The Dragon and St. Gambit

by Mercutio

SUMMARY: Strong language. After consummating his relationship with Jubilee, Wolverine discovers that Jubilee planned the whole thing and leaves her (see "Painting the Wolverine Red" at and "True Confessions of a Firecracker" at When Gambit decides to step in, will he make matters worse? Archivist's Note: This series is also archived at

ARCHIVE: Please. As often as possible and wherever you like.

NOTE: I made up the character of Astalon. No similarity to any other character of the same name is intended or implied.

NOTE: I made up Kiwi, Punkin and Astalon for the heck of it. No similarity between those characters and anybody with the same names is intended.

Part 1

"I'll hunt him down and then I'll kill him."

The reaction to this statement from the assembled members of Generation X was mixed at best. "How are you going to kill someone with a healing factor?" Paige asked scornfully. "Huh? You gotta find some way to get around that first."

"Much as it pains me to say this, she's right," Angelo replied, shaking his head. "And that's if he doesn't kill you first."

"I don't care," replied the quiet but determined voice.

Monet sat, perfectly composed, in one of the chairs in the library. "I fail to understand the necessity for violence. Some difficulty in love affairs is only to be expected."

They all rolled their eyes. "Like you'd know," Paige muttered.

"Exactly," Astalon replied. One of the younger members of Generation X, she was still deemed old enough to attend the impromptu meeting of the Save Jubilee society, unlike Kiwi and Punkin, who had been left out of this. No one really wanted to explain the facts of life to them. "M, you've sailed through every romance you've had. You're even engaged to a Harvard law graduate. *And* he's a real-life prince. C'mon, what do you know about romance?"

Monet turned away, and only a telepathic observer would have noticed any sign of pain. "I believe that my advice will be useful. If we form a plan, I am certain that I will be able to contribute meaningfully to it."

"What plan?" Angelo asked.

"To kill Wolverine," came the reply from the dark shape huddled into the ledge of one of the windows. The others had formed a loose semicircle around the window, showing their support without crowding the young man who was so in need of it at the moment. Everett raised his head from his arms, dark circles apparent under his eyes. Jubilee was not in the room. She existed in a sphere of silence that no one except Emma and Sean had succeeded in penetrating. Not talking except when necessary, she was still the focus of every conversation. And Everett was her chief mourner.

"Man, you gotta let her go," Angelo said softly. "She's not yours anymore."

"I still love her," Everett said defiantly. "And you care about her too, or you wouldn't be here trying to find something to do to that... that *bastard*."

Angelo shrugged. "Well, yeah, but at least I'm not talkin' about going on some suicide mission or something. We all agree we gotta do *something*, but I thought we were supposed to be the good guys, y'know? And you don't kill somebody for dumping a friend of yours."

"So what do you do?" Astalon asked. "'Cause I want to do something. And it better be good."

*Is there a need to do anything?* Jono asked telepathically.

"Well, duh," Angelo said. "Of course there is."

*I'm not so sure of that.*


"Bubba shot the jukebox last night,
because it played a sad song
and made him cry.
Went to his truck
and got his .45.
Bubba shot the jukebox last night."

Wolverine looked up from the jukebox of the country-western bar. He wasn't crying. It'd take more than having sex with a woman to make him cry. And that was all it had been. He'd slept with Jubilee. Big deal. He'd slept with lots of women. He'd never had problems the morning after -- if one of them had betrayed him as Jubilee had (and a good number had), he did what had to be done. Left them, scared the hell out of them, killed them if they tried to kill him. Whatever. He liked women, but sex wasn't the same as love, and he knew it. Knew it real well. After the sex was over, so were the women, and that was it. Love was somethin' else, an' this wasn't love.

It couldn't be. He'd slept with her. It was sex, and that was it.

Yeah, right.

And he was a washed up drifter with nothing to show for his life but a handful of 'friends' who he might have to fight someday dependin' on exactly what the situation was.

No, he felt something for Jubilee, and that was what made this so hard.

She'd used him. Manipulated him. Betrayed him. What had she been playing at? Working her way through the X-Men in reverse alphabetical order? Giving the old man a thrill? Using him to show the X-Men that she really was an adult now? That seemed most likely. He'd certainly seen the scheming little wench as an adult after she'd gotten him to chase her down in the woods. A very attractive woman to take to bed and make his own. Except that every step of that decision had been made by Jubilee. Every move carefully planned out. He'd been maneuvered into wanting her, and so he couldn't trust his own feelings on the subject.

It was important to Logan that he be in control. His life, his choices. This issue had come up before, in the case of Alpha Flight. They hadn't understood that he made his own decisions. Despite their close friendship, Hudson had repeatedly attempted to pressure him into joining the Canadian team. And Logan had refused every time. With force when necessary. Logan wouldn't allow himself to be in a situation not of his own choosing. He'd had enough of that as Weapon X. More than enough. He was his own man, and if anyone didn't like it, they could fuck themselves.

Including the X-Men. Including Jubilee.

He wanted her. He hated her. He loved her. He didn't know which was true, and which was a lie. His independent nature pulled him one way, and his instincts the other.

And in the background, the music kept playing, droning its message repetitively into his enhanced senses. He could take it no longer. His fist slammed through the case of the jukebox, leaving a nasty mess of shattered glass and blood. But the music finally stopped.

Around him, there was silence.

"Anybody got anythin' they wanna say?" Wolverine asked menacingly, turning to the crowded, smoky room. The cuts on his hand were already healing, and his stance screamed of anger that had lost its leash a good while before.

"Uh, no, sir," said the accountant in the cowboy hat who was standing immediately in front of Wolverine. He held up his hands and backed away. "I'm sure that the jukebox deserved its fate."

The owner of the bar, a large burly man, didn't seem to agree. "Buddy, you're going to pay for that."

A vicious smile grew on Wolverine's face as an outlet for his confused emotions presented itself. "Make me."


In the boathouse of Xavier's mansion, long since converted into living quarters for the Summers, Jean snuggled further into the corner of her husband's shoulder.

*And that's that,* the telepath concluded, finishing her briefing. *Emma seems to have been the catalyst for the event, although she doesn't know why Wolverine was upset by the conversation. Jubilee...* A mental image of the young woman came through, a dark-haired figure staring blindly out a window. *Jubilee hasn't yet recovered enough to talk coherently, but Emma told me what little she was able to get out of her. The best we can guess is that he bolted when he discovered that Jubilee had decided in advance that she wanted a relationship with him.*

Scott frowned. "That's ridiculous."

