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SEQUEL: to Women of Diamond.
Oedipus for Girls
Sometimes it was unnerving, how much Emma reminded Emily of her mother. Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss had the same braced carriage, the same arch inflection, and the same tendency to pick out all the reasons Emily's suggestion was a hideously stupid idea when she had every intention of agreeing to do it.
Emma had arched an eyebrow and responded with consummate sarcasm. "Are you seriously suggesting that I, a known mutant, one of the 427 survivors of the Genoshan massacre, subject myself to a vast government funeral, run by the military, and accompanied by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?"
"I was just asking if you wanted to go."
The wicked playfulness that Emily still wasn't entirely used to spread across Emma's face. "And you thought I might say no?"
Hotch hadn't wanted Emily to come back to work right away, but he couldn't stop her from sitting at her desk and filling out paperwork. News had spread throughout the team quickly, and everyone was treating her with kid gloves. Emily was sure the situation made the team uncomfortable because they were used to sharing the horrors, bearing the responsibility together. But this time she was the only one who had been there, who had dug through rubble and laid out bodies with her own hands. They seemed to decide as a unit to leave Emily alone with her pain.
So, at 10:02 on the day of her mother's funeral, Emily was surprised to receive a message from Garcia with a surveillance photograph of Emma, in the lobby, looking as if she had been posed for the shot. Do you know this woman? Was typed underneath. Just as she was about to respond, a message popped up from Morgan. "Nope, but I'd sure like to! :P" "Me too!" added Reid. Emily chuckled. "She'd eat you for breakfast, boys." She typed, and then stood up, grabbing her coat. She picked up the copy of the photo from the printer and ducked into Garcia's office on her way out.
"Did you really have to send a picture of my ride to everyone on the team?"
Garcia gaped at her, her feathered pen making lopsided figure eights in the air. Emily waved her printout.
"Good shot though."
Emma was significantly unimpressed when Emily popped cockily out of the elevator before she had finished dialing her cell. She did like the photo, however, and tucked it in her purse.
"Why didn't you come up?"
Emma pointed lackadaisically towards the top of the elevator doors. "Mutant detector," she said. "I thought we were trying to arrive on time, and having a full security check might interfere with that."
Emily nodded and frowned at the blinking gold light. She had never known that was there, or hadn't thought anything of it if she had been told. She opened her phone to get a text off to Garcia when she received a team wide notice. To "Re: Emily cheerful?" Morgan had responded, "Getting some?"
"They do know that I get it if they CC all? Idiots."
She glanced up into Emma's wicked, sharp-eyed smile, and let herself fall.
When the rescue team returned, the woman had staggered to her feet to meet them. Emily stayed stunned for a moment, before pulling herself back together as well. The woman introduced herself to the team as Emma Frost, and offered her services identifying the bodies. The rescuers were obviously bewildered, but far too quickly their faces went blank and they accepted her help. They didn't even try to rush her off to a medical tent to get checked out.
Emma met her suspicious curiosity with a look that was a threat. Emily relieved a rescue team member of his clipboard and followed Emma around as she identified the bodies. She wrote out the tags, and Emma, gently, but fearlessly, tied them around wrists and ankles. It almost seemed that she had done this before. Once Emma glanced up from a little boy with furry elven ears, and her expression was so achingly haunted that Emily knew, without knowing, that this was not the first time.
"Their families lived here," Emma said, the first words she had addressed to Emily in her voice. Emily knelt next to her and looked down at the small boy. Save for the ears he was nearly the spitting image of a child she had seen raped, strangled, and left in a public park. His family had been broken by his death, his violation. This boy's family would never have to do that. No one would mourn these children besides the woman beside her.
"What am I doing this for?" Emma hissed. "There are so few alive. I can feel so few alive."
Emily touched the small of her back hesitantly, and Emma recoiled. "Don't touch me, human!" Her eyes cut like daggers. "If you have any empathy to spare me today, you are an unfeeling wretch."
"Empathy?" Emily asked, her face drawn and tired. "The reverse perhaps." She pressed her fingers to her forehead. "I'm sorry that it's all on you, but in some ways I'm happy that there are so few parents mourning children, and children mourning parents."
For a moment she was sure Emma would strike her. But she couldn't keep it in anymore, and the keen of fury spilled from her. Nothing with her mother would ever change again. Their relationship was fossilized in its discomfort and dissatisfaction. It was like a rock embedded deep in her belly. Her mother's body, the intact string of pearls that rolled through her hands like bones were all that remained of a living, breathing bond, studded and colored with anger, regret and shame. The weight of the dead was always heavier than the living.
She didn't feel Emma's hands close around her shoulders, but she felt the heat in her mind of another presence. The threat of it made her throw up her walls. And they stood, facing off in the plain gunmetal corridor of her consciousness.
Emma turned from her to look at the walls. She ran a hand along the chill metal, and tried a door that didn't budge. She looked back at Emily, vaguely impressed.
