Disclaimer: Marvel stuff is Marvel's. My stuff is mine. I'm not getting paid, either.
Author's Note: Yay! I can sleep without medication now! (I know what you're thinking, so stop it! It was because of my pinched nerve, duh.) I am now *almost* fully healed, but quite well enough to carry on my duties now, thank thee. Here's chapter 15 to make up for it--and it even has Jubilee in it, too. Have fun!
"Jubilee, come on!" Everett persisted, all but dragging his friend down the hall. "You promised you'd at least *try* to talk to her."
"Yeah, but I didn't say I'd *like* it," she muttered darkly. "Now leggo my hand, I'm not going to run!"
"So you say. C'mon, we're here." Everett stopped in front of the Med Lab and tapped in the familiar security code. It had been two days since Emma's psionic "therapy," and Ember had since recovered from the ordeal. Paige had been in to see her from time to time, since she and Jonothon were the only two students the girl seemed to trust thus far, and had announced that Ember seemed to be doing *much* better. Emma had seemingly disappeared, and had been seen in several heated conversations with both Hank and Sean, while Jonothon was busy recovering in the basement (or so he said; Jubilee suspected that he just wanted to get out of classes.).
I will *not* like her, Jubilee thought as the door opened with a gentle *whoosh*. I'll talk to her, but I won't like her. I'm *not* going to forget what she did to Wolvie.
Everett and Jubilee entered the infirmary to discover Ember immersed in a textbook Paige had loaned her, with a stack of similar such material beside her cot. Her kitten, Charm, had been allowed to stay beside Ember for several hours at a time so long as it didn't get into any equipment, in which case it was taken away by an irked Hank and placed back in Paige's care, since she had become used to tending for it. At the moment, however, Charm was sprawled across the foot of the cot, tail twitching now and again as it dreamed some kittenish dream.
At the sound of the door opening, Ember glanced up and put the textbook aside, looking a little doubtful about their arrival. "Um, hello," she said awkwardly, eyes flitting from Everett to Jubilee nervously.
"Hi," Everett said amiably. "We're just here to visit. Are you feeling all right?"
Ember smiled faintly. "Yeah, I guess," she replied. "Ms. Frost's work helped. At least my head doesn't seem as... dirty as before."
Everett returned her smile, magnified several hundred times. "Good to hear that." He glanced meaningfully at Jubilee. "Lee's glad, too. Aren't you, J?"
Jubilee mumbled something that could either have been an affirmation or a derogatory remark. Jubilee saw a slightly pained look cross Ember's face, but pointedly ignored it. She only half-heard Everett as he tried to salvage the situation with small talk, and avoided any opportunity to join in. When she *did* talk it was in monosyllables, which made Ember visibly uncomfortable.
Serves the witch right, she thought, taking a perverse pleasure in making the Marauder squirm. 'Specially after what she did to--
"Stop it!" Ember shouted suddenly, throwing her hands up to her head and squeezing her eyes shut. Everett took an involuntary step backwards, and Jubilee was startled out of her grim musings. Ember's eyes snapped open, and Jubilee was almost shocked to see that her pupils were so wide they nearly eclipsed the blue of her irises. The Marauder fastened her gaze on the startled girl and said in slightly calmer tones: "Jubilee--*please*--stop that."
"Stop what?" Jubilee snapped. "Stop *thinking*? Are you snooping in my head?!"
"NO..." Ember said angrily, tears of pain springing to her eyes. "I'm an *empath*, Jubilee. I feel what other people feel, whether I like it or *not*. Your hostility's *choking* me!"
Jubilee snorted. "Like *I* can help it? I have the right to dislike anyone I want to!" She crossed her arms stubbornly. "It ain't gonna happen, Ember. I've seen no reason to think you're a actually a good guy and not just some psi-witch who's playing mind games with the whole team for all this--"
"Jubilee--" Everett began in a futile attempt to make his friend back down.
"Quiet, Ev," she retorted. "This is between me and skunk-head over there."
"Is that what you really think I've been doing?" Ember asked quietly after a moment. "That I've been *making* these guys give me a chance..?"
"Yeah," Jubilee said shortly. "And why not? It's not like you're helpless. You're not even wearing the power inhibitor!"