*I agree. There has to be something more to this that we aren't seeing. I wish Logan were here so that we could talk to him. If I could find out what went wrong, then we'd have some chance of helping him find a solution to whatever the problem is. And I don't think what you're thinking would be very productive.*

As Scott had been considering precisely how hard to pound Wolverine into the ground, he had little to say to defend himself. So he thought instead. *Yeah, but it sure would make me feel better. When I get my hands on him... This is exactly what I was afraid would happen when I found out that he and Jubilee were involved.* A string of images followed, Wolverine with two older, taller women hanging from his arms, a much younger Jubilee with her hair in bows, a fuzzy thought of Jubilee in a wedding gown, and Wolverine with blood liberally splattered on his body.

*It's their choice, dear,* Jean reminded him.

*Not if Wolverine's hurting her. He never should have gotten involved with Jubilee.*

*Too late now. All we can do is deal with the aftermath. When Logan comes back, I intend to discuss this with him.* Hesitancy entered her mental voice. *I know we don't discuss it, but I have Madelyne's memories. I know what it's like to be abandoned by the man I love. And I'm certain that Jubilee loves Logan. She has to be hurting now.*

*And you feel protective of her.*

*Don't we all?*

Scott snorted. He'd already had to scotch two attempts by other members of the X-Men to chase down Wolverine and "reason" with him. He might have approved or even helped if he weren't aware that Wolverine's idea of a good time was beating people up. Hunting the Canadian down would only cause needless property damage and medical expenses -- on the behalf of the X-Men, not Wolverine. Such were the difficulties of "teaching a lesson" non-lethally to a man with a healing factor.

Not that the idea didn't appeal to him.

*Scott...* Jean said warningly inside his head. *For all we know, Logan is suffering as badly as Jubilee is. Beating him up isn't the appropriate response.*

*Not yet,* Scott added, in what he hoped was a private thought. Unlikely, as closely as they were bonded. Switching the conversation to words, he leered at his red-headed wife and said, "Care to take my mind off of the topic?"

She grinned back. "Don't mind if I do."


Gambit steeled himself against the action he was about to perform, and knocked on the door. It went against all his thiefly instincts to knock, but when you paid a call on a lovesick man with long claws and a vile temper, it was probably best not to sneak into his apartment.

The door opened rudely. "Yeah, whaddaya want?"

The Cajun stepped inside before the door could be closed on him. "To speak with you, mon ami."

Wolverine slouched into the darkened kitchen and took a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. "If you're here about Jubilee, I don't want to hear it. If I want lectures, I'll go back to the mansion."

"Gambit not here to lecture." He seated himself on the couch, removing his sunglasses and sprawling back comfortably.

"Then what're you doing here?"

"Need to ask you somet'ing." Remy's eyes gleamed.

"Shoot." Logan finished off the beer, and got himself a second one.

"You left de p'tite 'cause of somet'ing you t'ought she did, non? Somet'ing you didn't like an' now you don' know whet'er you wan' to go back?"

Wolverine scowled. "It's none of your business, Gumbo."

Gambit took a deep breath. This was why he had come, the question that had burned so hotly inside him that he had been unable to sleep, unable to eat, unable to do anything but gnaw over the chance he was being given. If it were a chance. If it were his chance. "Ah, but it is. See, what Gambit wan' to ask -- if you don' wan' de p'tite, Gambit do -- so do you wan' her or not?"


Part 2

Gambit's question caught Wolverine off-guard. He'd been expecting to hear some bullshit question about how he could just run off like that. Not a bald proposition. Suddenly, Logan wished he'd left town entirely and followed his first impulse to head for Canada and the reassurance of nature, instead of holing up here in his apartment in the city. "What did you say?"

"You heard me." Now it was Gambit's turn to wonder if he'd done the right thing by coming here. His heart was pounding fast, in the excited, anticipatory rhythm he'd often felt as a thief. "Do you wan' de p'tite? If not, Gambit will take her off your hands and you can drink and do what you like; I don' care."

Hackles on Wolverine's neck rose. He growled deep in his throat, a sound that did not reach the audible range. A male was threatening his territory. "What kind of question is that?"

"A good one Gambit t'ink. You leave de lady crying her heart out -- it only makes sense to t'ink that mebbe you don' wan' her no more."

Wolverine's eyes narrowed. What was the Cajun playing at? "What about Rogue?"

Remy shrugged eloquently. "Mebbe I give up chasing after t'ings dat aren't meant t'be. She don' wan' me anymore dan you want Jubes. I understan' dat. Dis t'ief not good enough for her. Gambit not a fool -- when de lady leave you in de coldes' place on Earth, mebbe jus' mebbe she don' like you no more. T'ings never been de same since dat."

Suspiciously, Wolverine considered Gambit. "I don't believe you."

Gambit smiled, a pained, tired smile that unfortunately Wolverine could relate to all too well. Logan scowled. He didn't want to relate to the Cajun right now. "If somet'ing had happened to Scott, would you have been dere for Jean? Gambit t'ink so. Y'know a good t'ing when you see it. You lost it, but you wanted it anyway, n'est pas? Is it so hard to b'lieve dat Gambit see de same t'ing wit' you and Jubilee? An' wan' it for himself?"

Claws sprouted from Wolverine's hands, and before Gambit could move away, Wolverine had him pinned to the couch. "You touch Jubilee, and I'll kill ya."

"So de man wants de chere after all." Gambit forced himself to smile, despite the sinking disappointment he felt inside. He hadn't known which he wanted to hear more -- that Wolverine loved Jubilee and would go back to make her happy, or that Wolverine didn't and perhaps there might be a chance for something... what exactly Gambit wasn't sure of, but something. "Quelle surprise."

Grudgingly, Wolverine recognized that he'd been cornered into an admission of feeling for Jubilee. He'd thought that it couldn't be beaten out of him in his present mood. Now, even though he could skewer the other man with no more than a breath of pressure, Gambit held the upper hand. "Maybe I just think she's too good for a scoundrel like you."

Remy laughed, bitterly, hoarsely. "Gambit don' t'ink so. Gambit's past not dat much worse dan de Wolverine's. Gambit t'ink dat mebbe de chere his only hope of salvation."

"Now I'm gonna kill you, bub."

"No, you won'," Gambit said, studiously casual despite the threat. He still felt the thrill of excitement, not a fear of death, although the extreme earliness of the hour might be contributing to his irrational state of mind. "How you goin' 'xplain dat to de p'tite? 'Scuse me, I kill Gambit 'cause he love you.' She won' like it. Scott neither."

"I'll come up with something," Wolverine growled. "New York's a big city. Accidents happen."

