White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

2/February 2002

"Umm... Hi. It's me. I'm back home and I'm really sorry I didn't call you and I have a lot to explain to you but I don't want to do it over the phone, so when you get this call me back or just come over or I'll come over there and I'll grovel and try to explain how while I don't really have a good excuse why I didn't call you, I kinda sorta have a reason... I'll see you soon. I love you."

Lily put down her backpack with a thud and debated whether to try to work out her aggravation now or wait until she saw Alex.

"You never tell my answering machine that you love it unless you think I'm going to be pissed off," she told the echo of his voice. "And you only ramble when you're nervous."

It was Friday afternoon, the fifth day in a row she had spent all of the daylight hours either in a windowless materials lab or a windowless electric propulsion lab. Two of those days had required her playing kindergarten cop for a couple of undergrad optics sessions, with the rest of those days plus two additional ones spent working on the group research project that was only going to get her "special thanks to" on the journal article. And one day only had been spent on her own research.

Alex had left her a rushed and confusing message on Monday afternoon, mumbling something about a family emergency and him going off to meet his brother. He had said that he expected to be home sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday and if he was going to be any later, he'd call her.

Initially, she had been too concerned to be angry that Alex had to back out of their plans. They made it a point once every two weeks to spend an evening doing nothing involving grad school - going to the movies, going out to dinner far away from campus, once they had gone bowling - and Monday night had been it. But it was an emergency, so she had given their tickets to the Disney movie to Orly and Xiao rather than go out and have a good time while Alex was obviously worried about something. But she hadn't canceled any of her other plans to sit by the phone and wait for an update. After eleven months, she could translate the Alex-speak. If he had actually been planning on trying to reach her before he had gotten home, he would have phrased it differently. But when there was no message on her answering machine when she got home from her very long day at the lab on Wednesday, Lily had started to get worried.

Thursday afternoon, she had checked her messages from the phone outside the propulsion lab - maybe possibly reconsidering her decision that she really didn't need a cell phone -- and found nothing. She didn't have Alex's brother's number in Westchester and information couldn't provide a number for either a Scott Summers or a Jean Summers in Salem Center. Lily vaguely remembered that Jean had hyphenated her last name but didn't know what it was, so she couldn't try that, either. Emailing a few of Alex's buddies in the geosciences department had gotten her nowhere - none of them had a number for Westchester and Paul had reminded her about Delta Force.

Personally, Lily didn't think Alex was in Delta Force or part of any kind of shadowy civilian organization, although it certainly was a plausible story. He'd had a soldier's training, that was for sure. And he'd get this haunted, harrowed look every once in a while - sometimes if the news was on, but sometimes it could be as simple as watching kids in a playground. It was the same one that Lily had seen in her grandfather and the other veterans she'd walk past at the VA hospital back in Oregon. She'd never directly asked, but she'd always assumed that Alex had a stint in either the Army or Marines - most likely Army because the Marines were a cult and he'd never have hidden membership in it - either before or after college. The timing would have worked out that he'd have possibly seen action and Lily, daughter and granddaughter of a combat veteran, knew better than to question him about it.

But none of that mattered in this case - Alex was officially AWOL.

Thursday night, she had come home and actually whimpered when there were no messages on her machine. The phone had rung at 11PM and Lily had overruled her own long-standing policy on not answering the phone after ten in the hope that it was Alex, but it wasn't. It was Grandma Ina, who at this stage of the onset of her dementia Lily wasn't about to waste energy telling that there was a three-hour time difference between here and there. That would involve breaking Grandma Ina's heart by telling her that she wasn't in Korea anymore.

By Friday morning, any lingering sympathy for Alex was gone. If something had happened to either Scott or Jean or someone in Alex's family, five days was long enough for him to find a free moment to get to a phone. Especially because Alex did have a cell phone. In a fit of pique, Lily had deleted all of the emails from Alex's friends wondering if Lily had heard anything from him.

The phone rang, shaking her out of her reverie. Knowing who it probably was, she still picked it up.


"Hi... I'm sorry. I owe you an apology and an explanation and... Jean's right. I waited too long."

"Well, on the assumption that she knows what the hell has been going on, then I'll agree with her."

"Lil... I can't do this over the phone. It's too much. Can I come over?"

"I still have my coat on. I'll come over there. It'll give you a fighting chance that I'll have cooled down enough not to cause permanent damage. I was worried, Alex."

"And I gave you reason to be. And you sort of had reason to be... I'll explain it when you get over here."

"I'll see you in a few."

Lily picked up her keys and, looking around the apartment she had barely seen this past week, left. Alex lived a lot closer to her this year than last year, when a bicycle was necessary to get between their places. Much to her annoyance, the trek took only fifteen minutes.

Alex opened the door before she even knocked and the snarky comments Lily had spent the walk preparing died on her lips upon seeing him. "What the hell happened to you?"

He looked like he hadn't slept since Monday and there was a long, ugly-but-healing gash starting at his left temple and ending below his cheekbone. Obviously just out of the shower, he was wearing sweats and a "Geologists like it rock hard" t-shirt and he looked like he was going to collapse.

Instead of replying, Alex grimaced and gestured for her to come inside. He took her coat and tossed it on the back of the lounger he insisted on keeping despite the lack of room for it and followed. Lily sat down on the couch and looked up expectantly.

Alex, bare feet slapping against the wood floor, paced.

"Is this the sort of bad news that's going to make me too angry to eat?" Lily asked when the pause had moved past thoughtful through dramatic and on into uncomfortable. "Because if it is, I should eat something now. I skipped lunch."

"What makes you think it's bad news? Apart from the gore?"

"You're pacing," she replied with an ease that she did not feel. "You do that when you think you're in trouble. You operate on the faulty premise that I'd find a moving target harder to hit."

Alex smiled sadly at her. "Why don't I make some pasta?"

"I see." Actually, she really didn't see. Alex was looking guilty - and tired and sore - and while there were a ton of reasons why these could be the result of a family emergency, it could all also be the result of a week spent mountain climbing or skiing.

