After the Storm: Part 3

by Dana Night

Summary and Disclaimer in Part I

Sorry it took so long!! The middle's always the hardest part, if you ask me. I can get a great story going, have it all in my head, start it out well and have the perfect ending, and I think I've got it! Then I have to actually write it and get TO the end... *sigh* But, after all your patient waiting, here it is! Part III (I'm cursing it just by recognizing it to be the third and middle part). This one goes to all you out there in fan land. Thanx for the e-mails, I appreciate them bunches!

Oh, and none of the characters are mine. And I kind of took some liberties and assumed that Artie was around eight in the comix... I couldn't find his actual age.

I think that was when my marriage began to fall apart, when Charlie Xavier died. If he had lives another week, another month, another year, I believe Sam and I would have lasted longer. But with Charles gone, everything shattered, as if he were the moisture in the mud pies I used to make as a child; without him, it turned to dust and was carried away by the next spry zephyr.

Storm was the first to leave, taking a religious pilgrimage back to Egypt with a swift embrace and a promise for return. Jono got raving drunk within the week and got himself hit by a semi while out on his scoot. He was more attached to the professor than even he wanted to admit. And then Sarah left after patching things up with "Skull." They wanted to work on a new album, "Bite My Head Off and Spit it Back Out." And so the house was left empty save Sam, Cecilia, and me.

I'm not saying that, had the prof lived, Sam's and my marriage would have repaired itself better than new and I would have fallen hopelessly in love with him. But with Chuck dead, no one felt any obligation to stick around anymore. And with no one around, Sam and I had no incentive to continue our farce.

It hurt him at first, I could tell. He began going to his family farm in Kentucky once a week for a couple of hours. When he would leave me, his hands would tremble and his voice would crack, for he knew he was taking an action toward the destruction of our marriage.

Gradually, the days he was gone grew more and more frequent, with the hours longer each visit. It didn't help when, that October, after rumors of Marrow and Skull planning split city surfaced, Sarah sent my husband a copy of an old eighties cover she did, from the Nelson twins, called "After the Rain." In it, there was simply a single, scratchy guitar strumming chords intermittently, and Sarah in her raspy voice singing. It was a few lines toward the beginning that caught my attention, and my memory:

You're living in a fantasy
And you can't let go
She never really loved you from the start
The only thing she ever gave you was a broken heart
Don't be afraid to lose what was never meant to be

The lyrics disturbed me. That she, who was very nearly a complete stranger for as much as I saw her, was able to see so clearly through Sam and me. The lyrics were also one step closer to the collapse of our marriage. After that, Samuel stopped caring how much time he spent away from his wife.

That's not to say that I was alone during my pregnancy. To the contrary, Cecilia was always there, and mid-September, Artie joined the shrinking X-Men family after the Massachusetts Academy shut down. Ms. Frost-Cassidy had contracted the Virus and, her chin lifted with dignity though the vile sickness was ravaging her body as she stood in the doorway, elegantly dressed in a white long-sleeved dress, she announced that she was going away. She left Artie in my explicit care, then turned and left.

At first, in those fleeting raw days that still linger with the hope of summer but are spiced with the anticipation of autumn, I tried to educate the child myself. And yet, I fell lacking. Pursuits of the mind had never quite been my forte, and I had a special knack for forgetting everything I learned the minute after I was tested on it. And so, I dug through all the old equipment and found a single working image inducer.

For the longest time, I contemplated the decision. I could have asked Sam to teach him, but I didn't want to impose on him, or take away much-needed labor from his family. And Cecilia really should be in her lab, working on a cure to save us all. So really, this was the only choice.

The days were still warm when I drove Artie into Salem Center that awful day, but the shadows had turned a wistful shade in the afternoon light that the melancholy sun brought. The tiny town no longer swarmed with young cheerful spirits. Instead, all were encaged and suppressed into the local schools; were asked to conform instead of expand.

I sent Artie to one of those schools, telling him on the way that he need not socialize or conventionalize, only learn. Knowledge is power, and if he was going to be the future for mutant-kind, he must have both.

