White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

3/February 2002 - October 2002

"So where were you this weekend?" Orly asked as Lily sat down. Mondays at two was their designated catching-up time, even if they had seen each other during the week. Orly was a friend from undergrad - they had met at freshmen orientation, the only two girls in their group of incoming engineers - and they had gone on to graduate school together. They were at the opposite ends of the spectrum with Lily studying theoretical fluid flow and Orly worked on artificial limbs - it was a personal mission for Orly; she had been born missing her right arm below the elbow - and so the two did not cross paths academically any more. Hence the Monday meetings.

"Alex dragged me off to visit his brother and his wife," Lily said as she ripped open the package of Hostess fruit pies, offering one to Orly just to make her squirm. It was her preferred junk food, a dirty little secret that Alex found alternately ridiculous (Lily eschewing almost every other form of junk food) and endearing and that he had been known to support through anonymous deposits of packages of the rarely-found-in-Wawa's blueberry kind in her department mailbox.

"Oooh," Orly murmured knowingly. "Getting serious, are we? How did it go?"

"It was... interesting," Lily said hesitantly, taking a tiny bite of the apple pie square and licking the flakes of icing off of her finger. If that wasn't the understatement of the decade. "It's like it's a whole new Alex when you put him in his natural environment."

Seeing Alex as Havok and seeing Havok in action up close - and not through the filter of the evening news - had been revelatory. After finally coming upstairs from the Danger Room session, Lily had described the technology that Scott had said was Shi'ar to Jean as 'alien.' The joke had been explained, but Lily had been too curious to let the utter strangeness of aliens get in the way of her exploration. Compared to some of the Earth-spawned mutants, aliens were really not such a leap. Alex had joked that Lily was all for invasion so long as she got to play with their toys. He might not be wrong - the X-Men had sequencers, scanners, and a processing unit that had the ability to 'learn' at a much steeper curve than she had even thought possible with current advances and that was just the tip of their toybox.

"So what's Alex's family like?" Orly sipped at her coffee and grimaced, then opened the top and stirred the sugar she had dumped at the bottom.

On Sunday, Jean had dug out a photo album and Rogue (who apparently had no other name), Logan, and Ororo had had a great time telling stories about Alex from their time in Australia. While Lily had remembered the incident in Dallas, Alex really hadn't wanted to talk about what had come after Australia and she had let it lie.

"I've met Scott and Jean before," Lily finally replied with an ease she didn't quite feel. "But a lot of their and Alex's friends were around and I met them."

"Alex had quite a life before grad school," she added somewhat lamely because Orly was waiting for an elaboration.

"Well, yeah," Orly retorted with a snort at the obvious comment. "You don't take a decade off between college and grad school and not be allowed to talk about it if you've just worked on Wall Street."

"I don't buy the secret agent stuff," Lily replied. "There were a ton of civilians who worked with my Dad in the Navy who were sworn to secrecy and all they did was simple stuff, no covert assassinations or anything like that."

"Yeah, I know," Orly admitted. "But the secret agent and Delta Force stuff is so much cooler. I mean, 'boyfriend who was off in some Central American country working for the military testing for ground water' or 'boyfriend who spent ten years delivering pizzas before he realized he needed a life and couldn't do anything practical with a geology degree'?"

"I don't know," Lily said, making a face. "I'm kind of seeing the advantages of pizza boy..."

"He told you what he did, didn't he?" Orly put down her coffee and leaned forward. "Don't worry, I won't ask what it is... but are you okay with it?"

"I will be," Lily replied. And, for the first time, having to say it aloud to someone who didn't know what was going on, she actually believed it to be true. If not right away. "It's just a lot. And it has much farther reaching implications than I thought it would."

By the end of the weekend, Lily hadn't quite accepted everything - she was still angry at Alex, still in numb surprise at everything she'd seen and heard. But she did believe - and she allowed Alex to realize - that they would probably get through this okay. With time and absolutely no more secrets and lies.

"Well, look, no matter what he did in his past, he's still Alex, the guy for whom you gave up bowling," Orly offered. The Princeton chapter of the Society of Women Engineers sponsored weekly bowling events and Lily hadn't been since she had started dated Alex.

"Orly, I hated bowling."

"I know," Orly replied cheerfully, picking up her coffee. "But I liked having you along. You're so bad at it that you were more of a spectacle than the one-armed chick."

