Disclaimer: Original characters belong to me. All others belong to Marvel, natch. ;)

Author's Note: Okay, getting up there. This has the greatly anticipated (by the four people I've talked to, anyway) return of someone. Who? Oh, just read it. ;) I'm too tired for this right now. Ta!

As it turned out, the damage to Derrick's house was mainly superficial. Many electrical appliances were still intact and the water was still running, so I figured they came out ahead. The first thing I personally did (after making sure things were still functioning, anyway) was find a corner where I could curl up and take a nap. I settled for Grace's room again, which was relatively untouched. As I prepared to "disperse" I spared a moment to reflect on everyone's physical condition. Verney was still a little out of it from that little meeting with the tree trunk, and Derrick's ankle was definitely twisted. Grace was fussing over him (okay, who here really believes that they're not involved? ) so it was unlikely she would be going any where soon. Vance had told us he was still feeling a little worse for wear from his little "encounter" with Karen and had gone off somewhere alone. Karen was theoretically in the worst shape--she was still unconscious, which was usually bad, but given the fact that she had just about single-handedly stopped an alien invasion it was understandable. I had gotten a pretty close look at what her flesh and blood arms looked like--it had not been a pretty picture. I had never seen so much scar tissue in my life.

Well, at any rate, Jason was with her. He had carried her off to one of the guest rooms and put her to bed, then taken out a sleeping bag for himself and settled on the floor. He wasn't in such bad shape--or at least, not physically--but he was exhausted. He definitely deserved some time to sleep.

As did I, apparently. My head was already throbbing--I had a feeling I wasn't going to enjoy any of the new muscle aches in the morning, either. Psi entity or not, I had a feeling that muscle fatigue didn't count as "outside influence."

Well, at least I could get some sleep now, and somewhere safe at that. That was always a pleasant concept for me. Call me paranoid, but I liked knowing that I could go to sleep and not wake up in the middle of a warzone.

Of course, no guarantees of that for quite a while once I get back to the Institute and tell Sean and Emma what I've been doing with myself all day...

Now there was a thought I didn't relish. I hoped Sean didn't decide to yell at me--believe me, being yelled at by a man whose code name is Banshee is a little disconcerting to say the least.

I can see it now. "Aye, lass, I know ye just helped save the world, but ye broke yuir curfew. Ye're grounded."

...Hey, wait, can you get grounded in a private school? Or would that be suspended?

Well, whichever. Sean would not be pleased, let me put it that way. As for thinking about what Emma would say to me--well, some things are just too terrible to imagine.

So. Get some sleep, psych yourself up, and just call them. Easy as that. There. Now go to sleep.

It wasn't difficult. I let slip my conscious hold on my molecules and let myself black out. Before I completely surrendered myself I spared a moment to extend my empathy. Derrick's house felt... warm. Safe. Now there was a novelty...

If I had any dreams, I didn't remember them.

It was probably just as well.

"Sleep well?" Vance inquired, tilting his head. I mumbled something incoherent and sat down at the table.


"Everything... hurts," I stated, curling up on the badly scorched arm chair.

"I'm not surprised."

"I don't even have a body! How can I have muscle cramps?!"

He blinked, and I remembered who I was talking to. Oops.

"Um," I said intelligently. "Sorry about that."

He smiled and shrugged it off. "It's all right. Sometimes I forget too." He reclined on the couch and nearly sunk through the back. He sighed wearily. "Until something like this happens, anyway," he said as he pulled himself back out. I snorted softly.

"Anyway... have you called your school yet?" he inquired, looking concerned. I sighed heavily.

"Do I have too?" I asked plaintively, wincing. "They're going to kill me..."

"Not as painfully as they would if you were to wait another day."


He smiled wryly. "That being the case, the working phone is in the kitchen. Mind the oven--it's in several pieces."

I sighed and lurched out of the armchair. I swear my spine shifted a few centimeters to the right.

This is ridiculous! I can't have muscle aches! Technically, I don't even have muscles!

I staggered over to the kitchen. My legs were stiff, and my head hurt so much I was having a bit of trouble remembering the Institute's phone number. For a moment I considered attempting telepathy, but a spear of pain at my temple quickly discouraged me. No way I was going to resort to that unless I could buy a new head at a reasonable price.

