White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

18/April-June 2009

"You're sure?"

Lily sighed and nodded, not turning to face Orly as she watched Dane chase the giant blue ball across the grass. He was playing with Diego, Piotr and Callisto's foster child and his new best friend. Diego was three and had been abandoned by his parents after he had been born with skin that secreted a thick, green mucus that hardened like candle wax. It was unattractive, admittedly, and Dane had initially been very apprehensive. But Diego was engaging and cheerful and knew the words to 'C is for Cookie' and his mutation apparently allowed for Dane to touch him and the two had eventually become fast friends.

"Look at him, Orly," she replied, gesturing with her chin where Diego and Dane had managed to get to the ball just before it rolled on to the blanket where Piotr and Callisto were sitting with eight-month-old Flora, their other current ward. Flora had tiny, leathery wings (nobody knew whether they'd ever grow large enough to support her weight) that fluttered in aggravation as the ball approached. "He's happy. He's deliriously happy. He's getting to run around and play like a normal kid... He never gets to do that. He sits with me in my office all day, trapped in that damned playpen - when he's not trying to climb out of it - and look what it takes to get him an afternoon in the park."

She waved her arm expansively at the perimeter that had been set up, each pair of adults at opposite ends, to keep the children separate from the throngs of people on the Great Lawn enjoying the warmth on this early spring day. It was heartbreaking that even their liberty had to be so circumscribed... Dane's liberty, at least. Unspoken was that while Dane needed to be kept apart for everyone else's safety, Diego and Flora had to be protected from the cruelty of others. Flora's scars had not yet healed from where her birth mother had tried to cut off her wings with a knife and, more immediately, they had already heard a few unpleasant comments from passersby in the hour that they'd been there.

"In the New Lands, it won't be such an effort. They have daycare and schools that can handle all sorts of mutations. Dane won't have to be so... tentative," she went with a sigh. "Everyone's always going on about how well behaved he is. He has to be and he knows it."

"But all of this care only has to last until Dane is old enough to start to learn how to control his powers," Orly reminded her. "He'll have plenty of time to embarrass the hell out of you with public temper tantrums when he's older."

"This is when his personality gets established," Lily said as she got up to retrieve the ball that had rolled past where the boys were allowed to wander. She picked it up and tossed it back toward the pair, who promptly both tried to catch it and nearly collided. She then sat back down on the blanket, taking care not to sit on Dane's latest toy, a robot that looked a little disturbingly like an early model Sentinel but to which Dane was utterly attached.

"The less damage that gets done now..." she went on. "He's always known that something's different, but now... he's starting to notice his limitations. We take a walk down in Riverside Park and we pass by the jungle gym and he used to ask to go play, you know, point at the slide and stuff. But you can't explain to an eighteen-month-old that you can't let him on the slide or the little castle because they've got metal and there are other kids playing on them. All he understands is the 'no' part. So now he doesn't ask anymore. And then there's the rigmarole when we go to the market or to the museum or anywhere where there's a lot of people... All he hears from me is 'no' in some form or another. He's going to be two in three weeks, Orly. And it's only going to be getting worse."

Orly nodded, then smiled crookedly. "So the move to the New Lands has nothing to do with that think tank job that just happens to let you do what you've always dreamed of doing - at least professionally?"

"Well, obviously they're related," Lily agreed, grinning. Orly was one of the only people who knew the truth about what Lily was going to be doing. Or at least that the XSE or Nathan Summers had anything to do with it. Professionally, it was a coveted job - an extremely well funded lab doing cutting-edge research, all without the demands of teaching. There had been a little bit of grumbling within the fluid dynamics community that someone as young as Lily had walked away with the position of group leader, but not enough for anyone to get suspicious. Getting out of her contract with City College had been straightforward and the agreement with the tenure review committee had been as acrimonious as it had been easy. Lily wouldn't press genetic discrimination charges and they would bury their report that would have denied her tenure. The official reasons for her departure had been a vaguely phrased memo describing a shift in the program's focus away from theoretical fluid dynamics, which happened to be her specialty.

"But..."

