retreat the moment Charles's back is turned.

"Are they always like this?" Alex whispers as soon as they're out of sight of the dining room.

"Charles and Raven? Always."

"No, I mean all of them."

Hank laughs and pushes open the parlour's double doors. Sean's already there, beer bottle in one hand and remote in the other. "No," Hank says, smiling at Alex over his shoulder. "This is actually them behaving themselves."

*

"So," Alex starts, once they're on their way back to the apartment. "That was something."

"I did warn you." Hank, from his position in the passenger seat, twists around to check on Scott. He smiles at the sight of Scott fast asleep in the back, head resting on the seatbelt's chest strap, mouth half-open.

"You gotta be kidding me, McCoy. You did not warn me. No warning was given. You basically dropped me behind enemy lines and left me to fend for myself."

"I helped!" Hank protests.

"Sure you did," Alex mocks. "You also didn't tell me that Erik fucking Lensherr was Scott's godfather."

Hank brow furrows. "You know Erik?"

Alex shrugs.

"How do you know Erik?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

Hank thinks it's the two beers and the glass of scotch that's making it hard for him to tell if Alex is joking or not.

"Fine, keep your little secrets. I just hope you don't keep acting like you did around him. I don't want you saluting during Scott's graduation or anything like that."

"Graduation?"

"You know how it is these days. All that child psychology claptrap that breeds mediocrity by praising every single mundane 'accomplishment' as a means of positive reinforcement. We are all special little snowflakes."

"Did you just do air quotations with you hands?"

"Did I?" Hank frowns. "I may be drunker than I previously estimated."

"You're kind of a lightweight, huh, doc?"

"At least I remain articulate throughout. Or so I've been told. What's your excuse?"

"You're kind of a bitchy drunk," Alex says, amused.

"I'm supposedly also slutty. Be thankful I'm not subjecting you to that." Hank looks out the window at the soft, comforting blur of the old-fashioned streetlights as they drive down Main Street. It's all very quaint and lovely that he lives in a place with an actual street named Main Street.

They get home in record time. Alex is a champ, Hank thinks magnanimously, carrying Scott all the way up to the apartment while guiding Hank inside with a hand on his shoulder. If he leans a little bit too much into the touch, he can always blame the alcohol. That is, if he remembers it in the morning.

*

One thing Hank is extremely grateful for is that his end of term precedes Scott's by a good month or so. What they usually do is basically move in to the Mansion for most of May, relying on Charles's benevolence to keep them both fed and have someone keep an eye on Scott while Hank frantically revises the exams he's written, goes over the few papers he's been asked to advise, marks final exams, submits class grades and revises his syllabus.

This time around, they both stay home. Hank's load is lighter this year because Charles insisted on giving him one of his TAs to help with the marking and Hank had been too relieved to refuse out of politeness. Alex has also proven to be most helpful in that he's up with the sun and has breakfast prepared by the time Hank manages to stumble out of bed. He also offers to wake Scott up, which frees up half an hour for Hank to go over his tasks for the day.

Alex drives them both to school in Hank's car and picks Scott up when his school lets out. What he does in the hours in between, Hank has no idea. As long as Erik hasn't called to inform him that Alex has wound up in jail, Hank can't really muster up enough spare energy to care.

Alex takes Scott to the park, or the movies or out grocery shopping in the couple of hours before Hank's last class ends. Hank and Alex trade off on who makes dinner, though they usually end up calling out for takeaway.

It's all very nice and convenient and makes the hellish rush of the end of term almost bearable.

So it's a very pleasant surprise when just after Hank hands in his class grades to the department secretary (who glares at him because he always always just manages to sneak them in ten minutes before the deadline) he receives a text from Brian Braddock saying that he's currently in the area and would Hank like to have dinner again sometime?

Considering that the school year had just ended for him without the prospect of teaching the summer term looming in the forefront (he did it last year so he was justified if fobbing it off on the greener recruits) and that he'd woken up to a half-naked man making him breakfast every morning for nearing two months now, Hank really can't be blamed for thinking that this is the universe's way of rewarding him for good behaviour.

Raven seems to think so, when she comes over that night, bringing chilorio and tamales with regards from Abilena, the Mansion's cook.

"You guys better enjoy it while you can," Raven says, foreboding, as they all watch Scott scoop heaping globs of guacamole into his mouth. "Charles is sending her on a year-long vacation after the wedding."

"What? Why?" Hank spoons some chilorio onto a tortilla, rolls it up and emphatically puts it on Scott's plate.

"To be fair, he's sending all the staff away on extended vacation," Raven growls, viciously biting into a tamale. "He's on this stupid kick where he wants to have privacy to be newlyweds or something dumb like that."

Scott stops inhaling guacamole long enough to pipe, "Swear jar, aunt Raven!"

Raven pulls out ten dollars from her purse and slaps it on the table. "Here, that should about cover me for the rest of the night, buddy."

Scott pockets the bill in between bites.

Alex, who'd been staring at Scott steadily working his way through the bowl, shakes his head in amazement. "Look at him go."

"You should see him with the wasabe," Raven says.

"Won't he get a stomachache?" Alex asks.

"Surprisingly no," Hank says, leaning over to tap Scott's plate. "Scott, I want you to eat your wrap, okay? Then you can have the rest of the guacamole."

Scott looks like he's going to protest for one second before shrugging and putting down his spoon.

"Thank you," Hank says when Scott picks up his wrap. Turning back to Raven, he says, "Don't people only do that when they haven't lived together before? Charles is ten years too late for that."

Raven makes a sweeping gesture that completely expresses her exasperation. "He does what he wants. He always has. And apparently the wedding's going to happen in July."

"Lost that battle?"

"You know what? I wash my hands of this. He hired a planner from Manhattan. Now all those sycophants are going to descend on this town like the Mongol hordes because there is no way you can keep this a secret, confidentiality contracts be damned."

"Seven dollars left!" Scott chimes while Alex starts chuckling. "You and your brother are not normal people, you know that, right?" he tells Raven.

"Thanks," Raven preens.

Scott tugs on Alex's sleeve and starts regaling him with what happened that one time Kitty came over for dinner and Scott tricked her into thinking the guacamole was pistachio ice cream. Raven takes this as an opportunity to sneakily open with, "So, the wedding planner's this old friend of ours. Her name's Betsey. She tells me her brother's coming down with her to check the Mansion out. You might know him. His name's Brian."

Hank narrows his eyes at her. "Smooth, real smooth."

"So?" she asks, leaning her elbow on the table.

Hank sighs. "Dinner on Wednesday."

"I knew you had it in you."

"What's happening on Wednesday?" Scott asks.

Raven hides her shit-eating grin behind a fall of hair.

"I - uh - I have a meeting with someone that night," Hank hedges, smiling down at Scott who's looking up at him with all the suspicion in his little body, which mostly amounts to him squinting up at Hank. "You okay with Alex looking after you for the night, buddy?" Hank shoots Alex what he hopes is a charming, please-do-me-this-favour-which-I've-forgotten-to-ask-you smile.

"Fine. Can you bring me ice cream after?"

"Phish Food?"

Scott nods. "Okay, you can go, dad."

Later, when they're washing dishes while Scott makes Raven teach him one-handed cartwheels in the living room, Hank says, "Thanks for agreeing to babysit, by the way."

Alex, his forearms soapy from being half-submerged in the kitchen sink, grins, handing Hank a plate to dry. "Not a problem, doc. Just make sure you bring enough ice cream for me too."

"That's less than what Shiro's sister charges me so you're on." Hank sets the now-dry plate on top of the pile. "But I really appreciate it, you watching Scott while I go on this, uh, dinner."

"It's not like it's a hardship," Alex says, handing off the silverware and turning off the tap. "At least this way, you get overnight babysitting service for the price of a pint of ice cream. That's more bang for your buck. Literally."

Hank gapes, feeling his ears turn red.

"And, doc, you could've just said it was a date, you know," Alex smiles, shit-eating, as he dries his hands on the towel Hank's holding.

*

An hour before Brian's due to pick him up, Scott shuffles into the kitchen where Hank's been teaching Alex how to make samosas for dinner and says, "Dad? I don't feel so good."

Hank immediately falls to his knees next to him and presses the back of his hand to Scott's forehead then neck. Scott's burning up. Hank scoops him up and basically retreats to his bedroom, oblivious to Alex's baffled concern.

Hank doesn't know how to handle Scott and illnes with anything but blind panic and fierce overreaction. He's been this way since that first time, days after he'd found Scott, when the effects of sleeping out in the cold finally took its toll in the form of pneumonia. Hank had been rendered immobile from sheer terror, cradling Scott to his chest and mind running a hundred miles a minute with nothing helpful to suggest.

It had taken Raven coming to fetch them for breakfast and seeing Scott in that state for anything useful to happen. She'd run to Charles who's alternately harangued and charmed their family doctor into making a house call on a Sunday morning.

Hank let go just long enough for the doctor to diagnose Scott, Charles and Raven on either side of him in solidarity and as actual physical support.

Scott had called out weakly for him, in between fits of hacking coughs, and Hank was back at his side as soon as the doctor had moved away. Raven had gone to escort the doctor out and to drive to the pharmacy but Charles had stayed, rooted in place, staring at Scott with a naked sort of longing that was painful to watch.

Charles, who collected strays, whose one great desire was to have a family, and for him to come so close and not be able to have it.

Hank turned away, closed his eyes and stroked Scott's sweaty hair away from his forehead, singing lullabies in a raspy voice.

What Hank sees early one morning, days into Scott's convalescence, heading to the kitchen to fetch more water, is something that will stay with him for years.

It's an empty whiskey bottle on the kitchen table and a half-full crystal tumbler, one of the kitchen chairs at an angle away as if whoever had been sitting there had stood up too hastily, had wanted to get away. It's Charles, body angled towards the kitchen window overlooking the garden, and Erik, wrapped around him, whispering broken I'm sorrys into his neck.

Hank had stood, frozen in place, task forgotten as he'd taken in the bleak blankness of Charles's face, his eyes an otherworldly blue in the weak pre-dawn light. There and gone again because, in the next instant, he'd pressed back into Erik, squeezed their arms tighter around his middle, turned his head and said, "I understand. There isn't anything to forgive."

"I'm so sorry," Erik said anyway, voice hoarse.

Charles turned in the circle of his arms, took Erik's face in both hands. "I love you. I can wait until you're ready."

Hank had left quietly after that, feeling too much like an intruder, a thief even. Hank had understood a little bit more after that.

Because Erik couldn't stand to look at Scott, not in those early days (and even weeks and months later). It isn't something Hank can fully comprehend; there's layers and layers to Erik, a veritable encyclopedia of past occurences that no one but Charles will ever know. That one incident he shouldn't have been privy to had given him an inkling, though, and he had found himself much more forgiving of Erik's character after that.

A week later, Charles had presented him with Scott's adoption papers with a brilliant smile and sad eyes, naming Hank Scott's adoptive parent.

So, yes, when it comes to Scott and illness? Hank isn't even in the same solar system as rationality, even if it does turn out to be just the run-of-the-mill cold.

"Is he okay?" Alex asks from the doorway, after Hank had basically blurred past him in numerous treks around the apartment in a bid to gather all the items necessary for Scott's comfort.

Hank, busy settling and re-settling two comforters around Scott and tucking him in, snug as a bug, says, "He's running a low-grade fever."

"Oh," Alex says, stepping into the room and then standing awkwardly at the foot of Hank's bed. "Is...is that something to be worried about?"

Hank shakes his head, scattering a selection of Disney DVDs in Scott's lap. "If it gets worse in the morning, I'll have to call the doctor but it'll keep for now."

Scott tugs on Hank's arm and points weakly at Up. Hank pops it into his laptop, set up on a bed table, then settles in on his side on top of the covers, head propped up on one hand while he rests the other on Scott's stomach.

Alex stuffs his hands in his pockets and, Hank is amused to note, shuffles his feet. "Okay, then. I'll just -"

"Alex," Scott calls out wretchedly, voice half-muffled from where his mouth is pressed in Lex's fur.

"Yeah, buddy?" Alex replies, moving closer.

"Stay," Scott says, holding his hand out, little face scrunched up in misery.

Alex hesitates for a beat, eyes shifting over to Hank, asking for permission. Hank nods, a bit amused, always entertained at Alex being nervous, the man's so irritatingly confident about things. Alex takes the empty space next to Scott, his back against the headboard, legs stretched out in front of him. Scott makes a small contented noise, leaning against Alex's elbow, hand wrapped around Hank's thumb.

It's nice. Worryingly comfortable, even.

The loud knock from the front door almost comes as a shock.

Hank jerks upright, the motion jostling a dozing Scott awake. Alex looks up at him in askance while Hank shushes Scott back to sleep.

"Dad," Scott whines.

"I'll be right back, I promise," Hank says, soothing. He mouths, my date at Alex.

Hank heads for the door, absently noting his rumpled appearance in the hallway mirror. He makes a face, shrugging to himself. What can you do? he thinks, pulling the door open, smile plastered on his face.

He didn't think it was possible but Brian actually looks better than he remembers.

"Hi," Brian says, smiling broad and promising.

"Hi," Hank says back, leaning against the doorframe.

They stand there smiling at each other for a really long time.

"You look fantastic," Brian finally says.

"You're lying, but thanks anyway."

"I'm not," Brian says seriously.

Hank shakes his head, smiling.

Brian holds out his hand. "Shall we?"

"About that," Hank starts. "Um, bad news." He watches Brian's smile falter for a bit, his hand falling back to his side. "Scott, my son, who you might remember from me talking about him way too much during our last date - "

"Is he in there?" Brian smiles, wide and easy. "Mind if I meet the little tyke?"

"About that," Hank says, returning the smile with an apologetic one of his own. "He's sick. We caught it about an hour ago. So...would you mind if I take a rain check on the date?"

"Of course not, he's your son," Brian says like it's that easy, like Hank hasn't already gone through this entire song and dance with a dozen other guys who couldn't understand that Scott will always come first.

"How long will you be in town for?" Hank asks, relieved that he won't have to delete yet another phone number and email address from his contacts list, won't have to call Raven to commiserate about being singletons for the rest of their lives.

"Not very long, I'm afraid," Brian says. "I'll be back next month, so you could, er - " He breaks off, looking at something over Hank's shoulder.

Hank turns around, sees Alex making his way to the kitchen and thinks about how an outsider would perceive this scene, Hank in his rumpled clothes, breaking off a date while Alex putters about barefoot in the background in his washed-thin T-shirt and low-slung jeans.

Hank steps out into the hallway, Brian reflexively taking a step back, eyes still glued on Alex, and shuts the door firmly behind him.

"So, that looks bad," Hank says lamely, trying to break the tension.

"You roommate, I take it?"

"Sort of," Hank hedges. "This is going to sound crazy and made-up but that's Scott's long lost brother."

Brian blinks.

"I know," Hank says. "It sounds like the plot of a bad soap opera. Sometimes I can't believe it myself and I'm living it."

"And you've invited him to live with you."

Hank has no answer to that but to smile, chagrined.

"Hank," Brian finally says and his tone makes Hank want to close his eyes and just bash his head into a wall because he really should've seen this coming. If it isn't one thing it's another and thinking he wouldn't have to end up calling Raven after this was a bit premature.

"You're lovely, and I like you more than quite a bit and I'd dearly love to see you again. Why don't you call me once you've sorted things out?"

Hank lets out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "I'd like that."

Brian goes in for a hug and Hank responds in kind.

"I really hope to hear from you," is the last thing Brian says before the turns the corner and disappears from sight.

Hank takes a moment to just stand there in the deserted hallway and pull himself back together. It wasn't anything serious but rejection will always be painful to him to some degree.

Hank heads back inside, locking the door and setting the alarm before making his way to his bedroom.

Scott's blinking sleepily at the laptop screen, body curled around Alex's arm. Hank settles in behind him, stroking his hair away from his forehead, trying to remember the last time he took Scott to the barber.

"Scott wanted juice," Alex says softly, out of the blue.

"It's alright," Hank says.

*

Waking Scott up in the middle of the night to give him his required dose of Tylenol is something of a production, with a lot of flailing and grumbling and near-crying. Only a promise of a trip to the ice cream parlour and putting Happy Feet on manages to console him long enough for Hank to spoon medicine into his mouth. Alex holds out the glass of juice for him to wash the taste away.

Scott's cranky, irritable and being fussy, pulling Hank's arm around his middle and pillowing his head on Alex's shoulder, Lex resting on Alex's chest, his paws in the air. It's stuffy and uncomfortable but Scott refuses to be moved.

Hank and Alex share commiserating looks.

"I gave him this, did you know?" Alex says once Scott's fallen asleep.

