White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

7/August 2004 - April 2005

"There's a bar, let's stop."

"Lily," Alex groaned, not even slowing down the rental car. "Think positively. You keep expecting the worst and that's what you'll get."

"It's what I've gotten for twenty-six years," Lily muttered darkly, not turning her head from where she was looking out the window.

She had been outfoxed. Her husband and her father had collaborated behind her back and a West Coast trip that wasn't going to be all fun and games at the start had suddenly started to look an awful lot like an obstacle course.

The original plan had been to fly to Portland and see Grandma Ina - well advanced in her Alzheimer's and not able to speak on the phone any more without great assistance - and then drive up to visit with her father in Washington before flying from Seattle to Anchorage and catching up with Scott and Jean (up for a vacation) and visiting with Alex's grandparents.

But the two weeks of grandparents had been cut into when Lily's father had announced that he'd be in San Francisco for a charity event - he'd called and suggested they meet there and then travel up to Portland together. Lily had been all set to say no and that they'd see him in Washington, but Alex had gone and found airline tickets to San Francisco that were so much cheaper than the flight to Seattle that they could take the train between cities and still save money.

The end result was that eight months into marriage, Alex was finally going to meet his mother-in-law. And while he seemed fairly eager - all he knew about her was what Lily had told her and Lily would be the first to admit that she wasn't exactly objective - Lily thought that his initial burst of enthusiasm would melt away soon enough.

People who had only heard Lily tell colorful stories of her mother's eccentricities might think that there was little love between the two. But the truth was that Lily loved her mother very much. She just couldn't stay in the same room with her and maintain her sanity. They were different people with different sets of beliefs and were it not for the fact that they were related, there would be no conceivable reason for them ever to associate. Which was true for a lot of families, but not with this degree of impatience and inflexibility built in.

Lily always said that there were certain people not cut out to be parents and Starshine Machney Beck (by any name, although Lily was not going to call her Onamara or whatever the latest nominal re-invention was) was one of them. Star (as Lily's father called her) wasn't cruel or unkind or inconsiderate, although Lily had occasionally called her the last and meant it sincerely. She was just... unprepared to accept great responsibilities and unable to recognize that shortcoming. And, as Lily and her father knew all too well, she didn't want to be told of such a shortcoming.

Star wanted to be relied upon, but as far as Lily could tell, had failed in every attempt to be someone's foundation. She had tried marriage, but had quickly folded under the stresses of being a military wife - Lily didn't know if it had been ambition or naiveté that had made her mother decide to try marrying into the Navy after growing up in a commune. After the divorce, Star had tried being employed and had found that she didn't like The Establishment (i.e., anyone who required that she show up every day at the same time). Star's most enduring attempt was motherhood and that was because it was harder to end that one - although Lily's father had been forced to try.

Lily and her mother were prone to ideological fights and, during one notable battle, Lily had called her mother Hester Prynne for treating her daughter as the permanent symbol of her own weakness in being seduced by the evil conformists. They hadn't spoken for months after that.

"Does any of this look familiar?" Alex asked as he followed the directions they had printed out before they had left New York.

"In a vague way," Lily replied, shaking her head to clear the thoughts running through it. She didn't need to be putting herself into such a mood right before she saw her mother. "I haven't been out here for any length of time for ten years... Oh, but there's one of the places at which I was nominally educated." She pointed ahead to a small earth-toned cottage. Alex snorted.

Lily considered herself a failed flower child, the willfully disobedient little capitalist-in-training who had never accepted peace, cooperation, and good feelings for all over personal achievement. Determined to raise a child who would share her values, Star had enrolled Lily in alternative education at every juncture. As a result, Lily had endured 'group learning,' 'child-based study,' and a couple of other variations on the theme. It was all crap, Lily was sure -- even more sure as she was on the other end of the pedagogical stick. Not one of her kids - even the undergrads - had gone through the alt-ed routine and Lily knew precisely why. Ten years of alternative education and she had had to learn math and science on her own - rote learning was considered 'demoralizing' to the child. The three years she spent in public school while living with her father and grandparents became halcyon memories after she was returned to San Fran and Lily strove every day to be true to those standards instead of the ones to which she was subjected under her mother's supervision. By fifteen, she'd had endless notes to her mother written by teachers saddened by young Lily's competitiveness and refusal to enhance the communal learning experience. By sixteen, she'd worked hard enough on her own to have fulfilled all of the requirements for graduation as set forth by the California Board of Regents and her Enrichment Center had been all too happy to write fulsome notes of recommendation so long as she'd leave. Which she had. All the way to Massachusetts. Cal Tech had been a possibility - and there was the added perk of tuition benefits for staying in-state - but it was too close. And with no close friends from high school to tie her to the West Coast - she had been the sullen outsider, the dandelion in the lush lawn of communal education - there had been no reason apart from her aunt and the already-failing Grandma Ina to ever return.

