White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

30/November 2012

"So how's the little Gretzky doing?" Jean asked and Alex beamed with pride at her.

"A little Gordie Howe is a bit more like it," he replied, putting his other arm into the sleeve of his jacket and picking up his backpack. "Took an elbowing penalty and a roughing penalty last night. And he scored twice. Naturally, he's more proud about the time in the sin bin. That's Lily's fault."

He'd come down to the Tower for a practice session - a solo workout rather than scaring the crap out of some junior officers - and was on his way back uptown to get some work done before Dane got home from school. They normally did their 'homework' together at the kitchen table, but it was easier for Alex to do tasks that involved his full concentration when his son wasn't around; he'd leave the maps and tables and data verification for later, when he'd be interrupted every few moments to listen to Dane read aloud or to check his arithmetic. Chronological morphology had never been his thing, but it was required for his just-completed project and he wanted to reread an old paper he'd written on methods of gathering abiotic information before writing up his report.

Jean smiled and shook her head. "Don't blame her."

A couple of junior officers walked by and made obeisances at Jean, who nodded at them in return.

"It is her fault," Alex insisted, rolling his sore left shoulder. He'd tripped and fallen awkwardly off of a short escarpment in Peru last week, an inauspicious beginning to what was a rather successful project. "All of the other mothers at least pretend to look disapproving."

Jean knew better than to argue the point. "How's the shoulder?" she asked instead. "And what happened? Scott said that you fell off a cliff."

"A very short cliff," he replied, wincing as the joint popped loudly. "Damned paleohydrologists are so focused on what the soil saturation level was three million years ago that they occasionally forget to keep track of what's going on now. As in not bothering to say 'don't stand there, the soil at the edge is too dry to support your weight'. But it's just a bruise and I got back at them by melting the catches on their toybox."

Jean raised an eyebrow. "And Dane turning into a little hockey goon is all Lily's fault, you say?"

Alex shrugged with his good shoulder and tried to look guileless.

"I gotta tell you, though, it felt great being out in the field again," he said when Jean's look of disbelief only grew. "Not sitting safe inside at the computer and looking at satellite pictures and computer models. I'm so sick of AirSAR."

"Big surprise there, Mister Former Superhero," Jean snorted. "Was this for your post-doc?"

"Nah," Alex sighed, moving with Jean towards the window as they could hear the dissonant footfalls of a group of people approaching. A gaggle of first-year cadets, presumably here for a class, walked past.

"That involves a lot of sitting around looking at satellite pictures and computer models," he explained ruefully. The post-doc hadn't been his idea; it had been Frohmeyer's. His former advisor had explained that it was getting harder and harder for a geologist to get good field opportunities without being affiliated with a university. And Alex had been gone too long for his own accomplishments to stand on their own without some more traditional academic credentials to buttress them. Hence the postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth. That he was the Nexus of All Realities and still needed to polish up his CV to be employable amused Lily to no end.

"This was a job audition," he went on. "My old advisor felt pity on me and got me an interview with Hastings-Farraday, which is a super-specialized geological consulting firm. They help clean up massively funded projects that are going badly - when it's too late for the team to save face and all you can do is save part of your investment, you call them. They're like the Delta Force of geology. They cater mostly to museums and government agencies; universities would usually rather lose the cash than 'fess up to blowing it."

Jean rolled her eyes knowingly and Alex gestured that he knew she knew what he was talking about. Jean was very much involved in the Academy's management and could easily be sparked into a rant on the bureaucracy of education.

"Oh, yes, universities would rather do a lot of things rather than confess to being wrong," she muttered darkly. "I'm working with twenty-five kids at four different colleges who are getting shafted because the registrar's computer system didn't have a code for ROTC and won't put Academy classes on transcripts despite agreeing that they belong there."

