Dammed Time and Damned Time : Part Five

by Dyce

Note: Disclaimers in previous parts. Yes, I know it's been forever since I posted a DT&DT segment. I'm sorry. But I've finished MiBM (FINALLY!) and Rising Sun and DT&DT are next on the list. Really. I promise, this time. If you've forgotten All That Came Before, you can find the first four parts at http://jenali.hispeed.com/dayspring/index.htm

For the sake of readers actually knowing what's going on, here's a quick glossary of the fiddlier punctuation bits.

<*This is telepathic speech*>

**This is thinking**

"*This is in Spanish*"



Michael patiently pulled his brother's fingers away from his glasses for the fifth time. "No, Logan. Michael's glasses. No touch."

Little Logan scowled. Mateo, sitting on Michael's other side, looked at his 'twin' inquiringly. Michael sighed. "I can't hear you, Logan. Vocal, please." That was the primary reason why the eight-year-old Michael spent so much time looking after his little brothers - not that he minded. He very much enjoyed the time he spent with the 'twins', who at nineteen months were at the height of what Uncle Bobby called the Toddle-Babble-and-Grab stage. They were utterly adorable, and everyone enjoyed spending time with them.

Michael, however, was the only readily available human. After years of study, it had been pretty much established that almost all mutants were psi-sensitive to some degree. From Iceman's marginally empathic cheering-up talent to Wolverine with his heightened instincts to Michael's mother whose sensitivity was so high that she was almost a tepe herself, they all had some little mental extra. Which of course made it easy for the twins to speak telepathically and ignore all that bother with the vocal chords altogether. Michael, on the other hand, was not only headblind but had fairly strong natural shields, so even when the twins 'shouted' mentally, he couldn't hear them. By the twins' own rather incisive logic, he was therefore the only one who was entitled to demand vocals. Everyone else got teped whether they liked it or not, since it's very difficult to explain psionic etiquette to a toddler who knows you can hear him and is going to bite your leg if you keep ignoring him.

Logan scowled even harder. Matt heaved a deep sigh and leaned his head on his big brother's arm. "We hungry," he explained.

"Okay." Michael poked Logan's round stomach gently. "But Logan has to vocalize first."

There was just no reasoning with Big People. "*Yogan snack*," Logan said firmly.

"*All right,*" Michael agreed, closing the book he'd been reading to them and standing up. "*Come on, then.*" Taking a small grubby hand in each of his own, he walked very slowly to the sliding doors that led into the Mansion kitchen. He hoisted the twins over the doorsill by the simple expedient of tightening his grip on their hands and raising his arms until their feet left the ground, then sat them down at the small table installed for precisely this purpose. Then he inspected the large StayFresh(tm) snack platter, which was regularly stocked with fruit, cheese, and crackers, and left on a low bench. (This was a measure instigated by Everett Thomas when the kid-population had hit seven. There was, he argued, far too much else to do for him to fritter around making a dozen snacks a day. Just leave some banana slices and carrot sticks where the kids can reach 'em, he'd said firmly, and they'd snack themselves. It was, after all, patently ridiculous to expect someone with a stomach the size of a small breadroll to get enough food in only three meals a day, and no growing toddler was going to 'spoil' his or her dinner with a cheese-cube and half a preloved slice of apple.)

"Peets?" Matt asked hopefully. The twins didn't have all their teeth yet by a long shot, and still tended towards snacks that could be gummed. This did not, however, mean that they didn't have strongly-held and (in Logan's case) voiced opinions on what they liked.

Michael fished a slice of fresh peach out of the mix and passed it to his brother along with a small cube of cheese. One piece for each hand and no more was the rule when it came to snacks, and never mind if you dropped a bit, you could just dust it off. "Logan?"

"Nananana for Yogan." Logan decided after a minute. He got two pieces, since giving Logan something he hadn't asked for was pretty much a waste of effort, and Michael foraged in the fridge for a carrot. (The older kids were allowed to get their own snacks out of the fridge, provided that they only ate the same things that were available on the plate. They'd lobbied hard for this privilege, and won on the argument that only taking two pieces wasn't much good when it took four to make a mouthful).

Adult-weight footsteps padded across the floor behind him, and he heard the kettle being switched on. "Michael, could you get the milk while you're there?"

"Sure, Uncle Scott." Michael poked around in the half-cream, skim, low-fat, high-protein, and extra-calcium milks until he located a small carton of plain moo-juice. "Here."

