So hey, remember when I wrote XMFC fic? No? Well, here's part 10. Now featuring Hank! And fancasting!

the ear is like a wolf's
by gale

SUMMARY: In which the Xavier Mansion receives a visit from the press, Charles overthinks things, Hank blushes purple, and a deal is reached.


When the phone rang, Hank didn't even think twice, just reached over and grabbed it without looking up from his slides. "Xavier residence," he said automatically. It was probably the lawyers: it tended to be the lawyers most often these days, unless someone was away on a recruiting trip and needed to call home. Apparently, turning a private residence--even one as vast as the mansion--into a boarding school was eleven kinds of hassle. Hank had personally seen Charles (he still couldn't call him "the Professor"; it seemed strangely unprofessional) "convince" people of things twice, just to make it easier, and almost do it half a dozen more times.

"I'm trying to reach Henry McCoy," a stranger's voice said. A female stranger's voice.

Strange, but not terribly worrying; he'd submitted his resignation from the CIA weeks ago, citing a nervous disposition, and Charles had made sure it went through without any problems. The worrying part was that this woman knew he was here. "Speaking," he said carefully.

"Dr. Henry McCoy? The one who recently submitted a paper entitled 'Strange and Beautiful: How What Some Have Considered Genetic Abnormalities Might Be Misunderstood'?"

"That paper was rejected," Hank said, not quite able to keep the bitterness from his voice. He hadn't been surprised--part of the point of submitting it was to get people reading it and thinking for themselves, even if it didn't get published--but it still stung. "And how did you get a hold of it?"

She ignored the question. "Dr. McCoy, in that paper you mention--and I'm quoting--'the predilection for certain genetic mutations, including but not limited to bi-colored eyes and blue eyes, have increased rather than decreased over the last several hundred generations'. You also recently took a leave of absence from the think tank where you were employed--"

"Think tank" was his cover story. "I left its employ entirely," Hank said. "I have no further comment, Miss--"

"Trilby," the woman said. "Patricia Trilby. Dr. McCoy, is it true you're on-staff at a boarding school just outside of Westchester, New York? A school listing as its headmaster Dr. Charles Xavier?"

Oh, hell. "Miss Trilby, I have no further comme--"

"Dr. Xavier also holds a Ph.D in genetics," Trilby said. "One has to wonder what two young men with degrees in genetics are doing operating a school for young children a good half-hour's drive from the nearest town. There's also the fact that your dean of students, Erik Lehnsherr, has connects to Mossad--"

That was a surprise. "What?"

"--and is not a citizen of the United States. Neither is another member of your staff, one--" the shuffling of papers "--Irene Adler? Which is a terrible alias, Dr. McCoy, especially if one reads Doyle mysteries--"

"Miss Trilby, I refer you to our legal department," Hank said, trying to keep his voice cold and less...growly. "I have no further comment at this time."

"Of course, Dr. McCoy." Trilby paused. "--I'm sorry, do you have a cold?"

He hung up the phone.

Out loud and in his head, still staring at it, he called, "Charles? We might have a problem."

*

"It doesn't have to be a problem," Erik said blandly.

It took Hank a second to get that. When he did, he gaped at the man. "You are not going to--"

"No," Charles said hastily, "he's not." He and Erik exchanged a glance. It quickly turned into one of those conversations Hank was growing used to: mostly intense staring, the kind that meant they were telepathically having a fight. Hank looked down at his notes and tried not to let his stomach get too tense.

"It doesn't have to be a problem," Irene said, just as blandly. They'd taken to doing these sorts of things on an ad hoc basis; the meetings always consisted of Charles, Erik, and Hank, but either Raven or Irene was usually there (because one would just tell the other that night anyway), as was Darwin and either Alex or Sean. The others were usually with Scott and Ororo, or Jean and Warren if they were there. "Yes, it's strange that two geneticists have opened a boarding school together, but Hank's not that well-known, and Charles just got his degree. He hasn't even really published, aside from his thesis. No offense."

"None taken," Charles said, but he smelled--bristly. Not in a bad way, though, and not really aimed at Irene. Hank could relate.

