?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

X-Men Days of Future Past fic: The Choices We Make (1/3)

December 28th, 2014 (05:01 pm)
mellow

feeling: mellow

Title: The Choices We Make

Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men Days of Future Past.

A/N: Currently unbeta’ed. Set post movie. I apologize for the ridiculous medicine and science. Fills my substance addiction square for hc_bingo.

Summary: Everything comes at a price.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Nothing about anything is ever easy, not for a mutant. For all their superior DNA and enhanced abilities, they’re still as human as anyone else. They struggle with emotions; they want to fit in. They need to find their place; they need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

That’s not an easy thing when your DNA is working against you.

That’s never an easy thing.

Hank thinks maybe, when Erik is gone and Raven has walked away, things might be better now. Charles talks about opening the school; he starts looking for students. They clean up the mansion and tend to the grounds. For a moment, Hank dares to hope.

Which is exactly when everything falls apart.

-o-

It starts with a tremor.

Charles is trying to hide it, and Hank’s not sure how long it’s been going on without his notice. He thinks he sees it at dinner one night, a small twitch of the hand as Charles spills a bit of soup down the front of himself.

“Imagine if my mother could see me,” Charles quips in utter self deprecation as he dabs his shirt front.

Hank chuckles because it’s funny.

Then Charles’ hand misses his drink, sending it clattering to the tabletop.

Charles blushes. “And that’s why we’re going to need to hire more staff.”

-o-

Hank doesn’t worry at first, because Charles has been through a lot. The back and forth with Raven is never easy on him, and even if she made the right choice, she hasn’t come home and no matter what Charles says, Hank knows that bothers him.

Plus, the confrontation with Erik has taken its toll. Physically, the damage isn’t too bad, but emotionally, Charles can’t help but be affected. Sure, it solidifies something in him, something good, but at a price.

Everything comes at a price.

Hank just assumes it’s a price worth paying.

As it turns out, however, Hank’s been wrong about a lot of things.

-o-

Hank hears the crash a floor down, rocking the chandelier and resounding through the ceiling above his head. Startled, he scrambles from his research, taking the stairs two at a time as he tries to keep himself from turning blue even as he feels hair start to prickle on his face.

As he rushes to Charles room, he all but growls as he yanks the door open, nearly tearing it off its hinges. It might be an overreaction, but in a world with people like Erik still milling about, Hank’s learned that sometimes it doesn’t pay to take chances.

All things considered, he feels a little foolish when he sees Charles in a heap at the foot of his wheelchair. He’s red faced and blinking rapidly. “I just -- I just--” he tries to says, propping himself up and reaching to grab the chair.

Hank rushes forward, the blue starting to fade. “You should have let me help you,” he chides, effortlessly lifting the other man up and arranging him on the seat.

Charles offers him a watery smile. “Just a bit of adjustment,” he says. “I’m afraid you spoiled me with your miracle fix.”

Hank steps back, looking Charles over with fresh eyes. That’s when he sees what Charles isn’t saying. This isn’t just about his legs. His face is pale; there are circles under his eyes. His hair, though cut and clean, is stringier than it should be, the hollows in his cheeks pronounced.

And there’s what Charles is saying. The miracle fix.

Hank’s stomach churns.

He’s a scientist; he knows better. There are no such things as miracles. There are drugs and there are genetic manipulations. There are artificial ways to provide balance. There’s nothing ethically or morally questionable about this, but Hank’s a scientist. When the body becomes used to an artificial balance, the loss of such balance can have an impact.

More than that, it will have an impact.

Hank knows this first hand. He knows what it feels like when he’s gone longer than normal without a dose. He knows about the way his skin itches and the tingling in the back of his mind. He knows he feels restless and jittery, how easy it is to snap and just let loose.

It’s a natural response to the altered chemical balance. Hank’s dependency is minor, though. He can skip doses; he can skip entire days and there are no catastrophic results.

Charles, however--

Charles needed a much higher dosage to attain balance. More than that, he overmedicated because of the emotional strain he sought to camouflage.

And Hank had let him do it. Because Charles had been through too much. Because Hank owed Charles more than he could imagine. Because Charles had lost more than Hank could possibly understand. Because this was Charles, and he was smart and he was brilliant and he was good. People like that weren’t addicts.

Except, as Hank looks at Charles, that’s exactly what he is. Charles Xavier is suffering withdrawal, shaky and needy like any junkie might be.

Well, not like any junkie.

Charles suffers with a smile.

“I should thank you for not noticing until now,” he says with a small, strained smile. “Your respect has always meant so much to me.”

Hank’s shoulders fall. “Charles--”

Charles shakes his head. “It wasn’t your fault,” he says, because he already knows. “I made these choices--”

“But I--”

“You were being my friend,” Charles tells him preemptively. “And I knew about the balance of power in our relationship. I used that, Hank. I knew you’d never say no to me.”

The fact that Charles is absolving him doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Hank feels guilty -- Hank is guilty, of making the drug, of offering it to Charles, of never saying no -- but he’s not so lost in that feeling to ignore the fact that it’s entirely not the point.

Because this isn’t about Hank.

No, this is about Charles.

And if Charles had needed him before, he sure as hell needs Hank now.

“Okay,” Hank says. “We can do this, right?”

Charles keeps smiling. “Of course we can,” he agrees congenially.

