Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. This won't get out of my head, despite the other stories that really need to be getting finished now, so you get another chapter.
A light knock at his door drew Alex's eyes away from the rain falling outside his window, and he turned to find Hank standing in the doorway. It had been a pretty slow day—they'd managed to finish a their run before breakfast, but outside work had been curtailed afterwards on the grounds that none of them had 'proper rain gear' and when the weather hadn't gotten any better by lunch, the professor had declared the rest of the day a holiday—but he hadn't minded. He'd heard Sean complaining about nothing to do, at least until Raven had dragged him off somewhere, but for someone who'd become used to spending twenty-three hours a day alone in a cell, it had been nice to have some time all to himself.
"Do you have a few minutes?" Hank asked when he realized that he had Alex's attention.
Or not. "Why?" he asked. He was obviously free, but he wasn't sure why Hank would be seeking him out. And there was no way that he was agreeing to anything blind.
"I have an idea for something that might help you control your plasma blasts, but I need solid data to confirm my calculations. If you'd let me take some measurements, it would be a great help."
Alex frowned and then shrugged. "Yeah, okay, I guess." He had no idea how Hank even planned to measure his plasma blasts, never mind control them, but at this point, he was willing to try almost anything. "What do you need me to do?"
"Well, I've built a set of sensors that should record everything necessary, but you'll have to wear them while using your powers for me to get accurate readings."
"Okay," Alex repeated, pushing himself up off the window seat. His ability to generate the blasts had never been a problem.
The walk to Hank's lab was made in silence. Hank was somebody that Alex just didn't get. It wasn't that he disliked the guy or anything…he was a total geek, sure, but he wasn't a jackass about it the way that some of Alex's 'tutors' had been. When he used technobabble, it was pretty obvious that it was because that was how he was used to speaking, not because he was trying to rub other people's faces in the fact that he was smarter than they were. But it was more when he wasn't being a geek that he bothered Alex because the guy just backed off constantly. One good 'fuck you' out of him—hell, at this point Alex would happily accept 'screw you' or even 'get lost'—and Alex would have a whole lot more respect for him. And his attitude towards his own mutation was weird too; it wasn't like funny shaped feet came with the danger of incinerating anyone.
Erik, Charles, and Moira were in the lab arguing about something when Alex and Hank arrived—well, it looked like Erik and Moira were arguing while Charles tried to play peacemaker—but they broke it off before Alex could get a sense of what the argument was about. Probably not what they were having for dinner given that Moira brushed past him and Hank without a word and stalked off down the hallway a moment later. Alex wasn't sure if that meant that she'd lost the argument or if that was just her default reaction to having to deal with Erik.
Hank led him over to a side table where a strange looking box with a panel of lights and buttons on the front rested. It was attached to a large coil of wires divided into three sections, and the free end of each wire was melded to a flat strip of metal. "If you would have a seat," Hank said, indicating the stool beside the table. "And would you mind taking your shirt off? That would make this much easier."
"Whatever." Alex pulled it off over his head, tossing it onto the table.
Hank attached the first set of wires to Alex's forehead and neck, the flat pieces of metal staying neatly in place where he pressed them. It felt more than a little weird having them all attached but it didn't hurt so Alex didn't say anything. The next set of wires went on his chest, and he tensed as Hank paused at the thin scar that ran from just under one arm to just under the other, only a few inches below the base of his throat.
"Forgot to duck," he said flatly, before Hank could ask. Hank nodded slightly and didn't press, although there was a barely-audible intake of breath when he moved to attach the last set of wires to Alex's back. The collection of scars was a little more extensive there, Alex knew, but at least Hank managed to refrain from asking questions.
"May I ask what happened here?"
Well, for the most part, apparently. The one he was looking at was by far the worst—and the oldest—of the lot, the only one easily visible from any distance, and, to be fair, its placement probably did make attaching the last sensor difficult since it rested directly over his left shoulder blade immediately opposite the sensor that Hank had just attached. "I was attacked by a flying fuselage," he said in the same flat tone.
"You could have just said 'no,'" Hank said after a moment.
Alex started to shrug, realized that that would probably disrupt some of the sensors already in place, and settled for keeping his mouth shut as he felt Hank attach that sensor a little higher than its counterpart on the other side.
"All right, that should do it," Hank said, stepping back. "I think you're ready."
"Wait, you don't want me to do it in here, do you?"
"No!" Hank looked almost as horrified as Alex felt. "No, we'll go down to the bunker. I just wanted to put the sensors on in here since the light is so much better."
"Oh. Okay." Alex nodded. For a moment, he'd been afraid that Hank had gone insane. "Is there a fire extinguisher somewhere?"
"I have one, and so does Erik," Charles said, and Alex realized that he and Erik had never left. Well, whatever. Although Erik was scowling furiously, which wasn't exactly reassuring, and the professor was frowning as well. What the heck had Erik and Moira been arguing about?
Alex shook his head slightly and stood, grabbing his shirt automatically and waiting for Hank to pick up his box. There was no mirror in here, but he could just imagine what he must look like with wires attached everywhere. He only hoped that they didn't start falling off when he started walking.
