Disclaimer: Gen X and the Marauders belong to Marvel. I don't care what you've heard, but Ember belongs to me.

Author's Note: All right, I swear I'll start making some *real* progress on this soon. Really! I'm still a little preoccupied with some of these projects at school, which is why I'm getting nowhere fast on everything. And these research projects are weird, too. Hey, did anyone know that caffeine is supposed to heighten ESP?!?!?! ...Uh oh. I think the stress is getting to me. C-ya later, folks, and please, give me feedback!


"What are you talking about?" Ember demanded, glaring at Sean angrily. "I didn't do or say *anything* to Dr. McCoy!"

Sean stared back into their captive's blue eyes, reading them intently. They were confused, angry, maybe a little frightened, but they were definitely *sane*. The sharp scent of the spilled rubbing- alcohol was making his nose itch, and Sean wanted very badly to sneeze without worrying about losing face.

However, all he did was sigh. "Lass, we both know what ye did," Sean said gently. "Ye c'n even look at the security tape if ye doubt us. Why dinna ye just tell us the truth? I understand why ye might've, ah, snapped there, but we're worried about ye."

Ember sighed and calmed down a little. She chewed her lip and said, "Well... why?"

"Hank... he thinks ye might have multiple personality disorder," Sean answered. "Do ye know if ye do?"

"What?!" Ember exclaimed, shocked and offended. "No! Of course I don't!"

"Lass, the evidence--"

"Proves nothing!" she snarled. "I don't care what you say, I *don't* have MPD."

"Then why were ye yellin' at Hank in third person?"

Ember blinked, but then turned her back on him resolutely. "I don't know, and I don't care," she informed him. "I think this is all a bunch of bull. You're trying to play head games with me again, aren't you? Trying to make me think I'm insane. I might be, but it won't be because you made me doubt myself until I am!"

"Ember, we're *not* playin' games with ye!" Sean protested. "If'n ye dinna trust us, ye're only hurtin' yuirself. We're nae the enemy here, lass," he added in a calmer tone. "Ye c'n trust us, I swear t'ye. We only want t'help."

"Like hell you do," Ember retorted, voice breaking. "*You* don't trust *me*, so why should I believe anything you say? Sure, you've been nicer than Sinister ever was, I'm not going to deny it, but how do I know you're not just trying to get me to cooperate with you?"

Sean was silent for a moment. "Ye dinna," he answered at last. "I'll nae say ye have t'trust us implicitly--that 'twould be impossible. But I do ask ye t'try, at least, fer yuir sake as well as ours. Are we agreed?"

Ember was silent for a long time, and, since her back was to Sean's face, he couldn't tell what she was thinking. At last, she turned around slowly and looked him straight in the eye, surprising him.

"Mr. Cassidy... I would like to, I really would," she said softly. "But... but I've seen too many people die, been manipulated for too long, to trust something like this. I just can't afford it anymore." She stared at her feet and rested her hand gently on her stomach, eyes half-closed. "Please... don't make me promise something like this. I'm scared to even try anymore, especially now..."

Sean let out his breath slowly. "Well, I had t'try," he said, shaking his head. "A'right, that is that, I s'ppose. I'll be seein' ye around, lass, an' I hope ye c'n change yuir mind--someday."

He made his words as icy as possible, but the effort felt hollow, even to him. He found it impossible to blame the child for thinking as she did--not when he knew what she had been through and why she was like she was. Even as he left her cell he couldn't help but feel sorry for what he had done, trying to push her too hard too fast.

I canna help but feel responsible fer this somehow. I knew she was going t'be afraid of needles--or at least, I should have--but I let Hank try t'take her blood. Inhibitors or not, I'm amazed somethin' didna explode!

He walked back down to the monitoring room, where Emma was waiting. Hank had declared he was in desperate need of a rest and had gone to lie down somewhere, which Sean had rather expected seeing as the good doctor had just had a rather interesting experience.

"Where're the other students?" Sean inquired as he entered the room and took a seat next to the telepath.

"Oh, frolicking in the Bio-Sphere with Artie and Leech, I believe," Emma replied, eyes fixed on the security monitor. "Interesting speech, that. I see you haven't lost your flair for subtlety."

Sean flushed a little. "Well, I'm tired, a'right?" he said defensively, rubbing his stubbled chin. "So... what did ye glean from that little conversation?"

Now it was Emma's turn to sigh. "Nothing I didn't already know, really," she replied, resting her head on a neatly manicured hand. "She's not lying, I can tell you that. And she *does not* have MPD--her psyche is as close-knit as it gets, not the fractured wreck I would detect if it were otherwise. In fact, compared to the other Marauders I've encountered, her mind is disgustingly clean. No bizarre, twisted little side paths, no psionic 'smudges,' nothing. I'm still not getting a clear read on her actual thoughts, but in this case I don't have to."