It had been decided that college degrees would be required for service in the XSE, although many of the current corps were being grandfathered in. Cadets who hadn't already been through college were enrolled jointly in the Academy and any of a long list of local schools. Setting up the program had involved a massive amount of work and Alex and Lily, the academics, had been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of most of the Tri-State area colleges and universities to participate. The three Ivies within acceptable travel distance - Columbia, Yale, and Princeton - had all been among the first to sign on. Perversely, it was mostly the third-rate local private colleges that had balked; a relatively small inconvenience as the Academy was sending few students to them but an affront on the more basic level as the refusals were openly assumed to be because of anti-mutant sentiment.

"Anyway," Jean said in a determinedly cheerful voice. "Do go on."

"So they packed me off to Peru to help bail out the Instituto Geográfico Nacional," he complied. "I did well considering that paleo-anything isn't really my thing. They'll probably hire me as a stringer until I get a real job and then maybe I can get a spot on the permanent roster. At least I hope so."

"They'll hire you only after you get another job?" Jean asked, screwing her face in a mask of confusion.

From down the hallway, towards the training rooms, someone could be heard yelling. A door opened and the voice got louder and it was all the two of them could do not to wince in sympathy as Domino's harangue became clearly audible. Apparently, her session was not going well. A senior cadet came running from the room, past them, and on to the stairs without even looking up and Alex and Jean exchanged mystified looks.

"It's not full-time work and it looks fancier if I can put an affiliation after my name." He made a face to indicate that yes, he understood it sounded petty. "The bureaucrats whose millions I'm saving like titles, so..."

"So you're finally bowing to The Man and getting a real job?" Jean asked, a wicked grin playing on her face. "Your days of fighting the establishment are over?"

"I was what, twenty-two when I said that?" Alex whimpered. He hated telepaths. They all had memories like elephants. "Why do you always remember every silly thing I did as a kid?"

"Alex, you're technically forty, your body is thirty-five, and you look young for that," she told him sternly, waggling a fingertip at him. "I'm forty-two and feel sixty and I'm about to run a group session with Sam, who still looks twenty-five. If I want to relive the halcyon days when I was young and carefree and didn't have a more intimate knowledge of the process for accreditation of a university-level facility than I do of my own husband, I am going to do so."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Don't do that," Jean growled in frustration. "I have enough fresh-faced little cadets doing that to me."

Alex laughed.

After a few more minutes of chatting - Jean informed him that the twins had become little celebrities at the Academy after their debut in the course on psi-shielding - they realized that the hallways were slowly filling.

"I guess I should go and get changed," Jean said reluctantly. "I want to look my best when I run Sam and his little tactical team into the ground."

Alex snorted. It was a psis-versus-headblind training session; Sam had the strategy advantage, but Jean's telepathic power was really a lot stronger than most people realized and it would be an interesting exercise.

They said their goodbyes and Alex headed home.

There was a message on the machine from Joe Perotelli for Lily; he suggested that she come up with a syllabus for a course in chronography as it applied to fluid dynamics. Alex saved the message, not sure why Joe would have called the house instead of Lily's cell. She was formally applying for the position at MIT; it was a job he'd always known she'd be interested in pursuing and there were enough universities in and around Boston that he'd have a decent selection from which to beg a job of his own if MIT didn't end up offering him something as a sweetener to Lily.

A few hours later, Alex was faced with a horror greater than the search for employment: the calendar of weekends for which students in Dane's class could sign up to be responsible for the class guinea pig. Alex had no desire to foster parent a guinea pig. He was sure Lily wanted it even less. But Dane was looking at him with saucer eyes and discussing where in his room it could go and Alex chided himself for chickening out by telling Dane that the decision would have to wait until his mother got home.


"So this is it. The last blue one on the disc. No refill in the drawer."

"Should we have some kind of ceremony or something?"

"To commemorate my last birth control pill? I wouldn't go that far."

"You do realize that our luck being what it is, now that we're actually intentionally opening up the possibility of having another child, it's going to take us a while."

