The first thought Alex consciously noted having was that death smelled an awful lot like Earl Grey tea. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
"Good evening, Alex," a cultured voice said to him.
Opening his eyes, Alex was greeted with a scene that - while completely copacetic with Earl Grey tea - was not exactly what he thought to expect.
"Where am I?" he asked, looking around. In a bedroom and in a bed was the immediate, obvious answer. But it wasn't his room and it wasn't his bed and he sincerely doubted that Rombi, his foster family's annoyingly cheerful golden collie, had morphed into...
"Jesus Christ!" He sat up sharply. Only a vicious head rush kept him from successfully leaping out of bed and he landed gracelessly on the floor before scrambling back up to his feet. "I've gone to hell."
And the devil looked like the world's foremost mutie lover, Charles Fucking Xavier, himself.
"You're not in hell, Alex," Xavier chuckled. "Although I'm sure this must seem like an unpleasant place to be at the moment. I'm also sure that in a matter of course you will come to see it as a refuge and perhaps even as a home."
"Home?" Alex asked incredulously, looking around frantically for something - anything - that could be used as a weapon. But there were no pokers by the fireplace and no vases and no flowerpots and, Alex realized, absolutely nothing that could be heaved, wielded, or broken to make a useful tool. "You've got to be kidding me."
"I'm afraid we've had to take the liberty of... removing certain items from your room," Xavier continued on unperturbed. "And no, I'm not kidding. Contrary to popular opinion, I am indeed in possession of a sense of humor, but it is not on display at the moment."
"What do you want with me?" Alex asked, moving to the window. He tugged with all of his not inconsiderable strength on the brass handles, but the window didn't budge. Looking out, he could see that he was on the third or fourth floor, too high to reasonably expect to jump and land safely, but this was rapidly becoming a moment to stop being reasonable.
He spun around and eyed the door. Xavier was between him and there, but Alex was sure he could outmaneuver an invalid in a wheelchair. But these were old doors, he mused. Not only were they probably solid oak, but they were also lockable by a key. And Xavier was in no doubt in possession of the key.
"If you'd stop trying to escape for a moment," Xavier began, "I'd be more than happy to explain things to you."
"And then you'll let me go?" Alex asked incredulously, moving slowly around the perimeter of the room so that there was a direct line between him and the door. Just in case it wasn't locked.
"When it's safe for you to go, then yes, you will be free to leave," Xavier said with a nod. "But I'm afraid that for the time being, you are... being encouraged to stay here."
"Encouraged," Alex repeated with a snort. "You fucking kidnapped me. Why? Are you going to brainwash me until I start singing 'Mutants of the World, Unite'?"
"That was Magneto's theme song, such as it was," Xavier replied, giving a moue of distaste. "And I sincerely doubt that brainwashing will be necessary. You're a very bright man, Alex, and I'm sure your sense of self preservation will eventually overcome your rather repugnant ideology."
"You're going to torture me until I'm a mutie lover?"
Now that he was up and alert, Alex noticed the vague flu-like symptoms that seemed to be creeping up on him. A side effect of the tranquilizers they had used on him, no doubt. He always reacted badly to anesthetics of any kind; even cold medicine threw him for a loop.
"That was perhaps a poor choice of phrase," Xavier admitted with a wry smile. "I meant to say that I have faith that you will eventually come to believe on your own that mutants are indeed people who deserve respect and consideration."
"Has the weatherman said that hell is freezing over soon?" Alex asked, edging closer to sit at the chair by the desk. He was now only about three yards from the door. "What's my sense of self-preservation got to do with it, then? If you're not going to torture me, of course."
"Haven't you noticed the headaches?" Xavier asked, the wry smile melting into something closer to a smugness that disturbed Alex more than anything he'd said. "The way your nerves suddenly ache and spasm? All of the other little things that never went away after puberty came and went?"
"You've poisoned me?" Alex's mind was reeling. That would explain the achy body and headache even more than the tranquilizers would. He knew he should have been more careful with his person. He'd refused all suggestions that he use a bodyguard and had been insistent on not taking any special precautions. He went where he wanted and did what he wanted without any restriction (other than parental controls that were lessening gradually as he crept closer to legal adulthood) because he was a human and it was the mutants who should be running scared.
"Don't be so melodramatic," Xavier sighed tiredly. "You know what the signs are."
"Fuck that and fuck you," Alex growled and ran for the door. It was unlocked, the self-confident bastard... and right on the other side was a very, very large man.
"Ah, so we meet again," the giant greeted him cheerily, a Russian accent clearly discernable.
Alex stared until realization hit. This was the man (although upon closer inspection Alex really wasn't sure how much older than him the guy could be) who had shot him. Almost instinctively, Alex brought a hand to his chest. It was sore, but obviously not bullet-riddled.
"You remember me," the giant continued, still disgustingly cheerfully. "I'm touched. We should get to know each other better if we are going to keep running into each other like this. But not now," he said, gesturing with his chin behind Alex. "Now you go back inside and finish your talk. Then we can chat. You like hockey?"
