Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, as well as to everyone who has been following this story since the beginning. This is the end; you can either imagine the beach divorce (it should fit) or substitute your own happier ending.
Quite a bit of the dialogue in the second part of this is taken from First Class…as usual, if you recognize it, it's not mine.
The others crowded around Hank as he did something that caused a steep, narrow stairway to fold down from the underside of the plane, but Alex remained where he was. Mostly because his legs weren't going anywhere. He figured that he had a few more minutes before anyone noticed since the stairway wasn't moving very quickly, but eventually they were all going to board and there was going to be no help for it.
Something gave a light tug on his wrist—or on his watch, rather, he realized—and when he glanced back up, he wasn't surprised to find Erik's eyes on him. Well, if he couldn't bring himself to walk onto the plane, Erik could probably drag him on by his watch and chest plate and the buckles on his uniform, at least. The fact that Alex actually found that encouraging was disturbing, but with everything else going on, it wasn't as disturbing as it probably should have been.
The stairway finally landed on the floor of the hanger with a light 'thunk,' and Hank made his way up first, with Sean—
Alex tilted his head curiously, momentarily distracted from his trepidation, but it didn't look like Hank's mutation had given him an actual tail. So Sean wasn't literally on Hank's tail, but he was crowding behind, obviously eager to get inside. Then again, complaints about being shoved off a satellite dish aside, Sean wasn't likely to have a problem with flying.
Charles and Raven were right behind him, for once Charles too focused on something to notice the unease in one of those around him, and Moira brought up the rear of the group.
There was another tug, firmer this time, on his wrist, and Alex closed his eyes. He didn't have to fly the plane. Hank did. And Hank might be a geek, but Hank was a geek who could always do the things that he said he could do. He wasn't going to have to parachute out of the plane. No one was going to have to parachute out of the plane. Besides, it would be embarrassing as hell if Erik really did have to drag him on board.
Alex gritted his teeth and made himself take a step forward. All he had to do was sit still and keep his mouth shut and wait until they got to their destination. Then he could get off the plane and do his damn job, and if all went well, maybe Charles would let him take a cruise ship back. Another step.
He took a third step forward, and then a fourth, and then he was standing beside Erik at the bottom of the staircase. The others were paused, listening to Hank explain something—something about a modified Blackbird prototype from the snatches that Alex could make out—and he reached for the handrail.
It was like crossing the hanger, one step up and then two, and then Erik stepped up behind him effectively cutting off his escape route. Alex would have turned back and glared at him, but not only would Erik have ignored him, he would have had to turn back around to face the plane afterwards. It was better if he just kept going.
Hank had moved on to explaining some of the cockpit controls to Moira and Sean when Alex reached the top, but Charles and Raven had already slipped past and were buckling themselves into the seats along one side. Alex started to take the third, only to pause as Erik caught his arm and nodded towards one of the seats on the opposite side. Alex didn't much care where on this deathtrap he was buckled in on so he didn't object.
Erik took the seat beside him, and Alex couldn't decide whether it was reassurance or just Erik making sure that he wouldn't be in front of Alex if Alex lost control of a plasma blast.
Sean took the third seat beside Raven as Hank and Moira buckled themselves into the pilot and co-pilot seats, and then Alex sucked in his breath as the engines rumbled to life.
Hank's plane was bigger than most of the ones that he'd been in before, but it was also considerably more powerful, and it was only a few minutes after Hank pulled it out of the hanger that they were lining up for takeoff. Sean, Raven, and Charles were all craning their necks so they could see out the small windows—Erik was too, even if he was trying to pretend that he wasn't, Alex noticed when he glanced to the side—and Alex tightened his hands a little. Just breathe. It would be fine.
Hank's plane was fast, too, they reached Cuba long before Alex had expected, and despite his reservations he found himself craning his neck for a look at the fleet when Hank announced that it was coming into view.
"Looks pretty messy out there," Hank added.
Charles put his fingers to the side of his head and closed his eyes, and when he opened them again he looked resigned. "The crew of the Aral Sea are all dead. Shaw's been there."
