by Min

Chapter 13

Enough for me: With joy I see
The different doom our Fates assign.
Be thine Despair, and scept'red Care,
To triumph, and to die, are mine.

(The Bard, Thomas Gray)

"Hank and I used to sneak into theatres without paying. We weren't mall rats like Jubilee, but we knew the layouts of most movie theatres well enough to enter by some backdoor. Correction: I did. Hank would tag along with me. That was before he became all respectable and serious anyway. "I even managed to convince Jean to come along on one of our romps. I remember thinking," Bobby laid a hand over his heart to mimic the motion of hope. "Finally! I have something to impress her with."

"I had a crush on her then," he explained. "Everyone of us did, I guess. Although on that particular day, the guards refused to co-operate, and we nearly got caught several times. Luckily, she managed to save our hides with her powers. To say she wasn't impressed would be an understatement. And as it turned out, the movie we crashed was such a box office failure, both me and Hank fell asleep half way through it. When we woke up, we found flashlights shining on our faces and a bunch of furious ushers threatening to haul our asses off to the police."

"And where was Jean?" Emma's raised brow conveyed amusement, as if she already knew the answer.

Bobby threw a look of mock hurt at her.

"Jean was nowhere in sight. We managed to talk ourselves out of trouble, or actually Hank did the work for both of us. Well, he didn't really talked in a way to make sense, he simply drowned them under a flood of adjectives, conjunctives, whatyouhaveit, and we made a break for it while they were trying to figure out his speech. Only to returned to the mansion and find Scott, Warren and Jean laughing so hard they couldn't stand upright."

The sound of her laughter caught his throat like the brush of a butterfly's wings, fragile and precious. He faked cough in an attempt to disguise it and looked up to see Emma peering at him, her fine brows drawn up in a frown.

"Is everything alright?"

A smile came up on his face and he blurted automatically.


It gradually became obvious to him that she wasn't buying it, but neither did she pursue the issue. The creases on her forehead remained as her gaze withdrew from him and retreated back towards the direction they were heading.

Bobby tried to fish for something to smooth over the awkwardness. In the end, he latched onto a pensive thought, if nothing else but to cherish the rare memory of her mirth and the fact that she cared, he realised, for his welfare. That was too valuable to squander upon the wake of another anecdote. And maybe its time, time to test the waters, to find an answer for the nagging suspicions that she had aroused in him.

The words, when they came however, sounded abrupt and halting even to his ears and it took him a while to fit a conversational tone around them.

"For a long time, I felt as if I was in stasis, that time somehow caught everyone else in its flow, but left me behind. Hank went on to be a scientist, Warren took over his family business, Jean and Scott got married…while I remained the class clown, playing pranks everyone looked on with indulgence but didn't have the heart to tell me to stop, to grow up. And then time caught up with me, and started demanding payback.

"Standing on the opposite bank now, a part of me don't know if I should feel angry at how the people I consider my friends and family had indulged and tolerated my jokes and had somehow prevented me from growing up, from assuming my responsibilities. Even as the larger part of me know that it was my own fault and that the payback if overdue, was well deserved. But the one thing I know is this is not worth the price I have to pay for."

Emma's mouth curled around a slightly bitter smile.

"I don't think fate, the universe, whatever you want to call it, have your welfare in mind when it decides to play out the way it does, Bobby."

"Maybe it didn't for my father, but someone obviously cared enough to remind me I could be more, to drag me out of the rut I stuck myself in. Cared in such a way that it turned out to be the least painful of the lessons I've to learn."

It was the first time he ever talked about the issue with her, the process of realisation that she had played such a crucial part in. The admission came out easier than he had thought it would, and he waited on drawn hopes to see what she would make of it.

For a while, Emma did not say anything. Her face was carefully void of expression, but her laughter when it finally came, was no less forced than his.

"Is that gratitude you're directing at me? Because I don't think I'm qualified to accept it. No one will hold your hand and remind you to read the correct road signs if you refuse to open your eyes in the first place."

There was another lapse of silence as if she was considering her words.

