Hank shakes his head at Raven's nonsense and excuses himself to go to his lab. Once there he injects himself with his mutation-suppressing serum, returning to his human form.
Slipping on his glasses, he finds it easy to lose himself in his work. It's a relief to forget about Raven's anger, at least for a while.
It's still his favorite place, but he's come a long way from the shy young man who rarely ventured from his laboratory, who hid behind science as a substitute for human interaction. Dr. Hank McCoy is now a teacher, finding joy and fulfillment in molding young minds. His missions with the X-Men also bring him a sense of purpose as they improve the lives of humans and mutants everywhere.
For a man who grew used to eking joy out of the tiniest of things after Cuba, who stared into the darkness and still found reasons to hope, this is a good life. Hank has many things to be thankful for after everything he's gone through. Even with Raven's continued borderline-antagonistic presence, he is content.
Content to teach, to fight as an X-Man, and (most especially) to throw himself into research in his lab. Some people go on all-night benders on drugs and alcohol. Hank does it with science.
He can easily spend hours down here, from dawn until dusk and far beyond, with only coffee and the occasional Twinkie to sustain him as he chugs away happily on whatever project is his current focus.
This is one of those times.
Hank is so submerged in his latest experiment that he doesn't even notice Charles and Moira enter the laboratory.
"Hank," Moira calls to him, amused. "It's six-thirty."
He blinks, puzzled. "I haven't missed dinner, have I?"
"It's six-thirty in the morning, Hank," Charles chides him. "Did you ever go to bed last night?"
Hank shrugs. "No," he admits sheepishly. "I guess not. In my defense, at least it's Saturday."
The bald man can't seem to decide whether he wants to be exasperated or amused by his wayward old friend. But the moment passes quickly as he gets to the business at hand. "There's a tsunami headed for the west coast of Africa. I'm sending the team to help evacuate. It should take at least three days, possibly more."
Hank nods in understanding. "I'll go suit up."
"There's no need," Charles tells him quickly. "I'd prefer… I'd prefer if you stayed behind this time."
Moira watches with sympathy as several emotions flash across Hank's face in quick succession. Confusion, anger, and hurt, finally followed by a sort of bitter resignation.
"I see," he murmurs, his voice curiously detached in order to remain calm. "So Raven threw a tantrum, did she?"
Privately, Moira feels he hit it right on the nose.
"No," Charles says quickly. "She told me what happened last night-"
"And have you heard anyone else's side of the story?"
"Yes, I have," his mentor replies. "And while I appreciate you standing up for your teammates, I can't condone having such a heated exchange between you and Raven in front of the others. You need to present a united-"
Hank chuckles bitterly. "Charles, I tried to ask her to speak in private. She refused. What else was I to do?"
Charles deflates slightly, having his shaky logic turned to shreds so easily.
Moira can't help feeling rather exasperated with him, though she loves him more than anything save her son. Charles never wants to displease anyone, especially those he loves, and that's what gets him into trouble so often.
He has a special soft spot for Raven. No matter what she's done, how much she's changed, Charles can only see her as the girl he took in and cherished as a sister for almost twenty years. He always fights the hardest and suffers the most for those who deserve it the least.
When he realizes he won't be able to guilt Hank into anything, Charles tries a more direct approach. "Hank, please sit this one out, for my sake. Give Raven time to cool off. I- I don't want to lose her again," her husband quietly pleads.
Moira inwardly sighs, remembering what happened last night after the incident in the Danger Room. Raven came to their room- throwing Moira a filthy look but otherwise ignoring her, as usual- and complained to Charles about Hank interfering with her training methods. A quick mental exchange with Jean provided Charles with a more balanced view of what occurred, but his attempts to reason with his sister only infuriated her more.
He finally agreed to take Hank off of missions, at least for now.
Moira disagreed with the decision, and let him know as soon as his sister made her huffy exit.
"You can't take one of your senior leaders off the team because Raven's throwing a fit," Moira told him. "It sets a bad precedent."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, I know," he agreed. "But Moira… I don't want to lose her again. I don't think she fully understands how much I want her to stay, to have my sister back. And you heard her, she was threatening to leave. We need to give her more time. She doesn't know how to act when the whole world isn't out to get her. Once she realizes that she's safe she'll be much less defensive and more open to criticism."
