White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

6/December 2003-April 2004

"Are you comfortable, Kolya?" Piotr Rasputin asked the squirming bundle in his arms. "Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to take your nap, say, in your crib?"

Alex watched as thirteen-month-old Nicholas Logan paused in his attempts to make himself more comfortable as if he were considering the option. Nick seemed to reject the suggestions as he then went back to nestling into the crook of Piotr's arm. Once settled, he fairly radiated satisfaction.

Looking up, Alex caught glances with Piotr and the big Russian pursed his lips in bemusement.

"Usually it is Zara who is so resistant to incarceration," Piotr explained in a quiet voice, gently brushing fine black hair out of the baby's face.

Alex snorted. "She's going to be learning a lot about that word once she grows up, I suspect. Her first word should have been 'bail.'"

Piotr looked hurt for a moment before the corner of his mouth started to quirk upwards.

It had been a long four months since the Disappearance. While the X-Men had been given assurance that the missing sextet were alive and well, they were also told that Wolverine, Sulven, Cable, Domino, Bishop, and Dana wouldn't be returning until some quest had been met. That there were two children left behind without their parents to see their first steps or hear their first words was not a matter of concern to the Askani.

Privately and only in his most bitter moments, Alex wondered how much Sulven really cared that she was missing all of this. Her initial reaction to the babies had been a rather... utilitarian one and Alex half-suspected that Sulven felt no conflicting emotions about having to put aside her children to accomplish her task. It reminded him vaguely of some story he had once read about Amazons who mated only to further their tribe and had no special bond to their offspring beyond that of one clanmate to another.

Logan, on the other hand, was going to be devastated. This Alex knew, this they all knew. And while Piotr had made sure that Nick's and Zara's big firsts were recorded on video for their parents to watch upon their return, it wasn't going to be the same.  
While the initial plan had been to make the care of the twins a group effort, it had rather quickly become Piotr's project. Alex and Scott had remarked to each other that while they really shouldn't have been surprised at Piotr's patience and devotion to the tiny terrors, it was still revelatory, in its own way, to see him so utterly at ease in a nurturing mode. Piotr was the same with the children as he was with his friends - gentle, but absolutely unmoving when he was sure he was right. Under his careful eye, despite the house full of guilt-ridden X-Men, the babies were not spoiled - a harder task than it seemed with two infant telepaths, one of whom (Zara) was proving to be nothing short of ruthless in her attempts to manipulate the already-inclined adults in her world.

If anything, they were settling down a bit. Zara had reluctantly come to terms with the fact that not only could she not bend Piotr to her tiny-but-formidable will, but also that he didn't think much of her attempting to sway anyone else. Nick... Nick was in love. While he'd barely answer to his own name, he'd come running (well, wobbling) if Piotr called for 'Kolya'. Alex wondered if there would be problems when Logan did return - the twins adored Piotr with that sort of unreserved and unconditional love that children normally set aside for their parents.

Nick started to fuss and Alex snapped out of his reverie when he realized Piotr had said something. "Pardon?"

"I asked if you could reach over and grab my sketch pad," Piotr replied, gesturing with his free hand. "Although if you are daydreaming, perhaps you can go take a nap, too."

Alex made a face, but reached for the pad and pencil case and set them up on the table they were sitting at. Piotr picked up a pencil and started to sketch a face. Alex quickly saw that it was his own and made an odd expression. Piotr frowned as Nick laughed.

"I'm trying to settle him down, not cheer him up," Piotr told him mock-disapprovingly.

Alex dutifully schooled his features to their most dour. Nick was just as amused.

"Perhaps I should draw you with horns," Piotr mused, not looking up from his drawing. "Or after Masque has gotten through with you."

"You'd give the kid nightmares," Alex replied cheerfully.


