A/N: I seem to have an AU problem now. Lolz. Fml.

This was inspired by a prompt on the kinkmeme, which basically went like this: Alex goes to a carnival, Hank is part of the Freak Show at said carnival and is in a tiny cage/abused, Alex falls in LOOOVE and "rescues" him. I took a few liberties with the prompt, but eh. Title comes from a line in 'Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters' by Elton John. I didn't realize that this prompt had already been filled until I actually went to the original prompt myself (I found it on a huge prompt post on LJ), so any similarities between the other fill and mine are 100% accidental. :(

Warnings: AU, slight language, one homophobic slur, mentions of cruelty and abuse, slight implications of incarceration/past rape, mutually-broken-Hank-and-Alex, Hank/Alex, Scott/Jean, tiny bit of Darwin/Angel.

Disclaimer: Grr.

Coming here was such a bad idea.

The loud noise and bright lights, the crowds of people on all sides, children laughing, people chattering, stupid big-band carnival music playing – it's too much to handle. Alex is nervous, jumpy, and afraid that at any second, something's going to happen and he's going to go off and hurt someone. The edginess running through him right now is actually making him feel nauseated. (The sticky-sweet bag of cotton candy he'd devoured didn't really help on that front, either.)

This is stupid, he shouts in his head, hoping that Jean will pick up on it. If she does, she doesn't say anything. She looks happy as they wander through the crowds. Scott, walking alongside her and holding her hand, is smiling as well, though faintly. He knows that it's dangerous for them to be here – especially Alex – but he'd allowed Jean to pressure him into going with her pleads of, "Oh, come on! It'll be fine. I just can't believe that you've never been to a carnival. We have to go. Oh, but why don't you bring Alex, too? . . . But he's better now at knowing when he's – dangerous, and it's not healthy for him to stay cooped up all the time . . ."

'Knowing when I'm dangerous'. Ha. I'm always dangerous, Jean, he thinks sarcastically in the direction of his brother's girlfriend. Not that he dislikes Jean or anything – she's the only other person in the world besides Scott that knows what he can do and isn't afraid of him. Plus, his brother is crazy for her. And she's a freak, just like them. But on that point, shouldn't she know better than anyone else how stupid it is, to pressure them into coming here? Someone could get hurt, badly hurt . . .

He's so busy glancing around worriedly that soon enough, he's gotten separated from Scott and Jean in the crowd of people. He spends a few seconds craning his neck and searching for them, but then gives up. They're pretty much off in their own little world anyways, he's not about to be the twitchy third wheel on their date.

He wanders along until he comes to a brightly colored tent with a sign that reads Freaks! in big, flashy yellow letters, and thinks to himself, how god-damned ironic. When he enters, he finds that it's much less crowded than outside the tent, but there's still a substantial amount of people inside. There's a small stage set up in the center of the tent, and people are crowded around it. A young, dark-skinned man is onstage. Apparently, you can pay a dollar to throw a dart at him. Alex watches for a moment as a boy pays a dollar, steps forward, aims, and throws a dart right at the man. Bizarrely, the dart seems to bounce off of his skin without puncturing, leaving him unhurt and smiling. Alex is admittedly a little impressed, but he's skeptical enough that he dismisses it with a thought of, please. Probably some kind of weird suit, or even more likely, fake darts.

There're cages in the back corner of the tent, and a few children are crowded around one, pointing at the creature inside, which, from this distance, looks like a big mound of blue fur. Alex, driven by curiosity, draws closer, careful to give the children a wide berth.

"It's gotta be some kind of bear," a little boy says.

"Maybe it's a monster."

"Of course it's a monster, you dummy."

"Don't call me a dummy!"

Alex rolls his eyes. Little brats. The man in the cage shifts, lifting his head ever so slightly, much to the delight of the children. His gaze meets Alex's briefly, and Alex is abruptly struck by the amount of intelligence in those yellow eyes. It's strange, but this caged man silently exudes more intelligence than most of the people Alex has ever met.

Alex keeps staring after the children have wandered off, eying the strong body in the small cage. He's sure it's a male, though it (he) is curled in such a way that Alex can't see his privates. There are claws and a helluva lot of blue fur, but he has the shape of a very large man and the muscle tone of a big lion.

After a few more moments, the caged freak sniffs the air and lifts his head up, looking right at Alex again. He's squinting, as though he's having trouble seeing, but it's almost as though Alex can read the look in his eyes. Are you just going to stand there and stare all day?

There's an underlying message in those big amber eyes, too. Go ahead, taunt me. It's what I'm here for. There's a brokenness there, and a resigned look that Alex has seen before, in the eyes of the men who'd advised him in prison, "You're a pretty one. You can't avoid what's going to happen to you. But you gotta suffer through it, kid." That look indicates that one has been forced to accept one's fate, despite what a terrible fate it is.

Alex forces himself to break eye contact with the man/beast in the cage, and he searches the cage for a sign or something, anything to reveal the "freak's" name, or what he is. Because Alex knows he can't be a human – the fur and the claws are too realistic to be a costume. And why would he be in this tiny cage if he were a human?

