A Time To Be Born…
by Charlie Ball & John Guilfoyle

Alex located Sarah near the edge of the command post. She was sitting quietly, apparently taking a break from the loosely organized chaos that was the aftermath of the battle. He briefly considered reforming next to her but, not knowing how she’d react, decided against it. Instead he materialized a hundred meters away, behind a structure that looked something like a garage.

He noted, with some distaste, that he was wearing his costume. It wasn’t that it was a particularly gaudy thing. It was mostly black and white and had a gold treble clef design on the upper left side of the chest. The reason he didn’t like it was that, when he wore it, he felt like he was parading around in his pajamas.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have any normal clothing to put on and there wasn’t a haberdasher around for miles. He wistfully pictured himself in a long overcoat, cinched at the waist.

“I’d pay a lot for a coat right now…” he said to himself, sighing. He took a couple of steps and a brief chord sounded in his mind.

The coat he had been thinking of moments before formed about him. It was unexpected but, somehow, he wasn’t surprised.

“This will take a little getting used to…”

He shrugged and stepped from behind the building, walking toward Sarah. Though the attractive meta-human had had her nearly mortal injuries healed when Alex had miraculously returned from the dead, the girl's durable costume was in tatters, and she now wore a British paratrooper jacket. She wasn't looking his way, and did a double-take when she finally caught sight of him.

"A-alex?" Sarah got to her feet as the tall Brit approached her. "Alex," she repeated, touching her friend's chest as they stood face-to-face. Opening his coat slightly, she found his costume beneath, whole and un-punctured. "Alex…" she said again, nearly speechless.

"Spot on all three times," replied Alex with a gentle smile. "How are you doing?"

He noticed the paratrooper jacket and asked with a touch of mischief in his eyes, "Have you decided to enlist in the British military or is this some new fashion thing?"

Noting the condition of her costume, he paused a moment. I wonder...

"It looks like your paja-- uh, costume took quite a beating," he said, his smile widening. "May I?"

His eyes went slightly out of focus for an instant and Sarah's costume seemed to re-knit itself almost immediately.

He smiled again when he was finished and said, "Excellent. I wasn't completely certain that would work"

Opening her jacket a little after a strange sensation crawled over her body, Sarah looked down to see her now intact costume. Her head swimming a little, the girl leaned into her friend with a hug. "Alex… I… what happened to you? You were dead! And now - how did you just do that?"

"That," he said as he returned her hug, "is going to be a very long story... or perhaps a very short story followed by a very long explanation."

Alex looked around, making sure they were alone before he continued. "I don't think this is a good place to launch into a lengthy explanation. If it will put your mind at ease, let me say that you're right... I was dead. Fortunately, it turned out to be a temporary state of affairs. Not one that I'd be quick to repeat, mind you, but as it turns out, I think it was necessary -- for a number of reasons."

Sarah broke their embrace, and there was a look of concern on her beautiful face. "Are you… yourself Alex? You seem… different."

"Well I... that is to say... Oh dear. This is actually much more difficult than I'd imagined. The simple answer is: yes -- I am myself... only a little bit moreso. I'm very much the same as I've always been but with a few minor differences. Much the same as if I'd gone off to University and returned with a bit more knowledge..."

Alex paused, noting Sarah's look of confusion. He was suddenly very afraid she was slipping away from him. "Here," he said gently. "Take my hand. Does it feel any different than it did yesterday? How about this one? Feels the same as the other one, right? Well, except that it's the left hand instead of the right... but you get the idea. I haven't changed in any way that's important. I'm still the same tall, well-mannered, dashing, desperately-in-love Englishman that I was 24 hours ago."

Holding Alex’s hands, Sarah looked up at him. “Haven’t changed in any way that’s important? Alex, you just died back there. And just now you like stared off into space and… like… changed reality. My costume was shredded - now it’s fine. And - waitaminute,” she interrupted herself. “Desperately-in-love? You can’t pull that kind of thing at a time like this!”