He was sure that they made a strange looking procession down to the metal-walled tunnel—one guy with wires everywhere, one with the other end of those wires attached to a box, and two men with fire extinguishers—but the wires did stay in place. Alex tossed his shirt down outside the doors and stepped inside when he reached the bunker, taking a couple deep breaths to get ready. And then he realized that Hank was unrolling the coil of wires, clearly planning to keep the box outside with him while Alex, attached to the wire ends, used his powers inside. Which meant that they wouldn't be shutting the door the whole way.
"I don't know if that's such a great idea," he warned. The cracked door wouldn't leave much of gap, but it wouldn't take much of one, either.
"I only need you to fire a few blasts," Hank said. "And we'll wait well out of range down the corridor."
"Maybe you should just put that in here with me. If you put it behind me, I probably won't hit it." Hell, if they put it where the mannequin had been the other day, directly in front of him, he could almost guarantee a miss.
Hank curled one arm protectively around his machine. "It's minimal risk."
"If it looks like any fire will come out, I'll slam the door," Erik offered. "That'll just sever the wires, right?"
"Yes," Hank agreed after a moment.
"No chance of electrocution?"
"Of course not!"
Hank was looking horrified again, and Alex felt some relief. Not that the possibility of electrocution had occurred to him before Erik had said anything, but it was good to know that it wasn't a risk. He still wasn't overly thrilled with the plan since if a full-force plasma blast hit the cracked door, he wasn't sure that there would be enough time to shut it, but he'd be firing forward as best he could and the door was off to one side behind him. And Hank clearly didn't plan to leave his precious machine in the bunker with Alex. "Fine," he agreed.
Hank joined Alex in the bunker again long enough to check all of the connections one last time, and then he stepped back out and shut the door carefully, leaving just enough space for the wires to run. "Whenever you're ready," Hank called through the crack in the door. "A single blast first, please."
"All right, here goes. Stand back." Alex clenched his fists, rolling his upper body, and his skin flashed hot just before a circle of plasma leapt out of him. It flew forward and then arced left, careening off one wall and then dissipating against the opposite in a flare of fire.
"Good enough?" he asked.
"Outstanding," Hank said. His voice was harder to hear now, obviously coming from some distance away from the door. "And for the next test, could you generate a burst? Perhaps ten or fifteen in a row?"
"With the door open? That's a really bad idea. He could generate that many no problem, but…. "After the first few, they start going everywhere."
"How many do you think you can fire in a row?" Charles asked. "Under control?"
Under control. Right. None of them seemed to get how this worked for him. "I can probably manage three or four that will go forward," he said after a minute. "Is that good enough?"
Hank started to say something, but the professor's, "That would be fine," drowned him out, and Alex nodded.
"All right. In three, two, one, firing." Like the single blast, his first three blasts started forward but veered off randomly to one side or the other, while the fourth hit the wall nearly beside him, and he forced himself to stop. "Is that enough?"
"That's excellent," Hank called back.
The door swung open, and Alex wasn't surprised to see the professor entering first with a fire extinguisher. Erik came in behind him, and the two of them began putting out the flames.
"Am I allowed to take these off now?" he asked as Hank followed them in, indicating the wires on his face and chest.
"Let me do that, if you don't mind." Hank requested. "We may need to use them again."
Alex held still as he began to pull the flat bits of metal free. "So did you get what you wanted?"
"I'll need to transfer my results into the computer to check, but from what I could tell, the readings came through perfectly." Hank coiled the wires quickly, looping them over his shoulder, and Alex followed him out of the bunker. "With those, I should be able to design a harness that allows you to focus your powers."
"Nice." Alex shrugged his shirt on quickly. He kind of wanted to ask what, exactly, Hank had been measuring, but he probably wouldn't understand what Hank told him anyway so he didn't bother. "For a bozo, anyway."
Hank looked away, but before Alex could say anything else—like 'grow a damn spine'—Erik and the professor exited the bunker.
"That's that, then," the professor said, pushing the door closed again. He set his fire extinguisher aside as Erik did the same, and then Hank picked up his machine and the four of them started back up the staircase.
They were halfway there when there was a deafening roll of thunder, audible even underground, and then everything went black. Alex froze in place. It was an automatic defensive reaction, one that was justified when he heard Hank stumble and yelp.
"Oh, dear," the professor murmured. "A moment, please."
Alex wasn't sure who he was speaking to, but he was okay with standing still so he kept his mouth shut. It wasn't just dark, it was black, in the absolutely no light, just-hit-my-own-nose-because-I-can't-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face, sense. He knew that the professor and Hank were just ahead of him and Erik just behind, but it felt as though he was completely alone.
Can everyone hear me? the professor's voice echoed in his mind. It seems that we've suffered a power failure, and if the generator hasn't started up, it very likely means that the fuel supply has run dry. I will call someone to restock it tomorrow but since, as Raven can attest, power failures often take some time to get fixed this far out in the country, may I suggest that we all meet in the library? There should still be a supply of candles in there.
