Disclaimer: GenX and the Marauders belong to Marvel--anyone else is *mine*.
Author's Note: Forgive the lateness of this chapter--I have screwed up my arm *yet again* and as a result haven't been able to make much headway on anything. I've been getting even *less* sleep (if that's possible) and am currently unable to breathe deeply because of my $*%&! Sore neck and arm muscles (don't laugh, I'm serious!) and am in a great deal of general discomfort. Until it gets better (hopefully by tomorrow) I won't be getting much done, and the only reason I'm up and about now is a great deal of medication, heat packs, and the wonderful "The Coming of Raab" slam by Suzene and Allegra, which will cheer up *any* Excalibur fan! Ahhh, Claremont...
Dammit, stop blushing already! Ember snapped at herself a half hour after Paige had made a tactful retreat. The trouble is... I don't know whether I should be embarrassed or laughing my ass off. How *anyone* could be so socially inept... well, besides me, anyway... is truly a wonder of nature.
She snuggled down in the sheets and closed her eyes, throat feeling raw and the beginnings of a headache creeping across her forehead. It was time for another bout of healing, and if all went well she would be over this illness by the end of the day.
I'm glad I had breakfast, she remarked mentally, sparing a grateful thought for Paige's consideration. How on earth does Wolverine do it without exhausting his physical reserves? Well, I'm strong enough to do *this*, at least. It'll just take... a lot more... control... is all...
She concentrated intently and focused her mind on every little pain in her body, every ache and complaint, and reached for the power. It came easily, and the moment she had her mental hands around it she allowed herself to relax. Maintaining the power was easy, it was the getting to it that was difficult.
I think the bulk of the damage was repaired last night, but I don't know *how*, she thought, feeling her lungs slowly drain of liquid. Maybe I did it subconsciously--like a natural defense mechanism. Huh. That would be useful if I ever--
Her mind froze abruptly as she felt a familiar presence stirring within it. Heart suddenly racing with stark terror, she threw her pitifully weak internal shields up to block it off. Fear fueled her strength, and before long the presence ebbed away--somewhat reluctantly, Ember noted.
Oh... oh my God... how could I have been so *stupid*?! How long did I think he would leave me alone before he came looking for me?! And he doesn't even need to establish an outside link--he can just use the psi-paths he put in me for training! He knows where I am, he's *got* to know what I'm trying to do, how long is he going to leave me here?
Ember shuddered and curled into an even tighter ball beneath the covers, heedless of the stains her tears made in the sheets.
Jonothon was at his habitual rock by the lakeside, staring out across the glassy surface of the water. He had unbandaged his face, leaving the psionic flames free to lick harmlessly at his leather jacket
as he mulled over this and that, not even bothering to settle on a certain topic in particular. A lone cricket chirped somewhere around his boots, adding to the solidity of the scene as a flock of geese waddled lazily around the lake's edge. It didn't really matter; it was times like this that Jonothon enjoyed, for solitude was rather hard to come by inbetween ambushes and cross-dimensional field-trips.
Jonothon nearly fell off of his rock with alarm as the panic-fueled blast of emotions caught him with his shields wide open. He staggered to his feet, hands clenching spasmodically as he raised them to his forehead, trying to block out the empathic shrieks of alarm. He took a step forward, stumbled, and landed on his elbows, brow creased in pain. The cries were getting louder, not softer, and the source was only too clear...
Ember. Or... I think it is. Feels kind o' like 'er... but kind o' not? What the hell?
Jonothon got to his feet, slammed his barriers back down against the brunt of the cries, and began to run towards the main building. One of the few advantages of not being able to breathe was that he never got short of breath, and never got a stitch in his side. He barreled into the building at a dead run, hard soles of his boots echoing down the otherwise empty hallway. As he ran, he reached out with a hesitant fragment of psi energy, searching for Emma.
:Yer there, Ms. Frost?: he called silently.
:Yes, I heard her,: Emma replied. :I'm on my way now. Is it safe to assume you are as well?:
:At the Med Lab now,: Jonothon informed her, tapping in the access code quickly. :Wot *was* that?:
:We'll just have to find out, won't we?:
With a mental sigh Jonothon broke the contact and entered the infirmary, probing the room as best he was able. The only psi-print he found was Ember's--clearly screaming terror to whomever had a mind to look for it.
:Gel--gel, are you all right?: Jonothon asked, quickly moving over to the shivering pile of blankets on Ember's cot. He felt the panic that had hit him begin to ebb, as if satisfied that someone had come to help. It definitely wasn't Ember--she was nowhere *near* calming down, and she seemed to have locked her feelings down as tightly as she could.
Somethin' weird's goin' on here... he thought as he moved closer to Ember, slowly, so as not to frighten her any more.
