[6 1/2 TO 71/2 MONTHS]
"She can't stay here." Angelo folded his arms and glared.
Sean matched his glare, looking down at the short, wiry young man in exasperation. "Tis a hospital, lad. She's ill, and she needs-"
"She needs to go home!!" Angelo insisted. "She's only going to get worse if she has to stay in here!" He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Look, Sean・ she can't cope with being in here, okay? She panics if nobody's with her when she wakes up, she can't eat, I'm the only one she'll let *near* her with a needle・ we can take care of her better at home."
"Who can? Emma, Adrienne and I are busy with the ordinary students, Tom's got his hands full with yuir teammates・"
"I'LL look after her." Angelo said firmly. His grey-skinned face was haggard, but he pulled his shoulders back and looked his teacher in the eyes. "I've been doing most of it anyway, since she won't let anyone else near her."
"Angelo, ye cannae-"
"I can." Angelo narrowed his eyes. "Sean, either you move her out of here right now, or I will. I've busted people out of hospitals before, and it isn't hard."
* * *
"Do I wanna know how ya convinced Sean ta let me go home?"
"Not really, no." Angelo lifted her carefully out of the wheelchair and onto the wide, low bed. "Just be glad you're home, even if it's not in our old room."
The ground-floor recovery room had been closed off for some time, but Jubilee was touched to realize that her possessions had been carefully arranged around it in preparation for her arrival. Since Angelo had spent almost every waking moment with her, it had to have been・ "Paige?"
"Right. She said she'd spent long enough sharing your room to know how you liked your stuff." Angelo looked down at her and grinned. "Don't think I've ever seen you in a proper dress before. Just those short ones you wear with leggings."
"I wasn't gonna come home from the hospital in my nightshirt, an' this was the only other thing I could get over both casts." She plucked deprecatingly at the pale blue fabric. "Emma bought it for me,."
"I like it." He smiled, running one finger down the side of her neck. "You've got great legs, you know・ well, the one that isn't in a cast."
"Thanks," Jubilee said demurely. And that, she crowed silently, is the first time he's noticed my legs. Or ANY part of my body except my face and my neck. And my stomach. Thin end of the wedge, girl. Work it. "It's nice material, at least・ very soft."
"I noticed." He shot her an admiring look, then sat up, pulling back physically as well mentally. Behaving himself in the way that, while she loved him for it, was getting just a touch annoying. After all, he could at least LOOK occasionally, couldn't he? Was she *that* fat and ugly already?
Jubilee sighed. "I'm hungry," she said, looking up at him hopefully. "Can I have a sandwich? That still has crusts on? They kept cutting them off in the hospital."
"If you think you're up to it." He kissed her forehead gently. "What do you want on it?"
"Ham." She patted her stomach. "And from the way Michael's throwing himself around in there, I think he wants some grape juice."
"I'll get it." He leaned down and brushed his lips lightly over her bulging stomach. "You be good in there, nino. Mama doesn't need any more bruises."
He left the room while Jubilee was still staring at her bulge in shock. He'd never done THAT before, either. She hugged herself, eyes shining, and then giggled suddenly at the thought that it was only at her ugliest that she'd managed to get her attention. And she *did* look like something from the Black Lagoon right now・ her face was lumpy and black-and-purple, her arm and leg were both in casts, and she hadn't been able to wash her hair in over a week.
"Hi, Jubilee, I- Ohmigod!"
"I know, I know." Jubilee waved Paige into the room. "It's just bruising."
"Ya look like・ like・" Paige shook her head.
"Like a horse stepped on my face?" At any other time, it might have bothered her, but right now she didn't care how anyone but Ange thought she looked.
"Nah・ your head's still intact." Paige grinned. "So how do ya feel?"
"Better, now that I'm home." Jubilee shrugged, gesturing with her good hand at the casts which immobilised most of her left side. "An' now I know what it feels like to have a stroke and lose control over half your body. Something ta look forward to in my old age, huh?"
"Ah guess so." Paige sat down beside her on the bed and patted her stomach. "How's th' little guy?"
"He's fine. He's even got a career picked out." Jubilee mock-winced. "In kick-boxing."
Paige giggled. "It could be worse. Momma says that when she was pregnant with the twins, they *both* kicked all the time. She swears they were having wrasslin' matches in there."
"Oog. Thank god there's only one of him, then." Jubilee winced. "TWO of them doing this? It'd kill me."
"Jubilee・" Paige looked down at her hands, twiddling her thumbs nervously. "Uhm・ can I ask ya somethin' kinda personal?"
"Well・ how did ya know what to do? I mean・ why did you decide ta have the baby, insteada going for an abortion?"
Jubilee sighed. This wasn't the worst question Paige could have asked, but it was a tought one. And the answer was kinda silly. "Well・ you remember how we had ta read 'The Witch Of Blackbird Pond' a while back?"
