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Queen of the Millennium
by Indigo

Emma Frost stared up at the moonlight which --with the pregnant clouds -- made a ghostly, backlit bas-relief of the Massachusetts night sky.

With displeasure, Emma noted the furrow in the brow of her reflection on the window as she gazed out.

Her vision was haloed in a painful blur that throbbed in time with her pulse; another migraine. She had kept them from Sean and the others -- but they had been recurring with greater intensity and greater frequency since the return of her telepathic powers. Yet there was no pain associated with the use of her telepathy. This left Frost unsettled, bewildered, and more than a little concerned.

It had been months: Monet and Jonothon seemed to have made a complete recovery from the psilence caused by the events that Jean Grey in New York had described as the Psi War. Jean Grey, Xavier, even Tessa and Moonstar -- yes, Emma had been keeping tabs -- were all seeming to return to their former power levels without any complications.

So why, then, was Emma Frost subject to hours of exquisite agony with no surcease except to lie in the dark with a cold cloth on her face?

Carefully examining the past few months, Emma could find no basis for her condition in past experiences. She had lately faced no foe worse than Nate Grey -- and he had done no more than give her an unceremonious telepathic boot out of his mind when she probed curiously at him.

Emma considered whether it was the stress of dealing with her two dear sisters, but dismissed that as well. Cordelia was a pretender and a poseur. She was no serious threat to Emma -- and never would be.

Adrienne had definitely increased the stress level for Emma, arriving on her financial white horse and bailing out the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. But Adrienne was gone now. She had vanished into the night, without a thought for the cash she'd sunk into the venture. A little ... mission she'd sent the Generation X kids on had nearly killed them, and Emma's elder sister had taken the better part of valor. As usual.

That her distress could stem from the strain of dealing with the hundreds of minds on the campus now that they were accepting human students again was a thought Emma dismissed out of hand. The Massachusetts campus had hosted a body of mundnae students before, when she had been taskmistress to the Hellions. Time away from the chaotic backbuzz of psionic noise ought not have caused her anywhere near sufficient difficulty for a migraine.

Yet she had them -- with alarming frequency and such severity that occasionally the world swam and danced in a watery blur before her eyes.

Christmas was approaching, and there was no end in sight to this mysterious malady. Cassidy was, in his fumbling way, concerned and sweet. But Emma had long schooled herself never to show weakness, or a chink in her armor. If she did not get rid of the migraines soon, Sean would discover them. That, Emma would not permit.

A tap at the door to her office shook Emma from her introspections. It was Angelo with her mail.

"Hopin' your familia doesn't decide to do the 'holiday drop-ins' thing, Emma?" Angelo's smile was rakish -- almost a smirk. But Emma, of course, couldn't miss that he was melancholy beneath the facade; he missed his own family.

The holiday season was hard for most of her students. Monet and her twin sisters, Everett, and Paige Guthrie were the only ones of her charges who had family to return home to. Jubilee had spent the better part of the afternoon locked in her room. The holidays reminded her she was an orphan, and she occasionally took that very hard -- especially since she had nearly lost Logan, who was the nearest thing to kin she had left.

"Something like that, Angelo," Emma favored him with a small smile. "And pondering perhaps a vacation myself during the inter-session. Some sunny clime."

Angelo quirked his lips in a faint, wry expression, then nodded. "Well, at least you can afford it, Maestra. Feliz Navidad."

"Same to you, Angelo," she murmured, and watched him turn to leave.

The usual assortment of bills and boring academic junkmail waited atop her desk. But an unfamiliar manila envelope with no postmark caught her attention. At least it will give me something else to concentrate on, Emma thought, pushing concerns and the pain of her migraine to her hindbrain.

A manicured fingernail slit open the envelope, and the whisper of paper greeted her as photographs fell out, unaccompanied by a letter to identify them; the only words in the package were scrawled hastily on a post-it note: THE NEW HELLIONS.

Some of the faces were unrecognizable to her. Two, however, Emma found famililar; one face Emma found painfully familiar.

Amara Aquilla -- once codenamed Magma -- glared out of the picture at the unseen photographer.

But more startling than that was the face half-hidden behind a curtain of auburn hair. Marie-Ange Tolbert...! Emma's eyes widened as her brows drew together. Tarot?


The room twisted around her, vertigo threatening Emma's equilibrium. She sat heavily in her white leather office chair, and waited for the spell to pass. She gritted her teeth until she had focused past the pain, then lifted the phone from its cradle. A number she had on speed dial warbled musically from the receiver.

The voice that answered on the other end was smooth as silk, and filled with an audible allure. "Si?"

"Manuel. Darling."

"Emma! A delightful surprise, seņorita. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Empath did sound genuinely happy to hear her voice. It seems, she reflected, being Prince of Nightmares is agreeing with him.

"Business," Emma replied.

"Always business, my dear Emma," Manuel mock-lamented, "Never pleasure."

Emma chuckled, then got down to brass tacks. "I've just had the strangest thing dropped on my desk. I was wondering if anyone had approached you about joining the New Hellions."

"Si, I did. I declined; I am content with my current status." He laughed throatily. "How may I be of assistance, Seņorita Frost?" His accent had thickened since he had returned to his native Spain.

