Sweet Child of Mine: Chapters 1-6

by Somogyi

Rating: PG-13 for language, violence, and some disturbing imagery

Summary: Jubilee is well on the way to recovery from the physical injuries she sustained during "A Friend in Need," thanks to the help of Logan and Jean. The psychic damage, however, has been slow to heal: she is still plagued by regular nightmares and her memory has not yet returned. And while Jean's endless devotion to Jubilee is helping her to recuperate, it is starting to put a strain on Jean's marriage to Scott.

Disclaimer: The X-Men and Generation X are property of Marvel Entertainment. Characters are used without permission, no profit is being made, and no infringement on copyright is intended.

Author's Notes: Well, this sequel has been a long time in coming--about four years or so. I had always had a basic plot in mind, and the intention to write it. Unfortunately, the last couple of years of college kept me really busy--so much so that I stopped collecting comics after being an avid fan for over seven years. But the characters have always stayed dear to my heart. Turned out that it was the X-Men movie that finally got me thinking about this storyline again. I was reminded of why I was drawn into this universe every month--why I loved these characters so much. So I finally put fingers to keyboard this past summer and drafted the sequel. Revisions were interrupted by some major computer woes and a busy semester, but now it's finally done. I continue to explore the growing relationship between Jubilee and Jean that began in "Blading" and "A Friend in Need." But I've taken it one step further, also depicting Jubilee's interactions with the others who are helping her through her recovery--Scott, Logan, and Ororo. I've also tried to explore how having a foster daughter to care for has affected Jean and Scott's marriage.

As always, a heartfelt thanks to Mirage. Hard to believe it was AFIN that first brought us together as online penpals all those years ago--and that years later we were watching the X-Men movie together. Thank you, Mirage, for your wonderful suggestions--including those to expand some scenes that I originally only mentioned in passing. You've been a great soundingboard, a terrific beta-reader, and an awesome friend!

To those who were there the first time AFIN was posted, I thank you for your encouragement. Better late than never, right? For those of you reading for the first time, welcome aboard. I hope you all enjoy the story. I'd love to know what you think--comments and criticisms welcome at [email protected] or [email protected] Maybe this time it won't take me another four years to write the next installment. ;-)

Thanks for reading!

Chapter 1

Jubilee awoke with a start. Eyes wide, she sat up and peered into the darkness of her bedroom, listening carefully. Still residing in that semi-conscious state somewhere between waking and dreamscape, she tried to determine if the noise she had heard was real or imagined. Waiting anxiously, she held her breath, straining her ears.

Suddenly, she heard something. A low thump. It sounded as though it had come from the room across the hall.

*Better check it out.* Tossing back the covers, she carefully slid her legs over the edge of the bed. She reached for her braces, and slowly pulled herself to her feet. Amazing how quickly she had become accustomed to using the crutches. In only a few short weeks, she could already notice the increase in her upper body strength--not to mention the decent set of biceps she had developed on her arms. Of course, the cast on her left wrist did not help matters, but she was making do.

You get by . . . one day at a time, as Logan often said.

*I wish Wolvie were here right now.* Though she could not put her reasoning into words, Jubilee was more frightened than she had been in a long time. There was an ominous feel to the air--oppressive in its intensity. Anxiety gripped her stomach, transforming it into one enormous, tight knot.

*Oh, stop being such a baby, Lee. You don't need the ole Wolvster's help to go have a little look-see. Probably just the wind making funny noises. And the sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can get back to sleep.*

Though she had long felt she was making progress with the braces, now, when she wanted nothing more than to get to her destination as quickly as possible, it felt as though she were moving at a snail's pace. Step by agonizingly slow step, she made her way to the master bedroom.

The door was ajar. She used the foot of one of her braces to push it open the rest of the way before she carefully peered inside.

The lace curtains gently flapped in a breeze from the open window on the far side of the room. Moonlight also poured inside, suffusing the room in a soft glow. The covers on the bed were disheveled, but it was empty. As she looked around, there was no sign of anyone in the room.

"Hello?" she called out, her voice raspy and quivering. Mentally cursing herself for her lack of courage, she cleared her throat. "Hello? Jean? Scott? Anyone home?" She waited several long moments, but when she received no reply, she turned to leave.

It was then that she heard it.

A brief thumping. Coming from inside the room.

She slowly turned around and stepped back inside.

It was then that she saw it.

Several dark spots on the carpet, leading toward to closet. A trail of crimson. Its source was unmistakable.

Taking a deep breath, she approached the closet. That was where the path ended. She stopped for a moment, listened for another sound. Nothing. She placed her ear against the door. Still nothing.

*Only one way to be sure,* she realized. Trepidation filled her heart. Steeling her nerve, she reached for the handle. In one deft motion, she pulled open the door.

The scream caught in her throat as a body spilled forward and onto her, knocking her to the floor. Her first instinct was to push it off, and she tried to move the figure. She merely succeeded in turning the person over. Catching sight of the face, she gave a sharp cry.

"Omigod! Scott!"

He was so still, his face was so ashen, she feared he was dead. Frozen with panic, Jubilee did not know what to do next.

But then he stirred, and noting that he was wearing neither his visor nor a pair of ruby-quartz glasses, Jubilee threw herself to the ground, ducking for cover. When she realized that nothing happened--that there was no ensuing destruction from his mutant powers--she slowly raised her head and looked in his direction. When she finally got a good look at him, she had to bite her lip not to cry out again.

Under normal conditions, if Scott were to open his eyes and look directly at her, she would no longer have a face; the concussive force of his optic blasts would have pulverized it. For that to happen, however, would require that he still have eyes.

Someone or something had ripped Scott's eyes from their sockets. The flesh that remained was ragged. Blood had seeped down his cheeks, and stains splattered the front of his white undershirt.

"Oh God! Oh God! Scott, wh-what h-happened?" Jubilee asked, reaching to touch his face, but thinking better of it at the last moment.

"C-came inside. . . . Took . . . took . . . by sur- . . . surprise. . . ." He was gasping, barely able to speak. He reached out, found her arm, and grasped it with such urgency that she could feel his fingers digging into her flesh. "Wh-where . . . where's . . . J-Jean?"

"Jean? I don't know. I figured she'd be with you."

He shook his head. "D-Don't know. . . . Ra-rapport . . . gone. . . . Got . . . got to find . . . Jean. . . ." His remaining strength seemingly spent, he collapsed backwards to the floor.

Jubilee kneeled over him. "O-Okay. I'll go find her. You stay here, Scott. I'll find Jean and get help."

Grabbing her braces, Jubilee rose unsteadily to her feet. Her mind was whirling. Who could have done this to Scott? And what had this person done with Jean? More importantly--what would this person do to Jubilee if she found him?

