White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

9/April 2006

"So how is Ji-Won?" Lily asked Alex as he came back into the study. He had been there consulting a reference book when his cell phone had rung and once he'd realized who it was, he'd gone into the bedroom to talk.

"She's got a job," Alex replied, sitting down at his desk. The study was really Lily's study, he'd freely admit to anyone. They both had the same sized desks and the same number of bookshelves, but it was Lily who worked here, not him. He used a laptop precisely for its mobility and had always been more comfortable sprawled out on the couch or the bed or any other surface rather than confined to a desk. His half of the study was really just storage space.

"Really? That's great. Where?" Lily asked, sounding interested even though she didn't look up from her computer.

"New Lands Mining Corporation," Alex replied, watching Lily closely to see if there was a reaction. There was.

Lily stopped what she was doing and looked up. "New Lands? As in 'New Lands'?"

"Yeah," Alex confirmed. The New Lands had been recognized by the UN only two weeks ago, although they had been declaring their sovereignty as a nation for much longer. The former Antarctic base of Magneto was now its own country, a fact that in and of itself was amusing as hell to Alex. That Ororo had just left the X-Men to go be with Remy, who was helping run the place, was just icing on the cake. "She's going to head up one of their survey units."

The New Lands were new in more than just UN status. They were the first majority-mutant nation to live as a free democracy - the apartheid of pre-revolution Genosha did not go unremembered - and boasted a six-to-one mutant-to-non population ratio. Essentially a giant network of biospheres, the New Lands were a city-state created for and by mutants.

"That's...interesting," Lily mused, leaning back. "I don't think I would have even applied for the job were it me."

"There's a shortage of mutant metallurgy experts," Alex said sarcastically and frowned. There was a great suspicion attached to the New Lands - that they would be an anti-human nation, one that would only grow in power as the rate of mutant births continued to grow geometrically in the eight months since Akkaba and would explode in the coming months with the already-much-talked-about baby boom. Lily, despite being so close to the whole process, was still not free of such suspicions and that annoyed Alex to no end. He knew she had heard her father's stories of the horrors of the Genoshan Revolution and knew that the concept of payback hadn't evolved out of human nature even with mutants. But still. "Well, Ji-Won's always been the accepting type," he finally said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lily asked with some irritation. "Don't start picking a fight with me over that now, Alex, please? We've agreed that I'm being mildly hypocritical and mostly irrational and holding me up against the paragon of neutrality that Ji-Won has always been is not going to accomplish anything."

"Fine," Alex replied, standing back up. "But Ji-Won did invite us up to visit once she gets settled and, coupled with Ororo's offer, we really are going to have to make a trip up there. So you're going to have to come to terms with everything sooner or later."

"I will," Lily grumbled, turning back to her computer. "Just indulge me in my paranoia for a little bit."

"I have been," Alex retorted without sympathy. "Speaking of, Scott wants me up at the mansion this weekend to run around and get shot at. Do you want to come and we'll stay there or am I commuting? Nate should be around if you want to talk turkey with him; he's better, but I don't think he's going to be wandering too far from Domino and Clare."

As a rule, while Alex could appreciate chatter about basic engineering and physics matters, he didn't ask for too-detailed explanations for what Lily did in fluid dynamics - he didn't understand and she tended to get frustrated with having to put in plain words things she thought he should know.

"We can go up," Lily said with a shrug. "I haven't seen anyone since Ororo's farewell dinner. And maybe talk a little turkey with Nathan..."

Alex snorted. Lily had been close to obsessed with whatever project had sprung out of her work at Akkaba. She had been positively secretive about it to her colleagues and even to the folks up in Westchester. It had something to do with the time stream and it was something he suspected that she wasn't supposed to be working on - at least as far as Cable's network went. Hence the secrecy - along with proving that the X-Men were up to the challenge of facing Apocalypse, Akkaba also proved just how pervasive Cable's network's reach actually was.

"I'll call Scott later," he said and headed back to his workspace - currently, the couch and coffee table.

Once Alex sat down, he remembered that he hadn't actually looked up what he had been in the study looking up when Ji-Won had called and got back up, muttering to himself about turning into a senile old man.