I pulled into the parking lot and looked at the tiny menacing building before me. I almost lost my nerve, remembering my own days in such an institution, but then I swallowed my fears and shut off the car. "Come on," I ordered, snatching up my purse.

Reluctantly, he obeyed, loping drearily behind me as I marched into the building; the image inducer making him appear to be a tiny blonde child following in my wake.

As I approached the main office, Artie lagged behind, preferring to stay by the green metal doors as I arranged his life for him. I stood at the front desk for a full three minutes, tapping my recently-manicured nails impatiently on the cheap wood before someone took notice. "May I help you?" asked the secretary, whose nameplate announced her to be Mrs. Noble, coldly. Nothing compared to Ms. Frost-Cassidy's iciness, though.

I smiled sweetly, flicking my hair over my shoulder with a proud toss of my head. "Yes. I'd like to enroll someone in your school." Each word was carefully enunciated, and my California accent was dropped. I wasn't going to ruin this for poor Artie by announcing to the world that he was being raised by an airheaded bimbo.

"Are you a parent?"

"I am his legal guardian, yes."

"Then you'll need to speak with our principal, Mr. Jefferson. One moment." The woman had loathing in her eyes as she abruptly stood and disappeared around a corner. Turning, I silently motioned Artie to me, his little pink hand sliding warmly into mine as his other hand curled into the fabric of my sleeve.

I had bought a new suit specially for this occasion, not wanting anything to go wrong. The cut I stole directly from Frosty; the skirt just high enough, the jacket just low enough and the waist just slender enough to let them know you have the goodies, but the rest of the outfit--the wide shoulders, double-breasted buttons and stiff material--informing them that you're off limits. The color, a deep shade of plum, I took from my mother. She had worn the color almost exclusively.

The secretary returned with an icy smile and motioned us back to Jeff Jefferson's office.

Principal Jefferson was a tall, lean man with salt-and-pepper hair and eyes like George Clooney. Artie and I sat in hard green chairs in front of his desk, and I carefully crossed my legs in such a way as I'd seen Emma do countless times to Sean. The attention was drawn to the long, flawless legs, then forced back up to the face. Once I had met the principal's eyes, I smiled warmly. "Mr. Jefferson, my name is Jubilation Lee, and this is Arthur Maddicks. Artie has been attending a prestigious private school in Massachusetts for the past five years, but due to extraneous circumstances, the school was forced to close, and Artie was placed in my care. He does not speak, but is extremely bright. I demand that he be given the best eighth grade teachers you have available."

Jeff sputtered, looking into the bright green eyes of Artie's induced image. "He... doesn't speak?"

"No. He was born with a... condition that left him completely mute by the time he was in primary school."

"Does he do sign language? Will we need a translator?"

"No. He doesn't know ASL."

"Then how does he communicate?"

I paused, licking my lips. "We've always had an... understanding. But for the most part, he's pretty anti-gregarious anyway. And if he wants to communicate, kids always seem to find a way, don't they, Mr. Jefferson?"

"Well, yes, I--"

"Now back to the subject of the teachers. I insist he receive the best education this school has to offer."

"Of course, Miss Lee, but all of our teachers are extremely qualified."

I tilted my head slightly and gave him a pitying look that made him squirm. "Come now, Mr. Jefferson, you don't honestly believe that, do you? You've sent in evaluations, heard through the grapevine, even listened to each of your teachers speak, and you know who's good and who's not. Now don't you?"

"I... Of course. Artie will get the highest priority, Miss Lee. Let me call over to the counselor's office, and they can sign him up." I stood, casting Artie a triumphant look as he stared back in amazement.

"Oh, and Mr. Jefferson?" I sent him an innocent look as he glanced up attentively. "It's *Mrs.* Lee."

"Of... Of course. I-I apologize."

* * * * *

And so it became a routine. Every morning, I'd wake up to an empty bed and try to remember if Sam had come home the night before. Often, I couldn't, but there was always a new deposit of clothes in the hamper to squelch any doubt. I'd take a shower and wake Artie, and while he was showering, I'd make breakfast and pack him a lunch. Breakfast was always rushed by the time he got out of the bathroom, and I usually finished my coffee in the car on the way into Salem Center. I dropped Artie off, did whatever errands needed to be done, and went home until it was time to pick up Artie again. And, once a week, I picked him up to take him out to lunch.

