Who Dares Wins: Part 4

Auld Acquaintances Be Forgot

by Samy Merchi



DISCLAIMER: This is a non-profit work of fan-fiction involving characters created and owned by Marvel Comics Group.

ARCHIVED AT: http://mash.yok.utu.fi/corona.html

INSPIRED BY: NEW MUTANTS #49 "Ashes of the Soul"


Sebastian "BLACK KING" Shaw
Selene "BLACK QUEEN" Gallio

Tessa MacDonald
Trevor "BLACK ROOK" Fitzroy
Adrienne "WHITE QUEEN" Frost

Janet "WASP" Van Dyne Paladin

Nicole Kidman as Emma Grace Frost

CONTINUITY: This story takes place
* in my Shadows of the Future timeline
* in year +3 (three years in the future)
* on Christmas Eve, December 24th
* exactly a year after FIRST AND TEN
* about half a year after APOCALYPSO

CHAPTER 4.1: Step Into My Parlor

"Gas explosion", said Christopher Aaronson, also known as King Bedlam, as he stood in the demolished doorway where the front doors of the lavish Hellfire Club had stood a few minutes ago before they had been blasted out into the snowy Fifth Avenue outside. "The problem has been isolated and contained. Neighboring buildings are in no danger."

"It's being tended to by our own staff", continued Martinique Jason, the female Mastermind, as she stood beside Bedlam and pulled her shawl a bit tighter around her shoulders as a bitter cold wind blew in from the street. "This incident is hardly your fault", she gave a little smile. "We don't want to see any of your people injured. You will be let to inspect the premises in the morning when we are sure there is no more danger."

"I see", responded the City Engineer standing on the steps of the Hellfire Club before the couple. "Well then", he shrugged, taking off his hat and scritching his head briefly. "If ya insist. But the gas t' the building has been turned off and won't be turned back on 'til we've checked things inside an' made sure there's no danger."

"That's an acceptable solution", Martinique smiled gratefully to the City Engineer. "I'll look forward to giving your people a tour of the damaged areas of the building first thing in the morning. For now --"

"What was that?" the City Engineer quirked an eyebrow, looking past Bedlam and Mastermind momentarily, into the Hellfire Club's dark foyer.

"What was what?" Bedlam asked with a perfectly faked uncomprehending expression.

"Sounded like an explosion..." the City Engineer said, and took a step up along the steps. "Look, lady, if there's a fire inside anywhere an' it reaches any hazardous materials --"

"-- then they would be appropriately registered and you can verify from City Hall that no volatile materials are present at the Hellfire Club", Bedlam stated. "Unless", he smiled a bit, "you want to accuse us of concealed hazardous materials. In which case, I would suggest you get a search warrant before acting on any such -- completely unfounded, I might add -- suspicions."

"I...see", the City Engineer nodded slowly, reluctantly.

Mastermind smirked a bit at how easy the human was to manipulate with a bit of wordplay, verbal parries and ripostes. "Volatile *people*, on the other hand..." she murmured under her breath.


"SELEEEENE!" Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla roared as she stood just inside a blasted-apart doorway, in the quarters of the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club. The dark, almost cavernous room was in the middle of the building, resultantly having no windows, and only being lit by red hot coal braziers in the corners of the room, the hellish light of which glinted off the sword Amara held firmly in her grip.

She was backed up by five of her fellow Upstarts, soon to be the new Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, should they survive tonight. Just outside the doorway, in the hallway outside, was Roberto Da Costa, powered up into his coal-black solar form, his right hand still smoldering with the crackling black energies that had blasted in the door, his eyes narrowed cautiously as he watched Amara's back.

Shinobi Shaw and Cordelia Frost were behind Roberto, to his left, while on his right flank Monet St Croix and Manuel Alfonso Rodrigo de la Rocha were prepared for battle, the former with her teeth gritted and hands clenched into fists, the former merely narrowing his eyes in an intense gaze.