After an embarrassing five minutes of attempting to remember the elusive phone number, I finally got something to click. Naturally all of Generation X had all been made to memorize the three most important phone numbers in our immediate "circle," namely the Academy, the Institute, and Muir Island, but having a pounding headache tends to purge all useful short-term information.

Sigh. I would have killed for a psionic aspirin.

I let the phone ring a few times and mulled over the possibility that the X-Men and/or GenX might be off fighting some dire threat to earth and reality. Actually, I was half-expecting it. Imagine my surprise when Jubilee picked up on the fifth ring.

"Hello, Xavier's Institute for Higher Learning," she chimed. She sounded a bit tired. "Jubilation Lee speaking."

"Jubilee?" I said tentatively, twisting the telephone cord absently around my fingers. "It's Dawn. Can I talk to Mr. Cassidy?"

"Hey, there you are!" Jubilee exclaimed, sounding far more alert. "Where are you now?"

"Um. Oklahoma."

"Sean's gonna be pissed."

I moaned audibly. "I know..." I replied. "Can you put him on?"

Jubilee grunted softly. "Your funeral," she answered. "Just a little word'a warnin', though: the sonic scream works over the phone, too."

"Naturally," I sighed. She grunted and set the phone down. In exactly 2.4 seconds Sean had picked it back up.

"Dawn! Are ye all right?!"

I winced and held the receiver away from my ear at arm's length. Jubilee hadn't been kidding.

"Yes, sir, I'm fine," I replied, and, before he could follow up, continued, "I'm sorry I left it so long but I'm here in Oklahoma with Verney and Shrive because Shrive wanted to find Karen who is really his sister and who was half-possessed by the Phalanx but is fine now and did I mention she helped avert the Phalanx' second attempt at an invasion? Well, she did, it's fine now, Karen's all right, Verney is mildly concussed but otherwise fine and Shrive is sleeping. I just woke up myself, I've got a horrible headache, please don't yell at me anymore." It was probably just as well that I didn't need to breathe--if I had I would likely have been unconscious at that point.

There was a pause, then... "Are ye done, lass?"


Another pause.

"Well, ye seem t' have had quite the few days."

"Um, yessir. Sorry about not warning you, but it was kind of sudden."

There was a sigh. "Alien invasions are at that," he said finally. I heaved a mental sigh of relief. "And ye say ye're a'right?"

I nodded, knowing he wouldn't be able to see it but not really caring. "Yes, sir," I replied in a considerably less frenzied tone of voice. "I've got a bit of a headache and a little muscle strain, but I got off pretty easy. Shrive's exhausted--I don't think he'll be up for a few hours. Verney was sort of belted into a tree and is trying to sleep it off, and Karen's more or less out for the count. Again, I'm really sorry I didn't call sooner--it's just that I spent a lot of energy during that fight and I had to sleep for about twelve hours getting it back."

Sean let out a long-suffering sigh. "A'right, then, I won't give ye the lecture until ye're back at the Institute."

"Thank you, sir."

"I heard that, Dawn."

"You were supposed to, Mr. Cassidy."

Sean snorted. "Right. Anyway, where exactly are ye? What's the property damage?"

"Uh..." I said nervously, trying to sound innocent, "Property damage, sir?"

"Lass, there's always property damage. What've ye done?"

I relented. "Well, the south wall of a house and some electrical appliances have ceased to exist, but they've got insurance." After a moment of thought, I added, "The family that lives here is in Xavier's Mutant Underground."

Sean made a small, surprised noise. "They are, are they?" he said thoughtfully. "Hmm. Well, then. Anyone about I can speak to?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact," I replied, relieved. I cupped my hand over the mouthpiece and called Vance over.

"My teacher's on the line," I explained. "Do you think you could talk to him for a bit? I'd like to go outside for some fresh air."

Vance raised an eyebrow and nodded, gracious enough not to remark that since I didn't breathe there wasn't much of a reason why I would need fresh air. I said a quick good-bye to Sean and handed Vance the phone, careful to be certain he had it firmly in his hand before letting it go. I wandered out of the kitchen and into the backyard, only too happy to let the "adults" handle it for now. Geez, if this was what life was like in Generation X, what would happen when I was a full-fledged X-Man?