:Sunshine, are yer all right?: Jonothon asked, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder through the blankets. :Heard yer screamin' all the way from the lake--what's wrong?:
Ember exhaled slowly, and Jonothon sensed her gathering her thoughts. She reached up a hand and slowly untangled herself from the blankets, starting with her head. Jonothon backed away and took a seat in the nearby chair as the Marauder emerged from the tangle of cloth, looking pale and drawn. She exhaled again and brushed the hair out of her eyes as she sat up shakily.
"I f-f-felt him," she whispered, eyes closed. She swallowed loudly, then continued. "I f-f-felt S-S-S-Sinister... h-he's looking for m-me. He knows wh-where I am, and he's going to find me again..."
Her voice was trembling on the edge of hysteria, and, though it was clear she was trying to keep herself under control, it was obvious she was only moments away from going over the edge. Jonothon got up again and sat down on the side of the cot, awkwardly putting his arms around her shoulders for comfort. Psionic energy licked at her arms, but Ember seemed oblivious to it. She accepted his support gladly, all but collapsing against him, just as Emma made her appearance.
:Yer hear that, Ms. Frost?: Jonothon inquired, raising an eyebrow.
:Yes,: Emma nodded, gaze fixed on the exhausted Ember. :I'll have to help her build her internal shields up--I have a feeling Sinister intentionally weakened them so he could get a better hold over her. I believe, however, that I'm found the source of that psionic SOS we received.: Emma frowned slightly. :It was, I believe, her daughter.:
:Her *kid* did that ter us!?: Jonothon exclaimed, stiffening. :Gordon Bennett!:
:D-did what?: Ember asked, eyes still closed.
"We received a telepathic wash of panic," Emma said aloud. "I originally assumed that it was from you, but it appears that your child was responsible."
This caused Ember to momentarily break out of her hysteria. "Wh... what?" she blinked. "I mean... I know she has psi powers already, but this... specific communication with you two--I thought it was beyond her."
"It appears it is not," Emma said, crossing her arms. "I 'asked' around--Monet felt nothing, and she is a psi as well. It seems your child has a very specific list of who she decides should help."
"Ah." Ember seemed to have calmed down somewhat.
"However, the problem still stands," Emma continued. "Are you certain Sinister knows you are here?"
Ember swallowed heavily. "Yes," she answered. "And really, it would be the logical assumption, since I *did* break away from him here..." She trailed off, biting her lip.
:Yer all right now?: Jonothon asked gently, releasing her.
"Yeah... pretty sure," she nodded. She drew her legs to her chest and hugged them tightly, taking a few deep breaths. "Well, *this* is wonderful," she muttered sarcastically "How the hell am I supposed to relax here when... when *he* keeps getting into my head..?"
:This is not good,: Emma sent. Jonothon raised an eyebrow in her direction--why would she be telling him *this*?
:Yeah, I know,: Jonothon replied, only to his teacher. :What're yer gonner do about it?:
:I am going to *try* to block Sinister's probes, but I need her permission, first.:
:And the problem is..?:
:That this will be less than easy. You've been in her mind before--you *know* what a mess it is. She'll be in agony while I do it, and quite possibly for a time afterwards. I would like you to try and help her, absorb some of the pain. It won't be comfortable, but it's better than letting her suffer alone, wouldn't you agree?:
:Manipulator,: Jonothon muttered. :Like I could've stood by after a pitch like *that*.:
:I'll take that as a compliment to my skills.:
:Yeah, yeah, yeah. What am I supposed to do?:
:Simply stand between Ember and the pain. Be there *with* her, so she knows she's not alone.:
Jonothon nearly smiled, despite lack of a lower jaw. :Yer almost sounded profound there, teach.:
Emma snorted quietly. :A passing weakness. Now shall we get on with it?:
As his teacher turned to Ember and began explaining what she wished to do, Jonothon reflected on her tone. He had never doubted Emma cared for her students, perhaps more deeply than she would ever admit, but her reaction to Ember was something new altogether. Could it be that she saw more of herself in the girl than even *she* suspected..?
"All right, shall we begin?" Emma asked. Ember nodded silently and folded her legs in a fashion the reminded Jonothon suspiciously of the lotus position (a stance he himself had never learned to achieve, nor did he wish to--it looked hideously uncomfortable, and it made his knees hurt just to *look* at it). With a shrug, Jonothon pulled up a chair and sat next to her, trying to relax as he had been taught. It was easier said than done--the "taste" of Ember's fear was still fresh in his mind, and this, in turn, was starting to wear on *his* nerves as well. Still, he had promised to help...