"Welcome", the tall, slender, raven-haired woman sitting on a throne on the opposite side of the room simply said. Selene had one leg crossed over the other as she watched the intruders to her quarters with calm amusement, as if considering how to play with them. "You *could* have knocked."

"DIE!" Amara shouted with a heated psychopathic burn in her eyes, as her arm flashed forward, letting go of her sword and sending it streaking thru the room towards the Black Queen.

"No", Selene answered calmly, not even blinking as the sword changed its trajectory and flew into her grip, her hand tightening around its handle. "You forget, Amara", she smiled, "that all inorganic matter is mine to do with as I please." Her smile widened, and the braziers lighting up the room intensified slightly, the flames growing hotter, brighter. "As will you all be, before this night is over."

"NEVER!" Amara snarled, the room bathing momentarily in a blinding flash of light as she powered up to her Magma form of molten rock. Her lips pulled back in a hiss, as she cast her arms towards Selene, and unleashed a lava blast towards the sorceress.

"UPSTARTS ATTACK!" Roberto shouted as he took off and soared into the room, black energy crackling about him and streaking from his outstretched arm towards Selene in a powerful solar blast.

"Sucky battle-cry", Cordelia pointed out.

"UNGH!" Selene wheezed after deflecting Amara's lava blast, as Roberto's solar blasts -- immaterial energy she couldn't affect -- hammered her back, right thru her black wood throne, in a loud crash, splinters flying everywhere as the seat was demolished.

"NOW!" Roberto glanced over his shoulder back at the doorway. "And remember, don't *touch* her! She can absorb your lifeforce!"

"We're not fools. We remember", Monet commented as she flew into the room and stopped in midair, clenching her fists and focusing her narrowed eyes onto Selene as she shot a merciless psionic stab towards the downed sorceress.

"Gnh!" Selene gritted her teeth as sweat started beading on her brow, her face tight with exertion as she blocked Monet's psionic attack. "You've certainly got raw power, stripling", she hissed before slowly pushing herself up onto her knees. "But I have the experience."

"And we have the numbers", Manuel smiled confidently as he stood a few feet behind the hovering Monet, and suddenly his eyes blazed bright crimson as he cut loose with his own empathic mutant power. "You know this is a hopeless battle, Selene", he said with a voice dripping with gloating arrogance. "We are too many, too powerful. Surrender, and we will grant you a quick, painless death."

Selene stumbled backwards against a wall, leaning against it, her face contorting from the strain of defending against the two powerful psionic attacks at the same time. "Don't --" she started defiantly, but then hesitated, doubt starting to gradually creep onto her face.

Manuel glanced over towards Roberto. "This is easier than I thought", he smiled. "Can we just skip killing her and go to the part where I make her my sex slave?"

"Hardly", Monet snapped in a freezing tone, her eyes narrowing in anger as she intensified her assault and sent a devastating psychic stab towards Selene. The witch would be dead before she ever got anywhere close to Manuel. In *any* way.

"AIEEEE!" Selene screamed, and sank to her knees, clutching her head in her hands and whimpering in agony.

"Yes", Amara sneered viciously, and cast a new torrent of lava towards Selene, the heat of battle burning in her veins, the siren call of vengeance spurring her on as she intensified and intensified her assault. "DIE, Selene! FEEL Pluto's touch as I send you to him as you sent my mother!!" she almost foamed at the mouth.

((She's going out of control)), Roberto frowned as he hovered right behind Amara's shoulder and concentrated on absorbing the heat and fire splashing over from Amara's attack, draining everything that didn't hit Selene and preventing the building from catching fire. "Amara --" he started hesitantly, as if second-guessing the entire plan.

"Silence", Amara snapped, and spread her arms wide, motioning for everyone to stop. Manuel and Monet stopped their assault, watching Amara as she steadily walked across the room to tower over Selene's whimpering, curled-up form on the floor in a fetal position. "You", she stated coldly, "killed my mother. Know that your immortal life was ended by Amara Juliana Olivians Aquilla. Your death tonight is due to one thing, and one thing alone -- your daring to lay your hands upon my mother! Now, you shall suffer the vengeance of the Aquilla bloodline as I blah blah blah..."