If whoever did this was good enough to get the best of Cyclops and Phoenix, what chance did she stand--lame as she was? She would make a quick search for Jean--just to make sure she was not lying injured somewhere. But her best strategy was to get the hell out of there just as fast as her gimpy legs could carry her. To get to the mansion and find help. Let the cavalry take care of the mystery attacker.

Jubilee made her way down the hallway, toward the living room. Every nerve was on full alert. She took her time, trying to be fully aware of her surroundings. Several times, she turned around, sure someone was watching her, following her. Always she found nothing, no one.

The living room appeared clear. Nothing seemed amiss. Likewise, the dining room looked untouched. That left the kitchen. When she reached the door, she found herself suddenly frozen in place. An icy chill gripped her heart. Every instinct told her to turn tail and run, and never look back. She had to will herself to stay.

*C'mon, Lee. They're made of better stuff in the X-Men,* she thought, trying to give herself a silent pep talk. *What would Wolvie do?* she asked herself. *He'd march right in there, claws a-slashin', that's what he'd do. Now get your ass in there and make him proud!*

Focusing on that thought, she pushed the door inwards and walked inside.

The sight that greeted her eyes nearly sent her screaming like a madwoman.

For a moment, all she could do was stare. Her mouth was open, lips moving, though no sound would come out. It took all her willpower not to double over and puke her guts out.

A puddle of blood had pooled directly below the kitchen table. Drops still fell from above at a consistent rate, causing the pile of liquid to overflow and stream several feet across the linoleum tile toward her. Those drops originated from the prone form that lay sprawled across the table.

She had found Jean.

Her normally fair skin was now literally snow white--nearly the same shade as the pearl white satin chemise she wore--though that fabric was now saturated with blood. She lay spread-eagle, arms akimbo, fingers frozen in a claw-like stance. Her head was likewise twisted, her hair flowing around her head like a crimson halo. There was a look of utter agony on her face. Her mouth was agape, a small trickle of blood having dripped from one corner. Her eyes stared blankly toward the floor, the pain she felt in her last moments captured in their now lifeless depths.

Somehow, Jubilee managed to get her feet to move forward, careful to avoid the blood that covered the floor. At she neared the table, the gruesome tableau grew worse. Where Jean's chest and abdomen used to be was now a gaping, ragged, bloodstained hole. Loops of intestine lay scattered over her hip, on the table, and dangled toward the floor, blood still dripping from the severed end. It was horrible enough that some sick bastard had left her lying here like this, but to have eviscerated her? For what sick, perverted purpose?

"I was wondrin' when you'd show up, squirt."

The familiar gravelly voice sent an icy chill down Jubilee's spine. It emanated from a dark corner of the room. Its owner had evidently been crouched there, sitting unnoticed.

Slowly, the figure rose to his full intimidating height, and stepped out of the shadows and into the dim moonlight that illuminated the center of the room. Muscle and sinew rippled with ferocious strength. His golden mane-like hair crowned a savage face of pure evil. As he moved forward, Jubilee started to backtrack.

"I was just havin' me a little snack," he said, indicating some dark object he held in his left hand. He raised it high above his head, tilted his head back, and opened his mouth. A dark, wine-colored liquid poured from his hand, most of it making its way into his gullet, but a fair amount splattering across his face. After a few swallows, he straightened his head and licked his chops.

"Still warm. That sure hits the spot," he said, using the back of one clawed hand to wipe his mouth. "Ya want some, babe?" he asked, holding out his hand to her. It was only then that she was able to get a clear sight of what he held: a human heart.

Once again, Jubilee fought the urge to vomit. "You sicko Hannibal Lector psycho killer freak!" she spat, still continuing to back towards the door.

"Didn't anybody ever tell ya it's not nice ta call people names?"

"And didn't anybody ever tell you it's not nice to gut people and eat 'em, Snaggletooth?"

"Hey, sweetums, where ya goin'?" he asked, tossing Jean's heart to the floor like a discarded soda can.

The callousness of that gesture compounding on the initial violent act itself was enough to push Jubilee's emotions over the edge. She felt hot tears welling in her eyes, blurring her vision. Saying nothing, she continued her retreat.

"Uh uh uh. Not so fast, honey bunch. Red here was just an appetizer. You, my li'l sweetmeat, are gonna be the main course!"

Before he even finished the statement, he had launched himself toward her, claws-first.

The instant she realized what was happening, Jubilee threw up her hands and let loose with a burst of fireworks.

With a roar of pain, he fell to the floor, grasping his eyes, his super-keen senses overloaded by the bright light.

Taking the opening she created for herself, Jubilee scurried toward the door. She almost lost her footing on the slippery, bloodstained floor several times, but somehow managed to make it to the door. She barreled straight through it--and right into someone, nearly knocking them both down.

"Scott!" she gasped, clutching onto him to regain her balance.

"Jean?" he asked.

Jubilee shook her head, only to realize that Scott could not see the gesture. "She- she's . . . . I'm so sorry, Scott."

"Don't cry, kiddies. Yer both about ta join her!" She could hear the raspy voice not far behind her.

"Go," Scott said, stepping in front of Jubilee. "I'll hold him off as long as I can."


"Go!" Scott repeated, giving her a firm shove. "And don't look back."

Jubilee did as he said. She limped toward the front door--and what she hoped to be freedom. Above the sound of her harsh breathing, she could hear Scott's voice.

"You killed my wife, you sick bastard! You blinded me! But you won't hurt her! Not as long as I draw breath!"

"Then we'll just have ta see what we can do about that, eh, no-eyes?"

Scott uttered what could only be described as a war cry as he launched himself at his opponent. Miraculously, he tagged him across the waist and they both plowed against the door and into the kitchen.

For the briefest of moments, Jubilee allowed herself some hope. It was short-lived, however: as the door swung back open on the rebound, she heard a hideous ripping sound--no doubt of claws rending flesh--followed almost instantly by Scott's agonized scream.

*Don't stop don't look back don't even think about it just keep moving!* Jubilee told herself. As she rounded a corner, her brace caught under the couch. She crashed to the floor face-first, giving her nose one hell of a pounding. The sharp pain made her see stars.

She quickly cleared her vision and tried to retrieve her crutch. The brace was somehow pinned beneath the sofa, and would not come loose.

She gave up on it, and tried to use the remaining crutch to rise to her feet. With a sharp cry, her ankle bent inward and she crumpled to the ground. During her fall, she must have managed to twist her ankle.

Hot tears now streamed down her cheeks as panic set in. She had to get out of there--at all costs. The front door was only a few meters away. She scurried toward it, crawling on hands and knees. She could make it. She *would* make it. It was so close--

"Gotcha, rugrat!" she heard him say a moment before his clawed hand grasped her by the ankle, talons digging into the flesh and drawing blood.

She cried out, tried to kick him, but it was no use.

With no visible effort, he flipped her onto her back. Instinctively, she raised her hands and let loose with a massive burst of fireworks.

As soon as the colorful plasmoids dissipated, she watched in disappointment as he turned his head back to face her and opened his eyes. "Ya won't get me again with that li'l parlor trick."