"Yeah・" Paige gave her a puzzled look. She'd read the novel about Puritan Conneticut, done the required report, and moved on. It hadn't struck her as a book Jubilee would even finish, let alone remember months later.
"Well, there's this one bit, right, where Kit asks Mercy how she copes with being crippled. How she can stand always being left behind. And Mercy says・" Jubilee closed her eyes and concentrated. "She says 'I settled that a long time ago. I remember it very well. Father had carried me to the doorstep, and I sat there watching the children playing a game in the road. I thought of all the things I would never be able to do. And then I thought about the things that I could do.' That's what it was like." Jubilee shrugged, smiling a little. "I thought about all the stuff I'd lose if I kept him. Then I thought about losing him. And nothing I'd gain by giving him up was worth losing my baby."
"Ah・ Ah see." Paige had completely forgotten the incident, which had taken only a page to play out. "So・ you're glad he's comin'?"
"Yup. I mean, I sometimes wish it'd happened different, but・ he's my baby. And I love him." Jubilee smiled a little. "Though I admit, I always thought YOU'D be the one ta pop out the little X-kids."
Paige chuckled. "Well, maybe Ah will, but not for a good long time yet. Ah just wondered, 'cause・ well・" she sighed. "Ah got a call from Momma this morning. Joelle's gone and gotten herself inta trouble, and doesn't know what ta do. Ah thought you'd probably know more about it than Ah do."
"Ahh." Jubilee shook her head. "She's about my age, right? Poor kid. Okay, advice I can do. First, tell her ta take a moment and be grateful that she has a family to take care of her. Then, tell her ta sit down, have a cup of tea, and think carefully about what she wants from life. Then tell her that dry toast might help morning sickness, but crackers taste better."
"Will do. Thanks, Jubilee." Paige squeezed her friend's hand.
"Welcome. Oh, and send Jono in ta talk to me." Jubilee grinned painfully. "He wants ta complain about his face? I'll give HIM a face to complain about."
* * *
"Hey, kid. C'n I have a word?" Logan leaned casually against the bench.
"Whatever. Pass me the pepper." Angelo didn't look up from the sandwiches he was making.
"Here." Logan passed it over, and drew on his cigar. "Ahh・ 's my last one. You got any cigarettes I can bum?"
"I quit. Think there's half a pack left over somewhere." Angelo shrugged. "I'll go find it when Jubes and I've had lunch."
"Good." Not smoking around the baby, he ticked off in his head. "Been meanin' ta tell ya I appreciate all the care yer takin' o' Jubilee."
"Es nada. Grab the mayonnaise out of the fridge, would you?"
"Here." He handed it over. Not looking for praise. "Ya been takin' most o' the load, I hear. The food, medicine, keepin' her amused-"
"This is about the needles, right?" Angelo turned around, leaning against the bench and folding his arms tightly.
"Right." He wouldn't insult the boy's intelligence by denying it. "Wanna tell me how ya got so good with the things?"
"Not really, no." Angelo deliberately turned back to the sandwiches, piling them onto a plate and setting it on a tray. The unfinished one was ignored. "Way I see it, it's none of your business."
"Yer takin' care o' Jubilee. That makes it my business." Logan scowled.
"No, Wolverine, it doesn't." He set the plate on a tray which already held two glasses of juice. "My business is my business, not yours. If you don't like me taking care of Jubilee, then do it yourself." He picked up the tray and turned, glaring. "But just because I'm doing what you shoulda been here to do don't give you the right to go prying into my past, get it?"
"Don't like yer attitude, kid," Logan growled, taking a challenging step forward.
"I don't like yours much, either. Get outta my face." Angelo stalked out of the room.
"Shut up, Frost," Logan said aloud.
<*Leave my student alone, Wolverine.*> The telepathic voice was cool and even. <*He, at least, has been here for Jubilee. You, as I recall, spent months trying to track Bastion down. While I agree that he deserves a lingering and painful death, your timing could have been better.*>
"Leave me alone," he muttered.
* * *
"Go away." Jubilee rolled onto her side, hugging her pillow.
Angelo laid a gentle hand on the back she'd emphatically turned towards him. "What's wrong?"
"I'm tired, and bored, and I hate just lying here! I can't do anything! I can't even have a bath!" She threw the pillow onto the floor, nearly sobbing in frustration. "I've been cooped up for nearly a month and I still can't even stand up on my own!"
"I see." He stroked her back gently. "Well・ would having a bath make you feel better?"
"Yeah・ I'd like one・" Jubilee sighed. "But I'm not allowed, remember? My plaster isn't allowed to get wet, and I might Slip And Drown."
"It's still possible." Angelo kept his voice as casual as he could. "You'd just have to wrap the plaster in plastic and get Paige or someone to help you. I mean, she's been giving you sponge baths for a while now, I'm sure she wouldn't mind."