She left him to putter around in the tiny kitchen alone until she heard a hiss of pain. Standing up, she could see all that he had done was pick up the cast iron pan with one hand. The pan wasn't hot - he was moving it to get to the pot he used for pasta - and she could feel concern warring with frustration and the awareness that whatever it was that Alex was going to tell her was going to be a game-changer. They were at a watershed, one Alex had led them to by intent, and she wasn't sure how - or if - they would move on from whatever awaited her. But for the time being, they could pretend that they were not at the edge of a cliff.

"Let me do that," she said with slight exasperation, taking the pan from him with one hand and reaching over for the pasta pot with the other. "Can you at least tell me how badly you're hurt?"

"My shoulder's a bit of a mess," he admitted ruefully. "It's mostly healed, but the scar tissue's the problem. The rest is just cosmetic."

"How did you go from injury to healing to breaking up scar tissue in five days?" Lily asked, filling the pot with water and returning it carefully to the stove. "And how much is 'the rest' that just is cosmetic?"

"There's a reason I didn't try to hug you," Alex replied as he reached gingerly for the box of pinwheel-shaped pasta. "Beyond the fact that I didn't think you'd appreciate it."

Lily just shook her head. "What happened?"

"I want to tell you everything in order," Alex said, holding up a hand in defense at her frown. "For now, let's just say that Scott called me to help him with something that he thought would be very straightforward and turned out to be anything but."

Lily took this at face value. Scott, the few times she had met him, hadn't seemed like the type to be dragging his little brother on quixotic adventures in the middle of the semester. But there was something off about this... She didn't think Alex was lying. She just got the feeling that this was a gross oversimplification of the truth. The age difference between them - six years  ("I'm older, she's more mature," Alex told anyone who asked) - only occasionally manifested itself in any real way other than popular culture, but once in a while, Lily could hear an 'if you were older, you'd understand' tone in his voice. And while this was one of those times she expected it, it wasn't there.

Instead of saying anything, Lily tried to get a look at the gash on Alex's face and raised her hand to turn his head. "Did you put anything on that... Alex! You're burning up! Is it infected - do you have a fever?" He felt hot to the touch. Not clammy, but hot.

Alex sighed. "No, it's not infected, it's got anti-bacterial goo on it, and I don't have a fever. I'm just... nervous."

"Nervous enough to fry an egg on your forehead?"

"Now there's an image... I could, you know."

"You could what?" Lily thought he was definitely feverish if there wasn't a non sequitur in there somewhere.

"Fry an egg on my forehead," Alex replied casually. He turned and leaned against the counter, facing her. His eyes were bright and for a moment she thought it was a fever talking, but then she realized it was tears, unshed tears. "Or in my hand. Or across the room..."

"Alex, what are you talking about?" Were they not currently in the calm eye of a hurricane of a fight, she'd suspect Alex was making an elaborate joke to try to calm her down. But now he was speaking seriously without even a trace of a smile.

"Haven't you ever noticed that my coffee never gets cold and my takeout always stays hot? Or that while the shower never has enough hot water for us to sufficiently goof off, the three times we've attempted to bathe together the water never even got tepid? Or that I don't own gloves and my hands are never cold? Or that my feet are never the freezing ones in bed?"

"I just thought that you had really good circulation," Lily said weakly. She had noticed these things, at least in passing, but despite all of the little reminders that this wasn't how heat flow worked when it came to the human body, she hadn't drawn any connection.

"There's a little more to it than that."

"You're a mutant," Lily said slowly, realization dawning like the sun. "You've got heat powers."

"Plasma production," Alex corrected. "I could solve your friend Xiao's demo problem with a flick of my finger."

Lily just let the news wash over her. It was surprising and not, agonizing and not. Her worst fears confirmed and her worst fears relieved. She loved Alex. Loved him in a way that was so different from any other feeling she had ever called by that name as to be laughable. She had allowed herself to think once - exactly once - about a future with him. Marriage. Children. Matching tenure tracks. But now... Sentinels. Genosha. Rampaging evil mutants bent on world domination, a constant war where civilians and collateral damage didn't matter. Where sometimes they were the targets... She and he weren't on the same side any more.

"Lily, say something? Please?"

"I thought you were one once," she said quietly. Alex looked so afraid, afraid to touch her, afraid she'd run away. Just... afraid. "The way your head would turn if there were mutants on the news or if the X-Men had done something. But you were so good at hiding... I thought it was just a coincidence after a while. Or just an interest you had."

She couldn't decide whether it was better or worse than another woman or a child somewhere or whatever it was that she'd came up with to poke holes in his occasionally flimsy excuses.

"Well, the X-Men are a little more than just an interest," Alex said, then sighed. "I used to be one... And this week I was one again. Lily, meet Havok."

He held out his hand, his face wrenched in a bitter smile, one tear falling.

Lily didn't move, still numb, until she was jarred into motion by Alex's face crumbling into something close to despair and his hand falling limply to his side. She reached out and grabbed the hand that was almost too hot to the touch, too hot to be simply human.

"How do you do?" she asked in what she hoped sounded more friendly than frightened. She wasn't sure what to be other than scared. "I'm Lily Beck. We have a friend in common. Alex Summers."

He laughed mirthlessly. "I'm the same person, Lily. We're the same person."

"Not to me, you're not," she contradicted, still holding his hand. "I only know Alex... or at least part of him."

"It's time you got to meet the rest of him," Alex replied. He closed his eyes for a long moment and Lily was about to ask if he was all right when he nodded to himself and opened his eyes. "Someone will be here in about ninety minutes and we can go then."
A wave of fear shot through her and she dropped his hand.

"Go where? I'm not dressed to go anywhere," Lily sputtered. As if that mattered. This was spinning out of control, far past merely weird and on into surreal. Alex had gone from her slightly reserved boyfriend to an eerily familiar stranger in all of a couple of heartbeats and her ability to process all of it had been overwhelmed right around the word 'mutant' and well before 'Havok'.

"Westchester," Alex said. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this right. Havok doesn't live here, he never has."

