Disclaimer: Marvel stuff is Marvel's. Others are mine.

Author's Note: All right, half of this was written around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, which should explain a lot. Keep this in mind while reading it, and I promise Ember will get some *real* team interaction next chapter. Really. ;)


Ember, though sleeping physically, was psionically wide- awake. Weak, perhaps, exhausted, certainly, but awake. She hung on the edge of awareness, lost inside a hallucinogenic haze of confusion and jumbled images, only half aware of what was happening. This, perhaps, was why she barely even noticed when she was joined by another.

:Gel... Ember, are yer all right?: came a voice. Ember twisted around to discover Jonothon, half-obscured by a shard of memory, hovering nearby.

:Hmmmmm? Oh. I'm fine. *Really* fine.: She felt strangely light-headed, and she was having a hard time placing just where she had met him.

Eh. Probably doesn't matter anyway.

Jonothon frowned. :Yer sound a bit... odd,: he commented. :Yer sure?:

:Oh, yeah,: Ember grinned. :I think I just had some medicine, though... not sure what it's for, but I feel great!:

Jonothon favored her with an odd look. :I think Dr. McCoy might've over done it a bit,: he said, as if to himself. :Yer *sound* high.:

Ember shrugged nonchalantly, smiling. :Ha ha. Nah, I feel okay. Really. Ask me anything.:

The psionic blinked, obviously confused. Ember noted idly that he was now possessed of a whole face... though why that should strike her as odd she wasn't sure.

:I think I see why Ms. Frost tells us never ter "visit" someone on medication,: he remarked dryly.

:Oh, now you're just being weird,: she replied.

:*I'm* bein' weird!:


Jonothon looked as if he wanted to slam his head against something. :Okay,: he sighed at last. :I think I'll leave yer. Obviously I'm not gonner get anythin' outta yer until ye're--sober. Or whatever.:

:Nonsense. Hey... what's that?: She pointed to the memory crystal that had been obscuring him. Jonothon glanced at it despite himself, then raised his eyebrows in surprise.

:Wot's this...?: he said to himself. Ember peered at it intently, all vestiges of drug-haze abruptly vanishing without a trace. She bit her lower lip as she watched the memory replay itself for the two, apparently possessing both audio and visual memory.

//...And there was Sinister, bending over her as she lay sprawled on the ground, only half-conscious. Ember felt every bruise, every broken bone, as she watched. Sinister shook his head solemnly, then reached down and picked her up with surprisingly gentle hands.

"What have you gotten yourself into now?" Sinister sighed, shaking his head. "Really, child, you must have a deathwish to continue goading Arclight thus. Come, then, we shall fix you up, as always." He carried her limp form to his laboratory, extracting first washcloths and disinfectant. He dabbed her wounds gently, an expression of--concern?--crossing his features as he discovered her broken ribs. This, however, was immediately replaced by irritation.

"How petty," he said, voice containing only the barest hint of annoyance now, and nothing more. "Arclight *must* cease from carrying this out ridiculous grudge against you. She's going to damage you beyond repair one of these days. Very well--time to invoke your healing abilities."

He fixed his steady, ruby-like eyes on her, and she could almost feel the bones beginning to knit. It hurt--he was pushing the healing power much faster than it was intended to go--but it was working. She moaned slightly, and began to almost regain full consciousness, when Sinister laid a hand on her forehead and used his mental hold on her to force her into a full sleep.//

The crystal floated away, leaving Ember pale, shaken, and very, *very* lucid. :Okay...: she sent softly, :*now* I feel sick...:

Jonothon ran to catch her as she "fell," dropping senselessly out of the "air." :Are yer okay?: he asked.

:No,: she said, and passed out.

Well, *that* didn't go well, Jonothon thought as he supported Ember awkwardly. Bloody wonderful. What do I do now?

:I would suggest you stay right here,: came Emma's cold mental voice. In a moment her astral image shimmered in beside him, wearing an extremely displeased expression. :What did I tell you students about entering her mind? She's in a very delicate state right now! You could cause permanent damage with this kind of careless exercise of your power.:

:We were *worried* about the gel,: Jonothon retorted, standing his ground. :I came in 'ere because I thought it might *'elp* the kid, an' if yer don't like it yer can take a flyin' leap.:

Jonothon drew himself up to his full height, staring his teacher full in the eyes. Emma could be harsh, but--well, he could be just as stubborn as she if he had to be. He rarely even *considered* facing off against either of the headmasters, but now there was a need...

