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I've not been reading the X-Men for a while, so I thought best to describe my story as being set in an alternate timeline. Historians out there, don't flame me! And hey, I love mail! E-mail your comments to: catharsis@mindless.com.
This story's a relationship piece on Iceman & the White Queen plus smaller parts for other characters.

Part 1

by Min

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less -
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

(Desert Places, Robert Frost)

Autumn approached, arrived and imprinted its vengeance.

Robert Drake stood alone at the foyer of the house, blanketed in silence. It was a silence that accentuated the ticking of a clock while a cacophony of atmospheric fanfare raged outside.

He could see the force of the wind; swirling leaves plastered themselves against the French windows only to be swept away at the next gust. The double-layered glass ensured that the sound of the wind did not penetrate the interior but Bobby wished very well that it could.

It was deep into the gloom of a Saturday evening and he was the only person in the house. The other members of the household took the opportunity of the lull in their hectic schedule to take a break. One that meant not staying in an empty mansion; a vacuum that reflected the one in my life, Bobby thought cynically.

Twenty-four years old was an age where youthful blood would quickly dispel any pain residing in anyone's veins but tonight, Bobby's spirit was trying to fill a gap that went further - a moodiness beyond the capacity of his emotional reserves to fill. It was one coupled with a sense of loss, pain and surprisingly...guilt.

He warmed himself by the fire in the den before an unconscious impulse made him dress and leave the house. It was only after he was walking along Greymalkin Lane that Bobby realised what he had done. The decision to leave the house baffled him, but his attention was rapidly replaced again by the mood that refused to be left behind. It throbbed dully at the back of his head, but was soon lost to the mass of sensations assaulting him as he opened the door.

The road was rustling. The autumn wind moaned low and long, shrieking as it shredded itself amongst the branches of stripped trees on each side of the road. Withered leaves danced madly in miniature tornadoes, destroying each other in their confrontations around his feet. He inhaled deeply, hoping that the cold air would clear his heart.

But the atmosphere of the road simply burdened him further. Once again, pain and grief threatened to overwhelm him so much so that he failed to see where he was going. This time, Bobby did not even attempt to analyse its source. In this state of emotional turmoil, he began reviewing his life.

It was not an accomplished one. As Iceman, one of the youngest X-Men in the team, Bobby was always a slacker, yes, he could say that unequivocally now, because it was the truth. Emma Frost made him see that. But it never occurred to him that he could not breeze through life being what he was. Until recently.

"You are a bigot, Dad." Bobby could remember saying that to his father with a painful clarity now. His father was dead. Dead because he finally overcame the shame of his son being a mutant and spoke up for them; his first and last attempt to show a father's love.

"You are a bigot, Dad." And the source of this uncompromised belief, Robert Drake, failed to earn even a grain of worth to deserve such a sacrifice. He saw now, so clearly, how he wasted the power he possessed. If only he worked harder and spent less time fooling around. Dad need not die, need not be numbered among the countless of others whom he could have saved. All it took, was one extra effort and it needed his father's life to tell him that.

"You are a hero, Dad," Bobby said softly. "More than I will ever be." The wind dried his tears almost as fast as he could shed them. He looked up to blink them away and found himself at the open gates of the Salem Cemetery.

The air was getting colder and promised of an early frost before dawn. Letting his feet do the feeling, he walked into the quiet sanctuary. Night had fallen and the lamps placed along the sides of the path made pools of light that stretched beyond the gates and into darkness. Bobby drew his coat around him and continued along the path when he stopped and stared.

Off one side of the path was a low hilly slope topped with an oak tree and a woman dressed in white was standing beneath it. She was tall, her back was towards him and her attention seemingly riveted on a series of indistinct objects in front of her. The cemetery had been devoid of people when he entered and the presence of a woman underneath a leafless tree did little for his peace of mind.

But as if on cue, Bobby walked towards that direction. The justification was not only his curiosity about the woman's identity but the fact that, for some reason, his sense of loss was tied to that spot. The figure became more familiar when Bobby approached. She was Emma Frost, the woman who kept dominating his thoughts these past few months.

What is she doing here, he wondered silently and noted how tensed she was by the muscles playing on her back. In a rare moment of leisure one did not often get with the White Queen, Bobby observed how conservative her formal dress was, at least by her standards. But he also saw how inadequate the fabric was to brave the night weather.

It was as if she had hastily decided to pay a visit to the cemetery in the middle of attending a cocktail party. The air around them grew colder as Bobby attended this thought bemusedly. He saw her draw her arms around herself even as a movement shook her frame now and then.

