CONTINUITY: Set a little while after 'Make It Okay, which was the third in my so-far-untitled (although I rather like Sash's 'oreo cookies' ;)) series about these two.
WARNING: Swearing, m/m stuff which doesn't include explicit sex, lack of happiness and light in many places and Summersness.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Mel, Kael, JB, Cosmic Girl and more for betas, encouragement, plotting and tolerance... and Matchbox 20 for practically writing the last half for me. Thanks, Rob. :)
- 'Cry Ophelia', Adam Cohen.
"Anybody home?" Sam sounded tired and disgruntled.
"Just me." Alex took a quick drink of milk and padded
back out of the kitchen. Then raised his eyebrows at
the graze along his lover's cheek, stark against
exhaustion-lightened skin. "What happened to you?"
"On of Cable's compulsive no-powers training sessions.
Then the ground." Sliding out of his coat and
letting it fall on the floor behind him, Sam took a
step forwards and collapsed onto the couch with a
groan. "And then, after the ground had finished
happening to me, mah teammates happened to each other.
So Ah'm hiding where they can't try to drag me into
"And I can baby you outrageously?" Alex smiled a
little, some of the instant concern lifting. If Sam
was still joking, nothing was seriously wrong.
"If ya wouldn't mind." Lying down across the full
length of the couch, Sam managed to kick his shoes off
and whimpered a little bit more. "Ah _hurt_..."
"Then don't settle down there, you'll just get stiff
and hurt even more." Reaching down, Alex snagged one
hand and tugged it gently. "Come on. I'll clean that
graze up for you, then you can go lie down on the bed
and I'll make a big fuss of you."
"Ah don't wanna get up..." But he did anyway,
allowing himself to be towed to the bathroom and be
dabbed with disinfectant. It was more pleasant than
he might have expected. Medical supplies intended for
a small child were chosen on the basis of what
wouldn't sting, and the bandaid Alex stuck gently over
the worst of the cuts on his hand had Snoopy on it.
Alex resisted the urge to kiss anything better. He
doubted it would work on someone over ten. "Anything
"Nope. Just bruises, and every single muscle in mah
"Poor baby." Alex stood up and stretched, absently
shoving things back into the appropriate cupboards.
"Exactly. Now help me up, mah legs are going
stiff..." Sam winced and tried to straighten his
Reaching down to take the pathetically upheld hands,
Alex easily pulled the lighter man to his feet. "I
can fix that too. Go lie down, I'll find it."
Tottering towards the bedroom, Sam wondered what 'it'
was and tried to think of a part of his body that
didn't hurt. He eventually decided that the soles of
his feet and his ears were fine, and the bed was
It couldn't have taken more than a minute for Alex to
follow him, but Sam was already half-asleep. He did
open one eye and look doubtfully at the battered
plastic bottle, though. "What's that?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
"Animal, vegetable or mineral?"
"Not a clue, Forge gave it to me ages ago. I suspect
it's Chinese, but who cares? It works like nothing
else." Alex grinned. "Now take that shirt off."
"Easy for you to say." Wincing as the muscles in his
arms and shouldes complained, Sam tossed the shirt
aside and flopped back down. "As long as Ah get to go
"If you absolutely have to, but it'll ruin the fun."
Alex tipped a little of the liquid onto one palm and
rubbed his hands together, then picked up one of Sam's
arms and began rubbing the whateveritwas into his
Gentle hands moved up his arm, leaving soothing warmth
behind and patiently relaxing tense and strained
muscles. Sam sighed. "Whatever it is, Ah love it."
The first touch cooled with the distinctive feel of
evaporating alcohol, quickly followed by heat that
sank slowly through his muscles. It was, he decided,
rather like being immersed in warm honey. Rather sexy
honey with rather wonderful massage skills.
By the time his shoulders, back, other arm and the
strained muscle in his left leg had recieved the same
treatment, Sam was half dozing in a cozy haze. He
could feel Alex stretched out beside him and hear him
breathing softly, and for a moment debated opening his
eyes. It really seemed like too much effort.
Alex smiled and brushed Sam's uninjured cheek with the
backs of his fingers. "You're very cute when you're
sleepy." He whispered it on the offchance that Sam
actually was asleep, but was rewarded with a faint,
"'m not sleepy."
"Of course not." The hand continued its gentle
exploration all of its own accord, and Alex sighed
Sam opened his eyes just enough to see what he was
doing and rolled onto his side, pressing himself close
and pulling Alex's lips down to his. His eyes were
tired but his mouth didn't seem to be, and he could
There was a lot to be said for knowing someone,
knowing their little habits and signals and noises.
Sam had been studying Alex's noises for a few months,
and despite the unusual number of them, he was getting
very good at reading them. And creating them. A
favourite half-muffled sigh made him smile, and he
tucked his head under Alex's chin as it grew wider.
"See? Not sleepy at all."
Alex laughed softly. "Liar."
"Okay, maybe Ah just don't want you to go."
"I don't particularly want to either, but I have to
finish that chapter and Scott's going to be home in an
hour." Alex didn't make any attempt to move, though.
"Damn." Sam sighed and closed his eyes again. He
couldn't seem to think of any way around that other
than random irresponsibility, and it was too selfish
to expect Alex to stay just so that he could have
someone warm to hold while he slept. "Later?"
"Definitely." With another soft kiss Alex forced
himself to slide off the bed. "Sleep well."
He didn't even hear the door close.
But if you throw a stone
something's gonna shatter somewhere
we're all so fragile
we're all so scared
There is a very good reason why one should never stir coffee with a pen. The plastic and the ink make the coffee taste strange, especially if you lick it off the pen without thinking about what you're doing. Because he had been concentrating on some surprisingly boring implications of volcanic activity, Alex had forgotten that important fact and was in the process of trying to find something to get rid of the hot-plastic taste when the front door opened.
- 'Cry Ophelia', Adam Cohen.
"Anybody home?" Sam sounded tired and disgruntled.
"Just me." Alex took a quick drink of milk and padded back out of the kitchen. Then raised his eyebrows at the graze along his lover's cheek, stark against exhaustion-lightened skin. "What happened to you?"
"On of Cable's compulsive no-powers training sessions. Then the ground." Sliding out of his coat and letting it fall on the floor behind him, Sam took a step forwards and collapsed onto the couch with a groan. "And then, after the ground had finished happening to me, mah teammates happened to each other. So Ah'm hiding where they can't try to drag me into it."
"And I can baby you outrageously?" Alex smiled a little, some of the instant concern lifting. If Sam was still joking, nothing was seriously wrong.
"If ya wouldn't mind." Lying down across the full length of the couch, Sam managed to kick his shoes off and whimpered a little bit more. "Ah _hurt_..."
"Then don't settle down there, you'll just get stiff and hurt even more." Reaching down, Alex snagged one hand and tugged it gently. "Come on. I'll clean that graze up for you, then you can go lie down on the bed and I'll make a big fuss of you."
"Ah don't wanna get up..." But he did anyway, allowing himself to be towed to the bathroom and be dabbed with disinfectant. It was more pleasant than he might have expected. Medical supplies intended for a small child were chosen on the basis of what wouldn't sting, and the bandaid Alex stuck gently over the worst of the cuts on his hand had Snoopy on it.
Alex resisted the urge to kiss anything better. He doubted it would work on someone over ten. "Anything else?"
"Nope. Just bruises, and every single muscle in mah body hurts."
"Poor baby." Alex stood up and stretched, absently shoving things back into the appropriate cupboards.
"Exactly. Now help me up, mah legs are going stiff..." Sam winced and tried to straighten his knees.
Reaching down to take the pathetically upheld hands, Alex easily pulled the lighter man to his feet. "I can fix that too. Go lie down, I'll find it."
Tottering towards the bedroom, Sam wondered what 'it' was and tried to think of a part of his body that didn't hurt. He eventually decided that the soles of his feet and his ears were fine, and the bed was gloriously comfortable...
It couldn't have taken more than a minute for Alex to follow him, but Sam was already half-asleep. He did open one eye and look doubtfully at the battered plastic bottle, though. "What's that?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
"Animal, vegetable or mineral?"
"Not a clue, Forge gave it to me ages ago. I suspect it's Chinese, but who cares? It works like nothing else." Alex grinned. "Now take that shirt off."
"Easy for you to say." Wincing as the muscles in his arms and shouldes complained, Sam tossed the shirt aside and flopped back down. "As long as Ah get to go to sleep..."
"If you absolutely have to, but it'll ruin the fun." Alex tipped a little of the liquid onto one palm and rubbed his hands together, then picked up one of Sam's arms and began rubbing the whateveritwas into his fingers.
Gentle hands moved up his arm, leaving soothing warmth behind and patiently relaxing tense and strained muscles. Sam sighed. "Whatever it is, Ah love it." The first touch cooled with the distinctive feel of evaporating alcohol, quickly followed by heat that sank slowly through his muscles. It was, he decided, rather like being immersed in warm honey. Rather sexy honey with rather wonderful massage skills.
By the time his shoulders, back, other arm and the strained muscle in his left leg had recieved the same treatment, Sam was half dozing in a cozy haze. He could feel Alex stretched out beside him and hear him breathing softly, and for a moment debated opening his eyes. It really seemed like too much effort.
Alex smiled and brushed Sam's uninjured cheek with the backs of his fingers. "You're very cute when you're sleepy." He whispered it on the offchance that Sam actually was asleep, but was rewarded with a faint, lazy smile.
"'m not sleepy."
"Of course not." The hand continued its gentle exploration all of its own accord, and Alex sighed happily.
Sam opened his eyes just enough to see what he was doing and rolled onto his side, pressing himself close and pulling Alex's lips down to his. His eyes were tired but his mouth didn't seem to be, and he could prove it.
There was a lot to be said for knowing someone, knowing their little habits and signals and noises. Sam had been studying Alex's noises for a few months, and despite the unusual number of them, he was getting very good at reading them. And creating them. A favourite half-muffled sigh made him smile, and he tucked his head under Alex's chin as it grew wider. "See? Not sleepy at all."
Alex laughed softly. "Liar."
"Okay, maybe Ah just don't want you to go."
"I don't particularly want to either, but I have to finish that chapter and Scott's going to be home in an hour." Alex didn't make any attempt to move, though.
"Damn." Sam sighed and closed his eyes again. He couldn't seem to think of any way around that other than random irresponsibility, and it was too selfish to expect Alex to stay just so that he could have someone warm to hold while he slept. "Later?"
"Definitely." With another soft kiss Alex forced himself to slide off the bed. "Sleep well."
He didn't even hear the door close.
Scott threw his bag onto the floor of the lounge and marched into the kitchen, glaring darkly. Alex watched him stamp past and shifted his pile of notes off the other half of the couch to make room. "Bad day?"
"I don't wanna talk about it."
"Okay, if you're sure."
There was the sound of a cupboard opening and a slightly muffled voice. "It's just that your universe is totally stupid, that's all. No offence, but what sort of morons are these people? Can you believe that I got yelled at for making a conscientious objection? Some people just can't take criticism. Is there any ham left?"
Scott actually seemed to expect an answer to that one. "Open the fridge and look for yourself. What were you objecting to?"
"Having my intelligence insulted, and the really one-sided protrayal of some stuff. By the way, my teacher wants to talk to you." Scott wandered back out with a lopsided sandwich which made even Alex's stomach try to climb under his liver and hide. "Why's Sam here?"
"X-Force got into a fight and he got a bit knocked around in a training session, so he came over here to sleep it off somewhere quiet. Is he awake?"
"Nope, just wondered." He put his food down on the coffeetable, put his feet up next to it and poked his father in the side. "Pay attention to me."
"Give me the note from your teacher first." Alex held out a hand and looked expectant.
Scott sighed and rumaged through a pocket. "It doesn't say anything very important, I read it already."
"I'm sure you did." Alex read it anyway, and wondered what Scott _did_ consider important. "I think I might have to have this framed, kid. I didn't expect anyone to say that about you until you were in your teens."
Scott shrugged. "I'm precocious. Are you going to go see her?" "I have to." Alex looked down at the distinctively clear handwriting most teachers of young children cultivate and sighed. "I KNOW Scott never has this problem."
"Are you mad at me?" The casual attitude faded to a more anxious one.
"I don't know yet, you haven't told me whether I should be."
"I didn't _mean_ to get into trouble, it just happened." Scott looked slightly guilty. "Again. But I really was right this time! It's not fair not to tell us the other side of the story, how are we supposed to actually learn anything for ourselves if we don't know what actually happened? If there was one thing that mom and Magneto and you and Jean and even Warren smacked into me over the years it was that there's always another side. And somebody who doesn't tell it usually has something to hide." He sighed angrily. "But when I asked her about it, she gave me this whole rant about slavery and cotton and The American Way and didn't actually answer my question."
Alex smiled. "No, I'm not mad at you. Actually I'm pretty proud."
"That's a relief, because I think she would have suspended me if she could've. I might have been a little bit rude." At the suddenly suspicious glare he hastily qualified the statement. "I didn't swear, I promise! Learned that lesson already."
"I was just a bit annoyed. I was actually almost interested that time."
"If you still want to hear the other side of it, ask Sam when he wakes up."
"Hey, yeah. Then I can go back to school and make even more tro- um, discussion." He smiled innocently.
Alex grinned. "Sam's family has soldiers from both sides, he'll probably tell you more than you really want to know."
It was probably a good thing that Scott was fascinated by history, because Sam was more than happy to share his knowledge. The conversation went right through dinner and out the other side, long after Alex had lost interest. Neither the state he'd been born in nor the one he'd grown up in really felt that strongly about the Civil War, and that ambivalence had taken root.
