The memories are vivid, even now, five years later, of the night before my eighteenth birthday. Silence had settled heavily upon the school, broken intermittently by a staccato cough or agonized moan from Monet in her room adjacent mine. She and I were the last of the original team that still lived at the school. And soon, we would both go our separate ways; she to join the legions that had striven before her, succumbing to the deadly grasp of the B Strain of the Legacy Virus that had claimed so many already. And I I had decided long ago that the minute I was legally under my own guardianship, I'd ditch Massachusetts, its infernally cold winters and small-town atmosphere. I was heading back to the house that I had considered home since I was a scrawny thirteen-year-old. My bags were already packed as I sat precariously on the dusty window sill, watching as the setting sun stained the sky with shades of pink and gold. An old saying flitted through my brain as I watched, "Red sky at night..."
The soft click of Monet's door echoed through the quiet house and I bowed my head, whispering a prayer. Spontaneously, a new ending emerged from my bog of thoughts for the ancient proverb. "Red sky at night, Monet St. Croix's last sight." And on the Astral Planes, her shattered consciousness slowly dispersed, floating gently past me. She was dead.
The next morning, I departed from the sleeping school in which the last five years of my life were spent, hopping into my waiting VW to cross the state lines, legally recognized as an adult.
A smile spread unbidden across my weary face as I sped down Graymalkin Lane, the familiar route bringing back floods of memories. Home loomed in the distance, seeming larger than ever, the white paint gleaming in the late morning light. The heavy black iron gates were already sliding open as my bug approached, and I grinned and waved at the security camera before driving through.
To my surprise, it was Jono who met me at the door, ready to help me unload my tiny car. We exchanged a cold glare. *Welcome home* he told me dryly, and I spat into the dust, grinding it into the asphalt with the toe of my Docs.
"Thanks," I replied, sarcasm dripping from my voice. Jono looked suspiciously at me, and I met his gaze with cool blue eyes and a mental shield as strong as I could muster. One that'd even keep Frosty out, let alone some puny little psi who was more concerned with communicating with his power than actually using it to his advantage above others.
He turned away, roughly grabbing a box from the back seat of my car and carrying it inside. As I watched him go, I was assailed with the memories of a warm day over three months before, at the end of March.
Sam had just taken me out to breakfast in Boston, and as we walked placidly up to the entrance of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, he slid his hand into mine and I looked up at him. The sky was sparkling blue, straight from a fairy tale and perfectly cloudless. "I'd better, like, scoot," I said, nervously popping my cotton candy Bubble Yum. "Miz Frost's prob'ly wonderin' why I'm not back yet."
"Yeah." He touched my face gently, then stooped and our lips met softly, lingering for a moment of indulgence before he stood again. "Ah'd like ta see ya again, Jubilation. Ah know this little swing dancin' club in New York City, if you'ah free on Friday."
"I" I considered it a moment before managing a small smile and agreeing, "Sure. That'd be, like, fun."
"Great. Ah'll see ya Friday. At eight."
"Yeah. Bye." I slipped my hand from his and quickly left, afraid he'd try to kiss me again. Jono was waiting for me in the foyer. I didn't even bother greeting him, only turned to go to my room, but he grabbed my arm, spinning me to face him.
*So You and Paige's brothuh?* His tone was warm but his demeanor cold as he approached me, backing me into the wall.
"Yeah. Gotta problem, limey?" I growled, lifting my chin.
*Actually, I do.*
"Well, then get over it." I turned to brush past him, but he caught my arm again, shoving me roughly against the wall. Before I knew what was happening, his fist had made contact with my eye and he was winding up for another blow. I caught his wrist, twisting it behind his back, ignoring the growing pain in my eye as I said in a low voice, "I wouldn't try that again, Starsmore. I was trained by the best." Shoving him to the floor, I breezed past him to the kitchen to get a cold pack.
