April 9, 2010
The Starjammer, Shi'ar space, Derek Summers's personal quarters
" 'It will all be happy at the end. Consider: a little over three years ago, you were a milkmaid and I was a farmboy. Now you are almost a queen and I rule uncontested on the water. Surely, such individuals were never intended to die in a Fire Swamp'."
"That's silly, Daddy."
Alex Summers looked up from the book he'd been reading -- The Princess Bride, his father had insisted on it -- and down at his only child. Derek, who was well over halfway to seven, sat crosslegged on his bed, staring at his father intensely. There was a faint, knowing smile on his boy's face, the same one that Alex recognized in his own father. It was not something he liked seeing on a child, particularly his child, but as Lorna often told him with that shrug of hers which was both resigned and amused, "whaddaya gonna do about it, buster?"
Derek rolled his eyes, a sure sign that he was exasperated with his father, who, unlike Granpa Chris, never immediately understood what he was trying to say. He pointed at the book in his hands as if to help Alex understand. "Westley. You're saying it all wrong. Granpa Chris doesn't say it like that." Derek lit up at the mention of his grandfather, and for the nth time, Alex wondered if his son's hero worshipping had its limitations. He'd already tried to go on more than one raid with the Starjammers, and was only deterred when Alex's father had insisted he was too young this time, but later, when he was older, they'd go out together. Just the boys. God. Was Scott having this much trouble with Rachel or Charles?
His train of thought wandered towards the current lifestyle he, Lorna and Derek were leading. Their boy loved it, but Lorna was so neutral regarding how she felt about living out in space with a pirate for an in-law and his motley crew, that Alex just didn't know. As for himself... well, he missed the time he and Lorna had spent in Arizona more than anything. The hours they'd whiled away working on their geological finds as the sun beat down on them... It had been the closest thing he'd known to paradise. Truthfully, the only good things that Alex felt had come out of living with the Starjammers was the lack of pressure -- almost the moment he and Lorna had left Earth behind along with most of their ties to it, they'd felt liberated. Marriage came not soon after, and Derek more than four years later, when they'd both felt qualified enough to attempt parenthood.
What shook Alex from his reverie was the pillow to his face that the darling boy in question threw. "Daddy, you're not listenin'!" he protested.
"Okay, okay, I'm listening. Tell me how Westley should sound, all right?" His son appeased, Alex put the pillow back in its proper place, and tried to listen to Derek recite what were obviously familiar words.
Even at seven, he was astonishingly good looking. Alex dreaded puberty for Derek, hoping that it wouldn't make his son as awkward as it had with himself and Scott. If Derek were lucky, he would be able to sail through those turbulent years without much lasting harm.
Alex, who had never before imagined that he'd ever think of such matters, wanted his son to stay a heartbreaker. As it was, he already had Lorna and Hepzibah under his thumb, and Derek's mother and unofficial grandmother adored the boy with extreme prejudice -- anyone who spoke ill of him, as Raza had already discovered, would be quick to suffer the penalties. And he supposed he could see why. Derek was the definitive Summers. He had Alex's parents written all over him -- his father's wild hair and infectious grin, and his mother's china blue eyes. There had been quite a few times when Alex had complained over the lack of himself or Lorna in their son -- after all, Rachel was the portrait of Jean, and Charles couldn't look anything more like Scott without the glasses -- but Lorna insisted that she didn't mind. After all, why wouldn't she want another good looking Summers boy to admire, rather than a child that bore the curse of her own mutancy, with hair so green that he could be mistaken for a walking lime?
" '--never intended to die in a Fire Swamp'!" Derek finished with much enthusiasm, hopping up and down one last time on his bed. He looked to his father for approval, and Alex blinked, giving himself a mental shake. He felt bad about it, but frequently when he and Derek were talking, Alex's mind would wander. He'd tried to control it, but it seemed an impossibility, and he'd long ago given up.
