Notes: And you thought this series was dead! Another standalone arc, separate from the previous chapter. Watch your step for some of the more mature themes here if you're the sensitive type. This particular offering explores Emma's fate if she left home at a very young age.

What If Emma...

by Yimmy

Chapter 5: What If Emma Left Home?

"Irene, why are we here?"

The precognitive woman hushed her lover and pointed to one of the many houses. To be sure, house wasn't the word to describe the structures on this particular street--castles about covered it. Every dwelling here sprawled on for ages, each boasting certain eccentric and undoubtedly expensive themes. The one over there had four spires extending up six stories; the one down the street looked like a Miami beach house. Helicopters, extravagant gardens, luxury cars, and strange architecture melted into a numbing vision of indulgence.

And the estate Irene pointed to embodied all these qualities in some way, shape, or form. Seemed like the place was the big brother house, setting the precedence for everyone else to follow. Bigger than the other big mansions, more nouveaux chic than the other nouveaux chic, and more intimidating than the other intimidating properties, it screamed of a commanding, arrogant presence.

Everything else was just an echo of its cries.

"So it's big," Mystique dryly noted as she folded her arms, "If you want one-"

The ominous double doors shot open as if blown apart by cannons. A brown haired girl stumbled out of the palatial estate, close behind her an irate man, a very stressed woman, and two other smug looking girls. The scene jumpstarted Mystique's lazy nerves causing her to open the car window a crack and use her superior hearing to eavesdrop on the family.

"-boy was a freak of nature and deserved whatever crumbs I fed him! How dare you question me, Emma?!"

The singled out girl met the man's furious eyes and fired back. "Christian is not a freak!"

"Talking back," the red-faced man spat, boiling over like a screaming hot kettle, "Who taught you that? Who taught you to attack me? Was it that ingrate you want to join? Is that what you want, Emma? Do you want to go to the insane asylum with that... that... thing I used to call a son?"

The stressed out woman gripped the man's coat sleeve. "Winston, please, we don't have to make a fuss."

"Hands off of me when I'm teaching my child!" His arm yanked out of the woman's grasp and rose up to backhand her.

Little Emma gasped. "Mama!"

Too late. The slap reverberated into the streets and felled the woman without effort. The other girls shrank aside, neither offering the woman (whom Mystique presumed to their mother too) any comfort or solace.

Little Emma rushed her much bigger father and repeatedly beat her tiny fists against his lower body. "You hurt Mama again! You said you wouldn't!"

Meanwhile in the car, "Christ," breathed Mystique, "she can't be more than ten."

"Eight," Irene corrected, "but she's seen things that would make one four times her age cringe."

Frowning at his daughter, the man known as Winston put his sweaty palm on her face and shoved her away, tumbling her to her bottom. "If you want to live under my roof, eat my food, and use my money, you will listen to what I say. You will hold your tongue unless I require an answer from you. You will learn what it means to a be disciplined child of the Frost clan."

Whereas another girl would've balked at the sight of her angry father looming over her panic stricken mother, Emma Grace Frost hopped to her feet and prepared to charge again. And again the elder Frost laid her out, this time with a powerful slap.

"The stupid girl's going to get herself killed." Unable to take any more, Mystique removed her seatbelt and-

Irene stopped her. "Is this what you really want, Raven?"

What she really wanted? What did this have to do with-

The memory, cloaked by furtive giggles and pillow talk, came back. Last night. Irene was talking about last night, talking about that hazy moment as they readied to sleep. The subject came up then, a little what if between lovers: another child. Could they take on another child? Another mutant who had nowhere else to go? Certainly the world didn't lack for orphans, especially mutants. Would the child be he or she? Older or younger? Rogue was such a darling thing, how would she take it?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Mystique peered at Irene like she'd gone stark raving mad. "You can't be bringing this up right now. Another kid? Another stray? So soon? You've got to be joking."

"I can and I have. You said you wanted another child, someone who our little Rogue could look up to."

"Sheesh, I was being hypothetical! Can't we just get her out of here and be done with it?"

"She has nowhere else to go, Raven. We can either leave her here where she'll endure for another ten years or we can intervene and spare her of the pain."

The metamorph sighed. This was another one of those destiny defining events, wasn't it? The choice wouldn't have been given if it wasn't. Yet the decision wasn't one to make alone.

"What do you want, Irene?"

"I want you to follow your heart. I won't always be here to hold your hand."

"Don't talk like that."

"I've spoiled you," the seemingly older woman smiled. "In your heart, you know someday I won't be watching the threads of destiny for you. I want to know that when that day comes, you'll be true to yourself."

"So is this a test?"

"If you want it to be."

Goddamn, so it was a test. Mystique looked out the window again: the father had the little girl by the wrists and was wrestling her back into the mansion. Servants finally scurried out to usher the rest of the family inside before any more attention came. Undoubtedly, no one would ever hear about this incident, the blemish paved over by money and influence. To the world, this castle would be made of dreams; inside, a innocent soul would suffer silently. She felt the door on this fate closing, just like the fancy double doors engulfing the brown haired girl named Emma.

Leave her. That translated to a decade or so of psychological and physical cruelty. Save her. That translated into another child, another mouth to feed, another person to love, another life to look after. Did she have room in her heart to love another? Could she love this girl, this eight year old who'd remember her home, fully? Perhaps, perhaps not, but while she and Irene already had their hands full with Rogue, the child raising experience, for all its trials, fulfilled something in both women and made them whole. They'd loved and lived for ages, but only when they loved and lived for another did they find true happiness.

Another one wouldn't be so bad.

That and Mystique had a soft spot for children, especially those helpless against their unloving parents.

Her skin rippled, glossy flesh becoming dull like dark cloth. Stark yellow eyes deepened till they became brown. Her face and hands turned white like a "normal" person's. A police officer's hat hid most of her long, red hair, now magically tied into a ponytail. A shiny badge glistened on her chest declaring her a member of Boston's finest.

"How do I look?"

Irene's smile widened. "Perfect, like always."

"Wut's yer name?"

Emma didn't want to talk to this girl. Actually, Emma didn't want to talk, period. This morning, people in white came by and took Christian away. Christian, her big brother, the person she loved most in the world, the only person who protected her from Daddy's wrath--they put him in a straitjacket, dragged him out of his room while Daddy called him a fag, and took him away.


All Emma wanted to do was cry, but then Adrienne wouldn't leave her alone. She kept on saying stuff like "Where's Christian now, Emma?" and "Can't hide behind him anymore" and "They'll cut out a part of his brain. I hear that's how gay people get better." Next thing she knew, she socked Adrienne in the mouth. Of course, her sister went running to Daddy, and well, Emma kept swinging until the nice policewoman came by.

After all, that's what Daddy did when Mama wasn't listening to him.

The woman said Daddy couldn't hit her, told him he'd be arrested and she'd be taken from him. Daddy said "Good riddance" and slammed the door in the policewoman's face. The nice policewoman talked to Emma, asked her if she had somewhere else to go and if she wanted to go back to her family.

After what happened to Christian, after watching Christian kick and scream his way out the door, Emma didn't want to be anywhere near her so-called family.

She just wanted to cry.

"Hey, ah ask'd ya sumthin-"

"Rogue, don't bother her."

"But Irene!"

"Don't Irene me, young lady. Leave her alone."

"Why she here?"

The door closed and the voices got further away.

The nice policewoman brought her to this place, asked a lot of questions, asked her if she minded staying with some nice people for the time being. Emma didn't care because she wanted to be left alone, so she nodded and said nice people were good.