As the weeks slipped by, Artie fell deeper and deeper into depression, often secluding himself in his room or in the woods by the pond. He eventually shut himself off completely, so that talking to him was about as effective as talking to a rock. And I let him have his silence. If there's one thing in my life that I will ever regret, it's that I let him have his silence.

It was late November, almost Thanksgiving, when Artie's English teacher requested conference with me. A soft-spoken young man who reminded me too much of Ev for my own comfort, I fell under the immediate impression the moment that I stepped into his classroom that the man was naive and incompetent. He stood when he saw me, a look of concern crossing his face. "Mrs. Guthrie, I presume?" he asked, motioning for me to sit.

"Lee," I corrected. "Guthrie is my husband's name."

"Mrs. Lee. My name is Jude Martin--"

"Yes, we spoke on the phone. What's the problem?"

He sighed, obviously sensing that I wasn't about to waste my time by beating around the bush. "Mrs. Lee, I have reasons to believe that Artie should get some professional help. We've been doing a unit on poetry this semester, and this is one of Artie's more succinct works." He handed me a piece of paper with six lines of childish scrawl written across it, slanting downward across the lines:

by Artie Maddicks

If leaves fall from trees
And snow from the sky;
If friends fall away
Why can't I fall from life?

"This is beautiful," I gasped, rereading the work.

"Maybe so, but this is how all his poems go. Each has a friend dying, and the rest is centralized around wanting to die himself. All are titled 'Leech'."

I looked up at him. His deep brown eyes begged me to listen, but I refused. "Leech is... *was* a friend of Artie's. He fell victim to a deadly Virus early last year. They were best friends. Leech was the only one who really understood Artie. When Leech died..." I stopped, remembering the blank expression on Artie's face as he stared down at the lifeless body of his best friend. He had stood like that for hours, just gazing vacantly down at the rumpled sheets, even after the body was removed. Then he had retired to his room for a week, refusing to come out even for Leech's funeral. There was nothing anyone could do. "Mr. Martin, poetry is an outlet, is it not?" I asked suddenly snapped from my reverie.

"Well, yes, I suppose, but--"

"I almost wish you could just spend a day in Artie's head and see if you'd think this was so horrible then. I've seen people in his situation do worse. I have a friend who committed suicide because of this."

Jude Martin shook his head and placed one warm hand atop my own. "That's what I'm afraid will happen, Mrs. Lee. Please, just"

I stood abruptly. Artie would not fall to that fate, and he wasn't going to go see some shrink, either. "I think this conference is through," I said, venom in my voice. "Good day, Mr. Martin." Spinning on my heel, I left the room.

* * * * *

I remember tears blurring my vision as I sped home that afternoon, but I swiped them away. I was a better person than to let Artie kill himself. I knew what was best for him. Didn't I? I was determined to speak with him; to ask him how he felt. To see whether or not there *was* something more I could do.

Snow began to fall as I pulled into the garage and got out of the car. Stepping through the door into the warm, big house, I called out, "Artie?" But to no avail. There was no response. Fear gripped me, twisting my stomach into a tight knot and pushing my heart into my throat. What kind of mother would I be if I let something happen to Artie? Dropping my things haphazardly onto the floor, I sprinted up the stairs to his room, only to find it empty. On my way back downstairs, Cecilia found me.

"Were you looking for Arthur, amiga? I saw him go outside just after you left."

"Thanks," I breathed absently, launching myself in the direction of the door.

The wind whipped around my body, pulling at my hair and throwing it into my eyes as I made my way toward the pond where he seemed to spend most of his time. But why would he stay so long outdoors when it was so cold? It was unlike him; usually, he came back in before it got too late. Besides, it was almost dinner time, and no matter how antisocial he was, he never missed a meal.

