Disclaimer: Ember belongs to me--Marvel is to blame for anything else.
Author's Note: All right, I'll admit it, I didn't put Mondo in this. At the moment I don't know where he is, nor do I care. I *celebrated* when Bastion blew the simulacrum's head off, okay? Got me a big box o' Samoas and chowed down to do so... yum... Ahem. Anyway, this is an alternate universe-type-thingie, set about three years hence, in case anyone is interested. I really would like your comments, so send all feedback, flames, etc. to email@example.com. I assure you, I'll be overjoyed. Really. ;)
"Morning, guys," Everett said cheerily. No one even looked up from their breakfast. Angelo vaguely wished he could get a few more hours of sleep, or at the very least a sink of cold water he could soak his face in. He had a huge bruise just below his left eye, a result of Ember's attack, and it felt about the size of a grapefruit.
Least it's not *on* my eye... he thought dimly, poking at his Fruity Pebbles. He glanced across the table and caught sight of Paige, who looked as haggard as he felt.
"You look like hell, chica," he said, finally dropping his spoon altogether. "Bad night?"
"Ah had th' weirdest dream," Paige replied, voice thick with exhaustion and Southern accent. "Ah couldn't get back ta sleep."
"Yer kiddin'," Jubilee said, looking up from the comics section her nose had lodged itself into half an hour earlier. "I had a dream too. It was, like, about Sinister or somethin', an' I, like, thought I was gonna wake up an' scream, but I didn't 'cause I was too tired, y'know? And..."
She rambled on for a while, causing Angelo to strain to catch the meaning in her words. Jubilee was none too coherent in the first place, but when she was tired her Californian 'valley girl' accent intensified.
From what I'm gettin' so far, I guess she had the same dream, Angelo concluded, giving up trying to understand Jubilee. Come to think of it, I think *I* had a dream too...
"*Now* it's gettin' weird," he said aloud, more to himself than any of the others. "Wonder if Jono had a--"
:Yep, he did,: came the mental reply. Angelo and the others turned around to spot a very haggard Jonothon standing in the doorway, bandages only half-tied around his upper torso and lower jaw and looking as if he'd combed his hair with a fork if at all.
Not that I'm lookin' any better, really...
Angelo's skin was looking just a tad looser than usual this morning, a result of his lack of sleep and the constant distraction of his injuries. His head was throbbing like it did during a really bad hangover, and he was certain his eyes had dark circles beneath them at the moment. As a matter of fact, no one in the room looked up to doing much of anything at the moment.
Jonothon slumped into a chair so heavily that it creaked in protest and skidded a few inches across the linoleum, and he then proceeded to prop his elbows against the table and place his forehead in them. He stared at the slightly nicked table-top for a moment in silence, then muttered something under his psionic breath.
:Me bloody psi-shields've been shot ter 'ell...: he murmured, lank reddish-brown hair concealing his eyes. Paige, sitting beside him, rested her hand against his shoulder, clearly noting the depth of his unease. Jonothon had *never* lost control of his powers, save for that one unfortunate experience with Onslaught, and Angelo could easily imagine how agonizing it could be for a psion to lose control of his abilities.
"Do you think it has something to do with Ember?" Everett inquired, frowning a little.
"'Course it does, Ev," Jubilee mumbled from the newspaper. "She's a 'path, she's *gotta* be sendin' us this stuff!"
:Not with the inhibitor, she's not,: Jonothon put in, looking up. :Isn't possible. An' if she *does* gorras much power as ter send through it, why didn't she just make us let her go? Doesn't make any sense.:
"Yeah?" Jubilee retorted, now fully conscious. "So if it ain't her, then who is it? Not Frost, not you, and I'm pretty sure it ain't M!" Jubilee looked around. "Hey, where *is* Ms. Perfect anyway?"
:I think she's on the roof,: Jonothon replied, rubbing a bleary eye. :She's prob'bly gettin' more sleep.:
"Hey, the chica's got a kid, remember?" Angelo said suddenly, triple-wrinkling his brow. "And she's already got her powers."
"And she was strong enough to hold us all in place last night, too," Everett nodded, catching the thread. "What else do you think she might be able to do?"
"Broadcastin' her mama's thoughts!" Paige exclaimed, snapping her fingers. "That'd explain why we all had th' same dream last night!"
"Great," Jubilee said. "So now we know *where* it's comin' from. How's that make it stop?"
"We talk to her?" Everett suggested.
"We go talk to the psychopath who lit our front yard on fire and nearly broke my jaw?" Angelo asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Okay. Just checkin'."