"Can you tell me who it was who approached you? I ... am quite curious about why they chose to call themselves the New Hellions." Emma tilted one hip onto the desk, holding the picture of Tarot in her free hand. Though her face gave no sign of emotion beyond polite curiosity, the photograph quivered in her grasp.

"Ah, si. I can. The invitation indicated ... where is it, where is it?" A moment of muffled sound ensued as Manuel searched through his desk. "Ah. Here it is. In the States. North Carolina." Manuel's voice practically dripped disdain.

Emma listened to Manuel describe the location and give an address. She wrote them down, and smiled into the phone. "Gracias, Manuel. And Merry Christmas."

"To you as well, Emma. Sweet dreams." Manuel's throaty laughter emanated from the receiver until Emma set it down; as recompense for her assistance previously -- Nightmare and Empath left Emma's dreams -- for the most part -- blissfully undisturbed.

Emma paused in thought then dialed another number. A few moments' time and that call was completed as well. Her private jet would be fueled and ready to go first thing in the morning.

She carried a third conversation on en route to her bedroom, to change and to prepare for the big day she was already planning.

"Avengers Mansion, Jarvis speaking."

"Good evening, Mr. Jarvis. I would like to speak with Firestar please."

"I am sorry, Miss Firestar and Mister Justice are both out of the mansion at this time. May I take a message?"

"Thank you, no." Emma hung up, dialed again.

Four rings, and the phone was picked up.

"Hello?" said the voice at the other end. It was New York accented, and the pauses between words were accented with the sound of chewing gum.

"Tabitha. Please put Samuel on the phone." Emma's tone was perhaps thirty two frigid degrees below cordial.

"Who is this?"

"Emma Frost."

There was a pause; apparently Tabitha was considering what to tell the caller. "How'd you find us out here?"

"Sam calls his sister. We do have caller ID," Emma explained, in that too-patient tone adults often used with particularly reticent children. "And it's not as though you're keeping a low profile, what with Roberto having used his -- assets -- to purchase your new ... headquarters." It was a warehouse, really; and X-Force had made no pretense of being covert.


"Would you put him on please?" Emma allowed the tiniest hint of impatience and annoyance to creep into her voice. "Tell him it's the White Queen." She put subtle emphasis on her nom de guerre.

Emma smiled; she heard a series of dull plastic clunks that indicated Tabitha Smith had likely dropped the phone. "Oh. Right. Just a second."


"Hello, Sam. I am just doing a little checking. It appears that some of my old students were approached to join a group called the 'New Hellions.' I was wondering if you had been extended such an invitation?"

"Not as such, ma'am, no. But we have -- encountered them recently."

Sam's voice, to Emma's trained ear, held a small amount of pain. No doubt he's blaming himself for not having 'rescued' Amara and Marie.

"What can you tell me about them?"

"You're not plannin' on invitin' them up to Mass-Ac are ya, Miss Frost?" For the most part, Sam's Kentucky drawl was gone -- but concern had brought it right back into his voice.

"No, no, nothing like that. However, if they're on a ... 'recruitment drive,' it would behoove me to train our students here, in case they are approached. That does meet with your approval, does it not?"

Sam had the good grace to sound chastened. "Of course, ma'am. Ah should've thought t'tell you 'bout them from the start. How can ah help?"

"Tell me about what we'd be up against, should they decide to bring their membership drive to my doorstep, hm?"

"Ah'd be glad to. You can expect a disc FedExed to ya in the mornin', Miss Frost."

"Thank you, Sam. That would be a great help to me."

"Certainly, ma'am. Glad some of us can cooperate."

"As am I."

"Happy Holidays, Miss Frost."

"And to you, Mister Guthrie."

Emma hung up the phone and went to draw herself a bath. The morning would herald a busy day for her.

Two days later, the alarm went off at 5:00 am. Even Paige Guthrie was not awake yet.

Emma Frost was dressed to intimidate. The cloak was lined in silver fox, its hood bordered with the same. Her winter suit was impeccable -- white suede jacket and skirt over a white silk blouse; the entire ensemble was tailored to play up her figure. She looked every bit the White Queen, and found herself wondering why she had begun dressing in such a sedate manner, when these clothes felt so right on her.

She dismissed the thought and made herself a promise to visit Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Saks after her -- appointment -- was concluded. At least the migraine seems to have lessened in the night.

The flight from Massachusetts to North Carolina was only two hours long. Sam's briefing on these new Hellions had been quite thorough. She knew where to look for them, and what each of the self-proclaimed King Bedlam's compatriots was capable of. She listened to her own voice dictate the specifics to her from the digital recorder on the passenger seat beside her.

Sean would have apoplexy if he knew I was going alone, Emma thought, driving the white BMW to the airport. Especially considering Feral is the one who injured his daughter Theresa. Sean had been trying to get her to agree to see him for the holidays, to no avail. But this is a personal matter to me. Those children died while on my watch, and I won't have some -- upstart -- disgracing their memory, or leading any more children to their deaths.

Strangely, the niggling remnants of her migraine seemed to dissipate as Emma psionically cloaked her approach from the farmhouse as she approached. She passed Feral, leaving the woman confused at having scented something unfamiliar but being unable to eye-locate it.