Memories of Piotr lying on the floor, his head opened and exposed assaulted me as if I still stood looking on him in the crisp morning air. Could Artie have found the gun? No, Storm got rid of it and all other weapons after that incident. Artie must be all right. "Dear God, please let Artie be all right. I swear I'll get him help if he's all right." The prayer came out as a sob, and I nearly stumbled to my knees, but the need to find Maddicks kept me going. "Artie!" I tried, fear and fury alike cracking my voice as the wind lifted it and carried it away. "Ar--" I cut myself off as suddenly, the world fell silent, and everything faded out of existence, save the small pink body that lay, half submerged, in the icy waters of the pond. The light dusting of snow across his back and the pool of red that was slowly dissipating around him revealed that he had been there for quite some time. Choking, I raced over to him and clumsily pulled him from the water. "Artie?" There was no pulse, and no matter how hard I tried, I got no sign of life from him, telepathically.

Gathering the tiny, cold body into my arms, I sat in the mud and snow, rocking him and sobbing.

* * * * *

The next thing I remember is Cecilia speaking with Sam. It must've been late for Sam to be home, I knew, but I didn't know why anything was significant. Or why I was wrapped in a blanket and sitting on the couch in the living room. In just a few hours, I'd have to get up and pack Artie's lunch...

"Jubilation?" Sam was beside me now, his fingers hovering just inches from my face, as if wanted desperately to touch me, but was afraid to. "Are you all rahght?"

"What happened, Sammy?" I gasped, sure that something horrible had occurred for my husband to have such a sensitive tone, such tenderness in his eyes.

Sam looked up at Cecilia, who shook her head, then he turned back to me. "Artie was climbing th' trees by the pond, an' he fell an' cracked his head on a rock an' fell unconscious. He would've been all rahght, but he was face down in th' watah, love. Don't ya remembah?"

"Artie's..." I couldn't say it. Too many had gone. Not Artie, too. He wasn't going to fall into that category. Suddenly, a line from the poem Mr. Martin had shown me echoed in my brain, making me shiver violently: 'Why can't I fall from life?' That was exactly what he had done. Had it been suicide, after all? I lifted my face to ask the question of my husband, but discovered that I was alone and cold in an empty room.

* * * * *

And so it was that the rest of the holiday season was spent in a maudlin regression. I was right back to where I started. Every time I thought I was getting ahead, something sent me back to my knees. Providence wasn't going to allow me to stand tall and proud, like I've always been want to do. Instead, I was destined to spend the rest of my life with my face buried in the dirt, weeping. Or, more likely than that, pushing away the tears to try and keep up my "tough girl" facade.

Early the next morning, I awoke in the pale gray light to discover Sam was, once again, gone. It seemed he hadn't even slept on his side of the bed. He couldn't even stand to stay even though the harvest was long since over, and a severe tragedy had occurred in his house. In a fit of frustration and anger, I threw his pillows to the floor, the wiped any evidence of him that stood on the dresser or night stand to the floor.

I dressed quickly in the darkness, donning the yellow raincoat that I had worn in my earlier days with the X-Men, and for two years of my stay with Gen X. I had stopped wearing it because it was completely impractical, and I thought myself too mature to wear such a thing. The day after Artie's death, though, it reminded me of all that had been, and for some reason, this reassured me. Maybe it was the thought that, if it once was, it may be once again. And so, my room in a state of disarray, and my mind in a state of retrogression, I descended the stairs.

Cecilia had breakfast made when I entered the kitchen; pancakes and eggs, from the smell of it. "Buenos tardes, amiga," she greeted cheerfully, scooping salsa onto her food. "Commo estas?"

I shrugged, plopping down into one of the chairs and spearing a pancake with a fork. "Bien." I replied unconvincingly. "Sam's gone."

Knowing better than to respond to this, Cel shoved a piece of pancake into her mouth. Once it was all chewed and swallowed, the subject was forgotten. "Jubilation, how would you like to help me out on one of my experiments? I could surely use the help."

"Listen, Dr. Reyes, I know what you're doing, and I, like, appreciate it and all, but..." But what? I couldn't think of one good reason not to help her out. And it wasn't as if I didn't want her company. "Sure. I'll help ya."