Alex smiled, and waved his son back down into a sitting position. Adoring of her son or not, Lorna would have a conniption if she caught Derek jumping on his bed again. "That was great. Is that how Grandpa does it?"
"No," Derek said solemnly. "Granpa Chris does it lots better. I'm gettin' close, though, that's what he told me the other day-- Hepz'bah!" Alex winced as his son shot past him, narrowly avoiding crashing into not only his father, but several pieces of furniture that had seen better days since being introduced to Derek Summers.
Standing in the doorframe was Hepzibah, who, Alex reflected upon looking back, had aged magnificently for a glorified cat. His father, now 66, hadn't made the trip through time quite as well, although Alex had to admit that he hoped he could age as gracefully. Hepzibah smiled widely, her teeth as white as her fur, her fangs as noticeable as they'd ever been. Derek paid no attention, too busy with his leap into the Mephistoid's arms.
"Reading to you, your father is?" she asked, cradling Derek on her hip. That he was no longer four mattered nothing to her -- she had a reserve of strength that seemed to be used strictly for picking up her Chris's grandson, and every effort to stop the familiar ritual, if only for Hepzibah's own well being, had been ignored completely. Alex gave her the same exasperated look that Derek had shot him earlier, but said nothing. It was an old argument by now, one that he knew he wouldn't be able to win for at least another couple of years.
"Yeah," Derek said, touching one delicately pointed feline ear with the same delight he always did. He glanced back at his father, then leaned in closer to her and spoke in a whisper that reached Alex despite Derek's efforts. "But he's not as good as Granpa Chris. I had to show him how to do it."
Hepzibah nodded understandingly, twitching her tail away from Derek's reaching hands. It had been pulled unceremoniously just one too many times for her to indulge him that particular amusement any longer. "Learn, he will. A good teacher you are, Derek." The teacher in question lit up at the praise, and swung an arm companionably around the felinoid's shoulders.
The look Alex directed her way could have stopped a charging lion. In theory, anyway. Hepzibah's smile only widened, and Alex seriously considered throwing his hands up in the air, something he'd yet to actually try out. "Any particular reason for the visit, Zee? We were going to make the goodnight rounds pretty soon..."
Hepzibah shook her head, making Derek giggle when her hair swung from side to side, which in turn made Hepzibah's ears twitch at the sound, which caused Derek to giggle even more. It was a vicious circle, Alex thought dryly. "Wanted to see Derek, Chris did. Calling your brother, he is."
Alex blinked. "Scott? Why?"
"Why not?" Derek crowed in delight, and Hepzibah's smile got even bigger. Alex wondered silently if that was the look the cat gave shortly before it ate the canary.
"Come now, cub, see Chris, we will," Hepzibah drawled -- there was something about her that had always made Alex feel a little off, and he knew that she sensed it. She turned to leave, and over her shoulder Derek waved happily. "Be back soon, we will." They disappeared into the hall quickly, his "stepmother's" tail waving languidly behind her.
The Starjammer, Shi'ar space, communications
"Dad! What's wrong?"
Chris Summers managed to not roll his eyes at his eldest son, but it was a definite struggle. "Nice to see you, too, Scott."
"Sorry. I'm just so used to getting calls from you when something bad's happened--"
"Okay, I get it, I get it. I'll try to call more often, although it wouldn't hurt if you gave it a shot every now and then."
Scott smiled at the jibe, and rubbed uncomfortably at the back of his neck. "I'd intended on it, actually, but Rachel's kept us so busy lately..."
Chris sat forward at mention of his granddaughter's name. He remembered the first Rachel Summers he'd met, quite a few years ago, and the pain of her loss still nagged at him. When Scott and Jean had given him his first grandchild without any involvement of time travel back in '96, Chris had loved her instantly. And while Derek, though he didn't like to say so, was undeniably his favorite, there was no lack of love in his heart for his other grandchildren.