"What are you talking about? Look at your brother. Look at your nephew. Look at yourself. I'm going to end up getting pregnant before I'm supposed to be able."

"That's what I mean. Nobody else was trying. The Summers clan is all one giant accident."

"While that really goes quite a bit towards explaining your family, I'm not putting too much stock into that holding true."

"Time will tell, I guess."

"I guess... Although..."

"Second thoughts?"

"I'm just thinking that my timing could have been better - we have Clare's birthday party next weekend and a house full of screaming children isn't exactly going to make me feel all warm and fuzzy about our decision."

"I think the timing is very good - had the party been last weekend, you'd have gone to the drugstore to refill the prescription the day after. Besides, it can't be as bad as being a parent chaperone on a kindergarten field trip."

"You're still not over that, are you?"

"The trauma's going to last a while, I think. Five of them burst out crying when we went to see the Blue Whale. They thought it was going to fall on them."

"Dane's always more disturbed by the squid."

"Dane's bravado below the squid was admirable. Probably related to a certain brunette named Roberta, but admirable."

"Like father, like son."

"Hey!"

"Go ahead. Deny it. I dare you."

"..."


"You know, in all the years of fighting, I never thought that this would be the reward," Scott said quietly as he walked towards where Alex and Piotr were sitting. He pulled up a lawn chair and joined them at the edge of the grass closest to the boathouse. "It wasn't that I was so sure I was going to die or anything, but I never dreamed of another generation. Of us bringing that next generation into the world."

The X-Men had had to be on call all the time, but XSE officers were on a regular schedule and that meant not only duty rosters but also official days off. As a result - or perhaps even as overcompensation, Alex thought - everyone was now living spread out around the northeast instead of clustered at the mansion. But the distance was still unfamiliar and almost any event would be used as an excuse to bring the families together. It was Clare's seventh birthday party, but Scott and Jean had organized the gathering at the boathouse ("she's our granddaughter," they had pointed out) and Alex had been slightly awestruck at the sheer number of children present. Although apparently he wasn't the only one so awed.

"It is our reward," Piotr replied, not taking his eyes off of the free-for-all soccer match being played on the other side of the lawn from where they sat. Piotr's three - Diego and Tania currently had a brother Patrick - were joined by the Logan twins, Dane, Nate and Alison Guthrie, Clare, Harry Wisdom, and Inez and Maria Drake (Bobby and Cecilia having followed Piotr's lead and adopted abandoned mutant children) in a rather rambunctious game, complete with frequent complaints of the use of telekinesis to cheat and Clare insisting that it was her birthday and she could cheat if she wanted. Bobby was the unfortunate referee and every time he'd look towards them seeking rescue, Alex would smile and wave. And not budge.

"A gift," Scott mused. His voice sounded different and Alex looked at him. Scott was facing the other direction, watching Colin and Ray play silently together. They were building some sort of dirt castle.

"Hey guys," Scott called to his sons and they looked up, heads tilted at precisely the same angle in matching expressions of curiosity and interest. Alex tried to squelch the uncomfortable feeling of weirdness that ran through him every time the twins did something like that. It was like it was out of a movie. The Logan twins, whom Piotr affectionately called 'unique' and everyone else called the very obvious results of the admixture of Sulven and motherhood, had never been so attuned to each other and disinterested in everyone else.

"Why don't you go play with everyone else for a little while? The dirt's always going to be here."

The twins were three and had quickly mastered every skill set they had needed - according to Jean, even potty training was going blissfully well. And they could talk aloud - Alex had had an interesting conversation with Ray about toy cars the other month - but they simply didn't see the need to interact with anyone else on a regular basis. Scott had said something about sending Ray, the non-telepath, to regular pre-school next year just to force the two of them to look outside themselves.

Colin and Ray just blinked, then went back to their dirt castle.

"Or maybe not," Scott sighed and Alex didn't know what to think at his brother's bemused resignation. "They say they're happy."

