Ties Never Binding 19/?

Disclaimer: GenX, Excalibur, and most (if not all) villains belong to Marvel Comics. Anyone else is my doing.

Author's Note: Well, what have we here..? Three new characters (all of which I created about two years ago and couldn't bear to let go, even if the story they were in *really* sucked;). Man, am I being prolific or what? This chapter was done in the space of about six hours, which shows how much work I can do if I set my mind to it. Maybe I'll have a few more to show for it by the time that week is out...

The three of us emerged from Between on someone's front lawn. At least, that's what I *thought* it was--it was a large clearing in front of a house that was otherwise surrounded by tall, thin trees I couldn't identify. To the right there was a gravel road leading off into the treeline and out of sight, while to the left there stood the house itself. It was *big*. It was only two stories tall, so calling it a mansion would have been an overstatement, but what it lacked in height it made up for in length. It looked very modern--white, clean, with the rut-marks of trucks and the remains of tree-stumps on the lawn still apparent here and there. The grass we were standing on was still pale and delicate--it made me feel guilty about treading on it. Somehow walking on new grass *always* makes me feel guilty.

"Thanks, Verney," I said as I released his arm, trying to get myself oriented. At least that "feeling" was gone--I could *think* again. Of course, the down-side to this was that I now realized what a bloody stupid thing I'd done, and that Sean and Emma (and likely a good chunk of the X-Men as well) were going to tell me as much. Extensively.

"Think nothing of it," Verney replied as he released Shrive, who was still breathless after the trip. Shrive staggered for a moment before straightening up and casting about, both visually and psychically.

"She's... not here!" Shrive exclaimed, blinking. "I thought for sure she'd be here! It felt so--right!"

"Maybe she's not here yet--but will be," I said, raising my right hand to my mouth and gently pressing the knuckle to my lips in contemplation. "The feeling I had to come here didn't focus until you concentrated on Karen. I'm *sure* this is the place..."

"Excuse me," came a deceptively calm voice from behind us. We all jerked around guiltily and discovered a boy--maybe Jonothon's age--standing behind us with his arms crossed across his chest. His hair was black and slightly wavy, and his eyes a kind of muted hazel. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.

"What are you doing on our lawn?" he inquired, dropping his arms to his side. "This is private property."

"We're sorry," I began, acutely aware that I was starting to blush. "Um, we were looking for someone. We didn't know this house was occupied."

"Well, it is," he answered, but his demeanor softened a little. He sized us up, glancing over Shrive in a second, his eyes lingering on me a fraction longer, and finally coming to a rest on Verney.

"Mutants?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. There was nothing derogatory implied at the comment, it was simply a question.

Well, what was I going to say? Verney, obviously, was a mutant, and I looked a little strange anyway, if not as blatantly.

"Yes," I replied with a short nod. "Shrive and I are telepaths, and Verney is a teleporter." I decided not to elaborate any more than that--best to keep things simple.

The boy looked as if he were trying to make up his mind about something, the shrugged. "All right. If you'd like safe haven for a little while you can come in. I'm Vance Reeves, by the way. I seem to be in charge most of the time."

"Dawn Embers," I said, smiling a little. Inwardly, I was wondering what kind of place this *was*. Safe haven for mutants? That sounded strangely familiar somehow...

Vance smiled at me. The suspicion was gone from his face now--his smile was very easy and natural. "Follow me," he said, walking towards the house. There was something odd about his walk, like it was too smooth for the terrain...

I glanced at his feet and realized why. His feet weren't even touching the ground!

"What's your power?" I inquired, then winced at my bluntness. Vance, however, didn't seem to mind.

"I'm a ghost," he replied, almost casually. "But please, *don't* try to put an arm through me. Passing through living beings *hurts*."

"Oh," I said faintly. He reached the door and put his hand on it. Then, as he tried to close his fingers around it, they slid *through* it. He swore quietly and grasped the doorknob firmly.

"That did not look easy for you," Verney observed.

"It's not, but I'm resigned to it," Vance informed him, opening the door. "What else am I supposed to do? My body's lying six feet under three states away." His voice had gone very, very flat. I psionically warned Verney that this was probably *not* a good subject to discuss at the moment.

