In the Blink of an Eye

by Nate Grey

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marvel. I only wish I got paid for writing this much.


The hunter closed in on them, his hands reaching out to capture them, or maybe even strangle them. Clarice wanted to scream, but she couldn・t. She was too afraid. Beside her, Angelo squeezed her hand, offering what little reassurance he could. Beside him, Paige and Monet also backed against the wall, doing what they could to put distance between themselves and the monster that towered over them. But in Clarice・s mind, it was too late. Harvest had come.

Angelo stiffened at her side, and craned his neck slightly. ・I know this sounds pretty crazy--but did anyone else but me hear fireworks?・ Paige glanced at him, but said nothing.

・It is the sound of futility you hear, carbonite!・ Harvest roared, pointing at them. The Phalanx units under his command smiled evilly, closing in on their prey. ・The X-Men have arrived to try and rescue you--but they shall not succeed!・

A strange sound cut through the night, and Harvest turned, his arm taking the shape of a reaper. Clarice heard him say something, but she was too afraid to pay him much attention. A dark figure launched itself at Harvest, shredding the techno-organic reaper from his form with one clawed hand.

・Sabretooth?!・ Harvest cried, clearly surprised.

Clarice gasped in fright, huddling even closer to Angelo. ・Paige, is this one o・ the X-Men you said was gonna be savin・ us?・ he asked.

・Well, he・s definitely not Wolverine,・ was Paige・s immediate reply.

・Sabretooth, he said? Errr...he・s no X-Man Ah ever saw, gang...・

That wasn・t very comforting to the rest of them, but it was something. Clarice just watched in silent terror as one monster battled the other. Harvest definitely wasn・t on their side, but could they really trust this Sabretooth? While she admired his bravery, his savagery scared her half to death. Still, right now, he was their best chance of getting off this boat. Wishing she was at home safe in bed, Clarice buried her head against Angelo・s shoulder. If she was lucky, it would grow dark, and she・d suddenly wake up from this nightmare.

Clarice slowly opened her eyes. Unfortunately, now she knew the nightmare was real. It was actually happening, all around her. Harvest was still trying to capture them. Banshee and Sabretooth were holding their own against him, but she could tell Harvest was stronger. Much stronger. And in that instant, Clarice knew she could stop him.

Her plan was simple enough. It would work. It had to. Even if she died in the process, she could save her new friends, and the men trying to protect them. She watched as Sabretooth fell under one of Harvest・s huge fists. He・d tried to save them, and now he was probably dead. She shed a tear for him. That was all she could do for him, wasn・t it?

No. She could beat the demon he・d died trying to defeat. She couldn・t let Banshee die, too. Already, he was locked in the monster・s iron grip. She・d felt his cold hand herself, once. It felt like death, pure and certain. She could save him. She would save him.

As she ran towards the battle, she could hear Paige screaming for her to stop. That only made her cry even more. She loved Paige, and the rest of them, too. But she had to save them. Now Banshee was screaming at her, telling her to run. She argued that she could help. Help him live. Help destroy the demon that tugged at his body.

The power ripped from her hands, encasing the entire boat. She felt a tingling in her bones as she, too, was trapped in its wake. She sensed she・d be dead soon enough. But in that instant, something happened. Banshee was reaching for her, but Harvest had weakened him. He couldn・t save her now. Someone else, maybe, but not him.

The flesh wrapped securely around her waist. Clarice glanced down, and thinking it to be the Phalanx, screamed to high heaven. Then she noticed the color. Gray. She recognized it, but couldn・t place it. She was pulled away from the boat, even as Banshee・s wail pierced the night. She covered her ears, grimacing as she slammed into something.

It was Banshee. His eyes were wide with shock. ・Clarice?!・ he shouted in disbelief.

She didn・t answer him. She was confused. How? How were either of them alive? The answer came as they splashed into the water. She heard a voice. A voice that she would never forget, from that moment on.

・You okay, chica?・

She blinked, struggling to see in the freezing waters. ・Angelo?・ she asked, fear creeping back into her throat.

・Yeah, it・s me.・

She blinked again, unsure of what had happened. ・How did you--?・

・Magic fingers,・ he replied, wiggling them in her face.

Clarice stared at him.

The smile on his face was warm and inviting. ・Relax, chica! We・re gettin・ outta here now.・

She sighed, completely exhausted. She was alive, thanks to him. He dragged her to the dock, keeping one finger wrapped around her the whole time. For the first time in a long time, Clarice felt safe. That was the last thing she remembered as the darkness finally came for her. Maybe it was a dream, after all...

Chapter 1

The alarm clock went off at 4:45 AM. Clarice reached over and hit the snooze button for Paige. Then she slowly got out of bed, being sure not to wake her sleeping friend. On the other side of the room, Jubilee was snoring loudly. It was cramped, but they managed. Clarice tip-toed out of the room, heading for the bathroom.

After washing up, she returned to the dorm room just as the second alarm went off. Paige slammed her fist down on the clock, yawning at the same time. ・What are you doing up, Clarice?・ she asked.

・Thought you could use some company. Mind if I jog with you?・

・Not at all,・ Paige replied with a smile, reaching for her sneakers. ・I・d rather jog with you than Little Miss Sleep-A-Thon over there.・

Jubilee snorted, causing Clarice and Paige to giggle.

・Come on, I・ll race you around campus,・ Clarice told her friend.

Paige zoomed past her. ・You・ll be coughing in my dust the whole way!・

・Cheater!・ Clarice shouted, running after her.

He walked through the Biosphere, his eyes searching the nearby foliage. *Penance, you awake, gel?* he asked silently.

There was a rustling in the bushes in front of him as the girl crawled out. She stared up at him, wondering what he wanted.

Jono reached into his pocket and produced an apple. *Brought you some breakfast, luv.*

She speared the fruit with one red claw and begin to nibble on it, savoring the sweet flavor.

Jono watched her eat. When she was done, he handed her a second apple. As she bit into it, he turned and walked away.

Penance quickly finished the apple and ran after him. She followed by his side, making sure he saw her. She・d hate to cut the hand that fed her, so to speak.

