Disclaimer: Gen X and the Marauders belong to Marvel, but Ember belongs to me.

Author's Note: Whew! Sorry I'm late, guys, but I've been a little... held up. Trust me on this one. Also, it's almost time for school to end, so naturally my teachers are piling test upon test on us. Gee, I just can't ~wait~ for high school...

PS: And yes, the rumors are true--I'm giving Ember a social life! Yay!


It took Ember a while to realize she was no longer wearing an inhibitor, but when she did, she refrained from saying anything. After all, she wasn't going to *do* anything with her powers...

Nothing unethical, anyway...

Ember shed her sweatshirt and stretched her arms, then manifested her wings. She pumped them a few times, dismayed at the slightly atrophied state they were in.

I really *do* need exercise, she thought glumly. But I'll ask them first. It's just plain stupid to betray their trust right when I've started earning it...

She ran her fingers through the soft white feathers, "preening" them, as Sinister had called it. There wasn't much of a need--they'd been inside her body for weeks, so there was no dirt or tiny insects infesting them. Still, it made her feel better to do so. There was, interestingly enough, a real reason for this, too. Sinister had determined that, with her metamorphic powers, she had inherited some limited knowledge of avian behavior as well as a dash of their instincts. She would begin to pine in close confines if left there too long, and she had a natural affinity for heights. Flying had come naturally to her, and she didn't much care for the cold of winter...

I wonder if I would have migrated?

She shrugged. Whatever the circumstances, it felt good to have her wings out again. The pain was less extreme with each use, which was fortunate. She wouldn't have been nearly so eager to exercise said appendages if extending them had sent her into convulsions of agony, as they had the first few times.

Though how much of that was Sinister's fault and how much my own I'll never know, Ember thought, starting on the next wing. Sinister's electro-shock therapy is hardly painless, and that's how he coaxed my powers out of me...

She did have to give him one thing, though--he was a hell of a scientist, no matter his methods. At least he had managed to ensure that she would suffer from none of the usual symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness...

Though damned if I know *how* he did it. Sometimes I'm a little nauseous, but at least I don't have to run to the bathroom every morning to vomit. I'm sure there are thousands of pregnant women out there who would *love* to meet Sinister, if only for that.

She stood up, stretched her wings one final time, and then retracted them. No use keeping them out when there was no way to exercise them, after all. Ember yawned widely, then fell back on her bed, feeling exhausted. She'd had no idea using her telepathy to let Emma *in* would be more tiring than keeping her out! She needed a rest, and badly. The pot roast rested comfortably in her stomach; recalling all the protein-concentrates she had been eating for so many years, she snuggled deeper into the covers. Her eyelids got heavy, and then...

//"Arclight... p-please... s-stop..."

"Shut *up*."

She tried to drag herself out of the pool of her own blood, but Arclight kicked her in the ribs, causing her to sprawl onto her side, blinded for a moment by the pain. She coughed, tasting blood and bile, and looked up through her one good eye at her "teacher."

"I... thought you were..." she began, right before she started coughing again.

"I don't give a damn what you *thought* I was going to do, psi-witch," Arclight sneered, hands resting on her hips as she towered over the girl. "This is your first lesson: pain, and how to deal with it!" She landed another vicious kick in Ember's already bruised ribs, sending the younger girl whimpering in agony.

"Fool," Arclight muttered with disdain. "Can't see why the boss wants me to make something out of you. Assuming that's even possible for a little slip of a girl like you..."

The Marauder pulled back for another kick, and...//

//The scene melted into another. The girl, now called Ember, ducked as Vertigo's fist flew at her face. Ember pivoted and threw out her leg, wrenching Vertigo off her feet and causing her to fall onto her back. Ember, heartened by this, leapt over her and rebounded off the wall behind her teammate, bringing both feet squarely onto Vertigo's back just as she was sitting up.

Gotta be faster... Sinister's watching... have to do my best...

As she had expected, Vertigo lashed out with her power, destroying Ember's equilibrium. The girl staggered for a moment, but then shut her eyes and reached out with her telepathy. The world reformed into a plane of indescribable colors and shapes, ever changing and beautiful.

