When his wife's body had become too riddled with cancer to even contemplate touching, Julian Frost had taken to sleeping with his daughter; and when his son proved an utter failure as the reins of the family empire were handed to him, Julian once again found a suitable substitute in Emma, who may have been too young at thirteen to enter the world of business, but old enough to prepare, to listen to his words of wisdom.
Use any means necessary, he told her. If one does not have power, one does not have anything.
Suddenly, everything made sense.
Two weeks later she watched calmly as she used her burgeoning telepathy to make him pick up the revolver he kept in his study, put it against his temple, and pull the trigger. He had begged her with his eyes, but she had ignored him. It was her turn to be powerful.
Now, twenty years later, Emma was not only CEO of Frost Enterprises, but also Head Mistress of the Massachussett's Academy, White Queen of the Inner Circle, and one of the wealthiest, most influential women on the planet. Julian's philosophy had served her well.
As the door to her private office opened she took off her reading glasses and laid her pen down atop the report she was perusing. "I thought I made it clear that I was to be left alone."
"I apologize, Mistress," the guard said, trembling slightly, "but a situation arose that we thought you would want to be aware of."
"And that situation is --? Spit it out."
"There is a man demanding entrance to the Club," he announced. "He gives his name as Scott Summers and desires an audience with Master Wyngarde. Shall I allow such a meeting to proceed?"
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, shaking her straw colored hair back behind her shoulders, "but I think I shall meet with Mr. Summers as well. Once he is shown into my office, you may tell Wyngarde to join us."
"As you wish." He bowed quickly and left, only to return momentarily, followed by the tall, silent X-Man. "Mr. Summers, Mistress."
"Leave us," she commanded, appraising her visitor, countering his calm anger with a half smile, a slight tilting of her hips, just the barest hint of seduction. Anything bolder would undoubtably backfire. "Welcome to the Hellfire Club," she murmurred, touching her bare collarbone with the tip of her finger. "Can I get you a drink while we wait for Jason?"
"No, thank you," he said tersely, his hands clenched at his sides. "Will he be long?"
"I shouldn't think so." She poured a dry sherry for herself and sipped it as she sat down on the white velvet couch, her legs crossed. "Will you have a seat at least?"
"No. Thank you. This isn't a social call."
He was watching her, unconsciously wanting her. If he should realize it, it would cause the most delightful mess in his head.... But Jason entered then, the bored resentment on his face becoming smug anticipation when he saw Scott, and Emma found a new diversion.
"Jean told you we spoke, did she?" Jason asked, lighting a cigarette. "She's simply full of surprises."
"I came to tell you to stay away from her," Scott said, feeling his control slipping in the face of Jason's blatant provocation. "If you ever speak to her again, approach her, *look* at her - you'll wish you'd stayed catatonic."
"Forgive me for not feeling terribly threatened," Jason replied with derision. "I defeated you once, easily. I can do it again."
"Are you sure?" Scott asked, regaining his composure. The reminder of his death on the astral plane served to strengthen his resolve, not shake it, as Jason had obviously expected. "You wouldn't have stood a chance against us if you hadn't gone to such lengths to corrupt Jean and turn her on us."
Jason laughed, a raspy, hollow sound. "Is that what she told you? That I corrupted her innocence? My dear boy, she wanted it. She was *hungry* for what I offered."
"I don't believe you," Scott said, shaking his head. "She was vulnerable and alone and confused and you came along and pushed her over the edge."
"I may have influenced her," Jason retorted, "but the seeds already were there. I didn't create the Black Queen, or Dark Phoenix, I merely guided and nourished the potential that existed." He exhaled deeply, blowing smoke into Scott's face. "Of course, I think you've always known that. You just can't bring yourself to admit it."
"You don't know anything about me, or Jean --"
"Or your eternal, true love," Jason interrupted, mocking. "Please spare me the rest, oh noble hero. You'll not manage to say anything that will change my assessment of the situation in the slightest."
Scott stared at him coldly. "And what is your assessment?"
"Only that while you may be bedding her now, she'll come crawling back to me eventually. Women like her want to be used," he continued, crossing his arms across his chest. "They *need* it.
