Rating: R [mature themes] Character: Alex Summers Archive: If you like it, just ask me.
Author's Note: Well, no current spoilers because this is 100% AU kiddies. Alex is still dead in canon. Most of the events referred to happened so dang long ago it just doesn't matter any more. And I'm going somewhere with this. . . I'm just not exactly certain where. 9/28/01
Disclaimer: Marvel owns it all. I'm just pretending. They make the money and I don't even pretend to do that.
Alaska. The irony wasn't lost on him. He'd died in Maryland and come back to life in Alaska. Fitting somehow.
Alex Summers realized later, of course, that it was the same physical location as Magneto's Arctic Citadel on the world of the Six. He'd died there, so the Nexus deposited him in the same place. Home. But what was it? A year? A year and a half later?
He'd been so busy coping with the adjustment to the other world that time there had just slipped away from him. Adjusting to being a husband, a father, a leader of a bizarrely familiar yet different mutant team. Fighting to save his son, his wife from evil. Discovering his destiny. Finding the promise of something precious that he'd never experienced before. . . then he was dead again. Now here.
He sighed deeply, propping his feet up on the warm stone hearth, staring into the crackling fire. He was dressed in an old hugely baggy pair of sweats, thick wool socks on his feet. Outside a nasty storm raged. Ice. Wind. Cold. He'd opened a can of soup, earlier, heating it in a cast iron pot beside the fire. Roughing it. He had no money, no ID. He was, after all, dead. But he'd gotten better. The old joke didn't even make him laugh in his own head.
He should call someone. Tell them he was alive. Another practitioner of the Summers family trait of resurrection. Really, he should. He'd stumbled half-frozen into an oil company's geological survey station just below the Arctic Circle and they'd warmed him up, fed him, clothed him and then made arrangements for him to be flown back to Anchorage, apparently the lucky survivor of a plane crash. He'd intended to call Westchester. And Washington. But something stopped him.
Was it the house? It was Scott and Jean's place, after all. He'd stared a long time at the pictures on the mantle when he'd first come inside after digging up the spare key from its hiding place under the woodpile out back. Shocked, mostly. Shocked because he actually recognized the pictures. They were the ones he knew. The ones from his own world. He really was home.
The pictures gave him a strange pang. Jean. Maddie. They looked so much the same, and yet were so very different beneath the surface. He could tell instantly that it was Jean in the pictures; Jean snuggled happily under Scott's arm on the couch, Jean smiling sleepily up at the camera from a nest of blankets in front of this very fireplace, Jean cradling a sleeping Nathan Christopher in her arms while standing on the wind-swept deck of an alien spaceship in New York harbor, Jean rolling her green eyes in mock disgust at a mid-sized trout held up proudly by a faintly smirking Scott beside her. He'd taken the last picture himself, Alex remembered. During one of their rare family get-togethers. An adult Nathan Christopher even loomed darkly in the background of the shot, his metal arm gleaming dully in the summer sun, a mild scowl on his face. They'd looked pretty happy. He didn't remember if they had actually been happy, however. So many of their reunions ended in shouting matches that he wasn't sure if that time had been one of them or not.
And he wondered, not for the first time, what had happened when he 'died' here. Time had passed at the same pace on both worlds. He hadn't been transported back to the instant of his disappearance – thankfully. He really hadn't wanted to be caught in the temporal explosion with Greystone again, but floating exhausted in the void after dissipating the Goblin Force he just hadn't cared. The Six would survive. Maddie had been freed. Scotty was safe. That was all that mattered. Anything else, anything more for himself just hadn't mattered. . . in the void.
But then he'd actually woken up. The two-story fall into a deep drift of snow had done it. Two-stories from where his body had been stretched out on the slab in Magneto's lab – in the other world, several layers of reality away. He could feel the Nexus of Realities pulsing inside him. Mostly dormant now. Drained. But still there, still detectable, now that he had acknowledged it.
A thing of incredible power. And there was that old saying about power and corruption.
Occasionally he thought it was trying to tell him something. He wasn't certain what, yet, since he'd never been the most introspective of people. In your face, volatile, hot-headed – those fit. But not thoughtful, studious or learned. Nope. Not Alex Summers, chump and screw-up of the clan. So his new sense of, well, the only way he could think to describe it was a kind of. . . connectedness, felt odd.