So far, that old lady and the little mouthy girl were nice. Well, nicer than Daddy. These people didn't shout at her or hit her. These people didn't force her to do anything. They asked if she wanted food and water, if she wanted to swim in the pool out back or go get some ice-cream or play around at the nearby park. All of those things sounded like wonderful ideas, things Emma saw her classmates do as she passed them by in the back of Daddy's Bentley but never got to experience for herself. Any other time she'd be filled with glee, but today, she could only see the tears on Christian's face and bruise on her own mama's cheek.

Emma pulled her "My Little Pony" jacket tighter and cried till she fell asleep.

The family of three hovered about the circular dinner table set for four. Raven raced around with a piping hot dish of tuna casserole while Irene wafted away to put the finishing touches on the vegetables. Rogue, bubbling with the usual five year old's impatience and matching mouth, sat on the booster chair she didn't really need anymore.


The blue metamorph playfully squeezed her adopted daughter's nose as she put down tonight's main course. "Yes?"

"Who's that girl?"

Before she could answer, Irene called out from the kitchen, "Raven dear, could you get another roll of paper towels for me?"

Caught between daughter and lover, Mystique said, "One second," to her daughter and sprinted away to get the requested item.

Abandoned, Rogue shrugged and tried to sneak a bite of the casserole, which for a five year old was much harder than it sounded. Equipped with her shortened, kiddy fork and chubby arms, the girl stood on her chair and stretched to the center of the table.

Close, but no good.

She discarded the kiddy fork and grabbed one of the grown-ups' forks. Closer, but still no cigar. Carefully surveying her surroundings, Rogue climbed up onto the table and-

"What are you doing?"

-froze solid like a statue. She didn't recognize the voice, but then again, it could've been Mama playing her usual jokes. Rogue slowly turned around and saw the girl. That's right, THE girl who Mama and Irene brought home. The girl with her puffy eyes and rosy red cheeks.

And she had on the best "My Little Pony" jacket ever. It had pink, glitter, ponies, and oooooh, what else could a girl ask for? Before she could help it, Rogue blurted, "Ah like yer jacket."

The girl beamed with a certain smug pride but wouldn't be swayed for her earlier question. "What are you doing?"

As if the answer took a lot of guessing. "Eatin', wut else?"

"You eat standing on the table?" the girl asked distastefully.

"No ah don't!"

"Yes you do, you're standing on the table right now."



With tears in her eyes, Rogue yelled at the top of her tiny lungs, "Mama!"

Never able to resist her young daughter's call, a very harried and very blue Mystique hustled back into the dining room. Before the woman could placate the situation, a child's lightning reflexes cut her off.

Emma let out an impressive "MONSTER!"

"Irene, this isn't working."

They lay in their bed enjoying the breeze fluttering into the window and the naked presence of each other. Under satisfaction's afterglow, uneasiness gripped Mystique. Despite being next to the love of her life, she couldn't will away the little girl's terrified face.

The girl screamed "monster." She either didn't know any better or she knew too well--Mystique couldn't decide on either.

"She doesn't belong here."

Little girls weren't meant to be traumatized or taken away from their parents. Little girls were suppose to be lights of the world, not hapless victims. This house had two little girls, but Rogue differed from Emma. Rogue literally had nowhere to go; Rogue was young. Mystique's own abnormalities proved easy to swallow for an impressionable child. Emma... Emma was too mature. Emma would have a hard time thinking of these strange people as family. She held onto her own family as a good little girl should and needed to go home.

Home wasn't safe but it was the only home she knew.

"Irene, are you listening to me? This isn't right."

The woman known as Destiny smiled, her eyes unseeing but her mind seeing all. On cue, the screams of one little girl--not Rogue--echoed through the modest house. Raven started but Irene put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Silent thoughts passed through them, years of togetherness honing their emotional perception of each other to supernatural sharpness. Stopped, the metamorph leaned back into her pillow and allowed her lover to amble out of bed alone. With practiced ease, Irene slung on her robe and put on her customary glasses.

"Sleep, Raven. I won't be back tonight."

Sleep? "Not without you."

Irene smiled, blew Raven a kiss, and glided to the door. "You say the sweetest things."

"No, Daddy, don't... NO! Mama, don't hit me too... no, I'll be good, I'll be good-"

What did being selfish mean? Being true to oneself? Putting one's own welfare above everyone else's? Was a person still being selfish when the perceived selfish act helped so many others, especially loved ones?

"Please... stop... STOP!"

Irene wrestled with these questions as she sat down on Emma's bed. Such a wondrous child this one, one with tomorrows of all sorts tied to her. From this body radiated unfathomable futures and the potential to achieve great--or terrible--things. Irene had never seen anyone like this, so full of destiny but fate so elusive. Emma was like Raven that way, the wild card who's actions dictated the actions of others. They were a rare breed who didn't die until their time, never relented if they ever found their purpose, and always played pivotal roles in a better existence.

Hence, Emma was important. Emma was also eight years old. Emma was also scared. For all her grand designs and never clear premonitions, Irene couldn't see this fragile life as a tool, but yet she couldn't distance herself from this girl's destiny. So much depended on this young one's choices... so much of Raven and Rogue's happiness depended on her...

And their happiness made Irene herself happy. Problem was, would those things make little Emma happy? Was it right to take this child and make her into a comfort for her family? Was it right to manipulate someone this young? Was Irene doing this for Emma's or Raven's sake? Would the future turn out as seen or would a darker world take over?

Questions, questions, questions, and until the future became the past, there'd be no definitive answers.

Emma's blue eyes shot open as a particularly heartrending scene shattered her dreams. The darkened room rushed back into her vision, that and the face of the old woman named Irene.

"Easy, child, you were having a nightmare."

How long had she been sitting there? Emma wiped her tears away with the snuggly blanket and turned her back on the lady. The lady might've looked, sounded, and acted like Mama, but she wasn't Mama.

Mama never came to her bedside.

Mama never knew when she had a nightmare.

Mama never made her feel in control, like she had a choice in talking, crying, or ignoring the world.

Mama was Mama, good or bad. This lady wasn't Mama, but for the moment, seated mere inches away and smiling a comforting smile, she was better than Mama. She needed Mama now and this lady would be a fine substitution.

Wrapped in her cocoon of sheets, Emma whispered without moving, "I thought Daddy was hitting me again."

Against her will, the woman flinched. No matter how many times she'd seen this terrible thing happen in her life and in her visions, the idea of a guardian attacking their flesh and blood sent chills up her spine. The image hit far too close to home.

"Do you need a hug?"

A hug sounded good. It was something Christian did when Emma cried, and when things were really bad, he hugged her till the sun came up.


The thought of him pushed Emma over the verge of tears. Under duress, she reached out for her only sanctuary and found herself clutching this old woman. Bony fingers stroked brown hair while soothing sounds those good mommies made on television enveloped her. The hurt didn't go away, the tears weren't drying up, but then again, pains like these didn't disappear in one day.

Irene kissed the top of Emma's head and let her maternal instincts take over.

One thought echoed between both of them: whatever tomorrow brought, it had to be better than today.

While years later she'd deny it with every fiber in her body, Rogue hated Emma then, hated how the older girl waltzed into her life and took her parents' attention. Mama always made a point to say she and Irene didn't love her any less but it sure didn't feel that way. Why, in a matter of days, Emma got a new bed, a snazzy wardrobe full of cool clothes those kids on Full House wore, a new desk with shelves and drawers, a bunch of toys to die for (Barbies, a bicycle, and that new video game console, Nintendo!), and the ultimate prize, a television in her room.