Ember bit her lip for a moment. "You don't get it. You really don't." She sighed and looked back at Jubilee, the anger and frustration gone and replaced by a kind of tired sadness. Jubilee wondered if the girl had taken acting lessons.
"Look..." Ember said softly. "I haven't had any *real* friends since I was eleven. I've spent the last couple of years around the Marauders, for God's sake. Not only can I not *emulate* friendship, I doubt I could even distinguish it from common courtesy anymore. And--I never learned to manipulate people emotionally. I can't do it, so I don't try. Are we clear?"
Jubilee gave her The Look.
Ember sighed. "If you won't accept, at least understand why I am like I am." She closed her eyes, and Jubilee registered a brief brush against her mind.
And suddenly, Jubilee was somewhere else. Somewhere dark, with a feeling of hopelessness and sorrow that washed over her like a biting wind. She whirled around and tried to generate her pyrotechnic sparks, provide some light, but her powers failed her.
:Where--what'd you do to me?!: she exclaimed, furious and terrified. :Get out of my head!:
:We're not *in* your head, we're in *mine*.:
The reply reverberated through Jubilee's body. In vain she tried to make out the surroundings, but there was no light to speak of.
:You *don't* want to see it,: Ember assured her. :Trust me. This is where I keep my worst memories--the decor is somewhat... gruesome.:
:Fine. Why'd you bring me here, anyway? Want to show me vacation slides or something?:
:No. I wanted to show you this.:
Jubilee blinked--and the scene melted. Now she was running--slowly, for her legs felt like lead. Her lungs burned, and she was aware of salty sweat flecking her upper lip as her heart pounded in her chest, and her vision was greying with exhaustion. There were a few crickets chirping somewhere below her--she ignored them. She wiped the sweat out of her eyes and saw her destination: a darkened house in the distance. Her muddy sneakers thudded heavily against the pavement of the sidewalk in the dark neighborhood, and her breath rasped loudly in her dry throat. She wasn't sure how many miles she had jogged, or how long it had taken her, but she knew it had been an incredibly long way.
I'm almost home, she thought, without really knowing why. Almost home, almost safe.
Finally, she staggered up to the house. Struggling to make her legs step onto the porch, she pulled out a small, battered key from her jacket and thrust it into the lock of the door, hands shaking with fatigue. She pushed the care-worn door open and fumbled for the light switch blindly.
"Mom, Dad, I'm h--" she began as she clicked the light on, voice thick with weariness. Her words deserted her, however, when she was confronted with a sight that made her heart freeze in her chest.
There, in the midst of the living room, were four figures. Two Jubilee recognized as Arclight and Scalphunter, and the other two, though she had never seen them before, were somehow... her parents?
"Home at last?" Scalphunter drawled, caressing a long, wickedly jagged knife. "We were starting to get bored."
"Wha... who?" she stammered weakly, taking a step back as the pair smiled cruelly.
"Your betters, brat," Arclight sneered. "You might've gotten away from the school, but you're *not* getting away from *us*."
Scalphunter grinned, showing teeth. He reached out and pulled her mother, bound and gagged, towards him, knife in his other hand. "After all," he said softly, "we have two *very* good reasons why you should cooperate with us."
Jubilee swallowed, her hand clenching around the key so tightly it was causing her hand to bleed. She tried to decide whether to attempt to save her parents or run, muscles spasming with exhaustion--
Jubilee's vision blurred, time swimming uncomfortably before her eyes, and suddenly came to a painful halt. She watched in horror as Scalphunter smiled that hated smile again and raised his gun--
She felt two screams in her mind, even as their warm blood splashed on her face--
:STOP IT!: Jubilee shrieked, unable to bear any more. The raw, mingled feelings of grief, terror, agony and utter powerlessness that accompanied the vision were making her ill with their intensity, and she would have given anything to just stop the horror of the dream...
:Not a dream,: Ember informed her quietly as the scene dissolved. :A memory. *My* memory. That's how Sinister 'drafted' me into the Marauders--he had Scalphunter shoot my parents. *Right before my eyes*.:
Jubilee was vaguely aware of Ember returning them both to reality, and, once again, of closing her eyes. Jubilee took a moment to steady herself and collect her thoughts, and, just as desperately, to keep her lunch in her stomach.