"The only real legal problems are legal status. I became a citizen years ago, she got that one wrong, but Erik isn't."

"Work visa?" Darwin suggested. "It's not like you're going to get fired."

Erik looked as bristly as Charles smelled. "I don't like the idea of people knowing where I am," he muttered, and he and Charles immediately went back to silently staring at each other.

"Well, suck it up," Hank broke in. "We have other problems. Like Trilby's insinuations, and how the hell she got a hold of my paper, and Erik's record with Mossad--seriously? Mossad? You couldn't have said something sooner?"

"No," Erik said, "because they'd just deny it. As would I."

"--and Irene giving a false name--"

"My name is Irene Adler," Irene said, sipping her coffee. "I had it legally changed when I came to this country. If you'd like, Hank, I can give you my birth name."

"I--that's not the point," Hank said. "How does she know this stuff?"

"Sounds like a reporter," Darwin said. "How does any reporter find stuff out? Research, man. You should know this, you're a doctor."

"Yeah, but she shouldn't," Hank argued. "That paper was submitted and rejected. It wasn't published. And it took a lot of fiddling--" hand gesture to his temple "--to get me away from the CIA without it tracing back here, so how the hell did she know I was here? Did she talk to Moira? Is it going to get back to Stryker and the others? I thought that was the whole point of erasing Moira's memory." Which he still wasn't a hundred percent okay with, but he understood why Charles had done it.

"Not from Stryker and the others," Charles said, shaking his head.

"How can you be sure, though? All it takes--"

"Because," Charles said, raising his voice a little, "I didn't just erase Moira's memory. I put in failsafes."

Hank stopped and looked at him. "Failsafes?"

Charles smelled--different. Protective, sort of abashed. It made Hank wrinkle his nose. "Erasing Moira's memory keeps our location safe, but they had files on everyone who worked with them, Hank. And all they need to do was put together that we're still together and opening a school. Most of them are small-minded; we couldn't count on them being stupid as well." He shrugged. "So I had Moira make a list of everyone who was in the meeting where they questioned her about our whereabouts--"

"What?"

"--and I tracked them down and." Little pause. "...muddled them. Just a bit. They still know you and I are geneticists, and they know that we all worked for them at one point, but they think it was some mildly boring matter they temporarily needed civilian consultants on. Mmn. I think I went with Communists? Something like that. No trace of mutants."

"You can't do that," Hank said, aghast. "You can't just--"

"--just keep us safe?" Erik shot back. "Grow up, McCoy. I'll allow the possibility--the possibility--that there might not be a war coming between our kind and theirs, but that doesn't mean we get to be willfully stupid and hope for the best. We have to put in work."

"'Work' doesn't mean we get to mess with people!" Hank went back to glaring at Charles. "You're the one who's always preaching responsibility with our powers. So did you not mean for yourself, or--"

"Hank," Charles said, and Hank shut up. He didn't need enhanced senses to know that Charles wasn't going to hear arguments about this right now; his tone said it for him. "No, I don't think that. If anything, I have to be more responsible than most people. I am, every day, and I agree that it's not the most honorable thing I've ever done. But that doesn't mean it was unnecessary."

He rested his hands on the table. "That day on the beach," he said, "was a compromise. We're going to have to compromise sometimes. If you'd like to get drunk with me at some point and berate me for my choices, that's fine. But right now, the main thing we have to worry about is Ms. Trilby and her research--more importantly, why she's doing research."

Hank took a deep breath in, let it out slowly. "I'd guess she's writing an article," he said, keeping his voice even. Charles was right; a fight about ethics right now wouldn't do anyone any good. "I called around. She's a research assistant at New York Imagine; it's a small-press magazine. She's probably trying to find a juicy story she can use to get on-staff there."

"Or turn it into a reporter's position at one of the newspapers," Irene guessed. "Either way, you need to meet with her."

Her head was turned towards Hank.

"Wh--oh, no," Hank said.

"You're the one she called, Hank," Charles said. "If anyone else contacts her, it'll look suspicious. We don't need her getting more suspicious."