As he moves behind the wheelchair to push it into the hall, Hank is profoundly grateful that Charles pretends he can’t read Hank’s mind.

-o-

Downstairs, Hank starts by getting Charles something to eat. He pours a large glass of orange juice and makes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before he can think of something better. Charles endures these things plaintively, and he’s sipping his juice before Hank realizes how ridiculous it seems.

“I’m sorry,” Hank apologizes. “But we should start by balancing your blood sugar levels--”

“No, no,” Charles says. “It seems entirely logical to me.”

Hank scratches the back of his neck. “We’ll need to take some blood, of course,” he continues, a little recklessly. “I’ve been doing some periodic checks on myself to chart the long term effects of the treatment, but I’ve never looked closely at the side effects of stopping, especially cold turkey. You know, we’ll want to run a full course of exams -- a physical, to check your internal functions, and--”

He stops when he realizes that Charles is watching him placidly.

Flustered, Hank chews his lip. “I should have noticed sooner,” he says again. “The changes in your body -- we should have been watching for them much sooner. I didn’t even consider some of the more severe reactions--”

“Hank,” Charles says, interjecting himself gently but firmly. “I made a choice. It was an important and necessary choice. One I should have made a long time ago. In your defense, we were rather busy saving the future, were we not?”

Hank can’t dispute that, even if he sort of wants to. He wants to tell Charles how it’s his drug; how it’s his responsibility; how he never should have let this get to this point in the first place. He wants to say he’s sorry for making a crutch that was too tempting for either of them; that he understands why Charles took the drug and why he respects him so much more for stopping.

Charles smiles. “I know,” he assures Hank. “I know.”

The pressure in his chest unfurls just enough, and Hank looks down, nodding quickly. “I know,” he says. “I’m going to get my equipment, and we’ll start with the tests, okay?”

“Very good,” Charles says. “And it’s been nearly a week since I last took anything. With just the tremors, there is a possibility that the overall impact will be minor, don’t you think?”

Hank stops himself before he can think anything. He smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s definitely a possibility.”

-o-

Hank has been living with Charles for years now. It’s been enough time that they know each other well. He understands Charles’ habits and mannerisms, and he’s fairly certain Charles knows his in turn. While they are perfectly capable of polite conversation and the occasional vigorous reparate, they’ve also mastered the art of companionable silence.

And just silence in general. Charles had grown quiet over the years until the hopeful prattle dwindled to stony silence. Hank had spent years, wishing he had the right thing to say.

He never found it.

That’s never stopped him from trying.

“It’ll take me a while to get this analyzed,” he says, capping the vial with Charles’ blood.

In the wheelchair, Charles is pressing a cotton ball against the crook of his arm. “No particular rush, I suppose.”

“It’s not that,” Hank says, and then he falters. “I mean, not really. I just -- I should--”

“Hank,” Charles says, looking somewhat bemused now even with his pale complexion and sunken eyes. “You’re so nervous.”

“I…,” he starts, but can’t bring himself to finish. His shoulders slump. “I feel like I just got you back.”

At that, Charles smiles warmly. “I don’t intend on going anywhere.”

He says it like a promise, and Charles always means the promises he makes.

Even when he can’t possibly keep them.

Hank looks at the vial again. “Let me just -- I need to--”

Charles holds up his hand. “Please, please,” he says. “Don’t let me stop you.”

Hank hesitates, but for what, he’s not sure. Another apology, maybe. A promise.

Instead, he nods again. “You should get some rest,” he advises.

Charles is still watching him. “Of course,” he agrees. “You’re perfectly right.”

It’s all he can do to smile, but he still ducks his head when he turns to leave, too eager for the exit. He feels guilty for that -- Charles won’t admit it, but he needs Hank now -- but Hank feels guilty about a lot of things.

In his lab, he closes the door, clutching the vial in his hand. He closes his eyes and takes a moment to remember how to breathe. He can’t lose it. Not now. Not over this. After all he’s seen and done, there’s no reason now. There’s no point.

Except Charles Xavier is a drug addict.

And it’s all Hank’s fault.

-o-

Shaken as he is, Hank’s still a good scientist, and he can run most of the tests without much conscious thought. He forces himself to be thorough, double checking his steps while he performs his analysis, writing perfunctory notes on a file form he opens up out of habit.

He’s always told himself that the research he does, the work he completes, it might help people someday. Maybe he can make a difference for others like him. Maybe he can help the world understand. That’s all Hank’s wanted -- to make things better.

Charles, however, is anything but.

Hank tries to tell himself he can fix this, but all how he can think about is how he never should have let this happen in the first place.

There’s a knock at the door, and Hank startles badly. He nearly knocks a microscope over and hisses a curse when he nearly contaminates his latest slide.

“Hank?” Charles’ voice comes through the door. “Is everything all right?”

It’s not clear to Hank just how powerful Charles’ ability is. It’s entirely possible that Charles already knows everything Hank is thinking. Which makes lying even stupider than it already is.

Even so, Hank’s not sure what else to say. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, hastily getting to his feet and awkwardly opening the door.

Just outside, Charles is in his wheelchair. He doesn’t look any worse than before, but the signs of withdrawal seem even more pronounced to Hank now that he’s pretty sure what’s happening.

“I should have the results soon,” he says, because that much is the truth. Then, he hesitates uncertainly. “Did you need something?”