"Hmm," he mutters under his breath, "what kind of thing are you?"

"I have a name, actually."

Holy shit. "Uh, what?" Alex says, dumbfounded.

The freak's eyes abruptly widen, as though he hadn't mean to speak, but like it had just slipped out. He drops his head and gives a soft growl, as though to make Alex think he'd misinterpreted a growl as human speech.

Alex steps closer, eyes wide. He keeps his voice low, although the people around him are too focused on each other or the man onstage to notice him. "No. I heard you talk. You are a man, I knew it."

The furry man shifts slightly, then sighs, lifting his head again. "I am a man," he says quietly. "Or I was."

"What's your name?" Alex asks, so stunned that he barely even registers what he's saying. There's no way that's a costume. No way. But there's also no way that people who look like this actually exist. Or, at least, Alex has definitely never met a man like this before.

"I was born Henry Phillip McCoy," the caged man says softly. "But people used to call me Hank. Now I'm The Beast."

Alex blinks, then says, "Well, I'm Alexander Summers. Alex, I mean."

The Beast sighs again. "It's nice to meet you, Alex. Please don't tell anyone you heard me talking. I'm not really supposed to let guests know that I'm capable of it. I'm just supposed to growl and roar when I'm told to."

"Uh, okay," Alex says. "But if you're not supposed to talk to people, why'd you talk to me? If you were gonna break the rules, you should've told those kids to buzz off."

The Beast shifts slightly in his cage again. "I didn't even think about it," he says quietly, sounding embarrassed. His expression is so human, so fragile, that Alex suddenly can't even remember why he thought this man was an animal in the first place. "It's just – you stood there and stared at me for so long without saying anything, until you asked what kind of thing I am." His voice turns bitter, full of self-loathing. "I guess I just wanted to let you know that while I might be some kind of thing, I do have a name. Why you, of all people – I don't know."

Alex chews on the inside of his cheek. Now that Hank's repeating them back to him, his earlier words – "What kind of thing are you?" – seem so stupid. Alex is used to hurting others to push them away, to keep them safe – but he abruptly feels guilty, in a way that he's rarely ever experienced. "Shit, I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean for it to come out like that. I've just never seen someone with . . . fur."

Hank gives a sad, bitter smile, revealing sharp teeth that look as though they could rip a person's throat out with no effort at all. "Few people have."

Alex pauses, then asks, "But why do you have . . . fur? What are you?"

Hank shifts in his cage, trying to stretch. He's unable to uncurl his body very much, and if he sat up, he'd probably be only barely able to manage a crouch. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Maybe I would." You wouldn't believe what I'd believe.

Hank frowns. "I'm a mutant."

" . . . A what?"

"A mutant," Hank repeats. "I'm a member of the species Homo sapiens superior. As the name suggests, I possess abilities that are superior to those of a human's. My mutation gives me enhanced strength, speed, and senses. Unfortunately, I've also got . . ." He gestures at his body with one large blue hand. " . . . Certain animal attributes."

"But you said you used to be a man," Alex says. "What happened to you to turn you into a mutant?"

"No, I was born a mutant," Hank clarifies, shaking his head. "I just wasn't born looking like . . . this. I did most of this to myself." Alex is growing to detest that look of Hank's, the look of complete and utter self-hatred. "I was born with prehensile feet."

Alex shifts, peering around Hank's body. Sure enough, the feet do look strange, large and blue and more like hands, really. "Oh. Are there more mutants besides you?"

"Of course," Hank says. "Not many, but there are some. The man onstage right now – his name is Armando, but we all call him Darwin. He's a mutant – he can adapt to anything that's thrown at him. Literally. And there's another performer who's a real mutant, her name is Angel. She has insect wings – dragonfly wings, to be exact – and can produce acidic spit. Kind of like fireballs that she can cough up." He sounds very educated on the topic of mutants. Alex already has the feeling that Hank must be very educated on a lot of topics.

"So anyone with . . . weird abilities is a mutant?" Alex confirms. Hank nods. A handful of teenagers wander over to ogle Hank, and Alex waits until they leave to go look at the other "freaks" in cages, which are all, in his opinion, clearly fakes. Hank just stares listlessly at the floor of his cage, ignoring the onlookers.

"Oh," Alex says. "Well, I think I'm one of those."

Hank looks up and tilts his head, his expression curious. "You're a mutant?"


"Well, what's your mutation?" Hank asks. He pauses, then adds quickly, "If you don't mind me asking, of course."

"I . . . it's really – dangerous," Alex says, looking away. He can't believe the situation he's in right now – here he is, at a fucking carnival, explaining what he can do to a furry, blue circus freak in a cage. "I can make these big, red circles around my body. Kind of like fire, or lasers, or something. They can cut straight through most stuff, and set fire to just about anything. My brother can do something like that, too. And my brother's girlfriend can move shit with her mind and hear what people are thinking."