As a result of her telepathic intervention, Emma strode uncontested, despite the crisp new footprints in the fresh snow, to the door. Amara was the one who opened the door -- and her reaction brought a faint smile to Emma's lips. "Amara. How nice to see you again."

"Miss Frost?" Amara frowned. "What are you doing here?" The girl's posture and tone indicated she was not entirely surprised, but neither especially pleased to see Emma. She twirled one blonde curl uneasily.

"I came to see ... Mr. Aaronson." Emma made a point of widening her eyes and pausing dramatically to remove her hood. Amara would think Emma wanted an allegiance with the man, or that she was afraid of him. Either impression was to Emma's advantage. "May I come in?"

Just force her to let you in, a niggling voice in the back of Frost's head urged. She frowned thoughtfully, but Amara stepped back and permitted Emma to enter, rendering the point academic. "Thank you."

Amara watched Frost dubiously, but showed her into a small study. "Wait here. I'll tell him you're here." With that, she turned on her heel and left Emma alone in the room. Observation indicated the room was nothing more than one of many rooms in the house -- which was, incidentally, decorated for the holidays. Candles and holly and pine were strewn artistically around the room -- and similar were hung in the entry hall. Everything looks normal, she mused. But appearances, as I well know, are deceiving.

"Terrence." Amara knocked once and entered without waiting for a response. "You have a visitor."

Terrence raised a brow and set down his copy of "The Art of War," by Sun-Tzu. "Indeed?"

"Emma Frost of Massachusetts." Amara looked distinctly uneasy.

"Your old teacher?" Terrence inclined his head and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "The White Queen, wasn't it?"

"That's right. I don't know how she caught wind of us, but this can't bode well." Amara shot a glance past King Bedlam, pinning the slight woman behind him with it. "If she's here, you may have a fight on your hands."

"You overestimate her, dear," Terrence chuckled. "Mine is the power to unravel thought itself. If she cannot think, how can she do anything to me, when bedlam runs rampant in her head?" He shrugged into his jacket, and breezed past Amara. "However, if it will make you feel better -- gather the others to back me up. Wait for me to call for you."

We will see exactly how a duel between us goes, if it comes to that, Terrence thought, striding purposefully down the hall. Or perhaps I'll merely thaw the Frost. My little French mouse is becoming quite the bore of late.

Terrence Aaronson, the man who called himself King Bedlam, was not as garishly dressed or manic as Emma had expected. Sam had said the man was poised and self-possessed, but Emma found herself impressed. He wore an impeccably tailored charcoal grey suit, and moved in it like he knew precisely how well the suit hung on him.

"Miss Frost. I am honored. I've heard a great deal about you." He bent at the waist and took her extended hand, brushing his lips across the back of her hand. "To what do I owe the honor of a visit?" His smile was subdued; neither condescending nor entirely arrogant. Apparently his defeat at the hands of X-Force had taught him something. Whether it was caution or humility, Emma had yet to determine; she guarded her own thoughts behind her shields and made no overtures toward probing Bedlam -- yet.

"Concern, Mr. Aaronson. I'm certain you're aware that there was a previous -- group of mutants who went by the name 'The Hellions,' yes?"

Terrence's brow arched, and Emma could feel his eyes climbing her, from the tips of her boots to the top of her elegant coif. He finds you attractive, suggested that tiny voice in her head. Use that. "Yes. Amara and Marie informed me of that. I didn't think you'd object. I thought, frankly, that you'd be flattered."

"I take it, then, that you're not aware of what became of the first group of Hellions?" Emma succeeded in keeping her voice low and unperturbed with an effort. She didn't give Terrence an opportunity to answer. "They were murdered, except for Empath, by a madman called Fitzroy." The pang of guilt, even after all this time, still danced like an ember in the back of her psyche. And just beneath it, a -- desire to avenge them? "It is ... much akin to tempting fate to name another band of mutants 'The Hellions.'"

Terrence chuckled under his breath. "So you've come to warn me, then, that this 'Fitzroy' person may come seeking my Hellions? I assure you, Ms. Frost, that we are more than capable of defending ourselves."

Emma stood, shaking her head. If he thinks that, he's a bigger fool than I imagined. "No, Mr. Aaronson. I came to suggest you leave off with the entire 'Hellions' project, and let the dead rest in peace."

"Am I to understand, Ms. Frost, that you mean this as a warning? That you intend to 'rescue' my Hellions from me, then?" His laughter grew louder. "Am I to believe you think them here against their will? I assure you, they are not. You think I've coerced them? No, not that either. I'm sorry to disappoint you. They are all at my side because it was their choice to stand at my side."

Emma tossed her fall of gold-white hair over one shoulder and regarded Terrence thoughtfully. "Then they, like you, are misguided." Misguided?! the tiny voice in her head laughed derisively. You're going to leave it at talking sternly to him? You expect that to get him to do as you ask?

Marie-Ange chose this moment to enter with tea. She nearly let the tray fall in her shock at seeing Emma. "Madamoiselle Frost!"

"Marie." Emma smiled thinly. "And here I've all this time thought you were dead. Not even a word to ease your old teacher's mind?"

"Je suis trFs dTsolT," Marie-Ange whispered, and set the tea service down. "I..." she stammered, then shook her head. "Terrance, mon amour, has brought me back from the dead. I was, indeed, dead."