They moved on to other topics from there - Big Pete's new girlfriend ("the undergrad"), the news that the just-opened sushi place was already closing because nobody wanted to migrate from their space at the bar at Tsukasa, and the SWE's Very Belated Valentine's Day Semiformal that Lily begged Orly not to mention to Alex and knew that she would anyway.

From there, Lily's day moved on with almost disturbing predictability. She spent the rest of the day in the Superflow lab and got home in time to eat cereal for dinner and ignore a message on her answering machine from her mother. She and Alex got together for dinner the following night, made love for the first time since The Truth was spoken, and still nothing seemed different.

In the weeks and months that followed, Lily let herself be sunk slowly into the warm bath of normalcy, grudgingly - and privately - accepting that perhaps Alex was right and things could be something close to the same as they had been. During spring break, they packed up some work and rented a car and drove south. They went camping in Virginia and Alex was able to start the campfire and keep the tent warm despite the driving rain and Lily realized that she was slowly getting used to the idea of being with a mutant.

And then came the May Day Massacres.

Ten bodies were found in the apse of a Catholic church in Oparilla, Nebraska. They were draped in a shroud that had "will He take them?" written on it. The victims were all missing persons from Nebraska and the five surrounding states. Six of the ten were under the age of eighteen. Only nine of the ten were found to have actually been mutants - one of them, a fourteen-year-old boy, was merely suffering from a melanin imbalance. But it had been enough.

Upon hearing the story from one of the techs, Lily had rushed from the lab to find Alex sitting stunned on his couch, watching the news. He had already called Westchester and there was nothing he could do - Psylocke and Wolverine had been dispatched to aid the baffled (and not completely unsympathetic to the killers) local sheriff. She let him vent his feelings of impotence, his rage, and his pain until all that was left were tears. As she held him as he sobbed in her lap, Lily was left to wonder at her own resurfacing fears. She and Alex were progressing towards a permanent relationship - they were looking for an apartment to share for the next academic year; in a decade or so, one of those dead children could be theirs. She knew Alex had the same thoughts, had caught half-whispered mutterings that when strung together echoed hers.

Even within the hermetically sealed world of a university campus, the killings affected the atmosphere. Alex's profound distress lasted longer than most others', but Lily, newly sensitized to how those around her viewed mutants, was mildly heartened by the outpouring of regret. Vermont Pete was even subdued. The quietude lasted until finals, at which point the stress of exams and then the exultation of commencement took over.

A branch of the Friends of Humanity based outside of Cedar Rapids was eventually found to be harboring the three killers, all of whom would stand trial without the chance of the death penalty. The X-Men asked to attend the funeral services of the ten and were rebuffed - harshly - in four of the cases. And life went on. Three weeks after the last of the ten victims was buried in Kansas, the state legislature of Louisiana voted overwhelmingly to require that all mutants within its parishes register. This was despite the protests of the ACLU and various other groups, all of which pointed out that a central database only encouraged the kinds of killings that had happened up north. The protests were covered in the news until the next big event and eventually life went on, at Princeton and everywhere else.


"No."

"What 'no'? Why not? It's only $3.99."

"Alex!"

"It's a classic!"

"'It Will Steal Your Body And Damn Your Soul'?"

"You never watched bad B horror movies growing up?"

"Of course I did. But I never had the urge to buy them later on. The Brain from Planet Arous? It sounds like a porno title...This doesn't have any sex in it, does it?"

"It's from 1957. They weren't allowed to say sex back then."

"But they were able to say 'Arous'."

"But they had to spell it wrong. See?"

"I don't think they had closed-captioning back then. Spelling doesn't count."

"So you're not going to let me buy it, are you?"

"You can buy it, it's your cash. But we're moving in together in six weeks and that's not coming with you."

"Spoilsport...Oh! Mars Needs Women! We have to get this one."

"Alex."


"Lily, this is my son Nathan," Scott came up to her half-dragging an immense silver-haired man whom Lily had at first thought was Scott and Alex's erstwhile father. The occasion for the trip up to Westchester was a surprise thirtieth birthday party for Alex and Lily was pleased to see that it had come as a true shock. Now, however, it looked like it was going to be her turn to be set up for repeated surprises. "Nate, this is Alex's significant other, Lily."