If it was any consolation, Emma hated life. Against her will, her heart ached to be with her family. Yes, these people here were nice, mouthy pre-schooler and freaky, blue woman included, but she knew only one way, the Frost Way. Amazingly, she missed Adrienne's snarky comments and Cordelia's prying eyes; she missed their company, not because she liked them but because she was used to them. The undeniable fact? Family was family, and when it came to the Frost family, they were just a different breed. Never before had Emma needed to clean up after herself (that was for the servants) or been asked what she wanted to do (Daddy had everything planned out for her). This house, these people, they offered the life those kids lived on television, complete with friends, playgrounds, and ice-cream trucks.

It was a dream come true, but the little girl couldn't overcome her uneasiness.

Winston Frost trained his daughter to be vigilant and untrusting. Though the teachings hadn't quite wrapped their talons around her soul, Emma waited for the other proverbial shoe to drop. When would these people become mean? When would they start hitting her? Why did they take her in? Because the policewoman said so? At least back home, she knew never to trust anyone except Christian, but here, she wanted to trust.

Wanted to but couldn't.

Yet, people changed like the seasons. Days moved into weeks, months, even years. Jem became cooler than My Little Pony. A computer phased into the home, its off-white color clashing with everything else in every room. Big, frizzy hair went out of style.

The family adjusted to each other.

Raven held Rogue close to chase away the feelings of inadequacy. She told the girl that good parents loved all their children the same, that Emma would never replace her. Of course, Rogue wanted to know why. Why did she have to accept Emma as a big sister? Why did her mama want another child? With patience few knew she had, Raven explained how some unlucky girls had bad parents. Bad parents came in many different forms, but the bottom line was unhappiness. Bad parents didn't make their daughters feel good about themselves; bad parents had no time for their children.

Emma was one of those unlucky girls.

"Mama, wut can we do ta help?"

"Be nice to her. Share. Love. It's all she needs."

While Raven comforted Rogue, Irene stood by Emma. Well, being precognitive, Irene didn't exactly have to follow the girl every waking second, but she knew. She knew when Emma felt lonely, scared, or angry. She knew what to do to make the hurting stop. Comfort without sacrificing dignity--Emma liked Irene because the older woman just knew like those supposedly good moms did.

All of a sudden, life didn't seem so bad. The blue lady (Emma still had trouble thinking of her as anything but that even though she wasn't always blue) named Raven acted nice, if only a bit put off by Emma's tepid dread. Rogue started to come around especially when the Nintendo was involved. School here wasn't like Boston: the other students treated her like anyone else, not Winston Frost's "princess." Nightmares came less often with Irene around. Hugs and talks changed from awkward to acceptable. Routines settled in.

The family of three soon resembled a family of four.

Many weekends found them at a park not far from home. Raven liked it because of its secluded, easily defendable perimeter. Irene liked it because of its quiet, unassuming solitude. Rogue liked parks. Emma... Emma liked being normal.

When she was normal, she thought about Winston less. Yes, Winston was Winston because he didn't deserve to be Daddy anymore. Raven, despite her scary blueness which she wasn't wearing now, resembled more of a real Daddy than Winston. She was strong, confident, a little detached, but above everything else, loving. So maybe she loved Rogue more as evidenced by the pair's frolicking on the jungle gym, but after all, everyone had their favorites.

Emma liked Irene better anyway.

"My, my, you look like you're thinking really hard."

"No," Emma replied to Irene's observation. Instead of elaborating, the girl kept on doing what she'd been doing for the past five minutes: sitting on the park bench and watching her feet kick back and forth.

Another parent might've urged her child to play, maybe even been reproachful for the sullen attitude. Irene wrapped an arm around Emma's shoulder and pulled her close yet somehow managing to be comfortingly distanced. Emma liked distance too because few people ever touched her in nice ways. She shuddered at the time Winston's driver put a hand under her shirt and-

"Darn! Why can't ah ever tag Mama?!"

The crystal clarity of Rogue's voice startled Emma into looking up. A muted buzz invaded the older girl's mind, the annoying white noise seemingly concealing... concealing... other voices?

"Maybe I should take it easy on the squirt. She's starting to get mad."

Raven? Emma's face flushed in mirth (from the comment) and confusion (from the voices so close and yet actual people so far away). Weird, odd, and-

"Look at that nice piece of ass! Wonder how she'll scream when I bend her over the table and fuck her ass raw."

A man's voice, this one deep and not nice. The crude words shocked her as she widened her eyes and scanned the park for the person saying these terrible things. Yet again, no one except for Irene in speaking distance.

"-not suspecting anything. Good, good, he doesn't suspect I'm cheating on him."

Her gaze found a couple ambling around the grass while they flirted and kissed away the day. In her heart of hearts, Emma knew those people were talking into her ear, but it made no sense. How could people far away be clear? How come the things they said didn't match their lips?

"Whoa, hello there. What a foxy thing! Minus points for the kids and grandma hanging around her, but otherwise, not bad. Not bad at all. Bet she's all nice and loose after popping out those girls."

The man continued talking, this time terrible things directed at Raven. Reflexively, Emma reached out for Irene. Why? Well, the man sounded an awful lot like Winston when he was in one of those moods. "Drunk off his ass," Adrienne used to mutter before she'd duck into her room. Winston would... would...

... would touch the maid. Hurt and touch Mama. Hit Christian which always made Emma hurt.

Cringing at the memories, Emma hugged Irene close while the tears rolled down her reddened cheeks. Anyone else would've been freaked out by the sudden turn from brooding kid to bawling baby, but never Irene. The woman returned the fierce hug while stroking that mane of long, brown hair.

From the direction of the jungle gym came, "Irene? What's the matter?"

"Oh darling, she's growing up before our very eyes." Gently, she tilted the girl's chin up and smiled, equal parts sadness and joy. "Be proud, Emma. You're one of us now."

Through sheer determination, Emma wrestled with her telepathic powers, harnessing them by feeling out each facet one at a time. Many nights she sat alone in the den, curtains drawn and headphones on her ears. While she listened to the loud musings of Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and the Pixies, she channeled the thoughts away. She willed her broadening mind to shut up. She ordered the nosy part of her to keep to herself.

For all her life, she felt out of control and at the mercy of the world. Nothing obeyed her except herself, and she'd be damned if she'd let her mind fail her now. But fail her it did as it became exponentially more powerful than what she could deal with. Too proud to ask for help, too prideful to show how much this telepathy affected her, she forged ahead with her normal life.

She knew more than she wanted to know about her friends, teachers, and family. She found herself hating the world for being such a two faced, "Do as I say, not as I do" society. She couldn't sleep very long because she was afraid her soul would leave and travel to places with lots of people and lots of thinking.

Emma was afraid... afraid and proud.

And then, after months of this journey, Irene stepped in; after all, children had to learn their own lessons and find their own paths. The journeys tomorrow required strength and strength was something that couldn't be taught.

It had to be learned.

But Irene was also a mother. By no means was she a telepath, but being precognitive had its advantages. She led Emma through a variety of exercises, ones similar to those she used to tame her own raging visions. Irene spoke of using Emma's talents, if not for others like her, then at least to protect herself.

Protect tomorrow with today's sacrifice.

She opened up on the things Mystique did for the good of mutantkind. She enlightened Emma on the terrors lurking in the future, of a time when mutants would be ridiculed, imprisoned, persecuted, and killed like vermin. She talked about being ready, being ready to act on a moment's notice because destiny waited for no one. She impressed on the girl the importance of caring, of knowing that life, while unkind and unfair, also had its rewards.

She taught her to keep two words sacred: responsibility and sincerity.

By now old and wise enough to understand more adult things, Emma soaked up the older woman's teachings. A new world opened to the girl, one where she could make a difference, one which she could control if only she could control herself. Wouldn't be an exaggeration to say their relationship deepened, maybe even got over the hump of Emma's strange adoption.

