|Fic: "Office Hours"
||[Jul. 18th, 2005|10:03 pm]
Title: Office Hours
Author: Aldalindil (tartanshell)
Characters: Hank McCoy, Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Scott Summers, Jean Grey
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Marvel.
Written for: minisinoo
Request: Hank McCoy and Peter Parker: Crossover between movieverses. We saw Hank speaking in X2, and he's slated for X3. I'd love to see a story where Columbia biochemistry professor Henry McCoy discovers his student Peter Parker's secret, and attempts to befriend him. I don't care if Peter's introduced to Xavier's or not, but I want one scene in particular ... Hank and Peter bonding over science texts while hanging from the ceiling.
Summary: Peter learns a lot from Professor McCoy.
Author's Notes: Thanks to minisinoo for the fabulous prompt! I had a ball with this, and I hope its length (OMG!) will make up for its lateness. *g* Thanks to my fiancé, Nick, for the read-through, and thanks to penknife for offering to beta, though I declined because this is SO late and SO long. That being the case, all mistakes are my own. Also, though it's canon, I'll admit that I first fell in love with the idea of Hank as a Star Wars fan through artaxastra's fic "The Last of the Jedi."
Feedback and concrit are, as always, very welcome. :)
Midnight in the Hamilton Hall computer lab smelled like ethyl alcohol and contraband Nacho Cheesier Doritos.
Okay, so, Peter probably wouldn’t have smelled the chips if they weren’t his forbidden-in-the-lab Doritos, but they definitely contributed to the funky odor. There was stale coffee in there, too--that was grad students; no self-respecting undergrad science major smuggled anything but soda into the lab--and a little bit of B.O., which Peter hoped wasn’t coming from him. Mr. Ditkovich was guarding the shower until he got rent again, and the last thing Peter wanted to do was show up at Aunt May’s place with a towel and soap on a rope.
Not that he had soap on a rope. His soap, a rounded rectangular bar, was 100% rope-free, comes-in-a-10-pack, got-it-on-sale soap. It probably would’ve been cooler if it had a rope, smelled like expensive cologne, or promised to make him irresistibly attractive, but at least it got him zestfully clean. When he got to use it. Which he hadn’t, lately.
Peter groaned and scrubbed his hand over his hair. Who cared about being clean at midnight when they had a paper due at 8:15? For that matter, what kind of idiot put off writing a ten page paper--okay, put off writing and doing most of their research--until the night before?
The same kind of idiot who had started every night of the past week at the library and ended every night peeling off sweaty spandex at home, too tired to spell 'book,' let alone read one, apparently.
He glanced at the clock in the bottom corner of the computer screen. 12:08. “Well, there went eight minutes you could’ve spent writing,” he muttered, fishing in his backpack for a handful of chips.
A soft chuckle from the next row of computers made Peter jump. “I gather your paper is presenting you with difficulties, Mr. Parker?”
Peter peered around his monitor to see a pair of brown eyes sparkling with amusement behind small round glasses that seemed impossibly tiny on a very large man. “Professor McCoy!” He swallowed, hoping the Doritos he’d just sprayed hadn’t traveled all the way across the table. “I didn’t know anyone else was here.”
Professor McCoy smiled. “I came in about an hour ago. You seemed thoroughly absorbed in your work, so I thought it best not to disturb your concentration by saying hello.”
Peter sighed, clicked to save the whole lot of nothing he had going on, and reached up to rub the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’ve been pretty into it, until a few minutes ago. This is due tomor--oh, yeah. For, uh, your class.”
Professor McCoy chuckled again. “I assumed as much. Are you making good progress?”
Well, no. He was so tired he thought his brain might actually start leaking out his ears in a couple of minutes; he was jittery from caffeine, jittery because his body was used to getting a killer workout every night, and, speaking of, he was feeling guilty about being in the lab instead of on the street in the first place, even if he had sworn he wouldn’t go out tonight. Oh, and his ribs hurt from the almost-shoplifter who’d kicked him last night, but that was nothing new.
But it wasn’t like he could explain any of that to Professor McCoy. Huge as he was, the closest the soft-spoken, bespectacled, slump-shouldered professor ever got to fighting, probably, was exchanging incomprehensible jibes with other geniuses in academic journals.
Peter shook his head, realizing he’d been spacing out. Also nothing new. “Uh…” What had he asked, again? Oh, yeah. “It’s coming along,” he replied, shrugging. He gave Professor McCoy a rueful grin “I’m trying, at any rate.”
Professor McCoy gave him a look over the top of his glasses, obviously not buying it. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah. Sure. It’s all good, Professor.” He nodded towards Professor McCoy’s computer, wanting to change the subject. “So, uh, what are you working on?”
He knew the professor was a grad student with a teaching fellowship--the highest-paying research fellowship in the biochemistry department‘s history, too, if the rumors were true--and it kind of boggled Peter’s mind that a brain like that would be pulling an all-nighter with him in the funky-smelling Loserville that was the computer lab after hours. The only other people who usually joined him were Tom the night-shift janitor, who Peter strongly suspected used one of the lab's PCs to look at porn, and freshmen who hadn’t yet realized that two in the morning was not, in fact, the best time to start their group lab reports.
"What am I working on?" Professor McCoy leaned back in his chair. “I’m currently posting a message on The Death Star dot com regarding the biological impossibility of the Force spontaneously generating life.”
He clicked on the keyboard for a few seconds, seemingly unaware that Peter’s jaw was somewhere around his shoes. “And now,” the professor continued, “I believe I will see what Game Spot dot com has to say about the new Starfighter flight simulation game. I keep an X-Box in my office,” he explained, obviously misunderstanding Peter’s shock.
“You--uh. Star Wars?” Peter managed. He wouldn’t have thought Professor McCoy knew what movies were, let alone video games and websites whose URLs didn't end in dot edu.
The professor grinned, suddenly looking more like a teenage nerd than a respected, serious scientist. “Yes. Star Wars. Are you a fan?”
“Sure, I guess.”
Professor McCoy peered at him over his glasses again. “Either you are or you aren’t, Peter. There is no ‘I guess.’”
“Hah.” Peter smiled. “Hey, you know why duct tape is like the Force?”
“There’s a dark side and a light side, and it holds the universe together,” Professor McCoy replied with another grin. “What did one Jedi say to another Jedi, after the former had been assigned three students to mentor?"
"I don't know. What?"
"May the fourth be with you."
Peter groaned. "That's not even funny."
