Its Min. Hello again after so long an absence.
For those of you who have once upon a time read my work, I'm still alive and finally writing again. If you need to do some refreshing up (god knows I did when I started working on it) check my revamped page at: http://www.greymalkinlane.com/min/
For those who are new to my work, check that page also, the entire series is there. I'd also like to plug Alyson's website here. If you like to read stories on Bobby Drake, check her site out: http://alykat.hispeed.com/unfrozen
I've basically given up trying to contain the entire series in 24 chapters. Also I'm coming back from a year of reading new stuff and fanfics, x-files especially. Looking at the old chapters I realise how skeletal they are now, so expect later chapters to get fleshier. Thanks to everyone who has given me feedback, I apologise if I didn't reply to your mail, they meant a lot to me and kept me writing even if I didn't say a peep about them. Please tell me what you think after reading it, the oasis needs some water to start up.

Disclaimer: All the characters in this story are the property of Marvel Comics. I'm not making a cent from this. Later chapters might probably warrant an NC-17 rating but its pretty safe at the moment, so no worries, kiddoes.

by Min

Chapter 12

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll

(Emily Dickinson)

Babbling thoughts babbled.


Towering structures of weeping steel bent almost double in mourning. Melted slag drove buildings to their knees. Once windows, now bleeding holes, stretch downward by the heat to became eyes, the only witness to the destruction in its entirety. Burning bodies fused to the road. And one mind screaming under the weight of incomprehension of a reality gone mad - unrest, no rest, never resting.


The Kentucky night sky. Far away from the cities, the velvet dome blazed to life with the brilliance of countless stars. Every pinprick, a unique world which was in turned, perceived and apprehended by the cosmos of every individual mind. All the several billion minds in this world. Happy worlds. Blighted worlds...


Blood demanded blood for tribute. The eyes tunnel-visioned towards their target, cared for nothing else. It was a primitive ritual that favoured the brutal strength of the assailant. The steps? Defiance, which begets empowerment. Resistance only made the imminent victory sweeter. The sequence never changed. A grip that drained blood from the extremities. Fingers, nails, tendons that failed to defend their owner from assault. A breach of her defences, rising engorgement, climax, then ... release. Grasping hands trembled, then loosen their hold. Collapse. Red-hued night subsided, the mind came back to itself. And along with it - horrible realisation. Culminating with a plaintive voice that cried out:

"Oh God - what have I done?"


Bobby Drake ran away, horrified. Like a cave of mirrors, he saw his reflection in whichever direction he turned. It grinned with all its bared might. Its smile, a rictus of pale marble slabs with dark grooves that leered from between them. His own humanity mocked him, reminding him of the things he had done, could have done, would have done - if he had his own way, if nothing had prevented things from happening.

Moaning pervaded the air, tragic sounding and vulgar. Other times, when he turned, he saw unfamiliar faces, begging him to put an end to their existence, flagellating him with their guilt-hollowed looks. Gradually, every temperament he witnessed somehow became an aspect of his psyche. Each one, a mental manifestation of his capacity to degenerate - and the hopeless awareness of that degeneration, not being able to do anything about it.

He rejected turning after turning. He had lost count over the number of times he ran away. Bobby knew his sanity relied on that, running away from the fragments of lives that peopled the labyrinth. He must refuse the obvious possibilities that damned his salvation as a human individual. But everywhere he ran, he could not avoid the taunting voice that repeated again and again -

*You wanted it, didn't you? You wanted it, didn't you? You wanted it, didn't you?*

"I never asked for it, damnit!" He shouted into the dark, clasping his hands to his ears in the end. It was the easiest excuse out. He knew it immediately as the words left his mouth only to be drowned out by the strength of the repeated intonations.

*She calls me incompetent. But I would have never done it if it weren't for you. You wanted it, didn't you?*

Wrong! None of this was his fault. The man who had forced himself onto someone else simply for physical gratification could never be him. Never in his life had he felt the compulsion to take something that didn't belong to him. There was always temptation, but never a loss of control to act on that temptation. He refused to be goaded along those lines.

"Don't evade responsibility for your actions, Mountjoy. You're fully culpable for the things you've done. Aren't you without remorse, without compunction? Why are you suddenly afraid to claim bloody credit for your work? "

*You've answered your own suspicions. I would've decked my actions with laurels, give it the acclaim it deserves, if it was mine. Poor boy - you never got over the fact that she violated your body and mind. All that middle class upbringing; that suburban gentility - but your inclinations don't lie. Are you willing to pit those beliefs against yourself?*

"You can never soil something you're unable to comprehend," Bobby hissed through gritted teeth. It was the last measure he knew, the few words he could dredge that at least allowed him to face Mountjoy's rebuke squarely.

There was only laughter, genuine and insolent.

The voice kept coming. Somewhere within that intonation of mirth, the realisation hit him that maybe he could not filter the words away because that had been him talking all along. Somehow, this phantasmagoric mental arrangement might have made it possible that he was talking to himself.