Sam was delighted to be asked and Scott loved that Sam explained it as clearly as possible without talking down to him, and Alex more than happy to simply watch them grow more animated while he felt deliciously possessive. Right up until he looked at the time, and had to chase Scott to bed.
"Sorry about that." Sam grinned and didn't really look that appologetic. "He really likes that kind of thing, doesn't he?"
"Oh yes. Being telepathic and having so many people who couldn't decide whether they were heroes or villains around he didn't really have much of a choice, but there's nothing he likes more than seeing why people do things. Probably a good thing he seems to be naturally moral or he might make an incredibly good villain one day."
"You know what I mean. Well usually you do. You haven't realised that me standing here like this means 'come to bed for fuck's sake, I've been working all day'."
Sam grinned and stood up. "Sorry. Don't know where mah brain was."
"You were thinking with your brain? That would explain the problem." Alex slid his arms around Sam's waist and did his best to rectify the situation. Sam's body was delightfully familiar now, fitting so perfectly up against his own. He knew all the places that were ticklish, that were especially sensitive, that made Sam suddenly forget what he was doing and clutch with none of his usual smoothness. And Alex loved that. He loved knowing, loved being able to turn knowing into moans and smiles and heat.
"I just thought of something that I don't like about having Scott here," Alex muttered against the side of Sam's neck with a sigh.
"No more sex on the floor in the middle of the lounge."
Sam laughed. "Ah don't think Ah could manage that today anyway. Maybe sometime when he's at school..."
"Something to look forward to, then." Keeping his grip on Sam's hips, Alex walked backwards towards the bedroom. Sam was more than happy to be towed. "But right now I don't really care where we are."
Sam grinned. "Don't be impatient."
"Do you know how long it's _been_?"
"Exactly. Five very LONG days. Then you came over and went to sleep."
Sam kicked the door shut behind them and slid his hands under Alex's shirt while he looked innocent. "But 'Lex, you _told_ me to..."
"I was - oooh that's nice - being selfless."
"Ah thought _Ah_ was the one being selfless, letting you go away and pay attention to that book." His voice was a little muffled by the t-shirt that was being lifted over his head, but Alex could still hear the teasing smile in it.
Sliding his hands down Sam's now-bare sides, Alex muttered between kisses along that graceful collarbone. "If I had stayed you sure as hell wouldn't have gotten any sleep."
"Ah'm starting to see that." Sam gasped as teeth grazed a particularly sensitive spot. "Not sleepy now..."
No, sleep certainly wasn't what he wanted. Moaning softly he staggered back a step as his balance and knees failed him, but his hands faithfully remained tangled in hair and shirt and pulled Alex after him. Back to the door, he pulled his lover as close as physically possible and kissed him. An impatient, encouraging, firey sort of kiss. The kind of kiss that asked very politely if one could please be screwed stupid now.
Five days was a lot longer than it used to be.
Other kisses down his chest and stomach gave their own answer, but his jeans were being pulled over his hips slower than he would have thought humanly possible and he wriggled unhappily. "Please?"
Faster now, and a kiss of a different sort. Sam hit the back of his head on the door and didn't care a bit, gasping for breath. It wasn't just Alex's hands that were always warm, the temperature of his entire body was a small but significant amount above normal. It had some implications Sam's teenage crush hadn't thought of in its wildest dreams.
Reality was much, much better. He could never have imagined that caressing heat, or the perfect complement of the way that Alex liked giving head and he loved getting it. "God..." He had to grab blindly at the doorframe to hold himself up as release hit hard, and for a second multicoloured spots danced behind his eyelids.
A rustle as Alex stood up, then those lips were against his own again and he could taste himself. Tugging away the rest of the clothes between them, they stumbled towards the bed and half-fell onto it. That made Sam groan in a much less pleasant way. "Ow... see, you made me forget Ah had bruises on that shoulder."
"Hey, you can do that _any_ time you like." He grinned and went in for another kiss, but the brief reminder of his less-than-perfect condition had made Alex far more cautious. With a growl of impatience Sam slid on top of him, got a good grip, then went down the other side so that he rolled on the undamaged shoulder and ended up pressed cozily between Alex and the bed. "Ah won't break, you know."
Alex smiled shakily. "Good, because I think I'm done being gentlemanly." That wasn't precisely true, but it was his need that was setting the pace and five days was still far too long. Sweat-slicked bodies pressed together, sliding easily into a familiar rhythm. It seemed that those bodies knew each other even better than the conscious minds did and they moved together effortlessly, reaching satisfaction at the same time and collapsing still entwined.
* * *
Alex watched Sam go in the morning with resigned regret. If only time would all run at the same pace, then he could manage, but it ambled along between visits then got up and ran like a startled rabbit whenever Sam was in the vicinity. He was pondering asking Cable to give it a firm talking to, except that Cable would just smirk and pat him on the head and tell him it was all in his mind. Nephews could be very pretentious.
"Yes, Scott?" He answered to all sorts of things from his son. 'Alex' usually, 'dad' when Scott was feeling upset or sick or sulky, and occasionally 'mom' when Scott was being absentminded.
"I don't feel good."
Alex automatically stuck a hand out to feel Scott's forhead. "You don't have a fever." The implied 'are you just trying to get out of school' was utterly ignored.
"Not that kind of not good. Like there's a, a THING, out here." He waved his hands in front of him vaguely. "It's nasty, and I don't like it. I wish it'd go away." He shifted uncomfortably, eyes slightly unfocussed. "If I could just see what it IS..."
Alex frowned. Scott's foresight had gotten clearer as he grew older, and the periods of restless activity and uncertainty from unexplained feelings had grown less frequent. He'd rather hoped they'd gone altogether, but apparently there was at least one more. "Do you feel good enough to go to school?"
Scott shook his head and wandered wordlessly towards the kitchen. Alex followed, wondering how on earth he was going to get four hours of classes and a child with malfunctioning precognition to work together.
A jar of olives was lifted out of the fridge, had a face made at it, and was put back. Scott moved on, looking at things apparently at random before sitting on the table in his pyjamas, eating dry pasta out of the box.
"Would you like me to cook that for you?"
"I like it raw."
"But it isn't breakfast, kiddo."
"There isn't anything else to eat," Scott replied testily, ignoring the fact that for once the place was actually rather well-stocked.
Alex took a deep breath. It was going to be one of the hard ones. "Would you like to go out for breakfast, then?"
"No. I'd have to get dressed." Then he dropped off the table and came over to cuddle against Alex, putting the box down. "Will you make me pancakes?"
Pancakes were one of Scott's favourite comfort foods, and the only one he was allowed to eat for breakfast. "Sure." The process of making them would distract him for a while as well, which would probably make things easier.
They were almost done when Alex finally worked out how to handle the rest of the day. "I have to go in for at least a little while today because I need to hand in some things, but I can skip the rest if you like."
"I know most of it already anyway." He looked down at Scott's slightly worried, withdrawn expression. "Would you like to come with me?"
Relieved, Scott nodded. "Yeah."
Scott thought nine was too old to be clingy when his powers acted up on him. Alex knew that it hardly mattered, since _he'd_ still be clinging when Scott was fifty. Considering that he'd be in his seventies then it might be a touch embarrassing, but he could live with that. Old people could get away with all sorts of things.
"Will Matt be there?"
"Ooh. I was supposed to have lunch with her, thanks for reminding me. I should call her..."
"You can still go, you just have to take me." Scott smiled.
"Yeah, you just like Matt because she spoils you rotten."
"And what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing. From your point of view." Alex looked up from his last pancake and waved a knife authoritatively. "Eat that, don't play with it."
* * *
Scott had adopted Matina as something between older sister and younger aunt, and the two of them got on wonderfully. Usually the two of them in a public place that served food would have been a recipe for a minor disaster at least, but Scott remained vague and restless. He couldn't decide what to eat, got annoyed when it took too long to arrive, and his conversation was starting to slip in and out of different subjects for no apparent reason.
Matt looked surprised at first, then concerned. When Scott slid off her lap, somewhere he'd never been before and now resisted leaving, and disappeared into the bathroom for a minute she leaned across the table worriedly. "'Lex? What's wrong with Scott?"
"Mutant thing." He spoke quietly. It still wasn't something about your child that you really wanted to advertise. "He's... he just has bad days with it from time to time. Trust me, it's been worse. When he was little he was nearly diagnosed as autistic once. Now he justs gets grumpy and confused, although he hasn't done it like this in ages..."
Matina nodded. "This is one of those things I'd probably rather not know about, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Just be nice to him, it's not his fault and it's not much fun for him."
"Of _course_ I'll be nice to him. I love that little monkey, Alex. I'm starting to regret not taking you up on dinner all that time ago." She grinned at him, and he laughed.
"I'd know you just loved me for my kid." He tried to look hurt and failed miserably.
"Better than loving you for your money." Matt patted him on the hand then sipped her coffee and looked innocent.
"Because I don't have any."
"Right." She paused and swirled her coffee for a moment, then looked up at him with a smile. "I still want kids like him some day."
"Thanks." What better compliment was there?
Scott came back then and climbed back into Matina's lap before speaking smugly. "I know that you were talking about me, you know."
"Because we're boring adults and obviously don't have anything better to talk about." Alex ignored the fact that that was exactly what they had been doing.
Scott smirked. "You could ask Matina about the guy she met Tuesday."
Alex pounced. He'd taken enough teasing in recent months for being 'mooky' (whatever that was), it was time for payback. "OOOOooh. Mattie, there something you weren't telling me?"
Scott nodded. "Her mind keeps wandering."
Matina actually blushed. Brilliantly. "Thanks, Scott. I'm going to remember that when you turn into a teenager."
"Tell me everything. Now."
"Good God... okay, here goes. I was sitting in the library on Tuesday morning, not studying because like that'd ever happen, but-" she was interrupted by Scott.
He suddenly sat up straight with a strangled cry, staring at nothing. "I know what it is! Dad, I have to stop Sam from-" he jumped up, then fell almost immediately and burst into tears, ignoring his frantic father and other concerned diners clustering around him. "It's too late, I missed it! And I can't find Nathan!"
Alex picked him up easily, pressing Scott protectively against his shoulder as he glared daggers at the crowd. "Shhh, it's okay..."
"No it's not!" Scott wailed. "I can't find Cable, and I can't find Sam! He's really badly hurt, I know he is 'cause I can SEE it..."
Alex's heart stopped beating and the placating nothings stuck frozen in his throat. Something had happened to Sam? Sam was invulnerable, immortal... he'd been badly hurt before and would be again. Somewhere, Alex had known that it wouldn't always just be a few cuts and bruises. He just hadn't realised how incapable he was of dealing with it. "Scott, is he going to be okay? What's happening?"
"I don't KNOW! I can't see that far!" Scott sobbed harder. "It hurts..."
"Christ." He wasn't only 'seeing' Sam, he was feeling the pain. He wasn't supposed to do that, it was dangerous! "Matt, I have to get out of here. Credit card." He tossed the slip of plastic and turned to go. He had to get away from the crowd...
"Alex, what's going on?" She sighed in frustration and called after him. "Call me then, okay?!"
It took long seconds to find a quiet corner and Scott was stil crying, alternately struggling and clinging desperately. Alex got a firmer grip and closed his eyes, attempting something he hadn't had to do in a long time. A deep breath, concentrate as hard as he could, then send the thought out with all the energy he could muster... _MADELYNE!_
The response was instant and startled. #Alex? What's wrong, you nearly deafened me.#
_I don't know! But something happened to X-Force, Scott can't find Cable or Sam and he's connected to Sam somehow. He's hysterical, and I don't know what's going on!_
#I'll be right there, don't move...#
There was a faint pulling feeling as if something was sliding though him, then Madelyne appeared in a quick flash of green. "Scott?"
Scott twitched. "Mom?" The word was a gasp between sobs.
"Sorry baby, I'm the other one, from this universe. Here, let me help you..." She rested one hand against his cheek and looked into his eyes. "You have to shut the pain out, okay? You don't have to cut the link totally, but you have to stop the pain."
"I don't know how..."
Alex felt his stomach clench, and he held Scott even tighter. He sounded so terrified and lost...
"I'll show you."
It only took her a moment, but the difference was apparent immediately. Scott gasped and then relaxed, breathing heavily. "I couldn't breathe..."
That wasn't what Alex wanted to hear. "Scotty? Do you know what's going on?"
He nodded. "I think... I've got Cable." The partial relief was enough to stop him crying, but he still clutched Alex's shirt tightly and hurried on. "He's a bit funny, but if we go to this hospital in... um, L.A., we'll find them."
"_Which_ hospital, Scott?"
"I can follow the connection, don't worry." Madelyne stepped closer, wrapping an arm around Alex's shoulders. "Nathan's awake now, and I can always find him."
The air around them blurred and there was a brief feeling of disembodied speed, then they slid out into the generic whiteness of an emergency room. Nobody seemed to notice, but Alex didn't notice them not noticing. He did notice Cable stitting in front of him, holding what was probably an icepack to a bleeding lump on his forehead.
It wasn't that Alex didn't care about Cable's wellbeing, he really did. But although injured, Cable was upright and conscious and so therefore relegated to a secondary concern. "Where's Sam?!"
Slightly unfocussed blue-grey eyes looked up in surprise, then frowned as he thought about the question. Alex bounced from foot to foot. Concussed people could be so inconsiderate. "Isheokay? Whathappened?!"