Jono glanced down at her and shook his head, indicating he had no more apples. Penance understood, but continued to follow him.

She followed him all the way to the front of the school, acting as his silent crimson shadow. As they reached the main gate, Jono decided to go back. Classes would be starting soon. They hadn・t gone far when they heard two voices.

・I・m gonna beat ya this time!・
・You・re going to lose again!・
Jono and Penance watched as Clarice ran up, with Paige right behind her. Clarice reached out and tagged the gate before Paige could. ・I win again!・ she smiled.

・Are you sure you didn・t use yo powers ta cheat?・ Paige asked, nearly out of breath.

・Positive,・ Clarice answered, winking at Jono. He only shook his head. Clarice squatted in front of Penance, smiling again. ・Good morning, Penny!・ she said brightly.

Penance smiled back, recognizing the shortened version of what had become her name.

Clarice opened a small portal in front of the girl.

・Blink, what are you doing?・ Jono asked, slightly alarmed.

Clarice shushed him and turned back to Penance.

The girl stuck her hand through the portal, and grinned as it appeared beside Jono.

・Isn・t that dangerous?・ Paige asked.

Clarice shook her head. ・It・s her favorite game. We do this all the time.・ Clarice redirected the portals a few times, making her hand appear all over the place. After a while, Penance pulled her hand back through, still smiling. ・See? She loves this!・ Clarice declared.

Paige glanced at her watch. ・We・d better go, guys. Class is going to start in ten minutes.・

・Coming, Penny?・ Clarice asked.

Penance didn・t move.

・She still doesn・t like school, I guess,・ Paige said.

Jono nodded. *She deserves her freedom, after all she・s been through.*

The three students turned and headed back to the main building. Clarice turned and waved at Penance one last time. The girl smiled and disappeared into the Biosphere.

Bishop stood at the front of the classroom, carefully watching the students. Jubilee raised her head, pretending to stretch. Her eyes met Bishop・s steely gaze, and she quickly went back to work on the test. She scratched her head, trying to make sense of the question.

This US President negotiated the Camp David Accords.

・Would it hurt to have multiple choice questions?・ she mumbled.

・Silence, Jubilation,・ Bishop said from the front on the room.

Jubilee muttered something under her breath and went to the next question.

This US President created the Fourteen Points after a major war.

Jubilee scribbled down Woodrow Wilson for her answer and sighed. She really hated History. Especially when Bishop was teaching it.

Across the room, Monet was just finishing her test. She handed it to Bishop and began to leave the room.

Bishop gripped her arm firmly. ・Sit.・

Monet was about to argue when she caught the look on his face. With a frown, she returned to her seat.

・Sir?・ Everett asked from the back of the room.

・Yes, Thomas?・

・Instead of writing out Franklin Delano Roosevelt, can we just put FDR?・

Bishop sighed. The kids were getting lazier every year. ・Yes, Thomas.・ He・d allow it...this time. The next thing he knew, they・d be shortening George Washington, the first President to ・GW, Cherry Tree-Chopper.・

・See, lass? Bishop makes the perfect teacher.・
Emma frowned. ・I notice he carried a gun into the classroom, Sean.・

Sean waved her away. ・He always carries that. What if Emplate attacked? I doubt the beastie would care much about testing.・

・Still, intimidating the students may not be the best way,・ Emma said.

Sean scoffed. ・They・re nae exactly peachy around ye, lass.・

・Fear itself is a weapon,・ she replied. ・I・d rather they respected me. Around you, they could get away with anything.・

・Maybe that・s why they come to me instead of ye when they have problems,・ Sean said, a smug smile on his face.

Emma arched an eyebrow. ・I am a teacher, Sean. I have no time to deal with the petty personal problems of my students.・

・Then you・re nae a teacher, lass,・ Sean said as he walked away. ・Just a prison warden.・

After the test, Bishop decided to stick around for lunch. It was a mistake he would soon regret. As he found an empty table in the small cafeteria, Jubilee walked up, slapping him across the back.

・Hey, B-Man! Mind if I sit with you?・

Bishop looked the child up and down. Deciding she couldn・t bother him too much while he was eating, he allowed her to sit across from him. As Jubilee sat down, she pulled a bag of chips out of her yellow raincoat. Bishop could only imagine why Sean and Emma would allow food in their classrooms.

He was just about to eat his tangerine when Ev and Angelo burst into the cafeteria and slammed the doors behind them. Their eyes traveled across the room and landed on Jubilee. They ran up to her and grabbed her shoulders. ・You never saw us, right?!・

Jubilee nodded and ate a chip.

The doors were thrown open as Ev and Angelo dove under the table. Bishop sighed and went on eating his fruit.

Monet ran into the room, her eyes narrowed to small slits. There was a huge green stain on her shirt.

・Whoa, what happened to you?・ Jubilee asked, doing her best not to laugh.

Monet calmly walked over to their table. ・It seems that even a stalk of broccoli can stain your clothes, when accelarated from the distended skin of one gray mutant.・

・Huh?・ Jubilee didn・t get it, obviously.

・Espinosa used himself as a slingshot,・ Bishop explained.

・Oh. Why didn・t you say so?・ Jubilee asked.

Monet rolled her eyes. ・Have either of you seen Everett and Angelo?・

Jubilee grunted as an elbow slammed into her leg. Monet eyed her curiously. ・Well, maybe they・re in the boy・s dorm, M.・ As Jubilee said this, she pointed downward.

・Very well,・ Monet said, gripping the edge of the table. She quickly lifted it up with one hand, exposing Angelo and Ev・s hiding place.

・Eek!・ Ev said, scrambling past Jubilee.

Angelo ran in the other direction, using his extended fingers to swing across on the light fixtures like Tarzan.

Monet dropped the table and ran after Ev, the slower of the two. He must・ve been caught a few seconds later, because his screams of pain could be heard all over the school.

・At least nothing else can go wrong,・ Bishop muttered, picking up his bottle of mineral water.

Jubilee smiled, knowing he had just jinxed himself. ・Hey, you gonna eat that?・ she asked, sticking her finger in his fruit salad.