Lily hoped she was smiling politely and that her still-new mental shields (courtesy of an afternoon with Jean in Central Park) were holding as she held out her hand to shake. It had been four months since her initial visit to the X-Mansion and the initial parade of superheroes-as-civilians and Lily had been sure that she was almost getting a handle on it. Until this.

"Pleased to meet you," Nathan said, smiling wryly. He looked as though his mind was elsewhere. "It's lucky Alex's party coincided with a necessary trip to the area or else I'm sure Scott would have kept me hidden. He's afraid of my social skills."

"Or lack thereof," Scott muttered.

"Actually, I'm surprised they mentioned me at all to you," Nathan went on, seemingly warming to the challenge of needling his father.

"I knew there was a Nathan, but..." Lily was proud of being able to keep her surprise mostly out of her voice. In the time since she had first come to Westchester, she had made an effort to learn more about the X-Men and their descendant teams. Although anyone who followed the news - let alone the daughter of a career military man - would know without having to ask that Nathan was better known to the public as Cable. Lily had long since learned that anything involving the Summers clan was bound to be closer to mind-blowing than mundane.

"We told her you were on a class trip," Scott admitted, scratching the back of his head and grinning goofily at Lily. "That you were in fact building up a worldwide network to support the takedown of Apocalypse kind of got lost in the whole 'Welcome to the X-Men' routine."

Nathan had made a vague noise sounding something close to disbelief, but was cut off from any further comment by the arrival of a striking woman.

"And this is Domino," Scott said and gestured. "Nathan's... partner."

Introductions were made and Lily raised her eyebrows as Domino seemed to be looking her over appraisingly.

"You look entirely too sane to be involved with a Summers," Domino finally said, pursing her lips as if she was sure she was overlooking something.

Lily smiled. This was hardly the first time someone X-related had questioned her taste in men. "I'm finishing up my doctorate in fluid dynamics," she explained in her best deadpan voice, sounding almost chipper. "Scientific interest and all."

"Just what the world needs," Nathan grunted, "Another person who sees the Summers family as an exclusive strain of lab rat."

Lily, unsure if he was being serious and not wanting to offend, was about to apologize for her joke when she caught a twinkle in Nathan's eye. Something more than a twinkle, actually. More like a golden flash...

"Well, so long as you're getting something useful out of it," Domino replied with grudging approval. She patted Nathan's arm and then gestured behind herself with her head. "If you'll excuse me, I've got an impending father to go tease unmercifully."

With that, she headed off across the lawn in the direction of Logan, who was deep in conversation with Piotr Rasputin.

"So you work on fluid mechanics," Nathan began abruptly and Lily actually jumped. He had a very intense manner about him and to have it turned directly on her... "Theoretical or experimental? What aspects?"

"Theoretical. Mostly turbulence and supersonic flow," Lily replied quickly, waiting for the blank stare that always went with any sort of question about her field of interest. "But I've been doing a little side work on optimization and control theory, especially since I'm now living with a walking generator."

"Supersonic flow," Nathan repeated thoughtfully. "Have you done anything on the effects of distortion?"

Scott shook his head and grumbled to himself before turning to walk away. "If you two are going to talk shop," he said, waving his hand vaguely behind him. "I'm going to go help Rogue fight with the potato salad."

Lily smiled apologetically at Scott and then turned her attention back to Nathan, who apparently knew quite a bit about fluid dynamics even if he wasn't in the field. It was refreshing to be able to carry on a conversation about her topic of academic interest without any of the usual academic crap overshadowing it. Nobody to impress with an eye towards a future job, not having to intentionally obscure facts to avoid spoiling your own research, not having to explain every single technical term and shorthand...

"All right, Nathan," Alex called over to them as he approached, waving his arms dramatically. "Stop right there. She's not going to join your merry band of secret soldiers."

"I wasn't trying to recruit her," Nathan replied, frowning as if he were hurt at the implication. "We were just having a conversation."

"For forty minutes," Alex retorted with a disbelieving snort. "And you were so far into it that you didn't even notice Domino and Logan's extended - and quite funny, by the way - mockery of you two."

"What merry band of secret soldiers?" Lily asked, confused for a moment before realizing. It had been remarkably easy to forget that she was talking to Cable, arguably the most dangerous of anyone affiliated with any of the X-teams. Even when the X-Men were on good terms with the government, Cable was still the most outlawed of the outlaws, the most terrifying of the supposed terrorists. She mentally chastised herself for forgetting that in her enthusiasm.