Lily exhaled slowly. "But it's going to be a relief," she admitted. "It's so hard, Orly. Raising a baby by yourself - even with the support I get from you and everyone else - it's hard. But Dane... I always have to think five steps ahead. Can I take him food shopping or for new clothes? Whenever we go anywhere, I have to factor in enough time in case we have to take the next bus or the next subway because they're too crowded for me to keep Dane from touching anyone. Winter is the easiest season because I can swaddle him in insulated clothes. But it's spring now and he's more active. I don't go anywhere because everything has to be weighed in terms of the very tiny pool of people who can baby-sit him... I don't want to resent him. I never, ever want to resent him."

"I don't think you're capable of it," Orly assured her, opening up the insulated bag they had brought and taking out the container of grapes. Lily watched - Orly's new prosthetic arm had a hand that was capable of much finer tasks. "Or at least I think you're more capable of, I don't know, restraining your baser impulses. You're not supposed to like your kids all the time. The trick is to remember to love them all the time."

"Sometimes..." Lily said quietly. "When it's an hour before I'm due to teach and he's just dumped his cereal all over the place after already having blown up two of the three light bulbs in the living room lamp for the second time in a week and I have to figure out how to keep him out of the way as I clean up broken bulb glass and then cereal and then change him and then, when we finally get to the subway, I have to let two trains go by because they're too crowded and he's crying because he knows I'm upset about the lamp and the cereal... I'm capable of a lot. So far, restraint has always been part of that lot. But... He has to be so, so good all the time. And my sanity can't be dependent on him being perfect. Because he's two and he's supposed to be closer to hellspawn than perfect."

"You know, there are moments when I watch you and Dane and I get maternal urges," Orly mused thoughtfully. "And then I remember myself."

Lily laughed, her distress broken up. Orly was cheerfully single, happy to have a job she enjoyed (in a lab that developed prosthetics) and the freedom that went with a comfortable living and very few responsibilities. She had bought a small house a couple of years ago, determined to not give up her dreams of a vegetable garden and a back porch to read on just because she didn't have the husband and kids to go with the white picket fence. Lily wondered how similar her life might have been had Alex never walked into it. But she had always dated more than Orly and had never gotten into the mindset where being permanently single had been either a consideration or a concern.

"Mommy!" Dane called out, approaching at a rapid speed with Diego in hot pursuit. "Juice!"

Orly dug around in the cooler for Dane's cup. The two boys flopped down - Diego somewhat gracelessly as the hardened mucus around his joints made his movements stiff.

"What do you say?" Lily asked Dane as Orly found the cup.

"Please?" Dane offered, holding out his hands.

Orly handed him the cup. "Diego, would you like some crackers?"

"Yes, please."

"Dane," Lily prompted as she fished out the Saltines and put the grapes within Dane's grasp.

"Thank you," he told Orly, who rolled her eyes at Lily as Dane concentrated on his cup.

"Thank you," Diego said as he was given the crackers.

"Piotr and Callisto have your juice if you want it," Lily told him. Diego's diet affected his condition and he was unable to eat many types of food, notably most kinds of fruit. For a three-year-old, he was a fastidious eater, doing his best to make sure his cracker crumbs ended up in the baggie. Because the mucus extended to his fingertips, where it would frequently flake off during activity, Diego also didn't have to share his food.

With the boys occupied, Lily looked across at Piotr and Callisto. Flora appeared to be dozing in Piotr's arm, one of the only ways she could be on her back comfortably. In the year-plus that they had been together, Piotr and Callisto's story had gradually been compiled. And now that she knew most of it, Lily wondered what all of the fuss was about. It was straightforward as far as she was concerned - Piotr and Callisto were still the same people, at least part of them was, as when they had fallen in love the first time. That they could find that part in each other again, and that it would take time to do so, was much less of a shock to Lily than it was to most of the other X-family. Lily suspected she just had a different perspective because her ideas about the both of them hadn't ossified over the years.