Lily was squinting at the monitor - Alex was starting to suspect that she needed glasses - and clicking furiously with her mouse. It looked like she was trying to freeze-frame something on one of her demo programs. Not wanting to disturb her - or be accused of messing with her trigger finger - he opened up the book he needed and found his answer without saying anything.

Alex had finished two pages of painstakingly detailed analysis of the first set of test results he had gotten in Labrador the previous week when the phone rang again. Once, twice, and just when he was about to let the answering machine pick up, he heard Lily do so instead. A moment later, she hollered his name.

"I'll get it in the kitchen," he called out, heading in that direction. He picked up the phone as he sat down and heard Lily hang up as he said hello.

"Alex? It's Steve."

Steve Rahouli was the guy who had the cubicle next to Alex's in the cramped office at the Museum. Steve, unlike Alex, was a full-timer there, a geologist - a mineralogist, to be precise - who had moved over into editing a decade ago when he realized that knowing how to spot subject-verb agreement would pay him more than knowing both the Strunz and the Dana classifications backwards and forwards.

"Heya. What's up?"

Alex had no idea why Steve was calling him at home. He had no idea Steve knew his home phone number - Alex had left his cell phone as his contact point... of course, his cell was currently turned off right now...

"Umm... Someone left you a... practical joke on your desk," Steve said in a cautious voice. "I know you're not coming in until Thursday, so I just wanted to ask if I should do anything about it..."

Alex made a face. Why would he care? The office was very laid back - jeans and shorts were permissible, desk decorations encouraged - and if someone had bothered with a practical joke, then who was Alex to spoil the fun by having it short-circuited. And why would Steve - a man known to switch the salt and the sugar by the table where they kept the coffee maker - even want to offer? "Ahh. What is it that you don't think I should face in person?"

"It's a giant picture of Havok," Steve explained. "You know that guy from the X-Men? It's a picture of him fighting at Akkaba - he's got his hands glowing and everything. A screencap from the SHIELD footage, I think. Anyway, it's got a big caption that reads 'What Alex really did on his vacation.' And I didn't know whether you'd want me to get rid of it at the end of the day or something, you know, make it seem like maintenance had taken it down."

Alex felt his heart drop into his stomach and stay there. "You know what?" he asked in a voice that he hoped sounded normal. "Leave it there. Make sure it's firmly fastened."

"You don't care?" Steve asked incredulously. "I mean, that's going to be two days of everyone getting to see it. You're going to be getting called 'Havok' for months."

"I've been called worse," Alex replied. "Listen, I was on my way out the door. I'll catch you at work on Thursday, okay?"

"Deal," Steve agreed. "And I gotta tell you, you're much more tolerant about this sort of crap than I would be. I'd flip."

"You just might anyway," Alex muttered to himself.

"Pardon?"

"Lily was asking me something," Alex lied. "All right. Thanks for calling."

He hung up the phone without standing up and just sat there, unmoving. He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there when he looked up and saw Lily watching him.

"You okay? Work okay?" she asked him, leaning against the kitchen entryway.

"I don't know," he replied, feeling a little bewildered. "I've dithered and dithered and now the choice has been taken out of my hands."

"What are you talking about?" Lily asked, pushing off of the wall and coming to sit next to him at the table. "That Steve person, he's the one we met at the movies, right?"

"Yeah," Alex said vaguely as he turned to face her. "He called to tell me that someone had put a picture of Havok up on my cubicle wall and did I want him to take it down before people started calling me a mutant."

"I'm gathering that he implied that that would be a very bad thing," Lily commented and Alex could hear the steel in her voice. It was one thing for her to be mildly uncomfortable about a mutant nation being the most technologically advanced in the world, it was another for someone else to openly prove themselves a bigot. Lily admitted she was being paranoid; she didn't want to tolerate any self-delusions in others.

"Yeah, I'm gathering that too," Alex agreed. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. "I guess it's time, then."