The professor laughed. "No, it isn't. Though it's late enough that I find myself amused, regardless."
Peter glanced at the clock again and was startled to see how much time had passed. "So, why are you here, Professor?"
"I am killing time, Peter, until it's an appropriate hour for a phone call to Cape Town."
"Oh." Peter pushed up his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "That's Africa, right?"
"Indeed." The professor sniffed, seeming intrigued by something in the Loserville bouquet. "I don't suppose I could trouble you for a Dorito?"
Peter coughed. "Uh. Dorito?"
"Peter, you forget that I am a student as well as an authority figure. I have smuggled snacks and beverages into the computer lab many times."
Smiling, Peter held out the bag. "In that case, help yourself."
"Thank you." They crunched in companionable quiet--as quiet as two people eating chips could be, anyway--for a few moments before Professor McCoy spoke again. "You know, Peter, there comes a point at which one becomes so exhausted that their brain function is impaired. Writing a paper in such a state would most likely not result in a satisfactory grade, even if the student is gifted."
Peter groaned. "I know. But I figure if I can scrape by with a C on this, I can still get a B-plus if I ace the final."
"You could," Professor McCoy replied, nodding, "if you weren't already certain to fail the attendance and class participation portion of your grade."
"Fail? But I participate!" Peter protested.
"When you're present. Which, I daresay, is not as often as I would like."
"So, what are you saying?" Peter asked. "That I might as well give up?"
The professor gave him a gentle smile. "What I'm saying is, an extension isn't out of the question."
"Really. After all, I've distracted you from your work. It's only fair."
"Nah, I wasn't getting anywhere, anyway. You're right, Professor--my brain is mush."
Professor McCoy took another handful of chips before passing the bag across the table. "You may call me Hank, Peter. I find formalities a bit ridiculous at the best of times, and I believe we can dispense with them now that we have broken bread together."
"Okay. Hank." Peter smiled.
Profe--Hank smiled back. "And now that we are on a first-name basis, would you care to unburden your troubled soul and tell me why you find yourself so exhausted and, incidentally, so seldom able to attend class or arrive punctually on the rare occasions that you do?"
Peter blinked, trying to sort through that. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Simply put: what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Really," Peter muttered, hoping he sounded convincing. Weirdly enough, he almost wanted to be honest with Hank. And it was weird. The guy was a good professor, sure, as long as you could wade through the SAT-prep-list vocabulary and didn't mind his weird sense of humor. But though Peter enjoyed his class, he and Hank hadn't said more than ten words to one another outside of the classroom. And now Peter kinda wanted to tell him his deepest, darkest secret? Crazy. Like Hank would respond to, 'Well, actually, I'm Spider-Man,' with anything but laughter and a suggestion that Peter get himself checked into a mental institution ASAP.
He shook his head, surprised at himself, before meeting Hank's gaze across the table.
Hank was regarding him solemnly, wearing an expression Peter couldn't quite figure out. He gave Peter that gentle, almost shy smile again and nodded. "Well, then."
Hank stood--far more gracefully than you'd expect a pro-wrestler-sized guy to do--and picked up a bottle of Mountain Dew he'd apparently had beside his mousepad. "There are some essays in my office crying out to be attacked by my red pen," he said, stretching. "And so, my friend, I shall take my leave."
Peter nodded and jiggled his mouse to get rid of the Columbia-logo screensaver. "Okay," he replied. "I guess it's back to work for me." If he could do another page in an hour, that'd leave him plenty of time to stop a little crime before the sun came up, too.
"Peter," Hank began, coming to stand beside him. He clapped his hand on Peter's shoulder. "Go home. Get some rest. The paper can wait. For that matter, stay home tomorrow," he added. "Sleep in, and then eat something that does not come out of a bag, box, or plastic wrapper. I'll provide you with a copy of my lecture notes."
Hank shook his head and tightened his grip. "Listen to me. Humans need sleep to function. If you do not rest, you will eventually burn out, and you will become ill." He let his hand fall away and headed for the door, but he had gone only halfway there when he turned back.
"And Peter, if you don't make time for yourself; if you become physically unable to perform...what happens then?"
Peter stared after the broad shoulders as Hank turned again to go, unable to reply.
"Goodnight." The lab door shut with a soft click, leaving Peter alone and very confused.
Surely Hank hadn't meant what Peter thought he might have meant, Peter thought as he walked down the hall a few days later. His paper--neatly typed, double-spaced, and possibly the best thing he'd ever written--was tucked under his arm in a shiny plastic folder. Who knew that writing was so easy in the morning after you'd had more than two hours of sleep? Hank had been right about that.
And he totally hadn't meant anything with that comment about being physically unable to perform. He'd just meant...like...that Peter might make himself too tired to go to class. Or ride his bike. Or deliver pizzas. Or something. It wasn't like his remark had been code for, "You won't be able to swing over the streets and beat up bad guys." Right?
Right. There was absolutely no way Hank could know. Nobody knew. So why, Peter wondered as he arrived at Hank's office door, was he so nervous about seeing the guy again? Hank didn't--couldn't--know! Jeez.
Peter shook his head, managed to find a spot on the door that wasn't papered with The Far Side, Fox Trot, or Calvin and Hobbes, and knocked.
There was a thump followed by rustling and a louder, kind of muffled thump. "Come in," Hank called.
"Uh, hi," Peter said when he opened the door. Hank was seated at his desk, but his clothes were rumpled and his hair more disheveled than usual. He had a vaguely guilty look on his face, and Peter had the strange feeling he'd interrupted something. "Is this a bad time?"
"Hello, Peter, and not at all! I was merely...ah...hanging out." Hank smiled. "Come in; have a seat. Would you care for a cup of coffee?" he added, gesturing to the four-cup pot on a little table in the corner.
"Sure." Peter took a seat in front of the desk, stowing his backpack beside the chair.
Hank went to pour, and as he passed, Peter noticed he was barefoot below his faded jeans. That alone wouldn't have been too weird, but...his feet!
They were big, of course, but it wasn't their size so much as their shape that startled Peter. They were long and slender, with long, supple-looking toes like thick fingers. Hank caught Peter's shocked glance and followed it. He seemed surprised, like he was only just noticing his lack of shoes himself; then he shrugged and gave Peter a self-conscious smile.
"Yes, I am," Hank said simply.
Peter frowned. "Are what? Barefoot?"
Hank blinked. "Well, yes. But what I meant was that yes, I am a mutant."