Gambit drew in his energy, lightly charging the adamantine claws that rested across his chest. They glowed, proof positive that he could use his powers to push Wolverine away. Or explode the claws altogether. Adamantine was strong -- but the energy he was charging the metal with was its own innate kinetic energy. It would be interesting to see the results if he did release that energy violently.

"You don't scare me."

"Never t'ought I did. But a man got a right t'defend himself, non?"

"Listen, bub, maybe I can't kill you," Wolverine admitted grudgingly. Not before Gambit actually *did* something to Jubilee anyway. "Maybe I'll just work you over some. 'Less of course, things get out of hand." Wolverine grinned, indicating his approval of that course of action. "But I'm not lettin' you out of here without making sure you know to stay away from Jubilee. I don't want her hurt."

"Too late for dat."

Wolverine bristled at the suggestion that Gambit had done something to Jubilee. This was the excuse he'd been waiting for. "That's it. You're a dead man."

"Non. Gambit didn't do anyt'ing to de p'tite. De chere already been hurt."

"What are you talking about? Did something happen to Jubilee?"

Gambit favored Logan with a long look. "After you leave, she cry, and den go home t'Massachusetts. You hurt de p'tite bad. Never seen Jubilee cry before. Gambit know a little 'bout women. Dat stuff 'bout hell being better dan what happens when you reject a woman? All true. Gambit been dere, done dat, stole de T-shirt. De p'tite going t'rough hell right now, an' she going to do the same t'ing to you when she sees you again."

Wolverine dropped his hands. He shook his head, unable to believe what he'd just heard. "No--"

"Dat's de truth."

"Jubilee left?"


Wolverine collapsed into a chair without any hint of grace. "She can't do that."

"Why not? What did you expect?"

Wolverine shook his head, struggling with feelings of disbelief and betrayal. "She said she'd stay..." Jubilee had promised. He'd counted on that. Even as he'd left, he'd taken reassurance in knowing that she would still be there when he returned, as she'd been there before when he'd left her after Magneto leeched the adamantium from his skeleton. Her being there gave stability to his life. The safety and well-being of his protegees, and Jubilee especially, anchored his soul to the real world when otherwise he would be overwhelmed by the brutality of his existence. No. Jubilee couldn't have left him. She just couldn't.

"Bet anyt'ing dat she said dat before you decided to run away."

"Yeah. So?"

Gambit shook his head. "You don' know much about women, do you?"

Now Wolverine was offended. He knew plenty about women. "And you do?"

"Sure. Gambit know better dan to take a woman's body and not take her heart. If she promised t'stay, de chere be giving you both. Dat means it was more dan jus' one night. Non?" He got no objection from Wolverine. "If you don' wan' her heart, den you shouldn't take de body. Not wit' a woman like dat. Not if you wan' t'keep her."

"And you think you can do better?"

LeBeau shrugged. "Couldn't do worse. So what do you say? Do you still want de p'tite?"

Wolverine glared. Did he want Jubilee? He still hadn't found an answer for the question he'd wrestled with all afternoon, all evening and now into the wee hours of the morning. "I don't know."

"Well, den." Gambit stood. His shadowed face reflected an emotion that could have been regret. "T'ank you for your hospitality."

"Going back to the mansion to report on me?" Wolverine growled bitterly.

"Non. Gambit going to Massachusetts."

And then he left.

Wolverine went into the kitchen and grabbed another beer. Out of habit more than anything else. Right now, he'd've needed something with a much higher alcoholic content to match his mood if he were inclined to try doing so. He growled low in his throat as he thought of Gambit and Jubilee together, instinctively responding to another male coming between him and his mate, then caught himself.

No. He didn't feel jealousy -- no, it couldn't be that. There was nothing to be jealous of -- he'd broken it off with Jubilee and he didn't want her back. Really. He'd left her the previous afternoon, and he wasn't going to take her back as long she continued to think she could get away with manipulating him. No, he was concerned for a different reason. He tried to make himself believe that, tried to simplify the problem down to one understandable issue. He was concerned because Gambit might hurt Jubilee. Wolverine thought about that for a moment. Was it plausible to believe that Gambit really would hurt Jubilee? The Cajun had courted Rogue in a reasonably gallant manner, and Logan knew damn well that any previous lovers of his that they'd run into were always happy to see the man. Maybe Gambit wouldn't...

Wolverine shook his head violently. No, there were several perfectly good reasons why the Cajun was all wrong for Jubilee. Logical reasons that had nothing to do with Wolverine wanting her for himself. Right. All he had to do was think of them.

He couldn't object to LeBeau on the basis of the younger man's past -- as Gambit had pointed out, Logan's was certainly just as bad or worse. And Gambit was one of the X-Men, thus putting him on the side of the angels, inasmuch as there was such a thing -- damnit, another point in his favor. Remy had it over him in looks, too. And height. Not that Wolverine had ever experienced a lack of success with the ladies -- quite the opposite -- but they were talking about Jubilee, and who knew what her tastes were?

'Course, there was Rogue. Maybe Gambit was serious about preferring Jubilee, but Wolverine didn't trust the Cajun not to go running after the Southern belle the moment she crooked her finger at him. As she might very well do if she saw her most faithful beau taken away from her. Bringing Gambit back to her side, and leaving Jubilee behind, hurt.

Wolverine growled again. *There* was a good reason to protect Jubilee against the Cajun. With Rogue around all the time as a member of the X-Men, Gambit would inevitably be drawn back to her. Making Jubilee suffer. And Logan couldn't allow that. He disregarded Remy's argument that he himself had already hurt Jubilee -- not important. Not relevant. Wolverine's actions had been in response to Jubilee's unwarranted manipulation of him -- at the moment, Logan couldn't think of what exactly the manipulation had consisted of, but he was sure it'd been something important -- which meant that he'd been justified. He'd been forced into reacting the way he had. But Gambit would break Jubilee's heart just for the pleasure of it. He'd start what would be a light romance to him, and would be all the world to Jubilee, hurting her all the worse when the inevitable end came.

Wolverine couldn't let that happen.

He upended his bottle, finishing the beer. He had to get to Massachusetts as soon as he could, and keep Jubilee from making a terrible mistake.


Part 3

The afternoon light didn't quite hit the window -- the angle was wrong for that. Which was good. If cheery spring brightness had filled the room, Jubilee would have felt compelled to leave. She just wasn't in the mood for cheeriness.

She sighed heavily, watching the clouds through the window, wondering idly if they might form into rainclouds. Just two days ago, she'd just been starting to play paintball and eagerly anticipating the aftermath of the game. Then the possibilities had seemed so open and she'd been full of high spirits. And desperately in love with Wolverine. It was funny how life could change so quickly.

