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Changing Spots

Title: Changing Spots
Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: X-Men
Character/Pairing: Sean/Emma, past Sean/Moira, past Scott/Emma, several others mentioned/hinted, and a few cameos along the way
Rating: PG/K+
Challenge/Prompt: 1_million_words A to Z Challenge: X - Z
Warning(s): AU
Word Count: 2,639
Date Written: 27 December 2016
Summary:
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to Marvel Comics and Disney, not the author, and are used without permission.




She stands at her window, overlooking her grounds as the snow falls down in a steady, light drift. She didn't think she'd ever come back here again. She was as done with Snow Valley, Massachusetts, as her students -- both teams of them -- were with her. She had left as much of her old life and lies buried here as she had been able and had striven hard to put it all behind her -- but when the chips had been down and her new students had felt as unable to be at home with the X-Men as she herself was, this old place had been the first to come to her mind.

Its stony walls had offered refuge to her and her kind yet again. She had welcomed any X-Man who wanted to go with her to come, and she had been surprised by the number, both young and old, who had come. Even a few of those who had long served under the X and stood stoutly by their belief that a zebra could not change its stripes, a leopard her spots, or Emma her darkness had eagerly come, leaving behind Wolverine and Cyclops and the two nightmares they were creating at almost opposite ends of the country.

They were still fumbling along, still trying to find their way in this world that seemed to be losing more bright spots every day. They were quick to go aid their kind, and even the humans, whenever they heard of a problem where they could help, but they still didn't have a name. She'd heard the whispers of them being dreamers, and indeed they were, but you couldn't very well call a team of heroes, reformed villains, and awkward teenagers dreamers and strike fear into the heart of the true villains of the world.

And yet, indeed, that is exactly what they all are, Emma reflects on this late hour. They are dreamers. They dream of a world where people will accept them despite their changes in their genes, their beliefs, and for some, even their sexual orientation. They dream of a world where peace and love will one day rule, which is even less likely to happen now as it was back in the days of the Flower Children. Emma may have been chained in an asylum during that time, but she still heard the stories of peaceful protests and children calling out to the Father Sun and Mother Moon, much as some of the X-Men still do today and as the Indians did before the white man invaded their land and slaughtered their people -- which is exactly, Emma still fears, what they will do to her own people one day.

They are dreamers, Emma recognizes, and in that, she fears, is their problem. As long as they dream of a better world, they do not accept the realities of the world in which they live. As long as they try to see the goodness in people, they allow others to draw too close to them and eventually hurt them. The others still haven't learned not to trust Cyclops, even after he killed the Professor for whom even Emma had held a secret admiration -- and yet she herself had slept with his murderer again the night before she had secretly swept so many of them away back to her old school here in Massachusetts.

There are still new and old faces arriving every day. Rogue showed up last week, and three scared, new mutants appeared on their doorstep just this morning. This place is so big and so full of lives in need. She feels the echo of their thoughts just beyond her shields. It's a murmuring roar that could easily become deafening if she allowed it.

What is she doing here? she thinks not for the first time even just this day. Has she finally lost it to allow so many people to come so close to her? It's Christmas Eve, and no one's come to her door this night. She doesn't want any one to come to her. They'll get their gifts in the morning just as she directed Bumpkin. No one will be left without -- no one but she herself, and she hardly matters to any one beyond being an ends to a means. She has no illusions about her place in this world or in their lives. They are the ones with the illusions. They are the ones who --

Some one else's thought patterns just outside her door interrupt Emma's private musings. She lifts her head just as his fist hesitantly touches her door. He makes no sound, but she knows he's there. Go away, Erik.

I'm sorry to intrude. I just thought you might like --

Your company? You thought nothing of the sort. You merely wish to have some one with whom to reminisce over Charles. I am not that person tonight. She finds herself hesitating as she senses his pain. It's almost overwhelming for him tonight, much as her own doubts are for herself this evening. A merry holiday indeed, she thinks and almost snorts in derision. Almost, but she hasn't been around these people enough yet to pick up their habits without knowledge.