"Which right turn am I supposed to be making?" Alex moaned as they waited for the light to change. There was a fork in the road to the right.

"The left-most one," Lily told him. "I remember where we are now."

The rest of the drive was depressingly short and Alex found a parking space across the street from the house. Lily let Alex carry the plant they had bought for her mother and she rang the doorbell.

"Hi, Mom," she said as the door opened.

Star looked like what she was - the granddaughter of Irish potato farmers. Blonde-haired and green-eyed, she was solid without being fat, sturdy without looming. It was a figure that worked well with the Earth Mother lifestyle she had adopted. Lily had inherited the sturdiness if not necessarily the solidity, although both of her parents thought she looked much more like Star's mother, a tallish, broad-shouldered, dark-haired woman considered beautiful by 1940's standards, than anyone else.

"Lily!" Star cried out happily, opening the screen door and stepping out on to the porch. It was a nice house - a small Victorian - and Lily had always liked it, despite the clutter.

Lily managed to survive being squeezed to within an inch of her life and breathed deeply as she was let go. It always amazed her how much of her enmity disappeared when actually faced with her mother and how much of the shroud she held over their relationship was solely her own... not imagination, but... design, perhaps. At least that's what it always felt like at the beginning, before there could be any reminders that there was a good reason they only spoke by phone every month or so. (Apart from ignoring the endless forwarded articles Star sent by email, any of which would send her blood pressure through the roof should she actually look at them.) Which is why right now she felt a little guilty about having waited so long to have her mother meet Alex, but was fairly sure that regret would fade by the time they left.

"And you must be Alex," Star said, beaming, as she turned to face him. "I'm so glad to finally meet you!"

"Same here," Alex replied as he, too, was squeezed tightly.

"And you brought me greenery," Star enthused as she took the plant from Alex after letting him go. "Why don't we go inside? I'll made tea."

Lily watched Alex's reaction as they passed through the hallway and into the kitchen. Star was a collector of things. Pottery, talismans, plants, magazines, and various ethnic items crowded every horizontal surface. The house looked part trading post, part thrift shop, and part museum. Lily had never figured out how her mother kept the place clear of dust.

"I want to hear all about your wedding," Star went on cheerily, talking over her shoulder as she walked. "I always wanted to elope, but Lily's father couldn't run off anywhere or else the shore patrol would be chasing after us for going UA. We got married on a Friday night and he had to be back on ship on Monday morning."

Green tea and homemade cookies were promptly served, Star keeping up a running litany of questions, pausing just long enough for Alex and Lily to get the answers in. Alex looked to be enjoying himself immensely and, when Star had disappeared upstairs to dig up photo albums, he gave her a knowing look.

"I can't believe this is what you've been railing about all these years," he told her, a disappointed look on his face. "She's really quite nice."

"I never said she was mean," Lily replied, taking another cookie. Her mother was the only person she knew who could find a constructive use for carob. "I just said that her voluminous quantity of quirks could get very trying very quickly. She's got all of these pseudo-scientific explanations for everything and doesn't want to hear that what she believes is not actually the truth. Just wait until Dad gets here and we try to figure out where to go out for dinner. You'll get the full hour treatment about organic food and a version of mineralogy that will have every geologist nerve in your body standing on end."

Star returned carrying four heavy photo albums and the next two hours were spent poring over pictures. Lily hadn't looked at the albums since she was a teenager and was surprised at the breadth and variety of the pictures therein. Alex had to be pounded on the back after he started coughing from laughing too hard at the pictures of Lily dressed as Wicket for Halloween ("Oh, we couldn't get her out of that costume," Star sighed, smiling at the memory. "She wanted to sleep in it, too.")

