White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

12/December 2006

Fur. Alex reached out across the bed for his wife and instead got fur.

"Sorry, Felix," Alex mumbled into his pillow as the cat expressed his indignation at the surprise grope.

"Get up, 'Lex," Lily said as she entered the room. "Sulven's going to be here in half an hour."

Alex moaned, rolling over. He didn't want to get out of bed, let alone get teleported halfway around the world to cause rockslides. For some reason, he hadn't been able to sleep the previous night - rather, he hadn't been able to avoid falling into the same nightmare that had been plaguing him for the last several days. It was a sort of choose-your-own-adventure kind of nightmare and every decision he made seemed to get him into deeper trouble. It was just close enough to any sort of reality to be disturbing, but not concrete enough for him to bother Lily with. It probably just had to do with going back to Akkaba anyway.

"Alex," Lily repeated, elongating the vowels the way she did when she wanted something. Which in this case meant him getting out of bed, so he was less inclined to obey than he would be were she asking for something else. Like, say, anything that involved her getting into bed.

"I'm going to drink your coffee," Lily threatened when he didn't stir.

"Don't you dare," Alex muttered, throwing back the blanket - sending Felix scurrying - without making any other move to get out of bed. "It's bad for you. And it's bad for me. I'm not going to be able to deal with everyone uncaffeinated."

"Well, if you don't get out of bed," Lily warned, coming over to the bed and reaching out her hand for Alex to sit up, "you're going to have to choose between uncaffeinated or unshowered. Sulven will teleport you in your pajamas."

"I know, I know," Alex sighed, finally getting out of bed, the threat of Sulven doing just that - gleefully - was enough to rouse him. He stretched, frowning as his left shoulder popped. "Stay away from my coffee," he told Lily as he walked by her, kissing her on the cheek and then heading towards the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, Alex was showered and halfway into his uniform - he was pretty sure he could eat breakfast without needing the body armor. Sulven had been housebroken as far as doing damage indoors.

Lily was sipping her tea - and eyeing the coffeepot covetously - when he came into the kitchen. There was a pair of fat envelopes on the small table underneath the kitchen phone that he didn't remember being there yesterday. Picking them up, he realized that they were the copies of the mortgage and sales agreements.

What initially had been a source of great concern - where to find a place to live with the baby - had been resolved with almost eerie coincidence when it was announced at the November Co-op board meeting that one of the fourth-floor two-bedroom apartments would be going up for sale starting in January. Alex and Lily had pounced, despite knowing that purchasing the larger apartment was going to require them to re-do their mortgage and was going to cost them more than they'd really wanted to spend - by five figures - but the convenience of only moving downstairs and of staying so close to both of their jobs was just too much to give up.

"Scott said that we should try to work out some sort of fair trade agreement with the Wisdoms - we help them move in and Kitty helps us move downstairs," Lily said as she looked up from her breakfast. Now that the morning sickness was past, Lily was making a conscious effort to eat in the mornings, something she had never done in the past. Although as far as Alex was concerned, Lily still wasn't eating enough.

"How would that work?" Alex asked as he peeled an orange. "They're moving to the mansion, which means that there are going to be a million people helping them move in. You're in no shape to be helping anyone move..."

"I'm a little pregnant, Alex," Lily retorted irritatedly as she got up. "Not an invalid."

"A little pregnant," Alex repeated mock-thoughtfully. "I don't think that's in the same category as horseshoes and hand grenades."

Lily bopped him on the head with the banana she had just taken off the bunch.

"But back to the moving thing," Alex said after he had eaten a third of his orange and conveniently forgotten it in favor of a bagel. Lily wouldn't have thought to eat the orange had it just sat there in the fruit bowl, but she'd finish off whatever he left rather than wrapping up bits of fruit. He wasn't sure if she'd figured out that he was creating leftovers intentionally. "Kitty phasing things through the hallway floor would be kind of fun. And it would be great to not have to disassemble the TV cabinet to fit it through the door... Maybe I'll go up there and help out and then cash in the brownie points for March. You'll be far enough along by then that we can rely on the guilt factor to make up the difference."

"You are so..." Lily trailed off with a frown.

"Calculating," Alex supplied with a grin. "Runs in the family. Speaking of calculating - are you all set for the interview? Do you need anything before you go? Do you have the phone number of where you're going to be staying yet?"