She speaks more softly, more gently, into his mind. I will be glad to take a rain check, but . . . just not tonight, all right? Ororo is just coming in from a flight. I am certain she would love to discuss the Professor with you.

Now there is a woman with whom she never thought she would see eye to eye, and yet they have come to have more in common than either of them would have once believed. They have both been hurt too many times by those they have allowed to come close: Ororo by Forge, T'Challa, and Logan and herself by Scott and another whose absence weighs more heavily upon her heart tonight than most nights.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was really only a few years ago that she and Sean were sharing the same space in this old school and trying their best to figure out how to properly prepare the young lives Charles had placed into their care for the world that awaited them. They both knew what horrors lay beyond the school, and yet the world today is even worse than what they imagined then. She sighs heavily as Erik walks away, abandoning her door with his own head and heart hanging heavy and sipping both his and her eggnog. Perhaps it is a good thing Sean can not see the world for what it has become. He did, after all, have such high hopes that the next generation would finally see Xavier's dream realized.

But it's never going to be realized, Emma thinks as she closes her curtains and, by the light of the single, emerald green candle she's burning, slips into her bed. She closes her eyes as she hears the roar just beyond her own thoughts increase. It is a good thing, she decides, that he can not see this world. After all, he was the one who was so intent upon being a man of his word that he sacrificed his life to save thousands of others while never daring to admit his true feelings for a woman he wasn't supposed to love. Emma knows he loved her. She loved him as well, but she always waited for him to say the words so that she could not be blamed for taking a dying woman's fiance. But he never said them, just as she never spoke a word about feeling his bright life be snuffed out far too soon. She was a world away when it happened, and yet she felt him go with more pain than if she herself had been hit by that jet.

"Aw, but lass, who's tae say I really died? We X-Men. We might mess up quite a lot. We might muck up th' world -- yer ol' boyo certainly did a bit o' tha' himself --, but we din't tend tae die. We always seem tae find a way back. Charles is comin' back, ye knae. Jean comes back e'ery time. So does Scott an' Rogue an' Stormy an' e'erybody knaes Wolverine can nae really be killed."

"That's what they're saying, though: that he was truly killed this time. He no longer has the healing factor, you know, and you never had one to begin with."

"Din't I, Em? Ye were me luck an' me healin'. Gi ahead. Take me hand, an' ye'll see. I'm very much alive -- at least in yer dreams, luv, an' in yer dreams, I can tell ye wha' I ne'er did in person." His emerald eyes twinkle with that mischievous, lovely Irish light that they so often sparkled with in life, and she wants so desperately to believe him. "Gi ahead," he coaxes, his fingers flexing toward hers, "take me hand. I'm right here, waitin' fer ye, darlin'."

It's only a dream, she thinks, and dreams can not hurt, so she takes his hand and he spins her across the stars. His arms feel so real around her. They dance for hours, and with each spin, Emma forgets another worry from the reality of her life. She forgets another concern. She forgets ever more that he is not real, that he is dead and this is not real, only her heart's fondest dreams.

He spins her around and around as the night grows late.
Evening passes, and Christmas morning begins. Packages are opened. The disappointment she once told three teenage girls of is felt by some and not at all by others. The morning grows late, and when Emma's eyes finally open, the emerald candle she left burning has died out.

She stands, blinking back tears as she does too many mornings and walks to her window. The snow has completely covered her estate. She can hear voices calling to others both downstairs and outside, but none of them are the voice she hears so crystal clear whispering her name one last time and wishing her a merry Christmas. Her cheek tingles with the memory of a kiss. Emma raises her fingers to the impression but doesn't touch her flesh, preferring instead not to mar the place where, for now at least, she can still feel Sean's impression.