"For god's sakes, just *kill* her already..." Cordelia mumbled, hiding her face in her hand.


Shinobi's eyes widened slightly as he stood beside Cordelia and watched Amara flash brightly, unleashing a white hot lava blast right at Selene. A scream tore thru the air as Selene caught fire, burned like a torch, and Amara just poured it on, lava blasting from her hands to incinerate the sorceress, a psychopathic glare in her eyes.

Roberto, Cordelia and Monet all watched with a grim, focused expression as their goal approached. Manuel was far more amused, a sadistic grin of glee covering his face. Shinobi, perhaps, was the most affected of all, as he took a handkerchief from his breast pocked and dabbed lightly at the few beads of sweat on his forehead. The smell of charred flesh filled the chamber.

"It is *done*", Amara declared, looking down at the blackened corpse at her feet, her magma form flaming silently for a few moments, before she powered down, back to her human form. "And just in time." She lifted a hand in front of her eyes, and flames flickered briefly on it before dying down. "I have exhausted all the power stored within me. I am powerless until I regain contact with Mother Earth."

"What a pity", a female voice sneered from the direction of the doorway. The six Upstarts whirled around towards the voice, to see Selene, standing confidently in the doorway, smiling devilishly. "You didn't think I'd be slain that easily, did you, children?" She raised her chin, looking down her nose on the assemblage of tweenagers. "One does not survive for millennia by being a fool."

CHAPTER 4.2: What Goes Around

"SELENE!" Amara snarled, a blackened corpse smoldering at her feet. "But who --?"

"-- did you just kill?" Selene smiled. "A mere maid here, altered by my magics to look and act as I, perhaps, would have. Though rest assured, she possessed only a minute fraction of my skill. Allow me to demonstrate", she said, and suddenly waved an arm.


"UGRKH!" Empath gasped as cables and wiring ripped thru the wall like living beings, whipcracking from the wall towards him and wrapping themselves around his throat, then yanking him off his feet and sending him hurtling thru the air towards the wall.

"MANUEL!" M screamed as she saw the wooden paneling of the wall morph and form a stalactite-like spike jutting outwards from the wall.


Manuel's eyes widened as his back slammed into the wall, and the wooden spike exploded out thru his lower abdomen. Everything froze in place for a moment. He stared straight ahead. Then, his head slowly turned, his eyes going to Monet. He coughed, trying to say something, and blood spattered from his mouth and flowed down his chin. His eyes rolling back, he then fell limp, nonetheless held up by the protrusition jutting thru him.

"NOOOO!" Monet cried out with wide, horrified eyes locked on Manuel for a moment. Then, they snapped over to Selene. "I'm going to tear you *limb* from *limb*", she growled, and then leaped into the air, streaking across the room towards the sorceress.


"UNGH!" Monet wheezed as a cracking black solar blast intercepted her in mid-charge, and smashed her across the room into a wall.

"There is no time for emotional outbursts, M!" Sunspot snapped, his hands crackling with black energies for a moment, then rising as they unleashed a wide blast towards Selene. "Get Manuel to a hospital, IMMEDIATELY!"

Selene threw her head back and laughed brightly, mockingly, as the material of the doorway morphed and warped, the wooden paneling on the walls stretching to cover the entire doorway and hiding Selene from view a fraction of a second before the solar blast impacted onto the blocked doorway and exploded in a firestorm.

"GO!" Roberto shouted, glancing over to Monet who was standing before Manuel and hesitantly reaching out, as if afraid of touching him. "Selene isn't going to be held back by --"

"You could not be more correct, Roberto", Selene smiled as the flames and debris parted before her and she walked into the room, framed by the remnants of the firestorm. "To one who was the high priestess of the Cult of Fire in Nova Roma, controlling flames is a mere trifle."

"I'll *kill* you!" Amara shouted, as she snatched the sword from the grasp of the charred corpse at her feet, and then leaped towards Selene.

