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Family Tree Series, Part 2

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Willow Rosenberg's Family Tree". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Continuing the Family Tree series, starting with FT12. FT14 now complete.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > X-Men > Willow-CenteredLucindaFR15950,3681410544,4749 Feb 0311 Nov 10No

One Family's Bonds 1-6

One Family's Bonds
Author: Lucinda
we have anything that might be in the series and comics - violence, fear, prejudice, emotional tangles...
No Willow pairing
Disclaimer: I do not own any recognizable characters from BtVS or X-Men/Marvel comics. Willow's San Diego family are my own original characters.
Distribution: If I have given permission for you to have the previous "Family Tree" stories, yes. Otherwise, please ask.
note: 'Grandpa Dane' is not really Willow's grandfather, but more of a great uncle. I'm sure mine can't be the only family that sometimes gets a bit imprecise about that sort of thing.
many heartfelt thanks to my talented Beta Domino Rose-Mystagic, without whom the Family Tree series wouldn't be nearly as good, and the source of several of the nice titles.


=====

Willow held a crumpled paper in her hand, it's message now committed to memory. Her cousin Chris had wrote to her, pouring out her pain over a recent discovery that had thrown the Stenner family into turmoil. Lillian was a mutant. It had caused her boyfriend's family to panic, dragging their son away from the 'scary mutant'. Lili felt heartbroken, uncertain what to do now that Brian had been taken away from her. Willow didn't know if Brian had protested this dragging away or not. If he had, well, he needed to get out of his parent's clutches. If he had been whole-heartedly trying to run away from Lili, Willow would just have to hurt him. But she was going to visit them, now that there Labor day was here and there was a long weekend.

Chris and Lili needed someone to help them cope, and she was the perfect someone. She wouldn't be afraid that Lili was a mutant and Chris might be because she was a mutant herself. She could offer a bit of reassurance to her Aunt Emily. They could plan to get in touch with Brian and after living on the Hellmouth fighting demons? An angry mutant fearing family would be no big deal at all; at least, someone else's mutant fearing family wouldn't be a problem. She still hadn't told her own parents.

Besides, she had the feeling that if they stayed in Sunnydale, Vic might do something painful to Xander. She might feel bad about that later, if the pain of his rejection and panic ever ebbed down to the point where it didn't hurt to think about him. So, San Diego would be good, and she figured that she could talk Aunt Emily into letting Vic stay in the guest room, since she actually knew he was with her this time. A sudden thought occurred to her: what if Aunt Emily thought Vic was her boyfriend?

She glanced at the letter one more time, this time actually wondering about Grandpa Dane, who wasn't actually her grandfather, but some other type of relative, and his work with genetics. Would he know anything about mutants, or the idea of the heredity of mutant abilities? She could only wait and see.

* * *
Hey Willow,

Hope things haven't been too boring in that small town of yours. If you have time, why don't you come back to San Diego and visit with us over Labor Day? Grandpa Dane will be here, and he'd love to meet you. Aunt Diane will be away visiting her husband's family; Aunt Bernie's still away being all newly wed. We'd love to have you come visit. Please, come out and save us from Grandpa's talks about biology and genetics. : (

Zack says to tell you 'hey red, how's life'. He said he's thinking about getting a tattoo to go with all his piercings. Some weird girl with a southern accent's been hanging out watching him. I've been telling him that he's finally got an admirer. There was another rally by those hate-mongers, but we all managed to avoid them this time around. No skinned knees, bruises or groundings. : ) yay us!!

Remember Brian? Lili's boyfriend? Yeah, the cute one with those, dark puppy eyes. He asked her to marry him, and he had a ring and everything, and we thought that everything was going to be so perfect. Then his family wanted Lili to get herself tested - not for any sort of sexual disease or something, but to get gene tested, in case she had some sort of hidden mutation. Seems Mama and Papa Alveda don't want their boy to marry a mutant. Which irked Mom a bit, because it isn't Mama or Papa Alveda getting married, (blotch) ould be Brian and Lili, except that her test came up positive for gene (blotch) abnormalities and now his parents (blotch) want him spending time with us anymore. I guess the (blotch) met Zack before, or else they would have flipped.

So Lili's a mutant, which (blotch) I might be one as well. Rumor got out, and some of the people from Ballet aren't talking to (blotch). Does it scare you? To know that one of your cousins is a mutant ... and that I might be as well? Does it make you (blotch) what's hiding in your genes? I never had to worry about having the wrong DNA before. Most of the gang's been pretty supportive, and Zack's been great.