Ember yawned for the umpteenth time as she ate the oatmeal Sean had provided. She hadn't had much sleep, and the dim lighting was making her feel rather depressed. She slung her legs over the side of the cot and stared at the lasers that served as a door, silently willing them to turn off, or at least brighten their glow somewhat, a small but insistent fear gnawing at her gut.
It's too dark in here, she thought with a tinge of nervousness. God, I wish they'd put on another light. Or put me in a better-lit cell...
She didn't like dim lighting. It was places like this with a similar lack of light that Sinister had played with her brain, tweaking it and tuning it until she was his. Pitch darkness was good--she had at least been able to hide in that. Bright lights were all right, too, since the most Sinister had ever done to her in that was run genetic scans and experiments on her. But the poor lighting... that was where the perversion of mind and soul had been performed.
I doubt I'm ever going to be comfortable like this again, she thought, taking a deep breath before spooning a bit of oatmeal into her mouth. I'll ask Mr. Cassidy about installing a lamp. Or changing the wattage on these fluorescent refrigerator bulb to about three hundred...
Ember scraped the inside of the bowl clean and set the dishes near the foot of her cot, leaning her head against the wall. She closed her sore eyes and began to draw steady, even breaths to calm her fluttering heart, one hand over her stomach protectively. The Marauder focused on her own heartbeat to soothe herself, taking slight comfort in the fact that she was in a school surrounded by other mutants and not still in a cell surrounded by sadists.
I... I wonder if they'll let me fly again, the little voice in the back of her mind whispered tentatively, and Ember smiled sadly at the thought. Flight was perhaps the only thing she liked about her powers, and Sinister had rarely allowed her the opportunity to exercise it. He had been afraid that she would escape, and, since it was a physical mutation, simply nulling it psychically would be ineffective. It had been a long, long time since she had been able to fly free...
Yeah, I'm sure. They'll just take the collar off and turn you loose. Think realistically, Embers.
"Lass?" came a weary voice from the hallway. Ember opened her eyes and discovered an exhausted Sean standing outside her cell, holding something.
"Yes?" Ember replied, getting off the cot and walking up to him, standing a respectable three feet away from the lasers and wondering why he looked so haggard.
"I've found some books for ye," he told her, smiling wanly. He handed the requested items to her through the lasers cautiously, which she accepted with the closest thing to a real smile she had worn in years.
Let's see, she thought, reading the titles. 'I, Robot', 'A Spell for Chameleon', 'The Red Badge of Courage', 'Dragonsdawn', 'Oliver Twist', and 'Flowers for Algernon'..? How did he know..?!
"Oh, Mr. Cassidy, I..." she whispered, coming perilously close to tears. "I... this is more than I would have asked..."
Sean favored her with a tired grin. "Emma picked some o' the titles from ye mind last night," he admitted, a little sheepishly. "I got what I could find from our library."
Ember bit her lip and looked down at the careworn, dog-eared books she held, then murmured, "I... thank you. It's been such a long time..."
Sean's smile turned sad, but he only shook his head. "'Tis the least we c'n do," he told her, shaking off her thanks. "We *are* keepin' ye under house arrest, remember."
Ember stared at the floor. "Well, this is more than Sinister ever did for me," she said under her breath, tone thick with anger. Sean blinked, and looked as if he was about to say something, but decided against it. Instead, he cleared his throat and changed the subject.
"Well, the students would like a talk wi' ye, if that's a'right," he told her, mouth quirked with the faintest hint of a frown. "Are ye up to it?"
"Why not?" Ember shrugged as she abruptly resurrected her wall of indifference, so swiftly that Sean was actually startled. "I'll have to talk to them sometime, it might as well be now."
Sean nodded slowly. "Aye, I'll get them, then," he acknowledged, running a hand through his short red hair. He made his exit, and Ember all but collapsed onto the cot as soon as he was out of sight, hugging the precious books to her chest as she curled around them.
I... I just don't believe it! she thought with amazement, fighting back the burning lump in her throat. How can he be so *nice*? He barely knows me--hell, I almost *killed* three of his friends months ago!--and he went out of way to get these for me. Why is he treating me like... like any other kid?
She could remember a time when she wouldn't have been so shocked; before Sinister had taken her in and screwed with her mind and personality. When her parents had still been alive, and she had led an absolutely mundane life, like any other thirteen-year-old in Oklahoma. She had never had any reason *not* to believe in people...
...Until Sinister beat it out of me with drugs, torture, and emotional abuse.
