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The First Step

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"Permission granted, Brennan."

Emma sank back into her seat, the relief emanating from her friends strong enough to overwhelm her, just for a second. She revelled in it, suppressing her normal instinct to hide from strong emotions so that she could experience every last spark of adrenaline, as if emotional overload could somehow bring home to her that they'd pulled off the impossible yet again.

It was easier to do than normal, her defences still not up to full strength after her broadband assault on the soldiers. Even with Adam's training her powers weren't as simple as a light switch; something she could just turn on and off without a second thought. She had to work at it, had to be on her guard 24 hours a day, even in her sleep. It was harder to control since the last mutation, at least in part because she'd hidden some of the changes from her friends, pretended that her new powers consisted solely of the mind blasts and migraines they often caused, when in fact her entire being had stepped up a gear.

More than once in recent weeks she'd found herself tuning in to the dreams of the others while she herself was sleeping, her defences low enough that she couldn't stop it, though none of them seemed to recall her presence the following morning.

She'd told herself that it didn't matter, that they were just dreams and that the others would understand if they ever did remember, but in the cold reality of morning she knew differently. The dreams of her friends were frightening, revealing the fears and insecurities that were deeply private to each member of Mutant X, and in her heart Emma knew that none of them would appreciate being forced to reveal them.

Jesse had never told anyone about his claustrophobia, in spite of what he'd had to divulge when they'd encountered Henry Voight. The admission of his fear at being buried alive had seemed honest enough, and Emma had no doubt that he was afraid. But plenty of people were afraid of that without it being a symptom of anything more, and Jesse's lie had been one of omission.

In the recent months since their powers had stepped up a gear, even before Voight had forced them to literally face their own fears, Emma had often gone to bed at night only to find herself standing in Genomex, watching Jesse's silent screams from inside one of Eckhart's pods, or finding Shalimar trapped behind a wall of scorching flame. Since then Emma had asked enough seemingly innocent questions to be certain that, in Jesse's case, his fear of being buried alive was merely part of it, a symptom of a much more crippling claustrophobia than he'd ever admitted.

She'd watched him, listened out over comm links and done what she could to keep him away from enclosed spaces, but even then she couldn't do much. And after Gabriel had broken into Sanctuary she'd had to bite her lip as she listened to Brennan relate with scorn how Jesse had simply refused to phase through twenty feet of solid rock, blissfully unaware of just how much Jess would have had to sacrifice to even consider it.

The first time she'd tried to help him, tried to mentally wake him up from the dream, but over time she had gradually realised that it was not possible. In spite of her awareness, she was still asleep, and her powers were not yet strong enough to break through the barriers put in place by two sets of dreams. Emma wasn't sure which was worse - being forced to watch her friends suffer night after night, or the fact that she was certain she would one day be strong enough that she would be able to interfere. Only now, as she began to secretly explore the true extent of her new abilities, did she fully understand Adam's warning that Ashlocke's fate should stand as a lesson to them all.

She'd argued then that she wasn't a psychopath, that she wouldn't be corrupted the way Ashlocke had and she still believed that, but even Emma could see that the moral responsibilities that came with mutant powers, especially psionic ones, were all too easy to ignore.

That fact had been brought home to her in graphic detail when Conlan's powers had combined with Brennan's to split her in two. The idea that any part of her, however small, was capable of such single-minded brutality - with noble intentions, perhaps, but lacking any consideration for those who would suffer because of them - had been almost unthinkable. That dark Emma had an excuse for her behaviour, though, made mentally unstable because everything that was good about Emma, the morals that helped her curb her baser instincts, had been taken away just as Ashlocke had been born without the conscience he so desperately needed. Emma was certain that, as long as it didn't happen again, she would be able to control her powers rather than allowing them to control her.

The waves of relief distracting her began to fade as the Helix banked and headed for home, and Emma opened her eyes as she became more aware of her surroundings. Brennan was flying the plane, his concentration unwavering as he made sure that there was no structural damage from either the fighter planes or Jesse's phasing. There was a touch of pride there too, that he'd rescued the pilot in spite of the odds stacked up against them; some sort of penance for not being able to save his own father all those years before.