"Whoa." Peter stared. "Holy crap. I mean...you are?"
"Indeed," Hank replied, flattening a grin with the back of his hand. "Are you truly so shocked? I thought you might have noticed."
Peter shook his head. "I didn't ever see your feet."
Hank snorted and spread his hands. His--now that Peter really looked--enormous, thick, remarkably gorilla-like hands.
"Jeez," Peter murmured. "How do you type?"
Hank chuckled. "The same way hedgehogs procreate." At Peter's blank look, he clarified. "Very carefully."
Peter nodded. Then he swallowed, feeling uncomfortable and kind of wishing he had that coffee. As if picking up on that thought, Hank turned back to the table and dusted off a plain blue mug with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Sugar?" Hank asked. "I'm afraid I don't have creamer."
"Plain black's fine."
Hank handed him the not-quite-steaming cup, and Peter took a drink gratefully. Hank refilled his own mug as well and went to lean against the front of his desk.
"So," Peter said, "can you, uh, do stuff?"
"Certainly." Obviously noting Peter's disappointed look, Hank smiled into his coffee. "My mutation is responsible for my rather remarkable physical prowess and, incidentally, for my somewhat unconventional appearance."
Peter frowned, digesting this. "It makes you super strong?"
"And agile," Hank replied with a nod.
"Is it why you're so smart?"
Hank chuckled again. "I prefer to think not."
Peter nodded and took another drink. "Wow," he said, shaking his head. "I mean--wow. Doesn't anybody notice?" Now that he knew, it seemed impossible that he hadn't guessed. Nice as he was, Hank wasn't exactly normal looking. Not really even in the same ballpark as normal. Okay, honestly? Not quite the same sport.
Hank shrugged, pulling a wry face. "The powers that be value my research enough not to ask too many questions. If it suits them to believe I'm a gifted scientist with an unfortunate birth defect, well..." he shrugged again.
"So, nobody knows?"
"My friends do."
Peter smiled, not really knowing how to respond to that.
"Well," Hank said, after a silence that was kind of uncomfortable, "I assume this visit isn't purely a social call?"
"Oh, yeah. I've got my paper right here," Peter said, holding it out. "Thanks again for the extension."
"You're most welcome," Hank murmured, flipping through the pages. He glanced at Peter over the rims of his glasses. "This looks like excellent work, Peter. I'm impressed."
Peter shrugged. "You were right. Getting some sleep helped. A lot."
"I thought it might," Hank said, turning to set the paper on top of a pile on his desk. He turned back to Peter, looking thoughtful. "And are you finding other activities more manageable after a good night's sleep?"
Shrugging again, Peter looked down at his jeans. "Well, I haven't exactly made a habit of it, yet. I'm working on it." He looked up at Hank as something occurred to him. "Hey, since you're a--you know--strong, and stuff, do you ever, uh...help people?"
Hank set his mug down in order to pick up a paperweight and turned the small glass globe over in his hands.
"Define 'help people,'" he said quietly, after a moment. "Does my research benefit others? I certainly like to think so." He gave Peter a shrewd look. "But I have a feeling that wasn't quite what you meant."
"Not exactly." Peter cleared his throat and tapped his fingers on the rim of the mug. "But, you know, if you were...if you did...I'd understand if you didn't want to tell me."
Hank shrugged a massive shoulder. "Yes," he said, after a long silence. "I am. And yes, I do. More than that, however, I am not at liberty to say."
"Right," Peter murmured, reeling a little. Hank--Professor McCoy, scientist and Star Wars geek--was...wow. He tried to picture the guy in a mask and brightly colored spandex and almost choked on his coffee. "That's...wow. That's fantastic," Peter said, when he could finally manage to string words together into sentences again.
"It is, sometimes," Hank agreed softly, engulfing his coffee mug with his hands again. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to say something else, but then he shook his head slightly, cleared his throat, and smiled. "I must admit, I'm a bit surprised by your reaction, Peter. Many would not have taken my revelation so calmly. Nor would most think to ask if I used my mutant abilities for the good of others."
Crap. He knew. And Peter had totally blown it. How could he have been so stupid? Most people were afraid of mutants, or hated mutants, or were tolerant only from a distance. Peter might as well have painted, 'Hey! I'm a freaky mutated crime-stopping good guy, too!' on his forehead and then done a little dance while squirting his webbing everywhere and singing that stupid 'Spider-Man, Spider-Man' song. Jeez!
But if Hank knew, he knew. Peter sighed and looked up at him. "Well, I--"
"I find your lack of prejudice refreshing," Hank continued, interrupting him. His smile warmed. "You're a fine person, Peter."
"Uh. Thanks," Peter mumbled, feeling about as far from fine as a person could, almost-but-not-quite lying when Hank had just told him his secret. And feeling strangely disappointed that Hank didn't know. And feeling really disappointed in himself for being too chicken to tell, even though he wanted to. It wasn't like Hank would think he was a freak. Probably not, at least.
He took a deep breath. "Hank, I--"
A quick knock interrupted Peter, and the door of Hank's office swung open, sending papers fluttering and revealing a young guy all in black except for deep red sunglasses that, for some reason, he was wearing despite being indoors.
"Hank!” the new guy said. “We--" then he turned, noticed Peter, and cleared his throat. "You're needed at home. Immediately. There's...a family emergency."
Peter saw the alarm on Hank's features and the sudden tension in his shoulders. Hank set his mug down carefully before turning to Peter. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to excuse us, Peter. Should I bring anything?" he asked Sunglasses Guy.
"Yourself," Sunglasses Guy said tersely. "Let's go."
Peter was almost to the door when it hit him. Family emergency, the guy had said. How many times had he used that excuse? And Hank hadn't asked what was wrong or who was sick. He'd asked if he needed to bring anything, which would have been weird...if they were actually talking about a family emergency. Which they weren't.
Without even really thinking about it, he stopped and met Hank's gaze. "Let me come with you. Whatever it is, maybe I can help."
"What?" Sunglasses Guy asked incredulously. He turned to Peter. "Thanks, but I don't think there's anything you could do."
Hank sighed. "He knows, Scott. In a manner of speaking. And no, Peter. I'm sorry."
"I can help," Peter repeated, not lowering his eyes. I'm Spider-Man, he added silently, but his throat seemed to close, and his mouth seemed to dry up before he could say those words.
"No, kid," Sunglasses Guy--Scott?--said. "Hank, we don't have time for this."
