A/N: Challenge fic with Dreaming-Of-A-Nightmare. I prompted her with a sexy/fluffy/angsty request for Hank/Alex, and now here we are. XDD

Warnings: a lot of language, implied sex (heavily implied), long oneshot, angst, unexpected/abrupt ending, fluff, Hank/Alex, mentions of Erik/Charles. Set both during First Class and after.

Disclaimer: If I owned X-Men, I'd do it like a TV show and give Sean, Hank, and Alex their own spin-off. And of course, Erik and Charles would still have their Mutant Love/Sex/Angst Times.

PS: Yes, this is HANK/ALEX. ROMANTICALLY. If that's not your cup o' tea, read at your own risk. Title comes from 'Touch Me' from Spring Awakening.

Hank McCoy was always mildly obsessed with Alex Summers.

No, really. Even when Alex first arrived at the CIA base, looking both dashingly handsome and extremely antisocial at the same time, Hank was quietly infatuated with him. His cheeks would heat up any time Alex was mentioned, and any time the blond kid spoke to him, he would have a strong urge to kiss him and punch him simultaneously. He really wanted to punch Alex, but well, Hank wasn't exactly a confrontational type of guy . . . in most cases.

And in addition to being not at all confrontational, Hank was also not homosexual. In any way, shape, or form.

Okay, that was pretty much bull. He might have been. Just a little bit.

But hey, maybe Alex was, too? I mean, he was in prison . . .

But he was in solitary confinement. (Now Hank felt like a jerk just for thinking that.)

But he's a jerk, too, so what goes around comes around. But yeah. Solitary confinement. Alone. So none of that.

He ran his hand through his hair, flustered, and rounded a corner. He was on his way back to the lounge, looking for his ring. (Yes, his Harvard class ring. He couldn't believe that the one time he'd worn it was also the time he'd lost it. Christ.)

So distracted was he that he didn't even hear the sound of other footsteps around the corner, and found himself slamming right into someone. Someone who proceeded to unceremoniously drop everything they were holding and fall right on their ass. Someone who was also staring up at him with steely-gray eyes flashing in anger.

"Oh, my gosh," Hank said, startled. "Sorry, let me help you –,"

Alex stood up, glaring at Hank. "You should watch where you're going, man."

"Sorry," Hank repeated, bending over to scoop up a few sheets of paper. "I wasn't –,"

He paused, because he'd suddenly noticed exactly what was on those papers (what had he been expecting? A novel? Notes on mutant chromosomes? This was Alex, for God's sakes). Drawings. And the one on top was quite obviously of Charles and Erik, as seen from inside a prison cell. It was very, very good – there was startling attention to detail (the wave of Charles's hair, the texture of Erik's sweater), and he'd perfectly captured the look Erik and Charles were always giving each other (or as Raven jealously referred to it, The Look). It was quite shocking, and for a second Hank could not comprehend that what he was seeing was Alex's, but there it was, in the bottom right-hand corner, a loopy, messy signature – A.S.

Alex snatched the papers back so quickly that they almost ripped. "Don't tell anyone," he said, his voice getting that I-don't-trust-you-so-I'm-gonna-treat-you-like-shit tone to it. "Seriously. No one."

Hank was again flustered, but this time for a rather different reason. Alex was standing less than two feet from him, his cheeks flushed pink with anger, and his lips glistening from having just been licked. "No, I – it's good. Really good. You drew that?"

Alex paused. "Yeah," he said. "That's kind of why it has my name on it. Aren't you supposed to be smart?"

Hank ignored that last barb. "Just curious, but what are you doing, walking around out here with all that?"

"I was in the lounge," Alex said. "I need quiet. And Sean's in the room next to me, and he snores. Loudly."

Hank bit back a snicker. "Oh. Well, since you were in there, you didn't happen to see a ring, did you? A big one, with –,"

Alex dug into his pocket with his free hand and presented Hank with his Harvard class ring. "This is the only one I saw."

Hank took the ring, but gave Alex a wary look. "Thanks. Why –,"

"I didn't steal it," Alex said, moving to walk past Hank. "I only steal valuable shit. You kept taking that thing off and fidgeting with it, and you left it on the table. I was going to give it to you."

Hank turned to follow Alex with his gaze. "That wasn't what I was going to ask."

Alex didn't deign to look over his shoulder. "Then what were you going to ask, Bozo?"

"Why were you watching me?" Hank called, suddenly full of false bravery. "You saw that I was fidgeting. Why were you watching me."

This time, Alex did turn to look. His expression was shut-off, hardened, and Hank couldn't possibly hope to take a gander at what he was thinking. "I wasn't watching you. I'm not allowed to look around the room, Bigfoot?"

Hank didn't respond, and he waited until Alex had had plenty of time to get back to his bedroom before he made his way back to his own room. But that night, as he put his class ring in his drawer for safekeeping, he couldn't help but grin to himself, because he had the tiniest hunch that Alex Summers hadn't just been looking around the room.

That being said, he definitely wasn't grinning two nights later, when he was awoken at two o'clock in the morning by someone banging on his door.