"Thank you." Scott Summers rubbed his temple tiredly, mustering a small smile. He was always polite, even to the smallest members of the enormous X-Family. Michael approved of that.

"You're welcome." Scott wasn't the only one with good manners built in at the genetic level. "Do you need anything else? There's cake in here."

Scott shook his head. "No, I just need some coffee. But thank you."

Michael nodded, looked around, and sighed. "Logan, I don't care what the elephant on tv told you, you can't eat through your nose." Logan sneezed, spraying half the room with banana. "See?" Automatically, he reached for a cloth.

"I'll give you a hand," Scott said in his quiet voice. There was a bit of grey in the brown hair now, and his shoulders were a little stooped, but other than that he hadn't really changed in as long as Michael could remember.

"Okay." Michael shrugged.

Scott looked at him, almost eye to eye with the boy as he knelt on the floor. He saw a slightly unruly shock of black hair, steady hazel eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, and a sober expression that only rarely lit up with his mother's quirky smile, atop a body a little tall for his age that was already solidly muscled after years of training sessions with his grandfather. "Listen, Michael... Jean and I are going away for a while. To Muir. Rachel's going to be staying with your folks. Can you be extra-nice to her? She's upset because we're not taking her with us, and I understand why she would be, but she really can't come this time."

Michael inspected the older man with the calm attention he gave everything. "Okay. I'll take care of her," he promised gravely. "I hope Chrissy feels better."

Uncle Scott's jaw tensed, but he managed a respectable smile. "I hope so too," he said seriously.

"I'll put her in my prayers," Michael offered, hoping that would make Uncle Scott feel better.

It didn't seem to. The tension was still there. "I appreciate that," he said sincerely.

"I know you don't believe in God," Michael said hastily, realizing why the older man might be twitchy about the idea. "But that's okay. I do."

Uncle Scott blinked down at him in surprise. "You're right. I don't." He glanced at the twins, who were absorbed in smearing food all over themselves. "If you don't mind me asking... why do you? You've always seemed more interested in logic than in matters of faith. No offense."

"Papa gave me verifiable facts," Michael explained. "He told me that when he was a kid, his life was bad. Then he found out he was a mutant, and things got worse than ever, and he stopped believing. Then he found out that if all the bad stuff hadn't happened, he never would have met Mama and had me. He says that was the hand of God. He can't change the bad things people do to each other, but sometimes He can make good things come out of the bad ones."

Uncle Scott nodded slowly. "That makes sense," he agreed, patting Michael's shoulder briefly. "I appreciate you wishing Chrissy well," he said softly. "Please tell Rachel that her mother and I will miss her."

"You should tell her that yourself," Michael pointed out, frowning a little. Uncle Scott and Aunt Jean really didn't talk to Rachel enough. She'd be much happier... or at least easier in her mind... if they told her what was really going on, and how sick Chrissy really was.

"I will if I have time," was all Uncle Scott would promise, and then he took his coffee and walked away.

Michael inspected the twins a little anxiously as they got the maximum possible enjoyment out of their food. They looked quite healthy. He hoped they stayed that way.

* * *

"<<*Hush・ hush・ rest, little one・*>>" Zoe stroked her newborn son's head gently. He fussed quietly, a discontented expression on his little face.

"< >" Rachel observed. Like all the children, she was as fluent in Greek and Spanish as she was in English - a natural outgrowth of having heard the languages spoken every day since babyhood. English was Zoe's second language anyway, and she was more comfortable with Greek. "<>"

"<>" Zoe rubbed the small back. "< >"

"<>" Rachel kissed her honourary aunt dutifully, and headed for the lift. If she was lucky, Michael and Robbie were finishing up their own 'enrichment' lecture, studying literature with Uncle Hank.

She caught them in the lower halls, Robbie chattering about how terribly dull classic literature was, and Michael listening with his usual serene expression. She loved that expression. She loved the peaceful certainty he exuded, the calm conviction that everything would, eventually, be all right. It made the confused anger and frustration inside her melt away, even on a day like today. "Hi, guys."

"Hi!" Robbie chirped, all six-year-old bounce.

"Hola," Michael said, automatically taking her books. If his papa saw him letting a girl carry around a big heavy volume of poetry while he wasn't carrying anything, there'd be trouble, Rachel knew. Tio Angelo was sweet, in a parochial way. Then Michael looked more closely at her. "*Is something wrong?*"

"No." She deliberately changed to English, observing the informal, unwritten code that had evolved among them. Greek was for discussion and problems. Spanish was for affection and for confidences. English was for jokes, the mundane・ and lies. "Nothing's wrong. My mom and dad are taking Chrissy to Muir again, that's all, and I'm gonna stay with you and your folks."