They were good for each other in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, Lily felt, and they complemented each other in temperament. Where she was tense, he was laid-back; where he would focus on his art, she kept an eye on his business. The one time Lily had discussed it with Kurt, he had more or less agreed with her own ideas, adding that they both had a strong need to protect and, while it was amusing considering their backgrounds as fighters, they could satisfy those needs by looking after the other. And the rotating posse of foster children (whom Bobby, well out of earshot of both of them, would affectionately call the Mini-Morlocks) who would stay in the extra bedrooms of their apartment - Callisto having given up the pretense of not living there sometime last summer. Before Diego and Flora, there had been Claudine and Jameel and Mikey and Shantiqua and Amy. Some had stayed for a few days until relatives could be found, others had stayed for a couple of months, but all had been very young children whose mutations had rendered them disfigured or even dangerous (Shantiqua had been a newborn who drooled acid) and unwanted.

Lily happened to like Callisto, although they were not what Lily would call good friends. Callisto was still learning how to make friends, Ororo had said on her last visit to New York, instead of allies. Lily still got the impression that Callisto assessed everyone who crossed her path, checking to see if they were any threat to either herself or to Piotr or to their brood. Piotr, for his part, was happier than Lily ever remembered him being.

"Mommy?"

Lily looked down. Dane was holding out his cup. "Are you done?"

He nodded.

"You can give the cup to Orly, then," she said and he did. Next to him, Diego finished his cracker and stood up, handing the bag back to Lily.

"Bye!" Diego said and ran off towards the blue ball.

Dane used Lily's knee to stand back up and looked up at her thoughtfully. Before he could flee as well, Lily kissed his forehead.


"Uh-oh."

"You know, Dane, I get really nervous when you say that. Is this the sort of 'uh-oh' where I have to get the fire extinguisher or the sort of 'uh-oh' where I can finish my paragraph and not lose my train of thought?"

"Uh-oh."

"I'm guessing we're closer to the former, then. All right. Mommy's computations can wait. Maybe I should teach you about Reynolds numbers and kill two birds with one stone. What do you think? Let's go see what the 'uh-oh' is all about. Lead on, Macduff."


"So Cecilia says that you found a place already."

The joint second birthday party for Dane and Nate Guthrie was in full swing and there was enough of a din going on that Lily didn't hear Bobby speak right away, at least not until Hank gestured behind her shoulder.

"Hmm?" Lily turned in her seat to face Bobby, who had sat down on the couch to her left. Keeping one eye on Dane, who was relatively easy to spot in his bright blue-with-green-streamers party hat, she smiled and nodded. "Oh. Yes. Although I had it pretty easy."

The New Lands Immigration Board, cognizant of the difficulty potential residents had in just dropping by to house-hunt, had an elaborate website set up to display homes and properties. Virtual 3-D tours, detailed lists of dimensions and features and amenities, proximity to schools and parks and public transportation. Between the website and Ji-Won and Ororo both visiting potential places, by the time Sulven teleported Lily up for her first on-site visit there was very little fuss.

"It's a semi-attached," Lily elaborated, accepting the cup that Dane had brought over to her without examining its contents too closely. He was wearing the latest version of the energy absorbing/insulating clothes that Reed Richards had designed, but they were a short-term solution as they didn't seem to last for more than one usage. After Dane ran off again, she put it on the table next to her. "Three bedrooms, two baths, and a backyard."

"You're going all domestic on us," Bobby snorted. His eyes bespoke a more serious sort of happiness, though. "From Manhattan to Magnetoville."

"Actually, we'll be about an hour away from Aliyah," Lily replied. "It'll be sort of the same distance as from here to Manhattan. It's about the same level of urbanity, I guess, with paved roads and all that. But it's going to be weird, above and beyond the whole idea of moving there. I'll be able to do laundry at home... I haven't been able to do laundry without getting some sort of dressed in fifteen years."

"You're moving halfway across the world for the chance to do bleach loads," Bobby sighed. "I knew you were just trying to get further away from us... Kidding, I was kidding."

Lily still frowned at him. This was a sore topic in part because it seemed to be such a pervasive opinion.

"So what's going to happen to your apartment with you two gone?"

"I'm renting it to a professor at NYU," Lily replied. "Just for the academic year. Then we'll re-evaluate."

"So no using it as the X-pied-á-terre?"

"With the way the housing market's gone in the city for the last couple of years, I am going to work off a serious chunk of mortgage with that rent," Lily said, shaking her head in disbelief. Without trying too hard, she was getting more than twice what her mortgage-plus-maintenance payments were. Of course, the fact that she didn't have to pay rent on her new home helped - a rather underhanded move by Nathan had worked a housing agreement into the contract she had signed to head up the project group.