He'd seen far too much, in his time as an X-Man, with X-Factor, on his own, not to believe in forces beyond normal perceptions. Magic. It still spooked him. Spirits. Demons. Temptation. There were things out there that only the most sensitive, skilled humans could deal with properly. And he'd never had any interest in being one of them. However, it looked as if the wretched Summers luck wasn't giving him that luxury.
Because now he was seeing ghosts.
This wasn't the same house Scott had lived with Maddie in. That house had been destroyed by Sinister when he tried to retrieve Maddie and baby Nathan Christopher. This was a new house Scott had bought to honeymoon with Jean in, and to be near his grandparents. He felt a pang of guilt at that. He hadn't even called his grandparents. If they were both still alive.
There was a brief stirring of shadows. A log cracked and broke in the fire. Time seemed to still, and, somehow, he just knew that both of his grandparents were still alive. He shook off the strange sensation, not wanting to know how he knew, but taking comfort in the knowledge anyway. At least that way they wouldn't haunt him.
He'd already seen several different ghosts. A curiously calm young man with a flaming eye and tightly shorn hair – Nate Grey? A big man with long white hair and a sense of beatific peace about him – Joseph? Then several others, far less distinct and defined: a flash of a purple blade; a dark, brooding shadow; a gleam of silver armor and pale blonde hair; the empty eyes of a blind woman; flames about a grinning, living skull; a wide, eager, boyish smile; a ripple of flesh that became steel. Impressions of people. Perhaps even people he'd once known. Now dead? He didn't like to look too closely, willed them to leave him alone, afraid of what he might see.
But there was one particular, persistent ghost that bothered him the most. A woman. A beautiful woman with red hair and infinitely sad green eyes wearing a blue sheath dress and high matching pumps.
His heart had thudded painfully at the sight. Madelyne Pryor. Maddie as she had come to him in Australia, so very long ago.
Not his Maddie, but the scorned wife of his brother who had – through her pain at his rejection of her for Jean and her confusion over her very existence – nearly thrown the world and even her own son down into a demonic Inferno. And who had come very close to taking Alex, at least, with her. He'd understood her pain, her loss too well – sympathized with her rage, her betrayal. Scott had done it to them both. It had seemed, if not natural or right, then at least bitterly fitting to turn to each other in their confusion. Or at least he had been confused. She, somehow, had tried to manipulate him the whole way.
Finally, he thought he understood why.
Alex lifted his gaze from the flames, not particularly surprised to see the pale, flickering shade of her again at the edge of the light. As if just thinking of her had summoned her.
"Maddie," he said. The image of her wavered, as if in reaction to his voice, then solidified slightly.
"You do see. . ." Her voice was like a slow breath of the icy wind outside, slipping through the shutters. Sending a chill up his spine.
"Yes," he said, watching her. Drinking in the sight of her, yet noticing the subtle differences. Not the Maddie he'd come to cherish, there at the end in the world of the Six. Not the mother of his son. Yet still Maddie. She stared at him, green eyes troubled.
"Something called me. I didn't want to come, not again. Then I saw you, Alex," she said, her voice breaking and fading on odd words. He had to concentrate to hear her. To learn to hear her, he guessed. "There are so many here who have used me. Made me. Shaped me for their own purposes." She looked sad, defeated somehow. It was quite a change from the focused, assured woman he'd once known. "Only you, Alex, didn't ask anything from me. You were just my friend when I needed one most. It was I who sought something from you." She bowed her magnificent head with shame. Was that what she was here for? Forgiveness? To apologize?
"Thanks for the offer, Maddie," he said with a wry, sad smile of his own. If he was going to have to have a conversation like this with a ghost, he might as well be honest. "But there isn't really any excuse for committing adultery with my brother's wife. We used each other, I'll grant. But I still chose to sleep with you."
"I was the Goblin Queen, Alex, twisting everything I touched," she said, flaming tears falling from her eyes. The fire of her spirit, maybe? He was neither poet nor mystic, but she was beautiful and her sorrow tugged at his heart. "How could you have resisted me?"