"I see." Michael didn't question further・ he never did・ but he took her hand gently in his, squeezing lightly. "The twins will be happy."

She squeezed back. "Thanks. I like staying at your house."

"*I like it too,*" he said with a rare, affectionate smile. "*We're best friends, aren't we?*"

"*Yes, we are.*" She smiled back. Michael was the best best friend in the whole world. He never got mad unless they were having the fun kind of fight, he was always there when she needed him, and he *always* paid attention to her.

* * *

Tia Jubilee and Tio Angelo were, as always, comfortably welcoming, sliding her into their family as if she belonged there. She shared Alanna's room and Michael's Playstation, showered on her own but had her school lunch made for her. And nobody was sick, and everybody had time for her - even Tio Angelo, who worked hard making sure everything on the estate worked right. Having Mom and Dad away again was worrying, especially so soon after last time, but she didn't mind too much. The Other House sometimes felt more like home than the Mansion did.

"Why is it called the Other House?" she asked that Sunday morning, on the way home from Mass. Tia Jubilee hadn't come, because Aunt Zoe liked to go to the services at the Greek Orthodox church, and someone had to take care of the babies. And the twins were still too young. But Angelo had let Rachel come along with him and Michael and Alanna.

"Because that's what it is," Angelo said mildly, absently reaching behind him to tighten Alanna's seatbelt. "It was built when Michael was a baby, before you were born, for him and Jubilee and me." He grinned wryly. "You know how much better I get on with Chuckles and the rest when I'm not living with them." Rachel giggled. "Right. Anyway, there was already the Mansion and the Boathouse, so then the Other House, you see? The Little House didn't come until later."

"That makes sense, I guess." Rachel fingered the small silver cross that hung around her neck, a slightly surreptitious birthday gift that her parents probably didn't know about. "Do you go to Mass every Sunday?"

"No, but often." An extended grey finger brushed her hand and Alanna's cheek gently. "Sometimes I go at another time, when the church is empty."


"Why do I go, or why do I go when it's empty?"


Angelo looked thoughtful, eyes never wavering from the road. "I go when it's empty because I go there to pray, not to be preached at. It's more・ personal, I guess." He reached back to pat her knee. "And I go because I'm thankful, and I want to let God know."

"Thankful for what?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Rachel realized she might be overstepping even Tio Angelo's loosely tolerant boundaries. "I mean, if you want to tell me・"

"It's okay, angel," he said reassuringly. "I don't mind talking about it. I'm thankful for a lot of things・ Jubilee, our children, our home, our friends・" Their eyes met in the rearview mirror, and he smiled gently at her. "Even you."

"Me?" Rachel was surprised and gratified. In her limited experience (and you couldn't hide these things from a telepath, however young) the only thing most people were thankful for about her was that she went home at the end of the school day and they didn't have to teach her again until tomorrow.

"Si, sure. I count you." He mad an amiably rude gesture at a fellow motorist who was trying to pass him in a place where no sane person would try to pass. "I'd be thankful for road-safety, too, if there was any."

Rachel giggled. "Be thankful we've got brakes that work."

Angelo pointed to the small wooden cross dangling from the rearview mirror. "Daily. Also that the steering doesn't fail unexpectedly."

Michael sighed quietly. "Dad, it doesn't fail because you're a mechanic and you check it every week."

"What's your point?"

* * *

Jubilee patted her hair absently. Even though she knew that it'd just get in the way right now, she felt naked without at least one child somewhere about her person. Oh, sure, they were all getting big now, but she was used to having them. Sitting here all alone in the police-station, she was pursued by the constant nagging feeling that she'd put something down and forgotten about it - the same feeling which applies to all things lost, be they umbrellas, handbags, or toddlers. She looked around, and hoped that none of her sons or daughters wound up in here.

Of course, technically she only had one daughter, since Rachel and Joy weren't actually hers, but since Joy was her goddaughter and Rachel might as well be, given how much time she spent staying with them. So she lumped them in with Alanna for worrying purposes. Mind you, if any of her children were going to turn out wild, it'd be Logan. What she'd been thinking when she named him after Wolvie・

"Mrs Espinosa?" Jubilee looked up to see a rather rumpled police officer looking at her with a harried expression.

