Disclaimer: GenX, the Marauders, and the X-Men are property of Marvel comics--Ember is mine.

Author's Note: All right, for all who asked, yes, two characters from the main time line *are* making an appearance this issue. And yes, there will be interaction with the team at large soon-- next chapter, if I can manage it. I'm just... pacing myself. Yeah, that's it...


"Hey. Wake up, kiddo."

Ember stirred slightly at the familiar touch on her cheek, for once not afraid of the contact. She reached up to touch the hand, sighing softly.

"Mmmm... Will...? Wha' time 's it?" she muttered, rubbing her eyes sleepily. "Must've... fallen 'sleep..." She blinked in confusion as her questing hands met damp leaves and wet grass. "Why's... m'room so... cold?"

She heard her cousin shift uneasily. "You're delirious, kiddo," he informed her, placing a cool hand on her forehead. "You've got a fever. I'd better get you back to the Academy."


"The Massachusetts Academy. Don't worry about it right now."

Ember murmured something even *she* couldn't decipher, and was only vaguely aware of being lifted out of her bed (?) to be taken to this Academy place. Where were her parents, she wondered? It wasn't unusual that Will was here, but surely her parents were *somewhere* nearby...

Or maybe not. She might have slept over at Will's house--yes, that must be it. Her parents must have been going to a meeting, or perhaps a party, and left her at her cousin's for the night. That wouldn't be unusual at all.

Comforted by this, she settled deeper into Will's warm arms and relaxed somewhat. She felt like hell, but hey, getting sick wasn't all that bad. "Will...?" she muttered shakily as her cousin began to walk.


"If 'm sick... tell Mom I'm not goin' t'... go t'school t'day. The school'll call her... an' she'll worry, I think..."

There was a long pause. "...Sure, kiddo," he finally replied. "I'll... tell her that. Now just lay back and rest for a while."

She bobbed her head weakly, pressing her suddenly cold face into his shirt as he held her close. Funny, he didn't seem to be breathing... but no, she was just imagining it. He'd said she was delirious, hadn't he? Perhaps this was just one way of hallucinating.

Suddenly, she felt cold drops of water splat on her face. She blinked again, startled.

Is the roof leaking again? I guess it has to be, 'cause it doesn't rain *indoors*...

That was as far as the thought got before she fell asleep again.

Sean fretted over the empty security monitors, clenching his fists until he thought the bones would crack. Ember had disappeared two hours ago, not to be seen since, and the teachers and students had been looking for her ever since without success. There had been no breach in the perimeter, so she hadn't left the grounds, but nor had Emma been able to find her with her telepathy. It had begun to rain--hard--after she had left, and he was worried she had caught pneumonia in the cold.

Acch, I'm gettin' carried away again, he chided himself as he checked the monitors for the umpteenth time. Just because she's nowhere t'be found doesna mean she's--


Sean nearly jumped out of his skin with surprise at the unfamiliar male voice, heart pounding. What he saw, however, quickly transformed panic into confusion, then concern. Standing in the doorway of the Monitoring Room was a young, dark-haired man holding an unconscious Ember in his arms. Both were soaked to the skin, though the man didn't appear to notice, while Ember was white as a sheet and shivering visibly.

"Here..." the stranger said, moving closer and offering Sean the girl. "She's got pneumonia," he explained as Sean took her quickly. "She cried herself to sleep, and the rain started..." He shook his head, face drawn with worry. "Just... help her. We'll do the best We can, but there are limits to this kind of thing."

Sean caught ahold of the man's arm with awkwardly as he turned to leave. "First off, laddie, who *are* ye?!" Sean demanded. "What're ye doin' here, traipsing about the grounds? And how do ye know her?!"

The intruder looked exasperated. "Go to the Med Lab, I'll tell you on the way," he finally promised. "Hurry, she's not getting any better."

"Aye," Sean admitted. He began to walk briskly down the halls towards the infirmary, balancing Ember gingerly. He glanced at the man as he paced him, narrowing his eyes.

"Are ye the one who threatened me students?" Sean asked.

The man looked embarrassed. "Well, yes," he replied, avoiding eye contact. "Actually... I was just bluffing. I can't really do anything, see?" He presented his hand, put it up to Sean's Celtics jacket, and pushed it *through* the bemused teacher's arm.

"The only person I can actually touch is Ember," he continued. "And I can't access my powers--if I could, I would have turned the storm off. But I hardly could have allowed one of your students to continue to psionically eavesdrop on Ember, could I?"