"The trials of the teenager?" he asked amusedly. "Missed out on that with Nathan, didn't you?" Both men smiled at that -- Chris got along famously with Nathan, even if it was hard to remember that Nathan, too, was one of Chris's grandkids rather than a contemporary -- but there was an unspoken twinge that went between them. He'd missed out on the teen years with both Scott and Alex, and he'd yet to really talk about it with either of his boys, though not for lack of trying.
"Something like that, Dad. It's her powers again... She just can't seem to control them, and Jean's at her wit's end trying to keep Rachel together." It was the look on Scott's face that caused Chris some anxiety. Not that he usually looked calm and relaxed, not by a long shot, but he'd only seen this particular expression of deep seated worry when Nathan had been hurt or ill. And if Jean couldn't help... Jean, who was the strongest telepath on the planet, or had been the last time Chris had heard, at any rate...
"So what's the course of action?" he asked, concern tumbling around inside him like indigestion. His hands gripped painfully at the arms of his chair, and he was strangely glad that the rest of the crew were busy elsewhere. What he was picking up from Scott thus far didn't bode well.
"Well..." Scott sighed. "We've already tried sending her to work with other telepaths. Emma Frost, actually..."
Chris's mind worked for a moment as he tried to place the name with those Scott and Jean had talked to him about. It didn't take long until it clicked. "Emma Frost? Isn't she the one with the--"
"Yes, that's her." Scott blushed furiously and cleared his throat, picking up his father's train of thought without a hitch. See, you didn't always need telepathy, Chris thought, and grinned a little despite himself. Forty-one years old, and his son still blushed like he was in grade school. Where that trait came from, he'd never know. Certainly not him.
"And she helped, but not enough to do much more than give her a little mental shielding. She still needs to wear a dampener."
"Damn," Chris muttered, and Scott smiled privately. He'd missed out on having his father around, but several lightyears away or not, Chris had seen to it that his grandchildren had their fill of his presence. It showed.
"Things might be looking up soon, though. Samantha had a talk with Jean, and apparently she knows someone who might be able to help."
"Samantha, huh?" Chris said, his grin starting to return. His granddaughter-in-law, the woman that had tamed Nathan, and seen to it that he'd had great-grandchildren in his lifetime. Bless the woman, even if she was unnervingly like Zee at times. "Good for her. I'll have to give her a call. Who's this someone you're going to entrust my granddaughter to?"
Scott made a little gesture, his way of shrugging. It was something that Chris recognized as Katherine. Alex had his mother's coloring, Scott her body language. Seeing that Kate still lived on in the boys did him good, even if it happened to hurt like hell at the same time. "Well, she says his name's Luke Skywalker. He lives off-planet, which I don't like at all, but--"
"Really? Now that's interesting... Where at?"
"Dad." The look on Scott's face was exhausted, and not just from lack of sleep. Chris smiled sweetly, showing that he hadn't forgotten how frustrated Scott became when he was cut off.
"I'll bet," Scott said, and ignored the telepathic voice of his wife pointing out that deep down, he loved these back and forths with his father. He did not. "Anyway, I guess this Skywalker guy runs an academy for people with powers like Samantha's, which is close enough to telepathy that he might be able to help Rachel. Apparently the success ratio is great. And before you ask, he's actually not anywhere you've been before."
"Impossible," Chris insisted, indignant. He'd been everywhere from Earth to the Kree homeworld and in between, and the look on his face told Scott that more plainly than words could.
"You're always serious, Scott."
"Dad," he sighed. "You haven't, really. It's some alternate dimension, and--"
"What?!" Chris exploded, on his feet faster than a man his age ought to be. "You're sending my granddaughter off with some man you've never met--"
"He's a friend of Samantha's!"
"Samantha used to kill people for a living!"