"That's me." She was used to the rather puzzled expression people got when she answered to her married name, and smiled sunnily. "I got a call to come down. I'm here to see a・ Carla? Is that right?"

The rumpled man nodded. "I'm not quite clear on why you were called, ma'am, I admit it, but the sergeant who brought her in-"

Jubilee nodded. "It's happened a few times now," she smiled, trying to look responsible and trustworthy. "I represent an organization that・ helps in these cases."

The puzzled look cleared. "Right. Well・ if you'll come this way・"

Jubilee followed, smiling. This was her first official call, and it was a clear sign that things were working according to plan. There was something about being tiny and a mother of four that made people trust her, even cops. Besides, she really did represent who she said she did.

He gestured her through a door. The girl was sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of a featureless room, her eyes puffy and her face streaked with tears. Her clothes were dirty and rumpled, and she was clutching convulsively at a dilapidated tissue. Jubilee instantly forgot all about the cop, years of instinct coming to the fore. "Carla?" she said softly. "Hi. I'm Jubilee Espinosa. I'm here to help you, honey, okay?"

The girl shook her head convulsively, not looking up. "I... I..." she whispered. "You don't understand."

"Living on the street at thirteen, pregnant at fifteen, currently a mother of four," Jubilee said mildly. "I can probably keep up. 's why I'm here."

The girl started to cry all over again, and Jubilee put a gentle arm around her. Poor thing wouldn't have been on the streets more than a week or two, and she was damn lucky the cops had picked her up when they had. She wouldn't have lasted long. "I'm sorry," the girl whimpered. "I j-just..."

Jubilee patted her back gently, looking over the bent shoulder at the cop. He sighed, rubbing a hand over his balding scalp. "She hasn't stopped crying since she got here," he said, sounding injured. "We picked her up a few hours ago, and she won't answer any questions, she won't tell us her last name or where she lives・"

"I see." Typical of the old serve-and-opress・ grabbing the poor girl before dawn, hauling her into a chilly interview room, expecting her to give her right name when any halfwit could see she'd been kicked out・ the body language was all wrong for a runaway・ Jubilee stroked the matted hair gently, her voice softening. "Carla, what's wrong? Why aren't you at home?"

"M-my mom kicked me o-out," Carla sobbed. "She t-told me n-never t-to come b-back・"

Jubilee's lips tightened, and she paid attention to the small cross hanging around the girl's neck and the defensive way she huddled in on herself. "Carla・ are you pregnant?" she asked gently.

"I th-think so・" the girl sniffled. "B-but I d-didn't mean to・ I didn't・"

Jubilee closed her eyes. Oh, great. "Shh," she murmured now, rubbing the thin back gently. "It's okay, sweetie. It's not so bad."

"B-but Mom s-said・ she s-said that I'd d-defiled myself in the e-eyes of G-God・" Carla sobbed.

"I'm sure He won't hold it against you." Jubilee said firmly. "God's a very forgiving guy." She gave the girl a clean hanky. "Okay, now・ how did this happen?" She cracked a wry grin. "And by that I mean 'under what circumstances', not 'the usual way'. Don't worry, honey, I won't get mad at you."

Carla sniffled pathetically. "It was an accident," she said tearfully. "We were careful, every single time, but・"

"But there's always a failure rate." Jubilee patted her shoulder gently. "What about your boyfriend? Does he know about this?"

Carla shook her head, blowing her nose on the hanky. "He's overseas," she explained. "On an exchange program. He's really smart." Her weary, grubby face softened. "I know that if he knew, he'd・ I dunno・ write to his parents or something・ but I don't have his new address. It's at home, and I didn't have time to get anything before Mom and Dad threw me out・" She started to cry again.

Jubilee put a soothing arm around her shoulders. "All right. If he's on an exchange program, we can probably get his address through the school. Maybe even a phone number. You wanna talk to him?" Carla promptly started to bawl, nodding and hiding her face in Jubilee's shirt. "I'll take that as a yes. Okay. And I'll talk to your Mom and Dad."

Carla lifted her head, stopping in mid sob to stare at Jubilee with utter shock. "Oh, but you can't・" She looked at Jubilee, and trailed off. Jubilee could feel her grimmest expression settling in, the one that even cowed Wolvie.

"Oh, I can. Believe me, I can." Mrs Espinosa smiled a very nasty smile. "I've dealt with much scarier things than your Mom and Dad."