She kicked and screamed and clawed and fought, but still he was stronger. During her struggle, she blindly waved her arms, and in the process felt something. She reached out one arm to the side, could recognize the cold metal of her brace as it just brushed her fingertips. She stretched her arm, felt her fingers close around the handle.

"I'm gonna enjoy this, sweetums. Young meat is always the most tender."

Gritting her teeth, she swung the makeshift club at him with all her strength, clocking him across the head and face.

It startled him enough for him to release his hold on her.

Not wasting a moment of the opening she had been granted, Jubilee began to wiggle out from beneath his grasp. She had barely crawled a foot or two away when she felt him grab her by the hair. He yanked her backwards and down, the force eliciting an audible crack as her head banged against the hardwood floor.

"Nice try, firecracker. I like my prey feisty. Ole Red, she put up quite a fight back there in the kitchen. Refused ta beg me for her life, though. It was almost a shame rippin' up that gorgeous bod of hers. *Almost*."

For a moment, fear was replaced with anger. Jubilee narrowed her eyes and spat in his face, getting him right between the eyes.

"Feisty's one thing, but you're a sassy li'l bitch!" he growled, backhanding her, his claws ripping four deep gashes in her cheek.

She screwed her eyes shut, bracing herself for the inevitable. Tears streamed from her cheeks, the salt making the wounds on her face sting.

"Oh, I'm gonna enjoy this, sweetums. Watchin' you squirm." He took one claw and traced a shallow incision, beginning from the hollow of her throat, continuing down through her pajama top as he sliced her from sternum to navel. Next she felt him making an 'X' on her upper left chest--above her heart, she realized.

Then, for the briefest of moments, she felt nothing. Her anxiety increased with each second that ticked by as she waited. Jubilee sobbed, pain and fear shaking her body uncontrollably.

"Hold still, darlin'," he said. But the voice had changed. Still gruff, but of a different pitch, a lower timbre.

Opening her eyes, she looked up, and saw that it was no longer Sabretooth who sat on top of her.

"W-Wolvie . . . ? Oh, thank God!" He had come to save her.

He smiled at her then--but the toothy grin was anything but reassuring. The gesture was positively malicious.

"W-Wolvie . . . ?" she whispered uncertainly.

A low growl emanated from him, even as saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth.

Only then did she realize that she had not been saved. Far from it.

"P-Puh-please," she stammered between sobs. She gazed up at him through a tear- and pain-filled haze, hoping to find some--any--semblance of mercy.

Her eyes locked with his.

"Please, Logan . . . ."

They were not the eyes of the Logan she knew. There was no kindness, no sympathy, no love. Not even recognition--save for that of a hunter visualizing his prey.

"It's m-m-me. . . . It's Jubilee. . . ."

But there would be no respite for Jubilee tonight. Her begging had fallen on deaf ears.

"Logan, don't d-do this. . . . Please, Logan. . . ."

"Say good night, Gracie," he told her, swinging his arm back.

"Oh God, Logan . . . d-don't do this. You're stronger than this. . . ."

With a loud *snikt!* his claws popped out of their sheaths.

"For God's sake, Logan, it's me! It's Jubilee!"

He continued to hold his fist behind his shoulder, obviously taking immense pleasure in drawing out the terror of what she knew to be her last moments on earth.

Swallowing back her fear, Jubilee met his gaze. In a final, last-ditched effort, she tried desperately to reach the man inside. Her voice surprisingly calm, she spoke softly but confidently. "I know you'd never hurt me, Wolvie."

He cocked his head to the side, the grimace fading from his face.

Jubilee allowed herself a moment of hope.

But that was all it was--a moment. For in the next instant, she watched helplessly as his hand plunged downward and his claws ripped into her chest.

She shrieked as she felt the white-hot burn of his claws rending her flesh and bone, then his fingers wrapping around her still-beating heart, the scream dying on her lips as she felt him rip it from her body.

She felt the life seep out of her body along with that final scream.

Before the darkness consumed her, a single thought flitted across her mind.

I know you'd never hurt me.

Chapter 2

Jean awoke with a start. She had heard Jubilee's anguished cries through the mindlink she had established when the girl had come under her care. Now, as she sat up in bed and telekinetically turned on the lamp at her bedside, she could hear the faint sound of screaming coming from the room across the hall.

"Jean. . . ?" Beside her, Scott stirred, quickly shaking off the last vestiges of sleep. His years of training and being accustomed to being awakened in the middle of the night to face God-only-knew-what enabled his mind to become alert almost instantaneously. <*What is it?*> he asked through the psychic rapport they shared.

"It's Jubilee," Jean said aloud, tossing back the covers and quickly climbing out of bed. She did not even bother to grab her robe as she rushed out of the room.

She found Jubilee sitting up in bed, her frightened screams having since been reduced to loud sobs. As she walked closer, she saw that Jubilee's cheeks were wet with tears, her eyes wide and filled with terror. Jean quickly sat down on the bed beside her and reached for the trembling girl.

At first, Jubilee recoiled at the touch.

"Easy, Jubilee. It's just me. It's Jean." Once again, she reached for Jubilee.

"J-Jean. . . ?" This time, the girl did not pull back; rather, she practically launched herself at Jean, grabbing her and holding on desperately. She buried her face in Jean's shoulder and began to sob even harder. "Y-You're alive!"

"Of course I'm alive," Jean assured her, gently rubbing her back. "I'm fine. I'm right here with you, sweetie."

"And Sc-Scott. . . ?"

"I'm here, too, Jubilee," he called from the doorway.

Jubilee raised her eyes, saw him leaning against the doorjamb, watching them, concern etched all over his face. She sighed. "I-I thought he killed you. Like he k-killed m-me. I tried to r-run . . . tr-tried to f-f-fight 'im . . . but . . . but. . . ."

"Shh," Jean soothed, gently stroking Jubilee's hair. "It's okay, sweetie. You're safe. Nobody's trying to hurt you. You're fine. I'm fine. Scott's fine. We're all okay."

"We'd never let anybody hurt you," Scott added.

Jubilee shivered. Didn't Scott understand? He had disguised himself as a friend, as someone they trusted. So that when they least expected it, he would strike. And kill them all. They would never see it coming.

Fear and hopelessness gripping her heart once more, Jubilee continued to shake, her breath coming in ragged gasps between loud sobs.

Jean began to rock her, continuing to issue soft words of comfort.

<*Jean?*> Scott asked, holding his hands out helplessly as he took a step closer. <*What can I do?*>

<*Nothing,*> she replied tersely. And with that, she ended the exchange.

In Scott's mind, it was as though she had put him 'on hold,' weakening their psychic rapport, focusing her attention instead on her link with Jubilee. Feeling rebuffed, he quietly left, giving Jean the privacy she evidently sought.