I sighed and strode across the backyard (which, truth be told, looked like ground zero), avoiding the flaking mounds of technorganic matter. The gunk was everywhere--trees, bushes, grass... everywhere. At least it seemed to be decomposing--I wasn't sure what Derrick's family would have done if it had required a cleanup crew.

Unless the Underground has something for that, too...

I shook my head and yawned. I'd borrowed a shirt of Grace's, so at least I wasn't nearly indecent anymore. I'd also taken the opportunity to take a quick shower, which was technically unnecessary but made me feel a lot better. If not for the muscle aches and slight fatigue, I would have felt ready for anything.

Well... almost anything.

I was tired and distracted. Even so, I should have noticed the boy in front of me before I collided with him head-first.

"Ah--! I'm sor--" I began, a little stunned. I thought for an instant it might be Derrick...

...No, it can't be, his ankle's twist...ed...

I looked up. I gaped. And froze.

He didn't look surprised at all. He just stared down at me with his wonderful, soft brown eyes, utterly silent. His expression was unrevealing--there looked to be a trace of pain about his eyes, a tightness in his mouth, but nothing particularly helpful. Then again, in all the time I had known him, I had never gotten the impression he was open with his emotions. I admit I wondered a bit about this, but there was no doubt in my mind. He was undeniably...

"Glenn!" I breathed, too shocked to utter much else. He was clad in a black turtleneck and deep blue jeans--common enough for him, as he often dressed dark. (Actually, my classmates and I had once joked that he and Jono could probably exchange wardrobes without anyone noticing. Seeing him now only proved it.) I started to reach towards him, but something stopped me. There was something very, very wrong here.

My telepathic senses revealed nothing, but that didn't make me any less paranoid. Sparing a moment to consider how extremly stupid I would feel if this was a false alarm, I ripped my attention away from Glenn and scanned the surrounding area.

"All right," I said in a voice that quavered slightly, "Who's there? You might as well come out--I'm not smitten enough to fall for something like this."

There was a gentle rustling in the trees beyond Glenn, who turned slightly to the right. I felt my chest tighten in a disturbing manner as the tip of what might laughingly be called a cape emerged from the shadows, closely followed by the man I had hoped never to see again.

Sinister?! NO!!!

My heart seemed to slide down my ribcage and curl in a small, cold lump near the pit of my stomach. Subconsciously, I began to hyperventilate. This is a remarkable trick for someone who no longer has a proper pulmonary system.

Get help, stupid! Call one of the others! Do it NOW!

The voice of reason snapped me back to reality. Swiftly, I reached out with my telepathy, grasping for the first receptive mind I could find--

And screamed in pain as my psionic SOS slammed against a barrier.

"There will be none of that now, my dear," came the cool, silk-smooth tones I remembered so well as I feel to my knees, every fiber of my being shivering and pulsing with pain. I looked up through sweat-sodden bangs and met Sinister's cold, red eyes, trying to conceal the shivering of my body and failing miserably. Hot, biting terror welled within my stomach and radiated through the rest of my body as I realized that I had, quite literally, walked into a trap.

"What... are you doing here?" I whispered, trying to force my voice into a defiant demand and failing miserably. Now I had no anger to draw on. No death of my parents to spur me past the terror, no familiar spirits to come to my aid. I was alone.

And that realization scared the hell out of me.

Working at inhuman speed, my brain arrived upon several disturbing conclusions. I had no medium powers. Sinister had somehow blocked my telepathy--and in any case, it wouldn't work against him even had he not. Vance thought I was just taking a walk, and everyone else was either asleep or too out of it to notice or care.

In other words, I was in deep $#!t.

"You did a most excellent job of eluding me, I must confess," Sinister continued, as if I hadn't even spoken. "However, I fear your brief respite is over."

My heart was thudding heavily in my chest, and my mouth felt strangely dry. It seemed... unreal, somehow, almost like I was watching a dream. Unfortunately, I couldn't manage to disassociate myself from the situation enough to remain calm. For the first time in my memory since I had joined the super hero biz, I was actually terrified.

