Between the Darkness and Light

by Talya Firedancer

Part Nineteen

Outside the study windows the atmosphere surrounding the mansion had deepened to the plum and burnished-gold shades of dusk but Scott remained at the wide, low oak desk from which his mentor and father-figure had administered the concerns of school and Foundation, then later, a covert group of mutants, for two decades. He had put his initial fears to rest that the X-Men had been exposed after Alcatraz after speaking with Ororo and Hank and making a couple of phone calls. They were safe, for now. The president was resisting legislation that would be imposed against all mutants, rather than a few terrorists.

The rest was a matter of paperwork, and damn but there was a lot of it. Though Ororo had kept the mansion open and running during a time of crisis she'd left other matters untended-to, things that couldn't have gone much longer and really would have stood to get taken care of a few days before he'd returned. Scott dived into the paperwork, and clicked on a lamp when the lavender haze of dusk gave way to bluish-gray darkness.

Between invoices, purchase orders, accounting details and tuition notices Scott became absorbed in the pile of work and, as usual when his concentration was total, lost track of the passage of time. All that and he hadn't even scratched the surface of Foundation details and the remainder of bequest fulfillments.

"Hey, you shouldn't avoid us and stay holed up in this musty study," said a newly-familiar resonant male voice, and Alex Summers sauntered through the door to Xavier's study, balancing a tray on one hand.

"I'm not avoiding" -- here Scott paused awkwardly, trying to deny that Logan's face flashed through the mind's eye in response -- "anyone, Alex, I just have...a damned lot of work to do."

Alex just looked at him, raising one brow in a minor but talented maneuver that Scott found himself wishing he could emulate. "Well, you don't have to do it all right now," he said, carrying the tray over to the area over by the bay window that had a coffee table and a pair of settees. "C'mon, little bro brought some grub, big bro has to be polite and at least pretend he has some intention of eating it. Take a break."

"All right," Scott said, pushing back from the table and heaving a sigh. He stood, leaning on the edge of the desk to help lever himself up from the chair and was surprised at how sore and creaky his body was. Had he really been sitting that long? "Ugh. Bully."

"Bitch," Alex retorted. "You're supposed to say thank you when someone brings you food, remember? Not bitch and moan. Come on, Scott, it can wait."

"Some of it can't," Scott claimed, but he was grabbing his cane and making a slow path for the coffee table. The aroma of beef-rich soup and hot buttered cornbread reached his nose, and a few other delicious things. "There's a lot of loose ends I need to tie up for the estate...uh, is that au gratin casserole?" He reached the coffee table and began to lower himself into sitting position, with a care for the ribs that twinged warning.

Alex grinned widely, plunking himself down onto one of the settees, which rocked under his weight before settling. "Sure is. One of Lorna's specialties. Which reminds me, you jerk, this would have been a hell of a way to find out how my big brother lived and died."

Scott's hand slipped as he settled himself into his chair and he fell against the back of his chair, open-mouthed. "Alex, what--"

"This," Alex said, waving a hand around as if to indicate the study, the house, the grounds. "All of it. Inheriting the Xavier Foundation, the school, everything."

"But you didn't..." Scott began, then it sunk in. "Oh, God. I left you everything."

"Yeah, and that's what he left you, you dope," Alex said, but not without affection. "Good thing I was already relieved to see you before that will-reading, you know?"

Scott shook his head, a chuckle surprised right out of him. "Oh, damn...I can imagine the fight Storm would have put up at that, considering her reaction to my bequest of the X-Men."

"I could take her," Alex said, tilting his head, and from his assured expression it was hard to say if he was being cocky or completely serious. "Serious, bro? I was tempted to go have a word with her when I heard what she pulled at the end of the will's reading. Hank convinced me it would be ill-advised." He stretched his lips in a brief imitation of a smile and cracked his knuckles.

"I can fight my own battles," Scott said, fixing his younger brother with a look and wishing not for the first time that he could actually make eye contact to impress the gravity of this.

"Well, not right now you can't," Alex said, and gestured. "But you will, I get it. Eat up, c'mon, there are about four or five people who'll kick my ass if that tray comes back with more food on it than empty."

It was on the tip of Scott's tongue to ask who, but he squelched that impulse in favor of enjoying the cornbread while it was still buttery-warm. The food was delicious and after a few restrained bites he found himself wolfing it.

"I think you would've done a good job leading the X-Men," Scott said thoughtfully, between the cornbread and soup.

Alex leaned back in his chair, a flattered look sweeping over his face. "Really? Thanks. I mean, I do want to lead my own task force some day, and I was pretty cheesed off when that didn't pan out in D.C. But you don't think I'm kinda young?"

