White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

8/August 2005 - February 2006

Lily heard the groan of pain from the living room and got up. "Did the Percocet wear off already?"

A week. It had been only a week since the Merge. A week since reality itself had shuddered like a rickety house on stilts. A week since she had had both her most brilliant and her most harrowing moments, since she'd simultaneously witnessed a scientific epiphany and nearly lost everything that would have made it worthwhile.

"Only the part that actually kills the pain," Alex muttered as she appeared in the study doorway and looked out to where he was on the couch. "I'm still groggy and fuzzy and my mouth is really, really dry."

"Stay there," she told him as he tried to get up to refill his water bottle. "I'll get it."

The injury could have been a lot worse, Lily knew. It had been a lot worse. At least until Dana had grabbed him. Some sort of projectile weapon (it wasn't a gun, it wasn't a harpoon thrower, it was... something that Alex couldn't describe in any useful way and Lily hoped never to see) had found him unprotected and launched a poisoned pike-sized arrow that had had enough force to pass right through bone and muscle. When Dana had found him, he'd had a hole the size of a golf ball clean through his body and his collarbone and shoulder socket were shattered. He was in convulsions from the poison and even without that, he'd have bled to death had Dana not gotten to him when she had.

"I'm fi... really dizzy and going to lie back now," Alex groaned and did just that. "I hate this."

Lily leaned over to kiss him as she retrieved the water bottle. "Well, next time stay away from the booby traps," she said with a lightness that she didn't feel.

The pike-gun had been at the border of the fortress, the last set of obstacles between them and victory. Alex - Havok - had been one of the horrifyingly small group still on their feet and able to reach that point. Back in the plane with the rest of the field division of the time watchers, Lily had been half-present, her eyes on her work but her attention on the plasma screens showing footage of the fight down below. She'd been listening only for the sound of Havok's voice (which was not much like Alex's, she'd come to appreciate). Because for as long as she heard him barking out commands and passing on Cable's orders, that meant he was still alive. His cry of surprised agony had come clearly through the plane's surround-sound speaker system and Lily was sure she'd go to her grave with its echo in her heart. There'd been no camera footage of the incident at the time; there was now, but she had no desire to ever see it.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. She was standing in front of the sink with the water running and staring blankly at the wall. Muttering to herself, she filled the bottle and, taking pity on Alex, cut a sliver out of an orange and squeezed it in, dropping the rind in before twisting on the nipple.

"Can I do something?" Alex asked as she returned to him. He took the bottle with his right hand, his left still basically immobilized by the harness. Dana could heal muscle and tissue and skin and ligaments perfectly and Alex would have no lasting effects. But bones were harder and while she had aligned everything, they were still knitting a week later. "You've got stuff to do besides coddling me."

"I'm not coddling you," Lily retorted, sitting down on the edge of the coffee table. She reached out to smooth his tousled hair, but he made a face, so she combed it straight up with her fingers and he grinned instead. "I'm keeping you docile so you don't drive me crazy."

"Am I driving you crazy?" he asked, concern making his brow crease.

The answering machine had been overwhelmed by the time they got home two days after the fight, their cell phones crying out that their voicemail capacities had been reached. But that was the same for everyone whether or not they'd been part of the fight at Akkaba. The planet's population as a whole was calling everyone they knew, checking up on family, friends, long-lost loved ones... Jean and Charles said that it was a by-product of the Merge, this worldwide bout of empathy and good will, but Lily thought it was more a simple matter of human nature. Just checking up was instinct. Both of their email accounts were near capacity as well.

She leaned forward to kiss him and stood up. "No. You're not. Another week like this, and yeah, you'll drive me crazy. But right now, no."

Lily had already called back the important people - her parents, his grandparents - and the two of them together had come up with a neutral-sounding email to send to all of their friends. Neither Lily nor Alex thought that they'd be able to talk to anyone else without having to divulge information. It was easier to write, "we're okay, just a little rattled but we're recovering" than to try to explain to Ji-Won or Sanjay or Orly or Aunt Eleanor or any of the others exactly why Alex sounded like he was in a lot of pain. Alex's employers, on the other hand, got to talk to him. There had been thousands of motor vehicle accidents (among other incidents) at the moment of the Merge and Alex's supervisors were left with the impression that he'd been another of the victims of such.