No idea if Lili has any cool nifty abilities (blotch) to go with her gene scan. She's been so busy crying about Brian not talking to her anymore to try to find out. I think his parents have been keeping him under lock and key so he doesn't 'go see that mutant girl'. I've never been one of a 'them' before, and it's scary. We don't even know where it came from. Is this something that's been lurking in the family tree, passing itself down through generations? Is this something new and scary and all (blotch)?

Come visit. We could use some moral support and cheer.

Chris Stenner
* * *

Willow hoped that her family and Zack had been enough to hold Lili stable for now. She knew just how upsetting the sudden idea that you were or could be a mutant was, having just gone through it last spring. It had to be easier with support from the people around you, right?

The trip was fairly quiet, with a little discussion, covering again the reasons why they were leaving Sunnydale, and pondering the options about Brian. If he hated mutants, if he was afraid of Lili, if he had wanted to break her heart, if he was scared but still wanted to be with her, if he wanted desperately to see her and his family wouldn't let him... the list went on and on. It was mostly so that Willow wouldn't have to think about the other issues bothering her, like Xander and Buffy. Hopefully, Buffy would be a lot better about it now that the Master wasn't haunting her dreams, but Willow was still worried.

Vic seemed almost content with the idea that it was to get away from Xander and Buffy for a while. The possibility of violence in San Diego was just an added bonus.

Willow's Aunt Emily was a bit surprised at Willow's arrival, especially at her large friend Vic, but she simply put him in the second guest room, Grandpa Dane already being in the first. Willow was quietly informed that she would have to stay with Chris and Lili again, and warned that, "Lili was rather upset about her boyfriend, well, ex boyfriend. She's been crying a lot, so don't be to surprised."

Thanking her aunt for being willing to let them drop in, Willow went up to see Chris and Lili. Lili was quite a sight, her hair laying limply, eyes red from crying, and more tears glistening on her cheeks.

"W-willow? You're... you came to visit? I..." Lili wasn't quite certain what to say, but a small smile was attempting to find it way onto her face.

"How's things been for you, Willow?" Chris' question was a safely neutral subject, but Willow was certain that there was an underlying concern about how she would react to the whole 'Lili the mutant' issue.

Willow sat on the floor with a small sigh. "Well... maybe I should leave it at I came here because I told my friends something, and Xander and Buffy both freaked. I'm hoping they'll calm down while I'm gone."

Lili looked at her, a flicker of curiosity in her eyes. "What could you have to tell them that would freak them out?"

Willow decided that this was clearly the time to share with her cousins. "I... well, Lili, you aren't the only mutant in the house. I'm a mutant, and when I told my friends... Giles was in shock, Amy thought it was cool, Buffy went 'Ahh... right... ahh... got to go now...' and Xander... I don't want to be around Xander right now."

Chris and Lili both looked at her, eyes wide, and curious. Lili was the one that asked the question. "You... really? When did you... how did you learn?"

"Yes, I really am. I didn't know yet at Aunt Bernie's wedding. I can do magnetics, it's sort of cool in a can do bad things to the computer sort of way. Lili? Are there any neat things that you can do?" Willow tried to make it sound casual, as if being a mutant was not a problem, as if for a few moments, they could pretend there wasn't an enormous social stigma attached too being different.

Chris looked at her, an odd expression on her face. "Magnetics? Like... like Magneto?"

Willow sighed, pulling her knees in close to her body, wrapping her arms around them. "Yeah. He's a cousin on my dad's side, the side you guys aren't on. And he wasn't trying to kill the delegates."

Lili looked at her, something between curiosity and worry in her eyes. "How do you know he wasn't trying to kill them? We don't know what that thing was supposed to do."

With a tiny smile, Willow answered. "I asked him."

End part 1.

Chris stared at her, her mouth opening and closing a few times without any sound coming out at all. Lili was looking surprised, and thoughtful, although Willow wasn't entirely certain what she was thinking about.

With a small "come here gesture" a few stray bolts that Chris had managed to bring into the house rose up from the corner, floating over to Willow. "See? It's sort of nifty, and I don't have to actually search for some things anymore. Here, take them before they get magnetized."