Bishop stared at the offending finger for a few moments before pushing the bowl over to her.

・Thanks!・ Jubilee said, flashing him a big smile.

Bishop glared at her and coughed on the rest of his food.

The doors burst open again as Angelo ran in. ・FOOD FIGHT!!!・ he screamed at the top of his lungs.

Jubilee dove under the table, and suggested that Bishop do the same.

Monet and Paige ran in, chucking bean burritos at Angelo. He fell beneath their assault, crying out miserably.

His resuce came in the form of Ev and Jono, who were armed with a bag full of oranges.

・Ow!・ Paige shouted as Ev bounced one of them off her head.

The two boys drove the girls to the rear of the cafeteria, where the battering continued. As soon as he could stand, Angelo ran over and helped.

Suddenly, with a mighty battle cry, Jubilee ran towards the group, launching herself into the air. As she walloped Jono and Angelo with potatoes, Bishop was reminded of an episode of ・Xena: Warrior Princess.・

Jubilee landed on Ev・s back, locking her arms around his neck. She pulled him to the floor, where the girls slammed the already broken bean burritos onto his head. Thanking heaven above that he was bald, Ev didn・t even bother to fight anymore.

Sean and Emma entered the cafeteria a few minutes later, and the fight instantly broke up. When Sean asked Bishop why he didn・t stop the fight, Bishop just laughed. ・I・m risking my livelihood enough just by teaching these children.・

But as Bishop walked to the doors, Sean noticed a sign on his back that read, ・Please Feed the Bear!・ The big man had just reached the door when a potato bounced off his head. He spun around, only to catch a chip in the eye.

The students all stared at the man, as if they were totally innocent. Jubilee had a big smile on her face. Bishop sighed and left the room, narrowly dodging the slice of pizza that slammed into the door seconds afterwards. Jubilee snickered and wiped the tomato sauce off her hand with a napkin.

Angelo left the bathroom, muttering to himself. After a shower and washing his hair three times, he・d managed to get all the beans out of his hair. Now he only smelled like burritos and oranges. The stains, however, remained on his clothes. He frowned and walked outside, settling down on the front steps.

He hadn・t been there long when a portal opened in front of him. ・Want some company?・ Clarice asked, stepping out of it. By the time he had shrugged, she was already closing the portal behind her. She was staying whether he liked or not. Luckily, he did like it...and her.

Clarice sat down beside him, giving him a friendly hug. She paused and asked, ・Do you smell oranges?・

Angelo quickly shook his head, reaching for a cigarette. After a stern look from her, he put it away. ・So what can I do for you?・ he asked, leaning back to look at the stars.

She was silent for a moment. ・Well...I wanted to say...thanks.・

Angelo glanced at her. ・For what, chica?・

・Lots of things,・ she replied. ・For being my friend, giving me advice, listening to me when no one else would; stuff like that.・

Angelo snorted and said, ・That・s what friends were for, last time I checked.・

Clarice nodded. ・Yeah, but with you, it・s...different.・

He arched an eyebrow. ・How・s that?・

She paused, forcing herself to go on. ・You saved my life.・

He sat up, looking at her. ・That・s what this whole thing is about?・

She nodded. ・I never really thanked you, and I...I just had to.・

Angelo sighed. ・Chica, I already told you. I would・ve done the same for anyone else on the team, and that was before I really knew any of you.・

・But you didn・t do it for anyone else,・ she said. ・You did it for me.・

・Just let go, Clarice,・ he told her, getting up. ・That was years ago. Let it go.・

・You didn・t,・ she pointed out. ・That・s why I・m alive today. You didn・t let go.・

・I did what I had to,・ he said. ・That・s all.・ With that, he turned and walked off, disappearing into the building.

Clarice sighed, covering her face with her hands.

Chapter 2

When Paige woke up the next morning, Clarice・s bed was empty. In fact, it hadn・t been slept in at all. Instantly worried, Paige ran to Jubilee・s bed, shaking the sleeping girl. ・Jubilee, wake up!・

Jubilee pulled the blanket over her head. ・Go away, Hayseed,・ she mumbled.

・But Clarice is missing!・ Paige insisted.

Jubilee sighed and sat up. ・What am I supposed to do about it?!・

・Help me find her!・ Paige shouted. ・Don・t you care at all?!・

・Of course I do,・ Jubilee replied, yawning. ・She・s my friend, too. Fine, I・ll help you.・

・Good! Meet me downstairs in five minutes,・ Paige said as she left the room.

・Downstairs. Five minutes. Right...・ Jubilee agreed. Then she looked at her pillow. ・...after I get a few winks.・ She was out cold before her head hit the pillow.

・About time you woke up.・ Ev jumped, and then realized it was only Angelo. ・Geez! Don・t do that, man!・

Angelo didn・t seem to care that he had startled Ev. ・You like Jubilee, right?・

As he slowly got out of bed, Ev cast a suspicious eye over at his friend. ・She・s all yours, man.・

Angelo snickered and then burst out laughing. After he got up from the floor, he started laughing again. ・You think--heh--that I want--heh--Jubilee?!・ Angelo fell onto the floor again, laughing madly.

Ev sighed and reached for a T-shirt. ・She・s a good friend of mine, Ange.・

Angelo finally stopped giggling. ・Sorry. Anyhow, she ever...come onto you?・

Before Angelo could blink, Ev was on him, hauling him up by the collar. ・Who told you?! She swore she wouldn・t tell!・

・Hey! Back off, Ev! It was a hypothetical question!・

・Oh.・ Ev slowly let go of Angelo and stepped away.

・Hypothetically speaking, you really got some issues,・ Angelo said, rubbing his neck.

・Whatever. Why・d you ask?・ Ev muttered, searching for his shoes.

・・s Clarice,・ Angelo told him.

Ev paused. ・Whoa. You got it bad, huh?・

・What?! NO!・

・Calm down!・ Ev said, trying not to smile. ・So she likes you?・

・Yeah, but she likes me more than I like her. A whole lot more than I like her.・

・Oh, I see. Want my advice?・ Ev asked.

・Shoot,・ Angelo replied.