He laughed bitterly, and it was a dark sound that lifted her head with astonishment. It wasn't a sound he'd made around her before.
"I've faced a lot of unpleasant things since then," he said, rising off the couch and taking a step toward her at the edge of the light. She searched his expression curiously, her form seeming to strengthen as he drew closer. "About life, about myself. It was always up to me, Maddie, even then. But childishly I used you to strike at Scott – and it was just wrong in so many ways." He smiled at her sadly, staring at her beloved features. Memorizing them. "I only did one thing right in the middle of that whole crazy mess; I, at least, knew who you were. You were always just Maddie to me. And that was enough."
Her face crumpled and fell at his words, the strange fiery tears now taking on the shine of actual tears in the flickering firelight. He watched her cry for a moment, torn. Then, with a deep sigh, he stepped forward to wrap her in his arms. Almost expecting her to disappear even as he tried. But she didn't fade away. In fact she felt quite solid. Nearly real. She flinched at his touch and sucked in a hitching breath of surprise, then leaned her head against his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him in return. Desperately. He even felt the bite of nails in his back as she clutched at him.
They stood in silence for a moment until a shiver seized one of them, making both shudder. It was cold over here by the windows, away from the fire. Whispering soothing words in her ear, he turned them both back toward the fireplace. Neither looked up at the photos on the mantle.
"Alex, I was made for him I know, but oh, if the true choice had been mine. . ." Her voice trailed away and her green eyes shown with tears as she looked deeply into his eyes. ". . . if it was you I had met first. How different could the world have been?"
Her wistful and slightly bitter words made him smile. He knew that here other factors had come into play – Scott had still been around, after all. Lorna. Mr. Sinister. But the possibilities she raised still made him smile.
"Very," he said, hugging her close. "In another world, Maddie, we'd have lived together for many happy years, had a son of our own."
"You sound so certain."
He shrugged lightly. "I just came from a place where that happened."
"Were we happy there?" she asked, staring into his eyes. There was a kind of need there for reassurance, for validation. And a desperate, searching hope that, despite her very creation as a pivotal part in Mr. Sinister's design to ensnare Scott and create his perfect weapon, somewhere underneath had been the possibility that she might have won free, if only things had gone differently. Now he regretted bringing the other world up at all – since even there, and not long after he'd arrived, the Goblin Force had seized that world's Maddie and twisted her too. Because of the Nexus. Their contentment had been short-lived. But it had existed.
"Yes," he said, remembering tales that Robert and the Brute had told him of their life at Westchester before the split from Magneto and his X-Men. They had been happy, once. Very happy. Until he – or that world's Alex, actually – had ruined it by having an affair with Susan Richards. He sighed deeply. Summers, it appeared, might just be constitutionally unable to keep from fucking up their own lives.
The thought made him draw her close, hugging her tightly, a hand buried in her rich mane of hair. He laid his cheek on her head and closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her. She stayed still, pressed warm against him. They stood that way for a long while, in silence, until Alex felt a strange pull inside him, on the Nexus.
"Uncle Alex, huh?"
Madelyne stiffened in his arms and he opened his eyes to meet a mischievous, mismatched gaze; blue and gold. The close-cropped hair was brown with a white patch at the front. An odd black mark, maybe a round tattoo, adorned the slender boy's bare chest. He wore tattered black slacks, but nothing else. Strangely, he didn't look cold.
"Nate Grey," Alex said quietly, recognizing him. He didn't let Maddie draw away.
"Well, as much of him as we can pull out of the ether right now," the apparition said with a shrug. Madelyne looked him over as well but with clear recognition, and not a little dismay. The boy grinned at her.
"Pseudo-mom!" he said heartily, golden eye flashing. "Hard to get any rest around here isn't it?"
"Nate," she acknowledged, then returned his smile warmly, if only briefly. Nate Grey turned his attention back to Alex.
"Uncle Alex, huh?" the boy said again, looking him over curiously. "I met Prelate Summers once. He was a full-on bastard. Tried to kill my bio-mom. And his own brother." Alex grimaced.