After a few long, silent moments, Emma's mouth stretched into a slow half-smile. :Got you as well, did she?: she inquired, arching an eyebrow but looking unsurprised. :Very well.: She crossed her legs and "sat" as if in an invisible chair. :But *I* am staying with you.:

:Fair enough,: Jonothon replied, a little startled that she had conceded so easily. He settled down himself, "lying" Ember nearby. He turned back to the headmistress, who gave him a questioning look.

:What happened?: she asked, nodding her head towards Ember.

:The sort of it is that she saw a mem'ry crystal of Sinisterand up and passed out. Dunno why, though... wasn't like it was a *bad* one, compared ter most of 'em...: He glanced at her curiously. :How'd Banshee find 'er, anyway? We were lookin' all over the bloody campus!:

:Actually, the young man who threatened you earlier was responsible,: Emma remarked, eyes fixed on a shard of memory that had floated up to her. :According to Dr. McCoy's astonishing powers of deduction, Ember is manifesting real-as-life phantoms of her deceased friends.:

:And what d'yer think about it?:

Emma snorted. :Personally, I don't think McCoy knows what he's talking about,: she replied frankly. :Splintered psyches are *my* area of expertise, not his. Unfortunately, for some odd reason neither he nor Sean seem inclined to *listen* to what I have to say anymore.:

She leaned back in her "chair" and shook her head. :If I hadn't promised Charles I wouldn't, I would be seriously tempted to change their pea-brains this instant.:

Jonothon began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. :Errm, yeah. So, what do we do now?:

:Wait, I suppose,: Emma shrugged.





There was a pause.

:You bored yet?: Jonothon asked.


Meanwhile, in a mindscape within a mindscape, Ember stumbled up the steps of her "home," or, at least, the psionic manifestation of it. She sagged onto the porch steps and put her head in her hands, feeling sick. Bad enough that the shock of being confronted with her memories of Sinister had caught her completely unawares, but in her present state she was feeling none too chipper.

I probably shouldn't have left Jonothon back there with that psionic "decoy" of me, but I might have spilled it all if I'd stayed there any longer, she thought, rubbing her aching head. Damn, this just gets more and more complicated! I don't *want* to lie to these guys, I want them to *trust* me, but what if that's what Sinister wants? What'll I do then?

:Having second thoughts, kiddo?:

Ember raised her head, then sighed with relief. It was the simulacrum of her cousin she had created for company, though she presumed it was subconsciously, since she didn't exactly remember doing it herself. :Hey, Will. What're you doing here?:

:Attempting to get your brain out of its rut. What's up, cousin mine?:

:Nothing,: Ember replied, straightening up a fraction. :Absolutely nothing. 'Cept I just lost my temper at the only people in the world who are even *willing* to be my friends, and just succeeded in losing my head *again* in front of Chamber. Nothing special.:

Will rolled his eyes. :For such a smart kid you sure can act stupid sometimes,: he sighed as he took a seat beside her, clasping his hands loosely around his knees. :Look, Em, you won't get anywhere if you keep running. I may be a little overprotective of you, but at least *I* have a reason to be. I don't want anyone snooping in your head where they *clearly* don't belong, but that doesn't mean I don't want you to have friends here. If you just give yourself a little time to cool down, you'll see that they aren't really going to hold this against you. They all know what you've been through, I think they'll understand.:

She snorted, staring at her hands. :Sure. They're supposed to trust a Marauder, whom they first encountered trying to sneak onto their property and ambush them. I never thought of *you* as an optimist.:

:I'm not an optimist, I'm a realist, and so are you--except *you* are so depressed you're only seeing the worst-case scenario. Lighten up a bit, Ember. Mr. Cassidy, at least, isn't so bad--you could probably trust *him*, at least.:

:I know. I... know. But it's just so hard to give up old habits...:

:Well, you might want to do it fast, or you might not have anyone left to break those habits *on*.:

Ember shook her head. :God, you sure don't *act* like a memory,: she said plaintively, wrinkling her nose at him.

He chuckled. :And who ever said I was a memory?: he asked with a slight smile, then vanished.

Ember blinked, then rubbed her forehead violently. My mind is playing tricks on me, that's all, she assured herself. He's not serious... is he?