"Feelin' better?"

The voice washed over Emma reassuringly even though it came out haltingly in-between jolts. It gave her an anchor, a starting point from which she tried to relocated her position. Where was she? She was moving, or at least being moved; her senses could tell her that much. In fact, the constant jerking coupled with the remembered pain in her head throbbed insistently like needles being driven into her mind. Instinctively, she reached a hand up to touch her head. Her fingertips came into contact with ice, pinpricks of cold that registered as another component in her sensory repertory. There seemed to be some kind of laceration on her scalp, but strangely she felt nothing. Wait a minute, what cold?

The main sensation that overwhelmed everything else was warmth. She felt cradled within a living, breathing enclosure. Emma ventured to open her eyes, a slit, nothing more. But bright white light poured into her retina, striking and sinking into her consciousness faster than she could process it. In a brief moment of disorientation, she splayed her other hand out for something, anything. It slapped onto a wide patch of rough stubble while her index finger thrust into something firm and slippery.

A sound of pain, and a near stumble.

"Damn, that hurts!" Then the voice came again, with a certain measure of cockiness, "If you can jab a finger into your saviour's eye, I guess you're okay then."

In a flash, she remembered where she was now. Bobby was carrying her. He had in the interim, reverted to his human form for her physical comfort. The knock on her head had caused her to black out for a while. And they were being chased, she thought. Bobby's footsteps began to beat a more frantic pace. The heel of each foot came down hard, connecting the floor with a shudder that carried clear through the trunk of his torso. Hoping to catch up for lost time, Emma tuned her working senses for more signs. She could now hear a sinister stampede of harder footsteps echoing behind Bobby's lonely pair clearly.

She felt him shift, a movement in the muscles closest to her body.

"Uh oh, we've got company - don't look like security guards. Men in black. Illegal aliens - that's us, right?"

She did not know how he found the breath to say all of that. The situation was embarrassing enough that she did not want to say much. And it was augmented by the fact that she was incapable of using her powers; the splitting headache took care of that.

"I can't be of much help right now."

His lungs worked like bellows beside her ear. "Hey. No pain. No gain. You'd never allow me to carry you any other day."

A gunshot reverberated in the empty corridor, like a bomb set off in a granite quarry.

"Christ, these people are really serious!" came Bobby's outraged voice.

Emma opened her eyes again, cautiously this time. The light came back with a more comfortable intensity. She saw that there was a turning forty yards away. Now, she could hear shouts issued in French.

"What was that?"

"They want us to stop and surrender."

He managed to squeeze a derisive snort in-between panting breaths. "Tell 'em to kiss my ass."

Why was Bobby keeping up with the chatter, she wondered. But she did not have time to think when another shot rang closer this time.

This time, he did not bother looking back. His voice was urgent.

"Draw your limbs closer to me. I'm gonna change."

Mystified, Emma hunched herself up as compactly as possible in his arms. And was treated with a sight as wondrous as the first time she witnessed it. Bobby began transforming. As if caught within a dimension that disregarded normal time, Emma could only stare with amazement as the initiation into every new stage of the transfiguration played out itself immediately before her. It began as a faint blue ripple that ran along the course of his body, like an inner glow that grew stronger with every passing moment. Then the glow permeated his entire body for a split-hair moment. In a flash, it was gone.

Movement took over next. The ripple began to take on tangibility, like a wave cruising beneath his skin, solidifying in minute quantities with every passage, an icy blue hue painting itself into opacity with transparent tints. The surface of his body was transparent at first, then bit by bit, it became obscured as the stratified layers beneath his skin played out the freezing process. The movements quickened, increasing exponentially. The ice finally hit his body surface, rapidly coating his torso, clothes and all with a sheen that smoothed over, only to be covered by a new layer repeating the whole process before the first was done. Layer after layer like a protective covering moulded the planes of his body, his leg, arm and chest muscles took on definite shape, hardened yet flowing with a suppleness that belied the nature of ice. Finally, the blue ripple washed over his entire body a last time, giving him the last coat of ice before flicking out of existence.

It felt like a long time, but in reality, it was only a few short moments before the transformation was completed. Emma was awe-struck. When she took over his body, the ability to shift between forms was something she could never master. Nevertheless, the sheer power and physical grace of his body was something that she had revelled in when she was part of it. She had never felt so alive than that moment, free from the coma that had imprisoned her for months, controlling a young male body with its raw strength and vitality - the possibilities had been endless. It was incongruous, but she thought about it, and wanted to be that strength, that grace, that body again. Emma placed a tentative hand on his chest trying both to recapture that lost consciousness and to feel for herself what he truly felt like.

She received a shock. He was cold, bone-numbingly cold, inhumanly cold. In fact, whatever warmth she retained in her hand was leeched away by his body temperature. In response, her eyes darted to his face and saw a sculptor's masterpiece, each line and feature as if carved out of ice, but the distinguishing colours of his face, his hair, his eyes - they were effaced into a uniform bluish whiteness that left no room to interpret the man behind.

