Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. The next update will probably take a little longer, just because I do have other things I need to be working on, but at the moment this is in my head so who knows.


Alex broke off his argument with Sean—a completely pointless argument since Batman could totally kick Captain America's ass, but for some reason Sean just wouldn't let it go—and turned and looked back Erik, standing by the sink.

"Are you training with Charles again this afternoon?"

"No. He said something about maybe trying again tomorrow, but he wanted to pick up a couple more fire extinguishers first." It had sounded like a really good idea to Alex; he might not be able to do as much damage letting his power loose in the metal tunnel as he could outside, but he could still do a lot. Although after his little demonstration this morning Hank had started babbling about measurements, and whatever those measurements were for the professor had been so interested that he'd gone to the lab with Hank rather than coming to lunch. Alex didn't plan to admit it to anyone, but he was a little worried about what they might be planning.

"Good," Erik said. "Come to my room when you're done eating. Don't bother getting changed." He didn't even wait for agreement, setting his newly rinsed dishes on the counter and leaving the kitchen.

"You're in trouble," Raven said in a sing-song voice.

Alex scowled at her. Sometimes he didn't understand how she and the professor could possibly be related. "Funny. Am I allowed to say 'Hell, no,' to him?"

"I wouldn't, if I were you." Sean's gaze, at least, was sympathetic. "Hey, look at it this way; at least you won't get a headache from standing around listening to me blow out more windows. I'm not sure where he's getting all the glass, but the professor wants me to work on my aim some more this afternoon."

"The guy has plastic dummies sitting in his basement," Alex pointed out. "I'm not asking where he gets anything." With a shake of his head, Alex downed his last sandwich in two bites and then pushed himself to his feet, tossing the paper napkin into the garbage. Neatly. Two points. "I'd better get going. If I don't show up at dinner, do me a favor and start looking for shallow graves."

Erik's door was standing partially open when Alex reached his room, but Alex remained in the hall anyway and knocked lightly on the door frame. "Hello?"

"Come in."

Like every other bedroom that Alex had seen in this place, there were random statues and artwork and crap scattered around everywhere and more pillows and blankets on the bed than any normal human could ever use. Unlike Alex's room, since the first thing he had done was move everything he could into the big-enough-to-be-a-room-all-on-its-own closet on the grounds that it would be a little harder for him to accidentally break something if it was all out of sight, or even Sean and Hank's rooms since they'd at least spread their things out on the furniture, nothing in here looked like it had even been touched. In fact, if it hadn't been for the small bag sitting on the chest at the foot of the bed, he would have assumed that this room was still unoccupied.

"You didn't have any trouble getting here?" Erik asked, turning away from the window.

Alex shrugged. "One wrong turn." Well, one and a half, but he'd corrected himself on the second one before he'd taken two steps so he wasn't going to mention that. "I've been doing some exploring." Very carefully, because he didn't want to get so lost that the others had to send out a search party, but after a little bit of work he'd managed to get to Hank's lab and then Erik's room again. And then Raven's as well, but only because she'd been standing in the hall with her door half-open arguing with Charles about something when he'd turned the corner. Alex had noted the location but hadn't stuck around to listen.

"Good. Come with me."

Alex shook his head as he followed Erik out of his room and down the hall. Erik could hold actual conversations. Alex had heard him doing so a few times. But apparently the only person that he could hold them with was Charles—well, him and maybe Raven on occasion—because where the rest of them were concerned communication seemed to consist almost entirely of terse comments and blunt orders. But Erik had helped him out the other day, so despite what he'd said to Sean, Alex figured that he owned him enough to at least see what he wanted. Curiosity got the better of him, even in the face of Erik's silence, as Erik led him down an unfamiliar stairway. "Where are we going?"

"Outside, somewhere with enough room to spar."

Alex froze in tracks. "Spar? As in me against you? Are you insane?" Which might not have been the best thing to say, but there was no way that he could stay quiet after a statement like that. He was a good fighter, sure—he'd never had much of a choice—but there was a big difference between being a good fighter and being someone who moved like Erik did. Hell, Alex would bet almost anything that Erik was carrying a weapon somewhere on him even now, despite the fact that he was wearing the same sort of pocket-less sweat suit that Alex was.

"I'm sure that that would depend entirely on who you ask. Keep walking."