Hurt tears welled up in my eyes as I rummaged through the freezer. That was the first time a fellow teammate had ever hit me with the sole intent of harming me. I didn't know what was wrong with him; could only guess that he was grieving the loss of Paige Guthrie, who had died of the Virus earlier that month, in my arms. And I seemed to be the target of that violent grief.
I spun, sniffing, to face Everette, glee fleeing his beautiful brown eyes, which quickly clouded with concern. He took a step toward me and I turned back to the free grabbing an ice pack. "Hey, Ev," I called lightly, but my voice caught and wavered on the last syllable, betraying me.
"J? Are you okay? What happened?"
I shut the freezer, staring down at the ice pack and mustered a smile. "I--uh--accidentally shut a door in my face. It's nuthin', really."
"But... You're crying."
"Am I?" I swiped at my eye, wincing when I realized it was the wrong one. "Oh, I guess my eyes are jus', like, waterin' a little, s'all."
"Someone did this to you."
"Naw. Ya seen any corpses 'round?"
"It was Jonothan, wasn't it?"
I opened my mouth, then clamped it shut. It was all the answer he needed. Turning, he stormed from the room. A moment of silence ensued, followed shortly by Ev yelling, "Huh? I said did you hit her? Speak up, Chamber. I can't hear you." Then Sean's sonic scream rose and all fell silent.
Ev, in the end, came away with a split lip in return for blackening two of Jono's eyes and bloodying up his nose. Unfortunately, Jono didn't seem to take the hint. On three occasions after that did he hit me, never causing any serious damage but it was enough to frighten me at times. Whenever he got that mad gleam in his eye, there was something in me that recoiled in fear, knowing that the chances were better than good that he'd end up taking his animosity out on me. And never could I bring myself to hit him back. It simply went against everything I was ever taught about X-Men not battling X-Men, or Gen-X members battling Gen-X members.
*You just gonna bloody stand there all afternoon?* Jono's voice in my head snapped me back to reality and I glared at him in the afternoon brightness. Grabbing a box, I followed him inside.
Sam was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, a grin spread across his gorgeous face. I dropped my box and flung my arms around his neck, accepting a brief kiss. "How's my boy toy?" I asked, a flirtatious smile playing on my lips as I drew back to gaze into his pale blue eyes.
"Ah'm jus' glad you decided ta move in," he replied softly, brushing my black tresses from my face.
"Speaking of moving in, there's more junk in the car, if you wanna, ya know, help?"
Bowing with a flourish, he turned and trotted outside. I picked up my box again and faced Jono, who stood on the stairs, waiting for me. *Ye know, your grief for Monet is simply amazing.*
"I've done my fair share of cryin'," I snapped. "If I let myself feel every death, I'd be, like, dead myself by now. Survival instinct. Ya learn ta get over it."
*I hope others have such sympathy when the same fate befalls you, gel.*
"Me, too," I replied earnestly. "Now are you gonna show me where my room is, or are ya gonna stand there, flappin' yer--"
"--jaw all day?" I spun to find Wolvie in the doorway, a grin on his face and a stogie in hand. "You stealin' my lines, girl?" he asked, his voice teasing.
Beaming, I inquired, "What can I say? I learned from the best. Now are ya gonna help or jus' stand there?"
"Sorry, girl, but I gotta go see Kitty. She ain't doin' so well."
I sobered immediately. "Oh. Okay." Pausing, I bit my lip. "Logan?"
He hesitated at my use of his first name, then responded, "Yeah?"
"Could ya Would ya tell her I'm sorry? Fer Ya know. Everything."
"It'd sit better comin' from you."
"I know. But... I can't." Can't face her. Can't bear to see her dying. Can't know how I'd react if she refused to accept my apology.
A heavy silence fell across us as I gazed imploringly over to Logan. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he crunched down on his cigar and nodded. "I'll tell 'er," he muttered, walking away, toward the MedLab.