Another shot rung, this time, dangerously close. Instinctively, Emma drew herself in more tightly. He turned his head to glance behind and Emma saw clearly how the chords of muscles on his neck turned and flowed, pursuing his movement, like the crest of a translucent wave. He was breath-takingly beautiful, she realised.

"Hang on!"

It was none too soon. A shot. Followed immediately by the sound of a dull, leaden crunch. Bobby grimaced and stumbled. He regained his footing and continued running.

A third shot. Another stumble.

Twenty yards more towards the turning ahead of them. Bobby's legs still struck the same rhythm on the ground. Emma wondered if a human heart beat beneath that icy exterior.

A fourth.

"You've got to pick the bullets out of me later, Em." His voice softly uttered, belied the laboured breaths that came out as clouds of frost.

Ten yards.

Touch down.

*Ever the collected bastard, aren't you? Even when you want nothing better than to fuck her? Admit it, my boy. This is after all, your confessional box. The most private one you can ever have in your life - the priest and the sinner all within one mind. We can have no secrets from each other.*

Bobby seethed in catatonic anger but the voice kept hammering. "You don't have secrets because you're utter filth. Filth cannot comprehend anything. How can it have distinctions? Every part of you stinks, even your thoughts. Why haven't you been choke to death by your stench yet?"

*She was enjoying it as much as you did. Until she realised I was in the equation. Now that was an awful slap in your face, I'm afraid. I'm terribly sorry if I intruded at the wrong moment - couldn't help myself.* A laughing yellow hue permeated the atmosphere. *But that wasn't my disappointment that washed over me - it was yours.*

He laughed back, a strangled sound that was lost to the kaleidoscopic mindscape. "It's yours now, Mountjoy. You weren't able to complete your act of betrayal. Because the drug that has been sustaining you is now giving up on you. You collapsed as soon as you pressed that button. Who is more useless here? You needed her to brace you, once her mental support is taken away, you become a gibbering idiot, foaming at the mouth."

The voice did not even seem to register his words.

*So you've got your body back. So now you can act. Act then. Does the illusion of action make you feel useful? Run around, run everywhere in the maze of your life. When you can't find the way out, you can always bash your head against the dead ends. Slam it hard against the bulwark till you bleed. Human effort believes that if it put its heart into anything, it can accomplish what it want. Are you beginning to understand, even remotely, how this is impossible here? Have you learn your lesson yet?*

Bobby moaned, a guttural animal sound, trapped in the labyrinth where there was no escape. The noise was pitiful - but he could not stop. In the end, he jamb his fingers into his mouth and started chewing on them to silence himself. If only he could find the glimmer of an escape, but all he faced was wall after wall, turning after turning, a sequence never ending. He could hear his own footsteps in the corridor of the world outside, the thundering sound of blood in his ears. But at least all that running was for something. There was a way out there, somewhere, and he knew how to get to it. But here, here, there was nowhere to go.

*Your life is a mess, Robert Drake. I observe how you replay the critical episodes of your life. Each scene set on a pedestal in the museum of your consciousness. You walk through its galleries like a spectator everyday - the creator and the audience all one person. And agony and self-doubt wreak you. Your ice-hard body is simply an empty frame to brace your degenerated humanity. I have my drugs, what do you have?*

The colours turned into a demon purple, the hues deepen, stained like washed glass towards the far reaches of his consciousness. Like the running colours that permeate the space, draining to become components for newer hues, Bobby found that his capacity to speak was beginning to sap away. He knew now he was becoming the one with the power of speech snatched away to be left a gibbering idiot.

*We are getting somewhere here, I see.*

*But the point is mote, correct? You have pointed out aptly that what I have is no life either. But neither are you in a position to question me. What you have is no better. At least, I've an illusion, my Promised Land may or may not exist. That contingency is my saving grace. But I can't for my life conceive how you shield your face and walk upright as you have for so many years.*

*Maybe it's time for you and me to reconsider.*

Bobby finished the process that created a solid plug of ice several feet thick to seal the turning corridor they had just left behind. It had effectively muffled the growing footsteps on the other side. But just as the last layer of ice was completed, an ominous red light began to glow in the middle of the wall. The surrounding edges of the plug started to sweat and melt away from the reinforced steel walls.

Bobby drew back and bumped into Emma.

"What the - "

"Creed's subordinates," Emma told him tiredly, transferring part of her weight onto the wall she was leaning on. "He has tracked our whereabouts and given them weapons against our powers - " She hated how the sickening complications of their fiasco was falling more and more easily into place after the realisation of Mountjoy's initial betrayal. She swayed heavily and laughed, a merest breath. "As if I can be a threat to anyone now."

She was on her feet, barely. The pain in her head had subsided to reasurring numbness with Bobby's ministration but moving unaided remained out of the question. The walls around her continued to cave in alarmingly, as if she was viewing the world through increasingly concave lenses. She was beginning to bow down to the fact that she couldn't function within any normal capacity. And this did not even come close to the possibility that she might have to use her mental powers. That mental spike she slammed into the security guard's mind - she knew how close she came to blacking out totally. The remembrance of that excruciating pain brought an involuntary shudder.