"She's a telepath, and telekinetic," Hank says, wide-eyed. "That's fascinating."

"Yeah, well," Alex sighs, "she's lucky. Her – mutation or whatever – has never killed someone."

". . . You've killed someone before?" Hank asks.

"Yes. By accident," Alex replies flatly.

Hank seems to pick up on his tone, because he doesn't continue with that line of questioning. "Well, it's always a pleasure to meet another mutant."

"Yeah, guess so," Alex says. He stares at Hank for a moment, then asks bluntly, "What's with the cage?"

Hank looks away. "It's to keep me in, obviously."


"So I don't escape," Hank says, voice low. "They can't make money off of me if I escape. I almost – . . ."

"Almost what?" Alex prompts, never one for beating around the bush.

"I almost got out not too long ago," Hank says, tone dull. "I nearly had the bars of the cage bent wide enough to get out, but they caught me, tranquilized me, and punished me. By putting me in a smaller, much stronger cage. And by whipping me."

"They whipped you?" Alex asks, stunned and, frankly, disgusted. Hank shifts upwards, revealing his strong, muscular chest. The fur on his chest is paler and less thick than the fur on his back, arms, and legs. There are several healing lash marks criss-crossing his torso.

"I'm not supposed to let people see," Hank says, lowering his body back down to its former position and jerking his head to indicate the main area of the tent. "People might get upset if they think I've been horribly beaten or something. Sometimes even humans care about the treatment of a beast."

"You're not really a beast, though," Alex says. "You're a person."

Hank smiles faintly. "At least someone thinks so."

"You should think so, too," Alex argues. "You should be pissed as hell at the way they're treating you. You should – I don't know. You shouldn't let them do this to you. Dehumanize you like this. Sorry, demutantize?"

Hank actually snorts. "I am angry. But there's no point in it anymore. They won't let me go, and I can't escape these bars. And even if I could, they've perfected the drug cocktail to shoot me with."

I'd blast your cage open, if it wouldn't mean killing you in the process, Alex wants to say, but doesn't. Instead, he falls silent. Hank stares at him, squinting again. Alex frowns.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" he asks. "All squinty-eyed."

"Sorry," Hank says. "But I can't see you very well. You look very fuzzy." He pauses, then adds by way of explanation, "I need glasses."

"You do?" Alex asks, surprised. "Why don't you have any? . . . Oh. They make you look too much like a person instead of an animal, right."

Hank looks mildly surprised, as though he hadn't expected Alex to come to that conclusion. "Well – yes. The owners seem to think so." He pauses, looking awkward, then says, "If you'd – step up to the bars . . . I could see you."

Alex does so almost automatically, though he isn't sure why he cares whether Hank can see his face or not. Hank looks at him and stops squinting, his eyes widening more than normal.

"You're beautiful," he says.

Alex is honestly too taken aback to process that for a second. "Wha—huh?"

Hank looks horrified and embarrassed. "I just – I didn't – you're very – but . . . I – I'm sorry," he stammers.

"No – uh. It's okay," Alex says carefully, once Hank's stopped his sputtering. "I just – well. Thank you, I guess." Were he another person, he'd probably spit out queer and be on his way, but once you've been in jail, you learn to get over any sexual hang-ups you might have. Not that Alex ever really had any of those in the first place.

"You're . . . you're welcome," Hank replies awkwardly.

Alex takes a step away from the cage, then moves to sit down on the ground. He'll probably get some strange looks, but who cares. "You don't mind if I hang out here for a while, do you?"

Hank blinks, surprised. "No. But people will think you're odd, just sitting here talking to me."

Alex shrugs. "Better stared at here with you than stuck out there. I can't – I can't be around that many people."

Hank leans forward, squinting again, and Alex helpfully scoots forward so that he's face to face with the bars. "Wow, your eyesight must be some kind of awful."

Hank smiles wryly. "It's pretty bad, yes."

Another gaggle of kids passes by, and both Hank and Alex are quiet. Alex watches them stare at Hank, point at him and giggle, and feels rather disgusted with people in general.

After they walk off, Alex reaches out and taps one of the bars on Hank's cage. The metal is solid and cold. Alex can't imagine anyone with enough strength to bend the bars far enough apart to squeeze through. Next, he leans over to peer at the huge lock on the cage door.

"That thing looks unpickable," he comments.

"It probably is," Hank agrees, rather morosely. "Not that I could pick it, anyways. I can't fit my hand through the bars to reach it." He glances down at Alex's. "I bet one, maybe both, of yours could fit through."

"One, definitely," Alex says. Without thinking, he slides a hand in between the bars, wiggling his fingers. "Easily."

Hank blinks, surprised, then smiles a little. "You have small hands."

Alex withdraws his hand before he gets caught and frowns at Hank. "They're not small," he mutters defensively. "Just – thin."

"Thin," Hank amends, still smiling slightly. "I can smell cotton candy on your fingers."

Alex nods. "I had some earlier . . . wait, exactly how sensitive is your nose?"

