Fading Embers 2/?

Disclaimer: GenX, Sinister, and the Marauders belong to Marvel, but anyone else belongs to me. I'm not getting paid, and this story should not seriously or orally. Thank you.

Author's Note: Hmm hmm hmm. Just feeling playful today. If you're wondering, no, I personally am not a sadist, but I *am* quite good at emulating them and inflicting horrible things on my characters. I really feel sorry for my characters, though--I mean, heck, would *you* like to work for me if this is what I do to 'em on a regular basis? Thought not.


"I don't see why we're not just handing her over to the X-Men," Jubilee whispered angrily to Everett as Angelo, Emma and Sean 'escorted' their visitor to the few holding cells they had installed for emergencies. "I mean, the *last* thing we need is one of Sinister's bar-coded lackeys runnin' around the Academy..."

"I'm *not* a clone," Ember said thickly from up front, startling them all. "In fact, I'm the *only* one of the Marauders that *isn't*." She blinked, then looked at Jubilee with an expression suspiciously like apologetic. "And for the record, I... uh... really didn't mean to start that fire at the Institute a few months back." Ember seemed a little embarrassed, not to mention uncomfortable. "And I sure as hell didn't mean to set any *people* on fire!"

"Yeah, right." Jubilee did *not* look convinced, and Everett didn't blame her. Logan, Scott, and Sam had all been seriously burned trying to keep the inferno under control, and it wasn't likely Jubilee was going to forgive the arson that easily.

And besides, Everett thought as the stopped just short of the school's 'detention center,' She might be lying. He looked at the Marauder's tired posture and general weariness, then amended himself. Though I kind of doubt it. Unless she's the greatest actor in the world, anyway. She just doesn't 'feel' all that evil to me...

"Ye all stay here fer a bit, a'right?" Sean said as they reached the holding cells. "Angelo, ye too. I'll take her from here."

"Muchos gracias," Angelo said, retracting his skin and rubbing his arms. "I thought I was *never* gonna get my skin back in place."

Sean took hold of the girl's wrists to discourage her from attempting to escape, though the most she did was sigh with resignation and shake her head. Sean gently but firmly hustled her into the little-used section of the school, shutting the heavy, adamantium-laced door behind them.

"Have you *ever* heard such a crock?" Jubilee asked once the door was locked. "'I didn't mean to set the Institute on fire'... ha! Sorry, but that just doesn't cut it for me." She narrowed her eyes, sparks flashing around her clenched fists. "Wolvie nearly *died* in that little 'accident' of hers, and I'm *not* gonna forget that!"

"Hey, calm down, Jubes," Everett said, resting a soothing hand on her shoulder. "I mean, we can afford to be at least a *little* charitable, right? Ember's going to be locked down there for a while, or at least until Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Frost can figure out what we're going to do with her."

"That's the *point*, Ev!" Jubilee exclaimed. "She's down *there* with *us* in *our* Academy! She *should* be with the X-Men, or the police, or *some*one. So why didn't Sean and Frosty at least call someone?"

"'Cause they're the teachers an they're trying to do what's best for us?" Everett suggested. Jubilee rolled her eyes in frustration and quietly began to kick him in the shins.

"Here we are, lass," Sean said as Emma deactivated the laser-like 'bars' that closed in the barren little cell. It contained a porcelain sink, a metal-framed cot that was firmly bolted to the floor, and a toilet with a draw-curtain for a little privacy. The room itself was solid concrete reinforced by six inches of steel, top to bottom, and lit by a single very dim, very depressing fluorescent light.

"Homey," Ember remarked as Sean gave her a gentle shove into the cell.

"We try," Emma said dryly. She raised an aristocratic eyebrow towards the girl and said, "Your mask, please."

"Why?" the girl frowned. "Not much I can hide under this thing."

"Indulge me," Emma insisted coolly.

With a sigh, Ember peeled the black mask off of her face and tossed it to the headmasters. Sean stooped to retrieve it, then got a good look at the girl's face.

'Girl' is right... he thought, examining the surprisingly young features that met his gaze. Ember couldn't have been more than sixteen, and her large, almost doe-like blue eyes met his fearlessly. She had a thin, oval face with a nose that wasn't *quite* upturned, and a few strands of her long, blue and white hair hung in her eyes, lank with sweat. He had mistaken her for older because of her lean, wiry-muscled body, and her eyes, which bespoke pain he had never seen in anyone so young before.