"Sam's... room. Down there." Cable waved his hand vaguely toward a hallway. "Don't know what's happening yet, doctors are still in there." He looked up at Alex, who'd apparently forgotten about the rather hefty preadolescent he was carrying and was quivering in agitation. "Still breathing, just a bit knocked around," he said helpfully.
Alex managed to restrain himself from hitting Cable. The man's accent kept slurring and he was losing track of his sentences, which indicated a mildly serious head injury. Madelyne would be very angry if he shook her son and demanded answers when he was in that condition. "Fine, I'll wait." He sat down in another uncomfortable beige plastic seat, still cradling Scott. "You okay, kiddo?"
Scott snuffled, blotchiness from crying standing out starkly on his face under the harsh lighting. "I can still feel him... he hurts."
"But he's still very strongly there. And pissed off." Cable shook his head, then winced and replaced the icepack. "Projecting all over the place..."
Scott curled deeper against Alex's chest. "This is what I was feeling this morning, but I couldn't see it properly... if I h-had I could have said, and it wouldn't have happened..."
"Shhh, it's not your fault..." Alex rocked Scott gently. "You didn't know."
"But I SHOULD have! It was right there!" Scott was working himself up to a very nice bout of hysterics as the strain of the morning, the shared pain and the worry all added up to a need to scream.
Alex slammed down a burning desire to scream back until Scott shut the hell up. It was easy to decide to be a better parent than yours were, resolve that you'd always be calm and reasonable and treat your children with respect. You didn't even think about how short your temper might be when you were trapped in a room that smelled of disinfectant and blood and waiting for someone to come and tell you if the guy you were in love with was going to be okay... Alex pulled himself up short. Had he just thought the L word?
_Of all the times for a revelation..._ But once that genie was out, there was no getting it back into the bottle. He was just going to have to deal with that too, and the fact that he might never get a chance to say it out loud. "Scott, please..."
"I couldn't see it, it was changing too much..." Scott stopped screaming and just cried instead. And cried and cried and cried, while Alex held him and stared at the floor. He couldn't cry, couldn't fall apart. Scott needed him. When his son suddenly hiccuped and wriggled desperately for a moment and Cable looked up the hallway with a sudden expression of worry, Alex still had to sit there and stay calm... and wonder if the hands on the clock were ever going to move again.
_Sam, I love you... but I hate you for doing this to him._
And Scott cried.
Alex had lost feeling in his legs by the time someone came out to tell them what was happening. He'd lost feeling in lots of places, only a few of which could have been physically found, and had almost forgotten why he was there at all as the minutes stretched out. But when the young woman in medical-green stood in front of them it all came back in a rush. He just couldn't seem to do anything more than raise his head.
"We had a few nasty moments, but he's going to be fine."
The world started again, and Alex let out an explosive breath that he hadn't even realised that he was holding. "Thank God..."
"But not for a while. His sternum was broken and there was some internal bleeding, plus he almost broke his skull. It's going to take some time for him to recuperate, and months before he's jumping off buildings after pickpockets or whatever it is you people do." She gave them a glare, in case they didn't believe her.
"But he'll be okay."
"Yes. He's lucky, within a few weeks his eyesight will even be back to normal."
"Eyesight?" Cable and Alex both latched onto that word demandingly. In other circumstances the sudden family resemblance might have been amusing.
She nodded. "Will be fine. But it's going to take a while for the swelling in his brain to go down so he's not going to be able to see very well at first."
"Define 'not very well'."
"Light and dark, maybe. Very little." She sighed. "This is probably going to be hard for him to deal with. He won't be able to move much and he won't be able to see. So he's going to need a lot of help."
Cable winced. "Oh, he's going to hate that."
Alex glared upwards through tangled strands of blond hair. "He has a name. And the word is 'blind'."
"Nobody told me his name." She gave Alex a penetrating look, then seemed to soften. "Oh, I see. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have made assumptions."
He ignored that. He wasn't in the mood for someone to go all enlightened at him. It actually would have been something of a relief if someone had called him something nasty, then he could hit them. "Can we see him?" He was still a 'we'. Scott wasn't letting go, and Alex wasn't about to ask him to.
The doctor weighed that for a moment. "For a few minutes. But quietly."
Alex shifted Scott to one hip, walking a little awkwardly. Scott was really much too large to be carried, but Alex couldn't put him down. If he did he'd fall apart in this white hallway, forget the young doctor and Scott and Madelyne and Cable and just scream... While he was being a father, while he had that human contact, he wouldn't. _You really need to calm down, Alex... he's OKAY._ But he couldn't. Couldn't take a deep enough breath, a long enough second to get away from it. He couldn't escape how he felt. The love, the fear of that love, the fear of losing it, the anger at being made to fear...
Sam was hardly recognisable. The pale, unconscious face was technically the same as it always was but it didn't look like him to Alex. Sam was always doing something - even if it was only sleeping - and he gave it his full attention. That single trait that made him a good listener and a better lover animated him in a way Alex hadn't appreciated until he looked for it and couldn't find it. Instead he found tubes and monitors and had to look away.
"Don't worry, daddy." Scott curled one small arm around his neck and patted his cheek. "He really will be okay. I know now."
"Thank you." Alex didn't know if _he_ was going to be okay. The fear that had him now... he'd tasted it before, a hundred times. But this time he wasn't in the fight, wasn't right there to cover his lover's back and protect them from an angry world. And he knew too well that he couldn't go back to fighting for the Dream. He hadn't stopped believing in it, not really. He still thought it was a nice dream. But he couldn't fight for it anymore, it wasn't worth giving up his life for anymore. Why couldn't Sam see that...
#Because he Believes, dad. That's why you love him.#
_Stay out of my head, Scott._
#No. I won't leave you alone.# Scott stayed firm and hugged him tighter. #I know you're scared, but he isn't as old as you, he hasn't done the same things... it's different for him.#
"Scott, baby... you shouldn't be thinking like that yet." Scott gave him something else to focus on, and he rubbed gently at the tearstains while the doctor frowned at the non sequiter. "I wish you didn't have to."
"I like understanding things. I like people, I like knowing them. Its important. Somebody has to know why."
"I love you." Alex kissed the little boy softly, holding him close. As long as he had that, he could keep going... as long as Scott was there.
"I know. Aren't we going to go see him? I want to... say hello."
So Scott wasn't as confident in his predictions as he pretended to be. Alex walked over to Sam's still body, hating every step. He wanted to run until there weren't any more people, then look up at the sun and let it all loose... let the heat explode out of him, and for one moment not feel anything. But Scott was still unsure, still scared. Alex could stay for that. He had to.
Scott knew what his father was thinking and, without completely understanding what it all meant, he knew there was something wrong with it. But he didn't care. He was scared and his powers hurt and he wanted to stay curled against Alex's chest, but he wanted his mother as well. His mother could make everything better. Mostly.
"Are you okay, Nathan?"
Madelyne was sitting next to him, hugging her knees. He half-knew it was because she wasn't hugging _him_. "I'm fine, just a bit fuzzy. It'll wear off."
"I didn't mean like that."
Cable paused and thought about it for a moment. "Guilty. I should have seen that coming. I just... it was stupid. We always think of Sam as being the best protected, so he's usually the one distracting anyone from going for Domino or Tabitha or Julio. But the thing with someone being a shield is that then they get hit. We're just used to it not being able to hurt him."
"Scrambler. Sam did well, considering. His power went wild all of a sudden, so he turned it off. Didn't want to risk hurting anybody. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to catch him. Normally I would have and he'd have kept fighting on the ground. Just bad luck and a cheap shot..."
Madelyne could hear the faint pride as well as the guilt. Something struck a chord. _'I'll always be there to catch you...'_ "He's something special, isn't he? To you."
Nathan nodded gently. "He is. Always has been. Never gives up, never loses faith, never believes that we won't win in the end. Knows when to run away, though." He grinned suddenly. "Like when they were being chased by X-Factor... he wasn't about to admit that I could possibly have done anything wrong, even though he knew damn well I was more than capable of it. Would have been funny if we'd known how him and Alex would end up."
"Sam knocked him out. I gather that Alex was rather pissed off about it."
"Sure sign." Madelyne nodded. "Guys. If they hit you, they must really like you."
"Oh. Well, in that case Scalphunter's desperately in love with me." He paused, then shuddered. "Ugh, I really didn't need to think about that."
"Well, it's not ALWAYS true."
Nathan nodded again and thought for a few moments. "I was scared there for a few minutes."
Cable let out an explosive breath, as if he'd been holding it in for hours. "He's immortal, not invulnerable. I knew he'd live, but... for a few minutes there, I wasn't sure whether it would be _worth_ living. Brain damage is a bitch that way. But I couldn't mention it, Alex is barely staying together as it is."
Madelyne frowned quietly to herself. Her son wasn't one to worry once he knew someone was going to recover, he'd been fighting too long to let himself waste energy that way. But Alex... Alex _should_ know better. He just wasn't managing at all, she could feel his fear and horror still vibrating like a violin string. And he couldn't let it go. "No. But don't worry, I'll... keep an eye on him."
"You know him better than I do. But if it hurts Sam..."
Madelyne smiled. "I know, you'll go all protective and snarly, relative you've spent a long time holding a truce with or not." She leaned her head against his shoulder and patted his hand. "Because Sam's your baby. Funny, I know how that song goes..."
"He's not a baby."
"He is to you."
* * *
Matt looked up from her silent phone in surprise, squinting a little as the sun shoneover the new arival's shoulder. "Oh, hi Tash."
Natasha plopped down on the grass next to her friend with a frown. "Have you seen Alex today? Because he missed a class this afternoon, and we had to hand an essay in. He wasn't here this morning, either."
"Yeah, I had lunch with him. His son was sick this morning, I think he was planning on coming just to hand in his essay." She looked down at her phone again and frowned. "But then after we'd finished eating he found out that his significant other had been in an accident or something."
"Shit." Natasha frowned worriedly. "You don't know what happened?"
"No, because the poor bastard hasn't called me yet."
"Maybe that means it was all okay after all?"
"If it was he would have come in. Plus, judging by the look on his face as he left, there's no way this can just be okay." Matina picked up her phone and brushed the grass off her behind. "Come on, you'll have to show me where your lecturer's office is."
Also standing up, Natasha grinned. "You're a nice girl, Mattie."
"I'm a big sucker. Let's go."
* * *
The anger was warm but it couldn't melt that frozen chill that had taken over so much of him. Alex looked down at the brandy in his glass and wondered why he thought its artificial heat might work better. It had been his first thought after being evicted from the hospital for the night, the doctor reapeating over and over that Sam _couldn't_ wake up until late the next morning if only because of the drugs they'd had to give him. Madelyne had dropped Alex back at his apartment, but as soon as he'd put Scott to sleep he went back out again.
For what? A bottle of third-rate brandy that wouldn't do anything to stop the cold even if he drank all of it. He'd left Scott alone for that? Alex pushed the glass away and the brandy in it remained untouched as he left the room.
Scott was sleeping deeply, Alex's entry didn't disturb him. That was hardly surprising, given the stress the day had put on both his emotions and his powers. Alex reached out to stroke the cheek that wasn't pressed into the pillow and knelt by the bed, looking at his son's face. There was something about the unblemished skin with its barely-visible hints of freckling, the long lashes that lay against it, the slight curl in the lock of pale blond hair that had slid down to brush the bridge of his nose. Something that made Alex's heart skip almost painfully and something that he wanted to hold in his hands forever.
That something had given him a reason not to give in when it had seemed that he was going mad, had given him a reason to fight when he just wanted to give up and die, and had followed him back to this world when he'd left the other. It had been a hard choice, but he'd always know that one day he would have to go home. Scott had known too and hadn't asked Alex to stay, no matter how obviously he had wanted it. Instead Alex had been wrapped in a tight hug while a small voice whispered in his ear that he'd never really be away.
And it was true. No matter where or when, Scott was still a part of him. At the end, when he'd finally had to hear what Jamie and the older Scott were telling him and admit that he was burning out, it had seemed like Scott was the only really good part of him. Then he'd started to put himself back together and found Sam in the rain, and for a time it had seemed like that beautiful happiness could spread right through his life.
But now he was cold except for the anger and when he looked at Scott what he felt was fear. Fear of that connection he'd so loved only the night before, or at least of what it might do. He was afraid of what would happen to Scott if he lost another person that he loved. And Alex was afraid that if it happened, the control that had let him pull a victory of survival out of the Goblin Queen mess would crack and he wouldn't be able to help either of them.
He was afraid of Sam. He was _angry_ at Sam. And he loved Sam too much to even be able to drink it off.
But he did carefully screw the lid back on the bottle and tuck it away in a cupboard in case he could later.
The telephone rang as he was looking at the cupboard, and he picked it up automatically. "Hello?"
"'Lex? Great, I've been getting your machine all afternoon."
"Matt?" Alex frowned, a thought suddenly resurfacing. "Shit, I was supposed to call you, wasn't I?"
"Yeah, you were. But that's okay. How's Sam and Scott?"
Settling down in the chair, Alex faced the cupboard. For some reason he didn't want to turn his back on it. "Sam'll be okay eventually. Or that's what they _say_. Of course, first he's going to spend a while being blind because of swelling in his brain and won't be able to move because of the broken sternum and internal damage. Someone explain to me how that's okay."
"Damn, Alex..." Matina paused in the way that people do when they have no idea what to say. "It means that if you can hang in there for a while it'll go away, I guess..."