Then one day, in the midst of an old Chinese meditation exercise Irene had taught her, everything snapped into focus. Like a person finally putting on those prescription glasses they'd been putting off wearing, Emma clearly sensed Raven's thoughts while she washed the dishes. She heard Rogue writing in her diary even though she was sure "hearing" and "writing" didn't exactly go hand in hand. She looked at Irene and sensed love beaming off of her like an all-consuming inferno.

Suddenly, this old woman who seemed like nothing more than a crutch looked different in this new light. Strands of past, present, and future shifted into Emma as she saw deeper and deeper, the curse of Irene's premonitions showing all its gory glory.

To know but not. To see glimpses of tomorrow like yesterday. To fight for change but realize each step brought more of the same. To be time's master and slave, time that never rested or repeated itself. To give up but see that by giving up, there wouldn't even be a chance to live. To live with that kind of burden for ages, and for what? For a pair children she didn't even give birth to...

"Irene," she squeaked, her throat closing in preparation for the sobs and emotions she wasn't used to.

"You have a unique gift, Emma. You can read minds, pierce into the soul, and if you so choose, change the very essence of a person. While others can only wish to walk in someone else's shoes, you live the experience every day. What you choose to do with your powers is up to you..."

"No," she rasped, "there are no choices, I saw it when I-"

"Destiny is fluid. Destiny is choice. Our ultimate destination will always be the same, but how we get there, that defines who we are." Irene enfolded the overwhelmed girl in her arms. In the blink of an eye, each connected on a level neither had ever broached, Emma's telepathy shedding light on Irene and Irene's precognitive abilities being fully understood by Emma.

The words left Emma's lips as if the most natural utterance ever known: "I love you, Mom."

Then high school came.

The girls grew up. Rogue resembled a rough and tumble tomboy, shades of Raven running through her every act. Between glimmers of smiles, Irene would shake her head and say, "Such a rambunctious thing." Emma refined her Frost ways into a style all her own, one which sported an approachable sophistication blended with Irene's detached acumen. "What a hot little devil you are" Raven loved to purr, both to tease and praise the woman she helped raise. For the most part, those two were as normal as could be what with school, family time, friends, and typical growing pains. However, mutants and mutanthood integrated itself into the house, the overtone growing stronger as the years went on.

One unassuming day...

"The boy's bad news."

"Ah don't think so. You're just sayin' that cuz you jealous!"

Of all the off base, hurtful things to say, "Rogue, Cody's entire vocabulary consists of 'Dude,' 'Bitching,' and 'Funky.' The only thing he has going for him is football. He already has four girls on his arm and trust me, he doesn't need any more." Under her breath, Emma added, "Not like he can handle even one."

"Listen to Emma," smiled Mystique, ambling into the conversation. "No football playing boy is dating my daughter."

"But Mama!"

"See? Even Raven agrees with me."

"How do ah know if you ain't usin' those crazy mind games o' yours!"

The second the sentence came out, Rogue knew she'd stepped over the line. It's just... she was so mad! Why did Mama and Irene always side with Emma? What did they know about Cody? Cody was sweet and handsome and nice and dreamy and sexy. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Emma glared at her swooning sister, held back the colorful tirade in her throat, and stomped into the living room. If Rogue wanted to ride off into the sunset with an idiot, fine. Little sister was all grown up now and big sister couldn't tell her how to live. Besides, high school was time to make mistakes and Cody Robbins, star quarterback of the varsity team, rated a "Ginormous" on the mistakes scale. After all, this was the same idiot who knocked up Jill Meeks (head cheerleader, of course), smoked dope in the teacher's parking lot (and got caught), and crashed his into a tree after getting drunk and nearly blinded by some self-brewed liquor containing rubbing alcohol.

The roar of an old, beat-up junker rumbled past the windows and into her ears. Against her better judgment, she peeled back the blinds to confirm her suspicions: one Oldsmobile, no bumpers, dented hood, and smoke screen exhaust meant her sister's Prince Charming had arrived. Two blaring honks of his horn sent Rogue dashing into the passenger seat.

Vroom, vroom, squeal of tires, then gone.

Good riddance.

Stupid Anna-Marie "Rogue" Darkholme, running her mouth about stupid football players and "crazy mind games" she had no business talking about. Like she had any powers to begin with! Like she had any idea how hard keeping to herself was when the entire world broadcasted their thoughts! To mitigate her fuming, Emma shuffled to the kitchen in search of ice-cream. Ice-cream, a sappy movie, and a comfortable blanket would calm her down.

"You shouldn't take what she says to heart."

Irene's unexpected voice startled Emma and caused her to thump her head against the freezer. She emerged from the chill chest with a tub of rocky road, a good sized bruise, and a scowl Raven would be proud of.

"Mom, seriously bad timing." Blinking to clear away the stars, Emma fished around the drawer to find a suitably large spoon. "And I'm not taking anything to heart because I don't care."

"Now, now, child, don't pout. It doesn't suit you."

"I'm not pouting," pouted Emma as she dug into the rocky road. "Come to think about it, I want Rogue to go out with Cody. I want her to know how much of a slimeball he is so when she comes crying home, I can say I told her so."

The sappy movie beckoned her, but as she tried to exit the kitchen, Irene blocked her way. "What did I teach you responsibility and sincerity?"

Huh? Responsibility? Sincerity? Why the sudden, serious question? Hesitantly, Emma replied, "I should say and do what I feel?"

"Do you feel Cody is going to hurt Rogue?"

"Feel?" Emma laughed dryly. "I know."

"Then why didn't you stop your sister?"

"Because that stubborn girl has to make her own mistakes to learn. I did."

An enigmatic smile replaced the stern look as Irene stepped aside. "I'm glad someone in this house listens to me."

"Everyone listens to you, Mom. Raven and Rogue just don't admit it."

Of course everyone listened to Irene: the woman was precognitive for God's sake! How could a person with a direct line to the future be wrong? You'd have to be foolish not to look into every word she said because the future practically flowed from her like a fountain.

The thought seized Emma and wouldn't let go. "Mom?"

"Yes dear?"

"Did you have a vision?"

"I have visions about many things."

Restraining herself from cussing, the teen pressed, "About Cody and Rogue. Who else?!"

The ever-present, slightly frowning Mystique chose the moment to pop into the kitchen. "What's this about that boy and my daughter?"

"Mom," urged Emma, "What did you see?"

Calm and unmoved, Irene tilted her head as if to peer at her lover and daughter with faint curiosity. "Didn't you want Rogue to learn a lesson?"

The question sent both into action. Spoon clanked against the floor while ice-cream found itself side down on the counter. Emma tore out of the kitchen at almost inhuman speeds, the only sounds of her passing the jingle of car keys as she snagged them from their place hanging on the wall. Were it not for Irene's iron grip on her arm, Mystique would've followed Emma. Instead, the door to the garage closed and all she could do was stare at the hand holding her in place.

"Let her go, Raven. She needs to see Rogue's powers for herself."

"But Rogue hasn't... hasn't..." A light bulb went off in Mystique's mind. "No," she hissed, eyes wide and jaw clenched, "her powers are going to manifest tonight? Are you insane? We can't leave her alone, not like this!"

"You knew this day would come."

"A warning would've been nice!"

Irene's grip softened into a caress. Sadly, she said, "I won't always be watching the threads of destiny for you. My end is just over the horizon, and when that time comes, I want to know my family is prepared." The caressing hand went from arm to cheek. "I want to know you are prepared, my darling Raven."

"You always say your time is coming but you're still here. Irene, I won't let you die."

"It's not our choice."