"How are we going to get there?" Lily asked, slightly snarly as confusion was being piled atop confusion, which in turn rested on a nest of mystery and untruths. So she grabbed on to what she could control, to knowledge that wasn't likely to be turned on its ear in the next two minutes. "The dinky is a good half-hour from here, and we'd have to coordinate our departure to its schedule and then it's more than an hour into Penn Station and then we'd have to get to Grand Central and take Metro-North... we wouldn't get there until late. And unless you think you can get Sanjay's car, we don't have a ride to drive up there ourselves."

"Jean's sending someone to pick us up," Alex replied, turning back to the unlit pot of water. "Now that I don't have to be subtle anymore," he muttered and held his hand over the water. In seconds, it began to boil rapidly and Alex turned on the burner like it was an afterthought.

Lily just stared, nauseated. She knew Alex was watching her, but she couldn't take her eyes off the boiling water. A voice in her mind was trying to tell her that Alex was dangerous - he could kill with a touch. She had seen footage of Havok in action, seen him melt guns into puddles and other terrifying acts that she had been raised to believe that people just didn't do. At least not outside of movies. So why wasn't she more scared that he'd hurt her?

"I'm freaking you out, aren't I?"

"Just a little," Lily retorted without rancor, finally looking up as Alex gently grasped her arm. His hands weren't hot at all now. It was a human touch. "One minute you're a goofy geologist and the next you're an internationally wanted terrorist. I think freaking out is well within my purview."

"The terrorism charges are highly overrated," Alex said with the air of someone casually giving a confidence. "Most of them stem from the fact that nobody wants to pay for the cleanup that comes from a battle between mutants. It's like a tax write-off."

"That doesn't ease my mind any, Alex," Lily replied tartly, looking up at him. And then she remembered something. "And how do you know that Jean is sending someone to fetch us?"

Alex made an apologetic face before sighing. "She said so," he explained, tapping his temple. "She's a telepath."

Lily rolled her eyes in frustrated disbelief and pulled out of Alex's grip. "I'm not sure I'm ready to go up to Westchester. It's too much. I don't even want to know what Scott does... Jean's read my mind?"

"Scott's the easiest one to figure out," Alex replied with a jolliness Lily knew he didn't feel as he reached for the pasta box. "And I doubt she's read your mind. She's very principled. She'll probably want to teach you how to shield, though. There are a lot of telepaths who aren't so well-intentioned."

The sudden change from Alex being worried about her to Alex being so blasé about everything pissed her off. It was like he was relieved that she hadn't stormed out and could now assure himself that everything would be okay and there were no lasting repercussions to his lies.

"I'm going to go sit on the couch," Lily said sharply, avoiding Alex's attempt to reach for her and going back into the room. She could hear him putting the pasta into the water, then he followed her out of the kitchen. But once in the living room, he kept his distance and made no motion to either speak or approach her. They kept to their separate silences until the timer went off and Alex went back to the kitchen to drain the pasta.

"I know this is a lot," he admitted as he returned. "And I know it's definitely too much to be dropping on you all at once. But... I can't keep all this from you anymore. It's hurting me and now it's starting to hurt us."

"So hurting me will balance everything else out?" Lily asked. She was more confused than angry by this point and it came out more sharply than she'd have liked. But Alex really wasn't in a position to overreact to anything she said, was he?

"Either we get through this or we don't, Lily," Alex said to her and she could hear the desperation in his voice. "The truth will either set us free or bury us."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" she shot back. "You can tell me that you love me and you can't even tell me that you're a mutant? That you used to be a fucking X-Man?"

"I was wrong," Alex admitted, rubbing his hands over his face vigorously. "I thought... I don't know what I thought... I left the superhero business because I wanted to be normal. Like I used to be before I had ever heard of mutants. I wanted to forget about being Havok and secret identities... X-Men have no lives. No friends outside the team, no hobbies, no day jobs, nothing. I wanted the life I had before I graduated college, before I found out what I was. I wanted to live like a human being - I am a human being and that got lost while I was Havok. And then I met you and I wanted you to like me for who I wanted to be, who I thought I could be instead of who I was. But being Havok is who I am. I've fought it ever since I found out that I was a mutant. I don't take to it the way Scott and Jean do. But I can't pretend it doesn't exist. I'm being untruthful to me as well as to you… The last thing in the world I'd ever want to do is hurt you, Lily. You have to know that. Even if I was being selfish and stupid, I didn't want you to pay for it for me."

"I look at you and I can't see anyone I know," she said quietly. "I saw what you wanted me to see. And I fell in love with the person you wanted to be. But now I don't know who you are and I don't know how I feel about him."

Alex hissed in pain as he peeled off his t-shirt. "This is me," he said as he extended his arms out to his sides. She could see abrasions and cuts and bruises all down his left side. "Same heart, same body."

"But it's not the same body," she replied, shaking her head. "That Alex's body never boiled water by holding his hand over it."

"Actually, I did," Alex replied, smiling ironically. "I reheated food all the time and I kept myself warm in the winter and even cleared the front stoop the weekend the super was gone and we had that big snowstorm. I only use my microwave when someone else is over... I'm not just a living weapon, however long that took me to realize. My mutation is good for a lot of practical stuff, not just draining nuclear reactors and taking down Sentinels."

"Is that how you got hurt? Sentinels?"

There'd been Sentinels in the news this past week, but there were almost always Sentinels in the news and even if she'd occasionally wondered about Alex's attention to mutants, she'd never have made that kind of connection.

"Yeah," he admitted wryly. "Idaho. It was a trap. We all got our asses handed to us. That's why I'm all cut up still. We only healed the serious stuff so everyone could get a change at the equipment. Our resident fix-it-all healer wasn't around."

Lily watched as Alex headed back into the kitchen, shirt still in hand, to root around in the fridge. Minus the wounds, he did look the same. But...

"I'm not asking you to just take all this with a smile and a ton of good grace," he said as he came back out. "You are entitled to get as pissed off as you want. Hell, you're even encouraged to get pissed off. Just... let me explain everything to you before you decide one way or the other. You deserve the whole truth."