Hank studies the curve of Alex's ear, the shape of his jaw, features not quite as severe due to Hank's lack of glasses. "Lex?"

"Yeah." Alex turns his head to face Hank. Their faces are so close they're almost breathing in each other's exhalations. "I came home after a stint in Alaska a year after Scott was born. I got this for him at an airport gift shop."

"Oh," Hank says in realisation. "He named it after you."

Alex grins. "He babbled a lot at that age. I tried to get him to say my name in the week I had on leave. Ambitious, I know," Alex says at Hank's amused smile. "I kept going, A-lex, A-lex, like that's help him get it faster. I don't know what I was thinking but I was pretty proud of myself when I managed to get him to say Wex right before I left."

"I think he did remember you," Hank says into the silence. "I asked him about Lex a few times in the beginning. Where it was from, who'd given it to him. He wouldn't answer. He just told me Lex would keep him safe."

Alex closes his eyes, turns his head away. "Was that supposed to make me feel better, doc? Because it really fucking doesn't."

Hank takes in the downturn of his mouth, the muscle tensing in his jaw. Hank moves his hand the scant inches from Scott's chest to right below Alex's collarbone.

The unexpected contact startles them both.

"It's something you should know," Hank says.

Alex looks at him, searching for something. His hand comes up to cover Hank's. "Thanks, doc," he finally says.

*

Hank's alarm goes off four hours later.

Hank groans, head jostled off Alex's shoulder and into sluggish comprehension by Alex who apparently goes from asleep to awake and upright in bed at the slightest provocation. Scott's Tylenol, Hank thinks muzzily, reaching for his glasses, only to realise that Scott isn't in bed with them. He starts to panic, stumbling-falling out of the sheets and sprinting for the door.

He stubs his toe on the hallway table, stopping long enough to curse and for the sound of the television in the living room to filter into his consciousness.

"Easy there," Alex says, coming up behind him and steadying him with a hand on his elbow.

"Thanks," Hank says absently, flexing his toe and wincing.

"So, Scott's probably feeling a hell of a lot better, huh?" Alex says, when Scott's exclamations of NO, CHOWDER, NO! filter into the hall.

Hank shoots him a look. "You think?"

Alex grins, shit-eating, clapping Hank on the shoulder.

*

The day after Scott's graduation finds them sitting in the manicured park that's part of the Worthington estate, eating canapes and mini-quiches.

Scott's graduation had been something of a non-event. None of the kids considered it a thing deserving of merit though their parents would beg to differ.

Scott, apparently not spoiled enough, was showered with presents which he graciously accepted with more than a little bit of consternation. In a child's mind, presents were still presents, even if there was no occasion for it. Sean had gotten him the metal replica Thor gauntlets he hadn't stopped talking about for weeks, Alex bought him a Ripstik (giving Hank a heart-attack in the process), Raven got him a Stella McCartney military jacket and from Charles a pair of handcrafted Berluti spectator boots because they were both crazy, crazy people.

Erik, being relatively sane in comparison, promised to take Scott out for ice cream at a later date, which Scott was more excited about than all of his other gifts put together.

Scott, being Scott, wore all of his graduation gifts when he walked across the tiny auditorium stage to accept his Leadership Award. (It took a lot of begging and cajoling on Hank's part for him to leave his Ripstik in the car.)

Hank allowed him to stay up past his bedtime and have pizza and ice cream for dinner as reward for both his accomplishments and good behaviour.

Kathryn Worthington, in an early bid for future PTA presidency, had invited Scott's entire grade and their respective families to her usual end of school barbeque which was less an intimate gathering and more of a circus, replete with catering, waiters, a bouncy castle and a MacGyvered baseball field.

She'd have had Hank's vote if she didn't go around acting like Charles was her main competition. Everyone pointing out that Charles actually wasn't Scott's parent and therefore not even qualified to run fell on deaf ears. Privately, everyone agreed that her grudge stemmed from the fact that Charles is essentially the Sheriff's Wife, second only to the Mayor's Wife in the town heirarchy (sometimes going so far as to transcend second place and being asked to judge the annual pie-baking contest because the Mayor's ex-model Wife didn't care for things like eating).

It might also have to do with the fact that Charles and Erik ended up together, to her eternal frustration.

"So, I think Mrs Worthington just hit on me," Alex says, coming up to Hank and handing him a beer and a (gourmet, organic) burger.

"She does that sometimes," Hank says as Alex settles on the grass next to his deck chair.

"I hate you, just so you know."

Hank ducks his head, hiding a smile. "I was hungry. You were gullible."

Alex scowls. "It was like being in the middle of an episode of Desperate Housewives," he says, tilting his head in the direction of the buffet table where Kathryn and a few of her cronies were making catty conversation with Charles.

"Well," Hank says, ducking his head conspiratorially. "Kathryn did sleep with her poolboy." At Alex's raised eyebrow, Hank pulls away. "But you didn't hear it from me."

Alex shakes his head and takes a deep swig of his beer, muttering to himself. Hank grins.

Suddenly an ominous shadow looms over them, blocking out the sun. "Alright, bitches, let's go," Raven barks, clapping her hands together.

"What - ?" Alex frowns up at her at the same time Hank groans, "Really? Already?"

"Get up off your asses. You," she points at Alex. "First baseman. Hank, center fielder. Now."

Raven all but marches them out to the makeshift field where Erik's already in place as pitcher, Sean's grumbling to himself and putting on the catcher's mask and Scott and his friends are running around switching positions every few seconds.

"You better not make us lose," Raven snarls, her finger stabbing into Alex's chest.

Hank drags Alex away as he mutters, "You gotta be kidding me, right?"

"No," Hank answers. "They take this very, very seriously."

Before they'd joined forces to defeat a greater enemy (ie, the teenage siblings of Scott's classmates), the annual end of school year baseball game had primarily been a pissing game between Raven and Erik, both mercilessly recruiting all able bodies to their sides. It all changed a couple of years ago when the once biddable adolescents grew into snot-nosed teenagers and decided to form a team all their own.

Raven and Erik tend to take losing to teenagers personally.

It's a close game, they manage the upper hand at the start, mostly thanks to some cryptic physical shorthand between Erik and Alex that ensured no one got past first base. It's when they have their turn at bat that the tide changes because Shiro's sister is an animal, pitching strike after strike without pause.

"Losing by one point isn't too terrible," Charles offers, once they're all sprawled out underneath the shade of a huge oak tree. Erik, whose lap he's sitting on, grumbles ominously.

"Darling," Charles chides. "The important thing is that we all had fun, didn't we, Scott?" Scott, curled up on Charles's lap, plonks his juice bottle down on the arm of the deck chair and sleepily hums his agreement.

"I still think we could've won it if someone didn't fumble that last catch," Raven mutters.

Sean, spread out on the grass, hipster sunglasses perched on his face, lazily gives her the finger.

"Can we all agree that that chick was boss?" Alex says from where he's leaning against the tree trunk. "She should try out for MLB or whatever."

Everyone mumbles their agreement.

"Leiko," Hank says. "She wants to get into MIT when she graduates. I think she just might too."

"I'm surprised you haven't tried to recruit her," Erik says dryly.

Charles smacks him lightly on the arm.

"You'd think us having the kids on our team would've been an advantage. But nooooo, tiny strike zones? What is that?" Raven's still whining, gulping down her second beer in ten minutes.

"Raven, be a sport," Charles says.

"Be a sport," Raven mimicks, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, sure, you big hypocrite. I was there when you were lording it over Kathryn that the council asked you to cut the ribbon for the library's grand re-opening, so don't you poor sport me when you can't be humbly victorious."

"I was not 'lording it' over Kathryn," Charles says, affronted. "I was merely answering her question."

"Yeah, sure, you were."

"Hey," Alex says, tapping Hank's fingers and drawing his attention away from yet another Xavier sniping match.

"Yeah?"

"I was thinking..." Alex trails off, tilting his head to one side.

Hank raises his eyebrows in askance.

"You and Scott. Neither of you've got anything lined up for the summer, right?"

"Not at the moment, no," Hank replies, wondering what Alex is getting at.

"Good," Alex says, nodding to himself. "'Cos I was wondering if you'd be okay - if I could - I want you guys to come out to California. I just...I want to take Scott around and show him where I live. Plus, I've got a bunch of people who kind of want to meet him."

Hank studies Alex's face, at his hopeful expression. "Sure," he finally says. "Why not."

Alex smiles, wide and goofy. "Thanks, doc."

Hank quirks his lips and calls out, "Scott?"

Scott turns his head from where it's nestled in the crook of Charles's neck. He blinks sleepily at them then scrambles over the chair's arm rest to plop himself in the space between Alex and Hank. "Dad?"

"How do you feel about going to California for the summer?" Hank asks, resting a hand on Scott's belly.

Scott jumps to his feet a second later, lethargy forgotten as he shouts out, "Disneyland! Disneyland! Yay!"

"I'll take that as a resounding yes," Hank says at the same time Alex says, "I guess he's got no problem with it."

They smirk at each other from between Scott's flailing legs.

"I'm going to Disneyland!"

"Just be sure to be back before the wedding," Charles says. "It wouldn't do for me to be missing my ringbearer."

*

One of the many advantages of all the private consultation work Hank's done means that he has a lot of disposable income so it's hardly anything at all for him to buy two round-trip tickets to LA at a moment's notice.

It's an exciting prospect for Scott who's (as far as he can remember) never flown commercial before, all of his domestic and international flights taken at the expense of Charles's private plane. Hank would be terribly disgusted with himself, raising a child who believes that a plane with its own bedroom, home theatre system and five-star menu is the norm, if he didn't take advantage of it too when it came to fulfilling his out of state speaking obligations.

The hassle of checking in, going through security and idling an hour and a half away in the designated waiting area takes on a different tinge when viewed through the eyes of a child.

Alex only has his duffel with him, which he could have opted to carry-on. Hank used to have this tiny rolling suitcase that's long been retired because having a child means that sometimes even the allotted checked baggage and the carry-on allowance combined isn't enough for even a week-long trip anywhere.

Scott drags Alex around the gift shops, only making a face when Hank warns Alex off buying Scott anything. Scott whiles the rest of the time before boarding making friends with an enormous Newfoundland while Hank takes a fitful nap on Alex's shoulder.

Hank blames his exhaustion on his last minute frantic packing. He may be meticulously regimented when it comes to professional matters but when it comes to his personal life, he's a mess. Scott volunteering to pack his own carry-on was no help at all as Hank had discovered that he'd basically stuffed all his favourite toys and shoes into it a couple of hours before they'd been due to leave for the airport.

Hank had waved off Alex's offers of help (Alex's idea of packing was so minimalistic as to be Spartan) and had him and Scott entertain one another while he'd sorted everything out properly.

He's brought out of his light doze by a light touch to his elbow. Alex shoulders their bags while Hank tries to pry Scot away from his canine friend as the announcement for their flight echoes overhead.

Scott's still waving at the dog as they pass through the boarding gate.

They somehow manage to settle themselves into their seats without unduly holding up the rest of the queue though having to fit his long, long legs into the tiny space afforded him reminds Hank why he loathes flying commercial.

He somehow manages to find the least uncomfortable position and settles himself, pulling out his iPad and handing it to Alex to pass on to Scott once they're in the air.

He falls asleep to the sight of Scott alternating between pressing his face up against the plane window and excitedly beaming at him and Alex.

*

Two of Alex's friends are there to meet them at the Arrivals gate at LAX.

Alex's friends are, to put it simply, stunning.

"Hey," Alex greets the man, pulling him into one of those complicated arm-clasp/back-pat gestures that Hank thinks is just ridiculous and reeks of machismo. Alex is only saved from the full force of Hank's judgment when he and the woman exchange the same greeting.

"Hank, Scott, this Angel and Armando - " the man smiles bright and friendly while the woman nods coolly at them - "Guys, this is Hank. And this," Alex scoops a yawning Scott into his arms, "is Scott."

"Say hi Scott," Hank says. Scott waves, rubbing his eyes. "Sorry about that," Hank smiles sheepishly as he goes to shake Armando's hand. "He's been up since six AM."

"Don't worry about it," Armando says, smiling easily. "My Fatima's the same way."

"How old is she?"

"Just turned three in April."

Hank lets out an amused exhalation. "Great age."

"Tell me about it," Armando says, taking Hank and Scott's bags and leading the way out of the terminal. Alex, still carrying Scott, falls into easy conversation beside him, leaving Hank the trolley and Angel to contend with.

"Hi," Hank says awkwardly, holding out his hand. He'd thought that being gay might've made embarassing situations with beautiful women a moot point. Apparently not.

Angel takes his hand and grips it firmly. "So. You're Scott's dad."

Hank blinks, vaguely offended at the way she's definitely sizing him up.

"Yo, Angel," Alex calls back. "Lay off, will ya?"

Angel's imperturbable expression shifts into a smirk. She lets go of his hand and saunters off to catch up with Alex and Armando. Hank shakes his head and pushes the trolley after them.

*

"How do you three know each other?" Hank asks once they're safely ensconced in Armando's SUV and driving the 101 to Ventura.

"We all served together," Armando answers.

"Bravo company," Alex says from the backseat where he and Angel have a sleeping Scott sandwiched between them.

"That was before you decided to abandon us, Summers," Angel says, bluntly with the tiniest hint of affection.

"Dude, you just don't say no when the Wolverine asks you to join his team."

"Don't lie, you would've crawled over our dead bodies if you'd gotten the chance," Armando says, eyes flicking to the rearview mirror to smile at them.

Angel makes a huffing noise.

"Anyway, we all got out a few months after one another," Alex continues. "We just sort of ended up here."

"Angel's a native Angeleno," Armando explains.

"My uncle died and left me his garage," Angel says. "I'm good with cars."

"Armor branch, baby," Alex teases.

"I have no context for that at all," Hank says.

"It means she can fix anything that runs on the ground, no two shakes about it," Armando says, shooting Hank a grin.

"And Darwin got an engineering degree on Uncle Sam's dime," Angel finishes. "It made sense at the time for us to pool our cash into the garage."

"Darwin?" Hank asks, brow furrowing.

"Stupid army nickname," Armando answers. "Angel's was Tempest; Alex, Havoc."

From the rearview mirror, Hank can see Angel and Alex exchange a fistbump. "Give 'em hell, babe," Angel says.

Darwin rolls his eyes. "Moto bull. Don't listen to them."

"So you guys decided to go into the auto repair business," Hank says. "I'll try to restrain myself from making a Triple A joke, then."

"Good call," Armando says at the same time Angel comments dryly with, "It's not like we haven't heard that one before."

Hank catches Alex's eye in the rearview mirror. Hank widens his eyes, hoping that it sufficiently conveys his discomfiture. Alex, rather unhelpfully, winks at him.

*

They have dinner at a tiny Indian place that's close to the beach. Scott wakes up in time to vociferously demand chicken vindaloo and mango lassi and plonk himself firmly beside Angel. Hank's thankful that he had that talk with Scott dissuading him from climbing onto people's laps when he was six. Scott had been a bit put out that he couldn't use his standard wooing technique on strangers anymore.

Angel and Armando spend most of dinner alternating between trying to get into Scott's good graces and making Hank work hard to get into theirs, though Armando's a bit more subtle in his tactics. Alex, who should be running interference, leaves Hank to their mercies, occasionally chiming in with the occasional teasing comment.

Hank thinks it's retaliation for that first dinner at the Mansion.

After dinner, Armando drives them the five minutes to Alex's house while Scott proposes marriage to Angel in the backseat.

"You're not gonna get a better offer than this right here, Salvadore," Alex says, not even bothering to hold back his laughter.

Hank sees her glaring at Alex from the rearview mirror. "Sorry, kid," she tells Scott, who's leaning against her arm and making huge Bambi eyes at her. "I'm seeing someone right now."

"Oh come on," Alex snorts. "Scott's a way better prospect than Beak ever will be."

There's a loud smack and Alex grunting.

"Violence never solves anything," Scott chirps.

"You're talking to the wrong people here, kid," Angel replies easily.

Scott frowns, obviously reconsidering his marriage proposal. Hank bites his lip at the sight.

"This is why I don't ever leave these two alone with Fatima," Armando mock-whispers to Hank.

"Hey, Fat loves us," Alex says, taking offense.

"You guys take her to Chuck E. Cheese and let her roll around in the sand, of couse she loves you," Armando says.

"Makes for a change from all that stuck up bullshit her bitch mother puts her through," Angel says viciously.

"Two dollars!" Scott says.

"I'll give it to you when we get to the house," Alex promises.

"Fatima's mother and I don't really get along," Darwin explains at Hank's questioning look.

"Rich bitch was slumming it," Angel snarls.