Hank closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. "Very well. Scott, it's all right. He's--" he glanced at Peter, his expression unreadable. "--a scientist."
"Great." Scott shrugged, obviously giving up. "Fine. I'm parked downstairs." Without another word, he turned and strode out, leaving Peter and Hank looking at one another in the center of the room.
Again, Hank seemed about to say something before he shook his head slightly and turned to grab a yellow legal pad and a pen from his desk. He scribbled something, then tore the page off and took a piece of tape from the dispenser.
"We will need to stop by room 112 to affix this to the door," he explained, leading the way out. "It wouldn't do to have students unaware of the fact that my classes are canceled."
"Hey," Peter said a moment later, hurrying to keep up with Hank's long strides. "I'm sorry. I just--"
"Don't be," Hank said shortly, though he didn't seem angry.
The other guy, Scott, did. He just shook his head when they got in the sweet Mazda RX8 parked in front of the building, Peter in the tiny backseat and Hank squeezing himself into the front, which looked uncomfortable even with the seat pushed back. Then no one spoke as they started to head out of town.
Hank sat looking down at his hands, clasped on his lap. Scott faced straight ahead, his posture rigid. And Peter looked from one of them to the other, wondering what was wrong, where they were going, and whether he should have asked Hank point-blank if he was a good guy or not.
After awhile, Hank cleared his throat. "I must apologize for not properly introducing you. Scott, this is Peter Parker, one of my brightest students. Peter, this is Scott S--"
"Cyclops," Scott interrupted.
Hank sighed. "This is Scott, also known as Cyclops."
"Uh. Nice to meet you," Peter said, eyeing Scott's dark sunglasses with renewed interest.
Scott caught his glance in the rearview mirror and frowned, and Peter quickly dropped his gaze.
"Might I inquire as to the nature of the family emergency?" Hank asked softly, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Scott spared Peter one more irritated look before facing the road again. "Have you met Mallory Garrett?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Fourteen-year-old from Wisconsin. She's had a tail and pointed canines since birth, and we figured that, if mutant powers ever manifested, she might develop the ability to fully change her shape to some sort of animal."
Peter stared at Scott, hardly believing that he was discussing this as if it was something normal, but he kept his mouth shut. He wouldn't put it past Scott to stop the car and kick him out if he interrupted. And, Peter had to admit, he was getting more and more intrigued by the minute.
Hank nodded. "That seems logical. What actually happened?"
Scott gave him a swift smile. "Right, you see where this is going."
"You used the past tense when you said 'figured.' I merely assumed."
Scott nodded. "We don't know what's happening. Mallory said she didn't feel well yesterday afternoon, and right after breakfast this morning, her body started morphing. Growing ears, wings, tails, paws... She's been everything from a mouse to a giraffe--and halfway to a lot of things, and some really weird combinations--since. And she's in agony, Hank, with her bones breaking--and healing, apparently--and her skin stretching. We're afraid she's going to seriously hurt herself, or worse, if we can't get this stopped. Since it started, it's only gotten worse."
Peter shuddered, hardly able to imagine this. But imagining it nonetheless. And this Mallory was fourteen? Crap.
Hank nodded again. "Where's Jean?"
"Going crazy trying to keep her stable. She's in shock, and with her heart rate and temperature changing by the minute, she's not doing well." Scott lifted a hand from the wheel to push it through his hair. "Think you could work on a way to get this under control?"
"Of course." Hank half-turned to the backseat and smiled. "It seems your instincts were correct, Peter. An adept laboratory assistant will be most welcome."
Peter managed a weak smile in return, still feeling uncomfortable and out of place. Forget being a third wheel. He was, like, the spare spare tire you kept in the garage for when the regular spare tire wore out. Scott snorted, but kept his eyes--eye?--on the road, and he didn't say anything about how Peter was uninvited and unwanted, which had to count for something.
"Hey, Hank?" Peter said quietly.
"Yes?" Hank turned again, shifting in his seat to look at Peter.
"Uh. Where are we going?"
"Westchester," Scott said shortly, to Peter's surprise. Also surprisingly, he saw Hank stiffen.
"Scott, I think it would be wise to explain our destination a bit more thoroughly to Peter. If he's going to accompany me to my lab, I see no point in secrecy."
"Dammit, Beast!" Scott said under his breath, smacking the side of the steering wheel in frustration. He shook his head. "Are you asking me for permission? Because--"
"Actually, no," Hank replied. He pushed up the bridge of his glasses with a thick finger and rubbed the skin beneath it. "Would it be possible to continue this discussion at a later time and in a more private venue?"
"At this point, just take it up with the Professor."
"I don't believe I'll have need to," Hank said softly. After a moment, and a silence that seemed to fill the car like some kind of stifling gas, he cleared his throat and turned to Peter. "We are going to the Xavier School for the Gifted. Ostensibly it is simply that, but in actuality it is a school--and a refuge--for children and adolescents with mutations."
"Wow," Peter managed as he digested this. For a moment, he imagined how much easier the latter part of his senior year would've been if he had been at a school where everybody was weird like him. Where kids could climb the walls in gym class, or could do their homework hanging from the ceiling, and didn't have to worry about cleaning up in a hurry in the morning if they accidentally squirted webbing in their sleep.
"Did you go there?" he asked after a minute, feeling like he should say something else. Something that didn't involve asking if they took college students, that is.
"I did." Hank smiled. "As did my dearest friends," he added, with a sidelong look at Scott."
"Beast..." Scott sighed, but he turned slightly and gave Hank a twist of his mouth that was almost a reluctant smile. "Don't."
"Beast?" Peter echoed curiously, realizing this was the second time Scott had called Hank that.
"My alias," Hank explained. "Or nickname, I suppose, depending on its usage. A reference to my bloodthirsty, base nature, I believe."
Peter swallowed. "Oh."
"He's kidding," Scott said, sounding amused.
"Right," Peter replied, relieved. He couldn't really imagine Hank being bloodthirsty, but...you never knew. After all, Dr. Jekyll had been a mild-mannered scientist, right? "Uh, what about Cyclops?" he asked, wondering if he was crossing a line but also both curious and wanting to continue the conversation, now that Scott seemed slightly less likely to kick him out onto the highway.
Scott glanced at the rearview mirror again before shrugging. "I shoot force beams from my eyes."
"Whoa." Peter tried and failed to figure out how this could earn the nickname Cyclops but decided it didn't matter, and it would probably be best not to ask. But still. Beams? From his eyes? That made even sticky webbing from his wrists seem downright normal.