Emma lifted a hand towards her head. Fingers came back wet from the contact. The moisture was red tinged but it was ice melt more than anything else. A chill went through her. She knew before they get out of this entire mess, she'd have to ask Bobby to perform his little trick again. In a perverse sort of way, she hope she'd be bleeding obviously enough for him to do it for her without her needing to ask him. It grated her, she realised, that Bobby was the only one who could bargain a certain amount of safety for them with his powers. As if echoing the concern in her mind, Bobby's question penetrated her reverie.

"Can you move if I simply gave you a helping hand?" His right hand was aimed at the ice barrier as he drew more moisture from the air, adding several new feet of ice to the melting lot. The atmosphere had almost been wrung dry and every breath was beginning to hurt the lungs. They both knew the diversion would not last.

She nodded once, letting her hair fall over her face to cover the sudden flush she felt. It was very possible that if they got out of here alive, she would have to deal with problems of another nature between the both of them. But that was pending on the fact that they got out. Right now, Emma knew it was a high time she carried her own weight. Even if it meant physically. Concentrating on problems at hand, facing the need of having two feet planted on the ground was the best assurance against the web of emotional complexities that arose within her all of a sudden.

Bobby de-iced himself in a rapid motion. In a short span of time, his human self materialised in front of her. And she knew now his comment about picking bullets out of his body was a joke. The spent shells simply cascaded from his back like a casual afterthought. He's improved immensely since that day in my office, the comprehension hit her. His arm slid smoothly around her flank, drawing her close against his side as they began moving down the hallway. The contact generated welcomed warmth, more so at the points of friction where their bodies met. Possessing ice powers, it made sense that Bobby's normal body would also be less susceptible to cold. And it was only then that Emma realised that she was shivering. Maybe she was going into mild shock, delayed reaction from the pain and the loss of blood?

It was one of the lamest excuses she had ever come up with. His closeness was now like an uninvited guest she had no power to expel. Replaying his question in her head again, Emma bit her lip as she caught herself reinterpreted it as his asking for her permission to touch her. But she was finding it harder and harder to shake off that line of thought. But that was definitely something she didn't want to dwell in at the moment. Heady with the sudden rush of blood, she leaned against him more heavily than was needed. Mild shock. Yeah, right.

"Have you -" Emma tried again, her throat suddenly parched, "have you any idea where the exit is?"

She glanced at Bobby after he failed to respond and then saw how his eyes were aimed dead straight at the next turning in their route. But the look in them was strangely vacant, or as if all his attention was turned inwards. She had to repeat her question twice before she saw gradual awareness coming back to them.

He nodded absent-mindedly then, muttering something so low it was audible only to himself, despite their proximity. Jerking his head in a sharp downward motion as if he was trying to dislodge some unpleasant thought, Bobby answered her with a voice even the dead would have a hard time emulating, "His memories - they're carved into the skin of my mind. I can crawl out of here mad."

She looked at him, chilled by his entire demeanour. But his footsteps never faltered as he continued drawing her along. One foot after another, on and on. It brought a stable weight that her faint steps did not possess. One turning after another, on and on. She began to feel as if she had heard the rhythm from the beginning of time and would hear it till the end.

Chaffed against his side by the jolts, she was acutely conscious of his arm encircling her waist, how his hand rested on the flair of her hip and his fingers pressed flat against her abdomen. She could feel the warmth beneath his touch seeping into her skin. But the heat didn't stop at the surface. The tables were now turned she realised, turned a full hundred and eighty degrees. The control he somehow exerted over her body and thoughts frightened her very much.

"You make a home in your mind, you hear me, boy? And you build the walls strong and thick with your principles. You put all that you've learnt from life into the bookshelves. And every time you learn something, that's another book you add to the shelves. Pretty soon, you'd have the foundations for concrete future that you can build for yourself. Your dreams and aspirations make you what you are, but it's those walls and books that will help you realise them. And no one, mark me, no one can ever try to break down those walls that you've created or tell you you're wrong. Because you'd have created a person that you can face in the mirror and say, "it's me".

His father nudged with his foot, the irregular pile of sand that was, not long ago, part of a magnificent sand castle. The story that Bobby gave Rogue on their trip to his parents' house was an edited version. As far as Bobby was concerned that part of the conversation never existed. Until now.

He could remember that speech as if it had been made yesterday, the gentle shatter of the waves against the shore while the foaming tide of memory wash ashore the flotsam, relics of his past. Dad was never a man inclined towards grand speeches. Bobby remembered him pausing, searching for the correct words to convey his meaning. Metaphysics wasn't after all, an accountant's department. And how much did he expect a child to remember anyway?

But Bobby remembered. Remembered too late in fact. He was recalling the correct instructions to build a house, a house that was at this moment, rapidly crumbling to dust around him.