That... was *not* fun, she thought dizzily. God... and I half-thought she'd joined voluntarily... I think I'm gonna hurl...
"I... I..." Jubilee stammered, blinking. "I didn't think you'd... I mean..."
"No one ever does," Ember sighed softly. "Well... there you have it. Story of my life." She crossed her legs and groped for the book she had been reading. Jubilee wasn't so distracted as to miss the tears welling up in the girl's eyes, nor to note the other thing she'd neglected to think about earlier.
She's the same age I am. This is actually kind of creepy, now that I think about it...
"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Ember commented absently.
"What? Are ya--"
"Nope. Just a similar train of thought. No telepathy necessary. Sorry if it seems otherwise."
Jubilee sighed, and looked again at Ember, who was reading the book in a... unique manner.
"It's upside-down," she informed the girl.
"Doesn't matter. I can read it either way."
Jubilee was silent for a moment, trying to decide how to say what she knew she should.
"Ember..." she said after a moment, and the girl raised her eyes a fraction to look at her.
"I--I'm sorry." Jubilee licked her dry lips nervously. "I didn't... I really didn't know... what he did to you."
The images flashed before her mind's eye again, and Jubilee knew that even if the memories *could* have been counterfeited, the feelings that accompanied them could not. They were too strong, too vivid, to be the product of as fevered a mind as she had believed Ember would have. The sad fact was, the girl she had thought to be the enemy was everything but malicious, which, when one thought about what she must have suffered at Sinister's hands, made her all the more pitiable.
For a moment, Ember was silent, as if she was gauging Jubilee's words for sarcasm or disdain. After several excruciatingly long minutes, Jubilee turned to leave, convinced the girl hadn't believed her...
"Jubilee..?" came a soft, hesitant voice. Jubilee turned slightly to see Ember staring at the floor.
"I..." Ember pulled her gaze up to look at her, blue eye to blue eye, "thanks. I... thanks."
Jubilee managed a smile, and Everett just sat on the sidelines, wondering what on earth was going on.
Ember finally put the book down and rubbed her eyes. It was eleven o'clock at night, and Hank had decreed that if she were good she'd be able to leave the infirmary tomorrow morning. It was a good thing she and Jubilee had reconciled, for otherwise the whole place would have seemed very dark and depressing. Now, however, her spirits were light from the day's conversation, and she was glad to know that a large chunk of the girl's hostility was gone. It lightened the emotional atmosphere of the school greatly, and made Ember's empathy all the more easier to bear.
Suddenly, she sensed a familiar psi-presence nearing. It was Emma, apparently, and the White Queen wanted something from her. Ember, wondering what she was doing in the infirmary at such a relatively late hour, straightened up in an attempt to be polite, although she would really rather have gone to sleep.
She wasn't disappointed. Emma came striding in a moment later, a firm, determined look in her eyes. Ember grew puzzled, and raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"I have a little test for you," Emma replied to the unasked question. Her tone was smooth and unreadable, and she had erected psi-shields so strong absolutely nothing bled through, not even her emotions. Ember became nervous--what kind of test required this amount of secrecy?
"I would like you to teleport something," Emma continued.
Ember cocked her head, but readied her powers nonetheless. "Um... all right, I suppose I can do that. What would you like me to 'port?"
"This." Emma reached into her white coat, drew out an *extremely* large knife--and hurled it right at Ember's face. There was no time to think, only to act.
The knife disappeared in mid-flight, and Ember sensed it reappearing outside near the tree-line, where it proceeded to embed itself in the trunk of an oak tree. Her eyes widened as she stared at Emma, shocked and dismayed. Was the headmistress attempting to *kill* her now?!
Emma merely raised an eyebrow of her own. "Nothing of the sort," she replied. "I *did* say it was a test, didn't I?"
Ember gave her a sour look. "You didn't have to do it *that* way! I got enough of *that* with the Marauders!" she snapped, trying not to cry.
"I would suppose you did." Emma nodded. Then, "Why didn't you tell us?"
This caught her by surprise. "Wh-what?" Ember stammered. "T-tell you what?"
"That you're a medium."
Ember blinked, then clapped a hand over the tell-tale violet mark under her left eye--the reason she didn't use this power often. And from the look on Emma's face, her little slip had not gone unnoticed.
In other words, she was screwed.