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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 9
by Min

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound...

(Tulips, Sylvia Plath)

Emma plucked disconsolately at her new clothing. She felt so bulky and her thermal underwear itched. They could afford only the cheapest of winter wear although winter tend to arrive later in continental Europe than in North America. Now, they were temporary lodged in a small motel in a street with a quaint but euphemistic name, Rue de l'Alouette, off the East End in Paris, France.

Almost every major European city shares one common characteristic: it is usually built upon the banks of a major river or the major tributary of one. The Thames in London, the Seine in Paris. Centuries ago, people realised how good a gauge the river was in determining land and rent prices. The wealthy, prosperous West Ends of such cities are usually located upstream where the water is fresh while the East Ends downstream inherit the sludge once known as the river and the odorous miasma that reeked from various offerings thrown into its waters.

Garbage must attract rats and naturally, these became the places where the refuse of society congregated. Emma knew all about East Ends, being a frequent visitor to Europe. But it was an abstract understanding, rarely augmented with real experience. Right now, Paris, the City of Lovers was short of falling off her list of favourite European cities.

The lock jangled. She looked up as the plywood door opened. Mountjoy entered and promptly deposited himself into an armchair with a sigh. Tilting back, he laid his head on the dingy window ledge. Cold, grey evening light filtered through, highlighting the planes of his face, the days' old stubble receding to a sprinkle of brown hair above his Adam's apple. Mountjoy had taken to wearing Bobby's body when he discovered that it comprised a large part of Emma's discomfiture towards him.

Several hornets that had been attracted by the heat of the room were now trapped against the windowpane. They buzzed in frantic movement, knocking against the glass in their attempts to get out. He caught one and began pulling its wings off, one by one.

"She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not…"

He positioned the wingless insect's abdomen between his thumb and index finger and squeezed. Then he caught another one and repeated the whole procedure, smiling at her with Bobby's face at the while.

Emma tried to return his insolent stare coolly. Was he actually sober, she wondered? At length, she rose and stopped in front of him, towering over him.

"Do you want to tell me or do I have to extort it from your mind?"

Mountjoy did a mock-cringe and laughed.

"We'll pay a visit to the Banque Nationale de Paris tomorrow."

"The National Bank? For what?"

He looked at her, considering if it was worth his while playing with her. A tic began to appear at the side of his face.

"When I made the deal with that flatscan, he promised to obtain something for me from the vaults of the esteemed establishment. He's not likely to do that now, is he? Therefore," Mountjoy proceeded to explain the whole thing as if she was a child, "I can no longer expect help from that quarter. However you, - my latest partner in crime - are a telepath par excellence. I simply traded a small favour in return for a multi-purpose tool. Either way -"

"Either way, you would have what you want from the bank vault but the plus point is that now you have me at your command as well." She snorted. "You're mistaken, Mountjoy. I came with the sole purpose of bargaining for Iceman's life. I've no intentions to become your partner in crime."

"Oh no, no, God forbid that I should coerce you into doing anything! I'll simply do it myself. And with Bobby of course! The both of us should be able to handle their state-of-art security system quite well. How many years do you suppose we'd get if we were caught? Seven? Ten?"

She asked at length, "What do you want from there?"

Mountjoy's face twitched.

"A trifle, actually. Sim -," he swallowed and tried again, "simply a jewel of archaic origins."

It was true, he was much too sober; she had been afraid of that. That realisation kept her from replying and Mountjoy quickly took her silence for acquiesce. He could not hold a rational conversation any longer.

Another spasmodic tic and Emma saw his face collapsed. He moaned a high-pitched whimper, grabbed his head and started hitting it against the flimsy gypsum wall. "The voices…damn the voices…"

Inhabitants in the adjacent room cursed. Mountjoy got up and responded with a kick that showered the cheap carpet with loose plaster flakes from the wall. Emma saw that his fingers were swollen; the hapless hornets had stung him in their death-throes.

He stumbled into the bathroom, leaving the door agape. She retraced her steps, fearing the worst. She saw him retrieve a disposable application of some medication from his inner pocket and saw him jab the short needle into his discoloured wrist, emptying its contents into his system.