He realised now how woefully inadequate his library is. Laid open to scrutiny, what did his books tell him? Inscribed within them were token beliefs, principles that he simply borrowed from the world around him wholesale. Formulated in ether, they were the showcases of his complacency. Now the smell of preservatives reeked strongly. Acidic components ate away at the walls of his mind, gnawed at the principles that were threatening to disintegrate under the pressure of questions he had never bothered to ask, implications he had never considered.

And there was more. More than he believed any sane man could undertake. Psychic fingers dug hard into psychic ears in an attempt to plug the leak, to stem the leeching of meaning that was the worth and existence of every human individual. The walls were crumbling, but he could do nothing to prevent them.

With frantic desperation, Bobby grabbed, snatched at anything, anything that could halt the flow.

When there was nothing else, there was always pain, the incapacitating sensation that never stops reminding one of mortality. He could feel the physical counterpart in his body, the lungs that felt as if he was breathing fire, the muscle spasms that threatened to cramp his thighs. Pain was the one thing in abundance Bobby possessed, and he grabbed on to it like a drowning man. Anything to hide the blighted sun that was beginning to show its bloody light of truth. He knew he had done badly, and pain was the symptom of things gone wrong. But as long as he could continue to feel pain, as long as the signs were there to remind him, he knew there was a way back. Like a compass that found the magnetic north unerringly, all he had to do was to retrace his steps and walk in the direction where the agony would persuade any man to think twice.

But like an inquisitor, the voice drone on and on, digging deeper and deeper trenches into the tortured surface of Bobby's psyche.

*Wasn't the failure of gratification so bad that you almost wished she had killed you there and then? And there wasn't a tinge of guilt at all - at any rate, nothing like what you're feeling right now...*


*That's what you are.*

Failure. He watched as he himself became a murderer, callously freezing people to death, violating their dead bodies with an inhuman glee he did not believe himself capable of. It was his hands that dealt death's blow. And now, the parallel of his endeavours led in his mind's eye, the recapturing of that last moment that spelt the end of his father's life, when realisation hit that no amount of hospital care or medication was going to prolong the inevitable.

*Perfect. My pet topic. Would you like me to present you with a tableau of your own making?*

A picture began to form itself unbidden in his mind. A scene of mud and rain and tombstones slant awry. A deep hole in the ground, a coffin torn opened. He saw his father nestled within. And rats were eating him.

*Poor old man. Even in death, he wasn't spared. He died willingly for your cause, but he also died with the absolute awareness of the failure his son had always been. Death opened his eyes, opened them wide to that reality.*

The scene hit rock bottom.

Where did the conviction his father possessed towards him go? Where was the product of that conviction that warrant a man to sacrifice his life against everything he had believed in over an epiphany that had its sole validity in the love of a son?

That the debt could never be repaid; he searched the archives of his mind, returning back to the moment under Creed's imprisonment when he realise the implication of his existence. He was alive because countless of others had given their lives, whether by default or some unconscious act of his. His intent had been to make all those sacrifices worth it. It would command nothing else but the best of what he could give. And from the onset, he had failed so miserably that the word failure demanded a new definition.

It hurt; it hurt so much. With a tremulous yank, the chord was loosen, the knot slipped and untied itself. Slowly he was cast off into the drifting waters. Dark and nihilistic, they rose up to face him - the blank walls of his existence, effaced into an absurd landscape that laughed at him, over this, the greatest tragedy of his life. Where could the mind go when it had nowhere else to go?

Bobby slammed the flat of his palm into the button console while the metal doors slide to a close with what seemed like agonising slowness. Within the box-like confines of the elevator, he removed his arms from around her as both their backs hit the steel walls hard.

Emma bent down, a racking cough enveloped her as she attempted to catch her breath. She could feel the pounding headache just waiting around the corner again, trying to come back. Darting a furtive glance towards Bobby, she saw him wiping at his bleeding mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. The cotton fabric came away with a dark stain. In a moment of acute disorientation, she wondered how he had been hurt there. Then she remembered.

She bit him last night. All that jolting must have reopened the wound. She licked her own lip in an act of conscious response, the hot coppery taste of blood rising in remembrance. The interior of the elevator seemed to tilt and spin. A thought rose unbidden to her; did he actually knew what had almost happened? How she was ready to go over the edge with him, knowing it wasn't him? She drew a barely audible breath as she became acutely aware of the physical possibilities between the both of them all of a sudden.

His ragged voice recalled her back to reality.

"We're hitting the sub-sub basement of the building. There is a series of outlets at the side of the main structure that leads into the service tunnels. From there, our options get wider."

She inclined her head as acknowledgement, not daring to bring the level of her gaze to his. He could not read her mind, but nevertheless those words came across as a sharp reminder. You are losing it. A voice inside told her. With all the events of the past few days, you're reaching the end of your limits. You are losing control. She thrust the thought aside before realising with sudden breathlessness how she was too tired to refute the accusation.