* * *

"Mrs Winters?" Jubilee smiled her sweetest, most trustworthy smile. She'd carefully dressed in a long, daintily floral dress, with the pretty gold cross that Angelo had given her around her neck, a bulky Practical Mommy Purse over her shoulder and her hair in a braid down her back. "Could I have a word with you? I'm sorry to bother you so late, but it is important." She could see the rather grim-faced older woman sizing her up, saw the cross ever so slightly outweigh the asian features, and smiled again while muttering some very obscene insults in the privacy of her own skull.

"All right," Mrs Winters said after a long moment, opening the door. "I'm afraid I don't have long, supper will need to come out of the oven soon・"

"Of course. This won't take long." Jubilee spotted the neatly-suited middle-aged man who was in the middle of ducking into what was probably a study or something, and raised her voice ever so slightly. "Mr Winters, I'm glad I've caught you both at home. Could we perhaps have just a tiny word?" She shook her head and chuckled deprecatingly. "Oh, I'm so sorry・ I'm Jubilee Espinosa. I'm here to speak to you about your daughter."

Both of the withered up old prats froze up when she mentioned Carla. "I'm afraid Carla isn't here just now," the man said, giving her a rather icy look.

"I know. She's at my house." Jubilee plopped herself down on a couch, and smiled seraphically at both of them. "That's why I'm here."

They both stared at her.

Jubilee allowed her expression to become gently sorrowful. "It's a terrible thing when families fall out," she said gravely. "I came here hoping that I could help you and Carla resolve your differences."

Both of them remained standing. "Did she tell you why she is no longer welcome in our home?" Carla's mother asked grimly.

"Yes. I understand that she's going to have a baby." Jubilee's sorrowful expression deepened. "I find it hard to believe, Mrs Winters, that two such devout persons as you and your husband could so disregard the compassion that is the duty of every truly Christian soul, and reject your own child so harshly, instead of forgiving her and helping her to regain her faith and trust in God." She touched the cross around her neck as if for comfort.

Both jaws tightened. "She has let us down," Mr Winters gritted out. "She has defiled herself in the eyes of God, fallen into sinfulness and turned her back on our faith."

"She is young," Jubilee said mildly. "And the young frequently make mistakes. I did so myself."

Mrs Winters raised an eyebrow. "I certainly hope, Mrs Espinosa, that you would not have・ done what Carla has done."

"Oh, no. Not deliberately." Jubilee folded her hands piously in her lap. "But I・ fell in with a bad crowd, you might say. A gang, of sorts. And because I was associating with these people, I made myself a target." She gave them a sad, rather reproachful look. "I was・ attacked. And I concieved a child, when I was rather younger than Carla is now."

"Oh," Mrs Winters said, rather aimlessly. That one was always a good conversation stopper.

"Fortunately for me, I had already met my husband・ who is an absolute saint, Mrs Winters, believe me. He understood that what had happened to me was not my fault, and that of course I would never consider aborting my child. HE could not be held guilty for his father's sins, now could he? Angelo understood that, and we were married shortly afterwards." Jubilee let her eyes get misty and her voice get warm. "He has always been like a father to Michael."

Oh firmer ground here, Mrs Winters nodded her agreement. "To take the life of an innocent child would of course have been a dreadful sin," she said firmly. "It is to his credit that he was willing to be a father to a child that was not his own."

Jubilee nodded seriously, wondering how on earth anyone could be so narrow-minded. "I never cease to be thankful for my good fortune," she agreed. "But I must say, Mrs Winters, that I feel you have been too hard on Carla. Certainly she has made a grievous mistake, but again, she is young, and the young do make mistakes. In the spirit of Christian charity・"

"We will not condone her actions," Mr Winters said sternly. He stuck his chin out, the picture of stupid, narrow-minded self-righteousness, and Jubilee wished silently that she could poke his eyes out with a spoon.

"I understand," she said instead, gritting her teeth into a sweet smile. "With your permission, then, I'll make arrangements for Carla. To have her turned out on the streets, well・" She made a little moue of distaste. "It is so uncharitable, don't you think? I know of a wonderful institution that accepts these unfortunate cases. Taking care of the girls, making sure they and their babies don't come to any・ harm."

Mrs Winters seemed to soften a tiny bit. "And this institution・ Carla would be well taken care of?"

"Oh, yes," Jubilee assured her, smiling her saintliest smile. "Her body and soul would both be cared for, and a good home found for her child. Believe me, I know these people personally. Carla would be cared for very well, and God brought back into her heart."

