White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

16/ January-March 2008

"All right. This place has some serious feng-shui issues going on here," Lily announced as she looked around her new office. The furniture was haphazardly strewn around the space, not all of it upright. It was two weeks until classes began and Facilities was still on intersession mode, although Lily wasn't sure that you could measure their work in natural numbers even during the semester.

Behind her, Jean snorted a laugh. "At least it's been freshly painted."

"I guess," Lily admitted with a wry smile. The place still smelled strongly of new paint and the walls gleamed white in the midday sun. "Okay. So where should we put things? And I say 'we' like I'm going to be doing anything but pointing."

"Perk of having a telekinetic in the family," Jean replied sagely. "At least you appreciate it. Scott hates it when I re-arrange the furniture."

"I think that's because you do it so often," Lily chuckled as she walked over to the windows and opened them despite the freezing air outside. "Throws him off."

"He needs it," Jean said decisively. "All right. Where you want the playpen and which desk do you want and where do you want it?"

The office was large because it was supposed to be for two faculty members. But part of the agreement with the department's Executive Officer (why CUNY insisted on using business terms was still a mystery to Lily five years after she had first interviewed for the job) was that she'd be nominally sharing her office with Bob Weinberger, a man who had never made use of his office space in the twenty years that he'd been teaching. Even so, the place was rather luxurious for Steinman - it had an armchair (probably stolen from the student lounge, Lily thought, as it was of the same black pleather and cube shape), a table big enough for four people to sit at, two desks, some file cabinets, a computer on a rolling table, a dorm fridge with a coffeepot sitting on top of it, a two-sided blackboard on wheels, and fairly generous shelving.

"The big one," Lily replied. "I'll let the student Magnus set me up with have the little one to work at if she wants it."

The email had come last week, a few days after the phone call from President Lehnsherr. Magnus had heard from Ororo of Lily's plight to find a baby-sitter for when she was in class and knew of someone who might be of help. She was the niece of an old friend and a sophomore at Barnard (actually a joint student at Barnard and the Jewish Theological Seminary), which was only a couple of subway stops away. She was also a beta-level energy absorber.

"I heard about that," Jean commented as she simultaneously shifted all of the furniture towards the door and away from herself and Lily. "She's a relative of Gabrielle Haller's, right?"

"Yeah," Lily replied. "A great-niece. Shalit Haller. From the way everyone seems to raise their eyebrows, I'm gathering Ambassador Haller had some connection with the X-Men's past?"

Jean snorted. "Yeah, you could say that," she agreed. "She had quite a history with both Charles and Magnus. But a great-niece... That's wonderful. Just in the nick of time, huh?"

"Just," Lily agreed, walking over to the corner of the room and mentally measuring the distance between wall and window and from the floor to the bottom shelf of the four attached to the wall. "Let's put the file cabinet here... I was going to put in a quiet inquiry with Columbia's mutant organization, but this does save the day. She sent me her schedule and even offered to switch sections of a class in order to meet my times."

The file cabinet slid smoothly a hair's breadth above the floor, coming to rest without a noise. The computer table followed, pausing when Lily nodded that she thought it was a good choice.

"So you're all covered?"

"Except for Thursday afternoons, yeah," Lily confirmed, looking at the space next to the computer table and wondering if she could put the playpen there so that both desk and computer would be visible to Dane. Of course, she wasn't sure she was even going to use the computer or just bring her laptop with her. "It's my grad section, so I'm just going to ask everyone if we can move it."

"You can do that?" Jean asked, surprised.

"A good percentage of my grad students are already in the work force," Lily explained with a shrug. "Can we try the desk over here? With enough space so that the playpen... Yeah, like that... The ones who are working have to take off early to get here for class. Most of their employers will let them - heck, most of their employers are paying for them to go to school - but it's easier for them if they don't have to be losing time."

Ten minutes later, everything was in place. The second file cabinet was next to the door with the coffeepot and fridge on the other side. The smaller desk was against the wall diagonally opposite the room from where the computer table was and the table and blackboard were on the other side of the space where the playpen would go along the same wall as the computer. The armchair was against the wall by the window in a small empty space, the unpadded chairs were unstacked and put around the table, the padded chair was put by the smaller desk, and the nicer padded chair with wheels was put by Lily's desk.

"Cool," Lily pronounced, looking around.