"Babe, knock it off," Alex says. "You're gonna bankrupt me before we even get out of this car."

"Sorry, little man," Angel says.

"Apology accepted," Scott replies magnanimously just as Armando pulls up into the driveway of a nice one-story house with a clay shingled roof. It's prime beachfront property.

Hank, Alex and Armando carry the bags to the porch while Scott charms Angel into carrying him out of the car.

"Thanks, man," Alex says, going in for another one-armed hug, once they've brought the bags into the house. "For the ride and keeping an eye out on the house."

"De nada," Armando says.

"No, really, thank you," Hank says, holding out his hand. Armando takes it and pulls him into a hug, slapping him firmly on the back.

"Nice meeting you Hank," Armando says.

"The same to you."

Angel pulls away enough from the three-way hug Scott and Alex have forced her into to clap Hank on the arm. "You're alright, Hank."

Hank smiles at her.

"You should bring them around the garage sometime, Alex," Armando says as he and Angel turn to leave.

Alex nods, waving them off absently.

Angel shoots Hank one last inscrutable look that sends a foreboding chill down Hank's spine before shutting the door firmly behind her.

"So," Alex says, setting Scott down on the couch where Scott promptly fishes out the remote and turns on the TV. "You and Scott take the two bedrooms; I'll sleep on the couch."

"Don't be ridiculous," Hank says. "Scott and I can share."

"I've slept in worse places, doc," Alex says, picking up Hank's bags and shouldering open what Hank supposes is his bedroom.

Hank follows him inside.

Alex's bedroom is meticulously neat and functional with a double bed, a nightstand and a closet. There isn't much by way of decor - only a photo of what Hank thinks is the view of the beach at dawn from the bedroom's balcony and a gauzy peony-patterned curtain that's glaringly at odds with the plain blue, white and wood design of the room.

"Bathroom's though here," Alex says, idly rapping his knuckles against the door.

"Your home's lovely," Hank says.

"Thanks, doc. I had help."

There's a strange electric tension following Alex's words, heavy enough that Hank knows not to press for more.

"We should put Scott to bed," Hank says instead, glancing at his watch. "It's almost one in the morning back home."

After they'd wrangled Scott out of his clothes, into the shower and then into his pyjamas, they take turns reading Harry Potter to him until he falls asleep.

They exchange goodnights with Hank just inside Alex's bedroom (though he supposes it's his for the time being), the light from the bathroom the only source of illumination.

Hank shuts the door and shucks off his clothes, reveling in the cool, salty breeze blowing in from the open balcony doors. He checks his phone and sees that Raven's sent him a text.

Well? it reads.

Hank walks out onto the balcony and sends her a photo of the view in reply.

*

Hank's jolted awake by a heavy weight landing on top of him and a voice yelling, "Up and at 'em, brah!" in his ear.

Startled, Hank tries to push the weight off of him to no avail. Arms come round to wrap around him, immobilizing him in the duvet, and for a fleeting moment he thinks he's being smothered to death. He tries to shake the covers loose, panicking and wanting his head free but his attacker is persistent.

Hank kicks out and manages to make contact with a shin. "Ow, fuck, what the hell?" says whoever's on top of him and the arms around Hank slacken just enough for Hank to drive his elbow behind him and roll off the bed.

He lands on the floor with a loud thump and scrambles around for his glasses.

"Alex, that hurt, fucker," the stranger says, wavering in and out of Hank's fuzzy vision. "What the hell did you - Fuck, you're not Alex."

"How observant of you," Hank says dryly, finally managing to locate his glasses on top of the nightstand and slipping them on.

The blob resolves itself into an attractive, tanned, blond man in boardshorts.

The bedroom door bursts open, admitting Alex into the room. "Hank, are you okay?"

"Dude!" the stranger crows, rushing at Alex with open arms.

"Bobby, Jesus," Alex gripes but returns the hug anyway, thumping Bobby repeatedly on the back. In the meantime, Hank takes this as opportunity to get to his feet, shooting Alex a confused look from behind Bobby's back. "Man, didn't I tell you to quit with the home invasion shit?"

"One day, I'm gonna get you when you're off your game," Bobby says, pulling back from their hug. "Today is not that day. Sorry I freaked out your hook up." He turns to Hank and smiles charmingly. "Sorry, dude."

"We didn't hook up," Hank says.

Bobby squints at him suspiciously. "If you guys didn't do the nasty, then what - "

Fortunately, he's interrupted by Scott walking into the room, rubbing his eyes and announcing, "I want pancakes, please."

Bobby gapes at Scott then turns to look at Hank, then Alex, then back to Scott.

Hank doesn't have the faintest idea what's going through Bobby's head right now but he privately thinks it's probably more hilarious and unbelievable than the truth.

Alex lets out a huge gust of breath, scooping Scott into his arms. "Bobby, this is Scott and that's his dad, Hank, over there. Guys, this dumbass is my neighbour Bobby."

"Dollar," Scott says sleepily, rubbing his eyes and hiding his face in Alex's neck.

"Oh, hey!" Bobby's face lights up and he envelops Hank in a hug. "That's awesome."

"Uh, thanks," Hank replies, not knowing what to do with his hands and settling for awkwardly patting Bobby's sides.

"Seriously," Bobby enthuses, gripping Hank's shoulders. "That's great." He turns to Alex and Scott, holds out his hand and grins. "Hey, little man! Up top!"

Scott regards Bobby for a moment before giving him a high-five. "I like your necklace."

"This?" Bobby unclasps his puka shell necklace and holds it out. "Dude, you can have it."

"No, you don't have to do that," Hank says, longsuffering. He ignores Scott's puppy eyes.

"No big deal, man, I've got a ton of those."

"It's fine, doc," Alex seconds. "Bobby runs a surf shop; he's got loads to spare. Speaking of, did you bring it?"

Bobby makes a dismissive gesture while Hank helps Scott put the necklace on.

"Of course. Why d'you think I was creeping around so early?"

"Scott," Hank prods, to which Scott complies by saying, "Thank you, Mr Bobby!"

"Kid, that's nothing, wait 'til you see what Alex had me bring you."

Scott scrambles out of Alex's hold, drops to the floor and immediately grabs Bobby's hand, tugging him out onto the deck. Anyone who brings him presents is instantly his new best friend. Hank constantly despairs of this materialism.

"Hey," Alex says, stopping Hank from following with a hand to his elbow.

Hank looks at him in askance.

"I hope it's okay," Alex says, scratching his neck sheepishly. "I kinda want to teach Scott how to surf so I had Bobby bring over a board for him."

Hank blinks.

"It's totally safe! We won't even get into the water right away; he's gonna have to learn to balance on sand before we even think of having him paddle out."

Hank bites his lip. "Just how safe is totally safe?"

"Bobby's a certified lifeguard. Also, he came in second at Junior Worlds a few years back," Alex says, giving him the grown up version of Scott's puppy eyes. "And I've had a lot of deep sea training, if that helps."

Hank sighs dramatically. "Alright, fine, on the stipulation that we have breakfast first."

Alex flashes him a quick grin. "You're the best, doc."

*

Hank's phone rings while he's in the middle of leaving a pithy annotation on a co-faculty member's dissertation. He checks the caller ID, sees that it's Raven and braces himself, waving a mental goodbye to the lazy beach ambience.

"Hello?"

"Erik refuses to wear his dress blues to the wedding!" Raven shrieks into his ear.

"I'm fine, thanks for asking. Scott's enjoying himself tremedously. If they had better schools here in California, I might even begin to consider moving here permanently but that isn't the case, sadly. How're things back home, Raven?"

"Don't give me that shit, McCoy," Raven huffs. "This is important!"

The corners of Hank's mouth turn up. It's really too pleasant a day for him to feel worked up about anything. "If he doesn't want to wear it, then he doesn't want to wear it."

"Everyone's expecting him to wear it."

Hank sets aside his laptop on the little table holding his bottle of water and leans back in his beach chair. "I think everyone's going to expect him to wear his sherrif's uniform."

"Okay, 1.) that thing is fucking butt ugly. It's like if a Project Runway contestant vomited all over the new Dior collection and wrapped it up in Isaac Mizrahi's vision of Americana. And 2.) you're seriously fucked in the head if you think we're the only ones who've heard about Erik's military background."

"I don't even know what that first part means," Hank says, waving at Scott who's further down the beach. Alex and Bobby are making vauge gestures to the water and Hank gives them a thumbs up. "And you'd know better than anyone that if Erik doesn't want to do anything, not even divine intervention is going to make him change his mind."

"I know! Charles has expressed his lack of opinion so there's no changing Erik's mind now! This is a disaster!"

"Raven, what's really bothering you?"

Raven sighs. "This shitshow's turning into that circus we always thought it'd be and I can't get Charles or Erik to give two fucks about anything."

"Isn't that what the planner's for?" Hank's brow furrows, both in response to the conversation and to the sight of Scott paddling into a little wave in the distance.

"Hank, I don't know what you think a planner does so let me put it in the simplest terms. The planner's there to wipe your ass, not take a dump for you."

"Thanks for that image."

"You're welcome."

"You want to know what I think? I think you're more invested in this wedding than they are."

"Someone's got to be. Plus, I'm maid of honour, it's like part of the job description."

"Isn't the maid of honour's job more like throwing the best hen party and, l don't know, hiring the good looking strippers? Wait, this is a civil ceremony. Should there even be a wedding party?"

Raven makes a dismissive sound. "Their wedding. They can do whatever they want. Which brings me back to my point of them not wanting to make any decisions about anything."

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe the fact that they're now allowed to get married is all that's important to them? Think about it. If it was me in their position, I'd be too happy about being able to get married to worry about trivialities."

"I know that," Raven says and Hank just knows she's rolling her eyes at him.

A part of Hank - a small, mean part of him that he doesn't like to acknowledge - believes that no, she doesn't know what it feels like to be different, to be discriminated against, to be persecuted. She's lived such a charmed life and even the source of her teenage angst revolved around her distaste of her own popularity. Then he remembers that there are things in her past she refuses to talk about, secrets she keeps between herself and Charles and Hank suddenly feels horrible for his momentary lapse, for being just like everyone else and allowing himself to dismiss her based solely on the fact that she's beautiful.

"I just want everything to be perfect for them, you know?" Raven says, voice so soft as to almost be a whisper.

"I know," Hank says, embarassed and also reminded about why he loves Raven so much. "But they've been through worse things. At this point, they probably see this as a formality. They've basically been married for years now."

"I can't help wanting this for them, you know?"

"You can only do so much," Hank murmurs, trying for reassuring.

Raven half-sighs, half-laughs. "Thanks for talking me down."

"Not a problem," Hank smiles into the phone. "How's Sean taking things?"

Raven pffts. "Bitch would be as high-strung as I am right now if he didn't find an old bag of pot in his underwear drawer. He's smoking up as we speak and won't share."

"Great," Hank drawls sarcastically.

"Right? Anyway, tell me about LA. How is it? How's Scott taking it?"

"Scott's loving it. Alex is teaching him to surf at this very moment."

"I don't think I like that tone of voice, Henry Philip McCoy," Raven says.

"What tone of voice?" Hank frowns.

"You know what? Never mind. Forget I said anything."

*

It's hours later and Hank's put aside his work in favour of lounging in the shade of the beach umbrella, drifting in and out of consciousness. There isn't much of a crowd because this part of the beach is technically private property so the steady hum of conversations from further down the beach is somewhat drowned out by the sound of the waves and all in all Hank finds it to be very soothing.

That is until Scott throws himself on Hank, soaking wet and yelling, "Dad! Dad! Did you see me? It was so awesome! Can I please go again tomorrow? Please? Please?"

Hank pulls him into a hug. "Of course I saw you; you did great!" He pulls a towel from the stack next to his elbow and wraps Scott up in it. "And you can go again tomorrow as long as Alex is with you." He looks up to see Bobby grinning down at him. Hank hands him a towel. "Where's Alex, anyway?"

"Off gathering vicutals, brah," Bobby says, pointing in the general direction of the bustling boardwalk. "Shouldn't take too long, unless it's Shannon, then we should entreat the higher powers to return him to us in one piece."

Hank chooses to focus on the latter part of that statement. "Are you really one of those new age, spiritual guys or are you just trolling?"

Bobby laughs, spreading his towel next to Hank's chair and laying back on it. "That's for me to know and for you to ponder."

"I'm going to go with troll, if you don't mind," Hank says, rubbing Scott's hair dry and helping him into a dry T-shirt.

"I have no objections," Bobby says.

They spend the next few minutes in companionable silence, only broken by Scott's halfhearted sighing when Hank insists on reapplying his sunscreen and making him drink half a bottle of water.

"Hey," Alex says when he finally returns, one hand balancing a tray of hot dogs on top of a pizza box while carrying a six-pack of beer and pina colada in the other. "Here," he says, handing the pina colada to Hank. "With compliments."

Hank raises an eyebrow. "From who?"

Alex shrugs. "An admirer." Bobby snorts and Alex tosses the beer at him while setting down the pizza and hotdogs.

"No Shannon today?" Hank asks blandly, distributing the hot dogs.

Alex frowns. "What? Who told you - ?" He turns on a snickering Bobby and glares. "Shut up and eat your hot dog, motormouth."

"Yaye, peppers!" Scott cheers from where he's peeking into the pizza box and Hank stops trying to tease Alex long enough to help Scott to a piece.

*

"Can we ride the teacups, please?" Fatima asks over an artery-clogging lunch of french fries and Panda Express.

Every single time Fatima opens her mouth, she surprises Hank with just how articulate and polite she is for a four year old. She and Armando had shown up earlier that morning in their SUV, geared for a trip to Disneyland. At the mention of Disneyland, Scott had scarfed down his cereal, jumped in the shower and gotten dressed in less than ten minutes, surprising Alex who hadn't been there in the days leading up to Scott's first Disneyland trip in Paris and was understandably blindsided by Scott's enthusiasm.

Fatima and Scott had bonded on the ride over, Scott practically in raptures over having a temporary younger sibling. They'd held hands for most of the morning, only separating long enough for Fatima to have feathers braided into her hair and for Scott to have his face painted like a tiger.

Hank spent the entire morning taking pictures of Scott posing with everyone and everything, sending them as mass e-mails to everyone at home.

"Can we? Pleeeeeeease?" Scott chimes in, waving a french fry in emphasis and getting globs of ketchup on his polo. Yes, polo. Scott had emerged from his bedroom in a maroon polo, khaki cargo shorts and Sperrys, looking for all the world like world's tiniest dudebro, sans douchery. In a way, Hank's glad Scott's eating messy so he has an excuse to change him into his spare Fantastic Four t-shirt.

"After lunch," Hank replies, pouring some water onto a napkin and dabbing at Scott's face.

"Make that after the Mad Hatter ride, okay guys?" Armando says, making a face.

Alex laughs. "Oh God, yeah, that's a good idea."

"Why?" Hank asks absently, busy supervising while Scott spoons some of his orange chicken bowl onto Fatima's plate, making sure no actual meat is transferred over since Fatima's vegetarian.

"Me and Angel have never been around kids before so last year we stuffed Fat full of frozen bananas and french fries then took her on the tea cups. Vomit everywhere," Alex says, grinning.

"Yuck!" Fatima concurs, wrinkling her nose.

"You guys are such geniuses," Armando says dryly.

Hank laughs.

"You gonna finish that, doc?" Alex asks, pointing at Hank's picked over lo mein.

Hank shakes his head and pushes it over.

*

They're in line for the Peter Pan ride and Scott's busy making friends with a pair of twins in front of them. He'd been going around introducing Fatima as his cousin to everyone since this morning and this time is no different.

"I wonder if he knows that they're not actually cousins," Alex comments after Armando excuses himself from the line to answer a call.

Hank shrugs, handing Alex Fatima's cotton candy to hold while he pulls out his phone to take yet another picture. He thinks he'll put Scott and Fatima, recruiting minions 76&77 in the subject line. "I don't come from a huge family, so Scott only has four second cousins or something." Hank snaps a photo of Scott sitting on his haunches with Fatima leaning into his side.

"Oh."

"Yeah, so he collects family wherever he can," Hank continues, smiling at Alex out of the corner of his eye. "You know he calls Raven and Sean his aunt and uncle and he vacillates between calling Charles and Erik uncle or granddad, depending on whether Sean bribes him to or not."

"Cute," Alex snorts.

"He likes to think so," Hank says mildly. He braces himself then asks the question on the tip of his tongue. "What about you? Does Scott have any other relatives I don't know about?"

"Nope," Alex says, shaking his head. "Just me."

"Oh," Hank says, not wanting to be too blatant in his relief.

Alex grins. "Really? 'Oh?' C'mon now, doc, don't be shy. Not even a 'thank christ?'"

