It hurt. A lot. Not that Darwin had much to compare it to—very little in his life had ever actually hurt. But Shaw shoving a handful of Alex's concentrated energy down his throat? Well, that was excruciating. Too much and too hot and too sharp and too cold all at once.
Still, he hadn't expected...
He felt the rough carpet under his bare feet before he managed to open his eyes, smelled the musty scent of the room—mold too, and a few layers of stale cigarette smoke—before his ears started working.
“Darwin?” A shaky gasp. “Darwin!”
He still couldn't see, but that sounded like Alex. Which made sense; Alex had been right in front of him when his eyes stopped working. Alex had been the last thing he saw, eyes widening in terror. But...he'd been outside. And he clearly wasn't, not anymore. Outside didn't really have carpet ever. But he was still standing? If he'd passed out from the pain or injury, shouldn't he be lying down?
Hands on his arms, warm against his skin, a strong grip. Maybe that was why he was still standing—his head didn't seem to like the idea of standing at any rate. (Neither did his legs, to be fair.)
“Al...ex?” Darwin's tongue was slow and dry in his mouth, but it was working better than his eyes. “Y'okay?” He was being turned, made to sit on something soft and stale-smelling—a bed, by the height. Probably.
“Me? God, yeah; I'm fine.” Warm hands moved in a shaky dance over the skin of Darwin's arms. “Why wouldn't I be?”
Blinking his eyes as he finally got his eyelids to work properly, Darwin looked up into Alex's face—blurry and pale as it coalesced before him. Alex had always been pretty pale, but... “Pale,” Darwin slurred.
Alex laughed, grinning tightly and shaking his head, hands still on Darwin's arms. “Me? Yeah, well, you see how you look when you see a—” His fingers tightened momentarily on Darwin's biceps. “When your friend you haven't seen in ages just appears in your hotel room naked.”
Ages? How long was 'ages'? Darwin's head lolled against Alex's arm—it didn't really give him much of a choice. The bedspread was cool against his thighs—yeah, apparently he was naked. He hadn't had a choice in that either. “Sorry.”
“Here, just—” Alex's voice shook. “Lie down, okay? Here.”
Darwin let himself be guided, fighting ineffectually to move his sluggish body, until he was resting against the pillows with the sheet and bedspread across his lap. He wanted to ask so many questions, like where they were and where everyone else was—if Angel was okay—but his mouth was still being uncooperative. Like one of those fares who couldn't make up their minds and then complained about the rate.
“I should—” Alex grimaced. “I'll get you some water.” He disappeared, so Darwin let his eyes fall shut once more. God, he was tired. But then Alex was there again, pressing the cool edge of a glass against his lips and saying, “Just a sip, okay?”
Darwin obeyed, and only a little water spilled onto his chin—Alex wiped it away with the corner of the sheet then let him have another sip. With the worst of the dryness in his mouth washed away, Darwin was able to ask, “Shaw?”
“Oh, he's dead.” Alex set the glass on the nightstand. “Magneto killed him.”
“Um, Erik.” Alex shrugged. “He really liked Raven's name that she made up.” He scrubbed his fingers through his short blond hair. “Still uses it.”
Darwin nodded. It was good that Shaw was dead. At least then he couldn't hurt anyone. But what about... “Angel?”
Grimacing, Alex sat down on the edge of the bed, hands clasped between his knees. “A man named Bolivar Trask got her—and Azazel too.” His expression looked far away, haunted—and when had Alex grown so old? Like he'd lived a lifetime of horror since the last time Darwin had looked into his eyes. “He would have gotten me too, but Mystique—Raven—saved me.” Ducking his head, Alex swallowed, gripping his hands together until his knuckles paled. “He, um, Trask that is, dissected mutants—to study—for science.”
Darwin's stomach twisted and he shuddered, brows drawing together. “How—how long—?”
“It's—” Alex let out a breath. “The year, right now, is nineteen seventy-four.”