"Why?" Alex asked, even as he trailed Erik across the lawn. Unless he managed to get a perfectly aimed blast off, he was doomed. And even if he didn't expect his aim to be worth anything, trying to incinerate someone who was supposed to be on his side seemed pretty damn counterproductive.

"Because like it or not, your powers are completely offensive."

"Gee, thanks." More teeth than necessary made an appearance at his immediate retort. Alex had heard Sean say once that he'd seen sharks with fewer teeth than Erik had, and he found himself agreeing.

"Should you need to subdue someone intact, you're going to have to do so physically," Erik continued. "So you'd best learn how."

"I can fight just fine."

Erik gave a decidedly derisive snort and then took a look around and nodded, pushing his sleeves up past his elbows and shifting into a ready position. "Then prove it. No powers."

"Why aren't the others here?" Alex asked, forcing himself not to step back. "Shouldn't they learn this too?"

"Sean's not here partly because I don't feel like getting shrieked at at the moment, with or without him hitting sonic levels, and partly because I guarantee that Charles will have him knocking people unconscious with his voice within a week. You can't do that. I will sort Charles out better later, but he's going to have to be the one to teach Hank because I haven't got the patience for it." He grimaced. "And unless she fights morphed, which she should not, Raven is better suited to someone like Moira's style than mine." He reached down abruptly, pulling a knife out from a leg sheath, and Alex only had a moment to tense even further before he tossed it neatly aside, embedding it in the ground fifteen feet away. "Not today, I don't think."

Not ever, if Alex had anything to say about it. And he wasn't overly thrilled to learn that he'd been right about Erik being armed.

Erik's expression hardened as he turned back to Alex. "Now either attack me or I'm going to attack you."

Well, there was incentive. Why hadn't he stayed in prison again? "Erik, I can't always contr—"

Erik apparently decided that he'd given Alex enough time because he lunged forward, and Alex reacted with all the speed of someone who'd spent half his life bouncing between foster homes and detention facilities.

It was entirely his reflexes that saved him from Erik's initial attack, and then his first instinct was to put some distance between them so he had room to work. He normally didn't mind grappling, but it tended to be a bad idea when the person that he was fighting had both weight and muscle on him. The kick aimed at Erik's knee was less a serious attack and more a feint to get himself that space, but unfortunately Erik seemed to realize that, and Alex only narrowly avoided a backhand. Better that than a punch, at least in terms of damage inflicted, but it still wasn't something that Alex wanted to experience today, and the punch he threw at Erik's jaw had real power behind it. Unfortunately, Erik was faster than he expected, and he stumbled when his target suddenly wasn't where it was supposed to be. Erik 'helped' him the rest of the way to the ground with a hard shove, and Alex swore as one wrist rolled painfully and he ate dirt. And then he grabbed a handful and spun on Erik. If he wanted a fight, fine. He hadn't said that Alex had to fight fair.

Alex blinked up at the sky. It was a very pretty sky. At least up until Erik stepped into view and announced that it was his turn, anyway.

It had turned out that Erik knew how to fight dirty too—which, when he thought about it, really shouldn't have come as a surprise—and he knew way more tricks than Alex did. Which also shouldn't have come as a surprise. Alex had managed to win exactly one out of the million or so matches they'd had before Erik had finally called a halt and switched to more directed teaching, and there was something seriously disturbing about the fact that the most approving look he'd gotten from Erik all day had been for throwing that first handful of dirt in his face.

He had learned a few things, though, as much as he didn't want to admit it, and he was learning more now. For the most part by having whatever Erik wanted to teach him demonstrated on him, which Alex could definitely have done without, but Erik was also pretty tolerant about allowing Alex to try those new moves on Erik in return so it kind of evened out. And so far Alex had managed to refrain from getting angry or panicked enough to start blasting, which he was considering a victory too.

Of course, when Erik was allowing Alex to practice new moves on him, it frequently led to Erik deciding to demonstrate that said new moves had a counter. Generally an unpleasant one, which was the main reason that Alex didn't want to get up and take his turn throwing Erik on the ground a couple times. He was getting tired.

Erik stared down at him, managing to look amused without also managing to look like he planned to bite anyone for once, and after a moment he offered a hand. "Try it once, and then we'll go back inside. We probably shouldn't show up at dinner looking like we've spent the afternoon rolling in dirt anyway."