* * * * *

The rest of the day was spent with Cel in the MedLab, fetching items, organizing and basically doing whatever was asked of me. I really got to know Cel in that twelve-hour period, about her father and family; her days in medschool, quick rise and quicker fall from the profession. In return, she asked me no questions about my background, but listened intently if I volunteered information. In retrospect, I can plainly see that I spoke not of my life in SoCal; not of my days holed up in the Reaver's booty-stash; but rather, I started from the beginning: When I rescued Wolvie off of that cross in the Aussie Outback. Every year on that day--the second of March--I used to buy him a gift and take him out to dinner, when I could afford it. I told him it was a celebration of his birthday, since he didn't remember the real date and, if it weren't for me, he would've died up there, so in a way, it was kind of a re-birth. But secretly, at those annual dinners with him, I was pretending it was *my* birthday, and thanking him for it. It was *my* second chance at life.

I fell asleep in the MedLab that night, not willing to go upstairs and face my empty bed and destroyed room. Sam didn't come home that night, or the next, or the next. It was the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving, the day after we buried Artie, that he returned.

The sky had continued to cloud over throughout the week, and by that Friday, it was completely gray, the cloud cover effectively blocking out the sunlight so that, no matter the time of day, you couldn't tell at all where behind that thick cottony expanse the sun sat.

I was helping Cel when I heard Sammy streak through that gloomy sky and come quietly in through the front door. Cecilia looked up at me, expectantly, but I looked away, running my hand over my swelling belly. We both listened in silence as he tromped up the stairs and down the hall, then then paused. A whole beat and a half went by in utter silence when neither Cel nor I dared breathe. Finally, there came a muffled, "J?" Then louder, "Jubilation?"

Obediently, my eyes on the floor, I set down the pencil I held and made my way out and up the stairs. As I passed the front window, I noticed it had begun to rain big, fat drops that washed away the remainder of the snow from earlier that week and, I thought, the last evidence of what happened to Artie.

Sam knelt beside the dresser as I timidly entered the room, an inexplicable fear was over me. "What'd ya do?" he asked without looking up, his voice a whisper.

I licked my lips, glancing around at all his possessions, which lay scattered across the plush carpet. "I got miffed, Sammy. I'm so totally sorry. I... When ya left after Artie's death, I jus' kinda... snapped."

"It was Logan, wasn't it?"

I hesitated. "What about him?" I managed, my mind already busy concocting a lie.

"Theah's somethin' about him you'ah not tellin'. Ah just hafta figure it out. Ah been workin' on it ovah the holiday, but Ah ain't quite got it all yet. But theah's one thing foah sure: Theah was somethin' moah ta you two than met the eye. An' when Ah figure it out, it'll explain... this." He swept an arm over the mess, looking hopelessly at it, then me. "How are ya now?" ha asked with a glance at my stomach.

"We'll be fine," I choked, then cleared my throat. "Cecilia's been checkin' up on him every day. I jus'... promise me you'll be home, Sam. I need ya here, not somewhere in Kentucky."

He managed a small, pained smile. "All right. Until the baby's born, Ah'll stay heah, okay?"

With a grateful nod, I turned and left the room.

* * * * *

After that, the last months of my pregnancy slid easily by. Sam spent his time going through the old technology and seeing what was salvageable. I helped Cel out, when I wasn't too sick or worn out to get out of bed. And at night, I fell asleep, Sam's arms wrapped around my ample waist, and my head resting in the crook of his neck. All was peaceful until about the middle of February.

I was in the MedLab, filing some experiment notes for Cecilia on the seventeenth of the month when Sam entered and requested private counsel with me. Giving Cecilia a questioning glance, I uneasily slid off the stool on which I sat and followed him out into the living room.

Sunlight streamed in bright, cold torrents through the front window, and the sky was a sparkling, dazzling blue. Soon the daffodils and wild astors would be blooming, creating a brilliant, cheerful world for my baby to enter into.

"What's up, Sam?" I inquired, noticing for the first time the aura of depression which surrounded him.