<< I haven't seen walls like this in a human mind for a long time. >>
<< I've had a lot of practice. >>
<< Practice like this? >> There were flashes, images, but not ones that Emily recognized from her own mind. More dead children shimmered across her mind, battles, bloodshed, torture, rape, a young blond man's body. She knew it was suicide automatically. The emotions had been muted, but some shouted into her nervous system, and she felt her body sweating and quivering with the strength of them. She was too wired, too raw to let her own out, to take down that wall and show the bodies, the bombs, the sadists.
<< Yes. >>
Perhaps it was good enough, for they slipped out of her mind. Emma's fingers were digging into her shoulders hard enough to leave marks. The hot African sun was setting behind her, red fire glowing in her hair, her face illegible in the harsh silhouette.
"Um " The vomiting kid from the rescue team was standing beside them. "We're going to set up camp now, before it gets too dark to see."
Emma stood up, directly if not gracefully, and held a hand out for Emily. She managed the lift and let her mind fall back into the place where she could act without being disturbed by her emotions. Emma glanced back and made an approving noise. Emily wondered vaguely when she had become more emotionally unstable than the woman she had helped pull from a classroom that had become a mass grave.
The camp was a quiet affair, little laughter, little activity. Usually there would be a release of tension at night, a celebration of the rescues and a bit of a wake for the losses. But there were no rescues this time, not enough, and so many bodies that it was up to each individual to plea bargain with god and rage against the universe. The rumors said that the death toll had reached 500,000 and the authorities were estimating the total slain would come in somewhere around ten million.
"It's more," said Emma. They sat on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea with their tasteless MREs. In this deserted place the wreckage and loss of life could be forgotten. No one had been here, and so no one here had died.
"You can tell?"
"On this entire godless island there are perhaps a thousand living minds. Half of those are rescue workers. Genosha had nearly twenty million inhabitants."
"Some people were evacuated."
"From the backlands. The cities were devastated."
Emily closed her eyes. She had been evacuated a few times herself, from Bosnia when she was only five, from Georgia, Poland. Her mother had always said that they were lucky to be government officials, because they were evacuated first. Your status didn't matter at all if the attack was unexpected, if the embassy was taken out in the first wave.
"What happened? Did you have any warning?"
Emma stared out to sea, but it was clear she did not see it. The silence went on for so long that Emily was suddenly afraid that the question had made her angry. But then she spoke. "I've heard them before, Sentinels and once you've heard them you will never forget the noise they make. Structures that large are not meant to fly. But they do, and when they do, they roar. I had maybe a minute, not quite two. I did what I could, not that it was worth anything." The moonlight bathed Emma's face in white. "I had, at least, expected to die with them. Finally to die with them."
"A surprise. A secondary mutation. They're becoming more common. On one hand it's worrying that the x-gene might be unstable, but on the other, I wonder if I could have taught them enough so they could have evolved, so that even a few survived."
"There's only so much that can be taught." Emma flashed her a hard look. Was she that afraid of pity? "I saw enough dead children before today to know that, enough parents they had done everything right. Don't talk to strangers. Don't play in the woods. Look both ways before crossing the street. And all they had to show for it was a mutilated corpse."
A flash of heat entered her mind, and she struggled for a moment, trying to keep Emma out, but she was gone again, like a fox.
"You're an FBI Agent?"
Emily nodded, although the information had been ripped straight from her mind. "You could have asked."
Emma gave a sly smile. "But you're getting so much better at keeping me out. Practice, practice."
Emily snorted. "Is that even possible? For me to keep you out?"
"You're such a human. Of course it's possible. Telepathy is a weapon of will against will."
The facilities for the rescue camp made Emma cringe. But she made do with cold water and bald disinfectant. Emily watched her take down the loose French twist and tie her hair back in a low tail.
There weren't enough tents to go around, so they laid out a felt blanket in the starlit African night. The sound of rescue crews still working under flood lamps was just white noise after a while, but Emily couldn't sleep.
"It's gorgeous here," she whispered to herself, not expecting a response.
"You should have seen it yesterday." Apparently Emma wasn't asleep either. She rolled on her side and pointed towards the beach. "When it isn't trampled by army boots and amphibious tire tracks, that strip of sand glitters in the sun. The ocean is a deeper, greener blue than any other I've seen. The skyscrapers in the city were made of a glass angled to reflect the sky, and the smaller buildings were all white. The citadel in the midst of the jungle. But the most beautiful thing about the place was the hope, hope that this would finally be the place of peace and safety that we had been seeking for so long." The dry irony grated, tearing up something far more precious than skin. "I had always known it was a pipe dream, particularly with Erik as its president, but when you're here, you can't help but feel it."
All Emily could feel was the heat of Emma's body as it curled around hers.
At the funeral, Emma had already run into about seven or eight people she knew, and slipped off to talk business. Emily leaned against the wall, feeling abandoned. It was the same feeling she had always had when her mother had done the same thing. A few people came up to give her their condolences, but most of them turned to the people who had known the Ambassador in the same way they had. No one here knew what it was like to be her daughter. No one knew her as family.
"Me? I never met her." Emma's voice echoed across the hallway. "I brought her tragically orphaned daughter."