Alex was about to request that the big Russian go commit the same act of onanistic sodomy that he had encouraged of Xavier when a new voice from behind the giant spoke up.
"Just get him back in there, Colossus. Quiz him on the Rangers later."
"Yes, boss," Colossus sighed, then looked down at Alex. "In," he commanded, reinforcing it with a powerful shove to the shoulder. "And be good."
Alex tripped clumsily on the edge of the rug and fell hard on his rear. Damned drugs must not be out of his system. Before he could get up, the owner of the disembodied voice moved into the room past Colossus.
"Cyclops," Alex sneered as he stood up and dusted himself off. Suddenly things made sense. Colossus. Cyclops. He had been kidnapped by the X-Men. "I guess it was only a matter of time. I see you've been forgiven for your little joyride to the Savage Land."
"Apparently," Cyclops replied, voice tight. "You haven't gotten around to telling him yet, I gather," he said to Xavier.
"Tell me what, you freak?" Alex stormed back toward the window. If he couldn't open it, perhaps he could go through.
"I was almost there when he decided to meet Colossus," Xavier replied dryly.
"Will you..." Alex spun back to face the room.
"Shut up, Alex," Cyclops barked. "Just shut up, sit down, and stop pacing like a fucking caged animal. Nobody's going to hurt you here, which is more than could be said were the situation reversed."
"Why should I believe you?" Alex asked with a deceptively mild voice. He wasn't shouting, he was proud to note. "What's to say that your definition of 'not hurt' is the same as mine?"
"True enough," Cyclops replied, shrugging. "But you're really out of options, aren't you? You're not going to get past Colossus and you're not dumb enough to try to go through the window. Even if you could, you'd be stuck once you hit the ground. It's three stories down. You're not a track star if you have a broken leg and you don't have the training to know how to land.
"Your best chance is to sit through whatever the Professor thought was important enough to bring you here to listen to and then hope we're as peace-loving as we say we are and will then let you go. You can do that much, Alex. You're not going to catch anything from us muties."
"Contact is bad enough," he growled back. But Cyclops did have a point. Alex sat down in the healthily-stuffed chair by the window. There was nothing to do but wait until another chance to flee presented itself.
"Now, I believe we were just at the point where you realized that there was more to your... growing pains... than you'd care to admit," Xavier began mildly.
Alex fumed. Did the man ever display any sort of emotion? "You were about to accuse me of being a closet freak, you mean?" he corrected.
"I accuse you of nothing," Xavier replied. "I am merely stating facts."
"How could you know anything about me?" Alex asked, leaning forward in his chair. Across the room, almost parallel with Xavier, Cyclops (who was leaning faux-casually against the desk) shifted position as if on battle alert. Alex smiled inwardly at even this minor sign of having some control over the situation.
"Oh, I'm sure you've got your connections," he continued, "being all buddy-buddy with the president and all. But that will only get you where and why I've been arrested and - if you're good - my file with Social Services." Left unsaid, Alex continued in his head, was that if Social Services couldn't figure out much of anything about his past, Xavier sure as hell wasn't going to come up with anything. Xavier couldn't hope to bluff him that way.
"You'd be surprised what a little due diligence will bring up," Xavier replied. "But detective work is not why you were brought here."
Alex watched as Xavier turned to Cyclops and stared at him, almost as if they were having a conversation only with their eyes. Of course, you couldn't see Cyclops' eyes. Freak.
"The research is still new," Xavier continued, turning back to him. "For obvious reasons. But the X-factor does seem to defy many laws of genetic probability. Among first generation mutants, siblings displaying the X-factor rate disproportionately higher than might be expected, even in cases where the parent has undergone some sort of biological modification. Radiation exposure, for instance."
"And you're telling me all about this because?" Alex asked, making a great show of boredom. Just because he couldn't go anywhere didn't mean he had to pretend that he was enjoying himself. He would amuse himself by shifting around a little just to make Cyclops jump, but his body ached enough to make the pain not worthwhile.
"Because you are part of this study now and it is only fair that you be apprised of that fact," Xavier answered. "Although for many other reasons it would have been ideal had your parents still been alive..."
"You wouldn't have grown up to be such a shit, for starters," Cyclops bit off loud enough to be heard.
"Fuck you, Cyclops," Alex growled.
"Professor, I think I'd like to handle it from here," Cyclops said evenly. To Alex's surprise, Xavier nodded and wheeled himself to the door.
"And where are the unfortunate souls who whelped you?" Alex took comfort in Cyclops' visible flinch.
"Same place yours are, Alex," Cyclops replied after Xavier left the room. "Buried among plane wreckage somewhere in Nebraska."
Alex sat bolt upright, anger coursing through his body and eradicating all pain in its wake. "What do you know about my parents, you unholy freak of nature? How dare you try to draw some analogy..."
"No analogy, Alex," Cyclops cut him off. "I don't do analogies. You're the gifted kid in the family, apparently."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Alex shouted as he stood up. "I have no freaks like you in my family! I have no fucking family at all."