Chris held out one hand, twitching a bit as the bolts settled into her hand. "Wow... that's... halfway between awesome and freaky. You have the same powers that he does?"

Lili was watching Willow, her expression showing hope. "You don't seem to be too upset about being a... a mutant."

"Actually, for a while I was a nervous wreck about the possibility. What if I was a mutant? Would my friends and family freak out? Would I be kicked out of school? Would it keep me from getting into college? By the time I actually found out that I was, I'd worried and kicked the idea around enough that I'd already figured out how to deal with some of the situations. My parent's don't know yet, Xander did freak, but I think part of that was the whole cousin Magneto thing... As for college, I decided to worry about that when I'm closer to graduating." Willow was smiling now. It felt pretty good to be talking about this with her cousins.

Chris gave a tiny snicker. "What, you worried so much that you ran out?"

Well aware that Lili was paying very close attention now, Willow gave a small sigh. "I realized that the people that really love me should still care about me and accept me as Willow even if I was a mutant. It wouldn't mean that I couldn't be smart enough for college, or that I couldn't learn things. At the worst, if I was a mutant, which it turned out that I am, it might be harder. But harder hasn't stopped me from anything before. And I knew that I wouldn't be entirely alone. You won't be entirely alone. You have each other, you have your mom, me, although I'm farther away... How have your friends reacted?"

Lili gave a small smile. "Some have taken it well, and it doesn't seem to matter to them. A few of them seem a bit spooked... and a couple aren't talking to me anymore."

Chris looked at Willow. "Are you trying to say that being a mutant doesn't matter at all?"

Willow smiled. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I mean..." Willow paused, trying to find the words for her thoughts. "It's part of you, like being blond is part of you. But you are more than a blond ... more than a dancer. Do you follow? It isn't the whole of who you are, just a single facet. And maybe it will let you do nifty cool things."

Lili smiled now, apparently feeling a lot better. "What, fly like superman? Shoot laser beams from my eyes and live forever? Sounds a bit... whoa."

Chris giggled. "All in one person? I haven't heard of anyone that could do all that..."

Considering the mutants that she had met, Willow had to laugh as well. "I haven't heard of any single person that could do all of that, no married ones either. But... I do know of a mutant who can shoot laser beams from his eyes, and Erik can float by some sort of magnetic field manipulation that I haven't go the control for yet, and Vic.... Remember the big blond guy in the park? He's... um, actually he's sort of a bodyguard sent by Erik to help keep me safe. But he's over two hundred years old. So, any of those abilities are possible... and we have no way to know what you can do."

Feeling much better, Lili suggested that they go downstairs for dinner. Then Willow could shield them from Grandpa Dane and his talk about genetics, which were a bit too technical and complicated for them to enjoy.

Dinner was a huge roasted turkey, with all sorts of side dishes. To Willow's stunned mind, it almost felt like some sort of practice for Thanksgiving. Sitting at the table was an older man, appearing to be in his fifties, but Willow had learned that he was at least two decades older than that. He was talking to Chris and Lili's father, who had the sort of glazed look that said he'd been lost long ago in the conversation, and could see no safe escape. Seeing her, his eyes lit with a desperate hope, and he blurted out a few words.

"Hans, I'd like to introduce you to Sheila's daughter Willow Rosenberg. From what Sheila had to say before the wedding, Willow's a sure fire pick for any number of Ivy League schools. Why don't you talk to her about some of your research? Willow, this is Hans Dane, your Great Uncle on your mother's side."

The older man, her relative, turned, looking at her with interest. His eyes were the same greenish-hazel as her mother's, but they had a lot more kindness and humor in them than her mother's eyes ever held. "I am pleased to meet you, Willow. Do you have any interest in genetics, or am I simply boring him terribly?"

She couldn't help smiling. "Actually, I have recently taken an interest in genetics. Before I was mainly worried about biology and electronics, but... well, now I am interested."

End part 2.

After dinner, Willow and Hans "please-call-me-Grandpa-like-Chris-and-Lili-do" Dane made their way into the sitting room. Willow started asking a lot of questions, and while she didn't have the technical education to follow the finer points of genetic research, she could follow enough. There was also her near obsessive thirst for details. As she pressed for details on when he got interested in sorting out genomes and why, Chris and Lili backed slowly away from the doorway, their eyes wide.

"She's smart. Soaks up information fast too." Vic's voice rumbled from slightly behind the twins, and they both jumped.