Emma watched with amusement as Scott's fist smashed into Jason's face, blood spraying from her colleague's nose as he fell back, vainly attempting to protect himself from the sudden assault. Scott grabbed him by the collar of his shirt to keep him standing and hit him again, his stoic reserve shattered by Jason's words. "You stay away from her," he said, shaking him. "You stay away from her, or God help me...."
"Emma," Jason sputtered, trying to free himself from Scott's grasp. "Help me."
"May the best man win," she said sweetly, raising her glass to Scott in mock camaraderie. He turned away in disgust, throwing Jason to the floor.
"You make me sick," he said as he left, hoping that Jason wouldn't say anything else, not sure he could stop himself from killing him with his bare hands if he did. "Both of you."
Emma watched him leave, then turned to Jason. "Get up," she said, nudging him in the ribs with her boot. You're bleeding on the carpet."
"My Lord....what is *that* supposed to be?"
"It's Orpheus. Duh."
"Don't be rude, Illyana."
"That is not Orpheus."
"Yes, it *is*, Amara. See - there's Eurydice as a shade, and that's audience of the trees, and there are the nymphs finding his head.....it's a collage."
"It looks like a pumpkin in a hurricane."
"We're supposed to be drawing collages?"
"Yeah, like you can draw so much better, Bobby."
"No, Rahne. Just pictures. Kitty's.....embellishing."
"Will I get extra credit?"
"Ummm.....possibly. Is it *supposed* to be abstract?"
"Doug! You got chalk in my hair!"
"Would it look better as an abstract?"
"It might make more sense...."
There was a knock on the door, and Sean stuck his head into the classroom, observing the artwork scrawled across the board with interest. "Can I have a moment alone with you, Jean? When you're through?"
"Oh, I'm through," she said, running a hand through her hair. "I don't know how Sarah and Charles do this every day."
"It doesn't seem like it would be so bad," he said, coming to stand beside her. He clapped his hands loudly, twice, to get the attention of the students. "Were they good?" he asked her.
She shrugged. "I suppose."
"Class dismissed early," he announced, "because you were such darling angels." A cheer went up and they fled the room, rapidly, just in case he should change his mind.
Jean picked up an eraser and began to clear the board. "What can I do for you?"
"It's Moira," he said, sitting on the edge of the desk. "I think she's getting cold feet."
"Don't all brides?"
"So they say.... It's not like Moira though. She's usually so pragmatic. I'm afraid there's something seriously wrong."
"I don't know. She won't talk to me at all. I was hoping that she might tell you."
"I'll ask her, but I can't promise anything."
"That's good enough," he smiled. "Thank you, lass."
"Don't mention it," she replied, wiping the chalk dust from her hands. "It's the least I can do."
Mariko sipped her tea and replaced the delicately painted cup on its saucer before speaking. "I am curious," she said, "about Jean and my husband."
Ororo looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"There is something between them," Mariko said softly, her hands clasped on her belly. "I would be blind not to see."
"You want me to tell you what it is." Ororo shifted uneasily, tucking her long legs further under her body and setting down her own cup.
"They are close," Ororo said hesitantly. "They....understand each other."
"Is it more than that?" Mariko asked, tilting her head. "I have the right."
"They know there can never be more between them," Ororo said, breathing a silent curse at Logan and Jean, for whatever they had done to put such notions into his wife's mind.
"That is not what I asked," Mariko interrupted, determined. "I asked if there was more."
"Since Jean returned there has been nothing. She would have told me."
Ororo was silent for a moment, considering her answer. "I think there was; but it is not my place to speak of it."
"I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable," Mariko responded, refilling their cups. "I have known almost since we met that Logan was a rogue; but he is honorable as well. When I saw the way in which they regarded each other....I doubted him, for the first time."
"He loves you."
Mariko smiled, sadly. "My father loved my mother. He had three mistresses."
"Logan would never keep a mistress," Ororo said with conviction. "He could not hurt you in such an intentional way."
"I know," Mariko agreed, "but it is the unintentional hurt that I fear the most."
Jean found Moira in the science lab, peering intently into a microscope, her notes scattered around her like a snowfall. "I brought you coffee," she said, setting the mug on top of the counter. "No sugar and a splash of bourbon instead of cream."