"Fascinating," Emma said honestly, hands folded in her lap. "Such a gift for resurrection will also make you a man whose services are in demand," she gazed evenly at Bedlam.

Terrence chuckled and shook his head. "I'm not concerned, Ms. Frost. In the slightest." He clapped his hands twice, and the study doors burst open. A dark figure glided into the room, followed closely by an unassuming skinny blond boy. "Unfortunately, however, I can't very well permit you to run along home and go crying to your compatriots so they can come attempt to shut us down. I have no desire to sully my hands on mindless brawling. I have other irons in the fire. A shame you didn't consider that before you came here alone."

Bedlam drew Tarot to him with an arm around her waist. She stared at the floor, wordless. "Switch? See that the lady is ... gently subdued."

"Right away, King Be--" the little blond teen began, and stepped forward. His words ended in a choked gasp, as he blinked twice in astonishment, then toppled over like a bowling pin.

Emma's gaze tracked the boy's fall to the ground. "It seems your young man has suddenly developed narcolepsy." She lazily swung her gaze back to Terrence. "I'm sorry, what was that you were saying about detaining me?" Her smile was a challenge, a dare.

The black figure moved forward, but Bedlam held up an arm to restrain him. "No, Paradigm. If it's to be a contest of wills -- she's mine." He stepped forward. "You're supposed to be a formidable telepath, isn't that right?"

Emma shrugged, and swept off her cloak. "It is undignified to brag of one's prowess," she responded coolly. "But if you're really willing to find out, I invite you to give it your best shot, little man."

"You have come sadly unprepared." King Bedlam grinned toothily, eyes beginning to glow as he summoned his power.

"Hardly," Emma replied. "Your charges, save for Tarot here, are all woefully unskilled in psychic shielding. I knew your abilities the moment I set foot in your home."

"And your overconfidence will cost you," Bedlam sneered, letting fly with a burst of his particular psionic talent.

"I somehow fail to be shaking in ... in..." Emma stammered and stiffened, as Bedlam's power skittered across her psyche, scrambling synapses and jumbling her thoughts. Her beautifully elocuted English degenerated into Boston-accented gibberish.

"...icetray...licorice...musician...undercarriage..." FiGhThIm...! Emma's internal struggle was fierce and desperate, but externally, she continued to regard Bedlam calmly, although strings of colorful nonsense words still tumbled from her lips like Mardi Gras beads. Y000000u faAaAced Phoe-Foe-Fee-Phee-nick-nicks-niqs-niqs....! ThIs 1-wun-won-one is nothing...! "Emblem...loquacious...mutton...dianetics..."

"Yield, Emma, it will only be more painful for you if you don't," King Bedlam whispered to her, as she stared off into space.

"Turkey...ramrod...improbable...ancestry..." Emma responded in an even voice. She had been caught somewhat off-guard. There was no astral plane on which to meet Bedlam. His power was not true psi -- he was more a neuropathic disruptor than anything else, and Emma had to work quickly to protect herself; her shields were unravelling despite her best efforts -- torn to threads by Bedlam's attack.

Bedlam's brow arched. That almost sounded like she was speaking lucidly. That can't be. He noticed one shining bead of sweat on Emma's brow, and smiled.

"I can reduce you to a simpleton," Bedlam growled. She was still resisting. "While that would reduce your usefulness to me, dear Emma, I am certain I could find ... some service you could provide me." He lifted his fingers and traced the line of her jaw.

I...cho0s3 hoo-hu-who touches my body...! Rage, mingled with a terror she would not acknowledge surged up inside her. Emma ceased concentrating on her failing shields, and instead went all-out, focusing the totality of her telepathic powers on a single mind-spike and loosed it, like a burning arrow, into Terrence's mind. There was a singularly satisfying resistance her spike met -- that gave after a scant few picoseconds of her attack. It felt like driving one of her high heels through a thin sheaf of ice.

Terrence had not, as she'd guessed, expected her to go from defensive stance to offensive. He had been prepared only to continue to pour on his own brand of bedlam, carelessly leaving himself entirely -- foolishly -- unguarded. He gave a strangled cry, and dropped to his knees, eyes wide. He fell over a second later, and lay twitching on the floor. From his mouth, saliva and blood trickled in a pinkish froth.

Emma took a moment to regain her equilibrium. Once she was certain of her footing, she glanced down at the fallen King Bedlam, and nudged him with the toe of her boot. Then, she stepped forward to balance one foot on his chest. She opened her compact and calmly began to check her makeup and hair, aware of the Hellions staring in horror from the doorway.

"The king is dead, children. Long live the Queen."

Inside the safety and privacy of Emma Frost's own mind, something had been broken in her battle with Aaronson, however brief. She could feel it, and was, even as his group shook themselves out of their stupor, probing gently at it. It felt as though she'd broken down a door she'd been throwing her full strength against for years. There was an ache in her psyche, but also an obvious absence of a crushing pressure that made her want to cry with relief.

In point of fact, Terrence wasn't dead -- he was merely, for want of a better term, short-circuited. If Emma so chose, she could hotwire his mind back into working order. But at present, she was quite content with the expressions of shock and astonishment the other would-be Hellions wore.

"What will you do with us now, Mam'selle?" Marie-Ange asked.