Hank sniffs the air lightly. "I can smell your shampoo and your soap, your laundry detergent . . . deodorant . . . I smell cinnamon gum, too."

Alex pulls a stick out of his back pocket, grinning. "Neat."

Hank sniffs the air again, eyes half-shut. "I can smell nearly everything in this tent, but your scent is by far the best."

Alex blinks. "Thanks, I guess."

Hank abruptly looks embarrassed again. "I'm sorry," he says. "I just – I'm not very good at talking to people without – I'm just not good at talking. I never have been."

Alex raises an eyebrow. "Me, neither," he says. "What's your excuse?"

"I was a child genius," Hank says. "I graduated from Harvard at the age of fifteen. I suppose you could say that I'm socially awkward as a result."

"Oh," Alex says, with a nod. He abruptly feels pretty inadequate compared to Hank. He didn't even graduate from high school, let alone go to college. Then he remembers who's in the unbreakable cage and who isn't, and the differences in IQ don't seem to matter much. He wonders, briefly, if the people who gawk at Hank day in and day out, who whip him and shoot him full of drugs, have been to Harvard. "My excuse is foster care and prison. Kind of ruins a person in the social skills department."

"Prison," Hank says. "So we've both been behind bars."

Alex pauses. "Did you just . . . make a joke?"

Hank winces. "A very poor one, yes."

Alex smirks. "Nice try, I guess."

"Thank you."

There's a brief pause, and then Alex decides to go for it. "You know, it's not so bad, the way you look. Your eyes are nice."

"My eyes?" Hank repeats, blinking in disbelief.

"Yeah, your eyes," Alex repeats evenly, meeting said eyes with his own gray-blue ones. "They're amber. That's a nice color."

"Thank you," Hank says hesitantly, dropping his gaze. Alex can tell that Hank doesn't believe a word that's coming out of his mouth.

"And your fur," Alex continues. "It looks soft."

Hank shifts. "I suppose it is."

Alex could kick himself for doing this, but he carefully slides his hand through the bars. Hank watches him, eyes wide, but doesn't say anything. Alex touches his forearm lightly, gently threading his fingers through the blue fur. It is as soft as he'd expected, warm and silky.

Hank shivers slightly, and Alex blinks, pulling his hand back. "I'm sorry," he says automatically. "I – shit. I'm sorry." He moves to get up, hurrying to get away before Hank flips out on him or something.

"No," Hank says quickly. "Please – do that again."

They both sit there awkwardly for a few seconds, staring at each other. Hank's eyes are wide, his expression revealing just how afraid he is of rejection, how accustomed he is to being feared or made fun of, but also how completely touch-starved he is. Alex knows what it's like to go too long without a gentle touch – he knows all too well, actually, and he still feels that way sometimes. That's why sometimes he'll even let Scott give him a hug without complaining or pulling away – because sometimes it's nice to be touched by another being. And since he can't hug Hank (since he shouldn't even want to hug Hank), he can at least rub his fur.

He hesitantly slides his hand back in between the bars, and Hank shifts closer almost automatically, so that Alex can reach his upper arm. Alex brushes his fingers gently over the fur, then through it, stroking lightly.

Hank makes a soft noise, before dropping his head to hide his face with his other arm. Alex doesn't know whether that's a good sign or a bad sign, but he keeps stroking carefully.

After a while, Hank lifts his head again to look at Alex. He whispers softly, "Thank you."

"Do you want me to stop?" Alex asks, hand stilling.

"No," Hank whispers. "Not unless you want to. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have . . ."

"No, it's okay," Alex says instinctively. And, somehow, it is okay.

"You're the first person," Hank says with a trembling voice, "to touch me with their bare hands in – I don't know how long. The first person to touch my fur like this."

"You're the first person I've ever touched like this," Alex says honestly. There's something about right now, this moment with Hank (even though anybody could be watching right now), that makes him want to talk, to open up in a way that Alex Summers doesn't open up. He wants to break open the cage and stroke Hank's fur for hours on end, and talk to him about – anything and everything. Alex gets the feeling that Hank knows something about everything, and for a moment, he wants to hear. He wants to hear everything, to know everything, about Hank.

"Why are you here?" he asks softly, gently. "How'd they get you into this cage?"

"They kidnapped me," Hank replies, voice low, bordering on a growl. "After I became like this. I did it to myself, you know. This. This is the reason why I'm in here. I tried to – I made a serum. To make my feet look like an ordinary human's, without taking away my mutant abilities. And – and it didn't work. It did this."

"This –" Alex murmurs, "—the fur and the claws might be your fault. But you being caged? That's not on you, Hank. That's not your fault. That's theirs."

Hank looks at him, honestly astonished. "Thank you."

Just then, a female voice interrupts them. "Are you – touching that thing?"

Alex nearly jumps, and turns his head to stare up at a woman, who's giving him a strange look. He pulls his hand out of the cage carefully. "No."

She glances at Hank, who's dropped his head again, then stares at Alex, and walks off, shaking her head.