They fell silent as Alex became just as transfixed watching Piotr draw as Nick was. Alex's face was finished, then his body with his arms leaning on the table, then the wall behind him with the edge of the breakfront. Alex honestly didn't know if Piotr drew much anymore - at least before this current extended babysitting project. When they had been in Australia, Piotr had drawn constantly - pictures of the people he loved, the places he missed, the adventures they had been on. And then he had been Peter Nicholas, the artist, and had become a sensation in the SoHo gallery scene. But then came the Shadow King and when that was all over, Piotr had come back to the X-Men with a shroud of sorrow around him and Alex had gone back to X-Factor and they'd been playing catch-up on their friendship ever since.

Alex hated that he didn't know whether Piotr was really over Kitty or whether he was just saying that he was in order to remove any lingering shadow over his presence in Excalibur and Kitty's impending marriage to Pete Wisdom. He hated that unless Piotr was visiting the States, Alex only spoke to him on holidays and birthdays or after some sort of mutant disaster. He wished that he could talk to Piotr about finally considering his obligation to the world fulfilled and finally doing something for himself - say, by going back to being Peter Nicholas. He wished they had never grown apart.

Forcing himself to break away from the smooth lines the pencil produced, Alex watched Nick. The tot was utterly fascinated, his eyes riveted to the page even as his eyelids were beginning to droop. By the time Piotr had finished the details on the moldings, Nick's eyes were closed and he was breathing slowly and deeply.

"Walls," Piotr whispered. "He never makes it past the walls."

Putting down his pencil, Piotr carefully stood up so that Nick wasn't disturbed at all. Alex followed behind as they left the dining room and headed up the back stairs to Piotr's room, which had a direct entrance to the twins' nursery.

When Sulven had gotten pregnant, a general renovation of one wing of the residence had been undertaken. As a result, there was now a pair of suites - bedroom, bathroom, small second bedroom, and small drawing room - on the top floor. While the twins had their own room in Logan and Sulven's suite, once Piotr had assumed primary care they had moved to the other with him.

Zara was still asleep in her crib, although Alex noticed that she did stir when they entered. Telepathic children don't need a baby monitor, Jean had told him with an exasperated smile. It had been months before the twins would broadcast their diaper, food, and other needs to only Logan and Sulven.

Piotr lay Nick down in his crib with typical gentleness, pulling up the blanket after he was sure that Nick wasn't going to awaken. Checking on Zara before he left - Alex noticed her tiny smile as Piotr gently traced a finger down her round cheek - they closed the door and then left Piotr's suite.

"Children are amazing, are they not?" Piotr asked once they were on their way back downstairs.

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "High risk, high reward."

Piotr made a face at the analogy, but nodded. "Do you see yourself..."

"Eventually, I hope," Alex replied with a shrug that he knew Piotr was not going to buy as casual. "Lily... she needs a little bit of time to grow accustomed to the idea. Grow interested in the idea, actually."

"She does not want children?" Piotr asked as they headed back to the dining room. "And if I am prying, then do tell me to be quiet."

"Piotr, I've known you for how long?" Alex asked with a snort. "You don't pry. Lily's scared of being a mother. She doesn't think she can do it. I think she can, but my opinion doesn't count here. It's no rush. I can wait."

"At least until you two get married," Piotr said as they reached the dining room. He closed up his sketchpad and put away his pencil set.

"That would be assumed," Alex replied with a chuckle.

"And is that happening soon?"

"Sooner than you think."

"Which end is up?"

"The end where the letters are oriented the right way... give that back."

"But... it's all in Greek! You don't have any vowels, though."

"Alex, give me back my homework, please?"

"You're the teacher. Why are you doing homework?"

"Because someone has to get the right answer when we go over it tomorrow and it might as well be me."

"It's... Are you sure everything's facing the right way?"

"Yes. Now hand it over. I need to recopy that."

"What's wrong with it?"

"I used the wrong derivative to get the starting number."

"How can you tell?"

"Because I got the wrong answer. Don't you have a rock to cuddle somewhere? A fault line to straddle? A crevasse to fall into?"

"They're not nearly as fun as you are."

"That's so not going to get you anywhere if I'm up past midnight doing this."

"Scott's going to take this badly," Piotr warned.