After much back-and-forth with Joe Perotelli, Lily had decided to go through the interview process at MIT. A pair of recent journal articles of hers (one co-written with Alex, one a logical next step from her dissertation) had caused a bit of a stir and Perotelli had pronounced her 'hot' - in the academic sense. She'd be two days in Boston, which still put her back in New York before Alex would be - and that was with teleportation each way.

"Yes, Daddy," Lily sighed, picking up the orange and taking off a section before returning it to next to Alex's coffee cup. "I'm all packed, I've got two hours between my office hours and the train so I could walk down to Penn Station and still make it - no, I'm not going to walk, stop looking at me like that - and the hotel phone number is on a Post-it attached to the book you packed... And I better go and get dressed. Sulven'll be here in a minute anyway."

Lily took another few sections of orange, putting the three remaining sections back on the table and then her teacup in the sink. Alex heard her greet Sulven and got up himself. She - Sulven - had obviously teleported into the foyer.

"Are you ready to depart?" Sulven asked without preamble as he stepped out of the kitchen. She was dressed in a modified version of the current X-uniform, one that made her look slightly more a part of this century than her own, and she was wearing a decidedly twenty-first century look of impatience.

"Good morning, Sulven," Alex said, smiling as the small woman frowned. Logan would meaningfully tease her for being too willing to do away with basic formalities and Alex was thankful that she didn't think that he was trying to correct her. "Let me go grab my stuff. How are Logan and the twins?"

Sulven snorted. "One has decided to take up piano, one has decided to take beer with dinner despite my displeasure, and one has decided to repaint the bathroom walls without consulting anyone."

Alex tilted his head thoughtfully as he worked out what she had said. The twins had turned four the previous month. "I'm not sure whether or not to even ask which one is which," he told her honestly, catching the vaguely humorous glint in her eye. It was a flash, barely noticeable even if you were looking for it.

"They look well," Sulven said, gesturing with her hand towards the bedroom.

Alex nodded and smiled. The first time he had heard Sulven refer to Lily as 'they', he had been confused - and Lily, too self-conscious by far, had been traumatized thinking that the tiny, svelte Sulven thought that she was fat enough to be referred to in the plural (truth be told, Lily had put on all of five pounds and was not really showing). In reality, it was simple telepathy - Sulven, like most telepaths, saw with her mind and not her eyes. So Sulven, not a native English speaker, saw Lily and the baby (who was now far enough along to be recognizable on the astral plane) and used the plural because it was technically correct. Jean had reminded him that Sulven had started using the royal plural relatively early on in her own pregnancy for the same reason.  

"Stop dithering, Summers," Sulven said, snapping her fingers to shake Alex from his thoughts. "We have mountains to melt. Retrieve your gear."

Alex saluted and fairly jogged into the bedroom. Lily was in her slip and stockings - a colleague of hers had told her of the joys of stockings instead of pantyhose for the pregnant set, but Alex just thought she looked great in them - and was standing in front of her closet digging out her dress. Alex scooped up the small pile of body armor from the chair and took it to the bed, sitting down so he could better strap everything on.

"The dichotomy here is really too much," Lily said with a laugh as she closed the closet door, looking from the dress she was holding from its hanger to where Alex was slipping on his shin pads.

"We all dress for success in our own ways," Alex replied primly, standing up to get his boots. "Although I don't see why I need all this stuff if all I'm going to be doing is sealing off caverns."

The post-Apocalypse cleanup went on more than a year after the fact. Detecting and destroying shrines, hideouts, caches, and anything else that could conceivably be used by some malevolent former drudge of En Sabah Nur was an ongoing effort, one that Alex was only rarely involved in much to his relief. He was only called in when he was the only person for a task, not just the closest person. Scott had specifically asked him to help in Akkaba, though. The mountain caves were too pervasive and too deep to simply be blown up or shaken down.

"Better safe than sorry," Lily replied, her voice muffled as she slid the dress over her head. "Help me with the back?"

Alex crossed the room to her, letting his hands slide up her sides, around to her growing belly, and up again before fastening the one button at the back of her neck. He kissed the spot of skin right above it and Lily shivered, leaning back so that they were in contact almost from head to toe.

"Be careful, all right?" she asked, her forehead nestled in the curve of his neck. "You and mountains and riverbeds...You might bliss out and trip or something."

Alex smiled. Lily never outright said that she was nervous every time he went off to be Havok. She'd be no better when he was Commander Summers or whatever silly title Scott was going to hang on him when the XSE became official in six months' time.