Ember slowly unlocked herself from around the books and straightened up as she heard footsteps approaching. She placed the assorted paperbacks on near the foot of her bed and brushed the hair out of her eyes and back into her ponytail, trying to look a little more presentable. She sat up a little taller, concentrating on clearing her face of any emotion whatsoever, hoping they wouldn't discover how much Sean's kindness had shaken her. Putting on a strong defense wasn't much, but right now it was the only weapon she had left.
Angelo, Everett, and Paige followed Sean down to Ember's cell, footsteps echoing hollowly against the concrete. Angelo was glad they'd forced Jubilee to stay behind--knowing the former X-Man, she would have turned an interrogation into a screaming match given a sufficient opportunity. Jonothon had been in no shape to go with them, and Monet had been unreachable. That left the other three to undertake the task of wrestling whatever information they could out of the Marauder, willingly or not.
As Sean made himself scarce, Angelo rubbed his swollen cheek and grimaced as it twinged with pain. My ribs ain't feelin' none too good either, he scowled. I *owe* this chica, kid or not...
However, as soon as he caught sight of her he nearly choked on his thoughts.
Ember was sitting in a dimly-lit and sparsely furnished cell, mask off and head held high. His brown eyes met her brilliant, fathomless blue for an instant, and in that instant he automatically registered what they contained. The girl, though at least two years his junior, was good at masking her emotions, he had to give her that. Her face was calm, impassive, and patently emotionless, but her eyes told a different story. As he had told his teammates many times before, you simply could *not* con a con man.
This chica is *scared*, he thought, furrowing his brow. Or at least having really, really big doubts about her career. But why would one of Sinister's guys feel like that...?
Ember cleared her throat. "Did you want to ask me something?" she prompted, raising a blue eyebrow.
Everett, who had, as the most diplomatic of the group been elected to speak, stepped forward. "This is probably going to sound kind of weird," he said apologetically, "but did you have any dreams last night?"
Ember shrugged noncommittally. "You're going to have to be more specific," she replied obliquely. "I have a lot of dreams. Anything in particular?"
Slick, chica--you're gonna make us work for this, Angelo nodded silently. But you're not foolin' *me* one bit.
"About Sinister," Angelo put in, smashing her leeway. "About when he was training you to be a Marauder. That ring any bells for you?"
Ember blanched as her color abandoned her, leaving her sheet-white even in the already washed-out lighting. She looked uncannily like a rabbit about to be hit by a semi.
Madre de dios, he thought as she began to tremble almost imperceptibly. I didn't think it'd be *this* bad... He relived the sickening memory of trying to talk to a little boy who had seen his older brother shot down by a rival gang before his eyes--and his brother hadn't even been *in* a gang. The boy had just stared at him with those wide, unseeing eyes, shaking like a leaf and utterly terrified.
And now, seeing Ember with exactly the same terror written in her eyes, Angelo lost the last shred of doubt that her alliance to Sinister had been consensual.
"I-I-I..." she stammered, carefully constructed mask caving in on her. Angelo felt more than a little ashamed at having undercut her confidence so cleanly--especially now that he knew she had needed it so badly.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Marauder recovered a pale semblance of her composure and licked pale, thin lips. "Yes, I did," she managed flatly. "Why are you asking?"
Angelo saw a flicker of hostility in her eyes, though he was fairly certain it wasn't aimed at *them*.
"Uh, we all had the same dream last night and were wondering if you'd had it too," Everett told her, trying valiantly to salvage the conversation.
"We figured that with you being a telepath and all you might have, ah, sent us the dream subconsciously," Paige added, though her gaze was focused on Angelo. Obviously the girl's reaction had not gone unnoticed, and Angelo had a sinking feeling Paige was seriously considering lecturing him on tact after this was over and done with.
"Impossible," Ember replied shortly. "This," she flicked the inhibiting collar around her neck, "makes sure of that, and the whole cell is probably swarming with power nullers."
"What about your kid?" Angelo asked, nodding towards her midsection. Ember blinked and raised her hand to it, presumably automatically, then shook her head.
"No... no," she said, chewing on her lip. "She can't do anything like that yet. All she's demonstrated so far is telekinesis..."
"Who's to say she hasn't just started on telepathy?" Angelo countered. Ember assumed a slightly bemused expression and glanced at her stomach, then back at Angelo.
"You think Baby can send through all this?" She gestured to the cell.
Angelo spread his hands. "It's just a guess," he reminded her, running a thin hand through his hair.
Ember looked up again. "Well, damn," she finally said. The others were inclined to agree with her.