Disclaimer: All Gen X characters belong to Marvel. Ember belongs to me.

Author's Note: All right, I was up 'til around 12:30 last night trying to finish this, and I really should be doing my schoolwork right now. There's been some complications in, say, life (like school-life) so the next chapter might be a little held up. Thank you for your time--and please, send me feedback! Thank you, that will be all for now. ;)


Emma rubbed a gritty eye wearily as she stared at the slightly blurred images of Scott and Ororo on the communications screen. The two co-leaders were looking far from pleased by the news she and Sean had to give them, and odds were they were going to be considerably less pleased when the two headmasters told them their intentions.

"Truth be told, I feel sorry fer the lass," Sean was saying, rubbing his chin. "Ye didna see the look on her face when I gave her those books--like she simply couldna believe I was doin' her any kind o' favor at all fer nothin'! I dinna think this child has had *any* kind o' kindness shown t'her in years!"

"Considering Sinister's past actions towards his Marauders that is not surprising," Ororo reminded him. "The child has likely experienced nothing more from this madman then torture and harsh words."

"So what would you like us to do with her?" Scott inquired, sounding a bit stiffer than usual even to Emma. She had the feeling that he was less than thrilled that their junior team was housing one of Sinister's most dangerous Marauders.

Now comes the interesting part, Emma thought dryly as Sean began to look decidedly uncomfortable.

"Well... we were considerin' keepin' her here for a bit," Sean replied, licking his lips as he obviously braced for the worst.

"Sean, surely you cannot be serious..." Ororo began, frowning.

"It isn't what you think, Storm," Emma interrupted. "This child is redeemable, she's not *that* far gone--not yet, anyway. From what I've seen so far, she did *not* go into servitude willingly. I believe we can break her of Sinister's conditioning, given sufficient time."

"Out of the question," Scott said firmly. "We can't let you keep a Marauder at the Academy--not with the other children around. What if she were to escape?"

Emma regarded him coolly. "If she had truly wanted to, she would have done so already," she informed him. "Believe me, she is *more* than capable of getting out of such a paltry cell. The only thing keeping her here now is herself."

Emma crossed her arms and looked the image directly in the eyes. "Tell me, Cyclops, could you leave a *child* in Sinister's influence? Especially," she said, fixing him with a gaze of pure ice, "one he's been using *exactly like Madelyne*?"

Scott flinched visibly, and Sean glared at her out of the corner of his eyes. :Emma, that was the dirtiest trick ye could have pulled!: he thought angrily. :I canna believe ye did that t'Scott!:

:It was nothing less than the truth,: she retorted acidly. :I'm making a point here--they have *got* to see the consequences of their suggested actions. If the girl goes back to Sinister like she is I know *I'll* never forgive myself, and neither will you.:

Sean gave her a peculiar look. :Ye really do pity her, don't ye?: he asked.

Emma was silent for a moment. :...Yes. I do. We have a lot in common...:

Like an early loss of innocence, Emma added silently. The difference is, *I* have long since gotten even with my captors--Ember has not. Minds older than her's have already been scarred by Sinister's manipulations--how much more could she take before she cracks?

Ember stared at the wall blankly, too distracted to read. Dammit, Skin saw right through me! she cursed silently. He saw through me, and I *fell apart*! Ha. Some Marauder *I* am. Couldn't even listen to Sinister's name without losing it. Wonderful. Of all the chords he could've touched, that was the *worst* he could have found, the little bastard...

Ember sighed and touched the mind of her child for a moment, smiling wanly as she touched pure, contented innocence.

I wonder if I was ever like that? I can't remember *ever* having been happy--or at least, not in a long, long time. I wonder if Sinister stole that from me, too? Would make sense. I wonder... am I ever going to *feel* anything again? Anything other than twisted emotions, like hate, fear, self-loathing? Oh God... if Sinister gets Baby... will she *ever* feel anything *but* those emotions..?

Ember shuddered.

I had a normal childhood before Sinister captured me... but Baby never will. He'll use her, like he used me, maybe in worse ways, too. And I'll let him, I know it. Once he finds me--and I *know* he will, someday--I'll never be able to escape. Never. Just being in the same room with him terrifies me, and I don't even have enough of my goddamn soul left to fight him anymore!

That feeling oozed its way into her brain, niggling at her thoughts, hammering at her soul. ::Go back to him,:: it whispered. ::He loves you, you *need* him. Get away from this place. You can if you really want to, you know...::

"No... no," she murmured, shaking her head violently. The voice was louder now. Louder than it would have been if she hadn't been so determined not to return...

