Damned Time and Dammed Time: Chapter Two

by Dyce

Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply and I'm too tired to come up with anything.

Author's Note: This bit's for the chronic complainers, a couple in particular, they know who they are. The rest of you may look away. Yes, I know, there are a lot of new and weird things in the story. It's seven years later, things have changed. No, I'm not going to go into details as to when the name of the Institute changed, how Zoe got there, who Etienne's mother is, or anything else, until I'm damn good and ready. Which may be never. If you 'just want to know what's going on', tough cookies. Extended exposition is boring. I'll tell you what you need to know for the story and that's all I'm commited to providing for you. Right? Right.

"*Can I hold him now, Tia Jubilee?*" Rachel held out her small arms.

"*Si, of course.*" Jubilee smiled, settling her newborn son gently into Rachel's grasp. "*Hold him gently.*"

"*Of course.*" The little girl cradled the baby gently. "*He's beautiful.*"

"*Of course he is.*" Michael said firmly. Callie and Robbie, the two other older children, patiently waited for their turns.

Angelo smiled, watching his wife pass their baby around the little semicircle. It was good, they both thought, for every older child to spend a little time with the new babies. It let them form a bond with the new arrival as a living, breathing person instead of a distant bundle in adult arms. And when a six year old was sitting on the grass, there wasn't really far for the baby to slip, even if he or she was dropped - which so far had never happened.

Angelo himself was indulging in what he called 'light work'・ in this case, playing with Rogue's convertible until he found whatever was making the funny knocking noise she kept complaining about. 'Light work', unlike the complex and often delicate work on the trio of Blackbirds he was in charge of maintaining, meant he could be out in the open air with the children. It wasn't that he didn't like his job - being head technician and mechanic for the Xavier Institute for Research was more fun than he'd ever thought working for a living would be - but he liked being able to spend time with his family t oo.

Gambit was officially helping and unofficially watching and handing the occasional tool. Although he was a fair mechanic himself, he couldn't manipulate as many as six or seven tools at once, and there was only so much room.

"What're dey talking about?" he asked. "De baby?"

"As always." Angelo pulled his head out of the engine and raised his voice. "*You're going to forget how to speak English, you keep this up!*" he called.

"*Relax, Tio Angelo!*" Robbie McCoy, as cheeky as his namesake, called back. "*We're kids, we're smart enough to learn more than one language, si?*"

Angelo snorted, and went back to his tinkering with a grin. "Smart-alec kids."

Remy sighed. "It's not fair, mon ami. You've got dem all talkin' in a language deir parents don't know. Me, I don' know what my own son wants half de time."

Angelo shrugged. "They're kids. They like the idea of having a secret language. I taught it to mine, they passed it on." Greasy fingers, sun on his back, and his family all within sight. It didn't get much better. Thinking of which・ he leaned the other way to check on Alanna.

Everett's wife Zoe Hekatonecles sat crosslegged on a blanket, reading a story to the trio of smaller children - Alanna, Remy's two and a half year old son Etienne, and Zoe's own daughter Asta, who at twenty-one months firmly resisted any suggestion that she couldn't keep up with the other kids. Everett himself had, by the look of it, wrested the sickly, frail Christine from her mother's protective grip and packed Jean off to get some rest. He was sitting on the porch, keeping the baby out of the nasty pernicious sunlight.

Angelo snorted. It was his private opinion that Chrissie would be a lot healthier if she got taken out of the house now and then, instead of being locked up in a controlled environment like a holy relic. And it was his rather less private opinion that some of the attention lavished on Chrissie might be better spent on her sister Rachel, but who could interfere in the way someone else ran their family? All he could do was pay special attention to her himself, and make sure she knew that she was part of a large family that cared about her.

Remy followed his gaze, and shook his head. "Don' be tryin' to interfere, mon ami," was his advice. "Y' got t'ree younguns of your own to look after, an' Jubilee ain' exactly bouncin' back at the speed of light, either. Leave Ev'rett and Zoe to help out wit' Chrissie and Rachel. 's what dey get paid to do, non?"

"Si, si." Angelo sighed. "Pass me that small spanner. I think I see the problem."

* * *

Stryfe rubbed his hands together happily. "You see? They're perfect. The baby has a mediocre telepathic ability, and Good Sidekick Genes."

Irene frowned. "I'm not sure that that's something genetic-"

"Shush. I'm plotting."

"Why? All you have to do is get a sample-"

"Shush. That's no FUN."