"Pull what kind of thing? I didn't say 'Desperately-in-love.' All I said was 'tall, well-mannered, dashing, Desp-- oh... I guess I did say that, didn't I. I'm sorry -- not about the being in love part -- just the timing. I'd imagined a more appropriate setting for -- well, never mind that for now."

"For now, the important thing is that any change I may have undergone really isn't that significant," he said holding up a hand to forestall the impending interruption. "The 'changing reality' bit isn't all that different from what I could do before -- I just don't need to have music running in the background. Well... at least not for the little things anyway." Alex knew what he was saying was accurate, but he wasn't quite sure how he knew. It was almost like something half-remembered...

"And what about the dying and coming back part?" asked Sarah skeptically. "That didn't seem very 'little' to me..."

"Well... no. That was pretty big. But. It was also a one-time thing. From here on out, I'll need to look both ways when I cross the street, be careful of long falls, and avoid the pointy bits whenever possible." Alex looked at Sarah with some concern. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Already feeling woozy, and now a little overwhelmed by both the changes in Alex and his declaration, Sarah felt her normally powerful legs tremble. “I need to sit back down,” she commented, looking away as she found her way back to the field chair she’d been sitting in. “I’m really feeling kind of… weird.”

Alex helped her to the seat and knelt down beside her. "Can I get you anything, a glass of water perhaps?"

Sarah sat back in the chair and looked down at herself momentarily, frowning slightly. A second later, she smiled and answered, "Sure, but only if it comes from that cooler over there and not out of thin air."

"Done."

Alex filled a cup with water and brought it to his friend, who by now already had some color back in her cheeks. She drank deeply and wiped her perfectly-formed mouth.

"I'm sorry, Alex, I'm just not feeling myself. I can just imagine what this is like for you - to have gone through all this. Let's just help with the clean up here today and figure all this other stuff out later, like tonight or something, over some hot food. The important thing is that we both made it, and that the Elite's been defeated."

"That is an important thing," he agreed. "Okay, let's go see what there is to do and find out who to talk to about making a few calls. I should let mother know I'm all right, and I'd imagine that your own parents would be happy to hear your voice..."

As it turned out, there was a good deal more talking and answering questions than there was actual cleaning up. It was confirmed that most of the mutants in the immediate area had reverted back to human form. As a result there was little for them to do other than gather the dead and wounded as well as the dazed victims of Autocrat's flesh factories. There were a few instances where Sarah and Alex helped to clear some rubble to make way for transports, but otherwise the pair spent a great deal of time debriefing the various field commanders.

Sarah noticed that Alex was careful to avoid mentioning that he'd died at Avatar's hands or anything that occurred after he revived. Instead, he merely explained that he had taken the brunt of a blast from the Babylonian and had lost consciousness. In truth, while he had fairly clear memories from his "return" to setting the Keep down in Antarctica, everything that happened afterwards was an indistinct blur. He remembered the Song of Destruction, shunting a massive energy release... and a monument... but the details were vague.

Neither Alex nor Sarah were able to get an open line to their respective parents. They were each informed that communications would likely be fouled up for quite a while. However, they were ultimately able to get word to their respective families to let them know they were all right. A short while later, the pair caught a transport plane back to London, and Ireland was behind them.

******

Sarah looked blankly in the mirror at the confused young woman staring back at her. She blinked several times and hesitated, held in place by her own vibrant blue eyes. Leaning closer to her reflection, she bared her teeth for all she was worth. Inspecting her utterly perfect pearly whites with a critical eye, she saw no sign, no hint of the massive dental work that had gone into giving her such straight, polished teeth. Leaning back, she drew as deep a breath as she could through her nose, noting with some surprise that her sinuses seemed clear and unobstructed. Turning partially sideways, she leveled her gaze at her chest. Since the operations, her breasts had always been her most prominent feature, jutting out from her body impressively, straining the fabric of virtually anything she wore. Now… something was different. Still strikingly large and full, her breasts looked less swollen, more natural somehow. Cupping her breasts, she gently touched their sides and undersides, feeling for the tell-tale signs of her massive implants. Nothing. Not so much as a bulge or wrinkle.