Can't make me dizzy if I'm not grounded in reality!

Ember favored her already disoriented teammate with a left-hook that needn't have been *that* vicious and finished the session with a quick side-kick in the head. She felt most satisfied as she looked down at Vertigo's battered body, and contemplated kicking her a few more times--just for fun.

A wave of sickness washed through her that had absolutely nothing to do with Vertigo's power.

I won't do that. I *won't*. I can't start thinking like that, or I'll be lost...

"Excellent time, Ember," Sinister said from the sidelines, voice steadily neutral as always. Ember flinched a little at his voice, and yet secretly thrilling at it. Even after all the man had done to her, the compliment still made her feel proud...//

//The scene swam before her eyes once more, and she was standing amidst Sinister's "pens," where he kept all his experiments and gene fodder. Ember crept into a shadowed corner, wrinkling her nose at the reek of unwashed bodies and sickness, and reached into her pocket for the discarded packet of food she had found. A cold sweat ran down the back of her neck as she pressed it into the small, starving girl's hands through the thick bars, trembling at the thought of what would happen to her if she were found. She was not supposed to be there, and she would certainly be punished. But her telepathy was at high ebb, and the cries and the pain couldn't be blocked out. She knew she was breaking the rules, but she had to do *something*...

A rough hand spun her around, and she found herself staring into Scalphunter's hard eyes. One hand was on his gun, she noticed...

"What are you doing here?" he hissed, his hot breath causing her to flinch away. "Consortin' with these *flatscans*?"

"I-I-I..." was all she could manage. He didn't give her another chance--his fist caught her off guard, and before she knew it she was sprawled on the ground, a gun to her ribs...//

"So then Ange walks right into Ember--" Paige said as she took another bite of her hotdog. Angelo reddened slightly and interrupted, "Hey, the chica walked into *me*, remember? I couldn't see her coming around the corner."

"--And the most he can get out is 'uh,'" Paige finished.

Everett grinned at his friend. "What's wrong, Ange?" he asked, closing up the large bag of potato chips he had finished using. "Finally learn the meaning of the words tongue tied?"

Angelo glared at him. "She surprised me, okay?" he said, savagely attacking his coleslaw with a fork. "And it wasn't as if I stared or anything."

Everett just smiled benignly and put more ketchup on his hotdog. Jubilee looked irritated for some reason, as her slightly scorched plate could attest, but Angelo didn't even want to ask.

Maybe Ev's just been givin' her chocolate again.

Then Everett noticed something. "Hey, where's Monet?" he inquired. "I thought she was coming down."

Paige shrugged. "She was in her room, last I saw. I think she's meditating again."

"Or spying?"

The whole student body, few though they were, nearly fell out of their chairs at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. Lounging comfortably against the counter was a young man, perhaps twenty or so. Angelo was fairly certain he hadn't heard anyone enter, and positive that neither he nor his friends had ever seen him before in their lives.

"Who are *you*?!" Jubilee demanded, speaking for the first time all night. "Another one o' Sinister's recruits?"

The man barked a sharp, bitter laugh. "Hardly!" he snorted, pushing not-quite-black hair out of his eyes. "He didn't think I was 'superior' a being enough, apparently, though it's nothing *I* ever regretted, considering the alternative." He fixed his penetrating gaze on the group, eyes narrowed. "Your teammate is attempting to unearth things best left alone," he said after a moment, tone suddenly flat and cold. "Would anyone care to stop her, or would you leave that to me?" He smiled. There was not even a trace of humor in the expression. "And I assure you," he continued softly, "I *will* do that if I have to. And I really don't think you'd like to know how."

Before anyone could so much as twitch, the man was gone. He didn't fade out, or vanish in a flash of fire and brimstone, he was just... gone, as if he had never been.

"What... was *that*?" Everett gaped, blinking.

"Your guess is as good as mine, amigo," Angelo replied, rubbing his forehead. "Anyone think we should tell M?"

"Aw, shit," Paige said, bolting from the table. "She's gotta be spyin' on Ember while the gal's sleepin'! She was hintin' at it earlier..."