"GO! GO! GO!" Roberto shouted at Monet, and hissed as he soared behind Amara, following her and preparing to back her up.


"UNFF!" Amara wheezed as the floor reared up in front of her, rising into a wall into which she smashed, and ricocheted backwards, crashing onto the floor onto her back.

"Chew on THIS!" Cordelia hissed and yanked the pistol she had gotten out of a Pawn earlier from its holster at her hip, and pointed the gun at Selene.



"CORDELIA!" Shinobi shouted as the gun exploded in Cordelia's hand and sent her stumbling backwards, clutching one hand with the other and an expression of agony on her face as she whimpered in pain.

Monet bit her bottom lip hard, and very carefully, slowly, eased Manuel off the protrusion and into her arms. As soon as he was clear of the protrusion and his weight rested solely on her, she glanced towards the battle. Again, she hesitated a moment. Then, she set her jaw.


Debris fell from the ceiling as Monet left a large hole in it in her wake. A few fractions of a second later, she vanished into the dark, starry night sky, leaving the Hellfire Club far behind.

"An intelligent choice, on her part", Selene stated, and waved an arm, cables and wires smashing up thru the floor and wrapping around Roberto, Cordelia, Shinobi and Amara, coiling around their throats, arms, legs and entire bodies, yanking them down to the floor and immobilizing them. "She will survive tonight. You", she grinned, "will not."

"We'll see about that", Roberto growled.


Solar energy exploded around the Brazilian and demolished the wires and cables holding him down. He hopped up into a crouch, and locked his eyes with Selene's, fists blazing with crackling black spots.

"You can't defeat me", Selene smiled sweetly.

"*I* don't intend to", Roberto replied.

Suddenly, solar energy blasted outwards from Roberto's hands, tearing at the floor, obliterating it and turning it into toothpicks and sawdust within moments, and then continuing on downwards. And on. And on. Demolishing everything underneath, a massive hole was torn thru the floor of the ballroom below Selene's chambers and the cold storage underneath the ballroom, revealing a chamber three floors down and with nothing in-between.

"Surely you don't think this would stop me?" Selene asked with a smile as a pillar of rock rose from the floor of the underground chamber, zooming up to catch Selene at the ballroom level and halt her fall, then quickly shrinking back down and lowering her to the floor of the underground chamber.

"No", Roberto answered as he plummeted downwards alongside his fellow Upstarts, letting the free fall get them down quickly, and then just before they hit the floor of the underground chamber, he extended outwards his absorption powers to cancel the effect of gravity on the Upstarts, easing them down onto the floor and staying hovering in the air himself.

"It was a means to an end!" Amara shouted the moment she touched down to the floor, and a bright flash bathed the room as she powered back up to her magma form, re-energized by her renewed contact with Mother Earth. "DIE!" she screeched, and pointed one arm at Selene.


"ARGH!" Selene cried out as a miniature volcano erupted at her feet. Her instincts, honed by millennia, reacted quickly enough to deflect most of the explosion. "You hurt me", she hissed, glaring at Amara as her clothes smoldered in places.

"I'm going to do more than that", Amara replied, raising her chin and looking down her nose at Selene. "I will end your wretched existence today, or die trying!"

Shinobi shook his head to himself quietly as he turned himself intangible and slipped thru the wires and cables that had been holding him down. ((I feel like a fifth wheel)), he thought to himself as he thrust his hand into some of the wiring holding Cordelia, and then partially solidified inside them, yanking his hand back and tearing the restraints off her. "You all right?"

Cordelia gritted her teeth and stood up, looking towards where Selene was raising a mystical force shield to block Roberto and Amara pooling their assaults against her. "Yeah", she mumbled, and let her eyes wander around the chamber, taking it in. It was of old stone construction, maybe few dozen feet by few dozen feet or so. On one end was a raised area, three steps on both sides leading up to the raised part, upon which sat a wide wooden table, behind which were four wooden chairs. On the front of the table, paralleling each chair, were four symbols of the suits of a deck of cards -- from left to right: heart, club, diamond and spade. On the other end was a huge wall-sized monitor screen, while the sides of the chamber were mostly covered with computers, the other wall also housing a door out.