:So the girl is young. Get over it, Cassidy,: Emma's sharp voice came.

:But Emma... the lass is so young...: Sean protested mentally. :How can she be...:

:Pregnant? Sinister probably didn't dare--or want to--wait any longer. Marauders seem to die constantly, and, from what she said to Jubilee, she's the only one who hasn't yet. From what I picked out of her mind, Sinister got her when she was about fourteen, give or take a few months. You know how he is--people are pawns to him, remember? The only reason he's waited *this* long was probably to ensure her body could take the strain.:

Sean hastily collected himself and reactivated the laser system. The faint, reddish beams of light appeared in the narrow doorway, sealing the girl in. Ember took a seat on the cot and stared at her feet for a moment in silence. Then, she lifted her head to look at him.

"Can I have a book?" she inquired, almost wistfully.

"A... what?" Sean blinked. That was the *last* thing he had expected her to request.

"You know, a book. Paper thing printed with ink that people like to read?"

:Go ahead, Cassidy,: Emma shrugged. :It's harmless. She just wants something to do.:

"I... suppose," Sean replied, wondering who on the campus really *had* any books besides Paige. Somehow he didn't think their guest would care to read a textbook on physics in her spare time...

"Let me see what I c'n find," he continued. "We dinna have much of a selection..."

What am I sayin'? he wondered. She's nae even a student! And I canna even *guess* what's goin' through Emma's mind...!

"Thanks," Ember said, flopping over sideways on the cot. She proceeded to roll over, and Sean seized this welcome hint to end the conversation like a starving man seizes bread.

"Emma, c'n I see ye fer a moment?" he asked, pulling the headmistress aside by the arm. Emma looked a bit annoyed at the treatment, but nodded, much to Sean's relief. He had rather expected her to protest, or, at the very least, make some snide comment about his handling of women, but the silence, in its own way, was nearly as bad.

Because it means *she* wants t' talk aboot somethin' too, I'll bet.

Sean and Emma walked around a corner, footsteps echoing hollowly on the cement floors. Once safely out of hearing distance, Sean leaned against the cool wall and rubbed his temples with both forefingers.

"Emma, am I just tired, or is somethin' odd goin' on?" he inquired.

"About the girl, you mean?" Emma crossed her arms in front of her and raised both eyebrows. "So you've noticed?"

"Noticed what?"

"The girl is emitting a low-level empathic... 'static', I suppose you could call it," Emma informed him, looking thoughtful. "It's unaffected by the power inhibitor, and it's almost impossible to screen out."

Sean frowned. "What does this... 'static' do?" he queried.

"Believe it or not, it induces trust," Emma answered, actually sounding a bit amused. "She is, for lack of a better word, broadcasting charisma. I doubt it's even under her control."

"A sort o' subconscious defense mechanism, then?" Sean offered, pursing his lips.

Emma nodded. "In all likelihood, yes," she agreed. "She *is* a psi of enormous power, I can tell you that much, but as for her other powers..." Emma looked distinctly puzzled. "I'm not finding *any* of the psychic keys she would need for any one of her other powers. I found the key to her physical metamorphosis..."

"The wings?" Sean said, remembering what information was available on Ember.

"The wings. But there's one more thing, and I can't even identify it. It's some form of psionic power, I'm certain, but as to *what* it is..." Emma shook her head in frustration. "As much as it galls me to admit it, I have *never* seen anything remotely like it in my life."

Sean considered this for a moment. "There's nae much chance o' gettin' it out o' the lass, is there?"

"Not bloody likely, Cassidy."


Ember sighed and curled up on the cot, kicking her boots off and into the corner. The plastic surface of the cot squeaked annoyingly, but her mind really wasn't on it. She was thinking about Sinister, and what he would do if he ever learned that she had actually *hoped* that something like this would happen.

He's going to eviscerate me. *After* he takes Baby safely out of harm's way, of course.

She curled up a little tighter at the thought. Sinister angry was *not* something she *ever* wanted to experience again.

Ember, exhausted and unwilling to stay awake much longer, drifted off to sleep, praying that she wouldn't have one of *those* dreams this time...

Not dreams. *Memories*. She shuddered. It was her last conscious action.