They had just finished looking at some of the school pictures - Lily looked pained in all of them - when there was a knock at the side door.

"Anyone home?" Captain Beck called.

"In the kitchen, Dan," Star called out, standing up.

Alex, to his credit (Lily thought), didn't react when her parents greeted each other warmly. She had explained to him long ago that her parents still loved each other; they just couldn't accept each other's differences well enough to live together.

Lily got up to say hello to her father and Alex did as well. Lily was happy that the two of them seemed to be getting along all right - Alex had told her of their connection from Genosha and that had gone a long way towards explaining her father's initial reaction.

The conversation about where to go to dinner started early and ran late. Star was a fundamentalist vegan and refused to go anyplace that served meat. Lily breathed a sigh of relief when her father capitulated after the third suggestion of the Ayurvedic restaurant, although by that point Star had gotten on to the topic of how man had evolved past the need to ingest animal protein and Lily had caught Alex making pained faces. She returned them with a knowing look.

Dinner itself was a relatively innocent affair - despite the bits of pro-Sentinel conversation that drifted over from the next table. Star didn't know about Alex's other identity, or even that he was a mutant at all, but she was pro-mutant on general principles and muttered about how someone who could be so careful about keeping their body pure could allow their mind to be so polluted. Lily and her father deftly managed to distract Star from most of her longer harangues on the matters of government, food, and the environment.

Lily's father had a hotel reservation downtown and, despite Lily's protestation, she and Alex were staying with Star for the two days they'd be in San Francisco. They made plans to meet her father at the train station Friday afternoon and dropped him off before returning back to the house.

"I've re-done your room since you moved out," Star said cheerily as she led the way upstairs. "All of your things are packed up, so if there's anything here you've been missing, please feel free to take it with you. I wouldn't throw out anything of yours without asking."

"We've got a small place, Mom," Lily told her as she followed Alex into the room. "Wow..." Gone were the posters and mementoes of childhood. Instead, the place looked remarkably mature and... subdued, at least in comparison to the rest of the house. Blues and greens were the dominant colors where the rest of the house was a riot of colors on a brown background.

"Cleaner than you ever kept it, that's for sure," Alex said as he looked around.

Lily hit him in the arm. "You got a new bed?" The bed that she'd slept in as a child was replaced with a queen-sized.

"There was a two-for-one sale when I was re-doing the guest bedroom," Star explained with an almost shy shrug. "And you were already serious with Alex at the time, so I was just... optimistic, let's say. That you two would come and visit. And now you have!" She beamed and Lily felt guilty anew. "All right, I'll let you two unwind. You've had a very long day and it's almost one in the morning by your body clocks."

Goodnights were said and Star closed the door behind her.

"While I can see how some of her stranger views can be a bit grating by the fifth iteration," Alex said as he sat down on the bed and took off his shoes. "I really don't see any basis for the continued harboring of grudges."

"I know," Lily admitted, letting herself fall back on the bed. It was a medium-softness mattress, not the hard-as-stone ones that she knew her mother preferred. "I'm a married lady now and can bury the hatchet not in someone's back. It's just... I don't know that I'm up for fully integrating her into my life, you know? I can do better than seeing her once every few years, but I'm not ready to schedule regular visits. We're both on our best behavior - this is the longest we've gone without a screaming match in years and I'm not taking bets that we'll last the whole visit without you having to separate us."

"I'm not asking you to change overnight," Alex told her, pulling his shirt over his head and pulling on the t-shirt he only wore when sleeping at someone else's home. "I'm not asking you to do anything but look at things from a different perspective, that's all. Speaking as someone whose only surviving parent is literally out of this world..."

Lily laughed. "Yeah, yeah. Speaking of, we should call Scott tomorrow and make sure he has the new arrival time now that we're flying from Portland and not Seattle."

Alex nodded agreement and got up to find the bathroom, leaving Lily to her thoughts.


"So," Scott began as they trundled up the stairs carrying luggage and food, "How did it really go?"

Alex snorted, but looked over his shoulder to where Jean and Lily were still talking by the car before answering. "Lily and her mother lasted a whole sixteen hours before snapping at each other," he said, catching the door with his toe from where Scott was holding it open with his heel. "Unfortunately, that includes the time we were sleeping off our jetlag. They were both trying, I could tell, but another day in San Fran and there would have been blood spilled."

