White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

20/June 2010

As she squeezed the steering wheel in frustration as the light turned red, Lily decided that this was worse than it had ever been with Alex. Even perhaps worse than Akkaba.  

["Doctor Summers?  This is Stephanie Bergman from the Septime Early Childhood Center... There's been an accident."]

Alex had gotten hurt with a frequency that only really registered in hindsight, Lily mused as she waited for the damned light to turn. The X-Men-related stuff had usually been healed by Dana before Lily could see it and was only confessed if someone else had warned her in advance. The hazards of the job of a field geologist were less frequent, but came with no mutant healers. To Lily's frustration, Alex had had the nasty habit of surprising her with his injuries. He'd call her from the road without mentioning anything and then come in the door on crutches, like the time he had badly sprained his ankle after a mudslide in Peru. Or he'd try to distract her from discovery of bruises or cuts, say by suggesting they make love in the dark. It had been a game, almost, at least until Akkaba.

Gunning the accelerator and nearly rear-ending the Kia in front of her, Lily signaled and turned right, noticing for the first time that near each stop sign and traffic light along the route had been the international sign for 'hospital' and then an arrow. It was as if the very land itself was mocking her.

But Alex had been a grown man when he had gotten hurt and, in the end, as scared as Lily had been for him, she had also known that he had been able to take care of himself. That he would not be scared. The same could not be said for their son.

["It happened in the lavatory... Roger said there was a ball of white energy about the size of a beach ball... He was bleeding from the forehead, but, well, there was a lot of blood. I don't know if there were any other wounds... Hope General."]

There was ample parking at the hospital and Lily swung the Subaru into a spot as close to the Emergency Room entrance as she could get. Hope General was the closest hospital to the daycare center, but it was not a hospital that received severe cases by ambulance and therefore wasn't very busy.

"Hi. My son was just brought in? Last name is Summers," Lily began as soon as she was within range of the triage desk.

"One of the daycare kids?" The nurse, a portly black woman with a pristine white uniform, asked without looking up. She typed in the name in the computer. "May I see some identification please?"

Lily sighed with frustration at the delay even as she understood it. There had been an anti-mutant bombing back in August of three clinics up in Berlin and the New Lands government had taken precautions. She held up the lab ID that she still wore on a chain around her neck.

"Daniel?" the nurse asked, nodding that Lily had proven her identity. "He's in the Peds ER room six. The other parents are already here and the teacher who came with them should be done filling out the accident reports by now."

Lily muttered thanks and burst through the doors, pausing once through to orient herself. Even numbers on the left and odd numbers on the right and she could hear Dane screaming in pain even before she pushed open the door across from the nurse's station.

Dane had gotten himself hurt before. He had received the usual sorts of bumps learning to walk, plus there had been incidents where his electrokinesis had accidentally destroyed something. But he had always been lucky with those - there had never been any glass wounds from the exploding light bulbs that Dane seemed to specialize in and he had only gotten a bruise on his arm from when he had fallen off the kitchen table he shouldn't have been on in the first place after he had done irreparable damage to the toaster oven.

"Mommy!" Dane wailed as she entered and Lily felt her lungs squeeze. Dane's clothes were bloody, his hair was bloody, there were tears streaming down his face and he was trying to escape the grip of the nurse and doctor who were attempting to tend to him. "Mommy!"

Lily caught the slight nod from the doctor who pushed back on his stool as if acknowledging that nothing was going to get done until the patient was mollified. She hurried to her son, who tried to bury his face in her chest and throw his tiny arms around her. He was weeping uncontrollably and Lily tried to soothe him, running her fingers through the back of his hair, where it wasn't matted with blood and rubbing his back. Looking down, she could see that there was a gash across Dane's right temple, an ugly, open, jagged wound that seemed to stop just short of his hairline and caught the top of his eyebrow. The nurse reached over and tried to swab away the blood still flowing.

"We really do need to stitch that up right away," he said quietly and Lily nodded to him. She looked over her shoulder to where the doctor... Kalvecky, according to the name pin, was opening the sterile-sealed packs lying on a tray. As per the protocols concerning medical treatment of energy producers, both doctor and nurse were wearing devices that siphoned off and stored the electricity that touching Dane would produce. The ER itself was equipped to handle patients with a wide variety of mutations and could provide most services without significant prep time. Dane's electrokinesis was a consideration, but actually didn't rate highly on the scale of difficulty to work around.