"Oh, man," Alex sighed with shake of his head. He ran his fingers through his hair and Lily absently remembered to start nagging him to get a haircut. "We don't have the time today to get into all of my darling nephew's recent and intended activities. I promise I'll try, or at least I'll get Scott and Jean to try. But not today."

Nathan looked over Alex's shoulder and grumbled something that Lily was sure wasn't in English.

"Well, don't shoot the messenger," Alex told him blithely, pointing in the direction of Logan and Domino. "Go after Boris and Natasha over there."

"I think I will," Nathan muttered darkly. "Excuse me."

Lily watched him go and then hit Alex none-too-gently in the forearm. "I can't believe you just 'let it slip your mind' about Nathan," she hissed. "And if you're not going to tell me what you were referring to about his 'merry band of secret soldiers', then I do expect you to give me a hint as to why he's older than Scott."

Alex whimpered and rubbed his arm. "Umm... remember me saying something oblique about family issues when you wanted to rent the director's cut of T2?"

"Vaguely," Lily answered slowly, realizing that this was going to be one of those moments when she really wished she hadn't asked.

"Well," Alex sighed, then drew himself up as if he were preparing to take a body blow. "Okay. Short version: Scott and his first wife Maddie have baby Christopher. Much chaos ensues, culminating in Dallas, Australia, and New York City and somewhere along the line Christopher gets renamed Nathan, a portal to Limbo opens and we nearly get enslaved by demons, and Scott hooks back up with Jean. Infant Nathan gets infected with deadly disease from the future and Scott and Jean send him to the future to be cured and he comes back a few years later as Cable, except he doesn't tell anyone who he is and proceeds to make a whole lot of enemies among the X-Men. Jean and Scott get married, disappear into the future for a few weeks to raise baby Nathan for a dozen years and kill Apocalypse before getting sent back here. Scott spends the time after that trying to build some sort of paternal bond with Nathan, who's really not having any of it... Are you regretting asking yet?"

"Only if the long version is much more interesting," Lily replied with a laugh. There was nothing else she could do but laugh - how else was she supposed to react to this sort of stuff? Why did anything involving the Summers family have to be eight kinds of complicated?

Alex frowned at her. "The long version would put the both of us directly into therapy and involves pretty much everyone you see here today."

"So I suspect," Lily admitted with a sage nod that was spoiled by her smile. "But I'm sure I'd have a helluva time on the way to the loony bin."

"Only because you didn't live through it," Alex said lightly, although Lily could see that there was true pain behind it and she sobered. "But it's over now and I can focus on introducing to you the less completely crazy aspects of my past... Lorna!"

Lily turned around to see whom Alex was calling to. She knew about Lorna - Alex's onetime flame, then teammate, then friend - but had never seen her and while she had spoken on the phone to Lorna, Lily hadn't had the courage to ask Alex which X-person she really was. Lily was as comfortable as she assumed she could be at the idea of Alex staying friends with an ex-girlfriend - it seemed petty to be jealous of a relationship that had been over without a spark of renewal for most of a decade.

A tall green-haired woman Lily knew as Polaris approached. Lorna was Polaris?

"Ah, at last we meet face to face," Lorna, who was indeed Polaris, said with a broad smile as she held out her hand. Lily shook it. "You need a better picture in your wallet, 'Lex."

"Yeah, well," Alex said and shrugged. "If a certain someone wasn't camera shy, I'd have one."

"Stop taking pictures of me eating," Lily told him with no pity, even as she was privately flattered that Alex did carry a picture. He had never said that he did.

Lorna laughed heartily and Lily could see a bit of Rogue in her - there was something almost masculine about the way she carried herself. "So you two are on the home stretch, I hear. In more ways than one."

"Apparently," Lily said with a pleasant smile. She didn't especially want to get into the whole 'when are you two getting married' discussion that seemed to crop up every once in a while when Alex was out of earshot. "We're starting to dust off our résumés and all that."

"My first time applying for a job since college," Alex added with a nod. "Weird, isn't it? I'm thirty years old and I've never been on a job interview."

"Well, you know that if you two are interested in anything in the oh-so-financially-rewarding field of government work," Lorna offered with a smile.  