"The throne room", Shinobi said. "Most of the Inner Circle's operations are conducted from here."

"Kewl", Cordelia nodded slowly, before turning her eyes back onto Selene and frowning a bit. "This isn't going according to plan."

"It's close enough", Shinobi replied and straightened his tie.

"ENOUGH!" Selene snarled as her mystical shield began to crack and buckle as Roberto and Amara cut loose blasting against it. She stood straight behind her shield, spread her arms, and suddenly a spinning blur like a tornado enveloped her. When it was gone, so was she.

"Surrender", Selene's voice came from behind Roberto and Amara. They whirled around, to see the sorceress on the other side of the room, her arms held up high, Shinobi's throat in one hand and Cordelia's in the other hand. "Unless you want to see your comrades die?" Selene smiled.

"Your gambit is hinging on the assumption that I care about their lives", Roberto smirked, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched Selene coldly. "You resort to blackmail, because you *know*, as well as I and Amara do, that you can't best us in physical combat."

Selene's eyes narrowed into a glare. "Don't tempt me, stripling", she hissed.

"I dare you", Roberto smiled. "Go ahead, kill them. Then, you have nothing to pressure us with, and *we* will kill *you*." He raised a hand, letting it crackle threateningly. "Let's finish this."

Selene watched Roberto's eyes closely for a few moments, before very slowly, a little smile started rising onto her lips. "If you haven foam switch--" She blinked in confusion.


A solar blast impacted onto Selene's torso dead center, and knocked her away from Shinobi and Cordelia, sending her crashing into the huge wall-size monitor on one end of the room.

"No!" Shinobi winced as Selene smashed into the monitor, demolishing it. "That equipment cost a fortune!"

Roberto glanced up thru the hole in the ceiling, to see Bedlam and Mastermind two floors up, on the ballroom level. "Perfect timing, Bedlam", he called out, and tilted his head slightly at a faint whistling sound in the distance.

"Ah", Selene pulled herself back to her feet and her eyes -- some wrinkles having appeared around them and onto her face, as if she had aged a decade or so -- looked up to see the two Upstarts who had joined the battle. "King Bedlam. Rest assured, you won't get another chance to instill your psionic confusion on me." With that, the floor underneath Bedlam and Mastermind crumbled to dust.

"I'll catch them! Prepare to execute plan M!" Roberto shouted, streaking into the air, just as others noticed the whistling sound as well, as it grew louder.


Something streaked down thru the holes in the ceilings, and an explosion of stone dust obscured Selene from sight.

A moment of silence passed. Then, the dust slowly settled, revealing Selene in a shallow crater, pulling herself back onto her feet, slowly, and with a bit of trouble, a hint of gray in her hair. Monet was lying at the center of the crater, unmoving.

"UMPH!" Mastermind gasped as Roberto caught her and Bedlam in mid-air, then hovered in place at the cold storage level between the ballroom and the underground chamber. "On it..." she mumbled, and narrowed her eyes.

"What --?" Selene blinked, as the chamber warped and transformed around her for a moment, before morphing into a deep jungle setting, the vegetation obscuring visibility past a few dozen feet, and none of the Upstarts being anywhere to be seen.

Except one. Shinobi Shaw, standing right in front of her, in a ready battle stance, his hands held up in front of him.

Selene smirked, and with her lightning reactions, she was thru his defensive stance far before he could ever react. Her fingers wrapped around his throat, constricting and squeezing, forcing him down onto his knees. "You will get the honor of donating your life force to help me destroy your comrades", she hissed, and savored the taste as she initiated the life force transfer.


"YEARGH!" Selene screamed as her hands snapped back and she recoiled from Shinobi. The jungle environment wavered and faded like a mirage, back into the underground chamber, and Shinobi's form faded into that of Amara Aquilla, powered down and in her human form, smirking mockingly.