"And to return to my point about circumstances not caring where you stand as they unravel, that's not exactly a bad thing either. Self awareness rarely leaves an indelible mark if it fails to shock. And sometimes, the only way to get the message across is through the medium of pain. To brand it in such a way that you'll never make the same mistakes again."

"And what doesn't break you, will make you stronger?"

She rolled her eyes as he managed summarised what she had said with a cliché. But before she gave voice to her disapproval, Bobby pressed on.

"Because that's what I think you're doing. You can't protect the kids from the problems they might face in the future, and you try to come up with a failsafe solution. To harden their hearts by sticking their weaknesses in their faces, humiliating them, making them resent and hate themselves, before you destroy those weaknesses with training and making them believe that nothing, not even guilt, can stand them down."

Anger flared in her eyes, familiar anger that Bobby had encountered many times but now knew that it was never just directed at the offender alone. It had puzzled him over the course of their forced interaction how she was a victim of nightmares that left her stifling her screams upon waking, a reaction so instinctive yet studied, it spoke volumes for him. He remembered the stricken expression that had flitted across her face when Mountjoy recounted the way her former students died. The pain had been there, when she threw back a biting retort at him, even though she had tried to conceal it. And it was the same pain that was confronting him now, hidden behind a mask of fury.

"And what do you expect that I should teach them? To crawl into a hole and die simply because life dealt them a harsh hand? That might be your modus operandi, but I won't allow my students to fail. It's not something you can ever understand. But they will not have that option."

In another time, those words might have hurt.

"I'm not challenging your methods Em, because you did for me exactly what you'd do for your students. And the humiliation was easier to bear than seeing my father dying in the hospital and knowing that there's nothing I can do," Bobby's voice was soft but questioning as he continued.

"But does the pain stop hurting when you try and sweep your past under the carpet? Were the deaths of the Hellions another lesson that you have simply conquered and put behind? Is it victory when you have to convince yourself that your achievements are real, and not reminders of the many ways your life has been such a fuck up? Or the many ways you have failed the people who had meant something to you? Because I can't. I can't tell myself what doesn't break me will make me stronger. Not if it means I must force myself to forget certain important things, things that I've lost to become who I am."

She did not answer him. Her eyes remained fixed on the direction they were heading, and Bobby breathed a sigh of resignation. He had no idea what he wanted to achieve. Practical necessity and sheer exhaustion meant that they still held on to each other's hand as they navigated along the rough passageway, but Bobby had felt her grip go limp by degrees until it felt like a prisoner encased within his. It was as if she was disowning the limb to sever what remaining connections they had between them. If she didn't push him away, she made it clear as if she had spoken that his observations weren't welcomed.

And he was running out of time. He had never felt the need to experiment with drugs in his hormone-ravaged teens but like any curious boy, he had made passes to penetrate the aura of mystery surrounding their uses. Even so, PCP, or angel dust, he remembered, was one of those drugs that had danger signs written all over it. It gave the user near superhuman strength and endurance, inducing a sense of omnipotence - the fantasy of any hot blooded young male perhaps - but it took away as much as it gave, leaving the body wiped out and verging on the brink of metabolic breakdown. The rush of artificial strength that had allowed him to carry a thirty year old woman on top of sprinting a hundred metre course in record time was rapidly dissipating, taking his remaining strength along with it. Already, sweat was pouring down his back in deluge quantities and he could feel his legs begin to shake from the mere exertion of walking.

True to the blueprints that Mountjoy possessed, the walls of the narrow service tunnel did an effective job of masking the stench from the storm drain. The dull roar of water which had long since numbed hearing told them it was probably working full time, clearing the city's clogged arterial system of sewers long after the inhabitants had gone to bed. They were proceeding along at a brisk walk now, the fear of pursuit gradually fading away. Nevertheless, the slightly higher pitch of their harsh breathing kept an uneven rhythm with the alternating phases of darkness and light as they continued beneath the sparsely spaced lamps that illuminated the way.

They finally crossed the threshold of a set of corridors marking the structural end of the bank building, when both agreed unanimously that it was safe enough to stop for a rest. Neither said a single word, but tired bodies communicated better than speech. Emma's breath came out as laboured gasps and the dislocated shoulder that Bobby did his quack doctoring on ached with a vengeance. Leaning on opposite sides of the concrete wall, both of them sank down to their knees, grateful for the chance to close their eyes for a while.