Lily really felt too tired to vehemently agree with him on that last point. Her mind was still spinning, parsing through the entire course of their relationship for moments that at the time were innocuous and now, in hindsight, could have been clues. How Alex always came back quickly when he went to heat up lunches at the labs - he never seemed to have to wait on line to use the lounge microwave on the first floor of the building and said he had good microwave karma. How warm he had been when she had burrowed into his embrace at the Princeton-Dartmouth football game they had gone to last February... "That was you who melted Vermont Pete's notebook into the Dark Gallery, wasn't it?"

Alex smiled crookedly, which Lily knew was tantamount to his admitting guilt.

Vermont Pete (given the epithet to distinguish him from the four other Petes in the Mechanical Engineering department) was the sort of grad student reviled by all - eager to please professors to the point of obsequiousness, he thrived not by surpassing his fellow students but by making them look bad. One day, shortly after he had reduced Lily to tears by refusing to give up his extra session in the laser lab so that she could finish a test, Vermont Pete had left his (carefully sealed to prevent unauthorized reading) notebook in the graduate coffee bar. The next day it was found - opened and melted into the wall next to one of the paintings in the Dark Gallery, the graduate school's art exhibition space, so that all could read. Nobody ever claimed responsibility, although there were offers of rewards should the person step forward.

"He really needed to be stopped," Alex said. "Or at least put in his place for an afternoon."

"I'm not arguing, nor am I complaining about your chivalrous efforts," Lily said with a frown. "But we're getting away from things."

"We're not, actually," Alex contradicted, moving uncomfortably as he leaned against the ladder to the loft bed at a point where he shouldn't have. "All this stuff is part of who I am and now you know about how I do it. Nothing's changed in that respect except for the fact that you know."

"Everything's changed, Alex," she told him, taking her hair out of her ponytail and re-doing it. "For all of the nice, convenient things like instant boiling water and microwave popcorn without the microwave, there's something else..."

How did she try to explain all of her fears? Of him being hunted by Sentinels - or even the police? Of her being caught up in it. How much at risk was she? Was her family in danger - she had heard of the Friends of Humanity and those other groups chasing down and hurting friends and family of mutants. What of a future that neither of them dared speak about to the other... what if they did end up getting married? What if they had mutant children?

"My past is my past," he said, going back into the kitchen. Lily could hear him opening up the freezer. "And while that's going to take a helluva lot of explaining to do - especially my family - anything that comes out of the woodwork to mess that up is going to be as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. Alright, so maybe my family is not the best example to start with... But seriously. I can't promise you nothing is ever going to happen to me either because I'm a mutant or because I'm Havok. But I can promise you that I don't plan on taking any of it lying down. Or putting anyone else at risk because of it..."

"But you do," she said. "Every time you turn into Havok and run off into danger."

"That's no different from a fireman or a policeman," Alex contradicted, leaning over the kitchen counter to see her face. "Or a soldier. Or a sailor. You don't begrudge your father for his career. And you wouldn't turn down a guy just because he had a dangerous job."

"But you don't have a dangerous job," she replied. "You are a grad student..."

"Like I said, I'm always Havok. Always have been." He sighed, admitting the inadequacy of the statement. "Come on, I defrosted the meat sauce you made last week."

They ate without fanfare, piling up the newspapers that Alex's tiny table were always covered with on the floor and trying not to spill the soda bottle. Alex put his shirt back on to eat and asked Lily about her lab sections with the undergrads and for a few minutes, it was almost normal.

The phone rang and Alex looked at the clock on the microwave and went to answer it.

"Hello?... You drew the short straw, huh?... Yeah. It's apartment six. Don't double-park when you get here, they ticket like mad... All right."

"That was Sam," Alex said as he sat back down.

"He used the phone. He's not a telepath?" Lily had to ask. It wasn't said viciously and Alex smiled.

"No, Sam's occasionally perceptive, but he can't argue for shit," he replied with a snort. "All telepaths are good arguers. They like to gloat how they can win fair and square."

"Ah," Lily replied, her good mood dulled a little by Alex's easy comfort with the very notion of telepathy. She found the idea of someone being able to both see in and control her mind frightening in the extreme.

"Sam flies," Alex said after Lily had put down her glass.

She stared at him. "Flies."

"Not very elegantly, but yeah," Alex confirmed. "You'll love him. He's a true Southern gentleman. I didn't get along with him too well at first - back when he was heading up X-Force and I was leading X-Factor. He's too damn much like Cable sometimes and I'm too much like Cyke. It's like weird family-issues-by-proxy. But now that we're not butting heads, he's kind of grown on me."

"At the risk of being gauche," Lily said thoughtfully. "Is it okay to ask which one he is? Is it even okay for me to know all this stuff?"

"Well, Sam's nom de guerre is Cannonball," Alex replied. "As for you knowing... that's what this whole trip is going to be about. I hate having to lie about everything and I hate having to keep my friends hidden away like that and I want you to be able to meet people who have known me for longer than a few academic terms. I've had to keep a lot of my life hidden from everyone here - some of it was me trying to fit in and that was the wrong reason. But some of it is basic necessity. If everyone knows I'm Havok, then the next time Scott and Jean come down here, they're going to be under scrutiny. And you don't have to look too hard at Havok's brother who just happens to have to wear red sunglasses all the time and see Cyclops."

"Scott is Cyclops?" Lily sputtered, coughing hard enough for Alex to pound her back gently. "I... never made the connection."

"That's the whole point of secret identities," Alex told her wryly.

"Yeah, but..." Scott Summers. Quiet, content to let his wife do the talking for both of them, and yet never appearing weak or dominated. But still... Cyclops? Maybe it was the glasses - claimed as a sign of frailty - that were so effective at throwing off suspicion.

"Don't feel bad," Alex told her cheerfully. "You should have seen my reaction to finding out Scott was Cyclops. I handled that only slightly better than finding out that I was a mutant... Actually, no. I've handled almost everything better than finding out that I was a mutant. I'll let Scott tell you that story. He enjoys getting to tell the part where I squealed like a little girl and ran into the desert to hide. Everyone likes that story."

The buzzer rang and Alex got up. Lily put her fork down and waited.