"Ha," Jean scoffed. "You haven't seen cool. Watch this."

Lily watched Jean close her eyes. A couple of moments later, Sulven appeared with the playpen exactly in the space it was supposed to be in.

"Okay, so that was cooler," Lily admitted with a cackle. "Thanks, Sulven."

"You're welcome," Sulven replied with a nod. She looked around and sniffed, making a face. "I suppose one works where one has to."

"It's public school," Lily snorted. "Nobody can afford the oak furnishings."

"Everything okay back home?" Jean asked and Lily smiled. This afternoon's activities were but a small part of the day's excitement for the extended X-family. With the formalizing of the XSE, it became impossible for everyone to take the Christmas holidays off - Lily was sure that nobody had considered that when it had become a military-style operation. As a consequence, two weeks into the New Year meant a mass changeover as to who was working and who was on vacation. Today was the last day of vacation for those who had missed out on taking the second half of December off and while it all moved cleanly within the XSE, off-duty there was mild chaos. Jean had been very eager to get some time away, although she assured Lily that keeping an eye on Dane would not be a hardship back at XSE headquarters. So when Scott had dropped Jean off this morning, he had picked up Dane (using a borrowed car seat) for safekeeping.

"The Guthries are returned from Kentucky," Sulven reported with a faint flicker of 'I've had enough of this crap.' "But the Wisdoms are snowbound in Chicago and if Bishop attempts to delay his departure for the New Lands until they return, I just might teleport him there myself." She scowled and Lily hoped that Bishop would go quietly without Sulven having to resort to force.

"The man really, really needs a vacation," Jean explained with a shake of her head. "He insisted on working straight through the holidays because he said that everyone else was either mentally or physically on vacation."

"So he's fried," Lily surmised.

"Like bacon," Jean agreed.

Sulven impatiently waved the other two women over so she could teleport them back to Westchester. Lily looked around, remembered to close the windows, and then joined Sulven and Jean by the blackboard.

"He did fit in to his busy schedule a few moments to knock your son out," Sulven added with a twinkle of amusement as they suddenly materialized in the drawing room at the mansion. Almost used to teleportation at this point, Lily smiled - Dane was not going to be fond of the man in a few years.  

"Whatever works," she replied. "Was there a problem with any of the kids..." she trailed off, gesturing vaguely at her head. At Christmas, Nate Guthrie had accidentally formed some sort of telepathic link to Dane when the two had been playing near each other. It had been quickly broken, but it would be a problem for a while.

"The Guthries didn't return until after Daniel was asleep," Sulven assured as they headed towards the hallway. Apart from Ororo, Sulven was the only person who always called Dane by his full name. "Clare is at her home with her parents and mine are with Piotr. I am retrieving them in... four hours."

"They're not staying over?" Lily asked with surprise. The twins loved staying with Piotr and Logan and Sulven would indulge them - particularly if work was busy.

"Piotr has a date tonight," Sulven explained, checking her watch.

"It's not a date," Kurt corrected as he appeared from around the corner. Dressed in his XSE uniform, he was sorting through a pile of mail. "It's dinner. Guten abend, Lily. How are you?"

He came over and gave Lily a warm hug that she returned.

"They have romantic leanings towards each other," Sulven retorted, checking her watch. "It might as well be." She pulled an envelope out of Kurt's hands and walked off, nodding to everyone before she disappeared.

Kurt looked after her, doing a double-take as he realized that she had in fact taken the envelope he was going to give to her.

"Time out," Lily cried, gesturing with her hands. "Who is Piotr having a dinner date with?"

"Callisto," Jean answered wryly.

Lily laughed and coughed at the same time.

"It surprised the heck out of all of us, too," Jean said comfortingly as she pounded Lily on the back.

"I'm not surprised," Lily said once she had gotten her breath back. "Well, not that surprised."

"Have you been withholding information from us, Frau Doktor Summers?" Kurt asked, looking mortally wounded as he held the pile of envelopes to his breast. "Were you privy to gossip concerning our dear friend Piotr that you did not share? For shame. And here I thought that my staunch patronage of your beautiful son would, perhaps, earn me a morsel of gentle consideration..."

"Oh, stop, Kurt," Lily begged, "Before I start laughing hard enough to choke again."

"Well, I want to know what you know," Jean said, grabbing Lily by the elbow and heading for the kitchen.

