DISCLAIMER: X-Men and Criminal Minds belong to their creators and anyone else with a legal right to their use and abuse.
SPOILERS: Takes place 3 years after Women of Diamond.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Queen Emma: that sounded about right. Right now she had to be satisfied with Lady, but not for long. Erik Magnus had decreed that all mutants be given titles according to their abilities and status in the new regime. And Emma, sixteen and brilliant, could see her future in her grasp.
It was her birthday, her entrance into adulthood, and her father, perturbed at her rejection of his offer of second in command, brought her a gift.
"She was of a rather good family, before the revolution."
"Really?" Emma eyed the beautiful human slave, eighteen perhaps, not impressed. Her father was making a statement, pretending he still had power over her. As if she would ever be ashamed of something as meaningless as her sexual tastes. Still, he had made a rather good choice.
"You were with the mistress again? Is that what took you so long?" Aaron shook his head. "You shouldn't be so familiar with her."
Emily gave a weak grin. "She's just a child."
"She's a mutant. Our mistress."
"Just a child, that monster?" spat Rossi.
"She's just a child." Emily repeated, then thinking to herself, smirked. "She thinks she's pretty hot stuff, but she's a spoilt kid."
JJ shook her head as they walked to the bathing complex. "I've never heard anyone call our mistress a spoilt child before."
"I wouldn't repeat it. But it's accurate to what she does. She didn't want me to leave afterwards, so she pouted until I cuddled with her."
"I can't believe she forces you to have sex with her."
Emily smiled. "It's not as if it takes very long."
JJ gave her an odd look. "Do you like her?"
"It's a waste of time to hate people for what they are. And she's never done anything to hurt me."
"She never reciprocates either."
"Like I said. Spoilt child."
Baroness was an improvement, but not what she wanted. She was irritated. Scott had been made a Duke and his power wasn't even fully functional. It was just because he had children, and Magnus, with his coddled little brats, appreciated "dynastic potential."
The dark-haired woman wiping the table caught her eye. Emma paused in her pacing and gave her a long, thorough glance.
"You." The woman looked up. Good body, beautiful dark eyes. Emma frowned; she knew this one. " Emily."
The slave seemed surprised and started to blush. "Yes."
"Remove your clothes."
"Remove your clothes. Strip. Can I be clearer?"
Emily pulled off her shirt and stepped out of her trousers.
Emily's body was actually rather impressive, not too skinny, good breasts. Her hips were slightly narrow, but that could be worked around.
"How would you like to have my children?"
Emily's jaw dropped.
The logic was simple. Childbearing was a dangerous activity. You were weak and sick for nearly a year. Having a child with a fellow mutant was a precarious alliance, and getting knocked up by a human was disgusting. It was a perfect plan as long as Emily didn't keep passing out.
"I want to get one of my human slaves pregnant."
Henry dropped the beaker he was holding, sloshing acid that immediately began to eat the linoleum all over the floor. "What! Emma! You can't just-"
"I can't what? If I were Scott I'd have a hundred brats by now, but I can't just stick it in. So I'm asking you."
Wringing his blue paws Henry whimpered. "This isn't "
"Don't tell me you believe in human rights. You'll be on the block for a traitor in minutes. And anyways, I asked her. She said yes."
"Um, okay." The blue furry man blinked a few times, trying to get his head around the concept. "Do you have a donor in mind?"
"No. You're missing the point. I don't want her to carry my child, I want it to be her genetic material and mine."
"Oh! Well, there are a few theories " Then he looked pensive and started to smile. "Actually, Marquis Shaw has a boy who has an interesting power that I've been dying to experiment with. And he does owe you a favor "
Emily looked uncomfortable and nervous. Emma frowned. Just sticking it in was clearly not going to happen, not if it would hurt her. She knelt between her legs, and noticed that she wasn't even aroused. She leaned in and kissed her.
"So we're just going to do this?" Emily's voice was weak. Emma kissed her throat and then collarbone.
"I'm going to make you come first. Okay?" Emma's lips latched on to her nipple and Emily's hands clasped the back of her head.
"Emily what's wrong? You've been sort of pale and sick looking lately. Are you alright?"
Emily looked up and smiled wanly. "I'm fine. Better than fine. I'm pregnant."
JJ's jaw dropped. "What? Whose? You're never with anyone. Morgan? Hotch?"
"It's Emma's." JJ dropped the box she was holding. "She wants an heir. Apparently it's good for her court status."
"That is that is so not okay. She's using your body like a parasite! Did she make you have an operation?"
"No? Who who did she make you sleep with?"
Emily flushed. "I've only been with her."
"I'm not really following here."
"Mutants there's this little boy, and all he has to do is touch you, and you change."
"Oh my God!" JJ's face contorted, at first with horror, and then crossing into an odd speculative look. "Does does she make a really hot guy?"
Emily blinked. "Don't ask me. Does this mean you're up for carrying number two?"
Emma was panicking.
Emily was throwing up blood, and couldn't stop retching even to breathe. Henry was fluttering unhelpfully. He didn't know what was wrong and couldn't treat it without asking.
<< You don't get to do this! >> Emma found a stringy, wet, horrified-looking Emily in her mind and shook her. << I cannot lose you. I can't lose both of you. >>
<< It hurts. >> was the weak response.
<< Tell me where, baby. >>
Emma relayed information to Henry who stuck her with an anti-nausea and an IV for the dehydration.
"You've been under too much stress."
Emily rolled onto her side, away from him, but looked utterly miserable while doing it. He sighed, and left. Emma crawled into bed next to her and spooned around her, looking young, like a chastened teenager.
"This is my fault, isn't it? I don't know what I'm doing. I just lunge impulsively into things. You need to stop me if I made a mistake. Tell me what you want. I'll do it. I'll do anything you want, even if you don't want to do this anymore."
"I don't want to go back downstairs."
"What?" Emma looked at her, brow furrowed. "But I offered "
"I know." Emily turned over to press her face against Emma's shoulder. "I didn't think it would be this bad. It's gotten worse. They call me a traitor for doing this with you, and I'm scared all the time. They do things to my food, and they won't let me sleep. JJ tried to stop them, but they hate me for this."
"I will kill them all. I will have them executed in public." Emma was sitting up and ready to jump out of bed and give the order when Emily grabbed her arm.
"No!" She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest, rocking slightly. "They're right." She looked at Emma, her eyes deep and sad. "I am a traitor, because I love you."
Emma fell out of bed.
Henry shook his head as Emma ran off to find something for Emily to eat.
"I always thought Emma had a great potential to fight against injustice, once she opened her eyes to it. I never thought she would learn to see it by committing the greatest injustice of them all."
"She did ask," remarked Emily, slightly amused that even other mutants had the same questions. "I said yes."
"I've wanted a child for a long time, since since not long after I lost my own mother. But I could never bring a child into this world just to be a slave."
"You do know that as a parent of a mutant you'll be given higher status."
Emily blinked. "I didn't even think of that."
"And the child will be Emma's heir." Emily nodded. "Which lifts you even higher."
Emily smiled softly. "It doesn't matter. I'm still a slave, still a human. Nothing changes that."
"In fact, you won't be a slave."
"Winston Frost bought you for his daughter as a concubine. To show how little she cared for his bullying, she never bothered to change the classification. Which was good, especially once she began sleeping with you." Emily flushed. "But because you are her only concubine and will be the mother to her heir, you are technically her consort. And because it would be a sad thing if a mutant's parents were his slaves, they are given the title of Ryoshin-sama, honored parent, which is technically a citizen without voting rights."
"I don't I don't know what to think."
"It will be within Emma's rights to marry you."
Emma stood outside the door, trying to get her breathing under control. She hated when people plotted against her. She shoved through it, interrupting the conversation.
It took a week of Emily saying nothing for her to get angry enough to bring it up.
"Why aren't you doing it? You manipulate me into everything else, why not into marrying you?"
Emily blinked, stunned at the sudden tirade. "I don't want to manipulate you into that." She was pretty certain that she hadn't manipulated Emma into anything, actually. "If you want to ask, it should because you want to. No other reason."
Emma flopped onto the bed beside her. "I'm not going to. I can't risk it."
Emma frowned. "I can't risk you. Not for some idiotic statement."
Emma glared at her. "Why? Why do you understand? What do you want? I want to give you something that is important to you, that you want. But you never seem to want anything at all!"
"There is one thing."
Emma looked up sharply, considering whether she had just opened herself up for manipulation again.
"I just I just don't want to be left out of this child's life. I don't need a big part, just I don't want to be the surrogate, pushed back downstairs once this is over."
Emma blinked away involuntary tears. "Why are you even asking?" She snorted, roughly. "I don't have a fucking clue about what to do with a child. You're in charge. This is your kid. I always wanted her to be yours."
Emily sat frozen for a long moment, before dropping her head to hide her smile. "God You're just " Emma glanced up and saw Emily's wide grin. "I'd kiss you if I weren't repulsive."
"You've heard then?"
Emily looked away. "They were celebrating."
Emma was not a precognitive, had never been so, but that moment she knew, just knew, that they would kill Emily first. When the slaves in her house rose up, they would too afraid to hunt her down right away. To get their blood flowing they would kill the traitors in their midst, kill the weak and helpless. Emily, Deirdre "You mutie-lover! Oppressor!" And what would Emma do then, the core of her life torn out and left broken and bloodied on the floor? Would she kill them all, or let them slit her throat? She could survive anything, but what would be the point of surviving that?
"What are we going to do?"
Emma clasped her hands. "Erik won't let it go too far."
"Meaning what? If every household revolts "
"Meaning he will kill them all."
"I am one of them."
"And I am as much of a traitor as you."
"What! But you've tried so hard "
"I admitted our marriage to them."
"What? But why?"
"I am not weak." She clenched her hands tighter. "Loving you does not make me weak, or frightened, even when death is approaching from both sides."
Emily pushed her hair back from her lover's ears, looking deeply into her eyes. "How do you stay so young?" It was almost a criticism, almost saying 'why are you still such a brash, naive idiot?'
Emma leaned in and took her lips, locking their tongues together. "You taste good for one so old and wise," she remarked dryly.
"I'd die for you."
"Your death is worth less than nothing to me. I would kill to keep you, and I am planning on doing so."
"What about Deirdre? If this happens "
"When. It's already begun."
"Running is pointless, not that you would ever run. I will stay at your side. But she "
"I was thinking I would talk to Jean."
"Trying to run? Traitor." The goddess of fire laughed. "If the humans don't kill you, the mutants will."
"I know." Emma didn't bend or cower. Jean had no respect for the weak. "But I am not trying to run. I cannot abandon my world, no matter how poisoned it has become."
"But you are here for my gates. I could not send you anyway." The mirrors of the room lit up and in each one Emma saw herself, different outfits, different activities, but obviously recognizable. "You exist in all the worlds I touch."
"Your child?" The fires around Jean flickered like she was laughing. "Now that is possible. She's rather anomalous as it is."
"You could do it?"
The mirrors changed. In one of them a slender dark-haired near teenage girl snapped viciously at a worried half-Asian Goth with cat's eyes. The rest were empty. "There are enough nearby worlds where she does not exist."
"I require payment."
