Disclaimer: Marauders, Gen X, etc. belong to Marvel Comics. Anything leftover you may assume is mine.

Author's Note: I'm free, I'm FREE!!!! Oh, ah, sorry, just referring to my various projects (all of which I've completed--yeah! ;) Ahem. Anyway, for those of you who wanted to see some interaction with Generation X, here it comes. Next chapter, that is. Really, I promise. This thing is looking plenty long right about now, so don't expect it to end soon--I've got a few surprises in here before I wind it up, and hopefully this'll be interesting. ...Yecch, does anyone else smell "potential epic" here..? Lord, I'm doing it again... ah well. What would the world be like without a few fanatics, hmm? "An it hurt none, do as ye will..."


"Well?" Sean said expectantly, glancing at Ember. "D'ye like it, lass?"

"I... I..." Ember stuttered, in a state of complete and total shock. She had thought Sean had been joking when he said he had found a better room for her, or at least assumed it would be another cell. *This* development, however, had hit her like a load of bricks.

Sean hadn't been kidding when he said he'd found a better room. This wasn't a cell, it was a room *in the Girls' Dorm*, not in another wing of the Detention Center. It was a bright, nicely furnished room with actual carpeting, bed, chairs, shelves, etc., made all the more shocking by the stark contrast to the mat and the unheated room she'd had with Sinister.

Ember thought she would faint.

"You're--letting me stay--*here*?" she finally managed. "H-how...?"

Sean shrugged amiably. "Ye didna think we'd be keepin' ye locked up f'rever, did ye?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well... I did, actually," Ember replied weakly, grabbing the door frame for support as she was overcome by a wave of vertigo. "You must be insane," she muttered, shaking her head. "Even *I* don't trust me here..."

"Which is why we're doin' this, lass," Sean answered gently, herding her into the room. "If'n ye *did* trust yuirself... well, then there'd be cause t'worry."

"Oh." She slumped down limply onto the bed, staring blankly at the wall. Finally, she looked back up at Sean, feeling dizzy. "This... God, I didn't think they *made* people this nice anymore. ...Thanks."

Sean favored her with an encouraging smile and a broad wink. "Ye're welcome, lass," he replied, daring to go so far as rest a cautious hand on her shoulder. Ember tensed automatically, but forced her muscles to relax.

Mr. Cassidy would never do what Sinister did, she reminded herself. I may not want to admit it, but I think he's already on my "safe" list. Ms. Frost too, maybe... but I don't know about Dr. McCoy. I still can't face needles...

Sean removed his hand and cocked his head. "Now, ye understand that ye're still bein' watched, aye?" he said, a bit regretfully if Ember was to judge.

The girl nodded. "I haven't been *unwatched* since I was fourteen, sir," she informed him dryly. "I should think I can live with it by now."

Sean's expression saddened a bit, but he made no comment. "If ye need anythin', Monet and Paige are on either side o' ye, an' Jubilee is across the hall," he informed her. "They'll get ye oriented, an' wake ye up in time fer breakfast if need be. Any questions?"

"Not... that I can think of," she answered, still in a daze. Charm, who had followed her mistress to her new room on her own accord, rubbed against Ember's leg insistently. She scooped the purring bundle of fur up and stroked it absently as Sean bade her good-bye and left, not even giving her a chance to gather her thoughts.

He--*what*?! she thought incredulously as the implications of what the headmaster had just done suddenly hit home. Lord, this man is either the nicest on the face of the earth, or the stupidest. This is a helluva lot of trust he's giving me, and I can't even fathom *why*. How am I supposed to live up to all this?

Ember flopped onto her back, still petting Charm. The kitten purred amazingly loud for such a tiny thing...

First the cat, now the room. I feel like I'm in "The Twilight Zone!" Or--maybe I just got *out* of it...