He jumped out of bed and dashed to open the door, expecting someone to be standing outside waiting to tell him that Cerebro had caught on fire or that the Soviets were bombing them or something (he honestly wasn't sure which option would have devastated him more), but instead he came face to face with Alex Summers.

Alex gave him a cheeky smile. "Did I wake you up?"

"No," Hank said, a little irritably. "I was just lying down, on my bed, in my pajamas. With my eyes closed."

Alex shrugged. "Hey, a lot of people do that. Anyway, come on."

"Come on where? It's two o'clock in the morning."

"It's actually one-thirty, but whatever, I'm not here to argue with you. Get dressed, I'm going to draw you."

Hank stared at him. "What?"

"You deaf now or something?" Alex asked curtly, pushing past Hank and stepping into his room. Under one arm he held a few sheets of thick paper, and behind his ear was a pen. He walked over to the nondescript wooden dresser and proceeded to open and close Hank's sock/underwear drawer, commenting, "Boxers? I pegged you for a briefs type. Well, you learn something new every day."

"What on earth are you doing?" Hank said, confused and far too sleepy to put up with this.

"Getting you some clothes, since you're incapable of following simple directions," Alex informed him, yanking open another drawer and pulling out a folded shirt – one of Hank's best, a collared blue shirt with white pinstripes. "This'll work. Get some pants. And one of those white jackets you're always wearing. Hey, put your glasses on before you trip over something. Jesus."

Still ridiculously perplexed and quite annoyed, Hank pulled on his clothes (after ordering Alex to look away) and, of course, his socks and shoes. "I still don't get –,"

"Why I wanna draw you?" Alex cut him off. "Because I'm bored as a son-of-a-bitch, and because you're the only one around here who knows I do it. So, I'm making you pose for me. Deal with it."

Hank rolled his eyes. "I don't have to deal with anything that involves you. And you swear a lot. I've never heard of anyone who's that bored."

"You bitch a lot," Alex informed him, "but you don't hear me complaining about that."

Hank glared from behind his glasses but nevertheless found himself following Alex out and up the hallway to the lounge. "How long is this going to take?"

"Depends," Alex said nonchalantly, stopping in front of the door and trying the handle. "Locked. Alright, then, hold this." He handed Hank his papers, then knelt in front of the door and pulled something out of his pocket.

Hank watched in mute amazement as Alex picked the lock. "How –,"

"Not all of us got our education at Harvard, Ronald McDonald," Alex reminded him.

"Oh, right," Hank said unthinkingly. "You were in prison."

Alex opened the door and turned to look at him. "Yeah," he said snidely. "I was in prison. Is that a problem?"

"No," Hank said, blinking, well aware that Alex could blast him to smithereens at any moment. "Sorry."

Alex shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Come on, go sit down."

Hank gave Alex his papers back and did as he was told, perching at the end of the couch uncertainly. Alex waved his hand and motioned for him to sit in the middle of the sofa, and he did so without asking questions.

The next thing he knew, Alex was standing in front of him and touching him. Hank tensed and jerked backwards, and Alex snorted.

"Chill," the blond said. "I'm just positioning you."

"Oh," Hank said, going slack and blushing. "Um, alright."

Alex directed him to put his feet up on the table, so that his legs were outstretched. He turned Hank's head the way he wanted it, patted his unruly hair down slightly ("You couldn't comb it before you came in here? Christ."), adjusted the collar of Hank's shirt, and positioned his arms so that they were resting loosely in his lap. Hank was comfortable, but he wasn't looking forward to sitting here for something that could take hours. Had it been anyone but Alex, he probably would have told them to buzz off (well, he would have politely asked that they schedule this for another time), but since it was Alex, here he was, sitting here like an idiot and feeling more than a little self-conscious.

The slightly-younger mutant moved to sit across from Hank, a sheet of paper on a wooden clipboard in his lap. He paused, inspecting Hank, his (gorgeous) eyes narrowing slightly.

"Take off your shoes," he said suddenly.

Hank stiffened, eyes widening. "You're an asshole," he said, his voice suddenly rising slightly. "You brought me in here just to make fun of me –,"

"Relax, man," Alex said. "I make fun of you all the time, remember? Now take off your shoes and socks." The look in his eyes was, as usual, blunt and uncaring, but Hank wondered if somewhere, just maybe, he could see a hint of compassion in Alex.

Swallowing his shame, Hank removed his shoes and socks, resolutely looking at everything but Alex or his feet. Alex made a quiet noise to get his attention.

"Look at me," Alex said, his voice suddenly quieter, more serious. "Give me whatever expression comes over your face when you first look at me."

"That's a bad idea," Hank said, trying to diffuse the tension in the room as his gaze fell on Alex. "I don't want you drawing me all scowl-y."

Alex just looked at him, his eyes flicking over Hank's face as though memorizing every plane of it. Hank felt the annoyance slip off his face, and in its place was an embarrassed smile. "Perfect," Alex muttered, and pulled the pen from behind his ear. "Now don't move."

Hank sat still for as long as possible, just watching the boy as he drew. He would tip his head and cock it to the side, and his hand would suddenly move quickly, then slow down, making steady lines with the pen. He'd lick his bottom lip occasionally, and once he cleared his throat, the sound husky and hoarse in the otherwise silent room.