"Another week like this and I am going to go crazy," Alex grumbled. "I can't cook, I can't type, I have the attention span of a fruit fly, the damned drugs are making me fall asleep at all the wrong times...I'm taking up space."

"You're cute when you take up space," she told him as she headed back to the study.

"I'm going to remind you of that," he called after her.

Back at her desk, Lily flicked her finger at her mouse to make the computer screen saver go away. As she sat down before a screen filled with a 3-D model that anyone in flow theory would recognize, a frisson of nervous energy passed through her. This was ill-gotten booty, purloined in the name of science. Because while the model structure looked familiar, what it was a model of was not. It was the time stream itself. And if the snarling field commander knew that she had copied the data to a flash drive and walked away with it, she'd probably kill her.

Towards the end of the fight, with the echoes of Alex's shout of pain still in her ears, Lily had had to go back to work. The field team in Cable's employ knew how to read the effects, but it was Lily who knew how to predict them sight unseen. Cable had other engineers working for him, but all of them were too reverent, too unable to see the time stream for what it was: just another fluid dynamics problem. For Lily, it was the only way she could work; by pretending it was just another application and not one of the binding forces of the universe. And with the first rule of combat being that there is no simple plan once you're out in the field, Lily's cold and scientific methods were the most reliable.

Havok had been brought down in a balance-shifting exchange that had ended with Apocalypse cornered. As the final conflict escalated, the time stream - visualized by standard fluid dynamics programs - was roiling like white-water rapids, seemingly bucking against the awesome forces that would control it. Lily had written four papers on distortion effects, had taught a graduate level course in turbulent flow... the things that that model of the time stream was doing weren't supposed to be possible. Not when the medium in question was water, or even in supersonic streams, and certainly not in time itself.

With one eye on the monitors displaying the action below in crystal-clear high definition and one eye on the laptop she'd spent most of the past twenty hours attached to, Lily had nearly been overwhelmed by what had come next. The wave of bright light, the model simultaneously pinching in and expanding and re-orienting itself to its new flow, the sounds on the speakers, the acrid smell...And then, so close to the action, right above it really, she had felt reality... tremble. There was no other way to put it. She had been shaken to the core on levels she didn't even know she had. And then it was over.

Everywhere around her it had seemed that everyone had taken a deep breath and then went on. The steady rush of commands coming over the four different radio channels hadn't ceased, but they had instead changed their tone - from attack to recover. The med squads had swarmed in and any lingering antipathy Lily had for Dana had had to be forgotten because it was the latter's empathetic abilities that had drawn her to the dying Havok.

In the plane's command center, one group had been tracking changes and Lily had been in charge of coming up with possible correcting factors. It was how they had worked all along - Lily would come up with the mathematically precise answer and someone else would translate that into an event. This time, they had been working on assuring that the time stream itself continued - and continued without influence from Nur.

But as the adrenaline had slowly subsided and the frantic pace had slowed to that which was commensurate with the clean up and securing of a successful mission objective, Lily's mind kept returning to what she had seen. If her dissertation had broken new ground in the theory of border studies and supersonic flow, then this...  She had experienced many things that day that had been considered impossible. But the distortion effects, despite her longstanding lack of interest in computational fluid dynamics, they were the one aspect she'd have a chance at being able to explain. She hadn't been looking for fame or fortune out of this; she saw these things that only gave questions and she had been sure that she could provide answers.

The phone rang out in the silence, the latest in a long line of interruptions that gnawed at her fragile concentration. She and Alex were screening calls, still unwilling to talk to most people. Not only was it their own situation that had to be danced delicately around, but there was also the increasingly obvious fact that there were lasting emotional effects of the Merge and they weren't sure how any of the people they thought they knew would be affected. The news was full of after-effects - accidents, catastrophes, incidences of sudden and violent insanity - and yet the most overwhelmingly common effect of what had happened in Akkaba was... understanding. The psionic nature of the construct would have lasting and permanent effects, Charles had warned, but not all of them would be negative. Millions of people had experienced the Merge on a personal level and had been affected positively - when the news wasn't showing some horrible event, they were showing spontaneous peaceful rallies in the streets, strangers singing and crying and hugging.