Peter opened his mouth to ask more about the school, but Scott spoke first. "We're here," he said, as they turned off the road and onto a long driveway. He pressed something on the console to open the gate, and they pulled in and rounded a curve, giving Peter his first look at Xavier's School.
"Well?" Hank asked as he led Peter down a hall. "Have you formed an opinion of this fine establishment?"
Peter was pretty sure his mouth had been hanging open for the past five minutes. The mansion itself was enough to boggle his mind. The Osborns' place was great, but this! The quick glimpse Peter had gotten of the grounds assured him that they were as nice as the prettiest spots in the Park, and the house looked like something out of Better Homes For Really, Really Rich People.
But it wasn't the place so much as the people that had kept Peter staring, even though he'd tried not to. A tall, good-looking shirtless guy with wings had met them at the door. They had passed plenty of normal-looking kids and teenagers, but Peter had also seen two little girls doing a puzzle in what looked like the living room, moving the pieces without touching them. He'd seen a guy who was bright blue and looked like a devil heading down the stairs, a can of Coke clutched in his claw-like hand. He'd seen a huge kid--he couldn't tell if it was male or female--who looked like it was made out of gray leather curled up reading in an alcove.
And that was just on the way to the elevator that took him and Hank downstairs to a real, honest-to-goodness (as Aunt May would say) secret good-guy lair. Hank had hurried him past a row of what looked like leather uniforms, past rooms with shut doors and rooms with computer-looking things Peter didn't recognize, down to a room at the end of the hall. Hank opened the door, flicked on the light, and smiled.
"Welcome to my lab."
"Whoa," Peter breathed. It was...amazing. It was a science geek's dream come true. There were counters, a sink, an autoclave, microscopes, a computer, cupboards and shelves full of bottles and swabs and slides and solutions and weird things in jars and...everything, basically, you might ever want to do some serious experimenting. And then, on lower shelves, there were wires and bits of metal and electronics parts and remotes and batteries and tools. It looked like a microwave, a TV, and the contents of a millionaire's entertainment center had either mated and multiplied or exploded.
Peter looked at Hank, who was watching his reaction. "This is--wow." Peter shook his head, at a loss for words.
Hank grinned. "You may make yourself comfortable or satisfy your curiosity uninhibitedly," he said. "I will be leaving you to your own devices momentarily in order to go across the hallway to converse with Jean--that is, Doctor Grey, the resident physician. In order to begin this endeavor, I must have a more thorough grasp of the patient's condition. Does this plan meet with your approval?"
"I can make myself at home while you go down the hall?" Peter nodded. "Sure, that sounds fine."
"Excellent. I shall return shortly, and then, my friend, we will embark upon our first cooperative research project."
Peter stood in the center of the room, grinning like an idiot, after Hank left. Peter Parker--Peter 'Does Not Apply Himself Or Live Up To His Potential' Parker--was going to be working on a project with Hank McCoy, soon-to-be-double PhD, who people from other countries consulted on research projects. This was...awesome.
This was...awful, Peter thought, staring blearily at the computer screen. Even with the monitor's brightness turned down to sixty percent, the words and numbers still swam, and the glare seemed to go straight into his brain, which was currently trying to pound its way out of his skull. He'd done research projects before, sure, and on deadlines, but this was different. There was a real girl down the hall--a real, screaming, howling, roaring, squawking girl--and she really might die if he and Hank didn't figure out something soon.
They'd been at it for nearly eight hours, Peter realized as he glanced at the time display on the monitor. Sometime in the first thirty minutes, they'd stopped trying to make small talk. Then they'd stopped skirting around one another and had figured out and accepted each other's physical presence. Peter couldn't remember the exact moment when moving against the counter to let Hank pass had become automatic, or when Hank had started handing him stuff from the top shelves before Peter could ask. Shortly after that, they'd developed a rhythm and verbal shorthand faster and better than Peter ever had with any regular lab partners. Maybe it was just part of working with a super genius, but Hank made him feel smarter, more confident, more capable. He thought things around Hank that he never would have on his own. That part, at least, was awesome.
But the knowledge that if they didn't come up with a solution a girl would die made self-congratulation ridiculous. This was serious, hurried, and more intense than almost everything Peter had done in his life.
He scrolled through the back-issue online journal, trying to make sense of the graduate-level prose. "No good," he muttered after a minute. "This one's just theoretical, on the possibility and ethics of removing--they say curing--mutations, period."
"Responses?" asked Hank, over by the counter.
"One, from..." Peter squinted, figuring out how to pronounce the last name. "Dr. E. Lehnsherr. Heard of him?"
"It won't be helpful." Hank sighed. "Try the British Journal of Medicine from 1998 and 1999. I seem to recall a discussion on experimental drugs to slow the development of progressive genetic disorders."
"Okay," Peter murmured absently, already bringing up the archives. He turned as a knock sounded on the doorframe.
"Hey," Scott said, poking his head in. "It's eleven-thirty. You guys need a break."
"Later." Hank didn't look up from his microscope.
"You need to eat sometime, Hank, and so does the kid."
"Certainly. Presently. I simply...want to see if..." Hank trailed off, knobs of the microscope completely lost under his hands as he made minute adjustments.
Scott turned his weird visor--his nickname made more sense, now--towards Peter and jerked his head meaningfully in Hank's direction. Peter sighed, went to Hank, and put his hand on his shoulder. "Seriously, Hank, maybe a break would be a good idea. I don't know about you, but I think my brain is about to explode. Anyway, what was that about people needing rest and food to function?"
"I believe I specifically referred to humans having those particular requirements," Hank said with a small, tired-looking smile. "You are, of course, free to take a respite from our labors any time it pleases you."
Peter turned back to Scott and shrugged.
"Beast," Scott said quietly, in a tone of command that surprised Peter all the more because it was mixed with fondness, "I've got food and drinks. If you won't come out here, I'm going to bring this in the lab. And get crumbs and spill pop on everything. And get God knows what in the food."
At last, Hank turned to the door, looking exasperated. "Threats, Scott? That's profoundly unfair." Then he sighed and spread his hands. "Very well. Peter, I believe dinner is served."
Scott, who was carrying two plates and had a bag hanging from one arm, led them to a nearby room with a big TV or computer on the wall and a big conference table in the center of the room. "It's just leftovers," he said as he set the plates down. "Roast beef sandwiches, some mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. You like horseradish, Peter?"