"He's still here," Erik insisted. "Somewhere."
Charles didn't respond. "He's set the ship on course for the embargo line."
"If that ship crosses the line, our boys are going to blow it up," Moira said. "And the war begins."
"Unless they're not our boys." Charles put his fingers to his temple again.
A few seconds later they banked hard with no warning, and Alex reached up and grabbed the headrest as Charles yelled 'Hold on!'
The plate on his uniform pressed back against his chest as Hank roared and their plane rolled further, and then there was an explosion audible even inside the plane.
"A little warning next time, Professor?" Hank asked, glancing back over his shoulder as he brought them more-or-less upright again.
"Sorry about that," Charles said, and then his fingers went back to the side of his head. "You all right?"
Raven nodded and Sean gasped out a 'yeah,' although Erik kept silent. So did Alex, but that was mostly because he was still trying to draw air back into his lungs. And not because Erik had used his chest plate to pin him even more tightly than the harness. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened—Charles had somehow made the Russians blow up their own ship—but he really hadn't been prepared for aerial acrobatics.
"That was inspired, Charles," Moira said.
"Thank you very much, but I still can't locate Shaw."
"He's down there. We need to find him now."
Erik practically ground out the words through tight jaws, and Alex turned back towards Charles hoping that he had an idea.
Charles looked forward. "Hank?"
"Is there anything unusual on the radar or scanners?" Hank asked.
"No," Moira reported. "Nothing."
Charles lowered his fingers from his temple and shook his head.
"Well, then, he must be underwater," Hank said at the same time. "And obviously we don't have sonar."
There was silence for a second and then Sean's head lifted. "Yes, we do."
"Yes, we do," Charles echoed, but it wasn't until he and Sean and Erik slipped out of their harnesses that Alex realized what they meant. And that Sean was going to have to jump out of the plane for it to work.
"Hank, level the bloody plane!" Charles yelled as he and Sean struggled towards the back.
The plume of fire from the targeted ship was still visible out the window as Hank did as he asked, and Sean's 'Whoa, you back right off' to Erik would have been amusing under other circumstances. Especially since Erik actually stepped back with his hands raised. But Sean's next words were 'Beast, open the bomb bay doors,' and there was nothing funny about it when the sound of air rushing past the plane suddenly became much louder.
"Remember, this is a muscle," Charles shouted to Sean over the roar, touching his throat. "You control it! You'll be in here the entire time!" He tapped his head. "We'll see you soon. On my mark: three, two, one, go!"
Sean dropped away, and if it wasn't for the fact that Charles had his fingers against his temple and didn't look the least bit concerned, Alex would have panicked.
"Alert the fleet, they may want to take their cans off," Moira said into her headset.
A moment later Charles straightened slightly. "Banshee's got a location on Shaw." He looked at Erik. "You ready for this?"
"Let's find out." They moved towards the front again, coming to stand over another set of doors in the floor, and Erik stripped off his gloves as Charles pulled the panel away to reveal the landing gear. Erik stepped down onto it, and Charles yelled for Beast to lower the wheels.
The plane slowed and then stopped—Alex marveled for a moment at a fixed-wing that hovered, prototype or not—and then Erik's head disappeared out of sight and Charles knelt to crouch over the opening.
Nothing happened for several minutes, and Alex wondered if Erik would really be able to do whatever Charles was thinking, and then Raven's eyes widened as she stared past his shoulders. "What the hell?"
"What?" Alex twisted to look over his shoulder, and then it was his turn to stare as he saw a submarine being dragged slowly up into the air. He'd known that there would be a submarine, and he'd known that Erik could move metal, but he hadn't known that Erik could lift submarine-sized metal into the air. He'd figured that Erik would just be trying to surface the submarine so the fleets would have a target, and even that seemed like a stretch.
The plane began to move forward again, dragging the submarine along with it, and then something moved on the top of the submarine. Air? No, that was water, Alex realized. A funnel of water. And it was growing.
"Erik, take my hand!" Charles shouted suddenly, flattening himself against the floor of the plane
"Hold on, guys," Hank called. "It's going to get bumpy."
