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: email@example.com.
"Gratitude is a burden, and all
(Le neveu de Rameau, Denis Diderot)
Emma was led blindfolded. She had laughed silently at the design but as the turnings grew beyond a handful, as she ascended and descended more than several flights of stairs, she began to doubt if she was in the same building anymore. To make matters worse, she found that she could not sense anything beyond her own thoughts throughout the whole procedure. Creed's a paranoiac, that struck Emma as she realised he had enclosed the whole area in a power-dampening shield.
Finally, there was a sound of grating metal and she was pushed forward roughly. The door slammed shut with the finality echoed by a lock.
"Overstayed his hospitality?" Drake's voice sneered out.
Emma ignored him. She reached behind to remove the blindfold and found herself in a basement room dimly lighted by a single yellow light bulb in the middle of the ceiling. Bare red bricks lined the walls and irregular pieces of paint that had peeled off the ceiling were scattered sporadically across the floor.
She directed her eyes onto objects of interest; there were none. The room was devoid of furniture and Drake himself was sitting in a clean-swept corner. Drake: the unaccountable factor once again. Industriously, Emma began exploring her scant surroundings.
She saw his eyes follow her every move. Her patience began wearing off at an unnatural pace. Finally, when she could not stand it any longer-
"Don't just sit there. Help me find a way to get us out of here."
He snorted. "You think I haven't tried? The inhibitor's on; there's nothing in the room and the walls are several inches thick." He pointed to the metal door. "You're welcome to beat that down and invite the rock band in while you're at it."
" 'Sides," he continued bitterly, looking into space. "Why should I help you? You betrayed us."
Emma sighed in exasperation. "Stop being childish, Drake. If I've betrayed you, you think I'd be here?"
After a deliberate silence, he returned his attention to her.
Emma bit her lip and approached his corner. She looked for a place to sit but decided against it.
"Creed thinks I'm a mutant sympathiser. Although I don't know if I am grateful it hasn't occurred to him that I'm one as well, I happen to know that telling him my old affiliation with the Hellfire Club isn't exactly the best way to stay incognito. Especially when that's his best lead to my current employment in the Academy. " She looked at him. "I don't care about what you think of me but I'll never jeopardise the safety of my students."
Emma glanced at him with faint disgust. Why must she be obliged to explain anything to him? Bad enough that she was imprisoned with him, now she had to - With an effort, Emma pushed away those humiliating thoughts to concentrate on the matter at hand. From whom did Creed obtain his information? Does that represent his only source? Was there a traitor in their midst? She found that she felt indefinitely better.
She started pacing the room, accompanying physical movement with mental activity as her mind sifted through gathered observations, deftly combining them to form a coherent picture of the situation.
"Creed's our most immediate problem but once we get out of here, we must find the source of his information. Trace the leak and plug it as fast as possible. Right now, he probably has very little real knowledge. A name or two, an association, like you, that he might have paid a high price to obtain. From here, he would attempt to expand his base of operations."
"He'll try to extract information from us soon. My false identity-," her lips curled in derision at this point. "Might grant me some immunity although you'll probably be subjected to a full interrogation-"
From the corner of her eye, Emma saw Drake's head looked up.
"I didn't own you an explanation Drake," she began tersely. "But I gave one anyway. If you still persist in believ -"
"Don't get so defensive," Bobby put both hands in front of him. "I mean, I may be pig-headed, but not to that extent. It makes sense; what you've just said."
He fell silent again as she regarded him like he was a strange phenomenon. Finally, Bobby removed his coat to spread it on the floor.
"Do you want to sit down?"
Her automatic response was to refuse but Emma was intrigued by this new aspect of Drake. Could there be intelligence lurking behind all that insipidity, she wondered. She took the proffered seat, drawing her knees close to herself.
"So, umm, what do we do now?"
She arched her eyebrows. "I trust your friends have some idea where you were going this morning or, is this your idea of a getaway?"
"Ha ha, very funny. They'll find us. Eventually."
"I don't happen to find that assuring, Drake."
"Wouldn't hurt to cut the X-Men some slack, woman."
Her eyes flashed. "Don't you start calling me that. Having to abide the Irish is more than enough."
"Oh," Bobby turned to face her interestedly. "So Sean managed to hammer the nail right on your head, huh?"
Emma drew a breath. "I should have known - bloody, misogynistic dinosaur."
"Hey, I happen to like Jurassic Park."
"Tell me that was a joke, Drake, because my opinion of you just can't get lower."
"Whoa! Thank god I saw that one coming a mile away! Fine, Em. Whatever you say, Em." Bobby threw his hands up before continuing -
"And if you're gonna be such a stick-in-the-mud, why not do us both a service; go fluff yourself and demand that Creed release us? Hey, you'll never know; it might even work! And I promise I'll enshrine your statue and sacrifice peacocks everyday."
"Are you trying to be facetious?" She asked coldly after maintaining a short silence.
"Facetious." Contempt dripped off her words. "Irrelevantly funny."
"Yes," Bobby retorted, understanding her finally. "And it's because I'm wondering when we're gonna graduate from these one-line conversations you seem so bent on carrying. Wonderin' if we'd ever get to talk to each other without you tearing at my throat!"