Emma chanced a look at Bobby, and found him shaking his head wildly. For a moment, her heart froze as she wondered if he was responding to the thoughts that were going through her mind. But he didn't even seem to notice her. He was mouthing something in fierce undertones. Unaccustomed pain lines were etched clearly on his face, ageing him far beyond his twenty-four years. Her heart leaped with concern. Frowning, she reached out with a tentative hand, "Bobby?"

He whipped away from her as if he had been burnt by red-hot iron. Then realisation dawned that he might have made a mistake. But the damage was already done. Emma tried to school her face into indifference.

"I'm sorry." He murmured after a breath, his eyes tracking the blinking lights.

"It's alright."

After a few heartbeats of silence, Bobby slammed his fist into the button console with a bone crunching sound. Turning on his heel, he walked towards the far side of the room, and stayed there, his back facing her. The whole incident did nothing to improve her worsening headache but this time Emma chose to keep quiet. She considered lowering her eyelids to take some comfort against the glare of the monotonous white lighting, but that meant she would have nothing to distract her from the hammering pain in her head.

They did not say a word to each other for a while. Pensiveness became a contagion infecting the both of them alike. But for Emma, the silence that was between them was no longer comfortable. She would have given anything to get out of France now. The mechanical hum of the slow service elevator continued uninterrupted. On the console, buttons winked in and out like sequenced flight lights, tracking the progress of their downward journey.

Tiredly she tilted her head against the cold wall, taking care not to bump the injured side. She shifted slightly, her knees unlocking for just one instance. It was a mistake. The walls bent alarmingly around her. Palms slick with moisture found no traction against the metal surface. Emma buckled painfully onto the floor while pain shot through the raw nerve endings on her cranium.

Almost immediately, she felt Bobby in front of her, his hands gently hauling her to a sitting position. A sob of helpless frustration escaped from her mouth even as she bit down hard on her lip.

Distantly, she could hear Bobby's voice telling her that her wound had started to bleed again. She felt a familiar cold pressure against her scalp and the hard crackling sound of ice solidifying. She breathed in relief for a few seconds after the stabbing pain subsided once more into a dull numb.

But when he began to dab the blood off her forehead with his sleeve, she raised her hand to fend him away.

"I'm fine."

"No you're not, "fine" doesn't even cut it. So stay still."

That was it. She did not know where she summoned the reserves, but Emma knew she wanted nothing more than to prove him wrong. Bracing her back against a corner, she picked herself up from the floor even as her eyes warned him to keep his distance.

"Stay away from me."

He raised his hands in placation, but his steady gaze never left her.

"Wanna hear what I got to say, Emma?"

"What?" She asked warily.

"Right now, you're in need of medical attention more than I do. And the sooner we get out, the better. You can treat me like your worst enemy, but do it after we get out of this here."

Emma bared her teeth in a feral smile. If it were that simple.

"Save it, Bobby. I don't need any medical attention. I've lost more blood than this before."

She did not dare tell him how thinly stretched she felt, how much effort it took for her to maintain control over every word, every gesture she made. More importantly, how little of that was due to her physical condition.

"Fighting between ourselves every inch of the way out is not an option. I suggest you either knock me out cold and get out of here yourself, or I'll do the honours." His eyes bored through her. You know I can do it, they said.

Emma did not know how hard she was holding her breath until she had to let it go.

"There's no need. You can think again if you're convinced I'm willing to spend a substantial amount of my fortune bailing your ass out of a French prison."

Bobby's expression was livid.

"So it's only my ass on the line now?"

"When is it not? I never cease to be amazed at how your friends manage to foot the damage control bill for every fix you get yourself into. The amount must be enough to pay off the national trade deficit by now."

She couldn't stop herself from snarling. Inwardly, Emma moaned, wondering how every interaction succeeded so well in rousing the ugly beasts in both of them. Stop, she wanted to say. What the hell are we fighting for?

"You seemed to have forgotten you're stuck down here with me, Emma. And what are you going do? You can't use your mental powers because of the pain. You're going to charm your way out through the main door? Going to make a few promises, show off some flesh and hope no one comes running after you for payment? But then with Emma Frost, we'll never know for sure, right? You might even enjoy returning the gesture of - sacrifice. Wait, wrong word. I forgot you can't grasp that concept, never have and never will."

Emma could have labelled his words with all the appropriate quotation marks from the almost palpable fog of unspoken insinuations and accusations that was surrounding the both of them. But she was so tired. An involuntary attempt to swallow on a dry throat almost made her choke. Words slipped formless from her moving lips. Oh god, how could he?

"Fuck you, Bobby."

She threw her weight into the flat of her palm that landed hard against the side of his face. With lightning reflexes, he caught the offending hand as his head snapped back, his eyes blazing with animal fury and promise.

But the sudden change in momentum brought the tilting walls back in full force. With sickening realisation, Emma felt herself falling again. And the only thing that prevented that was Bobby's iron grip on her wrist. Gradually, she could sense how he was bracing her with the length of his body pressed close, while his other hand reached to the back of her head, cradling her face.