"Ah don't... You... Theah was..." He stopped, trying to choose his words. "It's Logan's baby." At this, he looked me dead in the eye to gauge my reaction. I opened my mouth to reply, but he cut me off. "Theah's no othah explanation. Ya don' love me, but ya were so eagah ta marry me. Ya nevah talk about him, which is unlike you, especially with Wolverine. An' then the day he left... Everyone was surprised except you. So the way Ah figure it, ya slept with him once, the day he left, found out ya were pregnant, needed a scapegoat ta ease yoah guilty conscience--ya didn't want anyone ta know that you'd slept with a man a century oldah than you--an' so ya agreed ta marry me."

I was astonished. "No, Sammy, it didn't happen like that," I gasped, praying that he'd hear me out. "I was scared, that's why I married you. Scared of Jonothan an' scared ta do this on my own. I felt safe with you."

"Scared of Jono?"

"Yeah. I was afraid that, if he found out I'd cheated on you, he'd, like, hurt my baby or somethin'."

"Hurt yoah baby? Ah... Did he strike you?"

I paused, looking down at my hands, which were folded on my belly. "I thought you knew."

"No. Ya nevah told me. Was it jus' once, or..."

"No. Four different times." My voice had dropped past a whisper and suddenly, the sky wasn't so bright anymore. As if sensing trouble, the sun slipped behind a passing cloud, and the world held its breath. "I could've taken him. You know I could've. But I didn't wanna hurt him, an' since he'd gotten in those four blows before, I was afraid he'd hit me an' I'd, like, miscarry or somethin'." I stopped and looked up into my husband's baby blue eyes. He said not a word, just stared at a fixed spot on my stomach. "Sammy?"

"Ah don't know who Ah want ta kill moah--Logan or Jonothan."

"Sam, don't talk like that. Ya don't wanna kill anyone."

He glanced up at me, then sighed resignedly. "You'ah right. Besides, they'ah already dead." He sank onto the couch and buried his face in his hands. "So what now?"

"I dunno," I whispered. "I guess it's up ta you. You're the vic-" I cut myself off as a jolt of pain, centered in my womb, shot through me, squeezing a tear through my clench-shut eyelids.

"Jubilation?" Grabbing my arm, Sam kept me on my feet as little purple sparks of pain flashed before my eyes. "Doctah Reyes!"

The pain ebbed a little as Cecilia raced to my side, then hit again a few minutes later, harder than before. I remember, during that second contraction, looking up at Cecilia and, with a small smile, whispering, "I didn't think Wolvie's baby'd be born in the spring."

* * * * *

I was in labor for four and a half hours before I gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl, two months premature. She was so tiny, I cried when I saw her, almost afraid to touch her, for fear she'd shatter into a million crystalline pieces.

Her skin was dark, under all that red flush that lingered a few days after birth. I was amazed until I remembered how dark I was as a baby. She also had a shock of ebony hair affixed to the highest point of her head, soft and feathery like cornsilk. But her eyes were what was most remarkable. Large and round, they peered out of her small head like giant sapphires, with a passionate fire burning behind them. They were Logan's eyes.

"Six pounds, six ounces," announced Cel as she set my baby in my arms. "Fifteen inches long. Born at four-oh-three on February seventeenth. Be glad she was premature; she was going to be one big baby. Do you have a name?"

"Joyous," I whispered, smoothing her hair over her high forehead.

"Last name?"

I glanced over at Sam, who stared longingly back for a moment, then stood and silently left. Looking back up at Cecilia, I replied, "Lee-Logan. Joyous Lee-Logan."

Cecilia uneasily shifted, jotting the name on the clipboard she held. "I'll--uh--fax this to the clinic in Salem Center and get it official. Congratulations, Jubilation. You're a mother."

* * * * *

Late that night, with baby Joy asleep in an old cradle I'd managed to retrieve from the attic--a remnant of Charles' childhood days, no doubt--Samuel came to me, sitting beside me on our bed. Moonlight shimmered through the window, casting dark shadows about the room and reminding me of another late night encounter, seven months before.

"Ah've made up mah mind," he whispered, painfully conscious of the baby asleep not three feet away. "Ah want a divorce."

I nodded sadly. "I suppose that's best."

"Ah'm goin' ta stay with mah mama for a few days, okay? Can ya handle without me?"

"I'll manage. But Sammy..." He looked at me, his pale blue eyes glimmering with unshed tears. "Hurry back."

Without another word, he stood and left.