Eventually, Hank spoke. "So how long have you been drawing?"

Alex looked up for a second to inspect Hank again. "As long as I can remember. I don't remember much, though, so I guess always. I told you not to move."

"I haven't moved an inch," Hank said, indignant. "What do you mean, you don't remember much?"

"I mean I don't remember shit before about five years ago, when I got put in a home for wayward boys. Hah. Apparently I was in some sort of traumatic accident, and the shrink at the jail said it caused retrograde amnesia or whatever. Your lips are moving when you talk, man. Be quiet."

Although he longed to ask more questions, Hank obediently fell silent, going back to just watching Alex. The ex-prisoner was a lot different from his usual self – he seemed more open, and at the same time still quite remote. Hank felt like he was looking at some sort of shiny stone at the bottom of a clear river – all it would take to pluck the stone up and hold it in his hand would be to just reach into the water.

Hank smiled to himself at that metaphor. Ridiculous.

Alex glanced up, arching one pale eyebrow. "What're you laughing at?"

"Nothing," Hank said, sobering. "Just thinking."

Alex kept looking at him. "No," he said. "Keep smiling. Your eyes flash when you laugh like that, keep doing it."

Hank felt his cheeks heat with a scarlet blush. "You sure it's not just my glasses reflecting the light?"

Alex looked at him flatly. "Dead sure, Hank."

Hank's face was literally burning. "You called me Hank."

Alex dropped his head to go back to his drawing. "It's your name, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Hank said, feeling that quiet, slightly-embarrassed smile slide on to his face again. "It is."

Alex glanced up again, a hint of a smirk playing on his lips. "Perfect," he said. "Keep that expression."

Hank didn't have to be told twice – in fact, Alex had to order him more than once to "quit smiling like an idiot, Bozo."

It was another two nights before Alex showed up at his door again, this time at eleven o'clock as opposed to two. Hank was already tired and readying for bed, but for some reason, when he saw Alex, he found himself actually smiling a little bit. (He pretended not to know why he was smiling, but he wasn't stupid. He was falling for the pretty-boy asshole. Go figure.)

Alex's eyes, so shiny and gray-blue, were bright and fervent. "I finished."

"Huh?" Hank said, hastily stepping out of Alex's way as the blond mutant invited himself in.

"The drawing," Alex said. "What else would I be talking about?"

"How should I know?" Hank asked. "Let me see."

Alex held up the paper and let Hank take it. He reached out and flipped the light switch (with only a lamp on, the room was too dim for the already vision-challenged Hank), and looked down at the picture.

It was, well, him. Obviously. And as Hank had expected, his feet were visible, but shockingly, they weren't the focus of the picture. Rather, Hank was the complete center of everything, the background behind him slightly less defined, out of focus. Picture-Hank was relaxed, smiling sheepishly, his glasses down slightly on his nose and his eyes peeking out over them. His expression was quiet, happy, a little nervous, a tad shy.

Real-Hank looked up at Alex, stunned. "It looks just like me."

Alex was smirking. "Yeah, I thought so, too. I think I did pretty good."

"You did," Hank said, nodding enthusiastically. "It's great."

"Keep it," Alex said, as Hank moved to hand him the paper back. "It's yours."

Hank smiled, blushing just a bit and putting the paper down on a nearby table. "Thanks, Alex."

"No problem," the boy said, taking a sudden step forward, so that he was right in front of Hank. Hank's smile slipped slightly, his eyes widening in surprise.

Alex moved forward again, and Hank took a step away instinctively, his back brushing the wall. Alex was perilously close, and Hank could smell the light tang of liquor on his breath.

"Have you been drinking?" he asked, his voice a little shaky.

"Maybe just a little bit," Alex said. "I'm not a baby. You gonna rat me out?"

"No," Hank said, shaking his head. "No, never –,"

Alex stepped forward yet again, until their chests were flush. "Good," he said. "Because I needed some liquid courage to do this."

"Wh–," was all Hank managed before there were lips against his.

No, no, no, was what part of him was thinking. The other part – the more dominant part – was throwing a wild luau and shouting, yes, yes, yes.

He was still for a moment, and Alex misinterpreted it, pulling back, that hard shield already going up over his eyes – but Hank said hastily, "No, wait, don't stop kissing me."

Alex smirked, his teeth glinting white against his (pretty, soft, warm, really sexy) lips. "Okay," he said, and he kissed Hank again, reaching up to hold Hank's face in his hands. This time, Hank found himself kissing back, one of his hands helplessly grabbing hold of the back of Alex's shirt. Hank had never really been all that interested in kissing before (although this was quickly becoming more like making out), but now he found that either God had gifted Alex with the world's most talented mouth, or the blond mutant just really liked kissing Hank. (He was praying for a bit of both, naturally.)

Alex broke the kiss to take in a pull of oxygen, and his hand fumbled behind Hank along the wall. "Where's the damn – oh." The lights flicked out, and Hank found himself standing there, in relative darkness, with a very warm eighteen-year-old body pressed against his own. He wondered vaguely if it was possible to get drunk via the transfer of saliva, or osmosis, or something, and then decided he really didn't care, because Alex's hot mouth was suddenly against his ear.