"No, it won't. It'll NEVER go away." Alex pushed his hair off his face angrily, still staring at the cupboard. "Because I was so fucking _scared_. And Scott was utterly frantic, he just didn't stop crying for hours... Dammit, Matt, I finally realised that I was in love with the bastard and then I figure out that there's no way I can just live like this. It happened once, it's happened before, and he's going to get hurt again. And I won't put Scott throught that anymore."
"It never rains but it pours with you, does it?" Matt sighed. "I'm so sorry. And I really wish there was an answer, but I don't think there is."
"Sure there is. I just don't want it."
Matt paused, thought about it, and privately cursed. "It isn't really an answer, Alex. Not for you, anyway."
"You'd be surprised." How had his voice got that cynical? The cold had reached it as well. "Anyway, I need to get some sleep and go back to LA in the morning..."
"Hey, wait. I know this is a bad time to bring it up, but you were supposed to hand in a report today. I told your lecturer what was going on and he was really understanding, but you need to hand it in."
"FUCK." Alex sucked his knuckles and looked angrily at the wall, hoping Matina hadn't noticed the thump. "Okay, I'll do that tomorrow. Thanks for reminding me."
"Alex, you want me to come over there? Or stop by tomorrow or look after Scott or something?"
"No, I'm taking him with me. Thanks for the offer, though."
"Okay then. Get some sleep, you'll all be in my prayers."
"Bye." Matina looked at the phone after she hung it up, sighing at the crawly feeling in her stomach. That wasn't the voice of a man who was coping.
"Who was that?" One of the most annoying of Matina's four roomates looked curious as she munched popcorn.
"Nobody you know." Matt clenched her fist tightly and decided to ingore the woman. It was amazing how people could irritate the hell out of you just by the way they ate.
"The cute blond one you're always talking to?" Jillian smirked. "Finally getting somewhere?"
Matt turned around with a snarl, after weeks of subtle digs and allusions she'd had enough. "Yeah. Because his lover's in the hospital and his son's so utterly stressed out over it that the poor man's just about to crack. So yeah, I thought it might be nice to call in and see if anybody had died." She turned around and marched out, still fuming.
"Hey, I was just ASKING! Jeez, you're so touchy..."
Matt decided once and for all to find somewhere else to live.
* * *
Alex woke up with a gasp, sweating and cold. The room was dark, although some weak sunlight seeped in around the edge of the curtains. A glance at the clock confirmed his supicions, it was only just after dawn. He'd had maybe three hours sleep and definitely wasn't going to get any more.
Pulling his knees up to his chest, Alex wrapped his arms around himself and sighed. He could feel his nerves twanging too tightly and the panic bubbling at the edge of his mind. He knew it was there, knew that it was dangerous and knew that there was nothing he could do about it. All he could do was try to hold on and last through the next week or so, then maybe it would all turn out okay.
The thought reminded him and he tugged his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. He should go check on Scott. Except somewhow he didn't move, he just stayed with his hands in his hair and leaned forward until his head rested on his knees, clenching his eyes tightly shut against threatening tears.
_No... I can't fall apart, not yet, not now..._
He didn't know how long he stayed that way, every muscle tense as he struggled to remain in rigid control. It felt like a long time, but it was probably only a few minutes before he felt the bed shift under him and a small voice intruded.
"I'm sorry, Scott. Did I wake you up?" He pulled himself together then. He couldn't cry in front of Scott, he had to make it seem like everything was alright.
"A bit." Scott was still rumpled, the Batman shirt he slept in twisted around him a little. "You okay?"
"Fine. Do you feel better today?"
"Yeah, kinda. I mean, I can't feel anything." Scott figeted and looked up, small face sad. "Dad? Can I come in there with you?"
"Sure." It had been a while since Scott had asked that. He usually considered himself far too old for that kind of thing. As Alex cuddled his son close and watched his eyes close again, Alex mused on how sad it was that that was a good thing. Even at nine, some people would find the idea of a small boy sharing a bed with his father to be rather suspicious. Once they found out about said father's apparently flexible orientation there would be no doubt in the minds of quite a few. And that made him angry. Scott was the most important person in the world to him, without question. When had it become wrong to love your child?
Besides, judging by the possessive attitude, Scott thought he was the one doing the comforting.
Scott was still sleeping and Alex was still watching it when an unfamiliar telepathic presence made itself felt an hour or so later.
_Yes?_ He blinked for a moment, adjusting. He hadn't had anyone except Scott and occasionally Madelyne talking into his brain in a long time, the other 'voice' was surprising. _Head better, then?_
#Mostly.# There was a pause, as if Cable was speaking to someone else for a moment, then the feeling of faint presence returned. #Just passing on that things seem to be doing better this morning, but he's not awake yet.#
#Don't be an idiot. Are you making your own way here or should I wake Maddie up?#
_Just send her out here whenever she wakes up. She's bitchy if you drag her out of bed just to take you somewhere._ Alex was amazed at how calm he sounded. _I'll get Scott up and make him eat breakfast._
#Good idea. That kind of psychic stress uses up a lot of energy, but you don't necessarily feel like eating afterwards.#
Alex smiled faintly. _Maddie made you eat?_
#No. It's usually Sam's job but there were several people willing take over.# The dry tone covered the hurt perfectly and Alex wondered if the Summerse line tended to breed such good telepaths because they were so good at lying to themselves.
_I'll see you there, then._
#Naturally.# The connection faded out quietly.
Alex looked down at Scott, who was blinking at him sleepily. "W'zat Nathan?"
"Yeah. Time to get up, kiddo."
"'kay." Scott crawled out from under the blankets with a yawn.
"Wait a second." Alex leaned out and made an effort to get Scott's fine blond hair all pointing in the same direction. "You looked like you'd been dragged through a hedge upside-down."
Scott shook his head vigorously, easily undoing the attempt. "You're turning into mom." Scratching idly at his chest Scott wandered towards the bathroom, the perfect picture of a stereotypical Anglo-Saxon man's man in production.
"You're going to eat breakfast," Alex warned, feeling that his authority had been challenged somehow.
"Then you're cooking me an omlette," Scott yelled back, unpeturbed.
"More people should live in your world." Alex climbed out of bed and groped for a shirt, letting morning routine happen to him without resisting. Food and showers for both of them, forcibly administered where necessary, clean clothes dug out from somewhere and the forgotten report found again. Alex flicked through it idly, not really surprised to find out that he didn't remember a word of it. Two days can be a long time.
"Hi Maddie." Alex didn't bother returning the tease, he really wasn't in the mood. "Would you mind if we made a quick stopover so I can hand this in? It was supposed to be in yesterday but I forgot."
"No problem." Madelyne walked around until she was actually vaguely in front of Alex, given that he didn't seem to be about to turn around. "How are you doing?"
"Okay, I suppose. How's Cable?"
"Nate? Summerses have thick skulls even when they aren't half metal, he's fine."
"Good. It must be hard enough on them having one teammate out of action." He absently grabbed and redirected Scott. "Brush your teeth. _Properly_. X-Force is dealing with it, right?"
_Better than you are, hon._ "Yeah, they're managing. Worried and upset, but you have to expect that." _Unless, of course, they feel like they can't or they're not allowed to and push it away until they're nearly ready to explode._ "Are you managing, 'Lex?"
"I said I was fine."
Madelyne nodded. "I didn't believe you then and I still don't now. Hell, if I was in your place I'd be sobbing my eyes out and throwing things at walls. Or other people."
"Well, you're not me. When I have time to get angry about it, I will. But right now I don't." He could see her lips thin warningly but he ignored it and she didn't say anything more on the subject. Which was a relief, because the more his control was poked at the shakier it got.
Handing the report in helped a little, proving that at least part of his life was still rational and under control. And, thankfully, the professor showed plain sympathy and refrained from asking him too many personal questions.
That way he still had most of his composure when he had to walk through the hallways of that hospital again.
The sterility of the place grated. The overwhelming whiteness, hushed voices and unidentifiable equipment seemed designed to alienate and intimidate all visitors, to push them in on themselves so that their presence touched nothing. And he had been forced to leave Scott behind. 'One visitor at a time'. Whose stupid idea was that? Didn't they know that without Scott he didn't have any excuse for not crying?
He didn't cry, though. He sat beside Sam's unmoving body for an hour, then two, without speaking or letting the nurses that bustled in and out see how much it hurt. What business was it of theirs?
So he waited, drifting quietly inside his own head and waiting for a sigh or a twitch that would make him feel real again. And when the sigh happened he came crashing back to himself so hard that his vision swam and he gasped in air, fighting to keep in control for just a little longer.
Sam groaned, the fingers of his right hand twitching as he woke up. Alex reached out and clasped that hand in his own, squeezing it gently. "Welcome back." And somehow he sounded so calm and casual he almost didn't recognise his own voice.
"Shit, where did Ah _go_..." Sam tried to move and groaned again. "'Lex?"
Sam turned his head towards Alex and opened his eyes, then blinked and tightened his own fingers around Alex's hand, fear evident in his voice. "Ah can't see."
"Don't worry, they say it'll fix itself up witha bit of time." He sounded sure and comforting. That he could do, he could say that everything would be alright until the roof of hell fell in and be almost completely convincing. As long as he could stay in control of his own fear.
"Is everyone else okay?"
"Fine. The only ones who got hurt at all were you and Cable and aside from a nice bruise he's as good as new."
"Thank God." Sam closed his eyes again and let the faster breaths of panic wear off, lips moving slightly as he elaborated on that sentiment. "What else did Ah do to mahself? Feel like Ah got hit by a train."
Alex easily rattled off the list of injuries that had been playing on a repeat loop through his brain for nearly twenty hours. And he managed to make them sound managable, as if they hadn't haunted his sleep with their pain and terror.
Sam seemed to think about that for a moment before speaking again. "Alex?" He sounded confused and a little hurt.
"Why are you angry with me?"
"I'm not." The facade cracked, the reasonable and convincing tone of voice escaped and Alex cursed himself mentally.
"You think Ah can't tell when you're pissed by now? Pull the other one, it plays showtunes."
"Okay, maybe I am." He curled both hands around Sam's slightly cold one, holding it tightly.
"Because you scared the crap out of me. I sat in that damn waiting room for hours without knowing... without knowing what would happen. And Scott cried for the whole time, and I couldn't tell him that it was going to be okay because I didn't know if it was and he'd know if I lied." Alex kissed the hand he was holding gently. "You went and got yourself hurt and I was fucking terrified, alright?"
"That's what happens when you do what we do." Sam sounded reassured, but he wasn't making any excuses for himself. Or any promises.
"What you do," Alex corrected. He dried a few stray tears on his shoulder as he continued in a whisper to himself. "And I hate that about it."
"Ah can't help that."
"Oh, stop being reasonable. You're in pain and in hospital, you're supposed to be irrational. You can't say something to make me stop being angry because I love you and it hurts, okay?"
"Okay." Sam smiled at that and relaxed, trying to rid himself of the vertigo and faint nausea without falling asleep again. Except that he really wanted to fall asleep, because he felt dizzy and stupid and generally awful.
Unseen, Alex closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on not being angry. It wasn't the time or the place to bring it up in all its ugly completion. Better to let Sam get better and give himself some time to think before speaking the thought and making it real. Before saying that he was fairly sure that he couldn't live though those hours again, and that he _wouldn't_ put Scott throught them.
Because once he said that there were no options left.
Alex settled into a hotel room in Los Angeles, reading faxed notes and textbooks to keep up with his classes. It wasn't difficult - he'd learned most of it before, so he just read while Sam was sleeping. That was what he was doing when something he should have expected but hadn't occurred without any warning. He looked up from trying to decipher Natasha's handwriting straight into the deep blue eyes of Lucinda Guthrie.
Her identity was obvious. The wave of her hair at the front, the eyes, the set of the chin, all were the same. Alex looked at her for a moment, notes forgotten. "Hello."
Lucinda nodded gravely. "Alex."
It wasn't a question, but he nodded anyway as he glanced over at Sam. They were speaking softly, Sam slept on undisturbed.
"Um..." Alex felt a horrible need to fill in the silence, but he had no idea what to say. He knew how Sam felt about his family, but it was occurring to him that he didn't actually know much about the people themselves. Families were things you tended to avoid as much as possible if you were a Summers. But Guthries were different, they revelled in being related. So from that he could probably assume that Lucinda knew exactly how things stood between him and Sam, although he had no real idea how she felt about it. "He's been asleep for a few hours now, he should wake up soon."
Lucinda nodded and sat down in the chair on the other side of the bed, eyes patiently on her son's face.
What to say, what to say... he had to say _something_, didn't he? Something other than 'how do you live with knowing that this could happen again'. "It scares me a bit, how much time he spends sleeping. They say that it's normal and he needs the rest, but that doesn't really make much difference."
"Never does." Lucinda reached out and patted Sam's hand with gentle affection.
Alex felt the silence return. Its lack of sound seemed smug. Was he supposed to take this refusal of conversation as a comment on him personally or just that she didn't feel like talking?
The silence went on and on, Alex was starting to feel paranoid when Lucinda finally spoke again. "Sucks, doesn't it?"
Alex blinked, surprised, as she looked at him frankly. "Uh, yeah. A lot."
Nodding again, Lucinda went back to looking at Sam. "Ah'm glad you're here, though. Ah was getting worried about him."
"Why?" It was a sincere question. Sam was a subject of continual curiousity.
"He tends to shut himself off from things, from people, and he's been doing that since he broke up with Kitty a year ago. X-Force is like family, but a body needs more than family and a mission in life. You need things that are yours."