"Umm... you startled us." Chris' voice was a bit apologetic.

Lili was eyeing him thoughtfully. "Are you really over two hundred years old?"

He gave a small grunt. "Yes, but I can't remember most of it. Someone else she knows, knows that I was around then..." His words trailed off, as if he was trying to figure out if they had made any sense to the girls.

Chris spoke, her words slow and puzzled, "Who would she know that's over two hundred... was this someone even there, or just looking at records?"

The twins went back upstairs to do their homework and left Willow to talk to Grandpa Dane. Vic slipped outside, feeling more comfortable lounging in the large tree. After all, he could still hear Willow talking, and if there was any danger, he would be able to react quickly. But if there was no trouble, he could just rest here, in the fresh air and sunshine.

Meanwhile, Willow was trying to figure out exactly how Grandpa Dane had identified the gene that gave a mutant the power to manipulate magnetic fields. It raised a few questions, and while he might be able to answer some of the things nagging at her mind, she had to know how he had learned these things.

"But, even with the best equipment in the world, wouldn't you need... tissue samples or something?" Her voice held curiosity and just a hint of worry.

He settled back, quiet and thoughtful for a few very long moments. "This is a very good point, Willow. I did have a tissue sample to work with. Two of them, actually. Both from mutants with the ability to manipulate magnetic energies, although... I have no idea how to tell if the ability would be strong or weak. I just know what the magnetic gene looks like."

Willow sounded a bit more troubled this time. "But... where did you get the samples? The two mutants... they didn't... they didn't get hurt, did they?"

He gave a small smile, as if understanding had finally dawned on why she was so worried. "The samples were entirely voluntary. One was from my niece Lorna, a very nice girl in college studying geology. The other..." He fell into thought, his words trailing off.

"Grandpa Dane? Who..." Willow paused, and on an impulse that she didn't quite understand, she listened in the same way that she did for metals, and realized that his presence was a bit different from her aunt Em's. She didn't know how to affect the magnetic presence of humans... people, but she could feel it. "Were you the other mutant?"

There was something in his voice, something quiet and almost resigned. "Yes, the other mutant is myself. I'm not particularly powerful, but... there it is."

For a few moments, Willow could just sit there, entirely and completely stunned. "So I have it coming from both sides... that explains it."

"What's coming from both sides?" His voice sounded curious, and for a moment, Willow wondered how much of her curiosity he shared about so many things in life.

She gave a small smile. "The magnetics, of course. You just said that you have the manipulation, and it makes your presence feel different, less fuzzy? But, you're related on my mom's side. There's also my dad's side, and... umm... I sort of discovered a cousin on that side with the same thing. Erik Lenscherr. So, it's coming at me from both sides. It's no wonder I can do the whole magnetic manipulation thingy. I wonder if Lili has it? Or maybe Chris, if she's a mutant... Your niece has it too? Is it a dominant genome?"

"Erik... Magneto? You're related to Magneto? My goodness... although I'm nowhere near that powerful. It does sound like you were doomed to have it. As for Chris and Lillian... I don't know. They might have it, or they might not. It's hard to say without a few tests." He looked thoughtful and relieved at the same time.

Willow sighed. "Yes, I'm related to Magneto. It seems to surprise everyone, although you're taking it rather calmly. And I know that I have the same genetic deviation that lets him lift cars... I had a comparison done. There was a lot in common. That's part of the reason why I'm not going to flip on anyone and do the whole 'oh God, you're a mutant' thing. It would be rather hypocritical. Unless it was the surprised 'oh God, you're a mutant', which I can still be surprised, it's not like mutants come with id that says 'yes, I am a card-carrying mutant' and... um, I'm babbling, aren't I?"

With a chuckle Grandpa Dane nodded. "I can see how it might get tiresome. It is good that Crystal and Lillian have you to talk to them. It might be more helpful for them to have someone their own age offering sympathy."

"I can try. Besides, why not offer sympathy? It's going to be really hard on them, being pushed away for a few twists of genetics... It's not like it's something that you choose for yourself, after all." Willow was feeling better, and had a new batch of questions for Grandpa Dane, questions focusing on inheritance patterns, and on how he controlled his abilities.

"Yes... it will be hard. That is one of the reasons why I have concealed my own mutation. I am not brave enough to expose my difference to the public." There was a hint of sorrow in his voice, as if he wished that he had the courage or careless confidence to reveal his mutation to the world.