Taking a deep breath, Lily rubbed Dane's cheek with the back of her hand. "Are you ready to let the doctor care of you now?" she asked in what she hoped was a cheerful voice. Or at least a not-terrified voice.

Dane shook his head, still burying his face in her belly and gripping at her shirt harder. The nurse was reaching in again to wipe away the blood and Lily closed her eyes, feeling Dane tighten his hold on her as she tried to gently pull him off of her. "We have to do this now, sweetie. The sooner the doctor fixes you up, the sooner it will stop hurting. And then we can go home and take a nice bath and get all cleaned up... Did you eat lunch yet?"

Dane shook his head no, sniffling and looking up at her with eyes that were still streaming tears. "I was bad, Mommy. I was very bad," he choked out between sobs.

"How were you bad?" Lily asked, moving to the side as far as Dane would let her so that the doctor could pull his stool back in range. She knew what had happened already - all of the boys in his group had been on line to go to the bathroom when Dane had produced a massive energy blast that had destroyed a urinal. In twenty years, this was going to be very funny, but at the moment, it was anything but.

"I broke the potty," Dane wailed. "It hurt Joey and Patty and Roger. I hurt them."

Lily sighed, feeling helpless and angry and miserable all at once. Helpless that she couldn't make her son's life easier, angry at the genetic twist of fate that had granted him such extraordinary powers before they could be anything but a bane, and miserable that Dane was finally at an age where he understood all too well the cause-and-effect relationship between his powers and the accidents they caused. Dane had seemingly always understood that touching things he wasn't supposed to was a Bad Thing. But now, his appreciation for the pain and damage he could cause was growing acute.

"Did you mean to do it?" Lily asked him, reaching out to wipe a tear from his left eye with her right thumb.

"No," Dane replied in a whisper that was close to devolving into sobs once more. He tried to shake his head, but the nurse now had a gentle grip on it and Lily held his hand and tried to keep him making eye contact with her as the doctor moved in.

"Then it was an accident," Lily told him firmly. "Don't move, honey. Let the doctor fix your cut."

"Joey's mommy said I was bad," Dane contradicted, tears welling up. Doctor Kalvecky wiped them away with a gentle hand before continuing to clean the gash. "She yelled at me."

"Well, she was wrong and I'm going to yell at her," Lily told him, feeling a sudden wave of fury crest. How dare she? Joey Huang was a beta-level energy producer and his parents knew damned well what sorts of things happened. All of the kids in Dane's group were either energy producers or absorbers, although Dane was the only alpha in the six-pack.

Lily's resentment was strong enough to carry her through Dane's heartbreaking cries as his forehead was stitched up - twenty stitches in all. A warm, wet cloth got most of the blood off of his face and some out of his hair, but not all. Doctor Kalvecky joked with Dane as he took off the boy's shirt, checking for additional wounds. But Dane was in no mood for humor.

"It looks like he threw his arms up to protect his face," Kalvecky explained to Lily as he showed off the abraded backs of Dane's forearms. "I'll clean them off and cover them up now, but you don't need to worry about doing it after today. This is just me being cautious and taking advantage of Daniel's... temporary willingness to follow doctor's orders. Just make sure he keeps his arms clean until everything is nicely scabbed over and there won't be any problems."

Lily nodded, smiling for Dane who was obviously looking to take his cues from her. His crying had petered out most of the way through the stitching as the doctor had finally gotten him to sing along to Old McDonald after a particularly vivid cow impression. A sniffle escaped every once in a while, but Lily suspected Dane had pretty much cried himself out.

"The energy blast... I'm gathering this isn't the first time?"

"No," Lily agreed with a sigh as the doctor looked over Dane's pants before gesturing for the nurse to hold Dane up so that they could check his legs. "They've been happening pretty much since we started potty training. Best anyone's been able to figure out is that the whole 'holding it in' concept is what's causing them. But this is the first time serious damage has been done."

"You take precautions at home?" Kalvecky asked as he helped Dane refasten his jeans. There were no cuts on his legs.