Emma made a show of carefully considering her response. "If there are to be new Hellions, dear Tarot, they should by rights, be mine. And I did win my little duel with the man who would be king, did I not?"

Tarot's face went pale, and she hung her head. She had hoped to be rescued; but it appeared she had only traded one master for a new mistress.

"I wouldn't, Amara," Emma cautioned. Amara Aquilla glared in impotent rage at the older woman, but wisely chose not to activate her Magma aspect.

Amara grimaced, but shrugged as well. Ah, well, one leader is as good as another. "Welcome back, White Queen."

Emma inclined her head imperially, accepting her due. "Now -- the question is, will the rest of you insist on a foolish display of misguided youthful exuberance and attempt to de-throne me?" She waited, and glanced expectantly from face to face. She already saw their responses in their own minds, but wanted to hear them say it.

Switch shook his head. "Not me, Queenie," he said with a wry twist of his mouth. "If you can put me to sleep by just lookin' at me, I'm not even gonna try using my power on you."

Paradigm shook its head slowly. "If the others accept you, I shall accept you."

Emma smiled. "Excellent. Do put Terrence to bed. I've a few more stops to make this day. But rest assured, I'll be in touch." She swept her cloak back onto her shoulders, and strode for the door. "Marie-Ange, Servez-moi."

"Oui, Mam'selle." Tarot fell into step behind the Queen as she moved through the house.

Emma locked herself into Terrence's office and leaned against the door. Though her migraine was gone, she still felt off-balance. Her mind was all a-tingle, and she felt lightheaded. Despite the odd malaise, she still felt largely better than she had only an hour earlier; better than she had days earlier.

She picked up the phone and settled in behind the desk and dialed a number she had committed to memory. Her brow crinkled in disappointment and annoyance as she got the voicemail, but she left a message. "Dr. Foster, it's Emma Frost. I'm experiencing some ... difficulties of late, and I think a thorough checkup is in order."

While Foster knew Frost was a telepath, she had no knowledge of the woman's past as the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Emma had not had a checkup using Foster's more advanced equipment in some time, but feminine intuition suggested it was a good idea; and though Emma Frost trusted almost no one -- she did trust herself. And something told her she wanted to make sure her telepathy had not suffered in the contest of wills against Terrence Aaronson.

That call completed, she contacted her chauffeur/pilot, Bumpkin. "We're flying to Florida in a few hours, then to New York. Refuel the plane, hm ... and make sure that the car's waiting for us at JFK?"

"You've got it, Miss Frost."


"And Miss Frost?"


"Forgive my sayin' ... You sound -- more like yourself again. Good to hear, Miss Frost."

Emma found herself smiling. "Thank you, Bumpkin. That'll be all. Come back for me in an hour -- bring a large limo. I'm bringing -- some new students."

"Very good, Miss Frost."

Emma hung up Terrence's line, and turned to walk back out into the house proper. To their credit, Bedlam's would-be Hellions had not all gathered to listen at the door. She actually had to seek them out telepathically. [We are departing. You have one hour to pack.]

She noted carefully their responses to her command; she wanted to know as close to immediately as possible which of these new students she'd just 'inherited' she'd have difficulties with. Switch, the boy she'd silenced earlier, was sycophantic enough to snap to it without protest. Amara balked mentally but did as she was told. Marie-Ange's thoughts were mired in despair and grief. She was tending to the fallen Bedlam, whom Emma had left sufficient motor skills that he toddled obediently alongside her like a windup toy. Feral's thoughts were fairly simple: if Emma had beaten the old alpha, Emma was the new alpha. The one called Paradigm was practically a closed book to her; what thoughts she was able to glean from him (it?) were logical and composed. A simple bit of telepathic sleight-of-mind, and they were primed to be more suggestible to her wishes. Sean had never permitted her such liberties with Generation X; but these kids had planned to be Hellions, and Emma frankly didn't give a damn about Sean or his fragile sensibilities. If she were honest with herself, Emma also didn't trust Sean to hold his Irish temper when he discovered that Feral was among the handful of mutants she had 'liberated'.

Hours later, the group of mutants entered the Florida mansion Emma kept as a safehouse. Feral was complaining already of the heat and how hard it was for her, being furred. Switch, on the other hand, noted how close to the beach they were situated, and immediately began planning to make his way there to seduce co-eds on holiday.

Marie-Ange led the docile Terrence to one of the bedrooms, subservient as ever.

"Amara. You are my lieutenant until I settle matters up north and decide where you will continue your education."

Amara smiled; she was clearly surprised and pleased that Emma was going to trust her. "You have the most training and experience, Amara dear. You are the obvious choice. They're permitted the run of the grounds, but make sure there are no -- public incidents." Frost smiled, working a tiny telepathic loop into Amara's thoughts -- that Emma was not to be contravened under any circumstances, and that the safehouse was not to be compromised.

Amara nodded. "As you will, Miss Frost."

"I expected more resistance than that."

Amara shrugged. "I have had some years to grow up, and to realize that while I may be a princess in Nova Roma -- I have to acclimate if I wish any sort of power in the rest of the world." Her smile was equal parts bitter and self-effacing. "I apparently threw in my lot with a weakling, if X-Force, and then you yourself were able to so easily take us ... him." She gestured sharply, angrily.