Ev shrugged. ・Don・t break her heart. She・s a nice girl.・

・Gee, that really helps me out, Dr. Love,・ Angelo mumbled as he left the room.

・Be gentle!・ his friend shouted after him. ・I just might be able to move in for the rebound,・ Ev added after he had gone.

Jono made his way through the Biosphere in virtual silence. There were certain times when feeling the wind blow through his hair just made the day seem a lot easier. He certainly needed that feeling this day. No one would be up beside Penance, and she always made for good, if not talkative, company.

He had just passed the boys・ treehouse when he heard a slight whistling noise. Walking a few more feet, he heard it again. *Unless Penny・s taken to whistling show tunes, we might have an intruder here.* Jono stepped into an open clearing, extending his psi-scan to include the entire Biosphere. He picked up the two young boys in the treehouse easily. Penny was still asleep somewhere nearby. The last psi-signature he found was unfamiliar to him.

Jono had just pulled the scarf from his face when a girl stepped into the clearing behind her. Spinning around, he aimed a psionic blast in her direction. The girl instantly disappeared through a portal, and the energy slammed into a tree, nearly uprooting it. Jono paused, confusion on his face. *Blink? Is that you, gel?*

・Yes, it・s me, Jono. Calm down, will you?・ Blink appeared beside him, a strange look on her face. ・Are you always this trigger-happy?・ she asked, tucking a long strand of brown hair behind her ear.

He only stared at her in silence.

・What?・ she asked finally.

*Yer...different,* he said at last.

Blink shrugged. ・So I changed my look a little.・

Jono shook his head. *More than that. Yer psi-signature・s different, too. Altered, somehow.*

・Really?・ she asked in surprise. ・Cool.・

・Okay, who・s the dead man that ate the last jelly-filled donut?・ Jubilee asked, shaking the empty box. Everyone froze.

Angelo extended the skin around his mouth, swallowing his donut whole. That left...

・EV!・ Jubilee screamed. His mouth was wide open, and he was about to bite into a donut. She tackled him to the floor, wrestling the desired object from his hands. She took a big bite, frowned, and spit the contents onto his plate. ・Lemon-filled?! You let me eat lemon-filled?!・

・Let you?!・ Ev shouted back. ・You tried to tear my arm off!・

・That・s enough, children,・ Emma said as she walked by. The kitchen fell silent. ・Everyone into the Biosphere.・ No one moved. ・Now!・ came the telepathic command. The kitchen was empty in a matter of seconds.

Sean looked over the group of students. ・Have any of ye seen Jono or Clarice?・

No one had. Ev cast a curious glance at Angelo. ・You don・t think...・ he begin.

・Don・t even go there,・ Angelo replied coldly. ・I・d be insulted if the thought of them together wasn・t so funny to me.・

Ev smirked, but kept his mouth shut.

Jono appeared a few minutes later, with Penance behind him. Clarice walked by his side, something of an indifferent look on her face.

・Glad ye three decided to join us,・ Sean said, slightly annoyed. He did a double-take when he saw Clarice.

*It・s her,* Jono verified, reading his thoughts.

Sean nodded slowly, hardly able to believe his eyes. Neither were the the rest of the students.

They・d all known Clarice Ferguson to be a shy, quiet girl. She was friendly and almost kind to a fault, and very dependable. The way she was now dressed suggested none of that. She looked very much like an archer. Aside from a light green tunic, tied at the waist by a strip of violet fabric, she didn・t appear to be wearing much else. Her legs were very visible, thanks to the slits that created tow large flaps near the bottom of the tunic. The whole outfit was complete with a pair light green boots.

・What・s everybody staring at?・ Clarice asked.

・Your new duds,・ Jubilee replied. ・Nice look, girl!・

・Yeah, nice,・ Angelo agreed slowly.

・Thanks,・ Clarice said with a bright smile. ・Glad you like them.・

・So what did you really think of Blink・s wardrobe change?・ Ev asked at lunch.

Angelo paused and swallowed whatever food he was chewing. ・First, it kicked my hormones into overdrive. Then, it kicked me in the head for being so stupid.・

・Normally, I wouldn・t bother to ask, but why the second?・ Ev wondered.

・This is Clarice, Ev,・ Angelo explained. ・The same shy, scared little girl that we first met when the Phalanx was trying to assimilate us. She・s not supposed to be a violet bombshell in a light green tunic.・

Ev stared at his friend for a moment. ・Sorry, Ange, but if liking that outfit is wrong, I don・t wanna be right.・

Angelo sighed. ・I just can・t see her that way, man. I saved her life once, and from the first time I saw her, I knew she was destined to be the little sister I never had. It just feels...wrong.・

With something of a smirk on his face, Ev clapped him on the back. ・I・ve got three words for you.・

Angelo froze and stared at him. ・Ev, if you tell me you love me, I will kill you. Twice.・

Ev laughed. ・You・re weird. Seriously, the three words?・ He leaned in close, making sure Angelo was paying attention. ・GET OVER IT!・ Ev yelled in his ear, nearly causing Angelo to go deaf.

Before Angelo could recover and strangle him, Ev was running out of the cafeteria, laughing maniacally.

・Lemme get this straight. You・re trying to get Angelo to notice you?・ Jubilee asked.

Paige sighed loudly. ・The girl・s only said it five times already, Lee. You could at least pretend to be paying attention.・

・I・m just so not believing this!・ Jubilee said, a huge smile on her face. ・Who would・ve thought that innocent little Clarice Ferguson wanted to get noticed by a boy? You・d think she・d still be running around screaming about cooties.・

Clarice blushed bright red, showing that all of her innocence wasn・t exactly gone. ・Guys, you said you・d help me!・

・We will!・ Paige promised. ・Well, I will, anyway.・

・Does he know how you feel?・ Jubilee asked, suddenly becoming serious.

Clarice blinked. ・He・s sort of in denial about it,・ she said slowly. ・He knows I like him, but he won・t accept it.・

Jubilee grinned. ・He・s playing hard to get.・

Paige shook her head. ・Angelo wouldn・t play hard to get. If he was interested in her, she・d know.・

・So what do I do?・ Clarice asked.