The silence returned without its previous oppressive nature as Alex pondered that. Not that Sam belonged to him, but that what existed between them did. Other people could see it, but what it was was theirs. A fragile, precious thing that was an ever-changing one of a kind. Which was why he had the problems that he did.
But when he looked, what he saw was the unhealthy pallor of Sam's skin and the drip and the quick breathing of someone sleeping through pain. And he knew that whatever happened, it wouldn't happen until Sam was better. It wouldn't be an issue until then anyway.
Alex turned back to his notes feeling faintly guilty. Didn't Sam have a right to know that he was having second and third and fourth thoughts? But Sam didn't look to be in any shape to deal with anything other than his own physical difficulties, it wouldn't be fair to add more to that burden. And, Alex had to admit, he was selfish. Because he knew it was going to hurt Sam, and the very thought of that was painful.
But he was going to have to give all those ugly, hurtful words voice at some point. And it wasn't going to be easy.
* * *
"Dom?" Sam's vision was returning, but the room was still aggravatingly blurred.
"Neither Alex or my mom are here, right?"
"Just me, kiddo."
"Good." Sam leaned back against the pillows and took a deep breath before swearing loudly and continuously for over a minute. "Ah HATE this! GodDAMMIT, why can't the stupid External crap kick in for something less than total death?!"
"Because life sucks." Domino squeezed his hand but didn't offer any more comfort than that. There was more than enough sympathy and concern around, he didn't need any extra from her.
"It does." Sam sighed and rubbed angrily at his eyes. "Ah feel so stupid for being angry, though, people keep telling me that Ah should consider mahself lucky..."
"Feel very lucky?"
"Neither do I, and in my case it's probably true." Domino sighed and squeezed again. "That doesn't mean it bites any less. You're doing pretty well in my book by not being absolutely mad already."
"Ah knew the risks when Ah signed up." He grimaced. "Doesn't make it any less easier, though."
"You'll get better. It'll take a while, but I think you could probably arrange to do most of your recuperating with Alex. Silver lining?" _And maybe that will drive out that persistent bee Mr Summers has up his arse and convince him that Sam's really okay._
Sam thought about that. "Sounds like it. Of course, Ah'll probably drive _him_ nuts."
"He's a big boy, Sam. He was dealing with teammates with broken jaws and terminal illnesses and suicidal depression since before you could go into a bar by yourself."
"Yeah." Sam closed his eyes thoughtfully. "You'd think that'd help, wouldn't you."
Watching Sam's face shrewdly, Domino asked a question in the privacy of her own head. _You don't think it does, do you?_
And, to himself, Sam answered. _Ah think he's still angry at me._ Although he was ignoring that in the hopes that as he got better it would go away. _But he loves me. He said so. And that's what counts, right?_
Alex was a vague, mobile blur on his right, but Sam turned towards him anyway, feeling better for having ranted at Domino. "Good."
There was a smile in Domino's voice as the blur that was her got higher, standing. "Let's just pretend that I made some absolutely transparent excuse to give you two some privacy, huh? Because quite frankly I have to pee anyway." She leaned down and kissed Sam firmly on the forehead. "Later, cutie."
Sam smiled, watching the blurs carefully and counting seconds until he was sure she was probably gone. "You know, Ah was never more convinced that Cable really was crazy than when he let her dump him."
Sam snorted. "Woman like that? You throw y'self around her ankles and tell her that you'll do anything she asks and worship her toes for the rest of your life if she just forgives you for being a big dork."
Alex laughed. "Should I be jealous?"
Sam grinned. "Nah, Domino's the big brother Ah always wanted for Christmas and never got. Ah always just got younger ones instead."
"Big brothers are nice when they're not irritating the hell out of you," Alex agreed.
"Little brothers are creatures of evil, trust me."
"I take offence at that."
"You would." Sam reached out, found Alex's arm and tugged meaningfully. It felt rather childish, holding out his arms and demanding to be hugged, but in a comforting way. Because every time he did it Alex would sit on the edge of the bed and hug him very gently, taking all of Sam's weight across his shoulders and holding him up so that it didn't hurt and they could stay that way for as long as possible. Resting his aching head against Alex's neck, Sam sighed. "Love you."
Roberto peeked around the door then headed back the way he'd come, fairly sure that neither of them had noticed him. Alex had his back to the door, and even if his eyes had been open Sam couldn't have seen him. So instead of interrupting he hunted around until he found Domino again and sat down next to her. "I'm still not used to that."
"Sam and Alex?"
"Yeah." He shook his head and smiled. "Not that it bothers me, it just seems... weird. Which is silly, because I knew Sam liked guys for years before this."
"Yeah, but you never actually saw it in action, let alone with someone you knew. He kept it to himself and out of X-Force. Hell, he didn't even tell me until about six months ago. And he didn't go out of his way, it sort of came up in conversation." She patted Roberto on the shoulder with one hand. "You're a catholic too, you know how he felt better than I do. Actually, now that I know I'm pretty impressed with how good you were with him about it. It was easy for Nate to be nice, there's no stigma on it where he comes from."
Roberto laughed softly. "I was never a very _good_ catholic. It was Sam who dragged my arse to mass every Christmas and Easter, how could I possibly use religion as an excuse?"
"Makes you a better catholic than a lot of people then, Bobby."
"You think?" Bobby grinned. "Cool."
* * *
"Sam!" Scott bounced over the back of the couch, landing with a thump. He hadn't seen Sam in two days, having been forcibly sent back to school. "How many fingers?" He held up three fingers, ignoring Alex's glare.
Sam laughed. "Three. Ah can see just fine except for really tiny things."
"Good." Scott patted Sam on the elbow in a friendly sort of way. "Because you get really crabby when you can't see."
"Scott..." Alex said warningly.
"He's right, 'Lex. Ah do."
"Doesn't mean it's not rude." Alex glared at his son some more. "How about you clean up some of your mess instead of being a pain, hmm?"
"Do I have to?"
Sam stepped in quickly before Alex said something that Madelyne might make him regret. "Yes."
Scott sighed. "Okay, I'm going..."
Alex tightened his one-armed hold around Sam's shoulders a little and spoke softly as Scott slumped off to unenthusiastically move the piles of his things back into his bedroom. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Sam smiled softly. "Feel a lot better for being out of that hospital. Ah hate those places."
"Me too." Especially that particular hospital. "Dinner in about an hour sound good to you?"
"Fine." He stretched awkwardly. "Ah think Ah'll have a proper shower first, too. Sponge baths sound really nice until you're actually getting one."
"Damn, there goes another fantasy."
"Well, if it had be you doing it, maybe. Ah probably wouldn't have got very clean, though."
Alex blinked at him for a second before Sam grinned wickedly. "Dirty-minded individual."
The shower was as wonderful as Sam had thought it would be. He couldn't have it as hot as he might have liked and it made the few stitches he still had sting, but it was worth it to finally feel properly clean. There was a mirror though, which was more uncomfortable than he'd thought it would be.
Somehow the straight scar of surgery seemed much worse than any other cuts and gashes he'd had before, even thought it was smaller than some of those had been. He'd also lost weight and muscle tone in the weeks of inactivity and seemed... frailer. Or maybe he just thought so because he felt that way. He could see fairly well again, except that he still couldn't read much before it got too difficult, but he still slept far more than he used to and could wear himself out by walking across the room.
He hated the feeling.
Sam turned away from the mirror and started getting dressed instead. _It'll get better. Okay, getting back into shape is going to hurt a bit, but at least you have an excuse to be lazy for a while._ The thought was comforting. Once out of the hospital it was easier to believe.
As the night continued he relaxed further. It felt good, and familiar. Cleaning hadn't even managed to dent the edges of Scott's cheerfulness; the challenge was making him stop talking for long enough to eat.
For his part, Sam ate more than was good for him and had to very carefully lie down on the couch and groan for a while when he was done. "Why did you let me eat that much?"
"It's probably good for you." Alex sat down on the floor by Sam's head, smiling teasingly. "So I take it you're going to skip out on a brisk five-mile run and just lie there for the rest of the night?"
"Yes. As long as Ah don't have to move."
"You'll get bored."
"No he won't." Scot scrambled past, grinning to himself. "Just a minute..." He returned inside thirty seconds, waving the rather worn copy of 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' that Sam had been suckered into reading to him before.
"Scott, Ah can't read properly yet."
"I know that." Scott pushed the book into Alex's hands and stole a cushion from under Sam's legs, curling up comfortably on the carpet. "Dad's gonna read it to both of us."
"I am, am I?" Alex looked challengingly at Scott, who looked resolute.
"You just have to be right all the time, don't you." Alex opened the book with a sigh.
"Runs in the family," Sam muttered with a grin.
Alex read diligently for an hour and a half, then stopped firmly and refused to be cajoled into more. "No. And Scott, you're going to bed."
"Why?" Scott looked affronted. As far as he was concerned nine was a preposterous time to go to bed.
"Because I said so." Alex yawned. "And I want to, so you have to as well."
"Ah second that. Ah'm nearly asleep as it is." Sam struggled up, not waiting for Alex to offer to help.
"Hmph." After another ten minutes, Scott eventually gave in and went to bed.
"Wow, listen to that." Alex stood in the hallway for a moment, listening.
Sam listened and didn't hear anything. "What?"
"Nothing. Silence." Alex grinned. "Isn't it nice?"
"Ah don't know, Ah kinda liked listening to you read C.S. Lewis." Sam smiled and went into the bedroom, taking the click of the door behind him as a cue to strip down to t-shirt and boxers and fall into the bed.
A minute later Alex slid in beside him and Sam cuddled close, closing his eyes with a sigh. "Ah missed this."
"Me too." Alex kissed him on the temple, then seemed to think better of it and kissed him on the mouth. It was a gentle kiss, but the first kiss in a long time that Sam felt was really worthy of the word. He returned it hungrily, opening his mouth and pressing closer.
Still holding Sam as gently as he had in the hospital, Alex brushed one hand softly down Sam's ribs. Avoiding the still-tender stomach he caressed back and face instead before sliding his hand between Sam's legs.
Sam whimpered and pushed himself down against it, surprising himself with the strength of his reaction. He was tired and his head ached and he wanted it so badly he was shaking. He didn't need to say so, though. Never had. Alex just smiled against his mouth and slid downwards. The tickle of breath was nearly enough to send Sam over, it certainly didn't take much more before he was gasping, teeth clenched in an effort to be quiet.
He was curled cosily against Alex's chest again before he had enough concentration to open his eyes, so he didn't and clutched blindly instead. "'Lex..."
"Shh. Go to sleep."
Giving in, Sam buried his head against Alex's shoulder. He wanted to sleep and forget about how scared he still was, hide himself in Alex's strong warmth just not have to think. He didn't relax until the soft stroke of a hand tracing up and down his spine sent him to sleep.
* * *
"What're you doing?" Sam padded curiously across the room. Over the last two weeks he'd almost been enjoying how long he tended to sleep as it meant that on weekdays at least Alex was up first. Then Sam could creep up on him and catch him unawares, which never stopped being fun.
"Looking at old photos." Alex shuffled over a little and Sam slid into the space next to him, looking over his shoulder.
"Who's that?" Sam pointed to one picture, but all of photographs on the page were obviously of the same baby.
"Scott. Little Scott, that is."
"Yeah." Alex sighed. "I wish that I could really have been there when he was that small... Maddie keeps telling me that I should probably consider myself glad that I wasn't, but I think she's just trying to make me feel better." Alex turned the page and stopped.
Feeling the tightening in the shoulder he was leaning against, Sam looked down. It was another picture of Scott, of course, but this one was of him and his mother. Scott was smiling gummily up at her while Madelyne laughed. "'Lex? What's wrong?"
Alex took a deep breath and flicked through the pages. "Here... look at that."
Sam looked. Scott was older, probably five or six, hand in hand with Magneto. He was looking up, a worried little frown on his face. "What about it?"
"That was a month after Maddie died."
"It was too dangerous for him to stay with the Six, Magneto kept him and Gambit's daughter in orbit so that they'd be safe. I think he also did it because Scott wasn't coping very well, and that way he could actually get undivided attention." He stayed looking at the picture, frowning slightly. "I talked to Scott a lot and he seemed fine. Then I'd talk to Erik or Rogue and they'd tell me that he hadn't actually slept through the night once and that he was losing control of his powers when he dreamed."
Sam bit his lip, semi-conscious conversation from over a month before suddenly searing its way back across his brain like a comet. "This is about me, isn't it?"
Alex closed the album and looked up, expression almost stricken. "Sam, how could I possibly justify doing that to him again?"
"Doing what? Exposing him to real life? Alex, no matter what you do, things like that will happen to him."
"I know that. It doesn't mean I have to like it." He turned away, frowning again. "Or make it worse."
"Meaning?" Sam felt himself pulling back, physically and mentally. He felt physically vulnerable enough as it was, although he hadn't admitted that to Alex. _This can't possibly be happening..._
"I don't _know_!" He closed his eyes for a moment then looked back, confused and unhappy. "Sam... I love you, but he's my _son_. And I know better than most people exactly how dangerous what you do is."
"Hasn't killed me yet." It was a cop-out answer, and he knew it. Perversely, that just made him angrier.
"Yes it _has_."
"That doesn't count."
"It does fucking count, Sam! You _can_ die, even permanently, and you might!" Alex stood up, turning angrily. "Do you have any idea how that feels? You've been doing this since you were sixteen, do you know how it feels to just sit and _wait_ for that to happen?"