"So I've been told," Alex snapped, remembering the glee with which the Dark Beast had spun his hideous tales of life in the Age of Apocalypse. And how the Summers brothers had apparently flourished near the top of the ladder of mutant supremacy – with Sinister's loving guidance. Except for Scott, once again. Scott had rebelled, while Alex had pursued him with destructive vigor. Envious, as always, of everything his brother had. Determined to take it all away, if he could. "That wasn't me." But he shivered. It could have been. And had been in a way, through the woman still in his arms.
"Oh, I know that. It's just fun to push."
"Why are you here, Nate? I thought you died."
"Well, not really. I sort of went. . . wide. I'm everywhere now. Like Joseph, here." The boy gestured to the side and suddenly a tall young man with long white hair loomed behind him. A carbon copy of Magneto, actually. The newcomer's expression was grave.
"It is the Nexus, Havok," Joseph said quietly, gaze flicking to Madelyne. "It is drawing those trapped in between out again." Alex blinked at him, then at Nate Grey. The boy just raised his brows at him, his own expression sobering. All playfulness and hints of youth gone in a flash.
"You must control it, or it will control you."
Alex felt a shiver run through him. "Shit. I was afraid of something like that." Nate Grey nodded, his youthful face strange when weighed against the sad and ancient wisdom that lived in his eyes. Alex shivered at the knowledge he found there. Why now? And why him? He sighed and gave Nate the nod of understanding he was waiting for. The boy did not smile or change expression in reply. But his gaze shifted to Madelyne. Alex felt his arms flex around her protectively. It wasn't fair. She'd never truly had a chance.
Maddie pulled back in his arms, looking at him with a mixture of hope and trepidation.
"I could help you," she said. He looked into her beautiful green eyes and shook his head slightly. The hope faded to be replaced with dawning comprehension.
"No, I think it's one of those sink or swim kind of things. Me versus the Nexus," he said to her, wanting to say so many other things instead. "But I appreciate the offer."
She raised a hand and stroked his face in the way he remembered so well. Delicately tracing her fingers down his cheek, lingering on his lips, then his chin. He smiled for her but it soon faded again. She smiled weakly back.
"Thank you, Alex," she said softly. She knew what had to happen. It was obvious, and there'd never been any question of her ability to pick up on things. She was a very smart woman. She leaned forward and stroked her cheek against his. Not kissing him, but just feeling him. After a long moment, she stepped out of his arms. He watched her sadly.
"It's what I have to do, Maddie," he said, voice anguished. "Are you ready?"
"I'd rather be free this way than hurt you again," she said with a short nod, her voice low and intent. The pain in her gaze was less and he was grateful for that at least. She straightened up, lifting her chin proudly, green eyes clear. She was so beautiful that he almost broke. But it would be wrong. Selfish. She was already gone. This would just make certain of it.
So instead, he looked inward, something that was hard for him to do, and fumbled for the Nexus. It responded with a twitch and a surge of power. Not power like his plasma bursts, but a more mental kind of power, vaguely familiar from years of living around telepaths. Great, just what he needed. Psychic powers. As if his head wasn't messed up enough already.
He opened his eyes and looked at the shade of Madelyne Pryor. All that was left of a once powerful and vital woman. Tempted, for just one more moment, to draw her back completely. And he could do it too, he knew, with the Nexus. Make her whole again. But that wouldn't be fair. There was nothing in this reality for her any longer except hatred and fear. And she understood that as well.
"Go to your rest, Maddie," he said softly. "Go and I promise no one will trouble you again."
"Alex," she said, hope and longing and regret all tied up in that single utterance.
"I know," he replied, voice cracking. "Goodbye, Maddie." Then, before he could try to twist his way out of it a third time, he touched the new power inside him. There was no flash, no blast but the shade of Madelyne quivered as if a rock had been dropped into still water. Her gaze locked briefly with his, forgiving, lost, loving; mercifully she closed her eyes. Her head tipped back and she seemed serene. Then the Nexus surged and she was gone. Forever.
His heart thundered in his chest as he stared into empty air. Grief struck him and he fell to his knees, crying out, hands balled into fists against the soft rug beneath him. And he sobbed out his pain. After a while, he felt a hand on his back and looked over, through his tears, to see Nate crouched beside him. Somber and pale.