Jean continued to rock Jubilee, trying to assuage her fears and quiet her weeping. When spoken words seemed to have no effect, she resorted to telepathic communication, projecting soothing words directly into Jubilee's mind. That seemed to do the trick; before long, the girl's sobs had subsided, and her tears stopped flowing. In a few minutes, she had given in to the emotional exhaustion, and had fallen asleep in Jean's arms.

Jean carefully lay the girl back down against the pillow, tucking the blanket securely around her. She gently brushed the hair off of her sweat-soaked brow. She sat watching her for a few minutes to assure herself that Jubilee was, in fact, fast asleep. When she was convinced, she bent down to place a soft kiss on Jubilee's head before quietly leaving the room.

With a sigh, Jean made her way into the kitchen. There, she found Scott waiting for her. Seeing him sitting at the table with a steaming mug in front of a nearby seat, she smiled.

She silently sat down, cradled the mug in her hands. The gentle aroma of chamomile tea drifted up toward her nose.

"She fall back asleep?" Scott asked.

Jean nodded. "With the help of a psychic sedative. She was terrified, Scott. I glimpsed into her mind. The images were horrible." She could not suppress a shudder from running through her. "What time is it?" she asked as she took a careful sip of the tea.

Scott glanced at the clock on the wall behind Jean. "Half past two."

Jean sighed. "She's supposed to get up in four hours." She shook her head. "I should probably let her sleep in this morning, let her rest."

"Jean, I thought we all agreed that it's important to maintain a schedule. If Jubilee starts skipping physical therapy sessions, she's never going to get well."

Jean sighed. "I suppose you're right. It's just . . . whenever she has one of these dreams, she's always so exhausted the next day."

"No one said getting better would be easy. Sometimes she has to push herself a bit. But she's strong. She can handle it." He paused, saw the dejected look on his wife's face. "At least this was the first nightmare this week," Scott offered hopefully.

Jean sighed in exasperation. "I thought we were making good progress, but obviously the underlying trauma is still there. It's like we've come up against a brick wall."

Scott gently covered one of her hands with his own, offering her a sympathetic smile. He understood Jean's frustration. While Jubilee had been improving by leaps and bounds physically these past six weeks, her emotional therapy was slow going. When she had first come to stay with them, she had had a violent nightmare each night, never once sleeping undisturbed until morning. It was not until after several weeks of psychic counseling that she began to have some peace. But even that was short-lived; just when they thought she was beginning to recover emotionally, she had another nightmare. They came less frequently, but just as fierce in their content. It seemed that for every psychic barrier Jean managed to help Jubilee overcome, there were at least a dozen more that stood strong. The extent of the damage Tessa had wreaked in the girl's mind seemed to be never-ending.

"Jean, she endured a terrible emotional trauma. Those kind of scars don't fade instantly; it's going to take time."

"You think I don't know that? That I'm some naive, amateur counselor? I've been inside her mind nearly every day for the past month-and-a-half. I've seen the demons that lurk there, Scott. And for each one I help her slay, there are a handful remaining to be exorcised. It's so goddammed frustrating!" She blinked back tears.

"I'm sorry, Jean," he said gently, wrapping his fingers around hers and giving her hand a squeeze. "I know how frustrated you are. But you're not the only one who feels that way. We all do. We all want Jubilee to be well. To beat this thing."

"Yes, but none of you can help her heal her mind. I'm the only one who can get into her unconscious, the only one who can mend her wounded psyche. And I'm failing miserably." Bowing her head, she could no longer stop the tears from falling.

"Oh, Jean. . . ." He reached for her, gently wiped the wetness from her cheeks. "You're expecting too much, putting too much pressure on yourself. You're doing the best you can."

"And it's obviously not enough! I promised to help heal Jubilee, and I haven't kept my word."

"Of course you have. Jean, you spend nearly every waking moment caring for that girl. You help clothe her, feed her, bathe her. You work with her to improve her speech, walk with her as part of her physical therapy. And slowly but surely, you're helping her to heal her mind. It's because of you that she's able to sleep five nights out of the week. Because of your efforts that she can sing, that she'll soon dance again. It's because of your love that she's able to laugh again. So don't you dare sit here and try to sell yourself short. Because I've watched you with her for weeks, and I sure as hell know better."

Jean smiled then. Holding tight to his hand, she reached her other toward him, lightly stroked his face. "Thank you, Scott. Somehow, you always know just what to say to make me feel better."

He returned her smile, turning his head to kiss her palm.

Jean yawned then despite herself.

"I think it's time we both got to bed," Scott said, rising and taking her mug to the sink. "We need the rest if we're going to be alert for tomorrow's training session."

Jean's brow furrowed. "Training session? Scott, what are you talking about?"

He turned back from the sink to face her. "What do you mean what am I talking about? The entire team was planning to practice in the Danger Room tomorrow--well, today, actually," he quickly corrected himself as he remembered the early hour. He regarded her for a moment in silent disbelief. "Jean, you didn't really forget about it, did you? We were just talking about it yesterday afternoon with Ororo and Logan."

"Scott, you know that ever since Jubilee came to stay with us, I've considered myself to be on inactive duty. To be perfectly honest, when I heard you discussing it with them, I didn't pay much attention because I didn't consider it to pertain to me."

She could see his eyebrows rise above the top of his ruby-quartz glasses. "Not pertain to you? Jean, you're still an X-Man."

"An inactive member," she reminded him.

"Regardless, you're still a member of the team. You're still living on the mansion grounds, which means you're subject to the same threats of attack as the rest of us. Most importantly, you're still in full possession of your mutant powers and physically capable of fighting. As such, you need to brush up on your skills, hone your powers and your fighting repertoire. I know you don't have time to attend sessions regularly, but I figured you'd be coming to this one."

Jean could not help but give a small laugh. "Scott, this isn't some green, wet-behind-the-ears new recruit you're talking to here--it's me, your wife. I've been training in the use of my powers since before there was such a thing as the X-Men. Cut me a little slack."

If anything, her words and reaction caused his face to grow even sterner. "As leader of this team, I cannot in all good conscience go easy on you."

"You're kidding me, right?"

"Jean, just because we decide to take some time off does not mean that our enemies do. What would happen if we were to be attacked tomorrow? What if the events you saw in Jubilee's nightmare actually came to pass? What do you think would happen if you had not been exercising your powers for some time? If you were a little rusty? What do you think the consequences would be--not only for yourself, but also for Jubilee, whom you have sworn to protect? You won't do her any good if you haven't stretched any psychic or physical muscles for weeks on end. You need to practice."

"I'm supposed to help Jubilee with her speech and psychic therapy later this morning."

"At what time?"

Annoyed, she blew out a loud breath. "Nine."

"That won't be a problem. Ororo and I decided to split the team into two groups for two separate sessions. You can join the first while Logan helps Jubilee with her physical therapy at seven. You should be done in more than enough time to work with Jubilee at nine."