"I'll be good," he promised, turning her around so that he could kiss her without the awkward angle. "I promise."

"You're also going to be late," Sulven barked from the doorway. "Let's go."

Lily blushed and then laughed outright - Sulven was Sulven, and one could only get used to her because she wasn't likely to change.

"You knock 'em dead up there," Alex urged his wife as he went back to the chair by the window to pick up his backpack. "And don't get into any trouble. I won't be around to bail you out if the Boston Police suddenly realize one of the culprits of some of the unsolved Harvard Yard pranks is on the loose."

"They don't hang pregnant women," Lily assured him with a grin. After a few scotches late one night while they were first dating, Lily had confessed to helping out with some of the hijinx that were part of the Harvard-MIT rivalry. No felonies, but a few criminal mischief charges could have been laid and Lily and the other tricksters had kept quiet for very good reasons.

"All right," Alex said, looking around the room and ignoring the fact that Sulven was tapping her foot. He was pretty sure he had everything... "Scott wanted that book. It's in the living room," he told Sulven, who stood back and gestured for him to pass her.

"I love you and I'll miss you and I'll see you in three days," Alex told Lily as he passed her by, pausing for one last kiss, Sulven-be-damned. "And you, too," he added, bending down to address Lily's abdomen. "Behave yourself and no funny business." He kissed her belly too, barely avoiding Lily's hand as she swatted him away.

"Love you," she said wistfully, reaching out and letting her hand slide down his face as he stood up.

The book - a dramatically told description of the discovery of a prince's burial tomb in Peru - was out on the coffee table, Alex having remembered to take it out of the bookshelf the previous evening.

"You are aware that he can't hear you?" Sulven asked conversationally as she watched him rubber-band the book closed. "He's going to be headblind. A boon, I rather think. Telepathy is one of the worst powers to manifest before one is old enough to understand it."

Alex nodded. There was a reason that the twins and Clare didn't leave the mansion much and that the twins were not enrolled in preschool - they didn't know how to shield yet. Everyone at the mansion shielded themselves from the trio and when they did go out, one of the adult telepaths would have to protect Nick, Zara, and Clare from the influx of thoughts and emotions of others. And then a completely different thought hit him... "Are you using 'he' in the general sense?"

"I was referring to your son," Sulven elaborated, looking at him with an expression that clearly meant that she couldn't imagine there being any confusion over the matter.

Alex took a step back. "It's a boy?" He and Lily hadn't known - hell, he didn't think the doctor knew yet. "You can tell?"

Sulven's look of puzzlement faded into one of mild embarrassment. "The astral presence is definitely male... Was I not supposed to share that bit of information?"

"Ah," Alex cut himself off, waving his hand vaguely. "Honestly, I hadn't thought about whether I wanted to know or not. I think Lily wants it to be a surprise, though."

Sulven nodded once. "I shan't say anything to her then. Now, put your book away so that we can leave."

He no sooner put it in his backpack than Sulven grabbed him by the elbow, muttering in Askani, and the world faded to white.


"So?"

"Sew buttons," Professor Joe Perotelli replied with a cheeky grin as Lily leaned back in her chair. The two were alone in his office, theoretically relaxing after the inquisition of the full interview panel and before the unofficial inquisition - dinner. The audition - a section of freshman mechanics - had been that morning.  "You had them looking like they might have learned something in class today. And most of the students were pretty interested, too."

Lily smiled. The audition had, strangely enough, been the easiest part. Being in a room full of kids who actually knew the answers, had not only done their homework but had done extra work to make sure that they knew more than the next kid... it had been refreshing, to say the least. Halfway through the discussion about mixing in two-layer flows, Lily had completely forgotten about the panel of professors and administrators sitting in the back with dour expressions.

"You're good in the classroom," Perotelli admitted. A short, balding man with thick glasses and a thickening middle, he seemed to be almost proud of his image as one of the most stereotypical engineers one could hope to meet. "You've come a long way since that first time I saw you down at City."

"I was just psyched to have a room full of kids who understood me," Lily replied. Two years previous, at her invitation, Perotelli had visited her classroom. It had been a bad day, Lily remembered, and were there no visitors, she would have just given them a pop quiz and sent them home.

"It went very well, I think," Perotelli said. "And if Ilya can get past the fact that he's old and slowing down and not going to come up with every new innovation in multiphase flow and vortex theory from now until he shuffles off this mortal coil, then you've got a great chance in a few years."