Darwin's eyes widened and his breath caught in his chest. “I—I've been gone twelve years?” It had felt like the pain went on for an eternity, but somehow he'd still expected it to be the same year.
Alex nodded shakily. “Yeah, I—I guess.”
“Oh.” Swallowing, Darwin squeezed his eyes shut. Opening them again, he reached for Alex's hand. “I'm sorry.”
“No, no.” Grasping his hand and squeezing tightly, Alex shook his head, voice roughened and eyes glistening with tears. “You—you don't apologize—” His lips pressed together tightly and his whole body quivered.
Darwin pulled him down, pressing him into his chest, wrapping his arms around him to hold him close. At least his arms were obeying him. Alex sobbed, hands clutching reflexively as shudders wracked his body. What would it have been like for him? Twelve years... “I didn't know—” Darwin shook his head, stroking his hand over Alex's short hair. Everyone would have thought he was never coming back. He hadn't known himself—not really—if he was coming back. If anything 'felt like dying', that had. “If I could have come back sooner, I would have.”
Sucking in harsh gasps of air, Alex sobbed, hot tears wet against Darwin's skin, “I—I didn't—didn't mean to hurt you!”
“I know, I know.” Darwin pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “And you didn't. That was Shaw.”
Shoving himself roughly upright, Alex looked down at Darwin, face wet and blotchy. Anger burned in red-rimmed eyes. “He took you away for twelve fucking years.” His hands gripped Darwin's shoulders, tight. He was shaking. He clenched his jaw, shook his head. “I hope it fucking hurt when Magneto killed him.” At least Alex was mad at the right person rather than blaming himself. God, had he blamed himself for twelve years? “You should—” Alex began, reaching for the glass of water. He nearly knocked it over. Pulling his shaking hand back, he swore.
“Hey.” Reaching and taking the water himself with one hand while gripping Alex's hand with his other, Darwin took a slow swallow. “I'm doing better—adapting, I guess, like I do.” His lips stretched into a grim smile. “Sometimes...it takes a while.” He took another swallow of water then set the glass back on the nightstand.
“But you're—” Alex's breath was still quick and uneven as his hands moved over Darwin's arms, shoulders, neck. “You're real. It's really you.”
Darwin tried for a reassuring smile. “You still play pinball sometimes? 'Cause I kinda feel like getting my butt kicked.”
Suddenly, though perhaps not quite surprisingly, Alex leaned in and kissed him, rough and desperate, his eyes squeezed shut and leaking tears. And maybe it wasn't exactly the 'first kiss' Darwin had hoped for, but it was a kiss—honest and real—and it was Alex, so it was perfect. Gently gripping the back of Alex's neck with one hand and the side of his face with the other, Darwin kissed him back—slowly and tenderly. Finally breaking the kiss but not really pulling back, Alex kept his eyes closed, whispering, “I just—I just—”
Darwin stroked his thumb over Alex's cheekbone. “I'm glad to see you too.”
Pressing his forehead against Darwin's, Alex took a few shaky breaths. Standing up suddenly, he said, “I should—are you hungry?”
Darwin nodded slowly. “I guess I am.”
“Here, I'll—” Bending to dig through an open bag on the floor, Alex found a pair of sweatpants which he tossed on the bed. “Those should fit, even if they don't really fit well, and...” He pulled out a t-shirt as well, tossing it beside the sweatpants. “Put those on while I'm—” He pressed his lips together, looking down at the mess of clothing in the bag. “I'll get you something to eat. I won't be long.”
He really wasn't long, but even with still not entirely cooperative limbs Darwin had plenty of time to pull the clothes on before Alex returned weighed down with bags of convenience store food. Dumping it all on the bed, he turned a concerned frown on Darwin. “Do you—do you need a doctor? Because I could call Hank...” He grimaced. “He's still up in Westchester with the Professor last I heard, but...”
“I don't think I need a doctor; I just feel a bit tired.” It wouldn't be a terrible idea to let the others know he was okay, and maybe he really should get checked over at some point, but it wasn't an emergency. At least, it didn't feel like one. “But, 'Westchester'?”