"Don't make me hit you," Hank threatens. He looks glances at where Scott, Fatima and the twins are crouched around in a circle and groans. "Scott! Fatima! No torturing the caterpillars!"

Hank hoists Scott up and hands him to Alex then goes back to scoop Fatima into his arms. The twins' parents turn around and Hank shoots them an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. He gets it into his head that he's Bear Grylls sometimes."

"Man versus Wild!" Scott says in a very good approximation of an RP accent. Fatima giggles and buries her face in Hank's neck.

"No harm done," the twins' mother smiles back.

"That's a better ambition than what these two aspire to," their father says, resting a hand on each twin's head.

"Fred and George Weasley!" the twins chorus.

"Nice," Alex laughs.

"Your daughter's absolutely darling," the woman says, practically cooing at Fatima. "After four boys, all you really want is a sweet little girl."

"She's not actually mine," Hank says, smiling sheepishly.

"That's my cousin Fatima!" Scott announces.

"That's nice, love," the woman smiles at Scott. "How old is she?"

"She's three, I think," Hank answers, looking to Alex for confirmation. Alex nods at the same time Fatima holds out three fingers.

"I'm eight!" Scott says.

"We're six!" the twins add.

They all laugh.

"They're my youngest," the woman says, smiling down at her twins who're playing tag between their father's legs. She looks between Hank and Alex. "Is he your only one?"

The number of times Scott's declared Fatima his cousin to all and sundry is almost comparable to the number of times Hank and Alex have been mistaken for Scott's gay dads. After the first couple of times they'd tried to correct people that oh, no, actually, we're Scott's gay dad and his long lost biological brother to bewildered and uncomprehending stares while Armando had laughed himself sick beside them, they'd basically given up trying.

"Yeah, just Scott here," Alex says, tickling Scott lightly. Scott squeals and blows a raspberry in Alex's neck in retaliation.

"You really should think of giving him a sibling," the woman says.

Hank sort of wants to sink into the ground right now and maybe Bobby was right about karmic balance or destiny or whatever he was talking about because the woman's forestalled from further prying by the line moving forward and her and her family moving into a separate compartment.

"Dad," Scott says with the sixth sense children have about awkward situations. "Can we bring Fatima home with us and make her my sister?"

Hank spares a glare at Alex's amused smirk before answering Scott. "I think Armando and Fatima's mom would miss her if we brought her back home with us."

"Oh," Scott says, disappointed.

"I wish mommy was here," Fatima snuffles into Hank's neck.

"Hey, guys," Alex says, sensing an impending tantrum and trying to head it off. "Wanna finish the rest of the cotton candy?"

In retrospect, that might have been an even more terrible idea.

*

Fatima and Scott had devolved into a crazy sugar rush, twitching and running in circles and basically demanding to ride every ride they came across.

By early evening, Fatima started crashing, eyes blinking slowly and head drooping to her chest.

Hank had volunteered to take her and stake out a place by the grotto for the light and fireworks show while Alex and Armando took Scott to ride the big kid rides.

"You sure?" Armando had asked. "Because I can stay with her instead."

Hank waves him off. "It's fine; I have some reading I need to get done anyway. As long as you're okay leaving her with me."

"Naw, man, it's not that," Armando reassures. "I kinda feel bad using you as a babysitter. Wouldn't you rather go with Scott?"

"I think Scott's more excited to be going on rides with you, if you want to know the truth," Hank says, tilting his head to where Scott's swinging Alex's arm and waving at them from the entrance of Big Thunder Mountain, yelling, "Come on, Armando!"

Armando complies with one last glance at Hank.

That had been a little over two hours ago and Hank's gone through three articles and talked Sean out of five hilariously horrible ideas for a wedding present via text. Fatima had stirred once, seemed like she was going to start crying but settled back to sleep once Hank started rocking her.

"Hey," Armando says, approaching from behind while Hank vetoes Sean's newest idea of a Doctor Who dining set. "How is she?"

"Slept the entire time," Hank replies, smiling up at Armando and taking the basket of chicken fingers from him while he settles himself next to Hank.

"Yeah, this one's running on empty too," Alex says, letting Scott slide out of his hold. Scott promptly plasters himself to Hank's side.

"Had fun?" Hank asks, putting an arm around Scott as Alex and Armando spread out their dinner.

Scott nods tiredly, wriggling around until he's leaning fully on Hank.

"We went on the Haunted Mansion last," Armando says, gently lifting Fatima off of Hank's lap. "He wouldn't stop giggling the entire time."

"We went on one of those 'Most Haunted Places in Europe' tours last year," Hank smiles at the memory. "I think after that, anything else is going to be a let down."

"Bluebeard," Scott mumbles, concentrating on opening his juice bottle.

"Morbid," Alex comments, passing Hank a chicken gumbo crepe.

"Blame Erik," Hank says, absently smiling his thanks. "He said it would build character."

"Erik?" Armando asks, chiding Fatima awake.

"Oh, dude," Alex says. "I cannot believe I forgot to tell you guys this. One of Scott's godparents? Is Magneto."

"No way," Armando breathes. "You're screwing with me."

Alex vehemently shakes his head. "Truth, man."

"What's he doing stateside?"

"He's all settled down and stuff, man. All domesticated-like."

"He's sheriff," Hank elaborates.

"Woah," Armando says. "That's seriously...I can barely picture that let alone have anything to say about it."

"Anything child-appropriate, you mean," Alex says, stealing some of Hank's chips.

"Man," Armando says, shaking his head and pinching a chicken finger into smaller pieces for Fatima. "That's crazy."

"Okay," Hank says, squeezing ketchup and mustard onto a napkin for Scott to dip his chicken fingers into. "You have to tell me about what Erik did in the military if you're going to keep on going on like that."

"We'll just stop right now," Alex says.

"Yeah," Darwin agrees. "If we told you - "

"You'd have to kill me," Hank finishes with an eye-roll.

"Exactly."

Alex re-routes the conversation by grilling Armando about the state of Angel's relationship with some man they meanly nicknamed Beak and they meander through a number of topics. Scott and Fatima curl together after they've finished their dinner, dozing lightly against each other, only waking up when the Fantasmic show starts.

They have to be carried to see the subsequent fireworks, Fatima sitting on Armando's shoulders and Scott on Hank's hip, Alex pressed in close.

Scott makes a lot of ecstatic and appreciative noises. Hank looks past his head to share an amused smile with Alex.

*

Hank wakes up in the middle of the night thirsty but feeling way too content with the way the cool ocean breeze wafts over his skin and how the light from the gibbous moon softly illuminates everything through the transulcent curtains to even contemplate getting up right away.

In the end, the inconvenience of having a parched throat trumps how comfortable the rest of him is feeling. He half-stumbles to the kitchen, still unused to his surroundings, can't even be bothered to figure out where the light switches are.

He's surprised to find the kitchen light on and he blinks back the sudden influx of harsh fluorescent lighting to find Alex leaning back against the sink, shirtless and drinking a glass of water, the muscles in his throat strangely hypnotic in their movement.

Hank half-nods at him in vague acknowledgement and goes to grab himself a glass from the cupboard. He can feel Alex's eyes casually following his every move and tries not to appear too unsettled by it.

He waits expectantly for Alex to move aside so he can fill his own glass but Alex doesn't seem to realise so Hank gives a mental shrug and crowds in close, turning on the tap, feeling almost stifled by the heat resulting from his sudden close proximity to all that naked skin.

Hank takes a step back and downs his glass in one go, his eyes catching Alex's and holding until he's done. Hank breaks off on the pretense of rinsing out his glass. Alex still hasn't moved.

Hank sets his glass down on the drying rack with a neat little click.

"Night," he says, hushed, and turns to leave.

He's barely into the living room when there's a, "Doc," then fingers around his wrist and he's being pressed into the wall, Alex standing right in front of him and he feels, not trapped, no, there's almost a foot between them but he feels compelled - content - to stay there, waiting. He's been waiting quite some time now, months if he's honest, for something to happen. It's safe to say that a few more minutes won't hurt him, hell, he thinks he'd almost prefer a few more months of waiting, being in limbo than for anything to break the zen-like tranquility of being in-between.

Alex proves himself to be a dynamic force, recalcitrant as ever, because he slides his hand up Hank's arm, past his shoulder, to latch onto the back of Hank's neck and then there's a steady, inexorable pressure and Hank finds himself leaning forward and then, suddenly, inevitably, they're kissing. Close-mouthed and could be mistaken for chaste if not for the way Alex latches on to Hank's bottom lip.

Their breathing syncs up and Hank's feeling Alex's hot exhalations on his upper lip as he himself breathes in. It's comfortable and Hank could stay like this forever only Alex decides in that instant to lean in, press his body up against Hank's, wedge a knee between Hank's legs so Hank's forced to slide down until their heads are at a level, and suddenly it's tongue and teeth and the back of Hank's head hitting the wall and his hands coming up to fist in Alex's hair.

Hank's too preoccupied learning the taste of Alex's mouth to notice the hand coming up to squeeze his waist, guiding him until their hips are locked together.

"God," Hank breathes, breaking the kiss to bury his face in Alex's neck. Alex thrusts up into him, rubbing their cocks together, in reply.

Hank brings one of his legs up, locking it behind Alex's knee, and starts rolling his hips.

"Fuck," Alex groans, moving with him.

Hank makes a pleased humming noise and goes about sucking a bruise on Alex's neck.

"Shit," Alex jerks in response, thrusting particularly hard and knocking their hips into the wall.

Hank freezes, eyes going wide. "Scott," he warns, pulling back only for Alex to press a kiss to his bottom lip and say, "Normally sleeps like the dead. After Disneyland? Nothing short of the apocalypse will wake him up."

Hank opens his mouth to protest but Alex swoops in with a kiss, effectively silencing him. Alex's fingers trace over the waistband of Hank's pyjama bottoms before diving in, hands grabbing at Hank's ass and increasing the pressure between their crotches.

Hank's arms latch onto Alex's shoulders, fingernails digging in when Alex traces over the seam of his ass. Hank pulls back from the kiss, chokes out an, "Oh," bites his lip in a vain effort to stifle his moans and is stupidly grateful when Alex shuts him up by going in for another kiss.

Alex slides Hank's pyjama bottoms off his hips and Hank unhooks his leg from around Alex long enough to help kick them off before bringing his leg back up to curl around Alex's back.

"Jesus, you're flexible," Alex groans.

Hank sucks a bruise into Alex's neck in answer.

Hank's feeling fucking euphoric, his cock trapped between them, pressure and friction both wonderful, amazing things when Alex decides to bend his knees just that little bit lower, thrust up just a bit harder and Hank's eyes roll into the back of his head.

It's the combination of that and one of Alex's fingers catching on the rim of his hole that eventually sends him over. Hank would be extremely embarrassed at how fast it took if he wasn't too busy scratching marks into Alex's back and feeling way too boneless.

"That good, huh?" Alex chuckles up at him.

Hank narrows his eyes, slides his leg off Alex's waist down to his knee and pulls, dropping them both to the floor.

"No," Hank says, one arm braced across Alex's chest as he leans in. "It's just been that long."

Hank rides him, Alex's cloth-covered cock a rough tease between the cheeks of his ass. Alex starts moaning and Hank feeds him his fingers to keep him quiet, replacing them with his mouth soom after. He drags his (wet) hand down Alex's throat, past his sternum, the vertical ridge of his abdominal muscles, all the way down to wrap around his cock, jerking him off in time with the movement of his hips.

Alex's orgasm is tense and choked-off, all his muscles going rigid for long seconds before slowly draining out of him.

Hank licks long stripes from his clavicles up to his chin while waiting for the aftershocks to subside.

"Fucking hell," Alex says, one hand moving from where it had gripped bruises into Hank's hip up along Hank's sweat-slick spine, through the neck of Hank's T-shirt and into his hair, pulling him down into a kiss.

Hank smiles into it, pleased, tangling their legs together.

*

Hank stirs half-awake due to the combined sudden pressure of the sheets pressing tight against his body and something blocking the cool breeze wafting over him. He opens one eye fractiously, stubborn against the intrusion, to find Alex hovering over him, arms on either side of his head.

"Morning, doc," Alex smirks.

Hank makes a grumbling sound, arching his back and groaning at the accompanying satisfying cracking noise. His movements inadvertently - or maybe by design, Hank's motivations are unclear even to himself when he's pre-caffeinated - presses him up against Alex and Alex responds by resting his weight fully on Hank, pinning him and leaning down for a kiss.

Hank tilts his head up into it, humming contentedly, and one kiss turns into three kisses into five and Hank stops counting. There's a low burn of arousal in his belly which he ignores in favor of just enjoying the moment.

He tangles his fingers in the short hairs at the back of Alex's head. He draws back, furrows his brow. "You're wet."

"Went surfing," Alex says, nosing at Hank's cheek. "Bobby says hi."

"You're insane," Hank murmurs, accepting another kiss. "'S too early."

It's - for lack of a better word - pleasant to just lie there trading lazy kisses with no intention of going any further. Hank's never had the opportunity for this before, going from furtive handjobs in the science lab when he was fifteen to drunken blowjobs in someone's bedroom during house parties (which he mostly blames on Raven for forcing him to go) to the occasional one night stand and counting how many dates are acceptable before falling into bed with someone to sporadic dates when Scott came along.

He could get used to this, he thinks, sucking on Alex's lower lip.

"Dad? I'm hungry," Scott calls out from outside the door.

Hank pulls back, snorts in amused resignation. Alex presses their faces together, kisses Hank one more time before rolling off the bed and pulling the door open.

"Still hungry?" he says, affecting intense disbelief. "You had an entire turkey leg last night, buddy." He picks Scott up by the waist and tosses him onto the bed,

Scott lands on the empty space beside Hank and starts to roll himself in the blankets, making a cocoon.

"That was a long time ago," Scott sighs, exasperated, burying his face in Hank's side.

"Less than eleven hours ago," Hank says, patting what he thinks is Scott's back through the blankets.

"I'm hungry now," Scott groans, butting his head against Hank's hip.

"Whaddaya feel like?" Alex asks, rifling through his drawers for a change of clothes.

"Eggs, toast and beans!"

"Beans," Alex repeats, deadpan.

Hank shrugs. "At least he isn't asking for blood sausages."

Alex opens his mouth, pauses, changes his mind. "You know what? I don't even want to know."

*

Hank's arguing with one of his advisees regarding the readiness of her thesis over IM when Alex's cellphone rings.

Hank picks it up, distracted, and presses Answer while trying to find a more diplomatic way of stating 'your analysis sucks, there are holes the size of the ones in the ozone layer in your defense and your conclusion only even remotely references your topic.'

"Hi, Alex's phone," Hank says, while typing I think more revisions are required to strengthen your stand. I have some ideas and references that will be helpful. I'll email them to you.

"Hank?"

"Yes?" Hank frowns at words on his laptop screen, wishing he could reach out and strangle his student and that he listened when his fellows warned him off this girl.

"It's Armando."

"Hey," Hank says, closing the IM window and opening up a new email one. She may not want his help but he sure is going to give it to her.

"Where's Alex?"

"Took Scott out surfing."

"Oh, well, when they're done, tell him to bring you guys over to the garage after lunch. Is Bobby there too?"

"Yeah, he is."

Armando chuckles. "Bring him along. Jean Paul's missed his ugly mug."

"Alright, will do. Anything else?"

"Yeah, Fat says, and I quote here, 'Tell Uncle Hank he's my new favourite.'" Armando's amusement is palpable through the line. "What drugs did you feed my child, man?"

"Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwiches, of course."

"Of course," Armando snorts. There's yelling in the background and Armando yelling back, "Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on," before telling Hank, "I gotta go. See you later, Hank."

Hank smiles into the phone. "See you."

*

Whenever Alex brings up his garage, Hank usually pictures a literal garage when he spares it a thought. A small family run operation that morphed into an image of a one-storey concrete building that opens up into a sidewalk when Angel mentioned it on the car ride from the airport which was further validated by the size of Alex's bungalow (while in a fantastic location wasn't something Hank imagined to be above Alex's pay grade).

The actual thing though... Alex's garage was a two-storey industrial building with its own parking lot.

"This is your 'garage'," Hank says drolly as they pull into reserved parking.

"We do pretty well for ourselves," Alex shrugs, shit-eating grin pulling at the corners of his mouth.

"Everything's legal, right?" Hank asks, pushing his door open.

"All totally above board, dude," Bobby chimes, helping Scott out of his seatbelt.

"We just do customizations and repairs," Alex says, coming around to stand beside Hank. "What our customers do with them after is none of our business."

Hank makes a face.

"Don't worry, there's no the Fast and the Furious shit going around here," Bobby says, sliding out after Scott.