She returned archly. "My answer - when you learn to pronounce your syllables without stumbling."
He rose and walked pointly across the room to sit in another corner.
Silence dominated as they tried to ignore each other's presence. And it wasn't long before Drake's head started to nod. Trust him to sleep in a situation like this, she thought, trying to settle comfortably into the corner he had vacated.
The room began to grow colder as the day receded. It was almost into winter and Emma soon found herself shivering. She bit her lip and kept quiet even as the cold promised the advent of another frosty night. Looking across the room, she saw that Drake had no such problems; being Iceman, he was quite impervious to freezing temperatures, even in his human form.
She had been surprised at ease by which their conversation degraded to the level of childish temerity. It seemed that whenever they talked, even innocuous words were an opening to come to blows. It was as if they had barbs that complemented each other's sore points perfectly.
In one sense, she was exhausted by the tirade with Drake but on the other hand, there was also a certain satisfaction in seeing how his face flustered whenever he struggled for the words to rebut her. The only hitch laid in the fact that this was their first opportunity for a head-to-head talk since that confrontation in her New York office. And right now, Drake's newfound familiarity with her bothered Emma more than she would admit.
Maybe it was the way he had forced her to see him in a different light; forced her to see that he was not as useless as she had made him out to be. Whatever the reasons, Emma began to sense that her disparaging remarks were rapidly lose their meaning. Now more than anything else, she wanted to be rid of his company. Even if this simply meant that she had to be patient and trust his judgement on a possible rescue.
In other words, all dolled up, just waiting to be picked up, Emma thought bitterly as she prepared herself for the indefinite wait.
Drake began snoring. His head was propped against his withdrawn knees and the rolled-up shirtsleeves that revealed his tanned arms marked his defiance, even mocking superiority against the elements. The sight irritated Emma more than she acknowledged. She rubbed her arms in the vain attempt to keep warm and went so far as to consider putting on the coat, his coat, that she was sitting on. No, she finally decided; that would be admitting she's cold.
Feeling utterly miserable, she could only huddle close to the wall as possible. Surreptitiously, she was reminded by the memory of the Saturday night when Drake had offered her his coat. A loud snore resounded, breaking into her thoughts.
She toyed with the idea of cheerfully murdering him on the spot.
Emma supposed he was finally woken up by the sound of her blowing into her hands. She lighted up mentally when she saw his tousled head come up. She had come to the conclusion that she would try to be civil to him. That was not beyond her capabilities. But what came out of Drake's mouth was a slurred -
"Doncha ever consider overwearing for any occasion?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did my dress sense offend your hormones?" Emma retorted. This is the last straw!
"Damn it, Drake! Does disparaging others fulfil your prerogative in life?"
Bobby stared at her through sleep-clouded eyes. For just an instance.
"I know what's important in my life, Frost and you're in no way qualified to teach me!"
"Pity. Somebody should try taking up the job and see if they can salvage what's left."
Drake laughed derisively.
"Don't you get sick of going over old ground, Frost? 'Cause I can tell you the way those remarks of yours are losing their effect. I know you're feeling cold, but it's your pride that prevents you from picking up my coat and wearing it."
Emma's nostrils flared. "In that case, I'll find other things we can talk about. We can talk about your friends, about how they've let an imbecile like you monitor a threat as big as Creed. Or does the maxim, stupidity presupposes stupidity in others hold true?"
"Look, I've always tried to keep any differences between us personal, okay? So leave my friends out of this!"
She ignored the conciliating nature of his words; she was not ready to take a break yet. No, not yet.
"Welcome to the real world, Drake. People are judged by the company they keep!"
"I've tried my best to be civilised and all you do is throw tables back at me. Why can't you just leave the hatchet buried? Does it hurt that much to treat me like a human bei-"
"At the expense of sounding like a cliché, I'm afraid you don't warrant much worth as one. But then that's what you are, isn't it? A walking cliché, a sycophant masquerading as an X-Man. Do the world a favour, Drake. Hang yourself on the wall beside all those memorial photos in the mansion. You'll find use there - a living monument to the sole failure in Xavier's dream, a man who can't even save his father from being lynched!"
She had gone too far. Bobby took a step back from her, the expression on his face indescribable.
Emma was saved from his response when muffled sounds of explosion from the street outside started filtering in. Initially, these sounds were indistinguishable from each other but very soon, unmistakable cracks of thunder and explosions of kinetic energy began to resound through the thick walls.
The both of them leapt up with a single thought in their minds, the X-Men! Bobby strode forward to place his head against the metal door, hoping to catch the sound of immediate activity outside while Emma resumed her impatient pacing about the room. She had become very uncomfortable around Drake's presence; a rescue to take her away from his company would be an infinite relief now.
But long seconds and then minutes passed as the battle noises grew fainter and fainter. She heard an inarticulate sound of frustration and saw the muscles on Drake's arms knot as he barely maintained the necessary composure for his watch.
What subsequently took place, happened in a flash. Footsteps so loud that even she could hear, suddenly stopped outside the room and the metal door was thrown forcibly back on its hinges. Emma turned around just in time to see the door edge hit Bobby squarely on the chest, hurtling him towards the floor.