"Oh dear lord・"

"Irene, I'm not going to ask you to shush again・"

* * *

Just over two months later, Jubilee was cooing softly to baby Logan as he nursed. "You're greedy, you are," she said fondly. "I shoulda remembered how Logan drinks before I named you after him." Logan flailed a little fist, tapping her on the nose, and she chuckled. "You might be a scrapper like your grandpa, kiddo, but bopping your mama is pushing it." She caught the fist gently in her hand, settling back in the biggest, softest armchair in the den, which just happened to be perfect for breastfeeding.

The door opened, and a rather ruffled brown head appeared. "Hey, Jubilee, are you- Whoah!" Bobby, a recent return to the X-fold, slapped a hand over his eyes, looking mortified.

She chuckled. "Drake, I've had three kids now. I, like, so do not care anymore."

"Yeah, but if I look your husband'll have to kill me." Bobby pulled up a chair, cheeks a little pink. "Geez, Jubilee, I remember you when you were thirteen."

"Really?" Jubilee said dryly. "What a coincidence. So do I."

He chuckled wryly. "Yeah, but I was・ what was I? Twenty-four? And now here you are, twenty-three, married, with three kids・" He sighed. "When did I get so old?"

"Four and a half years ago when you hit the big three-oh. Any more questions before I switch sides?" She grinned at him, eyes sparkling. "And while I'm at it, congratulations on the basic math skills."

"I'll settle for a warning when you're going to switch." It really was cute the way that, at thirty-five, he still blushed. "I mean, I know it's supposed to be this amazingly beautiful and touching thing to breastfeed, but when it's someone who I've thought of as a cute little girl for ten years, it kinda weirds me."

Jubilee blinked. Then she smiled. "And the good news is, you win a bag of jelly babies."

He gave her a rather surprised look. "I do?"

"Yup. You're the first person ever to admit that watching me do this makes you uncomfortable. There's been a bet going since Alanna was born." Jubilee grinned and shifted sides while his surprised gaze was fixed on her. He blushed again and looked away. "I'll get Angelo to pick them up this afternoon."

"Goody," Bobby said absently, his brow furrowing. "Hey, Jubes・"

She didn't look up, engrossed in settling little Logan comfortably. "Yeah?"

"I know it's been a while since I've been here, but has Cable started bodysliding again?"

Jubilee looked up, blinking. "Not that I know of・ why?"

"Well, a guy who looks just like him just appeared on the lawn-"

The telepathic blow that knocked them both unconscious rendered further explanation unnecessary.

When Bobby woke up a few minutes later, with a pounding headache and blood dripping from his nose, he was alone. Jubilee and the baby had disappeared.

To his credit, Bobby didn't waste any time running around looking in case she'd wandered off. He headed for the nearest intercom and hit the panic button immediately, with no shilly-shallying.

* * *

Stryfe held the screaming baby awkwardly at arm's length, looking rather harried. "What's wrong with it?" he demanded of the ghostly Irene. "It's clean, fed, and I've checked three times to see if anything's sticking into it!"

Irene blinked at him. "What makes you think I know?"

He gave her a suspicious look. "Because you had a child. I know. I checked."

"So? THAT one isn't mine. I don't know anything about it. I'd never even seen it before you brought it in this morning." Irene inspected the child-surrounded howl with some interest. "You should put him back in with his mother."

"No." Stryfe scowled, and dumped the squalling armful into the specially prepared criblike unit attached to what Irene privately called 'the big cloning machine'. Stryfe, being of quite unsound mind, called it Fred. Irene suspected that this was because he felt an affinity with it, being the product of a similar machine himself. She told herself she should be glad he didn't call it 'mummy'.

"If you clone him now, you're going to get a very bad-tempered duplicate," was Irene's opinion.

Stryfe snorted. "You obviously know nothing about cloning," he scoffed. He tapped a button, the crib retracted into its casing. "Fred, give me a medium well done, one egg, hold the sauce."

There was a moment of utter silence.

"Please tell me you didn't just tell Fred to cook the baby," Irene said weakly.

"Of course not," Stryfe scoffed. "It's code. Medium well done means I want the clone the same age as the baby, one egg means only one, and hold the sauce means I don't want any modifications made." He beamed. "Clever, isn't it? This way I'm the only one who can use it. Of course, I had to calibrate it beforehand, but it won't work unless I give the right codewords. And you'd have to be crazy to say 'medium well done' to a machine with a baby in it."