"Dollar!" Scott says, holding out his hand.

Bobby shoots Alex a confused look. "I thought you put in a downpayment."

"At the rate everyone's going? I won't have to worry about Scott's retirement fund," Hank says, bending to help Scott with his backpack.

Alex hip-checks him in retaliation.

It's when they walk into the open mouth of the building that Hank notices the small, nondescript sign. "X-Factor?"

"I know right?" Bobby chirps, stuffing his wallet back into his pocket and handing Scott a crisp five dollar bill. "I keep telling them they should change it before that show hits the air this fall."

"This place has been around since before some stupid reality singing show," Angel says, walking up to them in grease-stained coveralls and wiping her hands on a rag. "It stays."

"Angel, baby!" Bobby crows, throwing his arms wide and going for a hug.

"Don't call me that," Angel says, putting her hand out and catching him by the chin.

"Aw, come on, gimme some love."

"Jean Paul's in the back. He'll be more than happy to."

Bobby pouts. "Fine, be that way. Is my girl Rahne back there?"

Angel nods. "Knock yourself out. Feel free to take that literally."

Bobby winks and saunters off to where a bunch of people are gathered under a Lamborghini raised on a car lift.

"Hey guys," Angel says, sparing Hank and Alex a smile before crouching down in front of Scott. "Hey buddy. How's it going?"

"Hi Angel! Alex n' Bobby're teaching me to surf!" Scott says, grinning at her. "Bobby taught me this." Scott lifts his fist up, extends his thumb and pinky fingers and says in his best approximation of Bobby (which is pretty accurate, if you ask Hank), "How's it hanging, brah?"

"That's greaaat," Angel huffs out, amused.

"Can I get a hug, please?" Scott asks.

Angel smiles, holds out her arms. "Sure."

Hank and Alex trade fond glances.

"Come on," Alex says once Scott finally deigns to let go of Angel. "Let's introduce you to the rest of the guys."

They walk up to the group working under the Lamborghini and Alex is greeted with backslaps and hugs. The commotion draws people from the other areas of the garage. After that it's a blur of names and faces. Jean Paul, Rahne, FIx, Dev, Forge, Jude, Jamie, Marshall, Bishop, Kyle and a huge behemoth of a man named Guido. Hank's more than above average memory comes in handy in these situations. He's alternately greeted with handshakes and backslaps which knock the breath out of him.

Everyone basically coos at Scott who basks in the attention and manipulates the intimidating yet incongruously sweet Guido into giving him a ride on his shoulders.

"Where's Darwin?" Alex asks Angel while everyone else is preoccupied with Scott.

"Yeah, about that," Angel hedges, eyes darting to the side, reminding Hank of a cornered animal.

"Ange, what?"

"There's been a...situation. Requires his full attention." She shrugs, affecting nonchalance like an ill-fitting coat. "Nothing serious. He'll be done soon."

Alex stares her down for a long moment. "Don't bullshit me."

Angel crosses her arms, remains impassive. Hank greatly admires her poker face.

He's observing their standoff with no small amount of interest when there's the distinctive clack of high heels on metal. Like some sort of farce, everyone's heads turn to the steel staircase leading up to the office area. The high heels in question are Kirkwoods and they belong to a gorgeous blonde woman in a Chanel suit typing into a Blackberry. She's being followed by another blonde woman, this one in flats and a white shirt tucked into jeans, carrying a tablet PC. Armando trails behind them, looking like he's being led to slaughter.

"There goes my hardwork," Angel comments dryly.

Alex visibly tenses, hands curling into fists at his side, then - there's no other word for it - marches up to the newcomers.

Hank shifts closer to Angel, eyes on Alex and the way his face has turned stony as he converses with the woman in the suit. "Is there anything wrong?"

Angel gives him a side-eyed glance, face as blank as ever. "Just your normal administrative bullshit."

Hank brows draw together. "Who are they?"

"Suit's Lorna. She's our accountant. The other one's Shard. If we were a big enough operation, she'd be our COO."

Hank glances at Angel. "Shouldn't you be there with them?"

Angel raises an eyebrow. "Not my thing. I step in when there's a problem with the output."

Hank will be the first to admit that he isn't very good with body language but something about the way Alex is reacting to Lorna belies something deeper than mere business. Lorna's posture is stiff, leaning away from him, the hand holding her phone pressed against her chest.

They seem to come to some sort of mutual agreement to take their conversation elsewhere and Lorna turns to climb the stairs, Alex following. Hank doesn't miss the aborted move of Alex reaching up to place a hand on the small of her back.

The tension seems to drain out of Armando and Shard at this and they make their way to where Hank and Angel are standing.

Armando and Angel trade meaningful glances, not even bothering to hide while Shard introduces herself to Hank.

*

They have dinner at Chuck E. Cheese and play seven rounds of air hockey. It's Hank and Scott (standing on a steppy stool) vs Alex and Bobby. It's not even a close match - Hank's got a tremendously long reach and Scott's content with being goalie while Alex and Bobby can't coordinate well enough to work together.

Scott gets Cold Stone as a reward and is hyper the entire ride home, singing along to the radio and forcing everyone to join in.

They drop Bobby off and he extracts a promise from Scott to wake up early to go surfing the next day. Scott yells out the words to Party Rock Anthem the three blocks to Alex's house, all the way into the living room and ends up shimmying in the bathroom while Hank helps him out of his clothes.

He settles down after his shower, curling up on the couch between Alex and Hank and dozes off in the middle of an old Batman cartoon. Hank picks him up and tucks him into bed, smoothing his hair back and planting a kiss on his forehead, lamenting the fact that in a year or so, he might not be able to do this anymore.

Alex has the TV shut off when Hank walks back into the living room. Hank suddenly feels awkward, lingering between the couch and the door to Alex's bedroom.

"Um," he says intelligently, biting his lip.

Alex sticks his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels. "Yeah."

"So," Hank says.

Alex looks down, shuffles his feet.

Things don't get much clearer than that, is Hank's opinion. He opens his mouth, manages to get out, "Good ni - " when Alex suddenly looks up, says, "Fuck it," strides up to him, cups his face in both hands and kisses him.

"Thank god," Hank breathes when they break apart and drags Alex into the bedroom by the front of his T-shirt.

*

"Fuck," Alex groans, finally pushing into him after what seems like hours of foreplay and Hank clawing at his shoulders and neck, choking out reassurances of "yes, I'm ready, I'm ready, now, please," only for his words to fall on deaf ears.

It's almost easy, after all that, to wrap his legs around Alex and pull him all the way inside. Hank chokes on a breath, throwing his head back and Alex takes that as invitation to bury his head in Hank's neck, panting heavily.

Alex rocks his hips and Hank gasps, tightening his legs.

"Doc, fuck," Alex says, one hand stroking Hank from hip to thigh, "you gotta give me room to move here."

Hank begrudgingly unhooks one leg. Alex looks him in the eye, smiles while his hand locks under Hank's knee and pins said leg to the mattrees then proceeds to fuck into him brutally.

"That what you need?" Alex pants.

"Yes," Hank nods, hand fisted in Alex's hair, biting at the juncture of neck and shoulder, his hips rolling up off the bed to meet Alex thrust for thrust.

When Alex manages to get a hand between them and starts jerking Hank off is where Hank loses it, giving himself completely to the sensations. He's so very close and the only thought in his head is taking Alex with him. He clenches down - hard - when he comes, Alex's erratic thrusts the last thing that registers in his head as everything blurs into pleasure.

Hank's return to awareness is accompanied by the feel of Alex licking his neck and Hank musters enough energy to curl his hand in Alex's hair and turn his head for a kiss, all open-mouthed and sloppy.

"Your legs should be registered lethal weapons," Alex murmurs against Hank's lips before kissing him again.

"Is that how you get all the boys and girls?" Hank replies when they part again for air. "Cheesy pick up lines?"

"Don't argue with the results," Alex grins, planting a kiss on Hank's chin while he reaches down to rub his thumb along the rim of Hank's fucked open hole before pulling out. Hank shudders, feeling empty, watching Alex tie off the condom and toss it in the general direction of the wastebasket.

"Your data's all wrong, you can't use me as a sample; I'm a working single parent. I'm really easy."

Alex huffs out a disbelieving laugh, kissing his way down Hank's chest. "You gotta be kidding me. Doc, you're the furthest thing from easy." He pauses to lick the come off of Hank's cock. Hank shivers, sensitive, knees automatically coming up to protect himself. Alex sucks a kiss to the tip before letting go. "I had the most epic case of blue balls waiting for you to figure it out."

"Liar," Hank says, obediently letting Alex push his knees apart, then crying out when Alex presses an open-mouthed kiss to his hole. "What are you - ? No, stop," Hank says weakly, oversensitive, but Alex just grins, pushes his knees up to his chest, orders him to hold them there, and dives back down.

"I hate you so much," Hank moans.

*

Much later, when they're tangled in bed together, Alex suddenly says, "Armando was intelligence."

"Hm?" Hank says, carding his fingers through Alex's hair.

"That's how I found you guys," Alex continues. Hank's still breathing in huge gulps of air, trying to get his heart rate back to normal; Alex's evenly measured breaths is a strange counterpoint against his chest. "I asked him to hack into Child Services. Before that, all I could do was ask around the old neighbourhood we - me and Scott and mom and dad - used to live in. Tracked down all the neighbours who's moved away too. I didn't get anything worth shit."

"We're here now," Hank says, twining their fingers together and slinging a leg over Alex. "You found us."

Alex exhales loudly. "Yeah. So. When I got wind that Child Services started digitizing their files, I asked Darwin to help me out." Alex tilts his head up to look Hank in the eye. "Charles's lawyers must've been pretty fucking expensive 'cos all we could get was the name of Scott's social worker."

"They were," Hank agrees absently.

"She was retired, living in Iowa, so I drove up there. I kinda figured it'd be another dead end, that she wouldn't remember Scott, but it was all I had to go on."

Hank tries his best not to tense up - not to curl away or even closer around Alex. He's never been one for sentimentality. As a child, he'd kept mostly to himself, refused to divulge his secrets even to his parents. The first time he'd been emotionally (and in every other sense) intimate with someone had been with Raven, lying side by side on the roof, and he'd mostly just let her breathe her secrets to the stars. His greatest doubt when it came to the issue of raising Scott had been his own emotional reticence bordering on unavailability. He sometimes lies awake at night wondering if he's giving Scott the support he needs.

He's even more at a loss now.

He lies there, feeling almost trapped, knowing a wrong move could stop the flow of words.

"Must've been my lucky day. She remembered Scott. She remembered you."

"Mrs Briones," Hank says. "She was the third one to handle Scott's case. Third and the last. She helped us a lot. I send her a card every Christmas."

"She made me jump through a million hoops before she'd give me your address." Hank can only somewhat make out Alex's profile in the soft light filtering in through the open window but he hears the approval and admiration in his voice.

Adeline Briones had been in her late 50s when Hank had met her, sent in as a replacement. She'd been weatherbeaten yet still so clearly dedicated. She wasn't anything approaching motherly, less about nurturing and more about getting shit done. Hank appreciated that about her and she'd been what they'd needed.

"She must've found you impressive," Hank finally says.

"She asked me all the hard questions," Alex says, soft and pressed into Hank's chest. "What I thought I was doing. If I thought introducing another unstable element into Scott's life was a good idea. What I thought was going to happen. What I was going to do after."

"Scott's glad you found him," Hank says, an inexplicable dread roiling in his gut. "That you found us."

"I could seriously have fucked things up for you guys." Alex rolls up into a sitting position, elbows propped on his knees and rubbing at his eyes. "Shit." He reaches over and pulls open his nightstand drawer, palms a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches.

Hank pushes himself up to lean against the headboard and stares at the curve of his back, watches as he taps out a stick from the pack and wedge it between his lips.

"Shit," Alex says again, this time with more emphasis, throwing the rest of the pack against the far wall, snatching the cigarette clamped between his teeth and crushing it against the nightstand. He deflates after, arms on his knees, the deep curve of his spine ending with head hanging between his shoulders.

"You can have one," Hank whispers, hands resting helplessly against the covers. "I promise not to tell."

Alex turns his head, looks at Hank for a good long moment before grinning. "Thanks, doc, but some guy told me he'd have my balls in a sling if I hung around Scott smelling like cancer."

Hank did no such thing, well, not in those words exactly. Alex had been pretty good with following that rule. Hank had seen the packs of Nicorette and the white nicotine patches on Alex's arms those first couple of months. He'd appreciated the effort, it might've been what convinced him that letting Alex stay might not have been the worst idea he'd ever had after all.

There's a loud clap of thunder, like an overdramatic punctuation to their conversation, and suddenly it's pouring, the wind blowing rain into the room. Alex jumps to his feet and, after a brief battle with the curtains, manages to pull the window shut.

"Ugly pieces of shit," Alex mutters, tugging at a soaked curtain. "Wanna fucking burn them."

Hank tosses the book of matches at him. It hits him in the chest before he manages to catch it.

He looks down at his hand then back up at Hank. "Hilarious, doc."

Hank shrugs. "I've no objections. They're very...not you."

"Lorna picked them out," Alex says.

Hank suddenly feels cold, even with all the windows shut. "Lorna?"

"She used to come around a lot," Alex says, bracing his palms against the sill.

"Used to?"

"Shit happens."

Hank's freezing now. "Shit meaning me and Scott," he says, numb, pulling the sheets up and wrapping the around his shoulders.

Alex is quiet for a long time and the churning dread in Hank's stomach solidifies into a veritable stone. When Alex finally does say something it's an explosion of "Fuck!" and him moving to the bed, sitting to face Hank and searching the blankets for his hand. "Doc, Jesus, that's not it. This was before you guys."

Hank refuses to meet his eyes.

"Doc," Alex says, finally catching Hank's hand in his own. "Hank."

Hank looks up at that and something in Alex's eyes, sad resignation mixed in with conviction, makes Hank relent, makes Hank ask, "What happened?"

Alex sighs. "She didn't want me to keep looking for Scott."

Hank squeezes Alex's hand tight.

"Lorna," Alex says, eyes trained on Hank's blanket-covered knees. "Lorna was adopted. Good family, happy childhood, rich parents. She lucked out. She decided she wanted to know about her biological parents. Turns out her mother was dead and her father killed her. She still wishes she could un-know that."

Hank drapes the rest of the blankets over Alex's shoulders. "It's completely different with you and Scott."

Alex shakes his head. "I really could have fucked it up, doc."

Hank shushes him.

"Lorna wanted me to really think about what I was doing, the consequences, you know? But I never wanted to listen to her. I never wanted to think that far 'cos then what if I jinxed it? What if I never found Scott? Only," he looks up at Hank, "I guess in the back of my mind I always had this thought where what she was saying might be true."

"It's not," Hank says, adamant, cupping Alex's face in his hands. "It's not true. Get it through that head of yours."

Alex pulls away. "So that's why we broke up."

Hank grabs his shoulders. "Don't be stupid."

Alex smiles, self-deprecating. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No, but the fact that Scott loves you should," Hank says, pushing at Alex until he's lying flat on his back and straddling his hips. Hank leans in close, their noses touching. "So stop it."

Alex looks stubborn for one fleeting moment before he deflates, tugging Hank down to lie next to him. "Yeah," he says, pillowing his head on Hank's shoulder. "Okay."

*

"Dad?" someone - Scott, his brain supplies muzzily - whispers in Hank's ear while a finger pokes him in the neck. "Dad? Are you awake?"

Hank grudgingly opens his eyes, only to be greeted with Scott's fuzzy outline, raising his arms up in victory. "Morning, dad! I'm hungry!"

Hank rubs at his face. "Good morning to you too. Hand me my glasses, please," he says, holding out his hand and smiling his thanks as Scott promptly deposits them on his palm. "What do you want to eat?"

Scott scrunches his face up in thought. "Pancakes! And french toast! With strawberries! And bacon!"

"You sure are hungry this morning."

Scott nods fervently, knees bouncing against the bed. "I dreamed I was Captain America and I had to chase the bad guys and beat 'em up!"

Hank thinks that's supposed to be an explanation but he can't be sure. "Okay, then. Let's get you fed so you can defeat more bad guys."

Scott leaps off the bed and dances impatiently by the door for Hank. Hank sits up, sticks his toes out of the covers and belatedly realises that he never actually put his pyjamas on last night. Also, that he's really sore.

"Why don't you go ahead and see if we have strawberries in the fridge," Hank suggests, trying not to die in mortification. He really does not want to have to explain why he's naked to his eight year old.

"Okay," Scott says, pushing the door open. "But hurry, dad!"