Jean floated towards her, and then, like a cobra striking, kissed her. Emma's eyes widened as she sucked, a searing pain cutting through her mind. Then Jean pulled away and laughed, licking her lips with a tongue of fire.
"What- what did you do? What did you take?"
She laughed again. "Oh that is good. Comedic gold."
Jean smiled. "The first time you made love to your wife."
Emma stared, then looked confused. "I don't remember," she said weakly.
"Of course not. The memory's mine now. Bring your spawnling here at the earliest opportunity. If you wait too long, it will be too late."
Emma looked pained.
"Oh, who do you want to take her?"
"On the other side. She is only four. Are you sending her to yourself or your wife?" Jean grinned like a jack-o-lantern. "I'm sorry, but there aren't any worlds where you are together. Apparently owning her as a slave is one of the few ways to make your darling stay."
"Send her to Emily." Emma sighed. "In whatever world, she's got to be a better parent than me."
"Your will be done."
Emily looked pale and unhappy, but Emma knew what she was feeling and why, because she felt the same. Watching Deirdre walk trustingly into a mirror world was more painful than she had bargained for. But Jean had held up her end of the deal and had let them stay until the door opened and a woman who looked so much like Emily and yet hardly resembled her at all opened the door and her eyes widened in shock.
Emma watched her lover and wondered what exactly was different. It was their gaze, she decided. Her Emily had learned to look down, look away, always with half shadowed eyes. It had made her fight for honesty, for full disclosure, because her shields were too good for casual reading. But the Emily in the other universe looked straight on. She wouldn't avoid anyone's eyes.
"Face me, everyone." Emma stood at the head of the ballroom, filled with slaves and servants, mutants and humans alike. She could feel the rumbling confusion, the hints of anger, of fear. "Everyone here knows that the war has begun. Most of you are just waiting for your marching orders, and I have little doubt that both myself and my wife are a target on both lists."
The distracted muttering stopped and she had everyone's full attention. "I have never bothered to challenge the status-quo in any way save one, and that is because the status-quo, no matter how unfair or oppressive, was one of peace. That is no longer true. I do not believe in the wholesale murder of half a race, no matter which half it is. But mainly, I wish to survive this war. Anyone who believes that it is possible for humans and mutants to live in peace together is welcome to stay when we go into lockdown. Everyone else will be allowed to leave, if they do so peacefully, but no one will be allowed back in."
A few mutants stay, a few humans, Henry and JJ among them. Emma makes sure their feelings are true, and kills a man who starts a ruckus as they leave. Emily runs the downstairs, considering their supplies, wondering how long they will have to last.
They sleep poorly, locked in each other's arms, wishing they knew their daughter was all right, trying to survive this apocalypse.
Emily opened the door, struggling up from where she had fallen asleep on the couch at the late night chime. A little girl looked up at her, dark hair and crystal blue eyes.
Emily's eyes widened. "Hello?" she said, half to the empty darkness.
"Mommy! It's Didi!" She put her arms up to be lifted, and Emily, seduced, still awkwardly looking around for the pranksters, picked her up, holding her to her chest. The small girl tangled her sticky fingers in her hair and tugged gently. "Mommy. Where's M'ma?"
"M'ma?" Emily pulled back the small child enough to stare her in the face. "Did you just ask for Emma?"
The letter pinned to the odd cloak Didi wore went some lengths to explain the situation. "Emily," it began.
"You do not know me, and it would be presumptive of me to say that I know you, for we have never existed in the same world. But I believe I know enough of your character that it would not be a mistake to entrust our child into your care.
"Our world is currently preparing its own apocalypse and it is not safe for her to remain. If we survive, we shall endeavor to relieve you of Deirdre's care, but if not, I hope you have the honor to care for her as if she were your own.
Grand Duchess Emma Grace Frost"
Emily sat back on the sofa, gaping at the letter. It certainly sounded like Emma, her diction, her arrogance, but it was too formal, too distant to be directed at her. And what was with all this Grand Duchess business?
Emily looked over to the small child, who had found her collection of antique African carved elephants and was currently setting up a stampede. Emma's daughter? She must be four at least. She turned over the page and noticed the note hastily scrawled on the back, in what looked suspiciously like her own writing.
How odd this is to be addressing myself, but you are not me, although enough alike to make me worry about Emma's insistence on sending Deirdre to you. First, the important information that she has no doubt forgotten to include:
Deirdre Victoria Frost, four years and 28 days old. She can use the toilet on her own, although she needs assistance in remembering to wash her hands. She can read short books of simple words. She dislikes cabbage and is allergic to nuts. She will not go to sleep without a story and when restive likes warm apple juice mixed with orange.
I have no idea how you will react to this. It was both something I wanted and was petrified of. I would never have gone through with it without Emma, nor survived it. Please, do not be afraid to ask for help. But please look after her, if only because you could have been me, and could have known what sending her away feels like.
Emma is brazen and daring as usual, but I doubt we will survive this war. So please take care of her, and remember, we are not our mother. I hope Deirdre becomes as much yours as she will always be mine.
Emily Elizabeth Frost"
Emily gulped and picked up her phone. "Hi, Ro? Call me back whenever you're free. I need some advice."
"It's not me! It can't be me!" Emily thrust the letter at Garcia who had been the first one to arrive after her panicked series of phone calls. "She doesn't sound anything like me. This has got to be a bad joke!"
Garcia read the note slowly. "She doesn't really sound like you."
"She sounds submissive! I'm not submissive!"
Garcia lowered her glasses and grinned. "Good info."
Emily glared at her. "Although, apparently she married Emma. Marrying Emma requires a good dose of submissive qualities."
"It's a different world."
Emily glowered at Garcia. "I can't believe you're taking this seriously. She's not mine. There's no way she can be mine."
Deirdre toddled up to her and put her arms around Emily's leg. "Story?"
"She seems to recognize you." Garcia patted her head. "Hey honey." Didi grinned. "And she looks just like you when she smiles."
Emily dropped back onto the couch. "I don't have any stories. And her Emily would probably cross the boundaries of worlds to murder me if I read her any of my profiling stuff."
"I am prepared!" Garcia pulled a book out of her voluminous purse. Emily looked at it.
"Why exactly do you have The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins in your bag?"
Garcia shrugged. "You never know when Dr. Seuss will come in handy."
JJ wasn't sure what to say. In fact, she wasn't actually sure if thinking was occurring either. Perhaps she had turned to stone with the sight and all brain function had ceased to exist.
She had checked her phone when she woke up and frowned while listening to the desperate and cryptic message Emily had left at three in the morning. And then she had had to beg, wheedle, and vow on everything most sacred to her to Will and Henry that she would be back in time for their Saturday trip to the park.
Henry, four and chubby, (looking far too much like baby pictures of herself for comfort) was incredibly talented at extracting the most epic and complex promises. His sullen, suspicious angel expression was one of someone who had heard it all before. He had been made to understand about how mommy and daddy's work was very important, and that sometimes unexpected things would happen and they might be a little late. Henry was really very good if he had to stay overnight with the babysitter, or play by himself after nursery school if he was late being picked up. But there were certain things that were completely untouchable, and one of those was Saturday=park.
The drive into DC was just normally busy, and JJ kept an eye on the opposite route, which looked nice and empty. She showed up at Emily's apartment at 8:05, rang the buzzer, and waited.
Oddly enough, it was Garcia who opened the door.
"What? Where's Emily? Is something wrong?"
The message had sounded more frantic than pained, and JJ hadn't started to worry until that very moment. But Garcia just grinned and pulled her inside.
"Be quiet. It's the cutest thing you ever saw."
Emily was in bed, asleep. So was a tiny child, half draped over her shoulder, flat on her back with her arms spread out. Where their hair fell in the same place, it was undifferentiable. She looked from the sleeping tableau to Garcia, who hadn't lost that irritating grin.
"Oh, it's no joke. Wait 'till you see her smile."
And that was when the mysterious creature sat up, rubbing her eyes. And then she opened them.
For a moment, JJ was relieved. There was no way Emily could have a blue-eyed child, no way on earth; it was basic genetics. And then she recognized the eyes, and realized that basic genetics probably had very little to do with it.
"JJ!" the creature spoke, raising her arms. "Take me to the bathroom."
That was when JJ turned to stone. She took the child to the bathroom, made sure she washed her hands, put on the coffee, found the juice, threw the empty wine bottle into the recycling, and made Emily get up, hungover or not.
She gave one mental apology to Henry and Will, because it was pretty certain that she was going to be late getting back. Especially with the way Emily scrunched herself into the farthest corner of the couch and eyed the small child, sitting in Garcia's lap, with obvious fear.
That was when she woke up again. It was hard to be locked in her own mess of disbelief, jealousy and self-pity, when Emily was so obviously not taking this well.
JJ pushed the mug of coffee into her hand. "Relax, Emily."
"Relax?" Emily looked up at her, desperate and unhappy. "I can't do this. I can't! But they didn't give me a choice." She scowled and looked away. "It's all Emma. She doesn't like to give people a choice."
After three years, JJ had learned to hold her tongue when Emily got going on how irritating, frustrating, and generally dissatisfying any involvement with Emma was, regardless of whether they were in one of their 'on' periods or currently 'off.' Luckily Garcia assisted her in staying quiet by passing her the letter, which she read with increasing disbelief.
Emily buried her face in her arms. "I don't know what to do with her! I keep on waiting for someone to tell me it's an elaborate hoax, but she's not going away! How long does an apocalypse usually take?"
Garcia patted her on the head. "Usually until the end of the world."
JJ shrugged uncomfortably. "Is this really so out of the blue? You were going to take that girl "
"She wasn't four! If they're older it's different. Thank fuck I don't have to " She eyed the child suspiciously. JJ, knowing what she was thinking, shook her head.
"You have no idea how lucky you are."
Emily sank into the couch. "But god everything else."
Emily wasn't a precognitive. If she had been, she probably would have drowned the brat then and there.
JJ checked her watch. If she left now, she wouldn't be too late. "Henry will have someone his age to play with?"
Emily frowned. "You know that if this kid is Emma's, she's got to be a mutant."
And the words had been said. She had been expecting them, but they still hit hard. JJ scowled. "That's your problem, not mine. You have to make sure that she doesn't abuse her powers, like some people."
Emily buried her face in the cushion and groaned.
Somehow (and for a reason JJ could not consciously understand) she managed to convince Emily to get dressed and get the small child into her car. (Garcia came too, because she loved the park), and JJ drove (through the increased traffic) back to her house.
Will and Henry were having breakfast, and when she came in the door, followed by a large group, both of her boys stared with wide eyes. Will focused right on the dark-haired girl Emily was carrying, and as he opened his mouth to ask, JJ wished she had had time to come up with a cover story. (Having mutant friends was one thing, dimension traveling children was quite another).
"Is that your "
Garcia stepped between them and smiled. "Her niece! Isn't the family resemblance strong?"
Before Will could finish his confused thought (which was certain to have something to do with Emily being an only child because he remembered things like that), Henry started to cry.
"I don't want other people! Saturday is family day!"
JJ cringed. Will hurriedly tried to hush him. Garcia started going through her bag for candy. Emily looked like she might be sick. But Deirdre sat up straight on Emily's hip and glared.
Henry shut up.
"You're a brat!"