"Oh, yeah," Lily breathed out as Dane was permitted to flee to his mother's arms. She leaned up against the table so that she didn't have to bear his weight. Dane was three, too big to be carried and held for very long no matter how much he needed it. "Place is wired with everything and more. He's low voltage at home."

"Has there been any attempt to train Daniel in the use of his powers yet?" The nurse asked, looking up from the folder. "It says here that his father is an alpha-level plasma producer."

"My husband is... missing," Lily explained, surprised at how uneasily that came out. After almost four years, Lily had explained it often enough. Perhaps it was simply a matter of the moment, standing here with Dane's blood-soaked shirt in her hand and her son trying to bury himself in her side.

"Missing... ah," the nurse cut himself off, a blush spreading across his pale features as realization set in. "I should have made the connection right away. My apologies."

"Not required," Lily replied with a shake of her head, her attention turning to the doorway where another nurse was now standing.

"Mrs. Summers?" She asked cautiously. "I'm really sorry to have to do this to you now, but I need you to fill out a few forms..."

"I'll be there in a moment," Lily replied, turning her attention back to the doctor. "Is there anything else you need to do?"

"We already checked for concussion," Kalvecky replied, standing up and walking over to a cabinet. He pulled out a light blanket and handed it to her. "So you don't have to put his shirt back on."

Lily thanked the doctor as she accepted the blanket, looking down at her own shirt, bloodstained as well, and at the still-clinging Dane. "You ready to go home, kiddo?"

Dane nodded into her chest, turning only when the nurse called his name and offered him a lollipop for being such a good boy. With one hand occupied with the lollipop, Lily was able to pry the other one off of her shirt and wrapped Dane up in the blanket before re-shouldering her purse and picking him up. Thanking the doctor and nurse, Lily went across the hall to the nurse's station and let Dane sit on the counter as she filled out the insurance forms.

Twenty minutes later, after a quick chat with the teacher who had accompanied the ambulance to the hospital and with a sleepy Dane in her arms (they had given him a mild sedative, it was explained, once they had determined that there was no brain injury), she headed towards the exit. Lily was relieved that the swaddled boy in her arms covered up most of her own mess - it would be disconcerting for the people still in the waiting room to see someone covered in blood.

As she turned around to back through the doors to the waiting area, Lily saw Joey Huang's mother approaching. Checking to see that Dane was too groggy to appreciate what would probably happen, she steeled herself for the exchange.

"Don't say a word unless you're coming to apologize to my son," she said as the small woman drew close with obvious anger in her stride and hands balled into fists. "Because otherwise it is going to be very fortunate that we are already in the emergency room. How dare you yell at Dane. How dare you. He's three years old and he can't control himself. You're supposed to be the grown-up, so what is your excuse?"

"He nearly killed my son and three others. He's dangerous."

"He didn't nearly kill anyone," Lily retorted with a snarl. "And he's not nearly as dangerous as I will be if I find out that you've even looked at my son. Trust me on that."

With that, she pushed through the doors, turned, and walked purposefully through the triage area and waiting room. She didn't realize she was shaking with anger until she had put Dane into his car seat. Standing up again, she leaned her hands against the roof of the car and took a deep, jagged breath. The surge of emotion that she knew was coming was starting to eat at her control, so rather than lose it completely in the hospital parking lot, she closed the door, opened her own, and headed home.

Dane was awake enough to walk into the house and Lily chose to make the most of the opportunity and took him into the bathroom to wash off the rest of the blood. She had to be careful because of the stitches, but managed to get his hair cleaned and toweled him off before Dane got too lethargic to be of any help. She put him down to nap and then took a quick shower herself and changed into casual clothes. As she made tea, she called the lab to let them know that Dane was all right and she was taking the rest of the day off and then she took her tea into the living room and sat down on the couch, the first time she'd allowed herself to still since the phone call that had started off the excitement.

Every time she thought she was getting a handle on the single-parent thing, something else would come up to remind her of just what sort of an amateur she really was. Orly had joked years ago that Lily was making herself crazy over nothing - if the cavemen could propagate the species without the benefit of parenting magazines and social services, Lily could hardly mess things up too badly. But cavemen had social networks and Lily, as everyone was always eager to remind her, was intent on going it alone. Too intent, sometimes. Checking her watch and doing the mental calculations, Lily picked up the phone.