Five minutes later she was back out on the sidwalk, a collection of signed papers in her handbag. Carla's parents had been absolutely delighted to hand her over to a respectable Christian institution where she and their grandchild would be cared for・ for free.

Jubilee opened her mobile and hit the speed-dial. "Emma? Yup, they signed everything. You're supposed to take care of her, find a good home for the baby, and put the fear of God in her."

"Don't I always?" Emma murmured sweetly.

Jubilee grinned. "Hey, if I didn't keep funnelling them to you, you might actually have to go out and LOOK for decent-if-human employees pitifully grateful to be employed, educated, and allowed to keep their babies."

"I would." Emma's voice was soft and a little regretful. Jubilee knew she was thinking about Alan, the baby she'd lost when she was sixteen. "Carla will be fine now."

* * *

From a great distance, Stryfe watched with a mixture of baffled amusement and fascination as the two he'd decided were about the best parents in the whole superhero community got ready for bed.

"It just makes me so NUTS!" Jubilee waved her hands illustratively. "How can anyone be so dementedly narrow-minded?"

"They're getting rarer," her husband said comfortingly, sliding his arms around her waist and kissing the top of her head. "You're gorgeous when you're indignant, you know that?"

She grinned, tickling his side as she snuggled into warm, comforting grey arms. "You think I'm gorgeous when I'm angry, happy, pregnant, flu-ridden, and drunk, too," she pointed out. "You're just out for sex."

"Always." Angelo grinned and kissed the tip of her nose. "And it always cheers you up."

"A bit, yeah." She sighed, good mood fading as fast as it had appeared. "God, those people, though・ you know, there was a time I felt guilty about this? Sending people off to work for Emma? Now I'm just glad she's there."

"She takes good care of them," Angelo nodded. "Even if she is, you know, an evil business shark."

"Gotta focus on the little picture," Jubilee agreed glumly. "Love you."

"Love you too." He pushed her gently down on the little stool in front of her dressing-table, and moved around behind her to rub her shoulders. "God, you're tense." He kissed the top of her head again. "As if having four kids, a surrogate, and me to deal with isn't enough for you."

"Oh, yeah. It's a struggle. I don't know how I make it through the day." Jubilee purred happily. "Mmm, more between the shoulderblades・ down a bit・ there, that's it. Mmmm・."

Angelo grinned as he expertly reduced his wife to happy putty. "You're so easy," he teased. "Hey. Logan offered to take the twins tomorrow. Imagine. A whole day, twin-free."

"Mh. Nice." Jubilee smiled, eyes closed. "I love the little monsters, but a day off'd be nice. What's Wolvie gonna do with them?"

"I'm not clear on whether he's trying to impress some female with his grandfatherly skills, or if that's just a ploy to get two cute little grandsons to himself all day," Angelo said solemnly, still massaging. "I offered to throw in Alanna, too, but he said no.'

"Darn." Jubilee tilted her head to allow him better access to her neck. "Oh, well. Michael and Rachel can keep an eye on her for a couple of hours." They grinned at each other in the big dressing-table mirror. "How was Rachel doing today?"

Angelo shrugged, frowning a little. "Quiet. Actually, she's been quiet ever since I took her to Mass yesterday."

Jubilee frowned too. "I thought she liked going to Mass."

"She does." Angelo shook his head in puzzlement. "She's nine. Is that too early for the puberty-weirdness?"

"Maybe she wants a run-up." Jubilee sighed, leaning her head back against his stomach. "Maybe she's upset about getting foisted off by her parents again. She spends almost as much time here as she does with them, and it can't be easy having both your parents fussing over your baby sister all the time."

"It could make a kid feel a bit unappreciated," Angelo agreed. "I know they're not doing it on purpose, but it wouldn't kill 'em to pay a little more attention to Ray."

"Rache, if you have to shorten it." Jubilee corrected absently. "Ray was the older one. Rachel has decided that she Hates The Older One With A Passion. Something about evil bitchtrolls, I wasn't really listening. Matt'd just puked at the time."

"That's pretty distracting," Angelo agreed, leaning down to kiss her softly. "You're a great mom, you know."

"Thanks," she smiled, returning the kiss. "You're a pretty great Dad."

"That's not all I'm great at," he grinned with mock boastfulness. "Ditch that robe and I'll prove it."

(End part five)

[Okay, guys, this is it. Gonna FINISH this puppy. No more character stuff, just action action action from here!]