"I suppose nae," Sean answered after a moment. "But who *are* ye? What are ye doin' here?"

"My name's Will," he said, casting an uneasy glance at Ember as they rounded the corner. "And I'm here because Ember called me. Her subconscious, at any rate. I'm--" he hesitated for a moment, "--I'm a friend. If I seem a little hostile it's because I've had to watch her go through conditioning by that bastard Sinister for three years, and I haven't been able to do a damn thing about it." He shot Sean a wry look. "If that isn't enough to frustrate anyone, I don't know what is."

"I... s'ppose it would be," Sean nodded slowly. "But how are ye--I mean, ye're here, so how did ye *get* here?"

"A bit redundant, aren't you? But I'm not actually *here*--I don't have a body, as you would think of it. I'm a psionic manifestation of myself. I've been dead for years, *murdered* by Sinister." Will's expression darkened further. "I am--*was*--a mutant. Not that it matters now, I suppose..."

They arrived at the Med Lab, and Will came to an abrupt halt. "Look," he said after a moment, "she... doesn't know about me. Sinister has recalibrated her DNA in such a way that she'll likely never be able to manifest me when fully conscious, meaning if I pop in again at all, she'll be asleep. Don't tell her about me, please. It'll only hurt her more." He looked Sean straight in the eye. "She's a good kid--she didn't deserve any of this." His eyes dropped, and he looked away again. "If you feel you absolutely *must* have those blood samples, I suggest you take them now," he said quietly. "Get that Frost woman in to keep her from noticing the needle. Goodbye."

And with that, Sean was left standing in front of the Med Lab door, holding an unconscious girl in his arms and staring at a blank wall and nothing more.

Hank sighed with relief and collapsed into his chair, setting the last of the antibiotics aside. Ember was out of danger--she had developed a rather nasty chill, but she was smothered from head to foot in blankets, so it was likely she wouldn't be completely freezing when she woke up.

At least I got those tests completed, Hank thought with relief. She appears to have an enhanced immune system--she should be over this in a week at most.

He removed his spectacles and rubbed them on his labcoat before placing them back into his pocket. He glanced at the wall-clock; it was ridiculously late, and he decided the best thing he could do was get into his bed and get a good eight- hours of sleep. He got up to leave, began switching off equipment--

A young, slender boy of perhaps seventeen suddenly appeared in front of the closed door, looking baffled and restive. He put a hand through his shaggy reddish-brown hair and frowned, then moved decisively towards the pale Ember. He knelt down at her side, brushing a hesitant hand through her hair, and smiled sadly.

"Uhhhnn..." she murmured, rousing herself somewhat. "Dad...? Or... Will?"

"No," the new arrival said in a voice only barely above a whisper. "Friend, luv. A friend. Sleep."

With a sleepy mutter, Ember drifted off again, and the boy looked relieved. He closed his eyes, settled in, and seemed to go into a trance.

"Fascinating," Hank breathed.

"Is he the one you encountered earlier, Sean?" Hank whispered, indicating the young man kneeling by Ember's bedside, still entranced. Sean frowned and rubbed his tired eyes, unwilling to trust them.

"Nay, it is nae," he replied after a moment. "He's too young, an' the face is all wrong. I've nae seen this boy before."

"What a peculiar development," Hank said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Perhaps we should ask him ourselves."

"Are ye sure that's such a--"

Before Sean could stop him, Hank had walked unobtrusively over to the boy, examining the scene carefully. After a moment of silence, Hank said, "Pardon me, but who might you be?"

"Please go away," the boy said softly, without even glancing at him. "This is difficult 'nough without bein' disturbed."

Hank looked thoughtful. "And what, might I inquire, are you doing?" he asked.

"Tryin' ter fix this." The boy's accent was Cockney, superficially like Jonothon's, and his voice sounded strained. "Go 'way. This is... gettin' a little... diff'cult ter do... at the same time."

"Ah." Hank turned back to Sean, a slightly puzzled expression on his face. "It would appear," he said slowly, "that your new student is not without resources of her own." He nodded towards the young man by her bedside. "Did this Will simulacrum inform you as to the exact nature and extent of your young guest? Perhaps mention who this fellow is?"

"Nay, he didna," Sean replied after a moment. "He made vague hints--purposely vague, I think. He said, and I quote, '*We* will do the best *We* can, but there are limits t'this kind o' thing.' D'ye know what that could mean?"