"Fool", Amara smiled as she grabbed Selene's throat, gripping it roughly. "Mother Earth's power flows in my veins. It has revived me once before when you drained me dry of life. All I needed to do was let it flow straight through me, feed you *too much* power, *overload* you."

Selene gasped and clutched at Amara's wrist, trying to detach the hand from her throat, but found her strength insufficient for the task. "You haven't won yet", she snarled, and prepared to have the floor shoot up and smash into Amara's arm, to break it and release her grip on her throat.

That's when she realized.

It wasn't working. Her eyes widened. "My power --"

"-- is gone", Amara sneered. "You drained too much life force. Rejuvenated yourself to the point where your powers *stopped working*. Check a mirror, Selene", she laughed. "You're in your early teens now." After a moment, her eyes narrowed, and with a furious throw, she tossed Selene into a wall.

"WHOULFF!" Selene wheezed as she crashed against the hard stone wall and felt a jolt of pain run thru her. "No..." she mumbled, desperation starting to suddenly find her and creep into her bones, sending shivers up her spine. "No..."


Cold metal rang against stone, as a sword clattered onto the floor before Selene, tossed by Amara. "Yes", she declared, watching Selene with narrowed eyes. "Pick it up. Tonight, you pay the price for murdering my mother."

"You don't know what you're talking about", Selene hissed venomously, locking her eyes with Amara's.

"I know enough", Amara replied. "You killed my mother. Do you deny this?" She held a hand out to the side, and was given a sword by Roberto, who had by now gotten Bedlam and Mastermind down to the floor and let them go.

"No", Selene answered.

"Then you die", Amara simply stated, raising the tip of her blade to Selene's throat.

"As you would have, had I never killed your mother."

Amara paused, all smile fading from her face, replaced by a blank look.

A small smile crept onto Selene's lips. "You, my darling Amara, were stillborn."

Color started slowly draining from Amara's face.

"You were stillborn", Selene continued, "and your mother, after having born you for nine months, no longer had the strength to bear *that*. So, she asked if there was anything I could do. I told her that everything had a price. A price which she was quite willing to pay, in this case."

"No", Amara murmured with a dry throat, her wide eyes locked on Selene's lips in an almost trancelike state.

"There was only one life force to go between the two of you. She asked me to, and I drained that life force from her, and gave it to you", Selene spoke with an amused smile. "After all -- why else would I kill", she whispered, reaching a hand over to brush the back of it against Amara's cheek, "my daughter?"


The sword fell from Amara's limp fingers, and she went white as a sheet. "No", she shook her head. "No!" She gritted her teeth and hid her face in her hands, sinking to her knees. "NO!"

"Is this another one of your lies, Selene?" Roberto hissed. "Like 'Nova Roma is fake' and 'Sam isn't an External'? I would hardly put much weight to *your* words! Especially when your life is on the line!"

"It is", a level voice rang out as the heavy wooden door out of the chamber swung open smoothly, revealing a white-clad woman in the doorway. "She's lying", Emma Frost said.

"I *knew* it!" Amara snarled, her fingers coiling around the hilt of her dropped sword.

"HGK!" Selene blinked as sharp cold steel rammed in her chest and out her back. Her eyes were confused, as they slowly turned to Emma, with a...questioning? look in them. She clutched weakly at the hilt of the sword embedded thru her chest, trying to pull it out, but instead, she fell weakly to her knees, and then collapsed down onto her stomach, her eyes drifting closed.

The six other Upstarts and Emma Frost watched silently as Amara walked over to the other sword, picked it up from the floor, and walked back to Selene. "An External only dies if all their five branches are severed", she stated with cold certainty, before grabbing Selene's black hair and yanking her head up by the hair. Her other arm rose high, the sharp blade flashing in the dim lighting, and then arced down in a flash.

CHAPTER 4.3: Glory To The Newborn King

Everyone watched quietly as Amara methodically severed each of Selene's five branches. Then, several moments of silence passed, until finally something was said.