It’s the wrong question. That’s not the way he should word it. Charles needs a lot of things. He needs his best friend not to go crazy. He needs his sister to come back home. He needs to not be addicted to a substance Hank made and readily injected into his system week after week after--

“No,” Charles says, effectively cutting off his train of thought. “I was thinking about making a spot of tea.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hank says. “I’ll be out in a little bit.”

“Very good,” Charles tells him with a taut nod of his head.

Hank wants to say something. He wants to say a lot of things. But that’s the problem with being friends with a telepath -- they know everything you don’t want them to know. Hank hadn’t realized just how much he’d taken it for granted when Charles was on the medication.

“You and me both,” Charles says wryly.

Hank blushes. “I promise,” he says. “I’ll be right out for that tea.”

“No hurry, no hurry,” Charles says as he wheels himself away.

Turning back to his work, Hank blows out a breath. He hopes, more than ever, that Charles is right.

-o-

Time slips away from him. He’s practically knee deep in results when he hears the kettle whistle, and he glances up at the clock guiltily. He’s taken longer than he intended, but when the blood work started showing its results, he hadn’t remembered to stop.

Taking a breath, he gathers the papers, quickening his pace toward the kitchen. The kettle is still whistling, and he’s surprised to find the kitchen unattended. Hank’s not British, but living with Charles this long has made him adequate around a teapot, so he turns off the heat and switches it to another burner. He opens a cabinet and picks out two of Charles’ favorite cups and saucers, setting them down neatly on the counter before pouring. He considers taking them to the study, but with the amount of paperwork he has in hand, he knows the kitchen table is a smarter option.

They need to talk.

Nervously, Hank pulls out a bag of cookies and puts a few on a plate before setting all the dishes on the table. It’s a lackluster invitation, but he can hope it will be enough of a distraction for both of them with what Hank’s about to say.

Papers still in hand, he walks back toward the study, where he last heard Charles rustling about. He knocks once, but there’s no answer. Concerned, Hank pushes the door open. It creaks, but there’s still no reply, and for a moment Hank thinks Charles might have taken the elevator back upstairs to his bedroom while Hank was otherwise engrossed.

But that’s when he sees Charles, tipped to the side, sound asleep in his chair. There’s a book on his lap, barely held in place by his lax grip. His hair is over his face, but it does little to obscure how pale he is. In sleep, he looks exhausted and far older than he should. The events of the last several years have aged him, and Hank tries to remember the young man who first inspired him when they met the CIA all those years ago.

It had been impossible to say no to Charles. All his hope and all his optimism. Even after Charles had lost everything, Hank had never been able to leave. Not when Charles had convinced him of a better future so completely.

A better future.

Hank doesn’t know what the future holds. He doesn’t know if Logan’s meddling had made everything better or so much worse. He doesn’t know if Raven will come around or if Erik will ever realize why killing doesn’t solve anything. He doesn’t know if Charles can get his school back on track, if they can really help mutants and humans like.

Hank’s a scientist, but he doesn’t know any of that.

He looks at the papers in his hand -- so many answers and still more questions -- and Hank’s not sure what any of it means. He’s not sure if the future is anything they can plan. He’s not even sure if it’s something they can fight. Sometimes it feels like every choice takes him back to the same place, and every dilemma is the same problem again and again.

Hank’s brilliant. Hank’s clever. Hank’s strong and ferocious and good.

None of that means anything, though.
Sighing, Hank walks to the couch and picks up a blanket. Gently, he drapes it over Charles. After all that he’s been through, the man deserves to rest.

With all that he’s about to face, he needs it more than ever.

-o-

By the time Charles comes out of the study, the tea is cold. Hank ate a few of the cookies, and he sweeps the crumbs off the table awkwardly as Charles rolls in to settle himself at the table.

“I was more tired than I thought,” Charles says as casually as possible.

Hank tries to smile.

Charles sighs. “That bad, then,” he concludes.

Hank sighs, too. “Yeah,” he says. “That bad.”

“Well,” Charles says, reaching for the tepid tea. “It’s probably better to get this over with. Shall I put on a fresh pot?”

“Let me,” Hank says, scooting his chair back noisily and grabbing another cookie. “We may be here awhile.”

-o-

Charles starts sipping his tea immediately, but Hank shuffles through his papers anxiously.

“It’s good,” Charles says with a nod to his cup. “You should have some.”

Hank looks at his cup, as if he’s forgotten what to do with it. Brow furrowed, he shakes his head. He lays the paperwork down in front of him.

“I’ve had a chance to look at your bloodwork,” he starts instead.

Charles takes another sip primly. “And?”

“And the compound was always designed to interact with the variant DNA in the system of a mutant,” Hank explains. “In a way, it neutralizes it, which is why the effects of mutant powers is muted while the compound is in the system.”

Charles cocks his head with a wry twitch of his lips. “I am aware,” he says. “It’s remarkable like that.”

“It’s still a new compound, though,” Hank says. “I mean, I’ve been studying it as best I can, but if you think about the way the FDA works, it takes years of research and testing in order to get anything approved because the effects of a drug is not always short term.”

“Yes,” Charles says with a knowing nod. “The effects can be latent. They may be cumulative.”