She regained consciousness a few hours later, not recalling much of anything. She tried to sit up, but was hit by a wave of nausea and was forced to lay back down again, breath rasping in her lungs. Her head throbbed something awful, and every joint in her body felt stiff and cold.

"Uh..." she moaned softly, blinking heavy eyelids slowly. Her head felt noisy again--something which hadn't happened in quite a while. She reached up to her neck and the inhibiting device that was supposed to be there, then remembered that it had fallen off. Grimacing with pain, she carefully pulled her psi-shields back up and let out a sigh of relief. Most psis took for granted the protection those shields afforded them, but not Ember. Now that her power was functioning again, she would have to fight to sustain her barriers for every moment of every day. Sinister, in manipulating her genetic code, had inadvertently enhanced her telepathy past the point where she could easily contain it. Usually, he slipped her power suppressors in her food that lasted a week or so without replenishing, but now that she was out of his hands...

Damn, I should have thought of that before. This may end up being painful--and pain is *not* my friend. It's been so long I nearly forgot about it--maybe I can ask for a partial suppressor I can turn on and off...?

Ember did a quick check on her baby. Fortunately, her condition hadn't seemed to affect the child in the least. The baby was content and welcoming as always, and Ember spared her a quick pat before closing her eyes again.

:Clever, girl,: Emma's voice chimed in her mind. :But next time, have the decency to tell us when you've woken up.:

:Oh...: She felt oddly chagrinned at the thought of having left Emma and Jonothon alone in her mind for so long. :Um, I'm sorry, I just...:

:Oh, never mind, no offense taken. I *would*, however, like to know exactly how you managed to create a psionic decoy, though.:

Ember sighed. :Practice, and a hell of a lot of adrenaline,: she replied. :Can we talk about this later? I feel awful.:


Ember felt the presence of Emma and Jonothon dissolve from her mind, and ran a hand through her sweat-soaked hair. She felt like hell, but she would live. She just needed time to rest and recuperate...

May not get it, though. Lungs feel like they're on fire, head hurts, I don't know if I'll ever be able to get to sleep again...

She suffered a spasm of coughing then, throat feeling as if she was choking up razor blades. Ember settled back down into the bed, wishing she had a glass of water.

Well, why not? If they have glasses in here, I suppose I might be able to get it telekinetically...

She focused her concentration and "searched" the room with mental hands, looking for anything clean and able to hold water. She soon located a dispenser full of Dixie cups near the sink, and deftly "plucked" one out of the holder. She spun the knob on the faucet carefully, inserted the cup beneath it, and then floated the now-full object towards her outstretched hand.

God, that's better, she thought as she took a sip of the lukewarm water. Hey... where's Dr. McCoy? I thought he'd be here, watching me... She shook her head. No, he's probably asleep. He has to sleep sometime, right? And maybe they're taking shifts outside the Med Lab, anyway.

She glanced at the security camera, mounted in one of the corners. Ah. They're probably watching on that, she decided, giving the camera a sheepish wave. She blinked, then put her hand down. Whoooo. Whatever they gave me must not have worn off entirely. God help us if I should ever get *drunk*...

"Emma, please tell me ye were goin' t'tell us ye let the lass take the collar off," Sean said, eyes still locked on the monitor.

"Oh, I was," she assured him, massaging her forehead. "Eventually."

"Well, that's comforting." His gaze flicked to his companion. "What did ye want us t'see, anyway? She's nae done anythin' wrong."

"Is that what I said I was looking for?" Emma asked, arching an eyebrow. "Just watch."

The monitor scrolled on silently, playing through the events at normal speed. Sean began to wonder exactly why Emma had all but thrown Hank out of the infirmary earlier when Emma suddenly spoke again.

"Computer--freeze frame," she said. The monitor obliged, and Emma leaned a little closer. "Zoom in to 315% magnification," she instructed the system. It obeyed, and Sean and Emma were confronted with a life-sized image of Ember's face.

"Aye?" Sean said after a moment. "What did ye need this for? Examinin' her pores?"

Emma snorted. "Sean, would you call yourself an observant man?"

"Well, aye, I s'ppose... why do ye ask?"

"Then what color are Ember's eyes. Without looking."

Sean scratched his head. "Well, blue, o' course. Is this goin' anywhere...?"

"Look again, Sean m'lad."

Sean looked again.

And did a double take.

Ember's eyes were now green.

Continue To Chapter Thirteen

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