She had reclaimed ownership of the traitorous limb, retrieving her hand back as if it was the most normal thing to do. Now Bobby tilted his head as he reopened his eyes to gaze across the passageway, hoping that the angle of his face would conceal the fact that he was observing her.

He saw how the constant furrow between her eyes and the lines around her mouth that had so characterised the way she looked recently disappear the moment she allowed the wall the assurance of bearing her weight. Her skin was pale like alabaster, and the trails of dried blood on her face stood in crusted relief against the smoothness beneath. Her flaxen hair hung damp off her shoulders, darkened by sweat and the melting patch of ice on the side of her head.

The sight of Emma Frost so dishevelled and fragile made Bobby's heart quicken for some reason. He knew he looked at least as tired and disreputable as she did and he had to go without the benefit of a shower for the past few days. Licking at the cut on his lower lip, his tongue encountered the days old stubble that was beginning to itch maddeningly. He would have given anything for a shave and shower right now except for the fact that the woman across him had somehow sapped away his instinctual notions of self preservation.

His mind was so engrossed with sending him conflicting messages that it took him a while to realise Emma had seen through his charade and was taking her personal inventory of him. He levelled his gaze unwillingly at hers, but all she did was raised a tired brow.

"You look like hell."

It was the first time she spoke after the strained conversation they had before and he took it as a reconciliatory gesture. She must be near the end of her tether if she could only think of using "hell" as a verb to describe him. Feeling daring, he threw a quip back at her.

"Thanks. You aren't looking any better either."

They exchanged cautiously deprecating smiles before Bobby dutifully forced his aching torso to stand up. Dutifully was the word. His limbs were now trembling uncontrollably and he had to use the wall as a brace against his weight. I can't. I can't fail now. He repeated to himself in terror, while trying to sound like he had just come in from a morning jog.

"Ready to move on?"

Emma nodded tiredly. She winced as she struggled to her feet, the familiar spasm of pain settling back on her features.

The simple act of traversing the few feet that separated them and kneeling down in front of her took an amount of willpower that Bobby didn't know he possessed. Gently, he brushed against the hand she was cradling her head with, expediently pushing it away with the aid of gravity. She allowed him to examine the wound without protest, leaning her head forward against his chest so he could untangle the matted hair for a better look.

He saw at once that he had to administer to the bleeding again, it was too dangerous to allow the blood to clot and seal the injury naturally before they could find proper medical aid. He had seen the pool that had gradually acquired the characteristics of a moat around her fallen form when he arrived at the security station to know that her claims of having lost more blood than this was most probably a bluff.

His hand coalesced into ice and he touched the end of a digit along the wide gash, coating the swollen edges of skin with a delicate sheen of frost. She breathed a sigh of pent up relief, a rush of warm air down the collar of his shirt that tickled the fine hairs on his chest and relaxed slightly. He had braced his hand on the nape of her neck, under the silken cascade of blonde hair to steady her through the operation, and now it had somehow slipped beneath her jacket collar, allowing his fingertips the elusive taste of the skin on her back. This close, he could smell her, the unmistakable scent that was Emma Frost, masked as it was by sweat and anxiety. The temperature was getting to be too hot for winter. All his senses engaged, locked onto the slim, breathing body that was resting against him. She had her face buried against his neck, seemingly content in the need not to move. And it took another act of willpower not to tilt her head back up so that he could learn the flavour of her lips and tease an entrance beyond the barrier that guarded the expressions she had used to warn him away for so long.

Oh God. With a shaken breath, Bobby realised that at this rate, he was going to be running low on willpower pretty soon. He started to pick himself up but was stopped by a hand that rested on his shoulder. To his credit, he didn't give a start this time, but he knew if she even remotely gave a sign that she was on the same wavelength as he was, he wouldn't be able to stop himself. The idea that he'd probably spend the rest of his life paying back for it afterwards didn't even sound half bad all of a sudden.

She had turned her face away, but the hand that had tried to reject any connection with him before now trailed down to grip his arm, holding him with an intensity that baffled him.