Jubilee sighed again. She knew that the others were worried about her. Even Frosty was worried about her, which said something. The headmistress usually behaved as though she considered herself above her students' problems. At least those problems that didn't involve mortal injury or things blowing up.

*I'll get over Wolvie,* she told herself. *No prob. He's just the most important person in my whole life, but that's a minor issue. A technicality.* Tears slipped from her eyes again, and she scrubbed fiercely at them before mentally changing the subject. She couldn't think about him; it hurt too much yet. *The hard part is going to be getting over myself.* She still found it hard to believe that she'd misread Wolverine so badly. She felt dirty. Wolverine's actions and behavior made her question her own self-worth. She'd felt such a sense of womanly power when she had gotten him to chase her down and make love to her. He had wanted her in a very primal way, and she had caused that to happen. It felt good. But Wolvie thought it was wrong. Her thoughts wandered back into the same familiar groove they'd been in for the past day. *He didn't want to want me. I pushed him. I took what I wanted, and screwed up the best thing I ever had. The only thing it was about was sex, and I screwed up any chance there was for love. I'm a manipulating bitch, and I ruined everything because he didn't want to want me.*

The window that she'd been staring at without really seeing began to open from the outside. Startled, Jubilee raised her hands, ready to paf the intruder. And paf him really hard if it turned out to be Wolverine.

A large figure in a long jacket crouched in her windowsill, not entering the room, giving her time to recognize him. "Gambit?" she asked.

"Oui, chere. May I come in?"

"Sure, sure," she said, off-balance. She stepped back further, giving him room. "What are you doing here? I don't know why you'd want to see me."

He bowed elegantly and presented her with a white rose. His mouth quirked. "You can find no reason at all?"

"Uh--" she accepted the rose, beginning to feel very flustered. He was staring at her intently. "No, not really. I mean, well, there was what happened at the mansion--" Her hand closed tightly over the stem of the rose, and she felt the thorns stab into the palm of her hand, "but I'd rather not think about that."

"Gambit understan'. Don' need to talk about it."


"After Gambit ask one question."

Jubilee averted her gaze from him. Questions. The last thing she wanted. Now she wanted to scream at him, paf him, force him away from her. But that wouldn't be right, now would it? Taking out her anger at Wolverine on an innocent bystander? So instead she bottled it up, forcing herself to stand there and listen to whatever Gambit had to say.

Surprising her, he reached for her hand and gently uncurled it from the stem of the flower. Her hand was bleeding, and it hurt, but the pain seemed almost necessary. Remy didn't seem to agree. Setting the rose on the desk, he reached into his pocket and brought out a white square of linen, then blotted the blood away with kind fingers.

Now she really wanted to cry. But she'd have to get rid of him first. "What did you want to ask?" she challenged him in a cold voice.

"Jus' dis --" his expression turned wistful. "If you give up on Logan, is dere a chance dat you might wan' Remy?"

"Uh--" she choked. He seemed to have quite a talent at making her lose her ability to speak. Of course, her brain wasn't operating at anywhere near full capacity at the moment. "I-- You--" *You want me?*

"I think I need to sit down."

Gambit courteously supported her as she almost fell into the floor instead of into the chair.

"Well, um... this is so sudden." Too sudden. She couldn't switch over so quickly from Wolverine to anyone. Her emotions didn't have an on-off switch. She was having trouble even comprehending the idea of wanting someone other than him.

"Gambit understan'. Not expecting anyt'ing. But Gambit t'ought dat if mebbe you like him a little, he might help you to recover, p'tite."

To her dismay, she started to cry. There was nothing she wanted to do less than start shedding tears. She wasn't the kind of person who dissolved into tears at tragedy. She should be standing up and fighting for herself. Jeering Wolverine as she hit him with a load of fireworks he wouldn't soon forget. But, no. As soon as someone showed her the least bit of kindness, she cried. Pathetic.

Arms wrapped around her, and Jubilee blinked through her tears to find Gambit kneeling next to her chair, offering her his shoulder to cry on.

"Not again," she blubbered, her sense of humor reasserting itself even as she accepted his offer, letting him pull her close, until she was sitting on the floor and being held by him.

"Dere's not'ing to be ashamed of, chere. You hurt inside and den you cry about it. Not'ing at all wrong about dat."

She laughed shakily. "There is if I say there is." Another wave of sadness drowned her as she remembered again exactly what was wrong with her life. She clung to Gambit as she gulped in great sobs of air, grateful for his strength and warmth, but most of all for his attention. She frowned against his chest, *Now where did that thought come from?*

Dismissing the confusing idea, Jubilee sat back, looking at him. She didn't draw away from him completely; Remy's embrace comforted her, and if anyone had to see her cry, at least he'd seen her do so before and had proven himself to be both soothing and so far willing to allow her her silence. That was something she hadn't got from anyone else -- Emma had grilled her on the way back to the Academy, and only years of practice at holding shields against the telepath had saved Jubilee from humiliatingly revealing everything. And while her fellow team members wanted to be supportive, they couldn't stop themselves from laying blame on Wolverine. And, despite everything, Jubilee couldn't stand to hear anyone denigrating Wolvie. Especially not now.

But Gambit simply smiled at her and then used the handkerchief he had produced earlier to gently wipe the tears from her face. "Dat better?"

"A little," she admitted.


He finished dabbing at her face, and suddenly Jubilee felt self-conscious. She was sitting on the floor, an irregular position to begin with, tucked between Remy's legs, with his arm slung loosely about her shoulder. And the way he was looking at her... of course, when your eyes are red with black pupils, perhaps they *always* smoulder. But still...

Before she could take action to end the awkward scene, Gambit stood, drawing her to her feet along with him. He let go of her hand as soon as he saw that she was capable of standing without swaying. Winningly, he smiled. "Would you like to go for a walk? Beautiful day outside, and Gambit promise to make you laugh."

Slowly, she smiled tremulously back at him. "That's the best offer I've had all day."

"Den let's go."


Unaware to Jubilee, her fellow team members had kept her closely monitored. Maybe she didn't want them to intrude, so they would respect that wish, considering that there wasn't any way to force themselves on her without probably making her feel even worse, but that didn't mean that they were going to let her do anything stupid either.

Of course, their ideas of 'stupid' had ranged from suicide to stuffing herself with chocolate to tearing apart her room. Not something as wildly unimaginable as leaving the building smiling and arm-in-arm with one of the X-Men.

Artie, her current watchdog, brought the news to the second session of the Save Jubilee committee meeting.

"She's doing what?" Everett exploded.