"No, it's YOUR choice! You know what's going to happen and you refuse to stop it!"

"There are few who can write their own endings. I've lived a charmed and wonderful life which no one can fault. Even though I want to live forever with you, my body won't allow it. I'm old, darling, while you look, feel, and act as young as the day I met you. My last gift is to make my passing easier for you and our daughters."

Mystique's shoulders sagged an almost imperceptible bit: even she knew better than to argue with a determined Irene. While every fiber in her transmutable body wanted to hash out this debacle over and over till her love changed her mind, she held herself back and broached the subject from a different angle.

"So how exactly is leaving Rogue alone tonight accomplishing anything?"

"Emma needs to bond with her."

"Bond?" The metamorph's brow raised to accommodate her scrutiny. "They're sisters-"

"Adoptive sisters," clarified Irene. "No matter how much we want otherwise, Rogue is your little girl and Emma is mine. They love each other out of obligation, the barriers of us and their unrelatedness keeping them apart. Tonight, that is going to change. It has to change because when we send Rogue away, Emma will be her only protector."

Sending Rogue away... the thought made her flinch. "We don't have to."

"Yes, we do. Neither of us know enough to control her powers much less teach her how to use them without great harm to herself. Charles Xavier may not be your favorite man-"

Mystique snorted. "That's an understatement..."

"- but his knowledge and resources are second to none. He will help Rogue."

"He's not going to take her."

"He will if she goes to him herself. We need to... convince her."

Convince, a transparent codeword for force and manipulate. That's what hurt the most about this plan, that's what made Raven's heart bleed at the very mention of letting Rogue go--the charade, the pretending to be uncaring, distant, and cold so their child would not come back. It smacked of trouble and lost opportunities, perhaps even going into bad parenthood... something a certain Winston Frost would've done.

"And Emma?"

"Emma doesn't need anyone's help," Irene said glowingly. "Given enough time and opportunity, she might even become a stronger telepath than Xavier. No, Emma's role is much like yours, Raven, a fulcrum of the future. She is a star which others follow, a rare breed whom fate bows to. I've done my best to guide the two of you in a direction I hope you'll approve."

"What direction? I need something to make me less of a nervous wreck than I already am."

As their conversation degenerated into sad mutterings, the women found themselves in a familiar place: each other's arms. Raven--for all her toughened attitude and sly hijinks--felt uncertainty and fear. The children they'd raised were all grown up and too big for this small house. They had their own fortunes to carve, their own troubles to solve, but instead of supporting them, Irene wanted her to push them away, to have them fly on their own young wings.

All which would've been fine with Raven if they weren't flying into the X-Men's den. For the past few years (and under Irene's prompting), she'd been making inroads with Magneto, currying his favor with vital information and accomplished tasks. Her alliance brought her into direct conflict with the people who would be surrounding her daughters. Curiouser and curiouser, but despite the curiosity, Irene never steered her wrong. The present might've been hard but the future always worked out for the best.

And yet the future didn't include Irene, a fact Raven failed to accept.

"Irene, what am I going to do without you?"

"Live. That's all I want from you, for you to live and be happy when I'm gone."

Live and be happy. "How can I do that when my wife and daughters aren't here anymore?"

Mysteriously, Irene kissed her on the lips and murmured, "Love will find you again."

The nightmares only got worse.

Cody lingered, his body laying at Mercy Hospital but his mind ingrained in hers. He'd come to her, call her a freak and scream for his life back. Sometimes, he'd get violent, and in the morning, she'd wake with bruises all over her. Still though, this wasn't too bad because Rogue knew how to defend herself: Emma tirelessly worked with her on that, the mind shields. The worst times was when she'd find him crying, asking about his parents, wondering about his college scholarships, and wanting to die so he could get out of this mental prison.

The days ended up as bad as the nights.

Every moment found Rogue a paranoid mess. She dared not touch others for fear of absorbing, heaven forbid, her family. Her clothes grew long and concealing despite the summer heat. Her strange behavior ruined many friendships and destroyed her normal life. Emma offered to brainwash those insensitive cronies at school into never making fun of her again, but Rogue didn't want that. She didn't need fickle assholes to be her friends. Her outlook on the world dimmed, a life formerly bright with opportunity now empty and hollow. Eventually, she stopped going to school and stayed in her room.

She found little comfort at home.

Mama and Irene seemed enamored with her new powers. They wanted her to use them and trained her like they trained Emma... only Emma liked her powers. Rogue hated hers but Mama wouldn't shut up about it. That and she found out Mama's work wasn't nice or legal.

"Come with me, I'll show you the ropes to espionage."

"I could use a hand. It'll be easy if you just absorb their memories and tell me what I need to know. Torture takes too long."

"Go on, you don't have to be afraid of the flatscans."

"Excellent! So you can absorb mutant powers too, huh?"

In fact, Mama's work seemed downright cruel and Rogue didn't have a stomach for it. She didn't understand. No one understood except for Emma, Emma who found Rogue on that terrible day when she took Cody's mind, Emma who tried her best to keep the memories away, Emma who quieted the demons in her head after another one of Mama's "missions" fighting the X-Men or stealing something from the government.

Neither of them understood why their parents acted this way. Felt like ever since their abilities blossomed, all Irene and Raven wanted from them was... was... their abilities.

Rogue cried about this many times, and each time, only Emma came to listen. The two even worked their way about Rogue's nasty mutation by wrapping the younger girl in a thin blanket before they hugged and vented and lamented. A small comfort in an increasingly uncomfortable place, so different from mere months ago.

One night, Rogue heard her parents and sister arguing.

"It's like I don't even know the two of you!"

"We're teaching Rogue how to-"

"No, Mom never did any of that with me! She never forced me to brainwash cops or shut off their minds! Raven, why are you forcing Rogue to do these terrible things to people? She. Doesn't. Want. To. Use. Her. Powers. You have no idea how much she's hurting inside!"

"Emma, if she doesn't learn how to deal with herself now, she'll have a lifetime of regret."

"Mom, I can't believe you're going along with this insanity! There's a difference between using and teaching, and both of you are using her!"

"What did I teach you about responsibility and sincerity?"

"Great, not this garbage again. You tell me you have a responsibility to help us, that you're putting us through this for our own good. Bullshit!"

"Don't use that language around your mother!"

"Fuck you, Raven! I won't let either of you hurt Rogue again!"

The house remained silent after the outburst. Emma stalked off to her room and slammed the door shut. Rogue cried herself to sleep, now very aware how Emma must've felt before Mama and Irene took her in all those years ago.

The last straw came a week later: San Francisco, the Brotherhood, Carol Danvers. Mystique brought Rogue along--without Emma's knowledge--to help spring the captured members of the Brotherhood. Currently, they were being held at the U.S. Naval Station in Treasure Island while guarded by the army, the navy, the national guard, and the Avengers. Well, at least one member of the Avengers, Ms. Marvel or Carol Danvers.

To get the access codes for the base, Mystique forced Rogue to absorb a host of individuals. The young girl's mind filled with various voices, each soft but together so loud her brain seemed ready to ooze out of her ears. Despite the numbing pain, Mystique nudged her on until they freed Avalanche, Blob, and Pyro.

Being not the brightest villains in the world, the destructive trio decided to thank their captors for the hospitality. Scary thing was, they would've demolished the base had Ms. Marvel not been there.

Moving like a flash of lightning and striking just as quick, she fought with reckless abandon and stout bravery. Avalanche couldn't get a shot at her; Pyro couldn't reach her when she soared into the sky; even the Blob couldn't hurt her when he landed a blow. For a moment, Rogue watched in awe at the superheroine's display, the voices very quiet as they themselves vicariously experienced the thrill of fight and flight.