"I am pale blue and covered in fur," Hank said flatly. "I don't think I'm in a position to be meeting anyone for coffee. Unless we want to start recruiting through pulp magazines."

Erik shrugged. "Raven could pose as you."

"Raven doesn't have my qualifications."

"Charles could link the two of you together," Irene said, and glanced at Charles. "Couldn't you?"

"Temporarily," Charles said. "I'd rather Hank do it himself--"

"Pale blue fur," Hank said again, in case Charles had somehow missed that part.

"--but the other way should work just fine," he finished, looking mulish in Hank's general direction. "Did you want to contact Ms. Trilby and set up an appointment?"

"Not really," Hank said, but got up from his chair anyway.

*

Finding the number for New York Imagine was the hard part; it was a small press, all right, with maybe ten staff members publishing issues quarterly, not weekly or monthly or--God forbid--daily. The magazine had two writers, one editor, one research assistant--Ms. Trilby--and a number of freelancers. Most of the bylines that featured women's names had to do with homemaking and recipes; the really scandalous one, in the issue Hank had caged from Alex's last trip into town the day before, had had a "story" about things you could do to get your man to pay more attention to you. There were also several short stories: two romances, one western, one passable science fiction story. It was a hodgepodge at best.

Finding her phone number was a matter of calling the editor, a Jack Wiltern, and asking for Ms. Trilby's home number. "I apologize in advance," Jack said. "Trish is a bit of a firecracker."

Hank tried to imagine calling her "Trish", but couldn't without following it up with the mental image of her stepping on his foot, hard. "Thank you," he said, only a little stiff, and dialed her number.

It rang three times before Trilby said, "Hello?"

Hank cleared his throat. "Ms. Trilby?" he said, and cleared his throat again. "I'm sorry to bother you at home. I'm Dr. McCoy, we spoke the other day--"

"For about a minute, yeah, before you threw lawyers at me," Trilby said, but she didn't sound offended. "Something the matter, or did you just want to start getting irritated again?"

"I was a little short with you the other day," Hank said. "I wanted to apologize."

There was a brief pause.

"...was that it?" Trilby asked.

Hank smiled. "No," he said. "I'm sorry I was short with you, Ms. Trilby. Your questions might have been confrontational--"

"This doesn't really sound like an apology."

"--but that doesn't mean I should have been rude and cut you off or hung up on you. I apologize."

There was another pause.

"Apology accepted," Trilby said, sounding honestly surprised. "Huh. You know, that's the first time anyone I've aggravated has actually apologized for getting irritated with me? I wish I had a transcript of this. I'd have it framed."

"Well, the other day was the first time I ever got irritated enough to hang up on anyone," Hank said. "Everyone's having a momentous weekend."

Trilby laughed. "I didn't mean to irritate you," she said. "They're--okay, maybe I did a little? But I really did just want background information--"

"--for an article you're writing?"

"'Attempting to write' is more like it." Trilby sighed. "Thank you for the call, Dr. McCoy. I appreciate i--"

"Do you want to have lunch?" Hank blurted out, and slapped himself in the forehead.

"Do I what?" Bewildered, not offended. Okay. Good.

"Just--you're trying to write an article," Hank said, and mentally sagged. He'd had a perfectly good out, but there it went. He waved to it as it flew off. "I can't promise to tell you everything you want to know, because I don't know how invasive the story's going to be; I'm really not telling you anything tawdry, if that's what you're looking for--"

"No!" Trilby blurted. "No, that--it was weird, yeah, but I promise, that's not the focus of the article. At all."

"Okay." Hank took a breath. "Do you want to come out to the house? You can look around, if you want. We're not scary, I promise."

"I--okay, yeah," Trilby said. She sounded dazed. "How's tomorrow?"

"Not great," he said seriously. "There are inspectors out to make sure everything's up to code." Not really, but Charles did have a couple meetings in town, and there was no way they could pull this off if he or Raven were away. "Boring and dusty. How's Thursday look for you?"

"Thursday's fine," Trilby said. "One o'clock?"