The thought *had* occurred to her. Now that she thought about it, the pain, humiliation, and all-around misery had become rather commonplace for her these past few years. She sometimes found herself still waking up in the mornings expecting blows for oversleeping, or preparing herself for another grueling round of 'training' as she warmed up as best she could in the meager space of her cell. Now? Now the most she got when she woke up was an only slightly-cold breakfast and a reassuring smile from its deliverer.

This is going to take a *lot* of getting used to.

She glanced at the books now located on her nightstand, wondering if she should take this opportunity to read.

This is stupid. Why am I here? How can they trust me like this? I'm a *Marauder*, for God's sake!

Still, it didn't *feel* like a trap, nor insanity on her hosts' part. It was just... different.

*Very* different.

Ember finally roused herself out of her stupor and set Charm aside. The young mutant wandered over to the dresser, opening the drawers out of curiosity. She hadn't really expected there to be anything in them, so she was quite surprised indeed to discover it was filled with clothing of various sizes.

Is this for me? she wondered. Then she noticed a note sitting atop the heap, saying, "Ember--take anything that will fit. We'll go out for more later. Emma."

This is too strange, Ember thought, gingerly picking out some of the garments. I know Ms. Frost's rich, but... well, isn't this a bit excessive? Shouldn't I be given some kind of uniform, like regular prisoners? I didn't think they'd leave me in my prowling getup, but--regular clothes? They're giving me more credit than I deserve...

Hesitantly, and with much trepidation, Ember pulled on some underthings, then a pair of slightly loose jeans and an oversized grey sweatshirt with a small blue X in the upper left corner. Both were comfortable enough to move in, and not so large as to hinder movement. She could defend herself as nicely in these as she could in spandex...

Why am I thinking about *that*? she wondered with a shiver. Is it a premonition? Oh God, I hope not...

Just to make sure, Ember did a few quick katas and a roundhouse kick. Fortunately, the room was more than big enough to allow these movements if she were cautious, and the clothes proved to be suitable for her fighting style.

Better not try any higher kicks, though, or I might get tripped up by the shirt...

Ember settled back on the bed, crossing her legs Indian style and staring at the floor as the kitten nuzzled her arm.

Lunch is probably at noon, which means I'm going at two, she decided, twirling her hair absently around a finger. But... damn, I don't know where the kitchen is! I'm sure they can track me wherever I go on the campus, but what would they do if I started looking for the dining room and ended up somewhere I don't belong? I don't think I want to know. I guess I'll have to ask someone...

Ember felt her stomach turn.

Well, I'm going to have to make nice with *someone* sometime... but I'm not looking forward to it. Who could I ask without getting maimed first? *Not* Jubilee--I think she hates me already. Monet--maybe, but...well, I was responsible for crashing her into those dozen trees or so. Maybe Paige Guthrie? That might work. I haven't done anything to her yet, and she's the only one I can think of who might not try to kill me on sight. She glanced at the digital clock at her bedside. She had three hours until noon rolled around.

Well, I'm not hungry yet anyway. But... Ember winced as she fingered a tangle of grimy, sweat-soaked blue hair. I *need* a bath badly. I wonder where the bathroom is..?

After a few minutes of silent debating, Ember finally got off the bed and left the room, wondering which room was Paige's. She glanced between the rows of doors on either side of the hall and sighed to herself, wondering how she was supposed to find out.

Well, I suppose I could try one thing... she thought. She reached downwards and scraped her child's consciousness, presenting a gentle request. The silent question was answered eagerly, and Ember sent the fetus an image of Paige, attaching a sense of question-ness to it. She sensed a slight flare of psionic energy from the baby, and then was rewarded by a gentle psionic 'nudge' to the right. With a thought of purest thanks, Ember strolled down the hall and rapped lightly on the indicated door. It was immediately answered by Paige, who looked slightly surprised.

"Oh, hello," Paige said, quickly switching from startled to welcoming. A genuine smile crept across her fair features, and Ember allowed herself to feel relief.