"No, it doesn't go away," she breathed, her voice so low he had trouble making out the words. "You're right, the pain doesn't stop just because you will it to. But after so long, it's natural to want an end. If only it would end."

For a while Bobby had no idea what she was talking about, then he understood. Biting down on his lip, he cursed at himself. Good job, Bobby. Are you sure those weren't your balls dropping the bombshell of a conversation earlier just to create this set-up? Are you such a low life that you need a woman to depend on your strength to get a hard on?

He felt utterly crass and disgusted by himself.

It was a gift she gave him, more special than the memory of her laughter. It was a confession, but not one of weakness. It said to him that despite everything she had gone through, her capacity to feel had not eroded. But what was most important was how she finally regarded him enough to make him a repository of that trust.

And now that he'd earned it, he didn't know what to answer her.

She did not once look at him. Against the weak illumination of the tunnel, her profile was bleak looking. Bobby knew she did not need his protection, but he was possessed by an overwhelming urge to take away her pain and to wish that smile he fondly remembered back on her face.

His hands were trembling visibly now, but he cupped her chin, gently turning her head back towards him. Taking great care, he tucked the stray strands of hair behind her ears.

"I need you to do me a favour," he said softly.

Her eyes met his finally.

"I don't think I'm going to be able to walk out of here without help. And I'm not sure you can handle me as well as yourself when I become a dead weight. I'm going to guide us towards the surface while I can, and when I can't, I'll give you the instructions. Get out of here and tell the X-Men where we are, then bring help if you can -"

"What on earth - , " she started to demand, then caught her breath when she saw his eyes. Her hand was cool against his forehead as she checked his temperature.

"Your pupils are dilated and you're running a fever."

He managed a smile.

"It's the drug, Em, only way I could carry you and run the way I did. Payback's a bitch."

For a while, Bobby thought he saw something in her unguarded look as she digested his words. Then her defences slammed back on again.

Struggling to her feet, she said brusquely, "Well, let's not waste anymore time."

She said, struggling to her feet. Standing, she was taller of the two, but the difference wasn't too great and he could put an arm around her and still walk comfortably. Bobby had his hand braced against the side of the wall to avoid putting too much of his weight against her, but Emma didn't seem to notice. Her lips were pursed as she concentrated on the task at hand, breaking the silence only when she had to ask which turning to take. Occasionally, she would hitch his arm more securely around her shoulders before trotting them down another faceless corridor.

But Bobby knew they were losing the battle. Lurking behind his consciousness, he could feel Mountjoy's presence, a parasitic spectator he knew was simply consolidating his strength, waiting for the moment to take control of his body again. Bobby didn't want her to be around when it happens again. And the further they proceeded, the more he despaired of possessing the strength to expel his unwelcome tenant without somehow hurting Emma along the way.

The first spasm of convulsions had hit without warning, clawing at tendons until his muscles became helplessly rigid before leaving him feeling as if his limbs had turned into water. For a few minutes as he lay sprawled against the wall, he had to breathe in shallow gasps as chest muscles and diaphragm contracted painfully against his lungs. The confetti lights in his vision had dissolved into total blackness before coalescing back into the dimly lit tunnel framing her hovering face. She had his head cradled on her lap, the same way she had held him in her office that day when he had found the courage to listen to her and revert back to his human form against the fear of dying. If only things were that simple now.

She did not say anything this time, except waited for him to indicate that they should continue before she helped him back to his feet. It wasn't a good sign at all if she kept silent while her eyes began to possess a stricken look. And that was when Bobby realised the worst was yet to come. That was when he decided that somehow, he had to get rid of her, drive her away if that was what it took to prevent Mountjoy from discarding his wasted body like a husk and taking control of hers.

His mind was racing as fast as it could through possibilities when the sound of her voice broke in.

"Which way now?"

He stared around in bewilderment as they hit a four way intersection. How many turnings has it been?

"Left - I think."

Emma looked down the long narrow tunnel that branched off towards the left. The passageway seemed to continue without turning for the first hundred feet at least, but the lightless gloom that enveloped the way made it a hazardous guess at best. The stonework was considerably older in this section, with dust visibly covering the surfaces of the walls.