・Two words,・ Jubilee said, a wicked look on her face. ・Spanish fly.・ Clarice gasped at the very thought. ・You could always slip him a Mickey,・ Jubilee added.

・Ah think we・ve heard enough from you!・ Paige shouted, losing her patience for a second. Then she turned back to Clarice. ・Just tell him how you feel. If you two are as close as you seem, he・ll have to be honest with you. That way, even if he doesn・t want to be more than friends, you・ll know why.・

Clarice smiled. ・Wow. Thanks, Paige!・

・Hey, what about me?!・ Jubilee cried, ・I helped, too!・

Clarice glared at her. ・I want to date him, not drug him.・

・Fine, be that way,・ Jubilee muttered. ・I don・t see what・s so great about Ange anyway. He practically reeks of ・chutzpah,・ whatever that is.・

・Only you would use a word you don・t know the meaning of to describe someone,・ Paige declared.

・Aren・t we just a living dictionary?・ Jubilee asked. ・Maybe Ah should talk lahk this so y・all can understand what Ah・m saying!・

・Stop it, both of you!・ Clarice looked at the girls. ・Jubilee, Paige・s accent is part of who she is. You shouldn・t make fun of it.・

・Fine, I take it back,・ Jubilee said. ・But that still doesn・t show why you like Angelo.・

Clarice thought for a moment. ・Take away the last letter, and you・ll see how important he is to me.・ Before Jubilee could say anything else, she walked out of the bedroom.

・You think she・s got a chance?・ Jubilee asked.

Paige shrugged. ・As good a chance as I do with Jono.・

A derisive smile appeared on Jubilee・s face. ・Yeah, she・s going down in flames.・ She barely had time to dodge the pillow that Paige threw at her.

*Guess I should be touched that you came to me for advice, Ange.*

Angelo rolled his eyes. ・Never mind that. Just dish out the advice. It・s getting worse every day.・

Jono nodded and begin to walk away.

Angelo ran after him, nearly tripping over a bush in the process. ・Is this a way of telling me you don・t have any advice for me?・

Jono shook his head. *Just like to walk when I・m thinking. Problem?*

Angelo said nothing as they begin to walk around the campus.

*If the gel likes you as much as you say, she・ll come to you,* Jono pointed out. *Let her do most of the talking. Women like us to just listen a lot.*

Angelo nodded, keeping his eyes on the ground as they walked.

*Whatever you do, don・t be too busy to talk to her. In fact, be even more accessible. As shy as Clarice is, you don・t want to scare her away right off, so you can・t be loud or angry, either. Just stay calm and open-minded.*

・But how do I get her to see we・re not right for each other?・ Angelo asked. ・We don・t have anything in common.・

*Two ways I know of,* Jono replied. *The first is to show you still got feelings for Torres.*

Angelo didn・t much like that idea. After all, the girl wanted him dead. Sort of. ・What・s the other way?・

Jono・s eyes crinkled, as if he was trying his best to smile. *Try talking to her. Like right now.*

Angelo looked up. The first thing he noticed was that they were in the Biosphere. The second was that Clarice and Penance stood a few feet away. ・Something tells me I・ve been set up,・ Angelo muttered, looking at Jono.

*Never,* Jono replied, his eyes crinkling again. *Let・s leave them alone, Penny.* He motioned for the girl to follow him, and Penance quickly obeyed.

・I guess it・s just a big coincidence, huh?・ Angelo called after them.

Jono paused and turned around. *You could say a little red bird told me.*

・Yeah, with diamond-hard feathers,・ Angelo muttered, turning back to Clarice. ・So, chica, what do we do now?・ he asked.

・We could go somewhere private and talk,・ she suggested quietly.

He nodded. ・Your room or mine?・

Clarice remembered that Jubilee and Paige would be all too interested in their conversation. Aside from that, Angelo・s roommate, Ev, was watching Artie and Leech. They・d be alone in his room.

・Yours,・ she said quickly.

He nodded again and took her hand in his own.

Clarice held in a squeal of excitement as she followed him back into the school.

Chapter 3

・Are they there yet?・ Jubilee asked anxiously.

Ev shook his head. ・No footsteps.・

・Guys, isn・t this an invasion of privacy?・ Paige asked.

Monet glanced at Paige from her position at the wall. ・No more than Jubilee eavesdropping on anyone in this room.・

・Hey!・ Jubilee shouted.

Ev clamped a hand over her mouth. ・They・re coming!・ he hissed, motioning for silence.

The room went quiet, and Monet pressed her ear to the wall.

Angelo walked into the room behind her, wondering if he should・ve cleaned up a little first. The he remembered that Clarice had been here many times before, and probably didn・t mind the mess too much. He stuck his head into the hallway, making sure they weren・t being watched or followed. Then he closed the door behind them. After all, the others weren・t exactly sneaky, but even Monet wasn・t above a little spying.

Angelo sat down on the bed (it was the only clear spot in the room) beside her and picked up a guitar leaning against it. He lazily strummed a few notes to what might have been ・Chopsticks.・

Clarice watched with some interest. ・Would you play something for me?・

Angelo chuckled. ・Only if I could, chica. For lack of a worse term, I suck.・ He plucked the strings a few times to prove it.

Clarice giggled.

・It・s only here because Jono let me borrow it,・ Angelo explained, placing the guitar on the floor. It wobbled uncertainly for a second, and then slid to the floor with a loud thunk.

・Are they making out yet?・ Jubilee whispered.

Paige elbowed the girl in her ribs. ・Be quiet!・

Monet shook her head. ・The big dummy just dropped his guitar.・

Jono・s eyes widened. *That・s my guitar!*

・Shhh! He・s saying something!・ Monet hissed, waving her hands.

Angelo picked up the guitar and leaned it against the dresser. When he turned back to Clarice, he noticed that she had moved closer to him. A lot closer. ・So what did you want to talk about, Blinkie?・ he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

She smiled shyly for a moment. ・Well, I wanted to ask you something.・

He nodded, waiting for her to go on.

・How would you define our relationship?・

He hated it when women asked that. Not that Torres had. But he still hated it.