While Piotr and Alex had been talking about everything and nothing - public schools, Sarah Marrow's persistence in trying to get Callisto to do a videotaped oral history of the Morlock tunnels, Alex's forthcoming article in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and the rumor that two of Piotr's oil paintings were going to be acquired for display by the Museum of Modern Art - the three men seemed to find the relative quiet comfortable and watched the dozen screaming children chase the soccer ball (and Bobby) across the lawn without much talk.

Fatherhood agreed with Bobby in a way that Alex suspected surprised a lot of the others. It had surprised him a little, too, but only until he'd really thought about it and then it had seemed obvious. Adopting Inez and then Maria hadn't sobered Bobby any more than marriage had - and that hadn't. But it had changed the depth of his mirth, had made him more aware of what amused others. Being with Cecilia had made him more aware in general, but now he was less clownish and, in fact, a funnier man. Which was remarkable for the head of the XSE's budget and accounting offices.

Despite the ice goalposts being at the other ends of the lawn, it was only a matter of time before the ball came speeding towards the trio. Before either Piotr or Alex could say anything, Scott raised his hands to his glasses and gave the ball a quick optic blast, sending it speeding into the pack of onrushing children much to their delight and Bobby's disappointment - he had been exhorting the children to kick at the adult they were most closely related to.

Eventually Kurt came out to join them and the quartet was soon involved in a discussion about New Lands politics. A case was before their highest court concerning alleged anti-baseline human bias in the New Lands civil service; the four of them thought the case was frivolous and should be thrown out - the complainant had inferior credentials to the mutant he'd been passed over for - but Kurt wondered if it was not a no-win situation for the New Lands. To dismiss the case would raise accusations of more bias and favoritism, to grant it merit would legitimize the unworthy claims of a bitter candidate who had simply not been the best available person for the job.  It was too close to the race politics that plagued other nations, Kurt suggested, and there would be no clean way to end the situation.

Personally knowing two non-mutants who had found successful careers in the New Lands - his wife and Ji-Won - Alex found the whole mess extremely unappealing, even as he ultimately agreed with Kurt. There were too many similar situations in the various realities that he'd been in - anti-mutant, ant-human, the desolate reality where the entire Earth had been subjugated as a prison colony. As the conversation started to drift towards Betsy Braddock Worthington's recent appeal before the WHO for international standards regarding the care and treatment of child psis, Alex excused himself. With all of the kids still outside, there was a dim chance that one of the bathrooms would be free.

On his way back outside, Alex was intercepted by Nathan.

"A moment, Alex?" Nathan asked, gesturing towards the currently unoccupied den. Alex followed.

Nathan sat down heavily in the chair closest to the window. The bright afternoon sun did nothing to cover up his pallor, Alex noted.

"What's up?"

His heart sank as Nathan sighed before speaking.

"You remember what happened in the realities you visited, correct?" Nathan asked, making it sound like a test question. Alex nodded. "Do you know if a reality can be reproduced?"

Alex made a face. "Realities don't repeat," he replied, sitting down on the couch adjacent to Nathan's chair. "You can't possibly line up all of the factors that make a reality unique and recreate them. It's not like cloning a sheep or a baby... Err. Sorry."

Nathan seemed to ignore the Stryfe reference. He was visibly tense and while everyone else seemed inclined to pass it off as a headachy psi in a house full of children, Alex was sure that it was something much more serious. Lily had been putting in too much overtime and coming home too stressed for him to accept the first convenient excuse of it being unrelated to 'business.'

"Realities operate in a higher dimension than the timeline," Alex went on when Nathan's silence grew. He was staring at the floor, Alex thought, or his shoes, or off into space. "Like two-space versus four-space. There are too many variables... at least I've never come across anyone or anything that's even bothered to try it. Why?"

"How many realities were you in where Apocalypse was a factor?" Nathan asked suddenly, looking up at him with an intensity that forced Alex back in his seat.