"Dad? Hi... Umm...We just got back from the ER. Dane had an accident... Twenty stitches to the forehead and some abrasions. He took out a urinal at daycare... Yeah, I know it's going to be really funny in a little while, but right now I'm not much up for a laugh... Once in three years with his propensity to blow out bulbs is pretty good, but... Four times? What did I do?... What was I doing with a claw hammer?... And you let me?... No, Dad, you're not convincing me that I'm a better parent, but I am gaining insight into my own resilience... Work's crazy right now and I don't know when I can afford the time to make the plans to visit, let alone to execute them... I keep telling you that, but you never take me up on it... Seriously?... Yeah, why not. She'd actually get a kick out of being down here. Lots of folks just like her... All right, just send me an email... Sleeping. They gave him something. I'm not sure how long to leave him. It's almost two here and he hasn't eaten lunch yet and I don't want him being all wired when it's time for him to go to bed... Oh, man, I have to deal with the daycare place. One of the other kids' moms lit into Dane, apparently... Oh, I let her have it. I just don't want it screwing anything up for Dane... Yeah. No, I will. I'm your daughter, remember?... Yeah... All right... I love you, too. Bye."

Lily got up, investigated what was in the fridge for lunch, then swallowed hard and called the daycare center. The supervisor was very supportive, completely understanding, and assured Lily that any problems with other parents would be dealt with swiftly. "Accidents with burgeoning powers, however traumatic they may be at the time, are part of a mutant's learning experience," Nadia Ardikayeva assured her. "And while it is our hope that no one should ever be hurt, it would be contrary to our pedagogical principles to... freak out and overreact when those accidents do happen. We sincerely hope Dane is feeling well enough to return to school tomorrow."

Dane was not terribly happy about being woken up, but Lily didn't want to combine lunch and dinner into one meal for him. His crankiness was overcome by his hunger, however, and a full stomach improved his mood enough that Lily didn't have any problems getting him to sit in his stroller - Dane normally fussed that he wanted to walk - as they went the few blocks to the grocery and then the drug store. Even though Lily treated him to a box of Creamsicles (another moment of nature over nurture; Lily abhorred them and Alex had loved them), Dane was subdued for the entire outing and barely had a wave for Mr. Lee, the green grocer who always had a treat for him.

They returned home, where Dane forewent his toy cars in favor of leafing through his books - he didn't read per se, but liked the pictures well enough to be entertained. He came into her office and sat on the floor, burbling his own versions of the stories quietly to himself as she checked her email to see what she had missed at work. When she went to start dinner, Dane followed behind into the kitchen and sat on one of the chairs with one of his stuffed animals and chattered at it and her and they sang the alphabet together while she scrubbed potatoes. Lily stopped cutting the carrots when she heard what sounded like a version of that morning's events. She had tried to get the story out of him earlier, during lunch, but he hadn't really wanted to talk about it and Lily had let it go. Now Clyde the Big Red Dog was getting an explanation and Lily felt her eyes tear up as Dane fervently tried to tell the toy that he hadn't meant to make his friends cry and he hoped that they would still be his friends. Lily sincerely hoped so as well.

Despite her planning, Lily was not especially surprised that Dane wasn't ready to go to sleep at his bedtime. He picked out the fattest book he had to be his story for the night and turned his most devastating puppy-dog look on her when it was over before asking for another story. She told him that the only story left involved subsonic flow and low Reynolds numbers, but Dane didn't cared. So she read to him from the Journal of Fluid Dynamics for half an hour before succeeding in getting him into the bathroom to wash up for bed.

The next morning, Dane was very torn about returning to 'school.' He was scared that nobody would like him anymore and he was curious about where he would go potty and he hoped that Mrs. Taylor would still let him play with the blocks. Lily was apprehensive on his behalf as well. But Mrs. Taylor was waiting for him and so was three-year-old Patty Schroeder, beta-level energy absorber, who pulled up his shirt to show off the bandage on his stomach but didn't seem to blame Dane for causing it. After Dane disappeared to put his things in his cubby, Lily checked to make sure that his teacher was authorized to give him a pain reliever should he require it. Satisfied, she went off to work and was relieved when nobody at the lab commented about how she jumped every time her phone rang.

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