“Exactly,” Hank says. “And in this case, the effect on mutant DNA is stable, but it’s always an artificial, short term fix. Because of this, the body always needs more. Mutant DNA, it’s resistant. Over time, it builds up a sort of immunity to further tampering.”

“So you need more to achieve the desired results,” Charles says. “Again, Hank, this isn’t news to either of us.”

Hank sighs heavily. “I know,” he says. “And in small amounts, the effects are marginal, but…”

Charles puts his cup down, folding his hands on the table. “But in larger doses, the effects are more profound.”

“And it’s not just that,” Hank says. “We’re talking about a compound that affects the DNA itself. That’s not just something in the bloodstream. It’s in the very building blocks of life. Most drugs hit the bloodstream and can start working within hours. This one, it takes days to see the full effect.”

“So you’re suggesting that it might take just as long it to leave the body,” Charles presumes.

“Yes,” Hank says. “And the effect is going to be more pronounced the more dependent the body is on the compound.”


Charles purses his lips. “So in essence, I’ve managed to create the worst case scenario.”

“Well, it’s not your fault--”

Charles pins him with a look.

Hank looks down, chewing his lip. “It’s not good,” he finally admits. “I had always speculated that coming off the compound might be hard, but your blood work -- your cells -- they’re showing a profound imbalance.”

“Well, I certainly believe that,” Charles says.

Hank pushes forward one of the papers where he’s scrawled some notes. “I mean, look at these numbers. Your cells are expecting another dose, so they’re over-replicating to compensate. It’s hard to say exactly what the side effects of this would be, but essentially your mutant DNA is overpowering the normal human strands for the time being. The results would be--”

“Heightened abilities,” Charles says for him. “A wider telepathic range. More acute mental manipulation.”

Hank looks up in realization. “You’re already experiencing it.”

Charles shrugs. “I wasn’t sure at first. I thought perhaps I’d simply forgotten the effects of my abilities,” he says. “But the last few days, I’ve been hearing voices again, even though there’s no one around for miles. On a whim, I was able to create multiple mental projections in several places around the world. Simultaneously.”

Hank’s eyes widen. “That’s incredible…”

“That’s a sure form of insanity,” Charles replies. “Sometimes I’m not sure if the tremors are from the withdrawal or the fact that I have mental access to every person on the Eastern Seaboard.”

The scientist in Hank wants to pursue this. He wants to analyze the overproduction of the cells, to further isolate the process and consider the possible applications. It has potential, of course, and given the precarious position of mutants in society, it might be helpful. If Raven or Erik--

Hank stops himself, stiffening as he feels Charles’ eyes narrow. Of course Charles knows what he’s thinking. He knows what everyone is thinking, and with Hank in such close proximity, all of his thoughts must sound like yelling.

Minding himself, Hank smiles, collecting his papers again. “The good news is that it should pass,” he says, trying to sound upbeat. “Once your body realizes it’s not getting any more of the compound, the overstimulation should settle back to normal levels.”

Running his finger along the mouth of his teacup, Charles nods to himself. “You make it sound so easy.”

Hank falters. He’s being well intentioned, but Charles would be able to see through him even if he didn’t have the power of telepathy. “We don’t know how your body will respond in full,” he says. “I mean, yes, the detox, if you want to call it that, will be slow, but we have no baseline of what’s normal here. The heightened awareness could be making you fidgety--”

“That’s not what my physical shows, though,” Charles tells him.

“I didn’t say--” Hank starts.

Charles nods at the papers. “I can also read paper just as well as minds,” he says.

Hank doesn’t know whether he should be more sheepish or chagrined. “Your body is showing elevated responses,” he acknowledges. “Increased heart rate and respiration, heightened autonomic functions. Everything is in overdrive.”

“All signs of chemical dependency,” Charles muses.

“It’s not like that,” Hank tries to say.

Charles sighs, smiling fondly. “There’s no reason for pride now,” he says. “Not between us. As embarrassing as this may be, we both know we’ve lived through much worse.”

There’s a lot to that, and Hank doesn’t have to be telepathic to know it. He remembers the last few years better than Charles does. He remembers the long hours in acute clarity. He remembers what Charles inject himself again and again, just to drown out the voices, to dim the pain, to diminish the loss.

“So really,” Charles says, as upbeat as possible. “How bad could this possibly be?”

-o-

Charles is many things, and among them, he is an absolute saint. He’s not perfect -- Hank knows that better than anyone -- but even when in the throes of depression, Charles Xavier had been exceedingly polite. It took a special kind of gentleman to tell someone to fuck off in the most appropriate way possible.

So it is not really a surprise that he handles himself with the utmost decorum. They eat a civilized dinner. Hank does the dishes, and Charles puts them away. He pauses now and then to steady himself, flexing his finger and blinking a few times, but his companionable conversation hardly falters for it.

“I was thinking we could start looking for students again,” Charles says. “Cerebro doesn’t seem nearly so daunting now, and it seems like there’s a more pressing need than ever.”

Hank scrubs a dinner plate thoughtfully. “I still don’t think the world’s quite ready for a school for mutants,” he says.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Charles says. “Public opinion seems to be slightly tipped in our favor ever since the debacle at the capitol, but the politicians are walking a fine line when it comes to policy.”

“People are scared,” Hank comments, putting another set of silverware in the soapy water.