"Sure." He usually had mustard, but right now, the sting of horseradish with beef --and maybe lettuce?--sounded like the best idea ever. And Peter didn't care if macaroni and mashed potatoes were weird together. It sounded perfect, and he realized just how starving he was when he peeled the foil back.
"Good, there's some on your sandwich. Forks, napkins, and Cokes are in the bag," Scott said. "Now, I've got a pile of workbooks to grade. Good luck on the inventing."
"Thanks," Peter said thickly, around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Yes, thank you," Hank added, the look he was giving his macaroni belying what he'd said about wanting to wait for food.
For several minutes, the only sounds were of forks scraping against their plates and appreciative grunts. Peter finished first and rummaged in the bag for napkins, coming up with some recycled brown paper ones and a package of Chips Ahoy.
"All right, cookies!" he exclaimed, tearing the wrapper open. "Want one?"
"Only one?" Hank asked, glancing at Peter with amusement as he stacked their empty plates.
"Fine. Half the package?" Peter grinned.
"Yes, please." Hank chuckled and plucked out a handful. "A much more satisfying offer."
Peter grabbed a few himself and sat back in his chair. He looked up at the ceiling, tasting chocolate and wondering when was the last time he'd felt this...safe? Relaxed? Something.
He glanced at Hank, who had pulled a pencil and tiny notepad out of his pocket and was busy scribbling with one hand, munching on a cookie he held in the other. He was getting crumbs everywhere, Peter noted with a smile.
Peter looked back up at the ceiling, tracing the straight lines and precise angles of the tile edges. The chocolate chips' faint, bittersweet aftertaste was still in his mouth. He thought about taking another bite but didn't.
"I'm Spider-Man." He murmured this to the ceiling tiles, almost like he was testing out the words, though he knew Hank would hear. It felt like ripping off a Band-Aid. No, more exposed than that. It felt like ripping off his underwear. It felt like doing a bench-press, lifting up the weighted bar and then just...holding it up there, waiting to see if it would fall.
It felt like an hour before Hank responded. "I know," he said quietly.
Peter dropped his cookie and stared as Hank gave him a small smile and an almost apologetic shrug.
"I saw you," Hank explained. "I was in a dark classroom one evening, desiring a few moments of rest and inaccessibility to anyone seeking me, when you ducked in. I was on the verge of speaking, but then the light from the door's window caught on the costume beneath the shirt you were opening. I'd heard, of course, about the elusive Spider-Man, and I assumed you did not wish to discuss your...alternate lifestyle."
Peter blinked, realizing that his brain had registered about one word out of ten. "You've known this whole time?" he asked stupidly. "Why didn't you say something?"
"I attempted several times to broach the subject." Hank did that apologetic shrug again. "On each occasion, you seemed rather reticent on the matter."
"Well..." Peter looked at his lap, knowing it was true. "It's just--I haven't told anybody. It's pretty huge."
"Indeed." Hank leaned across the table, holding out another cookie. Peter took it and attempted to smile, though he was still reeling. "Well," Hank continued, "now that the doors to the costumed hero closet have been thrown open, should you ever wish to discuss anything pertaining to your extracurricular activities, I am, as they say, all ears."
There was nothing forced about Peter's smile this time. "Thanks, Hank."
Fueled by the food, the rest, and the conversation, the next few hours flew by for Peter. He was still kind of dazed, but they were really getting somewhere, and it was cool--really cool--to be able to use his webbing to reach for notebooks and pens and stuff. The first time he'd done it, Hank had looked startled for a second before he chuckled and told Peter just not to grab anything extremely fragile that way.
Peter had a more hands-on experience this time, boiling stuff, handing Hank bottles, sterilizing instruments, the whole works. He was back on the computer, though, wading through yet another medical journal, when Hank gasped.
Peter jumped and turned to face him.
Hank was leaning over the microscope again. "Oh, my," he breathed.
"I do believe we have a workable prototype."
Peter's hand, still on the mouse, suddenly felt numb. "You're kidding. We--you-- " He shook his head and started again. "You invented a drug--"
"Combination of drugs."
"--in an evening."
Hank nodded, looking both pleased and a little embarrassed. "More accurately, we invented an experimental combination of drugs."
"Still. Wow. Is this a typical all-nighter for you? And do you think it'll work?"
"No to the first, and as to the second...well. I certainly hope so." Hank pushed up his glasses with a fingertip. "Would you care to accompany me as I go to administer it?"
"Sure! Are you sure that's okay?"
"I sincerely doubt Jean will mind. On my forays into the treatment room, she has seemed to think the world of you."
Hank smiled, but his expression quickly became serious again. "However, you must understand that, despite our best efforts, this treatment may harm or even kill our patient. Are you prepared to witness such an occurrence?"
Peter swallowed and nodded. This wasn't news, but having Hank say it out loud scared the hell out of him. "It'll work," he said, with more confidence than he felt. "It will."
"I sincerely hope you're correct, my friend."
Peter couldn't look away. The girl--the young girl--the young girl on the bed with the cage around it--hadn't stopped moving since he'd been watching her. Her face stretched, sank in on itself, grew fur, grew fangs; he saw her toes melt together into thick paws, stretch out again and become webbed, curl into talons. He heard the bones of her arms break with a sickening, earsplitting crack and watched her elbows re-bend the wrong way, prickling feathers as they shifted into wings.
She hadn't stopped screaming, either, and Peter couldn't decide which was worse: hearing her broken, high-pitched human wails or listening to the screams of pain from the animals she turned into. The rabbit had nearly made him put his hands over his ears and run.
"...can't restrain her any other way for fear of hurting her worse, and the Professor can't do anything with the animals," Jean was saying at his shoulder, as Hank prepared the drugs.
"The Professor?" Peter echoed, barely listening.
"He's an incredibly powerful telepath, but he can't command her to be still or calm her, not with her brain changing like this. Apparently, she doesn't retain her human mind in animal form. At least, not yet."
"Not yet?" He felt stupid, but it was late--early--and maybe that was understandable. But Jean had his full attention now, and he tore his gaze away from Mallory to look at her. "You think she'll be able to control it? Or get better at it?"
Jean nodded, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Mutations are usually difficult to control at first, and some manifest more violently than others.” She nodded at the bed. “Not all of them have a self-protection hardwired in, though, which is why we're worried."
Peter forced himself not to repeat her again. "By self-protection, you mean, like, a guy who could...uh...make stuff start on fire by touching it wouldn't start himself on fire?"