"Are you -"

"No, I'm not sure," he interrupted. "But if you're gonna wait for me to decide, I might end up telling you the way out is the way we just came from."

She deliberated for a while before taking the route he singled out with a sound of suppressed frustration.

"Why give a shit about what happens to me?" He demanded harshly. "Why not just ditch me and get the hell out of here? It's not like there are moral scruples to stop you."

"I'm going to do you a favour and chalk that down to the fact that you're not thinking clearly at the moment."

Bobby wished his laughter didn't sound like the weak gurgle that issued from his mouth.

"Since when does Emma Frost do people favours? Are you sure you're not an impostor? Or are you playin' head games with me again? 'Cos I'm gonna miss the ole Emma. She never did anyone favours, and she'd kick them in the balls if they go so far as to think she would. If you're the new her, are you gonna kick me in the balls after showin' me that you care?"

He leaned against her heavily at this point, causing them to fall into a heap once more.

Gripping the collar of his shirt, she hoisted him up to a sitting position.

"Listen to me, you son of a bitch. You're suffering from a PCP overdose. And I'm laying bets you don't know what that means. Well, let me tell you. Your body is going into systemic shock. Right now, you're running a fever because that's an effect of the drug, but it's only a matter of time before your body temperature is going fall to such an all time low your ice powers won't even compensate for half of it. Those convulsions you're having? You'd be lucky if you don't suffer from a respiratory depression and stop breathing! We are talking about the possibility of heart failure and brain aneurysm here. God damn you, Bobby, I will not have your blood on my hands!"

Emma grabbed him roughly, trying to urge him back to his feet. But he refused to budge, grinning at her with a maniac humour that strained the muscles on his face.

"Thanks for telling me. I'll keep a diary on how many of the symptoms I'm gonna display. Wouldn't want to disappoint you."

She stared hard at him, her eyes narrowing in consideration.

"No," Bobby forestalled her, suspecting her intent. "You don't wanna to take control of my mind and force me to move against my will. He's still in here."

He tapped a finger against the side of his head tiredly. The forced smile on his face slipped like a crumpled mask. "And he's waiting for you to make another mistake. He wants nothing better than to continue what we wanted to do last night, except this time -"

"What do you mean we?"

In the dim light of the tunnel, he saw how her face grew pale by several degrees.

There was nothing Bobby could do except to hold her with his eyes. While his heart tried to grow numb, allowing his words to wash over the agony of saying them.

"Does it surprise you? That I want to fuck you the way he does? That I see you the way he sees you? You can't be that naïve, you know the effect you have on men. Why would I be different from any other man?"

He trailed off, deliberately allowing his gaze to linger on her, on her body. By now, he could see how the blood had drained completely from her face.

God damn you too, Emma. Why don't you just go away and let me carrying what remaining memories I have of us to my grave?

"Is that all?"

She asked finally.

Bobby's eyes widen in confusion.

"You're not telling me anything I haven't heard before. And I'm going to offer you the choice again. Are you moving, or do I get us out of here myself?"

"Did you not heard what I said? He's waiting for you to make another mistake. He wants you to. And the moment I hit the floor, he's gonna move into another body." His voice rose until it broke. "He will not let you go, Emma. Your powers are too valuable to him. He wants nothing better than to rut you like a dog, but he'll settle for using you as his new host."

She smiled a smile that never reached her eyes.

"Well, then it's your job to make sure that doesn't happen, isn't it?"

"So leave me and get out of here!"

"Has it ever occurred to you why he has never tried to assimilate me along with you? From Bishop's accounts, Mountjoy has the ability to contain and control up to five different people at the same time. And should I, to use your words, ditch you and get the hell out, how long will it take before he tracks me down again after he discards your wasted body? If I'm as valuable to him as you think I am, it won't take long. He would probably use someone I'd lower my guard against to get close to me because I'd recognise his thought patterns anywhere. I will not sacrifice any of my students to cowardice or sheer negligence simply because the son of a bitch wants to fulfil his meglomaniacal fantasies. If you think your paltry attempts to drive me away in order to save one of us will spell the end of the problem, think again."