"Yes." He glared back, hiding hurt as spite and trying not to care. "Ah spent years waiting for the time that Cable didn't come back, waiting for Apocalypse or Stryfe to finally kill him because he wouldn't let anybody help him. So _don't_ tell me that Ah don't know what it's like!"
"And didn't you want to stop him?" Alex waited a few moments for a denial that didn't come and then continued. "Scott knew _before_ you got hurt. Before, but not long enough before to do anything about it, and he blamed himself for that. He cried for so long because he was terrified for you and thought it was his fault... damn I could hate you for that. But I don't. I love you and I don't want to lose you." He wasn't crying. Alex hated crying in front of other people, Sam knew that. He just wasn't sure why he suddenly counted as other people.
"Doesn't look like you've left yourself many options, does it? What am Ah supposed to do to fix it all for you, Alex? Tell me that." _Please..._
"I don't know. I just know that I can't keep doing that to Scott, I can't make him live like that."
"Can't or won't?"
Alex swallowed hard. "Won't."
"At least you'll admit that much." Sam stood up, feet following a need to back away from the fight and think about it that his brain had never really authorised. But before he left the room he stopped and delivered one parting shot, one that was far more venomous than he'd intended. "This has nothing to do with Scott and you know it."
Alex flinched and looked away.
It was late and dark before they spoke to each other again. Alex went to bed over an hour after Sam did, but wasn't fooled by Sam's resolutely closed eyes as he slid into the bed. Staring at the ceiling, he spoke quietly. "I'm sorry."
Not that it made any difference.
Scott buried his head under the pillow, but that didn't help at all. Cotton and stuffing weren't much of an impediment to thought and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't block them out. The anger and hurt battered on his weak shields, whole sentences coming though every time he slipped.
*"If you want to build your whole life around one kid go right ahead, but don't expect me to play along! Dammit, Alex, when are you going to learn how to live your life for yourself, not someone else?!"*
Tears wet the sheets as he held the pillow tighter over his head. It might not stop the angry voices in his head, but it would muffle his sobs quite well.
*"You want me to chose between you and my son, is that it? And you're supposed to be the adult? Go to hell, Sam!"*
_Stop it! I didn't mean to, nobody asked me if this was what I wanted..._ Scott cried harder. He couldn't block it out; the tide overwhelmed him until he didn't know who he was crying for.
*"He's NINE! He needs me!"*
*"Well Ah don't. And obviously you don't need me either!"*
They were going to break up and it would all be his fault. Everything had been perfect until he'd moved in and now it was all going wrong... _I could MAKE them stop. I could!_ But it wouldn't last. If he stopped the fight they'd just have it again later, and worse. _I have to go..._ Rubbing his eyes, Scott ran for the door. For a brief moment as he left he could hear their actual voices. They were trying to fight quietly so he wouldn't hear them. Shutting the door quietly behind him, Scott ran until he really couldn't.
His feet hurt and he was lost, but Scott had finally managed to get himself back together. His shields were still shaky, but he didn't feel like someone was ripping him up from the inside out anymore. _Must have been picking that up from one of them... why do they do that to each other if it hurts so much? And why does this always happen because of me? Mom, Lorna..._ He pulled his legs up onto the park bench and rested his face on his knees. _I didn't mean to..._ But the guilt didn't stop. He must have done _something_, even if he didn't know what it was.
"You didn't necessarily do anything. They might blame you for it, but in the end they probably brought it on themselves."
Shocked, Scott raised reddened eyes to see who'd suddenly answered his thoughts. He looked a lot like Cable, but the 'feel' was all wrong. "Really?"
"Oh yes. When they get to that point, people will fight over nearly anything." His accent was also similar to Cable's, but there was something different about one or two of the vowel sounds.
Scott watched warily as the strange-familiar person sat down on the other end of his bench. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers, you know."
"Do I _look_ like a stranger?"
Well, he could hardly argue that point. "I guess not. Why not?"
"I've never heard of you."
"I'd never heard of you either, until recently. You know what our family is like."
That made sense as well. It was much easier in his universe, there were hardly any of them left. But over here he'd been tossed headfirst into a complex set of conflicts he didn't quite understand. This version of his mother wouldn't talk to his uncle, Jean wouldn't talk to Maddie and Cable went through times when he wouldn't talk to _anybody_... "Yeah... What bit do you come from? You look just like Cable, but without the scars."
"That's because I'm his clone. They don't like talking about me because of it, I'm a bit of an embarrassment." There was self-mocking bitterness in that, a private joke that wasn't really very funny.
"That's not very fair." As the child of a clone, Scott took that personally. "Even Alex?"
"Havok? I think he's scared of me."
"He got mixed up in a fight I was having with some of the other bits of our family. I really didn't have anything against him personally but he was taking their side and I was angry."
"Seen that before." Scott nodded sagely. When Alex had tried to defend Maddie, the other Scott had all but bitten his head off until they'd realised the littler Scott was listening. Then it had suddenly gone quiet. "Why are you here, then?"
"I was looking for you. Do you always ask so many questions?"
Scott thought about that for a moment. "Yup. Why were you looking for me?"
"Curiousity. Then I felt that you were upset, and thought I'd come and talk to you."
"You're a telepath too." Scott nodded. "I noticed that straight away, you know."
"We are a little distinctive, aren't we?" The man laughed softly, knowing that Scott didn't need tohave his thoughts answered to pick a telepath.
"Only if you know the right way to look." Scott tended to look that way first. This new family member glowed bright gold inside his head, but in a strange way. It was more like a seamless cocoon than a glow, as if he was carefully making himself separate from everything else. Then again, when she was really upset his mother sometimes did the same thing. Maybe he was having a hard day as well and had just wanted someone to talk to.
"But you're not just a telepath. What else can you do?"
"I'm precognitive. And sometimes other weird stuff happens, but we're not sure exactly what that is."
"I thought so." The not-Cable appeared delighted to be right. "Precognition can be difficult. Are you any good at it?"
"Better than I used to be. I'm still not very good at picking what I see, though, and anything from more than a few days away tends to be a bit hard to figure out."
That seemed to disappoint him. "Well, I suppose your control will improve as you get older."
"They say it will."
"As long as you practice."
Scott rolled his eyes. That was starting to sound more familiar. "I do practice. I cheat at cards all the time. You can get away with lots of stuff if you know exactly when to stop before you get caught."
"Cards only have fifty-two options. What about people?"
"Bits and pieces, but it tends to blur with my telepathy and I'm not sure whether I'm just picking up their mood or actually predicting."
"Can you read my mind or mood?"
"Nope. Your shields are too good. Actually, you've got the best shields I ever seen." That was a slight lie. He could read vague shapes past the shields, enough to worry him. This man was horribly unhappy but didn't seem to know it. He reminded Scott rather frighteningly of the Fallen. Not as scary, the strange clone wasn't as madly aggressive as the Warren of Scott's world had been, but the same sense of twistedness. _No, not twisted. Broken. Smashed up and then put back together again all wrong..._
"Thank you. So why not try predicting what will happen to me in... oh, the next two hours?"
With a philosophical shrug and appreciation for the way his grammar had been left uncorrected, Scott concentrated. Then tried harder. Then frowned and looked up in confusion. "I can't see ANYTHING. Normally I get at least something..."
A slow, satisfied smile spread across his face. "Thank you, Scott. You just answered a very important question." His voice had the purry sound of a cat that's just managed to get away with something. "And just in time, too..."
_Time... what IS the time?_ Scott blinked and looked around. It was getting dark, he'd been out for a long time. "I should get home... except that I'm lost." He didn't ask if his strange companion knew the way. The air of hungry self-satisfaction was starting to make him feel creepy and once again he didn't know what he'd done.
"I wouldn't worry. They're all out looking for you now. In fact, there should be someone right.... now."
"Very impressive, Stryfe." Cable came up at a run, glaring at his double with a hate that made Scott dizzy. "Scott, get up and come over here. Now."
With a frown Scott stood up and walked over, looking from one to the other in confusion. Stryfe didn't move, he just smiled. "No need to worry, Nathan, I was just chatting to our latest brother. Or should we call him a cousin? Maybe we should just split the difference and be uncles."
Grabbing Scott's arm tightly in one hand, Cable backed away. "Like hell. Every time I think you can't sink any lower you manage to surprise me, Stryfe. He's a little kid, and you're NOT getting your hands on this one!"
"He's a very _unhappy_ 'little kid'. But I already got what I want from him, thank you for asking. He can't read my mind or see my future and I like that in a relative. Have a nice day, Scott. Try not to live up to that unfortunate first name." Standing up with a laugh, Stryfe turned and disappeared.
Letting out his breath almost explosively Cable sank down to his knees, hand tightening on Scott's arm convulsively. "Ow! Let go." Scott scowled.
Instead of letting go, Cable grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Bright Lady, Scott, didn't anybody ever tell you not to talk to people you don't know?!"
"But he knew ME. And he looked just like you!"
"That doesn't mean SHIT in our family, and you know that. Now you had better promise me you'll never, ever do anything that _stupid_ again!" Cable's fury was almost tangible, although Scott could tell that very little of it was directed at him personally.
"But he was so lonely..."
"I don't give a flonq, he deserves to stay that way! You PROMISE me!"
"Why should I?! You're not my fucking _mother_!" Scott pulled back as hard as he could but couldn't break that grip. He had to settle for looking down and turning his head away, knowing that that wouldn't hide the tears of bitterness and frustration.
"Scott, Stryfe is one of the most completely evil people I've ever met. He's been trying to kill me and mine since we were kids - he DID kill my wife - so if you should listen to ANYONE about him, it's me! But if you don't want to listen to me go ask my version of your mother, she'll tell you the same thing. He damn near killed her too."
"OUR mother! At least he admitted that and wanted me around! And he didn't even _do_ anything, he just _talked_ to me! So you can all just stop YELLING!" He was screaming as he finished, then burst into hysterical sobs. "Why did you even bother looking for me? You should be happy to get rid of me!"
"Of course I looked for you, we were worried about you! Why would I want to get rid of you?"
"Because I'm the one who screwed things up with Sam and Alex and you KNOW it! You've probably had to listen to them same as I do!" He didn't mean physically. He could see the bond between Sam and Cable, feather-light though it was. It could be hard to keep people that you loved out of your mind, especially when they were hurting...
"Is that what this is about?" He finally relaxed the convulsive grip on Scott's shoulders, letting his hands drop. "Scott, the only people who screwed up their relationship are Sam and Alex, okay? It's not your fault, you just got caught in the middle of problems they already had."
"That's what Stryfe said." Scott wiped his nose on his sleeve and continued crying. "But they WERE fighting over me, I could hear it. My shields are so bad and they were so angry..." The dam broke. Here was another telepath, someone who could understand, and the feelings tumbled out with the words. "It just hurt so much... why are they _doing_ that to each other? And they fight in whispers because they don't w-want me to hear, but I wish they'd shout because then I wouldn't have to pretend that I don't notice! And they're not even listening to each other anymore, they just keep hitting back because they're both so unhappy... it's like they're going to keep tearing little pieces off each other until there's nothing l-left, and I can't make it _stop_!"
"You don't have to, kiddo." Cable reached out and hugged him gently, and Scott sobbed into his brother's broad shoulder, almost hiccuping and stuttering his words with the force of all that built-up emotion.
"I can't n-not feel it, but they don't seem to know what they're doing to each other! Maybe it would all be e-easier if everyone was telepathic and then at least they'd _have_ to listen to each other. They think that the other one doesn't really c-care, and Sam's so angry at him and but Alex is so scared..."
"Even telepaths lie to themselves, Scott. If they're not listing to what the other one says then they wouldn't listen to what the other one feels either. They'd just lie to themselves and make excuses... like Stryfe. He does what he does, but he tells himself that all the pain he causes doesn't matter because they deserve it. Sam and Alex can sort this out without being telepathic - they just have to start listening somehow. And you scared them, kid, so maybe that's just what they needed to make them start paying attention." Picking his half-brother/cousin up easily, Cable started to walk back the way he'd come.
"No they won't. They'll just blame each other for starting the fight and then they'll both yell at me... how was I supposed to know he was a villain, anyway? You don't exist in my universe, I didn't know you h-had a clone."
"Well, now you know, so you're not going to make that mistake again."
"And you can always yell back if they start saying stupid things."
Scott nodded and let himself be carried in silence for a few minutes. It was rather comforting, the casual way Cable held him snuggled up just like Alex had when he was smaller. "It... you think it isn't my fault?" He couldn't shake that thought. It had to be, didn't it? They'd been fighting about him...
"Scott, if Stryfe and I _ever_ say the same thing, chances are it's true. It's not your fault."
Scott didn't answer that, it sounded too much like pointless comfort. After all, Nathan would hardly say yes, would he? Then again, Nathan wasn't living with it the way Scott was, so how would he know? Scott wiped his eyes and took a shuddering breath, but the guilt stayed.
* * *
"You're right." Sam was digging through the closet when Alex came back into the room after finally Scott to sleep and dragging himself away.
"About 'us' being too hard on him. It might not have been before but it sure is now." Sam finally found the bags that his things had been brought from San Francisco in and tossed them out onto the floor. "Ah'm going back to X-Force. Ah'm well enough that Ah can take care of mahself and we're probably both better off if we're not trying to live together at the moment."
Alex looked away, blinking. He knew it was true and that that was the way it looked like things were going to end up anyway, but it still hurt. "Fair enough."
Sam paused and closed his eyes for a second as he reached for the few shirts that had settled in so nicely in amongst his lover's things. Or maybe it was 'ex-lover'. _So he's not even going to try to stop me. Not that Ah want him to, of course..._ "Fine."