"Then consider this another lesson, and be glad you have an old teacher to work with," Emma smiled. "I'll be in contact soon, but for now, consider this place home and be comfortable."

She clasped Amara's shoulder, and then handed her the key to the house. "There are no vehicles on the grounds. Consider that an indication that while I am being generous, you most likely ought not venture too far afield."

"Yes, Miss Frost."

"Excellent. I'll be in touch this evening with an update. The servants should be in by the end of the afternoon, and a grocery delivery has already been arranged."

Amara walked Emma to the limousine. "Very good, Miss Frost."

Thunderstorms delayed Emma's departure from Florida, but on checking her voicemail, she discovered that Dr. Foster had received the message and had made an early evening appointment for Emma.

A voicemail from Jubilee informed Emma that Sean had finally succeeded in getting his injured daughter to permit her father a visit. Sean had left at lunch to catch a flight out west to be with the silenced Siryn for the holidays. She nodded. Good. No reason to distress him with this recent development. Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander were more than capable of handling the few students who remained on the campus for the holidays. Emma could devote her full concentration to recent developments.

She closed her eyes and drifted into an uneasy sleep shortly after Bumpkin had her private jet in the air. Her dreams weren't exactly peaceful -- but even in her sleep, she couldn't identify the disturbances as having originated with Nightmare's touch.

~~~Screams and blood and light and recrimination~~~
~~~Guilt and sorrow and torn violet fabric~~~
~~~Blue-white ice, cold like they said she was, and she liked it that way.~~~
~~~Ice blue eyes, warmer than eyes that blue had any right to be.~~~
~~~Anger, futile terror, frantic desperation, and then a splash of comfort.~~~
~~~Finally a sort of peace, with only the guilt tolling emptily in the pit of her soul like some cruel knell.~~~

Emma woke with a start, and was pleased to see the New York skyline below her. A smirk curled her lips. Perhaps I can spend a moment catching up with my dear sister Adrienne. It is the holidays, and I haven't seen her in months. She spent the remaining few moments confirming with Bumpkin that the car would be ready at the terminal, and informing the Xavier School of her current plans -- with the singular ommission of the information about her doctor's appointment.

Emma loathed doctor's offices; that was one of her main incentives for working out, eating right, and generally staying abreast of her health. The better she maintained her own health, the less time she would have to spend under a doctor's care. The cold, antiseptic environment reminded her of her unpleasant young years -- the ones spent in a high-rent institution for the rich and insane.

The indignities of the urine tests, blood tests, pregnancy test, HIV test, Legacy test and the humiliation of the paper robe only added insult to injury as she sat on the papered guerney waiting for Foster.


Emma shook her head, and dismissed the frisson as lingering remnants from her nap on the plane.

"Well," Jane Foster's voice arrived half-a-heartbeat before she did. "You're a little anemic and a little malnourished, but a multivitamin and an iron supplement should take care of that. I know you spend as little time in the sun for the sake of your skin, Emma -- but courting this ghastly pallor went out with the Victorian practice of bleeding."

"What of my other complaints? The migraines? The dizziness?" Emma's composure flagged slightly; she was out of her normal armor, and felt naked -- unprotected.

"Stress. It is that time of year, Emma. Relatives, shopping, and all that. Shorter days, lack of sunlight. It all contributes. You should be happy. A little rest and a small adjustment of your diet should have you right as rain. Be glad you're not Tony Stark."

Emma quirked a brow thoughtfully, but Foster's mind was closed to her. Whether the woman had been taught her mindshields or they had been mechanically furnished for her, Emma was unable to pierce the veil of her thoughts.

"All right, that's my physical health, Jane -- but what about the MRI and the CAT scan? Anything turn up that I should be aware of?" Emma folded her arms beneath her breasts, waiting for the other woman's response.

"Yes, there were some irregularities; but I'm not enough of a neurologist or expert in mutant physiology to make head or tail of them. I have, however, emailed them to Moira MacTaggart -- and she promises to have results to me by morning."

"This close to Christmas? What did you have to promise her?"

"Nothing. Apparently she's been looking for a project to distract her from Legacy research." Jane smiled. "Get dressed. If you're going to be in NY, leave your number with the front desk, and I'll have my nurse call you soon as we hear from Muir Island." Jane patted Emma on the shoulder. "I'd suggest spending the night at least, and getting a proper head start on that relaxation I suggested."

"I believe I might at that," Emma agreed, stepping behind the privacy screen to dress again. "I imagine the students are as happy to have a moment of peace from me." She chuckled wryly.

"And you from them," Foster winked. "Merry Christmas, Emma."

Emma smiled with amusement. Adrienne had apparently chosen to spend Christmas on the Riviera, but it was nothing for her to use her abilities to get the doorman to let her in. "Flight get cancelled, Miss Frost?"

"Something like that, Carlton."

The penthouse wasn't closed up for the entire winter season; Adrienne had apparently not planned on more than a few days away. Emma took the opportunity to make herself at home while she waited for Foster's report on her health.

Adrienne had been overconfident, and that had proved her undoing. Emma found her journal in the bedroom, and a number of records on her PC. Blue-green eyes narrowed shrewdly as a niggling suspicion was confirmed.