"Let's go to the bed," he said. "Now."

Hank was torn between shivering with lust and slapping some sense into Alex. "But you're drunk."

"Do you think I give a fuck?"

"I would hope so."

"Okay, I give a fuck – pun intended. I'm not that drunk."

Hank was actually shaking a little by now – it suddenly became completely unimportant that it wasn't a good idea to have sex with inebriated people, and it was now extremely important that he do what the other mutant suggested and they move to the bed.

"Okay," he said. "Um, okay."

"Just 'okay'?" Alex murmured, kissing Hank's jaw.

"Um. Yes. Yes."

Alex just smirked in response, and dragged Hank to the bed – and Hank went, without the slightest hesitation.

So that was really where it began – the physical aspect of his relationship with Alex, that is. They developed their little routine, although they never discussed it aloud. Alex would say something rude or inappropriate, Hank would get offended and respond very indignantly, someone (usually Charles, playing peacemaker as usual – or perhaps he just knew where it all would lead, and wanted to get them to shut up as soon as possible) would separate them, they'd lay low and wait, and then, at the first available opportunity, someone would end up in the other's bed. It was a rather satisfying system, actually, even though it only lasted a few weeks.

For the short week they stayed at Charles's mansion, they fooled around countless times. (Hank attempted to keep track of the number of liaisons, but he was a scientist, not a mathematician, he tried to deal with massive numbers as infrequently as possible.) In Alex's room, in Hank's room, in Alex's practice bunker, and once, quite memorably, in Hank's lab.

Alex came breezing in, his expression empty except for that damned smirk, the smirk that meant he knew he was in for it.

"Hey, Bigfoot," Alex greeted. "Where you been all day?"

Hank looked up and glared at him sharply. "I've been working, in here. Did you enjoy embarrassing me this morning?"

"Sure did," Alex said, leaning up against one of the lab tables in a way that was a shade shy of provocative. "You should have seen your face. Like you wanted to kill me and fuck me at the exact same time. It was pretty great."

Hank literally growled at him. "You are an ass."

Alex's smirk was only growing more and more cocky. "You'd know a lot about it, wouldn't you –,"

Hank was in front of Alex in seconds, pinning him to the table and ruthlessly ignoring the way the blond teenager grimaced at the sensation of cold metal against his back. "Shut up, Alex."

"Put my mouth to better use if you want me to be quiet."

Hank tightened his hold, and Alex shifted, grinning. The feral side of Hank was hard to suppress when it was brought out, and Hank-the-sweet-innocent-nerd was now replaced by Hank-the-growly-dominating-mutant. "You sure you can handle that?"

Alex gave Hank a look that was both cool and smoldering (which was technically impossible, but anything was possible when Alex Summers was involved, apparently). "Can you handle it?"

Hank leaned down and nipped at Alex's neck to teach him a lesson. "I'm more than sure."

Beneath him, Alex shuddered just a little bit, licking at his bottom lip (it was a wonder his lips weren't chapped, but no, they were still completely soft and smooth, and Hank had to admit he loved it). "Prove it, Bozo."

Hank proceeded to prove his point in more ways than one, each example sweatier and louder the next. By the time they were thoroughly exhausted, they barely had time to shower before dinner (they took separate showers, obviously – when Hank said exhausted, he meant exhausted). They tried not to look too awkward coming down the stairs at the exact same time, both fresh and clean as daisies, but the only one who seemed to notice anything was Charles – he gave them one of those slightly smug, knowing looks over their food. But what was he going to do, say anything? They all knew that his chess time with Erik was way more than just chess.

Charles cleared his throat uncomfortably, and Hank blushed. Oh, right. One of the curses of spending time around a telepath – you never knew when they were minding their own business or when they were listening to everything you were thinking. Which meant Hank should probably refrain from thinking about what he and Alex had just done, and he should stop glancing at Alex every five seconds and thinking about how absolutely gorgeous he was . . .

Charles coughed again, giving Hank a reproving look across the table.

Sorry, Hank thought, and went back to his dinner. The meal passed uneventfully, despite the fact that they all knew tomorrow could be a turning point in each of their lives. Hank forced himself to think about the serum that awaited him in his lab, and listened half-heartedly to the conversation the others attempted to make.

Dinner finished, and they went their separate ways – Alex down to the bunker to "blow some more shit up before bed", Charles and Erik to the study (of course), Raven to her room and Moira to hers, and Sean off to do God only knew what.

Hank headed back to the lab, but Alex caught him on the way. "Hey – come to my room, tonight. Okay?"

Hank smiled nervously. That was perhaps the first time Alex had offered sex without insulting him first. "Okay."

Alex absently patted his arm, and said, "Alright, see you."

Hank watched as Alex disappeared down the hallway, and he smiled and continued to his lab. Alex would probably be pretty pleased when he saw Hank's new feet, if the serum worked (when it worked). Of course, he'd have to show Raven first. But he won't mind, Hank told himself, of course not . . .