"Get up," hissed Mystique, dragging her daughter to her feet, "we're not waiting for those fools to finish their fun."

Suddenly, "Sir, I found two more!"

Machinegun fire rattled around them forcing the woman to push Rogue toward cover and she herself dive out of the way in the opposite direction. The corner of a wooden cart caught Rogue's arm tearing through fabric and skin. Desperately, she jerked her arm away, hoping and praying her sleeve wasn't caught.

The entire sleeve from the shoulder on down ripped away.

Seeing Mystique pinned down, Pyro spun a jet of flames into the servicemen. The guns stopped but the crates surrounding Rogue erupted into a conflagration, trapping her.


She couldn't pierce through the noise. Too much noise--fires, fights, destruction--drowned her out.


Rising from the crates came black, suffocating smoke. Heat assaulted her from every direction and air burned into short supply.


A hand appeared through the fire. A hand then an entire body moving so fast Rogue didn't have a chance say "O'er here!" One moment she seemed destined to die, the next, she found herself in the sky, her head on a shoulder, a strong arm around her waist, and going further away from her doom.

"Are you ok?"

Ms. Marvel saved her. Ms. Marvel, Mama's enemy, saved her. She tried to say something, but as she moved to look her savior in the eye, their cheeks brushed. Slight, slight enough for Rogue's power to trigger, momentarily stunning... stunning... stunning Carol.

The heroine wrenched away. "What was-"

"Shit! The bitch has L'il Bit!"

L'il Bit. That's what Avalanche called Rogue. The term of endearment made Carol gasp.

"You're one of them."

A huge slab of concrete which had no business ever being airborne leapt from the Blob's meaty hands and cracked the back of Carol's skull. In turn, Carol's head knocked into Rogue's causing quite a string of events. First off, both women lost consciousness from their respective blows. Second, the forehead to forehead hit, coupled by Rogue's bloody, exposed arm hooked around an area not covered by Carol's costume, activated Rogue's powers. Third, they fell about eighty feet.

Honestly, Rogue didn't even remember the impact, but the way Pyro told it, Carol landed on top of her. Lacerations and broken bones littered the girl's body, enough to convince a near hysterical Mystique that her daughter was dead.

Only she wasn't.

Ms. Marvel--her powers were strange, not of this world. They resisted being absorbed at first, but luckily, some of them passed to Rogue, enough for her to survive the fall. Acting on a hunch, Mystique ordered the Brotherhood to stay behind until Rogue could completely drain those awesome powers. When the criminals left Treasure Island, they dumped the empty husk of Carol Danvers out the helicopter, chortles of pleasure and glee coming from them as they watched her body plunge into the freezing San Francisco bay. On the plus side, Rogue recovered and inherited untold strength and unbelievable invulnerability. On the minus side, Carol Danvers wasn't dead... in body or in spirit.

Emma had seen enough.

"They can't do this to us."

Another night, another one of the bleach blonde's tirades. Rogue wrapped the blanket around herself and leaned further into her sister's embrace.

"I won't let them."

The brunette shuddered, partially at the cold, partially at Ms. Marvel's ghost hiding in her mind, partially at Emma's words.

"Mystique could've killed you."

Mama. She still remembered calling for Mama but Carol came instead.

"Rogue, if I leave, will you come with me?"

"Leave? Where ya goin' ta go?"

"The X-Men," whispered Emma. "Mystique can't hurt us there. Who knows? They might be able to help you, get your powers under control."

"But... but they ain't gonna trust us."

"They will if we join them."

And join the X-Men they did. Few approved their plea for sanctuary, but Xavier, the only person who's opinion mattered in the mansion, begged to differ. First and foremost, he built his dream on compassion. What kind of institution would he be leading if he turned away members of his own race? Second, and in Emma's mind more important, were their powers. An alpha level telepath and an iron woman able to steal others' abilities: what more could he ask for in recruits? He needed someone to replace Jean and another to fill in the void of Logan's absence.

In time, Rogue grew fond of the mansion. She found a connection with Ororo, and from there, she befriended stalwart X-Men like Kitty and Kurt. In Kurt's case, the family connection bonded them close, another commonality giving them another excuse to be friends. She earned Logan's respect in Japan by thwacking Lady Viper in the face and taking a bullet meant for him. Scott came and went, the odyssey of a new wife and child separating him from The Dream. The Professor was proud of her, always referring to "a certain Southern dame" when bringing up examples on why no mutant's plight should be ignored by the X-Men. Though he never quite got a hold of her powers, he did lessen the associated trauma and multiple personalities running about in her head, a grand achievement in and of itself.

Emma fared worse. Her strong personality clashed with Ororo's, the two women almost always disagreeing on one matter or another. She intimidated Kitty, what with that sure, sultry stride and all-knowing smile. Kitty's uneasiness in turn set off Kurt, Logan, and Peter, all three of whom felt themselves her guardian angels. Not surprisingly, Kurt never warmed up to Emma, familial connection be damned. Strangely though, she rather liked Scott if only for his easily embarrassed demeanor and attractive body. Too bad she liked his wife, Madelyne "Just Call Me Maddie" Pryor, a whole lot more. The Professor cast unsure glances at her all the time, impressed by her potential but put off by her abrasive mind-set and protectiveness of Rogue. Maybe that same potential worried him because sometimes, if he concentrated really hard, he could feel her patience fraying like a well-used rope, tethering on that same edge Magneto used to until he snapped.

Still, X-Men were X-Men, beloved or not. The sisters stood by the team during the confrontation with the Morlocks' killers. When the Hellfire Club struck, Emma was there to stop Sebastian in his tracks and Rogue took the daunting task of holding off Selene. Neither sibling flinched when they were entangled in the intergalactic affairs of Shi'ar and Kree. Charles left the X-teams to Magneto, a colossal mistake in hindsight and one which Emma protested to no ends.

They survived massacres and infernos.

They became mentors to younger mutants.

The X-Men's roster changed but they remained constants.

Constant. Constant like the hurt in their hearts whenever they faced off with Mystique, whether she be heading up the Brotherhood or Freedom Force (really, one in the same). Despite the acrimonious departure, they remembered when their parents loved them. Alone at night, Rogue wished for her powers to go away so Mystique would be Mama once again. Across the hall and unbeknownst to her, Emma would think the same things, wondering when and where her happiness went awry. Deep in her soul, she wanted to think Mom and Mystique still loved her, still respected her, still worried about her. However, neither ever voiced their secrets, Emma too stubborn to return to the past and Rogue too much like Emma to even consider asking.

Then the business with Reavers, Forge, Adversary, Siege Perilous, and Roma happened.

A little afterwards, Irene died.

It was a sunny autumn morning, bright but crisply cold. A light breeze swayed blades of grass while disturbing birds from their perches. The cemetery remained quiet this weekday, the grounds crew not quite ready to go to work yet and visitors having other places to be. Among the graves and mausoleums walked Emma Grace Frost, sunglasses shielding her eyes and a baggy NYU sweater shrouding her body. She walked with a purpose, sticking to the less traversed areas and slipping behind cover when available.

Never could be too careful... especially when the whole world saw you "die" on national TV.

Around a thick coppice of bushes and trees she went, finally ending up in what had to be the cemetery's most secluded resting place. Here, away from the noisy road and shut out from prying eyes, a person could be at peace. One would think prime real estate like this would've been reserved for the wealthy, and indeed if Emma hadn't known the names on the three headstones, she would've made the assumption.

But no, she knew the names: Anna-Marie Darkholme, Emma Grace Frost, and Irene Adler.

Reading the epitaphs felt like twisting the proverbial knife in her chest.