She could hear Shalimar's murmuring voice too. The feral was crouching down next to the pilot and Emma didn't even need her powers to sense the signals that Shalimar was sending out, hoping to convince Captain Morrison that the strange things he'd seen didn't need to be repeated outside of the Helix. Shalimar had a strange knack of getting men to trust her, one that Emma envied in that her friend didn't need to specifically use her powers to manipulate people, while at the same time feeling comforted by the knowledge that she could force him to forget if the feral failed. As much as she sometimes resented being forced to live in hiding, Emma wasn't yet ready for mutants to announce themselves to the world.

The pilot's mind was still jumbled, an odd mix of relief and curiosity, as well as an obvious appreciation of Shalimar that, mentally, was being fought by an image of a brown haired woman and two small children that made her smile.

Then she felt it again; the same feeling that she'd been aware of during their escape, even throughout the airborne battle that had nearly cost them everything, just tickling the back of her mind – a sensation of being lost, as if enveloped in thick fog. Emma didn't need to look far to find the cause of her sudden unease.

Jesse.

She could still feel the confusion radiating from him as his mind tried to make sense of the missing time, to work out just how they'd managed to evade the soldiers long enough to fix the Helix when Emma had taken away his memory of what she'd done. The feeling hadn't left him, not even being completely suppressed by the sheer terror she'd sensed from him when he'd faced the prospect of phasing the Helix and everyone in it.

It wasn't a conscious confusion, and that fact alone was enough to make her certain she'd get away with it. Eventually Jesse's subconscious would give up the search and, as the events of the day jumbled together, the specific details would be forgotten. Then, Emma knew, any underlying uncertainty would be put down to the stress of phasing the Helix. But some part of him, deep down in the recesses of his mind would remember, still knew exactly what she'd done, and Emma wouldn't be surprised if a reference to her and the images she'd shown him surfaced in his dreams in the coming weeks. Yet even that would be dismissed as nothing out of the ordinary, since she'd drawn those same images out of his nightmares in the first place.

Emma hadn't done it on purpose, had simply delved into the subconscious of everyone around her and ripped out their most deeply hidden fears, the things that they didn't even admit to themselves. Only when she had turned to Jesse and found him on the ground, arms out in front of him as if pushing at some invisible, impenetrable force did she realise that she'd conjured up the claustrophobia that she'd seen night after night in his dreams.

Of course she'd rationalised it immediately, knowing that stopping the soldiers was more important and that she wasn't powerful enough to isolate Jesse from the blast without weakening the effect on everybody else. But when he'd climbed to his feet, hands shaking, and stared at her in such shock, the fear not just at what he'd felt but of her too, then she'd overstepped her boundaries and taken his memories away. She'd done it on instinct, the action complete before she'd even thought of the consequences to him, but she hadn't been able to bear the look in his eyes, not even for a second. Looking back with hindsight, Emma couldn't help but wonder whether in Jesse's case she'd chosen those specific scenes to protect herself, because even then she'd known what she was going to have to do.

That was her own nightmare, not one merely relegated to dreams but one she lived in fear of every single day. She saw the way the others looked at her, the times they accused her of reading them even when she wasn't, when she was speaking solely as a friend and voicing opinions that would be taken at face value if they'd come from anyone but her. Because Emma was a psionic, and the power that gave her meant she would always be an outcast amongst those who knew what she was capable of, an outsider always viewed with suspicion, never quite given the benefit of the doubt or trusted.

And yet, by taking away Jesse's memories, hadn't she simply justified all their reservations? Just as it was ironic that every time he used his powers, every time he walked through a wall, Jesse was forced to fight his deepest fears, so Emma was forced, in trying to keep from being mistrusted or rejected because of her abilities, to do exactly what everyone else was afraid of.

Emma knew that she should have trusted him, allowed him to tell the others what she was capable of if that's what he wanted to do; hell, Adam could probably help her control the headaches or find some way to sleep without endlessly wandering through the dreams of the others, but the fear of what could go wrong, of what she stood to lose if they turned against her was too much to risk. Even if she'd told them she'd acted on instinct, that her powers were mutating again and she'd had no idea what she was doing, how long would it have been before Jesse's logical mind wondered how Emma had known about the extent of his claustrophobia in the first place?

No, in spite of the violation she'd committed, the moral line she'd crossed, and the outrage there would be if they ever found out what she'd done, Emma was convinced that she'd done the right thing. And that, to protect herself, to keep from being discovered, she would do it again in a heartbeat.

No matter what the cost.