"One's fine," he said. "I'll see you then, Ms. Trilby." He started to hang up, then stopped. "I'm going to guess you don't need directions."

"Not really," she said, grinning audibly, and hung up first.

*

"You realize," Raven said, when he told her and Charles an hour later, "you basically just sent me to lunch with her when she's done with the tour."

Hank started to correct her, then stopped. Thought about what he'd said and how she hadn't corrected him.

"Goddammit," he muttered.

"I already have a girlfriend," Raven said, not even trying to hide her laughter. "Nice try, though."

"Raven," Charles murmured, but he sounded like he was barely hiding his own laughter.

Hank hated everything.

*

Thursday morning, Charles went to the lab without Raven. "You know," he said, "we've been overthinking this."

Hank frowned. "What do you mean?" He was in his sweats--the most comfortable clothes he owned, nowadays--and a lab coat; it wasn't like he needed to get dressed up, since Raven would actually be speaking to her.

"I mean," Charles said, and touched two fingers to his temple.

Hank didn't feel anything, and said so.

Charles mutely held up a mirror with his other hand.

--and this was maybe the meanest thing anyone had ever done, or possibly the kindest: there was Hank--the real Hank, pale and skinny and not at all either blue or furry--in the same clothes. He gaped. "How--"

"Projection," Charles said, and let his fingers fall away. The image stayed. "It's easier to do it this way than to play Telephone using Raven. I should have thought of it earlier." He frowned a little. "I've been distracted."

"Uh huh," Hank said absently, and kept staring at himself. He looked normal. His throat got tight.

"Why don't you do this all the time?" he heard himself ask.

Charles' eyes were steady. "Because it's not how you really look," he said. "It would be extraordinarily rude to ask you not to be yourself at home, Hank."

"You did it to Raven for years," Hank said, and didn't miss the wince.

"And I was wrong to do it," Charles said. "She knows well enough that it's not safe to go out amongst humans as she really appears, but she's an adult; she can make her own decisions, and it wasn't my place to do it for her for so long. And seeing as I can't actually travel through time and rewrite history, the best I can do is make sure I don't do it any longer."

There's more than a little of Erik in that speech, but Hank doesn't mention it. Charles undoubtedly knows, and if he doesn't, that's none of Hank's business. Still-- "I can't go. I'm in sweats--"

"And I'm reasonably certain you still have other clothing," Charles says dryly.

"That I don't fit in any more!"

"Hank, I'm making you look like you used to. You think I can't make it so the suit fits properly?" He rolls his eyes. "Go get dressed. Ms. Trilby should be here within the hour, and I hate playing tour guide alone."

*

Which was how, forty minutes later, Hank--dressed in one of his old suits, not quite ill-fitting but looking perfectly normal to everyone else's eyes--and Charles were waiting out in front when Patricia Trilby pulled up in a rather sedate-looking Volkswagen. It was lime green, and reminded Hank of nothing so much as his dad's ancient van, probably because they both managed to run despite looking like all hell.

"Ms. Trilby?" Charles said, stepping forward.

"Please, call me Patricia," the woman said, and Hank blinked. He'd been expecting--a junior librarian, maybe, or at least someone in cat's-eye glasses on a chain and fairly big hair.

Patricia Trilby was on the tall side--though not as tall as Hank, she teetered over Charles in heels (not that that was difficult)--with reddish-brown hair pulled back from her face and bright green eyes. Her jewelry was small and tasteful: a ladies' wristwatch, a small silver ring on her middle finger, some small red stone on a silver chain around her neck. She wore a white blouse and a navy calf-length skirt, with low heels in the same shade as the skirt. She looked neat and professional, but her expression reminded him more than a little of Moira: "I'm a woman, but that doesn't mean you get to treat me like a housewife or a secretary."

Hank liked her immediately. From his expression, so did Charles.

"Of course," Charles said, and shook her hand. "And this--"

"--is Dr. Henry McCoy," Patricia (not Trilby, certainly not Trish) said, and shook his hand too. She had a firm handshake, brisk without being crushing. Hank liked that, too. "Your pictures make you look tweedy."