"Our little Rogue, the light of our lives."

"Our Emma, one who knew no boundaries."

"Our Destiny, to love like she did."

Emma kneeled in front of Irene's grave. "Mom," she greeted then faltered. She had so much to say, every word planned out, but now that she was here, she couldn't say them. She couldn't give Irene her apologies or tell her about Rogue. She couldn't do anything except cry.

Cry for all the nights spent wondering. Cry for her own foolish pride. Cry for leaving home. Cry for saying hurtful things to Mystique while they fought. Cry for opportunities missed and a life not well lived. Cry for not saying "I love you" more often. Most importantly, cry for a broken family.

Her tearful eyes looked to both sides of Irene and concluded one thing: Raven cared. Somehow, despite the pushing and needling and supposed apathy, Raven cared about them. Those few words etched on emotionless stone shattered Emma's ill will and robbed her voice.

She hurt not just for herself but also for the women who raised her.

"Oh my God..."

Raven's voice chilled Emma to the bone. Telepath turned to meet metamorph, every sound around ceasing and every move stilling. In Raven's hands, a bouquet of flowers. In her eyes, a progression from shock to disbelief to anger.

The flowers found themselves flung to the ground as its owner lunged at this thing wearing her child's face. By the time Emma recovered from her surprise, Raven sat atop of her with a knife pressed across her neck.

"I swear, Vanessa, if you don't stop this joke now, I'll make you choke on your own heart."

Vanessa? Who the hell was Vanessa? No, wait, Vanessa Carlysle, better known as Copycat. The Professor tried to recruit her once but failed. Guess not all mutants with useful powers showed up at his door begging for sanctuary, huh?

To prove herself, Emma delved into Mystique's mind and telepathically forced her to get up. Such an easy task against a barely shielded mind ranked somewhere below routine for Emma--second nature at worst, a part of her at best. Should be important to note here that while Emma had few scruples when using her powers, she never peeked in on someone's memories unless need be. Long ago she'd learned the hard way that looking at too much into an untrained person's psyche could give her all sorts of unpleasantness like headaches, hallucinations, and split personalities. Always, always, always Emma kept a mental shield around herself, first to fend off everyone's projecting thoughts and second to protect herself when the situation called for her to get down and dirty with the uninitiated.

Her shield provided her a way to surgically strike at her victims, the preferred method for any telepath worth their salt to attack.

Then how come stray thoughts clung onto her like balls of lint? How come when she pulled out of Raven's mind, memories followed? How come her shields failed her?

Fragile state of mind perhaps? After all, Raven was stricken by grief, guilt, and loss so her mind wasn't pristine. However it happened, it happened. In the instant between Raven standing and Emma checking her throat for a cut, images from the past--their past--materialized behind Emma's eyes, disjointed, out of sequence, and raw.

All which would've been fine with Raven if they weren't flying into the X-Men's den. For the past few years (and under Irene's prompting), she'd been making inroads with Magneto, currying his favor with vital information and accomplished tasks. Her alliance brought her into direct conflict with the people who would be surrounding her daughters. Curiouser and curiouser, but despite the curiosity, Irene never steered her wrong...

"... They love each other out of obligation, the barriers of us and their unrelatedness keeping them apart. Tonight, that is going to change. It has to change because when we send Rogue away, Emma will be..."

... translated into another child, another mouth to feed, another person to love, another life to look after. She and Irene already had their hands full with Rogue, but the child raising experience, for all its trials, fulfilled something in both women and made them whole. They'd loved and lived for ages, but only when they loved and lived for another did they find true happiness.

Sending Rogue away... the thought made her flinch. "We don't have to."

"Yes, we do. Neither of us know enough to control her powers much less teach her how to use them without great harm to herself. Charles Xavier may not be your favorite man-"

Mystique snorted. "That's an understatement..."

"- but his knowledge and resources are second to none. He will help Rogue."

"He's not going to take her."

"He will if she goes to him herself. We need to... convince her."

Another one wouldn't be so bad.

That and Mystique had a soft spot for children, especially those helpless against their unloving parents...

Home wasn't safe but it was the only home she knew.

"Irene, are you listening to me? T..."

Why did she have to accept Emma as a big sister? Why did her mama want another child? With patience few knew she had, Raven explained how some unlucky girls had bad parents.

"She doesn't belong here."

Little girls weren't meant to be traumatized or taken away from their parents. Little girls were suppose to be lights of the world, not hapless victims. This house had two little girls, but Rogue differed from Emma. Rogue literally had nowhere to go; Rogue was young. Mystique's own abnormalities proved easy to swallow for an impressionable child. Emma... Emma was too mature. Emma would have a hard time thinking of these strange people as family. She held onto her own family as a good little girl should and needed to go home.

Bad parents came in many different forms, but the bottom line was unhappiness. Bad parents didn't make their daughters feel good about themselves; bad parents had no time for their children.

Emma was one of those unlucky girls.

"Mama, wut can we do ta help?"

"Be nice to her. Share. Love. It's all she needs."

... girl screamed "monster." She either didn't know any better or she knew too well--Mystique couldn't decide on either...

... children they'd raised were all grown up and too big for this small house. They had their own fortunes to carve, their own troubles to solve, but instead of supporting them, Irene wanted her to push them away, to have them fly on their own young wings.

"... what am I going to do without you?"

"Live. That's all I want from you, for you to live and be happy when I'm gone."

Live and be happy. "How can I do that when my wife and daughters aren't here anymore?"

Mysteriously, Irene kissed her on the lips and murmured, "Love will find you again."

The visions left Emma breathless. Her heart raced, reddening her cheeks and pounding against her chest like a prison.

"I'm dreaming," squeaked her broken voice, choked up on the emotional overload. "I'm dreaming."

I'm dreaming. Say it enough and it'll come true. I'm dreaming. Things like this only happened in comic books and movies, not real life. I'm dreaming. Parents didn't play these desperate games with their children. Emma convinced herself she'd wake up and find out this entire scene was cooked up by Roma or some Reaver with extraordinary powers. Maybe she'd be back in the Australian outback or somewhere in Dallas surround by muttering reporters or lying comfortably in her bed in Westchester.

Anywhere but here, and not because she wanted it but because life delighted in screwing her.

Comforting arms slid under her, lifting her up. A shaking hand removed her sunglasses. Mystique in all her blueness loomed above as yellow eyes glowed against the cloudless sky like stars in the day. Without a word spoken or thought, they clutched each other tight, years of burdens, hurt, and wondering removed... for the moment at least.

Mystique took the lull to ask, "Is Rogue ok?"

"She's fine," Emma replied, a jab of jealousy piercing her heart. "All of us are fine." Raven always cared about Rogue more despite claiming to not have favorites. Rogue this, Rogue that. "A friend helped us out and now we're lying low, finishing up some loose ends."

No, she had to calm herself. Rogue was Raven's, pure and simple. Emma herself was Irene's and that was enough. Again, say it enough and it'll come true.

Tensed muscles relaxed at the news. "I thought I lost you. All of you."

"And you didn't think you lost us when we ran away?"

"We had no choice," Raven bristled. "Rogue needed someone to help her with her powers. We... I... I didn't know enough to do anything but watch her suffer."

Rogue this, Rogue that, it was always Rogue. "Well, what about me? You and Mom didn't have to make me suffer too."

"We wanted you to protect her!"

Emma's eyes went dead and dull. "You used me."


"Don't," the blonde interrupted, realization igniting her fury. "You used me like a tool. How could Mom do that to me, Raven? Why did you have to manipulate me?"

For not the first time today, Mystique wished Irene was still alive. She'd know what to do, what to say, how to make this train wreck of a reunion all better. As the situation stood, "I don't know."