Without warning, Ember let out a sharp gasp of pain, hands clutching convulsively on the bed sheets. He turned around and saw Emma standing behind him, eyes closed tightly in concentration, and realized they had begun. A little embarrassed, Jonothon quickly lay a hand over one of Ember's, reaching into her mind to comfort her...
He very nearly pulled out right then and there, for the sheer agony he encountered in her mind almost floored him. The moment he linked to her he felt as if his mind was being torn apart, angry red pain flashing before his suddenly dark vision. He could "hear" Ember screaming faintly and marveled at her ability to keep the pain *contained* instead of broadcasting it to anyone who happened nearby, as some psis were wont to do when in extreme pain.
As Jonothon groped blindly for her mental hand, it dawned on him (rather belatedly, he noted with faint exasperation) that a good chunk of her life had probably been solely *about* being strong and contained. From what he had gathered, it probably wouldn't have mattered to Sinister if she had been driven insane by genetic alterations and repeated abuse by the other Marauders as long as she wasn't hurt *physically*.
Perhaps that was what he had wanted in the first place..?
After several timeless minutes, the pressure in Jonothon's head abruptly eased up, and his vision cleared. Jonothon shook his head once or twice to clear it, relieved the torture was over. He turned to Ember, to see how she was doing--
The girl was sitting quietly, legs uncrossed, a hand cupped beneath her chin and eyes wide. Jonothon shifted position a little, and discovered what she was staring at; there was an awful lot of blood pouring from her nose...
Without a sound, Ember passed out, eyes lolling back in her head. He sensed the briefest feeling of pure panic as she did so, and desperately cast around for something he could use to slow the bleeding.
He was aware of a sudden wash of psionic energy where there had been none before, and turned his head to discover a stranger standing beside them. Tall, lank, with shaggy brown hair a few shades darker than his own, Jonothon watched him glance around in confusion, than jump in surprise as his eyes registered Ember and the dark red stain slowly soaking through the mattress around her head.
"Oh, *shit*--" the boy breathed quietly. He shoved Jonothon aside in a gesture that seemed more of panic than rudeness, and placed a hand over her forehead.
:*What* are you doin'?: Jonothon blinked, taken aback by this abrupt arrival. :Who--:
"One question's... all yer get," the boy answered shakily. "She's hemorrhaging. Excessively. Now let me do m'work."
Emma looked at him appraisingly. "One of Banshee's 'specters,' I assume?" she inquired, unruffled.
"Yeah," the boy nodded. He let out a sigh of relief, then, and removed his hand. Ember's nose had ceased to bleed, and, presumably, the danger had passed. He lifted her off the bed and placed her on another "clean" cot a few feet away, stripped off the bloody sheets, and tossed them into a corner in disgust. He gave Emma a "what-the-hell-kind-of-teacher-ARE-you?" look, but said nothing, and turned around to leave.
Which Emma disagreed with, apparently.
"Wait one moment, *young man*," the woman grated, eyes flaring dangerously. Jonothon felt a surge of psionic energy pass between the two and winced; Emma was swimming in dangerous waters here...
The boy turned around slowly, eyes wide with shock and bewilderment. "What--let go of me!" he exclaimed, obviously straining to get out of Emma's psionic hold.
"Not until we get this little... misunderstanding... cleared up," Emma said firmly, crossing her arms over her chest. "Now, it's obvious you aren't simply a 'figment' of Ember's imagination; figments don't have their own psi-patterns. Tell me who and what you are. *Now*."
The boy seemed to pale a fraction. "All right," he said at last. "My name's Glenn--I'm the Healer. Mr. Cassidy met Will--he's the Guardian."
"You have pet names for each other. How ~precious~. Would you care to *elaborate* on that?" Her sarcasm could have been cut and used to butter bread.
But on this, at least, Glenn held firm. "No," he said simply. Emma's eyes narrowed dangerously, but he met her icy blue gaze calmly. "I'm serious. I can't tell yer that, because *she* doesn't want me to." He jerked a thumb towards Ember. He smiled without humor. "And I know fer a fact yer can't read m'mind. Yer might be able ter control it fer a while, but ultimately yer won't get anythin' you're not s'pposed to outta me. And," he added in a slightly lower tone, "you're not exactly endearing yourself ter me this way. Would yer please let me go?"
Jonothon noted the expression of annoyance that crossed the headmistress's face with some amusement, which me made sure to stifle. However, Emma only sighed and shook her head.
"Very well," she said, and the psionic energy between the two evaporated. "But young Ember will have quite a bit to explain when she wakes up..."
Glenn merely smiled at her. "And I pity her. Just don't be too hard on her, all right? If yer think *this* was hysterical, then yer haven't seen *anything* yet." He made an elaborate, mocking bow, and vanished.
:Well,: Jonothon said after a moment, :I rather liked that one.:
Emma just glared at him.