Moira shook her head. "I highly doubt it. When has your sister ever admitted that she was wrong?"
Cuba… The White House… Raven had never expressed anything remotely resembling remorse for her actions, not even for leaving her brother bleeding on a foreign beach. Even after she found out about the massive depression Charles fell into following her abandonment of him, she merely expressed disgust for Hank's enabling and Charles' weakness. Certainly not guilt for the part she played in any of it.
Moira would have dearly loved to wring the woman's neck for that, until she turned blue even in her human form.
"Darling, please," Charles whispered, and she melted into the intensity of his pure azure gaze. "Please, just trust me in this."
"Ok," Moira agreed. Because really, how could she resist the man she loves in all his noble intentions?
"And you're willing to sideline me for her sake," Hank sighs now. And while he looks wounded that Charles would pick Raven's feelings over his, he doesn't seem surprised.
"Relax, Charles," the younger man says impatiently. "I'm not her. I'm not going anywhere."
"Thank you," Charles tells him, with a sincerity that can't be doubted. "Hank- I won't forget this."
And neither will Hank, Moira privately adds.
But their friendship can withstand this. It's withstood far too much for something like this to topple it, she knows.
Hank nods and turns away, effectively ending the conversation. "Please excuse me," he mutters. "I have work to do."
"Not too much, now," Moira reminds him as she and Charles turn to go.
He thinks it's a joke, but she means every word. Charles has her now, to make sure he doesn't overwork himself and drive himself into the ground. To bring him back down to earth when necessary.
Hank needs someone like that, too.
Sleep finally begins to pull at Hank's senses at midday, a sign that he needs a break. Rather than taking a nap and messing up his sleep schedule even further, he decides to walk down the long, winding drive to the end of the property and get the mail.
The air outside is brisk and chilly, though the sun is shining and the sky is clear. The school grounds are covered in a fresh snowfall, casting everything in a silent, eerie beauty.
Hank takes in the understated elegance around him as he walks, even while making a mental note to get the driveway re-salted soon.
And then he chuckles to himself for having such a prosaic thought in the midst of his admiration for Mother Nature's artistry.
A loud rumble gets his attention.
He turns to see the Blackbird rising out of the basketball court, his own creation taking off without him. He can't stop the bitter laugh that escapes him as the jet zooms away at supersonic speed. It's a cover for the resentment he feels.
Hank is sure that Charles will be in Cerebro directing operations for a bit, which means it's safe to step into his office and drop off the mail. He'd rather not speak to him just now.
Once in Charles' study Hank begins to sort through the large pile of mail. Most of it is for Charles, but one thick manila envelope addressed to himself catches his eye.
The penmanship is poor, as if written in a trembling hand. Red-brown drops that can only be blood spatter across the front.
The return address is in Alaska, the sender a Dr. Paul Cartier.
"Student loans again?" a voice suddenly asks.
Hank jumps- Charles is right behind him. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't noticed.
"I liked it better when you had the squeaky chair," he comments dryly. He's not afraid to let the other man know how bitter he still is from this morning.
"I liked it better when I could walk," Charles ripostes, which Hank must concede is a very valid point. "I'm sorry again for pulling you out like this, Hank, but-"
Hank isn't in the mood to listen to the other man talk himself in circles, trying to convince them both that having Raven here is really for the best.
Instead he opens the letter from Dr. Cartier and takes a look.
If the writing on the envelope is bad, the missive itself is practically illegible.
Your serum has provided more opportunities than I could have imagined. However, I-"
Here it was an indecipherable scribble.
"I fear that soon I will lose myself completely. Perhaps I'm already too far gone. I live with the guilt of what I've done to her every day. But my actions are my own, and you bear no guilt for them."
The letter was signed as simply, "Cartier."
"Is something wrong, Hank?" Charles queries. "You look troubled."
"This isn't right," Hank mutters, shaking his head. "Come with me."