"You're absolutely right," Irene agreed fervently.

"Of course I am." Stryfe smiled complacently. "The infant's even in a cosy little stasis field until it's done, so we don't have to feed it until the procedure's over."

Something occurred to Irene, and she frowned thoughtfully. "What about Jubilee? She's going to produce a lot of milk in four days. You can't just leave her unconscious the entire time. She'll get mastitis, for a start."

Stryfe brandished a small device that looked suspiciously like something he shouldn't be holding at all, in any way, ever. "I can and I will. We're going to need to feed the clone something in the first few days, and it's a proven fact that babies fed breast-milk are healthier and more intelligent." Yup. It was a breast-pump. Ewwwww. Making a face, Irene comforted herself with the knowledge that it really was in the clone-baby's best interests, and that Jubilee was never going to know.

* * *

Jubilee sat up, wincing. Her breasts were heavy and a little sore, which meant that she and Logan had both slept through feeding time. She'd better go get him. Yawning, she sat up and automatically reached for her robe. Now, Jubilee had three children, and over the past seven years she'd perfected the art of performing routine tasks in her sleep. Her fond husband often swore he'd once seen her feed their daughter, change her, and rock her to sleep without opening her eyes. All this being so, it wasn't until her reaching hand encountered a metallic-something-that-didn't-belong that she opened her eyes and actually woke up.

The metallic something-that-didn't-belong was a metal stand supporting a drip. The end of the drip's plastic tube was, predictably, attached to a large needle embedded in her arm. With due caution, she pulled it out, and looked around. She was in one of the usual small, featureless rooms, sitting up in a medbed that was rather softer and more comfortable than usual, with a blanket tucked in around her and・ she blinked. She had little woolly socks on her feet. She pulled them out from under the blanket and looked at them. That was very weird. Not the fact that she was wearing socks to bed - she did that all the time, otherwise Angelo complained about her freezing toes. The weird part was that someone, probably a supervillain, had kidnapped her and taken her baby, sedated her, and then tucked her up in a comfy bed and put little woolly socks on her feet so they wouldn't get cold.

The fact that one sock was blue, the other was striped red and grey, and both were much too big only added to the wierdness.

But that didn't matter now. Jubilee needed to find her baby, herself, and a way out, in that order, and all else was secondary・ what she'd thought was a hospital gown was, in fact, an extra large t-shirt. A t-shirt which, by the smell of it, belonged to a large male person, who was probably single, since he definitely wasn't using deodorant with any regularity. Unimportant. She had to find her baby.

Having removed the socks, she looked around for cameras, monitors, or anything else suspicious. Nothing. Naturally she was locked in, but that didn't pose much of a problem to a woman who'd spent her formative years in a fond but highly competitive friendship with one of the best thieves in the world. Especially when she'd just pulled a small but effective lock-picking tool out of the big vein in her arm.

The electronic lock offered her a choice of a two minute breakout with alarms, or a fifteen minute one without. She took the fifteen minute option, and was out in twelve, a new record.

Out, though, wasn't a whole lot different than in. Same white walls, same white ceiling, same lights in the ceiling, same cold metal floor, same・ well, you get the picture. Out, however, was a bit longer, culminated in a T-intersection with another hallway, and had more doors in it. No visible surveillance equipment, but that didn't mean there wasn't any・ still, no point in worrying about that now. She tiptoed down the hall, clutching the billowy t-shirt tightly around herself. If there WAS anyone watching, no point in giving them a free show.

The first door she passed swished open as she went by, and instinctively she dived out of the way, scrambling to flatten herself against the wall. <*Not bad for a mom who ain't been on active duty for seven years now・*> Her damaged knee twinged, reminding her *why* she hadn't been on active duty since her oldest son had been born. Despite all the physiotherapy, and more than one bout of corrective surgery, her knee had never really recovered from the car accident that had so nearly ended her pregnancy tragically early.

Peeking around the door, she discovered・ nothing. Just an empty room exactly like the one she'd just left. All that adrenaline wasted. She padded silently down the hall, hardly jumping at all when the second door whooshed open to reveal another empty room. The third door, this one on the other side, slid open to reveal a larger room with several beds instead of just one・ all empty.

The opening of the fourth door was accompanied by a familiar gurgling cry.