"Tweedy?" Hank asked.

"She means 'like an academic'," Charles said, tilting his head towards him. Patricia's ears pinked, but she didn't look embarrassed.

"Basically," she agreed. "I believe I was promised a tour."

"Sure, yeah," Hank blurted out. "This way."

*

The tour, Raven had reasoned when they'd been figuring everything out, would be good practice for when parents of prospective students came around, if nothing else. "Yeah, some of them are going to be like Jean's parents, but a lot of others are going to be like Kurt and Sharon." And that had made Charles' mouth thin out and Erik's eyes go hard, but they hadn't argued, so that had been that.

As a result, the tour was incredibly dull. And from Hank, who liked dull, that was saying something.

"The house has been in your family for how long, Mr. Xavier?" Patricia asked, idly writing as they walked.

"Oh, Professor, please," Charles said cheerfully. Hank was impressed. He'd reconciled himself to the fact that the Charles he'd met--the affable, easily baffled, slightly dotty man with a brand-new Ph.D. and a tendency to out mutants without thinking--was, in part, a mask: a mask he was most comfortable with, maybe, but he didn't bear a lot of resemblance to the Charles who'd wiped Moira's memory or the one who'd shut down when Erik had become uncomfortable with the idea of having a permanent guest in his head.

This one was more like the first one Hank had met, only without the tendency to unmask mutants without their permission. He sounded good-natured to the point of head injury.

"And yes," Charles added, "it has. My ancestors came over in the--oh, late 1600s, I believe. The house was built in the 18th century, though I'm not sure about the exact year, and it's been in the family ever since. I grew up here."

"It seems more like a crypt than a home," Patricia said. "No offense."

"None taken. That's how it felt." He shrugged one shoulder. "I hope it'll be different in the coming months."

"Yeah, about that." She flipped back a few pages. "You're converting a private residence to a boarding school, correct?"

"If the proper permits pass and we get re-zoned, yes. At this point, it's down to lawyers and paperwork, I'm afraid."

"Mmn." She made a note. "So why open a school in the first place? Westchester has several perfectly good schools."

"I know." He was quiet for a minute. "A number of reasons, really. For a start, I don't think this country--any country--can ever have enough schools. Children are very important; I think we, as adults, think of that in the abstract more than the concrete on occasion."

"So the fact that you're out in the middle of nowhere--"

"--is entirely based on the fact that this is where my ancestors chose to build a house," Charles said, his eyes crinkling. "Believe me, if I could somehow magically move the house and the adjoining property closer to town, I would, but I'm not actually a magician."

She wrote something down, still eyeing him, and looked at Hank. "Both you and Professor Xavier are geneticists."

"My degree is in Biochemistry," Hank said. "I minored in engineering in college. I'd like to go back and get a second degree in genetics at some later date, but not yet, no."

"A biochemist and a geneticist walk into a bar," she murmured. "It's almost the start of a joke." She narrowed her eyes a fraction. "Your staff is...very diverse, Professor Xavier."

"Thank you." He inclined his head.

"Not necessarily a compliment. One wonders why a couple of German nationals are working with a biochemist and a geneticist--"

Oh, hell. Hank started to open his mouth.

"Ms. Adler is German, yes," Charles said mildly. "I believe she's from Bavaria. Mr. Lehnsherr, however, is originally from Poland. I can get them both, if you like, though I'd advise against insinuating anything of the sort with them, particularly with Mr. Lehnsherr." The tone didn't drop, but his expression was cooling off. Fast.

"I wasn't insinuating anything. I was merely pointing out that it seems strange."

"Not really," Hank broke in. Charles and Patricia both looked at him. "They're both staff. I'm not exactly up on teaching requirements in the state of New York, but I don't think there's any that say you have to be born in the United States to work here. They have up-to-date work visas." At least, they would when Charles finished fiddling with people and sneaking in paperwork. For all Hank knew, he already had.

Patricia gave him a cool, assessing look. Hank, who'd gotten used to that sort of thing (and worse) from Erik in the last little while, just looked back.