"And what you do is any better?!" Scott winced inwardly. He didn't ordinarily allow himself to get upset, but his father could provoke him like few others could -- Logan, for example. Sure, he was being unfair with the mention of what the Starjammers did -- they really did try to avoid harming any innocents, he knew that perfectly well -- but dammit, there was no need for his father to get like this.
"We don't kill people for profit, goddammit!" Chris roared, and he was Corsair, there was no doubt that this man had led a band of space pirates that were wanted in several galaxies, that he'd stood up to emperors and emperesses alike here, and that even at 66, you did not insult his crew, his ship, or his ability to command either. Scowling dangerously at his son with an expression that most of his family would also recognize in Nathan Summers, Chris continued his previous tirade without missing a beat. "--to a school that trains people with vaguely similar abilities, to an alternate dimension that you've never been to?! What the hell is wrong with you, Scott? Where's Jean? If this is what you plan on doing, I want to talk to someone that hasn't lost their mind."
"Dad!" Scott protested.
Hepzibah carried Derek into the communications room where his Granpa Chris was talking to Uncle Scott, but when she did, his excitement waned abruptly at the sound of his grandfather shouting. It wasn't the first time he'd heard it before, but never when he was angry. Usually it was just to the rest of the 'jammers when they were trying to get away from one of the Shi'ar or Skrull ships that tried to chase them so often. Shocked into speechlessness, Derek shrank back against Hepzibah, who cocked her head curiously at the sight, but never slowed her stride.
"Dad!" he heard his Uncle Scott yelp, and Derek peeked up from where he'd buried his face in Zee's hair.
"Leave you, should I?" Hepzibah asked both Chris and the image of Scott on the display screen. "Bad time?"
Chris whirled to face his longtime lover, the anger on his face breaking apart at the sight of her holding Derek. He sighed, and Hepzibah's heart broke just a little at how old he suddenly looked. But only just a little. Death was nothing new to the Mephistoid, and she'd always known that her happiness with Chris wouldn't last forever.
"Define 'bad,' " Chris said, and Scott made a strangled noise behind him.
"You sound like Nathan, Dad."
"Oh, Scott..." Chris sighed, stopping himself from telling his eldest to shut up. He was still angry, but he was tired, too.
"Hi, Chris, Hepzibah," suddenly came a calming voice, distinctly feminine. Jean. "Hi, Derek!" she said, putting on a happy smile and lightening her voice strictly for his benefit. Derek smiled back and waved with an uncharacteristic shyness. "So, you rang?"
When Chris turned back to the display, he couldn't help but share in Jean's smile. He'd always have fond memories of Scott's first wife -- after all, he'd never seen Madelyne during her darker days -- but Jean was a treasure that he was glad Scott had held on to. He calmed even further at the sight of the nine year-old Charles, just shy of his tenth birthday. There was no point in losing his temper around the grandkids. Despite the tension still lingering between father and son, all of the adults smiled when Derek and Charles waved at one another.
Chris took a deep breath. Sikorsky, that damnable little buzzing insectoid doctor of theirs, had told him to do that more often when he got angry. Why, so he could hyperventilate? "Jean... Please tell me that my son's gone off his rocker, and you're not thinking of sending my granddaughter off where he said you were. An alternate dimension?"
Jean smiled over Scott's shoulder, and the effect was calming. Beside her, Charles was almost a second shadow. "I'm sorry that it upsets you, Chris -- I can't say it's my favorite option, either -- but I'll be honest. That's where we plan on sending Rachel, if Mr. Skywalker really can help her."
Hepzibah allowed Derek to scramble down from her arms, and he didn't hesitate in climbing into Chris's lap, now that they'd both calmed some. The youngest of the Summers grandchildren looked away from the viewscreen long enough to gauge his grandfather's mood. Something big and important was going on, and he wanted to see what. If he wheedled, he could probably put off bedtime for awhile.
"All right," Chris sighed, stroking Derek's hair as he studied Charles's expressive face. "Talk to me about this Skywalker, and what he can do for my granddaughter."