"That's part of the fun," Alex chirped. Oh, was it ever.

Orly shook her head, resigned to the operation but still disappointed that Alex hadn't been able to talk Lily into something a bit more formal.

"I know," Lily told her, patting her shoulder comfortingly. "You're here under protest."

It was a freezing January afternoon in downtown Manhattan, the first business day of 2004. The sun was blindingly bright against the marble government buildings and the quartet sat in front of a large black sculpture that Orly thought was fairly obscene and Alex thought she had a dirty mind for even drawing the connection.

He pulled out his cell phone. "Hey, Scott... No... Yeah... Listen: you have forty minutes to get Jean and catch the train from Salem Center... Because otherwise you're going to have to find a teleporter or else you'll miss it... Lily and I have a three-thirty appointment with Justice Haller... Why do you think?... Of course I'm serious... No, Scott, nobody's having a baby... Because we don't want to. Because between engagement and wedding things happen and we figure this way we'll get around whatever crappy luck you seem to have inherited. People disappear. Aliens invade... No, Dad doesn't count... Yes, this is what Lily wants, too. Do you want to ask her?... Well, get your ass in gear... No. Tell everyone later... Because I don't want this turning into a production... Scott, now you've got thirty-five minutes... Yeah. We'll meet you out front. Tell Jean to bring her camera."

He hung up and rubbed at his ear vigorously. "I didn't think Scott knew those words."

Lily and Piotr exchanged glances and rolled their eyes.

"Why don't we go to lunch?" Orly suggested, making a face at Alex. "I know a great little place on Lafayette right off Canal."

The walk was only five minutes and the Excellent Dumpling House lived up to its name. Piotr had minor trouble slipping in to his seat at one of the tightly packed tables, but once the bamboo racks of steamed dumplings started to appear, all was forgotten. An hour-plus later, they trekked back down to City Hall, stopping first at a Chinese sweet shop so Orly could pick up haw flakes and then at a vegetable stand so that Alex could investigate the mysterious-looking fruits and finally at a florist so Lily could pick out a small bunch of red tulips. ("My wedding, my bouquet," she told a protesting Orly.) If they hadn't been dressed as they were, it would have looked like any other gathering of friends hanging out downtown. Which had been Alex and Lily's plan exactly.

What hadn't necessarily been part of the plan was how giddy Alex felt at what he'd only talked about - out loud and to himself - as a minor administrative change. They were already living together, already committed to each other in every way that counted, and Alex (unbeknownst to Lily) had already drawn up the legal documents that made her his heir. This legal change should not have mattered as much as it did. But it did. He looked at Lily and saw possibilities he hadn't imagined even after he'd put the ring on her finger. The future was going to be awesome.

Scott and Jean were standing next to a pillar when they arrived back at City Hall, dressed reasonably well for the occasion - slacks and a dress - despite the blowing wind. Alex mused that they obviously hadn't told Ororo where they were going - the weather was getting colder, not warmer. After hugs were exchanged, they went inside.

"At least you're not wearing jeans," Scott muttered as they watched Piotr decipher the directions to the chapel.

Alex smiled. He could tell Scott was really very happy for him and that the put-upon act was just that - an act. Scott never dealt well with surprises, be they Sentinels or impulsive dinner plans by Jean.

Point of fact, Alex was wearing a tuxedo, complete with tails. "I figured it would be the only way we'd be able to tell this picture from any others of the two of us together," he told his brother, mostly for the reaction he got.

"Don't let him bother you," Jean told Lily. "He's having spontaneity issues again. I think this is a great idea. I was a wreck before my wedding and you can imagine how much help I had and how little I actually had to worry about. And I love the dress."

Alex did, too. Lily hadn't been any kind of superstitious about letting him see her in it before the wedding.

"I'm getting it dyed blue next week," she told Jean. "It's off the rack from Lord & Taylor's."

Piotr and Orly, walking a little ahead to avoid the family bickering, stopped. "I think we're going the wrong way," Orly said, pointing at a sign. Piotr, the one who had originally picked this direction, frowned. Alex felt obligated to come up with past instances of Piotr's navigation skills dooming them all.