"It's not big news," Lily explained as she turned around so that she was walking forwards. "Bobby and Rogue were there, too."

"Unreliable sources, both of them," Kurt sniffed. "You are not excused."

"The evening we got together to put together Dane's playpen," Lily began after she was parked on a stool in the kitchen and faced with two cross-armed superheroes. "Piotr got a call to go down to Grinnell's gallery. He didn't say why, but he came back an hour or so later and he was... a little... preoccupied, maybe. Definitely something had happened. But all he said was that Callisto had been at the gallery."

"And?" Kurt prompted.

"And then we got distracted by debating the merits of turning the Second Avenue tunnels into a Morlock shrine," Lily finished. "Apparently Callisto had been on her way back from a rally at City Hall."

"Oh, I remember that day," Jean exclaimed. "We ran into Callisto at the rally. She was looking pretty upset, actually. I thought she was going to tear mine and Scott's heads off for being there, but she didn't."

"So we have... five weeks, then," Kurt mused aloud, pacing back and forth in a short circuit, slapping the pack of mail into one hand in time with his steps. "Five weeks when he could have said something and didn't. We don't even know if this is their first date. Or are you withholding that information as well?" Kurt asked, pointing the mail at Lily.

"I know nothing," Lily cried out in mock terror, holding up her hands.

"The next question, then," Kurt went on, resuming his pacing before stopping and pointing the mail at Lily again. "Is why don't you?"

Lily was starting to lose it again. "I'm not his confessor," she got out between the giggles. "I don't quiz him on his personal life." Point of fact, Lily thought Piotr liked her precisely because she didn't.

"You should get into the habit," Jean told her as she went to the fridge and took out a plastic container, opening it up to double-check its contents before floating it over to the counter and reaching for some vegetables.

"If he wants me to know, he'll tell me," Lily replied with a shrug. "And now that the inquisition is over, can I ask about my son?"

"Dane is dozing happily in the sun room," Kurt replied, finally putting the mail down so that he could sort it on the table. "Amanda is with him."

While Jean made sandwiches, Lily poked her head into the sun room. Amanda was reading and looked up and smiled, indicating that Dane was still asleep on the large round couch next to her chair. Lily could see his head from the doorway, tiny fist curled underneath and eyes closed. She nodded and went back to the kitchen.


"Mom!"

Starshine Beck turned towards the voice and waved at her daughter through the crowd by the luggage claim. Lily waved back. It was moments like these that Lily was sure that humans hadn't evolved so far away from the rest of the animal kingdom - they may look different, but like penguins and walruses and other animals, parents and children could identify each other by voice.

"Hey," Lily said as Star approached. She had to gingerly hug her mother as she was wearing a bulky backpack in addition to wheeling a large travel case. "How was your flight?"

"Did you know that the planes come in here directly over the water? It's terrifying," Star exclaimed. "I think I might take the train next time."

"It would take you longer to get here and back than you'd be staying," Lily snorted, holding out her hand for her mother to give her the backpack. "What's in this thing? I told you that you didn't need to bring any foodstuffs because there's a whole foods place a couple of blocks away..."

That had been only one of the conversations of various intensity that had led to Star standing in LaGuardia's Terminal C, along with a talk about air purifiers, acceptable toys for a ten-month-old electrokinetic (who had a tendency to take things apart and try to eat the components), and the relative safety of New York City.

The visit had not been her idea. Lily had been invited to deliver a paper at an AIAA Fluid Dynamics conference (in glorious downtown Columbus, Ohio) and, upon finding out, her father had suggested that he come up for the week to visit and babysit so that Lily could attend where she would have otherwise had to decline. It had sounded great - three days with her father and son, four days in Ohio - until her father had suggested that Lily invite her mother to stay, too. Lily had quailed - three days, even with both Daniels around to run interference - was a lot, especially with the absolute certainty that Star would be critiquing both home and homemaker. But Daniel-the-elder had been insistent and, in the end, Lily just didn't have the heart to keep her mother from seeing Dane in person for the first time.

"I brought some things for my grandson," Star announced in a tone of voice that implied that she was not going to allow the differences between mother and daughter to affect the relationship between grandmother and grandson. Lily wondered not for the first time if her mother couldn't see her inner thoughts as if they were teletyped across her forehead. Star put on the coat and woolen hat and gloves she had been carrying. "And you and Dan and your cat."