Adrienne had arranged for Emma's financial crisis. For that, Emma would leave her psychommetric sister a series of little psionic -- "gifts" -- to find when she returned home. It would be no great joy for her to summon up the memories of her -- mistreatment she had experienced when her parents had institutionalized her and forgotten about her. But summon them she did; along with the memory of the pain that lanced through her when she was defeated by Phoenix. She imprinted on Adrienne's headboard the pain of being shot. She laced Adrienne's kitchen appliances with psionic images of her watching the hellions die. Bitch thought to undo me by showing me that in the Danger Room. Let her see what it was like first hand.

The phone rang, jarring her from her preparations. She settled in on the sofa and ran it through the screen of the television.

"What have you discovered?" Emma asked Foster.

"According to Dr. MacTaggart, someone's been tampering with you on a psionic level. She checked your scans against the last checkup and indicates the brainwave activity is restrained."

Emma nodded, "I see. Thank you. Any idea who?"

"Not yet."

That's all right, Jane. I already have an idea. "Thanks, Jane. Merry Christmas."

"To you too, Emma."

She disconnected the call and dialed a number she knew by heart. It rang three times before someone picked up. "Happy holidays, Xavier Institute -- Henry McCoy speaking."

"Is Xavier there?"

"One moment please."

Emma seethed; Xavier and Jean Grey were the only telepaths who were of sufficient psionic firepower to have done the sort of tampering that Foster and MacTaggart had spoken of. She was already searching her memories and finding blurred smears in places she had previously written off as memory loss from her coma. But now?

"Charles Xavier."

"Professor." Emma purred. "I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. Sweet dreams. I have myself back, and I mean to keep her this time."

There was an uncomfortable moment of silence on the line. "I see."

Bastard doesn't even deny it...such arrogance!

"Does this mean then, that you are abandoning your position as headmistress of the school?"

"Nothing of the sort, my dear Xavier. Nothing of the sort. But the students will decide where they go ... and you will not be invited to ... persuade them otherwise if they choose another path than your ... Dream."

She hung up the phone and smiled, then set herself in graceful motion like a personification of winter. Xavier was too strong to take on directly, and he'd be expecting her to do something so churlish and predictable. She opened her mind and flung a thought in the general direction of Westchester: There's a reason, dear Charles, they say 'the female is the deadlier of the species.' You get the luxury of sweating night and day, never knowing when I will come for you. Never knowing how. Consider this your Christmas gift.

Xavier made no reply, but even at this distance, she could sense him shifting uneasily. Just as she desired.

She swept her fox cloak back onto her shoulders, and lifted her cellphone to her ear. "Bumpkin? Find me Sebastian Shaw. Now."

"Emma? Emma Frost?" Sebastian Shaw couldn't quite hide the pleasure in his voice when he heard hers on the other end of the phone. He'd missed her -- in more ways than one. She had ever been a fitting companion and foil. Their tussles had helped him keep his edge. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"To the fact that I am done with my ... Sabbatical. I'm ready to return to the Club, rife with knowledge, a new, stronger power base, and a protege beneath my wing." It had taken Bumpkin from Christmas Eve to the 30th to locate Shaw in his Brazilian villa. Emma had busied herself in the time intervening. "The plane's already in the air. Do say you'll join me? I have already heard about the rabble who seek to have taken our places, Sebastian. While they're short-sighted and foolish, they do represent a lucrative source of financial nourishment to the Inner Circle.

"I believe once informed who their mistress is, they'll come to heel."

Shaw's brow arched dubiously. "My. You sound much like the old Emma I feared lost forever."

"Come to New York and you'll see exactly how much like the old Emma I am, Sebastian."

Shaw chuckled over his brandy snifter. "An enticement like that, and you expect me to refuse? Dear Emma, I am at your service." He rose, pausing to adjust his trousers, before striding across the room for his jacket.

"Of course you are."

Switch had stricken out on the beach at florida. Between her telepathic ululations in his skull and her having seduced him, Emma knew Switch was utterly, unshakably loyal to her. For a teen, he was singularly talented. He credited his mutant body-snatching ability with the side effect of having picked up residual psionic traces from the people he switched with.

Magma hadn't needed coercing; Emma had so much as mentioned the Hellfire Club, and Amara had stepped forward.

Everett, Jubilee, Paige Guthrie, and Penance had fled to Westchester when Emma offered them the opportunity to remain or join her. Angelo Espinosa had also chosen to go to Xavier. Jonothon Starsmore, however, had asked her one simple question: [Will yer do what yer can to give me me chest back?]

Emma had answered honestly; she said she'd make more of an effort than she ever had been permitted to while under the auspices of Xavier. That had been enough for Chamber.

Leech had protected Artie; it was a loss Emma regretted, but knew she could recoup in the future.

So it was that when she met Shaw at Kennedy Airport, she had Monet and Jono beside her. "Sebastian Shaw -- meet my White Bishop and White Rook -- Arete and Chamber." Switch, also in the limousine, was introduced as her bodyguard.

Shaw raised one brow thoughtfully and kissed Emma's hand after studying the pair before him. "You have been busy, haven't you, my Queen?"

"You have no idea."

"You realize we will encounter -- resistance when we return to the mansion in New York?"