While Alex had made it sound like he and Sam had known each other for years and years, Sam looked to be her age. At most. His face looked a few years younger and his eyes much, much older. He, too, moved with a barely perceptible gingerness that Lily took to mean that he had been in the same fight in Idaho that Alex had been in.

Alex made introductions and Sam was graciously polite and charming. Alex looked around for something that could be used as a third chair - the kitchen table not quite designed for even two - and Sam ended up perching on the counter.

"You hungry? We have more," Alex gestured at the stovetop.

"I don't wanna put you out," Sam replied in his thick drawl, shaking his head. "Poor strugglin' grad student and all."

"If you were going to be putting me out," Alex retorted with a scowl that was purely for show as he walked over to the cabinet and took out a bowl, "I wouldn't have asked you. Besides, I don't want to have leftovers - I don't know when we're getting back."

"Some of us have to be on campus Monday morning," Lily pointed out, wiping her mouth. She and Alex had gotten past the need to eat with restaurant manners in front of each other and Lily felt a little self-conscious in front of Sam.

"I know," Alex said as he emptied most of the remaining pasta into the bowl and dumped the rest on his own plate. "But before then..."

Sam was hungry - he finished eating at the same time as Alex and Lily did. The two of them made small talk and rinsed off the dishes as Alex ran around the studio picking up things he'd need for the weekend.

Lily thought Alex was right - Sam was genial and warm despite her obvious unease.

"Jean said you were going somewhere for the weekend," Alex called out from where he was digging through the pile of papers on his desk. "You going up to Snow Valley?"

"Cumberland," Sam replied as he handed Lily another wet plate.

"My family is in Kentucky, except for my sister," he explained to her. "She's up in Massachusetts learning how to use her powers."

Lily tried to cover her surprise, although she supposed it shouldn't be a surprise that siblings should both be mutants. Or even that they should both be mutant heroes. "Are all of your siblings mutants?"

"Thankfully, no," Sam replied with a sigh of relief. "Ma couldn't handle it. Just me and Paige, although there are a couple who are too young to tell without getting tested."

"The Guthries are the opposite of the Summerses," Alex said as he rejoined them in the kitchen. "Sam's little sister is eager to join the X-Men. Unlike me, who has to get dragged back kicking and screaming."

"I don't think Paige understands what's involved," Sam sighed, wiping his hands on the dishtowel Lily offered him. "She thinks graduatin' to the X-Men is like makin' the big leagues and it's not. The achievement she should be striving for is controlling her abilities, not getting the chance to throw herself in harm's way all the time. Not like the kids don't do that enough as it is."

Lily must have shown her reaction on her face, because Alex stopped what he was doing and winced.

"We're freaking you out again, aren't we?" he asked with concern.

Lily shook her head. "I'm not freaking out," she told him. And it was the truth. "I'm just sort of numb now. It's like jumping into a cold lake. The water's not gotten any warmer, but I've lost the ability to tell."

"It's all a bit much at first," Sam told her comfortingly, sounding not at all patronizing. "I didn't know what was happenin' to me right when I manifested. And then I fell in with a bad crowd and ended up doing a lot of things I'm still not proud of doin'. I got a real good lesson in how a little misdirection can bring out the worst in all of us, I guess. Hardest thing for me is fightin' someone who's just like I was - someone who wants to do the right thing and then gets to believin' in the wrong stuff. Not exactly exclusive to being mutants and all, but..."

"But if we don't get going now, you're not going to get to Kentucky until very late and we're going to hit the worst of the weekend warrior traffic on the way to Westchester," Alex interrupted. "Do you want to leave from here or do you want us to find you a more secluded launching pad? You could go off from the Cleveland Tower..."

Lily just shook her head and Alex put a hand on her shoulder comfortingly.

"It's dark enough already," Sam said with a shrug. "You got a key to your roof?"

"Yeah," Alex replied. "Do you want to call your mom and let her know you're leaving?"

"Cell phone," Sam said, patting one of the pockets on his leather jacket. "I'll call her once I get close. That way she won't start tryin' to convince me that it's too late to fly. She knows what I do for a livin' and she still gets antsy about me flyin' in the dark."

Lily wondered what sort of woman Mrs. Guthrie must be like to have not one, but two children be mutants strong enough to join one of the superhero teams. And then to still fuss over them like a normal mother. Well, it's not as if she knew what a normal mother would be anyway after living with her own.

Five minutes later, the trio headed up to the roof. Lily would have been happy to wait for Alex, but he thought she should see Sam in flight.

Sam was as gracious in departing as he had been in arriving and promised Lily a flight once she had gotten accustomed to everything. Alex had muttered something about him putting his hands all over his girlfriend and Lily hadn't understood until Sam had taken off straight up into the air with a muted roar. There was too much acceleration for him to simply hold someone's hand in flight.

Alex was right - watching Sam disappear into the darkening sky was riveting. It was like watching someone with a rocket pack, except there was no rocket. The engineer part of her brain - apparently unaffected by everything that had gone on this evening - was calculating acceleration and velocity and wondering how well he could change direction and what his turning radius must be.

"You should have seen him when he first came to the X-Men," Alex said after she finally turned to him. "Ororo says he was like a bottle rocket - he could go really fast in straight lines, but couldn't turn and couldn't stop unless he crashed into something. He's lucky he's mostly invulnerable while he's blasting or else he'd be a heap of broken bones. Or else they would have found out about the External thing much sooner, I guess."

"External thing?" Lily repeated with dread. "I don't want to know, do I?"

"Well, you'd find out on your own eventually," Alex replied with a shrug. "Sam's a year older than you are and he's not going to age a day."

"Oh." There was nothing else really to be said to that.

 "You ready to go? We'll stop by your place and pick up stuff and then head up."

Lily took a deep breath and nodded.

"Well, Alice, you ready to jump down the rabbit hole?" Alex asked as he offered his hand to help her out of the car. She'd been quiet on the ride up and, after a few attempts to draw her out, Alex had turned the radio on so that the silence wouldn't grow oppressive.

Lily gave him what would have been a flat stare had she not been so nervous, but took his hand, grabbing her backpack with her other one.

