A Diamond in the Rough

BY : DrunkenScotsman
Category: X-Men - Animated Series (all) > General
Dragon prints: 664
Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Chapter 2: First Exchange

 

Pain.

Sharp, stabbing pain, like an icepick or chisel being hammered into the back of her skull.

Pressure pain, like her head being squeezed in a clamp or vise.

Burning pain, like a lit charcoal resting atop her head.

Piercing, twisting pain, like a drill boring with excruciating slowness into her forehead and temples.

All of these in turn, migrating from one zone to the next, in a seemingly endless cavalcade of agony.

Did I die? I have too much left to accomplish to die.

One by one, Emma’s senses began to return, providing indicators that she remained stubbornly, unequivocally alive. The darkness behind her eyelids brightened to orangish-red as some sort of light shone onto them. Voices seemed to float above her, disembodied murmurs situated at all points of the compass. Her back rested on a cool, hard surface; her head, on something lumpy, with sharp angles at unfortunate spots; her feet, propped up on something, but she couldn’t tell what through texture alone.

Emma cracked her eyelids open, just enough to let in a bit more light. The pounding inside her skull spiked for a moment before subsiding to its previous intensity. Emma hissed through her teeth. “What was that?” she muttered.

“I was hoping you could tell us, Ms. Frost,” answered a vaguely familiar voice, one tinged with authority and compassion in equal measure. “I’ve never had a student pass out in class before, so I’m a little rusty on the ‘medical emergency’ protocol. You okay?”

The pain subsided some more, giving Emma enough reprieve to think somewhat more clearly. “Dr. Breckenridge,” she recalled. An icy panic sank into her stomach as she realized the implications.

She’d passed out. In front of the whole class.

All of them had seen her.

Seen her weakness.

Imperfection.

Emma started to sit up, blinking her eyes to readjust them to the flat fluorescent lights in the ceiling. A gentle hand on her shoulder restrained her, however, and Emma recognized the professor’s blazer by its cuff. “Hold on, Ms. Frost,” the professor chided. “I said I’m rusty on the medical protocol, but everyone knows Rule Number One is ‘don’t let them sit up too fast.’”

Emma acquiesced, choosing not to antagonize an authority figure, and took better stock of her position. From its distinct leather scent, she could tell her head rested on her purse – Louis Vuitton, a graduation gift from Mother, one of the few things Mother had ever given her that she didn’t hate. Her feet rested in the lap of a heavyset girl with blue streaks in her blonde hair and shocked stare affixed to Emma’s silver-white Louboutins – a graduation present from Father, easily her favorite shoes, particularly since they were custom-made. Fortunately, even with her legs canted upward, her pencil skirt had only shifted enough to bare her knees.

I haven’t had an episode like that since middle school, mused Emma. Not since I started… not since the curse manifested. She massaged her temple, and her headache eased somewhat. Don’t just lie here, Emma. Damage control.

“I bet it was that mutant bitch,” hissed one of the other students, to Emma’s left but outside her field of vision.

With those words, palpable unease rippled through the class. From her supine position, Emma couldn’t see the redhead, but she couldn’t forget the image of that great fiery raptor rising around her, seemingly enveloping the whole room. Apparently, though, I’m the only one who saw it.

Upon remembering trying to read the other mutant’s mind, the searing pain flared. Emma rubbed her temple again to soothe herself. What the hell was that?

Dimly, Emma heard Dr. Breckenridge trying to calm the class, trying to prevent things from turning ugly. One voice – likely Ms. Grey – protested; but the voices remained indistinct, as if lost in a haze. Emma breathed deeply, recentering herself and letting her mind snap back into focus.

In a moment of clarity, Emma perceived two options for how to proceed. She would need to choose wisely.

First option: Play along with the current sentiment and place blame for this episode on the known mutant. This would save face for Emma herself and turn the redhead’s celebrity status against her. She might even be pressured or forced to withdraw from the college altogether.

Second option: Tell the truth (to a degree) and let the redhead off the hook. While this would require admitting a small (temporary) weakness, the redhead would owe Emma. If nothing else, she owes me a few answers.