“Yeah. Right, that was...” Grimacing, Alex put his hands on his hips and sighed. “The Professor's got this mansion thing...he was going to open a school there.” He ran a hand through his hair, looking away and shrugging. “Maybe that's still the plan.”
“And 'the Professor' is Xavier?”
Alex nodded. Turning back to the bed, his eyes focused on the untouched food. “You said you were hungry,” he said, sounding vaguely disappointed and mildly annoyed.
Offering him a lopsided smile in apology, Darwin pulled an item at random from one of the bags and began to unwrap it. It was a sub sandwich—the roll was a bit squashed, but the meat and cheese tasted as good as they ever did. Darwin gestured to the bags. “You certainly got enough. Care to join me?”
“Yeah, well.” Alex grimaced, rubbing his palms against the fronts of his thighs. “I couldn't remember anything you liked.” He looked away again. “If I ever even knew...”
“Alex.” Darwin sighed. “This is fine. This is great. I used to eat this stuff all the time, driving cab. It's probably totally unhealthy, but not so much for me.” He grinned, shrugging one shoulder. “But I'd feel better if I didn't have to eat alone.” Even though that was how he'd eaten most of his meals while driving cab.
Alex finally sat on the edge of the bed, reaching into one of the bags and pulling out a Hershey Bar. Holding it up, he grinned awkwardly, flushing a little. “Figured most people like chocolate.”
Darwin smiled. “I do like chocolate.” Alex broke off a piece and handed it to him. Their fingers brushed a little when Darwin took it. “Thanks.”
“I, um...” Alex pulled a carton out of one of the bags. “...also got chocolate milk.” He flashed Darwin a shy smile.
Darwin grinned at him. “Awesome.” He ate until he felt full, and between the two of them they finished off the chocolate milk. Alex moved the rest of the food to the floor next to his bag. Most of what was left was non-perishable, which was good since they didn't have a fridge. Darwin drank the last of his water to wash everything down.
Reaching for the glass, Alex said, “I can get you more.”
“Pretty sure I can walk now.” To prove his point, Darwin slid off the bed and stretched, flashing Alex a grin. He took two steps and spread his hands at his sides. “See?”
Alex managed to look relieved while still looking worried as hell. He didn't quite jump up and grab hold of Darwin to steady him, but the look in his eyes said it was a close thing. “That's—that's good.”
Glancing at the window, Darwin asked, “What time is it, anyway?” The drawn blinds weren't giving many clues.
“Um, it's about ten, I guess.” Alex scratched at the back of his head. “At night.”
Nodding, Darwin walked to the bathroom to refill his water glass. Alex's ratty toothbrush standing in another glass by the sink reminded him that he'd be needing one of those—well, 'needing' was a pretty vague concept considering his mutation, but it would help with his breath anyway, and if he was going to be doing any more kissing... He couldn't help the soft smile that stole over his face. More kissing sounded nice.
Darwin took a little of Alex's toothpaste on his finger and rubbed it around in his mouth then rinsed with water. Returning to the bedroom, he set the glass back on the nightstand. Alex was standing near the bed, arms folded across his chest, radiating discomfort like a bonfire radiates heat. He kept glancing at Darwin then looking away, but he didn't say anything. Sighing, Darwin put his hand on Alex's elbow. Leaning in, he brushed his lips against Alex's cheek, pitching his voice low and saying, “I liked the kiss.”
Shivering, Alex swallowed. He didn't unfold his arms. “I, um—I guess that's good?”
Resting his hands on Alex's shoulders, Darwin pulled back to study his face. “Did you like it?” Swallowing again, Alex nodded jerkily, not quite meeting Darwin's eyes. “Then that's all that matters,” Darwin assured him, rubbing Alex's shoulders through the material of his t-shirt. He looked at the bed. “Maybe we should get some sleep? I didn't really mean to invite myself into your bed...” He shrugged, flashing an apologetic grin. It wasn't like he had many other options, given the circumstance.