Turning back toward Jono, I followed him in silence up to my room.
I absently arranged a half-dozen framed photographs on my dresser as Sam sat on my bed, chattering about inane things, of which I only heard about half of. It was three hours later and I had finally unpacked everything that I deemed absolutely crucial. A small voice nagged at me that there was no use unpacking anything else, for I, too, would soon join my friends and surrogate family as they marched a steady rhythm to the grave. For the past two and a half years, the tune had been the same as life after life was stolen in the icy grip of Legacy B.
I looked up into Sam's imploring eyes and mustered a small, pathetic smile. "I'm sorry, babe. What were ya sayin'?"
He shook his head. "It was nothin'."
Unexpectedly, tears welled up in my eyes, and I faced the dresser again, blinking my vision clear. I heard Samuel stand and cross the room, and soon his arms circled my waist, his lips brushing my neck. Gingerly, my hand rested on a picture of Wolvie, and I tipped it to get a better view of his stern face. "It wasn't always like this." It was almost a question, my voice raising in a hopeful lilt on the last word.
"No." Fading memories cried out to me, begging me to remember those happy times, Before Legacy.
Sam thought a moment, rocking back and forth. "Theah was one time, when ya were livin' with Generation X. Ya came ovah ta the mansion, an' even though it was the middle o' wintah, we all got ready ta go ta the beach. The pond." I smiled faintly, glancing at the ceiling at the pale blue water marks that danced there, caused by the sun reflecting off the pond surface.
"Who was there?" I asked with the eagerness of a child who'd heard the story a million times before, but wanted to hear it again nonetheless.
"You. Me. Logan. Sarah. Ororo." I nodded, realizing in his short pause that he had chosen to first list those who were still alive. "Maggott was theah. An' Bobby. An' Rogue came briefly."
He grinned, remembering. "Well, Storm made this weathah bubble ta encompass the grounds an' make it seventy degrees. You an' Bobby were goofin' off on the dock, tryin' ta get the othah in the watah. Bobby finally threw ya in, an' Storm avenged ya with a thundah cloud ovah his head. It didn't stop him much from gloatin', though."
"What happened next?"
Sam sighed, trying to make up a new ending for the day five years before that had gone tragically wrong. There were never any completely happy memories, it seemed. "We--uh--rounded up a game o' beach volleyball," he lied. "Ouah team won, o' course. Then Rogue came with lemonade, an' we basked in the unseasonable warmth, sipping ouah drinks an' gettin' tan foah the rest o' the afternoon. An' we all lived happily evah aftah. The end."
I frowned, unable to suppress the memories of what actually had happened. "I want a refund."
"What was that?"
"Someone forgot to include my happy ending in my life story. I want a refund."
Holding me tighter, he murmured, "So do Ah, love. So do Ah."
I tensed automatically. Sam was usually so upbeat and optimistic, and now What was that catch in his voice? That tinge of sadness in his eyes? When had that appeared? Had I been so totally immersed in my obsession with not letting anything affect me emotionally that I had failed to notice the hint of depression looming over my boyfriend?
My boyfriend... What an odd concept. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself going out with Samuel Guthrie. But then Paige had died, last March, and it seemed he was the only one who knew what I was feeling. Despite our differences, Paige and I had grown close over the years, and I used to sometimes wish that she was my sister.
When she contracted Legacy B last February, I was determined to make her well again. I prayed fiercely for her ailing body, stood vigil over her bedside and responded to her every whim. And still her health deteriorated. The last few days of her life are forever burned into my memory. I remember her thrashing and sweating at night. I bore witness to her trembling hands when she couldn't even hold a glass of water steady enough to bring it to her split, bleeding lips. And I was the one who held her head, trying in vain to spoon soup into her mouth, telling her it would give her the strength to beat this thing, when she died. I looked into her sunken blue eyes and watched them roll back into her head. I felt the cold caress of her spirit leaving her.