"I can't truthfully ascertain that I do, no," Hank confessed, resting his chin in a hand, "but I can make a reasonably plausible hypothesis." He seated himself in a chair, and Sean did the same, both keeping a respectable distance from Ember and the boy.

"Now," Hank began, "Ember has mentioned, if I am to recall correctly, that her friends and family were all dead, am I right?"

"Aye," Sean nodded. "Several times, in fact."

"So, wouldn't it be perfectly logical if that, by some odd twist of fate, she was able to use her telepathy to seize upon the fading psyche of the acquaintance, thereby adding their thoughts to her own? This is not entirely unheard of--remember, Jean, when locked inside Madelyne Prior's mind at her death, was forced to assume the personas of both Maddieand the Phoenix. Perhaps something similar has happened to Ember, and she has somehow absorbed the minds of these young men." He crinkled his brow. "Now, she has displayed an astonishing variety of powers, most psi-based, in each of our encounters. Perhaps, and mind you, this is just a theory, her subconscious mind is somehow manifesting these "left- over" psyches in reality. You have been told by the other manifestation that they can touch only Ember, yes?"

"I think I see where ye're goin' wi' this," Sean commented. "Are ye sayin' that these strangers are, in fact, nothin' more'n echoes?"

"Yes, that's the working theory," Hank agreed. "Perceived by all, yet tangible only to Ember. Yet another application of mind over matter, not unlike telekinesis; her mind believed that young man was carrying her, so her body reacted accordingly, perhaps with the assistance of TK. It all depends on how you look at it, really."

"Aye, 'twould explain a great deal," Sean nodded slowly. "D'ye think we should have Em check the lass?"

"We'd better," Hank said. "Despite all I might have advised you upon in the past, present, and will in the future, bear in mind I am undoubtably *not* an infallible omniscient deity. This is only my theory, remember."

"I'll keep that in mind." Sean looked at the silent young man by Ember's bedside and obscurely wished he knew who it was. "What d'ye think he's doin', anyway?"

"I really haven't the faintest notion," Hank confessed, rubbing a hand through his hair. "The phrase 'trying to fix this' wasn't terribly informative, I'm afraid. Makes quite the picture, though, doesn't it?"

"Aye, that it does. Makes one wonder."

Hank raised an eyebrow. "Pondering the former social status of our young charge, hmm?"

"Sort of, aye. A bit of a loner, I think, but I'd guess she *used* to have quite a few friends. Sinister probably drove them off or killed them, from what I've heard, though." He sighed and brushed a strand of red hair from his face. "I do wish she'd tell us her name. I'm reluctant t'ask, but if we had her name we'd be able to find out a bit about her background. I... feel sorry for her. I wish we could've found her before Sinister had a chance t'do--this."

Hank rested his huge hand lightly on his friend's shoulder. "There's nothing you could have done, Sean," Hank said softly. "You *have* to stop blaming yourself for this. Sinister apparently got to her before her powers manifested--how were you to know?"

"I..." Sean shook his head. "I dinna know. It just feels as if I should've done *something*."

"Maybe you should've," the boy said suddenly, surprising both the elders, who had almost forgotten his presence. His cool brown eyes met Sean's; his gaze not nearly as sharp and hostile as Will's. "But if yer had, what might've happened?" He got to his feet shakily, as if feeling weak. He leaned back against the wall, lanky frame slightly limp. "Are yer sure you'd've saved her? Or would you've just delayed the inevitable?" He smiled sadly. "Will blames yer fer this, but he's willin' ter give yer a chance. I, on t'other hand, *don't* blame yer at all. Sometimes yer just can't save everyone, I know that better'n most."

He shook his head, the strange, small smile still lingering on his lips. "Tried ter save me parents, but I couldn't even save meself. Blamed meself fer the longest time, but now I've finally gotten over it." He cocked his head, his shag of brown hair falling over one eye. "You can't save everyone, Mr. Cassidy, not all the time, I accepted it, so must you."

With a sigh, the boy got off the wall and turned back to Ember. "I've gotta go," he remarked. "I'll pop in if I'm needed, but prob'bly you won't see me 'gain. See yer 'round."

He vanished, and Sean blinked with surprise. If these were only echoes of the people who had died as Ember watched, then how could they have any perception of time? Or guilt, for that matter? Hank's theory seemed sound, but was there more to this then met the eye...?

Either way, the lad *did* seem t'care about what's goin' on out here. Sympathetic, even. And he's just given me a *lot* t'think about, too...

Was he imagining things, or was that a faint feeling of approval from somewhere to his left?

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