Eventually, their discussion of genetics ebbed, and Willow went to check on Chris and Lili, wondering what they had been doing. If they had been moping about Brian and social rejection. Hoping that they weren't convinced that they faced a bleak future.

As it turned out, they were convinced of bleakness in their future, the bleakness that would come from flunking their Algebra tests. Willow found them glaring at the textbooks, muttering unhappy and rude things about their math teacher, the author of the textbook, and whoever had decided that they needed Algebra in the school curriculum. Willow had smiled, and offered to help them figure the art of it out, asking for a bit of help with some of the grammar in her English paper in trade. She had a tendency to let her sentences on paper run-on in the same way her words did when she spoke, and that made her English teachers rather unhappy.

The evening went fairly well, with no horrible crisis, no attacks from vampires, demons, prophecy-related strangeness, or anti-mutant mobs. Just the Stenner family, plus Grandpa Dane, Willow, and Vic, sitting in the house, relaxing.

end part 3.

The girls had all gone upstairs, supposedly to go to bed. And while they'd all changed into their pajamas, none of them were tired enough to sleep. They were sitting there, questions dancing through their minds.

"If I have some sort of mutant ability, what would I be able to do?" Lili's voice was filled with a dreamy curiosity.

"Charm good grades out of evil math teachers?" Chris's teasing comment was supposed to make her sister laugh, and it worked.

After throwing a small pillow at Chris, Lili grinned. "No, seriously. What sort of thing might I be able to do? Did you're talk with Grandpa Dane give you any ideas?"

Willow shrugged, her expression one of intense thought. "He said that he doesn't have any ideas from a studied observation of inheritance. You might have magnetics. You might have some sort of ability to manipulate something that's related to magnetics according to physics. Or maybe you have something entirely different. He also said that unless you start doing strange things or have a list gene tests done, all we can do is guess, and our chances would be as good to list nifty and weird things on a page and pick a random number on the list."

"Now, that's the scientific method for you..." Lili sounded like she was trying not to laugh.

She smiled at her cousin. "Well, if there's a similar but not identical gene complex, we know it isn't magnetic manipulation. Then, it's probably something similar, some other type of manipulative ability, and I don't mean those eyelashes. If the variation in your genes is somewhere else entirely... well, then we have no clue."

"So, you're really saying that we don't know. But if we get some testing done, we might be able to guess?" Chris was laughing, her eyes almost sparkling.

Willow grinned. "Hey, can you pass me another blanket? There's a cold draft coming from somewhere."

The blanket hit willow right in the face, crackling with static. "No problem. It's even fresh and clean, right from the dryer."

Pulling it away from her head, draping the crackling blanket over her, Willow made a face as her cousins laughed. "Yeah, my hair's sticking up from the static, right?"

"Of course. But you should have expected it.... Chris always has baskets full of staticky laundry. Someone needs to tell her about these nifty things called dryer sheets." Lili was teasing her sister.

Willow was giggling with Chris, more than a little wistful that she didn't have any sisters of her own. "But it smells all nice and fresh... Maybe it's just the house?"

"Fear the House of Static! Nobody gets out unfrazzled!" Chris' sounded like the announcer of some old, corny horror movie, the sort with lame plots, cheesy special effects, and melodramatic lines.

They collapsed into laughter, and from science and mutant inheritance, they slid into a discussion on old horror movies. Debating the relative merits of a slew of cult classics, and shredding their special effects to mirthful bits.

Inside the bedroom, the three girls thought no more on the ever-present static. But down the hall, Vic had been listening. The distance of the hallway was no impediment to him, not with his keen senses. He'd met mutants with many different abilities, one of them, the X-Man Storm, having the ability to call lightning bolts. Wasn't lightning just very, very big static from the sky? What if the static wasn't just a matter of the house, but was actually a sign of someone's mutation?

He smiled into the darkness, certain that as long as he stayed with Willow, his life wouldn't be boring. She lived over a place of demons, some of which were extremely challenging, and had a knack for getting involved in troublesome and dangerous situations. She was still plotting to possibly break into the house of some boy, the sort-of-ex of one of her cousins. Fighting demons in Sunnydale, and breaking and entering in San Diego... Willow was certainly going to keep things interesting.

He wondered about the whole hereditary thing that she'd discussed with the old man. About mutations being passed down in families. Had he been given his abilities by a different parent, or were they no more than the product of random changes? Had he left children somewhere with these altered genes? Did he even have children?