After they had stood in the middle of the hallway looking helpless for about five minutes, a rather harried civil servant took pity on the lost posse and guided them through an office and into another hallway that was right around the corner from where they needed to be. With a quick "Congratulations", their sherpa disappeared through one of the stairwell doors that looked like it was original to the building.

Finding long wooden benches against the walls outside the wooden double-doors to the chapel, the group sat down to wait. They still had fifteen minutes.

"Should I ask how long you've been planning this?" Scott asked.

"A few weeks," Alex admitted, giving up trying to keep his cufflink from irritating the scratch he'd gotten on his wrist while helping the paleontology group re-assemble a small dinosaur skeleton. (While dinosaurs interested him greatly, he'd had an ulterior motive - there were relatively large bits of rock that were going to have to be removed from some of the fossils and he wanted them to be taken off in such a fashion that he'd have enough samples to run a few tests on and stick in to his morphology presentation.) He'd scratched himself on the box, of all things. "We didn't want to make a thing out of this."

"Well, this is already a thing," Scott told him, checking his watch. "It's just a smaller thing than what would have happened had you told everyone. Did you get a chance to tell Dad?"

"Yeah," Alex said, enjoying Scott's surprised reaction to the answer. "He called out of the blue last week. I figured he'd keep the secret."

"It was the week after Christmas," Scott pointed out, standing up. "It was hardly out of the blue."

"How often does Dad actually remember what month it is down here?"

"Point," Scott admitted. Christopher Summers had made a greater effort to keep tabs on his sons in recent years, although his life as an interstellar pirate did tend to put a crimp in any grand plans for close contact.

Alex watched Jean try to put some of the small white flowers she had been carrying into Lily's hair. He was sure there was a little telekinesis being used to help out and wondered if Orly noticed or even cared. She had taken the whole 'Alex is a mutant' thing with complete calm.

"Did you call your mother?" Orly asked Lily as Jean stepped back and took a photo of them.

"I'll send her a postcard," Lily replied, smiling for the camera. "Or Dad will tell her. Dad knows."

Alex chuckled as Orly sighed and then shrugged his shoulders artlessly as she looked pointedly at him. He had tried to get Lily to call her mother - had even strategized with Captain Beck, who was in the middle of a training exercise and wouldn't have been able to make any day they'd be free - but Lily wouldn't budge. She'd had an argument with her mother two weeks ago (over Lily and Alex sending her a Christmas card; Alex wasn't sure of the details other than the fact that Starshine Beck didn't celebrate Christmas) and it was only Alex's pleading jointly with her father that Lily was going to send a picture through email.

Jean looked around and then closed her eyes for a second. "Okay, the coast is clear," she announced. "Group photo."

Alex pushed himself off the bench with a groan. Jean tended to get trigger-happy with photos and she not only had her digital camera, but also her cell phone also had a camera as well.

"Orly, don't mind the flying objects," he warned as he watched Lily's friend watch the camera and phone float out to a position and a height that could capture them all in one shot.

Lily was in the kitchen putting away the last of the groceries when she heard Alex hoot exultantly from their study.


They had gotten back from their honeymoon last weekend and had spent the week catching holy hell - over dinner parties - from their various groups of friends for having eloped in the first place. The last few days had finally quieted down and, with the semester about to begin, things were sliding towards normalcy.

"They're back," Alex announced as he fairly sprang into the kitchen, cell phone in hand. "They appeared in the middle of the backyard this afternoon. Just where they had disappeared from. Boom, splash, the timestream spit them back out again."

Lily closed the pantry door and nearly turned around right into Alex, who was half-hovering, half-hopping foot-to-foot with glee. "That's fantastic!" she exclaimed. It really was - even with updates from the mysterious Askani, everyone was a little nervous. "Is everyone all right?"