She blinks through her tears again, and this time, she spies something red upon her windowsill. She opens her window, her heart beating fast, and reaches out a hand. It's not the crimson that she sees far too often in her life of blood being lost and blood being given. Instead a single, lush, bright red rose beckons her fingers. She recognizes the flower as she lifts it: a true Irish rose.

She shuts her eyes against the tears that well within and brings the rose to her lips. She kisses the soft petals, yearning instead, with all her broken heart, to feel warm lips with a hint of stubble and Irish whisky against her own. But despite the rose, she knows her dreams were just that: dreams. Sean isn't alive. He's not coming back to her, and even if he was alive, he was a man of his word. He'd be mourning Moira instead of coming to her, a woman who remains hated by human and mutant kind despite the fact that she's doing all she can to carve out a place for mutants in this world as it is.

A knock falls softly upon her door. "Go ahead, man," she hears Erik whisper, and for just a moment, her heart skips a beat with hope.

But it's only Bumpkin whose voice she hears next. "Miss Frost, the kids are calling for you."

"Whatever for?" she puzzles aloud, quick and careful to hide her true disappointment.

"They want to thank you for their gifts," Ororo answers, "and they have a few of their own they wish to present to you."

The latter startles Emma, but as always, she remains cool and calm with her response. "I will be down momentarily." She takes her time preparing and dressing, but when she finally opens her door that Christmas morning, there are still three people waiting patiently for her. She almost admonishes Bumpkin until she sees the hopeful smile on his face and hears Ororo's gentle clearing of her throat. If you want to be treated like a lady, the former, self-proclaimed Goddess had once told her, you must act like a lady.

So Emma inclines her head in a slight nod and lets them lead her downstairs. She finds Bumpkin walking ahead of them, Ororo behind them, and Erik at her side. Her surprise grows as they lead her not to the Christmas tree in the rec room but outside where she sees one of the young mutants using his powers to chisel a slab of rock into some kind of a sign. The other children surround him, speaking eagerly and quickly. She frowns, their words passing meaninglessly over her as her mind slips back instead to when two men first believed in her.

A gentle breeze caresses them. "A zebra can change her stripes and a leopard her spots. They only have to believe hard enough. Forgive me. I, of all people, should have known that."

Emma finds herself unable to speak as Bumpkin steps out from between her and her students and she's able to read the words on the sign for the first time: The Emma Frost School of Learning.

"We're all learning," Erik whispers softly as he presses a champagne glass filled with premium eggnog into her gloved hand, "every day. They would be proud of us."

Do you think? she whispers into his mind, eagerly sipping the eggnog to soothe the tightness of emotions she once claimed not to feel in her throat.

I know, he answers, and Emma turns from her students with only one eye fast enough to catch the glimmer of tears in her eyes.

She freezes when she feels tiny arms wrap suddenly around her legs. She looks down at the small, purple-skinned girl they took in off of the streets, the girl whose back is still healing from wounds inflicted upon her by angry humans blinded by their rage and prejudice. "Thank you, Miss Frost," the child says.

Emma nods as she carefully pats the girl's shoulder. This time, a tear does fall, because for once, she doesn't try quite so hard to hide it. Sean would be glad she came back here. He would be proud of what she's trying to do, of what they're all trying to do, and he was right even back then. She was always meant to be a teacher and shape lives, and perhaps Charles was right too. Perhaps the world can be saved, after all, one heart at a time. After all, if this zebra can learn to change her stripes, and this leopard can change her spots, why can't humanity?

Perhaps one day they'll all learn not to hate. Perhaps one day they'll learn to shine instead like the tears in her eyes are shining now, like the form she swears she can almost see in the distance beyond, like that cloud that looks suspiciously like a charming, Irish smile hanging over her school that was once theirs. Like the lilting, Irish laughter she hears in her mind. I told ye ye'd let 'em in, Em. And for the first time in her life, Emma is proud to be wrong as she lets her tears shine as they slip silently down her face on Christmas morn not of disappointment but of pride and love and compassion. "You're welcome."

The End

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