Artie bobbed his head, and sent another image of the pair walking away together like old friends.

"I can't believe it," Everett muttered grimly. "I'm here, upset over all of this, and she goes out and has fun."

There were more than a few head nods from the rest of the group, who had spent the larger part of the past hour contemplating both what to do for the depressed Jubilee and what to do about the caddish Wolverine.

"Be reasonable," Paige said. "At least the X-Men are coming through for her this time. It's not like they're always this good about being there for Jubilee."

There were murmurs of approval from everywhere but Everett's dark corner. "I don't like what Gambit's doing," he grumbled.

"What do you mean?" Angelo asked. "What's wrong with trying to make her feel better? He's doing better at it than we are. Be happy for her, man."

"Happy?" Everett laughed hoarsely. "I can see what's going on. I can see how Gambit's chasing after her. He's not here to 'comfort' her, not the way you think. I know why he's here. He's here to try to get her in bed with him. Can you imagine that? I mean, what did the X-Men do after she left? Sit around and go, 'Hey, someone slept with Jubilee and now she's fair game!'? Huh?"

"That's sick, Ev."

"Well, what do you think it is?"

"I think you're jumping to conclusions 'cause you're jealous," Paige said.

"I am not jealous."

Even Angelo scoffed this time. "You're so jealous that it's like you got a mini-Penance inside you, and she's cutting her way out through your stomach."

"Just wait. You'll see. He's gonna do exactly what Wolverine did, and Jubilee's going to be miserable."

"If you want her so bad," Astalon said, "why don't you go after her yourself?"

There was a moment of hushed silence following that suggestion. Angelo looked sympathetically at Everett while the others tried to look anywhere but at Everett, whose face had turned white. "Yeah," he said, biting off his words. "Thanks for the advice."

He stalked out of the room, anger apparent in his movements.

"What'd I say?" Astalon asked. No one looked at her.

Jono took pity on her ignorance. <Ev did date Jubilee for a while. What a mistake that was.> He sent her a mental picture of a self-confident Jubilee humoring a shy and awkward Everett.

Astalon placed her thoughts in the forefront of her mind where she hoped Jonothan would read them. <So, like what? Is he too young for her?>

A mental feeling of laughter returned from Chamber. <No... He's older than she is.>

She snorted, drawing attention to herself before she smoothed out the expression on her face. <Oh, right. I bet he was all hearts and flowers and acting like it was some prom date.>


<Never mind. I meant that he was probably all dressed up and making a big deal out of it, trying to impress her.> Astalon's mouth quirked as she considered the image. <Playing at being in love, you know?>

<I'll take your word for it.> Jonothan maintained a dignified silence around his personal life, such as it was. He didn't see what was wrong about hearts and flowers and dressing up, though, and told Astalon so.

<I dunno,> she responded. <Maybe there's nothing wrong with it. I just think that maybe she was looking for a relationship.>

That puzzled Jonothan even further, but he did not ask what she meant by the remark. He already had too many confusing concepts for one day, and he was pretty sure that he didn't want to probe deeply enough to find out. Even when you could read their minds, women still didn't make much sense.


"Y'know, you were right. This was a good thing to do," Jubilee said, looking up at Gambit and smiling a real smile. They had come to a halt under an apple tree near one of the stone walls marking the boundary lines of the Academy's grounds. She had her arm tucked into his elbow, and he had succeeded in making her laugh not once, but several times. "Thank you for coming to see me. I really appreciate it."

"You are very welcome, chere," he said, removing her hand from his arm and bringing it into both of his.

She quirked an eyebrow at his action, but held still. He'd earned that much trust from her over the course of the afternoon.

Slowly, he drew her to him, giving her time to pull away even as he tucked her into the shelter of his body. His eyes met hers, and held her gaze as his head lowered even more slowly to steal a kiss.

Her lips parted, and Jubilee watched him draw closer, eyes wide.



Part 4

Wolverine dropped down from the apple tree onto the low stone wall, and from there, onto the ground. "You mind backin' away from her real slow-like, bub?"

Gambit already held a playing card in his free hand, not one to be caught off guard. "Maybe Gambit do mind."

"That's good. I don't need a reason to cut you up, but it'll make things easier to explain."

Jubilee scowled, stepping around Gambit, who had instinctively moved to shield her from the threat. "Wolvie, back off."

"Listen, kid..."

The term 'kid' made her temper flare up. And it felt good to at last be able to turn the anger on the person who had caused it. "Uh-uh. No way. I'm not going to listen. And I am going to have a screaming fit right here if you don't leave Remy alone. He, at least, is being nice to me."

Gambit raised an eyebrow, but kept his gaze focused on Wolverine. "Dat's right, Logan. Gambit would never hurt Jubilee."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Wolverine snarled.

"Why? Why should you have anything to say about it?" Jubilee asked furiously, her pent-up emotions spilling out in a heated rush. "What do you think is going to happen? Maybe I like Remy. Maybe I've been enjoying myself this afternoon. Or is that your problem? Huh? Maybe I don't care about you anymore and I'd rather be with someone who doesn't mind me being the way I am? Did you think of that? It's none of your business anyway. You left me. Get over it."

Sensing trouble, Wolverine said curtly, "After I get rid of Gumbo, we can talk."

"You get rid of Gambit, and I'll never speak to you again." It was the absolute truth at that moment, and Jubilee knew very well that Wolverine could smell the difference between truth and falsehood. Maybe she wanted Gambit, maybe she didn't. Okay, she was lying about that. But she wasn't lying about what she'd do if Wolverine hurt or intimidated Remy. The Cajun had been kind to her, and that was lots more than she could say about Wolvie at the moment.

Grudgingly, he resheathed his claws. "There."

Seethingly angry with him, she raised her hands. "Now get out of here, or I paf you. And I mean *that* too."

"I'm not givin' up that easy, darlin'."

"Giving up *what*?!" For a brief moment, she hoped with a wild and painful stab to the heart that he meant it. That he truly wanted her after all. "Do you want me back, is that it?"

Logan didn't say yes or no. "That isn't why I came down here..."

Hope died. "Then you don't have anything to say that would interest me. Okay? Now back off."

He retreated back across the wall, away from the school grounds. Jubilee watched him until she couldn't see him anymore. She didn't trust him not to come back.

Gambit looked at her with some concern, putting his arm around her. "Are you all right, p'tite?"

"Just fine," she said, knowing that she looked and sounded anything but.

"Shall we walk back now?" he asked gently.

Jubilee gazed up at him, studying his long lean face. She'd almost kissed him, but now Wolverine had appeared and confused her emotions all over again. She needed to think. Or destroy something. Either way, having Gambit around would be counterproductive. "I'm sorry, Remy. But-- I just want to be alone right now."