He didn't have the slightest bit of doubt then, but he never made it to Alex's room that night.

It had been two weeks and two days since the beach when Alex came to Hank.

Not that Hank was counting – not really. He just knew. Time had been passing oddly since that fateful day; moments lasted years and days lasted seconds. Every morning he awoke to a furry, blue face in the mirror, and every afternoon he searched for a cure for paralysis and found none, and every day the four boys (men, they were all men now, and more brothers than friends) ate, slept, breathed, and managed to keep on living.

But that night, when Hank heard the sudden knock at his door, he knew who it would be. Because Sean had taken to sleeping all the time and spending his waking hours in the library, listening to music on the fancy radio, and Charles stayed in his study, staring at a bunch of unmoving chess pieces on a board that had never finished its last game. Alex was the only one who wandered about anymore.

Hank merely said from the bed, "Come in."

The door swung open slowly, and in stepped Alex, fully dressed except for his sock-clad feet (Hank could not help the hot jealousy that went through him at the sight of those well-shaped, wonderful feet – god-damn Alex and his perfection). He closed the door behind him, and, ghost-like, came to sit at the foot of Hank's bed.

"We just got back," Alex said quietly. "From taking Moira home."

Hank nodded. He'd been looking out the window when the van had pulled back up to the house, and had watched as out stepped two figures instead of three.

"She won't remember us," Alex continued. "When she wakes up, she won't know our faces. Or our names. To her, it'll be like we never existed."

Hank didn't respond. They all knew it was for the best; Moira was protected, because she couldn't be used against them if she didn't know anything about them.

"She'll remember Charles, though," Alex said darkly. "Only Charles."

Hank just looked at him. "Don't talk like that. Charles –,"

Alex cut him off, his voice soft and almost fragile – he had lost his hardness, his steel shield that he clutched so tightly about himself. "I'm not angry at Charles, not at all." He paused. "I'm angry at everything, Hank. I'm angry at the world. The whole fucking world."

"I know," Hank said, and it was the only thing he could say, and it was the truth. Alex was angry, and Alex was broken – they were all broken, in their own ways. It hadn't mattered before, but suddenly it did. Suddenly everything mattered.

Alex looked at him then, his eyes catching the light from the moon outside the window. "And I don't know how to be not angry. I need help, Hank. I need you to help me."

Hank could feel his heart sliding down into his stomach as it creaked and groaned, preparing to crack into pieces. "I can't."

Alex scooted forward then, and attempted to crawl on top of Hank's big, blue body, but Hank sat up and pushed him away gently. "Don't say that," Alex said harshly. "Don't say that, Hank."

"It's true," Hank told him. "I can't give you anything, Alex. I can't even fix myself, let alone you."

"No," Alex said roughly, his eyes glinting so beautifully, like silver knives cutting deeper into Hank with each passing second. "Yes, you can. You can. It's always been you, Hank, always. You've gotta believe me. I know I used to treat you like shit, but it was only because –,"

"Stop," Hank said, cutting the blond off. He wasn't sure what he expected Alex to say – God, of course it couldn't have been an I love you – but he knew he couldn't handle hearing it. "Alex, this isn't going to go anywhere. Ever. Just stop."

Alex stared at him, and the look in his eyes was full of mingled pain and anger and want, all thrown in and mashed together. "I don't care if you're furry and blue, you know. And I never cared about your feet, not really."

I wish I could call you a liar. "Please go, Alex," Hank said. "I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry."

Alex rose, his jaw setting, the mask once again rising. "Why did you kiss me back then, and why are you kicking me out now?"

Hank looked away. "That was before. This is now, Alex, and now is different."

Alex said suddenly, "I bet that's what Erik thought, before he left Charles on the beach."

Hank's head snapped around to look at him again. "Don't compare me to –,"

"I'm not," Alex said quietly. "I'm just saying. We're all so screwed up, Hank."

"I know."

Alex turned then, and headed for the door. "So it's all over now," he said without looking back. "It's all over, but everything else is starting at the same time." He said this almost philosophically, as though it made all the sense in the world, but Hank could not see his point, not really.

Hank could only watch him go, his heart letting out a weak moan of no, you idiot, tell him to come back! inside his huge chest. But it was too late, much too late. He'd finished splitting Alex Summers in two, and he'd ripped himself into pieces in the process.

But as melodramatic as he was tempted to be about it, Hank had to admit later that life did end up going on. They healed, those four brothers, and grew stronger. Their dynamic shifted from friends to brothers to partners, united in the cause of helping the younger mutants grow. Days passed, and weeks, and months, and finally years. Students came and went (some never went at all; some, like Sean, Alex, and Hank, had nowhere to go). Hank studied and researched, Charles taught and saved the world mutant child by mutant child, and Sean and Alex were there to help along the way. They smiled, and they breathed, and they laughed, and Hank went on quietly loving Alex, as he always had and likely always would.

He wasn't going to lie and say that it got better over time, or that he and Alex became good friends and moved on with their lives. They were friends, yes, perhaps even best friends – but it lingered between them, a thick, heavy sort of chain binding them to one another. They didn't kiss, touch, or even speak of it for ten solid years.