Once he's sure Scott's out of sight, he quickly makes for the bathroom where he'd hung his pyjamas, stifling a groan on the way. It's been a long time since he's indulged in super athletic sex and he's feeling the effects right now, his muscles protesting and the deep, pleasurable ache that means that attempting any sort of seated position is going to be difficult today.

He checks his reflection in the mirror, noting that thankfully most of the damage is hidden by his T-shirt. The only noticeable thing is how red his bottom lip is and it reminds Hank that Alex had woken him up at dawn by sucking on it before leaving to go surf.

Hank bites down on his pleased smile, frivolously thinking he can still taste Alex even now, hours after the fact.

*

Hank's making a second batch of pancakes by the time Alex and Bobby stumble into the kitchen, wet and with their wetsuits pushed down to their waists.

"Hey, Hank," Bobby says, plopping down in the chair next to Scott. "Looks good. Hey, little dude." He holds out his fist and Scott grins through a mouthful of french toast and gives him a fistbump.

"You need help, doc?" Alex says, making to stand by Hank's side, pausing to ruffle Scott's hair on the way.

"Turn the bacon over when the timer hits seven, if you could," Hank says, smiling at Alex out of the corner of his eye.

Alex leans his hip against the counter, crossing his arms, and it's like he's settling himself to watch Hank make pancakes which is ridiculous but also very domestic of him. Hank glances his way every so often between pouring batter into the pan and flipping pancakes over to find Alex smirking at him.

It's both flattering and mortifying and Alex's behaviour only escalates when he crouches down to turn the bacon over where they're cooking in the oven, deliberately brushing up against Hank's side.

Hank glares at him and twists away, belatedly noticing the scratches all over Alex's back and then he blushes furiously. Alex finishes his task and shuts the oven door but doesn't cede any space so Hank has to finish making the last few pancakes with his body at an uncomfortable angle with the stove.

"What are you doing?" Hank mumbles, stealing glances in Scott's direction. Thankfully Bobby's keeping him occupied with a recounting of the many and varied places he's been stung by a jellyfish. Learning human ingenuity via which brand of tequila is most effective in removing nematocytes is marginally better than Scott being privy to whatever this is Alex is trying to accomplish.

"I'm not doing anything, doc," Alex says innocently. It doesn't suit him at all.

Hank glares.

Alex grins and tries to pull Hank close by snagging a finger in his waistband.

Hank dodges him and plays it off as turning off the stove. "Stop that," he hisses, throwing another surreptitious look in Scott's direction. Scott's too busy filching strawberries off of Bobby's plate but Bobby's giving Hank this huge shit-eating grin and even goes so far as to follow that with a thumbs up and a little claw-growling action.

Scott curves his hands into claws and roars but just segues that into talking Bobby's ear off about the new Thundercats adaptation so Hank breathes a huge sigh of relief.

Pressed too close to his side, he can feel the vibrations of Alex's muffled laughter. Alex, the sneaky motherfucker, had apparently taken advantage of Hank's distraction. Hank tries to push him away but Alex is intractable.

"Stop," Hank says, low enough that only Alex can hear.

"C'mon, doc," Alex grins, impertinent. "One kiss."

Hank's eyes narrow then flicker to Scott - listening raptly as Bobby expounds on the merits of the old Thundercats vs the new - before he sighs and nods. "Fine," he says, rolling his eyes as he lets Alex pull his head down, unable to fight the grin that threatens to emerge as his mouth meets Alex's smiling one.

He agreed to one kiss, thinking it would be a short peck hello, only Alex draws the greeting out into a protracted reacquaintance - Hi, how are you? What have you been doing since we saw each other last? Did you miss me? I'm so fucking glad to see you again - and Hank falls into it, smiling and humming his pleasure, hand coming up to bury itself in the short hairs on Alex's nape.

There's a loud and obnoxious wolf-whistle and Hank immediately pulls back, heart beating in his throat as he meets a smirking Bobby's eyes before moving quickly to Scott.

Scott's got his elbow on the table, cheek leaning on his fist, looking the very picture of boredom. "Can I have more pancakes when you're done, please?"

Hank closes his eyes, tilts his head back in an approximation of relief. He feels the smile Alex tries to hide in his neck and, feeling vindictive, pinches his side hard.

"Ow!" Alex yelps, jumping back and banging his hip on the counter. "Shit, fuck!"

"Sure, coming right up," Hank tells Scott while elbowing Alex out of the way. "And that's two dollars in the swear jar," he smirks at Alex.

*

Hank's in the middle of making dinner when his phone rings.

"I was just about to call you," he says, wedging his phone between his ear and shoulder.

"Do you mind if I go first?" Raven says, sounding so very close to hysteria that Hank concedes.

"Is it wedding-related?" he asks while plopping the casserole of macaroni, broccoli and cheese in the oven.

"What the fuck isn't these days," Raven groans, and Hank can hear the familiar rustle of her tearing open a pack of Cheetos. "It's like the only thing the town ever talks about."

"Are you dipping Cheetos into Karamel Sutra again?"

"Don't judge me, McCoy," Raven growls, chewing obnoxiously. "Emma Frost blew into town."

Hank frowns, trying to make sense of that while setting the oven timer. "Sean's boss?" he finally ventures, recalling the (many and varied) lewd texts Sean sent him when he was away working for Azazel regarding his 'Barbie blow-up doll bosslady.'

"The one and only."

Hank leans back against the counter and stretches his legs out in front of him. "I don't understand."

"Oh, fuck, right, I forgot, you've never met her. Luck you," Raven adds in a vicious undertone before continuing. "She and Charles go way back. And I mean way, way back. It's how Sean got that job so fast after graduation."

"And?"

"Like I'm talking about before me, even. Imagine Sleeping Beauty. Only with Charles as like the baby and Maleficent as his betrothed."

"Only you would use the word 'betrothed'," Hank says absently while trying to digest the information. "So...what? Is she trying to break up the wedding? Because that is messed up."

"Oh Jesus fuck no!" Raven bellows. "Ugh, ew, what the hell, Hank?!"

"It was your analogy!" Hank replies defensively.

"Ugh, I think it's the tequila I poured into the ice cream getting to me, sorry," she says. There's a lengthy pause in which Hank assumes she takes a healthy swig of said tequila. "No, they were like BFF or someshit and now she's like reclaiming her title and making Charles pay for not inviting her in the first place by bullying everyone into doing the wedding her way. Dude, even Betsey the wedding planner's scared of her."

"That's seriously fucked up," Hank says.

"I know right? And if that isn't bad enough, she's actually moved into the Mansion."

Hank exhales audibly. "How are Erik and Charles taking this?"

"Oh, dude," Raven says, voice suddenly small and sad. "That's like one of the worst parts. They're both just holed up in the study, not giving a fuck."

"They did want an intimate wedding."

Raven makes mournful noises. "Poor babies. But you know what sucks even more?"

"What?"

"Sean's so fucking terrified of Emma that he's moved into my spare room," Raven wails.

Hank starts laughing.

"Shut up! It's bad! He is like a fucking pig!"

"You are so spoiled," Hank says, chuckling.

"Ugh, you so don't get it!"

"I lived with him for a couple of years. And this was when he was going through puberty. Your pain cannot compete with the pain I experienced during those two years."

"Please," Raven says, her sneer palpable even through the phone. "You had an entire house to avoid him in. I've got like, what, thirty square feet?"

"You could always move back home for the duration," Hank helpfully points out.

"I hate you. You belittle my problems."

"Suck it up, little orphan Annie."

"You can't see me but I am giving you the finger."

Hank laughs.

"Let's talk about something else. Anything not related to weddings. Like what you wanted to talk about."

"I never said I wanted to talk about anything."

"Please," Raven snorts. "You said you were planning to call me. You never call unless you have a problem or you just got laid - Holy fuck! Did you get laid?!"

"I resent that accusation," Hank evades. "At least I don't constantly drunk-dial people to wail about my secret fear of inevitable spinsterhood."

"I ONLY DO THAT WHEN I HAVE TOO MUCH ABSINTHE!" Raven yells. "AND DON'T CHANGE THE SUBJECT. WHO WAS IT?"

"Oh god," Hank groans, hand coming up to cover his blushing face even though he knows no one's around and Scott and Alex won't be back for a good half hour.

"I know how you sound when you just got a good reaming," Raven brazenly continues. "I blame the tequila for not having caught it earlier. Who was it?"

Hank bites down on his still-swollen lower lip then sighs, answering softly, "Alex. It was Alex."

"Fuck," Raven breathes.

"I know," Hank moans, slumping into a chair and leaning his elbows on the kitchen table.

"Sean's going to be fucking impossible to live with now," Raven says.

Hank blinks. "What?"

"It's bad enough he won the last one but two in a row? Bitch is going to be smug as hell."

It takes a moment for Hank to process that and when he does, his jaw drops. "You bet on this?"

Raven snorts. "Dude, I was so sure it was going to happen sooner, like around when Scott called Sean asking for lessons on how to fake sick and shit. Sean was all, 'yeah, no, it's gonna be out in Cali with all the cheesy, romantic as shit beaches' or whatever. I hate you. Why couldn't you have waited until you got back home? Losing to Charles stings less."

Hank feels like the rug's been pulled out from under him.

"Hank? Hank, you still on?" Raven starts muttering imprecations against her service provider and quite possibly starts banging her phone on a hard surface.

Hank winces, pulling his phone away from his ear. "I'm still here. Stop that."

"Oh, good. I thought I lost you there for a second."

"You did. Around the time you accused my son of setting me up with his long-lost brother!" Hank ends up hissing into his phone.

"Whaddaya mean, accuse?" Raven bitches. "I'm just stating facts, here, buddy."

"Jesus," Hank moans, burying his face in his arms.

"Tiny genius mastermind in the making," Raven says sagely.

"No, not that," Hank says, frown tugging at the corners of his mouth while his heart feels like it's stoppering all the breath in his chest. "I knew this was the stupidest thing to do and this just confirms it."

"What?" Raven says disbelievingly. "Why the hell would you say that?"

"You know why."

"No, Hank, I do not," Raven says, biting out every word. "Please explain to me why this is a bad thing because I do not see any bad in this."

Hank lets out a long exhale, only it doesn't make him feel better, just moves that feeling of dread down to the pit of his stomach instead. "It'll never work. He's got a life here - friends, family, people he cares about."

"And?" Raven says, still refusing to see reason.

"I don't see him leaving them," Hank says. What goes unsaid is that he's allowed himself to be deluded into living in a bubble of happiness, refusing to think about what comes next, that somewhere in the back of his mind he believes that Alex isn't going to stay and that when he leaves, a small part of Hank - somewhere deep in the back of his mind where he keeps all the dark, terrible thoughts and fears - believes that Alex is going to take Scott when he goes.

"You're so stupid," Raven says firmly.

There's a loud bang followed by the sound of laughter coming from the living room. Hank allows himself a small sigh of relief. "I've got to go. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Hank, listen - "

"Sorry, have to get dinner ready. Love you, bye," Hank says, ending the call amid Raven's protestations and quickly schooling his expression into an approximation of cheer as Scott and Alex tumble into the kitchen, trailing sand and water. "I hope you guys are hungry; I made a lot of baked macaroni."

*

Later, Hank retires halfway through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, kissing Scott goodnight and pretending not to see the meaningful looks coming from Alex.

He showers, changes into his pyjamas and slips into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin and curling in on his side.

When Alex comes in an hour later, Hank feigns sleep, trying to keep his body lax as Alex slips in beside him and presses a kiss to his shoulder.

"Night, doc," Alex whispers while pressing himself against Hank's back, his hand coming to rest on the jut of Hank's hip.

The pressing dread intensifies - now a line from his throat, down to his sternum, all the way to his stomach - and Hank lays awake for a very long time.

*

In the grand old tradition - read: cliche - of Southern California coastal living, they spend their last night in Ventura camped out in the sand, roasting s'mores over a bonfire.

Scott, having spent far too many of his formative summers going on camping trips (also known as wilderness survival training) with Erik while Hank had been stuck with the bitchwork of teaching summer courses to freshers, had initially insisted on adhering to the letter of roughing it, visions of collecting firewood with subsequent igniting of fire via friction and sleeping in tarp blankets dancing in his head until Alex shot the former down with stringent county organic firewood codes.

Hank, who'd been a boy scout for all of four days back when he was seven, withheld his participation until they'd dragged both of Alex's padded deck chairs and his spare sheets with them.

"I don't know why we're doing this when there's a perfectly serviceable stove fifteen metres away," Hank says, feeling ridiculously quaint roasting marshmallows on a stick over an open fire.

"Da-ad," Scott sighs, rolling his eyes. His marshmallow resembles a lump of coal more than anything but it doesn't seem to bother him.

"Yeah, doc," Alex chides, smirking. "Don't be a killjoy."

Hank makes a face at him.

The past few days have been strained, though Hank suspects it's mostly just on his side. Alex seems unfazed at the lack of sex and Hank thinks he's probably chalked it up to Hank's reluctance to fucking while Scott's in the immediate vicinity than anything more serious. It helps that he's extremely vulnerable to surprise early morning make out sessions.

Hank's always been prone to brooding but between trying to put up an exterior of blissful domesticity for Scott's sake and being bombarded by calls from Raven and Sean bemoaning each new wedding-related development and berating him for his angsty teenaged idiocy, he hasn't had much time to dwell.

So it's more than a bit surprising when, after they've decimated an entire bag of jet-puffed marshmallows and Scott curls up in one of the deck chairs courtesy of a sugar-induced coma, Alex pulls him down into the other chair, tangling their legs together.

"Jesus Christ, doc," he says, rubbing a hand down Hank's sternum. "Stop over-analyzing shit."

"Sorry?" Hank frowns, confused.

Alex grips the jut of his hip, knee spreading Hank's legs apart. "Yeah, you should be," he murmurs against Hank's lips before he kisses Hank's protests away.

*

Alex is gone for most of the next day. Hank barely spares that a thought, too busy trying to get everything packed, making sure they don't leave anything behind and figuring out the logistics of fitting Scott's Iron Man helmet into their luggage.

"We'll see if Alex can put it in his bag," Hank says reassuringly while Scott clutches said helmet fiercely in his arms.

Alex gets back at around seven, three hours before their flight, with Armando and Angel in tow. Hank notices that he's packed two bags instead of one when they're stuffing their things in the back of Armando's SUV. Hank decides not to comment on it. He just turns to Scott, still hugging his Iron Man helmet, and says, "You know what? You'll just have to wear it on the plane."

Scott's resulting grin could be seen from space.

Their goodbyes at the airport are less stilted than their first meeting but almost just as awkward, Hank feels. Alex folds Angel in his arms, their foreheads touching while Armando crushes Hank in a sincere hug.

"Whenever you're in New York..." Hank says, smiling, and Armando winks at him before bending down and squeezing Scott tight, letting Scott babble at him to bring Fatima to come visit.

Angel and Armando switch and then she's kissing Scott's cheek and rubbing his back, letting him cling to her as she stands and looks Hank in the eye. Hank blinks nervously back at her, fiddling with his glasses. She smirks, breaking the tension, and smiles at him. "You're okay, McCoy," she says and Hank strangely feels vindicated.

*

Raven and Sean pick them up from the airport, both wired and too much to deal with so early in the morning. Hank lets Alex deal with their bags while he carries Scott into the back seat, strapping him down in the middle before settling in next to him. The back seat's going to be hell on his legs but it's a small price to pay for his continued sanity to not have Raven at full volume so close to his ear.

Scott stirs when Alex takes the seat on his other side but only long enough to say hello to Raven and Sean and confirm that yes, the trip was most excellent but sleep now, talk later.

Raven pulls into traffic, interrupting Sean's rant about the potentially vegan reception menu to start her own rant, which Hank doesn't immediately understand because Raven has a tendency to hold conversations with an imaginary Hank that still lives in her pocket which just confuses the both of them when she picks up right where she left off, not differentiating between either Hank.

It takes Hank about five minutes to parse out that she's griping about the construction going on in the garden because while Emma Frost conceded on the point of an outdoor wedding, she'd commissioned a team of professionals to build a stage complete with an over-the-top arabesque carving.

"That's horrifying," Hank says, curling an arm around Scott and drawing him to lean against his side.

"Tacky as hell," Sean agrees, chugging down the rest of his quad-shot latte.

"Sounds like it's gonna be a Kardashian wedding," Alex says, smirking.

Raven glares at him via the rear-view mirror. "You shut the fuck up."

"She's pissed because she had to change numbers," Sean says, condescendingly patting Raven's arm. "Gawker and like Vogue Hommes wouldn't stop calling."

"Don't make me drive into a ditch," Raven growls, pulling her arm away. "The fucking university's press office couldn't handle that shit and passed it on to me. If I believed in karma, I think I must've been like Ted fucking Bundy in my past life or something."