"Dat's okay, chere. Gambit see you later, okay?"

She managed a smile for him, just so he wouldn't worry, and because he *had* been so nice to her that afternoon, "Okay."


Gambit did not move from where he stood, instead lighting a cigarette and waiting. A hand grabbed his collar and shook him. As casually as could be managed in such an undignified position, Gambit said, "Bonjour, Logan."

"Shut up. She's not here now, and if you do anything I don't like, I'm going to hurt you bad."

"But not kill me?"

Wolverine growled, face twisted as he let go of the Cajun's jacket. "Probably couldn't get away with that."


"But you've got a lot of explainin' to do, bub."

"What did you not understand? Gambit tell you where he was going and why."

"And I'm tellin' you to leave Jubilee alone."

"Why?" Gambit asked in a mild voice. "You do not want de p'tite. Would you prevent her from ever loving again?"

"I'm protectin' her from *you*."

"Moi?" Gambit looked genuinely startled, a tribute to his acting ability. He hadn't been certain when he left Wolverine's apartment whether Logan was still interested in Jubilee. He'd hoped not, but Logan's appearance here -- despite what the man had said to Jubilee -- said to Gambit that Logan was still very interested. Merde. "How could Gambit hurt de p'tite? Impossible. Or--" he asked, schooling the amused smirk out of his features, "did you think Gambit was a vampire? Gambit only try to kiss de girl."

He found himself looking at sharp claws at close range.

"Don't remind me," Wolverine said.

Still casual, Gambit said, "If you want de p'tite back, dis not the way to go about it."

"I came here to tell you to stay away from her."

"Why? What do you think Remy would do to her?"

"I *know* you're going to break her heart--"

"Non. An'--" Remy's eyes glinted, "her heart already broken. Gambit only mending it."

In a second, his cigarette was diced into tiny pieces which fluttered to the ground. "Shut up. I don't want to hear it."

Remy spread his hands in indication of his compliance, and leaned back against the wall, coincidentally moving himself further away from the sharp edge of Wolverine's anger.

"I'm not gonna tell you again. Stay away from Jubilee."


Wolverine examined him suspiciously. "You'll stay away from Jubilee?"

"Oui. If you promise Gambit one t'ing."

"What's that?"

"Dat you'll go back to de p'tite."

Wolverine growled. "I think you aren't getting the point, Gumbo."

"Non. You don' get de point. De p'tite deserves someone -- an' while Gambit wan' her, he also smart enough to know dat she love you more. If you love her, den Gambit step down, but ot'erwise, Gambit figure dat you got not'ing to say 'bout it."

"I got plenty to say about it. That kid looks up to me..."

Gambit laughed, a hoarse, hollow sound. "Jubilee's no child, Logan. You tol' Scott and Jean dat, 'member?" As Wolverine failed to respond, Gambit went on, voice pitched in tones of persuasion. "Dey tell de team 'bout you and Jubilee, an' Jean even approve. Not anymore, Gambit t'ink, but den she does 'cause you tol' dem off 'bout dat. An' Gambit saw de way you look at Jubilee, and de way she look at you -- you wan' her, and de p'tite loves you. If you throw dat away, you're a fool."

The former thief pushed away from the wall. "Maybe you're afraid of losing her, so you push her away before she can get hurt. Gambit don' know 'bout dat. Do know, t'ough, dat you always proud of de p'tite for living her life t'the fullest. An' t'Gambit, it seems like you not practicing what you preach, non? You need t'decide what you wan'. An' den maybe Gambit listen. T'ink about dat."

Taking out another cigarette, Gambit lit it, then walked away, leaving Logan alone in the shadow of the apple tree.


Part 5

Jubilee walked slowly back to the academy, trusting both Gambit and Wolverine to honor her wish to be left alone. And willing to back that wish up with fireworks if it weren't honored. She really needed to think. And right now, neither of them were helping with that process.

What was going on here anyway? After she'd tripped Wolvie and beaten him to the ground, she'd thought maybe she meant something to him. That this time he'd stay. But, no, fat chance on that. And after he'd dumped her, she'd figured that was that. She was used to Wolverine abandoning her -- the guy ran off more often than Frosty wore suits that displayed her cleavage. So why the heck was he suddenly back? He said that he didn't want her but that he didn't want Gambit to want her either. Too confusing. Way uncool.

And then there was Gambit. So far all he'd done was talk to her and maybe try to kiss her. Jubilee thought about the Cajun for a moment. Nice eyes. Nice body, if you liked tall, lean men. An attitude she could appreciate, especially when he was directing all that attention at her. And an outrageously adorable accent. *He probably hams it up just 'cause he knows it's adorable.* What did he want from her? A fling? A relationship? To prove that he was better than Wolvie? Jubilee didn't know. She did, however, distrust Gambit's sudden interest in her. He'd never paid attention to her before -- why now? And what about Rogue? It wasn't like Rogue and Remy were hot and heavy, but everyone just knew that they were meant for each other.

But if Gambit *did* mean it-- Jubilee sighed. It'd been just so romantic when he'd come to her window this afternoon. And she would have kissed him if Wolverine hadn't interrupted. Out of curiosity, of course. Nothing more.

Unless she wanted there to be something more.

Unless Wolvie really did want her back. And unless she was stupid enough to trust him all over again.

She reached the entrance to the building, and opened the door, planning to make her way back to her room where she could continue trying to sort this mess out. As much as it could be sorted out without holding Wolvie down and punching him repeatedly. At least she wasn't depressed anymore. If being seriously confused could be called an improvement over being depressed.

Instead of an empty hall, however, Jubilee came face to face with Everett. "Uh, hi," she said.

The tall youth was virtually vibrating with tension. "Why, Jubilee?"

"Why what, Ev?"

"Why'd you go off with Gambit? Why are you giving them the chance to hurt you like this?"

"Huh? Them?" she asked, wondering if her state of confusion was about to become permanent. Did everyone know that Gambit had shown up? And who was them? As far as she knew, Gambit wasn't twins. "We just like talked, y'know."

"And you couldn't talk with any of us? You couldn't talk with *me*?"

This was starting to make more sense. Not much, but more. "All you guys've been talking about is Wolverine and how sad everything is, and how terrible it is that he left. I'm tired of talking about that."

Everett stepped closer to her. "Jubilee, we could talk about us."

She frowned. "Ev, there is no us. And I definitely don't need the complication right now."

"Is it that I'm not an X-Man? Only one of them would be good enough for you, right? You and your 'when I was with the X-Men' stories..."