"That bad?" Scott asked, putting the grocery bags down on the kitchen table.

"That bad," Alex confirmed with a sigh. "It's like every issue we've ever had with Dad, except multiplied because the two of them actually did live together for years and not only have all of the 'you were a selfish parent' issues, but also the crap that builds up from constant contact. I don't expect them to say a word to each other until Christmas... Except my mother-in-law resents anyone using December twenty-fifth as a notable date..."

The initially warm reunion had cooled by the next morning, in fact, when Lily cut short her mother's lecture on the evils of dairy products that had started when Star had put out soymilk with coffee. Star accused Lily of being intolerant, Lily called her mother gullible, and it had gone downhill from there. Alex had finished his coffee in the kitchen alone. The two women apologized before Lily and Alex had set out for the day to explore the city, but after dinner had another row over the reasonableness of the more radical laws of nearby Berkeley. After that, Alex decided that they could take their meals away from the house.

"And that was only the first stop on the emotional wringer tour," Alex continued as Scott trailed along to the opposite end of the house and the guest bedroom. "Lily was just recovered enough by the time we got to Portland to fall apart again after seeing her grandmother."

Lily had known that her beloved grandmother had gotten frail as the Alzheimer's had progressed - even at this stage, the disease didn't affect the body per se, more the ability to exercise it. And while her father and her aunt had told her that Grandma Ina was in no physical distress, Lily wasn't prepared to see the... husk that the woman she'd always known as vibrant had become. Alex, too, was surprised, as he had heard all of the same updates from Lily's Aunt Eleanor. Ina wasn't bedridden, but couldn't walk anywhere unsupported and unsupervised and had just gotten out of the hospital. The mental deterioration was about what they had been led to believe - for the last few months, Ina would only speak Korean, no matter what language she was spoken to in. Alex had been introduced to Ina and she had gripped him in a surprisingly strong embrace and told him, in Korean, that she hoped he and Lily would be happy. The next day, Ina had asked if Lily was seeing someone and Alex was introduced (sans hug) again.

"So you two are looking for a vacation from your vacation," Scott surmised, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"Pretty much," Alex agreed.

"Well, if it'll start things off on the right foot," Scott said, "Our grandparents are in their usual fine form. We're expected to drag you around for dinner tonight, but Grandma said that you two could put off the 'heavy visiting' until later on in the week."

Alex snorted. Four generations of Summerses were running around and their grandparents were still the most grounded and sane of any of them.

"Did we lose our wives?" he asked, cocking an ear when he heard no voices. They must still be outside.

Scott narrowed his eyes for a moment. "They're by the vegetable patch," he said. "Jean's ridiculously proud of the fact that the cucumber plant she put in the ground back when we were here in the spring is actually bearing fruit. I think she's just really excited that she can grow something without Ororo's help."

Alex chuckled and leaned against the vanity table. "Speaking of, should I take the fact that you're tanned and relaxed as meaning that nothing funky is going on back home?"

"Well, nothing unusually funky," Scott allowed with a wry smile. "Nathan and Domino are off doing dirty deeds, but as long as there's no mayday and no call for bail, I'm not even going to let myself think about it. I spoke to Ororo yesterday and she assured me the usual level of chaos is being maintained and if that holds true, then Jean and I can stick to our promise to stay here until November."

"Promise to each other or promise to Ororo?" Alex had known that Scott and Jean had planned to take a few months off, but this was the first time that they sounded serious about keeping those plans.

"Each other," Scott admitted. "A lot has happened this year, you know? You got married, Sam got married, the whole re-appearance thing and watching the twins running around the mansion..."

"You're feeling old, aren't you?" Alex accused. Scott had turned thirty-six a few months back, although he looked younger.

"You sound like Jean," Scott groused, standing up. "It's not the number. It's the fact that I've been doing the superhero thing for half my life already and I'm starting to become aware of the fact that I've got a real life, too."

Alex gave Scott his best 'annoying little brother' smirk and led the way back towards the front door. Once outside, they found Jean and Lily sitting in the gazebo by the back of the house. Lily looked a little less tightly wound than she had been on the flight from Oregon. There was still a certain... fragility to her calm, though. As if the wrong thing said would send her over the edge she'd been teetering on ever since California.