Lily smiled and sighed to herself. For all of the talking she had done to herself before she had even agreed to come up to Cambridge about how she wasn't really in line for the job, it still hurt a little to have it so casually confirmed. "So, who's looking to be the favorite, if I may ask?"

"Would you believe Donald Yenette?" Perotelli asked, leaning forward to tie his shoe and disappearing behind his desk as he spoke.

"Donald 'I don't do classrooms' Yenette?" Lily snorted. The man had been a legend long before Lily had even decided to become an engineer. He probably hadn't taught undergrads in twenty years and Lily couldn't even begin to imagine why he'd want to start now. "Who caught him doing what that he's getting back into teaching?"

Perotelli laughed as he reappeared. "That's what I wanted to know. But I didn't dare ask him. Arnaud came close, though. Framed it in terms of... oh, what was the phrase... 'a re-whetting of the pedagogical appetite.' When you're an engineer and start dropping phrases like that, then it's time to get into administration. Traitor to the species."

Arnaud Maldouf was a former mechanical engineering professor who had moved over to the Dean's Office while Lily was an undergrad. She had had him for intro to optics, though, and was pleased to see him on the interview panel even if there was no way he'd remember her from the sea of faces that appeared before him every semester. She knew he and Perotelli had been good friends for decades and that couldn't hurt. Nor could it hurt to have a fan in the administration.

"What did Yenette say?"

"Oh, something of no consequence," Perotelli scoffed, looking at his watch and tapping it. It was time to go. They were meeting the others back in Boston at a restaurant that had opened up after Lily had moved on to Princeton but that she had been told was superb - and expensive. "We found out later that there's a rumor that SHIELD is going to shut down the Elsevier Labs as part of the whole mutant police force thing the UN came up with. Something to do with heavy investment by Trask Industries."

Lily reacted honestly and with surprise. Yenette hadn't been a hero, per se, but she certainly respected his work and his deserved reputation as one of the brightest lights in the history of contemporary fluid dynamics. "The guy was being backed by mutant hunters?"

Perotelli shrugged and stood up. "I don't know if it's true or not, or even if it there was any sort of malevolent activity going on or if Yenette was involved. He could just have smelled smoke and jumped ship before it sank. The man has been around long enough to smell a scandal brewing."

"I guess," Lily admitted, also standing up. She wasn't at the point where she needed to use her arms to hoist herself out of a chair, but there was definitely something different in the motion.

They stopped off at the well-appointed office of Dean Maldouf and the trio headed back across the Charles River in Perotelli's Audi.

The menu looked intriguing for a steakhouse - engineers were meat eaters as a general rule - and Lily was disappointed that she had to limit her choices of food to what she knew with absolute certainty that she could handle - the panel members knew that she was pregnant, but that was no excuse for not being able to keep food down. And the last month had been full of surprises - she had grown up eating her grandmother's Korean food, been forced to follow her mother's various food crazes, and then married a man who would eat anything so long as it didn't eat him first (and, Lily was sure, that had probably happened to Alex at some point). She was not used to being particular about her food.

Settling on a simple soup (and remembering Orly's firm advice about never, ever ordering a salad when on an interview dinner) before a straightforward tenderloin, Lily was left to nibble on bread as the others sampled more exotic fare.

"So tell me, Lily," Ilya Simonov began as he washed down a shrimp with a sip of wine. "I meant to ask you this earlier and I was disappointed that none of my esteemed colleagues asked you themselves, distracted as they were by your other recent work. I know what we teach our undergraduates and I know Ray Dagley well enough. From whence does this interest in control theory come from? That letter you and your... husband?... dashed off in response to Yiannakis and company's article on plasma transfer stability... It was a brilliant piece of work. Not in your field, though, is it? And your husband is a geologist, right?"

Lily smiled and took a sip of water. "Well, control theory has been a side interest of mine for a few years," she replied blandly. "And heat transfer theory is topic that Alex has been interested in for decades, albeit in slightly less... technical terms. Our first joint academic project."