Sean narrowed his eyes. "And this is fer true, not because she's cast some sort o' glamourie on ye?" he asked, cocking his head.

"Of course it is," Emma sniffed indignantly. "I won't deny her power isn't doing *something* to me, because it is, and to all of us, but I can tell you with complete certainty that it's not harming anyone. In fact, maybe it's just the opposite."

"Oh, aye?" Sean asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow.

"'Aye' indeed," Emma replied, unruffled. She leaned forward intently, saying, "Tell me, Sean, do you get the feeling you *know* this girl? Know what she's capable of--emotionally, I mean--find it easy to relate to her situation?"

Sean nodded, startled. "Aye, but what..." he began.

Emma bobbed her head in satisfaction. "That's the effect of her so-called 'charisma' power," she informed him. "I've done a little scanning, trying to divine what exactly this aspect of her empathy does, and on this at least I have some information. What I first thought was a projection of trust is actually not quite so simple. She's actually projecting *herself* to us--or, more accurately, she's giving us a subconscious knowledge of what kind of person she is." She idly fingered a strand of ash-blonde hair. "Now, if her personality was like that of the other Marauders, her aura would be positively sickening to be around. I would venture to say she would probably repel everything within a three-mile radius, were that the case."

Sean rubbed his forehead. "Ye're sayin' that the instinctive judgments we've made...?"

"Are probably correct," Emma replied. "Any questions?"

"Aye, just one," Sean answered, leaning back in his seat. "If this isna just a feelin', an' all the information, material and not, says we c'n trust her, should we?"

Ember collapsed onto the cot, too drained to worry about what any who were watching her might think. Only now did she let herself break out in the cold sweat she had just barely been able to restrain while talking to Sean, shivering against the plastic cover.

God, it's happening again, she thought, wrapping her arms around her knees. Why is it happening here... and why now? Sinister promised... he said he'd stop this kind of thing. Dammit, what's happening to me?!

Memories of awakening from a bizarre, timeless blank and discovering she wasn't where she had been before... or, worse yet, staring up at a laughing Arclight and/or Scalphunter as she lay bleeding on the ground. She never could remember what had happened during those times, but usually they had been around Sinister and her two "trainers." Sinister had tested her, of course, and since determined she had no trace of neurological defects, and that it was the fault solely of her powers, though he would never tell her what exactly they were doing to her. He had done... something... to her DNA, said it would prevent another incident...

But I guess he lied, didn't he, idiot? Well, live with it. If... so far as I can tell, this kind of thing only happens when I'm being threatened. I don't *think* that kind of thing will occur too often here, but if it does... well, Sean didn't say I *hurt* Dr. McCoy, like I hurt--or tried to hurt--the Marauders. If whatever it is I do when I blank out can tell when people are really trying to hurt me or are just concerned, maybe this won't be as big a problem as I thought.

I hope.

Ember closed her eyes and extended her mind inward, checking on her baby. She met warm, contented thoughts, a stream of sanity in her mother's twisted world. Ember sighed and caressed the baby telepathically before withdrawing, feeling a little better.

Who would have thought something created by Sinister could be the source of such peace? she wondered rhetorically. It's amazing. Aren't I supposed to feel used or something? Well, I guess I should be thankful I don't--I don't need anymore angst at the moment. I might as well sit back and enjoy this situation while I can; there's no telling what could go wrong next.

Just then the kitten let out a slight mew, startling Ember full awake. She spent a few seconds looking around for a threat and another five minutes feeling stupid when she realized it was just Charm.

"Hey, kit," she said with a smile, picking up the bundle of fur and scratching it behind a tiny ear. "Are you hungry, or do you just want to be the center of attention again?" Charm only purred, rubbing its head against her hand for more scratching. Ember laughed and shrugged. "The latter then. Okay, I can deal with that." She tickled it on the stomach, and it batted its minute paws at her, butter-soft, pinprick claws outstretched.

The pair were so engrossed in their play that they didn't even notice Jonothon standing outside the cell.


Ember looked up quickly, heart rate increasing radically as she tensed up. Then her eyes met Jonothon's, and she allowed herself to relax. No matter how others might have reacted to seeing a half-blown- away Englishman in leather with glowing blue eyes, compared to some of the sights Ember had been unfortunate enough to witness he was comparatively tame.

"Yeah?" she asked, putting the kitten down. "What do you want, Chamber?"

:Just checkin' on yer,: he answered, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets. :How're yer doin' in there?:

"Why do *you* care?" she retorted. "It's not like anyone here really gives a damn about how I feel."

:Not quite,: Jonothon sent, steady gaze unflinching at the accusation. :Believe what yer want, gel, but we're curious. *And* worried.:

"Yeah, right," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Like I'll believe *that*. Pull the other one, Chamber."