"You're only four years younger than I am," Scott said wryly. He hadn't hit thirty yet but he hardly considered himself a teenager anymore. "Older than I was actually, when I started leading the X-Men. Besides, you relate really well to the kids -- you take things seriously, and instill the same sense of confidence, but you have a knack for rapport. I've watched some of your Danger Room sessions with them over the past couple of days."

"Ah, the training exercises," Alex acknowledged with a nod. Then he sniffed. "Well, I dunno, I don't think I have quite the same authoritative ring you do, Scott. Even out of the Danger Room most of 'em tend to mind you with no backtalk, and they don't even have to be told twice."

"Ha, you should see Lo--" Scott began, and cut himself off with the pretext of slurping down the last of his soup. He was a little surprised to realize he'd reached the bottom of the bowl so quickly.

"Lorna's good, she's a trooper," Alex said easily, filling in the blank erroneously. Scott wasn't about to correct him. He angled his head so that he was looking out the window. "She's been behind me every step of the way. But, yeah, she takes orders when they make sense to her and otherwise she tends to go her own way, not much discipline."

Scott glanced down at his plate, where he'd made inroads in the au gratin casserole. Lorna's specialty, his little brother had said, with an affectionate brand of pride. "You love her?" he prompted, chasing another bite around the dish with his spoon.

"I dunno," Alex admitted, shifting in his chair. He straightened out and leaned over his knees, bracing his elbows across each knee and lacing his hands together. "I mean, yeah, I love her. When we're together things are great, and when we're not together, we're still friends, and we've been going back and forth between the two for about five years or so and I keep wondering, you know? I wonder if I'm in love with her. It's like, am I with her because she can withstand my full unshielded energy, or because I really am in love with her? But if I am, then why do I keep her at arm's length?"

Scott laid his spoon across the dish and Alex glanced away out the window again, face contorting briefly.

"Sorry, I know the last thing you need is for someone to unload on you," he said, his voice conversationally light again.

"It's okay," Scott replied, because it was. "It's bothering you, right? Or else you wouldn't have mentioned it."

"Yeah," Alex said, quiet. "I mean...we're not together right now. I should feel bad about that, right? And...I do. But it doesn't tear me up. Things are still comfortable."

Scott's brows lifted. "Well, it sounds like she always lets you come back, am I right?"

A sheepish grin broke over Alex's handsome face, but there was a touch of cockiness there, too. "Yeah," he admitted. "I mean, she could have other men. You've seen her, she's a knockout. Me, my options are a little more limited. If she couldn't manipulate energy like she does - to be honest, I'd be afraid to try it with any woman but Lorna. I could kill someone without even trying. But, yeah, she's always ready to give it another go when I ask."

"So you feel like you don't have anything to lose whenever you think things are getting too intense?" Scott said, substituting that for another 'i' word he could've used - intimate. For all intents and purposes, though he felt at ease with him, Alex was still a relative stranger to him all blood ties aside.

"I guess," Alex said, a small frown creasing his brow.

"What if you didn't have that certainty, Alex?" Scott asked him. "What if...well, like you said, you want to lead a task force of your own some day, that idea you pitched in D.C. What if you landed the job, but Lorna wanted to stay here and teach?"

"Huh," Alex said, and the frown deepened. "I never thought of that. I mean, she's always been like my right-hand man."

Scott lowered his head to stare right at his brother, who after a moment looked somewhat abashed.

"She's not a man," Scott said. "She's a woman, and you should think about this - no matter how many times she's taken you back one day she might decide you really are better off friends." He leaned back in his chair, surprised to realize that most of his heaped-full tray of food had disappeared. It was all over but the cornbread and a last bit of congealing butter and honey.

"I know that," Alex started, then he rested his chin on his interlaced hands. "I know, but..." He fell silent and a brooding look fixed his gaze to the carpet.

"You're hurt," Scott said, and Alex twitched but didn't look at him again. "You're hurt and emotionally distancing yourself because of what happened to our parents, and then what I did and I'm sorry for that. You don't want to get that close to someone again because you don't want to lose them, and I don't blame you. But if you don't make that leap, that...connection... You'll be alone. You just have to decide when it's worth the leap."

They were quiet, and it gave Scott time to ponder whether those words had been entirely for Alex's benefit. After a long silence Alex bounded up from his chair, clapping Scott on the shoulder.

"I'll get that," he said, plucking the tray right out of Scott's hands. He was grinning, something of a front but there was a glint of sincerity there, too. He turned to leave the study but paused on the threshold. Without looking back, he said, "Hey...thanks, bro."

"No," Scott returned, "thank you."

Alex looked at him, then, crooking a slightly confused grin over his shoulder. "Don't stay up too late, all right?"

Scott waved him off, giving him a smile in return. "Someone has to enforce curfew."

"Yeah, true, " Alex said, raising a brow at him once more. "But does it always have to be you?"