The door swung open to reveal that the house (or at least the living room) looked every bit as vast inside as it did out, and then some. The color-scheme was very basic--the walls and couches were white, and the carpet was grey. The tables in the living room (three) were black, and seemed to consist of thick, intertwining wires. Two identical lamps were set on the tables beside the couches, a black base with small, intricate patterns of white roses climbing up either side. There were three slender, black halogen lights against three walls, and a *huge* entertainment center dominated the other. I gaped at the last--there had to be at *least* several thousand dollars of electronics right there! Two VCRs, a laser-disk player, a eighty-two inch screen (did they even *make* those?!), a CD player (with several hundred CDS displayed in a neat cabinet beneath it) a Playstation, Super NES, and Sega each in their own little cubbies--and several dozen game cartridges and video tapes arranged in some arcane cataloging system throughout.

"Damn," I heard Shrive murmur from behind me despite himself. I couldn't have agreed more.

"Derrick's parents were electricians," Vance supplied by way of explanation.

"Um." I said.

"Electricians make a *lot* of money."


"And we get some compensation from taking mutants in."


It *should* have seemed sterile, but it didn't. The whole house was permeated by that "lived in" quality that couldn't be feigned. Also, other little details began to register that had originally been missed. A stack of magazines was sliding off the glass-topped coffee table and onto the floor. There was a battered black sweatshirt thrown across one of the white couches, and a lot of game-guides for various Playstation games littered across the floor, some half-open. A single, solitary coffee-mug stood on its coaster on one table top next to a crumpled candy-wrapper. The smell of burnt toast was redolent throughout, emanating from the nearby kitchen. Clearly, people *lived* here. As to what *kind* of people...

There was a shrill, piercing wail from our left as the patio door opened. Two figures--a boy and a girl, the former about eighteen and the latter about seventeen--spilled onto the tile. The girl shrieked again as the boy struggled with her, his arms wrapped around her waist as he tried to drag her further inside.

"No bath!" she shrilled, wriggling vigorously. The boy spat out a mouthful of auburn hair and tightened his hold on her.

"Come on, Grace, I'm going to drag you if I have... to..." his eyes settled on Verney, Shrive and I. I was fairly certain most of our mouths were hanging open.

I saw his skin color rise several notches.

"Er..." he said, looking from us to the girl he was holding and back again. "Um. This looks rather bad..."

I could hear Vance snickering behind us. "Yes, it does," he agreed. "Would you like to introduce yourself?"

"Uh, sure," the boy replied, releasing the girl. However, instead of continuing her escape attempt, said girl merely sat on the floor and looked at him, eyes sparkling.

"Der-rick silly," she purred, and snuggled against the boy, who's embarrassment was surely escalating beyond belief judging from the look on his face.

"Um, Grace, please let go of my leg..." he murmured, trying to pry the girl off. She only laughed and hugged tighter.

"That's Grace Edwards," Vance sighed, motioning towards the red-head. She smiled and blinked bright blue eyes at us, looking smug. "She's being fostered here, in a manner of speaking. *That* is Derrick," and he indicated the boy, who had short grey hair and light blue eyes, verging on silver. "His parents own this house. They're on vacation right now--" this was accompanied by an expression that screamed "thank God," "--so we're holding the fort. Unfortunately, Grace doesn't want to take a bath--"

"No bath!" Grace beamed happily. Her arms and traveled up to Derrick's neck, and the poor boy was turning a fascinating shade of purple.

"--So Derrick had to go out and collect her," Vance concluded.

"Can't... breathe..."

"Not now, Rick. We've got company."


I heard a sharp intake of breath beside me and saw Shrive's expression out of the corner of my eye. It was one of stark astonishment. Before I could even ask Shrive himself spoke.

"Rick?" Shrive said in a slightly strangled voice. Derrick turned his head towards Shrive, and green eyes met blue. Grace's arms dropped as Derrick's mouth fell open, and in that moment I "heard" a brief psionic conversation taking place out of my proverbial earshot. It was short, but I saw Derrick's expression switch to brief confusion, then to understanding. There was an almost imperceptible nod, and Derrick opened his mouth.

"Shrive," he said unsteadily. "I haven't seen you in... four years? Where've you *been*?!"