Hank looks at Alex, the look on his face like a kicked puppy. Alex frowns, and then whispers, "Stupid bitch. Ignore her."

He doesn't know why he cares so much, but there's just something about Hank, trapped in this too-small cage, alone and beaten and somehow fearsomely beautiful, that makes Alex want to protect him. He's spent most of his life protecting others from himself, but never has he ever wanted to help someone who's already being hurt by the hatred of others.

"Tell me about you," Hank says after a few moments of thoughtfully staring at Alex. "Who are you?"

Who am I. Who am I?

"I don't know," Alex says honestly. Somewhere else in the tent, a carnival-goer, free and happy and untroubled by the cruelties of the world, lets out a loud whoop. Alex ignores the sound, looking only at Hank.

Hank looks at Alex searchingly. "I don't know, either."

"What's that mean?" Alex asks, instinctively defensive.

"Nothing, really," Hank says. "I just don't understand why you're so – so kind to me."

Alex looks away briefly. "I don't know, either. I'm usually not this nice to anyone. I'm not a – a good person."

Hank frowns. "Who told you that?"


"Well, if it matters at all," Hank says, "I think you're a good person."

It's crazy, but it does matter to Alex.

They keep talking for at least two more hours. Hank gets Alex to talk about foster care and Scott and his day-to-day life, which isn't all that interesting, really, but Hank seems to find it fascinating. Hank talks of biochemistry and genetics, Harvard, and his life before the cage. When someone walks up to Hank's cage, they just fall silent for a moment, and then start up again. If Alex gets any more weird looks, he doesn't notice. He doesn't care.

The tent grows darker around them as night draws close. Alex hears cheering and stunned gasps from the direction of the stage, but doesn't turn around. "That's Angel," Hank says. "Her wings are always a crowd-pleaser."

"Are you considered a 'crowd-pleaser'?" Alex asks curiously.

"Most of the time, yes, I am," Hank says quietly, almost tiredly. "But I think the strange boy sitting at my cage is driving a few people away, at least."

"You know what," Alex says after a moment, "I'm going to get you out."

Hank tenses slightly, then shifts as far away from Alex as he can get in the cage. "Oh, you're just hilarious . . . please, please don't joke about . . . that."

"I'm not joking," Alex says, scooting forward so that his face is nearly touching the bars, because fuck everyone who might think it's odd. "I am. I'll – I'll come back, after it closes down for the night, and I'll – bring a hammer or something, and break open the lock."

Hank is staring at him with wide eyes. "You'll never be able to break it with a hammer, not if it's made out of the same material as these bars, which it surely is. The only way to get me out would be to steal the keys . . ."

"Then I'll steal the keys," Alex says firmly. "You've just gotta tell me where to find them."

"In one of the trailers," Hank whispers, still sounding disbelieving and full of awe. "The owner's trailer. They'll be parked –,"

"Behind the carnival," Alex nods. "Duh."

Hank is staring at him, eyes wide. "If you're caught trying to get me out – these people, most of them aren't very – friendly, to put it lightly. It won't end well for either one of –,"

Abruptly, Hank falls quiet, and Alex is expecting some more kids or teenagers to come up and snicker at Hank, when suddenly, a hand grips him by the upper arm and hauls him to his feet.

"Alex Summers," his brother hisses. "Where in God's name have you been all day?"

"Here," Alex replies sharply, jerking his arm out of his brother's vise-like grip. Ordinarily he'd shout something along the lines of, I'm nineteen, not five, I am a god-damn grown man, stop being such a girl for five seconds and quit trying to mother me, but people in other areas of the tent are already staring at them, and he also doesn't want Hank to think that the guy who just essentially volunteered to rescue him is a whiny brat.

"Well, I had no idea where you were. Jean got sick on the Tilt-A-Whirl and felt terrible, so I took her home, so it's not like she could find you," Scott says, voice hushed and tone one of annoyance. "I came back and spent ages looking for you."

"Sorry," Alex mutters begrudgingly. "You don't have to treat me like a kid, Scott."

"Sometimes I do," Scott sighs. "Let's go, I want to check on –,"

Hank moves slightly in his cage, blinking up at Alex and Scott. "Whoa," Scott says, before looking at Alex. Alex, however, doesn't say anything about Hank. He knows that if he tells Scott about his plan to get Hank out, Scott will forbid it and probably insist that they "tell the authorities" or something about how cruelly Hank's being treated. Alex, having a natural distrust of officers of any sort, is much more inclined to just come back in a few hours and free Hank himself.

"Come on, let's go," Alex says, gesturing towards the exit. "You should go home and take care of your girl." Scott looks like he agrees with that, and leads the way towards the front of the tent.

Alex whispers to Hank, "I'll be back.", and then hurries to catch up with Scott, who doesn't even notice. Hank doesn't reply, but Alex can feel those yellow eyes on him right up until he leaves the Freak Show.