"Exactly." Jean's eyebrows pulled together as she looked at Mallory. "In Mallory's case, while she is healing herself, she's unable to stop changing long enough to eat or sleep, or even catch her breath. We need to slow her down, keep her in her human form long enough to let her try to figure out how to control her ability. And she needs rest, which is the most important thing at the moment."
Peter frowned as he thought of something that seemed obvious. "Couldn't we--you--have given her something to knock her out for awhile?"
"Sure, but a human dosage of a sedative would kill a mouse or cat and wouldn't do anything to a cow." Jean sighed. "That's the problem."
"Sorry," he mumbled, feeling stupid again. Of course they would have thought of that. "It's late."
"Incidentally, that is the reason why I am administering the medication instead of Jean," Hank said. He approached with two prepared syringes in his hand. "This needs to be administered while Mallory is in her natural form--"
"--And Hank's a lot stronger and faster than I am," Jean finished.
Peter looked from Jean to Hank, to Mallory, currently growing scales and some kind of neck-crest on the bed. "Are you sure? I could do it."
Jean started to protest, but Hank gave Peter an appraising, definitely approving look. "I'm certain you could," he said slowly, nodding, "but...I would like to."
Peter nodded, watching Hank's chest and shoulders rise and fall as he took a deep breath and walked to the door of the cage.
"Ready, Jean?" he asked.
Jean nodded, and Peter held his breath as they all turned to watch the girl in the cage scream and thrash as she grew feathers again, as a half-grown Labrador puppy curled up in a ball and whimpered, as something that was half-slimy and half-rodent opened its mouth and squeaked...
And, finally, as wet blonde hair fanned out on the mattress from a face that still had a beak below its wide and staring green eyes.
"NOW!" Hank yelled, and, without anyone moving, the latch of the cage lifted and the door flew open.
Two steps had him at the bed, hand poised above Mallory as she went rigid, small fingers uncurling from stiff avian toes to grasp at the shreds of the sheet.
Peter saw Hank's face go white, saw the glint and sharp point of the first needle as he thrust his arm down and drove the point deep into her chest. Mallory yelled but didn't move as Hank pushed the plunger and drew it out in what seemed like one smooth motion, then he tossed the syringe to the corner of the cage.
Hank shifted the second syringe to his right hand, pulled Mallory's arm out with his left, his huge fingers looking ridiculous around her skinny wrist. Again, a silver point found its mark, slid in slowly this time, and Hank pushed the plunger.
Mallory shifted to a lioness in the blink of an eye, roared in outrage, and swiped at Hank as he pulled the needle free.
Hank shouted, Jean screamed, and the next few seconds were a blur to Peter, who might have yelped as well. He had the dim sensation of movement, the flash of a white lab coat, heavy footsteps on the floor, the metallic clang of the cage door slamming shut.
Then he and Jean were flanking Hank, all of them breathing so hard it was a wonder there was any air left in the room.
"God," Jean gasped, touching Hank's shoulder like she was afraid he would break. Her fingers--the nails were bitten, Peter noticed distantly--were shaking. "Are you okay?"
Hank nodded, winced, and held his right arm out in front. "I'm fine. She just got my hand, and her claws were either mostly retracted or unformed. Barely a scratch."
Peter was relieved to see that it was true; there were only shallow bloody red lines on the back of Hank's hand.
"Glad you're all right" he managed, trying both to give Hank an encouraging smile and to get his heart to stop racing.
"As am I, I assure you." Hank's attempt at a smile was, incredibly, better.
"Hank," Jean said suddenly, and there was something in her tone that made Peter's heart suddenly slam to a stop, directly in his throat. She lifted a hand and pointed. "Hank. Your other arm. The syringe."
Hank looked and slowly pulled the needle out of his left forearm, looking as though he didn't know what it was or how it had gotten there. He took it to a red sharps container and dropped it in, then turned to look at Jean. "The other one is still in the cage. It would probably be wise to dispose of it, as well." Then he scrubbed a hand over his hair. "Well. I suppose the routine tests are in order. Could we postpone them until tomorrow, Jean?"
"Sure." She dumped the other needle and turned to him, fear all over her face. "Hank, you did give the entire dosage to Mallory, right? Before...?"
"I believe so."
Peter saw the fear on Hank's face and realized suddenly that he and Jean weren't afraid of AIDS or anything. They were afraid of the drug. He swallowed, reached up with his cuff to wipe sweat off his forehead, and wished--seriously wished--that they'd had more time to mess around with the drug before actually giving it to anyone.
Jean rummaged around in the cupboard and came back with alcohol wipes and Band-Aids. Hank held out his arms silently, and Peter saw Jean squeeze his hand tight after she'd finished.
"It will likely take some time to begin affecting her," Hank said softly, nodding toward the bed.
"So...now we wait?" Peter asked.
"Now we wait." Jean rolled her neck to the side and rubbed a spot at the back of it. "You guys want some coffee? The Professor just made some, and he says Scott and Warren are coming down in a minute."
"I'll pass, thank you." said Hank. "Peter, would you like to join me in my office? I'd like to hear about your research paper."
It took Peter a minute to remember what paper he was talking about. School seemed a million miles away. "Sure."
Hank's office was small, with a brownish-orange sofa, a battered desk, and a ton of books. Hank shrugged off his coat the second they went in and tossed it on the sofa, toed off his shoes, stretched, and vaulted up with a flip to hang from one of the big bars that crossed the ceiling. Then he clasped his toes over the top of the bar, letting himself hang there, swaying slightly.
"Whoa," Peter said, blinking in surprise. He was about to ask if Hank always did that when he remembered the weird thump from Hank's office on campus and Hank's messed-up hair and guilty look when Peter had gone in. And Peter realized that, yeah, Hank probably usually did. Maybe it was more comfortable for him than sitting in a chair, which Peter could completely understand. How often did he wish he could sleep hanging upside down, or in a hammock made out of webbing?
Peter hesitated for a second, feeling kind of weird about doing this without the mask, but it was late enough that he just didn't care. "Mind if I join you?"
"Be my guest." Hank smiled. "My ceiling is your ceiling."
He could have jumped, or used his webbing, but Peter kind of felt like showing off, so he climbed one of the walls and made his way along the ceiling to the bar opposite Hank. He attached a strand of webbing to the ceiling and lowered himself down until they were eye to upside-down eye. They grinned at each other for a few minutes, and Peter wondered if having a buddy to 'hang out' with was a first for Hank, too.