Jean stared at Scott in disbelief. "Is that an order, Cyclops?" she asked tersely.

Sensing her indignation, Scott walked over to the table. "Don't be absurd, Jean. You know I only push us all so hard for our own good. When the battles are for real, no one pulls any punches. We have to be prepared for the worst."

"Sure. Fine. Whatever," she muttered, getting to her feet.

"So you'll be at the seven o'clock session?"

"Once I'm sure that Jubilee is settled for her PT, I'll stop by the Danger Room."

"Great. So, you ready to go back to bed?" he asked, holding out his hand to her.

She ignored his gesture as she turned away from the table. "You go ahead, Scott. I want to go check on Jubilee."

"I can wait while you--"

"Don't bother. I want to sit with her a few minutes, make sure the nightmares don't return," Jean told him, already heading out the kitchen door. "You should get to sleep, though, Scott--you don't want to be tired for your training session. It might slow down your reflexes." Without another word, she quietly made her way into Jubilee's room, closing the door shut behind her.

Chapter 3

"Jubilee, wake up."

Feeling the insistent touch on her shoulder gently nudging her, the girl reluctantly cracked her eyes open. Through a sleep-filled haze, she could make out the blurry oval of a face hovering over her, framed by long red tresses. "J-Jean. . . ? Wh-wha' time's it . . . ?"

"Time to get up, Jubes."

Jubilee turned her head, read the face of the bedside clock. Six-thirty. God, it was still the middle of the night. "Just a few more minutes, 'kay?" she asked, rolling onto her side and pulling the covers up over her head.

"I'm sorry, sweetie, but you're supposed to meet Logan in a half hour. You don't want to keep him waiting."

"Wolvie won't care if I'm a little late," came the girl's muffled reply.

She felt the mattress sink a bit as Jean no doubt sat down beside her. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of shades rolling up, even as bright sunlight suffused the bedroom, reaching her even below the protection of the comforter. Sometimes having a telekinetic for a foster mother had its drawbacks.

"Remember the deal we made? If you ever miss or are late for a physical therapy session, he's going to work you even harder. Are you really up for that today?"

With a reluctant sigh, Jubilee threw the covers down off of her head. "No, not really." She looked up at Jean, and her brow furrowed. Jean looked exhausted. Her face was pale, her eyes puffy with dark circles beneath them. "You didn't sleep much either, huh?"

"Enough to make do," Jean replied, reaching down to gently stroke Jubilee's cheek with the back of her hand. "Now, why don't you get washed up and dressed, and I'll make you something to eat. What would you like for breakfast?"

Jubilee slowly sat up, rubbing the remnants of sleep from her eyes. "I'm not that hungry. I'll probably just have some cereal."

"All right. Let me know if you change your mind." Jean rose, and retrieved Jubilee's braces from where they sat propped against the nightstand.

Throwing back the covers, Jubilee slid her legs over the side of the bed and accepted the proffered crutches to help her to her feet. She began her journey toward the bathroom. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the closet door fly open along with several drawers as Jean retrieved sweatpants, tee shirt, socks, and underclothes, even as she made the bed in a more traditional manner. At the last moment, a hooded, zipper-up sweatshirt moved to join the other pieces of clothing on the newly made bed. Guess it was still chilly out. Jean always seemed aware of such mundane matters, and was always prepared for them--making sure she was, as well. One could get used to such pampering, Jubilee thought with a smile.

A short while later, freshly scrubbed and dressed for her workout, Jubilee entered the kitchen. Jean had already set the container of milk, a bowl, spoon, and napkin at the table for her. She now busied herself preparing a cup of tea. "Pick your poison," Jean called, her back to the table as she tended to her mug.

"Gotta have my pops," Jubilee replied, seating herself at the kitchen table. She had not even put down her crutches when the pantry door flew open and a box of sugar pops flew across the room and landed gently on table beside her bowl.

Knowing how health conscious Jean was, Jubilee had expected a fight when she had put in a request for her favorite breakfast cereals--all of which contained sugar as a primary ingredient. Surprisingly, Jean had acquired a box of each with no further comment. Apparently, so long as Jubilee agreed to eat the fruit and vegetables that were offered to her as part of her other meals, Jean was perfectly willing to overlook her sweet tooth when it came to her choice of cereals. Actually, she also managed to indulge them all with the variety of desserts she would prepare. It was in this way they had learned of a shared love for all things chocolate.

Jubilee set about pouring a healthy serving of cereal into her bowl and then drowned it in milk. "You wan' some?" she asked through a mouthful as Jean sat down across from her, cradling a steaming mug in her hands.

"No thanks," Jean replied with a small smile. "I can't deal with anything that sweet this early in the morning."

"You're not having anything?" Jubilee inquired as she shoveled another heaping spoonful into her mouth.

"Just this," Jean said, taking a cautious sip of the potent liquid.

"Scott sleeping in?" the girl asked, not having heard him at all since she had been awakened.

"No, he's already at the mansion. Apparently, there are some training sessions scheduled for this morning in the Danger Room." The underlying tone of irritation in her voice was unmistakable.

Trouble in paradise? Jubilee wondered.

"That why you're sporting the colorful threads?" Jubilee asked, indicating the uniform that Jean wore. "Haven't seen you in that since I came to stay here."

Jean pursed her lips a moment before replying. "Well, I was told that getting out of practice with my powers would not be looked upon favorably, so I decided to comply with team regulations while you were working on your PT with Logan."

Jubilee regarded her silently for a moment. "Everything okay, Jean? Did you and Scott have a fight or something?"

"Everything's fine, Jubilee. Certainly nothing for you to concern yourself with." She rose, carrying her mug to the sink. "You finished? We need to get going."

"Yeah. Let me just--" But before she could finish the sentence, Jean had mentally whisked the dirty dishes into the sink and was replacing the milk and cereal box in their proper places. Though she would be the first to appreciate the benefits of telekinesis--especially when it was utilized to make her life easier--sometimes Jubilee wished she would be allowed to accomplish things on her own.

Not to mention the fact that Jean seemed especially tense this morning--and quite perturbed. She and Scott definitely must have had a fight, Jubilee decided.

With a small sigh, Jubilee got to her feet and donned her Xavier Institute sweat jacket. As she retrieved her braces, Jean accompanied her to the front door. And so they began the slow trek to the mansion.

Since she had come to stay with Jean and Scott and had begun her physical therapy with Logan, Jubilee had always started the trip to the mansion under her own power. At first, she had barely been able to walk a few yards before becoming exhausted. Jean always accompanied her, though, and when her energy would expire, Jean would then assist her by levitating her telekinetically for the rest of the trip. As the weeks passed, and Logan helped her to build up her strength with various exercises, Jubilee was able to traverse longer portions of the journey unassisted. Her arms were now at least as strong as they were when she was an accomplished child gymnast, and that added upper body strength enabled her to utilize the crutches more efficiently and for longer distances. Just yesterday, she was at the halfway point: able to complete half of the journey to the mansion under her own power. Her goal was to get past that point before the end of the week. She hoped that before the month was out, she would be able to travel all the way from the boathouse to the mansion, unassisted by Jean.