"Bundy didn't die until '89," Alex points out. Hank grins at him.

"And you know what the fucking cherry on this whole lubeless assfucking gangbang production is?" Raven says, choosing to ignore Alex. "The Daily Mail offering me fifty thousand pounds to give them pictures of the event."

"The Daily Mail?" Hank says.

"I told her to hold out for more," Sean says.

"Apparently Charles has got a barony in Staffordshire or someshit, so this gives them permission to harass us."

Alex knocks Hank's fingers with his own and gives him the are your friends for real look. Hank laughs at him, open-mouthed and silent in the face of Raven's self-righteous indignation. Alex tugs on Hank's ring finger in reproach then threads their fingers together, running his thumb over the back of Hank's hand for the rest of the ride home.

*

Erik and Charles abscond with Scott the moment Hank steps foot in the mansion for his tux fitting. Alright, Hank may have been exaggerating because there were the customary hugs and Erik had to be gingerly extracted from his pinned and hemmed suit by the stern-faced Henry Poole tailor specifically flown in to deal with the wedding party but the spirit of the expression was certainly there.

"They're acting weird," Hank comments, plopping down next to Raven on the couch.

Raven makes a dismissive noise around a mouthful of chocolate. "They'll be back. Scott's got to have his turn."

"I hope he handles it with more dignity than Sean," Hank says, watching Sean fidget as the tailor starts pinning too close to his crotch area.

Sean gives him the middle finger.

"Please, even Katy Perry's got more dignity than Sean," Raven says.

"Yuck it up," Sean calls out. "But I won't be the one who's gonna be too fat to fit into my dress, stress-eater."

"Fuck you," Raven says but shoves her box of chocolates at Hank anyway.

"What are the chances of Scott not coming back hopped up on sugar?" Hank asks, trying to change the subject.

"Slim to none," Raven says succinctly.

"My child is so spoiled," Hank groans, selecting a truffle from the box and biting into it glumly.

"It's all the pent-up emotion," Sean contributes.

Hank looks at Raven in askance.

Raven shrugs. "You'd think they'd be crawling up the walls and shit because they can't go out without people being all up in their faces about this wedding but they're just lying around the house like a consumptive regency couple."

"I think the word you're looking for is 'resigned,' dude," Sean says helpfully.

"Yeah, that too," Raven concedes.

Hank makes sympathetic noises.

"Hey, wait," Raven says suddenly. "Where's Alex?"

Hank shrugs. "He wasn't home by the time Scott and I woke up."

"He's coming though, right?" Raven says, squinting at him. "Because he can't just wear his dress blues to this thing. One, Emma would kill him. Two, Erik isn't wearing his. And three, man, I never realised that shit was so ugly. Porno dress blues don't look like that."

"Are you talking about that porno Charles's TA loaned us when we were sixteen?" Hank asks.

"Someone please kill me now," Sean moans, clapping his hands over his ears, only to receive a severe reprimand from the tailor.

"Yeah," Raven replies, ignoring Sean. "The one with that MIT professor and his beefy military student."

Hank makes a face. "That guy was air force. Erik was in the army. Also, that porno was terrible; I can't believe you remember it."

Raven rolls her eyes. "Whatever, dude. I remember you popping wood when we saw it so take your elitism and stuff it."

"This is more than I need to know about your boundaryless friendship," Sean wails, near tears, from across the room.

"Jealous much?" Raven says, scooting closer to Hank and draping her legs across his lap to add insult to injury. "Anyway, back to Alex. Is he coming?"

Hank nods. "He texted and said he'd be by around four."

"Speaking of coming," Raven says, grinning evilly.

Hank groans and drops his head against the back of the couch.

"C'mon, McCoy," Raven says, straddling his lap and grabbing his shoulders. "Details."

"Not too much, though," Sean amends.

Hank lets out a frustrated breath. "I don't - I don't know."

"Weak," Raven huffs, pinching his side. "You can do better than that, dude."

Hank sighs, rolls his head to the side and meets Raven's eyes. "He's amazing."

Raven grins. "And?"

Hank bites his lip. "And Scott doesn't seem too fazed by it?"

Raven snorts. "Major understatement."

Hank frowns at her.

Raven pats his head fondly. "Scott is like over the moon about this, dude."

"Really," Hank says, skeptical.

"Oh yeah," Sean says, nodding. The tailor clears his throat sharply and Sean quickly stills. "We're talking ecstatic Snoopy dance of glee here."

"Weeping tears of rapturous joy," Raven confirms.

Hank closes his eyes. "This is bad."

Raven smacks him on the arm, hard. "Would you stop that?"

"I can't, okay?" Hank says, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. "Someone has to be rational about this."

"You're fucking hopeless," Raven groans, flopping back against the couch cushions. "Sean, tell him he's hopeless."

"Hank, you're hopeless," Sean says agreeably. "Also, stop being an idiot."

"You know your situation is fucking dire when Sean of all people is calling you hopeless," Raven says, poking him with her toe.

"We can't all live in a shroud of relentless optimism," Hank replies.

"And being a herald of doom and gloom is so much better?" Raven retorts.

"Enough with the pessimism, Hank," Sean says. "Good things can happen too, you know."

"Life advice from the redheaded bastard stepchild," Raven nods to herself. "This is how bad you've gotten Henry Philip McCoy."

"He's not going to stay," Hank says quietly.

"You didn't think he was interested in you either," Sean points out.

"See?" Raven says, knocking her ankle against his knee. "You're wrong this time, too."

"Both of you watch too many romantic comedies. You know what happens after everything fades to black? They figure out that the logistics of things won't work. Alex's entire life is back in California and mine is right here."

"In my expert opinion, you're wrong," Sean says. "Scott's here and you're here. So it's safe to say that Alex's entire life isn't in California."

"As his colleague in the study of romantic comedies, I'd have to agree," Raven says, smirking. "Like there's that point in all romcoms where everything goes to shit because of some epic misunderstanding. Don't let it go to shit because you suddenly decide you want to be dense."

"You're both being more irrational than usual," Hank dismisses.

Raven snorts. "Hypocritical, much?"

"Yeah, okay, dude," Sean says as he's being helped out of his tux. "But us irrational bitches are going to be there in the car with you when you do the inevitable driving to the airport to chase down your man climactic scene. We are even going to get into trouble with the TSA for you just so you can get to the departure gate and like do the whole confessions of love shit."

"Because we're awesome like that," Raven finishes smugly.

Hank just shakes his head at them.

*

Hank's ambling around the extensive grounds of the Mansion, tasked by Emma Frost - every bit as venerable and terrifying as advertised - to bring Scott in for his fitting and round up Charles and Erik so they can finalize the seating arrangement for the ceremony. Personally, Hank thinks she's less concerned about their opinion than she is about them just up and running away to elope.

It takes Hank almost twenty minutes to find them.

He hears them before he sees them - the low timbre of Erik's amused laughter, Charles's good-natured questions and Scott's flights of fancy, holed up in the wooden gazebo crawling with vines and orchids, just a few yards away from the lake.

He almost trips over an empty jar of Nutella, the dregs of their impromptu picnic of banana-Nutella sandwiches, Kool-Aid and tea in fine bone china cups, before catching himself against a post.

"So glad you could join us, Hank," Charles greets, hiding his amused smile against Erik's shoulder.

"You son was just teaching us how to surf," Erik smirks. Charles nudges his shoulder, chiding, and Erik's arm tightens around his shoulder in vague apology.

"Dad didn't want to learn!" Scott announces from where he's pretending a plank of the wooden floor is his surfboard, teetering precariously.

"I'm happy with just swimming, thanks," Hank says, pinching him on the nose.

Scott wrinkles his nose. "Alex should teach everyone when we go to Antibes."

"I don't think there are waves you can surf in Antibes," Hank hedges.

"Nevertheless, he's still invited to come along this Christmas," Charles says cheerily, his eyes twinkling. Before he'd met Charles, Hank didn't even know people outside of old movie stars and Dumbledore did that.

Hank narrows his eyes at him and Charles just smiles innocently back.

"You can even have the guest house to yourselves," Erik offers magnanimously because he always goes the extra mile to be an asshole.

"Congratulations, you both deserve each other." Hank holds out his hand for Scott to take. "I'd love to stay and be the victim of your puerile sense of humour but I've gotta go get Scott fitted for his tux."

Erik grins his shit-eating grin while Charles stretches his legs out in front of him, leaning further back into Erik, smug.

"Da-ad," Scott whines, swinging Hank's arm. "I don't like suits. Can't I wear my Cap costume?"

Hank ruffles his hair in sympathy. "You'll have to ask Erik and Charles that, buddy. It's their wedding."

"If it was our wedding, he could wear whatever he wanted," Erik says, voice flat.

Charles hums quietly, burying his face in Erik's neck, drawing their arms tight against his middle.

Hank decides against delivering Emma's message.

"C'mon, Scott," Hank says, tugging him away. "Let's not keep the tailor waiting."

Scott, sensing the dip in mood, frowns in consternation and waves listlessly at Erik and Charles.

Charles lifts a hand in acknowledgement while Erik nods shortly, drawing his knee up and twisting a bit so that his back is to the gazebo's opening before bending to whisper into Charles's ear - a veritable human barrier.

"Dad?" Scott says when they're halfway back to the house.

"Yes, Scott?"

"Do I have to wear a tux when you and Alex get married?"

Hank almost trips over air at that.

"Dad?"

Hank closes his eyes, takes a deep steeling breath. He gets down on one knee, resting a hand on Scott's shoulder, meeting his eyes. "Scott," he starts before faltering and gulping in another lungful of air. "Scott, about me and Alex..."

"You love Alex, right, Dad?" Scott asks, blinking guilelessly at Hank.

Hank bites his lip, looks at down, at Scott's bare fidgeting feet. He doesn't know how he manages it but he looks Scott in the eye and says, "Yes, yes I do." And he thought it would be harder to lie to his son, only he really isn't lying at all. He can finally admit the truth and it took his eight year old son to get him to stop fucking around and grow up.

"And Alex loves you," Scott says with all the conviction of the very young. "And someday you might want to get married like Erik and Charles so can I pleeeeeeeease wear my Cap costume then?"

Hank laughs. Of course this would be the most pressing issue when he's just had his big epiphany.

"Sure," he says, pressing a kiss to Scott's forehead. "We'll make it a theme. It'll be a superhero wedding."

*

"Hey," Hank says, cornering Alex outside the parlour after his tux fitting.

"Hey," Alex says back, clearly confused but willing to humour him.

"I want to show you something," Hank says, smiling and threading their fingers together.

"This sounds promising."

Hank rolls his eyes at him fondly and tugs him down the hallway and up the grand staircase.

"I can feel you staring at my ass," Hank says, turning his head to look back at Alex who is indeed staring at his ass.

"I can't help it, it's right there in front of me," Alex says, grinning unrepentantly up at him.

Hank shakes his head, exasperatingly fond and hopelessly enamoured - a new and strangely exhilarating feeling that blooms in his chest and expands to fill his whole body, down to his fingertips clutched tight in Alex's hand.

Hank ducks his head, biting his lip against the smile threatening to split his face in half as he drags Alex down a corridor to stand in front of a closed door.

"Doc," Alex says seriously. "Did you drag me all the way up here for sex?" Hank makes a face at him and he laughs, pulling Hank in by his belt loops. "You could've just said."

"No," Hank replies, pressing a hand against Alex's chest while the other pushes the door open. "I dragged you here to show you the reliquary of my teenage angst."

Alex blinks at him before stepping into Hank's old bedroom, tugging Hank behind him via his beltloop.

Hank tries to see the room from an outsider's perspective - the neatly made bed, the antique bookcase with the encyclopedias lined up neatly on the top shelf while the rest of the shelves contain an assortment of periodicals, textbooks, countless versions of rough drafts of Hank's theses, all piled haphazardly with an assortment of pens and comic books and CDs. There's a huge Star Trek poster on one wall - Hank over-identified with Spock but envied him his self-assurance - and the unfortunate Dolph Lundgren circa Universal Soldier poster because Hank embarrassingly really does have a type.

He's mostly cleared out his study table when he moved into his apartment but there's a photo still stuck to the wall over it of him and Raven, taken a few months after Hank had moved into the Mansion, both glaring moodily at the camera.

"Charles is sentimental," Hank says by way of explanation. "And also a pack-rat. He asks the cleaning staff to dust around whatever's left."

Hank watches Alex take in the room, turning in a slow circle until his eyes come to rest on the lone photo of Hank and Raven. Alex runs his fingers across the surface of geeky emo teenaged Hank's face in the photo then looks up at Hank, a smile playing about his lips.

"This is what you looked like when you started college?"

Hank stuffs his hands down his pockets and shrugs. "Around the end of my first year, yeah."

"Jesus, doc," Alex says, shaking his head. "You must've gotten so much action..."

Hank gapes. "You're kidding, right?"

"Doc, if I were a college fratboy and you walked into a party looking like that? Not even free booze would keep me from trying to get into your pants."

"How sweet of you," Hank says dryly, fighting and failing to keep a smile off his face.

"You wouldn't've been able to get rid of me," Alex says, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the desk.

"I was pretty much jailbait back then, you know?" Hank teases.

"College at sixteen, right?"

"Fifteen," Hank corrects, half-smug.

"Nice," Alex says appreciatively.

Hank shakes his head, laughs. "Not how you're imagining. I was such a nerd. And it didn't help that I was so much younger than everyone else."

"No drunken debauchery?" Alex asks. "At all?"

Hank pretends to think for a moment. "If by drunkenness you mean Raven stealing the good scotch from the cellar and by debauchery you mean watching terrible '80s porn and coming back here to work out my frustrations with my hand, then sure, there was drunken debauchery."

"Your hand, huh?" Alex muses, stalking up to Hank.

"And a lot of vaseline," Hank can't help adding.

Alex's eyes darken. "Really."

"Really," Hank whispers against his lips.

"You wanna show me what you did when you were fifteen and all alone up here?" Alex says, hand coming up to grip Hank's hip.

"Let me go see if there's some vaseline left in my nightstand," Hank replies, pushing Alex down into his desk chair.

*

The morning of the wedding dawns clear and bright, not a cloud in the sky, though Hank doesn't really give two fucks about that since his alarm starts blaring I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor at half past six. The indignity of waking up at the ass-crack of dawn is somewhat softened by the sight of Alex holding out a steaming mug of coffee and further sweetened by a long, lingering kiss hello.

"Ugh," Hank says, finally pulling away to grab at his glasses on the nightstand. "Sorry. Morning breath."

Alex, freshly showered and smelling really amazing, makes a dismissive noise, burying his nose in the skin behind Hank's ear.

Hank blows over the surface of his coffee, watching the steam dissipate. "Mmm," he hums, burying his hand in Alex's nape.

"I gotta tell you something," Alex mouths into the join of Hank's neck and shoulder.

"Before or after morning sex?"

Alex pulls back, studies Hank's face. "We got time for that?"

Hank darts in, takes Alex's bottom lip between his teeth before moving to whisper in his ear, "Ten minutes."

Alex takes Hank's mug away and pushes him back into the covers. "I can do that."

Hank grins and reels him in by his T-shirt. Alex goes willingly, one hand braced over their heads for balance as he meets Hank's kiss, his other hand reaching down to cup Hank through his cotton sleep pants.

Hank groans into his mouth, arching up into the touch. He feels Alex smirk into the kiss, his hand sliding further down to caress Hank's thigh and push. Hank spread his legs obediently, his own hands coming to rest on the small of Alex's back, pushing their bodies close.

Alex shifts his grip to Hank's hip, his body a slow slide down Hank's chest, mouthing at the strip of exposed skin between his waistband and T-shirt.

Hank groans, spreading his knees further apart and pushing down on Alex's shoulders. "Eight minutes. Don't tease."

"If I didn't know you better, I'd be offended that you're keeping track," Alex grins up at him.

"Can't be late," Hank mumbles, lifting up to help Alex peel off his sleep pants.

"Won't be," Alex says and then licks a long stripe down Hank's cock.

Hank moans, lifting his knees and planting his heels on the bed in anticipation - and that's when his phone starts ringing.

"Fuck," Hank breathes, arm reaching out to scramble for his phone on the nightstand. Alex decides to take offense to this and swallows Hank down.

"It's Raven," Hank bites out, moaning. "I have to - Alex - " He accidentally presses Answer at the same time he groans, arching up into Alex's mouth.

"No - stop - " Hank fists a hand in Alex's hair. "God, Alex - "

"Hank!" Raven screeches through the phone. "Code red! Code red! Stop having sex! This is important!"