I can't... I can't this time. Not until the baby's been born. I don't know if I'll be able to last that long, though... damn, why can't anything ever be easy?! One way or another I'll have to give up the baby, either to Sinister or...

She sat up suddenly. Waitaminute--Sinister's calling me... but what if I give Baby to Generation X when she's born? I'm sure Mr. Cassidy would take good care of her, and they could probably protect her from Sinister until she's old enough to fend for herself! She's already manifesting psi-powers like crazy, it can't be too long before she's conscious enough of what's happening 'outside' to notice that Mom's in trouble. She'll catch on to the threat Sinister poses, and she'll do everything she can to protect herself. Yes, this might work..!

Heartened by this decision, Ember shook herself out of her depression and plucked "Dragonsdawn" from the pile of books. Feeling better, she began to delve into the novel furiously, immersing herself in the diverse world of Anne McCaffery. She hadn't read a real book in years--Sinister hadn't cared about such trivial things, especially when Ember had already been throughly wrapped around his little finger. Now she intended to make the most of her "captivity," such as it was, and managed, for a while, to drown herself in the world of science fiction.

God knows it's better than reality...

"All I'm saying is *you* weren't there to see her face," Everett said to Jubilee. "It looked like someone had slapped her in the head with a board."

Most of the student body were currently lounging in the Rec Cottage, though as to how many of them were actually awake to listen to Jubilee and Everett debate about Ember was anyone's guess. There had been no classes today, being a Saturday, but no one had quite felt up to trudging back across the quad to return to their rooms--especially when there were enough comfortable chairs and couches so near by.

"It *was* pretty pathetic," Angelo agreed tiredly from the recesses of a green-and purple-stripped monstrosity in the far corner of the room, head propped up on his fist. "It looked like she was about to cry."

"And whose fault was that?" Paige inquired sharply from somewhere out of sight, roughly left of the fooseball table.

Angelo winced. She's either really, *really* tired, or she's already into full "Ah've got twenty bruthers an' sistah's and mah Momma never learned me to talk laike that to 'em" mode. I think Ember reminds her of... who was that..? Oh yeah, Joelle, that was her name.

"I guess I should take a refresher course in tact, eh chica?" he joked weakly, feeling too exhausted to get involved in a full-blown argument with anyone at the moment.

"'Refresher course'? Ya not only didn't even *go* to that class, ya missed the bus entirely!"

"You're all forgettin' one thing," Jubilee interrupted. "Ember's a *Marauder*, guys! Not some new mutant, she's a *villain*! Why does everyone keep forgettin' that?!"

"Why don't you try to see it from her point of view, J?" Everett inquired. "I mean, you saw her dream too, right? "You *know* she didn't join willingly, so why are you being so stubborn about this?"

"Well, she may have joined against her will, but what's to say she isn't a willing participant now?" Jubilee countered, hands on her hips. "Ya know how Sinister warps people's brains--what's to say he didn't warp her's and she's playin' you all for fools by shippin' us half the truth while we're asleep?"

Angelo sighed and rested his head in a cushion, attempting to drown the two out. Jubilee, though just as tired as everyone else, could and would go on like that all day if given the chance. Everett, of course, would oblige her by parrying every caustic remark she fired at him, so it probably *would* go on all day.

Maybe I should have gone back to my room...

At that moment, Emma came striding through the cottage, looking utterly exhausted as well as triumphant. She was carrying a large plastic box, topped by two ceramic bowls and a bag of... cat food?

"Um, Senora Frost?" Angelo said, pulling his head out of the pillow.

"Yes?" she replied, placing the materials on the counter as she began to go through the doors beneath the sink.

"What are you doing with all that stuff?"

"Call it a special form of therapy." Emma emerged from beneath the sink with a bag of kitty litter.

"Is Muffin II moving?" Paige queried, noticing the contents of the box.

"No, I've just found an owner for one of her kittens," Emma answered, brushing a flyaway strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Without another word, the headmistress gathered up her materials and breezed out of the Rec Cottage.

"What was that about?" Everett wondered aloud, an eyebrow raised.

"Who cares?" Jubilee shrugged. "It's probably just one of Muffin's kittens gettin' a new home. A good one, too. Frosty's pretty strict about that."

Angelo got out of the chair and quietly snuck out the door after her as the others tried to guess what Emma was doing with all that cat supplies. He had a pretty good idea what she was up to, but even *he* was having a hard time considering it.

