Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. I'm hoping this whole thing goes alright with everyone so do R/R and tell me if it's going well.
(Author's Note): This story does indeed follow the continuity of New X-Men and happens in that tiny space between "Whatever Happened to Wither" and "Mercury Rising/Falling".
The wind rustled through the trees that surrounded Jacobsen Pond. It was still summer so the wind was just cool enough to slightly chill the air over the water. He didn't mind the chill. He didn't really mind anything anymore except for the pain in his chest. It was an ache that never went away no matter how much time passed.
"I promised you we'd always be together," he whispered as he grazed the surface of the pond with his fingers. He could feel it in the water, feel the anguish and desire. It burned white hot on his fingertips and it made the ache in his chest throb even harder.
"I sung words to you that I didn't know the meaning behind," he confessed to the pond, "I made promises without knowing their costs. Forgive me." With that, he turned and headed into the darkness of the woods. The locals of Cumberland, Kentucky didn't go up to Jacobsen Pond very much anymore. Rumors were that the pond was haunted. If someone had been up there now, they would've heard a melancholy tune on the wind. The voice of the singer was angelic but the tune carried such heartache that people would've sworn it was a ghost singing as it passed through the woods. They would've been partly correct.
"Sorry, I didn't think anyone would be up." Cessily Kincaid stared at the blond girl who was currently endeavoring to devour an entire carton's worth of ice cream. Cessily had entered the kitchen of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in the hopes that there would be something she could use to distract herself. Technically, Cessily didn't need to eat now that her organs were nontoxic liquid mercury but old habits, as they say, died hard.
"No problem," assured Paige Guthrie as she finished the mouthful of ice cream and looked sheepishly at the carton, "It's probably bad manners to raid the host's fridge anyways."
"Hey, I would've if you didn't," assured Cessily as she sat down at one of the stools across the bar from Paige, "You care if I bum some off of you?" As she spoke, Mercury shifted her hand into a very large spoon. She grimaced slightly but didn't let it show too much. This particular hand of hers had once possessed more substance to it but had been inadvertently hacked off during a brawl with Nimrod. Shifting it still hurt to a certain degree but Cessily tried to ignore it.
"Help yourself," replied Paige, "It's Cessily right?"
"Yeah," replied Cessily as she popped a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, "You're Jay's sister, aren't you? Paige?" Cessily remembered seeing Paige at the funeral and then the vigil that had occurred later in the evening. The blond had been doing her best not to cry. Cessily remembered admiring that determination and sympathizing with Paige. God knows that she also had enough to cry about. There were the friends she had just recently lost and that phone call from Kevin hadn't exactly helped matters. Everything seemed so completely out of control. Cessily idly wondered if it was physically possible for her to cry anymore.
"Yeah," replied Paige quietly, "I never could get used to you all callin' him that but yeah that's me. He mentioned you a few times, Cessily. You seem like a nice girl." Paige didn't exactly know what to think. It was still weird for her to walk around the mansion and not be part of the junior class anymore. Even after her time as an X-Man, she still couldn't get used to it. She wondered if this was how Sam used to feel. Truthfully, Paige felt out-of-place about everything lately. Since M-Day, her former classmates hadn't faired so well. She had visited Jono in the hospital once and found the experience too painful to attempt again. She hadn't tried to contact Jubilee yet. This thing with Josh had consumed her of late because Momma Guthrie always taught her kids that family came first. Now a member of her family was dead and Paige didn't know what exactly she should do next.
"I'm sorry about your brother," whispered Cessily, the statement almost not coming out at all, "I just . . . we should've done something sooner. Jay was a good kid and, I dunno, it just feels like we all let him down." Cessily couldn't help but feel like a failure as of late. Even surviving an encounter with Nimrod, a feat in itself, couldn't exactly make her feel upbeat about things. When things got bad enough that Cessily Kincaid had a hard time being optimistic then things were pretty bad.
"We all could've done more," assured Paige, "I could've done more."
"Is that why you're down here?" asked Cessily. Paige nodded and took another bite of ice cream.