They kept the bed between them, not that it did a very good job as a physical obstacle. It just reminded them both that they wouldn't be sharing it anymore, that they couldn't lie next to each other and not speak and not touch but still feel that the other one was there, even if they were angry.
It didn't take Sam long to pack, not when he wouldn't let himself drag it out. Then he had to look up and try to think of something to say. What he wanted to say was how much he loved Alex but how angry he was at having that particular ultimatum pushed on him, no matter how unspoken, that he hated fighting and just wanted to curl up in that bed and stay there forever, but that he couldn't do that and still be himself... "Let me know if you change your mind and decide you actually need a life of your own, if you're lucky you might catch me before Ah change mine."
"I couldn't keep pretending that it didn't matter anymore. It wasn't fair."
"You. I'm good at lying to myself, Sam, I've been doing that for years. But for whatever reason, I don't like lying to you."
"Next time... keep lying to me, stop lying to yourself." Sam picked up his bags and left before he could change his mind and stay.
The sky was no longer a haven, it was just empty. Both the stars above him and the clouds below him seemed cold to Sam, surrounding him with uncaring light that glittered off tears. Tears that he needed to get rid of before he arrived - he hated crying in front of people as much as Alex did, but for different reasons. Sam hated putting the burden of his unhappiness on the people he loved, Alex hated looking weak or unsure. _Can never admit that it hurts, as if that will take something away from him... You idiot, Sam, as if that's not what he's been doing for weeks. Couldn't let you see that it hurt him until now and then you walk out on him..._
He was tempted to turn around. Except that he didn't think he'd find Alex if he did. He might find something that walked and talked like Alexander Summers but his Alex was already gone, back to whatever place Summerses retreated to so that you couldn't touch them anymore. Not that it ever worked, because they took their hurt in with them.
Maybe it was over and he just couldn't let it go. Or maybe he already had.
Cable was the only one waiting for him when Sam landed quietly on the roof, holding a steaming cup and looking up as if there was nothing more important in the world than watching the stars and waiting for Sam to drop out of the sky. "Beautiful night, isn't it?"
"If you say so."
"I suppose you wouldn't really have been looking." Cable easily took the bags and offered the mug instead. "Coffee?"
Sam took the mug reflexively, blinking down into the liquid that had been bleached to a light grey by the moonlight. It occurred to him vaguely that Cable didn't put milk in his coffee, but he didn't pay much attention to the thought.
Nathan made no move to go inside and Sam was glad of it, the sky might be cold but at least there was only one of it and it was never curious.
"Hurts, doesn't it? When someone asks you to give up something you'd die for because they can't stand the thought? Because it makes you realise how much they love you and then you really know how much it's going to hurt them when you say no."
"Yes," Sam whispered.
"And you want to, but you know that if you give up one piece of yourself then you're not the person they love and you're not the person that loves them, either." Nathan watched quietly as Sam's tears returned, spilling like liquid diamonds. "So instead you just hold on to both, refusing to give in while it nearly tears you in half until they make up your mind for you by leaving. And then you realise why you needed them and what you should have said, but unless you're really lucky it's too late." He looked up at the stars again. "Trouble is, you can never really understand it until that moment and you can spend years trying to make up for it."
"It... it wasn't mah fault."
"Then whose fault _was_ it, Sam?" Nathan's reflective tone hardened for a moment and he looked back at Sam, eyes expectant.
"Ah... maybe it was. Was it?" Sam frowned, matching Nathan's questioning gaze with a troubled one of his own.
"What makes you think it was anybody's fault? I don't."
Sam looked away, rubbing at the wetness on his face. "Then tell me what Ah should have said so Ah can go back and say it! You said Ah couldn't die but this is killing me..."
Nathan gently took the cup out of Sam's hands, leaving it to float in the air as he wrapped his arms around trembling shoulders. "I can't tell you."
Sam rested his head against the smooth material of Cable's uniform, eyes closed tightly. "Why not?"
Nathan patted his almost-son soothingly. "Because you have to tell me. Why do you need him, Sam?"
"Because Ah DO!"
"Because Ah love him and it hurts when he's not there..."
"Why need? You gave up on him for this, why are you standing here without any idea of how to do it anymore?"
"Ah don't know..."
"Yes, you do." He asked one more question, so quietly that Sam almost missed it. "One person isn't enough to make anyone do this, what on earth can he give you that makes it any easier?"
Holding onto that comforting strength, Sam cried helplessly. "Not one person, all of them, they give me a reason to go out and do it... but Alex gave me a reason to come _back_."
The bed felt huge and empty, like Alex had known that it would. No warm body pressed against him, sleep bringing a respite from the hell that he'd dragged them both into. No soft breath to fall asleep to, no smooth skin to press his face against and lose himself in and no memory of how to sleep with so much room and all the blankets.
Rolling restlessly across to the other side of the bed, Alex stared up into the darkness and thought, dragging all the hard questions out to be brutally asked. How could he have let something so good become so painful in just a few weeks? What right did he have to demand something easier without acknowledging why it hurt so much? And why did he keep putting other words on what was plain, simple fear?
He'd been scared, terrified at the very thought of losing someone else, scared of being hurt so badly again. And so to stop himself from being hurt at a hypothetical time in the future he'd forced Sam to leave and made sure he hurt immediately, as self-inflicted as if he'd cut his own hand off to save himself from possibly injuring it later.
But, in complete defiance of all the narrative conventions he'd been raised on, admitting that didn't magically give him an answer. Instead it just forced him realise that his complete unhappiness and lack of a way out was all his own fault, which made him feel worse.
The horror and pain that he'd been holding off for a month took advantage of his sudden weakness and swept in, battering his resolve to shreds and dragging out weeks worth of repressed tears. Without any will left to fight it, Alex was swept under. It pulled him down, past denial and entrapment and hopelessness, washing away pride and logic and need.
Time lost meaning until, what seemed like half a lifetime later, Alex slowly came back to himself. The panic and the anger were gone, leaving him empty and cold. And lonely. Three AM would have been ironic, but it was more like four-thirty when Alex finally fell asleep.
Scott was sitting at the table staring at the clock on the opposite wall when Alex got up. Following his son's gaze, Alex swore under his breath. "Why didn't you wake me up? You were supposed to be at school an hour ago!"
"I didn't go. Why did Sam leave?"
Alex frowned. "I asked you a question."
"And _I_ asked _you_ a more important one. Why did Sam leave?"
Anger flared. "Because he wanted to."
"Without saying goodbye?" Scott glared angrily. "I'm not five anymore, Alex. You can't just not tell me things and expect me to not care."
"I can if it's not any of your business." Alex wouldn't have believed that those words had come out of his mouth if he hadn't known that he really wanted to say them. But lashing out at Scott was even worse than what he'd been doing before...
"Yes it IS! I live here too and I had to listen to the two of you fight and I HATE IT!" Tears were welling up in Scott's eyes, but he blinked them away and continued. "You're the only father I've got, you don't get to just not talk about it because you don't want to!"
"Fine. You want to hear about it, I'll tell you." Alex sat down opposite Scott and tried to dredge up conviction in anything. "What I told Sam that started all this was that I listened to you cry in that hospital, knew that I couldn't do anything about it and that you feeling that way was my fault. What Sam does is dangerous, even more dangerous here than it is in your world, and you've lost enough people there. I can't- I WON'T make either of us go through that again if I can help it."
"Because it's too HARD." Scott's eyes narrowed. "Nobody ever said that being happy was supposed to be _easy_, Alex. And don't use me for this. This isn't my fault!"
"Of course it isn't." Alex blinked, horrified at the weight of guilt in the young voice.
"But I thought it was. I still do! Because every time you had a fight it was about ME, and without me you wouldn't have an excuse! But really it's just because Sam didn't want to understand and you were too _scared_." Scott scrubbed angrily at the tears on his face. "So now you're both just going to let it happen and make each other really unhappy and let the rest of us just live with it. Well go ahead, see if I care!" Scott turned to storm off but found himself picked up and turned back around, held firmly in place.
"Do you really think that helps? That it makes _any_ of this any easier?" Alex frowned at the lack of response. "Well?"
"No." Scott gulped guiltily. "But at least you _listened_."
"I meant what I said, I won't make you live through things like that again if I can help it. Because you're a kid, Scott, and you shouldn't have to. And neither should I. That doesn't make this anybody's fault, least of all yours."
"That doesn't mean you need to break up with Sam. I can deal with it, I've been doing it my whole LIFE. It's just you that can't."
"And if I can't, I can't! Because I don't know _how_."
"You did it before, for years. With Lorna and Scott and everyone... why can't you do it now?" The look in his eyes begged Alex to say that he could.
"Because it was different then. I was there, it was something that I could deal with and fight against. But now... I'm just waiting." Alex sighed and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Scott. I'm really, really sorry for putting you through all this. I don't know what's going to happen, but you're right... this is my problem and I need to figure out what it is and how to deal with it."
"I told you." Scott sniffled. "'s because you're scared."
"That's the problem." Alex picked Scott up, holding on tightly as small arms linked around his neck. _This is what matters, this is what I need... all I need. My son, my baby._
"You don't need to be scared about me. You can be scared about Sam, but not about me."
"What?" Alex frowned, leaning back a little so he could see Scott's face.
"You don't need to be scared about you and me. We won't ever be like you and your dad. See, he loves you, but he doesn't know how to say it and you don't know how to believe. But I can hear what you say inside, where even you can't hear it, and I know that you love me." Scott looked seriously at his father. "Even if something happens that's nasty, I'll know that you love me and wouldn't ever let anything hurt me if you could stop it. You wouldn't even come back here until they promised that you'd be able to get back there again. So you can stop being scared about that, 'cause nothing's going to make a difference with us."
Alex's hand reached out and carefully straightened the part in Scott's hair while his mind sat in bemusement and his heart threatened to break free of the rest of him. "Scott, I don't know how you know the things you know, I can't even imagine what it must be like to see people the way you do. But no matter what you know, don't ever let me get away with not telling you that I love you, okay?"
Scott smiled. "Of course not. Anyway, you'll probably still be saying it when I want you to stop."
"You'd better believe it." Alex felt a previously unidentified knot loosen and revelled in that sudden, surprising feeling of release. "But exactly who told you about my dad, hmm?"
"Scott and Nathan, when I asked. And I wrote him a letter."
Alex's parental radar went off. "What did you say in the letter?"
"Not telling." Scott wriggled and tried to look innocent.
"What did you say? Remember who's supposed to be at school here."
Scott snorted. "Both of us."
"My school's optional, we don't have truant officers. Yours does." Alex gave his best serious look. "What did the letter say?"
Scott knew when to back down. "I wrote that since he's my grandfather and he missed like nine birthdays and Christmases and my christening, he owed me some serious back presents. Then I said that I wasn't young enough to think it'll just happen if I find some Santa in a mall so I was telling him person'ly (but I don't think I spelled that right) that he better fucking well turn up this Christmas, because Domino turns up more often than he does and that makes it seem like _she_ loves you and Scott more than he does and Domino really doesn't love you at all."
Alex took a deep breath and thought about that very long sentence. And decided that the word 'fucking' had a definite feeling of quotation about it. "That was all?"
Scott shrugged. "And I may have said that I wanted an android, a trip to Shi'ar, a thing that makes there be no gravity in my room and a puppy. But I don't think I'm gonna get the puppy."
For a long, dangerous moment Alex looked consideringly at Scott. Then he sighed. "Yeah, you're my son alright."
Beaming, Scott messed his hair back up and looked hopeful. "Does that mean I'm getting a puppy?"
"Hell no. Go get ready for school and don't push your luck."
Sam looked at the reflection of Cable in the mirror in front of him. He'd sat with his back to the door, apparently years of training only kicked in when he wasn't in a place he considered 'home'. "Not really. Ah thought about it and yes, Ah know why he's scared. And Ah can't really say that that's unreasonable. But Ah can't help him with that and it doesn't mean Ah'm not _angry_."
"Because of that?" An eyebrow was all it took to indicate the marks that still remained of Sam's injuries. And that Nathan understood perfectly well that 'angry' meant 'really fucking hurt and furious about it'.
Sam traced down the side of the surgery scar with a frown then reached for his shirt again. "Yes. With him and this... it wasn't fair for him to ask me to choose like that. It's not like Ah don't _care_ that Ah get hurt! It's horrible and Ah hate it and every time it happens Ah feel like Ah'm too scared to do this again. But Ah can, and Ah will until Ah can't. Thing is... he knows how that feels, but it's like he's ignoring it. He's acting like this is _easy_."
"I very much doubt he thinks that it's easy, Sam. Not really, anyway. He got hurt more than enough over ten years and that's probably why he's not letting himself think about it." Nathan came all the way in, sitting down on the bed but keeping himself to himself, probably guessing that physical comfort wasn't what Sam wanted at that point.
Sam stayed looking into the mirror although not at his own reflection. "Ah don't care. Ah couldn't say anything to him about it, even though it's _not_ fair, because that'd only make him feel worse. Ah can live with that, even though it pisses me off. But Ah KNOW that this might kill me, Ah didn't need him to tell me that and he's not the only one that it scares! It was nearly a lot worse, Ah know that. The doctor told me, even though none of the rest of you did. And Ah thought that this time... Ah thought that Ah'd have help." Sam sighed and shut his eyes. "That's not fair either, he did what he could and Ah know he didn't want to hurt me. But Ah hate that he asked me now. Because it would have been so easy... to say yes."