"Working," Shrive answered shortly, and strode up to his friend (?) to help him to his feet. Grace blinked in confusion as Shrive pulled Derrick up and then offered a hand to her, which she accepted. She dusted her jeans off and cocked her head, looking from one to the other.

"Der-rick's friend?" she said questioningly. Huh. That was what *I* wanted to know!

"Old friend," Derrick affirmed with a crooked grin. A Significant Look passed between the two men, and Shrive closed his eyes slowly. It seemed like a signal of some sort.

"Where's Karen?" Derrick inquired. "Never thought I'd see the Dynamic Duo apart."

"It happens, on occasion," Shrive sighed. "But that's the problem. We don't *know* where she went. We think she might be coming here."

"You think," I interrupted. "I *know*."

"Who's that?" Derrick jerked his head in my direction.

"Dawn Embers," Shrive informed him. "Telepath, like myself."

"Who're you?" I asked Derrick. "I mean, how do you know Shrive?"

"Through Karen," Derrick replied. "My cousin."

"Karen's your *cousin*?" I yelped, taken aback. I mean, what were the odds..?

"Don't you see the family resemblance?" Shrive inquired with a ghost of a grin. I turned to examine Derrick more closely. Now that I really looked, I *did* see a resemblance. His hair, like Karen's, was silver-grey, and his face was the same thin, slightly triangular shape as her's. His eyes were blue instead of green, and his nose a little more pointed, but still...

"My God, you could be her brother," I said involuntarily. Derrick's mouth twitched, but I wasn't sure why.

"That position is already filled," he answered, and I flushed. "But it *is* a pretty strong resemblance, especially after my hair greyed, so I don't blame you."

"Don't forget your power," Shrive chuckled. "That *really* surprised your parents."

Derrick looked embarrassed. "But it's not even a *good* power..." he protested.

"Yeah, but it *was* ironic. Show them."

Derrick sighed and rolled up the sleeve of his right arm. Right below his elbow there was a thick, glistening band of... circuitry?!

"I managed to break my arm rock-climbing when I was thirteen," he explained, rubbing the band. "One minute my father's trying to find a phone to call 911 from, and the next this circuitry spontaneously welds the bone back together. Never went away, either. Same thing happens whenever I get cut--" He tilted his chin for us and indicated a small chip of metal, just out of sight. "Like so. Flakes off in a day or so, though, like a regular scab. Makes an awful noise when my razor skids over it, though."

Shrive snorted. "Like you shave."

Derrick gave him a look. "Well, once every week. Or... two... um."

"That sounds a *lot* like Karen's power," I noted. "Can you do anything else?"

"Well, I'm good with machinery, and that's about it," Derrick said. "I can't interface directly, like Karen can, but I have a certain knack for it."

"Interface directly," eh? There's something new...

"But why do you think she's coming here?" Derrick continued. "My folks and I just moved here a month ago, and I haven't seen her in four years. I don't know how she'd track me down unless she knew about Xavier's Underground..."

"The what?" Verney said alertly. He'd been very quiet so far--I'd all but forgotten he was in the room.

"My parents are part of Charles Xavier's Mutant Underground," Derrick supplied, looking at Verney for the first time. "Have you heard of it?"

"As a matter of fact, oui," Verney nodded. "My father is part of it."

"Well, my parents are pretty deep into it, too," Derrick said, looking a bit more interested. "Have been for several years, in fact. We act as a kind of halfway house for mutants on the run, which is why we're always prepared for visitors. I've pieced together some technology that can disguise mutagenic signatures, so we're basically left alone."

"I was directed here from Minnasota," Vance elaborated. "Said they were short of help, and I needed to do *something*. I've been helping to keep things organized for about eight months now. It's been a great way to get readjusted to my powers."

"And the Professor set this thing up?" I murmured wonderingly, marveling at the man's foresight. "Huh."

"And what about your little girlfriend there?" Shrive said jokingly, indicating Grace, who had curled up on the couch and was watching us with keen interest. "Where did *she* come from?"

Derrick turned a brilliant crimson, evoking a small giggle from yours truly. "She's not my girlfriend," he muttered to Shrive.

"Sure, Rick."

"She's *not*!"