That aspect of body language was so rare in Emma Frost that it took him a while to realise that she was crying. It then occurred to him that that was the only reason she could fail to register his presence when he was so close to her. He attempted a glance over her shoulder at the indistinct objects. The rest of his reservations faded away when he read the names on the series of tombstones: Jetstream, Roulette, Tarot...

The Hellions, he realised and again belatedly that she never forgave herself for failing to save them even when it was obvious she could not. Suddenly, it occurred to Bobby that he was violating a private grief but he knew he could not leave without letting her know what he suppose, she would have forbidden him to see.

"Emma," he ventured softly.

She whipped around at the intrusion; anger intermixed with grief on her face.

"Drake!" Incredulity suffused her voice. "What are you doing here?"

Truly at a loss for words, he blurted without thinking. "I - I don't know." And realised instantly that it was the wrong thing to say.

Emma's tear-streaked face took on a new hardness. There was an unbearable impatience in her voice. "What do you mean you don't know?"

"I, I..." Hell, time to tell the truth, he thought. "I felt a strong sense of grief and pain that led me here."

"Don't fool with me, Drake. How did you know I was here?"

"I'm not joking. I really didn't know you were going to be here." He did not mention the sense of guilt that he felt as well. For some reason, he wanted to alleviate her sorrow. Bobby now understood the source of his unexplained melancholia and attraction to this place. It was one of those remnants of her presence left behind when she vacated his body. It occurred to him that he was not very eager to have those remnants in his mind, but that was not the pressing concern now.

"Some part of you remained behind after you left," he said softly instead. "And it made me walk here tonight. I couldn't help it."

She continued to stare at him, sensing some joke at her expense but gave up finally with a sigh, echoing a thought he was contemplating awhile ago. "This won't do. Remind me to eliminate those psychic traces from your mind someday."

Emma turned around fully to face him but her voice echoed bleak nonchalance and dismissal.

"Go back, Drake. You've seen all there is to see, now leave me alone."

Concern came automatically to Bobby's lips. "Are you sure..." She was not the only one who nursed hidden grievances. The aftermath of Bobby's own pain made it such that any company was welcomed. And he felt his heart go out to her, the nearest kindred soul he could find.

But Emma turned on him in unanticipated vengeance and grabbed the collar of his coat with a strength that almost yanked him off his feet.

"I'm at the end of my patience here, Drake," she hissed, her voice holding an emotional brittleness that teetered on the edge of breaking. "You've seen the indestructible White Queen break down, now go holler your discovery from the rooftops. Just leave - me - alone!"

Bobby possessed enough sense in his surprise to grabbed hold of the hands clenching his lapels. He tried to make his voice assuring.

"Nobody is indestructible, Emma. I just wanted to..." And felt a force of such magnitude at the back of his head that sudden darkness overwhelmed him.

When he came to his senses, he found himself lying at the base of the tree with a pounding headache that reverberated through his ears.

"What the..."

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for." He looked up and found her standing several feet away from him. Her posture and tone told him that she had regained the control she lost a couple of minutes ago? An hour ago? How long was he unconscious?

Shifting a hand to the back of his head, Bobby attempted to sit up. He stifled a groan and asked weakly instead, "Do you want to talk about it?"

A soft laugh. "I have to give it to you, Drake. Haven't you got enough for a day?"

He attempted humour while trying to get to his feet. "Call me greedy but the day's ending anyway." Bobby changed his tone. "And I'm serious, Emma," She was not the kind of person to accept any help from anyone unless she was sure that the other person who offered it had something to lose or needed something from her. Very well then, if he had to play by her rules.

"When I was walking here, I took the opportunity of your pain to review my life and it wasn't pretty. I - I was thinking about how I failed my Dad."

Those blue eyes met his for the first time in the evening.

"You said you walked here," she spoke up after awhile. "I'll drive you back; my car's over there."

It was only when they left the hillock that Bobby noticed she was once again holding her arms close to her body. She IS feeling cold, he realised.

"Um.. Emma..."

She turned around to see him offering her his coat. Her lips held a bitter smile but her voice was not unkind. "Save it, we don't need gratitude to be an additional burden here."

Silence shrouded the drive back. It was not an unfriendly silence in Bobby's opinion; there was almost a sense of companionship in it. But he found himself at loss for words when the car reached the mansion.

"Goodnight, Robert," Emma said simply to save the both of them from embarrassment. She drove off without waiting for his reply. Putting his hand on the balustrade to ascend the few steps to the main door, Bobby found the worn wood beneath his hand covered with a thin layer of frost.

It was a sign that promised a long winter ahead.

continued >>

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