・Best friends,・ he said after a while.

She blinked. ・Really?・

・Why not? I spend more time with you than any other person here,・ he pointed out. ・Aside from that, you always come to me when you have a problem, so there・s a degree of trust there, too.・

She nodded slightly.

・Angelo just said they were best friends,・ Monet whispered. ・How cute!・

・That・s how it starts,・ Ev pointed out.

・Who・s your best friend, Ev?・ Paige asked with a grin.

・Not you,・ was his reply.

She slugged him in the back, and he nearly tripped over Jubilee, who was sitting on the bed next to him. ・Creep.・

・Quiet! Clarice is talking!・ Monet announced.

・There・s something else, too,・ Clarice said quietly. ・It・s hard for me to say, though.・

Angelo put an arm around her. ・You know you can tell me anything.・

She laid her head on his shoulder. ・Really?・

・Yeah,・ he agreed.

Clarice closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. Then she looked at him. ・Please don・t hate me,・ she whispered.

Angelo seemed surprised. ・For what, chica?・

She was silent for a while. Finally, she found the courage she was looking for.

She slid closer to Angelo, wrapping her arms around him. ・I love you,・ she said quietly, looking up at him.

Angelo only brushed a strand of brown hair away from her face. ・I don・t hate you, Clarice,・ he told her, staring into her eyes. ・You・re very special to me, and I care a lot about you, but I don・t love you the way you love me.・

Clarice pulled away from him at once, turning to leave. She felt his hand on her shoulder.


There were tears in her eyes as she looked at him.

・Come here.・

She stared at him for a few seconds, and then sat down beside him. Clarice felt the warmth of his arms around her, but it didn・t matter. She felt cold on the inside.

・Are you okay?・ he asked quietly.

Clarice slowly shook her head. ・Why can・t you love me?・ she asked, looking at him.

He sighed. ・I do love you, chica. More than you・ll ever know. I・m just not in love with you.・ A warm tear dropped onto his arm, making Angelo feel even worse. He imagined Clarice wasn・t feeling so good herself.

・All I wanted was you,・ she whispered suddenly.

He looked at her, wondering what anyone could possibly see in him. ・We・ve been over this before. I know you・re grateful to me for saving your life, but you can・t base a healthy relationship on that.・

・I didn・t want to base it on that,・ Clarice said, shaking her head. ・I wanted to base it on that the fact that we loved each other!・ She choked back a sob and pulled away from him roughly. Before he could stop her, she disappeared in a flash of violet light.

Angelo sighed and leaned back on his bed.

・Whoa.・ Ev paused and looked at the others.

・You heard it, too?・ Monet asked.

He nodded. ・Somebody should go talk to her.・

*You mean other than you?* Jono added.

・Well...yeah,・ Ev admitted slowly. ・I like her, but I don・t know her very well. It should be Paige or Jubilee. They・re her roommates.・

They all looked at each other. ・Paige should do it,・ almost all of them said at once.

・Hey!・ Jubilee yelled.

Jono slapped a hand over her mouth. *Quiet, gel! You want Angelo to figure out we・re in here?*

As if to emphasize Jono・s point, the doorknob rattled.

・Hide!・ Ev hissed, diving under one of the beds with Monet.

The door opened a moment later, and Sean stepped in. His eyes searched the room, and stopped on a pair of black boots sticking out from under the bed. ・Jono, is that ye, lad?・ Silence.

Then Sean saw part of a yellow raincoat hanging from a dresser drawer. ・Jubilee?・

・Way to go, J!・ someone groaned.

Everyone came out of their hiding places. Sean blinked as Jubilee stood up in the drawer, shaking wood splinters out of her hair. ・I dinnae even want to know how ye managed to fit in there, lass.・

Jubilee shrugged. ・Being the smallest one around here has its benefits. Excuse us, teach.・ The others piled out of the room behind her.

Sean sighed and shook his head as he closed the door.

It took Paige all of ten minutes to find Clarice. She probably would・ve still been looking for her friend, if she hadn・t spotted Leech carrying a box of tissue back to the treehouse he and Artie stayed in.

・Want more tissues, lady?・ Leech was asking when Paige stepped into the treehouse.

Clarice shook her head, despite the fresh tear stains on her face.

Leech put the box on the floor and sat down next to Artie. They both looked up at Paige, smiled, and turned their attention back to Clarice.

Paige sat down next to Clarice. ・Hi.・

Clarice said nothing.

・Look, I know you・re upset about what Angelo said, but--・

・Paige, please,・ Clarice interrupted. ・I think I・ve had enough talking for one night.・

Paige considered that. ・Okay. Then we・ll just sit here until you・re ready to talk.・

Clarice shrugged. ・Suit yourself.・

・Should we tell friends they are sitting on Artie・s bed?・ Leech whispered.

A question mark appeared above Artie・s head.

Chapter 4

Jono woke up early that morning, for no reason at all. His eyes traveled around the mess of a basement he called home. He rolled off the couch and pulled a black shirt on. Then he pulled a slightly dirty pair of black pants from a pile of clothes on the floor. They would do.

As he completed his look with the ever-present leather jacket, Jono thought he heard something on the stairs. Quickly dismissing it as the foundation settling, he began the search for a decent pair of shoes. He decided to go with an old pair of army boots when he heard a voice behind him.

・Jono, are you down here?・

Jono・s head snapped up and banged against his coffee table (which was actually three wooden boards stretched across a pair of cement blocks). He muttered a string of curses as he fell to the floor, rubbing the spot on his head.

The next thing he knew, Clarice was standing over him, a concerned look on her face. ・Are you okay?・

*I can think of better ways to start the day.* Then he looked up at her. *What are you doing down here, luv?*

She shrugged. ・I felt like talking to somebody, and Paige already left for her morning jog. You・re the only one that gets up this early.・

Jono finally stood up. *What did you want to talk about, gel?*

・・s about Angelo,・ Clarice said slowly.

*Had a row with him, did you?* Jono asked.