Hank kicks Alex's side lightly, pulling at his hair at the same time. Alex pulls back sullenly, gracing Hank with a displeased look. Hank ducks in, pressing a quick, open-mouthed kiss to his spit-slick, slowly swelling mouth in apology.

"Hank, are you listening to me?!" Raven shrieks.

Hank flops back down on the bed, trying to get his breathing back to normal. "Yeah. What's the emergency this time?"

Alex runs a hand down Hank's chest, soothing, before getting up to disappear into the bathroom.

"Yeah, no," Raven says. "I've got a mission for you. And you are going to accept it."

"I haven't turned you down yet," Hank says, glancing longingly at the closed bathroom door.

"Okay, shut up and listen."

*

They pull up into the Mansion's driveway amid the controlled bustle of what looks like a hundred caterers, decorators and waitpersons. A valet in a red jacket opens Hank's door for him and holds his hands out for the keys, which Hank complies with dumbly. He's too busy staring at the exercise in stomach-turning wealth that's thrown up over the front doors.

"Jesus Christ," Alex mutters, staring at the gold-plated arbor while Scott pokes at one of the cabbage roses.

"Are those Swarovski crystals?" Hank asks no one, as they stand gaping at this bullshit.

"Oh, good, there you are," a tiny woman with a headset and clipboard says, coming down the entryway to smile at them. "You must be the wedding party. Your suits are in the ivory room. Make a right down the hall, a left on the second corridor and it'll be fourth room on your right."

Hank can't even get out a Thanks, I know where it is, before she's pushing them inside and disappears around a corner.

"Everything's so ugly," Scott says, which is something coming from someone who'd insisted on wearing his Captain America pyjamas on the way over - insistent that even if he isn't allowed to wear them to the ceremony itself, they're going to be on the premises over his dead body.

Sean's already in the ivory room when they walk in. He's in his tux, bowtie hanging undone around his unbuttoned collar, staring dumbfounded out the window.

Following the same biological imperative that makes people gawk at vehicular accidents and repeatedly sniff at unwashed gym socks, Hank and Alex make their way to his side. They have a partial view of the back garden where the ceremony itself is going to take place. There are five hundred chairs wrapped in muslin and decorated with a silk ribbon and a flower arrangement. They're split down the middle by a long white carpet, white-painted steel iron stands at regular intervals to either side, leading up to a golden-domed chuppah, white Egyptian cotton tied decoratively around the four corners.

There are flower arrangements scattered with great deliberation on every conceivable surface.

"What did they do to the fountain?" is all Hank can manage to get out.

"Bedazzled the shit out of it and managed to get it to work again," Sean mumbles, taking a long swig from the champagne flute in his hand.

"I thought that thing hasn't worked since the civil war."

Sean shrugs. "Emma has like magic powers or someshit. Like this is all seriously giving me a headache."

Hank sniffs the air then glares at him. "You're baked."

"I gotta be, to survive this thing," Sean says unrepentantly.

"I hear you, man," Alex says. "I'm kinda expecting elephants to come marching in like in Aladdin."

"White tigers, dude."

Hank stares at Sean, aghast. "Are you kidding me?"

Raven chooses that moment to burst into the room, carrying a magnum of champagne.

Hank turns to her. "There are white tigers at this wedding."

Raven nods miserably, bringing the bottle to her lips and swallowing a generous mouthful. "Emma raises them."

Hank takes the bottle away from her and chugs.

"These are not problems normal people have," Alex says, dumbstruck.

"You see why we have to do this," Raven says adamantly.

Hank and Sean nod, resolute.

"Do what?" Alex asks.

"You're going with Hank," Raven tells him. "Sean, take Scott with you. You've got your orders. Rendezvous at the meeting place in an hour. Got it?"

Hank and Sean nod while Alex continues to look at them in confusion.

"Just get changed, I'll tell you later," Hank tells him.

Alex laughs, shakes his head. "You guys are something."

"We're awesome," Raven says, snatching the champagne from Hank and exiting through a side door. "One hour!"

Hank walks up to where Scott's busy contemplating how he's going to get his jammies on under his perfectly tailored tux. "Buddy, we're going to get changed and then we're going to do something for Raven. You're going with Sean, okay?"

Scott looks up from where he's trying to switch out the Ferragamo loafers picked out for him for his red Berluti boots.

"On a mission, buddy," Sean says, holding both thumbs up.

Scott's face brightens. "Sir, yes sir!" he says, saluting.

*

They waste fifteen minutes changing into their suits and it takes another half hour for them to complete the first phase of their part of the 'mission', which is locating Charles.

Hank drags Alex around the Mansion, poking their heads in Charles's usual haunts - his study, the library, Erik's study, the master bedroom - all while carefully avoiding the kitchen where they can hear an aggressive Bostonian accent biting out orders to the staff gathered there.

They finally find him curled up in the window seat in the east tower, face pressed against the glass, staring gloomily out at the arriving guests milling about the garden. Of all the times for him to be without Erik - archaic wedding traditions notwithstanding. Hank still believes that Charles can take Emma Frost on in a fair fight of sheer stubbornness but this is hardly a reasonable circumstance.

"Charles," Hank says, plastering a frazzled look on his face - it isn't really that much of a stretch.

Charles turns, smile starting to play about his lips before pausing. He peers up at Hank. "What's wrong?"

"One of the tigers is swimming around in the lake and she won't come out for anyone," Hank says, at Raven's behest.

Charles blinks then lets out an amused huff. "It must be Kavi. I used to take her swimming when Emma came 'round."

Confusion is basically radiating from every pore of Alex's body and Hank signals him to play along, surreptitiously tapping the top of Alex's shoe with his own.

"Yeah," Alex says. "So we better get out there before she scares the guests or something."

Charles hops to his feet, nodding purposefully. "Mustn't do to frighten the townsfolk," he says, slipping into one of the many concealed passages that dot the Mansion.

"I don't know what you're doing, doc," Alex says out of the corner of his mouth as they trail after Charles, "but can I just say that Charles? He's a fucking Disney prince, right? Like he fell out of Andalasia and you guys just found him wandering the streets and shit."

Hank nudges him, failing to be unamused. "I don't think Disney princes are as snarky or as slutty as Charles."

*

The secret passage gets them out of the house unscathed, depositing them out a side door a little ways off where the majority of guests are gathered .

Phase two of the plan is getting Charles to the gazebo without any of his guests - almost all of the townsfolk, his high society acquaintances and a lot of how-many-times-removed relatives that flew in from England - noticing.

Hank grabs a random steel stand of flowers, hands it off to Alex and takes another one for himself. "Don't stop for anything," he instructs.

"This is ridiculous," Charles says though he's doing his best not to laugh.

"You can say that again," Alex mutters as they make their way across the garden.

They drop the flowers once they reach the copse of trees on the far end and Charles practically skips his way to the lake.

When Alex and Hank manage to catch up with him, he's on the dock, the tips of his oxfords lining up precisely with the edge of the dock. He's got one hand on his hip and the other cupped beside his mouth, unbearably posh RP accent calling out, "Kiva!"

Hank grasps his elbow and pulls him a few steps back. "Don't fall in."

Charles turns to look at him, blue eyes almost translucent in the sunlight. "I don't see her. I don't think she's here."

"She isn't," Hank says and tugs him to the shore.

"I don't understand - " Charles willingly lets himself be led. "Then why did you - "

Hank turns back to look at him and smiles. "You'll see."

Alex is leaning against the gazebo, arms crossed against his chest. Hank smiles at him and they both propel Charles up the few steps and into the enclosed space.

"I doubt Emma will be too pleased about this," Charles rebukes but he's smirking, like just the very thought of getting one up over her is a source of infinite joy.

"That's sort of the point," Hank says, smiling.

There's a low hum which grows louder until it resolves itself into Scott and Sean bellowing out, "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go," and some embarrassingly off-key whistling.

"What are you up to?" Charles says, raising an eyebrow.

Hank just grins.

Sean and Scott eventually come marching up the steps and into the gazebo with Erik trailing behind them.

"Oh," Charles says when he sees him. "What are you doing here, darling?" he asks as they meet, his smile brighter than the sun.

"Allowing myself to be poorly lied to," Erik answers, drawing Charles close and cinching his fingers across the small of Charles's back.

"That makes two of us then," Charles says, hands coming up around Erik's neck and pressing their foreheads together.

"Man, I thought we were gonna be late," Sean says, heaving an exaggerated sigh of relief. "We had to stop because Scott wanted to change back into his Captain America costume."

"This is why he's so spoiled," Hank sighs, shaking his head in fond exasperation as Scott and Sean smile up at him, twin expressions of fake contriteness. "You should learn to say no to him."

"I, for one, think he looks perfect," Charles says, head nestled under Erik's chin.

"I agree with him," Erik says, smirking at Hank.

Hank rolls his eyes at them.

Alex nudges him. "Hey, it's their wedding."

"E-xactly," Raven says, making her grand entrance, dragging the befuddled Justice of the Peace behind her. "Which is why we're doing this. Right now."

"Raven..." Charles breathes, eyes brimming with emotion.

"Yeah, yeah," Raven says, positioning the Justice of the Peace in the middle of the gazebo. "Thank me after we get this shit done."

Charles goes to her side, tries to take both her hands in his. "Are you going to cry?"

She pushes him away. "You're the bleeding heart here; so don't go casting stones. Now go get married."

Charles smiles, presses a kiss to her temple before turning to hold his hand out to Erik. "You heard the lady, darling."

The rest of them position themselves on either side of Charles and Erik and then the Justice of the Peace starts officiating.

If Raven gets sniffly when Erik promises to love and honour, no one but Sean - who gets a pointy heel to his instep - mentions it.

Erik and Charles can't stop smiling at each other throughout the (very short) ceremony - the rest of them, officiant included, might as well not have been there for all the use they have and that sort of drives home how beautiful the entire thing is.

Scott hands Charles Erik's ring and, while Charles repeats his vows, he takes hold of both Hank and Alex's hand, swinging them merrily.

Then they're being pronounced husbands and, really, they don't even need to be directed to kiss. Everyone claps, Sean wolf-whistles and Scott takes that as encouragement to start cheering.

"Wait! Wait!" Raven says, pulling a champagne flute and linen napkin out of her enormous purse and setting it on the floor by Erik's feet. "Mazel tov," she says, grinning up at Erik before moving away.

Charles laughs, burying his face in Erik's neck as Erik stomps on the glass, breaking it to pieces.

They all cheer louder and Erik and Charles share another kiss, smiling uncontrollably into each other's mouths, while Scott jumps up and down over the broken glass.

*

Charles has the unenviable job of climbing up the stage and telling the assembled guests that they'd unfortunately missed the ceremony proper by about fifteen minutes. He's Charles though, so if anyone can make that announcement charmingly endearing, there's no one more suited to the job. It helps that he's got Erik by his side, arm around his waist and pressing a kiss to his temple as he encourages everyone to stay for the reception anyway.

"It's so fucking perfect, I could cry," Raven says, pulling out her apparently personal bottle of champagne, uncorking it and taking a healthy swallow.

"You did," Alex points out naively as they watch from the relative safety of the woods the guests sort of imploding while the caterers and waitstaff scramble to accommodate this unprecedented circumstance.

Raven glares at him then deflates. "You know what? I am just way too happy to even attempt to smash this over your head," she says, waving the bottle around.

Hank takes it away from her before she accidentally does hit someone.

"My parents are finally married," Sean says dryly from where he's sitting against a tree. "Does this make me a real boy now?"

"No," Raven says blithely. "It just means you're the redheaded stepchild now instead of the redheaded bastard stepchild."

Sean gives her the finger.

"Wait, how did you sneak the Justice of the Peace past Emma?" Hank asks, suddenly insaneley curious. Raven's good but she isn't that good unless she somehow inherited some of Erik's superpowers via osmosis.

"Oh shit," Raven says, eyes wide. "I totally have to tell Abilena to let her out of the larder!"

*

The reception's in full swing, champagne flowing, trays and trays of appetizers going back to the kitchen empty, people gathering around the buffet, mingling in little pockets, the string quartet playing top 40 hits with little provocation. Scott and his group of friends are tearing up the dance floor, literally, waving napkins and tossing flower petals in the air, dodging past dancing couples, occasionally playing ring-around-the-rosie around Charles and Erik who haven't stopped slow-dancing to the beat of their own private song for going on an hour now.

Hank's sharing a table with Sean and Raven and also Emma Frost, who'd emerged from her kitchen imprisonment absolutely furious, making a beeline for Raven, her white tigers trailing after her. Raven had been rescued from imminent death by dismemberment by Charles, who'd intercepted Emma and turned the charm up to a wattage heretofore unseen by man.

Raven and Sean are now bearing the brunt of her displeasure, both of them bending over backwards trying to please her. Hank's extremely glad that they don't know each other very well and that she's enough of a well-bred WASP to leave him out of it.

"Hey," Alex says, nudging Hank and handing him the plate of macarons he'd braved the buffet for. "Can we talk?"

Hank bites his lip. In his experience, nothing good ever came from conversations begun with those three words. He uses his new-found resolve and smiles up at Alex. "Sure." To the rest of the table, he says, "Excuse us."

Raven and Sean make pleading and dismayed faces at him while Emma nods her head regally.

Hank smiles reflexively at them and allows Alex to lead him away with a hand on his back. They end up sitting on the rim of the fountain, hidden from the rest of the party by the enormous fairytale castle sculpture sprouting water in every direction.

"So..." Alex starts, looking at his lap and scratching the back of his head.

Hank sets the plate of macarons down, takes a deep breath and just goes for it. "I don't want you to leave."

That makes Alex look up. "What?"

"I don't want you to leave," Hank says again and finds that it comes easier this time. "Stay. Here. With me and Scott."

"Doc..." Alex says on an exhale.

Hank fists his hands on his lap. "It's selfish and naive of me to ask but - but I have to. Will you stay?"

Alex is still for a long moment and then he's a blur of movement, face breaking out into a smile, hands coming up to cup Hank's face and then he's giving Hank the best kiss of his life.

"Fuck," Alex says when he finally pulls away, gasping for breath. "Fuck yes."

"Thank god," Hank groans, his relief almost palpable as he peppers Alex's face with kisses.

Alex pulls their mouths together and they're kissing again, open-mouthed and wet and so desperately happy Hank feels like his body can't contain everything he's feeling.

They only part when it gets too hard to keep not breathing but they keep their faces millimetres apart, breathing in the other's exhalations.

"What was it you wanted to talk about?" Hank manages to gasp out.

Alex huffs out a laugh. "You just answered it."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really." Alex smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners.

"What about your life back in LA?" Hank asks because he's a scientist and will forever be morbidly curious, Pandora despite all the advice to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

"I can always fly back if they really need me," Alex shrugs, pressing a quick kiss to Hank's lips. "You'll laugh but I thought I had to come up with a legitimate excuse to stay."

"What did you come up with?"

Alex groans, presses his face against Hank's nose. "I applied to your university's physics program."

"That was where you kept disappearing to?"

Alex nods, embarrassed.

"What major?"

Alex squints at him. "Really? That's what you have to say?"

Hank blushes. "What? It's important!"

Alex smiles at him, fond. "Geophysics."

"Did you get in?"

"Yeah, got the email this morning. 's why I wanted to tell you now."

Hank laughs. "You're adorable."

"Hey, that's my line," Alex says, leaning in to kiss the smile off of his face.

"Dad! Dad!" Scott calls, running up to them.

Alex pulls back. Hank takes his hand in his and turns to face Scott. "Scott, we want to ask you something."

Scott comes to a stop in front of them, bouncing on his toes. "Okay," he says distractedly.

"How do you feel about Alex moving in with us?" Hank asks, feeling Alex's grip tighten and squeezing back.

Scott frowns up at them. "Da-ad, he already does," he says, the duh more than implied in his tone.

Hank blinks at that, taken aback, then slowly starts to smile. "Huh, I guess he does," he says, turning to look at Alex.

"Smart kid."

"Mm-hmm," Hank hums in agreement.

"Da-ad!" Scott says, jumping up and down.

"Yes, Scott?"

"Can I pleeeeeease pet the tiger? Pleeeeeeease?"

Hank gapes at him. "You want to what?"

"Charles says it's okay!" Scott says like that makes everything alrgiht which, admittedly, it usually does.

"I'm having serious reservations about this," Hank says, sharing a meaningful look with Alex.

"Come on, you'll see!" Scott says and grabs for their hands, dragging them back to the heart of the festivities.

As they're walking towards where Charles is lounging against the grass, pressed up against a five hundred pound killing machine and coaxing Erik to pet it, Scott starts swinging their arms and singing Eye of the Tiger.

They're a real family now, Hank thinks idly, only to suddenly correct himself. No, they already were a family, he'd just been to stupid to realise it until today.

*