End part 4.

"I always liked the ones with Vincent Price." Lili's voice was a bit wistful. "I think it was his voice... just made you want to take him seriously."

Chris nodded, clearly in agreement. "He had a great voice to listen too. But I preferred the monster movies with all the miniature sets being demolished. And it's not like there are really vampires and werewolves out there."

"Ummm... actually, there are. Vampires at least, since I haven't run into any werewolves, but if vampires are real, there could be werewolves too." Willow's voice was quite, and a bit worried.

Chris and Lili looked at her, eyes wide, blankets wrapped around them. "What, really real? Like... Dracula is out there type real?"

"I don't think he's really out there. And none of the one's I've met can turn into bats or wolves, but yeah, really real. And dangerous, on account of eating people." Willow was thoughtful, and her voice had just a hint of doubt. How did she know that Dracula wasn't real? No certainty ... just that she'd never met him, and Giles hadn't mentioned him being real. Which was no guarantee.

Chris had a small thinking frown. "How do you know that vampires are real?"

Willow sighed, unhappily thinking over the past year and a half since she'd met Buffy. "Well, Sunnydale isn't just a quiet little town. It's little, but not quiet. There's something called a Hellmouth, this weird mystical evil power. It sort of draws evil things to it, like vampires and demons. There's a special person who has a destiny to fight them, and her name's Buffy... my =friend= Buffy. I sort of found out accidentally. But vampires are real, and if you're ever in Sunnydale, I can take you out for some hands on vampire hunting. Umm... quick tip, never invite some stranger into your house after dark. Vampires really do need a spoken invitation to enter someone's house. They don't reflect, and contrary to Lost Boys, crosses and holy water do work, the only thing garlic does is smell really bad. Vampires have a better sense of smell than humans, and they're really strong."

"Vampires are real?" Lili seemed to be having a bit of trouble accepting the idea.

Closing her eyes, Willow reminded herself of how reluctant she had been to believe in them at first. "Yes, very real. They're as real as mutants, but without the publicity. And a lot more consistent in what they do. Super strong, faster, better senses, and that whole blood drinking no sunlight thing. I just... I want you to know how to be careful. I haven't got a lot of people that I care about, I don't want to lose you too."

" 'Too...?' You don't want to lose us too? As in, in addition to someone else that you've lost?" Lili sounded nervous.

"Yeah.... I used to have a friend named Jesse, but he was killed by this vampire. There was also... well, I wasn't really close to them, but there have been a number of the other students at my school killed by vampires. Not too many friends, sort of on account of not having many, but... I don't want anything bad to happen to you, especially not something that we can prevent." Willow could feel herself blushing, filled with the worry that she sounded like a raving lunatic. Nobody believed in vampires now...

Chris and Lili both looked shocked. "Killed... from your class? How many?"

Willow gave a dismayed sigh. "The average tends to be about forty percent of each year's graduating class, through their whole time... One here, one there, a few that just vanish. Sunnydale isn't safe, and we've got as many... no, actually more cemeteries than apartment complexes. They just tuck them here and there, with some nice screening trees so people don't start to say 'aren't there an awful lot of graveyards? Why yes, maybe we should move.' Instead, they see trees and think park."

"Oh my God... and your parents still live there? Why?" Chris' voice held some of the very same questions that Willow had wondered herself.

"My parents travel a lot, so I'm not sure that they know. They generally aren't home for too long at a time. As for why... Dad once said that Sunnydale had a good tax rate, so it would be cheaper to keep their so-called permanent mailing address there instead of moving. No clue why they moved there to begin with." Willow really wished that she had a few answers for those questions.

Lili reached out, putting one hand on Willow's shoulder. She jumped a bit at the static shock that surged from Willow to her hand. "Stupid staticky blankets.... anyhow, you can always visit us here, in the large city of San Diego, where the apartment complexes far outnumber the graveyards."

Willow smiled, feeling much better already. "Yeah... maybe I'll have to visit more often. But, Lili? I think maybe it's time to talk about Brian."

"What about him?" Lili looked away, the words filled with pain.

Willow pulled out the now battered page that Chris had sent her. "Well, he asked you to marry him, and then you haven't seen him since the gene-scan. Don't you want to know what's his opinion and what's Mama and Papa Alvarez? Isn't it worth being certain?"