They chatted for a while more - Jean wanted to know all about Alex's interview at the Lamont-Doherty Labs - before they headed back inside. Alex took a shower and Lily took a nap and everyone relaxed until it was time to head over to Alex and Scott's grandparents' home, where Lily was lavished with attention (it was her first face-to-face meeting with them after two years of phone contact) and Alex was surprised with a two-month-belated birthday cake. The best present of all, however, was how demonstrably relaxed Lily looked the following morning. It was only then that Alex put his mind to how best to enjoy the rest of their vacation - that was finally turning into a vacation.


"You're going to do it, aren't you?"

Alex looked up sharply from where he was chasing peas around on his plate. "Would it bother you if I did?"

Lily made a face, but took a sip of water before saying anything. They had been dancing around the topic ever since Christmas, when Nathan had dragged Alex off for a private conversation during the party. "Do I have a choice?"

"You're my wife, Lily," Alex sighed, putting down his fork. "You do have some say in the matter."

"But I don't," Lily replied, "That's the thing. I can't just say 'Alex, I'm scared you're going to get hurt. I don't want you to go off and help save the world. I'd rather risk everyone else's life and possibly the fate of mankind.' You know?"

The meeting had taken place on Thursday, two days after their first wedding anniversary. All of the X-Men, past and present, gathered in Westchester to discuss Cable's long-in-progress plans (and it was really hard to think of him as Nathan in this context, Lily realized) to stop the rise of Apocalypse once and for all. Lily had been asked to come as well -at first she thought it was just a sop to the fact that she was the only non-mutant spouse of an X-type, but Cable had said that he wanted her expertise with flow and distortion effects as part of the group working on observing the timestream. By the time the meeting was over, Lily suspected that Cable just wanted someone in that division who hadn't been working for years at cross-purposes to his.

Even with two meal breaks, it had been a thirteen-hour conference. Cable had spent the first few hours detailing the (apparently already existing) network he had been molding to his purposes for the past several years. Thousands of people from around the world dedicated to just this task, just this cause. Lily had been awed, even as she reminded herself that one did not get to be the internationally feared terrorist that Cable was without an extensive network of connections. But the network was just the superstructure; Cable needed certain mutant abilities to carry out his plan. And if Cable wanted Lily to be part of the superstructure, he wanted Alex to be part of the main force. And therein lay the difficulty for her - she was not going to be in any real danger; Alex was going to be on the front lines.

"I don't know what to tell you," Alex confessed, picking up his fork again. "I can't say that you knew this sort of thing was a possibility when you married me because that would be incredibly patronizing. I can't tell you that I'm only interested in doing this because I might be necessary because that's not the case - I'd want to volunteer even if Cable didn't ask me to be there. I can't even tell you that this will be the last time I'll be involved in something like this... All I can say is that I do appreciate that this isn't easy for you. And that I wish there was some other way."

Lily nodded mutely and stabbed at her chicken breast. "I think I just need a little more time to make the leap from theoretical to actual," she said after a long pause. "I mean, every other time you've gone off that I've known about, you've always downplayed the danger and run off to Dana before I could see the damage. This time... I know what you're in for. And that's what scares me."

Alex nodded, but said nothing and both of them went back to eating their dinner. They broke the silence by talking of other things - Valeri's upcoming defense, Orly's birthday present, Sulven's uniquely Askani take on the twins' refusal to even consider beginning potty training.

"I'm going to take the offer from Lamont-Doherty," Alex said as they put down their forks. Columbia's Geosciences Center had offered him a research position that would complement well with his spot at the Museum of Natural History. "I was pretty sure I was going to do it before Cable's meeting, but now... It'll make life easy in terms of taking time off to train. I can tell Fordham that it was about all the stuff that I was pissed off about, though."

"Go for it," Lily encouraged, standing up and holding out her hand so that Alex would hand her his plate. Alex had been bitter about Fordham's broken promises ever since they had gotten back from Alaska last August to find out that the university wanted Alex to teach the freshman earth science survey again - and this time, would he like two sections of it? It wasn't a full-time position, the department chair never answered any of Alex's questions about when it might become such, and there certainly wasn't any sort of job security to go with it. They had discussed Alex's leaving then and the disappointing response he had gotten to his questions at the end of the fall semester had merely been icing on the cake. The position at Lamont-Doherty was more work for about the same money, but it was work Alex enjoyed and Lily thought he'd be wise to accept it.