“After what they saw on television, I imagine so,” Charles comments, wheeling his way to a cabinet to put away one of the pans. “But they didn’t just see Erik. They saw Raven, too. She may have looked different than most people, but what they saw her do -- they saw her indecision coalesce into something better -- which is the most universally human thing any of us could ever possibly understand.”

Hank presses his lips together, scrubbing pointless at a nonexistent spot.

“That’s why we need this school,” Charles continues knowingly. “Because people like Raven don’t need to be controlled. They need to be accepted. They need to be educated. They need to be empowered to make better choices. That’s how we change the world, Hank. One person at a time.”

Hank smiles, turning to look at Charles. “You really believe that?”

Charles is entirely earnest. “Of course I do,” he says. “Just look at you. Aren’t we both living proof?”

“You’re incapable of anything less,” Hank says. “And me -- well, I’m still taking the compound.”

“A compound you created,” Charles tells him. “In an effort to offer power and control. Not every choice is right for every person, but we all have to find a way to deal with the beast inside of us. And you have done it remarkably well, putting up with me all this time no less.”

Hank rolls his eyes, going back to the dishes. “I have put up with anything.”

Charles scoffs. “I don’t believe I got out of my bathrobe for the better part of a year,” he reminds Hank. “Trust me, you put up with more than your fair share.”

Hank shrugs. “I wouldn’t be here if not for you,” he says. “When you found me -- when you gave me the chance to do something better -- that changed everything.”

Charles beams at him. “See,” he says proudly. “Living proof.”

Grinning, Hank nods his head, washing another glass. “I guess maybe you’re right.”

Rolling past him, Charles pats his arm. “Most of the time, I am.”

-o-

When the kitchen is cleaned, Charles wheels himself into the study for what seems to be a normal evening. They’ve lived quietly together for the most part. After Cuba, Charles had had so many ideas and plans, and their evenings had turned into late nights, looking for students and creating a curriculum. With the school up and running, evenings had been full of energy and life, enough activity to make them both forget.

For a little while, anyway.

When the war had taken most of their faculty and student body, the evenings had become quieter and quieter until Hank found he’d run out of things to say at all. Hank did his work, while Charles stared at books he no longer read, and the long hours had passed until one of them finally just went to bed.

It’s been years together, but in the aftermath of Logan’s visit from the future, it feels like they’re getting to know each other all over again. Hank is nervous and uncertain, and he feels awkward as he watches Charles pick a spot in the twilight to open up his book.

Hank lingers, clearing his throat.

“Your concern is appreciated,” Charles says without looking up. “But I hardly think there’s anything to gain from standing and watching me read.”

Hank blushes. “I just…”

This time Charles does look up. “It’s like a watched pot,” he says, not unkindly. “Nothing will be changed by staring.”

Shoulders falling, Hank slumps over to the couch. “I just feel like I should do something.”

“You are doing something,” Charles says. “You’re here. That’s more than anything I could ask for.”

But not more than he deserved. It shouldn’t have been Hank. It should have been Erik. It should have been Raven.

Charles inclines his head knowingly. “You have proven your friendship in more ways than you think,” he says.

Hank shrugs, but he doesn’t have the heart to argue. “Just be sure to tell me, then,” he says. “About any other symptoms you may experience. If you had just told me about the tremors--”

“Then we would be in no different position, if a bit more wary of what was to come,” Charles assures him.

“Still,” Hank says, trying to sound firm now. “We don’t know what effect this is going to have on your body. Some extreme cases of withdrawal can be dangerous. You need to keep me informed so we can deal with things before they become problems.”

“I’m afraid we’re a bit past that,” Charles quips.

Hank refuses to be amused. “I’m serious,” he says. “Some severe addictions cause hallucinations, stomach cramps, seizures or worse. I’m not telepathic. I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

Charles has the decency to sober slightly. He can probably hear Hank’s frustration as loud as he concern. “No more secrets,” he says. “It’s probably a good habit for any of us.”

Hank snorts, grabbing a book and a pen to set his paperwork on his lap. “That’s the problem with being friends with a telepath,” he muses. “I couldn’t have secrets, even if I wanted them.”

Charles opens his book. “You’re better off, my friends,” he says, settling more comfortably in his chair. “Trust me on that one.”

-o-

For a while, Hank keeps a wary eye on Charles, but for as dedicated as he is to friendship, his interest in the science is just too strong. It’s so easy to get swept up in his research, and before he knows it, he’s been totally engrossed.

The implications, after all. He’s always known his compound works, but given the way the body adapts to the interference, Hank has to wonder if the results can be replicated and enhanced. Could there be a cure for mutant genes? Could there be a way to induce mutations in otherwise normal cells? Could they control the evolutionary process?

Should they?


Hank needed randomized trials. He needed double blind research with placebos. He needed longitudinal studies to gauge all the effects. Cellular changes could have wide reaching impacts on the body. And one small change could be conflated with another and another. How long until the human species is something decidedly different? What if the next stage of evolution can be controlled and optimized?

He’s making furious notations on his paper when something rustles across the room.

Remembering the current situation, Hank is immediately aware and realizes that Charles is adjusting his book.

Or, more accurately put, he’s trying to.

The book bobs unsteadily, and Charles seems vexed. His brow is furrowed and he swallows hard, fingers grappling at the corner to turn the page. His perception must be compromised, because he misses and the book bobs again.

Together as he is, Charles still mutters a curse.