This made Henry indignant. "You're a brat!"
"You're a sapiens brat!"
Garcia smiled forcedly. "And now it is time to move the combatants into separate rooms."
Garcia's wise counsel was soon followed, JJ following Emily and Didi into the living room and proceeding to flip out.
"A sapiens brat! She called my kid a sapiens brat? That is so not okay. Not, not okay, Emily!"
Emily sat on the couch, Didi cowering in her lap. "Technically, she called him a wise brat, not incredibly insulting."
"It's mutant supremacist language!"
Now Didi was starting to cry. "Don't be mad, JJ."
It looked like Emily's headache had gotten the better of her and she was attempting to disassociate with her body. JJ stared at the kid. "How does she know me? How do you know who I am?"
Deirdre tipped her head to the side. "JJ's mine." She crawled off Emily's lap and walked over to hug JJ's leg. "M'ma says JJ belongs to me."
"Somehow, I really don't like how that sounds." But Didi looked like she was about to cry, and Emily was comatose on the sofa, so JJ picked her up and gave her a hug. "Hey, you smell like you could use a bath." She had an odd flavor of sulfur and smoke to her. "And if you're nice to Henry, maybe he'll let you have some of his old clothes, yeah?"
"I don't like Henry."
JJ shook her head, starting to carry her into the bathroom. "Why not?"
"He cries loud."
This was true enough. JJ shrugged, and set Didi on the floor before she started running the bath. Deirdre was surprisingly docile in the bathroom. While Henry resisted with every ounce of strength in his bones, Didi stuck her hands up for JJ to pull off the top, and even unfastened her lower garment herself, which was good, because JJ had no idea what it was nor how it fastened.
"I do smell bad."
"The cave smelled bad too."
Didi nodded and climbed into the tub, JJ steadying her, but letting her do it on her own mostly. "I came through a fire cave to get here. It was scary. There was a scary lady who was all fire. She laughed at me." Deirdre splashed into the water, spraying JJ, and grinned up at her. It was obviously on purpose.
"You're a little monster."
Eventually they did make it to the park. Didi, clean, and smelling like a child and not a dragon, was wearing some of the clothes that Henry had grown out of but JJ hadn't been able to bear to throw away yet. Even Henry had allowed Garcia to bully and bribe him back into a good mood. Emily had borrowed a pair of sunglasses from Will and was asleep under the tree.
Before lunch, Deirdre managed to lead Henry, Garcia, and Will on an imaginary adventure game that got Will stuck up a tree, Garcia in mud up over her ankles, and Henry a skinned knee. He started to cry, but Didi gave him a stern look, and he gulped, and stopped. JJ's jaw dropped. Henry always cried when he got hurt.
After lunch Deirdre managed to get Henry into a bush, climb on a pile of rocks, and fall off, remaining unscathed, and then both she and Henry collected various enticing leaves and berries and would have eaten them, had JJ not been watching. She grabbed them both by their collars and dragged them back to the blanket. Emily was just waking up. She looked less nauseous, but vague and confused. JJ dropped the kids on the blanket and told them to play quietly or it was time to go home.
Around 3 they left Emily, Deirdre, and Garcia at the metro station. While Garcia was with Didi in the bathroom, JJ pulled Emily aside with a firm hand on her arm.
Emily smiled worriedly at her.
"Okay, if that kid survives tonight, we are going to have a long talk tomorrow." She shoved a bag into Emily's hand. "Here are clothes. Make sure her hands are clean before she eats. And don't let her sleep in her clothes again. Four year olds are hard. You keep her in sight and out of trouble. Okay?"
"Okay." Emily seemed to sag under her harsh look. She glanced sadly towards the door to the bathroom. "I really have no idea what I'm doing."
JJ felt tired rather than angry. "You have to care. You have to care about her more than about yourself. Even if you can, it's too hard to do it alone." It felt like she was swallowing a sea urchin, shell and all, but she said it. "Maybe you should call Emma."
Emily chuckled. "Not that easy. The last time I saw her we had a fight that ended with her throwing her cell off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, and telling me to never call her again. I'm working on it."
JJ rolled her eyes. "Good luck," she said, and started back towards the car. She glanced over her shoulder before she left the station. "I mean it," she said, "good luck."
Didi and Garcia came back, and Emily glanced down at the child and gave her a look. "Did you wash your hands?"
Didi nodded. "Garcia held me up!"
Emily frowned. "You you can't reach the sink on your own?"
The look Deirdre responded with spoke volumes. JJ laughed to herself and stepped out the door. Oh, this was going to be fun, though probably not for Emily.
In the car, Will gave her a worried look. She was going to have to explain this to him, wasn't she? But Henry was the one who spoke first.
"I want Didi to come to the park with us every Saturday!"
JJ chuckled softly and closed her eyes, leaning back in the seat and letting Will drive home. "We'll see about that."
Garcia changed trains at Metro Center, giving Didi a kiss and walking off in her squashy, mud streaked shoes, and Emily was alone with the child. She glanced down at Didi, who was kneeling on the seat and staring out the window into blackness.
"What are you looking at?"
Didi looked up at her, her eyes still nearly unbelievably blue, and tipped her head to the side. "I'm looking at the dark."
"To see if it's different from the dark at home."
Emily looked at the darkness herself. "Is it different?"
Didi nodded. "It's train darkness."
This was vaguely mystifying. "Haven't you been on a train before?"
Didi shot her a sharp incredulous look. "There were bombs on them!"
Emily wondered if she was only good at getting children to confess the awful things that had happened to them.
"We take the limo."
The train came to a stop at Eastern Market and Emily took Didi's hand and led her out of the dark tunnels into the fading sunlight. Her hand was so small and soft. Her fingers were sticky, but the bones inside were thin and almost bendy like willow stems.
Emily had seen too many tiny broken dead bodies, lifted them, some still warm, out of the rubble. She had turned pale-faced traumatized, victimized children back to parents whose worlds had been flipped upside down and considered that a success.
She had empathized, on the surface, but she hadn't cared. She didn't know these people, they were symbols of victims, children were symbols of freedom, but they weren't real. She hadn't allowed herself to care, because having to feel that much when all she saw was violence and rape would have killed her, over and over again. She wasn't Emma, losing class after class of students she had known personally, invested in, punished and encouraged and lived with. She knew she wasn't that strong.
But Deirdre was tugging her hand, living and speaking, right there. And she couldn't think of this as a job. She wanted to just be the federal agent, protecting the child until her real mother came to fetch her. But she had a deep sinking feeling that told her, a week from now, Didi wouldn't just get to wander back home and everything would be fine, everything would go back to normal. It could be a long time, maybe never, and she couldn't do the job if she didn't care. JJ had said it, but she knew it every time Deirdre looked up at her and smiled. She was impersonating this child's mother, and although alternate realities and dopplegangers were likely outside her understanding, it wouldn't take long for her to realize that her mother was not really her mother. And Emily knew first hand how shocking and alienating that realization was. She had been old enough to know why her mother pulled away from her emotionally. But Didi was far too young. Who knew what it would do to her?
She picked up the little girl and squeezed her to her chest. The noise of pleased surprise she made didn't quite drown out the bird-fast fluttering of her heart. Emily ached inside at the life she could feel under her hands. It made them shake, and she was afraid she would drop her. And the paranoia rushed in. She couldn't control anything. Cars whizzed past on one side, strangers, people whose hearts she did not know were on the other, steps and bikes and machines
"Mommy, too tight!" Didi struggled, and Emily relaxed her grip. Even herself
She glanced around again, trying to regain a normal perception of the world. She looked up and to her left.
The public library sat pleasantly behind its columns and red doors. Emily sighed with some relief. She hooked Didi on her hip and pulled her out far enough so she could see her face.
"Do you want to go pick a book to read tonight?"
The answer was a clear affirmative.
They climbed up the stairs and went inside. Didi, set again upon the earth, headed towards the picture books with a four-year-olds unerring GPS. Emily followed behind, glancing at the paper cutouts of strange beasts and smiling books that decorated the walls. She looked once sorrowfully back towards the nonfiction section and the adult fiction, but barked her knee on a bookshelf barely three feet tall, and turned forward again.
Deirdre located a promising shelf and began removing books one by one and examining them. Emily stood above her, unsure of what her role was in this situation.
"What's your favorite thing to read about?"
Didi looked up, slightly perturbed at being interrupted. "Dragons," she said. "I like rabbits too, but dragons have better stories."
Emily nodded vaguely and frowned, digging around in the half-decomposed soil of memories buried long ago. There was something about dragons. A book with woodcut illustrations perhaps?
Deirdre seemed to be fine where she was, so Emily headed towards the juvenile fiction shelves, pausing at the computers to try and get a more precise location. She eventually found the book, and as it appeared suitable, returned to the picture book section, where she had left Deirdre.
Didi was now sitting in a pile of books in front of an empty shelf. A teenage shelver was looking on in horror. Emily sighed and lowered herself down beside her.
"Okay, pick out the ones you want, and then we're going to play an alphabet game."
Didi busied herself with sorting through the books and Emily began organizing the rejects. She had been a public servant for years, and her alphabetizing skills were not that rusty. After half of the books had been put to one side, Emily handed Didi a book, and pointed to the call number tag. "Read me the letters here."
"P," she said firmly, then frowned. "R, I, C."
By the end of the game Emily knew that Didi had a good handle on her capital letters, with an occasional wobble between Js and Ls. As they left, Didi clutching her huge stack of books, the shelver gave her a beatific look of thanks.
Didi was dragging the rest of the way back to the apartment. She yawned a few times, and dropped a book. She resisted on the stairs, and Emily somehow managed to balance a small child, a huge pile of books, and the bag of clothes JJ had given her, all the way up to the fifth floor.
"I'm hungry," Didi whined, tugging at Emily's jeans. She looked down at the small girl, and wondered what this sort of creature ate. She proffered various options. Saffron rice pilaf was rejected, as was pesto and spinach, and the butternut squash ravioli. Finally Emily found a can of corn deep in her cupboard and made a passable creamed corn on toast that was acceptable.
Unfortunately creamed corn wasn't a particularly easy thing to eat, and Emily considered whether a bowl and spoon would have been a better idea than on toast. She looked at Didi's sticky face and hands. She had managed to get some creamed corn in her hair as well.
"Oh," she sighed, "You'd better have a bath."
Didi shook her head. "Don't want one."
Emily was not precisely certain about how this bath event was supposed to go. She took the out and got a washcloth instead. Didi squirmed away from it, and Emily struggled for a tighter grip, until she cried out.
"Stop it! It hurts. I want JJ!"
Emily stopped. "You want JJ?"
Deirdre started to sniffle. "Why isn't she here? Why didn't she come home with me?"
"She is home. She's at her home, with Henry."
"But she's mine! M'ma said she was mine." Didi looked up at her with those shockingly blue eyes, shiny with tears. "Is it because I lost the papers? I know where they are, I just forgot them. Is M'ma mad? Did she give her to Henry because I forgot them?"
"What?" Emily was beginning to have a deep sinking feeling, but couldn't quite put words on why. "What do you mean, JJ's yours?"
Deirdre grew grim with exasperation. "You know! She's mine! Everyone else belongs to M'ma, even you, but JJ's mine. My slave."