And then, just like that, it all changed again – and just like before, it was all because of a picture.

One night, Hank was (of course) working in his lab, writing a formula down on a sheet of paper, when there was a knock at the door.

Looking up, he called, "Come in."

The door swung open, and there stood Alex, his brow furrowed. He was holding a sheet of drawing paper to his chest, and the look in his eyes was strange, unreadable. He was hiding behind that mask, the way he always did, but Hank could see that the disguise was already threatening to slip.

"May I help you?" Hank asked curiously, adjusting the position of his glasses on his nose with one furry finger. "Are you okay? You look kind of weird."

"I'm fine," Alex said, closing the door and walking over to Hank's table. "You'll never guess what I found."

"Uh, a sheet of paper," Hank guessed, indicating what Alex was clutching. "A drawing?"

"Yeah," Alex said, and threw it onto the table quickly, as though trying to do something before he lost his nerve. Hank's gaze fell upon the picture, and his jaw dropped ever so slightly.

It was, quite obviously, him and Alex – but it was not this him, the Beast, it was the old him. The drawing was of them in the hallway that final night before everything changed, back when they were naïve enough to believe that nothing could ever go wrong. Picture-Hank was turning to look at Picture-Alex, that usual sheepish smile on his face, and Picture-Alex had one hand resting on Hank's arm.

The real Hank found himself staring at the expression on ink-Alex's face – it was an open expression, with no shield or mask, without any hiding. Beautiful. Alex had drawn himself as he felt, not as he truly looked, and it was absolutely glorious.

"It's wonderful," Hank found himself saying. "Really wonderful."

Alex smiled wryly. "It's been in my closet for ten years. I had no idea where it was."

Hank smiled a little shakily, and said, "It's great. Really." Absently, he traced a finger over that typical childish scribble in the bottom corner – A.S., all looped together in one motion. "Why'd you come show it to me?"

Alex shrugged. "I don't know. I wanted you to see it." I wanted you to remember was the clear implication behind his words. Even with that shield in place, Hank could still read Alex occasionally.

Hank looked at him, unsure of what to say. "I just – why right now?"

Alex took a step forward then, only this time, Hank couldn't bring himself to move back. "We've already wasted ten years, Hank."

And yet we are still young, Hank wanted to say. We're not even thirty yet. But it doesn't matter, because . . . because . . .

Alex kissed him then, and Hank kissed back fervently, the back of his brain telling him to be careful so as not to nick Alex with his sharp teeth and the front of his brain telling the back to kindly shut the hell up. It had been ten long, long years of teaching and living and breathing, and now it was time for a few minutes of kissing and touching and Alex.

Hank broke the kiss only when he realized Alex would probably need air soon (in his beastly form, he was able to hold his breath a tad longer than the average person – a rare perk of being giant and blue). They'd moved so that Alex was up against the table, standing almost on his tiptoes to reach Hank's mouth.

"Upstairs," Alex said firmly. "Now."

"You're sure?" Hank asked. "We probably shouldn't –,"

"Shut up," Alex said, and slid past him, snatching Hank's large hand and tugging him towards the door. "Everyone's asleep, we'll be fine."

"But –," But this is way too fast, we shouldn't, it's been ten years and the last time –

Alex looked over his shoulder as he led the way down the hallway and towards the staircase. "We don't have to, I guess," he said quietly. "If you really don't want to."

Hank swallowed and made up his mind. "No, I want to."

Alex's expression didn't change, but his relief was palpable. "Okay," he said. "Okay, good. Because I haven't waited this long for nothing."

Hank couldn't help but smile. "Of course not."

When they were done, and they'd finally sort of addressed the it that tied their ankles together like rope, Hank allowed himself to fall flat on top of Alex with a deep, sated sigh.

(And then he remembered that he was giant and furry and very capable of smothering a smaller person, and he rolled over slightly.)

Alex just lied there, his face flushed, his eyes closed, and his body unashamedly bare (and, Hank admitted to himself, just as gorgeous as it had been when they were teenagers). "Jesus Christ," Alex said. "Why didn't I find that damn sketch about nine or ten years ago."

Hank smiled even as he bit his bottom lip. "Ah, the price of being a slob."

"I'm not a slob," Alex said, opening his eyes and flicking his gaze towards Hank. "You should see Sean's room."

"Do you really spend much time in Sean's room?"

"No," Alex snorted, "and you'd know why if you went in there."

Hank rolled his eyes, but couldn't suppress the shivery, elated feeling he got when Alex rested his head on Hank's furry, strong chest. "Comfortable?"

"Could be worse," Alex said, closing his eyes. "Now will you be quiet, so I can sleep?"

"Shouldn't we talk or something?" Hank asked. "I mean –,"

"Sleep first, talk later," Alex muttered, pressing his face against Hank's fur. "Okay?"

"Okay," Hank agreed, reaching up to pat Alex on top of his blond head.

"Ow," the younger mutant mumbled. "Try not to give me a concussion."

"You're such a baby."

"Am not."

"You are."

"Am not. Now seriously, shut up."

" . . . Baby."

"I'm not in to pet names, Hank."

"That wasn't a pet name."