"Uh-uh," Alex cut her off with a wave of his hands. "No. Not going back to X-Factor. I miss you and the gang, Lorna, but you can tell Val that hell will freeze over before I go back to that. And I don't think Bobby takes on government contracts, so you can't get him to try."

"Well, what about you, Lily," Lorna persisted, smiling all the while. Lily was sure that she was serious, just as she was sure that she'd take rejection easily.

"Un-unh," Lily replied with a rueful snort. "I know exactly what sort of benefits package comes with government work."

"So you two are going to get lazy working nine hours a week in some cushy tenured professorial position instead of saving the world," Lorna said with an exaggerated sniff before breaking into a wicked cackle. "Good for you. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart."

Before the conversation could get much further, Ororo came out with an appropriately-candled cake and made everyone sing Happy Birthday.


"Umm... Alex?"

"Yes?"

"Would you still love me if I dropped out of school to drive a Zamboni at the Meadowlands?"

"Probably, although I might get annoyed at all of the explaining I'd have to do."

"Okay. Just checking."

"Is this an imminent decision or do I have time to prepare remarks for when your father calls and demands to talk to me?"

"If I don't figure out how this border transfer works, it's going to be imminent."

"'Cuz, you know, I get really nervous every time your father calls me."

"He doesn't call you. He calls me and you're obsessed with answering the phone before I do."

"I'm not obsessed with answering the phone before you do because you don't answer the phone. I just don't see the same advantages to letting the answering machine screen calls that you do."

"You haven't spoken to my mother often enough."

"You're forgetting that conversation we had about my geniture."

"That's right. Mercury's slightly in retrograde for you. Explains so much."

"You know, next time your father calls, I'm going to tell him you're here and I'm going to let him give you the free milk and a cow speech again."

"Considering you're the one getting the free milk, I'd think you'd have qualms about letting him convince me to change my ways."

"Oh, shit."

"You realized I'm right?"

"No, I realized we're out of whole milk."


It was the middle of the day, but Penn Station was a zoo courtesy of seemingly hundreds of children. There was some sort of Sesame Street skating show playing at Madison Square Garden above them and it being Saturday, the concourse was thick with screeching children and overwhelmed parents. Alex grinned as the parades of happy children ran by, but didn't say anything because he knew the appreciation didn't carry over.

"And people wonder why I don't want to spawn," Lily muttered on cue as they stood against a pillar watching the Arrivals board.

"Nobody wonders," Alex replied wryly. "They all just wish you'd reconsider." He counted himself as one of them, but saying 'we' instead of 'they' made it a loaded sentence when you were living with the other person.

Lily was distressingly proud to say that she had no maternal instinct. Alex, like everyone else in Lily's life, knew that that wasn't really the case. It was more a matter of her utter fear of not doing a better job than her she viewed her own mother's attempt. That, and since she had no real experience with taking care of kids, hardly unique considering she was an only child, she didn't have any sort of feel that she could do just fine. Of course, the Mom thing was by far the bigger issue and, on that front, Alex didn't know what to think. He had never met Starshine Beck (he knew she was calling herself Onamara Something-or-other these days, but Lily refused to keep up with the name changes) and if Lily had her way, he probably never would. All he knew was that Lily's mother was the child of two card-carrying radicals and had surpassed them at almost every point. How she had ended up marrying Lily's father, a Navy officer, was a story he hadn't yet gotten from Lily, although he did know that the marriage hadn't lasted very long. 'My father's a squid and my mother's a nut,' was Lily's stock line.

"I think it might have been faster for him to drive," Alex said as they watched the board letters flick over from "ON TIME" to "DELAYED 15 MINUTES" for almost every train.

"Dad's not big on long drives," Lily replied, pressing herself against the stainless steel pillar as a posse of sticky-fingered children careened past. "At least not on land."

One of the quirks of his relationship with Lily that had initially intrigued him was that both of them were reluctant to talk about their childhoods. But it wasn't intriguing anymore. Alex had kept quiet out of security reasons, but Lily had done so out of a genuine wish to forget. After her parents' divorce, she had lived with her mother for a few years that she would not discuss, until Starshine had wanted to join a commune. Alex knew that by the time she was twelve, Lily was living with her paternal grandparents next to the naval base off the coast of Washington where her father was attached and that that had lasted until her grandparents' health had started to fade and Starshine was back living in a place where everyone wore clothes and nobody grew hemp. Lily had been reluctantly returned to San Francisco, but had worked hard enough to graduate high school two years early and had fled across the country to MIT. Alex, fractured childhood in his own past, couldn't even imagine the frequent and personal strife that must have gone on in that family.