"Hello?"

Lily raised an eyebrow. Why was he answering the phone? She got up and took a few steps towards the door, not close enough to be visible, but close enough to eavesdrop. At least so she thought. Alex caught her eyes and mouthed 'Jean' at her. Jean had probably sent a mental message ahead - she did that sometimes.

"How is he... Well, all that Shi'ar stuff's gotta be good for something, right? ...I can imagine. But I do owe her my life, so if she gets too worked up, just remind her that she's got a handful of other people who are waiting to thank her...No... Not really... I don't know what to say, Jean. I know that everyone knew intellectually that he'd be risking his life to do this and that he was fully prepared to die and that doesn't mean that we all can't have our second thoughts and our doubts...No, that's not a surprise... Why don't you send him down here for a few hours? You can't be in the room with Nate anyway... I know you'll have to knock him out to do it, but all he's doing is giving himself an ulcer and getting underfoot. He's not being productive... Because I'm doing the same thing except for the ulcer part. We can be trapped on our own couches annoying the hell out of each other like we did when we got chicken pox together when we were kids... Yeah, I am... Because I care about you... Yeah... I'm serious, Jean... All right... Yeah. Call whenever... Don't do that, my wife is watching me... Love you, too."

Alex put the phone down. "We're not missing anything at the mansion," he said. "Scott and Jean are wearing holes in the floor worrying about Nathan, Logan's finally stopped looking like road kill, and everyone else is more or less in the same shape we're in."

Lily watched the bewildered expression creep back onto his face. He'd look like that whenever he thought too much about what had happened. While Lily had had nothing to do but think about things - and she had not used that time wisely, choosing to lose herself in the science rather than deal with her emotions - Alex had had to be the man of action and not think about it at all until it was all over, at which point he had been drugged senseless. And now, with the waves of realization crashing over him, Lily just wanted to make sure he didn't drown.

She went over to the couch and patted Alex's feet so that he'd move them. He sat up and she sat down next to him and he put his undamaged right arm around her and they leaned back together and just sat. Holding on to each other as they hadn't been able to do on that day, as they had taken to doing quite often since then. Staying in close proximity with each other so that they wouldn't be left alone with their thoughts. Lily didn't want to seem needy, not when it was Alex who was the one recovering, but she very much wanted to bury herself in the warmth of his embrace.


"I brought it back from Mexico."

"I suspected as much. I've never seen something like this at the duty-free shops in Newark... What is it?"

"Umm... It's a ceremonial vessel. At least it's a reproduction of a ceremonial vessel."

"Well, it's good that you're not filching artifacts... Why is there a red splotch on the bottom?"

"It's a heart."

"So it is... Remarkably realistic. Not Valentine's Day-ish at all."

"Yeah, that's what I thought when I saw it."

"So... Why is there a heart at the bottom of the ceremonial vessel?"

"It's sort of a 'insert heart here' mark."

"This is a reproduction of a vessel used in human sacrifice?"

"Umm... Yeah?"

"They make reproductions of things like this? You bought one?"

"Actually, it was given to me. I helped out the guy who sold them at his stand. He blew out an axle on his cart and I sort of welded it back on. But I had been admiring it the day before. He was selling them at a ridiculous price. I could have bought a real one for not that much more. But he just gave me this one."

"What are you planning on using this for, dare I ask?"

"Well, my blue coffee mug's got a chip... Actually, I was thinking it would be a nice pencil cup for you."

"Am I supposed to be looking for symbolism in that?"

"You don't have to."


"Don't make a mess," Lily called from the living room.

"I'm not going to make a mess," Alex grumbled as he poured the popcorn kernels. "I've been doing this for a dozen years."

He absently held one glowing hand over the bowl and reached for the salt with the other. Bobby had gotten them the bowl - it was an actual kettle for kettle corn, a vessel with a flat bottom and tall sides that would let Alex do his thing without getting popcorn all over the place.