"Actively running around?" He rifled quickly through the mental Rolodex. "Three, four, maybe. A couple of times I had my suspicions, but he was never positively identified. One where he had a cult but was otherwise missing. That one was pretty weird; he'd stuck with the Egypti..."

"What was the cult like?" Nathan leaned forward, pushing himself towards the edge of his chair with his cane. There was a brittle frustration to his voice, Alex noted, aimed partially at himself, partially at the situation, and perhaps partially at him for being the Nexus of All Realities and not being able to immediately follow his mental trail. "How did they operate?"

Doing his best to ignore Nathan's agitation and what it could mean, Alex screwed his face up as he remembered the details. "Egyptian-like. He called himself the Eternal Pharaoh, or at least that's what his cult called him. They all had blue scarab tattoos and called each other 'brother'... And now I'm going to repeat my earlier question and actually expect you to answer: Why?"

The den door slammed shut from a telekinetic shove and the shades over the windows fluttered at the sudden change in the air patterns.

"The Scions of the Morning Fire are collecting artifacts that were required for the awakening of Apocalypse," Nathan said seriously. "En Sabah Nur is going to be back in this reality, probably as a cloned child to be raised in his predecessor's image."

Alex tilted his head dubiously. "You're sure this isn't simply setting up an altar to an absent god?"

Nathan growled, his eye glinting dangerously bright. "Of course I'm sure. The time stream is clear on that part."

Alex stood up, not wanting to be eye-level with Nathan and be glared at. It was disturbing and it was annoying. Instead, he rolled his neck and then his shoulders and walked to the other window. He could see Scott, Piotr, and Kurt still talking, although the children were nowhere to be seen. And it dawned on him that nobody else knew what was going on else they'd be here with them. Maybe Lily did, but simple professionalism kept her from speaking about it. But Scott, Bishop, Sam, Kurt... did Domino know what was going on?

"Could it be one from another reality? An import?" He asked, knowing the answer. He'd have felt it if it had. But before he committed to taking part in any of Nathan's schemes, he wanted to know precisely how good the information was. Because Alex was sure that he was going to be asked to make some very hard choices and he would be damned before he'd risk losing this reality on a shot in the dark.

"No," Nathan replied, sounding almost relieved. "The chaos doesn't happen immediately. It's a longer-term process, a steady escalation."

Alex nodded understanding and leaned against the bookcase nearest the window. An adult Nur would explode onto the scene. "So if we're looking at Apocalypse Redux being a sure bet, what is the time stream not clear on?"

He didn't pay any especial attention to XSE daily matters; his only real involvements were his training sessions and his status as an emergency reserve member. He had lost the fight to not be Commander Summers should an emergency arise - it wasn't a question of his participating, he was, but of carrying a field commander's rank. Alex did not doubt his own command skills - he probably had more experience there than anyone but Nathan or Bishop - but he didn't like the idea of swooping in in the middle of a crisis and trying to command someone else's troops. That was just asking for casualties.

"It's not clear what happens to the new Nur." Nathan turned towards the window suddenly, as if he had seen something in his peripheral vision, before turning back to Alex. "Apart from the fact that whoever ends up with him ends up with control of the time stream."

Alex pushed himself off of the bookcase without unfolding his arms. "Whoever ends up with him...? You want to recruit En Sabah Nur's clone?"

"What I want is irrelevant," Nathan snarled, banging his cane on the ground with anger. "If the choice is between undoing the Merge and raising the Nur-child myself, there is no choice!"

"I'm not arguing that," Alex snapped, turning back to the window. He'd never liked the way Nathan got petulant in a crisis, like a child stuck playing with toys meant for younger children, and it was all he could to turn away rather than give in to Nathan's frustration and snarl back. "I don't know why you aren't working to prevent the clone from being hatched in the first place, that's all."

"We can't," Nathan muttered, obviously trying to scale back his emotions. "The details aren't materializing. We can't get a fix on them. A cloning facility should be obvious near Akkaba, but we haven't found one."