Perhaps JJ hadn't overreacted when she mentioned the mutant supremacist language. Even the Grand Duchess bit was making more sense. Unfortunately, trying to explain this was going to get into some rocky ground.
"Honey " Emily brushed some corn out of her hair with the end of the washcloth and rubbed her hands clean. "I bet you've noticed that some things are a little different here."
Didi gave her a look. "Everything is different. My room is gone."
"Well," Emily tried to smile. "One of the things that is different is there are no slaves here."
Didi looked blank. "But JJ's here."
"But she's not a slave."
"Then what is she?"
That was a rather challenging question. "She's she's my friend, and a federal agent," again blankness with a faint hint of irritation, "She's Henry's mom."
"She's Henry's mom!" Didi struggled to suitably express her feelings. "That's, that's not fair! She said she wouldn't leave me, not for anyone. She promised!"
There were going to be tears any second. Panicked, Emily tried to find a disarm button. "She didn't, she really didn't. It's just one of the things that's different here. Just like the trains not having bombs, and me being incompetent."
"She promised." Didi sniffled, and started to cry, big racking sobs and hiccups like was choking. Emily pulled Didi into her chest, holding her and rubbing her back.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry, honey. I know it it sucks." She couldn't think of a better word, with all her massive vocabulary and foreign language ability. What really could describe the way it felt to have your entire life turned upside down, and everything familiar suddenly gone? It did suck, for her also.
After the tears, Didi was quiet and docile. Emily tried to get her to decide between the two pairs of pajamas in the bag JJ had given her, but she seemed equally unmoved by trains or clocks. She was clingy and exhausted, and Emily wasn't feeling particularly fresh either. She changed and brushed her teeth. Didi disapproved of the adult sized toothbrush and gave Emily a withering look that said it all.
"I bet Henry has a real toothbrush."
Emily started a shopping list.
They crawled into bed together, and Emily read aloud the beginning of the first story from The Book of Dragons, Didi tucked under her arm and against her chest. She fell asleep after only a few pages, and Emily set the book down, but didn't move to extricate herself and get back up. She lay next to her and stroked her hair, tangling her fingers through the fine strands, the same color as hers, but far softer and more delicate.
It wasn't fair, Emily thought, that you could fall in love so quickly. And it was doubly unfair that she always felt so helpless when she did.
From the moment she stepped through the door, Ororo knew there was something different about Emily's apartment. The Moroccan Elephants were on the floor. Other things were suddenly crammed haphazardly on the mantelpiece. A pile of miniature clothing covered one end of the couch. The hungry caterpillar lay open on the coffee table.
Emily smiled hesitantly, and Ro gave her a sharp, penetrating look.
"So yeah. I think I need your help."
Deirdre was vocally expressing her dislike of museli, marmite and marmalade, and in fact, every breakfast food beginning with M, while Ororo read the letters.
Emily finally exclaimed, "If you don't like it, you don't have to eat!"
Deirdre gulped and her eyes widened as if she might cry, and Emily submitted to picking the raisins out of the cereal and nuts.
The worst thing that Ororo realized when she closed the letter and watched Didi consider the now raisin-free concoction, and try the tiniest scrape of marmalade with none of the bitter peel, was that this was not the only world where her friend had to suffer Emma as a lover, and even worse, that she was jealous.
There was something like destiny about it, even if they were only fated to repeatedly make each other miserable. (She didn't have much faith in the relationship lasting, or at least not destroying them both in the process.) But it wasn't fair. Even Emma had a chance like this, in multiple universes, although she was certain to screw it up. But Ororo was alone. In every universe, she was alone.
Emma glanced up. She looked back down. Her team organization was not going particularly well. Most of the children were divided into groups and advisors, but her group of Hellions (probably a cursed name, but the students liked it) was one short. The obvious answer was to add X-23, but she would shuffle twelve students into different groups if she could give the feral, human weapon to someone else.
She did pity the girl, was she really only twelve? Raised in captivity, abused, forced to murder by the people who supposedly loved her, and to murder them as well. But the X-Men were being absurdly naive if they thought she could just integrate into the student body. She would not endanger her team by introducing an unstable element, a berzerker who had never lost a fight. Even Logan, who theoretically knew her best, agreed that she ought to be treated with caution.
Emily was in her office. Emma glanced back down, wondering what Dani would do to protect her team if X-23 went berserk amongst them. Then she froze, and did a double take.
Emily was in her office, at the mansion, a place she had been certain was Emily-proof, as she was not even supposed to know where it was located on a map, much less show up unannounced in her office.
"What are you doing here?"
Emily looked shy and shrugged a bit. "A problem sort of landed in my lap, and I thought-"
"No," Emma interrupted. "Why are you here? Usually when I tell someone I never want to speak to them again, I am not referring to by means of the telephone in isolation."
Emma didn't know what words were coming out of her mouth. She just wanted to talk and talk so she wouldn't have to respond. Responding to Emily was losing to her. She had to smack her traitor mind to keep it from reaching out for that stability and warmth that had been the only thing she had for so long.
"It's your kind of problem, darling." Emily rolled her eyes, unimpressed by the barbed wire defense.
Emma was not sure what she felt about Emily picking up her verbal habits and using them to mock her. "How did you get in here?"
"I called Ro."
Emma sighed, and took off her glasses to pinch the bridge of her nose. Her plan to use work and the mansion as a method of staying away from Emily (and certain other people's prying comments) was not as effective as she had hoped.
"You said you were here for a reason?"
"If you could step out for a moment "
Kitty and Rachel were playing with a small girl in the hallway. Emily was looking vaguely expectant. Emma glanced from the girl in poorly chosen boy's clothes back to Emily.
"Are you suggesting that your 'oh so drastic' problem, that required my attention has something to do with this small child?"
Emily flashed her a smile, and not for the first time, Emma wondered if anything she said ever did more than mildly amuse Emily.
"She seems to be a dimension traveling mutant from an apocalyptic alternate reality."
The girl was trying on Rachel's irritating orange glasses.
Just then the girl looked up and spotted Emma. "M'ma!" she exclaimed, and Emma's eyes widened in panic.
"This is actually really incredible. The mitochondrial DNA doesn't display any heteroplasmy that can often result from haploidization, and except for a rather robust X-gene, no chromosomal anomalies." Hank glanced back and forth from his microscope to the perfect girl swinging her legs over the edge of the table, in awe. "Lord, I would love to talk to whoever figured this out."
"Doctor Hank. I'm not sick." Didi frowned, tired of being shut up in the lab.
"No," he replied, still astonished. "You're really not."
"I want to go play now."
Emma sat on the bench in the office, leaning like a particularly overwhelmed 'Le Penseur' on her hand. Unsure of whether she would accept comfort, Emily reached out tentatively to rub her shoulder. Emma gave her a look.
<< This is your fault. >> was more emoted than phrased.
<< No. It's not. >> was the bald response.
"How many people know about this?"
Emily shrugged. "Ororo said something about trying to send a team in to assist, although I'm not sure who they would decide to help."
"There's going to be a meeting, isn't there?" Emma cupped her face and then nudged Emily in the stomach with her head, clearly asking for comfort. Emily threaded her fingers through her hair.
Kitty peeked into the room. "Hey! Is everything all right?"
Hank grinned. "Everything's fine, surprisingly fine."
"I'm hungry," complained Didi.
Kitty glanced at Emma who had not moved at her entrance, and then up to Emily. "Is it okay if Rachel and I take her to the cafeteria?"
"Sure," Emily said.
"Yay!" Hank lifted Deirdre off the table and Kitty took her hand to lead her out of the room. Emma stared at the closed door for a long time.
"It's kind of nice not to be the only refugee daughter from an apocalyptic alternate universe," said Rachel.
Kitty who was just glad to have her friend not being wracked with self-pity and survivor's guilt, nor looking at her with that mix of anger and affection that she knew was for her alternate, who had both betrayed Rachel and saved her by a single act, took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
Didi followed them down the corridor, looking all around her and wondering if this was Court. It didn't look like Court, as her M'ma had described it, but everything was different from before, so perhaps this was just a better Court, without bombs and assassins and politics, (the third had always been spoken of in the most despising tone).
The cafeteria was busy, full of all different people. Didi stopped in the center and looked up at them. There was a huge boy made of stone, a girl with blue hair crackling with electricity, a boy up by the ceiling on red wings. Most everyone was talking or eating or laughing together, but one girl was standing alone. She looked strong, but sad. Didi wondered why she was sad.
The door behind her swung open and a woman with red hair stepped in. Didi gasped. It was the scary lady. She hurried over and grabbed the leg of the alone-girl and hid behind her.
"Help! It's the scary lady!"
Emma didn't know how to take this. She felt sick and leaden. This wasn't her life. It wasn't how she thought it should go. It wasn't what she deserved. She had recently faced her own end, and realized that there were many things she had not made up for. She had cut Emily out of her life for that exact reason.
She was laying groundwork with Sebastian Shaw, to be ready when he finally decided to regain his power. She was working to try and make this school what it ought to be. She was looking for her one surviving sister, trying to find a way to make her life into something worth leaving behind. She was a Judas, but she could be a martyr if she tried.
But anything with Emily destroyed that. It made her real, vulnerable, useless. She had never understood the people who prized normalcy. Being normal was being forgotten, it was being meaningless, a cipher, and she already had such a deficit to make up that she couldn't afford to earn zeroes. So why did she want it so much?
Emily had saved her, brought her out of the depths of insanity, fought the demons that lived in her mind, alone. She knew everything now, had touched the powdery blackness of rot on Emma's soul, and hadn't turned back in disgust.
Emma couldn't take that.
She wasn't worth that.
She shrugged Emily's hand off her shoulder and left the infirmary, not looking back.
The entire room froze, but no one froze quite so stiffly as X-23, who had a small girl clinging to her leg.
Emma strode in and nearly ran over Jean. She stopped short and looked.
Didi peeked out from behind X-23. "M'ma! It's the scary lady."
Emma looked at Jean who smiled awkwardly and shrugged. "Do you think she means me?" She stepped towards Didi. "Is it me?"
Didi ducked back behind X-23's leg again with a yelp. X-23 brought her arm up in surprise and her claws popped out, as if she was going to fend off Jean from getting any closer.
Logan slipped up next to Jean. "It's probably best if you left," he whispered. "See her eyes? She's going feral."
Jean slid backwards quietly, using her telekinesis, so she wouldn't accidentally make a threatening move. She slipped out the door, and it shut.
But just as everyone was about to take a tentative breath, Jay, not used to hovering for so long, forgot to flap his wings, and hurtled down straight at X-23 and Deirdre. Emma and Logan lunged, but X-23 snatched up Didi and moved out of the way so fast she was barely visible. Jay crashed into the floor with a yelp. X-23 pushed Didi towards Rachel and Kitty as if her hands were burning.
Then she hopped onto the window ledge and disappeared outside.
"Snkt! Snkt!" Didi was jumping on the sofa in Emma's office, waving her arms in a vaguely martial way. "M'ma! She had clawses!"
"I'm really, really sorry!" Kitty pleaded. "We thought she was with us."