Usually she and Jean chatted on the way to the mansion. The small talk usually helped keep her mind off of her personal struggle. This morning, however, Jean seemed particularly quiet. Probably thinking about Scott, and whatever it was they had argued over, Jubilee assumed.

"Y'know, Jean, if you, like, wanna talk about it. . . ."

"There's nothing to talk about, Jubilee."

The girl snorted. "Puh-lease. Just 'cause I'm brain-damaged doesn't mean I'm dense. Something's up, Jean. That's, like, perfectly obvious."

"I'm fine, sweetie. But thanks for asking."

"No prob. If you change your mind. . . ."

Jean graced her with a smile. "How're you holding up?"

"Okay," Jubilee replied. Her muscles were warm from the exertion. Perspiration was already starting to bead on her brow and upper lip. She figured another minute or two before she would need to take a breather.

"You're doing great today," Jean praised. "We're nearing the middle mark, and you've barely broken a sweat. Your heart beat is only mildly elevated."

"How the heck can you know what my heart's doin'?" Jubilee muttered through clenched teeth. She was starting to strain.

"The magic of telepathy. Do you want to stop?"

"Not yet," Jubilee panted. "Want . . . to go . . . a little bit . . . further."

"All right," Jean acquiesced, slowing her pace to match Jubilee's. "Don't over-exert yourself, though. You want to leave yourself enough strength to get through Logan's work-out."

"How . . . far. . . ?"

Jean gazed around them. "I think we're just passed half-way there."

With a grunt, Jubilee took a few more steps. She did it. She actually did it. She had completed over fifty percent of the trip by herself, without any--

"Whoa!" she cried as the end of her crutch landed unevenly on a small rock in the path, causing her to lose her balance. She found herself tumbling toward the ground.

"Gotcha!" Jean said, intercepting Jubilee in her arms before she could fall any further. She held the sweaty, trembling girl as she fought to regain her breath. "You okay, sweetie?"

"Yeah," Jubilee replied, nodding, as she got shakily to her feet. Her arms definitely needed a break. There was no way she would be able to take another step without some rest. "I think I've had it, though."

"That's okay, Jubes. It's better than okay, actually. You made it more than halfway, all on your own. Congratulations! That was wonderful."

"Thanks," Jubilee said, smiling. "It did feel pretty good."

"I'll bet. Before you know it, kiddo, you'll be walking over to the mansion all by yourself, without any need for me."

Jubilee wiped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. "Hey, I can always use the company. I really enjoy our mornin' walks."

"Really?" Jean looked at her, a smile of pleasure on her face. That, and something else. It almost looked like she had tears in her eyes. But that was ridiculous; Jubilee was probably imagining things--mistaking the glint of sunlight for moisture. "I've enjoyed them, too." She reached to encircle Jubilee's back with her arm, using her telekinesis to help support her. Together, they completed the journey to the mansion.

When they arrived in the gym, Logan was waiting for them. "Thought maybe you'd decided to skip," he said, removing a pair of ankle weights from a cabinet.

"Jubilee managed to walk over half the distance herself," Jean explained. "So the trip necessarily took a little longer than usual."

Logan glanced at Jean as he took Jubilee's crutches from her to place out of the way. "Looks like yer gonna have a work-out of yer own this mornin', Red."

Jean nodded reluctantly. "My husband has insisted that I exercise my mental muscles at today's training session."

"You'd better get movin', then. They were gettin' ready ta start a few minutes ago."

"I need to make sure Jubilee is settled--"

"She'll be fine, Jeanie."

Jean looked unconvinced.

"Really, Jean, I'm cool," Jubilee said, removing her sweat jacket. "Wolvie will take good care of me, like he always does."

Though she still looked unconvinced, Jean gave a small sigh and nodded her head, finally acquiescing. "I guess you're right. You'll give me a mental shout if you need anything?"

"What, and distract you in the middle of a Danger Room session? You got a death wish?"

Jean frowned at Logan's words.

"It's just a couple of hours, Jean," Jubilee reassured her. "Nothing's gonna happen to me. I'll be here when you're done, and you can come check on me then. Now, go on, you're probably holdin' up the works."

"All right. Have fun with your work out," she said, giving Jubilee a short hug. "Don't work her too hard, Logan," she called, even as she headed for the door. She paused at the doorway, looking back at the pair longingly.

"Go kick some butt!" Jubilee called to her as she gave a small wave.

Waving back, Jean finally took her leave.

Once she did, Jubilee let out an audible sigh. "Geez lou-eeze! She's startin' to smother me, Wolvie. I don't know how much more of this I can take."

"You love bein' pampered, and you know it, kiddo."

Jubilee smirked. "Well, yeah, it's kinda nice havin' someone take care of me. But I'm gettin' better every day, an' I need a little more space."

"Just don't be too hard on her, firecracker. Jeanie's heart's in the right place. She just wants to do right by you, is all."

"I know, Wolvster. Believe me, I know." Letting out a deep breath, she began to slowly lower herself onto the padded mats. Still a little winded from the walk over to the mansion, she lost her balance.

When Logan quickly reached to steady her, she reacted as though his touch burned her skin; before she could stop herself, she jerked her arm away. Startled by her reaction, Logan released his hold immediately, and without his support, Jubilee tumbled onto her side with a grunt.

"Ya okay, kiddo?" Logan asked. He crouched down beside her and started to reach for her again, but, sensing her anxiety, his hands remained at his sides.

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine," Jubilee replied, pushing herself into a sitting position. "I'm sorry, Wolvie. I don't know what happened. I didn't mean to freak on ya." Glancing in his direction, she saw the way he was staring at her, brow furrowed with concern. She quickly averted her eyes.

"Ya had the dream again, huh, kid?"

Jubilee bit her bottom lip, even as she fought to hold back the tears that were fast approaching. Still staring down at the mats, she nodded.

She heard Logan sigh. "I know how real, how terrifyin' a nightmare can be, kiddo--believe me, I've had my share of 'em. But ya do know that that's all it is, right? Just a bad dream. You know I would never do anything to hurt ya."

Jubilee's eyes widened at his last words. He could smell the sweat that broke out on her body, hear the catch in her breath. This time, he did reach out and touch her arm.

Gooseflesh immediately rose on her arm, but she did not pull back. She gave a small nod into her chest. The sight of her pale, frightened face was more painful to Logan than any wound he had ever received--and scrapper that he was, he had certainly received his fair share.

From the moment they had met--when Jubilee had saved him from the Reavers and cared for him while he recovered from his injuries--he had taken an instant liking to her. She was smart, sassy, fiercely loyal, and brave as all get out. And beneath that tough exterior was a compassionate heart bigger than most. It did not take long before Jubilee had won him over, and he came to care for her--to love her like a daughter. As such, he had vowed do whatever he could to keep her safe from harm.