Her face softened.

"I know what you're trying to offer me, Bobby. And I'm touched," she added. "More than I can say."

Shrugging, she went on. "But if you truly want to help me, stop wasting your energy burning bridges. I agree with you, I refuse to martyr myself on his cause. But we stand a better chance of coming up with solutions together rather than apart."

He laughed, a haunted look on his face.

"We aren't doing so well if you haven't noticed, Emma. You tried to help me last night, and you almost lost. And he's listening, listening every word you say. I don't - I can't - There's nothing I can do. If you have any ideas, any plans at all, don't tell me."

"I know he's listening".

Suddenly, she looked straight into him, her blue eyes cold as flint.

"You think you have secured the upper hand, you fucking asshole. But I'm going to destroy you, and it will not take any secret plans or agenda. So I'll say it in your face. You think you know Bobby inside out, you think you can dangle his strings and cut them at will. You don't. Because I know him too, and I know him in ways only a telepath can know. And when I'm done with you -"

She held him mesmerised with her gaze, and he was sure she was using her powers to exert a weak hypnotic effect over him. Her words drew incisions like a scalpel on his consciousness, drawing blood where his parasitic visitor would feel them most acutely. And from within, Bobby could feel Mountjoy surging to the fore, threatening to take control again. He could feel his body giving way, his face attempting to morph into Mountjoy's. In a moment of panic, he gripped both Emma's shoulders and shook her hard.

"Don't, stop, stop. It's me," he gasped. "Don't - don't bait him. You don't know -"

He knew he was hurting her, but gradually he saw the anger recede from her eyes. She let go of a shaky breath, running an unconscious hand through her hair. And winced as she encountered the wound on her head.

"I'm alright," she said immediately, forestalling his intent to help.

He slumped back against the wall, too tired to argue with her.

"Let's get moving?"

He asked after a while.

As she helped him back to his feet again, she awarded him a smile that set his heart racing. Then he recalled the words he had said to her. How he had explicitly express the desire to violate her.

Suddenly, Bobby wished so badly that he could eat his own words now.

She had seen through his ploy like a beacon of light cutting through the night mist like shrapnel. Living around telepaths, Bobby could usually recognise the sensation when someone tries to invade his mental privacy. The fact that he wasn't feeling his usual self at the moment might pose a problem but however she did it, she had read him correctly. And she hadn't said a single thing; neither judging nor condemning him.

She was so maddeningly practical at times. Yet on other occasions, she wouldn't think twice of picking a quarrel with him over totally innocuous subjects.

"So why hasn't he tried to assimilate you instead of wasting his time using me to blackmail you?"

Emma laughed, a sound that rasped with dry humour.

"You answered the question yourself, Bobby. He wants me, or rather what my body can offer. Trying to rape me while I'm assimilated with him would present more than a few logistic problems."

He looked at her incredulously.

"How can you laugh about something like this? When you know what he would have done to you if he had the chance?"

"Because that is what most men want from me," her voice became flat. "As I said, you didn't tell me anything I haven't found out for myself ages ago. And before you pass judgement on my lack of moral character thereabouts again, remember that his attraction to me is the only reason we both aren't holding this conversation in his mind right now."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

That earned him a look that said little of the thoughts behind it.

The smell of old rot and mildew began to permeate the air, ancient flagstones cut in precise geometrical squares seemed to stretch endlessly ahead. A fine layer of sand covered the floor and coated the walls, as if the stonework was rapidly decaying into dust around them. Their footsteps were hushed and muffled, absorbed into the tunnel around them, until they felt as if they were encased in a tomb, a chamber carved out of bedrock, deep beneath the surface of the earth.

Emma covered her mouth with a free hand to ward off the growing amount of dust in the air but to no avail. A smothered sneeze triggered a small avalanche of stone dust from the nearby wall, exposing the blurred relief of a chiselled cross. Strange letters were engraved within the lines.

"That's Latin," she exclaimed softly, studying the symbols. "From the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelations. Where are we, Bobby?"

"You never cease to amaze me."

"What is this place?"

A tic jerked at the muscles on his face.