She had pocketed the discarded packet he had used the previous night. It was innocuously labelled: phencyclidine hydrochloride.

She knew better. Dispense with the medical jargon and you had PCP or Angel Dust; one of the most dangerous hallucinogenic drugs ever created. That was the thing she had been afraid of. Mountjoy's phantasmal throes were alarming enough - Emma shuddered when she thought about last night - but more pressing, was her concern for Bobby.

If she surmised correctly, both men's bodies were connected on a molecular level. Mountjoy had been injecting the drug into his bloodstream in massive quantities and although his developed tolerance would prevent Bobby dying from a drug-overdose, she could not vouch for the state of Bobby's nervous system once the both of them were separated.

And she could not simply command him telepathically to stop using the drug. PCP withdrawal was even more horrifying than its usage. And at such advanced stages of abuse, Mountjoy could very well die from the abrupt cessation of the drug.

Tonight was her best chance to try and separate them. Emma told herself that she did not have the luxury to complete her side of the deal. This was already the second night; she had to tear Mountjoy away from Bobby as soon as possible. Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, she sneaked out of the room. It was five o'clock and darkness had already settled in. Let Mountjoy work out the worst of the drug, she told herself, while she looked for some dinner first.

She would not be in the room again when his hallucinations began; one such episode was enough. Mountjoy had lost control over the personalities in his mind the night before. She had been forced to watch his head become a twisting landscape of phantasmal faces, contours of his victims' faces pressing from within his head, threatening to burst out; multiple mouths materialising as each vied for space on his face to scream for oblivion. Bobby had been one of those who appeared the most often.

A cold wind was blowing outside, bringing with it the stench of downstream Seine. She had to be grateful; the smell was worse in summer. The night was very young and the face of the street had yet to rear its ugly head. Emma could see however, that several street corner garrets were already bustling with activity, waiting for the advent of true night to sell their services. A brisk walk took her towards a more respectable section of the city where she had her dinner at a small restaurant.

She did not return to the motel immediately but dallied on the journey back. Emma took the leisure to study the buildings on her both sides. Overhanging roofs shadowed the street; some even had quaint wooden trellises with several withered ivy leaves clinging to them. Once, she even saw clumps of begonias, planted economically in a child's rubber boot. The owner must have placed them on the window ledge to catch a few watery rays from the winter sun.

Everything brought back memories for her. Not only of her many visits to Europe but also of her life in the streets at the age of sixteen years old, when her parents had disowned her. She had lived in streets very much like these in Brooklyn, New York, albeit grimmer and grittier. Never mind that Frost Enterprises was prominent landmark on Wall Street now, East End-like ghettos comprised some of Emma's earliest memories of city life.

If someone had told her that her little trip to Creed's office would have her end up in a Parisian ghetto three days later, she'd never have believed it. But now that she was here, Emma suddenly felt indefinably at home. She looked at her watch and took the leisure to wander around the neighbourhood for several hours until the moon rose to its zenith in the sky.

Emma returned to the motel to find Mountjoy on the bed, frothing at the mouth. She breathed sigh of relief. He was wearing his own face. Taking the armchair he had vacated hours ago, she began working out the intricacies of her plan. A neat pile of hornet wings laid on the windowsill beside the chair.

She probed his mind gently, careful not to maintain more than a surface contact. The ever-present voices were muted, drugged into abject inertia. There was a decided cast to the agitation of thoughts in his mind but she could not put a name to it; this was the first time she encountered such a phenomenon. She avoided Bobby's consciousness zealously; she was not ready to find him in a similar drugged state. But of Mountjoy's, there was nothing. Not a trace.

Emma frowned. She hated having to scan drugged minds. It was a distasteful experience but she strengthened the precarious contact. There they were. The fragmented voices. Somehow they had retreated to form the background fabric of Mountjoy's consciousness, their essence meshed to become static, crackling white sound in the mental landscape. She was intrigued. She didn't know that hallucinogenic drugs had such effects. Or maybe it was simply a symptom unique only to PCP.