Hank tenses, mouth open to offer his help before he realizes how demeaning that would be. To offer to turn the page, no matter how necessary or well intetnioned, would be too much. Charles Xavier is a brilliant man. He’s a forward thinker. He doesn’t need Hank McCoy to turn his pages.

Embarrassed, Hank tries to erase his mind, blinking mindlessly as he searches for an alternative solution.

“You know, with everything that’s gone on, I’m way behind on ??,” he says with a nod to the television. “Do you mind?”

Hank doesn’t watch much TV. ?? is the only program he can remember. It’s a shoddy lie, and Charles can see right through it, but it speaks to both their discomfort that Charles actually takes the life raft when it’s offered.

“I suppose,” he says, closing the book and placing it to the side. “A little background noise might do me good.”

Hank smiles gratefully, standing up to turn on the set. “The kids always loved this stuff,” he says, settling back down as the grainy picture starts to focus. “It’ll be different, having them back.”

“It’ll be good,” Charles says with a deep sigh. “Something to look forward to at any rate.”

Hank hums a small agreement as he watches the commercials. “We could use that.”

“Yes,” Charles agrees. “We most definitely could.”

-o-

Ever since discovering his mutation, Hank’s life has been decidedly not normal. It’s not always been bad -- his time with the CIA is still something he remembers fondly, and operating the school with Charles is never something he’d regret -- but it’s been far from normal. He’s been grappling with demons for so many years -- both internally and externally -- that sometimes it’s easy to forget how simple life used to be.

How simple it is for everyone else.

Television sitcoms, popular commercials, the local news: such petty, silly things. And yet, such a welcome distraction. When he laughs at the same gag as countless people across America, sometimes Hank even feels like he’s still human.

Sure, Hank likes to pretend like he’s got it all together. He talks about being balanced. But he’s still a guy with a beast inside, and he’s spent years trying to keep that in check. That’s not balanced anymore than Charles’ self medication. Sure, Hank has a bit more control over it, but that’s just it -- it’s control. Hank doesn’t have the confidence of Magneto. He doesn’t have the strength of Mystique. He doesn’t have the conviction of Charles.

No, Hank’s still a boy with a monster inside, trying to be everything he’s not. When he thinks about the sacrifice Charles is making -- not just with the influx of his powers, but his very ability to walk -- he feels sheepish. He can sit here with his equations and science, but he’s not ready to do what Charles is doing.

And so he laughs louder at the jokes. He claps at the gags.

Because Charles is an addict, and Hank’s in denial but for tonight, that’s okay.

For tonight, everything’s okay.

Hank glances over where Charles has shifted in his seat, dozing off with his head propped up on his hand.

Everything’s okay.

-o-

Hank watches until he’s sleepy, and even then, he forces his eyes to stay open as long as he can. When he catches himself drifting off, he finally relents against the inevitable.

“Hey,” he says quietly, getting to his feet. He makes no pretense of shuffling across the floor, hoping to nudge Charles out of his sleep. “Getting pretty late.”

Charles rouses, blinking thickly a few times as he rolls his neck. He wets his lips, squinting up toward Hank blearily. “What time is it?”

Hank doesn’t wait for the invitation to take hold of the chair. He unlocks the wheels. “Late,” he says simply, starting to push toward the elevator.

Charles inhale noisily, still trying to clear the fog out of his head. “I was having a dream,” he murmurs.

“Yeah?” Hank asks, waiting for the doors to open.

“Mmmm,” Charles says sleepily as the elevator dings and Hank pushes him inside. “You were there, and so was Raven and Erik. We all were, really.”

“Well, that may sound more like a nightmare,” Hank jokes feebly, pushing the button to go upstair.

Charles shakes his head, leaving it tilted to the side. “There was no more animosity,” he says, sounding like he may still be half asleep. “Logan talked of a future with terrible things, but we were together in the end.”

“I think I was dead,” Hank points out.

“But you don’t have to be,” Charles says. “And I think that’s the point. None of us have to be. It’s a choice. I’ve been scared of choices -- my own, Erik’s, Raven’s. Because they don’t always turn out, but not acting is a choice all its own. Everything has consequences.”

The elevator lurches to a stop and the doors open. Hank starts them out toward Charles’ bedroom. “Still sounds like a nightmare to me.”

“Sounds like hope to me,” Charles says, sounding even dreamier than before.

They’re at Charles’ door, so Hank busy himself getting it open and getting Charles inside. The quarters are large and tidy -- the time off the compound has brought out many of Charles’ better qualities. He’s starting to pick up after himself, and he’s back to reading. The room still smells a little musty and needs to be dusted, but Hank figures they’ve got bigger concerns right now.

Rolling Charles up to the bed, Hank sets the wheels and reaches over to pull back the sheets. He hesitates, not sure how much help to offer while Charles clumsily pushes himself up. Charles seems to get his footing, but then his face pales rapidly. His knees are buckling and the hairs on the back of Hank’s neck prickle as he lunges forward to steady the other man.

Charles doesn’t quite fall so Hank doesn’t quite catch him, but it’s an awkward embrace that leaves Hank turning a little blue. Hastily, he pivots, half dragging Charles to the bed and depositing him there.