When the hotel room's doorbell rang, Sarah grabbed and pulled on a t-shirt, her mind still grappling with the changes in her body. "That you, Alex?" she asked, tying her hair back into a quick ponytail as she approached the door.

"Yes, it is. I do hope you weren't expecting someone else," he answered. "I'd be terribly embarrassed."

Sarah opened the door and Alex was standing there, wearing black jeans and a deep green polo shirt that seemed to match his eyes. When they'd decided on dinner that evening they had planned on something a little dressier. Unfortunately, the military moved at a speed of it's own and the debriefing sessions dragged on a good deal longer than either of them had imagined. In the end, they decided on something more casual.

"Are you ready to go?" he asked as she stepped back to admit him. "Any preferences for supper? Italian? Chinese? Indian?"

Sarah grimaced slightly. "You know, it's a good thing we decided to do casual, because I'm finding that… well, I don't really have anything to wear." Looking down at her bare feet, she continued, "Actually, would you mind if we ate in tonight? The room service here is decent. I just don't really feel up to going out. And some of the stuff we need to talk about… well… it's private."

"Actually, I think that's a very good idea. The change of pace will be quite nice."

"Great," Sarah answered. "Have a seat," she added, crossing the room to pick a menu up off the bedside table. A few seconds after Alex settled in on the sofa, Sarah plunked herself down next to him and held the menu aloft. "I'm just going to have the fish and chips," she said simply. "What do you want?"

"Haggis." Noting Sarah's look of disbelief, he smiled and quickly added, "just kidding -- fish and chips will be fine."

Hanging up the phone after ordering, Sarah returned to the couch and sat down. "There," she said, blowing a stand of blond hair from her face. "It'll be about twenty minutes."

Alex nodded. "Were you able to get in touch with your parents? I tried to contact mother again, but she wasn't in. I left a message for her to call me on my cell phone when she returned."

"Yeah, I talked to my mom briefly. She's doing okay. She was worried from all the news reports… and let's just say I didn't get into the gory details."

"Sounds like a good idea. I've already decided that mother doesn't really need to know all of the details of the last couple of days. She never lets on, but she worries enough about me already, I think.

Tucking her feet up underneath her, Sarah leaned back on a sofa cushion and looked first to the night sky outside her window, then to her friend beside her. "So, Alex," she began. "What's the whole story? Why did you do that? And what happened to your when you were… dead?" Interrupting the man before he could answer, Sarah added, "And don't worry -- I'm feeling much better now… not as overwhelmed."

Alex fell silent and, after a moment, Sarah began to wonder if he'd heard her. Finally drew a deep breath and began to speak.

"When we first hit the battlefield, I thought the butterflies had taken up permanent residence in my stomach. My little mp3 player was going full blast though, and I thought everything would be fine. But when we got separated I almost panicked. I had no idea what had happened to you or where you were. But then I, sort of -- felt you. Like you were next to me or something. I didn't know how I knew, but I knew you were still okay."

Sarah shifted a little in her seat, but continued to look at her friend attentively.

"Anyway, I kept fighting and this huge bugger shot me with the canon he was using for a gun -- knocked me on my ass. The shot didn't really hurt me too much but it destroyed my mp3 player. I thought I was screwed. But I wasn't... the player was shattered, but I still heard... Music."

Sarah was listening intently. When Alex said the word "Music", she thought she could almost hear him say it with a capital "M."