"Everett--" a new voice joined the conversation. "I believe you're becoming rude."

Jubilee watched more of Generation X enter the hallway. Monet, who'd spoken, led the pack, followed by Jono and Paige. Jeez. Were people selling tickets to her life, or what? "Look, I don't want to talk about any of this..."

"Is it still too painful?" Paige asked sympathetically.

Oh, great. Again with the sympathy. "Everything's just peachy. Look, I just want to be left alone."

"We will be sure to inform Mr. LeBeau of that," Monet said calmly.

Jubilee's eyes narrowed. M sure had a way of using politeness in a cutting way. "Leave Remy out of this." They were about to jump on her, Jubilee knew it. Better throw them something so that she could escape. "You can tell Wolverine that, though. He's here, too."

"Wolverine?" Angelo asked sharply, joining the group. "What's he doing here?"

"Tryin' to chase off Remy, as far as I can tell."

"Smart man," Everett growled.

Paige gave Everett a hard look, and then put her arm around Jubilee's shoulder. "And Wolverine didn't say that he wanted you back, did he? You still love him, but he didn't tell you that he loved you. That's why you still look unhappy, and why you came back by yourself, isn't it?"

She really hated it when Paige was right about things. "Yeah. More or less."

The team shared a united look over Jubilee's head. She realized that they were back onto their 'We Hate Wolverine' kick. The argument started up again, about exactly how horrible Wolverine was and what they could to punish him for hurting their friend.

Jubilee wanted to scream at them, because even now, she couldn't stand it when people ragged on Wolvie. But this was her best chance to escape them, while they argued about what to do about Wolverine, 'cause for the moment, they were ignoring her. Jubilee hesitated, then ducked under Paige's arm and ran up the stairs, locking the door of her room behind her.

Finally inside the dubious safety of her room, she spied a small ivory envelope propped up on her desk. It had her name on it, and she took it curiously, wondering what was going on. She opened, and discovered a card inside. She read it. Scrawled in Gambit's bold handwriting, the message said:

Will you have dinner with me tonight?

She grinned suddenly for no reason at all. She didn't know that she wanted Gambit -- was, in fact, still coming to terms with the concept of Remy as a romantic partner -- but it felt good to be wanted, to be *pursued*. And even better to know that she had a chance of spending a couple of hours with someone who would do his best to entertain her, and would not talk about Wolverine or her love life, or any other topic of that nature. Just like this afternoon. Compared to the alternative -- going down to dinner with the fanatic anti-Wolverine crowd who'd slam him and pity her, the invitation from Gambit was hands down the winner.

Jubilee turned the card over. There was a phone number on the back and she called it, letting Gambit know that she would be delighted to go to dinner with him at seven p.m.


At ten 'til seven, she heard an engine approaching the parking lot. Drawing a deep breath, Jubilee unlocked the door to her room and opened it cautiously. Contrary to her expectations, there was no barricade on the other side, and no one waiting to jump her.

Good. Now all she had to do was sneak out safely.

Tiptoeing in heels was not her strong suit, and her bright yellow dress made her easy to spot should someone be lurking. But she made it down the stairs and out the door without attracting pursuit. Maybe the rest of the team all thought she was sulking or something.

Gambit smiled as he saw her, although the length of the skirt might've had something to do with it, and bowed deeply, a gesture that made her giggle. "Mademoiselle, your chariot awaits," he said, waving at the waiting vehicle.

"It's a car!" Jubilee said, feeling silly at being so startled by that. Just because Remy usually rode a motorcycle -- just like Wolvie, her inner voice reminded her, before she could tell it to shut up -- didn't mean that he *always* did. And it was rather cute. If you liked the whole red Porsche thing.

"But of course. De evening may get chilly. Can't have you shivering, chere."

"That's really thoughtful. Thank--"

"T'ank Gambit later." His eyes gleamed. "Over candlelight and champagne, non?"

"Candlelight, yes. Champagne -- ick! Why do they have to take a perfectly good sparkling drink and put alcohol in it? Completely ruins the taste."

He studied her for a minute, and then grinned. "I don' know, p'tite. Dere mus' be a reason."

Gambit came around the car to open her door. Jubilee frowned as she followed him. "Yeah. To make it easier for guys to get laid."

He choked as she stepped into the car. "You aren' supposed t'say dat, chere."

She waited for him to shut the door, and come back around to sit down in the driver's seat. "Why not?"

He grinned again. "I don' know. Must be a reason."

Jubilee frowned at him, but it was hard to maintain a stern attitude when faced with Gambit's irrepressible nature. Not to mention her own, even if it *had* been repressed a bit by recent events. "You can tell me all about it over dinner."

"Dat's not nice, chere."

"But it will be entertaining."


Wolverine scowled in the shadows, watching Gambit escort Jubilee to the car. The Cajun bowed over her hand and kissed it, then let her enter the vehicle.

Good. For his health. Because if Gumbo had really kissed Jubilee, he'd have difficulty breathing with ten inches of metal in his lungs.

Logan had watched them talking earlier, stalking them throughout the afternoon. He'd seen how easy Jubilee was in Gambit's company, how quick to laugh, how happy and unencumbered. She'd enjoyed herself. Every moment of it. And every moment of it had burned inside Wolverine.

He wanted her, damnit. Wanted her for himself, and to be only his. Forget about logic. Forget about reason. He'd tried that. Had tried telling himself that he didn't want her and couldn't want her, that he felt nothing for her, and that even if he did, she'd tried to tamper with his independence. And jealousy and rage still inflamed him as he watched Gambit with her. No, he wanted Jubilee for his own. If that were even possible now.

What did he have to offer her anyway? He'd hurt her and he'd left her. He made her cry, if he could believe Gumbo about that. The Cajun could make her laugh; he was certainly more attractive. And had more money, Logan was sure. His varied careers had left him with a small stock of investments, but the former thief was worth millions. If you liked that thing. And Wolverine knew that many women did.

All he had to offer the girl was himself, his tortured past and his uncertain future.

There wasn't a reason in the world that she should prefer him to Gambit. Not a reason at all. In fact, with the evidence of his own senses from today, Wolverine was fairly sure that Jubilee *did* prefer Gambit.

But she was his. And Wolverine intended to keep her.

If he could figure out how to get her back.


Jubilee blew an errant strand of hair out of her face, and contemplated the candles again. Two elegant white candles illuminated the tiny table with their light, making the china, glass and metal sparkle even more. The white roses in the crystal vase didn't look shabby either. Or the lace of the tablecloth. Or the guy sitting across from her, his knees bumping against hers.