"Hrrm," Bobby made a great show of considering. "Cecilia and I were thinking of moving into Manhattan after we get married. I know she wants to be back in the city - trees and grass and nature make her uncomfortable. But you're right about the costs. I think we're going to have to wait until the midtown office is open and we can have the official XSE townhouse... And speaking of being big as a house, it's the Good Year Blimp."

"What did you just call me?" Jean asked as she sat down gracelessly in the armchair across from Bobby and Lily. At six months pregnant - with twins - not even Jean's telekinesis could compensate for the added bulk.

"The Good Ship Jean," Bobby said slowly and distinctly and with a completely straight face. "Don't start accusing me of making fun of pregnant women. I need Dana on my side when we play Monopoly."

Dana was expecting in September, prompting many jokes about how if a Summers wife was pregnant, so was Dana.

"Hit him for me?" Jean asked Lily, waving vaguely at Bobby. "Oh, wait, I'm telekinetic."

"Hey!" Bobby wailed, standing up and pulling at his pants. "No wedgie! No wedgie!"

"So," Jean said and clapped her hands as Bobby went off, milking an overdramatic version of a sulk. "Now let's have some fun."

The afternoon was surprisingly light fare for an X-gathering, even considering that it was supposed to be a party, and the turnout had been high. There had been a Prime Sentinel attack in Long Beach, California the previous month and Bishop was still limping slightly from where a well-aimed pipe had cracked his femur. But he was still holding court by the buffet table, surrounded by Domino, Sam, Scott, and others that Lily couldn't see.

Apart from her role as mother to one of the guests of honor, Lily was kept occupied by well-wishers. She had made it clear that she didn't really want a going-away party of any sort - a request that she suspected was being granted as much because the departure was close to Jean's due date as for any other reason. So instead there was a steady stream of the same few questions over and over again and Lily trying to come up with graceful ways to not give offense by smiling through suggestions that she invite people down for a housewarming party.

Eventually, a cake was brought out and the two little honorees were held up to blow out candles. Lily was able to avoid more questions by chasing after Dane with a wet paper towel after he had decided he liked the feeling of frosting between his fingers. He squealed mightily when Lily finally sat him down and gave him the choice of either eating his cake or playing with his toys and not the other way around. Jean, watching from the same chair she had fallen into before, wondered aloud what had made her think that she was ready to do this again after the horrors of the last time. Nathan, standing within earshot, tried to take umbrage and failed miserably.

It had been raining earlier, but the sun had come out during the course of coffee and the older kids - the twins and Clare and Diego - had been let outside under the supervision of Logan and Domino. Kate had taken Harry upstairs for a nap and things were settling down as the average age of the room got older. Nate and Dane were each surrounded by their own ring of toys, the centers of tiny solar systems of entertainment. Dane's attention was focused on a cube that was about the size of a Rubik's cube and just as colorfully decorated. But instead of stickers, the colors came from within as tiny lights that could be powered by Dane's mutation. It had been a gift nominally from the Logan twins, but Lily knew that Sulven had recreated it from something she had known in the thirty-eighth century - it was a toy for electrokinetics in that time.

Bobby and Hank and Warren were trying to explain the concept of a Rubik's cube to Joseph - complete with stories of peeling the stickers off to cheat - and the rest of the adults had quieted down to listen to the highly amusing discussion. It crossed Lily's mind that while she was really too young to have had much to do with the popular toys from the 1980's (she had had one, but only because everyone did), so many people present today had not been around for the craze. Bishop, Joseph, and Sulven weren't in this time (Lily wasn't sure about Nathan), and folks like Domino and Logan might as well have not been in this time.

Rogue's hearty laughter was still ringing off the walls when Sam entered the room. He had been fetching animal crackers for Dana - she hadn't been able to partake in the cake - and smiled reflexively in that way he had. The smile broadened when little Nate looked up at him, adoration in his eyes.

"Dada!"

Lily didn't realize that she was holding her breath until she felt Dana's hand on her arm, warm feelings of sympathy coming from her like waves to the sand. The air came out of her lungs with a cough.