A few months ago, when Nathan had dragged him into his office at the Tower, he'd told Alex person-to-person that he'd be needed. "I need you to think about what you can do as the Nexus of All Realities instead of just what it takes you away from," had been the words. Alex hadn't forgotten them. Quite the contrary, they had rattled around in his mind ever since, an unhappy specter of what lay ahead. In the early days of his return, Alex had kept himself sane by insisting that the worst was over, that his hell had ended and he was back where he had started and where he wanted to be. But even then, Alex had known that that wasn't the truth. It wasn't over. He wasn't sure it ever would be.

"Why am I here, Nathan?" he asked simply. "Why am I here in a room with you when the entire XSE command is celebrating your daughter's birthday in blithe ignorance of the danger we're all in?"

In all of the times he'd been properly identified as the Nexus of All Realities - which was really only a couple of times, although he'd been outed as not being the 'real' Alex Summers more often - nobody had ever attempted to kill him permanently. He wasn't sure it was possible, even, and the thought of being truly eternal scared him like nothing else could. No rest, no heaven, no peace, just a timeless drifting from reality to reality with no stopping point planned.

"Have you ever taken anything with you between realities?" Nathan asked instead, sounding almost conversational. "Do you think you could?"

Logan could get maudlin and start talking about the fatigue of being so hard to kill and how he was grateful he didn't have most of his memories so he couldn't be sure how long he had really been roaming around. But Alex did remember everything and wasn't sure there was such a thing as an amnesia that was good for the entire multiverse.

Unlike Logan, he didn't get maudlin when he thought about the persistence of his survival. He got cold, frozen from within. What could he have possibly done, what sin could he possibly have committed that his punishment was to roam the multiverse as guardian and ghost, the singular constant in every reality, both possible and impossible?

"Alex?"

He shook his head to clear his thoughts and looked back at Nathan, who was watching him.

"People, sort of." He frowned at both the question and its answer. "If I time it right. Which means we both have to die at the same moment..."

It had been an accident the first time, he and a young fighter - probably that reality's version of one of the Gen X kids - had been trapped and cornered and then killed in the same explosion. He had been reaching out to try to shield Tara from the blast and had woken up next to her in a hospital. She'd wanted to travel with him, be a companion like some weird version of Dr. Who, but he'd left her in that second reality after he'd gotten himself killed in an ambush. It had been for the best, he'd subsequently discovered.

The first time he'd tried to make a transfer intentionally, it had failed. Badly. It hadn't been the only choice, just the most convenient one at the time and Alex had been sickened by realizing that he had killed someone (even it had been an enemy) through such painful and gruesome means when it had been avoidable.

The first successful attempt had been dragging a Jean with him - they had been running for their lives, the last and only survivors of a Resistance in a reality where Hitler's grandparents had immigrated to America and he had risen to power as a Father Coughlin-type demagogue based in Peoria, using radio to launch himself into the public eye and his father's immense wealth to build a private lab to supplement the military once he became President. By the time Alex had arrived, experiments on mutants were being performed on the Discovery Channel and they had both known that Jean dying in the attempt to leave was a better fate than what the future held for her should she be captured. But she hadn't died and they'd ended up in a reality where the two of them had 'died' in a car crash en route to a Christmas party. It had been a reality where mutants hadn't existed and they had both been out of sorts with the sudden loss of their powers, but it had been a peaceful reality and Jean had chosen to stay there to spend her days with a Scott who had never been orphaned or suffered brain damage and had in fact gone into the Navy and become a pilot solely to piss off their father. That reality's Alex Summers had been a CIA agent and he'd died trying to break into a chemical weapons factory in Marseilles after France had suddenly pulled out of both NATO and the UN.

"It's not in body, though," Alex warned, brought back out of his reverie by Nathan's throat-clearing. "It's like how I usually move between realities - body stays, consciousness goes."