"Congratulations", Emma Frost simply stated.

The new Inner Circle turned their eyes onto Emma, no one quite certain who should respond, and what.

"Thank you", Roberto eventually said, walking over to face Emma.

"I will be taking Fitzroy and Tessa."

Roberto nodded once. "Very well. That seems a fair price for your non-intervention."

"I left you something to clean up in the ballroom", Emma said.

Roberto quirked an eyebrow, not understanding.

"There was a civilian casualty when the crowd tried to get out of the builing", Martinique explained. "A young guy. Got stampeded by the crowd." She quirked an eyebrow at Emma. "You had something to do with it?"

Emma simply smiled, not answering. "Clearing it with the media as a simple accident should be no problem if you are truly ready to be the new Inner Circle."

A moment of silence.


Emma glanced towards Monet and watched the younger woman for a few moments, with one eyebrow quirked in something...perhaps amusement? "I stood to gain", she replied after a few moments.

"That's what motivates everything you do, isn't it, Emma?" Christopher smirked.

"Perhaps", Emma looked down her nose at Bedlam. "If you want to succeed on the path you have chosen tonight, I advise taking that to heart." She smiled faintly. "Altruists die poor."

"We are not fools, Ms Frost", Amara commented.

"Good", Emma nodded, and then glanced to Cordelia with visible amusement. "I'll look forward to seeing if you will deal with the position of White Queen better than...*poor* Adrienne."

Cordelia sighed dramatically. "So tragic, when one so young passes away..." She clutched her chest and her face tightened up slightly, tears starting to glimmer in her eyes. "I miss her --" she started, and then sniffled a bit, wiping her nose on her sleeve, "-- miss her so *much*." Then, she grinned. "You want to take care of the funeral, or can I do it?"

"Have fun", Emma replied. "I won't be here to arrange it, or to participate. I will be leaving for London in a few hours, and will not be back for the foreseeable future."

"London?" Shinobi quirked an eyebrow.

Emma smiled wordlessly, and turned back towards Roberto without answering. "Again, Roberto, congratulations. And, of course -- Merry Christmas, newborn King." Her eyes narrowed, and locked with his for a brief moment. Then, she turned around, her eyes briefly passing over Selene's remains, before she lowered her chin. As she walked out the door, a wide grin gleamed on her shadowed face.


"Thanks again, Mr Shaw."

"It wasn't any trouble at all, Mr Conan", Shinobi nodded in acknowledgement. "If more people were willing to interact with the media more often, maybe we wouldn't have so many misunderstandings in the world."

Bright lights flashed, cameras taking pictures of Shinobi and Cordelia standing on the steps to the Hellfire Club mansion and wrapping up the night with a brief makeshift press conference.

"You *know* that at least one society page is going to say that we're engaged now, don't you?" Shinobi quirked an apathetic eyebrow at Cordelia who was eagerly striking poses for the cameras.

"You say that like it's a *bad* thing", Cordelia grinned widely.

"According to you, it *would* be", Shinobi pointed out.

Cordelia's expression faded into a slightly more somber one, and her eyes locked with Shinobi's for a moment. Then, she quickly broke the gaze and looked away. "Let's go inside, I'm cold..."


"...the Christmas ball at the illustrious Hellfire Club ended early this year due to technical problems resulting in a blackout at the Club. One person perished in the following chaos, 21-year-old Tristan Brawn. Shinobi Shaw, spokesperson for the Club, assures that next year, extra precautions will be taken to avoid a similar disaster. I am Neal Con--"

Emma leaned forward a bit to click the television off, and then leaned back again to return to a comfortable position on the back seat of the limo. She picked up a glass of champagne, and brought it to her lips, sipping a bit from it.

"What happens when Amara finds out you lied?" Tessa asked as she sat on the other side of the back seat, watching Emma curiously.