"You're such a dear, sweet girl," Moira grinned as she straightened up from her work. "What brings you down here?"
"I spoke to Sean earlier." Jean hopped up on a stool and glanced around. "He's concerned about you."
"I know," the Scotswoman said with a sigh. "It's bloody annoying."
Jean suppressed a laugh. "He means well. They always do."
"I take it Scott's been overly protective lately?"
"He makes me feel like a child sometimes. I *hate* that."
"Just for curiousity's sake - when you feel like a child, are you acting like one?"
"Probably," she admitted. "I still don't like it." She sifted absently through some of the papers in front of her. "What about you and Sean? When he worries, does he have a reason?"
"Oh, doubtless. The question is whether it's a good one."
"If you're not as enthusiastic about the wedding as you were, you should let him know," Jean said. "He'll understand."
"Will he?" She shook her head. "*I* don't even understand."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not particularly," Moira replied, looking up from the microscope long enough to jot down a few notes. "It'll pass."
Jean shifted on the stool and crossed her legs, hesitant. "Are you sure?"
"Don't pry, Jean," Moira admonished. "It doesn't become you."
"I know. I'm sorry. Oh," she continued, suddenly remembering. "I almost forgot - I stopped by the admissions office at Columbia the other day, to let them know that reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, and that I still wanted to finish my degree."
"To graduate I only have to attend one seminar and write my thesis; but they won't let me re-enroll unless I have an absolutely glowing letter of recommendation from a prestigious source."
"Why not ask Charles? He'd have more weight, as an alumnus."
Jean shrugged. "I just don't want to bother him with this."
"Well, I'm not going to be writing anything at all unless you're serious," Moira told her. "You're not to get distracted by something and drop out."
"If you do, there'll be hell to pay."
"I need something in my life that's normal and ordinary and sensible. I'm not going to screw this up," Jean reassured her. "I promise."
It was dusk when Scott arrived at the mansion, Jason's words still raw in his ears, stinging, as he got out of his car and let himself into the house. He paused in the hall to hang up his coat and scarf, and to focus his thoughts on the matter at hand, before seeking out the Professor.
He found Charles in the library with Logan, and they both fell silent as he entered. "I need to speak to Charles," Scott apologized, "but it can wait until you're finished."
"I think we've said all there is to say," Logan said, looking at Charles, his eyes a mix of frustration and remorse. "He's all yours, Slim."
"You might as well stay, Logan," Scott told him. "You'll be hearing about this sooner or later."
Logan shrugged and settled back into his chair, regarding Scott with sudden acute interest. The man had had blood on his hands in the last few hours.... "What's goin' on?"
"You went to New York," Charles stated with a sick certainty. "After I specifically asked you not to become involved with this."
"I spoke at length with Murdock," Scott began. "I'll be testifying against Stryker." He paused. "Under my real name."
"You are a foolish, thoughtless man," Charles spat, overwhelmed as this latest blow threatened to knock him over the edge. Everything was spinning out of his control, and there seemed to be nothing he could do to stop it. "I have given my life to teach you, to save you from those who would kill you without a second thought, and now you throw it all away." His hands gripped the back of the chair he was leaning against so hard that his knuckles turned white. "Leave."
"We'll talk later," Scott said quietly. "When you're not as upset."
"No," Charles replied, cold. "You have turned your back on me, not once, but twice. You are no longer welcome in my house." He looked away as Scott flinched in pain, leaving the room without another word.
Logan looked at Charles in disbelief. "What the hell is wrong with you, Chuck?" He was greeted with silence. "Fine. I don't want to know. But if you're tryin' to alienate everyone who loves you, you're doin' a damn good job." He stalked from the room, catching up with Scott in the foyer.
"I'm doing the right thing," he said.
"For gettin' lynched," Logan retorted. "Look, I've been in battle with you a hundred times - I know you would never let your actions harm anyone else; but I've got to tell you that what you're doin' is suicide."
"Logan, I've been hiding who and what I am almost my entire life, and it hasn't made any difference at all in the minds of those that hate mutants." He buttoned his coat and took one last look around as he stepped outside. "Maybe it's time to try something else."
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