"So what are you going to do with me?" I asked, my voice quavering ever so slightly. I gestured to my silent friend. "Why bring Glenn back?"

A dark, heavy eyebrow arched slowly on the otherwise stony features of Sinister's face. "I rather thought you would appreciate the courtesy," he stated simply, still in that same, chilling monotone. "True, he is rather... distant at the moment, but I shall release his mind once you are both safely in my hands. I have use for him as well, you know."

I licked my dry lips with my even drier tongue. This was a trap, and Sinister wasn't even attempting to deny it. Hades, he was flaunting it!

Covertly, I glanced at Glenn. He was wearing an expression of distress and concern, his dark eyebrows drawn together worriedly in his otherwise stolid face. His eyes flickered back to me once, slowly. The distress in his gaze was almost tangible despite the fact that Sinister had apparently blocked my empathic and telepathic powers. He seemed to be trying to say something, but couldn't force himself to vocalize. Sinister must have had some kind of hold over him...

"What did you do to him?" I whispered, suddenly furious. How dare he use Glenn like this... how DARE he...

"He is merely insurance," Sinister informed me as Glenn closed his eyes. Sinister's lips curved in a small, mocking smile. "After all, could you in good conscience leave your friend at my mercy?"

I grit my teeth angrily. He was right, damn him... I just couldn't leave Glenn with him, and he damn well knew it. And I couldn't even try to fight him lest he do something to harm Glenn. I was stuck, and he knew it.

I hate him. Oh God, I hate him. I wish... I wish I could do something!

But I couldn't. All I could do was crouch there, alone and afraid... and I hated myself for it.

"So, Miss Embers, what is your decision?" Sinister inquired, his tone now possessed of the inflection that informs one that the speaker knows he has you between a rock and a hard place and has decided to be an utter prick about it. "Will you come along peacefully, or must things become... unpleasant? Either way, you will come with me."

"I'll... I'll go with you," I answered, unhooking my clenched fingers from the sod they had been clinging to. "I'll come... quietly..." ...you mothereffin' bastard, I added in the privacy of my own mind.

Sinister nodded shortly, as if satisfied that all had gone as according to plan... which, of course, it had. I wanted to kick the smug bastard. Hard.

"Help her up," Sinister ordered, turning to Glenn. My friend nodded slightly and lifted me up by the shoulders, not even offering me his hand. I frowned--something here was off...

There was a muffled crash from behind us. I turned around to see Jason lying on the ground, struggling to lift himself to his knees. He looks dazed, almost semi-conscious, as if he were sleep walking. I wondered what he was doing out here when he had been sleeping soundly next to Karen...

"I am... here..." he gasped, dragging his weary gaze upward. His eyes met first Glenn's, then mine, and finally fell on Sinister.

I've never seen anyone go so white so fast.

"No..." he moaned, trying to back away. "Not you... not again..."

"So, our last guest has arrived," Sinister stated, staring cooly at Jason. "Rise, boy."

Jason made a choked, whimpering noise, but complied. I gaped.

"What--what's he doing here?" I blurted, unable to restrain myself. Sinister regarded me speculatively.

"Jason has long been in my employ," he replied as Jason shuffled forward, eyes squeezed shut. Sinister's mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. "In fact, you could say that if not for him you might not be here today."

I turned to Jason, jaw slack. Is he saying that somehow Jason is responsible for...

One look at Jason and I knew it was true. The man's head was hanging, turned slightly away from me to avoid my gaze. His blond bangs obscured his eyes, but I knew they were still closed. He couldn't even bear to look at me.

"How... you mean he helped..." I stammered faintly, staring wide-eyed at Sinister. The villain nodded curtly.

"Indeed, Smith has been of great assistance to me in the past, albeit a bit unwillingly," Sinister said as Jason clenched his fist. I felt a great, impotent rage building within him, tempered with shame and grief. Whatever he had done, he hadn't done it willingly...

Small comfort.

"That said, I think it would be wise to take our leave," Sinister continued as Jason continued to avoid my scrutiny. I turned towards Glenn for a second, just long enough to register something very, very wrong about his eyes--

--a flash of light--

--and we were gone.

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