Let's see what Senora Frost is up to... preferably without bein' spotted, he thought as he watched her make a short stop to the Bio-Sphere and emerge with a kitten, then headed straight to the Detention Center.

Emma walked down the halls, heels clicking a staccato beat on the hard floor. She wasn't especially worried, though--she was psi-shielding herself heavily, so Ember wouldn't even hear her coming. It had taken a great deal of arguing and coaxing on their part, but she and Sean had finally convinced the X-Men to let them deal with Ember, at least for a little while. Emma had been eager to start the therapy as soon as possible, and had managed to persuade Sean to allow her to use one of Muffin's just barely weaned kittens to assist her.

If anything, this will at least give her some good company.

With the kitten in one hand and the supplies in the other, she peered through the lasers and into Ember's cell to find the girl deeply immersed in one of the books Sean had brought her.

Hmm. She's unshielded herself entirely. I wonder if I should... No, that wouldn't be wise. She probably has defenses, and at any rate, Sinister has probably thrown in some nasty little surprises for uninvited visitors who try to probe too deep. That will have to wait, I suppose, but this little gift should start us out on the right track...

Emma put the supplies on the floor and, masking her actions and presence from their prisoner, brought down the laser-grid. Quietly, Emma pushed the supplies to one side of the door and then shooed the kitten inside, giving it the slightest bit of a telepathic suggestion.

Now, if there was ever a test of character, then this is it, she thought as she restarted the lasers and stepped back. Animals can be far more sensitive to a person's intent than even a telepath, so if Ember truly means us no harm, the kitten should react accordingly.

She unshielded the kitten as it approached Ember's leg, which was dangling off the side of the cot. The kitten was achingly adorable, even Emma had to admit that. It was silver-grey streaked with black, eyes a bright green-gold with a cute, snubbed pink nose. If Ember could resist the kitten, she couldn't possibly be human.

The kitten sniffed the leg cautiously for a moment, tiny whiskers quivering. It stared at the girl for several long moments, then reached a decision. The kitten began to rub its head against Ember's black-clad leg, purring loudly.

Ember was so startled she literally jumped into the air with a most un-dignified squeak of surprise. She cast around desperately for then intruder, then spotted the kitten. Its head was cocked with puzzlement, eyes wide and unblinking.

The result was, as Emma had predicted, immediate. Ember visibly melted at the sight of the tiny animal, demeanor softening from panic to a charmed warmth. She relaxed and knelt down to scoop the kitten off the floor, cradling it carefully in her arms.

"And how did you get in here?" Ember muttered, stroking the kitten with one forefinger. The kitten licked her with its tiny, rough pink tongue in reply.

"Lord, but you're cute," Ember sighed. "You've got to belong to someone here, though... how in God's name did you get in here in the first place? Did you crawl through the lasers?" Ember chewed on her lip. "I wonder how I can call Mr. Cassidy or Ms. Frost. This is no place for you, kitty, and I bet your owner's probably missing you..."

Emma's eyes narrowed in speculation. Hmm? That's odd... her first thought is for the 'owner' of the kitten, not herself. Far from the attitude of most of Sinister's lackeys... but then, I already knew that.

Emma then revealed the supplies she had brought, purposely tugging Ember's eyes towards it. The girl blinked with surprise, then frowned in suspicion.

"Oh. Oh, I get it now," she said aloud, suddenly hardening. "This is a trick, right? Well, it's not going to work. I've already gone through more than enough of this crap with Sinister, I don't need it here, too." She put the kitten back on the floor and leaned against the wall, eyes closed resolutely. Emma continued to watch Ember, still under tight shields. She wanted to see how this turned out.

The kitten looked back up at the Marauder, confused. It nuzzled her leg again--no reaction. It pawed it with its minute forepaw--no reaction.

Emma waited a while longer, watching Ember as the kitten prowled around the room. It encountered the bag of cat chow, and, scenting the food within, began to claw at it. The bag was much too large for the kitten to get into on its own, and it was obviously hungry. As the little creature wrestled with the uncooperative bag, Emma saw the girl crack an eyelid.

"Oh, who'm I kidding?" Ember sighed. She hauled herself off the cot and pulled the kitten away, then began pouring the food in the small bowl. She set it to one side, then took the other to the sink and filled it with water.

Emma smiled to herself. Yes, this is definitely a good start, she thought.

Several corridors down in the control room Angelo watched the monitor to Ember's cell. Watched, and wondered how the headmistress was going to tell them they had just gained a new and quite possibly traitorous member in their ranks.

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