"I'm going to find a Duane Reade to get a soda," Alex said as he checked the board once again. "Do you want anything?"

"Fruit Mentos," Lily replied, making a face as Alex made a face. "What? They're the only things that don't melt in my purse in the summer."

"They're vile and disgusting and gross and icky," he replied as he pushed off of the pillar. "And they stick to your teeth."

"This from someone who snarfed a whole box of Milk Duds at the movies the other week," Lily retorted.

"Milk Duds are classic," Alex protested as he walked away. "Mentos are just gooey Velamints on steroids."

He found the drugstore easily enough - the Amtrak boards were at the center of a circle of stores - and settled on an iced tea, remembering to check the candy aisle for the Mentos but refusing to get the multi-pack. He drank the iced tea as soon as he was outside the store, dropping the empty glass bottle into the recycling can.

As he made his way back to Lily with her candy, he saw her waving to someone and he looked around. The full service uniform - complete with topcoat folded over one arm - made it easy to figure out whom. Lily and her father had just finished their embrace when Alex walked up.

"Dad," Lily said with a proud smile. "This is Alex. Alex, this is my father."

While Lily only registered as part-Asian if you knew to look for it - Alex hadn't spent all that time in Hawaii to not be able to see such things - Captain Daniel Beck looked very much like his mother was Korean. He also looked very much like his father had been a hard-ass Army drill instructor, although that might be because he was looking at the man who was living in sin with his daughter. Captain Beck was of a height with Alex, although not as broad across the shoulders. He had the unforgiving posture of a career officer who was never completely off-duty and a small, thin scar on his right cheek that Alex knew had come from an on-board accident during Desert Storm.

Alex switched the bag to his left hand, swallowed hard, smiled, and held out his hand. He didn't miss the flash of recognition that passed across Captain Beck's face before the handshake was returned. A firm handshake, one suitable for a man sizing up the suitor of his one and only child.

"At last we meet," Captain Beck said with a nod.

"Putting a name to a face," Alex murmured in agreement. It was an incredibly awkward moment, he realized. Well, he had known it would be - Captain Beck had not been entirely thrilled to find out that his daughter was moving in with a man without a ring on her finger. Four months later, there was still no ring on her finger, although there was one buried in his file cabinet and Alex had hoped to bring it up as a point of discussion with him at some point today.

"All right, let's eat," Lily, not oblivious to the tension, announced, clapping her hands eagerly and gesturing with her head towards the escalator. "How was the ride up?"

"Acela Express was worth it," Captain Beck replied, letting Lily loop her arm around his as they walked. "DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and then here."

Alex nodded from his spot one step below them on the escalator. "We're going to come out on the wrong side," he told Lily.

"I know," she said, letting go of her father's arm to put on her hat and gloves. Alex, of course, needed neither. "But it was that or walk through the entirety of Penn Station and I'm not sure I could handle another swarm of children hopped up on spun sugar."

They exited the building on to the taxi drive and then out on to 31st Street, heading east towards Seventh Avenue. They made small talk - Alex and Lily giving the oversimplified versions of the 'highlights' of their recent conferences (his slide projector had gone rogue and he'd had to do an interpretive dance version of a riverbed analysis; she had nearly decapitated U Chicago's newest hire after she'd overheard him suggesting that she'd gotten a place on the conference roster because her relationship to the great Ray Dagley was something more than just advisor-advisee) and Captain Beck discussing his similarly embarrassing adventures with Virginia's traffic lights. It had been a while since he had transferred back to Whitbey Island to be closer to his ailing mother, but he had spent the previous week at a conference in Norfolk, where he had previously been based for many years.

Little Korea was only two long blocks from Penn Station. Lily had taken Alex here before. She liked to confuse the waiters - she might look like a Westerner, but she spoke 'Kitchen Korean' from living with her grandmother. But they didn't go to the restaurant they usually went to, instead Captain Beck had his own preferred spot and soon the three were ensconced in a quiet booth with a half-dozen small white bowls of pickles and appetizers being placed before them and then the trays of marinated meat to be grilled.