"Logan!!" Aching knee forgotten, she dashed into the room. There he was, her own precious little boy, nestled in a small box settled carefully in the center of yet another med-bed thing. She scooped him up, simultaneously cuddling him close and anxiously checking him for owies of any kind. He seemed fine・ the only mark of any kind she could find on him was the half-healed scratch he'd picked up two days ago trying to grab her fork on its way to her mouth.

Hold on a second・ something wasn't quite right here. Jubilee perched on the edge of the bed, kissing her baby's fuzzy head absently. Logan's cut hadn't healed at all from the last time she'd seen him, which would seem to indicate that it hadn't been very long. On the other hand, the needle-wound in her arm was *also* half healed, indicating that it'd been in there for a while・ she peeked down the front of her shirt. No mastitis. Either her arm had healed REALLY fast, or someone had done something about her surplus milk・ ew. She really didn't want to think about that.

Either way, something really screwy was going on here.

Logan grizzled softly, turning his head to nuzzle at her, and she smiled softly. "You want some breakfast, huh? Now ain't a good time, sweetheart, but soon, okay?" She settled him against her shoulder, in the same hold she always used when she was looking for a good spot to feed him. He quieted, nestling his face trustingly into her neck, and her heart twisted. This was all too weird, and too easy, but she was going to get them out. She had to.

* * *

"Perfect." Stryfe rubbed his hands together. Then he winced. "Irene, take a memo. I shouldn't rub my hands together when I'm only wearing ONE spiky glove."

"Right. The bandages are still on the floor where you left them."

Stryfe carefully applied a Reptar band-aid to his palm, then checked again on Jubilee's progress. She was padding cautiously down the hall, baby cradled against her shoulder. "Good, she's headed right for the escape pod."

Irene rolled her eyes. "Stryfe, she HAS to be headed right for the escape pod. You put one at the end of every single corridor." There were, in fact, five of them. Not to mention seventeen empty 'medical' rooms, three broom closets, and two babies. (Stryfe had decided it would be more 'fair' to give her a fifty/fifty chance of getting the right child back. It didn't really matter to him - either way, he'd have footage of her leaving 'without' the other baby, for use in warping the child's mind later)

"Well, I don't want to have to keep feeding her," Stryfe said resonably. "And if I just let her go it'd look suspicious."

Well, she couldn't argue with that・ not that kidnapping mother and child wasn't suspicious in the *first* place, but she wasn't going to bring THAT up. "So why the elaborate setup? It must have taken you weeks to wall off that section of the base, not to mention setting all the doors up with motion sensors, mocking up thirty-four individual medical units and-."

"Sh. It's all part of the plan."

"You couldn't have planned a crib or two?"

Stryfe looked injured. "I'll have you know that I planned the *lack* of cribs very carefully. It implies that I was ready for her and not for the baby, which in turn implies that she's the one I wanted all along and the baby had nothing to do with it and was completely incidental. I was being *cunning*."

"Oh. Well, I suppose that makes sense." She peered at the monitor. "Stryfe?"

"No more silly questions," he pouted. "This is the Final Stage of my plan I'm implementing, and-"

"Stryfe-" She wasn't really afraid of him anymore. He couldn't do anything to hurt her and he was constitutionally incapable of ignoring her, so about all she had to worry about was the way he never bloody well shut up.

"I'm serious, Irene. One more squeak and I'm tying Mystique's brain in a knot under her chin." *That*, on the other hand, was a functional threat, and Irene clamped her mouth shut immediately.

He'd find out Jubilee was going the wrong way soon enough.

* * *

Jubilee, meanwhile, had discovered something very interesting at a particular intersection. If she went one way, Logan cried. If she went the other way, he didn't. The vexing thing was, of course, that he cried every time she walked towards the neatly labeled escape pod, he started to wail, and every time she turned down the dead-end corridor, he stopped.

Mostly out of curiosity, she followed her son's lead and padded down the corridor, hitching up the shirt-neck that was sliding off her shoulder and down her arm. Half-way down, he started to sniffle again. By the simple means of holding him up to every door, she located the one he liked・which didn't conveniently whoosh open like the others, but that was all right. There was a little button right there.

*click* <*whoosh*>

A box. On a bed. With a baby in it.

That looked just exactly like *her* baby.

Jubilee sat down on the bed and considered fainting.

Logan was gurgling happily, and the unidentified duplicate made a sleepy little noise. Without even thinking about it, Jubilee laid her free hand on his rounded stomach, rubbing gently. The baby cooed softly, and the sound cut straight to her heart. She scooted back until she was sitting crosslegged on the bed, and laid Logan on her lap, then lifted the new baby gently in her arms.