"A problem for another day", Emma shrugged slightly. "Assuming she ever even finds out. Tonight, I have planted an Inner Circle that is far more favorable to me, and far easier to manipulate than the old one. I have also gained vengeance on Selene, my sister, and the man who murdered my Hellions." She smiled, and sipped the champagne carefully as the limo passed over a pothole on its way to the airport. "It has been a good night."


Tessa quirked an eyebrow as she turned her head slightly at the sounds coming from the trunk. "Speaking of which..."

Emma smirked, and pushed a button activating the intercom to the driver. "Oh, Mr B?" she said. "Turn around and drive over that pothole a few more times, please?"


Monet tried not to nibble on her nails. She used one thing after another to keep her hands busy. Her purse, at first. Clutching it with her nervous fingers. Then, a magazine. But she hadn't been able to concentrate on reading it. Then, a cup of coffee she had gotten from the hospital cafeteria. But she hadn't felt like drinking it.

And right now, she was nibbling on her thumbnail, staring at the wall on the other side of the hospital corridor. It was white. Smooth, patternless white. Smooth, even surface. Flatline. Her heartbeat quickened a bit at the thought, and she tried to think of something else.

She grabbed her nail file out of her purse and started filing her nails, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and again and again and again again, getting faster all the time until the file moved almost like a buzzsaw as it worked her nails to perfection all over.

"Ms St Croix?"

"YES!" Monet practically jumped up from her seat and glanced at the approaching doctor with wide eyes. "Is he --??"

The doctor pulled down his face mask and locked his serious eyes with Monet's. "He's going to pull through."

Monet stared at the doctor for a few moments in dumb disbelief. Then, hesitantly, a little smile forced its way to her face. "He's going to be okay?" she gasped, the smile slowly growing bigger. "He's going to be okay!" she suddenly screeched, and wrapped her arms around the doctor, squeezing him and spinning around with him a few times as if he were a rag doll. "HE'S GOING TO BE OKAY!!"


"Interesting", Martinique quirked an eyebrow as she stood behind Christopher, staring at the phosphorescent screen over his shoulder and reading the slowly scrolling text.

"Isn't it?" Christopher smirked, and tapped a key to bring up a few pictures on the screen of the person whose file they were reading. "The Hellfire Club's files are far better than I dared expect. I think this place will suit us *just fine*..."


"We did it", Roberto smiled, as he lay on his back on the bed, arms crossed underneath his head as he stared at the ceiling. "We really did it."

"Of course", Amara replied, slowly caressing Roberto's bare chest as she lay snuggled up beside him. "I never doubted that for a moment."

"No, you didn't, did you?" Roberto smiled, caressing Amara's cheek with the back of his hand. "You never do. I don't think I could have done this without you inspiring and driving me."

"As opposed to Dani opposing and hindering you?" Amara quirked an eyebrow.

Roberto's expression turned into a slight frown. "I don't want to talk about her."

"I apologize", Amara whispered, laying a few light kisses onto Roberto's chest. "I should have realized -- it has only been a few months, it is still a fresh wound, so to speak."

Roberto gave a slight nod, and then returned to staring at the ceiling. "I function very well with you", he said thoughtfully. "Would you marry me, Amara?"

Amara looked thoughtful for a few moments, and then smirked a bit. "The sex is not sufficient for you?" she asked, tracing little circles onto Roberto's chest with a fingertip. "You wish to create a liaison between our families?"

"Something like that", Roberto nodded and gave a minute shrug. "I also enjoy being around you very much."

Amara considered the words for a moment, and then nodded. "I accept."

"Good", Roberto nodded.

"Sometimes", Amara murmured, resting her head on Roberto's chest, "it amazes me how far we've come from our beginnings as mere New Mutants. Doesn't it seem extremely unlikely that we'd succeed in defeating an organization as powerful as the Hellfire Club?"

"We didn't defeat the Hellfire Club", Roberto said, slowly running his fingers thru Amara's hair. "Only 67 percent of their leaders. It's not impossible or unlikely at all. As Frost told me right before she left, 'A lot of people *could* do it. Almost as many people don't dare try for fear of failure. Who dares, wins.'"

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