I remember feeling so desolate as I stood on the bright March afternoon of her funeral, staring blankly at her coffin. Around me, people shook their heads in lamentation, while Jono shook his fist in anger. But no one really understood. They merely thought it a shame; another life stolen. Then I looked up at Sam and our eyes met. And I saw then that he understood.
That night, we sat in the rec room at the Massachusetts academy and talked for hours. It was around four in the morning when we both broke down to tears, and fell asleep in one another's arms.
Turning to face the object of my meditation, I kissed him softly and smiled. "I'm okay," I assured him, wrapping my arms around his neck.
His hands materialized on my waist, warm through the thin fabric of my shirt. "Ah love ya," he confessed.
Sammy, the good friend who, in return for kisses, would give me hugs and a shoulder to lean on, should I need it. Sammy, who told me happy little fables in exchange for one little white lie. "I love you, too, Sammy."
The afternoon melted into evening, the skies darkening to brilliant shades of crimson, then fading to the majestic royal blue of sultry summer nights. It was then that Sammy insisted on taking me to the cliffs above Fischer's Lake some twelve miles south of the mansion to see the fireworks. My heart heavy with thoughts of another year passing, I painted on a smile and agreed to go.
The night was gorgeous as I sat against Sam on the cool grass, wrapped in a warm, downy blanket. Fireflies flickered by the lake below, and the cicadas buzzed in surround sound, filling in the empty night air.
From our vantage, we could actually see the New York Harbor fireworks display. "Ya know," I said softly as Sam planted kisses up and down my neck and shoulder, "when I was little, my parents used ta tell me that people set off fireworks on my birthday in celebration that I'd been born. An' they'd wave flags ta remind me that I'd been born in America, free an' independent, an' not in China like them, oppressed."
"It's yoah birthday?"
I smiled wanly, watching a huge dusty-winged moth make its way toward the blanket. I couldn't really expect him to remember. And it wasn't like I knew *his*--October seventh, I corrected myself silently. Swallowing a huge lump in my throat, I said in faux cheerfulness, "They don't call me Miss Fourth o' July fer nuthin'."
"Ah thought that was because yoah powahs--"
"It is," I interrupted. "There's about two people alive that know when my birthday is, an' I'm one of 'em."
"Then Ah must be the othah." As he whispered this seductively in my ear, he handed me a small velvet box, a tiny silver ring shining against the dark background. "Happy birthday, Jubilation. Marry me."
I blinked in surprise, too stunned to move. "Sammy, I..."
"Don't say no. Just think about it. Promise me that."
Hesitating a moment, I nodded slightly. "Okay," I breathed. "I can promise that."
I wish sometimes that I can say that I thought about it and turned him down. That I broke it off then and there, long since recognizing that he wasn't the one who was supposed to fill this gaping hole in my soul. I wish sometimes that I knew then what I know now. I think life would be much easier, and less painful. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
For the next two days, I found myself residing on the floor outside the MedLab, listening to Logan's gruff voice as he spoke to the dying Kitty, and drawing some comfort from his baritone. It was at the end of those two days that Katherine Pryde gave up her ghost, opting for a life better than the one in which she had been dwelling.
"Kitty?" I heard Logan ask. "No, Kitty"
"Logan, I'm sorry," Cecilia's voice interjected.
"She is dead?" Piotr's voice was small and childish, anguish weakening its usual steel firmness.
"Yes, amigo. I'm sorry."
Breathing a sigh of disgust, I heard Logan stand and make his way toward me. Scrambling to my feet, I rushed to swipe away unbidden tears, knowing as I did so that the attempt was futile. He came through the door a moment later, and stopped when he saw me.
"She's gone," he murmured, and I noticed he was fingering a scrap of paper.
"I know," I whispered, wanting to touch him, to comfort him, but not daring. "I'm sorry."