They might be identical, but she would have known in an instant that this was not the baby she'd given birth to. Logan *knew* her. His little face lit up the moment he saw her, because she was his mommy, and he knew she was. This one *looked* two months old, but he still had the wide-eyed, questioning expression of a newborn. More to the point, of *her* newborn. She cuddled him gently, her heart melting as she touched the soft, fuzzy head with careful, reverent fingers. He was so beautiful・ just like Logan・

He was a clone, obviously. For whatever reason, someone had kidnapped her to clone her baby. And this was the clone. And clones usually meant trouble・

・but she didn't care. He was just a tiny, defenseless baby, and he was *her* baby, and come hell or high water, she was going to take care of him. She kissed the high, domed forehead tenderly, and was rewarded with a soft sigh and a little snuggle. *Ooooooohhhhhh・・*!!

* * *

By the time Stryfe spotted the renegade mother again, she'd stolen a blanket from one of the beds and rigged a sling so she could carry both babies at once.

"*NO!!!!*" He screamed furiously, slamming a metal-clad fist into the wall, which buckled. "YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT!!!! YOU CAN'T TAKE BOTH OF THEM・" his voice trailed off, and he regained his grip on his temper. Instead, he smiled a very unpleasant smile. "That's right. You *can't* take both of them." He sniggered. "This should be・ interesting."

* * *

Two slots. Three people. Two slots. Three people.


Jubilee bounced the babies absently as she stared at the escape pod, trying to will another space into existence. It was pretty basic stuff・ seriously adjustable seat combined with stasis-field, so that anything smaller than a llama and larger than an amoeba could be safely contained and transported. Unfortunately, there was no way you could put two separate lifeforms into one field and reasonably expect them to still *be* two separate lifeforms at the other end. The potential forces involved were just too great.

"What a dilemma for you, Mrs Espinosa," a grating, distorted voice issued from somewhere above her. "You can only take one. Which one will it be? How will you ever know if you've got the right one?"

Jubilee snorted. "Well, at a guess, because only one of them has a little tiny scar behind his ear, a cut on his hand, and recognizes me? Duh! What kind of mother do you think I *am*?" She cuddled the babies protectively. "Anyway, I'm not leaving either of them behind."

"You'll have to," the Voice said nastily. "One for you, and one for me. Fair's fair, isn't it?" A high-pitched, insane giggle drifted down from the hidden speaker. "Go on. Just put the clone down, and climb in. I won't stop you, I promise. Cross my heart!"

Jubilee shivered, arms tightning around those two tiny, defenseless little bodies. "Noooo way. Nuh-uh."

"Now, you're just being silly," the Voice chided merrily. "All you have to do is take your own baby, hop into that nice little pod, and you're on your way home! Don't you want to see your family again? Your loving husband, and that precious little son and daughter? Of course you do. They'll find you *very* quickly, once you leave the base, of course・ since that scar that you mentioned hides your son's locator beacon, doesn't it? Very clever, dear."

"Glad you liked it," Jubilee muttered. There was something awfully familiar about that voice...

"Oh, I did. Just like tagging your pet, isn't it? So you can find the little dear if it runs away." The Voice lost its syrupy tone and hardened abruptly. "I'm losing my patience with you, young lady. Take your brat and get into the pod, or I might have to do something・ rash."

"Okay, okay!" What could she do? She only had one acceptable alternative・ and, gritting her teeth, she untied the sling from around her neck, laying the blanket, and both babies, gently on the floor. Picking Logan up, it was the work of but a moment for her to settle him safely in the stasis-field.

"Good girl. I'm so glad you're seeing reason." Although he had to admit, in the privacy of his own mind, Stryfe was a little disappointed she'd given in so easily. She'd seemed like such a caring, devoted mother.

Jubilee knelt, scooping the unnamed clone into her arms. "Byebye, baby," she murmured, letting her voice choke up with tears. "Seems like we're not gonna have long together・ Guess you're too young to say 'rescue party', huh?" She kissed his forehead gently. "Can you say 'mommy'?"

"Yes, yes, get on with it," Stryfe snapped. Too much sentiment, not enough abandonment! He'd have to edit this part out before he showed it to the child.