"Thank you for fixing my mistake, Alex," the boy said.
"Your mistake?" Alex gasped, fighting back his sorrow. She'd really died a long time ago, but only now could she truly rest.
"I brought her here in the first place, opened her up to more torment even though I didn't know what I was doing to her at the time. It was my fault." Regret was strong in the boy's eyes. And compassion.
Alex took a deep shuddering breath, wiped at the tears on his face. "Well, I owed her anyway. And I got to say goodbye, at least."
Nate just continued to crouch beside him, watching him closely. Joseph loomed quietly in the background. After a final deep breath, Alex glanced between the two of them. They appeared quite solid now. He could still feel the warmth of Nate's hand on his back.
"Okay, so what about you two?"
"We are a little different," Nate said with a rueful grin, shooting a glance at Joseph. "You can't dissipate me without risking the loss of everyone on the planet – I'm kind of mixed in rather tightly with human life now. And Joseph is the magnetosphere. The Nexus just lets us pretend to be alive again."
"What about the others I saw? Do I need to send them away too?"
"No, I don't think so. Just don't let the Nexus call them any further."
"And if I do see them, send them away?"
"Something like that."
Alex rolled over and sat down, wrapping his arms around his knees and staring intently at Nate. Face pale and streaked with tears that he made no attempt to hide. Why feign impassiveness in the presence of the dead? Or whatever they were. They didn't need to be impressed. And he was through trying to be someone he wasn't.
"I'm going to see things I don't want to see, aren't I?" he asked quietly, not taking his gaze away from Nate's mismatched one. Surprise and respect flared briefly there.
"Can you teach me how to control it?"
The boy shrugged. Alex sighed in frustration, then glared at Joseph as he spat, "I'm no psychic."
"No, but you have strength of will that you have not fully explored yet. What you did here was difficult, and I applaud you for it," the man who wore Magneto's face said. Alex searched the calm gray gaze, looking for mockery or disgust, finding nothing save quiet admiration. "Yet you now have a heavy burden. The Nexus is power. And with great power comes great responsibility. You must be very careful how you use it in the future. If you use it."
"You spent a lot of time around Storm, didn't you?" Alex said wryly. Joseph raised a snowy brow in mild surprise, then glanced curiously at Nate. The boy shrugged again and rolled his eyes. Alex almost laughed. "That crap's already occurred to me, guys. I'll be careful. I didn't want this, but I know ignoring it won't make it go away. That never worked with my mutant power, so why should it work with this damned thing?"
Nate sat back and wrapped his arms around his legs as well, a reflection of Alex's pose. Then he laid his head sideways on his own knees, watching Alex. Joseph stood square on both feet with his arms crossed over his broad chest. Neither of them showed signs of fading. Was it the Nexus still? He touched it cautiously but neither shade wavered. Maybe they weren't shades, as Nate had suggested, but something else entirely. Echoes, perhaps. Or residues of their own powers. He wished he'd paid more attention now over the years when the Professor or Jean or Betsy had gone off on one of their periodic lectures about the Psychic Plane and matters metaphysical as they applied to psionics. But it was too late for that. He'd have to stumble along on his own. Something told him he'd better keep his secret. For now.
"Are you two around for the duration?" Alex asked. Nate pursed his lips thoughtfully and glanced at Joseph. It was the big man's turn to shrug, apparently. Without answers forthcoming, Alex suddenly realized just how tired he was. He climbed to his feet wearily, drained by the emotion and the strange effort involved in sending Maddie to her rest.
"I'm going to bed now. You guys go do whatever you need to do," he said vaguely, waving a hand at the open air. "If you're here when I wake up, we'll talk more." Then he drew the mesh screen closed over the dying fire and stumbled off to the ground floor guest room nearby. He'd chosen this room simply because it was easy to heat and it wasn't Scott and Jean's room. Without bothering to strip he crawled under the thick covers, pulled them over his head, and promptly fell deeply asleep.
Nate Grey walked into the bedroom and sat in the chair beside the bed, ready to guard his uncle's sleep. Joseph stood at his shoulder. Both of them silent and still as they waited patiently for Havok to wake up.
- - - to be continued - - -