"So what do you do now, Havok?" Alex asked himself quietly. He had an hour before he needed to leave for his next class to change his life somehow. "How do you figure out how to wait?"
He had no idea. But there was someone he could ask.
The phone rang at least seven or eight times before someone answered, Alex was on the verge of hanging up.
"Hello, Guthrie Madhouse. What can Ah do for you?" The voice was merely similar but the accent was identical.
Alex winced. "Can I speak to Lucinda Guthrie please?"
"Sure, Ah'll get her." There was a clunk and the voice continued, slightly muffled. "Moooom! Phone!"
Another minute passed and Alex wondered what on earth he thought he was doing.
"Uh, hi. This is Alex Summers."
"Nice to talk to you again, Alex." She paused, obviously a little puzzled. "Is there something Ah can do for you?"
"Yeah. Can I ask you an important question?"
Taking a deep breath, Alex closed his eyes and tried to think of the words. "I wanted to ask you this the first time we met, in the hospital. How... do you keep it from killing you? You've got two kids risking their lives every day, you know what can happen. How on earth do you deal with that?"
Lucinda was silent for a moment, acknowledging the fear they shared, but there was none of it in her voice. "Every day."
Alex was silent for a long time, considering that. Technically it wasn't an answer to his question, but in reality it felt like at least half of one. "It never gets any easier, does it?"
"No." She sounded sympathetic, but also a little amused. "Was that the only question you had?"
"No, there was one more. You sat there and waited for him to wake up, you were so calm for days while you had nothing to do except wait and I was falling apart. I can't imagine what it would take to do that."
"Ah wasn't waiting, Ah was praying. That's what it takes, Alex. Faith." She paused. "And a lot of guts. Think you can do it? Because since you called me long-distance to ask me this, Ah'm guessin' this is one of those 'speak now or forever hold your peace' moments."
"It is. And I think... that I don't know yet, but I'm trying to find out."
"Can't ask for more than that."
"Thank you for the help."
"Thank you for asking for it," she replied gravely.
Alex thought about that conversation hard, trying to imagine what it would be like to live that way. If he _could_ live that way. Nothing had miraculously been fixed and there hadn't been any blinding revelations. Just the growing need to do something, anything, that could make a difference. A handful of questions and another handful of answers that didn't necessarily match or make any of it any easier. And still he was missing something, but he didn't know what.
"Now that," said a voice from above him, "is the look of a man with bigger problems than the fact that he didn't hear a word anybody said in the last hour."
Alex jumped and looked up into the open face of Daniel Robinson, one of his professors, and noticed for the first time that the seats around him were empty. "What?"
Professor Robinson smiled slightly. "Exactly. Want to talk about it?"
"These things usually are."
It was something in the expression of the man who couldn't be more than five years older than Alex was that decided it - maybe the same something that made almost everyone in his classes like him. "Got an hour or three?"
"Four, but I may need to break for lunch at some point." He smiled faintly and stepped back to give Alex more room to stand up. "My office is this way."
'Office' perhaps wasn't quite the right word for the room Alex ended up in, at least not in a conventional sense. There was a desk, but there were also large windows, an espresso machine, several comfortable chairs and a population of potted plants. The professor headed towards one of the comfortable chairs, waving Alex towards the other.
"Now, at this point in a movie I'd say 'it's a girl, isn't it' and you'd look all surprised that I guessed. But this is real life, so I'd probably be wrong."
"You would be." Alex shrugged. "It's a guy."
"See? It's best not to make assumptions in an attempt to look clever." The other man smiled. "Don't worry, I'm not going to go weird on you or pull burning crosses out of anywhere. I'm a geologist, it takes a really good rock to get me worked up."
Alex smiled as memory stirred. "I know what you mean. When we first got together, Sam told me that he'd figured out what was going on when he got jealous of the San Andreas Fault because of my 'strange fascination with it'."
"Earthquakes come between you?"
"No. It wasn't what I do, it was what he does. He... it's dangerous. He thinks that it's worth the risk because it helps people. I can agree with that - I did the same thing myself for a while - but that didn't really help me live with him doing it." The silence was understanding and waiting to be filled. "About a month ago he got pretty badly hurt. Nearly died. And I couldn't deal with that. I looked after him and told him I loved him... and didn't sleep very much. I was falling apart but I kept putting it off until he got better, then a few days ago I just told him that I didn't know how to live that way. At the time I said that it was because it was so hard on my son, but Scott coped better than I did afterwards. He was terrified at the time, cried and cried... but he got over it. I didn't."
"Because when something like that happens you have to admit that the risks are real. Other people think that you're incredibly selfish for choosing that moment to leave, and in a way it is, but they don't know what it feels like to realise that you're going to spend years waiting to hear that next time they weren't so lucky."
"He left me, after we fought about it for a while." Alex looked up with a frown. "How do you know?"
"Big coincidence, my ex-wife is a cop. Well, soon to be ex-wife. We've been separated for around a year."
"She got shot by some sixteen year old drug-dealer. The bullet bounced off a rib and missed her heart. She was up and about in record time, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. So you see, I'm probably not the best person to give you an answer." Daniel smiled humourlessly.
"I've already got some of those, I just don't know if I'm strong enough to use them." Alex looked consideringly at the photographs of children and a complete family that hung on the wall before turning back. "Ever feel like you're cutting off your nose to spite your face?"
"Only all the time."
"I don't know which one I can't live with more. The fear or the nothing."
Daniel looked thoughtfully down at his hands. "Personally, I think the nothing is worse. The fear isn't going to go away no matter what you do, not if you really love him. It just gets duller and easier to ignore."
"And he's never going to give it up. Of course, given the way he looked when he walked out, I might not have a choice anymore." Alex thought a while more, and found his eyes drifting back to the photographs again. "Did you ever tell you wife that leaving didn't help?"
"No. By the time I figured it out it was too late."
"Are you sure?" He looked closely at the studio photograph of two adults and two children, all smiling happily, and felt tempted to smile back. "One of the other things Sam told me, not long ago, is that sometimes the stupidest thing you can do is let go."
"Is that advice for you or for me?" The dry tone didn't seem to indicate a real appreciation for advice, but not necessarily because the advice was wrong.
Alex shrugged. "Maybe both of us, I'm not sure yet. But I'm working on it."
Walking away from the building, Alex thought some more. Daniel Robinson had helped as well, both a sympathetic ear and a warning example. If the fear wasn't going to go away no matter what he did... well, he'd known that, he just hadn't really admitted it to himself. So maybe he could deal with it now that he'd admitted that it would always be there. It would be worth trying. Except that he hadn't stopped resenting The Dream for causing the fear, and Sam would probably object to that.
_Jealous of the San Andreas Fault... jealous is okay. Resenting isn't._ A difficult problem, but maybe a manageable one.
As a family, Summerses weren't very religious. Even Cable, raised to essentially consider himself the second coming, was less devoted than many. He loved much of the philosophy and had dedicated most of his life to accomplishing the Askani goals, but he wasn't one for blind devotion.
But, as a family, they could be very determined. And stubborn. Sometimes that could be a lot like faith.
God helps those who help themselves.
* * *
It was several days before Alex found what he wanted, and it was sheer luck that it happened that soon. But as Alex hurried towards the doors of his last class, feeling unaccountably nervous, he was surprised by a small distraction.
Turning in surprise, Alex looked across several people to Professor Robinson, who was still standing at the podium and answering some questions. "Yeah?"
"Thank you." He sounded calmer than he had all year, as well as sincere.
"You're welcome." Alex smiled, comforted. Maybe even if he couldn't work it out - which he was beginning to suspect that he could - what had happened between him and Sam had helped someone else. But he didn't have time to wait and ask for details if he wanted to catch the first speaker.
Berkeley basked in the cooler sun of autumn, full of pulsing life and thought. On one of its lawns a crowd had gathered in front of a hand-painted banner. Alex joined the back of it and looked up at a woman who couldn't be more than nineteen as she stood on a makeshift platform and struggled to get the microphone to work.
"Is this working now? Yes, okay." She cleared her throat and looked out at the crowd. "First, let me congratulate you all on showing up today and not just assuming that mutant rights are someone else's problem. Because as American citizens, the injustices perpetrated in our country are the concern of everyone, not just the victims!"
A warm-up cheer followed that. Alex clapped a little, watching to see what kind of rally it was going to be before committing himself too whole-heartedly.
"Wondered when we were going to see you at one of these things," said a voice next to him.
Alex turned to find Natasha standing next to him and smiling knowingly. "That obvious, huh?"
"No, not really. I was just around enough to notice all the little things, like the way your coffee never goes cold. Plus I did a heap of research on mutant stuff when it turned out my brother was, so I'd seen a lot of pictures of you and was already pretty sure - which is why I introduced myself to start with." She grinned. "Hate to say this, but black really isn't your colour."
"For a while it was sort of necessary." Alex wondered if having been unknowingly outed as an ex-superhero should be scaring him, because it didn't seem to be.
"Okay." Natasha was quiet for a moment, listening, then nodded to the woman on the podium. "That's Leslie. She's the one who makes these things happen but she's not actually a mutant herself. Well, I don't think so, she'd probably say so if she was."
"Probably." Alex smiled as Leslie continued, Scarlett-O'Hara-accented little voice ringing with conviction.
"Because I don't believe that people should be persecuted for being who or what they are. People can't help being mutants any more than they can help being black, or female." She looked around, a faint grin twisting the corners of her mouth up. "Or gay. Diversity is the spice of life. Instead of persecuting people because they scare us, we should talk to them, understand them, learn from them."
"What about 'help them'?" Alex was probably as surprised as everyone else to hear those words coming out of his mouth but he took it philosophically. "Most mutants get whatever it is that they're going to get when they're twelve or so. Often they have no idea what's happening to them or how to control it, so they get scared and often don't tell anybody. If they do tell their parents half the time their parents make them pretend that it's not there. They never learn how to control what they can do and that _is_ dangerous. Although more often for them than other people, because the rate of suicide in teenage mutants is as high as in homosexual teenagers - it just doesn't show up as much because there are fewer mutants. Although, without knowing what they can do or how to deal with it, they can hurt or kill someone without meaning to, which is another leading cause of suicide attempts."
Leslie grinned widely. "Well, hon, why don't you come and help us put together at least a referral system for mutants in crisis and put your money where your mouth is?"
Alex blinked. He _did_ want to. After all that, there hadn't been any voices from the sky or lightning strikes... he'd just remembered what it felt like to be a terrified kid who spent far too much time praying to a God that he didn't believe in to make him normal again. Had that always been what The Dream was about?
And there was something about Leslie... Suddenly Alex grinned. She reminded him of Sam. "I'm busy this week, how about Tuesday?"
* * *
Sam swore angrily at the computer screen. Trying to beat Julio's high score didn't work off much aggravation if he kept failing. And he knew that he kept losing because he was angry and distracted and guilty and hurt, and that just made him angrier and more distracted. So distracted that he didn't notice the person who'd walked up behind him until he spoke.
"If I promise to do everything you tell me to and worship your toes for the rest of my life will you forgive me for being a big dork?"
Sam didn't turn away from the computer screen. "Depends. Are you through being a dork?"
"Yes." Alex certainly sounded much calmer, yet so much more vibrant than he had for a long time. "Scott had a good yell at me and told me I was being a big dork for trying to blame my problems on him. He got quite specific about what exactly my problems were, actually. So I talked to your mother, then a fellow dork, and then I had a quiet epiphany at a mutant rights rally." He sighed a self-exasperated but less distressed sigh. "I remembered why I did what you do for so long and why you keep doing it and you won't give it up. The Dream hasn't meant very much to me for a long time, not as a passion. But the way it does to you is one of the things I love about you and I was a complete idiot to even think about asking you to give that up."
"Ah thought about doing it." Sam turned at that point. If Alex was going to be honest, he could too. "But Ah couldn't. It's... too much a part of me. Ah can't live like you do, at least not now. But Ah did think about it and your point of view. Cable kinda made me realise that you weren't the only big dork around. Ah just didn't want to admit how much it hurt you, because then Ah couldn't blame it all on you. And Ah'm sorry for that because it wasn't very fair. Not that you were very fair either and it fucking _hurt_, but you knew that. So. Ah can't make any promises, you know that too, but Ah'll try really hard not to get killed."
Alex smiled suddenly, coming the rest of the way into the room until he was standing in front of Sam's chair. "Just for me, huh?"
"No, for me. Because Ah don't want to leave you." Sam leaned forwards, managing to grab both of Alex's hands in his own. "Besides, if Ah did you'd just run off with some gorgeous woman named Bambi or Sherri or something who doesn't deserve you. Forgive me for doing something that might get me hurt?" It might sound stupid, but if Alex couldn't... well, there wasn't much point. And he hated thinking that Alex was angry with him.
"Yes, I think so. Forgive me for being a big dork?" The smile widened to a grin.
"Only if you do anything Ah say." Sam stood up and took a step forward so that they were chest to chest and eye to eye. "At least for a few days. A _private_ few days." And what he'd ask for was to not have to sleep alone and be told that it was all going to be okay so that he could relearn how to stop being so afraid.
"So I can worship your toes?"
"Among other bits of me." He laughed. "And figure out how we're gonna deal with all this, Ah suppose."
Alex nodded seriously. "Because this doesn't really mean it's all fixed. I love you and I'm sorry. But I'm still scared and I can't promise that I'll always be able to cope with that, either."
"No." Sam sighed. "But we can try, can't we?"
"We can try." Alex let go of Sam's hands and hugged him instead. "Because some things are worth fighting for."