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There were the good times too

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Surviving is pretty easy when it comes down to it, especially when your body seems to change to suit it so easily. In fact, there's pretty little that's actually required for survival: warmth, food, shelter. Perhaps also companionship of some kind; being on your own too long can mess with your head, Armando knows that; after his Pop died there wasn’t a lot tying him down anywhere, with Mama so busy with the little kids and no jobs to be had for love nor money. It’s how he ended up in New York in the first place. Though he's adapted to find the rest at some point or another-- self-insulation, ability to stand hunger and thirst, invulnerability—no matter how lonely he’s been, he's never had an imaginary friend. Perhaps he's made himself extra-likeable at times, and he’s never been shy (just cautious) about talking to strangers, and it's not like there's a specific way to check that anyway. Who's to say it's not just his winning personality and charm?

As such, Armando hasn’t exactly wanted for much in his life. Sure, there are all those latest fads that he’s never gotten, but anything he truly needed, well, there it was. It's how he can tell that some things...some things society says are right and good and necessary, well, they might not be. He's never changed his skin colour after all. Never wanted too, either, not after he fell into the river and his body adapted for the first time to help him live. When he's being beat up, his skin changes to stone, not salmon. Clearly it's not hurting his chances of living, so Armando figures it's not like there's anything wrong or dangerous about it. Nothing about it that separates him from any other man.

Same goes for the other thing. They say it's a sickness, but Armando has never caught so much as the sniffles in his life, and if anyone thinks he'd catch something that big without ever having had so much as a damn cold, well, he can't say he thinks too highly of their brains. His adaption affects his head some, too, like how his memory is practically photographic and how he's never had a nightmare, so he doubts it's some suppressed traumatic childhood experience or anything else like that. He doesn’t remember choosing it, either: not like he would have, anyway, because Armando is all for the easy life. And some of the questions he’s heard from white guys in his cab let him know that he’s definitely no pervert, because he’d never think of doing half the things they say.

Just leads him to conclude that there's nothing wrong with it. He knows it's not exactly a popular opinion, but hey, it's not like there's anything he can do about it. Although he has some idea of how his thing works, it's not like he's got everything about it worked out. Not even close. And he's got even less control over it: all he knows is that it keeps him safe when something tries to harm him. It's reliable too, so Armando tends to be a pretty relaxed cat. He used to show it off when he was little, gaining a bit of a name with the other kids in the neighbourhood; but as he got older, as he started to be more aware of everything around him, he realised that being different wasn't exactly being safe. He's never sure if it's his adaption that makes him go ahead and convince everyone that it was just some make-believe game, and that 'Darwin' was pure imagination. He still sees them sometimes, when he goes back to visit Mamma, but that's not too often these days, and they've all got their own lives now.

Then two strange men get in his cab, telling even stranger stories, and all Armando can think is 'what the hell'. He's easy-going usually and it's not like he's got anyone particular in his life to care for any more; so why not hare off to Virginia to learn some more about himself, and perhaps take a little pleasure in being paid (much more than he'd earn as a cabbie) by the same organisation whose agents look at him sideways, who'd arrest him for one reason or another if they could get away with it. Why not take their money to have them do him a favour?

And when Alex arrives, a little lost, a lot uncomfortable, he wants to help him. Things might not be black and white for Armando, but they are straightforward, and he can tell that Alex clearly doesn't see things the same way. Easy and right aren’t always the same thing, and while Armando might prefer ‘easy’ he’s got no problems with digging in for ‘right’. And giving that boy a friend is very right. He seems closed off and unwilling to play nice, but Armando hopes he can change that. He hopes for more than that, actually, but not without seeing how Alex feels first. Alex has just come from prison after all, Lord knows there isn't exactly the best opinion nor representation of what he's looking for in there. Either way, friends would be good. There’s something about Alex Armando doesn’t think he’s ever seen before: he’s loud, and brash, but he hasn’t once looked at Armando or Angel any different from how he looks at Raven or Sean. He’s rude, but not about the things people care about: he rags on Hank for being a nerd, not for his feet. He’s destructive and protective and all Armando wants to know everything.

He doesn't know why he introduces himself as Darwin when he hasn't been called that in years, but it gets him a smile, and he thinks that it's always suited him anyway.

Charles and Erik go again, off looking for another lamb to add to the fold, and it's just them. The 'kids' Xavier and Lensherr say, but he knows that neither are as old as they appear: as they want to seem. But let them have their names if it makes them feel a little more in control. Alex resents it, even though he's only barely older than Sean; probably because he’s only barely older than Sean. Sometimes the four years between them are a gulf, but Armando knows that’ll change with time. After dinner, they sit in Alex's room (the one he shares with Sean-- Darwin's room is separate) and talk about nothing, about television and comics and gossip. Alex is a bit more relaxed here than anywhere else in the compound, more free with his words and with himself; Darwin guesses the lack of obvious surveillance isn't something Alex has had in a while. He’s still a little tense, but that comes from being indoors, and it’s not something that’s obvious to everyone: Darwin just watches closely. Alex is sprawled across his bed, lying on his stomach with his legs in the air and his arms emphasising whatever inane point he's trying to make about Hank and Raven. Darwin leans back against the wall next to Sean's bed and laughs. "I know, they're dragging it out to all hell. What're they waiting for, Judgement Day?"