//Just barely fourteen, she crouched in the modified stasis tube that Sinister usually used to clone his Marauders, scared as hell. She was in a separate room than Sinister's 'experimental' mutants, which, in her mind, meant the same as victims. Exhausted as she was, she simply couldn't go to sleep.

How can I? The screams seem to last forever...

She rested her head against the smudged glass interior of the tube, sunken in misery. Thanks to Sinister, it didn't seem like people were screaming their thoughts directly into her head, but she would gladly have endured that hell in exchange for this one. She could rid herself of this one, that she knew, but she couldn't bear to accept what he offered.

The things he would have me *do*... no, I just can't do that. I *can't* kill people. And besides, he may have me prisoner here, but my mind is still *mine*, and none other's. I'm not going to let him take the last thing I have away from me...

A shrill, ragged scream hit her ears, and the girl winced away. She wondered if Sinister was in a bad mood today. Most often he killed his victims before cutting them open, but today it seemed he felt like leaving them alive and conscious so they could watch as they were dissected.

And I bet the sadist has a bottle of anesthetic in clear view so his victims *know* he has it, but doesn't care to administer it.

The victim's scream was cut off with a wet-sounding crunch, and an eerie silence followed.

"Bastard," she whispered, tears running down her face. She wiped them away quickly--if one of the Marauders (particularly Arclight or Scalphunter) came in and saw her crying they'd play another round of 'rattle the upstart.' Sinister would stop them--eventually--but until that time she would be at their mercy. Those two scared the life out of her, for they were the ones that had hunted her down when she ran from Sinister, and they hadn't been too kind. They had taken special delight in killing her parents before her eyes, just to prove how truly worthless she was against them.

She shifted the weight off of her leg, now patterned with red indentions where it had rested on the grating. She set her hand against the tube walls and rested her head on it, trying to contain her misery. Her throat burned with the memory of her parents, riddled with the bullets Scalphunter had so loved to put in them. She had run out of tears for them long ago, but the pain never left her. Hate left a sour taste in the back of her mouth, and anger swelled, then fell just as quickly. She could do nothing against Sinister or the Marauders, and she knew it. The most she could do was deny them some small victory and refuse to join them, accepting the costs of her decision.

She heard heavy footsteps nearing the room and broke out in a cold sweat. It was Sinister, she knew it. She had been there long enough to learn his footsteps a mile away, and to fear the pain that he would cause her. She crept to the very back of the tube and shut her eyes, pretending to sleep. If she was very cautious and didn't move a muscle he *might* leave her alone. She slowed her breathing as best she could, doing her best to ignore her heart, which was lodged somewhere south of her larynx and fluttering like a frightened bird.

This time, however, luck was not with her. She saw those all-too familiar boots standing before her from between slitted eyelids.

"Time to begin your training, my dear," Sinister said, opening the side of the tube. She briefly considered rushing him, but she was too paralyzed with fear to even move.

And it would be suicide, she thought numbly as he hauled her out of her prison and shoved her towards the room where he performed his experiments.

"Since you persist in these delusions of independence, I think it is necessary I show you the truth," Sinister told her, pushing her onto the stainless steel table. Manacles snaked out of the smooth surface and snapped around her wrists and ankles before she had a chance to get away, strapping her down. She struggled against her bonds in vain as Sinister moved over to a fanatically spotless countertop and extracted a long-needled syringe filled with a sickly-looking greenish liquid. He strode back over to her, his absurd parody of a cape fluttering behind him, and he began to swab the area around a vein in the crook of her arm. Her breathing quicken even as her throat closed up, tongue as dry as a brick and just as useless.

With the easy and strictly impersonal manner of a doctor, Sinister pushed the cold needle into her arm and lowered the plunger, causing the liquid inside to enter her bloodstream. He withdrew the syringe and smiled at her--//

Ember woke up screaming and drenched in a cold sweat. She bolted upright, hugging herself tightly and panting as if she had just run a marathon. She shivered and mopped the sweat from her brow, taking deep, even breaths to calm her panicking heart. The Marauder took stock of her surroundings, taking odd comfort in the stark concrete, plastic cot, and yes, even the lasers shining dimly across the doorway.

A dream. It was only a dream. Oh, thank God it was only a dream...

But it was a long time before she could bring herself to close her eyes again that night.

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