"Nathan's pretty fried," Alex admitted, leaning against the stove. "But Jean said he's a helluva lot better off than he was after the whole Phoenix thing the other year and he just needs to rest and rebuild his shields. Besides, it wouldn't be a real mission if he didn't come back stressed out to the point of being a puddle of psionic goo."

"That sounds like Scott's opinion," Lily said as she tossed the lettuce at him. Even if Jean and Scott were relatively blasé about Nathan's condition, Lily spared a thought to hope that he felt better quickly. She liked Nathan even as she was scared by him. Every time they were in the same place together (which meant some family event in Westchester), he had made a point of talking with her - usually about fluid dynamics and how it could be applied to the timestream. Especially in light of the way the sextet had disappeared, Scott had asked her if anything they had discussed could be useful to getting them back. It wasn't.

"Other than that," Alex went on, opening the fridge to put away the lettuce and then holding out his hand for Lily to toss him the rest of the vegetables, "The greatest injury seems to be Sam falling on his ass after seeing Dana in war paint and carrying a gun."

Lily snorted. "Well, it's Dana," she replied, handing the bag to Alex. As much as she liked Sam, she had always been a little resistant to Dana's attempts at friendship. Lily was pretty sure it was merely petty resentment on her part - Dana was so casual about all that she had given up to be with the X-Men that Lily wondered if she even understood how privileged she was to be able to be so cavalier about it all. "One minute it's a Bergdorf's bag and the next it's a plasma cannon. I'd probably fall on my ass as well. At least Sam's ass is invulnerable."

Lily didn't even pause to think about how she had come to be so comfortable with the whole concept of time-space portals and alien technology and everything else that the X-Men did their best to hide from the public. Well, it wasn't really comfort, she knew. It was more a learned ability to run quickly over the surface of such topics. Because if you dwelled on them, you were likely to go a little crazy.

"How did the twins' reunion with their parents go?" she asked as Alex closed the fridge.

"Scott didn't say on the voicemail," Alex replied, sitting down at the table. "He just said that Piotr's been relieved of duty."

"I hope that goes all right," Lily said thoughtfully as she ran water for the kettle. "Both for Piotr and for Logan and Sulven and the twins."

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "They've spent almost half of their lives with Piotr, pretty much. When Logan and Sulven left, the twins were just starting to try to pull themselves into a standing position and barely acknowledged anyone. Now they walk and talk and are approaching little-peoplehood."

"And they're fiercely attached to Piotr," Lily added, opening the tin of barley tea. "And he to them. When you call Scott back, why don't you offer to have Piotr stay here for a few days? The separation might be good for everyone."

Alex nodded in a way that Lily knew that he had heard her, but he was very much lost in his own thoughts. She waited until the tea had steeped and been poured into the thermos before sitting down next to him.

"Penny for your thoughts," she said.

"I'm just thinking about Piotr," Alex said, leaning back in his chair and taking Lily's hand. He had become very fond of playing with her left hand - and its new ring - recently. "He's... Being with the twins made him... I don't know..."

"Happy?" Lily suggested.

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "He was so miserable in Scotland. I'd get these really short emails from him - and Piotr's not a short-email kind of guy. And then he came here and he had a purpose - he's happiest when he's being relied on for something - and now that responsibility has been taken away from him... I was hoping that I could be some sort of example for him while he was here - you know, the whole 'I left the X-Men and lived to tell about it' thing? But I don't think he saw it that way at all. He's happy that I'm happy, but... he's a responsibility addict, you know?"

"Everyone wants to be needed," Lily pointed out, withdrawing her hand so that she could get up and bring over the thermos and two cups. Piotr Rasputin had been an abstract concept until she had met him at Alex's birthday party the other year. She knew he was a friend of Alex's, had been part of what Alex called 'the Australia crowd,' and that he lived in Scotland. But now that Piotr was here in the States and Alex was making time to see him regularly, he had exploded into three dimensions as a person whom she could see (along with Logan) Alex being friends with regardless of their shared past.