Time for what he didn't say, but he knew Lily knew. They had talked on and off since Akkaba about telling their friends that he was a mutant, even if he didn't say that he was Havok. Lily was in favor of him telling people - she saw how uncomfortable he was when the topic of mutants came up, as it had constantly since last August, and he had had to keep quiet lest he be forced to lie outright.

"The longer you wait," she told him with the air of someone repeating something for the thousandth time, "The harder it's going to be. Ji-Won is going to be moving to the New Lands and you didn't even tell her that you not only are you on first name bases with President Lehnsherr and Vice-President Lebeau, but you have also seen almost the entire Cabinet in their underwear at some point or another. Paul and Stephanie are completely preoccupied with whether they're going to become parents of a mutant in two months...You are long overdue to be telling the people you've known for years. But don't let that asshole from work force your hand."

"He already has," Alex retorted, reaching out and playing with the pepper mill idly.

"Why?" Lily asked seriously. "If you don't want to tell everyone at work, then don't. Be enigmatic. You're really good at it."

"That's not a compliment," he pointed out.

"I'm just finding a positive use for your negative trait," Lily told him dismissively, waving her hand vaguely as if the put-down wasn't really the point. And, Alex supposed, it wasn't. "If you're enigmatic, then nobody will know what to say and they won't say anything. If they ask, you can choose to answer or not."

"You make it sound so simple," Alex muttered, putting down the pepper mill when he realized he was making a mess.

"It is simple," Lily replied, standing up by leaning on his arm. She kissed the top of his head. "This is not the first time someone's thought you've looked like Havok. This doesn't have to be the first time you can't come up with a way to get out of divulging more than you want to."

With that, she left him to his thoughts.

Alex knew that he didn't want to tell everyone at work that he was Havok. Not because he was now assured of at least one negative reaction, but because... Being Havok was an integral part of his life, but it wasn't who he was all of the time. Almost all of the time, he was just Alex. Alex, freelance geologist for the Museum of Natural History. Alex, researcher for the Lamont-Doherty Laboratories Geosciences B-Group. Alex, husband of Lily, brother of Scott, son of Christopher, uncle of Nathan, great-uncle of Clare, grandson of Philip and Deborah. He would be all of those things even if he had never heard of the X-Men. Perhaps he would be less of them were he not Havok as well, but... He wasn't in the same situations as the others were - Scott didn't have to tell the world that he was Cyclops; instead Cyclops wanted the world to know that there was a Scott. Scott and Jean and the others wanted a chance at a real life - forcing the public to accept that superheroes go to the supermarket was part of their attempt to assure that chance. But Alex had a real life and saw no reason to announce his secret one to anyone who didn't directly need to know.

But Lily was right about his friends needing to know. He had known she was right for a long time but had been too lazy and too unsure of how to do it to actually go through with telling them. But that could change; that would change.

Alex went back to the coffee table to get his little notebook and flipped to the page where he wrote down phone numbers he didn't have the patience to input into his cell phone. Ororo was settled in the New Lands already - she had sent digital pictures of her new home with Remy two days previous, but Alex hadn't changed his contact list on his phone yet. She picked up on the third ring and Alex got the latest updates (she and Remy had spent the morning moving the couches around and Radha had nearly convinced her father that she was ready for a bike with training wheels) before asking her for a favor. Ororo was delighted to accommodate - both because Alex was a friend and because of the simple fact that she was as eager as everyone else was to make the world at large realize that non-mutants were as welcome as mutants in the New Lands.

Inspiration struck as Ororo was telling him about her annoyance at having to get ready for her first state dinner (the president of Australia was visiting) and after getting off the phone with her, Alex headed into the study.

"Ororo sends her greetings," Alex said and Lily looked up and nodded, smiling knowingly. "She thinks you're right about the painting in the living room, but Remy's very partial to it and she's letting him win. I wanted to know what you thought of inviting everyone over on Friday night. Sanjay, Ji-Won, Stephanie and Paul, Orly, Xiao, and the rest... and Scott and Jean."

Lily leaned back in her chair. "Your call," she told him, not giving any sort of reaction one way or the other.

"If we do this, then Scott and Jean can stay over and we'll all go up together on Saturday morning," Alex reasoned. As if that was the only consideration.