The elevator chose this moment to come to a shuddering stop. Metal cables and grappling screeched, protesting the sudden halt. The sound of reversed winches echoed distantly above them.

And subsided into silence.

Then the lights went out, plunging them into utter darkness.

The moment stretched.

As sudden as before, the emergency lights came on, flooding the elevator in a tide of blood.

Everything came back. The red glow promising inevitability, the countless nights of sleepless despair, the distilled essence of what happened last night, the man in front of her that she could no longer put a face to, human or inhuman, no matter that the situation was different, everything came back.

And Emma screamed.

He wanted them badly to escape from the death trap. He was nearing the end of his limits, and he knew it. But something told him he was honour-bound at least to see that the woman who was with him reach a safe place somewhere. And then what will you do, Bobby?

Cynicism was the most comfortable position one could face the universe with. Nothing will change, and if changes did occur, it would be for the worse, the cynic never failed to point that out. And so from that supine position, nothing got done, because it didn't matter. But where could the mind go when it had nowhere else to go? Plunging again and again into the dredges of its resources, trying to weave layer after layer of defences only to have them brushed aside as casually as a spider's web, every excuse exposed, the merciful distancing of years that spaced the events of his life compressed into sledgehammer with a density that deny even a breath's respite...what could it do?

There was one solution. The responsibility of being held accountable for one's actions, to pay with guilt the consequences of everything that had gone wrong...Bobby knew he could always choose to say "I can't take it anymore".

*Yes, my boy. Give up. There is nothing you can do. Shrivel up and die. The world won't even know the loss.*

Denial. Anger. Despair. And finally acceptance. Acceptance that whatever he had done was for nothing, that all his efforts had come to naught. Mountjoy wanted to push him over the edge so badly Bobby could feel the drool of anticipation sweating through the mental pores of his thoughts. >From a clinical perspective, he could see how he had been led one step after another down the inexorable path. Yet he couldn't deny how inviting the edge was. How the whitewashed canvas of unthinking, unfeeling and unbeing beckoned him. And Bobby knew just exactly how many steps it'd take. Bit by bit, he had been relinquishing his sense of self - his values, control and respect. What was left?

I'm sorry, Emma.

He wanted very much to shrivel up and die.

She knew how the mind has the tendency to distance itself from events and memories it was unable to handle or reenact. Depersonalisation disorder, dissociative amnesia, multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, she knew all the psychological terms with clinical dispassion. There were times she still couldn't decide if she was grateful or resentful over the fact that she never had a mental closet to bury some of her pain in.

But those times were rare. Because Emma knew fiercely, she was strong enough to handle her problems without needing to rummage through the DSM IV listing for alibis. Not many people knew that she was a qualified psychoanalyst and that she possessed a good knowledge of psychiatry and neurology. They were either usually too busy gawking over her business acumen or running away from the revelation that she was a telepath. But Emma knew that simply possessing a natural ability was never enough. More so since her particular natural ability meant she must control her thoughts every minute of her life simply to function like a normal person. Understanding how the human mind work was therefore something she pursued towards the logical conclusion and beyond.

There was however a disadvantage that came with the knowledge. The arbiter over other people's psychological problems could not be plagued by demons of her own. Physician, heal thyself. It was not an option for her. She had been convinced over the years that the pain had subsided to become more bearable. Now it seemed as if she had simply added a longer fuse to the bomb.

For a while, Emma Frost the woman stopped being. The conscious aspects of her personality had been stripped away, like petals being peeled off layer after layer to expose the heart within. Rationalisation, force of will, material achievements, every line of defence put up a perfunctory fight before slinking into oblivion. She wept for the loss, the casual defeat of the mechanisms she had spent many painstaking years devising and building. But for the first time in perhaps a long time, Emma finally had a clear view into the core. And truth showed her what she already knew. It would be a stunted thing, a deformed essence that she had tried to bandage with the passage of years and nurture with the wisdom of hindsight. But she did not recognised it for what it was, the legacy of a fourteenth year old who inadvertently left her past with her future along behind as she walked out of the burning asylum that fateful night. Only now, did she realise she had been engaging in the act of sabotaging her own existence. The past that should be a foundation upon which the present was build on had been denied acknowledgement. And if she believe that denial would somehow provide the dying embers for the phoenix of her new self to be reborn again, she was mistaken.

The process would have to begin anew. And this time, she would learn to do it right.

Pain was the first sign of awareness, of reawakening. Raw fire tunnelled down her throat, coming only to an end at the pit of her stomach. She could taste hot bile in her mouth, rancid and sour. Her head still hurt, but it was gradually becoming an accustomed pain. Heat was the next sensation. Sweat, warm and slippery coated her skin. She could feel a thin trickle of moisture somewhere down her back. She could also feel her arms locked tight in front of her, pressed close against something soft. The heat seemed to be coming strongly from that direction. But there was something constricting her, some sort of band encircling her torso. She tried to move, tried to take an inventory of the choices her body still provided her and found that she could not.