Jean was waiting with the door open. Alex kissed her cheek in greeting and stepped back to present Lily. He was under no impression that things had gone well or that they'd gotten through the worst of it already, but he couldn't walk around on eggshells, holding his breath until she let him know where things stood. So he tried to be as normal as possible without trivializing things, to show her that there was enough of the Alex she'd always known still in him to make the rest seem familiar.

"Welcome, Lily," Jean said with a warm smile. "I'm glad you're here."

"Thanks," she replied haltingly.  

"Don't worry," Alex reassured her. "Everyone's housebroken."


"Alex, why don't you go take yours and Lily's things upstairs," Jean told him, eyebrow raised in that 'don't you dare think of saying no' expression that all of the X-Men knew not to cross. "I opened up your room, so it shouldn't be too stuffy in there."

"Yes ma'am," Alex mumbled, kissing Lily quickly before disappearing. "Be back in a minute."

He went past Jean and inside, noticing immediately that there were fewer people than normal milling around the main floor - there was no noise coming from either the kitchen or the direction of the entertainment room. Jean had probably warned everyone. His suspicions were confirmed once he reached the second floor and passed by Bobby's open door.

"Hey, 'Lex," Bobby called, then appeared in the doorway. "Jean's got Lily?"

Alex nodded as he pushed open his door and turned on the light, dropping his and Lily's bags on the bed. All considering, it was maybe presumptuous to assume that she'd be willing to share a bed or a room with him, but it would be up to her to make that choice.

"How'd she take things so far?"

Alex sighed heavily and sat on the bed. "She agreed to come up here, so it didn't go as badly as it could have," he said. "She's pissed and she's confused and she's scared and..."

"And you're scared," Bobby said. It wasn't really a question and Bobby wasn't making a joke.

"I'm terrified," Alex admitted. He and Bobby had been through too much to have much distance on the personal feelings front. "She's... I love her. And now that I know I can't be the person she thinks I am, the fact that maybe she can't love the person I actually am scares the crap out of me."

"Look," Bobby began, leaning against the doorframe. "You're mercurial, you're impulsive, you internalize like only a Summers can, you hate doing dishes, and, according to Logan, you are a world-class blanket hog. If Lily can put up with you in spite of all that, then I don't think that you being Havok is going to be that much of a problem."

"Do you ever really think about what goes in to being an X-Man?" Alex asked. "About all the times we've been kidnapped, held captive, had our minds messed with, been cloned or impersonated or otherwise taken over, died... There's a lot there, Bobby. And not all of it happened when we were on duty. It's not just as easy as saying that I've just got a really interesting hobby."

"Don't focus on that right now," Bobby told him. "Focus on the fact that when you're not missing, presumed dead, under the influence of evil powers, being impersonated or otherwise harassed by your evil twin from an alternate dimension, or just plain pissy because Sinister likes your brother better, you - be you Alex or Havok - are still you. And Lily, whatever chemicals she may have been exposed to in pursuit of her engineering degree, still likes you."

"She likes Alex," he corrected with a sigh. "And I can't pretend anymore that being Havok isn't a part of who I am. You know that Star Trek episode with the good Kirk and the evil Kirk? That's how I feel. There's Alex and there's Havok and they can't really exist without the other. And there's nothing I can do but try to be me and wait for her..."

"Well, I suppose you could have Jean fiddle with her head or something," Bobby agreed. He gave Alex a smile and a shrug. "But that would be defeating the purpose."

"Yeah," Alex agreed, appreciating Bobby's graceful exit from his exposed emotional fray. He stood up and moved towards the door. "I better go back downstairs. I don't want to look like more of a coward than I am."

"Buck up, private," Bobby said as Alex passed him by, patting him on the shoulder. "You've got all of us doing our best to meddle and help you two work things out. She might end up with you just out of pity."

"Thanks," Alex said wryly. But Bobby knew that he really meant it.

"Those who can, do," Bobby said as he headed back towards his room. "Those who can't, teach."

When Alex came downstairs, Lily and Jean were in the kitchen with full teacups chatting quietly. Lily looked relieved to see him, but not in a way that indicated she was scared of Jean.

"So, when do we drag out the pictures of me with the silly headdress?" he asked with slightly forced cheer as he sat down next to Lily. He was a little surprised when Jean got up to get him tea - this was normally something she did telekinetically - but understood that it was in deference to Lily's unease.

"We'll spend some time tomorrow embarrassing you," Jean assured him. "I think Lily's had enough shocks to her system today."

"Oh, she's seen me look like an idiot often enough," Alex assured her, smiling at Lily, who gave him a slight smile. "That's not a surprise anymore... So. Now that I had the brilliant idea of coming up here, what are we going to do?"

"We are going to do nothing," Jean told him, sipping at her tea. "This isn't an indoctrination session. You've come up to visit with your family and friends, not to recruit Lily to the cause."

"Although if Kitty's determined to stay in Scotland," Scott said from the kitchen doorway as he wiped his hands on his jeans, "We could always use someone with engineering skills. For a bunch of superheroes, we're remarkably inept with any mechanical process more complicated than plugging in and turning on and off... That's a joke, 'Lex, stop looking at me like that."

"Where were you?" Alex asked instead. "And where did Jean scare everyone else? Bobby's up in his room and I haven't seen anyone."

Scott sat down next to his wife. "I was working on the insulation in the boathouse," he said with a frown. "That's why we're staying here in the main house. It was a warm fall, so we didn't realize how cold the place got... and then we've been too busy to do much about it once winter hit."

Alex nodded. This would have been the first winter that Scott and Jean would have had an opportunity to live in the boathouse - incidents, rebuildings, adventures, attempts to live in Alaska, and various other distractions had interfered.

"As for everyone else," Jean began with a shrug. "I let them know that you two were coming up, but suggested that nobody change their plans and that they'd all see you at some point over the weekend. Rogue and Logan are off at Harry's, Betsy's with Warren down in the city, Hank and Cecilia are downstairs doing Lord knows what in the lab, you know where Sam is, Dana's visiting her brother, and Ororo and Bishop are off investigating something Cerebro reported. That should be everyone." She smiled apologetically at Lily. "Mutant superhero alter egos or not, we can be a pretty overwhelming group when we're all in the same place at once."