There was a lot they could have said, Peter thought. They could have talked about his paper, though he had a suspicion Hank just hadn't wanted to hang around for coffee. They could have talked about their research, or about their abilities, or books, or Star Wars again.
Instead, Peter blurted out the thing he'd been wondering since he found out that Hank knew about him. Actually, what he'd been wondering since he'd gathered that Hank wasn't just a lone hero, that he worked with a group.
"Can I join you?"
Hank blinked and pushed his glasses up--down, actually--on his nose. "On this bar? I suppose our combined weight would not exceed its--"
"No, I mean, your team. I figured it's not just you and Scott, right? At least one of those uniforms was for a woman."
Peter's look probably told him it should be pretty obvious. "This..." he waved his hand vaguely, "...is so cool. I'm just a guy in a homemade costume." And it felt so good to have someone know. To hang upside down from the ceiling with someone like nothing was out of the ordinary. He could only imagine what it would feel like to have a nickname like 'Webs' and have his friends tease him and wear a cool leather outfit and be welcome in this mansion where he'd never have to worry about not getting a shower or having roaches on the bed.
"You're not a mutant," Hank said at last.
"I might as well be! I'm mutated, right?" Peter sighed. "Are you saying you guys wouldn't want me? I'm pretty good, really--"
"No," Hank said softly, with an odd, bitter smile. "You don't understand, Peter, that you would be asking for prejudice and hatred you don't deserve."
"And you do?"
"Of course not. But..." Hank's brows drew together in thought. "It would be similar to claiming you're gay if, in fact, you exclusively find yourself attracted to women."
Hank lifted a hand. "That aside, two questions: Are you prepared to have the public turn on Spider-Man if it becomes known that he has joined a group of mutants? That, rather than a gifted but otherwise normal human, he might be a mutant? No longer would people welcome you with open arms, my friend. They would fear you, even as you risked yourself to protect them."
"Second, are you prepared to relinquish your anonymity? The X-Men wear uniforms, and we use aliases, but the Professor would rather we did not hide our faces. No matter how careful you were, someone might eventually recognize you."
The silence stretched thin as a strand of a real spider's web, and Peter swayed, thinking about it. Right now, this late, swinging upside down with possibly the first person who had ever really understood him, it seemed like a really good idea.
"I don't care," he said at last, poking the bar with his sneaker.
"You don't understand," Hank corrected gently, for the second time in five minutes. "I don't think you realize how fortunate you are, Peter. The people you protect--they admire you. They appreciate your efforts. Spider-Man is a hero, and Peter Parker is lucky enough to be able to pass as an entirely normal--if absentminded--university student."
Peter sighed and flipped backwards, landing on the floor with a soft thud. He flopped down on the sofa and looked up at Hank. "I guess I'm just tired of doing it alone."
"You needn't," Hank replied, dropping with a much louder thump. He joined Peter on the sofa which, actually being more of a loveseat, was small enough that their shoulders touched. Peter didn't move away.
Hank turned his head, looked at Peter's face, and smiled. "Perhaps joining the team would be unwise, but I believe we all would welcome an ally. And a friend."
Peter smiled back and moved sideways, bumping Hank's shoulder. "I could live with that."
Hank chuckled, sounding tired, and Peter looked at him again, realizing that, since he had an early-morning class, he'd probably been up for nearly twenty-four hours.
"How do you do it?" Peter asked quietly. "Teach and research and do all this?"
"The simple, if untrue, answer would be that I manage my time well and am committed to all facets of my life."
"What's the real answer?"
Hank sighed, hooked his hands around his knees, and looked at them. "That I look around me when I'm here, and I see these children--and I think of my friends--who are unable to pass. And I feel profoundly grateful that I can, and guilty that I can, and I feel it is my duty, and my very great privilege, to go out into the world and use my deception to do what I can for the good of all mutants."
Peter studied his profile, a little bit in awe of the huge, quiet, amazing man next to him. Uncle Ben used to say something about being able to feel it when you were in the presence of greatness, and Peter finally understood what he meant.
Peter was about to say something --he wasn't sure what--when the door opened. He and Hank both looked up to see Jean standing there, looking drained. Her arm was around Scott, who looked just as bad, though without the dark circles under his eyes. At least, not that Peter could see.
Hank was on his feet in an instant. "Is she--"
"She's asleep," Jean said wonderingly, her smile making her beautiful instead of exhausted-looking again.
"As a chimpanzee," Scott added with a wry smile, "but we're not complaining."
Hank sank back down and took a deep breath. "Oh, thank heavens," he murmured. "Oh, my."
Peter thought his grin might actually crack his face. "She's really okay?"
"I'm pretty sure she will be." Jean shook her head. "You guys...you're amazing."
"I--" Whatever Hank was going to say was lost in a jaw-cracking yawn, and Jean smiled again.
"Bed, Beast. Mallory will be fine until morning,” she said. “And I don't know how, but Warren managed to find your bed under a mountain of books, and he made up the spare in there for Peter."
Peter almost laughed. Who would've thought this morning that he'd be rooming with his professor?
He and Hank followed the others down the hall, with Hank going up to speak quietly with Jean. Scott hung back and fell into step with Peter.
"Hey, sorry about this afternoon," Scott said, pausing abruptly and turning to face Peter. "I don't know why you offered to come, but...we're lucky you did." Scott smiled and held out a hand, and Peter shook it.
They had just started back down the hall when Peter stopped again, making a split-second decision. This time, it was a lot easier. "Scott?"
Peter shot webbing at the ceiling and swung out in front of Scott, turning to drop into a crouch in front of him. He straightened, grinning at the look of amazement he could see even around the visor. "That's why."
He wasn't even a little bit upset when Scott started to laugh. "Spider-Man?” Peter nodded, and Scott shook his head. “I'll be damned."
Scott caught up with him a second later and gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder. "Well. Welcome to the family, kid."
Peter looked up at Hank and Jean as he and Scott turned the corner and headed for the elevator. The huge, gorilla-looking super genius, the beautiful redheaded doctor who could move stuff without her hands and use her thoughts like a cell phone, Scott with his force-beam eyes and visor, and...Peter Parker, science student and Spider-Man.
If this was what family was like for freaky, mutated, costume-wearing heroes, Peter thought, Spider-Man could definitely get used to it.
ETA March 2007: There's now a sequel to "Office Hours." It's here.