"Uh, hi," the Marauder said awkwardly. "Er... do you know where I can take a shower?"

Paige nodded briskly. "Yeah, Ah... I do. It's down the hall, that big door on the right." She stepped out of her room and into the hall, then began walking towards the suggested direction. "I'll show you where the towels and soap are," Paige informed her before Ember could protest. "And actually, I could use a shower myself. Coming?"

"Uh, yeah," she nodded, taken aback by Paige's attitude.

Mr. Cassidy must've warned them in advance this time, she thought as she followed Paige down the hall. And at least Paige isn't openly hostile...

The showers were large, as if intended for more people than the current number of students, and a warm, neutral beige in color. The stalls were small close together, but they *were* stalls. Not that Ember was modest--she'd lost all capacity for *that* particular emotion a *long* time ago--but she didn't want Paige to see her scars.

Especially not the tattoo...

Said tattoo hadn't been her choice. It was more of a brand that Sinister imposed on all of his victims--an identifying number that represented a certain file filled with information on the subject's family, date of 'acquirement', bloodlines, homelife, and possible DNA combinations. Ember's number, marked in deep blue directly beneath her left collarbone, was 59762. She was fairly certain that at some point the other Marauders had borne similar brands, but being cloned and re-cloned tended to make certain traits--natural and unnatural--fade and/or disappear.

But I still don't want anyone seeing it. Maybe I can have laser surgery...?

Paige chattered on about the locations of various toiletries, and Ember just nodded vaguely in response, not really paying much attention. When Paige was satisfied, they both stepped into separate stalls. Ember heard the rush of water a few doors down and sighed, stripping to the skin and putting her clothing in the small cubby next to the curtain. She turned on the hot water and pulled out a bottle of shampoo and slopped a handful over her hair, rinsing vigorously. It felt wonderful to have a deep, thorough wash, and the fact that the water was actually *hot* for once...

That settles it. I've died and gone to heaven.

Of course, she reflected as she looked down at her ruined body, if she *was* in heaven she wouldn't look like a lace doily. She wasn't sure she'd ever be able to wear short sleeves again without attracting stares--at least, not without using her powers to disguise her scars. It was hard for Ember to believe the slim, hard-muscled body she was looking at belonged to her. She hadn't seen herself in the mirror for nearly three years, but she guessed she must look pretty bad.

Well, the scars will, probably, she thought, putting more soap in her hair. I'm pretty skinny--I think I've lost more weight than I've put on during my little stay with Sinister.

She'd always wondered why her female teammates were so well-proportioned, what with all the physical training they were constantly going through. She wasn't exactly rail-thin, but she came nowhere near to approaching the phenomenal physiques of her peers.

I wonder why weird thoughts like this always hit me in the shower? she thought, turning the water off and grabbing a soft cotton towel from the rack. She felt much improved after the shower, and, as she slipped back into her clothes, she felt almost human again.

"Ready?" Paige inquired as Ember stepped out of the stall, already dressed.

"I guess," Ember nodded. Then, as an afterthought, "Uh, ready for what?"

"Lunch, if you want it," Paige shrugged. "We can probably beat everyone to it, if you'd like to."

"That's be great, thanks," Ember nodded eagerly. "I hope I'm not imposing..."

God, I sound so hokey. Shouldn't I be feeling all angst-y and neurotic right about now? Then why don't I? Instead, it just feels like I'm a regular person again. Maybe I *can* get some of myself back...

They wandered down the hall until they reached the door to the lawn. Ember memorized the route carefully, keeping it in mind to future use. Though she was pretty sure she wouldn't be allowed on the grounds unsupervised, it was always a good idea to be prepared, especially when she might need a good escape route sometime in the near future.