"The maps didn't say, but this is the way out."

Bobby's last words dissolved into incoherence as another wave of convulsions overcame him.

When he came to, he found his belt strap was clenched between his teeth - she must have removed it and forced it between his jaws to prevent him from biting his own tongue. Spitting the awful tasting leather out of his mouth, he could see the deep indentures on the strap.

"Thanks," he whispered tiredly.

She gave him a wan smile. Her hand, an independent entity, brushed at his hair and forehead with feather like touches of a bird's wing.

They managed to haul each other to their feet again and continued with painful steps down the tunnel. The passageway widened gradually and very soon, they found themselves in a long fair size chamber.

Bobby was leaning heavily against the wall, no longer trying to cover up his weakness when the reassuring surface suddenly ended beneath his palm, causing him to grope wildly for a handhold. His hand met dust, then a group of smooth objects that clattered noisily against his intrusion.

Beside him, Emma caught her breath and he forced his blurring vision into focus. Dark alcoves had been dug from the sides of the walls. Most of these contained a yellowish diaphanous substance that hung off the bottom ledges like ancient cobwebs, disintegrating into bits upon contact.

They were remains of cotton shrouds used to wrap the dead. He could now see the scattered bones, their resting place disturbed by his stumble. These bones weren't white though, they were yellow, age rapidly camouflaging them against the earth brown of their dirt platform.

The skull, devoid of its lower jaw, was giving him a gape teeth grin. Join us, it seemed to say. It's only a matter of time, so why not now? The empty eye sockets yawned bored darkness, silent observers of the old tirade against life. He knew those twin blackness were trying to tell him something, perhaps about how to take first step, the first step into the great beyond. Against the crass and loud voice of the slacked jaw, the message they seemed to promise beckoned louder because of its unspoken nature. He was willing himself to stare deep at the pinpricks of light he was sure laid in the middle of the two holes when a presence, a voice as if from far away broke into his reverie.


The presence expanded slightly, caressing the surface of his mind, understanding something he didn't.

Are the hallucinations starting? Don't go down that path. Stay with me.

He back-pedalled against the alcove with a jerk.

Her hands were cool on his temples, steadying him, and the presence in his mind never once wavered.

"Is that you?" he gasped as his senses came back. "What are you doing? He's still in here, it's too dangerous."

Her voice was calm, its low timbre reverberated softly within his mind like the ripples of a stone's passage on the surface of a bottomless pond.

I won't go too deep, and he's still consolidating his strength. I'm not posing a threat to his existence. He's not my concern anyway. Don't let the drug take control, Bobby. I know you're stronger than that. Prove it to me.

His laughter stung him with its bitterness.

Ever had one of those times when it seems like you're holding a conversation with yourself?

All the time, Bobby.

Her tone was light, but this close to her mind, he could sense the pain within her.

Well, I've been having the same conversation with myself all my life. How my inner resolve has to match my actions. That what I set out in my mind to achieve, to believe in something entirely and subject myself to it, because life wouldn't be worth living otherwise, just aimless drifting from one point from another. But always, the flesh is less willing than the spirit. What breaks I get, I get from needing to prove to others, because I could never convince myself, I could never prove to myself. Because I never had that something that I could believe in entirely. No matter how hard I try. The dream of mutants living in peace with mankind? That isn't my dream at all.

What is your dream then?

I don't know. But I might an idea now. I've spent all these years living up to the expectations of others. And when I fail them, I feel terrible. Because they have put in so much hope in me, and I'm so scared of failing them.

The voice in his mind was soft and pensive.

That is a dream. It is a dream worth pursuing.

You think so?

Yes. Everyone gets their motivation from somewhere. Yours lie in the regard you have for the people around you. There's nothing wrong with that. When it all boils down, the person who lives for himself isn't a better man than one who lives for others.

Here, her thoughts stalled. In the end, she summed it all up.

It's being able to get by that matters.

"Thank you," he said finally.

He looked at her. Her eyes were a paler shade of blue than his, and gone was the myriad of defences he was so accustomed to seeing in them. Bitterness, cynicism, mockery - the veils she used to protect herself from the rest of the world had fallen away. The look she gave him now was sober and serious, concerned expectation written all over her unguarded face.