"Mmm hmm."

"And anyway, we just found her wandering in the woods one day," Derrick said sullenly. "She's an animorph..."

"What, like the books?"

Derrick looked flustered. "Well, we couldn't think of anything better to call her, okay? Actually, she turns into various half-human crossbreeds. Feline, lupine, equine, vulpine, etc., etc.. We found her in the back woods a few months ago in a roughly half-vulpine form. We think she may have been directed here by some other members of the Underground, but she can't remember. Apparantly her powers affect her mind somewhat..."

Without warning, Grace launched herself from the couch and at Derrick. She hit him square on the chest before he could even begin to move away and drove him to the floor. She made a little "hurrr"-ing sound in the back of her throat and nuzzled Derrick's neck, much to his obvious mortification.

"Like this," he said weakly as Vance burst out laughing. Derrick shot his friend a withering look and tried (unsuccessfully) to scrape the girl from his chest.

"Shrive, a little help?" he all but begged the older man. Shrive, who was hard-pressed to contain his own laugher, took Grace by the shoulders and hauled her to her feet. She made a face at him but didn't protest.

"Actually, she can--and will be--pretty serious when she needs to be," Vance informed us in a whisper. "She just very, very playful. A lot like a puppy, actually."

"And you think it's because of her powers?" I inquired curiously. Vance shrugged.

"Near as we can tell. She says that somehow her thoughts and her actions don't hook up properly anymore, but she still retains her intelligence. It's been proven, too--she can read at a higher level than *I* can, and she's brilliant with numbers. A bit like a savant, I guess. It's just her speech that's impeded, nothing else."

I looked at Grace. She had turned her attention to a magazine, and was flipping through it idly. She noticed me looking at her and winked at me. I wondered just how much of her little "show" with Derrick had been just that--a show.

"Shrive, you look half-dead," Derrick remarked suddenly. "Why don't you and your friends go take a rest for a little while? We can talk later."

Something in the way he said the word "talk" made it imply much more than simply discussing why Karen might be coming, but I decided not to pursue it. I was due for a short nap anyway, and I had a feeling I would probably need it.

"I don't need any--" Shrive began, but I caught him by his shirt-sleeve.

"Yes, you do," I hissed under my breath. "I don't think you've gotten eight hours worth of sleep since Karen got worse. Either you go to sleep or I'll *make* you."

This was, of course, a bluff, but he got the picture.

"All right," he surrendered. "I'll take a nap, or something. Just promise you'll wake me if a jet lands in your backyard. Karry hijacked one from a research facility last night."

Derrick looked as if he'd seen Shrive just grow another head. "You're kidding."

"I'm afraid not."

Derrick rubbed his forehead. "I can hardly wait to hear your explanation for that one," he said.

"I wish I had one," Shrive sighed. "But I'll fill you in later... where's that bed?"

Absolutely amazing. Shrive was acting *normal* for once. Well... kind of normal, anyway. More normal than he *had* been acting. It was a pleasant change from the norm, I had to admit. I just hoped it would keep up.

"You follow me, sleep in my room, yes?" Grace piped up, tugging at my arm. "Roommate nice."

"Sure, why not," I grinned. Grace smiled and led me up a flight of stairs to the second floor, then opened the door to a "generic" bedroom, much like the one I'd had at the Academy. The sole exception was that *this* room had about five dozen books on mathematics and physics lining the bookshelves. Vance really hadn't been kidding...

"No other bed," she informed me apologetically. "I sleep on floor--"

"I don't need a bed," I told her. "I dematerialize when I sleep. Just show me an out of the way place where my clothes won't be disturbed and I'll be fine."

Grace smiled at me. She was a very pretty girl, with wavy auburn hair and a heart-shaped face. I could see why she had embarrassed Derrick so much.

"I like see that," she said. "You stay for a while? It lonely here."

"Maybe," I answered. "I'll have to call home first, though. My teacher will *not* like that I'm in--where am I?"


My eyebrows arched. Oklahoma? I *was* home then! Well, I would've been, had my relatives still been alive...

No, this was no time to be getting morose. I had to get some sleep, and *then* I had a job to do.

What it *was* I had no idea, but it would surely become clear with time. It always had before...

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