"I don't want this to sound fake," explained Cessily, "It's just that . . . I know how it feels to think about someone you care about and wish you could've done more for him." She thought of Kevin, out there in the big, scary world with no one and nothing to comfort him except memories of a dead girl he was still in love with. They should've tracked him down and dragged him back to the Institute. She, Santo, Sooraya, and Julian were the only family he had left and they were having a hard enough time hanging together as it was without having to abandon one of their one.
"Thanks," said Paige with a nod, "You sound like ya got problems of your own."
"A classmate ran away," explained Cessily solemnly, "He was my teammate. We were family and . . . maybe more."
"I think I know the type," assured Paige as she thought of Jonothan Starsmore, the brooding Brit with half a face. She supposed there was one in every crowd. She was about to reflect on it further when something strange happened. She strained her ears to make sure that what she was hearing was really what she thought it was.
"Do you hear that?" asked Paige as she listened intently, "It sounds like . . . music." Cessily stopped eating and listened. She could hear it too.
"Maybe someone else is up," suggested Cessily.
"No," replied Paige with a shake of her head, "That song. My brother wrote that song."
"You should not be here." Laura Kinney heard the phrase "should not" at least five times a day, almost always in regard to her. There were a lot of things she shouldn't have done. Some of those things, however, had been necessary. This was one of them. She had heard Sooraya get out of bed and dress. It was impossible to sneak away from someone with superhuman senses. Suspicious that something was amiss, X-23 had done the only thing a paranoid killing machine would do. She simply tracked down Sooraya's scent and tailed her to the cemetery where they were now.
"It's dangerous out here," replied Laura.
"I have faced enough danger," assured Dust as she turned from Josh Guthrie's grave to look at her roommate, "It no longer frightens me." X-23 only nodded, not seeing any need to speak. Laura never said more than was absolutely necessary for her to say. She sometimes went entire days without uttering so much as a sentence. She hadn't been trained to be in social situations. Her ears perked up as she listened to the prayers Dust whispered. Sooraya had been talking with Laura about Allah, usually only when Laura asked her questions. X-23 didn't really believe in God and she doubted she ever could. However, she hoped that if there really was a God, He could take care of her mother.
"You believe he is with Allah?" asked X-23 quietly.
"I believe he is in Paradise," replied Dust in an equally somber tone, "I am . . . still responsible though. He died because of me." Sooraya knew all of the students were taking the deaths hard. Her faith gave her a small amount of comfort yet still the death of Josh Guthrie plagued her the most. There were so many questions she hadn't received answers for concerning his involvement in Stryker's mad plans.
"I heard him sing once," said Dust absently, "It was beautiful." X-23 didn't register Sooraya's words. There was something in the air, a scent she knew as familiar but still she couldn't place it.
"Get back in the house," warned Laura as she continued to try and discern what the scent was. Dust turned and gave her a quizzical look.
"What do you smell?" asked Sooraya.
"A dead man walking," replied X-23 cryptically.
X-Men died all the time. Sam had made sure to explain this to her when she first enrolled with Xavier. He had told Paige about Doug Ramsey, about Illyana Rasputin, even about his own experience with death. Being an X-Man or even one in training wasn't a long-term career. However, Paige had been around long enough to know that scores of X-Men usually came back to life. None of the ones she was close to, of course, but still she knew it was possible.
"That seriously can't be . . ." began Cessily as she stared at the body on the doorstep.
"Get Mr. Summers or Miss Frost," ordered Paige, the shift into leader-mode almost automatic. Most of the X-Men were off campus. She had heard Professor X had taken a good chunk of them into space and that Rogue's team had gone off the reservation so to speak. That just left Cyclops and his team to run the mansion and look after the students.
"Hey, big sis," whispered Josh Guthrie weakly as he looked up at his sister. Paige and Cessily had followed the music to the Institute's front door. Upon opening it, they had discovered the body of one Josh Guthrie, barely breathing but still alive.
"Just tell me it's you, Josh," whispered Paige as she knelt down and cradled his body, "Please tell me it's really you."