He poured the now-salted popcorn into a plastic bowl and turned the kettle over the sink and banged on it, making sure all of the little bits were out. Before Lily could holler for him to remember napkins, he tossed a few on top and nearly knocked over the Valentine's Day cards Lily had put on the end of the counter to display. He frowned at the cards - why she wanted them there, he didn't know - and got a couple of bottles of root beer out of the fridge. Taking the bowl with one hand and the bottles with the other, he went into the living room.

Lily was sitting on the couch, feet up on the coffee table. She had already opened up the oak cabinet that hid the television and was switching channels. Contrary to popular opinion regarding men and remote controls, Lily was actually the more dangerous of the two with the clicker. She muted commercials ("I feel like I'm deaf when I watch television with you!") and could speed-surf better than any guy he had ever known.

"You didn't bring glasses," she accused as he sat down.

He mock-glared at her. "I'm sorry. My mutant abilities go only so far as to make popcorn. I don't have telekinesis and I don't have extra hands."

"We'll drink out of the bottles, then," Lily said airily, going back to channel changing.

Today was The Day. It was the day that SHIELD had announced that it would give details to clarify the curious events of the previous August. The Merge may have been felt by almost everyone on the planet, but it had gone unexplained since then. Six months of stalling, prevaricating, and harshly-phrased media statements would come to an end. And the world was watching.

Alex knew that the X-Men were as involved with this as they had been with the original events - SHIELD was there basically as a figurehead, the curtain behind which the X-Men wizards did their work. Charles was going to be doing most of the talking. Scott, Jean, Ororo and Logan would be there as well and Nathan, the real power behind the throne, would be hooked in via teleconferencing. Six months had done wonders for his physical condition - it had taken a month alone just to improve the odds of his survival from 'perhaps' to 'probable' - but not to his psionic health. As a result, Nathan was about to move to the settlement in Antarctica (leaving Domino and their baby daughter Clare behind) to ease the rehabilitation of his shattered shields and uncontrollable powers.

"It's supposed to start at two?" he asked as Lily cycled past the sports networks - all showing college sports - and a few of the public access channels.

"Yup."

"So I have fifteen minutes more of you doing the 'Clockwork Orange' thing with the remote?"

"Yup."

Fifteen minutes of surfing later - after Lily had made Alex whimper by pausing on the home shopping channel that was showing off what was arguably the world's ugliest jewelry - she put down the remote. Almost every channel save the Food Network and the Cartoon Network was showing the conference, so he wasn't sure which station they were watching. It started off with Nick Fury reading a prepared statement, GW Bridge standing behind his right shoulder looking implacable and grim. It ended with Nathan (looking much less fragile on video than he did in real life) telling the people of the world that their fate was finally in their own hands and to make the most of their choices. And somewhere in the middle, Charles did the unthinkable.

"What?" Alex had squeaked when Charles had announced that the X-Men would no longer be hiding, that their actions in August had earned them the right to not live as fugitives, and they would now operate out in the open. It had been part of a larger discussion of the sharp rise in mutant births and especially of telepathic children that Xavier spoke of a new understanding required of the citizens of the world. The X-Men were no longer 'freaks of nature' - nature had started to balance the playing field. Alex had nearly dropped his root beer.  "Did he just... And Scott's not... Were they replaced with Skrulls since we saw them last? What's going on?!"

"Scott and Jean did say that there were going to be some radical changes introduced," Lily reminded him and Alex frowned at her apparent lack of distress that his secret life was now possibly no longer secret.

All in all and once he'd calmed down, Alex thought it was a very good presentation. Charles had been in fine form; at his best, he'd go in with a definite plan, phrase it entirely in terms of suggestions and offers to help, and come away with exactly what he wanted. Charles had spoken of the spike in mutant births as a gift, had offered the Xavier Institute as a training ground and volunteered to spearhead a think tank that would come up with proposals to accommodate the needs of these special children and the ones that would most definitely follow. But Alex still wasn't sure of what to make of the whole 'operating out in the open' thing - and he wasn't sure of how much of his doubt came from the possible stripping away of his own comfort zone.