The two-year-old who had called out to be picked up by his father hadn't been Nate Guthrie.

Shaking off the touch, Lily stood up, suddenly feeling very nauseous and as if the air was hard to breathe. She closed her eyes as she made her way past the collected group, as much to avoid the pitying looks as to hold back the tears until they could fall without witnesses.

She didn't stop until she was in the hallway leading to the back door, far enough away from the living room that she didn't think her choked breaths would carry. Leaning back against the wall and letting herself slide to the floor, Lily gave up all semblance of control and wept.

How could she think that she could do this? Raise Dane as if his father was simply away on a long trip and not instead missing since before his birth? She had always shown Dane pictures of his father and she kept a photo of Alex in his room. But who was she fooling - apart from herself? Apparently not Dane. And probably not anyone else, either.

It had been two years, six months, and three days since Alex had vanished. There had been no trace, no clue, no hope. And no body. She knew that people openly wondered how long she was planning on waiting for Alex to return, how long before she gave up and accepted the truth that her husband was gone. That she was a widow in actuality, not temporarily. That her son would never know his father...

"Here."  

Lily looked up and saw a tissue in front of her. Scott was on the other end of the hand holding it.

She accepted it with a nod of acknowledgement, wiping her eyes before blowing her nose. It wasn't enough, though, and before she could ask for another, the box appeared in Scott's other hand.

"You want another, you have to get up," Scott told her, offering his hand for support. "You're not here often enough to know about the 'no brooding in the house' rule. We can go outside."

Lily grimaced at the weak attempt at humor and let herself be easily hoisted up. But instead of letting go, Scott pulled her into an embrace where she could feel the tissue box digging into her back.

Whatever composure she had regained was lost again and she could only rely on Scott's strength to keep her from crumbling to the floor again.

"It's okay, Lily," he murmured into her ear, kissing her hair. "It's okay."

"I don't think you really appreciate how strong you are," Scott said quietly in her ear as the sobs faded into hitched breaths. He didn't let go. "Not just for caring for Dane - and don't think that goes unnoticed. But... for handling what's going on with Alex."

The distant slam of a door startled them both.

"Come on," Scott encouraged, guiding Lily towards the back entrance.

The air outside was cool and damp and Lily breathed deeply, trying not to start crying again. Her sweatshirt was inside, but right now the air was bracing and not cold and it seemed to penetrate the fog she was drowning in.

It took a surprising amount of courage to turn around and face Scott. Over the years, she had gotten so used to the glasses that they no longer presented any sort of obstacle to reading his thoughts. Instead, she had learned that Scott's opacity came from within - it was just easier to blame the glasses.

She didn't know why she expected him to be judging her. In fact, he was watching her impassively, the tissue box still in his left hand. No pity - Scott didn't pity, Lily was fairly sure. Pity was a passive reaction, compassion coupled with lethargy, and not Scott at all.

"I'm running away, aren't I?" Lily asked, turning back to face the landscaped grounds. The rain had left everything bright and glistening in the emerging sun.

"Are you?" Scott asked, not moving from where he was leaning against the wall. "Or are you simply adapting?"

She sighed heavily. Scott would refuse to let her find the easy way out and answer her questions for her. It was a Summers trait, one that Alex and Scott and Nathan had in equal measure, even if they wielded it differently. "I don't know. I was so sure I was moving on, but... maybe I'm just running."

"From what, then?"

"From all this," she replied angrily, waving her hands vaguely. "From having to say the magic words 'my husband is dead.'"

"You don't know that he is," Scott replied in an even voice.

"So am I keeping the faith or am I just not dealing well with the lack of closure?"

"That's up to you," Scott said. She could hear him push off the wall, his shoes making quiet noises on the marble patio. "And there isn't a single person who can tell you which one is the right answer. Nobody. Not even Alex."

Once upon a time, in her darkest days, Lily had wondered what would happen if she and Alex ended up in Scott and Jean's shoes. What if Alex came back to find her with another man? What would she do?