Learning of her injuries at the hands of Shaw and Tessa, Logan had blamed himself for being unable to protect her. And so he had done what came naturally for him--he sought revenge from those who had hurt her. He had since come to realize that the best way to help her was to assist her in her convalescence. But while her physical wounds were well on the way to healing, it was the psychic damage she had incurred that was putting a halt to her recuperation.

Damn that bitch Tessa for what she had done to Jubilee! God only knew what sort of horrors Jubilee had been forced to face in her mind. If Jean's somber expression at the end of each of their psychic counseling sessions were any indication, it was pretty damned bad. Memories of that mental torture were bad enough for Jubilee to have to live with. The fact that the torment continued to plague her though her dreams was even worse. The icing on the cake, however, was that the villain in those nightmares took the form of the person she used to trust more than any other--him.

He remembered with painful clarity how nervous she had been during their earliest physical therapy sessions. Jean, aware of Jubilee's agitation, had decided to remain nearby the entire time. It had torn at his heart the way that Jubilee continually recoiled at his touch. By the time their third session had rolled around, he called her on it. She was hesitant about telling him, but with Jean's gentle cajoling, Jubilee finally revealed to Logan the horrific content of her dreams--including his role in the bloodbath. The idea that she could think him capable of harming her in any way--even if it was a subconscious fear--was almost more than Logan could bear. Had Tessa's whereabouts been known, he would surely have tracked her down and ripped her apart with his bare hands for the hell she had put Jubilee though. Instead, he reined in his anger, realizing that the more immediate concern was Jubilee's well-being. And so they had talked for a while, and he did his best to convince her that her nightmare would never come to pass.

The weeks ahead had been difficult for Jubilee--both physically and mentally. But whereas she had been making steady progress with her body's injuries, she never seemed to become completely comfortable around him. There was always an underlying tension, an undercurrent of anxiety that seemed to vary depending upon the most recent occurrence of her dream. Last night's must have hit her pretty badly if her current state of trepidation were any indication. It had been weeks since she had seemed this disheartened. As far as Logan could recall, she had not been this dispirited since they had started their workouts.

Blast it all to hell! Logan felt as though he were losing her. But he'd be damned if he would let that happen. She deserved better than that.

"Jubilation, look at me."

She slowly raised her head.

He met her gaze then, and when she saw the expression there, she felt her heart ache.

Logan's eyes shone with such warmth, such love--and something else. They were laced with pain and regret, for the hell he knew his presence was putting her through.

"I would rather die than bring you any kind of pain," he told her. And she knew that he meant it.

Her chin trembled. "I know, Wolvie," she whispered. "I know."

With a shaky breath, she summoned her courage and reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She felt him let out a sigh of relief as he hugged her back.

"I don't mean to be scared of you, Wolvie," she sobbed, her fight with the tears finally over. "Lord knows I don't wanna be. I just can't help these thoughts--these fears--that are in my head. I know she put 'em there. I just want 'em out. I hate being scared. I hate it! Damn Tessa! I hate her for what she did to me!"

"I know it's tough, kiddo. I hate it, too. But you've gotta fight it. Ya gotta take that anger you feel toward Tessa an' focus it on somethin' positive. Ya gotta use that energy ta heal yer body an' yer mind."

"You make it sound so easy, Wolvie, but it's not. Every time I feel like I'm getting comfortable 'round you again, I have another dream. An' then we're back where we started. For every step forward, I take two steps back. It's so damned frustratin'. I don't know how much more of this I can take."

With shocking speed, he ended his embrace, pulled back, and took her firmly by the shoulders. His face was stern, somber. "I don't ever wanna hear you talk like that again, ya hear me?" he all but growled. "You, Jubilation, are a fighter. You've come too far, worked too hard, ta give up now. Hell, I won't let you. We're gonna get through this together--an' we're gonna win. We'll just have ta take things a little slow for a while is all. Little by little, step by step. Like with yer walkin'. A week ago, you never would'a made half the trip ta the mansion on yer own. Yet today, ya did."

"That's different, Wolvie. My injuries--"

"It's no different, kiddo. Just like yer leg muscles need to be reconditioned, so does yer mind. You learned to walk again. You'll learn ta trust again too. I'm not sayin' it'll be easy. But if there's anyone I'd put money on ta come out on top, it's you, kiddo. So, whaddaya say? Ya with me?"

He held out his hand, palm up.

Hearing his determined words, seeing the warmth in his eyes, Jubilee felt more heartened than she had in a long time. She reached for him, and put her hand in his. His fingers tightened around hers, and he brought her hand to his lips a moment before pulling her into another warm embrace.

"Thank you, Wolvie," she whispered. "Thank you."

He placed a soft kiss on the top of her head before getting to his feet. "I think it's time ta get started."

Swiping her cheeks with her wrists, Jubilee nodded. "The usual stretching exercises?"

"Actually, before we get ta that, I was thinkin' we could try somethin' new."

She eyed him warily. "Like what?"

"I think it might be a good idea ta finally introduce you ta some mediation exercises I've been meaning ta show you."

"Meditation? You mean sitting here in a yoga contortion humming 'Uhmm'?"

Logan frowned as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Ya can sit in the lotus position if ya like. That's how I usually meditate. But ya don't have to. Important point is ta have yer back straight."

Jubilee knew that Logan was usually pretty tolerant when it came to her quips, but obviously this was one of those rare topics with which he would not put up with much joking. Lucky her.

"Logan, Jean's been tryin' to teach me meditation for weeks now during our psychic sessions, but it hasn't been doin' me much good. I can't get it to work."

"What does Red have ya do?"

"I sit yoga-style with my eyes closed an' try to clear my mind. But it hasn't happened yet. I almost fell asleep the last time."

"Well, Jeanie's got her style of meditation, an' I've got my own preferences. We're not gonna try ta clear yer mind. We're just gonna do some breathing exercises ta help ya relax."

"Breathing? That's it?"

"Yup. Ya game ta give it a shot?"

"You really think it'll help?"

He nodded. "I think it'll help yer body ta relax, knock the tension down. Help center yerself."

Jubilee sighed. "I guess. Don't really have anything to lose, right?"

He grinned. "Atta girl. Okay, you wanna cross yer legs?"

Jubilee assumed the lotus position.

"Just make sure ya keep yer back straight," Logan said, squatting behind her. He placed one palm on the small of her back and the other between her shoulder blades.

Jubilee tried to suppress the involuntary shudder. "Well, if the meditation doesn't work, maybe I can give modeling a try with my new, improved posture."

She heard him clear his throat, his patience obviously growing short with her lack of seriousness. "Now place yer hands in yer lap, palms-up."

"Do I get to start chanting 'Uhhm' now?"