"It was strange," he continued, searching for words. "Like I was still hearing stuff come through the ear piece, but it was... purer somehow, like the essence of combat had been distilled and piped directly into me as music. From that point the fight became much... easier. The Music -- the Song of Combat -- enabled me to avoid or withstand the incoming attacks and strike harder, more accurately. The battle became like a huge dance. If the situation weren't as serious as it was, I might have enjoyed the experience."

"Then I caught a glimpse of you and everything slowed to a crawl... I tried to make my way towards you. As I did so, it seemed like the parting of the Red Sea -- every soldier, every mutant moved aside... and there you were, standing in front of Avatar. Bruised and battered. About to be struck down. I suddenly felt sick, like it was my entire world was about to be blasted into nothing. I couldn't let it happen..."

"So I moved. Probably faster than I've ever moved -- I think I may have actually run through someone. The music seemed to change, responding to my need and I was able to push you out of the way. I remember feeling relieved that you were out of harm's way and then there was a moment of intense pain..."

There was a polite knock on the door and Alex stopped. Sarah got up and opened the door to admit Room Service with their food. Alex tipped the man and closed the door.

Opening the bottle of wine, Alex continued.

"At that point I woke up on a grassy field. I spoke a little bit with Weaver --"

"Weaver?" Sarah asked, unscrewing the cap from the small bottle of vinegar that had come with their meal. "Who's that?"

Alex flashed a quick smile. "Weaver's a story for another time, I think. It turns out I had a few more issues to resolve than I thought. Anyway, after I talked with Weaver, I saw my father -- but he looked like he did before the accident."

"The accident…" Sarah said quietly. "You dad was hurt in a car crash, right?"

"When I was eleven, I was riding with my father in his roadster and there was an accident. I escaped without a scratch. Father ended up in a coma and hasn't come out of it." Alex seemed to be on the verge of tears, but he gave a small grin and continued.

"For a long time, up to that point actually, I blamed myself both for the accident and my father's condition. He showed me what actually happened that day and that I wasn't to blame. Then he made me remember who I was."

Sarah's brow creased slightly. Who he was?

"Finally, he offered me a choice of remaining with him or returning to the world of the living. I was very tempted to remain but the pull to return was much stronger. I couldn't let Autocrat win. There was no one left to take care of mother... And I couldn't bear the thought of not seeing you again."

Alex paused a little to let his words sink in and took a sip of his wine.

Sarah's cheeks colored slightly. "You, uh, said your father made you remember who you were... what does that mean? Um, who are you?"

"I'm... well, perhaps more of a... no. Who I am is... oh, bloody hell."

Sarah watched Alex struggle for the words to answer her question. After a moment, he seemed to come to some sort of resolution.

"I am Arthur William Richard Alexander St. John-Smythe, son of Richard and Allyson, Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. There's actually a few more titles and a fairly long lineage that goes along with that but I tend to get lost after going back a couple of generations. In any case, that has been my name for the last 19 years and with a moderate amount of luck, it is a name I'll have for a long time to come."

"Oh," Sarah said, breathing something of a sigh of relief. "That's it? For a minute there I thought there was going to be some big terrible secret that-"

Alex held up his hand to stop her. "There's more," he said quietly. "Have you ever seen the movie Meet Joe Black? Or maybe the original movie titled Death Takes A Holiday?

Sarah wrinkled her nose. "You mean you're like Death, or something?"

"No. I'm... Music... or that's who I was anyway... and will probably be again one day. For now, I'm just Alex..."

"You mean like… personified. Like Music come to life. Music… yeah, music. You’re music."

"Well...Yes. Music."

"But only like, when you need to be. Music, I mean."

"Um... It's not really like a switch I can flick on and off. I mean, I suppose in a way, I'm always Music -- it's just  that, as Alex, I've got a few self-imposed limits..."

"Right, music."

"Right."

Sarah took a bite of fish, chewed, swallowed and sat back on the sofa. "That's quite a story. So I guess when you were music you kind of… came back, right? When you came, uh, back to life…"

"Yes. No... It's very difficult to explain. I was still Alex in many respects, but I had drawn on more of my Primal essence to do what was needed. I suspect I was closer to being Music than Alex at that point."