<< Emily, >> the penetrating words cut straight into her head. << Stop cowering by the punchbowl. Your family's reputation is at stake. >>
Emma always made her smile, and at her side it was easier to smile knowingly, convince them that her mother had cared a bean, that she had talked non-stop about their proposal or campaign. She may not know her mother well, but they knew her even less, Emma reassured her.
It felt fleeting, this intimacy, born of a moment of vulnerability shared by two who rarely allowed their weaknesses to be seen. But it was comfortable, and after six hours passing the satellite phone back and forth, contacting relatives, some sobbing, some cursing the mutie scum that deserved to die, it was good to have someone who could smile, who could change the subject, who could listen to a story about the girl who lay in two parts in a sack hastily fashioned out of a blanket and laugh instead of cry.
In a week there were still twelve kids who had either been rejected or had no relatives left. Emma said she would deal with them. She could afford it. She always banked Swiss.
The backhoes had been put to the use of leveling land and digging graves for the unidentified, the pieces, and the ones who had nowhere else to go. Emma found a place in the shadow of a hill, near some un-razed jungle. A private jet airlifted in the necessary supplies, and the small, fenced in area looked almost like a graveyard in New England, save for the differing flora and the quality of the sunlight.
The chaplain attached to UNICEF ran the service. He was small and balding, but had the eyes of someone who had seen too many children die. Their rescue team gathered around nervously. Emma didn't show what she was feeling, but it was obvious enough. She didn't resist when Emily held her hand. That past week, Emily had heard so many stories that each name bore with it a character, a flavor, a life. That sort of ache felt better than the numbness that had swallowed her when the official number was announced: 16 million dead. 16 million, and it wasn't even a war, just a madwoman, armed with the relics of hatred and intolerance.
That was when she kissed Emma for the first time. The backhoe was filling in the grave. One of the rescue workers tossed in a tattered silk rose, found in the rubble. Emily knew she was going to cry, and she turned into Emma's body, hiding her face in her neck, kissing it, almost without thought, until Emma's arms tightened suddenly, almost painfully around her waist.
There was no pleasure in it that night, only release, only momentary release from the ache of death riding on their backs.
The small, haphazard funeral on Genosha, with coffins that had to be assembled like an Ikea furniture set, felt somehow more real than this state affair. The marines, in their white hats and black coats, moving their rifles in precise angular motion, like clockwork toys. The professional eulogizer, "her life for her country." Emily wanted to shout at him, her life? Do you think her life is so important? What about her family? What about me? Was I given up for her country too? Who was this woman, so honored, so beloved by her country? Where were the people who could tell the stories of the chewing gum on her chair, the prank that backfired, the cutting insight into her elders' relationships? Who was the one who could bring Elizabeth Prentiss back to life, if only for a few moments? Who could give her back the humanity that was her birthright, the humanity she had shed to become an ambassador? Emily couldn't. No one here could.
Zanzibar was the pinnacle of civilization compared to the desolate wastes of Genosha. The pristine beaches, palm trees, royal British architecture. The bathwater turned a rusty brown with dirt as Emily bathed, and she drained the whole thing, scrubbed it out, and ran a second before she even considered washing her hair.
Arlington Cemetery had contacted her with the date and plot number. And this moment in paradise was all she had before it was back to real life, back to the ugly every-day of Quantico. There had been a tentative communiqué from Hotch. She had given him her date of return and nothing more. There was nothing more she could bring herself to say.
Emma was on the window seat when she came out of the bath. She was staring down at the street, the wide flashing smiles of the locals, the milling aimless tourists. It was her very stillness that told Emily what she was thinking. It hadn't been so different, Genosha. It had hardly been different at all.
Emma looked up at her and smiled. It was somewhere between her "I like you," smile, and the "my heart has broken so many times that it doesn't matter now" one.
"I'm clean now."
"A drastic improvement."
"You think so?" Emily let her lips spread into a grin, and let her bathrobe drop.
If they were only in paradise for a few days, they might as well fool themselves into thinking it was truly heaven.
Wine and sex were probably the best things to follow a funeral with. Emma lounged easily on Emily's couch, holding her glass up to the light. The red liquid glowed. Emily sat upright, her knees tucked into her chest, gazing down into the depths of her wine.
"I'm clear to be back in the field on Monday."
"Fabulous. Chasing more repulsive serial killers around the country?"
Emily let herself smile wryly. "That's what I do."
"I have a job. At Xavier's Mansion of all places. They find me repulsive there, but apparently don't have an issue with me influencing their young."
"It's what I do," Emma drawled.
In that way they were the same. Bullheadedly charging into their callings. Disregarding their knowledge of the world that told them it was futile. You couldn't change the world, and yet, every little thing you did changed the world in some way.
Sometimes it was unnerving, how much Emma reminded Emily of her mother. But it never hurt as much as it did when she dropped Emma off at the airport, where a private jet would take her to the wilds of upstate New York. Emma walked away just like her mother, the same determined stride, never looking back. Even the marks she had left on Emma's neck and shoulders would fade away.
Emily sank into the leather seat and finally cried.
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