"Fine, fine. Have it your way." Jubilee closed her eyes, and deliberately dropped her shields, broadcasting her strongest 'package'. Emma had taught all her students how to create and broadcast an emotional 'package', crafted from the worst, most painful emotions and memories they had. The idea was that any telepath within range, unless they were completely shielded, would be hit hard with a concentrated dose of negative emotion - a distracting experience for anyone. She was counting on it to distract Stryfe・ it had to be Stryfe・ for just long enough.

The 'package' hit Stryfe hard enough to incapacitate a lesser telepath - or one with fewer painful memories of his own. As it was, he blinked, shook his head a couple of times, and refocused his eyes just in time to see Jubilee closing the pod・ from the outside. She couldn't be・ she wouldn't have・

・put both babies in the pod?

Leaving herself, as far as she knew, with no way to escape?

For a clone?


And yet・ true.

Not really all that far away, Jubilee took a deep breath, and, not giving herself time to think about it, yanked on the manual release. The one you weren't ever supposed to touch.

The one that went boom.

* * *

"Trace!" Kitty yelped, hands flying over the keyboard. "Ange, I've got Logan!"

"Where?!" Angelo practically climbed into his partner's lap trying to see. "That's close!"

"Yes, I know, and if you'll get back in your seat we'll be there faster," Kitty snapped, but without rancour. They'd been working (and inventing) together for years now, he creating hardware, she software, and she knew maybe better than anyone else how important his family was to him. One of their first combined projects, in fact, had been the miniaturized tracers all the kids were seeded with. Angelo had started the project the day after his oldest son, Michael, had gotten lost on a school field-trip.

Angelo slid into his seat, resting one hand on the Blackbird's console. "Come on, baby・" he whispered coaxingly. "I practically built you, I know you can fly faster than this・"

It seemed like hours to him, but in reality it was barely twenty minutes before the heavily modified Blackbird reached the source of the cheery little ping. About a second after that, Angelo was out of the plane and racing towards・ a standard escape pod. <*Oh God oh God oh God let them be all right please let them be all right I'll never skip another Mass I swear just let my wife and baby be okay please please・*> Fingers scrabbling at the hatch, hauling frantically on the handle, black marks scorching across it means a manual release・ <*Please God let them be all right let it have been from the inside please oh God please・*>

The hatch released, opening agonizingly slowly, and even before Angelo could see he could hear the whimpering cries of an annoyed but not injured baby. <*Oh, thank God・*> He peered inside, and his heart shriveled inside him. No Jubilee. Two babies (two?) but no Jubilee! He unsealed the whimpering baby with shaking hands, cradling it tenderly as he tried to focus on the face.

Not Logan. He knew it immediately. The likeness was nothing short of uncanny, but this baby with a newborn's eyes wasn't the one he knew・ and who knew him. The baby snuffled a little, and his breath caught in his chest. Such a tiny, helpless little thing・ he rocked him gently, murmuring soothing nonsense as he looked down at the other little form. Logan, true to character, had slept through the whole thing. Jubilee had often joked that she'd given birth to a sloth, not a baby at all・


Kitty was beside him, saying something incomprehensible as Angelo rocked the baby numbly. He couldn't hear her, couldn't think, could hardly breathe・ he couldn't lose Jubilee, he couldn't, how could he live without her?

There was a strange light, and an indescribable sound, and they both turned.

A huge armoured figure was standing between them and the Blackbird, but who cared? He was a psychopathic villain who'd done more for world-sickness than a million plague-carrying fleas, but what did that matter? He was holding Jubilee in those spiky, metal clad arms and she was battered and scorched and bleeding but she was *alive*!

Angelo carefully deposited the new baby in Kitty's arms, and walked steadily across the grass until he was looking Stryfe square in the chest. Then he held out his arms. Didn't say anything, just held out his arms for his wife with an expression that said you'd *better* not make me ask you, buddy.

Equally silently, Stryfe laid the unconscious body in her husband's arms, then disappeared. Angelo ignored him, crooning and murmuring endearments as he cradled his beloved close. She opened her eyes, wincing a little, and he smiled tenderly. "You're back, preciosa・"

She blinked, eyes focusing on his face. "Th・th' babies・" she managed weakly.

"They're fine," he mumured, rocking her a little. "They're just fine. And we're going straight back to the mansion right now so you can be fine too."

"Good," Jubilee agreed muzzily. "Feed th' babies on th' way."

"You think?" he asked uncertainly. "Think it'd make them feel better?"

She managed a weak grin. "T'd sure・ make *me*.. feel better. Ow."

End Chapter Two