Alex turned to face forward again as the funnel of water—now fully tornado-size—shot towards the plane, and then he grabbed the headrest again as the plane spun wildly. He thought he heard a faint crash a moment later, but it was hard to tell over the roaring.
"Erik, take my hand!" Charles screamed again. For a moment Alex didn't understand why Charles was repeating the order—Erik was, for all intents and purposes, welded to the landing gear and probably far more stable there than Charles was lying on the floor—but then he realized that with the strength of the wind shear they probably weren't going to have landing gear for much longer.
Alarms began to scream and fire was visible out the window over Raven's shoulder, and Alex suddenly saw a parachute being shoved at him and his mother hugging Scotty. "Not again. Not again."
He hadn't meant to speak out loud, but fortunately none of the others noticed as Charles shouted something unintelligible down at Erik. The sight of the landing gear flying past the window and off into the fire snapped Alex back to the present, but Erik had managed to reach Charles' hand, and apparently Charles was stronger than he looked because a few seconds later he was hauling Erik back inside.
Alex didn't even have time for relief as the plane inverted abruptly, he was afraid they'd lose both of them right back out the landing gear hatch if the roll continued, but Erik pinned Charles to the ceiling under him and held them in place as the plane flipped again. And then the plane struck the island and kept rolling, and Alex suddenly didn't care that he was yelling. Everyone else was yelling too.
After far, far too many times around they finally came to a halt, and Alex tentatively opened his eyes to find himself hanging upside down in his seat. Raven, still buckled in as well, was starting to look around too, while Erik was lowering himself and Charles to the floor.
"Moira? Moira, are you all right?" Charles asked, pushing himself up off Erik and hurrying towards her as Erik moved to release Raven.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Moira said.
Alex fumbled with his harness, but his fingers wouldn't cooperate, and it was a relief when the buckles simply fell away with a flick of Erik's fingers and he was able to let himself fall out of the seat.
Hank joined them a moment later, and Alex felt almost grateful for the hand—paw?—that pulled him to his feet. His legs were cooperating about as well as his fingers right now, and he was willing enough to shift to stare out the windows with Erik and Raven and Hank. From there he had the side of the plane to lean against.
"I read the teleporter's mind," Charles said. "Shaw's drawing all the power out of the reactor. He's turning himself into some kind of nuclear bomb."
"We've got no time, the Geiger counter's going out of control," Moira said.
Charles nodded slightly. "All right, Moira, this is what we're going to do. Get on the radio and tell both fleets to clear out immediately."
"I'm going in," Erik said.
"Beast, Havok, back him up," Charles ordered as three of Shaw's team—one of whom was Angel, Alex realized with a sense of betrayal—exited the submarine to stand facing the Blackbird. "Erik, I can guide you through once you're in, but I need you to shut down whatever it is that's blocking me. And then we just hope to God that it's not too late for me to stop him."
"Got it," Erik said, turning for the exit. Which was currently the gaping hole at the end of the plane, and Alex was very glad that he hadn't noticed that before. Hank followed him, and Alex pushed himself away from the side of the plane and ordered his legs to cooperate. He could have a meltdown about surviving yet another plane crash later; right now he had a job to do.
Charles yelled a 'good luck' after them and then something else at Raven, but Alex missed most of it as he hurried to catch up with Erik and Hank.
Erik's eyes were sweeping the landscape outside the plane when Alex joined him and Hank, and there was an odd combination of focus and hatred in his eyes that made the look Erik had given the collie seem downright pleasant. Right now that was reassuring, though; if there was anyone that Alex would want to follow into battle, it was Erik.
"Don't wait for them to make the first move," Erik ordered, sparing the two of them a glance. "This is a war."
"Got it," Hank growled as Alex nodded sharply.
"And Shaw is mine."
Like Alex was going to argue that one. He'd already seen Shaw in action once; Erik was welcome to him. And frankly, the sooner Erik got to him the sooner this would be over and they could all go home. He nodded. "Let's do this."