"Shut up!"

"Alright, alright! Jeez."

The next morning, when Alex finally roused, Hank was already wide awake and reading by the light from the lamp on his bedside table. Alex lifted his head and rubbed his cheek, which was pink from resting on Hank's chest all night. He squinted at Hank, and mumbled, "Time's s'it?"

"Pardon me?"

Alex rubbed his face again and cleared his throat. "You heard me. What time is it?"

Hank glanced at the clock on the table. "Six o'clock in the morning. The students will be up in a couple of hours."

"Those damn kids," muttered Alex half-fondly and half-grudgingly. "Why are you awake? It's early."

Hank shrugged. "I woke up and your knee was digging in to my hip, so I couldn't go back to sleep."

"Sorry," Alex said, running a hand through his already mussed hair. "What're you reading?"

"Classic Fairy Tales."

" . . . What?"

"You heard me," Hank replied, arching a brow. "I'm trying to finish every single book in the library, and I found this on one of the shelves."

"I'm not sure who's a bigger loser," Alex said. "You, for reading it, or the professor, for having it in the library."

"It's too early in the morning for you to be this prickly," Hank said almost affectionately as he lowered the book. "Should I go back to reading until you're ready to behave?"

"No," Alex said, grabbing the book and flipping it to the page Hank had marked. "You've got to be joking."


"Beauty and the Beast? Seriously?" Alex was actually smiling at the irony of it all. "So let me guess – I'm the fair maiden and you're the giant, scary lover-boy."

Hank felt his cheeks flame, but mercifully, no one could see his blush through the fur on his face. "Fair maidens don't swear like sailors and fling energy beams at people."

Alex snorted. "And giant, scary lover-boys don't dump the fair maidens only to start screwing them again ten years later."

Hank rolled his eyes and piped back without even thinking about it, "You know, Alex, half the time I want to beat the daylights out of you and the other half of the time I think I'm a little in love with you."

Alex's smile slipped, and for a second, all Hank could think was, oh, God, I've messed it up all over again . . .

"Only a little in love with me?" Alex said suddenly. "That doesn't seem like enough, you'd probably still beat me up if you were only a little in love with me."

Hank paused. "Okay, I think I am in love with you."

"I think so, too."

"You think I'm in love with you?"

"Yep," Alex said, propping his chin on his hand and looking Hank straight in the face. "I think you love me. And I think you know that I've been hung up on you for ten years now."

"I didn't know that," Hank admitted. "I thought that . . . I don't know."

Alex smiled wryly, but the look in his eyes was vulnerable, open – he would never say it, but he was asking something; he was asking for Hank again, and this time, Hank couldn't even think of saying no to him.

"I'm sorry," Hank told him. "I'm so sorry. I should have never . . . I just . . . I thought that you and I could never be anything. Because I'm like this, and you're . . ."

"I'm what?" Alex challenged. "I'm probably as screwed up mentally as you are, maybe more, and I told you, I don't care what you look like. I actually kind of like the fur, it's pretty damn soft."

Hank pulled Alex close then, delighting in the feel of Alex's smaller, muscular body against his own. "Thank you," he said. "For everything."

"Thank you," Alex said. "You're probably the only person who doesn't actually get pissed when I call them names, and you just ignore it when I act like a brat and . . . and if you tell anyone I'm saying this stuff, I will personally fry you to a crisp."

Hank snorted and said, "Understood." He paused, sobering, and said, "I feel like Hank right now. Not Beast. Just Hank."

Alex smiled and sat up, and told him, "You are just Hank, man. Beast is a bad-ass, but you're always going to be Hank."

Alex bent down to kiss him lightly then, and proceeded to get up off Hank's bed. "I bet you Professor X is going to be giving us that look over breakfast."

Hank laughed. "Maybe he slept through it all last night?"

Alex raised an eyebrow. " . . . Yeah, sure, let's pretend that's what happened."

Hank watched as Alex got dressed, and said suddenly, "You know how the story ends, right?"

"What story? Oh, you mean Beauty and the Beast?"

"Yeah," Hank said. "The Beast is dying, and Beauty's tears save him and turn him back into a prince."

As Hank expected, Alex only snorted and said, "That's sappy as hell, Hank. I hope you don't ever get sick, because I'm not going to cry on you and hope it makes you better."

Hank sat up. "You wouldn't cry for me if I got sick?"

Alex looked at him and said, "Let's hope we don't find out, alright?"

Hank smiled slightly. "Let's hope. Now get out of here before you get caught."

Alex grinned cheekily. "I wonder what the kids would say if they saw me coming out of your room at six o'clock in the morning –,"

"That's one thing I definitely don't want to find out," Hank said. "Now go."

Alex opened the door and took a half-step out before he turned to look at Hank. "I meant what I said," he told the older mutant. "I love you, Bozo."

Hank should have been annoyed by that, but he wasn't in the slightest. "I love you, too, Fair Maiden."

"Do not call me that."