Clarice blinked. ・If that means we had a disagreement, then yes.・ She sighed and sat down on the couch. ・I just don・t know him anymore. You two seem to get along well, so I was hoping you could help me.・

Jono would・ve smiled, if he still had a mouth. First Angelo came to him for advice, and now Clarice. Of course, his advice hadn・t helped Angelo much. Maybe she・d be better off talking to someone else. But as Jono looked into those innocent, childish eyes, he decided that he・d do his best. *What is it you want to know, Clarice?*

She smiled slightly. ・What can you tell me about Torres?・

*Not much,* Jono said sadly. *She and Angelo used to be real close, until he faked his death and left South Central LA. The one time we did run into her, she held the whole team hostage, and was going to turn us over to Operation: Zero Tolerance.*

Clarice shivered at the memory of the Sentinels. They reminded her all too much of the Phalanx. ・So what happened?・

Jono thought for a moment. *Well, Torres didn・t know the Sentinels were built to kill all mutants. She found out when they tried to kill her, too. In the end, she helped us escape, but as far was we know, she still wants Angelo dead.*

・And he still loves her?・ Clarice asked.

*Not gonna be much help there, Sunshine,* Jono replied, shrugging. *Angelo・s a private person. You・d have to ask him yourself.*

Angelo was strumming the guitar he・d borrowed from Jono when he heard a knock on the door. He really didn・t feel like talking to anyone. ・Go away; I・m busy here.・

The door opened anyway. Paige・s head appeared in the doorway. ・This is more important than torturing the rest of us with that thing,・ she said, closing the door behind her.

Angelo glared at her. ・So I need a little practice.・ The smirk on Paige・s face told him otherwise. ・What do you want, chica?・ he asked.

・I want to know what you・re going to do about Clarice.・

He shrugged. ・What about her? I told her the truth.・

Paige frowned. ・Angelo Espinosa, don・t you know she・s in love with you?!・

・Sure, I know that,・ he replied calmly. ・I also know that I・m not in love with her. What do you want me to do, lie to her? I・m already living a major lie, Paige. I・m not going to live another just because you want Clarice to feel better.・

Paige crossed her arms. ・So you・re just going to let her stay depressed? She・s only a child, Angelo. She・s never been in love before. That also means she・s never been rejected, until you came along. How do you think she feels now?・

Angelo was quickly getting tired of Paige・s attitude. ・Look, I tried to let her down easy, and it didn・t work. I・ve done my part. So how is it my fault that she hates me now?・

・Did you even try to go after her when she ran out? Have you even talked to her since you broke her heart?!・ Paige・s voice had gone to something of a high screech. That was all Angelo could stand.

・Damn it, Paige! Stop trying to play matchmaker between us!・ Angelo threw the guitar against the wall, ignoring the terrible clanging sound it made. ・You think I wanted to hurt my best friend?! You think I wanted her to hate me?! Do you?!・

Paige fell silent.

・Don・t you get it?!・ he shouted. ・That・s why I never wanted to get involved with her like that! Because I knew this would happen, and I love her too much! But now that she won・t even look at me, who do you think I blame?!・

Angelo took several deep breaths, trying to calm down. It didn・t work. Sighing in frustration, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Then he realized that it was his room. He should・ve made her leave. He growled in anger and ran down the steps to the front door.

He・d just made it outside when a raindrop splashed on his forehead. Angelo looked up as another splashed into his eye. ・Perfect!・ he screamed. Within seconds, he was soaked. But for the first time in his life, he didn・t care anymore.

Artie and Leech stared at Clarice. She・d been in their treehouse since last night, and made no signs of leaving anytime soon.

Leech walked over to her. ・Lady is sad?・

Clarice nodded, rubbing Leech・s little head.

・Lady has nice smile. Lady should be happy.・

Clarice smiled a bit. ・Thanks, Leech.・ She kissed his forehead and left the treehouse.

A smiley face appeared over Artie・s head.

・Leech is good,・ his friend agreed.

As Clarice stepped to the ground, it begin to rain. With the clothing she was wearing, she・d probably catch her death of cold. Not that it mattered much anymore. Maybe Angelo would feel sorry for her. Probably not, though. She sighed and walked out into the rain. The water was cool and refreshing against her tired skin. Ev had always teased her about being a sprite in disguise. She wondered what he would do if she stripped off her tunic and went skipping through the rain.

She was about thirty feet away from the front door when she saw him. Angelo. He was standing just beyond the front step, letting the ran drench him. Clarice gasped in surprise. She couldn・t face him. Not now. Not yet. In a flash of violet light, she disappeared just as he screamed her name.

Angelo closed his eyes and turned his face upward, letting the water run down his face. His T-shirt was soaked through, and his black pants were soon to follow. He suddenly sneezed, probably the beginnings of a cold. Angelo wiped his nose and looked around, wondering if anyone had been spying on him. Amazingly enough, if he squinted, he could see something (or someone) behind the bushes on the right side of the school.

It took him a few seconds to recognize a light green tunic. It was now dark green, thanks to the rain. ・Clarice,・ Angelo whispered hoarsely. She didn・t hear him, of course. But then, even if she had, she・d only run away. He repeated her name, over and over, until he was sure he could say it out loud. The volume of his voice begin to rise, trying to declare itself independent of the pounding rain. Soon he found himself screaming her name, but to no avail. She had disappeared. Angelo instantly felt an emptiness in his heart. He・d lost his best friend again. But as he blinked, the rain getting into his eyes, he knew exactly where she would go.

Chapter 5

Clarice sat on the bed, strumming lazily on what was once Jono・s mint condition guitar. There was a huge dent in the side, and two of the strings had broken. She sighed and placed it carefully on the floor. Then she realized she was getting rainwater all over the bed. ・Serves him right,・ she muttered, squeezing some water onto the blanket.

・Hope you plan on cleaning that up, chica.・

Clarice gasped and looked up.

Angelo stood at the door, his arms behind his back.

With something of a frown on her face, she teleported away. Well, that・s what she meant to do.

・Not this time, Clarice,・ he said softly.

A green face peeked between the older boy・s legs. ・Leech is sorry, lady.・

・My little insurance plan,・ Angelo added, patting the boy・s head. ・Stay right outside until we・re done, kid. We might need an ambulance afterwards.・

Leech nodded as he closed the door behind him.