"Ms. Trilby," Charles said, using the voice Hank had privately started calling Now See Here, Baby. Not that Charles would ever actually say that, but it was a little too smooth for the man he'd come to know. "Yes, the staff here is diverse. As someone whose training is in the sciences, I understand that diversity is one of the reasons an organism flourishes. Evolution of the species or educating young minds--both are most successful if you don't get stuck on just one path. So yes, we're a little odd here. That doesn't mean we're not effective." He shrugged one shoulder. "Or won't prove to be effective, anyway. It's a little early to go making predictions about the school's success or failure, though I know which one I'm working towards."

Patricia shot Charles the same look she'd given Hank. Charles, unsurprisingly, just smiled at her.

"Fair enough," she muttered after a moment. "I'd like to speak to the other staff members, though, if you're amenable."

"Certainly," Charles said. "I'm sure Raven and Irene would be willing to talk to you. I can't make any promises about Erik."

*

To Hank's surprise, Erik did. Raven and Irene did too, at length; Raven in particular seemed willing to talk Patricia's ear off about hers and Charles' childhood, slipping in just enough funny stories about her brother the only-half-successful ladies' man at Oxford to distract from the fact that she wasn't giving out a hell of a lot of details about him or the school. Irene plied her with stories about growing up in Bavaria and questions about Patricia herself that somehow managed to sound legitimately interested instead of just a distraction. (To be fair, they might have actually been interested; it was hard to tell with Irene.)

"It's fine, Hank," Charles assured him, safely hidden away in the study. He wasn't bothering to veil Hank's appearance if Trilby wasn't around; as it was, doing it for nearly two hours straight was making him look the smallest bit peaked. "We're not actually lying to her. We're merely...omitting a few details. Who knows? She might actually parlay this into a real article. I don't know that it'd get her away from that awful near-vanity press, but one of the smaller newspapers should give her a look." He tilted his head. "I should look into that, actually."

"Okay, stop," Hank warned. "You can't just keep doing that, Charles."

"Doing what?" Butter wouldn't have melted in Charles' mouth.

"That. Just--fixing things for people. Changing their minds for them. It's an abuse of power."

Charles' gaze was steady. "Hank," he said, "no one understands more than I exactly what constitutes an abuse of my power. I've worked long and hard my entire life to ensure I don't do it."

It wasn't that Hank doubted him, exactly. But he'd seen the man who'd single-handedly almost stopped World War III from breaking out with three minutes' concentration, and he'd seen the man who'd casually outed him as a mutant to the CIA without so much as a thought. Hank didn't see the distinction between the two. He wasn't sure there was one.

"More importantly," Charles started--and suddenly frowned, crossing the room to the doors outside, trying to see what was going on on the lawn. Hank, concerned, moved to follow him.

--which, of course, was when Patricia opened the door without knocking, saying, "All right, I think I've got enough for my arti--"

She stopped. Stared.

"-cle," she finished, eyes wide, and started to fall over in a dead faint. Hank was at her side in a second, propping her up, keeping her steady.

"Oh, hell," Charles muttered, and glared out the French doors. Hank was vaguely aware that a couple of smaller trees were falling over, smoking from the force of a Summers energy beam--Alex or Scott, he wasn't sure--and that the offender was running back inside, red-faced with the fury of a disappointed Charles Xavier at them, but it was distant; he was too busy trying to maneuver Patricia over to the sofa.

"Come on," he muttered, patting her face. "Come on, wake up--"

FLASH! went her camera. Hank yowled and reared back, vision white starbursts.

"I knew it!" Patricia--no, screw it, Trilby again--said, triumphant, and ran for the door.

*

The next minute or two would always be a blur in Hank's memory, but Charles showed him a somewhat skewed version a couple of hours later, when everything was settled:

Hank, too busy being temporarily blinded by the camera's flash, was in no shape to chase after Trilby; Charles was going after her, but it proved unnecessary. When Trilby opened the door, Erik was standing there.

Trilby, being apparently equal parts brave and unable to read a room, had cold-cocked him--or tried to, because Erik hadn't actually moved and she'd yanked her fist back, wincing and muttering curses under her breath.