"Major Christopher Summers, US Air Force," Cyclops replied, pushing off from the desk and standing up. "Died in an off-duty plane crash along with his wife Katherine. Sons Scott and Alexander were the only survivors."
"That's in the report," Alex growled. "You could have read about that anywhere."
That was a lie and he knew it. His own memories of the plane crash were foggy and incomplete; he had apparently blocked out the entire incident and it had been years before he'd remembered enough to even properly identify his birth family. There was official record now, albeit sealed. If he had any blood relatives, they did not know that Chris and Kate's sons had survived the fiery crash and Alex had not seen his brother since he'd been placed with his first foster family almost a decade ago. He didn't even know if Scott ever awoke out of the coma; for all he knew, Scott was still in a facility in Nebraska.
"Mom used Dad's belt to tie us together after Dad put the parachute on me," Cyclops continued quietly. "She told us she loved us and she made me promise never to let you go. You screamed all the way down."
Alex leaped backwards, crashing into the window. "No. This is all some kind of mind-fuck. You just want to get the FoH off your back. I've read all about brainwashing techniques. You want to create a common bond so that I'll feel sympathy."
"You still have the scar on your right shoulder blade," Cyclops continued, taking a step forward. "It's real faint, but I looked for it. I pushed you over a tricycle when you were four. You landed on your back and your shoulder caught on something."
"That's a shot in the dark," Alex scoffed frantically. A completely unbelievable day had just taken a turn a few exits past surreal. "I don't even remember how I got that."
"Mom made you dress up as a tomato for Halloween when you were seven," Cyclops persisted, moving closer so that he was now standing next to the bed, almost arm's length from Alex. "She sewed the costume herself, stuffed it with crumpled newspaper until you could barely get out the doorway. You'd wanted to be Batman and pitched a fit until Dad told you that you'd get more candy if you were something everyone else wasn't."
"No," Alex whispered. There was no way to know about that. Hell, he only remembered it when Cyclops brought it up... Cyclops. "You're not Scott."
"Yes I am," he replied, taking another step closer. "Or do I have to keep proving it to you?" He didn't wait for an answer. "You used to chew on my G.I. Joe action figures. I got into trouble for hitting you after you left a tooth mark in Cobra's facemask."
"No," Alex murmured as he turned toward the window, the headache that had been forgotten returning with a vengeance. "This is all a head game. You've got a telepath here. You're just picking things out of my brain."
"Bullshit," Cyclops shot back. "I couldn't sit down for a week after Dad tanned my hide. I'm your brother, Alex."
"No," Alex repeated, finding his resolve and grabbing onto it for dear life. He walked past Cyclops, almost daring him to reach out and grab him, and was most of the way to the door before turning around. "If you're a fucking mutie then you're no family of mine. You should have died back then with Mom and Dad. Saved the world a lot of trouble." He took strength from watching Cyclops - and he had to stay Cyclops - reel under the force of his words.
"Guess what, brother mine," Cyclops bit out, walking back toward Alex. "You're an abomination just like me. Didn't you hear the Professor? You'd have to be a true freak of nature not to be a mutant. You aren't that lucky, Alex."
"The hell I'm not," Alex growled and then winced as the headache suddenly turned into an axe between his eyes. He reached for the back of the desk chair.
"You just haven't manifested yet," Cyclops continued. "You've led a cushy life. No stress to bring it out."
"No stress," Alex chuckled bitterly. "Well, you sure as hell are making up for it all right now." He opened his eyes and straightened his posture, letting go of the desk chair. "So now that you've gone and ruined my day by pissing all over my family history, is there anything else or am I free to go?"
"One more thing," Cyclops continued, taking a slow step toward Alex. "I'm sorry."
"For what? For being born a freak?"
"For letting you go," Cyclops replied. "I broke that promise. And look what you turned into. Mom and Dad would not be impressed."
"How the hell would you know?" Alex retorted, anger almost overwhelming him. It was his most secret dream - what would his life have been like had there been no plane crash. And he was going to be damned before he'd let his mutant freak of a brother spoil that dream. "How do you know that they wouldn't be charter members of Friends of Humanity? How do you know that they wouldn't have smothered you the minute your mutation showed?"
"Oh, that's easy," Cyclops answered. "Our parents loved us enough to sacrifice their lives for us."
"That..." Alex stopped short. He suddenly couldn't see straight. His head felt like it was going to explode and he wanted very much to throw up. His body felt like it was made out of Jell-O and he didn't have the strength to push away when Cyclops grabbed him by the shoulders.
"Alex? Are you all right?" Cyclops asked, concern clear.
"You... poisoned... me..." Alex ground out, stumbling away and nearly falling onto the bed.
"Stop being paranoid," Cyclops replied with an angry sigh. "Let's get you downstairs to the medical lab. The Professor will meet us there..."
They never made it. Alex got as far as his feet when he suddenly felt like every cell in his body spontaneously combusted. He saw a blindingly bright light and then nothing.
And this time, there was no smell of Earl Grey awaiting him on the other side.