"You want Scott around for support or for socializing?"

"Both," Alex admitted, smiling wryly. He dusted off the top of the pencil sharpener with his fingers. "Orly and Scott get along well, though. And he and Jean can talk to Paul and Stephanie about babies."

"Oh, yeah," Lily snorted. "Bringing up the possibility of giving birth to Cable is just what any prospective parent wants to hear."

Alex laughed. "True."

Thursday morning, Alex showed up at the Museum and greeted Steve the same way he did every day that he showed up at the Museum. The picture of him in battle was a good one - someone had obviously taken time to make the screencap and not simply copied the first image that they found. Havok was in full fighting mode - face intense (Alex thought he looked mildly constipated), dramatic battle pose achieved, both his hands were glowing and he was firing plasma with his left hand at an unseen target. It was a close shot, but not perfectly clear. If you knew it was Alex, then there was nobody else you'd even think to imagine it was. But if you just thought it was some generic athletic blond guy, then it was kind of hard to look at it and then look at him and be sure of anything more than a strong resemblance. It was an aerial view, but it was too low to the ground to have been a shot from either plane or helicopter. Alex assumed it was by one of the tiny repulsor video cameras that SHIELD used - almost all of them had gotten fried in the fighting, but before they had, there had been some great footage shot.

Alex put the picture up with thumbtacks on a cubicle wall that was easily visible to anyone passing by - right next to his periodic chart and a hydromorphic map of Alaska and right above the list of commands for the software that the museum used for cataloging new artifacts. Steve stopped by on his way to the coffee pot and muttered about how a joke was a joke, but he didn't find being called a mutant (let alone a mutant terrorist who had killed hundreds of people) very funny. Two other people noticed - Rageep spent a good two minutes looking at Alex and looking at the picture before smiling, shaking his head, and walking away without saying a word; Juana stared intently at the picture for a moment, then looked at Alex, who watched her eyes go wide. Alex held his finger to his lip as if asking for silence and Juana looked at him cock-eyed for a moment, then smiled and nodded and went away. If anyone else noticed, nobody else cared to ask.

Friday night, Ji-Won showed up half an hour early bearing the fruits of her adventures into Sunnyside and the Korean supermarket. She handed the bags to Lily, then walked over to Alex and punched him in the arm. Hard. Ji-Won had been mortified when it turned out that it wasn't a practical joke and the President of the New Lands was in fact calling her (after finding out from Ororo Munro that she was a close friend of Alex's) to welcome her to their nation and ask if she needed any help in either finding a place to live or arranging for the still-necessary medical exams required of anyone entering the country.

Spilling the beans wasn't as hard as Alex thought it would be. The presence of Scott and Jean made everything easier - Valeri recognized Jean right away and by the time Alex got around to clinking a glass and asking for attention, Sanjay interrupted his planned speech and just asked him which of the X-Men he was. The general reaction was one of muted surprise - reconciling Alex with Havok was almost as hard for them as it had been for Lily four years previously - but no hostility.

Later on, Lily would point out to him that he had initially chosen his friends for their attitudes and personalities and would hardly have become enduringly close with anyone who was very much anti-mutant. Orly had broken out in laughter and then cracked the room up with her litany of all of the various attempts Lily had made to explain Alex's... peculiarities. Stephanie - an expert in high temperature refining - had accused Alex of not being any help in grad school when she had needed to do endless trials on her research paper on bauxite grading. Paul, who had spent grad school implying that Alex was a Delta Force operative, had gone right back into his conversation with Jean about mutant babies - his younger brother had a two-year-old who was x-factor positive and Stephanie's cousin was a gamma-class empath and they were sure that their child would be a mutant of some sort. Valeri and Sanjay had suggested Alex make dinner with his powers and Scott had merely told Alex to get him another beer.

The following day, Alex lost his wife to his nephew - Lily and Nathan had almost immediately disappeared and had had to be telepathically summoned from their apparently rather intense discussion for dinner. Sunday, he and Bobby and Hank acquitted themselves very well against Scott and Logan - at least until Sulven had joined in and knocked them over like bowling pins.

Monday morning, life was almost back to normal.




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