"She wanted me ta give ya this. Said she couldn't be at peace 'til she knew ya got it." He handed me the note and I stared at it in stunned silence. "I'm goin' out."
"Do ya want me ta--"
"No. I need ta be alone."
I nodded, watching him go. As soon as he was out of sight, I dashed up the stairs to my room, throwing myself on my bed. Tears streamed down my face, blurring my vision so badly, I could hardly read Kitty's message as I carefully unfolded it, the ink smearing in my sweaty hands.
Words I would cherish for years to come.
"Hey, Pryde." Casting the girl a smug look, I flicked my hair over my shoulder and turned back to the fridge. Rummaging through, I found what I was looking for.
Kitty shifted uneasily beside me. I knew she couldn't fathom why I hated her so, but that only made her all the more infuriating. "Hi,. Jubilation," she said nervously. "Could I please have the egg nog once you're done?"
"Sure. No prob." Searching the cupboards, I found a huge 64 ounce Taco Bell cup and emptied the carton into it. "Oh, sorry, Pryde. Guess there just ain't enough." I turned and swished the empty carton into the garbage, then proceeded to drink my prize, all the while glaring haughtily at her over the rim of the cup.
For a long moment, she just stood there, watching me, her ears slowly turning pink, her teeth clenching, her hands curling into angry fists. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded. "Why are you always so- so..."
"So *what?" I challenged.
Something in me snapped, and I was in the air, taking her down in a beautiful flying tackle. The egg nog exploded from the cup I held, drenching both her and me as we landed with a thud on the cold tile.
Suddenly, I couldn't breathe. Pryde was on top of me, gripping my shoulders and pushing me through the floor. I watched in horror as I slowly began to sink, fearing she'd totally submerge me and leave. The perfect murder.
"Why do you hate me?"
"Why?" I gasped. "You're a prissy, perfect, mondo genius ninja Barbie Wolvie-napper an' ya ask why I hate ya? Why *shouldn't* I hate ya, Kitty, dear?"
She yanked me up by the shirt collar, unphasing me from the floor, and I gasped for breath. "Wolvie-napper? That's ridiculous. I--"
"Whatever. You're always snatchin' Logan fer yerself. 'Oh, Logan. I'm so smart! Look what I can do!' 'Oh, Logan, I'm so pretty, aren't I?' 'Oh, Logan, I just broke up with Pete. AGAIN! Come hold me!'"
"I don't do that."
"Bull you don't! Bechya can't go one day without callin' Wolvie's attention on yerself."
"This is absurd, Jubilation."
"Don't call me that. My name's Jubilee."
"Sorry. Jubilee. I'm not going to take part in your twisted fantasy--"
I cut her off with a paf that sent her flying against the wall across the room. She fell to the floor in a limp heap, and I turned and left the room.
I stirred, nestling further beneath the covers.
"Jubilee, wake up. You'ah dreamin'."
My eyes snapped open, focusing in the indigo light on the man who crouched before me in sweats and a white tank top. His mussed blonde hair fell haphazardly into his blue eyes, large with concern. "Sammy." I felt like I was choking, and my voice relayed as much. Sitting up, I let him gather me in his arms.
"Hush. It was just a dream. Nothin' ta worry about."
If only it were. "Sammy, she forgave me. Why?"
"Theah are bettah things ta live foah than hate." The Prof's dream. Applicable in everyday life.
I looked up into the pale eyes of my late best friend's brother; the man I claimed to love. "What're ya doin' in here, Sammy?" I hadn't meant for it to be an accusation, but that's what it ended up sounding like.
He blushed, pulling away. "Ah was up ta use the lavatory, an' Ah heard ya cryin'..." " His voice trailed off, a definite tinge of sadness tainting his Kentucky accent that I once found amusing--especially in his sister, who tried to hide hers--but now found almost... tantalizing. "Ah'd bettah go. Good night, Jubilation."
Smiling faintly, I accepted a swift kiss. "Good night, Samuel. Thank you."