No, all in all, it was a perfect romantic scenario.

And she was bored to the point of wondering whether she should start playing footsie with Gambit. The only thing stopping her was the thought that it might encourage him to keep blathering on even further.

All he could talk about was romance and love and stuff like that. Yeesh. The last thing she wanted to talk about right now.

"What do you t'ink, chere?"

*That I could get that fork about three-quarters of an inch into your hand before you could stop me.* She hadn't been listening. An affirmative reply should do the trick. "I think that's nice, Remy."

He visibly glowed, a woman's fantasy of male pulchritude in his white shirt and dark dinner jacket.

Oh, no. What had she just answered 'yes' to? "If you like that kind of thing," she added hastily.

"You don't like roses?"

Ah. Roses. A fairly safe topic. "They're okay."

"What's your favorite flower, p'tite? Gambit surprise you with a bouquet."

"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you."

He laughed, seemingly enthralled by her sarcasm. "Dat's coy, chere."

*Coy?* He thought she was *coy*!? She was definitely going to stick her fork in him. Jubilee picked the utensil up, just as dessert arrived. The tiny chocolate truffle was placed before her, and she smiled gracefully in recognition that now was not the time. Chocolate was more important than petty revenge.

After finishing the sweet, Jubilee sipped on her sparkling apple juice and listened.

"Now dat's not de way you treat a lady," her swain said. "Gambit t'ink dat when you find a good t'ing, you got to hold onto it and not let it go. Dere's not dat many good t'ings in de world and when you find one, you must cherish it."

"Ever heard of 'if you love something, let it go'?" Jubilee asked.

"Dat's what I'm talking 'bout, chere," Gambit said, displaying his white teeth to her in a grin. "When somet'ing you love come to you, den you love it and take care of it. You don't t'row it away."

He meant her, Jubilee knew. But just to throw some levity into the conversation-- "So what you're saying is that you and Rogue are getting serious, then."

"Non!" His eyes widened and his face grew distraught. "I mean you, chere. Gambit wan' you. You're here, and Gambit say dat he would love you wit' all de strength of his heart if you love him back." He reached out to her, palm up. "Please say 'yes'."

So much for the power of ambiguity. "No, please... I really should..." Run away? Hide in the bathroom? "...go back home," she finished.

His hand dropped as did his face. Gambit's eyes fell into the shadows, and momentarily, Jubilee regretted having hurt his feelings. She *did* like him, after all. If she wasn't fairly sure that any positive word would only encourage him, she'd apologize in a second.

"Gambit go too fast. Sorry, p'tite. Didn't t'ink about how you must feel 'bout Logan still. You need more time to t'ink about t'ings and dat."

Jubilee supposed that was close enough to the truth. She would have been perfectly happy in Remy's company if only he'd had something to say that wasn't about relationships and passion and all that. But she'd tried explaining that over the salad course and he hadn't taken a hint. Nor had he taken the hint over the entree. "I just... think I should be getting home."

He did not pursue her further. "As you wish."

She smiled with relief, and let him take her home.

When they arrived back at the Academy, Gambit walked her to the door of the building and bowed over her hand. "Au revoir?"

She smiled as he kissed her hand. It was the perfect touch -- not coming so close to her to make her back away again, but still putting her under his spell. She really did like it when he behaved like this -- romance was okay, in small doses. "Yes, Remy."

Then she went inside. The hall was quiet, as well it should be at that hour. She slipped out of her shoes and walked up the stairs in her stockinged feet. The wood felt rounded under her cramped feet. Why were shoes always the wrong size? They must have shrunk in between the store and her closet. It was the only explanation.

Jubilee opened her door quietly and shut it behind her, locking it again. She didn't need any interruptions should someone hear her sneaking in. The last thing she wanted was to chat about her day or her evening. Or anything else.

As she set her shoes down, she realized that there was more to the shadows around her bed than just air. The shadows were a good deal more solid than that. So someone *did* want to chat. *Oh, god. Please don't let it be Paige.* Paige had always interfered in Jubilee's life -- Jubilee supposed it had to do with Paige having been her roommate for so long. Thank god the other girl wasn't anymore. *Too bad I can't lock the door when I'm _outside_ the room. It'd make life a lot easier.*

And then she realized who it was. The shape was too thick for Paige, too quiet for most anyone else. And it was familiar. The lingering smell of cigar smoke was also a glaring tip-off. Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here, Wolvie?"

"Waitin' for you, darlin'."

"Don't call me that."

"It's what you are t'me," he said simply.

"I hate you." She pulled the pink scarf off and dropped it on the desk. "You left."

"I know."

"Well?" she asked when he said nothing further. "Why are you here? Going to give me some big speech about how Remy isn't good enough for me?"

"No, darlin', I'm not."

Her knees felt weak for some unknown reason, and she felt for the back of the chair, holding onto it for balance. "Then why *are* you here?" she challenged, not wanting to give away any weakness, especially to him, even to let him know that she wanted him more desperately than anything else in the world.

"For you."

"Why for me? What about me? You don't like me anymore, remember? I manipulated you. I used you. I'm a terrible person. Does any of that sound familiar?"

"I made a mistake, darlin'."

Her eyes narrowed. "That must be a first. Assuming that's an apology -- and it's a pretty lame one if it is -- how do I know you aren't going to get mad at me all over again the first time I do something you haven't rubberstamped in advance? Like, are you going to be mad about me for saying this right now, or is this already in your plan?"

"You don't know," he said. "I'm hopin' you'll take me the way I am. An' hit me over the head if I do somethin' this stupid again."

"You have a very hard head."

"I know."

"I don't want to get broken over your hard head."

"Jubilation, you don't need anythin' t'hurt me." His voice was low and rough. "Jus' knowin' I made you cry hurts worse than gettin' beaten up anyday."

"That's the healing factor," she said, her voice beginning to shake. He wanted her. He was offering himself to her.

He growled. "The only thing the damned healin' factor doesn't heal is my heart. Maybe I've been too much of a canucklehead to see it, but darlin', I need you--"

She wasn't sure if his control broke first or hers. She found herself in his arms, crying in great gulping sobs as he crushed her to his chest. Not tears of sadness, but tears of relief and joy. The feel of him, the very smell of him reassured her and comforted parts of her that she'd forgotten were hurting. Her hands tangled in his hair and pulled at his head. Growling, he answered her unspoken request, his head ducking down over hers. She raised her face to him, as they met each other for a long-denied kiss.

Neither of them saw the silhouette against the window as a long, lean shape dropped a red rose, then stood up and stepped away.

-the end-

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"Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want."
--Joseph Wood Krutch