Alex is on edge for the rest of the evening, waiting for the right time to leave the house and head back to the fairgrounds, where the carnival is. Jean stays in the room she shares with Scott for the rest of the evening, complaining that all the thoughts at the carnival had given her a headache, and Scott spends most of the night waiting on her hand and foot, until he goes to bed at around eleven. Alex waits another hour, and then figures, now or never, before he heads out to free a freak.

He takes Scott's car, drives out to the fairgrounds, and parks. He creeps up towards the carnival. Most of the lights are off, giving the place a dead sort of air, so much different from the earlier atmosphere of brilliance and excitement. However, there are carnies all over the place, walking around and cleaning up and chatting with each other.

Alex doesn't let that deter him. Something in the back of his mind is egging him on, something that says over and over, you have to help him. He deserves it. He needs you to help him. Alex walks around the edge of the carnival, skulking behind tents and booths, until he comes to the trailers and trucks that are used to transport everything.

It's not difficult to locate the boss's trailer, because there's a placard on the door that says, Office. Alex rolls his eyes, prays to God that there's a ring of keys somewhere in there, and tries the door.

Unlocked. Really? he thinks sarcastically. A bunch of carnies roaming around, and some idiot leaves the trailer door unlocked?

Well, he's not going to press his luck by standing here marveling over the stupidity of some people. He slips into the dark trailer and flicks on a light. There's a desk and not much else. Lady Luck must really be smiling on him tonight, because the second drawer he yanks open holds a shiny set of spare keys. And one of them is large and made of the same heavy, silver metal as the lock on Hank's cage.

He snatches up the keys, steals a flashlight from the same drawer, and gets the hell out of there. He nearly gets caught by carnival workers twice on his way to the Freak Show tent, but eventually he finds the large tent and slips inside.

Almost immediately, he hears a soft snuffling sound inside the tent, and a deep voice whispers, "Alex?"

"It's me."

"I know, I recognized your smell," Hank says. He sounds almost dizzy, as though he can't believe what's going on. Alex flicks on the flashlight, careful not to shine it at the canvas walls of the tent, lest a passing carnie see the light.

He heads over to Hank's cage, the keys jingling softly with each step that he takes. Hank whispers, "I can't believe you actually came . . . for me."

"Of course I did," Alex replies, kneeling by the cage and fumbling with the set of keys. "I told you I would, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did," Hank murmurs, soundly nearly breathless as Alex selects the proper key, sticks it in the lock, and twists. The lock clicks open, and the door swings open silently.

Almost immediately, Alex is bowled over by something big, warm, and furry.

"Thank you," Hank whispers, "oh, thank you . . ."

Alex dropped the flashlight when Hank practically pounced on him in gratitude, so he can't make out the blue man's face, but he can feel Hank's warm breath against his neck, Hank's large hands cradling his body so as not to crush Alex with his weight, Hank's strong, naked body against his own smaller, clothed one as they lie on the ground in the dark. "Thank you," Hank repeats, nearly delirious with freedom.

"Hank," Alex whispers, voice ragged, a sudden thought of he could kiss me right now, and I couldn't stop him, would I want to stop him? running through his mind. "Hank, we're not – not out of the woods yet. We've gotta go."

"You're right," Hank murmurs, and he slowly gets to his feet, stretching out his long limbs. Alex picks up the flashlight and stands up, and finds that Hank, at full height, now towers over him.

"Wow," he murmurs, "you're – big."

"I'm sorry . . ."

"The hell are you apologizing for? I didn't say it was a bad thing."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Apologize one more time and I'll smack you with the flashlight."

The flashlight provides just enough illumination that he can see the glimmer of Hank's teeth as he smiles. "You wouldn't dare."

Alex feels like laughing. He's almost giddy now, too, excited in a way that he's not familiar or entirely comfortable with being. Hank is free, and they're going to leave and go back to the house, and he can already imagine the look on Scott's face when he walks in for breakfast and finds Hank at the kitchen table with Alex – if that's what Hank wants to do, but of course it is, because it's not like Hank has anywhere else to go. "Oh, I –,"

Abruptly, there's a hand over his mouth. "Shh," Hank breathes.

Alex stiffens, and then he hears it. Shouting, close by.

"Damn it," he breathes against Hank's hand. "We've got to go."

The hand on his mouth is removed, and then there's a big, warm hand grasping his own smaller one. Alex doesn't question the contact, and together they move forward towards the tent flap.

They barely even get the flap open before there's a flashlight shining in Alex's eyes.

"The Beast is loose!" someone shouts.

Well, fuck.

Hank makes a soft snarling noise. "They've got the guns."

Not good. "What?" Alex hisses, looking around and noting the carnies everywhere. Some of them are holding rifles, but they're standing back (for now), probably afraid of Hank's formidable teeth, claws, and strength. Alex would be more afraid of himself, to be honest.

"Tranquilizers," Hank says. "Here, let me carry you, I can outrun them –,"

No. God-damn it, Hank is not just going to escape, outrun these bastards like an animal. He's going to leave like a man. And Alex's rescue mission is not going to end with him being carried out by Hank, that's for damn sure.