"You alright?" The voice was disarmingly close to her. Emma jerked with an intake of breath that sent her into a coughing fit. The band behind her moved, an arm she could feel now, to rub the length of her back. Only then did she dare to open her eyes, knowing who she would see.

"Hey, hey, everything's fine," Bobby murmured, his husky voice almost unrecognisable in its tenderness. He was holding her tightly, had been doing so for the last few minutes for all she knew. But Emma found she could not muster the strength to be defensive. She did not trust herself to speak, only to concentrated on her breathing, trying to still the ragged gasps that were tearing at her lungs. Her racing heart would take a longer time to subside and she allowed herself to relax, lowering her head on Bobby's shoulder briefly, knowing she wouldn't fall this time. He would never let her.

Loosening her arms from their locked position next, she observed numbly how her hands had cramped into claw like appendages. In the dim lit confines of the elevator, she could see a dark substance smeared over several fingertips. The sight was becoming so commonplace she decided at once that it was blood. She was wondered detachedly how it could have got there when Bobby shifted in order to give her more space and the shadows fled away from his face. Weariness and concern fought for dominance on the furrows that creased his forehead. But the only thing Emma saw clearly were the long gashes on his cheeks and neck. Some of the entry points had been deep enough that the wounds oozed. Two of the gashes ran on a direct path across his right eye, which was, she saw, red rimmed and tearing furiously.

Unaware of the reason for her scrutiny, Bobby's look grew anxious as he brought his face more closely to hers. "Em, you okay?" He queried again ever so softly, as if he was afraid his voice would shatter her.

Emma blinked. The planes of his face wavered and shimmered. She drew a trembling hand across her own eyes and nodded.

He smiled in relief and gently disengaged his grip around her. He glanced at her for a moment, making sure she wasn't going to collapse again before directing his attention at the latticed ceiling of their prison.

"They'd be thinking they've caught us with this elevator trick. So they'll take their time getting to us. What they don't know is the Iceman has a few tricks up his sleeve too."

He tiptoed, and raised his arms to reach the maintenance trapdoor. Hoisting the piece of metal to reveal the dark access, he extended a hand towards her.

"Courtesy of too many action movies, bad seats and stale popcorn. Ladies first?"

Emma laughed shakily as she took his offer. Inwardly, she was grateful for how he tried to keep the chatter up. It almost brought back a sense of normalcy in their situation and she resolved to set her mind on getting out of the place alive. With Bobby's knee as a platform, she hauled herself through the gap before assisting him up.

He made her stand on a ledge of the elevator shaft after slamming the hatch shut. Activating his powers, he grabbed hold of a portion of the connecting cables. Mystified, she watched as he froze the bounded wires, lowering the temperature until tendrils of ice snaked up and down the line. A few minutes went by as he kept to his task until Emma saw how the metal gradually changing consistency, protesting against the increasing stress with soft cracking sounds.

Low voices echoed through the shaft. Bobby released his grip and hopped silently onto her ledge, holding a finger to his lips and pointed down at the elevator at the same time. Balling his fist, he extended the ice coating his arm to form a long pole. Hoisting his arm like a baseball bat, he swung it against the frozen portion of the cables.

The impact shattered both cable and pole with a spectacular crack. Angry shouts together with the elevator went crashing onto the floor several stories below. Shrapnel flew, ignored by Emma who made a wild grab at Bobby's waist after the momentum threatened to send him tumbling over.

He turned around and grinned disarmingly at her for coming to his rescue.

"You get a ten out of ten."

She swatted him in mock admonishment. But she couldn't stay angry with him.

"Where next?"

"We hit the big storm drain."

"Didn't we enter here through a storm drain?"

He shook his head as he stepped gingerly across the ledge to open a small service door at the side of the shaft.

"This one is the mother of all storm drains. That earlier one was just a little 'un. C'mon, we'll use the service corridors, you won't even notice the smell."

Bobby's warm hand engulfed her smaller one, tugging her along through a new series of damp passages with dripping pipes. The route reminded Emma strongly of their entrance with its confusing turnings and unmarked doors, but it seemed as if that was a lifetime ago. Everything had its time and place. But in the past few minutes, the process had already begun. Emma didn't have time to understand the implications, but she looked at the man who was running beside her and thought that somehow he would help her find the answers. Brushing blonde hair away from her face, her fingers flexed and tightened their grip around Bobby's hand decisively as they took another turning.

There was peace, when there was so little of that before.

He was so ready to turn away, to look back at his life in anger, but somewhere along the line something changed.

He felt the grip that conveyed what words could not and a strange feeling welled up in him, forcing him to blink back unexpected tears. He had a fierce regard for the woman who was running alongside him come hell or high water, and he borrowed the strength from her trust. He had a new job.

Mountjoy continued to believe that he possessed the upper hand. Bobby might not have a telepath's psychic powers. But he no longer needed to.

Somewhere in the mental labyrinth, Bobby found the way out.

continued >>

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.

(Emily Dickinson)

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