"But with Piotr, it's more of a need," Alex said with a grimace. "When we were in Australia, he'd get crazy when we were sitting around for too long. I mean, we all went a little stir crazy at times - living in the Outback isolated from civilization doesn't do anyone's sanity any good - but he'd be jonesing because we were sitting around and not helping anyone. And the sick part is that this addiction... It's what he needs, but it's not what he wants."

"You're losing me," Lily said as she poured the cups and then sat back down. She hadn't really known Piotr before he'd become the twins' ersatz parent; she couldn't imagine him as other than he was.
"He wants to be a superhero and gets itchy when he's not, right?"

"Not quite," Alex replied. "He needs to have a duty to fulfill. But he has wants that are completely incompatible with that. I wasn't around for most of the time that he was Peter Nicholas, but Jean and Scott and Bobby and the others say that that was the happiest they'd ever seen him. He was content. He has never been content as Piotr Rasputin - at least not since he left the farm in Siberia."

"And you were hoping he'd follow your lead and try to take care of his own wants for a while," Lily finished.

"Yeah," Alex said. "But instead, he found a new responsibility. And now that the twins have been reunited with their parents, he's going to be looking for his next fix..."

"Look, if it's really an addiction like you say it is," Lily began, sipping her tea before continuing. "Then he won't take anyone's help until he wants to. And if he's really just like so many other of the folks who live in Westchester and he's acting out of a rather heightened sense of social obligation, then..."

"Then he's never going to be happy ever," Alex finished with a frown.

"You know, we're supposed to be all giddy and stuff now that everyone's back," Lily pointed out. "We can mourn Piotr's choices later. Right now, let's get back to hopping up and down about everyone coming home again, okay?"

"Deal," Alex said, smiling. "I should call Scott back. Once Nathan's a little less on edge, there's going to be a thingie."

"And we all love X-thingies," Lily replied with a nod.


"I love my students."

"I know you do. Especially when they make you bang your head on the desk like that."

"I love my students."

"What did they do this time?"

"One of them disproved the law of conservation of momentum."

"Really? Can we work with it?"

"Only if you discount inertia."

"Personally, I've always thought inertia was a little overrated."

"Be that as it may, I don't want any of my students recreating laws of the universe."

"You know, one of them could be doing just that. That student could be doing just that. If they're a mutant, then maybe they could do away with inertia."

"Don't give me those thoughts. These are the same kids who get stuck on inclined planes and none of them could identify a normal force if it glowed in the dark. I don't want them to be able to undo anything."

"You know, I wonder if Charles ever really considered that... A growing population of dumb-as-dirt mutants."

"We're just growing fat and plump for the alien invaders, aren't we?"

"I don't think the Shi'ar like pork."

"Damn it."

"Is there a problem, oh love of my life?" Alex asked jauntily as he entered their bedroom. He had been looking for the scrap of paper that he'd written a phone number on and it wasn't in his backpack. He was hoping it was in his pants pocket.

"I need to go dress shopping," Lily muttered from her closet. "And I need to figure out when to go dress shopping when I'm not giving or grading a test."

"Do you need a dress for the reception or for the wedding?" Alex rooted through the hamper for the pants he had worn on Friday. Finding them, he checked the pockets and found, in addition to thirty-five cents, the 'while you were out' slip he had used as scrap paper.

"The wedding," Lily replied, closing the closet door with her foot and flopping on their bed with a sigh. "I have my cocktail dress that I can wear to the reception, but I need something suitable for an outdoor afternoon wedding."

Alex made a vague noise of sympathy. Next weekend was a busy one and it was all his fault.

Friday night was the opening of a new permanent exhibit at the museum and the reception was black-tie. There would be heads of state - a considerable portion of the display items had come from Turkey and Armenia - and the usual New York hoi polloi. It wasn't an exhibit Alex had anything to do with except helping Rodi spell a few words for the display cards but it was the first big opening since his arrival on staff and he had been extended an invitation by Linda, the vivacious head of the paleontology group.