"Raven's a big girl, she'll do something soon." Alex smirks. "I'm sure she's picked up some tips from Charles and-"

Alex breaks off abruptly and tenses minutely. "-and Moira, he's definitely been trying..."

He trails off, and tries (fails) to resume his earlier semblance of ease. Darwin knows what he was going to say, and now he can barely keep the grin from his face. He’d thought so when he saw Alex, all young and brooding, what beatniks wish they could be. Darwin’s always been good at assessing people, and he’s never been wrong yet. Darwin wants to press at the bruise Alex has shown him, wants to see him react.

"I rather thought he'd been after someone else here..." He glances at Alex's face, at the stark terror that's replaced by blankness, and a voice equally as blank saying "Oh?"

Shit, he wishes Alex weren't so good at that. He has no idea what he's thinking. Not to mention, they are still in the home of the freaking CIA and Darwin does have a more than healthy dose of self-preservation (it's not paranoia when they really do hate people like him). However not obvious the surveillance may be, that does not mean it's non-existent. Alex is also getting antsy, especially if he’s gone all calm, and Darwin thinks desperately for a way to break the tension. He wants to suss Alex out, yes, but he doesn’t want to push him away in the meantime.

"Well," he says, and tilts his head in a way that he hopes suggests 'Erik, obviously, but I'm not going to say that here, now, am I?' For a second, he wished he had Charles' power, and could project exactly what he meant to Alex without ever having to speak aloud. Alex doesn't respond, at least not in a way Darwin recognises, just shifting his gaze to the wall instead of at his face. Darwin sighs.

"No matter. Want to get some air?" He says. He hopes Alex will say yes, will accept the offered distraction from the conversation, or, if he wants, take the invitation to continue their conversation away from the listening walls. And maybe if they get away from this room (too like a cell, not that Darwin has ever been inside) Alex might relax again, lose the stiff set to his shoulders that hasn't disappeared since they almost spoke about Erik and Charles. Alex doesn't speak, shrugging noncommittally, but he rises anyway and Darwin takes it as a yes.

They wander the corridors doing their best to avoid anyone, but not really talking to each other either. They're not silent, but all they say is superficial. Better than the room they just left, but not by much. They don't discuss it, but they make their way to the front and settle at a bench near the entrance. The courtyard is too enclosed, too visible for how they're feeling tonight, Darwin thinks. Alex reaches for his cigarettes, and Darwin takes the one he offers. When it's lit, Alex leans back against the bench, his profile smooth lines and studied nonchalance. Darwin's heart aches at the sight from the corner of his eyes, as he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. It’s calm here: not the forced calm from earlier, but truly peaceful. Darwin closes his eyes for a second and wishes he could stay here forever, with Alex, like this.

"They seem happy, though." Darwin says suddenly. Alex raises an eyebrow.

"What?"

Darwin flushes, glad it's dark and the minute change in his skin will not be noticed. "Charles and- Well. They're not- it's not...unequal, you know?" Lord, this must be the least eloquent thing he's ever said, but hell, it's out there now and all he can do is hope that Alex gets what he's trying to say. He barely knows what he's trying to say himself, only feels that he wants to tell Alex it's okay, that it doesn't have to be wrong and shameful and whatever else; that even if it's chosen, it can be as beautiful as anything else. Something he learned from those fares, ironically. All they asked about was sex, and all Armando could ever think about was relationships. He realised early on that the sex was only ever one part to the story they were telling: they all had reasons for asking their questions—never good ones, but reasons all the same. This one asking about that, moon glinting off his wedding ring: is it because his wife won’t do it with him? Or because she asked and he said no? Or a mistress? There was always a story behind the question, even if he didn’t particularly care to hear it. He stares at his cigarette, at the smoke curling from the tip, and pretends to himself that's he's just about to flick the ash and not that he's evading Alex's piercing eyes.

Alex is silent for a minute, and Darwin wonders whether he hasn't fucked this up completely, wonders that perhaps this wasn't what Alex had been trying to say at all and he'd completely misread the situation and oh God-

“Yeah," is all he says, finally, and Alex's voice is deep gravel and honey and if Darwin could hear that sounds for the rest of his life he'd be happy. He tells himself it's relief, but he knows it's more and he's only lying to himself out of habit more than anything else. It's not like he believes it anyway. He wonders if maybe he can be a little braver tonight after all. He takes another drag from the cigarette and holds back the manic smile that wants to burst across his face. They're silent again, but it's no longer uncomfortable, just charged with an energy that Darwin isn't in the mood to examine too closely. He leans back and shifts in his seat like he's cold until he's just that bit closer to Alex; he rests his hand on the bench between them, barely touching both their thighs.

Alex's hand falls casually, and covers his.