"I'm scared to feel, Scott," she finally said in a quiet voice that she knew he could hear. "I'm scared to care about anyone other than Dane and you and Jean and the people I've known the longest... It's like if I did and... I couldn't bear to be unfaithful to him. I couldn't bear it... And sometimes, I... just feel so alone. Like I'm dying inside and there'll be nothing but a cold shell left. And that's just as bad. Because what happens if he comes back and my heart can't thaw?... And what happens if he doesn't come back at all? We know he didn't die that day, but what happens if he can't come back from wherever he is? What if he's stuck there? What if he died there instead of here? I'll never know."

"Probably not," he agreed. "But let's take this one step at a time. Do you think he's dead? In this world or any other?"

"I can't let myself think that," she answered. "Not yet. It's not fair to Dane."

"Forget Dane for a moment." Scott cut off her protest with a wave of his hand. "Dane is two and he's resilient. He's also never known his father, so it's all up to you. You are all he knows. He's going to be fine no matter what. At least so long as you can find your peace."

"Sometimes I'm sure he's coming back... And sometimes I'm utterly, completely without faith." She closed her eyes and rubbed them, feeling the burn. "I set milestones. Four days for the first time he disappeared without saying anything, when he had to come back and tell me that he was Havok. Six months minus ten days for how long Nathan, Domino, Logan, Sulven, Dana, and Bishop were gone into the future. A year, two years, the anniversary of the Battle at Akkaba. The number of days Jean was gone..."

"It hasn't been that long yet," Scott pointed out.

"I know," Lily agreed, opening her eyes again. "But when it comes, if Alex isn't back by then, I'll still do the same things. I'll make sure the apartment is clean, I'll make sure someone here knows where I'll be in case the Cerebro alarm goes off, and I'll jump at every sudden movement and every phone call just in case it's about him... Jesus. You must think I'm such a nut."

"I had my suspicions when you married my brother." Lily turned and looked at him and he shrugged. "Seriously? I'm a lot less concerned now than I was a couple of months ago."

"Why? Because I'm moving to Antarctica?"

"In part," Scott admitted. "Although I think it's more the motion than the destination that's important."

Lily laughed humorlessly. Neither Scott nor Jean had seemed surprised when she had told them that she was taking the job in the New Lands. And it wasn't simply because they had known about the offer being on the table.

"Why is it that everyone in my life seems to think that I was digging myself firmly into a rut and nobody wanted to say anything?"

Scott chuckled. "Because you would have only started to dig deeper. This was something you needed to see for yourself, not be told. Trust me, we all learned how to do this the hard way with Nathan."

"I wasn't always this..."

"Intractable? Stubborn?" Scott supplied, rolling his neck. Lily could hear the joints crack. "No, you weren't. But you've had to do a lot of changing in the last couple of years."

"And apparently it's all been towards a more unpleasant, difficult person," she sighed, disappointed in herself. She had gone and done what she had sworn to herself she wouldn't do - become some sort of a bitter shrew. Everyone used different words, but nobody really disagreed with that assessment.

"It's not all a change for the worse," Scott said evenly. "That same intractability is the reason you've got a happy, healthy two-year-old running around inside. We all wanted you to do one thing and you were stubborn enough to do it your own way to spite us all."

"Dane." Lily turned back towards the house, only to feel Scott reach for her arm and grab lightly.

"He's fine," he assured. "Nathan's talking with him."

Lily nodded and Scott let go.

"Am I hurting him?" Lily asked quietly.

"Do you see him laugh, Lily?" Scott asked instead, turning back to face the lawn. "Do you see him run around and giggle and sing and play?"

"But how much of that is in spite of me?"

Scott only shook his head and smiled. "I always wondered what I must have sounded like."

"Huh?"

"Listening to you... I hear myself," Scott elaborated, sounding very much like his focus was someplace else. Sometime else. "Back when Nathan was Dane's age and Jean and I were in the future. Nathan was a lot like Dane, actually. They have similar temperaments and similar problems... Nathan would be running around and laughing and being an absolutely normal little boy and I'd watch him and instead of enjoying his happiness, I'd stand there and wonder how much of it was incomplete because of me. Because I had abandoned him as a baby, because I had gotten him into so much trouble with Madelyne, because if it wasn't for me, he never would have been infected in the first place..."

Lily just watched and listened. She had known Scott for almost a decade and known him well for most of that time and he had never spoken of those times with her. Jean had, and Alex had mentioned things he'd heard, but she'd never dared even broach the topic with Scott.