"Ms. Trilby--" Charles was saying, "Ms. Trilby, I'm afraid I really must ask--" and his face changing, shifting a little; and Patricia freezing in place, utterly terrified and clearly trying to move.

"Ms. Trilby," Charles says, "I admit I haven't been entirely honest with you. But you haven't been entirely honest with us, either. So why don't both of us start over? Starting now."

*

"I have a proposition for you," Charles said.

Trilby was sitting in the chair across from the desk, arms crossed over her chest. She looked mulish, not terrified. Even with his vision still muttering grumpy things, Hank found himself impressed. "Okay," she said warily. "I'm listening."

"You clearly can't publish any of the pictures you got today," Charles started. And remind me to have a word with the children about showing off when we have company, he told Hank and Erik. "They wouldn't believe you."

"They might."

"They might," Charles agreed. "Which is the more worrying prospect to the rest of us, quite frankly. We're not ready to be quite so...visible to the public, Ms. Trilby."

"Patricia," Trilby said, "please. I like to be on a first-name basis with the people who are going to kill me."

"We're not going to kill you," Charles said. "If we find we can't trust you, you won't be allowed to leave the grounds with your memories intact, but we're certainly not going to kill you."

"Why not? Let me guess, it'd leave a trail."

"Yes," Erik said.

"No," Charles said, glaring at him for a moment before turning back to her. "No, Ms. Trilby, that's not--we're not in the business of killing." He pressed his fingers together. "I have an acceptable solution, I believe."

Trilby's eyebrow went up. "I'm listening."

"We're in no position to expose ourselves just yet. But the day is coming when we will." Charles' gaze was intent. "I can't let you report this just now. But when we do, you will be the only reporter we talk to."

Hank and Erik just looked at him.

Trilby looked intrigued, but still a little mulish. "You can't promise someone else won't admit to--what do you call yourselves?"

"I'd prefer 'people'," Charles said dryly, "but 'mutants' works just as well."

"Fine. What if someone else comes forward first about the existence of mutants?"

"Then you'll be the only one who gets to talk to the staff of the world's first school for mutants," Charles says. "Any paper who wishes to get the story will have to deal with you."

"They'll send their own people," she said, but she was sitting up a little straighter. "Any decent paper will."

"More than likely. But they'll just have tabloid fodder." He smiles. "You'll have the exclusive. And, of course, the book."

"Book?" Trilby's eyes gleamed, though Hank could admit that that might have just been the afternoon sun reflecting in them.

Charles smiled. "Thought that'd get your attention," he said. "So. Do we have an agreement?"

She was quiet for a long minute. "I want to keep the photos. I won't publish them 'til you're ready, but I get to keep them."

"Agreed. But we get the negatives."

"You get to keep half the negatives," Trilby argued, "and I want to talk to McCoy."

"That's entirely up to Hank." Charles looked at him. "Well?"

"I--yeah, I guess," Hank said, startled. "Sure."

"Great." Trilby let out a breath and offered Charles her hand. "We have a deal." She looked at Hank. "C'mon, fuzzy, you can walk me out to my car." She stood up from her chair and made her way to the door, low heels briskly clacking against the wooden floor.

Hank just gaped after her.

"What are you waiting for?" Charles said, eyebrow raised at him. "Walk the lady out, Hank."

"I--" Hank made a frustrated noise and went after her.

*

"Before you ask," Trilby--no, Patricia, Hank corrected himself; it was Patricia again--said, "I'm going to publish the article. A truncated version, anyway. I don't know that my rag'll pick it up, but it should be good for a couple of inches in one or two of the bigs."

"Ah." Hank walked alongside her. "I--look." He touched her arm, very carefully. Patricia stopped and looked at him. "If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done this at all. But we did it, so we're trusting you not to--I don't know. Not to make things worse." He paused, then added, "That's it. I'm not great at personal appeals."

"You're really not," Patricia agreed. "So what do you want? I don't know that there's any good Italian places around here, but I think I saw a pretty decent-looking diner back in town."

"Cafe-A-Go-Go," Hank corrected absently, then: "What?"