With this inhibitor collar on, I won't be able to use my powers to defend myself. Physically, I can hold my own against Vertigo and Prism, but Riptide could slash me to ribbons before I got within twenty feet of him, Blockbuster is *way* too powerful to take on my own, and Arclight and Scalphunter were the ones that taught me all this. I won't last five minutes against them unless I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve...

The pair exited the Girls' Dorm and made their way across the quad. Ember noticed vaguely that she wasn't wearing any shoes, but shrugged it off as unimportant. The soles of her feet were well calloused from fighting barefoot (or, occasionally, completely bare when she was ambushed after a 'session' with Sinister, much to the sadistic enjoyment of her two trainers) and she barely noticed the small bits of rock and sticks poking into them. The grass was soft and smelled sweet to a nose most accustomed to the acrid scent of chemicals and blood, and Ember had to fight to keep back tears as she thought about the last time she had been able to enjoy the outdoors like this...

Dammit, Will, why did you have to go and die like that? she thought, tears stinging her eyes and lump rising in her throat. Damn you, you idiot. We were cousins, but you wouldn't even let me get near you, in the end. Whatever it was you had was terminal, and we didn't even know...! That camping trip was supposed to be for fun, and instead... oh, God, if we hadn't gone, would you still have died? You never even let yourself have any serious girlfriends, because you were so determined to keep me company, keep me safe. You *knew* I didn't get along too well with my peers, stopped even having birthday parties after I turned eleven. It just stopped feeling... right, somehow. I stopped clicking with people, except for you. You were always around, and because of that you never got to have any fun yourself, no matter how hard I tried to get you to...

She stared at her feet as she walked, watching the fresh grass brush along her toes and down her heel, lost in her thoughts.

My life--if you could call it that--has been crap for the past three years. Ever since right before I went to that private boarding school--*Sinister's* boarding school--everything has been sliding from bad to worse. I should have lied to the woman who gave me that card test. Deliberately given her all the wrong answers. But nooooo... smart little Ember had to be truthful. She *had* to get a perfect score on that, and then proceeded to hear frickin' *voices* in her head.

She remembered that fateful day only too well, recalling how she had tried to run away after she had felt that girl die in her head--and not only did she die, she did it *on the school grounds*, at the hands of Professor Essex, the school's proprietor. She had fled the school right then, scared as hell and desperate for some respite from the incessant torture of her awakening powers. Ember (partly by luck, partly because of her budding telepathy) had managed to hitchhike back to her parents' house by dawn, hoping for some sanctuary here at least. Instead, Ember had been met by the two Marauders who would become her teachers, and who happened to be holding her parents hostage.

Until Scalphunter decided to use them for target practice...

Now tears *did* start to leak from her eyes, and she wiped them away with a swift hand before Paige could notice. The mental shrieks of agony her parents had uttered when the bullets cut into their flesh, shredding vital organs and penetrating bone, had been the most hideous feeling Ember had ever experienced. It had overwhelmed her, filled her heart and soul with such heart-shattering agony and terror she thought she would go insane, screaming for her parents as they died, they themselves unable to utter a sound thanks to the Scalphunter's efficiency. It had been too much for her already fragile psyche to handle--she had passed out right then and there, dreaming dark dreams filled with screams and blood, tempered with the knowledge that she was now at the mercy of strangers who could either spare her life or end it, and didn't really care one way or the other...

She shoved the memories away stubbornly, clenching her jaw tightly. That's enough! she snapped to herself. You're through with that now. Even if I *do* get caught and forced back, they can't make me do anything anymore--I'll die first. Besides, I'm in a school full of mutants, and the Marauders like to pick off their targets individually if they can; they're powerful, but they're also cowards. Easy pickings, like the Morlocks, who weren't powerful enough or well trained enough to represent much of a threat were fine, as were the X-Men as they were just trying to pick their lives back up, with multiple casualties, but here? Everyone's fit for duty, and Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Frost aren't exactly amateurs. I'm safe here.

Or so she wished she could believe.

Continue To Chapter Nine

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