The article - purporting a whole new theory of dynamic control of plasma displacements - had come out in the Journal of Fluid Dynamics back in January. Lily had skimmed it, found it ridiculous, and gone off to find her husband. After she had translated the terms, Alex, too, had thought it ridiculous - according to Panayotis Yiannakis, Alex shouldn't have been able to do half of the things he did on a regular basis. Or else he should have spontaneously combusted sometime around the age of twenty-five. Lily had sat down and started writing a rebuttal, Alex contributing his experience as well as doing spot demonstrations. Courtesy of the journal's editor being a bit of an iconoclast, or perhaps sensing a topic that could cause excitement in a journal that wasn't known for producing any, the reviewed rebuttal had appeared in the April issue. Yiannakis - a worthy name in the field - had not taken it well and rumor had it that the December issue (delayed two weeks and due out the following Tuesday) would contain the man's righteous indignation in the form of the lead article. Even as Lily was amused at the editor's blatant attempt to turn this disagreement into a serial - it wasn't that hard to run both one's comments and another's rebuttals in the same issue instead of in consecutive ones - she wasn't worried. If push came to shove, Alex could just show off a little. Yiannakis was arrogant and the very idea that someone not trained in the field could have any sort of understanding, let alone a superior understanding than his own, would be hard for him to take.

"I'm sorry your husband wasn't able to join you up here this week," Maldouf said, seeming to genuinely mean it. Lily assumed everyone at the table knew of Alex's 'other life' although it had never come up. Perotelli knew and if she were a serious candidate, then it was bound to have come up in committee discussions. "Did you leave him home in New York?"

"He's in Egypt," replied, covering her water glass with her hand so that the waiter wouldn't refill it - she needed to keep track of how much she drank.  "I'm sure he would have loved to come up here. He's quite fond of the Boston area."

The conversation turned to less weighty fare - the annual mid-season swoon of the Bruins, the announced complications that would cause closures to correct what was still known as the Big Dig, the latest attempt by the CalTech students to engage the MIT undergrads in some sort of athletic competition - as entrees were brought and it wasn't until eating had slowed that the topic returned to professional matters.

"You mentioned something earlier about Klebanoff nodes," Perotelli began and Lily smiled. He had that twinkle in his eye that meant that she had nothing to fear. "Please tell me you've come up with an interesting use for them."

"Well," Lily sighed dramatically and smiled. This was her 'other' baby, the results of the log from Akkaba. Without getting into specific details about the source of her data (she wasn't ready to confess to being at Akkaba), she gave a vague outline of her ideas and the real-world examples she had to back it up. When she had finished, several sets of eyebrows rose at once.

"Oh, would that I were still refereeing journals," Maldouf sighed. "All of the interesting things happen after I go away."

"Your own damned fault, Arnie," Perotelli retorted. "So, does this wait until you've beaten back the mad Greeks or can we expect this assault on reality as we've understood it to begin sooner rather than later?"

"Ah, I think it depends on what the December issue of the JFD looks like," Lily replied, allowing herself a bit of a wicked smile. Academic disputes could be a lot of fun when you were sure you were right.

Simonov was about to say something else when the Maitre d' came up to them.

"Excuse me for interrupting your meal," he began, looking both mournful and apologetic. "I am looking for a Doctor Summers?"

Lily had taken great care not to eat as much of the meal as she would have liked, but all of her vigilance was for naught as her stomach - baby and all - flipped over. "That would be me," she said quietly.

"There is a gentleman here to see you," he said. He spoke delicately, Lily thought, as if he knew he was the bearer of bad news. "He said it was of utmost importance."

The man had gestured just enough so that Lily looked behind him to see who it could be. And she felt very, very cold as she could make out the distinctive features of one Nathan Dayspring Summers.


"Hi. You've reached our machine. Leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. Thanks."

"Lily? It's Ji-Won... We just heard. I'm so sorry... We're all praying for you. If there's anything I can do, just call me. It doesn't matter what time..."

"This is a message for Lily Summers. We are confirming that your Tuesday appointment at 11:30 with Doctor Friedenthal has been cancelled. Missing an appointment at this stage of your pregnancy should be avoided at all costs, so please call us to reschedule as soon as possible. Thank you."

"Lily? It's your mother. I know we haven't spoken for a long time and... Oh, sweetheart. I'm so sorry. They had it on the news about Alex...Please let me know if I can do anything and let your father know...I love you."

"Mrs. Summers, this is Juana Wilson from the Museum of Natural History. I worked with Alex... I'm so sorry for your loss..."

"Lily, it's Lorna... I... I don't know what to say and just telling you to 'hang in there' sounds really trite. And reminding you that this has happened before doesn't do jack shit for the pain. Just... we're all here for you, okay?"




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