She shook her head. This wasn't the time to ponder about psychosis of drug users. Steeling herself, Emma set herself to the task, hoping that what she was doing would not cause Bobby too much pain. To break Mountjoy's control, she had to seize control of his mind, activate his mutant power and force him to expel Bobby's body.

She took a mental step backwards, a psychic distancing of her perspective in order to pinpoint the location of Mountjoy's psyche. It didn't work. His consciousness continued to elude her. She growled in frustration. Maybe it was the fact that she was sick of playing Mountjoy's games but Emma let her caution slipped. She gave up all attempts at stealth and started an active scan of his mind.

It was the wrong thing to do.

All of a sudden, the walls of his consciousness converged on Emma with horrifying speed. The mental landscape she was in began to cave in. The layers overlapped with lightning intensity, smothering and suffocating her presence. The hues turned dark, then pitch-black, a black paste that smeared across her vision.

A flash of terror told her it was too late. She had been on the lookout for a temporal location; little did she realise that the whole shadowy landscape that her psychic form had been treading on, was his consciousness. The drug had apparently disseminated his awareness to such an extent that it became spread thinly over every memory and instinct he had ever possessed. Robbed of its centripetal core, his consciousness might have slumbered on harmlessly but now her incessant prodding had brought the monster to life.

For once in her life, Emma's mind was locked between the clasps of the mad man's mind. She was suddenly aware of the fact that her body was being slammed against the wall, her assailant pressing close. She felt his hot breath against her face, his hands pinning her arms down.

Her control slipped and the old nightmares flooded in. All her sight turned dark red. "Bitch…bloody bitch…you want play games with me…" Disembodied voices that could have belonged to Mountjoy or the old demons flooded her mind. It was the red cell again; her younger self was huddled against the steel bed, replaying the scene of her never ending nightmares. The hands that pushed her down while she stifled her screams; the weight, the salt-filled nights and the loss of sanity and dignity. They all came back again. Somewhere in the physical world, she felt herself slipping under the assault. Fingers that dug into her wrists, the stubbled chin that rasped against her neck. Instinctively, she tried to crawl to oblivion, to mind-numbing apathy, to ignore what was going to happen. "Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it, shut it all out, tomorrow will come…" "You like it… don't you…I'll give you…"

Night-dimmed vision, it was Bobby's face smiling at her. Something snapped in her. Suddenly, she was aware that she possessed an adult's body, a woman's body now. One that knew how to handle such things - how to enjoy such things. "Stop, damn it! Take control of your life!" He wasn't the only one who could play games; she could play them too and played them better than he did. A laugh escaped her. "You wouldn't be able to take it…bloody prick…I was in your mind." Bobby's head came up. She bit into his lip, drew blood and sucked on it. He reached forward, caught her tongue between his teeth as their mouths met. The room began to pulsate, the redness throbbed and bled. She lifted her head to catch her breath; pleasure suffusing her entire body. She inclined her head languidly; stared into his eyes, goading him for more. They glittered madly back. "You like it…damn…but there're other ways…after this…"

She was beginning to feel drunk on her rising need when she saw the same reaction mirrored in eyes she could never imagine exhibit such desire, such derangement, such - loss of control. That slapped her. She jerked back; aghast. Every instinctive mechanism fell into place again. What was she doing? What was she thinking about? That was not Bobby. She couldn't do that, couldn't turn the hurt into pleasure. Voices pushed at her, fuelling her and sapping her. "Admit it, you want it to happen again - you want it so bad." She had given Mountjoy his solution, without even trying. "Em, you can stop it, just get a grip." She saw that smile again. Cloth ripped. She felt cold air. Nakedness. Redness. Vulnerability. Everything collapsed. She whimpered. The weight that pressed against her was becoming unbearable. But part of her wanted it, still. "Em, I know you can."