"It wasn't until much later that I started looking at the whole picture. I was the one who taught him games and how to build things and how to ride a horse. I had brought him some of that happiness... It took me much too long to realize that any scars that Nathan was carrying weren't from my hand, but were instead from circumstance. I didn't learn that lesson in time for Nathan. I know it now, though, so maybe the twins..."

He broke off and sighed, shaking his head as if to clear it before turning to look at Lily. Glasses or not, she was sure he was meeting her eyes. "You're not doing Dane any harm. You are keeping him happy, healthy, safe, and loved. If he understands that he's different, it's not because he's being raised by you alone. It's because he's got a dangerous mutation. He was going to have that problem whether or not Alex was here to witness it."

"Intellectually, I know that," Lily admitted quietly. "But..."

"But it's still hard to accept," Scott finished with a nod of agreement. "And every time something slips out of your control, you can't help but wonder what you did wrong that you should have been able to prevent. Been there, done that, got the gray hairs to prove it."

Lily snorted. "Well, you've succeeded in getting me out of my funk. I've gone from maudlin to amazed at my own self-absorption."

"That wasn't my intention," Scott said, shaking his head. "I didn't mean to set us up as similar examples..." he broke off, laughing. "Jesus. It's like so many times when Alex and I would talk... Any similarities between our situations are coincidental, really. And you're only going to make yourself crazy using me as a paradigm. Alex figured that out eventually - I'm a freak..."

"You are not a freak," Lily interrupted.

"I am," Scott insisted. "Within the mutant community and without it. And it's not necessarily all a bad thing. I mean, I did end up with the girl everyone was chasing."

Lily shook her head and smiled, wondering what Jean was saying along their telepathic bond.

"It just means that I am not always the best person to use as an example," Scott went on. "And that's before we get into all of the amazingly dumb choices I've made in my own life. All I wanted to do when I brought up Nathan was... let you know that you aren't alone. That your fears are natural. It would be weird if you never doubted yourself. Insecurity is what makes us human."

"Yeah?"

"Galactic truth," Scott assured her with a smile. "That's how you can tell if anyone's been replaced by Skrulls or something like that. Extreme overconfidence. Not coincidentally, that's why you'll sometimes wonder if Nathan comes from another planet."

Lily couldn't stop the laughter from escaping. Not even when Nathan himself appeared a moment later on the other side of the back door, Dane visible by his knees.

"Someone missed his mother," Nathan explained, telekinetically sliding the door open. He said something else in a language that Lily didn't even begin to recognize and Scott shook his head with a smile, but said nothing.

"I'm sorry, Mommy," Dane said, looking very much like he had been crying heavily. He was still flushed slightly pink and his eyes were red and puffy.

Lily swallowed the surge of self-abuse for letting her own emotions take their toll on Dane. "You have nothing to be sorry for," she told him emphatically, bending down to pick him up and wiping a fresh tear from his eyes.

"You miss Daddy?" Dane asked, tilting his head and reaching for the tear running down her own cheek. "My Daddy?"

So that was what Nathan had been talking to him about. She turned back to the door, but Nathan was gone. So was Scott. "Yeah," she said, smiling her best seem-happy-for-the-baby smile even as the tears fell harder. "Very much."

"Me, too," Dane confided, leaning forward to hug her neck. He put his head on her chest and she could hear him sniffle.

She hugged him tightly, even as it seemed to make both of their tears run faster. Dane was getting big and it was hard to hold him for long periods of time without feeling it, but by the time Lily felt composed enough to head inside, Dane was asleep. So she shifted him in her arms as best she could and was contemplating how best to open the door with no free hands when Piotr appeared, armed with the same tissue box that Scott had been holding. He opened the door without a word and silently offered to take Dane from her. Lily didn't want to loose the warmth of the closeness, but her arms were starting to ache and she relinquished her son.

Dane moved over without waking up and Lily was blowing her nose with one of the tissues from the box she had taken from Piotr when she found herself in a one-armed embrace.

"It was at Arcade's hands that I learned that sometimes I am stronger in my human form than I am in my steel form," Piotr said quietly as he let her go. "It is a lesson with a more general audience, I have subsequently learned."




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