"So that's how you transformed all those mutants back into people?"

"Yes. At that point, I could perceive the wrong-ness, the..." Alex paused, trying to find the right word before saying, "the Discord, in what had been done to them by the Elite. I was able to change them back to what they should have been were it not for Autocrat's twisted ideas.

"So when did you stop being," Sarah gestured with her hands for effect, "music, and start being Alex again? Can you tell when it's going to happen?"

"To answer the first question," he began, "I became Alex -- myself -- again when I appeared at the military post where I found you. As for knowing when it's going to happen... While I'm no longer strictly dependent on music for the abilities that I manifest, the amount of power I normally control is still relatively minor. I can become more powerful than I am now, but only if it’s necessary -- I don't know if there's an upper limit. I imagine that if I allowed the power to grow long enough, my life as Alex would ultimately end," he added, a little sadness creeping into his expression.

Sarah looked a little unsettled. Leaning slightly closer, she asked, "Were you in control, or was it like something was telling you what to do?"

"I..." Alex sighed. "This seemed so much easier when I didn't have to put it into words. When I came back, I could hear the Song of Creation. It's sort of the music that dictates how the Universe works... actually, that's not entirely accurate. It doesn't dictate as much as suggest the way things are supposed to happen. Certain events, people's decisions, and sometimes random occurrences can change the Song. As a result, the Song influences people and events at the same time they influence the Song.

"The short answer is 'yes'. I think I was in control, but I was using that control to set things back to the way the Song of Creation said they should be. I sort of reinforced the Song and the rest was automatic."

"I hope this is making sense," he said. "I'm finding it a good deal more difficult to explain this stuff than I thought it would be."

Sarah took a drink from her wine glass. "Sort of. I don't know that I'm totally getting the whole Music and Song thing, but I think I understand, for the most part." Finishing her meal, the attractive blonde added, "I don't mean to grill you, Alex. I know you've been through a lot - God, that's putting it mildly - I know you've been through a lot, and maybe don't want to dwell on some of this stuff, since it's so fresh. And weird."

Alex smiled slightly and said, "I don't really consider this 'being grilled.' And 'weird' sums it up very, very well."

"Can I ask you one more question about it?" Sarah asked.

"Absolutely. Anything."

Sarah thought for a moment, then phrased her question delicately. "Well… back in Ireland, when you changed those people the way you did… do you think you might have… changed me as well?"

"Changed?" asked Alex with a very puzzled expression. "In what way? You seem fine to me. If anything, you look more beautiful than ever."

Sarah shrugged. "I think I'm okay, yeah - it's just that a few things seem, well, different. Do, uh, you know that I've had some plastic surgery?"

"Truly?" asked Alex, genuinely surprised.

Sarah fessed up. "Well, actually… I've had a lot of plastic surgery. It's part of the whole Knock-out image thing. My teeth, my nose, my boobs, my hair color, my eye color… none of it is real, Alex. You name the procedure… I've had it. I was kind of put together piece by piece - built to spec, to appeal to the masses, if you know what I mean."

"I didn't know…" Alex said softly.

Smiling, Sarah continued, "It's not that big a deal. I'm getting used to it, finally, I think. I don't look anything like I used to, before my powers manifested. Anyway, to get to the point, some things seem different now. Like… my real eye color is now the color of the lenses I normally wear. My hair color changed - I'm a natural blonde now, from the looks of it. Some other stuff too. It just seems like some of the cosmetic things have become… I dunno… real. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, I think so," he replied. "Or at least I understand what you're saying. Do you know when it happened?"

"Remember earlier when I felt all queasy and strange, after the battle with Avatar? That might not have been only because I was freaking after watching you come back to life. You healed me, Alex. I was a mess, I know I had some broken bones. But after the whole… music thing, I was better." Sarah paused. "And I think that's when I started feeling a little different."