Emma covered her eyes, and peered down through her fingers at the team rosters. The empty spot weighed on her, and she sighed. Finding her pen, she scrawled "Laura Kinney (X-23)" on the blank line in the Hellions section. Perhaps she was a loose cannon, but it would be better to have her under her personal surveillance than with the usual incompetents at this school.
"I want clawses too!"
Emily leaned over the back the couch and caught Deirdre's hand, running her thumb over the back of it. "I don't think so, honey." She had seen the end of it, and that had been enough.
Didi wrapped her arms around her neck and begged to be picked up. Emily swung her up to sit on her back.
Emma dismissed Kitty and Rachel, who left, chastened. She stood, supporting herself on the desk with a hand, and looked at the other occupants of her office.
"Fucking hell," she muttered and went over. Didi peeked at her over Emily's shoulder. "You need to stay out of trouble."
Deirdre pouted. "But the scary lady was there."
Emma leaned closer until their noses nearly brushed. "Yes, Jean is a very scary lady. But she isn't going to hurt you."
Didi ducked her head, and made an un-assured sound of acquiescence.
Emma looked at Emily. "Are you staying out of trouble?"
Emily grinned, obviously finding her actions comical. "Well enough."
Emma shook her head, unconvinced.
The moment they stepped into the room, the attention of all the occupants focused on them. It would have been one thing if they were all looking at Didi, but it was clear, precisely when Deirdre was put down and proceeded to locate Logan and climb into his lap (she really was just like a cat, able to spot the ones who were most afraid or most allergic, and invariably sit on them) that both Emma and Emily were the object of just as much attention.
Didi, clung to Logan's arm, and glared across the table at Jean. "You'll protect me from her?"
Logan chuckled and relaxed. "Certainly."
Jean looked hurt.
It wasn't as if this was the first time most of them had met Emily. What with various cross jurisdictions, and the last incident, Emily was a known entity to most of the X-Men. But it was clear that there was nothing familiar about the way they were looking at them. The whispering and occasional snicker didn't help.
<< Oh, this is going to be fun. >> Emma felt the warm brush of Emily's thoughts. She naturally wanted to pull her in, let her mind curl up around the feeling like a hot water bottle. It was a result of the previous trauma, she knew, so she didn't.
Ororo was one of the few who wasn't looking at them like they had grown second heads, and she stood to start the meeting.
"From our research, we conclude that it is likely Deirdre has come from Earth 716. All we know about it is that its history veered away from ours approximately forty years ago. A group of very powerful mutants led an uprising that created a feudal society, powered on the backs of human slaves."
Emma stiffened. "What?"
She looked at Emily, who was clearly unsurprised, and then to Deirdre and back again.
"Looks like someone was a bit of a randy young master," said Logan with a chuckle.
This was sick; she wasn't going to stay for this. She tried to slide out, but Emily's hand gripped her leg.
"Actually, it seems we got married at some point, so it might have been a bit more complicated than that."
Logan nodded and ruffled Didi's hair. "Right on."
Scott frowned. "There's no possibility of equality in a relationship like that."
"I didn't think that you had any right to discuss the ethics of relationships," shot Emma.
"Please." Ororo was too poised to ever display exasperation, but it was clear enough in her tone. "We contacted Forge about his Ghost Boxes, which make it possible to travel between alternate universes. Unfortunately their use is much restricted by certain issues relating to inter-dimensional travel. It would be difficult to assemble a team to enter this world because it is so similar to our own. There can be no duplicates. Anyone who exists already in that universe would instantly die on entry. Forge has considered creating a team out of entirely genetically modified or out-of-time mutants, but it would still be a great risk to assume that their existence is entirely unique. Ghost Boxes must also travel through a dimensional rift, and the next rift that links our world and Earth 716 will not occur for twelve more years."
Logan frowned. "If it's that difficult to get back, how did the munchkin get here in the first place? She didn't just wander through some random portal, right?"
Hank coughed to get attention. "I may have some clues to that. I examined the clothing that Deirdre wore on arrival and they contained some forensic traces that suggested the Phoenix Force might have been involved."
"Oh," said Jean quietly. "That's why she doesn't like me."
"What were these forensic traces?" inquired Scott.
"Um," stalled Beast. "Well, mainly the way they smelt reminded me of it."
"Right," Emma leaned on the table. "Well, it seems to have been a good guess."
"Twelve years?" Emily stared at the helpless heroes. "You're saying you can't do anything for twelve years?"
"I'm sorry," said Ororo, honestly.
Emily looked like she was about to be sick.
"So the only question left is what to do with the child," said Scott.
Hank shrugged. "She seems perfectly healthy and well-developed for her age. Her X-Gene is dominant, but not yet active. She may have a few adjustment issues, coming from such a different world, but with normal socialization experiences, they should sort themselves out. She is still young enough that even if she had to learn an entirely new language, she would be at a functional level in four to six months."
Bishop scowled. "I think we're missing the point here. Have we ruled out that she's not the spear-tip of an invasion force?"
The entire team looked at him and then at the small girl who was trying everything she could to get Logan's claws to pop out.
"Or something." He turned away, feeling vaguely embarrassed.
"It might be something not completely unworthy of looking into," said Sage. She looked at Emma. "I assume you'll do the scan?"
Emma nodded. Scanning children so young wasn't particularly reliable or safe, but she could check for key markers, even if it was very unlikely to get a full comprehension of what was going on. Memories were often broken up into useful components, like words and feelings, and rarely reconstitutable into scenes or narratives.
"And then what happens?" asked Elizabeth. "She is just a child."
"Well," said Scott. "She's a mutant, isn't she? She should stay here?"
Emma gaped. That was absurd, and after the incident in the cafeteria, highly unlikely. "What gives you the right to tell me what to do with my daughter?"
Scott blinked like the idiot he was. "Technically, she's not your daughter."
Emma had never burned so hot. "Technically, I don't give a shit." She snapped. "Technically, Rachel isn't yours either, and I didn't tell you how to raise her, although I'm sure I could have offered some prime pieces of advice."
Scott turned color, but Jean cut him off before he could find words.
"Deirdre is much younger than Rachel was. She needs a more stable environment than the chaos of a school. And her parents did entrust her to Agent Prentiss, not to us."
The rationality was like a slap. Emma hadn't thought about that, about how they hadn't picked her. She looked at Emily who still seemed pale and shaky.
Scott followed her eyes. "Do you really think she can handle a mutant child?"
Logan guffawed. "Cyke, my man. If she can handle Emma, I'm sure this little munchkin will be no trouble."
Emma stiffened at the implication that Emily could 'handle' her, and saw Emily take a deep breath and lean forward over the table. She was going to take her back to DC, and that would be it, wouldn't it?
"Thank you for your advice. But since it seems you can't do anything about sending her home faster, I really only need to speak with Emma."
"You shouldn't let her near a child." Scott scowled.
Emma breathed in harshly and opened her mouth to rip him to shreds. Everyone leaned away from him, waiting for the blast. But Emily spoke first.
"If you're jealous of me, don't take it out on her."
The room was dead silent until Jean finally let out a snicker.
Scott shoved his chair out and left the room.
Logan grinned and showed Didi just the tips of his claws. "Yup, no problem handling mutants."
That was a phone call that she hadn't wanted to make. JJ could feel Hotch's frown deepen as she tried to explain without explaining that Emily had some family problems and needed a little time off. Since it was common knowledge that Emily was an orphan with little to no contact with her more distant relatives, this didn't go over particularly well. And, of course, the last time they had used that excuse it was for Emily to go gallivanting off to California to rescue her sometimes girlfriend from another weird mutant problem, and once that made national news, their cover was blown.
Hotch sighed. "What is it this time? Really, I mean."
"It is a family problem just, um, dimension traveling mutants are involved."
"And why is Emily involved?"
"It showed up on her doorstep?"
Hotch sighed. "Do you think this will take longer than a week to sort out?"
"No," JJ said, hoping her hardest that it wouldn't. "I'm sure it won't."
"Tell her she has time off, and that calling me herself would be appreciated. She doesn't lie as well as you, JJ."
"I didn't lie at all!"
Hotch grunted and hung up the phone.
JJ dialed Emily to give her the news, but no one picked up. She glanced at the number pinned to her fridge, the 'if you can't reach me anywhere or are in really terrible trouble number.' She gave a little prayer that it wasn't Emma's, and dialed it.
Ororo was having some quiet time in her garden after that meeting from hell. She really had tried to find anything that would help Emily, and Forge was very unwilling to share any of his information about ghost boxes or alternate universes, but she had wormed them out of him. It all came to nothing in the end. And of course Scott, who had hated Emily ever since the incident with Belasco, had only made things worse, basically suggesting that the only assistance the X-Men would be willing to give her was taking Deirdre away.
Ororo truly did want to help. She knew how uncomfortable her friend would be with the idea of having children. She was so jaded about it, how easy it was to lose control, to damage permanently by accident. But there was little she could do. The child was Emma's, and no matter how much Scott tried to resist the idea, that did give her some rights, if only in Emily's mind.
But really, what would Emma sacrifice for this? She was not someone who liked having her autonomy taken away. She would easily part with cash, but Emily did not need that sort of assistance. It would be very difficult for her, particularly with her job. She could not see Emma leaving the X-Men to look after a child, for someone else's comfort. It was far too easy to see her leaving at her own whim.
Her phone rang. She didn't recognize the number, but answered.
"Hello?" the voice repeated, insecurely. "This is, um, Jennifer LaMontagne. Who am I speaking to?"
Storm wondered whether she had given her identity away to an enemy. But this was her private line, so it was unlikely.
"You're Ro, right? Emily's friend."
"And you would be "
"JJ." Ororo heard the laugh in the other woman's voice. "Sorry, I was being so formal, wasn't I? I was worried I'd get Emma."
Ororo smiled involuntarily. The exaggerated horror in the woman's voice, suggested that her opinion of Ms. Frost was shared by others of Emily's circle. "Emily gave you my number?"
"Is she, um, I heard she was going to the mansion. Is she with you?"
"I did bring her here, but she has gone into town for dinner with Emma and Deirdre."
JJ chuckled. "That should be fun. I was just calling to tell her that I got her the next week off to sort things out, since she'll need it."
"That was very kind of you."
"Well," JJ sounded truly humble, which was uncommon. "When you have kids, you need all the help you can get. She's done for me before."
"You have children?"
"Oh," Ororo felt vaguely surprised. "I would not have guessed."
"From a two minute phone conversation?"
Now she was embarrassed. "It just seemed to be something that would come across."
"You don't." JJ knew this for a fact, and Ororo felt no need to deny it.
"I I didn't do it on purpose. But I had nine months to get used to the idea. I'm not sure if Emily is used to it yet. I'm worried about her."
"I am as well. It seems that without outside intervention, the child will be in this world for at least twelve more years. Emily did not take the news well."
JJ let out a breath of relief. "I was afraid she would try to get rid of her. But it was unsuccessful?"
Storm paused. Emily had shared enough with her to make her wonder what Jennifer knew. "That's a bit harsh," she said. Not everyone was perfectly designed to have children. She herself knew that the time required and intensity of focus would be too much for her. Being Kitty's mentor was different, and then extracting herself from something like parental idolization combined with an akogare-style crush had been painful enough. "We are actors. We like to help rather than just wait and hope. But Deirdre is not the first dimension traveling child we have encountered, and as our ability to assist in that case was little better than none, I did not have much hope this time."