For his part, Charles mostly collapses onto the sheet, flopping back without even dragging his legs on. He’s still wearing his house slippers, and Hank bucks himself up while he reaches over and lifts Charles’ legs onto the bed. All these months Charles has been secluded; it’s been easy to overlook just how thin he’s gotten. Not all of this is the withdrawal. Hank’s a scientist; he observes as part of his job, and he’s overlooked this entirely.

Swallowing, he wrestles off Charles shoes, pulling over the sheets and pressing them down. Charles smiles gratefully, eyes already starting to flutter closed.

Hank frowns, though, noticing the small tremors through the sheets. He ghosts a hand near Charles’ forehead. “You’re freezing.”

Charles takes an unsteady breath and attempts to smile as his eyes open to slits. “You mean we don’t have the air conditioner running on full power?”

Hank reaches over and grabs another blanket and then another for good measure. “You need to sleep,” he says. “Get as much rest as you can. I’ll be right down the hall.”

Charles’ eyes clear just enough. “You’re worrying again,” he says. “I am a grown man.”

“This is no time to be proud,” Hank lectures.

“No,” Charles agrees ruefully. “I suppose not.”

“Like I said,” Hank says. “Right down the hall.”

“Very well,” Charles replies with a sigh. “Just remember. This is a choice. And not all choices are bad.”

Hank tries to smile, nodding briefly.

“And who knows,” Charles tells him. “Things may be so much better in the morning.”

“Yeah,” Hank says, because Charles is easy to believe, and it’s been too long since he’s felt reassured. It feels good. It feels too good to deny, even with common sense. “Maybe.”

At the door, he looks back. Charles is already asleep, lying where Hank left him. Hank sighs and turns away, closing the door gently behind him.

Choices aren’t so bad.

And maybe, just maybe, neither is hope.

-o-

At least, that’s what Hank believes until he’s startled from his sleep by a yell.

Not just a yell, a scream.

A desperate, blood curdling scream.

Hank’s heart is racing, and he fumbles from beneath the covers. Half tripping on the blankets, he slips his way to the door. The surge of adrenaline fuels him, and he feels hair prickle on his neck and arms. He flushes blue, and his speed increases with a growl as he scales the short distance to Charles’ room.

In his furor, Hank envisions terrible threats. He imagines Erik, pulling the world apart one piece of metal at a time. He imagines Raven, slinking in wearing a different face, poised to strike for the kill. He imagines soldiers and spies, armies and angry mobs -- anything to make Charles sound like that.

He opens the door so hard that it nearly flies off its hinges. He pounces inside aggressively, snarling as his transformation takes full effect. He’s ready to fight; he’s ready for anything.

Except this.

There’s no intruder. The room is exactly how Hank last saw it, without exception.

But Charles is on the bed, curling over on himself with his hands clutching his head. He’s sobbing, screaming between each breath with a desperation Hank almost can’t even understand. The words are unintelligible, but the agony is plain enough.

Stunned, Hank’s not sure what to do. Outfitted as the beast, he’s hardly in any position to be administering care or concern. Flustered, he hesitates, but Charles writhes again, and Hank finds his compassion overrides all his indecision.

Rushing forward, he takes Charles by the shoulders, squeezing with enough force to make a difference without hurting him. “Charles!” he calls, giving him a small shake. “Charles!”

For a second, Charles fights against him, and it’s takes a hysterical moment before the other man seems to see him at all. It’s another painful second before Charles’ eyes clear of the tear long enough for him to recognize him, and another moment still before he understands.

And then his face crumples again, even as he flops back listlessly to the bed. “The voices,” he says, pressing his hand to his eyes. “I can hear everything.

Throat tight, Hank lets go. “Your powers?”

Charles shakes his head. “They’ve never been like this before,” he says. “I feel like my brain is on fire…”

“Well, if you could sleep--”

Eyes wide, Charles drops his hand and shakes his head. “It’s worse then,” he says. “I have no way to block them out. They just keep coming and coming until I don’t know where I am or who I am. I’m losing myself, Hank. I’m losing myself.

The raw honesty is a little overwhelming. Even in the haze of the last year, Hank’s always counted on Charles to be stoic. He’s not one to go on about himself. He’s not one to ask for help when it comes to very personal issues. He’s not one to beg.

But here he is.

Begging.

And Hank can’t do anything to help him.

“You still need to rest,” he tries to explain as reasonably as he can. “What your body is going through--”

Charles shakes his head, face dissolving into tears again. “But my mind--”

“Okay, okay,” Hank says, as placating as possible. “If REM sleep is bad, maybe we just need a sedative.”

Charles’ eyes snap open again. He trembles with no vigor. “No drugs…”

“A sedative is completely safe,” Hank explains.

“No drugs--

“Charles,” Hank says, a little louder now. “It’s an entirely different compound. It affects different parts of the body. There would be no interaction. A sedative won’t undo the work you’ve done so far.”

Red faced, Charles still looks ready to argue.

“Trust me,” Hank implores. “You need to rest.”

Trembling, Charles finally nods. He blinks rapidly, his breathing still hitching unevenly. He wets his lips. “If the voices come back….”

Hank sighs. “I’ll be right here,” he promises. “I won’t go anywhere.”

Charles nods, too afraid to be truly grateful.

Hank nods back, a momentary burst of relief settling his nerves back down from blue. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll just be a minute.”

-o-

Hank is shaking on his way down to his lab. His fingers tremble so bad that he can hardly load up a syringe. He hastily picks up his research, haphazardly taking anything he thinks he might need.