Then, after recovering from that affair, he and Lily would have to trek down to Kentucky for Sam and Dana's wedding. Alex was amused by the preparations - none of which he or Lily were involved with. Lily's lack of participation was purely her own decision - Jean had called regularly to include her. But while Lily was all for searching the internet for the best prices on bunting and rental chairs, she didn't want to be a more intimate part of the process. Jean had called him at work to ask him if there was a problem, but Alex didn't think there was. Lily just wasn't into that sort of thing and while she'd be a reluctant major domo if, say, Orly were to announce an engagement and an involved wedding plan, Lily and Dana weren't exactly buddies.

"Is there such a difference in attire for an outdoor afternoon wedding than an indoor afternoon wedding?" Alex asked, leaning against the chest of drawers. "Why can't you wear what you wore to Paul and Stephanie's wedding?"

"That wasn't an afternoon wedding," Lily pointed out, not sitting up. "That was a Saturday evening wedding. Completely different."

"Oh," Alex said, thankful for the billionth time for the invention of the jacket and tie. "You're giving the exam on Wednesday, right?"

"Yeah," Lily replied, finally sitting up. "I've gotten the test half-written, but I want to finish it tomorrow night so I have Tuesday to deal with any unanticipated problems. Wednesday is the test and I blocked Wednesday night, Thursday, and then Friday morning after class to grade the things because I know I'm not going to get anything done over the weekend and I need to get them back by Monday and I can't mark a hundred exams at once or I'll go batty. Battier than I am. And some time in the middle of all that I have to come up with something for my grad class because they don't have a lab this week."

"Why don't you have TA's do the grading?" Alex asked, moving over to sit on the bed next to Lily. "I only have one class and I get grad students to do my marking."

"That's because you teach at a private school," Lily said knowingly. "The grad students at CUNY are adjuncts - they have their own classes to teach and their own exams to mark. No TA's."

"Ugh," Alex muttered with a frown. He'd thought that Lily graded her own exams out of new-professor excitement, not out of lack of alternatives. "Okay. So assuming that I chain you to your desk for the rest of the evening - including taking over dinner duties from you - and you have a very good afternoon of coming up with new ways to torture your kids tomorrow afternoon, then theoretically, you'll have Tuesday afternoon free to go shopping, right?"

"Yeah," Lily agreed, shifting over to lean on him. "If I don't use that time as prep for my grad kids."

"It'll give you something to do while you proctor the exam," Alex told her. "It's not like you didn't spend quality time on your vacation setting up your lesson plan. Problem solved."

"In theory," Lily said.

"Well, let's put theory into practice," Alex told her, leaning back and grabbing her torso as she lost her balance from the sudden shift. He stood up, dragging her awkwardly-but-gently with him. "Time to chain you to the desk."

"Hey," Lily squawked, trying to stand upright and not able to. "Let me go, you thug."

Alex gave his best evil cackle and started walking backwards, forcing Lily to do the same but tilted at a precarious angle and relying completely on him to keep her from falling over. "You're supposed to trust me," he said as she tried to dig her heels in to the runner that covered the wood floor in the small hallway between the bedroom and the living room. All she succeeded in doing was dragging the rug with her heels.

"I trust you as far as I can throw you," she muttered as Alex made a sharp right mid-hallway and pushed her into their study, not stopping until they were at her desk.

"Now stay there before I get a belt to tie you to your chair."

"We haven't done that in a while," Lily purred.

"No distractions," Alex told her firmly.

"A one hundred kilogram geologist is shot at three hundred sixteen meters per second out of a cannon that is aimed fifteen degrees up from horizontal and is parked on a six hundred meter cliff," Lily began challengingly. "Assuming no wind, what is his final velocity and where will he land?"

"In the kitchen, where he will be found making an omelet," Alex told her easily, taking the paper with the phone number out of his pocket and dropping it on his desk on the way towards the kitchen. He'd call Robert Thivans - one of the directors of the Lamont-Doherty Laboratories - in the morning. Frohmeyer had promised to give him a heads-up if he heard anything about a suitable job offer for fieldwork; Alex hadn't expected his former advisor to all but get him hired at his dream job - the geosciences facility was known for the size of its travel budget.

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