A look of panic slowly spread across Alex's face. "I don't think... I mean, it's possible, but I... on the other hand... oh damn... I'm sorry. I don't know for sure. I may have but I swear it wasn't intentional. I remember taking everything in, all of the information about everything that was going on and I remember thinking, 'this must be put right.' I willed it to be so -- and whatever mechanism I activated to do it took over..."

"That was like that big rush of sound, right? That might have been it…"

"I'm so sorry if I've caused you any harm or distress," he said, almost pleading. "To have gone through what you must have to... If there's some way I can undo it or make it up, I'll do it in half a heartbeat..."

"I feel just fine," Sarah answered. "In fact, maybe a little better than before. Some of the surgeries made… well, after certain procedures, you can lose sensitivity in some places, go numb in other, and all sorts of other unpleasant stuff. I don't feel any of that now. It's totally bizarre, but my body feels like… it's my own, I guess, it just feels natural. I don't know - don't worry about it. I'll have a physical tomorrow at the base and figure out if this is all in my mind or not."

"I do hope everything is all right. I'd hate to think... Well... I just hope you're okay..."

Sarah sighed. "Tell you what - let's just kick back tonight and watch a movie or some TV or something. I don't want to think about Ireland, or the Elite, or you dying, or me wigging out because my eyes are bluer than they used to be, or whatever." Picking up the remote control, she added, "Can I see what's on?"

"Certainly," he said, checking his watch. "I don't suspect there'll be anything interesting locally, though... unless you're into news or documentaries..."

Flicking on the television, Sarah slouched down into the couch and knit her eyebrows in determination. "We'll find something. I refuse to use my brain for the rest of the night."

Alex took a few bites of cold fish and wheeled the cart out into the hallway. He came back into the room and sat next to Sarah and they finally settled on an old mystery movie.

About an hour or so later, they were slightly startled when Alex's phone rang. He reached over, fished the phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. The caller ID flashed the word "Mother" on the display.

"Hello, Mother," he said flashing a grin. "I tried to contact you earlier but you didn't answer. I wanted to let --" The expression on Alex's face quickly changed to one of concern.

"Mother, what's wrong? You sound -- oh no." Alex paused briefly, his eyes beginning to glisten. When he spoke again, there was a slight quaver to his voice. "When? I see. How are you doing? I know. It's still something of a shock though. When are the services? I see. Yes, I'm all right. I'll be okay. I'll be home soon. Good bye, Mother. I love you, too."

A look of concern marked Sarah's pretty - and now completely natural - features. "Alex?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

"My father passed away earlier today."

Sarah's face fell. "Oh. Oh, Alex, I'm so sorry," she offered. Turning off the television, she sat up and put her hand on the man's leg. "I… don't know what else to say, Alex. I'm really sorry."

"The funeral is going to be in three days. I don't know what your schedule is like, but... If you can come, I'd be very grateful. I'll understand if you can't, though. It's not like I'm giving you much warning..."

Wanting to support her friend any way she could, Sarah nodded. "I'll go," she answered. "I'll just call and re-book my ticket."

"Thank you. It means a great deal to me.”

Alex was silent for a moment. “I should go now. The draw-back to being 'just me,'" he said with a weak smile, "is that it takes a bit more effort to get to where I want to be."

"Well," Sarah began, "I for one am glad you're just 'Alex' tonight. Music would have been much harder to entertain, and probably wouldn't have stood for room service."

Taking a pen from a writing desk, Alex wrote down his phone number on a slip of paper. "If you would, please give me a call after you've spoken to the doctor tomorrow. I just... I want to make sure everything is all right."

"Okay," Sarah said, taking the note.

Alex gave Sarah a hug and goodnight kiss on the cheek, which she returned.

"G'night, Alex. I'll call you..."

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