Late the next night, I sat alone on my bed, fingering the note Kitty had written me. Moonlight spilled across my dark blue carpet, turning it a distinct color of gray that reminded me of cremains. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And like the sands of time, they all slide silently through my fingers, and I can do nothing to stop them.
A clock somewhere was chiming midnight when Logan stole into my room, muscles gleaming in the silver light. Silently shutting the door, he stopped and whispered simply, "Jubilation." The way he said it made it sound like a prayer; an imprisoned man naming his last hope for freedom.
Instinctively, reflexively, I stood and crossed the room to him, wrapping my arms around his broad chest, and he hugged me closely, rocking me gently. We stood there for an eternity, his face buried in my hair, drawing some shred of strength from one another. It wasn't until his tears fell hot on my face that I pulled back, scared to death. I'd never seen him weep before, and it frightened me more than anything ever has. Ever. His eyes glittering indigo in the ashen light, huge crystal drops tracing the fine lines that caressed his beautiful face. "What's wrong, Wolvie?" I asked in a voice that was barely audible, even to myself.
"I've got it," he confessed, a mournful tone lacing his words. At that moment, I couldn't help thinking how childlike he was in my arms, trembling and so needing someone to shush him and tell him what we all needed to hear; that it was all just a bad dream. A nightmare. And soon we'd all wake up and it'd be over.
"Legacy B?" I don't know how I managed to say the words, but I wished I hadn't. If they went unsaid, perhaps they wouldn't be true... He nodded slightly, his tears starting anew. "But Wolvie, your healing factor..."
"It- It's gone. It has been f'r nearly a month now." As he spoke, he lifted his shirt slightly. Across his once perfect washboard stomach gleamed four long red gashes that I recognized as the ones Penance had given him three weeks before, on her deathbed. Normally, it would have healed in a matter of moments, but as I grazed my fingers lightly upon it, it was apparent that the scabs were still raw. "I'm leavin' t'night. I jus' wanted t' tell ya goodbye, darlin'. I couldn' go without doin' that."
Closing my eyes, I felt my heart shatter as hot rivers of my own formed on my cheeks. "Ya can't go, Wolvie," I choked. "I need ya." I looked back up at him as he drew his thumbs gently across the dark circles that had appeared under my eyes with Paige's death, his touch tender, as if he were trying to absorb my tears.
Pushing my hair away from my face, his eyes flicked to my lips, then back to meet my gaze. "No, ya don't," he rasped. "I taught ya everythin' I know. Yer strong an' independent. I'm proud of ya, Jubilation." Cupping my face in one hand, he slowly ducked his head, bringing his lips closer until they met mine, and I tasted the saltiness of his anguish in his passion. Drawing back slightly, he swallowed, searching my eyes and whispered, "I love ya."
"I- I love you, too, Logan," I returned, and to my amazement, I found it was true. I truly was in love with the man who held me tenderly in his strong arms and kissed me as if...
As if it were our last night together on Earth.
"You're so beautiful," he said softly, threading his fingers through my raven hair and tilting my head back for another osculation.
"Make love to me," I gasped suddenly.
He hesitated, then covered my mouth with his, drawing me tightly into his embrace. Scooping me up, he carried me over to the bed and laid me gently on the covers, willing to oblige me request.
The next morning, well before I felt the sunshine fall across my shoulder, I sensed him getting up and sorrowfully pulling on his clothes. Tempted by the soft folds of slumber, I neither opened my eyes nor allowed myself to awaken fully. Instead, I listened, half asleep, as he knelt beside me and softly kissed my temple. Then, leaning in closely, he breathed, "I love ya, Jubilation," stirring the fine hairs on my neck. And he left, out into the mother-of-pearl morning. Out of my life. Out to die in peace.
It was then that the grief descended upon me; a dark, heavy cloak, smothering me into a into a thick, sticky sleep.