Clarice turned away from him, clearly upset. ・I don・t feel like talking to you right now.・

・You came to my room,・ Angelo pointed out. ・You must have wanted something.・

・To stay away from you,・ she replied. ・I figured this would be the last place you looked.・

・But you knew I・d come here sooner or later, chica. Admit it. You don・t like this anymore than I do.・

・Like what?・ she asked coldly, staring at him. ・The fact that you don・t love me?・

He sighed. She wanted to be difficult. ・I never said that.・

・Didn・t you?・

・No!・ he nearly shouted. After a short pause, he went on. ・Clarice, I said I didn・t love you the way you love me. That doesn・t mean I don・t love you at all.・

She didn・t say anything.

Angelo ran a hand through his hair. ・Either way, no one・s leaving this room until we・ve settled this. So if you plan on keeping your mouth shut, prepare to be here a long time.・ When she didn・t reply, he sat down on the edge of the bed.

Without a moment・s hesitation, Clarice moved to the other bed.

Leech pressed his ear to the door. ・Leech hears silence, Paige.・

Paige sighed. ・Well, at least Angelo had the right idea. I just hope Clarice doesn・t kill him.・

*No chance of that, Sunshine.*

She turned to see Jono behind her. ・How do you know?・

Jono blinked. *Whether they know it or not, each loves the other too much for that. They just have to admit it first.*

・Hope you・re right,・ Paige whispered, turning back to the door.

・Would you mind not staring at me?・ Clarice asked. ・It・s considered rude in some places.・

Angelo smirked. ・My room, my rules. Besides, maybe I like staring at you.・

・And why is that?・ she asked.

He shrugged. ・Maybe I like you.・

She snorted.

He turned away and leaned back against his pillow, ignoring the damp spot on the bed. ・Suit yourself, Blinkie.・

・Don・t call me that.・

Angelo closed his eyes. ・Why not? You never minded before. In fact, you thought it was cute, not unlike you.・

・That was when we were still best friends,・ she pointed out.

He pretended to be in shock. ・You mean we・re not anymore?・

Clarice grumbled and turned away.

Angelo sat up. ・Look, Clarice. No relationship is perfect. This is our first fight, and you・re blowing it way out of proportion.・

・It is not just a fight, Angelo!・ she shouted. ・This is the first and only time I・ve been in love! You have no idea how I feel right now!・

He wasn・t impressed. ・Probably like you just lost your best friend in the whole world. Oh, but what would I know about it? I・m only your former best friend.・

・Shut up,・ she muttered.

・Well, that・s mature,・ Angelo countered. ・Maybe you・ll break out the mama jokes next.・

Clarice closed her eyes and counted to ten. It didn・t work. She grabbed Angelo by the front of his shirt and yanked him off the bed. ・This isn・t funny,・ she said through clenched teeth.

・Do I look like I・m laughing?・ he asked.

・Stop making fun of me!・

・I will, the minute you stop acting like this is all my fault.・

・You・re saying it isn・t?・

Angelo detached her hands from his shirt. ・We・ve been over this way too many times, chica. I told you before. I can・t be involved with you like that.・

・Is it because of Torres?・ she asked.

Angelo paused and looked at her. ・She wants me dead. Not exactly a healthy relationship.・

・But do you love her?・

He thought for a moment. ・I thought I did. Until I met you.・

・Yeah, right. You already said you・re not in love with me.・

・I didn・t have to be. I was in love with Torres, and you know how that turned out. The same thing・s happening to us.・

・I・m not Torres, Angelo,・ Clarice said.

・Really? You sure seem like you want me dead right now.・ He sat on his bed, looking at the floor. ・I was being sincere when I told you I loved you, Clarice. But that doesn・t mean we can be a couple.・

・How would you know?・ she asked. ・You never even gave us a chance!・

He sighed. ・I・ve already lost my best friend. I don・t want to lose my little sister, too.・

Clarice smacked his arm. ・Angelo, I・m not a little kid anymore! Can・t you see that?!・

・Can・t you see that the way you look doesn・t change anything?・ he asked. ・You・ll always be that scared little girl that I saved from the Phalanx to me.・

・Then maybe you・re the one that needs to let go,・ she said, sitting beside him. ・If it helps, I・m scared out of my mind right now. But it doesn・t change the fact that I still love you.・

・So you really want me to give this thing a chance?・

She nodded, gently kissing his cheek. ・If you love me as much as you say you do, let me prove how much I love you. Let me be happy, Angelo. Let me be happy with you.・

*Do you hear anything?*

Paige shook her head. ・Nothing, Jono.・

The door suddenly opened, and Paige fell into the room.

・Hola, chica.・

She looked up to see Angelo and Clarice. ・Hi, guys,・ she said weakly. They stepped over her, heading down the hall. Paige noticed that they were holding hands. ・Well, at least they・re friends again.・

・Leech did good?・ Leech asked.

・Yes, sweetie,・ Paige replied, hugging him. ・Leech did great.・


・So you two are really together, huh?・ Jubilee asked.

・Not officially,・ Angelo replied.

・Yeah, it・s more like a trial period,・ Clarice agreed.

Jubilee smirked. ・So the trial includes stitting in his lap?・

Clarice blushed bright red.

・My lap has no complaints, Lee, so mind your own business,・ Angelo snapped.

・Don・t they look cute together?・ Paige asked.

・Yeah, cute,・ Ev muttered.

・Aw, does someone feel left out?・ she asked, elbowing him.

・You・re one to talk,・ Ev shot back. ・I・ve got a better chance with Monet than you do with Jono.・

Paige laughed wildly. ・Ev, your chances with M are one in a million!・

・Which makes your chances with Jono pretty much non-existant,・ Monet replied, a smile on her face.

Paige stopped laughing. ・HEY!・

・Slow on the uptake, Hayseed?・ Jubilee snickered.

・Can・t we just watch the movie?・ Paige muttered, turning back to the TV.

・Agreed,・ Monet said, even though she could care less about the movie. She was more interested in what Everett was thinking at the moment...

The End.