"Ah," Lily replied expressively. Alex recognized her 'I really don't want to know, do I?' tone of voice.

"But... Are you sure that's all you told them?" He asked Jean skeptically. "Bobby normally doesn't hide in his room. Or is this a new development?"

"Bobby's got some top-secret plan going," Scott answered with a frown. "I think it involves using Hank's birthday as a means of pursuing the estimable Dr. Reyes, but he won't tell me anything. But he cackles evilly at random intervals, so I'm not worried."

"At least until Cecilia blows him into the next room," Alex snorted, then turned to Lily to explain. "Cecilia Reyes is a resident here under protest. She kind of got bombed out of her old life and she's here until she can set up a new one. Won't do the code-name, or the skimpy outfit, or any of it. Smartest one here."

Alex didn't know Cecilia well, but what he did know, he respected immensely. It took great courage to keep declining the admittedly seductive offers the X-Men could extend. But Cecilia had a talent and a will to help the world at large - especially the sorts of people she had left behind in the Bronx - and that couldn't be accomplished in the sub-basements at the mansion. Even with the sorts of toys available down there...

Lily excused herself to find the bathroom, asking directions from Jean.

"So how's it going?" Alex asked after Jean returned.

"She's not here for a cure, Alex," Scott replied sourly.

"She's a little scared, a lot overwhelmed, and she wants to see what there is to see before she comes to any sort of decision," Jean added. "She wants to believe in you, Alex. But you rattled her faith badly."

Alex nodded. This he knew, even before getting reminded by Jean and Bobby. It was more that he was so nervous that he didn't trust his own instincts anymore.

"You should take her down to the basement tomorrow," Scott suggested. "Show her some of the toys."

"It's okay to do that?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" Scott asked with a shrug, stealing a sip from Jean's tea and making a face at the lack of sugar.

There was a commotion right outside the kitchen entrance and, after a thud and a muffled grumble, the door that led from the garage opened up and Logan appeared.

Alex had time for a quick nod of greeting before he could see Lily in his peripheral vision. She had returned through the other doorway and froze for a moment before moving as quickly as could be considered polite back to her seat next to Alex. Even dressed in casual clothes - plaid shirt and jeans -- Logan could look a little daunting to strangers, Alex admitted. Not daunting enough to prevent a few bar brawls and such, but still...

"You lose someone?" Scott asked as Logan nodded a greeting to Alex and smiled at Lily and headed towards the fridge.

"Rogue flew straight up to her room," he replied, coming away from the refrigerator with an apple. "Got chili on her blouse."

Jean half-closed her eyes for a moment (presumably, Alex thought, saying something to Rogue) and then opened them, reclaiming her teacup from Scott, who was surreptitiously reaching for the sugar bowl. "Don't even think about it, buster."

"You up for a session tomorrow?" Logan asked Alex as he came to the table and sat down in the last empty chair. "Supposed to bash Bishop around a little, but if he's not back yet, I don't think he's gonna be up to it tomorrow."

Alex half-whined, but then nodded. Might as well - it would keep Scott in a good mood and he hadn't done any drilling in a while. "We have a very advanced playpen downstairs," he told Lily.

She gave him the same 'I'm overwhelmed' smile she'd been giving him all night and he offered her a wry one of apology in return.

They sat around for a bit, catching up on news and gossip, trying to keep Lily from feeling too left out even as it was clear that she felt too much so already. Eventually, they put their cups in the dishwasher and headed off to their respective rooms. Lily didn't hesitate to follow Alex into his and for that he was grateful.

After the last time the mansion had been razed, they had rebuilt the residence floors so that each room came with a bathroom en suite. Alex had never really cared too much before, but was thankful for it tonight as he didn't think Lily was up for wandering the halls looking for the loo.

"Intellectually," Lily began after they had taken care of their ablutions and were lying in bed, "I suppose I always knew that the X-Men had lives apart from fighting. I just don't think I expected them to be so... pedestrian. In a good way, I mean. Fussing over insulation and going for beers in local dives and remembering to buy toilet paper."

"That's part of what I wanted you to see," Alex replied, reaching over to turn off the bedside lamp. "That even when my day job was being Havok, I was always still Alex. Just not as often as I wanted to be."

"Which turned out to be too much for Havok," Lily added.

"I guess, but now I'm starting to feel like I've got a split personality, so let's stop referring to me in the third person, okay?" Alex pleaded.


Alex wanted to say more, wanted to at least know what Lily was thinking -- beyond the obvious shock that went along with finding out that her boyfriend could melt steel with a thought and was wanted by the authorities in seventeen countries. But she had rolled on to her side - Lily's body language for either being half-asleep or being unwilling to carry on further conversation. Alex was sure it was the latter and fell asleep hoping that she'd be in a better frame of mind in the morning.

"I'm going slightly mad," Bobby sang quietly as he stood, perplexed, in front of the open refrigerator. "I'm going slightly maaad. It finally happened, it finally happened, oh yes..."

"Quick, someone find Drake the apple juice 'fore he finishes the chorus!" Rogue cried out from where she was sitting pouring her cereal.

"It's over here," Lily offered gesturing with her toast.

Morning had come and with it, a little bit of calmness and acceptance. There was still a part of Lily that very much wanted to finish singing the song Bobby had been interrupted in the middle of, but it was now joined by a part of her that realized that what she was experiencing was just a different version of being part of a military family. A very strange military, absolutely, but not so very different that she didn't recognize elements from her own childhood.

Alex was not here, having kissed her cheek and headed off after Logan to 'go get my brains beat in' and begging the short man not to do too much damage lest Lily be forced to fend for herself this weekend. But, to her own surprise, Lily had gotten past her most acute terror of being alone in this strange crowd.

"Great thanks, my lady," Bobby said and bowed as he reached for the juice, frosting up his glass before filling it.

Lily tried not to stare. She didn't know where her own ideas that mutant powers should be used sparingly and only in non-frivolous situations came from and why it hadn't gone away after watching Alex reheat dinner in his hands the previous night. The problem was with her, not with everyone else leading their own lives in their own home.