:Not all o' us feel like Jubilee.: He shrugged. :*I'm* willin' ter give yer a chance. So're Ev, Angelo, and Paige. Yer gonner give us a reason ter keep on feelin' that was 'r not?:

"I don't know," Ember said suspiciously. "What do you people have to gain from it?"

:Nothin',: Jonothon replied. :Nothin', 'cept maybe a friend. Yer do remember what that is, don't yer, sunshine?:

Ember flushed. "Yeah, and I also remember that most of mine are dead! What am I supposed to do--nod, smile, and set myself up for that again?"

:Maybe,: Jonothon replied, turning to leave. :Maybe, if yer figure the gain's worth the risk. Be seein' yer around, sunshine.: Without another word, Jonothon began to disappear down the hall, boots thudding softly on the concrete. Ember bit her lip to keep it from quivering as a confusing mix of emotions roiled in her gut, battling for supremacy. It also had the added bonus of making her feel slightly nauseous.

Dammit, what am I supposed to *do*? I want... I don't know what I want. Hell, being alone keeps me and others safe, isn't that what I've always said before? No ties made, no ties to sever. It all works out fine.

But... I'm just so damn *tired* of being alone...

So, with many misgivings, Ember did one of the most difficult things in her life. She reached out.

"Cha--Jonothon... wait. Please?"

Jonothon's retreating figure stopped, then turned and gazed at her expectantly. :Yes?: he sent, raising an eyebrow.

Ember took a deep breath, and said, "Jonothon, look. This is hard for me--you can't even begin to imagine--but just hear me out, okay? I... I know one of the first things friendship requires is trust... but I don't know if I have any of that left to give. Even if I do, I'm not completely sure if it's mine, or something Sinister planted. He did--things--to me, to my mind, to my body, most of which I haven't even figured out yet. If I start to trust you, and you start to trust me, there's no guarantee that some failsafe might kick in and I'd slaughter you. Are you sure you want to chance that...?"

This time she wasn't completely successful in keeping the anguish she felt in her heart out of her voice. The prospect that Sinister had had the opportunity to plant something in her head to ward against something like this frankly scared the hell out of her. The fact that it might be activated at any time and place frightened her even more. She already liked these people, or at least felt a vague ense of attachment concerning them, and she didn't want to see them hurt. Giving herself an opportunity to actually make *friends* with them was a hell of a risk.

I don't care, her mind thought rebelliously. I'm sick and tired of being alone. These past years have been a living hell--don't I deserve this much at least?

Even if it means sacrificing those who would be your friends in the bargain? another corner inquired. What about them?

:Well, I *do* think it's worth it,: Jonothon said, responding to her remark and halting her internal struggle. :Do *you*?:

Ember clenched her fists, then let out a slow, weary breath. "...Yes," she replied. "I do... now."

Later that night Ember curled up on her cot as usual, mind buzzing with questions. To be allied with Generation X just might save her life if ever Sinister returned before she was entirely free of his influence (If that ever happens, she thought wryly), but to be actual friends might cause a lot of problems in the future.

Such as, should I tell them what my *real* powers are? It might scare them off. I haven't overtly *told* them yet, but surely they're at least suspicious. No one could have that many powers except a reality-warper, and if I was one I'd never have let myself fall into Sinister's clutches. Third-gen or not, there's no way I could be this powerful.

Mutancy had run on her mother's side, and it had, apparently, been strong. Her grandmother had been latent. Her mother had been latent. Ember was not, and she more than made up for their lack. She couldn't even imagine what powers her baby would have--mutancy was too recent to have produced one as yet, and Ember's child would be the first.

Oh, Sinister's been drooling about her ever since I set foot in his lab, she thought bitterly. He said she'd be even more powerful than me from the beginning, with the right father. He was mixing and matching for a good long time, until he found the right DNA pattern--some dead External the Marauders murdered when I was eleven. After that it was just the simple matter of combining the DNA matrixes and dragging me, kicking and screaming, into his laboratory to plant the poor thing in me. She patted her stomach absently. Poor, poor baby. If I'm taken before you're born, at least you'll never know what you were missing. Not like me.

Her eyes started to burn, but she pushed the grief away, setting her mouth in a grim, straight line. I *can't* return and work for Sinister again. I *can't*. After this--after Gen X--it'll destroy me. I'm not going to do his dirty work again. Escape is impossible, I know that from experience. Despair is a sin... but if I have to, I'll kill myself. I'll take one of Scalphunter's knives, hide it, and slit my wrists during the night when they're all asleep. Maybe my throat, too. There's less of a chance they'll be able to save me if I nick the jugular.

...Oh God. I'm plotting to kill myself. Is this what it's come to? Things are so bad that anything is preferable to living? What's happened to me? I used to be able to fight--or at least, I tried to--and now the only way out for me is to commit suicide. What kind of creature did Sinister make me?!

Ember rolled over so her back was to the camera and silently begin to weep.

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