Lili looked back, her eyes filled with uncertainty. "But what if... what if he really doesn't want to see me ever again?"

Chris was muttering a few things under her breath, and Willow suspected that they were very unfriendly things aimed at Mama and Papa Alvarez and their prejudiced ideas. With a small shake of her head, she answered. "Then we beat him up for being a Poopy-Head and try to help you get over him. You have the whole rest of your life, I refuse to let you spend it all moping over one rejection."

Lili gave a small chuckle, her eyes bright with a mixture of tears, hope and laughter. "Willow... I don't know anyone else that after saying vampires are real would call Brian a Poopy-Head and threaten to beat him up."

With a grin, Willow hugged her cousin. "It's all part of my Willowy charm."

End part 5.

There was very little further discussion that night, and instead the three girls fell into an uneasy sleep, punctuated by unhappy dreams and nightmares. Dreams of rejection, and love shattered by fear. Dreams of persecution and misfortune, of all the tragedies that the world had to offer a mutant.

Willow was awake first, rubbing her arms in an effort to chase away the lingering remnants of dreams, static crackling over her body. Where had all the static come from? She knew there hadn't been this much when she was here for the wedding. But the air felt too stifling in here. She had to get out for a bit, to have some fresh air, to flush out the last bits of dream from her body. Her morning run should work wonderfully for that.

Glancing at her cousins, she noticed they were still asleep. Crystal was a bundled cocoon of blankets, and Lili sprawled across her bed, mouth slightly parted, oblivious to the world. Obviously, neither of them would want to go with her. She could just leave a note downstairs, and maybe Vic would want to go on the morning run with her.

She pulled on some comfortable clothing, things that she'd packed to exercise in. Heading downstairs, she wasn't surprised to find Vic there, looking out the window while his fingers drummed an erratic rhythm on the sill.

"You look a bit restless... Morning run sound good to you? I just want to leave a note so nobody freaks out." Willow's voice lacked her usual cheer.

He glanced at her, a small frown on his face. "There were bad dreams. And too much static everywhere."

Willow stifled a giggle, barely. "Fear the house of static... Sounds like everyone had bad dreams. I know Chris and Lili had them all night... and you probably heard them waking up too."

He gave a small nod. "Ready?"

Putting the paper on the table, anchored by a coffee mug, she opened the door. "Ready. Let's go get some fresh... well, not so staticky air."

The run helped clear away the fading traces of the unpleasant dreams, most of which she could barely remember. She just remembered the impression of painful rejection from... someone, the cause being that she was 'one of them, those mutant freaks', and the horrible things that people could do to each other, persecution and attacks.

Willow was starting to get a suspicion. She'd had those dreams, and Vic had similar ones, and she knew that Chris and Lili had both had bad dreams all night. Things were starting to point towards a possibility. "Vic? Did anyone... or maybe everyone else in the house have bad or unsettling dreams last night?"

"Yeah. Lots of waking up and they weren't happy dreams. Can't say what they did dream about, but they didn't like it." He was looking at her, his expression making it clear that he figured she had an idea.

"I think... well, I remember that one of Xavier's people is a telepath, so she can look into people's minds or influence their thoughts. What if there's an empath or telepath in the house? If there was, and they had a bad dream or bad feelings... maybe they sort of shared the feelings with everyone else? Sort of a projected misery?"

He frowned a bit as he pondered the idea. "We all had bad dreams because there's an unhappy mind walker? Can't they keep it inside?"

Willow looked at him, and gave a small grin, intended to be reassuring. "Not if it's Chris or Lili. They would have only recently had it develop, so the wouldn't have had time to learn how to keep it inside."

He nodded, and they continued their run in relative quiet. Willow's mind was turning over the possibility that one of her cousins was an empath. It had no connection to magnetics that she could see, but the evidence did seem to point towards one. Maybe that was the whole random change aspect of mutation?

She sighed, wondering if life ever became simple. Actually, it probably didn't, not while you could still think clearly. She would just have to adjust to having a complicated life, beyond being an "A" student, beyond fighting demons. Now, she had to worry about mutation and its presence in her family tree, and how to help her cousins deal with its effects.

"Tonight, we have to go pay a visit to Brian Alvarez. We need to find out exactly what's going on with him, and then we probably need to feed Lili strawberry ice cream."

"Sounds like fun." Vic had a hint of a smile as he spoke.

End part 6.
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