Shaking his head, Alex turned toward the bed. “No, I don't mind.” His hand found Darwin's, gripping tight. “And sleep sounds good.”
The bed wasn't actually meant for two people; it was only a twin. So there really wasn't much choice about touching each other. Maybe that was enough of an excuse for Alex, after flicking off the light, to curl himself against Darwin's side and mumble, “I missed you,” into his chest. Or maybe he was finally ready to admit what that kiss had meant. Cuddling was nice, though, no matter the reason. Darwin kissed Alex's forehead, and Alex shuddered against him, then mumbled, “Good night.”
But after a few minutes of silence, Alex sighed and admitted, “I don't know if I can sleep.”
Given the context, it could have sounded like a come-on, but it didn't, so Darwin just said, “It's a lot to take in...you're probably kind of in shock. That's understandable.” To be fair, he might not be able to sleep either, regardless of how exhausted he still felt.
Rolling onto his back, Alex laughed, quiet and a little brittle, a little breathless. “Yeah, I guess. That sounds about right.” He sighed. “I think the only reason I could sleep at first was that Erik and the Professor had us training so hard each day, my body just shut off when I laid down at night. But after Cuba, after Shaw...” Turning his head towards Darwin, he grimaced, eyes pained in the dimness of the room. “Everything went so bad in Cuba. Both armies wanted to kill us—the Americans and the Russians. We took out Shaw, stopped his stupid plan, saved them all.” Turning his head back, he stared up at the water-stained ceiling. “And they were going to kill us. Somehow, we were their common enemy. So Magneto was going to kill them, all of them—which they basically deserved for shooting at us—but the Professor and Agent MacTaggert tried to stop him. Which of course was smart, because if he had killed them all, he would have basically proved to the world we were monsters—or at least he was, but I don't think most people would have seen a difference.” He shook his head, letting out a frustrated breath. “The Professor got shot in the back—paralysed his legs. It was an accident, but it was Magneto's fault.”
Darwin frowned, trying to absorb what he was being told. “Who shot the gun?”
“Agent MacTaggert,” Alex said. “But she was shooting at Magneto, and he deflected the bullets—didn't pay any attention where he was deflecting them until it was too late.” He made a soft, disgusted sound. “He'd beat the Professor up, and he was lying on the sand behind him; it's not like he didn't know where he was.”
Darwin nodded slowly. It was interesting that Alex blamed Magneto for deflecting a bullet fired by someone else and yet had still blamed himself for what happened to Darwin, when Shaw had intentionally taken the attack and deliberately turned it on Darwin.
“Magneto took Angel, Azazel, Riptide, and Mystique, and just left,” Alex continued. “He wanted to work with the Professor, wanted us all to work together in some sort of mutant utopia or something, but the Professor—who was lying injured in his arms—turned him down, said he was sorry but they didn't want the same things.” He shook his head, letting out a sigh. “I don't think I've ever seen anyone look so sorry as Magneto did when he realized he'd hurt the Professor—I mean, hurt him bad, because he'd just been punching him in the face two seconds before.”
Darwin suppressed a smirk. It really wasn't funny. It was more tragic than anything. “So where's Magneto now?”
“Well...” Alex sighed. “He spent ten years in prison for being a mutant and being there the day the president got shot. They never even gave him a real trial.” He blew out air through his lips. “I mean, who knows if he did it? It was totally bogus; they didn't even bother to try to prove it—just, 'he's a mutant, must be guilty!' But then, last year, Hank and the Professor busted him out—Hank was a little fuzzy on the details there when I talked to him about it. In any case, Magneto says he was trying to save the president and that the president was one of us.” He shrugged, one side of his lips tipping up in an unhappy smile. “I guess the Professor knows if he's lying, but Hank didn't seem sure.”
Darwin's eyes narrowed. “Which president?” He had a sinking feeling in his stomach and a tightness in his chest; he was pretty sure based on what Alex had said that it could only be...