Nathan looked thoughtful and... relieved? Alex moved back to where he had been sitting. The sun had moved into his eyes and he was seeing spots. "Are you going to tell me why you want to know or you going to be quietly enigmatic and just leave me to panic?"

"I... We need a contingency plan," Nathan said, no trace of either anger or frustration in his voice. The voice of Commander Nathan Summers, who had been forced to acknowledge his limitations, and not that of Cable, who only saw everyone else's. "The timeline, should the Scions end up with the Nur-baby is... untenable. We are at the same point we were seven years ago: one chance to prevent the rise of Apocalypse."

There was a knock on the den door, startling them both. Nathan closed his eyes and furrowed his brow slightly and, after a moment, Alex could hear footsteps going away.

"Nathan," he began quietly. "I'm going to ask you this once: please don't make me leave this reality unless it's the last option. I'm not going to pretend to be brave about this; I'm scared of what lies ahead of me."

Nathan looked at him consideringly and Alex wondered if he wasn't rethinking his decision to involve him and not someone else.

"You are braver than you know," Nathan said with an oddly gentle tone. He was looking down at the floor between them - it was an ugly area rug, one of the several Jean had acquired in Alaska and Scott hadn't managed to convince her to hide - and Alex wondered if Nathan ever made eye contact when he was speaking from his heart or whether the words themselves were concession enough.

"I didn't choose you either randomly or because I was feeling uncreative," Nathan went on, looking up at Alex. The moment having passed, he was back to his professional voice. "You are the only choice. If I can't get that baby, then he has to be taken out of the timeline. Or else there is no more timeline."

Alex was about to ask a question, but Nathan shook his head and he closed his mouth and was again struck by the differences between the 'old' Nathan and the new one. Cable would have tried to glare him into silence and submission.

"Nobody else here is strong enough to protect the child," Nathan explained matter-of-factly. "I know this. Every possibility coming out of my death combined with a successful retrieval leads to the same bad end that comes out of the Scions raising the child."

"What about killing the child?" Alex finally asked, hoping the question didn't sound so ridiculously obvious in its selfishness. But it was a viable question. "Erasing him from the timeline that way?"

"Lily's provided a wide variety of catastrophic results," Nathan replied, not sounding like he'd considered the question self-serving. He sounded more resigned, as if he had known all along that none of the simple answers would work. "It had been my first thought should I fail. But the baby is such a massive nexus point that his death by violent means warps the time stream beyond recognition."

"If I take the baby from this reality, I'm going to have to do it by killing him," Alex pointed out after a moment that felt like an eternity. "Won't that do the same damage?"

"No," Nathan replied with an ugly, sardonic smile. It would have been a Cable smile except for the bitterness. "Transferring a consciousness doesn't qualify as death, apparently."

They were quiet then, and Alex could hear the faint chorus of 'Happy Birthday' from the other side of the house.

"I think they call it Hobson's choice," Nathan said as the last strains of the song disappeared. "If I die saving the child, then you can either stay for the unavoidable end of the world or you can leave and save it."

"I lose my life no matter what," Alex concluded, leaning back in his seat and rubbing his face vigorously with his hands. "Jesus, what a mess."

"It is," Nathan agreed evenly. "But I don't intend to fail."

At the ferocity of the words, Alex opened his eyes and looked at his nephew. Nathan looked so calm. As if he were simply saying that he was going to take a walk, not that he was going to kidnap a clone of Apocalypse...

"How much does everyone else know?" Alex asked. The answer was 'not much,' but he was hoping for something a little more specific.

"Enough to be helpful and not enough to be in the way," Nathan replied and Alex had to laugh. So typical. "Telling Scott and Bishop that they have been mathematically proven not to be up to the task at hand..."

It was a lame excuse, even if it was a valid one, but he wasn't going to call Nathan on it.

Instead, he stood up. "Come on, then," he said, not really wanting to think about this anymore. "If this is the last birthday party we're going to, then let's at least get cake."




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