A short-term loss for a more valuable long-term gain. As an avid chess player, Emma could appreciate such an exchange, even if she couldn’t discern whether this counted as sacrificing material for position or vice versa.

Besides, Father often says, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”

Emma pursed her lips. Is this Ms. Grey my enemy, though? A fellow mutant, certainly. A rival, perhaps.

I also can’t remember the last time I had a friend, a small voice within her added. Maybe that could change today.

A friend? another part of her scoffed. A useful ally, at most.

By now, Emma could hear the near-pandemonium as Dr. Breckenridge struggled to keep the class under control. Best get this over with before this turns into a riot.

“It’s not her fault, Dr. Breckenridge,” Emma declared, but she doubted if anyone could hear her from her position on the floor. Gathering her legs under her – and pulling her feet away from that greedy-looking heifer – she stood slowly, relieved to find no dizziness or nausea. “It’s not her fault,” she repeated, louder this time, enough to garner attention.

Finding the professor in the crowd, Emma faced her –avoiding eye contact by targeting the woman’s sharp cheekbone – and bowed her head, just enough to display appropriate contrition to an authority figure, as Father had taught her. “Dr. Breckenridge, I didn’t mean to disrupt class like this.”

“Explain, please,” replied the professor, in the sharp, strained tone of someone sitting atop a powder keg and desperate for anything that might prevent detonation.

Emma maintained a carefully neutral face, belying her wish the professor wouldn’t have asked. “I think it was a migraine,” she explained. “I used to get them in middle school. This was the first one I’ve had since then. I thought they were gone for good, but apparently not.”

“I’ve never heard of a migraine making someone pass out before!” argued one of the other students from across the room. “It had to be that mutant!”

“It’s rare,” Dr. Breckenridge replied coolly, “but not unheard of.”

Emma could practically hear the professor’s eyes narrowing, so she risked a glance upward to make eye contact –

Neurobiology’s a little outside my expertise so it’s plausible she really passed out from a migraine   but then again it could be the mutant girl who knows what weird powers she has but if I call out Ms. Frost for possibly lying the class could attack Ms. Grey and all hell could break loose and even tenure might not protect me I don’t get paid enough for this shit I need a drink already and it’s not even 10:15 –

Emma looked down again, her head spinning once more from the sudden blitz of thoughts, even though she’d only looked at the professor for a few seconds. “Maybe I should head to Student Health Services?” she suggested.

At that, the redhead stood from her seat. Emma hadn’t realized, until just now, how the other students were starting to crowd around the known mutant. “I’ll go with her,” Ms. Grey volunteered. “As a show of good faith that this is not my fault.”

Dr. Breckenridge surveyed the class for a moment. “Excellent ideas, Ms. Frost, Ms. Grey. Everyone else, sit the hell down.”

Emma gathered her things, including the course documents, and strode out of the classroom, head held high, as if she hadn’t just suffered a potentially-humiliating lapse   of control. After all, she told herself, I managed the situation. Like salvaging a stalemate after using the wrong response to White’s opening. 

Between classes, the hallways were practically deserted, allowing Emma to assume her natural brisk stride. She’d made it out of the Owens Building –– before she heard a voice calling out behind her: “Hey! Wait up! I’m supposed to escort you, remember?” The voice wasn’t particularly high- or low-pitched, though it had a touch of nasality to it, not quite “reedy” but leaning that way. Emma didn’t break stride.

The bearer of the voice caught up to Emma about twenty paces outside the building. Faster than I’d expected, Emma noted. An athlete of some sort?

“Emma, right?”

“Emma Frost,” she replied, pointedly not looking at the other girl who now walked beside her. From the corner of her eye, though, she could tell that the redhead’s height nearly matched her own, before factoring in Emma’s three-inch-plus heels.

“I’m Jean,” offered the other girl in a friendly tone.

“Ms. Grey. I heard when the professor called your name,” Emma replied in a tone she thought would sound “matter-of-fact.” A brief pause, and Emma smirked inwardly. Did I throw you off-balance so easily, by not replying with a smile and a handshake?