"We mostly have," Alex pointed out, but he let Erik pull him back up anyway. Erik shifted, one arm coming around Alex's chest to pin him in the setup for this newest throw, and Alex blinked at the row of numbers suddenly directly in front of him, carved into the inside of Erik's forearm. He'd seen flashes of something on Erik's arm several times today, but he'd been way too busy trying not to get clobbered to pay it much attention.


Erik's question brought him back to reality—he'd learned the first time that he'd better really be ready when he said so or Erik would make him pay for it—and he reached up to grip Erik's arm. "Ready."

Erik pulled, he twisted, and Erik rolled over his hip correctly, but somehow Erik had managed to get a grip on him as well because he was falling too, and he had no time to catch himself. He grunted as he landed on his stomach on the ground. Again.

"I'll show you that one next time," Erik promised.

"Oh, joy," Alex muttered. Although he'd kind of suspected that this wasn't the last lesson that he was going to get.

Erik pushed himself smoothly to his feet, one arm sweeping outward, and the knife that he'd tossed into the grass earlier leapt easily into his palm. Alex once again decided that he was never getting into a knife fight with Erik, even in the name of practice, if he had any choice in the matter. Erik tucked the knife back into his leg sheath as Alex got to his feet as well, and then they matched paces back to the house-mansion-whatever in silence.

Erik left him when they reached the second floor with a brusque, "You did well enough," and Alex couldn't help but stare after him for a moment before continuing up to his room.

"What happened to you?" Sean exclaimed as Alex came around the corner, his voice sounding more than a little hoarse to Alex's ears.

"Erik." Alex couldn't exactly blame Sean for his shock; the sweat suit that had only been a little singed at lunchtime today was now pretty much covered in dirt and grass stains, and Alex wasn't sure if he would ever be able to scrub it clean.

Hank stuck his head out of the bathroom at that, staring for a moment, and then, "I'll get you a first aid kit. Uh, Sean, here, try this."

"Don't worry about it," Alex said with a shake of his head as Sean accepted the glass of whatever it was that Hank held out. "I'm all right. Kind of a mess, but all right."

Hank looked almost as disbelieving as Sean, and Alex rolled his eyes. "Just say that I get the shower next, okay?"

"No arguments there, you're starting to make a mess of the floor," Sean said.

"Wh—damn it." He'd been hoping not to do that, but apparently leaving his shoes by the door hadn't been enough. He grabbed his jeans and a t-shirt out of his room quickly, wondering as he did so if there were laundry facilities somewhere that he could use because he didn't have that much clothing and he didn't want to have to start washing what he did have in the bathtub. Sean and Hank's voices were receding down the hallway when he headed for the bathroom, Sean complaining about the taste of whatever Hank had given him, but Alex was more interested in getting cleaned up than paying them any attention.

Since the other two had left, he took a longer shower than he normally would have, but according to the clock, it still wasn't yet time for dinner when he'd finished. He flopped down on his—stripped down, since most of the pillows and blankets had followed the statuary into the closet—bed and stared up at the ceiling.

It turned out that he didn't have as many bruises as he'd expected given the number of times that he'd been knocked down and pinned, and it wasn't because they were the deep kind that took forever to become visible, either. Oh, there were definitely a few scattered around, but they were mostly on his arms and legs rather than on his face or back or stomach, which meant that Erik had been being a lot more careful than Alex had realized. Well, that or that Alex's defensive skills were way better than he'd thought, but Alex wasn't harboring a lot of illusions there. It was kind of surprising, especially considering that Alex had been doing his best to land blows wherever he damn well could. Erik might not be much of a conversationalist, but apparently he wasn't such a horrible teacher, either.

And there were those numbers to think about. Alex rubbed the corresponding spot on his forearm lightly. He wasn't stupid. Sure, he'd been all of twelve the last time that he'd been able to finish an entire year at a real school, but it hadn't been because he wasn't capable of it. And while he'd been not-quite three when the war had ended, and Dad had been stationed in the Pacific back then anyway, in ten years of living on military bases he'd heard some things. Bad things. Nightmare-inducing things that he very much doubted that any soldier had ever intended for a kid to overhear. Add in a few facts that even the hit-or-miss history classes in juvie had managed to cover, and…well, a string of numbers tattooed on a man's arm like that didn't mean anything good. Especially since Erik didn't look that much older than he was, so he had to have been just a kid at the time.

The intercom came to life with an announcement about dinner at about the same time that Alex decided that it would be best to just forget about what he'd seen unless Erik himself brought it up, and he pushed himself to his feet. Lunch had been a long time ago, and he was hungry.