"Besides," Alex said, standing up and following her to the counter with the bowl of leftover broccoli. "I don't think I'm exactly cut out for academia. Classrooms make me twitchy."

Lily snorted as she put the plates and silverware into the dishwasher. "No, really?"

Alex was invariably in a better mood when he was coming from the museum than when he was returning from class. Lily really had no pity for him - at least his kids spoke English (Lily had long held a suspicion that she had a job in part because she could yell at her students in Korean) - but she did want him to be happy. And getting out of teaching - at least the sort of teaching that went on in a classroom (she thought he'd be an excellent field instructor; he explained things well) - would do that.

Twelve weeks later, both of them were wondering if maybe they hadn't bitten off more than they could chew. Lily in particular was fed up with what she called Project Armageddon. Because she was going to be working closely with Cable's network of operatives, its chiefs had required her to undergo mental shield training - they weren't pleased with her ability to keep telepaths out of her head - and had had issues with her father's military background. Apparently her father had ferried SHIELD troops around on a few missions and, for reasons that Lily neither knew about nor cared, this bothered them. And all of that was before she was granted the privilege of near-daily arguments with one of the senior timestream watchers over just how related fluid dynamics was to temporal physics. Lily herself wasn't sure of any relation - the whole idea of time travel and temporal physics as a whole had been pure fantasy a mere two years previous - but if being there helped out, even just as a placebo effect, then she'd do it and to hell with what Cable's secret society thought of her. Unlike them, she had a real life to return to afterwards. A real life that had already included exchanging her Physics I section for the undergrad Advanced Fluid Dynamics and her graduate FD survey for a seminar on Turbulent Flows.

Alex, meanwhile, was running on fumes and most of the time that Lily saw him, he was either asleep or needed to be. What should have been two complementary jobs had turned out to be less than so. The Museum, happy with his work in the revamping of a major display in the Rocks and Minerals wing, had started offering him larger roles in larger projects (bumping up his billable hours as well as padding his CV) while the Lamont-Doherty people, thrilled to have a geo/hydro morphology expert who wasn't afraid of heights, had twice sent him packing to the Andes to visit another team's archeological excavation already in progress. Lily had changed their answering machine message to "Hi, you've reached the Summerses. One's asleep and one's not here, so please leave your message and we'll get back to you" and Alex, despite calling in frequently, hadn't noticed for two weeks.
 
They had, in one of the few times when they were both in the same place and both conscious, sworn to the other to get as far away from work as possible for Lily's spring break. Ten days in Alaska were booked and Lily had warned Alex that not even the premature arrival of Apocalypse was going to change that.


"Was that Scott?"

"Yeah. Just calling to check up on us, make sure we didn't get snowed in or anything."

"Oh, so that was what the 'Dude! Plasma, remember?' comment was for."

"You eavesdropped?"

"Hardly. I'm sure they heard you in Juneau. So. How's life back in New York?"

"You're going to be a great-aunt."

"What?"

"My nephew's partner is expecting. Hence I'm going to be a great-uncle and you, my dear, are to be a great-aunt."

"I can't be a great-aunt! I'm twenty-seven.... Domino's pregnant?"

"Yeah. It took me a minute for that to register, too. Baby's due in November."

"Same as the twins."

"Either February is an especially slow month for superheroes and we've never realized it before or else it's an Askani thing."

"Wow... Scott's going to be a grandpa."

"Technically, he already was one, but, yeah... I told you marrying into this family would never be dull."


"What are you doing?"

Alex winced. He'd hoped that Lily wouldn't get home until he was finished. "Just finishing up some paperwork," he called out.

The glass door that opened from the study into the living room was usually open unless one of them was working and the other wasn't and he breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't stick her head in. He could hear her moving through the apartment, through the living room and around the study and into the hallway towards the bedroom. The study door into the hallway was closed; for some reason they usually left it such.