"We don't have the cat anymore," Lily said as she shouldered the bag, took the handle of the rolling bag from her mother before Star could react, and started walking. "I had to give him to a friend once Dane started moving around on his own in earnest. It wasn't fair to Felix to leave him in a situation where he was getting electrified a couple of times a day."

That had been hard. Lily would never admit it to anyone, but she had grown very fond of Felix. For both good and ill, Dane was fond of Felix, too, and, unfortunately, the feeling was mutual. Which meant that the poor cat was getting badly shocked every time Dane tried to pet him or Felix tried to snuggle. So Felix had been shipped down Broadway to Piotr's apartment, where the greatest risk was when the Logan twins would visit.

"Where are we going?" Star asked as they moved outside and past the taxi queue. "The taxis are over there..."

"We're taking the bus," Lily told her as she pointed towards the green-painted shelter a short distance away. A half-dozen people were waiting inside and a few more outside. A good sign, Lily thought, as that meant they hadn't just missed a bus.

"The bus?" Star repeated, looking somewhat displeased. "Why?"

"Because it's a $35 flat fee into Manhattan by taxi and it's $2 a person to take the M60, which will take about the same time and will leave us four blocks from my apartment. I thought you'd be all happy about the bus - environment and all that."

"I'm not unhappy," Star protested. "I'm just... disoriented. This is my first visit to New York. I only know what I see on television."

"We'll try to do a few things while you're here," Lily assured her as they approached the shelter. "Are you cold? Do you want to wait inside?"

"I'm fine," Star assured her, then pointed a pink-gloved finger. "Is that the bus?"

"Well, it's a bus, but that's the Q48," Lily replied, standing back to get out of the way of the people in the shelter. "That's staying here in Queens. We want the M60."

Five minutes later, the M60 came. Lily let her mother carry her luggage on board and dipped her MetroCard twice to pay the fare. It was the middle of the day, so there were plenty of seats. Lily gestured for her mother to take one of the two-seaters and put her luggage on the other seat while Lily herself sat in the row in front of her and turned around to face her mother. As they crossed over the Triboro Bridge, Lily pointed out landmarks. Even after living in Manhattan for five years, the view was impressive. And a little skewed - Lily was still used to the view being from New Jersey, not Queens.

"Who's with Dane?" Star asked as the bus started down the ramp to the Manhattan toll plaza.

"Amanda and Kurt," Lily replied. "They're old friends of Alex's. They had opera tickets last night and stayed with me afterwards. They adore Dane."

"Can they..." Star waved her hand vaguely.

"Touch him?" Lily asked and Star nodded. "Not without a little magicks, but Amanda can whip something up for diaper changes and so forth. Although we all think Dane really just wants to see Kurt's hair stand on end."

"Magicks?" Star repeated, making an impressed face. Lily didn't think it was from seeing the Apollo Theater as they crossed 125th Street to the West Side. "I don't think I've ever really appreciated how deeply you're in... that world. And don't get upset with me for saying that. I'm honestly quite pleased and surprised."

"Surprised?" Lily asked, trying to keep her voice neutral. Did her mother think that she was narrow-minded?

"I'm only digging myself in deeper, aren't I?" Star sighed, folding her hands in her lap. "It's just... I had so little hope for your spiritual side. You were always an engineer, Lily. Your father's daughter from the first time you saw your cousin's erector set. I tried to raise you to love all kinds and all things, but... you never showed any real appreciation for natural wonders and the diversity of life when you were younger. The universe was there to be calculated and measured and quantified and then conquered. I... I'm just sad that I've completely missed this growth of yours. It must have been wonderful to behold."

"It wasn't pretty, Mom," Lily replied with a wry frown that she hoped covered up her discomfit at the honesty. "It wasn't some organic flowering. It was ugly and involved a lot of meaningful silences and nasty truths."

The bus turned on to Broadway and was soon stopping in front of Barnard College. Lily pointed out Columbia University across the street, and explained that she worked a couple of subway stops away. Star was shocked that so many schools could operate in such close proximity.

Another ten minutes and they were off the bus, heading west. Lily introduced her mother to Eduardo the doorman, who told her that her father was already in. He had taken the train up from Washington and had told Lily that he would need a lot less help navigating the way to her apartment than her mother would.