Leaning forward, he kissed her on the mouth. To his surprise, she responded back.

You're going to have to leave, Emma.

Her lips parted at his mild insistence and the taste of her mouth was as exquisite as he imagined. He kissed her gently, his tongue a timid visitor afraid of treading on forbidden grounds. She bit on the offender, her teeth chastening him as if she echoed the sentiment, but almost immediately she invited him in, drawing him deeper into her mouth and rewarding his intrusion by sucking lightly on his tongue. They kept at this, the gradual advancement into newer and newer grounds, replying each other measure for measure until the world started spinning and Bobby felt he would never want to let her go.

I'm sorry, but I can't have you staying till the end.

He slipped his hand behind her neck, bringing her into closer contact with him. His other hand went up to stroke her left temple. Gently, he increased the pressure of his thumb against the side of her face, his fingers tracing the prominent veins there.

I can't let you see what is to happen. You are strong enough for this, but I'm not.

With a heavy and reluctant heart, he drew away from her and dragged himself up, joints visibly cracking while his fingers groped for handholds in the wall. Emma looked at him in consternation and tried to follow suit. Her knees buckled, her arms gave way as she fell back onto the floor.

"Wha - what have you done?" She demanded in growing alarm.

"An old trick. I slowed down the flow of blood to your brain. Don't try to use your powers if you want to stay conscious."


"Because it's got to end."

The smile he prepared for her cracked and shattered. In the absence of expression, an infinite sadness filled his eyes.

"And you're not part of this particular end."

Moving away from her, Bobby gritted his teeth and forced each agonising step towards the flight of steps he could now see at the end of the chamber. He ignored Emma's frustrated shouts, concentrating instead on staying upright, dolling out the strength he had husbanded carefully against her knowledge.

After what seemed like a lifetime, he finally reached the submit of the steps. An old iron door barred his way. He iced the ancient hinges, braced his hands against the wall and kicked as hard as he could. Luck served him. The metal, more brittle than steel, protested under the impact. The barrier tottered before falling ponderously with a resounding crash.

The beginnings of dawn filtered softly through the opening as he stepped across the threshold into a small church.

You didn't say goodbye.

She reminded him telepathically, her voice cold and full of calculated anger.

He projected back the memory of their kiss as a reply.

Go away, Emma.

He said into the prolonged silence.

I'm afraid you don't have the power to evict me from your mind.

Bobby leaned tiredly against the mosaic wall, considering. What did he expect? If nothing else, his admiration for her flared. After what he had done, being able to talk to him like that would have taken tremendous effort on her part.

Slowly, he relegated her presence to the back of his mind, protecting her behind the main weight of his personality while he tried to prod Mountjoy back to consciousness.

The familiar abhorrent presence smeared itself over his thoughts with alarming alacrity once it was summoned. It was stronger, much stronger than he had recalled when he was the dominant personality leading the way out of the bank. Now Bobby wondered how much longer he could continue controlling his own body. Sheer willpower was the only thing propelling him now, and when the time came for the flickering flame of his consciousness to snuff out, he hope Emma would be able to retreat fast enough from what remains of his mind.

Reading his thoughts, Mountjoy's presence surged and retreated within Bobby's mental consciousness, testing out the boundaries and the strength of his prison. Physically, Bobby could feel his body reacting in turmoil, morphing back and forth between the two individuals. In desperation, he transformed into his ice form, concentrating on the effects of the instinctive change to anchor and affirm his presence.

Mountjoy drew back then. A snicker slowly permeated Bobby's mind.

Nice show.

As much as he had steeled himself against the interaction, Bobby's mind felt like turning itself inside out.

She's a very astute woman and between us, old boy, nothing remains a secret from her for long. She saw through my intentions as if I had told her myself. But I'm afraid she's rather blind in other respects. I think she's beginning to like you. Good job, Bobby. Now let us break her heart, shall we?

Bobby shook his head slowly.

Emma can take care of herself. She always does. But this has nothing to do with her. So let's get to the point.

He tried to ignore the reaction from the faint presence at the back of his mind.

to be continued >>

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