Paige ran from the room, and Angelo could have sworn she left a faint smell of ozone on the backdraft. The others quickly followed, pelting across the lawn at breakneck speed after Paige, though whether out of concern or lack of anything else to do Angelo couldn't guess. They thundered up the stairs of the Girls' Dorm, causing the old structure to creak alarmingly under the team's collective weight, and proceeded to flood Monet's room.

Paige had beat them to it, Angelo discovered, for his friend was already shaking their teammate out of her trace.

"Paige?!" Monet exclaimed, blinking rapidly. "What are you doing? I was trying to--"

"Poke your nose in where it doesn't belong," came the stranger's voice from the far corner of the room. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, and wearing a foreboding scowl on his face.

"Who are *you*?" Monet demanded, an interesting mixture of anger and incredulity spreading across her features.

The man chuckled harshly. "I don't think you really need to know." He smiled nastily. "All that concerns me is your staying *out* of her head, understand? It's none of your business."

"And it *is* yours?" Angelo asked, narrowing his eyes. The intruder turned to him, his dark eyes clouded with--what?

Que...? Is it just me, or does he look almost... sad?

"Yes, it *is*," the man replied after a moment. "Ember's my--huh?"

Without any warning whatsoever, the man disappeared. Again. Without a trace.

And then Ember stumbled into the room.

"What's going--" she began, then froze and paled. "--oh. Sorry--I... heard noise. Ah... I'll go."

"Wait a minute," Jubilee said, grabbing Ember by the arm. "*Who* was that guy?!"

Ember frowned. "What guy?" she asked.

"Dark hair, brown eyes, around six feet tall," Paige supplied, looking similarly baffled. "He was just here--he said he knew you."

The very last of Dawn's pallor drained from her face. "No, I don't... he's... I don't know anyone!" she cried, wrenching her arm away. Angelo was shocked to discover her eyes seemed to be brimming with tears.

"Why are you people *doing* this to me?!" she shrieked, voice rising an octave before cracking. "Haven't I suffered enough?! Everyone's *dead*! I don't have any more friends, they're all *dead*! And he made me watch, every second--they're dead because of *me*!" She fled through the open doorway, hair streaming behind her as she disappeared down the hallway and down the stairwell, screaming, "Leave me alone! All of you Leave me alone, or I swear, I'll kill you all!"

There was the sound of a slamming door, and then an eerie silence. Finally, Everett, whose gaze was still locked on the door, felt around for the chair nearby, found it, sat--and missed.

The silence held for another minute, and then Jubilee and Paige both burst into only *slightly* hysterical laughter almost simultaneously. After a moment, Everett, Angelo, and even Monet had to join them.

At least it cut the tension, Angelo thought, relieved. Now... where the hell did Ember get to? Did she go--outside? Uh-oh...

"Uh, amigos, we've got a problem," he said after they'd calmed down a little. "If we're in here, and the teachers are in the Med Lab, who's watching Ember?"

There was a round of worried looks, and then a sudden mad dash for the door.

Gotta run, gotta run... that seemed to be the only thing she could think of as Ember flew blindly across the campus and through a copse of trees, not even paying attention to where she was headed. Not that it would have mattered--she couldn't have seen through her tears anyway.

This being the case, she was more than a little startled when she tripped over something and landed on her face.

"OoOoOowww..." she moaned, rubbing her forehead as she pulled her nose out of the dirt, spitting grass out of her mouth. She rolled over and sat up, feeling a little dazed but not seriously hurt.

Well, that's one way to stop hysterics... she thought absently, rubbing the grime off of her face. Where did I...

Her thought trailed off as her eyes caught sight of a headstone. And another. And another.

She was right in the middle of the Academy's cemetery.

"Oh no. Oh, *no*..." she moaned, abruptly placing her head between her hands. She looked up and cast an accusatory gaze towards heaven.

"Do you want me to go insane, is that it?!" she screamed to the universe in general. "I'm this close--*this* close! I can't *take* this anymore, do you hear me?!" She buried her face in her hands again, shivering. "I just... can't. I can't..."

And, high above the trees encircling the clearing, it began to rain.

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