Hank grinned, baring his teeth at the other man. "I can't help it, you're so lovely and virginal –,"

Alex's laugh nearly woke up the entire house at that, but it was more than worth it. Hank watched, smiling, as the blond man left, closing the door behind him. He then looked at his book, which was sitting innocently beside him on the bed. He grinned and put it away – he and Alex were about as far from the storybooks as possible, but Hank had discovered, ironically, that it didn't seem to be a bad thing any more.

What he didn't realize then was that not all tales, storybook or otherwise, end perfectly, and their end was coming sooner than he ever could have dreamed.

It was two months and four days later when it all came crashing down.

Hank was in his lab (Alex joked once that if the lab burned down, Hank would probably kill himself, and Hank was beginning to suspect that he actually might be right), working frantically. If he was right, he was developing a formula that could potentially create a whole new, (possibly) very powerful alternative fuel source. Potentially. But hopefully.

"This is groundbreaking stuff," he told Alex, who, ever the insomniac, had come in about ten minutes previously. "It's completely original."

"Cool," Alex said honestly, the pen in his hand moving quickly. "God, I don't understand how you can look so enthusiastic about science all the time. It makes for great sketches of you, yeah, but you're just so happy about being in the lab, even now, at four o'clock in the morning."

"But you don't understand," Hank said fervently.

"No, I do," Alex said, nodding. "I do, really. What're you gonna do with all that goo?"

"It's not goo," Hank told him. "To put it into terms you'll understand, I'm going to put this clear stuff with the green stuff and hope that something works."

"Sounds pretty risky, just dumping the stuff together," Alex said, making a long line on the paper.

"It's science," Hank said, as though that were the only answer necessary.

Alex put his paper and pen down and moved to stand beside Hank, querying, "What's gonna happen?"

"I'm not a hundred percent sure," Hank said, lifting a beaker of transparent liquid over another cup of greenish liquid, which was bubbling gently over a burner. "But more than likely, nothing."

Alex patted Hank's arm lightly, smiling, and Hank smiled back – Alex was rarely affectionate with anyone, and he never acted like that at four in the morning.

"Here goes," Hank said, and tipped the beaker.

For a split second, nothing happened, and then Hank realized he must have made a mistake somewhere along the line. The compound began to fizz uncontrollably, and when it burbled and came into contact with his hand, it literally burned him. Before he even registered what he was doing, he dropped the beaker – right over the flickering flame.

He heard a whoosh, and registered Alex's "What the –?" before he flung himself backwards instinctively. All around him was suddenly noise and the acrid smell of an experiment gone wrong, and pain, pain, he hadn't jumped back fast enough – . . .

Hank. Hank, you have to wake up, now. Wake up and get out of there.

Charles? Hank thought dimly. What happened?

I don't know. I was asleep, and something in your lab must have exploded. You're injured, but you have to get out of there, Hank. Your papers and equipment will catch fire.

Hank was aware that he was hurt, but his entire body was mostly numb – whatever Charles was doing to keep him calm was definitely working. He sat up, squinting through all the smoke in the room. It was hard to believe that he could have screwed up this royally, how could he not have seen this coming –

Oh my God, he thought. Alex.

Charles was quiet for the slightest moment. Hank –

No, no, no, no.

Hank rose to his feet unsteadily. The papers all over the tables had caught fire, and the equipment would soon be next, but he couldn't bring himself to care, because there was Alex, lying in a tangled heap by the lab table.

I'm keeping him conscious but pain-free, Hank. I'm sorry.

"No," Hank said, flinging himself towards Alex. Alex was badly burned, but his head, shockingly, was the least charred – he apparently had had just enough time to throw his arms over his face. His eyes, lost and silver like dropped quarters, were staring up at Hank. He opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a strangled rasp.

"No, oh my God, oh, no," Hank said frantically, pulling Alex into his arms. The blond boy was limp, held from unconsciousness by Charles and struggling with death by the sheer force of his own will. "Alex, I'm so sorry, I don't know how this happened – Alex –,"

Hank, you have to get out of there, now.

"No!" he roared. "No, no, Alex."

Alex's eyes lost their clarity, going cloudy and reflecting back the growing flames behind Hank. He tried to speak again, but all that came out was a weak gasp of, "I –,"

"No!" Hank cried, his voice breaking. "No! No, this isn't how the fucking story ends, Alex, you don't die."

But all he heard in response was Charles's mental whisper of, I am so sorry, Hank.

He could see it in Alex's eyes and feel it in Charles's tone, and he knew it was true – Alex was already gone, his life ended by that tragic burst of flame.

He was dead, and with him died Hank, the poetic, charred carcasses of two lovers lying side by side on a lab room floor – that was what they didn't tell you in stories or textbooks, people die far too soon – and he was so naive to have believed in it all, to have believed that an ending could ever do more than break things. There were no happy endings, and Hank had just found that out the hard way.

There were really no happy endings, and all that was truly left in the end was fire and smoke and the feral, animalistic Beast, howling over the impossibly dead, broken Beauty in his arms.

A/N: In case you were wondering, the challenge was basically to see who could kill who better - I killed Alex, she killed Hank. :) Thanks so much for reading, reviews are greatly appreciated. PS - I know earlier Alex called Hank 'Ronald McDonald', who technically didn't exist until 1963, but . . . I cheated.