"Stay away," Alex says loudly. "I'm taking him with me."

"I don't think so, boy. You just step away from that freak right now –,"

"Don't call him that!" Alex shouts back, anger pulsing through him, energy growing hot inside him. They have to get out of here, and soon, but he's not going to go without a few last words. "He's not a freak. He's probably twice what all of you are, and he could kill you if –,"

One of the men lifts his rifle gun and fires, and narrowly misses Hank, who releases Alex's hand, lets out a lion's roar, and bares his teeth. Something inside Hank seems to almost snap right then, revealing a more primal side, different from the mild, calm, trapped man that Alex met only several hours earlier. It's strange, but it works, because several carnival workers scatter and run, terrified.

"Alex," Hank practically snarls, his body lowering to a sprinter's crouch, as though he's preparing to chase after some of the men fleeing. He doesn't seem to see the man off to the side, taking aim with his gun, fumbling with it because he's apparently shaking with fear. But Alex does see him, and all he can think is, I can't let him get Hank.

The energy's there, right there, and he's glowing now, he can't stop it but there's no way he can aim well enough to hit that guy without possibly hitting Hank in the process –

"Hank!" he shouts.

That's the only thing he has time to say or do before something hits him in the back of the head, hard. He registers a quick flash of pain and the brief sensation of falling, and then his vision goes black.

The last thing he hears is the enraged snarling of a beast, followed by someone shouting, "Wait, stop!" . . .

He wakes up briefly in a world of blurs and unintelligible, garbled words.

"Nnnhhhh," is all he can manage. His head aches, badly.

Then, there's a gentle, warm presence inside his head. The sensation is alien, but he's too muddled right now to mind all that much. In fact, the feeling's rather . . . comforting.

Alex, your head hurts terribly, doesn't it. Do you want to stay asleep?

Something in his brain must signal yes, because the presence inside his mind speaks again, you're alright. Rest.

When he comes around again, he's in motion. More specifically, he's in a car. People around him are talking softly, but then he hears a familiar female voice say, "He's waking up."

"Mm," he says, slowly opening his eyes. Everything feels too bright, and he still feels like shit, although the pain in his head is not as bad as it could be. He squints around, and finds that he's seated in between Scott and Jean in some sort of van.

"How're you feeling?" Scott asks.

"Peachy," Alex mutters. "Where're we?"

"We're on the way to New York," a stranger seated in the front passenger seat supplies helpfully, turning around to look at Alex.

"Who are you?" Alex asks, staring at the man, who's smiling pleasantly at him.

"Charles Xavier," the man says. "I'm the one who kept you asleep. I figured you'd rather sleep through the worst of your headache."

"Thanks," Alex says a little hesitantly, glancing at Scott as though to say, 'what the hell is going on?'

Scott nods toward Xavier and the man driving. "They're like us."

"Mutants," says the other stranger, meeting Alex's gaze in the rearview mirror. He has a faint German accent, although Xavier's British accent is much more obvious. He also has a rather cool look in his eyes, different from the warm, friendly aura of his companion's. "I'm Erik Lehnsherr."

"Hi," Alex says shortly. "I'm kind of lost, here. Where exactly are we going, and why?"

Scott and the British mind-reader open their mouths to explain, but Alex suddenly remembers something and cuts them both off. "Wait – where's Hank?"

"Back here," a low voice replies from behind Alex.

"'Scuse me," Alex says, unbuckling his seatbelt, turning around, and climbing over the back of the seat. Scott protests, but Alex ignores him.

He promptly finds himself in the laps of two other people who are definitely not Hank. Head spinning from the sudden movement of falling over the back of the seat, he blinks up at them confusedly.

"Hey," a dark-skinned man says, giving Alex an easy, relaxed smile. He's got his arm around a pretty girl in a black leather dress (said girl is currently giving Alex a look that clearly reads 'um, ew, get off of me'). "You okay, man?"

"Not really," Alex says. "Sorry, didn't mean to fall on top of you. Trying to get to Hank."

The man nods. "Of course." He smiles, gesturing first to himself, then to the girl. "I'm Darwin, by the way. This is Angel."

The mention of their names causes something in Alex's slightly muddled brain to click. They're performers – freaks – from the carnival, and, according to Hank, mutants. "Alex," he says by way of introduction. "Excuse me," he says again, and they both shift (Darwin with an obliging expression, Angel with a slightly annoyed one) so that he can wriggle over the back of their seat. As soon as he's out of their way, they scoot back together again.

In the back of the van is a small area, intended for storage, where Hank is curled up. Alex falls on top of him, but Hank doesn't even grunt or flinch at the impact. Instead, he wraps his strong, furry arms around Alex and holds on to him, eyes wide as he searches Alex's face.

"Are you alright?" he asks, voice low. "How do you feel?"

"Fine," Alex says, meeting Hank's gaze so as not to appear weak or injured. "What the hell happened to me, anyways? Oh, and why are you all the way back here?"