Alex's initial thought—where the hell is the library?—was interrupted by a map appearing in his head, an overlay of what he recognized was the first floor. Unfortunately, aside from the kitchen and Hank's lab, he didn't recognize very many of the references. Two studies, whatever a conservatory was, a sunroom….
Raven suggests that I go by the kitchen and pick up s'more supplies and we'll call that dinner, Charles added after a moment. I think I'll grab a few other things as well, but if someone wouldn't mind getting more firewood, that would be helpful. It's stacked in the mud room.
Adding 'mud room' to Alex's list of 'What the hell is that?', or, in this case, 'Why the hell do you need one of those?', but Erik spoke before he could say anything.
"I'll get some."
There was rustling as someone, probably the professor, started moving again. A second set of footsteps resumed immediately after, these a bit more hesitant, and Alex reached out to put a hand on the wall to orient himself before he began to climb as well.
There was just enough ambient light filtering in through the windows when they reached the main halls to keep him from running into Hank or taking out any of the art, but if Hank hadn't turned into the lab to put his machine away, Alex wouldn't have known where it was. He continued down the hall after Charles—if nothing else, he could 'help' with the food supplies—until a hand on his shoulder made him start. He only narrowly avoided planting an elbow in Erik's stomach before he realized who it had to be, but he didn't even bother to hide his glare. As invisible as it probably was in the darkness.
"Two of us can carry more wood than one."
"Oh. Okay." Alex didn't care who he followed as long as he managed to get to the library somehow so he turned and trailed Erik down the side corridor. And then around several turns, to the point where he was starting to think that they must be about to end up right back where they'd started. Except that when Erik opened a door at the end of the hall, they entered a small room that Alex had never seen before. There was an exterior door in the room as well, and with a shake of his head, Alex knelt and began loading some of the barely-visible split logs lining one wall into his arms. "Do you ever get lost?"
"That would depend on how you define 'lost,' but in general, no."
Alex suspected that Erik was smiling as he gathered his own armload of logs, but there was no way to tell whether it was the shark version or the normal version in the dim light.
"I don't always know where I'm going, but I've never had trouble getting back to where I've already been," Erik continued. "Always knowing where north—magnetic north—is helps."
"Oh. That's useful."
"Very. Are you ready?"
Alex stood, checking the weight of the wood. "Yeah."
Erik led the way back into the house, and Alex concentrated on following him and not running into anything along the walls. Erik was moving more slowly now too; he probably wasn't any more interested than Alex was in tripping and dropping an armload of firewood.
"You weren't being sarcastic earlier, were you?" Erik asked as they walked.
"The scars on your back really are from a fuselage."
"The bad one over my shoulder blade and a couple of the smaller ones, yeah," Alex admitted. He saw Erik's head turn back towards him and shrugged slightly. He hadn't expected anyone to ask—most people were like Hank and assumed that he was lying when he said things like that—but it wasn't like it was a secret. The whole thing was probably already written down in some CIA file somewhere anyway. "My dad was a pilot. Air Force. A couple weeks after we were transferred down to Virginia, he took us up one day. Not in one of the jets or anything, just the little Mosquito. Nothing we hadn't done a hundred times before, except that this time maybe half an hour in, something went wrong. One minute Mom was telling me a story about a river we were flying over and the next it was like one whole side of the plane was on fire. The chutes…Mom only managed to grab one pack before the rest were incinerated. Cloth, you know."
"They put it on you," Erik said after a moment. It wasn't exactly a question, and his back was to Alex as they walked, but Alex nodded anyway.
"They put it on me, strapped Scotty to my chest, and flung us out right before the flames hit the fuel tanks. It deployed pretty much immediately, but I got hit with some shrapnel before we cleared the wreckage."
"My little brother."
"Is he a mutant too? Where is he?"
Erik stopped this time to look back at him.
"They split us up." Alex shrugged. "He was only seven months old, and cute little babies have a much better chance of getting adopted if they don't have ten year old brothers attached."
"What happens to the ten year old brothers?" Erik asked after a minute.
He shrugged again. He'd managed just fine on his own.
Author's notes: Yes, I know that Scott is supposed to be Alex's older brother. Yes, I know that they were supposed to be in Alaska when the plane went down. Yes, I know that the Shi'ar were supposed to be involved. Yes, I know that the math does not work well at all.
To me, at least, making Scott close to Charles' and Erik's ages would mess things up even worse than First Class already did (I liked the movie, but all of these characters already had backstories, and for those of us who know them, it's a little crazy-making). Along the same lines, I refuse to make Alex Scott's father even though those numbers do work marginally better. I don't think Charles and Erik went all the way to Alaska hunting Alex (plus putting him in Virginia helps me later in the story), and I'm not touching the Shi'ar with a ten-foot pole. And the math in the X-Men movies is lousy in general, so as much as it's driving the engineer in me mad to do it, Alex's and Scott's ages are in the bucket of things I've given up on reconciling.