It had started with a conversation with Logan, Sam, and Scott. One minute they were sitting around watching the Stanley Cup Finals and the next they were discussing probate court. It had been only days after Nathan had gotten a rather graphic demonstration that En Sabah Nur was ripe to be taken down and in that time, the foundations of a battle plan had already been drawn up. Fried from the intense discussions, the quartet had repaired upstairs and Logan had turned on the hockey game and in the second period there had been a commercial for insurance and Scott had quietly said that he'd already put his affairs in order - organizing his financial records, updating his insurance, getting started on drawing up a will and on assuring, for lack of a better way of putting it, a succession for the Xavier Institute. Charles had named Scott executor years ago, but there had to be contingency plans.

Alex had been stunned but not shocked - planning ahead was Scott's thing, after all. But... In their line of work, fatalism just didn't exist. And yet. Alex was a part of the planning the same way the other veteran X-Men were - his sabbatical did not erase his past as X-Factor's leader and strategist - and he knew intellectually that there was no way that they were going to emerge from this battle unscathed. This was Apocalypse, after all. The X-Men may find ways to 'get better,' but... there was an unspoken-of sense that this time there was a very good chance someone wouldn't. And Alex wasn't sure whether to be relieved or concerned that everyone else seemed to share his fears.

Sam had wisely surmised that they were all a little more cautious because they were getting older and they were starting to settle down. The four of them were married now and marriage brought a change in perspective - the ability to see things as more than just how they affect you. And healing factors and immortality didn't assure anything; Logan had already seen his children orphaned, albeit temporarily.

That had been two days ago. Alex had spent much of his free time since then investigating his own situation. He and Lily had a modest savings, a mortgage, and the beginnings of a nest egg. They were comfortable, more comfortable than any couple two years out of grad school should be. Their student loans were nonexistent courtesy of their parents' military service and some aggressive grant-hunting, they both earned decent-but-not-spectacular livings (made even less spectacular by New York City's cost of living, but they both considered it a fair exchange), and Alex had found that his time spent superheroing had, quite literally, paid off. Charles had been most generous with 'back pay' for Alex's time with the X-Men and he would have a moderate pension coming from X-Factor. But all of that did Lily no good if there was no will.

He'd gone to the lawyer this afternoon. It was someone Warren had suggested, someone who was knowledgeable about such things as striking clauses from life insurance policies that would cause trouble and who could be counted on to be discreet about disbursements should the worst come true. Alex didn't want Lily to have to deal with any of the crap that being Havok's widow would entail - starting with seventeen countries looking to put a lien on his estate due to outstanding warrants and suits and continuing on through any sort of public or media scrutiny. He had gone in with all of his paperwork in order and the lawyer, on retainer for the Worthington family for decades, had made everything simple. All Alex needed to do now was fill in the empty spaces and sign everything in triplicate. And keep everything from Lily - she was scared enough as it was and was relying on his 'damned, unbending X-Men optimism' to see her through.

"Why aren't you working on the couch?" Lily asked as she wandered into the study.

Alex gave her his best dazzling smile as he surreptitiously closed the folder.

"Because I needed to use a pen and paper," he explained, standing up. "And my handwriting does not benefit from lying on the couch."

"Your handwriting doesn't benefit from anything," Lily retorted, crossing the room to his outstretched arms. She kissed him and then stood back. "Whattya think?"

Alex tilted his head thoughtfully. A new dress, he guessed. Lily was trying to 'soften her image,' a concept Alex didn't quite understand but definitely appreciated the effects of. Anything Lily did to show more leg couldn't be bad, no matter what she called it. "I like it. Wanna go show it off at Ernie's? We haven't gone out to eat in forever and, if Nathan gets his way, we're going to have very few chances to do so in the future."

Lily's face darkened momentarily, but she nodded. "I'll get my purse."

She left the study and Alex re-opened the folder, putting the papers in order before closing it again and dropping a notebook on top. Part of him felt guilty for the subterfuge, but the rest...

"Ernie's doesn't mind casual, but I'm pretty sure they have a rule about shoes," Lily quipped as Alex met her in the living room.

He stuck out his tongue and went to go find sneakers.

Dinner was pleasant - Alex was adventurous and ordered something besides his much beloved marinated steak and Lily pronounced the mushroom tortellini worth another go on a subsequent trip and they split a bottle of wine. It was a warm night on the cusp of summer and, on a lark, they walked down Broadway to Lincoln Center and back up, stopping at Café Lalo on the way for coffee and frighteningly large slices of berry tart and raspberry cheesecake. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Five weeks later, right on schedule, the world as they knew it ended.




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