"I didn't I didn't mean to be harsh. But my little boy has been talking non-stop about his new best friend, and I would hate to tell him that she wasn't coming back."
Ororo smiled. "I am glad you're there for her. Someone needs to show her that it is possible to succeed, or at least survive. But if if there's any help you think she needs, I would appreciate it if you would call me. We were friends when we were children, and her experiences might give her a drastic idea of the hardships involved. I would be grateful for any chance to assist."
"Yes, of course. I'll call you for that."
Ororo froze, worried she had been too specific. It would be awkward to interact as only 'Emily's friend,' selfish, almost. "Or for yourself, of course. I would not mind speaking with you again." Ororo was surprised at the words that had spilled from her lips. But she meant them. There was something charmingly easy about JJ's conversation, and forgiving, even when she managed to embarrass herself. And she had so few friends; one more could not hurt.
"I I wouldn't either. Please call if you'd like."
JJ set down the phone, trying to hold down the thrill she always got when meeting someone new, making that connection. It had been an odd call. Emily's friend was very formal, but her voice was beautiful and modulated. She could have listened to it for hours.
She flushed and went to find Will and Henry. Will's explanation would have to come next.
"Ah! It's the limo! See, I told you!"
The chauffeur was staring open-mouthed at the apparition and had forgotten to open the door. Emily smirked, glancing up at Emma.
"Do they let you keep servants here?"
"Of course not," Emma snorted, "the bourgeois rabble. I had to call nearly an hour ago for the car."
She pushed past the immobilized chauffeur and opened the door herself, picking up Deirdre and setting her inside. "No shoes on the seat."
And then held it open for Emily, who laughed at her. "Still smiling now that they've taken your tax cuts away?"
"Why not? They've given the money to the banks, so I still get to watch the proletariat starve."
The chauffeur eventually recovered and began the drive into town. Emma glanced over at Emily who was watching Deirdre take apart the car phone with general trepidation. Emily looked up and apologized and asked a question with a single wince. Emma ignored it. She didn't care. Car phones were about twenty years out of date by now.
"You don't need money."
Emily shook her head. "I haven't done the finances yet, but it's not something I really have to worry about."
"You won't have to sell stock?'
"I doubt it."
"Don't," said Emma with flat finality.
Emily raised her eyebrows. "Okay?"
"You know what I mean."
"I know." Emily grinned. "I just want you to say it."
Emma glared. "Fine. If you suffer any shortfall of capital, you are to contact me immediately. In fact, I will give you the number for my accountant, or, perhaps I should just "
"Emma! Emma. I'll be fine. I haven't even looked at my inheritance. This is not an issue."
Emma shook her head. "If you say so. But I am serious. Do not do anything idiotic, like sending her to public school."
Emily chuckled. "What's wrong with public school?"
"No, honestly. I've heard Banneker is really good."
"You have never set foot in a public school in your life. Unless there was a murder there. Which is not actually a positive argument."
"Neither have you."
"Oh yes I have. I taught in South Boston for three years. It was horrifying. Even worse than my previous stint with menial labor."
Emily hid her grin and acquiesced. "Okay, no public schools."
"Actually " Emma frowned, lost in thought. "I want you to let me choose. That age group is not my specialty, but I know some people in the field who are respected. I'll pay for it, if you let me."
"It's your area of expertise. Please, go ahead."
"When she's ten or eleven you'll have to send her here, to me, or wherever I am." She paused. "If I'm not around I'll write you a list of qualified counselors, trustworthy ones. No one should go through that time alone."
Emma turned and looked at her fiercely. "You need to be prepared for this. And I can't promise to be there."
"Neither can I."
"You had better."
"It doesn't work like that! You know that! If it's me-"
"You're keeping your job?"
Emily glowered. "Oh, no. You do not get to use this as an excuse to let your paranoia run wild again."
"It's not paranoia if I keep visiting you in the hospital."
"Don't fight please?" Didi crawled into Emma's lap. The stiffness fell from Emma's shoulders and her hands stroked the hair back from the tiny girl's face. "Are you coming home with us, M'ma? I don't like Court."
Emma sighed and leaned back in the seat, stricken to the core. Emily met her eyes, and matched them with the same helpless desperation.
Emily decided that it was absolutely unfair. Emma's poise amongst chaos was perfect. She spoke to Deirdre as if she were an adult, and Deirdre responded in the same manner. (Unlike with Emily to whom she responded as if she were speaking to a particularly idiotic child.)
Then of course came the lesson on how to speak to wait-staff, and Emily realized that she was incredibly glad that she was the one who had defacto custody, or Deirdre was going to turn into her mother.
She hadn't thought about her mother in this whirlwind of activity. Emily wondered what she would say if she were still alive. The first time she had been so horrified and sickened by the idea that Emily hadn't been able to bring herself to tell her what had really happened. Let her think that her daughter had some secret Italian boyfriend, better than knowing that she was a drunken slut who let herself get manhandled outside a Discoteca.
She wondered what life had been like for her double, what had been different, when it had all changed. If it had been true and she had been a slave, been Emma's slave Emily gritted her teeth, not turned on, she was not turned on.
"Emily, please accompany the young lady to the restroom."
Well, actually it probably wouldn't be that different from what it was now.
"I want M'ma to read to me!"
Ororo had intercepted them on their return and said that "Jennifer" had called, and gotten Emily the rest of the week off work, and offered to prepare rooms if they were staying the night. Emma had responded in no uncertain terms that they would stay with her, and Emily had found the staring contest that followed rather diverting.
Emma had made up a bed on the sofa for Deirdre, but she resisted getting in until her story was read. Emily proffered the book, and Emma took it, brusquely. She sat on the floor and allowed Didi to squirm into her lap. Emily lay on her side across from them and watched, astonished and mystified at the situation.
Didi stayed alert through a story and a half, but then started to get sleepy. Finally they got her into bed and slipped out, Emily's hand tangled in Emma's, tugging her into the next room. The door clicked shut and a moment later Emma's back made a soft thud against it.
Emily, still clinging to her collar where she had pulled herself up, broke the kiss. Emma gaped, and tried to catch her breath.
Emily pushed off her toes and pressed her body into Emma's. "It's just really irritating that you're so good at this."
Emma grinned. "You don't seem irritated."
"I am." She wrapped her arms around Emma's shoulders and tipped her head forward as Emma's hands slid down to her thighs and lifted. She carried her easily through the darkness to the vast expanse of bed.
In the morning, the bed had three occupants.
Garcia had taken a disgusting number of pictures of Didi on her camera phone, and they were doing the rounds of the BAU.
Morgan squealed in a very unmanly way when he spotted them. Reid just gaped.
"What? But what?"
Garcia arched an eyebrow. "You speak English?"
"Nononono! Look at her. This is impossible. Utterly, utterly impossible. See the teeth, look at the teeth, full set of baby teeth, can't be any older than five, six at the most. And Emily's been with us five years. We would have known, we would have seen something. Even if she gave her up in the hospital, you can't just hide that. But what if she's three?" He seemed suddenly struck by a shock of horror. "What if what if she was already pregnant before Genosha was attacked, and then she took so much time off, and was acting strange. Maybe they had met, and," he faded out of the world, only coming back to mutter something like "nefarious experiments" and then go off again.
Morgan hugged the picture to his chest. "Oh, this isn't fair!" he cried. "I want to be a daddy!"
Jordan pricked up her ears and stuck her head out of the office (JJ's old office, which she had taken over permanently after JJ took her profiling course and exam on the threat of Strauss adding a dedicated police liaison to their team. (She wasn't technically a profiler, and the brass had started wondering why she was the one choosing which cases were most likely to benefit from profiling. The pay hike wasn't a tragedy either).
"Pictures?" She strode over, pushing her hair back over her shoulder. "Oh my god. She's Emily's?" she asked, her eyes widening. "She's so cute! But " Jordan wrinkled her nose. "Who's the father?"
Penelope frowned. "Did you ever meet Emma?"
Jordan only blinked once in surprise, then looked knowing, and smiled wryly, glancing back down at the picture. "I don't think so."
Garcia quickly pulled up a photo and Jordan leaned in to look carefully. "Oh, one of the mutant vigilantes?" she asked brightly.
Garcia made a face.
"Are they really together?" Her voice was more serious on this question.
Garcia winced. "It's usually hard to tell."
Jordan shook her head. "Emily deserves better than that." She looked back at the picture of Didi. "But it's a little late now." She sighed pensively. Too late.
Reid dropped his pen. "Wait! Mutants? It has to be alternate universes!"
"Dude, you need to lay off the coffee," said Morgan.
"Why does it matter, Dr. Reid?" asked Jordan. "Emily's got a darling baby girl."
Morgan showed Jordan his image of Didi hitting Henry over the head with a stick and waggled his eyebrows as if to say, you and me?
Jordan planted the photo in his chest and stalked back towards her office. "Not a chance."
JJ came rushing in, a little late, and spotted the gathering by the photos. She looked from them, to Garcia, to the cooing federal agents, and sighed. "Emily is going to kill us."
She spotted Hotch coming in and hurried towards the bathroom to hide. She was too late. He had spotted the photos and identified them with inhuman speed.
"JJ! My office!"
"Why do you still blush every time we wake up together naked? It's not like it's new, darling."
Emily didn't mention that it was usually because they always seemed to awaken such after, say, promising the night before that this thing between them was over, or that she wouldn't take advantage of her not-exactly-girlfriend while she was in a feral state, or after having sex in the bathroom at work because she could never quite remember the word 'no' while Emma was kissing her. But this time there was clearly a valid reason. "There is a small child behind me."
Emma blinked and then looked over her shoulder at the girl curled up on top of the covers. "Oh," she said blandly. "I forgot about her."
Emily was certain that steam was coming out of her ears. "What!"
"Relax, darling." Emma managed to extricate herself and climb out of bed. Emily pulled up the sheet to her chest, glaring quite pointedly at Emma's lack of attire. Emma smirked. "She's going to have to get used to it sooner or later, unless you're planning on installing locks."
"I'm thinking later will be less traumatizing than sooner."
Emma tossed a balled-up t-shirt to Emily. "I doubt it's a surprise, not if she's really ours." She pulled on one of her less-than-modest silky robes, not tightly enough for Emily's approval.
Emily rolled her eyes and climbed out of bed, the shirt providing some semblance of modesty. "You're saying that in whatever world, you couldn't keep your hands off me?" She re-tied Emma's robe so it wasn't about to fall open accidentally.
Emma raised an eyebrow and glanced pointedly at the small child as she slid her hands under the hem of Emily's hip-length t-shirt. "I think there is some evidence towards that, yes."
Emily turned in her arms and looked back towards the thankfully still-sleeping girl. She snorted. "That took forethought and planning. It wasn't just " She looked back and made a face. "You know."
Emma grinned enigmatically. "I don't know. If it happened like I think it did "
Emma just grinned again.
JJ slunk into Hotch's office and found a seat. She looked up and gave a hesitant smile. Hotch sighed.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It wasn't the easiest thing to get words around."