Jubilee brightened a little. That would be fun・ not that having the hayseed wash the bits she couldn't reach herself was anything less that totally embarrassing, but the hot water was calling her name・ Oooh. Inspiration. "Won't work. I mean, she can't lift me, remember? She couldn't get me out if something went wrong." Don't let him remember how much stronger she gets when she husks・
"That's true." Angelo was quite proud of how level and casual his voice was, despite the havoc that the thought of Jubilee in the tub was playing with his hormones.
Jubilee grinned, then wiped it off and put on her most innocent, trusting expression as she rolled onto her back and looked up at him. "Could you do it? I mean, you can still lift me, and I know I can trust you." She reached out to take his hand, knowing quite well that he could never say no to anything while he was actually touching her. "Please?"
Any second now I'm going to wake up. Any second. Waking up. This has to be a dream. Any second now. "Uhm・ I don't think Emma will like the idea・ Wolverine REALLY won't like it・"
"So we don't tell her." Jubilee widened her eyes pleadingly. "Nobody needs to know about it, but it'd make me feel so much better・ Please, Ange? Just a little bath? With bubbles?"
If he hadn't been sitting down, his knees would have buckled. "I・. oh, okay. But if we get caught, it was all your idea and you made me do it."
An hour later, Jubilee laid her head back in the hot, bubbly, if shallow, water and sighed blissfully. "Mm・ I missed this." She luxuriated for a minute, then sat up as well as she could with one leg and arm propped out of the water. "Toss me the cloth."
Eyes firmly fixed on what he was doing, Angelo tipped some body-wash onto the cloth and passed it over. "This is a little embarrassing, you know, chica."
"Why?" Jubilee scrubbed at her neck. "We're・ well, not dating, 'cause I can't really get anywhere yet, but we're involved, you've helped me get changed a hundred times, and we've been sleeping together for months."
"Technically." He stared at the bottle in his hands. "This is a bit different, though."
"True. You don't have to look if you don't want. More wash, please." She held out the cloth.
He tipped a bit more on. "Sure you can cope?" I DO wanna look, I DO, I just don't think I SHOULD・
"What I can't reach can wait." She looked down, and grinned. "That's so weird."
"What is?" He looked around automatically.
"My belly-button bein' popped out. My stomach looks like a beachball with a little valve sticking out of it."
He laughed, some of the tension easing. "It does. A cute beachball, though."
"Yup," she agreed complacently, washing her beachball carefully. "Ange? Do me a favour?"
"Could you do my toes? I can't reach them past the cast." She wiggled the toes in question. "Since they're hanging over the side anyway, I mean."
"I can do that." He sat on the floor beside the tub and reached for another cloth. "Do you feel better?"
"I do. Ya got no idea how much actually bein' able ta wash yerself means." She made a frustrated noise, and he looked up, relieved that from that angle all he could see was her head and shoulders. Well・ mostly relieved. "I wanna wash my hair, too, but there's too much of it to do with one hand. Guess I'll hafta wait until Paige can do it."
At that moment, Angelo's battered, worn, and extremely frayed self-control gave up the ghost entirely. He'd lain awake night after night with her snuggled up against him, and not touched her. He'd helped her change, without letting a single finger wander. But there was only so long that one could humanly be expected to hold out against temptation, and this was WAY past it. "I'll wash your hair for you. Give me the shampoo." He held out his hand, moving up to sit on the edge of the bath beside her.
"Thanks." She dropped the bottle into the outstretched hand.
"My pleasure." Pouring a generous amount of shampoo into one palm, he spread it slowly through her hair, massaging her scalp gently. The thick, soft strands wrapped around his fingers, and he shivered slightly, fingers probing her scalp.
She sighed, and closed her eyes. "Mm・."
He couldn't decide if it was a good thing or a bad one that the bubbles concealed all but a few tantalizing glimpses of her body. That had, of course, been the original idea, but・ "Tip your head back a little."
"'kay." She leaned back, eyes still closed. "Ange? Thanks."
"Es nada." He captured a small trail of suds that were headed for her eyes.
"No, it ain't nothing. Ya been takin' care of me right from the beginning. An' since I got hurt you've hardly left me at all." She turned her head a little, rubbing her cheek against his hand. "How'd ya get so good at looking after people?"
He stroked her hair back from her face, and reached for the hand-held shower head. "My little brother had some weird disease with about eighteen syllables in the name. We couldn't afford to send him to hospital, so we took care of him at home. It was just me and Mama then, so I had to look after him while she worked."
Jubilee's voice was soft, and she reached up to touch his knee. "It musta been hard."
"It was." He finished rinsing the shampoo out of her hair, and reached for the conditioner. "Which one?"
"The extra-body stuff." She tipped her head back and looked up at him. "Wanna talk about it? Not's okay, no pressure."