"I swiped a Garth Brooks CD from you when I was little and didn't give it back until I could play every song," replied Josh.
"You ass," said Paige with a tearful smile as she tried to pick him up, "That was my favorite CD. C'mon, we gotta get you to Dr. McCoy."
"I think . . . I think I'm gonna die again," whispered Josh. He was barely aware of what was going on around him. Visions flashed behind his eyes as if his brain was still trying to process the fact that he had died and then come back to life. He couldn't remember what had happened in between but from the images he could make out perhaps it was better that way. The last thing he could really remember before winding up here was being in the church with Stryker and Nimrod. There were fragments though, flashes of fire and darkness, and he felt like he was being pulled towards the darkness again.
"Hang with me," said Paige as she saw Cyclops and Beast quickly come to her aid and grab Josh, "I'm not letting you die again!"
"Gimme a pulse, Hank," ordered Cyclops as Beast took Josh from Paige and they both started running for the medical wing.
"I can't seem to discern one," said Beast as the two X-Men scrambled towards the elevator that would take them down into the first sub-basement with Paige hot on their heels. Both Hank and Scott were old veterans of this by now. However, the new twist was that they needed to act quickly before the latest X-Man resurrected from the dead somehow died on them again.
"Where did you find him?" asked Cyclops as he turned to Paige.
"On your doorstep," replied Paige.
"Keep the kids calmed down," ordered Cyclops, "None of them need to see this after what's already happened." Paige nodded as she watched the elevator doors quickly close. She turned to notice that Mercury had kept pace with them throughout the whole ordeal.
"What should we do?" asked Cessily.
"No way I'm going back to bed," assured Paige, "Where's the healer?"
"Foley?" asked Cessily, "He's probably in his room. Mr. Summers said it was okay for him to get out of the med wing." Mercury didn't need to be told what to do at this point. She simply nodded and ran back towards the boys' dorms.
"What's going on?" asked Dust as she and X-23 came inside.
"Jay's back," replied Mercury hastily as she entered the dorm wing, "I need to get Foley."
"Back?" questioned Dust as she followed her teammate.
"I dunno," explained Mercury as she moved down the hall and banged on a door, "Josh, get up!" Cessily banged again on the door. There wasn't time for this. Mercury quickly poured herself through the cracks in the door and entered the room. These days, Elixir was mostly in a single room since David was usually with Surge. This made it extremely easy for Cessily to know which person to shake.
"Josh, they need you," said Mercury as she started shaking Elixir.
"Geez, I'm up," mumbled Joshua Foley groggily, "Between you almost tearing my door down and Miss Frost screaming at me in my head I'm never gonna sleep again."
"Mr. Summers needs you in the med wing," panted Mercury, "It's Jay. He's back."
"I know," replied Elixir as he rubbed his head, the black ooze in his golden skin moving around in an agitated manner, "I'm on it." He quickly ran out of the room.
"I don't understand," said Dust simply as she looked at Mercury.
"Me neither," replied Mercury.
"What's wrong with my brother?" Paige Guthrie stood with her arms crossed in front of her and gave Scott Summers and Hank McCoy a look that said quite plainly that someone's face was going to get rearranged unless she got an answer.
"A cursory observation tells me that he is in perfect health," replied Beast, "This is, of course, discounting his distinct lack of a heartbeat and a pulse. However, one has to take into account the fact that your brother was pronounced dead due to blood loss sustained via a horrible gunshot wound. The quandary this all creates is quite . . . perplexing to say the least though I can assure you I am endeavoring to discover exactly how this miracle of miracles has occurred."
"Ah love ya ta death, Hank," drawled Paige with a shake of her head, her accent becoming more noticeable, "but you've got a crappy way o' saying 'I don't know'."
"I think what Hank is trying to say," said Cyclops, "is that he's doing everything he can to help your brother. He seems to have stabilized for now."
"Quite right," agreed Beast, "As I said, your brother seems to be in perfect health aside from his rather distinct lack of any vital signs."