They watched the news programs that immediately followed the conference, switching back and forth as Charles, Scott, and Ororo did television interviews. The X-Men provided a united front - focusing on their good deeds, on past occasions of saving the universe, and on how they could just as easily channel their combat skills into education ones and be able to teach as well as defend. Alex's heart nearly burst with pride as Scott spoke eloquently to the Fox questioner and smiled as Charles lectured to the CNN interview panel on the immediate need for pediatricians and obstetricians to be retrained to deal with mutant children, especially those who manifested at birth. They only caught a bit of Ororo's answer on training Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies to deal with the mutant birth spike in third-world nations - as well as making sure that they realized that groups of mutant outcasts (i.e, the Morlocks) were really no different than any of the other disenfranchised.

Alex blinked when the television suddenly turned off. He looked at Lily, who was holding the remote.

"We've been watching television for six hours straight," she told him seriously as she stood up and stretched. "Our asses are numb, our brains are numb, and we're not going to process any of this information if we keep receiving it. If you have any questions, I'm pretty sure Scott or Ororo or Charles would answer them."

He looked at his watch. It was a quarter past eight. "Heh," he muttered. It certainly hadn't felt like that much time while it was on, but now he could feel the weight of it all begin to settle. "All right."

"Let's walk down to Citarella's or Zabar's or something and pick out fancy food for dinner," Lily suggested. "Get some circulation back in the lower half of our bodies and all that. Get some air."

They got dressed for the February evening and walked down Broadway. It was a Saturday night in Manhattan and the streets were crowded. It was the middle of the dinner hour and Alex heard people scurrying towards restaurants talking about one thing and one thing only. Mutants and what SHIELD said had happened in Egypt. Citarella's, the longer walk of the two options, wasn't too crowded despite the hour. There was a lovely piece of fresh marlin to be had for a less than their mortgage, the vegetables looked reasonably fresh, and the gourmet floor had the brand of brie that one of Alex's museum friends had raved so much about.

It wasn't until after dinner that Alex again thought about what he had seen that afternoon.

The whole idea of being out in the open - of the X-Men being just another profession, of having a real life that didn't have to be kept strictly separate... this was what they had all dreamed about, from Scott to Alison. It was what they spoke of in wistful phrases and uncompleted sentences that would trail off and yet still be understood, be they in Westchester or Australia or any place in between. But it was an impossible dream, like Don Quixote's. The world wasn't ready to accept mutants, either as neighbor or savior. And so their hopes, like their real names, were kept buried. And for some of them, the need to feel connected to the 'real' world got too strong. It was why he had left, why Alison had left, why Warren had left, why Logan went walkabout... It wasn't about the dishonesty of leading a secret life. It was about the claustrophobia.

Alex had found his middle ground - his work, his academic life, his friends and his mundane existence as a poor man's Indiana Jones. The X-Men were still there - and his shoulder ached once in a while to prove it - and Lily was the binding force that held all of it - and him - together. Alex didn't need Charles Xavier daring the world to pillory its heroes for wanting to live among those they had saved. He had done it on his own, in his own fashion.

Alex had always wanted to be more than Havok, even if it had taken him years to realize that that 'more' didn't mean losing Havok in the process. And there was a little voice in the back of his head telling him that yes, he was in fact feeling resentment towards Charles for... for what? For removing all of the obstacles from the path that had been so hard for Alex to traverse? For possibly making Alex's life more difficult now by erasing all of the distance between him and the X-Men? Did he have a right to be upset? Was he being ungrateful or merely unhappy that he was the minority that would sacrifice for the majority? Scott deserved any happiness he could get and Alex hated himself for even indirectly resenting his brother.

"You know, at some point down the line," Lily began as she dropped down next to him on the couch, "You're going to have to decide when to tell people. Because eventually it's going to come out. Either that you're a mutant or that you're Havok.  SHIELD is going to release parts of the footage, they said, and it's going to be a lot worse if everyone hears it from Brian Williams and not you."

"I know," Alex admitted, running his hands over his face. It had been a long day. "I... I just want to see where this goes. If everything works even part of the way Charles and Nathan want it to work, then we'll have a big 'let's out Alex' party. But if there's a big backlash, then...I don't want to put you at risk."

"I'm stuck with you no matter what, Summers," Lily told him without a trace of humor.

"Don't even imagine that I don't appreciate that," he told her, pulling her close.




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