"Lunch," Patricia said. "Which you owe me. I didn't think you'd want to come out with me, because--you know, blue and furry, so I figured I'd get something and bring it back here."

He blinked at her for a minute. "...you still want to have lunch with me," he said after a few seconds.

"That'd be why I was asking what you wanted for lunch, McCoy, yeah. Keep up." She snapped her fingers in his face.

"I'm--I'm blue," he said, helpless. "I'm covered in fur."

"The blue part is startling," she admitted. "The fur, a little less. I have uncles and cousins who work in lumber yards. Some of them are actually fuzzier than you are." She didn't look put out; more importantly, she didn't smell put out. Amused, maybe. "Other than that, you're the same guy who got snappy with me on the phone and called back to apologize. That counts for more than you'd think."

She started back down the staircase.

"But--" Hank went after her, mouth still open a bit. "I'm blue."

Patricia sighed and opened the driver's door. "McCoy," she said patiently. "Yes, you're blue. And that brown-haired kid cut down trees with something that came out of his face--"

Scott, then.

"--and I'm pretty sure Lehnsherr wanted to rip out my spine and wear it as a belt," she finished, "though under the circumstances that's fair." She ducked her head and tossed her notebook inside. "You also offered me the opportunity of my career. I can handle blue." She looked back up at him. "Now: Italian or Cafe-A-Go-Go?"

"The cafe," Hank said. After a second, he added, "Italian's more of a first date place. Maybe next time."

Patricia rolled her eyes. "Men," she said, but she was smiling. "Egos for days. Give me an hour; I don't know what the traffic's going to be like, or how fast I can go on these back-country roads."

"It's private property for the next couple miles," Hank said. "You should be fine."

"Good." She climbed inside and started the car, started to back out. "See you in a bit."

Hank smiled a little and felt his cheeks heat, turned to go back inside.

The car stopped. "Hey, McCoy?"

He turned back to her. "Yeah?"

"When you blush," Patricia yelled, "your cheeks turn purple. It's cute." She grinned and backed out.

Hank watched her 'til she got out of sight, then turned. This suit didn't fit him anymore; he'd be more comfortable in his own clothes. Maybe it was time he stopped trying to be who he used to be and started being who he was.

Well. With clothes, anyway. Baby steps were still steps.




UGH OKAY SO THAT PART'S DONE.

seriously, you guys, this one took forever. I have no excuse; I could say "tvd came back", which is true, but mostly it's that I got...extremely lazy? idk, mea culpa, mea culpa. on the other hand, this officially means we have two parts and an epilogue left, plus whatever picfics I end up doing. THE END IS IN SIGHT. TELL YOUR FRIENDS.

useless but delightful-to-me continuity notes: cafe-a-go-go is an actual cafe in town where hank (and bobby, who isn't here yet) used to go when they were students.

trish trilby is hank's canonical on-again, off-again girlfriend (currently an ex). she's a tv journalist and often times portrayed as being more interested in a story than anything else. last time we saw her, she freaked out that hank had become more catlike--secondary mutations represent!--and broke up with him over the phone, at which point hank--in a truly dick move--basically said, "that's fine, I was gay anyway." no, really. he did that.

...then, of course, trish went on TV and told everyone hank had outed himself to her, but to be fair, as far as she knew he was being serious. hank still has better luck with the ladies than bobby.

for casting purposes, trish is played by Cassidy Freeman, who I still maintain got saddled with the last couple crappy seasons of Smallville and never had a lot to do, yet still managed to occasionally kick ass and mouth off to people, which is pretty great.
Tags:
mrkinch: Erik reaching back for Charles as they walk a park path in late autumn (Erik and Charles)

From: [personal profile] mrkinch


Trish! She was great fun back in X-Factor and I kind squeed when she appeared.

Oh, Hank.*pets* I'm so glad to see this!
lilacsigil: Beast, Marvel Comics (beast)

From: [personal profile] lilacsigil


Yay! I totally saw through her cunning faint!
starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)

From: [personal profile] starlady


This is great! I'm so happy to see more of it again.
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