The girl--No, the woman--tore herself from those cradling arms and flailed to her feet. Her countenance twisted into a horrible mask of wrath, reproving and pained. "How could you not know? Mom knew everything and she didn't stop it! Why? Goddamnit Raven, I thought she loved me!"

"You think this was easy for us? You think we wanted you out of our sights for more than a minute?"

"I'm not talking about you," spat Emma. "You care about Rogue more than me. I was a fucking accessory to you, the other girl you had to feel for because Irene wanted you to. Don't go saying 'we' like you speak for her too. I don't want to know why you went along with it because I know why already: Rogue! I want to know why Irene took her love away from me because... because..."

Emma's shoulders slumped and her voice got small like a child's. "... because she's Mom and I love her. Why wasn't I good enough? Why didn't she love enough to tell me? If she wanted me to protect Rogue, all she had to do was ask."

"We loved you, Em-"

"Don't say 'we' again. I want to know about Irene!"

Not known for her patience, Raven's temper reared its head, outraged at the casual dismissal and demand. "I speak for Irene when I say 'we.' I've loved her longer than you've been alive, so don't question me when it comes to her."

"Then why did she force me away?"

"I told you: I don't fucking know!"

"Liar! She told you everything! If you won't tell me..."

A lower tone, a menacing glare, a tightening of those fists--that sounded like a threat. Mystique narrowed her gaze. "What if I have nothing to tell you?"

"I'll have to find out myself."

As fast as she could move, as sharp as her reflexes were, even she couldn't slip Emma's telepathy. Like a light being turned off, Mystique found herself unable to dive, tackle, slap, scream, or even sneer. Between the layers of disbelief and displeasure, fearful inklings snuck past her defenses and beaded off her like sweat. This couldn't be happening, not in front of Irene, not by the hand of her daughter.

No, she'd been in this position before, but this time and this time only, a distinct sense of violation crept up her spine. This time and this time only did she really care about the secrets she hid.

"Rogue and I have cried too many tears over you. I've spent too many nights wishing for answers. You can't fool me, Raven: you're hiding something. I can see you straining, feel you covering up your tracks in your mind. You know," spat Emma, vile rage settling in her and festering. "You know! After this, I'll know too!"

Mystique's world exploded into a cornucopia of colors, tactile stimulations, and unfiltered agony. A terrible stabbing along the lines of a migraine made her lose track of... of... everything. She didn't know up from down, right from wrong, or happiness from sadness. Her brain wanted to burst while another presence hammered at her skull to split it open. Thoughts leaked out, carried away despite strands of her holding on tenuously. She tried to rein them in but they fled from her like terrified children.

Like her children.

"You hated me."

Emma's accusing voice sounded so loud and deafening, so commanding and searing. Weakly, Raven shook her head to revolt against the condemnation.

"You never wanted me."

Another turn of the screws and the pain became too much. Against Raven's will, the meager mental shields she had fell apart like rusted gates. For a split second, she felt a great calm pass over her, the kind which always preceded a coming storm.

Then, chaos.

Her entire life spilled from her. Every memory, every moment, every hurt, every triumph, every love, every decision, every deception, every thing she ever remembered (and even some she didn't) in her long, long life turned into a deluge of disorganized psychic energy.

A normal telepath caught in the wake of this enormous outpouring would've been consumed by its sheer volume, lost amongst the debris and never to wake. An experienced telepath would've gotten the hell out of here, trouble caused, deed done, and no need to pick up the pieces. Emma Grace Frost--neither mere normal nor simply experienced--walked through the carnage like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Her golden blonde hair simmered against the disjointedness. Her eyes burrowed holes into the astral plane. She cast aside every memory that didn't have herself or Irene, sifting as a cat burglar would to find hidden treasures.

The Brotherhood.



Growing up.

Growing old.

Without powers.

With powers.

As a man.

As a woman.

As something else.








Finally, wanting. Wanting to die.

All because of a woman named Destiny and two children she didn't give birth to.

At last, Emma stood before a spent Raven. The metamorph, in the physical world so cocky and imposing, lay here face down in the astral plane, her psyche so frail and doomed. Still, beneath her broken self-image she held something close, something she wouldn't let go, something her mind sealed so tight that her soul refused to bare it.

Emma knelt down and tilted her adopted parent's chin up. "It's over, Raven. No more secrets."

Defiant till the end, Raven shrunk away and curled up into herself.

Spurred by her adoption and emotional inadequacies, Emma turned Raven over, saw a clenched fist holding onto one last memory, and wretched it away. Emma expected to see Irene talking about the mysteries of her visions, explaining passages of her diaries, and perhaps even guiding Raven's hand in hurting Rogue. Instead, the blonde saw...

Lust. Shock. Embarrassment. Anger. Guilt. Self-loathing. All in that order.

A memory raised to the surface: a winter night, nondescript, smells of food radiating from the kitchen. Emma watched from behind Raven's eyes as the metamorph sauntered down the hall. She passed by Rogue's door and went for Emma's, intent on letting the girl know that dinner was about to be served. Seeing the door opened just a crack, she silently pushed it open, stuck her head in, and caught Emma naked, back turned to the door, and examining her growing breasts in front of her full length mirror.

Emma, who'd hit the peek of puberty and recently gotten a hold of her powers, Emma, the little girl who wasn't so little anymore, Emma, now becoming a real woman

A lustful spark lit Raven's very core, the view of soft, alabaster skin, wide hips, reddish hued nipples, and pouty lips dampening her sex. The thought was so quick, so primal, and so uncontrolled that it scared her. Before she could be discovered, she removed herself from the room, her heart pounding and her breaths short.

Emma was gorgeous. Emma was a goddess. Emma was her daughter! Lust died into shock. Raven hit her head against the wall, a dim hope to drive out the visage of that body burned into her retinas. No, this couldn't do. This was infidelity and incest, something redneck hicks and village bumpkins took part in.

What kind of parent was she? Shock evolved into embarrassment. Her face burned red against her blue skin, burned just like her soul would if she continued entertaining these thoughts. Her entire family would be devastated, most of all Irene, the woman Raven swore to love and remain faithful to... if not in body, then at least in heart.

Irene. Embarrassment turned to anger now, run hot by disgust. Idiot! Slut! Demon! Shit, Emma was telepathic too. Mustn't let this slip, mustn't let anyone know. Bury it deep and never let anyone see.

Raven made a solemn promise to herself: keep Emma at a safe distance. No more hugs, minimum teasing, and don't try to love--be kind because kind was civil, but only kind, never anything else. She loved her family too much to take advantage of beautiful, porcelain featured Emma. No more Emma! From this day forth, Emma stayed at arm's length.

The memory disappeared.

The astral plane fizzled away.

The two women stood before three graves, only one truly occupied. Emma collapsed to her knees while Raven fell into a boneless heap. The blonde gaped like a fish out of water, thoughts forming but none reaching her mouth. Raven... Raven didn't hate her. In fact, if nothing else, Raven could be accused of loving her too much, too much like a lover and not like a daughter. No wonder the mischievous metamorph became colder and got that much closer to Rogue.

No wonder, yet Emma couldn't help but wonder.

Bleary and confused, Raven lifted her face off the grass and met Emma's empty stare. They watched each other as revelations changed their relationship yet again. Years ago, before mutations and X-Men touched them, they were family. Through Irene's urgings, they became adversaries. Now, they didn't know what they were anymore.

Slowly, they turned to Irene's memorial, both expecting to hear wise words or subtle guidance from the woman they loved in their own ways. The words etched across the green marble assumed a new meaning.

"Our Destiny, to love like she did."

- The next tale awaits...