Everyone was in the kitchen when they arrived and Amanda was making tea for the adults while Kurt and Daniel were keeping Dane occupied in his high chair with some applesauce. If Star was at all surprised to see a blue-furred man holding a spoon and a cup of applesauce, it was completely overwhelmed by her reaction to seeing Dane. She squealed and came into the kitchen, barely waiting for Daniel to wipe Dane's mouth and hoist him up out of his high chair before reaching out. At the last moment, she remembered that this was no ordinary baby and paused.

Dane, for his part, seemed intrigued by this new person. It bothered Lily immensely that at ten months old Dane already automatically assumed that people wouldn't touch him. He had never gone through an 'afraid of strangers' phase, but just seemed to... accept that he wasn't going to be picked up by anyone and never held his arms out except to his family and babysitter and the small handful of people who he saw often enough to recognize as 'safe' (such as Kurt and Amanda). Everyone else he'd greet with various degrees of enthusiasm - Dane was genuinely sociable, which made the limits on his interactions all the more wrenching - but made no attempts at contact.

"Dane," Daniel said, holding him up and letting Dane wrap his fist around his thumb, "This is your grandma. Say 'Hi, Grandma'."

"Hi," Dane dutifully said. He would try to repeat single-syllable words (Lily had had to deal with him singing 'bub' for a day or so after an afternoon last month spent partly with Logan), but made no attempts at longer words.

"He looks just like a little Alex," Star murmured, lost in her wonderment. Lily grimaced - it was both her greatest joy and her greatest pain that her son was such a constant reminder of her missing husband. "Even more than in the pictures."

With a slight nod from Daniel, she reached out to touch Dane's face. Lily could hear her sharp intake of breath at the shock, but Dane's sudden brilliant smile was the focus.

Now sure that this was a 'safe' person, Dane held out his arms and Star took him. He tried to put his arms around her neck and leaned against her chest and Star turned to Lily, a look of utter love and happiness on her face to well match the contentedness on Dane's.

"Is he always this friendly?" Star asked, her voice so very slightly tremulous.

"Only with people who can pick him up," Lily replied, moving out of the way so that her father could get by and get his camera. She tried to sound casual, but the scene was affecting her deeply.  "Which just happens to be family and those who might as well be. He's a people person in general, but..."

"Oh, sweetheart," Star murmured to Dane, kissing the top of his head, "We'll just have to make up for everyone else. I can do that, I think."

Lily moved into the kitchen so as to be out of the way of her father taking pictures from the doorway. She watched from in front of the stove, Kurt's hand on her shoulder in silent comfort. Dane was basking in the attention. Like his father, he could be a ham (Lily wasn't sure if he understood the idea of the camera, but he'd grin like a pint-sized lunatic anyway) and he charmed everyone thoroughly.

After the picture taking was done, Lily took her mother into Dane's bedroom and said that she could hang her clothes in the closet if she so desired. Star wanted to shower after her trip, so Lily retrieved towels, pointed the way, and returned to the kitchen. Kurt and Amanda departed in the late afternoon - Kurt was due back at XSE headquarters - and Lily was left alone with her parents.

She took them out that evening for dinner - thankful that her mother was still on her best behavior and not insisting upon anything - and pointed out the Whole Foods on the way back. Her parents refused to switch beds with her, using the sofa-bed instead.

Three days later, Lily was back on her way to LaGuardia, this time to catch her own flight. The time with her parents had been remarkable for its peace - she hadn't fought with her mother once, not even when Star had suggested wheat gluten as a dietary option for Dane. It was Spring Break week at school, so she had been able to take her parents around town - to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History, around midtown and up into Central Park. There had also been constant lessons in how to deal with Dane's electricity - Lily had belatedly realized that what was now second nature to her was not at all obvious to anyone else. As she went through airport security, she tried to release her fears about an incident. There undoubtedly would be one - she herself was not perfect in dealing with Dane's voltage - and there was no point stressing about it. She was a little worried about how Dane would take her absence, especially as she was such a constant presence in his life, but pushed these thoughts away as well. Dane was with people who loved him, Jean and Scott had been alerted to Lily's absence, and her parents had been left emergency contact numbers.

By the time she got to the hotel in Columbus, Lily was able to focus on the weekend conference ahead and not what she had left behind.




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