When Lucinda Guthrie lost her husband, she was devastated, but she couldn't allow her world to end. After all, she was now the lone guardian of her nine children.

She loved them all more than life itself; family was the most important aspect of her life and she would give anything to help any of them. Unfortunately, as a single parent, she could only spend so much time with all them. They needed a mother, but more than anything, they needed a roof over their heads. All of them would have to pitch in to get through the aftermath of Ty's death, both in physical work and emotional strength. Of course, the older kids had to do more than the younger ones, that was just the way things were.

Elizabeth, the eldest, was seveteen when she lost her father. Out of all of her children, Lucinda thought she was most affected by her father's passing: the oldest child of the family always had a special bond with her father. She didn't cry at the funeral, only stood strong and resolute as she held the sobbing fifteen-year-old Paige and put a lean arm around Jay's shaking shoulders, but late at night, Lucinda would be awakened by the sound of crying and sit with her oldest daughter as they both shed tears.

Typical to the girl's nature, she gritted her teeth and trucked on through, hiding her grief, somehow managing to work a job at the local drive-through car wash while maintaining her grades and keeping her place as the star forward on her high school soccer team. She was accepted into Bellarmine University on a soccer scholarship shortly before Sam left for New York, almost after a year Ty had died.

As the second daughter, Paige was the one who got stuck with supervising her siblings on the farm and doing the most work as well. Her siblings were each only about a year apart, with Jay after her, the Melody, Jebediah, Joelle, and then the twins, Lewis and Cissie, and Paige thought that caring for them was beneath her. Her adventurous daughter was more than a little bitter about her lot in life and especially jealous about her older brother, Sam.

Samuel reminded Lucinda so much of his father, and it was a comfort to have her sixeen-year-old son stand beside her at the funeral. Not long after, he suggested that he drop out of school to support the family by working in the coal mines, but he settled for a part-time job after Lucinda put her foot down. The knowledge that he son was willing to throw his life away just to help his family reassured Lucinda: her boy is a fine young man, and he would turn out a good man, firm in his resolve, even if he didn't have a father.

Lucinda never intended to treat her oldest son any different than her other children, but Paige was beset with a case of the green-eyed monster, and at times when Lucinda praised Sam in front of her siblings, she saw Paige roll her eyes or exchange a quick glance with Elizabeth. Once in a while, Lucinda also overheard Paige complain to a noncommittal Elizabeth about Sam's supposed status as Lucinda's "fair-haired boy".

Stoic as she was, Elizabeth, for her part, never commented on Lucinda's perceived favoritism of Sam, but Lucinda sometimes caught an impassive sidelong look from Elizabeth or an uncharacteristically impertinent arched eyebrow at Sam that implied she also thought Lucinda's approval of Sam indicated that he was the favorite.

But Lucinda did not consciously grant Sam preferential treatment. Simply the birth order of the siblings, with he as the oldest son, allowed him certain privileges. The other children would simply have to adjust to that.

Furthermore, her children no longer had a father. Sam reminded her of Ty, and though Lucinda would never attempt to recreate her son into her husband, she wanted her children to look at Sam, their oldest brother, and remember their father through him. She wanted them to know that Sam was his father's son, that he embodied the same quiet determination and firm moral code.

But Paige did not appreciate this idea, appearing to resent the notion that Sam was closer to their father than the rest of them. Paige's envy only increased when Sam's mutation surfaced, and Lucinda gave him permission to go and learn at a special school in New York. She was the only other member in their family beyond Lucinda to know about Sam's "talents"; not even Elizabeth was aware of the truth.

For about a month after Elizabeth went off to college, it appeared that Sam would be unable to leave for the Xavier Institute, because his departure would lead to the absence of both of Lucinda's working children. And Lucinda was not fooled by Paige's brief display of sympathy for Sam, knowing her daughter felt satisfaction that Sam was finally deprived of fulfilling his hopes; she was angry that her daughter would not attempt to support Sam during such a trying time in his life and a difficult period for the entire family.

But Ty's cousin, Bonnie, traveled to live with them after landing a job nearby and contributed a large portion of her paycheck to support the family. And Lucas, Ty's younger brother, returned from his tour of duty overseas and and also did his best to help them out. In the end, Sam was able to go to New York, much to Paige's irritation.

Once Sam had set to New York, Paige was much more open in her accusations of Lucinda's bias. She was a fiery young woman, firm in her opinions, desperate for independence, freedom, and a chance to prove herself.

"But why can't I go to the party?" She would demand.

"You have to take care of your brothers and sisters, sweetheart," Lucinda would respond, unimpressed with the girl's bad attitude.

"Jay is old enough to watch them!" Paige would protest.

"We're a family, Paige," Lucinda would tell her. "We all have to make sacrifices sometimes."

"Sam never had to make any sacrifices!" Paige spat. "He ran off to New York because he's a freak!"

"Don't you dare call your brother that," Lucinda would warn her sharply.

"It's true!" Paige's voice was choked with anger and frustration. "He's an abomination!"

But Lucinda didn't miss Paige's various attempts to stimulate a mutation for herself; her daughter could often be found jumping off the barn's loft into the hay below, staring at others intently for hours on end, and sitting in the icy creek bed, all attempts materialize some sort of superhuman ability.

After a particularly vociferous argument with her daughter one night, Lucinda was reading in bed when she heard a knock on the door.

"Come in," she said absently.

Paige entered, and Lucinda did not look up from her book right away.

"Mother." Paige's voice was hoarse.

Lucinda glanced at her then did a double take.

In one shaking hand, Paige clutched a fistful of her own flesh, presumably ripped away from her forearm. But the peeled skin did not reveal the red of blood and the white of bone, but instead the dull gray of tarnished steel.

"I'm a mutant, too, Mom," Paige said quietly.

Lucinda stared at her.

Paige's earnest brandy brown gaze, shared by all the Guthrie family, searched hers. "Does this mean you'll love me as much as you love Sam?"

A/N: The ideas for Paige trying to produce a mutation was inspired by a flashback in one issue of "X-Factor" that depicted her as a kid trying various methods to achieve a mutation. Imagine sitting in a library, and some girl is staring intently at you for over an hour . . . that's what Paige did to try to develop telepathy.

Also, I am aware that this is not the 616 universe birth order for the Guthrie children, but since it seemed to alter from universe to universe, I'm not overly concerned about the issue. But please, don't review to inform me that I got the order of siblings "wrong". I'll just laugh.

Thanks to everyone who has reviewed!