"Because, it's kind of pointless to risk me being seen by anyone in another car. And . . . someone threw a rock at you when you started preparing to blast," Hank says. "Someone with excellent aim, aparently. You also hit your head on the ground as you went down." He abruptly breaks their eye contact, looking guilty.

"Hank?" Alex says, squirming slightly. Hank releases him and Alex crawls off of him – not because he really minds lying on top of Hank, but because he doesn't want things to get awkward. "What happened after I got knocked out, then?"

"I – I . . . kind of went . . . a little crazy."

Alex frowns. "Define 'a little crazy'."

"I – lost control of myself," Hank whispers, ashamed. "Growling and snarling and clawing people like an animal. But they'd hurt you, and I just – lost it."

"Then what?" Alex questions, wanting to move on before Hank gets too miserable.

"Your brother and his girlfriend arrived right after you were knocked unconscious," Hank says. "Jean managed to – calm me, and then Mr. Xavier and Mr. Lehnsherr showed up. They handled everything from there."

"Speaking of them, what's their deal?" Alex asks. "Who are they?"

"Mr. Xavier's a telepath, and Mr. Lehnsherr can manipulate metal, I believe. There's a mansion in New York – a place they say will be just for mutants, a school, really. They've got some sort of incredible machine there that – well, I haven't gotten the full explanation yet, although I have my theories, but it enables Xavier to locate mutants all over the world. He sensed Angel, Darwin, and me, and came to offer us a place there, instead of with the – carnival. He extended the same invitation to you, your brother, and Jean, of course. They had excellent timing, actually."

"Jesus, how long was I out?" Alex groans. "I missed a bunch of stuff."

"Well, you were only unconscious for a few minutes," Hank says, with half a smile. "Then your brother asked Mr. Xavier if it would be safe to keep you asleep so 'we all didn't have to listen to you complain about your head'."

Alex scoffs at that, then pauses, thinking. "So we're going to live in New York," he clarifies after a moment. "At a school for – people like us."

"Yes," Hank says. "Or, at least, I am. I – I don't really have anywhere that I can go, looking the way I do. But your brother said that you'd probably want to stay there, since he and Jean are going . . ." Hank sounds shyly hopeful, and he won't quite meet Alex's gaze.

"Yeah," Alex says, in a way that makes Hank glance up at him and smile slightly. "I'll stay."

There's a pause, during which he hears Charles telling the others something about single-celled organisms. After a moment, Alex says quietly, "I'm sorry my rescue attempt got . . . so far out of hand."

Hank shakes his head. "Don't be sorry," he murmurs. "You still saved me."

"The telepath could have done that. And the metal guy could have done it even more easily, actually. Your cage –," All of a sudden, something dawns on him. "Holy shit."

"What?" Hank asks, confused.

"Jean," Alex says. "She could have gotten the lock on your cage open, and maybe even mind-fucked everyone into not catching us – oh my God. I'm an idiot."

"Yes, she brought up that point while you were sleeping," Hank says. "I heard her. But I don't think she'll bring it up to you – she mentioned something about you being easily offended?"

Alex frowns. "She thinks I'm touchy. Everyone does."

Hank smiles faintly. "Well, if you are, I can deal with it."

Alex pauses, staring at Hank. "Deal with it?"

Hank shifts, and in the dim early morning light coming in through the van windows, Alex can make out a purplish blush on his cheeks. "I just – I meant –,"

"No, it's okay," Alex says quietly. "I get it."

"You do?" Hank asks tentatively. His eyes are wide, hopeful, but still afraid. Alex has the sudden idea that he should make it his personal mission to make sure Hank never fears anything, be it rejection or being caged, ever again.

"Yeah. I do."

Hank's leaning close now, his expression open and vulnerable, nervous and unsure. "Alex," he says, "can I – I want to –,"

"Do it," Alex murmurs, and then, Hank kisses him.

All in all, it's a nice first kiss. Chaste, unsure, but promising.

And then the Lehnsherr guy decides to drive over a bump in the road, and Alex's head, resting on the floor of the van, bounces uncomfortably. "Ow!"

Hank pulls back instantly, but only far enough to break the kiss. He gently lifts Alex's head, cradling it with one big, warm hand, and okay, that's pretty nice. Really nice, actually.

"Okay?" Hank whispers.

"Mmhmm," Alex murmurs. He reaches up and pulls Hank in for another kiss. This one's even better than before, because now Hank is more confident. He's still very careful with his dangerous teeth, but he's brave in a way that makes Alex feel warm all over. Which sounds corny, yes, but it's also . . . good, wonderful in a way that Alex isn't familiar with, but hopes he will be, someday.

When this kiss breaks, it's Alex's turn to search Hank's expression for any signs of unhappiness. "Okay?"

Hank's eyes are warm, his smile shy. "More than okay."

"Good," Alex replies in a murmur, and they stay like that for the rest of the way to their new life, whispering and entwined, together and free.

A/N: Wtf is with these sappy endings? :D Reviews are greatly appreciated.