Hotch sighed and looked down at his desk. For the first time she noticed that he had a picture of Didi on top of his calendar. JJ smiled to herself. Pics of Henry had done the rounds just as fast. "I suppose not. It must be difficult, to be faced with something you never thought you'd have to see again."
JJ blinked. "What?"
"It's all right. Garcia told me."
"Told you what?"
"That the girl's foster parents died suddenly in a car accident, and they offered her back to Emily."
JJ shook her head, trying to clear out the confusion. Apparently Garcia had come up with a cover story and tried it out for size on Hotch. "Oh, that."
"I wish she had been able to confide in me. Did you know anything about it?"
"No," JJ said shortly. "Nothing."
"Do you think she's keeping her?" Hotch looked serious and grim, but there was enough worry in his expression that suggested, to his credit, that he was more concerned about Emily than about the effect this would have on his team. (JJ was the one who was worried about that. Four-year-olds did not appreciate absentee parents).
"That's what it looks like. For the duration."
Hotch shook his head. "That little girl needs a father."
JJ couldn't keep herself from grinning, but she did her best to pass it off as mildly uncomfortable. "She's gone to see Emma."
Hotch cringed. Then for a moment he looked hopeful. "How do you think she'll take it?"
JJ bit her lip. She had managed to get over the hope that rose up every time they had a fight, that maybe this time they'd break up permanently. But Hotch had only really figured out what he thought of Emma comparatively recently. She understood why he had hope, but he didn't know that Deirdre was Emma's kid (really obviously Emma's kid). "I think I think she'll be fine with it, eventually."
Emily's phone rang and she twisted out of Emma's arms, snagged it, and disappeared into the other room. Emma looked down at the small child curled up on her bed. She lay down beside her, using the tip of one finger to push her dark silky hair back from her face.
It was hard to believe that what Hank said was true. This child was far too pretty to be hers. Emily's, of course: her smile and her pout were both instantly recognizable. But children were putty, taut sandpaper skin over springy flesh.
Emma ran the pads of her fingers gently over soft skin, careful not to scrape with the edge of a nail, tracing the shape of her cheekbones that already suggested a proud arch, the tiny child's nose, which would only show its true shape after being given a chance to grow.
Emma had never wanted children. She knew too well how people never escaped their parents' taint. No one had to tell her for her to know that she was like her father: cold, selfish, and practical. If her father had any emotions, he kept them locked inside. Only his anger had never had any trouble coming out. She had learnt to be the same. But with a childhood like hers, who could expect anything different?
The only thing she wanted was to never pass on her own faults and psychoses to a child. No one deserved to suffer like that.
Didi blinked twice and opened her wide blue eyes, too large for her face. Emma knew those eyes, knew the line of her brows. She had stared at them in the mirror her entire life. She swallowed hard and tried not to show the twist she felt inside her chest, half in sorrow, half in horror. This child did not deserve the curse of her parentage.
"M'ma, you look sad." Didi scooted closer to her and curled up against her, kissing her face.
Emma stiffened and pulled away from her. "Don't-"
Didi blinked and tilted her head, giving her an intent penetrating stare that was both too familiar and completely alien. "M'ma?"
How could she ask this of her? Emma didn't give her vulnerabilities to anyone, certainly not to children. She asked comfort from no one, and never by means of platonic physical affection. "I'm not sad."
Emma wasn't certain if the expression of blatant disbelief on Deirdre's face was more hers or Emily's.
"Do you have to send me away again?" Didi asked quietly. "I don't care that things are different here. I just want to stay with you and mommy."
Emma froze. A heavy squirming weight settled in her stomach. She had forgotten that they were all this child had left, even if they were only poor substitutes. "We're going to look after you," she said, not sure how to touch her, not sure if she had the power to make it okay.
Didi looked down. "Do you not want me anymore?"
Emma couldn't say she empathized with her unknown double, she couldn't even say she trusted her, or respected her for the decisions she had made, but this child was blameless. She reached out, threading her fingers through her hair. "We're not sending you away. I don't know how we could have ever sent you away."
Deirdre made a hesitant move towards her again, and Emma gathered her into her lap. Wrapping her arms around the flimsy little body, she wondered how it was possible that holding a child could make her feel nervous and insecure in a way she hadn't felt for years, not at least since she had gained control over her powers and left her misery of a home behind.
But Didi wouldn't let her close off and fake it. She needed more than that and could pick out a lie at fifty yards. Her little fingers clung to the soft cloth as she tried to burrow into her. Emma's grip tightened around her.
Curse or not, at least for now, this child was hers. And she would do whatever necessary to save her from the mistakes and disasters she had made of her life.
"How's my favorite new mommy?" Garcia's cheerful voice cut from the phone right into Emily's gut.
"Oh god! Don't call me that!" Didi calling her mommy was one thing. It was like witness protection, or something. She just had to try to not blow her cover and utterly traumatize the girl, and eventually it would be over. She could lie and cheat and make deals with costumed vigilantes for that goal. But in Garcia's mouth the word meant something else entirely, and the weight of everything she would have to do fell on her like fifty-ton anvil.
She really wasn't cut out for this. Just thinking of her double, who was clearly a good mom who loved her kid, made her cringe, half with guilt and half with discomfort. She couldn't imagine herself that way, not someone who could think that this was easy. She couldn't imagine circumstances where having a child could ever be easy for her, not if she and her double shared any similar experiences.
"Are we having parental jitters?"
Emily scowled. "You do know it's six in the morning. Why are you calling?"
"I thought I'd make sure your new bundle of joy didn't interrupt any parental bonding time, particularly naked parental bonding time."
"Yeah, you're a little late."
Garcia guffawed. "Weren't you guys broken up, like, as of last night?" Emily groaned. "I know, I know, not really relevant for you. Teh sex, it happens."
"I kind of have bigger things to worry about than whether or not we're technically together or not."
"One of which is about two foot five?"
Emily sank onto the tangled sheets of the abandoned couch bed. "Yes, that one."
"JJ may have mentioned that you may need to finish childproofing your place."
"Yeah." It was too early in the morning to have to think about this.
"What's your social-security number?"
" What?" That was out of the blue. "Don't you know it?" Emily was pretty certain Garcia had access to far more personal information than that.
"Well, yeah. Of course I do. But I figured if I asked you, and you told me, it would be like tacit permission for what I'm going to do."
"What are you going to do?"
"Just necessary things."
Emily lay down on the couch and looked through the open door to where Emma was picking Didi up off the bed and instructing her about something that Emily couldn't quite hear. Didi was laughing and squirming in her grip, but Emma wasn't about to let her escape until she had finished her lecture.
"Well, if they're necessary "
"Phew, I'm glad you said yes, 'cause I'm almost done."
"Wait! Garcia! What did you do?"
"Don't worry, I didn't give you any embarrassing chronic diseases."
The line went dead. "Hey! Garcia " Emily groaned and snapped the phone shut. She'd find out when she got back to work, she supposed.
Emily leaned against the doorframe as Emma set Deidre on her feet. She ran past Emily giving her leg half a hug.
Was this what it was supposed to feel like to have a family? Emily wondered. Panic shot suddenly down her spine, her stomach turning.
Family had never been a simple word. To her mother it had been a political ideal: family honor, family values. To her father it had been pride and promises, and finally loss. But to Emily it had been nothing but a wound. What family dinner would turn into a political game? What family outing into a fake display of conviviality? What family conversation into a fight? To Emily, family meant dread and disappointment.
Emma leaned into the wall near her, mussed and playful. The smile that was spread across her face made Emily ache to kiss her.
"Look, I only have two and a half months left in this semester. Then it's summer. You'll need a break. I can take her."
The words were like a blow to the gut. This is what family was: separation and loneliness. They could never be what she wanted, because she could only fall in love with women who were like her mother. They love you well enough while you're there, but don't be fooled that they would sacrifice anything important for you. They'd give their lives for the world, of course, but never for you.
But really, why should she complain about it, when she was exactly the same?
Didi popped back in, half-arrayed in overalls and with her head stuck in the arm of a striped rugby shirt, and Emma, almost automatically, bent to pull the shirt over her head, fasten her straps properly and straighten her collar.
Emily didn't even know how to bend like that, completely unconscious of the endless questions that brought her to the edge of panic. Should she interfere? Would it be accepted? Did she even know how to fasten overalls properly? Emma glanced up and saw her expression.
"I had a younger sister," she said. Her eyes slid away, and Emily wondered what new horror lay behind them.
"Is she alive?"
"As far as I know." Emma brusquely turned to find clothing for herself. She glanced once back at Didi, who had found a crystal bowl full of glass pellets meant to hold flowers, poured them out on the rug, and was proceeding to arrange them in careful rows. "Who on earth picked that clothing out?"
Emily scratched the back of her head. "JJ had some that Henry had grown out of."
Emma sighed. "If you don't even make the effort, I may have to do something about you."
"What?" Emily wasn't entirely prepared for death threats this early in the morning.
"Shopping, darling." Emma pulled a cleavagey white collared shirt from the closet and tossed it on the bed. "I meant shopping."
"I'm hungry," whined Didi.
Bobby was lying in wait for them in the hall. He grinned at Emma. She pinioned him with a glare, and Emily sidled behind her to be out of range of shrapnel.
"Emma! I didn't know you were so virile."
Emma glowered, and hoisted a still sleepy Didi up onto her hip. "Did you learn a new word just for the occasion, Robert?"
"Would you prefer, 'congrats! You knocked up your girlfriend!'"
Emily snickered, and Emma had to divide her cutting glare between multiple targets.
"And to think, I'm more successful than you without even trying."
Bobby rolled his eyes. "You're losing your edge, Emma. I don't even have a girlfriend."
Emma just smirked, until Bobby realized what he had said, flushed, and scuttled off.
"Ooh, burn!" said Emily, dryly.
Emma gave her a look. "They're going to have to try harder than that if they want to embarrass me about this."
Emily and wondered how hard it would be. She slid her hand down Emma's forearm and laced their fingers together, if only to cushion the blow. "He didn't even mention that I was your slave there." She heard the short intake of breath and saw the stiffened spine, but ducked her head and brought Emma's hand up to press against her forehead. "Mistress."
There was one long frozen moment, before Emma finally laughed. "God, you would be a trial to have as a slave."
Emily laughed along with her, happy that it had worked. For someone who had very little physical shame or regret for her past actions, Emma was very sensitive when there was any suggestion of a stain on her character. Emily had been surprised at first when she reacted so strongly to that element of the other world. But considering the power she had as a telepath, and her father's mutant ability, slavery, in the guise of full mental control, was far too attainable to be meaningless.
Even if it wasn't possible to escape cafeteria dining when you lived at a school, at least the teachers didn't have to eat with students. Still, it was always a little like high school, and Emma had gotten used to bringing something to do so she didn't have to watch her fellow diners feel awkward about not wanting to speak to her. The way Emily was tagging along three inches from her hip and the way her eyes had widened at the sight of the room suggested that she was having some negative flashbacks too.
But somehow Didi, as usual, made everything different. Ororo and Logan came to sit with them, and it was too easy to look over and see Emily, doing something mildly idiotic, and feel safe.
Logan was attempting to be congenial and asking about Deirdre. "What does the cub like to do?"