"I just・" He focused on the soothing brush of her hair on his hands. "That's how I know how to do the injections. Mama couldn't stand needles, so I did it. Right up until he died, anyway."
"I'm sorry." She rested her head against his knee.
He stroked her hair lightly, his voice shaking. "His name was Dimas, and he was eight."
"And ya never told anyone about it." She reached up awkwardly to touch his cheek.
"Ya still miss him."
"Always." He reached for the shower head again, rinsing the conditioner out of her hair quickly. "You'll get cold if you sit here any longer."
"Okay." She patted his knee and sat up, turning her head to accommodate the flow of water.
Neither of them spoke again until, dried and nightclothed, they were lying side by side in the wide bed they shared. "Angelo?" Jubilee reached out to touch his shoulder.
"I'm fine." His voice had the bitter edge she'd heard only a few times since the beginning of her pregnancy.
"Sure. I believe that." Jubilee awkwardly scooted over, wrapping her arm around the wiry body and tugging his head against her shoulder. "C'mere."
He resisted for a moment, then relaxed against her, pulling her close. "Me disculpo, amante. I'm sorry."
"Fer what?" She kissed the top of his head. "Opening up? Ange・ this is the first time you've ever told me something・ private. Something no-one else knows."
"I know." His voice was muffled in her neck. "I didn't wanna lay my problems on you while you've got so many of your own."
Jubilee sighed softly, resting her cheek against the dark head that lay on her shoulder. "And so ya try and deal with mine *and* yours? That's sweet, Ange, but it's dumb. A relationship's supposed ta be a partnership. I love ya, and I wanna help you with your crap as much as you wanna help me with mine. Okay?"
"Okay. Jubilee?" He propped himself up one one elbow and looked down at her, tracing the curve of her cheek with one finger.
"Yeah?" She gazed up at him, his face half in shadow, half limned by pale golden light from the lamp beside their bed.
His fingers traced the lines of her small face, eyes fixed on hers as his thumb brushed lightly over her lips. "Did you just say that you love me?"
"Yes." She reached up to cover his hand with her own, pressing her lips to his palm. "I love you, Angelo."
"I・oh, Dios, Jubilee・" He buried his face in her neck. "I love you, I love you so much it hurts・"
"Shh・" She buried her lips in his hair, closing her eyes as she savoured the feel of him pressed against her. "I love you, Angelo. I love you. With all my heart." She could feel him shaking, feel the dampness of tears against her neck. How long had it been since he'd been loved? Since he'd felt wanted? She held him tightly, mumuring soothing nonsense as he clung to her.
It was a long time later that he finally lifted his head, kissing her gently. "Gracias, love."
"Anytime." Jubilee smiled, cupping his cheek gently. "It felt・ nice, bein' the one ta hold you instead of the other way around."
"It did." He turned his head, kissing her fingers. "I love you, amante."
"I love you too." She grinned suddenly, her eyes dancing. "Angelo? Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Anything." The soft intensity of the word took her by surprise. It was the literal truth, she sensed. Anything.
"Am I・" She looked down, idly tracing the neck of his t-shirt with one finger. "I mean・ if I wasn't in casts and and・ and pregnant and all・ would ya be attracted to me?"
"I was," he said seriously. "I tried not to think about it, you being jailbait, but I was. You're beautiful, Jubilee." He leaned down to kiss her stomach lightly. "Just as much now as then."
"Really?" She smiled, and his stomach clenched at the hopeful, trusting look in her eyes.
"Really." There was really nothing he could do but kiss her. "God, Jubilee・ you're so beautiful, it's been hard to keep my hands off you."
"So don't." She cupped the back of his head with her small hand, pulling his mouth against hers. The kiss was lingering, passionate, and his hands were shaking by the time their lips finally parted.
"Jubilee・ are you saying what it sounds like you're saying?" He tried to get his pounding heart under control. She couldn't POSSIBLY be implying that・
"That I wanna sleep with you? Non-platonically?" She nibbled on her lip, looking down and doing distracting things with her fingers against his collarbone.
"See, now I know I'm dreaming this." He sighed, cupping her chin gently. "Jubilee・ I want to - believe me, I want to - but we shouldn't-"
"Why not?" She looked up at him, tears slowly welling up in those innocent blue eyes. "Because I'm too young? B-because s-someone already-"
"No! No, it's not that, you know it's not that," he insisted, appalled. "Well, it is, but not that way. It doesn't bother me that it happened, okay, it does, but it doesn't matter・" He growled. "This isn't coming out right. Jubes, I want to・ sleep with you. But I don't want to hurt you." He framed her small face in his hands, brushing one thumb lightly over her lips. "I'd never forgive myself."
"And I-I want to, and I love you, and I t-trust you, Ange." She reached up to touch his face. "Please?"
Well, what could he do?