"Sebastian. Darling." Emma smiled over her champagne flute. "I'm counting on it."

Daimon Hellstrom lifted his head in alarm. Since he had insinuated himself into the Hellfire Club and become its Black King, he had magickally warded the mansion. The tingle racing over his skin like fiery droplets of icy light was an indication that someone was approaching -- someone with sufficient power to threaten his new position.

"Selene. Trouble. Get DaCosta down here at once, and have Blackheart prepare in the lower levels."

"Of course, Daimon." The Black Queen was solicitous in words, but Hellstrom could sense her bristling that he presumed to order her around. "What has you so -- disturbed?"

"I don't know yet, but don't you feel it as well?" Hellstrom paced impatiently, and tweaked at the fibres of magic he had woven into the walls.

"I feel only your distress and DaCosta's reticence. The demon below is contentedly watching the insipid mundane festivities on the television he had been begging for." Selene was supremely confident. Hellstrom considered it her weakness. X-Force had been able to defeat her, and they were a bunch of kids. She seemed to think that having blackmailed Sunspot into taking the position as her Black Rook made her invincible.

Tessa strode up the stairs with Bumpkin beside her, and knocked on the door to the Hellfire Club's New York mansion.

Emma and her three charges stood behind Tessa, and Shaw took up the rear, back in his finery.

The maidservant paled and ran for Daimon on opening the door and realizing who was there. Emma and her coterie, as a result, entered uncontested.

A week's research and psionic probing had sufficiently prepared Emma for what she would encounter. Shaw's strength would stand her in good stead against Sunspot. Her telepathic charges would hold her against any of Hellstrom's minions -- and Switch?

He caught Selene by surprise, under masque of telepathic screening by Emma.

"Long live the Queen," Emma chuckled, settling in by the fire.

[That were easy, Em,] Chamber said dubiously.

"If Emma means to simply return to active membership, I have no quarrel with her. And clearly she made it obvious she didn't want to fight by subduing Selene before our Black Queen could stir up any trouble."

Selene, trapped in Switch's body, seethed. By the fire, Switch -- in Selene's body, marvelled at his present curvaceous state.

"I cede to the Black King, but will remain as Black Knight if he will have me." The better to make certain their goals aren't overly nefarious.

"Accepted," Shaw said, after a glance to Emma for her assent.

"This was simple," Monet marvelled.

"Flawless," Emma corrected, striding down the hall to the stairs. "I wish to meet Blackheart. And see that DaCosta is brought down as well. I don't want any unpleasant surprises later."

Hellstrom hovered at Frost's elbow, explaining that Blackheart was not permitted beyond the lowest levels of the mansion...and that his demesnes was not especially pleasant.

Emma's white gown was immaculate,despite the seething blacks and reds of the room Blackheart occupied. The demonic entity didn't even look up -- he stared in fascination at the seventy inch flatscreen TV on the wall opposite him.

"What, you've never seen a New Year's Rockin' Eve special before?" Switch asked, incredulous.

"That, among other things. I'm looking forward to the fireworks at midnight." The demon's voice was like silk soaked in crude oil. "Please. Have a seat. I'll be with you at 12:01. In the meantime, don't say a word. I don't want to miss a second."

Frost chuckled, but indulged the demon. Like Hellstrom, he seemed content to let her regain her position in the Club without a tussle. Regally, she settled into a chair, and turned to watch.

"...only two minutes left," Dick Clark was saying. "And we bid a warm goodbye to 1999, the 20th Century, and the Millennium." His eyes darted frantically, rather than staying on the camera with his characteristic ease.

"His makeup looks terrible," Monet observed.

"He looks nervous," Roberto DaCosta observed as well, bowing to kiss Emma's hand. "You would think that after however-many of these things, he would be able to do them in his sleep. White Queen." His charms were polished as ever; his psionic shielding was taught by Xavier, so Emma could not yet determine whether he was an ally or an enemy. She made a mental note to introduce him to Monet later.

"One minute..." Dick Clark said from the television. Sweat was visible on his forehead although the readout on the screen indicated the temperature was below freezing.

Tessa poured champagne for everyone. "We must have a toast to the re-integration of the Hellfire Club."

"Capital," Shaw agreed.

"Oh, absolutely," Blackheart agreed, accepting the glass but not looking away.

The speakers blared the countdown into the room. "Ten ... nine ... eight ... seven..." Clark looked positively pallid. "Six ... five ... four ... three ... two..."

"Here's to the new Hellfire Club!" Shaw raised his glass, and the rest of the room followed suit.

"SHHH!" hissed Blackheart, pointing at the TV.


Dick Clark's face was filled with dread, even as he kept up his trademarked cheery banter. "And we have arrived at the year two--" His words ended in a high pitched scream as the picture fuzzed over. Bright flame filled the air around him, drawing a bloody, seething pentagram over his head. It descended to his feet, and when it touched the ground beneath him, a chasm yawned open.

One black-clawed red talon reached up, closed its fingers around the screaming Clark, and dragged him howling to the bowels of hell.

Blackheart clinked his glass with Emma's. "Touchdown." He smiled contentedly at the blazing pentagram before ABC had the presence of mind to yank the signal.

"To the Hellfire Club," Emma repeated. "And to ... an auspicious beginning."

-- end

"The Race" >>

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