A grip, yes - a grip. She'd need that. So what did she really want? If there was a rational thought in all this, she knew what she didn't want. She didn't want to face the aftermath again. She learnt a long time ago; tomorrow never came. And she could never get over the fact that it never came. It grated her, ate into her. Anger - was the weapon. Once she could put a name to it, it grew. It had a direction - an aim, unlike madness that expended its energy at every slightest whim, exhausting itself quickly. Her anger possessed an edge and she whetted that edge with her memories, those nights that went on forever, the plight of the Hellions, Catseye, Jetstream, Tarot, Roulette, Bevatron, Beef; she bared all her pain against that blade. No one would do this to her, again. The part of her that survived those blood-filled nights to build a funeral pyre to her childhood won out, finally.

With a mental wrench, Emma broke free of Mountjoy's psychosis. She created a handhold in the smothering blanket of his consciousness, a crease that she could grab at. Once that happened, she began tearing down the backdrop of his mind, wringing the fabric of his mental landscape and twisting it, like a piece of dishrag. The voices in his mind screamed as their essence stretched, crumpled, and were folded into each other. Her own mind expanded, freed from its claustrophobic prison. Everything in the room righted itself again, every object returned to its correct perspective. The room regained its normal hues; the walls no longer bled and pulsated.

Emma smiled when she realised that she had reversed the rules of the game. Smaller and smaller she crumpled Mountjoy's consciousness. Till it became a ball that she held within the grip of her mental fist. Ready at any moment to give in to the overwhelming impulse, to tighten the fist and crush both his mind and life out of him. He gurgled in agony and collapsed on the floor. She knew the pressure would be indescribable. Blood began leaking out from his nose and ears. She savoured the sight before letting her hand begin the process of tightening…squeezing.

Bobby's relief-filled face appeared for a flash. At the last moment, Emma held back the killing stroke. Shaken to the core.

She hadn't possessed all the strength to break out of Mountjoy's psychosis. That last voice had been Bobby's voice. The realisation calmed her down; if Mountjoy was to die, Bobby would die as well. But this didn't mean she was going to let him go so easily. His mind now sat poised between her mental thumb and finger; a little harder and he would suffer the same fate as the hornets. Already he was kneeling in front of her, panting from the pain. That was not enough. She rolled his mind between the fingers and had the satisfaction of seeing him collapse entirely onto the floor. He gasped, clutching in fistfuls, the hair on his head.

"Let - let me go."

"Beg me and I might."

"I'd rather kill him."

"You won't." She increased the pressure.

"Now - beg me."

The words came out stifled but they came nonetheless. She released him, reluctantly. He coughed and wiped his face with the back of his hand, smearing the blood from his ears on his sleeves. And he laughed; a near-gurgle that soon became maniacal laughter.

"You know what? I don't think I'm going to let Bobby go," he grinned, "after all, you tried to break our pact."

"You won't have a choice in the matter," she promised him coldly.

"You wanted it, didn't you? Until you realise it was me."

"Care to beg again?"

"Oh, I've got what I wanted - now I know you can feel."

Emma watched as he rose and walked unsteadily towards the bed. Every aspect of his body language screamed -It was fun- at her. The entire stance of studied nonchalance infuriated her; she hated him, hated him with a vengeance. What she'd give to see the whole of his sex swimming in a lake of blood! Fists clenched and unclenched, the adrenaline rush too recent to ignore. She fingered the torn front of her clothes, several red streaks were visible on her breast. She shuddered and zipped her jacket up all the way. The memory was too recent; a little bit more…

A little bit more and she would kill him, Bobby or no Bobby. Trembling violently, she settled back on the armchair. And watched as the hour hand ticked past the first notch, and then the second. She would not know if snores issued from the bed. She simply kept her eyes on the wall clock, aware marginally, of cars that went by on the street below, their headlights casting elongated shadows in the room.

The third hour passed. Old reflexes and old thoughts continued coming back. Emma would not know why she was sitting there staring at the clock; it was the same reason why she still saw flashes of red, the blood-drenched cell and was still shivering after two whole hours. But all that registered, was fact that she must wait for dawn. Suddenly, it seemed as if her whole life hinged on it. Tomorrow had to come.

continued >>

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