Nonetheless, Bobby gave her an apologetic look once he realized she was watching.

Once the particularities were dispensed with, Lily realized that breakfast in the X-Mansion was a lot like breakfast in the suite she had lived in as a junior in college. People came and went and goofed off and irritated each other and lived their lives within the constraints of having to share a roof. The X-Men were a paramilitary organization, but they had personalities away from the spandex that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Just like every other professional warrior. In this private haven, there was no military discipline, none of the formal diffidence that always marked the X-Men when they made public appearances or were forced to interact with the media. They were very human, as curious about her as she was about them. None of them, apparently, thought much of Alex's skills with women.

"Hey, Lily," Scott called as he poked his head into the kitchen. "Grab your coffee and come with me."

Curious, she crammed the rest of her toast into her mouth and did so, mumbling through a full mouth an apology for accidentally kicking one leg of Rogue's chair.

"This is our Bat-cave," Scott said as she followed him down a staircase she didn't remember having seen a door to the previous evening. "We have to rebuild the mansion every few years, but the sub-levels have pretty much stayed intact."

Part of Lily wondered why everyone was being so open, why being Alex's girlfriend suddenly gave her a high security clearance. She knew that with a couple of resident telepaths, there was nothing to lose by telling her things - they could always wipe her mind should she and Alex come to a parting of the ways - but despite that (terrifying) thought, Lily was intrigued.

"I'll show you the toy chest later, but right now, I think you should see this," Scott went on, putting his palm up against some sort of scanner until a door slid open and they passed into what looked to be a control booth. Lily passed by the scanner - it looked far sleeker than the only other fingerprint recognition device she had ever come into contact with. "Below us is the Danger Room, our virtual reality training area... without the VR goggles."

Lily put her cup down on a coaster clearly marked for such purposes and looked down. It was a bombed-out street corner, rubble piled high all around and the street lamp twisted and fallen. Standing on top of a pile of rubble was Wolverine, claws extended as he looked to be fighting a giant blond caveman-sort that Lily knew she should recognize as one of the mutant bad guys. Across the street, another bad guy popped up and aimed a harpoon at Wolverine. But before Harpoon's toss could do any damage, it was incinerated in a blast of plasma and Alex - Havok - appeared, running down the block towards the other three with his right arm extended.

Lily stared. It was Alex, but not Alex. The outfit was much more than a costume, the change more profound than anything he could have picked up for Halloween. He wore a look of determined concentration that differed subtly from the look he'd get when he was, say, reading German. His very carriage seemed different. Much less laid back, much more authoritative. None of the goofy, slightly reserved demeanor that Lily knew was anywhere to be seen. This wasn't a game; this was business. And Alex was a professional.

Nonetheless, the battle looked to be patently unfair. There were five of the bad guys versus just the two X-Men and it wasn't an even match-up. Havok (Lily could see how Alex could so easily speak as being two separate people) melted some of the rubble around one of their opponent's feet, but another opponent came over and banged the ground with her fist and the obstruction crumbled away as if an earthquake had shaken it loose.

"It would be very easy for Havok and Wolverine to just kill the Marauders and end the program," Scott said from where he, too, was looking down. He was holding his coffee in one hand and while the pose might have been mistaken for being relaxed, Lily was a sailor's daughter and knew better.  "But the X-Men don't kill and not killing is a lot harder. That's why we practice. It's much easier when you're shooting to kill and not to wound."

Lily nodded absently. This was all very familiar to the dictums of the military - to train to such a level that the minimum effort produced the greatest effect. No soldier went into the field to kill and only the best soldiers could keep those promises.

The fight raged on, with Havok bringing down buildings and warping steel girders to hold opponents and Wolverine engaging in a brutal hand-to-hand fight with the man Lily could now identify (once she had heard 'Marauders') as Sabretooth that ended in a draw before moving on to help Havok put the rest away.

Eventually, the program ended and the scenario melted away, leaving the two exhausted and bloodied men standing in an empty room.

"Well done, guys," Scott said into the microphone, putting his coffee down as he leaned forward.

Wolverine pulled off his facemask to reveal a wild-eyed Logan and Alex - and he was now Alex again, despite the scratched forehead and torn uniform - whimpered loudly. Logan muttered something that Alex snickered at before saluting the control booth and following the smaller man out of view.  

"He's never sure what to think," Scott said as he sat down in one of the chairs, gesturing for Lily to do the same. "He's got a sense of responsibility to defend those who would be the victims of some lunatic's evil scheme and he knows he's good at it. But at the same time he's sure he deserves a chance at a normal life... and then he feels guilty and selfish for wanting that. And he feels bad that the rest of us seem to be content, more or less, to let this -" Scott gestured around them "-- be our lives. And I'm the worst at it - never really giving civilian life the chance it deserves, running back here at the first sign of trouble - and so much of his confusion and indecision comes from me.

"I…." Scott trailed off. "I don't want to make it sound like I'm putting pressure on you, Lily, because I'm not. But the fact is that you're good for him. You help him find a balance between any sort of obligation he might have to me or to the X-Men or to our cause and the obligation he definitely has to himself."

Lily knew she was blushing. "Thanks, I think."

"It's a compliment," Scott assured her with a self-effacing lopsided smile. "He's my little brother. I want him to be happy and being with you makes him deliriously so."

Lily nodded and apparently Scott thought the issue over. "Why don't I show you some of our best gadgets now while Alex is whining to Cecilia about his cuts and bruises?" he asked and switched her attention the console, with its impressive array of knobs, levers, and meters. It looked like an electronics lab that had been designed by the Jetsons and when Lily said so, Scott laughed darkly.

Scott stayed with her and explained each of the functions - letting her set off a few explosions in the room below in the course of things - until Alex returned. Actually, Lily hadn't immediately noticed that Alex had returned - she was too busy playing with a laser sequencer that outclassed anything in Princeton's labs by light years and only looked up when Scott started laughing.


"Nothing," Alex assured her with a wave and a smile. "I was just lamenting that now that you've seen what sort of toys are down here, I'll never get you to leave."

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