The redhead started to speak, but they were approaching a gaggle of other girls sitting at an outcropping of outdoor metal tables in front of one of the other campus buildings. Singleton Hall had been converted from a dorm into a dance studio, where the college’s various dance teams rehearsed. Emma made a note to drop by later in the week to reaffirm her room reservation.

“You dance?” asked her walking companion.

Emma nearly stopped short. “I beg your pardon?”

“I asked if you danced,” repeated the redhead. “That’s the dance building. I’m just making conversation.”

Emma pursed her lips. “Of course,” she non-answered, feeling as though she’d missed something important.

Silence reigned for several moments as they passed the tables, and for several more afterward. Emma found herself torn between wanting to size up her rival and avoiding looking at her, not desiring a repeat   of whatever happened in the classroom. Not looking won out, since it also offered the advantage of preventing the other person from getting a read on her. Mother and Father both considered public emotional displays of any sort to be incredibly gauche, and the chess circuit likewise; so Emma had developed a good “poker face.” Further, every advantage at this point could provide critical leverage.

About halfway to Student Health Services, Ms. Grey broke the silence: “We need to talk about what happened back there.”

“I had a migraine and momentarily blacked out,” Emma parried. “Didn’t you hear that part?”

“I heard what you told the professor,” replied the redhead. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful you didn’t say more.”

“What more would I have said?”

The other young woman sped up and maneuvered herself into Emma’s path, only a few paces away. Stopped short by the move, Emma barely had time to avoid locking gazes, her eyes landing on the paired red arches of the redhead’s eyebrows. Perfectly groomed, Emma couldn’t help but notice.

“You could have told the truth,” answered the redhead tersely.

“As much as it pains me to admit, I didn’t lie about my history of migraines,” Emma insisted, stonewalling.

“The whole truth, then,” Ms. Grey pressed. “You tried to read my mind –”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Emma interjected, with a glance around to ensure other students couldn’t hear them. Fortunately, no one else seemed to be within earshot.

“I know what I felt,” the other young woman countered, tone flattening. She took a bracing breath. “I know you know I’m a mutant. It was all over the news, and I’ve had over a year to make peace with the whole world knowing who and what I am. Specifically, my powers are telekinesis and – more importantly for this conversation – telepathy.”

Emma fought her rising sense of unease, though she couldn’t ignore her accompanying sense of wonder, that same curiosity she’d felt earlier, and something else she couldn’t identify. She needed to regain control of this conversation immediately, so she hardened her expression from its typical sharp aloofness – she’d heard it called “resting bitch face” – into an intense glower. “So you admit that you triggered this whole episode with your mind powers.”

Ms. Grey, to Emma’s surprise, didn’t seem the least bit intimidated, unlike most others who’d received her withering glare. “Not intentionally,” she replied coolly. “One of my mutant teachers is a telepath, and after a few ill-fated encounters with other telepaths, we’ve trained together to ward off the intrusions of other psychics. Like you.”

Every time Emma had heard people’s thoughts before, she’d initiated via eye contact, with varying degrees of brevity. She’d trained herself to avoid such eye contact, except on her terms and for her purposes. Every time she’d heard people’s thoughts in her head before, they sounded like a jumble of words, connected by the barest threads of sense and syntax. It had always felt like mosquitoes buzzing in her brain.

As Ms. Grey finished speaking, though, Emma felt something wholly different. It felt clean, clear like a cold glass of water on a hot summer’s day by the pool at the Frost manor. Emma’s gaze had remained fixed on Ms. Grey’s forehead, but the redhead’s voice poured into Emma’s mind all the same, unbidden, unexpected, and bearing a simple message.

You are not alone.

________________________________________

A/N: In case I didn't mention it last chapter, this one's going to be a fairly slow burn, especially regarding the sexy stuff. I promise it'll get there. Eventually.

The rating, however, is going to be for the decidedly unsexy things this story will eventually cover.

I welcome feedback for this work, like all my others. Please feel free to leave a review!



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