He refuses to stop, though. He won’t let himself stop. If he stops, he’ll think.

And he can’t let Charles hear him now.

Not when Charles needs him to be strong.

Not when Hank is anything but.

-o-

Charles is still awake when he gets back, and he merely nods when Hank asks if he’s ready. The needle slides into Charles’ skin easily, and the other man winces while Hank deploys the plunger. He injects the full contents before pulling it out and capping it again, putting it to the side.

“There,” he says. “That should help.”

Charles breathes a few times, visibly trying to relax.

With nothing else to do, Hank reaches for a chair, pulling it a little closer to the bed. As he settles in it, he notices Charles is watching him.

“The compound had to be invented,” Charles tells him.

Hank frowns. “What?”

“I know what you’re thinking, even better than you do,” he says weakly. “Limiting the options isn’t the solution. We just need to make better choices, you and I and everyone else. Sometimes I don’t think we know who we are until we’re forced to choose.”

“Some people choose wrong,” Hank reminds him, thinking of Erik and Raven. Thinking of himself.

Charles smiles as his eyes start to droop. “And some of them choose right.”

He’s asleep before Hank can answer, because it’s just as well. It’s not the Charles is wrong, but it’s the fact that Charles is right. Some of them do choose right. But Hank, he’s never made those decisions. He’s never made the hard choices, the ones that matter. He’s followed other people’s plans and played it safe for himself. Charles goes cold turkey and endures everything, and Hank’s arm is itching for an injection.

It’s not the same thing. Hank’s not addicted to it, and he’s missed enough doses to know that’s true. But he wants it. It’s not chemical dependency for him; it’s an emotional safety net. All he’s been through and all he’s fought for, and he’s still afraid to show himself to the world. He’s still trying to keep that part of himself in check.

Sometimes, when he really thinks about it, he’s appalled by his own chosen naivete. As if he can pick and choose. As if he can separate the mutant part from everything else. He calls it balance; he calls it normalcy, but it’s all lies.

Someday, he’ll have to reconcile that part of himself, but he’s not ready for that today. He’s not sure when he’ll be ready.

That’s why Charles Xavier is the braver man. That’s why, even bedridden and terrified, he’s the stronger man.

That’s why he’s the better man.

And that’s why Hank will see him through this, no matter what.

-o-

Hank expects Charles to sleep until midday, so he’s a little taken off guard when the other man rouses in the morning. Hank himself is stiff and owl-eyed, having slept on and off while slumped uncomfortably in a chair. Still, when there’s rustling on the bed, he’s awake immediately, and his work falls to the floor forgotten.

“Charles?” he asks, concerned and worried. In all honesty, he hadn’t been sure a sedative would work, whether the unconsciousness would be deep enough to stave off the effects of Charles’ powers. He’s been on the watch for any sign that the voices might come back.

On the bed, Charles isn’t thrashing, though. He mumbles something, resettling his shoulders.

Hank hovers, not sure if there’s anything he should do. With the dosage Hank gave him last night, Charles should sleep soundly for another half day. But Hank also knows that Charles’ cells are in overdrive right now, so his metabolism may be working harder as well. In that case, the effects of the sedative could be wearing off and Charles could well and truly be waking up.

And Hank’s not ready. He’s not showered, he hasn’t eaten, and he’s not rested. Hank’s just not sure he’s up for this already.

A smile creases Charles’ face, and he blinks his eyes open. “I’m not entirely hopeless, you know.”

Hank purses his lips. “This whole telepathy thing is getting pretty old.”

Charles swallows with a wince. “For you and me both.”

Hank sits back. “How do you feel?”

Blinking again, Charles seems languid against the pillows as he makes no attempt to sit up. “Tired,” he reports. “Like my brain’s a bit foggy, honestly.”

“Probably the lingering effects of the sedative,” Hank says.

Charles nods his agreement, taking a long moment as if to compose himself. “They’re still there.”

Hank raises his eyebrows.

“The voices,” Charles continues. “I can almost feel them, clawing at the edges of my subconscious.”

“We can try another dose,” Hank suggests.

Charles makes a small noise in his throat. “Let’s save that as another desperate measure,” he says. This time, he props himself up on his elbows. “Maybe we should start with breakfast instead.”

“You’re hungry?” Hank asks hopefully. A good appetite would be a sign of returning health.

Chuckling, Charles shakes his head, working his way up to a sitting position. “The thought of food turns my stomach a bit, but considering how weak I feel, I can only imagine it’s a necessary evil right now.” He looks at Hank with a tired twinkle in his eyes. “Besides, I thought suggesting it would help take the burden off you for a bit.”

“It’s no burden,” Hank replies quickly.

“Maybe not yet,” Charles quips. “But the day is still young.”

Hank refuses to acknowledge it. Instead, he pulls the wheelchair closer and reaches over to help Charles up. “Is that pessimism? From you?”

“Call it realism,” Charles replies. “Courtesy of Erik, I’m afraid.”

“Ah,” Hank says, hoisting the other man up and over. “A lot of things are courtesy of Erik anymore.”

“Normally I don’t like to indulge in spiteful thought,” Charles says.

“He did try to kill us,” Hank says. “More than once.”

Charles’ mouth twists into a wry smile. “Today I may just make an exception.”