Alex had initially been skeptical of any restaurant where you had to cook your own dinner, but soon realized the inherent amusement in the affair and could enjoy watching Lily shoo both him and her father away from the inlaid table grill with her chopsticks as she expertly flipped the thin strips of meat before the overly solicitous waitress could come and help. He busied himself with the delicate process of taking off only the top leaf of the tightly coiled pile of pickled cabbage with his chopsticks, absently holding up a lettuce leaf for Lily to plunk meat onto.

All throughout the meal, Alex realized with relief, the conversation gradually warmed. He and Captain Beck were no longer talking through Lily and were asking and speaking up without having to be prompted by name. Lily had laughed delightedly when the two men had realized that they had both gotten food poisoning at the same Alexandria steakhouse.

When the bowls of sweet rice drink and the plate of fruit were brought out, Lily excused herself and Alex knew that this was his opportunity.

"Tell me something, Alex," Captain Beck began before he could say anything. "When Lily changes the subject when I ask about what you did before graduate school, is it because she doesn't know or because she doesn't want me to know?"

Alex took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had known this was coming. "The latter," he said. "She's known for a while now."

Captain Beck nodded once, apparently - Alex hoped - a sign that it had been an acceptable answer.

"I was Comms officer on the Andrew Jackson during the cleanup of Genosha," the Captain went on and it was Alex's turn to nod. The Jackson had been one of the two aircraft carriers assigned by the Navy to support humanitarian operations there and Alex, as Havok, had spent quite a bit of time visiting the hospital and processing center set up on its flight deck.

"Did we meet then?" Alex asked, shifting in his seat to relax his pose, which had gone from casual to Catholic School after Lily had left them.

"We were never introduced formally," Captain Beck replied with a ghost of a smile. "You were busy and so was I."

Alex nodded again. "Is this..."

"Going to be a problem?" Captain Beck finished with a raised eyebrow. "I won't lie to you and say that I'm thrilled that my daughter is involved with one of the most wanted men in the world. Yes, I know that you've done a lot of good - I saw some of it personally. But we both know that that doesn't put you - and Lily - in any less danger. Being a mutant - and being around a mutant - is not yet safe."

"I'd die to protect her," Alex told him without pause, leaning forward so that he could express his seriousness without raising his voice. "I'd die before I let anything happen to her. She's aware of the risks, better than you probably know. She understands who I am and what I have done - and what I may have to do - as much as anyone who hasn't been there can. She's okay with most of it, not okay with some of it, and willing to wait for the rest of it..."

"In what capacity?"

"As my wife, if you'll grant us your blessing," Alex replied, a little surprised at the direct way the matter had been asked and answered.

Captain Beck sat back in his seat. "You ask this knowing that Lily will do what she wants no matter what," he said.

"I don't plan on forcing her to choose between us, sir," Alex replied.

"And I don't plan on it either," Captain Beck replied, smiling at Alex for the first time that evening. "I have your promise, so you have my blessings. But take care of her, Summers. And take care of yourself. I've seen too many war widows."

"Yes, sir."

The tense tableau was broken by the arrival of the waitress with a teapot and three glasses. Lily followed behind, looking curious. Alex realized that she must have known that the two of them needed a few minutes alone and he smiled at her to indicate that they hadn't spent the time threatening each other.

After lunch - Captain Beck insisted on paying - the three stopped at a Korean market before Alex said goodbye. He had agreed to go up to Westchester to help Logan set up the nursery for the imminent arrival of the twins.

Logan was getting frustrated with everyone's attempts to help - the official domestication of the Wolverine was much too intriguing for everyone not to get involved. ("They're treatin' this like I'm a puppy that's finally gotten housebroken," Logan had grumbled on the phone.) Logan was not a man to show how he felt through words. But building a home for his family with his own hands was his own eloquent monologue, one that Sulven could appreciate even if she didn't entirely understand it. Alex understood Logan's frustration with the meddling and he didn't understand how a house full of telepaths - and people who had known Logan for years - couldn't see it that way. Sulven did - Alex had a private suspicion that some of the Askani's worst temper tantrums were aimed to get everyone else away from her family unit - but, well, Sulven wasn't quite like everyone else. So it was up to Alex and the visiting Piotr to help out, even if it meant just sitting around and drinking beer while Logan sanded and sawed.  

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