Emily looked slightly out of her depth at this. She glanced over to the child in question who was sculpting the mound of powdered eggs into something that could have been a hobbit hole. "Um, she likes stories."
"Um, yes, books about dragons, specifically."
Logan nodded, still looking interested, even at her influent response.
"What sort of books do you like?" Emily asked him, trying to make it less awkward.
Emma overheard this and snorted.
Logan gave her an offended glare. "What? I read! And yes, I've read things besides Louis L'Amour!"
"Mommy! My toast is too big!" Emily covered her eyes. She had cut it into soldiers, but apparently that was not good enough.
Logan leaned over and attempted to be helpful by using his claws, but only managed to rend the tablecloth.
Emma took over. "Logan, do not use your weapons to cut your food."
She gave Didi a knife, taught her to hold it correctly, and insinuated something about servants only being useful for certain things, which made Emily hit her and Ororo look at them both with an expression of disbelief.
"When are you planning on returning to Washington, Emily? We are not on a mission right now, so we can take you whenever you're ready."
Emma tasted something bitter and ugly in her mouth and wanted to bite her head off. But Emily looked just as awkward. "Oh, I, um, I probably should " She glanced over to Emma. "Do you have to teach?"
"I have two history classes this morning, but I can switch my afternoon telepathy for Jean's if you think it's worth waiting."
"Yeah, I was going to talk to you last night. But "
Emma looked away, catching Logan's amused expression, and narrowing her eyes in return. She hadn't been the one to start it. And really, who in their right mind would turn down that when it was offered? Even if she had been telling herself to get over her and learn some self control for months now. That was easy enough when Emily wasn't there, when her scent and her skin and her mind weren't within easy reach.
And anyways, sex for them had always been the least of their troubles. It really didn't matter how much of a bitch she was being or whether Emily was being obstinate and block-headed, because they tended to communicate better when they didn't try to speak.
"Ms. Frost. Ms. Frost."
<< Ms. Frost! >>
Emma jolted up from her reverie to notice the Stepfords looking at her petulantly. She had been gazing out the window towards where she could just see Deirdre chasing leaves that Ororo was tossing about in the winds for her. Emily was under a tree, watching.
"We're finished with our assignment, Ms. Frost."
Emma winced and tried to refocus. She could feel the ironic irritation from the telepathic girls. They were disappointed in her, and almost jealous, it seemed. It made sense, and she felt a little sorry for them, but not enough. She was staying there, wasn't she? She was going to let Emily take Deirdre home, and just cut herself off from them, be nothing to them. She could have her students or her family, but she couldn't have both.
(It wasn't new. She never could. But it seemed to hurt more this time. It had made her think again, reevaluate her choices. But she couldn't just pull up roots and change everything for this. She had fought so hard for so long to not do it for Emily that it felt like doing it because of Deirdre would be a weak pretext for just taking what she wanted but shouldn't have. Didi was a crisis, but she wasn't a big enough crisis to make it worth it, to make it not a sin.)
Didi fell down dizzy in the soft grass and the green leaf settled on her nose. She laughed and huffed it up. Ororo made it spiral a few times before letting it drift back down. She leaned against the tree next to Emily and looked down at her. She sighed then reached down and rubbed away the lines etched into Emily's forehead.
"Why is this such a trial for you?" Ororo asked. Emily wrinkled her nose and glanced up. "You told me about your plans with Michael. Why isn't this something you want?"
"Something I want?" Emily echoed, and shook her head. Ororo slid down the tree and settled behind her. "It's not. It can't be." She sighed. "I don't think anyone really understands. It's not like providence has dropped a child in my lap and I should be grateful for that." She made a face that suggested that if providence dared to show its face after trying such a trick it should be prepared for a boot to the crotch. "She's not mine. She's someone else's."
"A different me. And I'm not her. She has these expectations, and this real life with real parents somewhere else, and how long will it last before she realizes that I'm not good enough?"
"Why on earth aren't you good enough, Emily? I read that note. Yes, the situation was different, but there's no way to judge whether it was better. And that woman had the same mother you did, and all the fears that came with that."
Emily's eyes drifted up to a window on the second floor, and Ororo sighed, realizing why she had picked this particular tree to sit under.
"I'm just going to tell you what I've always told you. Once you've figured out what you want, don't waste time dithering about whether it's worth taking. Some things " she didn't say people, she didn't need to encourage this. "Some things need to be taken."
Ororo had volunteered to watch Didi for the afternoon, and had taken her off, informing her that plan one was going to be a nap. Emily was impressed that she dared to suggest such a thing, and tried to memorize the attitude and phraseology for later use. Emma came out of her classroom with five students surrounding her like a cloud of electrons, trying to hand her papers, give excuses, beg for better grades. Emily just leaned against the wall and watched. She so rarely got to see her like this.
Emma took the paper, told the skinny tow-haired boy that he was on Dani's team and that was final, told the girl that if she wanted to rewrite the paper so the first sentence didn't give her a headache, there would definitely be an opportunity to improve her grade, and told the boy who was claiming stomach flu for missing a pop quiz that if he planned to lie to her, he needed better shields. She also mentioned that alcohol was not permitted in the student dorms, and that if he didn't show a marked improvement in her class, she might suggest that Raene take a walk past his door in her wolf form.
"I suppose you have to go back."
Emily blinked. The children were gone and Emma was looking at her. "I yeah, it looks like I have a lot to do."
"I suppose so."
Emma took her arm, gentlemanly, and firmly, and they walked through the dark wood hallways, not quickly, but in a specific direction. Emily wished she had something to say, but just thinking of leaving made her chest ache. She always managed to get on with her life when Emma decided she didn't want her around, but it never seemed to be going anywhere during those times. Now it was rushing forward, with a force that suggested an impending waterfall, and she didn't want to let go or be abandoned by this firm grip that held her arm.
"What else do we have to do? I don't even I don't even know what I need to get done."
Emma nodded, only half listening. "And she's "
"With Ro, having a nap."
They were outside Emma's rooms, and she unlocked the door, dropping her papers on the table by the door. She fumbled through them.
"I made you a few lists." She pulled out two handwritten sheets, one with names and numbers of counselors, the other a list of schools.
"When did you do this?" Emily asked, frowning as she scanned the names.
Emma waved away the question. "I had already assigned a quiz, I just wrote that instead of grading."
It was great, it was wonderful, so useful, etc, but it still felt like she was being hustled off. Emily sighed and put the papers down. "Thank you."
Emma gave her a half smile. "I wanted this time."
Emily looked at her, confused. Emma stepped into her and pressed her lips to her neck. Emily sucked in air and let herself be kissed, this time on the mouth. She fumbled quickly for buttons and catches. "Why are you " she started, not resisting as Emma stripped off her shirt. "I mean, I thought you didn't want-" She gave a little gasp as Emma's mouth found her breast.
"When have I ever not wanted you?"
She hadn't meant that. She had meant the throwing of the phone, the last three times Emma had kicked her aside for her own protection, the fact it was clear that none of this ever worked out for them. "Why now?" but as the words slipped from her mouth she knew the answer. She would leave tonight and this was it. As always, this was it.
Emma didn't answer, they were at the edge of the bed, and it was easy to tumble down on it, pull her close, and pretend. "I'll come in the summer," she whispered. And Emily pretended that meant something other than it did as well.
"Have you thought about hiring someone?"
"Hmm?" Emily blinked in the warm afternoon light.
"Full time, I mean, since I can't seem to convince you to quit your job."
Emily laughed quietly at her wry expression. It was better than when she meant it. "It seems like a big decision, and picking someone to basically live with you."
"You do tend to rhapsodize about your profiling abilities. It might be time to use them."
"All right." Startlingly, Emma pulled her up and out of bed, chucking her scattered clothes at her. "It's time to go."
"What? Go where?"
Emily's eyes widened in horror.
"Don't look like that." Emma chided her. "I warned you about this."
"If she doesn't want them, don't get them for her!" Emily snapped.
Emma gave her a look. "Do you think I disagree? You really were traumatized by dresses at an early age, weren't you?"
Didi ran circles around their feet.
Emily looked away, frowning. "You don't have to make her try on everything."
"That's how this works, I'm afraid." Emma picked up a few things from the cart and handed them to her. "Here."
Emily looked at them askance. Emma made a shooing gesture. "Perhaps you should get involved. Go try those on." She sat down on the bench and pulled Didi up into her lap. "We will evaluate."
Emily hadn't intended on coming out with clothes for herself as well as for Didi, but if Emma decided that it looked good and she hadn't vociferously disagreed, it was given to the sales associate. Even more distressingly, she was apparently getting two new tailored jackets. She had thought she was done with tailoring after her mother stopped trying to influence her wardrobe.
Deirdre had four bags however, and Emily was grateful that they weren't flying commercial air. She had also decided that she had to wear her new shoes (red) and her new jacket (fake fur-lined) out. They waited for the interminable tying-shoe period to end, for Didi insisted on tying her own.
"She's just going to grow out of them," Emily hissed.
"It's not like it matters." Emma glared. "And since you seem to be revolted by the concept of clothes shopping in its entirety, I had better fill up the stores."
Then Didi spotted the toy store and they had to stop arguing to combine their powers to wrest her from its lure.
Ororo was waiting outside her team's plane, but Emma didn't want to let them go. Emily looked trapped awkwardly between not wanting to annoy Ororo and trying to figure out how to say something which would probably be better expressed physically.
Didi was ignoring them all and attempting to grab Kurt's tail. He had been shocked at being recognized and hugged by 'ein kleinkind!' but was now hopping about agilely and keeping his tail just a tad out of Deirdre's grasp.
Emma watched her for a moment, but then her eyes slid back to Emily. It was so hard to pull back her mind after that afternoon. She had just let herself go, fill up on the feeling, and now she had to close the doors. If she just waited for distance to take her away, it would hurt too much.
Emma locked her left arm around Emily's waist and tugged her tightly into her stomach. Her right scrabbled in her pocket. Emily yelped and tried to squirm free, but Emma came out victorious with her cell phone. She turned it on and tapped her way into its memory.
Then she handed it back.
"I bumped your boss from speed-dial 1 to 4, if that's allowable."
"Because I'm certain something horrible would happen if I disturbed the Thai restaurant and the Indian restaurant from their accompanying places."
Emily winced. "Probably."
Emma couldn't stop the smile spreading across her face, but she did her best. "Use it," she said. Then she tipped Emily's chin up and kissed her.
She felt Emily's sharp intake of breath as she did, and clasped her hands around her waist. They never kissed goodbye. There were too many words, too many definitions that they didn't, couldn't, wouldn't bear to fit, and they cut things short and left them unfinished because promises were too hard to keep.
(Kisses were promises. They both knew that. But Emma couldn't even think of breaking this one.) She ignored Ororo's pointed cough, and parted her lips, pleased when Emily's tongue slid against hers. Her hands crossed Emma's back, hooking over her shoulders as she hoisted herself up onto her toes and clung.
When she let her go, Emily was flushed red, but smiling.
Emma knew she didn't understand why things were different now. But it was simple. A child was as good as a brand, as good as a manacle, and somehow she had been waiting for this, waiting for a reason to fight to keep her and never let her go.
Return to Criminal Minds Fiction
Return to X-Men Fiction
Return to Main Page