"So he's dead?" asked Paige.
"Clinically speaking, yes," replied Beast, "However, we have all seen enough of such cases to know that 'clinically dead' is a rather archaic term when it comes to X-Men."
"I want you to inform me if anything happens," said Paige, "I don't care where I am or what time of the day it is. I don't care what you interrupt even if it's me and Warren in the middle of something. The absolute second something happens to my brother, you let me know about it.
"You have my word," assured Cyclops, "We'll also notify Sam as soon as we can."
"I can field this," stated Paige, "Josh and Sam . . . they weren't exactly the best of friends. I mean Sam's a great brother and all of us love him but . . . this time I think it's my turn to solve all the family's problems."
"We'll at least contact him and tell him you're handling it," said Cyclops, "For now though, I think we should all try to get back to sleep."
"As much as I'd enjoy that," spoke up Beast, "I believe that this task will call for the proverbial burning of the midnight oil."
"Your supply of Twinkies is low?" asked Cyclops.
"Unfortunately, yes," replied Beast, "You wouldn't care to run for a refill while I remain ensconced in my lab, would you?"
"I'll have Logan get on it," replied Cyclops with a rare grin.
"I do not believe it would be wise to wake him," stated Dust as she and Cessily stared at Julian Keller still asleep in his bed, "He is usually rather . . . grumpy when he's woken up."
"I know," replied Mercury, "but it's either him or Santo."
"I do not believe that would be wise either," said Dust, "He is also rather grumpy."
"Nori said she wanted the whole team at the meeting," explained Mercury, "Plus, I'm kinda worried about Julian. He's been asleep for almost two straight days now."
"I still do not believe this to be a good idea," repeated Dust as Mercury moved to try and rouse Julian. As if to further support Sooraya's point, one of Julian's X-Box controllers suddenly developed a greenish glow before spontaneously combusting.
"Damn," muttered Hellion sleepily as he rolled over to see the two girls and the broken controller, "Great, now I have to get a new one."
"Could you tone it down a little next time?" asked Mercury, "Look, team meeting is happening in Sooraya and Laura's room. Nori wants everyone there."
"Wait, the clone's okay?" asked Julian.
"She is fine," assured Dust, "Though I believe she is recovering from the recent effects of . . . PMS."
"Gross," muttered Julian as he sat up, "That's really what I need to hear after I wake up from a coma."
"You weren't in a coma, you big baby," chided Mercury, "Get it in gear. I gotta wake up Santo."
"I'll do it," mumbled Hellion groggily as he got up and walked across the hall, "You two go on." He waited till the two girls had left before attempting to telekinetically open Rockslide's door. The results were less than desired as the doorknob shot across the hallway.
"Works for me," said Julian with an arch of his eyebrow before banging on Santo's door, "Santo, get up!"
"Yeah, yeah," muttered Rockslide as he opened the door, "Hey, 'bout time you woke up. I was afraid we were gonna have ta fill your spot."
"Nice look," said Hellion as he noticed Santo's new form, "Meeting in Dust's room now."
"Right," said Rockslide as he came through the doorway but felt something stick, "Hell, that's the second one already." Both boys noticed that the rocky shards sticking out of Santo's new body had gone straight through the boy's bed. Effectively, Rockslide was wearing his bed like a backpack.
"I think I should've stayed in a coma," mumbled Julian.
Noriko Ashida winced as she heard a crash all the way from the boys' dormitory. She guessed that Hellion had finally gotten off his lazy ass and decided to be a part of the team again.
"Tell me again," said Surge as she sat on what was once her bed but now belonged to Laura. She looked at Mercury because Cessily seemed to know the most about what was going on.
"Jay's back," replied Mercury simply.
"How and why?" asked Nori. She had let David go back to bed, figuring that she could handle this latest crisis on her own. Emma had put her in charge of the team but frankly Nori felt way out of her league. David still being the expert tactician didn't help things either. That was part of the reason Nori had told him to go back to bed. She couldn't just let David hold her hand all the time. It was really embarrassing.