“Oh.” Glancing at him, Alex grimaced. “JFK.”
Darwin let out a shaky breath. “Guess I've got a lot to catch up on, bein' gone twelve years.” He frowned, mind running back over the conversation. “You were going to say something about after Cuba?”
“Right.” Alex blew out a breath. “Once the Professor was out of the hospital...things were supposed to be 'normal'. And I couldn't sleep. Some nights the Professor would help me—put me to sleep with his power—just so I'd stop keeping him up with all my thoughts.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“Lots of things.” Alex grimaced. “Cuba, of course, and everything that happened there.” His breath shook. “But you too.” He made a rough sound in his throat. “I missed you so bad.”
Taking his hand, Darwin brought it to his mouth and kissed it. “I'm here now.”
Eyes fixed on Darwin face, Alex swallowed. His breath caught. Then he said, “Kiss me.” So Darwin rolled on top of him and did, pouring all the feelings he'd had for Alex since the moment they'd met into that contact. Making a sound that was part sob and part whine, Alex gripped Darwin's head with both hands and held him there, kissing him back with tears on his cheeks again. “I don't ever want to lose you again,” he admitted, voice rough and damp, as his breath brushed against Darwin's lips.
Darwin couldn't make promises about things beyond his control—hell, the next time, he might be gone for twenty years, or even more—but... “I don't ever want to lose you either.”
Alex choked out a laugh, one hand sliding to press at the middle of Darwin's back. “God, you feel good,” he mumbled, nuzzling at Darwin's jaw.
Darwin smiled softly. “I kinda figured, you know, that you were like me.”
Alex's brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed as he looked up at Darwin. “What d'you mean?”
Darwin's smile broadened. “You like guys.”
“Hey.” Alex's gaze hardened and he shoved at Darwin's shoulders—so Darwin rolled off, and Alex rolled onto his side, facing him. “Hey! I'm not a fag; I like girls!”
Darwin didn't bother pointing out that he himself wasn't a girl, because what would be the point? Instead, he just shrugged. “Hey, that's cool, man; I like girls too.” He smiled lopsidedly. “Well, some girls.” He grinned slowly. “I also like some guys.” He grimaced apologetically. “I didn't mean that you liked all guys.” Hell, no one liked all of anything. “For the record, I don't consider myself a 'fag' either.”
“Oh.” Alex's jaw tensed and his mouth twisted. “I—I didn't mean—” Closing his eyes, he sighed. “I've just—I've never—” Sighing, he shook his head. “It doesn't matter. I just—I didn't mean to call you a fag.” Rolling onto his back again, he pressed his forearm over his eyes and whispered, “God, I'm such an idiot.”
Carefully laying his hand on Alex's bicep, Darwin said, “It's fine. I'm actually pretty difficult to offend.”
Peeking at him from under his arm, Alex said, “Yeah...I remember. You w—you're the best, you know that?”
Darwin grinned, broad and bright. “I've always thought so.”
Laughing, Alex visibly relaxed. He finally moved his arm off his eyes. “Could we, um...” He bit his lip. “...maybe go back to the part where we were kissing?” Leaning in, Darwin kissed him in answer. Lying side by side, they kissed slowly, gently, and, eventually, sleepily. “Sorry,” Alex mumbled. “Guess I'm gettin' a bit tired.” Pressing his face into Darwin's neck, he inhaled deeply. His lips brushed Darwin's skin as he said, “You smell good.”
Chuckling softly, Darwin stroked his hand soothingly over Alex's short-cropped hair. “Sleep now. I'll still be here in the morning.” Alex made a sort of worried noise in his throat, shifting closer on the narrow bed. “Hey.” Darwin pressed a kiss to Alex's hair. “I promise. I finally got back to you; I'm not gonna go anywhere. This?” He pulled Alex more firmly against his chest, warm and solid and shivering a bit from fear or tears or even cold—maybe all three. “Right here with you is where I want to be.”