"If yer mind's anything like yer mouth, it's no wonder you can't clear it," he muttered.

"Hey! I resemble that comment!"

He ignored her words, and instead continued with his instructions. "Keep yer back straight an' head straight ahead."

"Check." She felt Logan's hands leave her back, and it sounded as though he had risen to his feet behind her.

"Now, close yer eyes."

She did as he said.

"Good. Now, I want ya ta inhale, takin' a long, slow breath. Hold it fer four counts, then exhale through yer mouth as much as ya can--ya want yer lungs to be as empty as ya can make 'em. An' while ya do this, concentrate on the sounds yer breath makes as it flows in an' out of ya."

"Ya want me to balance some plates on my head while I'm at it, Wolvie?"

"Jubilee--" His tone sounded short.

"Awright, awright. Here goes nothin'." Conscious of her straight back and upward-facing palms, Jubilee took a nice, long drag of air into her lungs. She counted one one thousand through four one thousand, and then slowly released the breath out her mouth. Exhaling much of the residual oxygen content from her lungs was a lot harder than she would have thought--and definitely required a conscious effort on her part.

"Excellent," Logan's voice came from above and behind her. "Were ya listenin' ta the sounds yer breath made?"

"Uh, sorta. I was kinda concentrating on the breaths themselves."

"That's okay, kiddo. This is a lot ta keep track of all at once. Now, I want ya ta try this again, only this time, listen ta the sound of yer breaths. Just keep on breathin' like that fer a few minutes. I'll let ya know when time's up."

"How long's it gonna be for?

"We'll start out with five minutes. Ya ready?"

"I guess so."

"All righty. Go fer it."

Jubilee continued with the breathing exercises. In through the nose, hold for four counts, out through the mouth. Again. And again. And again. Only it was at a snail's pace. Hardly exciting at all. Boring, really. Wasn't time up yet? Surely it had to have been five minutes. More like five hours. She would die of boredom if she had to do this every day. Just maintaining the slow pace took most of her concentration. Sheesh, and people did this for relaxation? If anything, her anxiety level was rising, trying to remember all that she was supposed to do and keeping the correct pace. Who would've thought that remembering to breathe could be such hard work?

Suddenly, she realized that she was supposed to be listening to the sounds her breath was making. Dammit! When she started paying attention to the sounds, then her breathing itself felt forced--almost artificial. When that realization struck her, she lost her rhythm, which then caused her to become flustered. She tried to quickly regain the tempo, but it just felt off. In her attempts to restore the proper pace, she started breathing more quickly. Faster, inefficient breaths, not held long enough, not exhaled fully. When she inhaled through her mouth and inadvertently made a hissing noise, she knew it was all over.

"Goddammit," she muttered, letting out a frustrated sigh as she lowered her head and slumped her back.

"What's wrong?" Logan asked, kneeling down in front of her.

"This whole meditation thing is, Wolvie. It's stupid. I don't see the point. It's not relaxing at all. How is it supposed to be soothing if I have to think about *breathing*?"

"You just lost yer rhythm is all. Happens when ya don't concentrate. After you practice fer a while, this pattern will become second-nature."

"Not for me. I'm not gonna practice this crap," she said, unfolding her legs. "These past couple months, I've been forced to spend more than enough time sitting on my ass thinking. I want to put my energy into getting better. Making my legs stronger so I can walk again. I don't need anymore soul searchin'. Jean makes me do more than enough of that with our psychic sessions."

"Getting' started is always the hardest part. If ya give it another shot tomorrow, I'll bet--"

"Don't you get it, Wolvie? There isn't gonna be another shot. It doesn't do anything for me. Just like Jean's stupid mind-clearing exercises don't. This stuff is pointless."

He regarded her for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and even. "Ya know, kid, meditation is about more than just breathin' or clearin' yer mind. It's about discipline. Mental attitude. Inner peace. It's supposed ta make ya feel good."

"Well, I got a newsflash for ya, Wolvie. It doesn't do it for me. What makes me feel good is walking halfway to the mansion by myself. An' you know what'll make me feel even better? Walkin' the whole way by myself. Now, if I remember correctly, that's what I came here to work on. So, you gonna help me with my physical therapy, or what?"

He continued to stare at her for the longest time. His face was cold, stern. It was a little unnerving to Jubilee, but she held her ground. This was her life, goddammit! So much of it was beyond her control right now. So many choices were being made for her by her doctors, her teachers, her friends. Everyone seemed to be calling the shots but her. She was told when to get up, what to eat, what to wear, what exercises to do, when she should walk and when she shouldn't. And she was sick and tired of it.

Feeling the anger and frustration deep in the pit of her stomach, she decided then and there that whenever the opportunity arose, she was going to do what she could to reclaim her life, to make her own choices. And meditating was certainly not high on her priority list. If refusing to do so meant not taking Wolvie's advice, then so be it. He'd get over it. He could go sit in the lotus position afterwards and make peace with it.

Logan finally broke eye contact. "All right, Jubilation," he said, getting to his feet. "If that's what ya want, we'll stick ta the initial game plan: I help ya hone yer physical self, an' Jeanie can tend to yer soul. Let's start with the usual stretching exercises. While yer down there, why don't'cha reach an' touch yer toes."

With a nod, Jubilee stretched her legs straight out in front of her. As she reached to grab her ankles, she watched Logan move across the room to retrieve the ankle weights. He started to fuss with the straps, keeping his back to her. She turned her gaze back to her legs and tried to concentrate on loosening her muscles. But she couldn't get the image of Logan's face out of her mind--especially not the disappointed look in his eyes.

Chapter 4

"I trust your physical therapy session went well?" Hank asked, listening to Jubilee's heart as part of her weekly physical exam.

"Kid's a regular trooper," Logan replied from where he stood on the other side of the medi-lab, leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. "She did good, like she always does. We'll have her back on active status in no time."

"Heart and lungs sound great," Hank said, tucking his stethoscope into his lab coat pocket and reaching for Jubilee's wrist to take her pulse. "You're feeling all right, I take it?"

"Yep. I feel great."

"No problems? How have the headaches been?"

Jubilee thought for a moment. "I haven't had one in a couple of days. When I do, Jean gives me one of the pills you prescribed, she helps me focus on some sort of calming mental image to help me relax my mind, and then they usually go away."

"Good. How do you find your energy level?"

"A little better lately. I made over half the trip today by myself."

"That's wonderful, Jubilation. You really are advancing in your recovery by leaps and bounds. A model patient."

"I'm the best there is at what I do," she said deadpan, even as she gave Wolverine a wink. When he did not meet her gaze, she felt her heart sink.

"I think we'll be able to remove your cast next week," Hank said as he began to scribble notations onto Jubilee's file. "After which, you'll of course have to add some additional exercises to your repertoire in order to strengthen the atrophied muscles in your wrist."

"Of course," Jubilee replied with a sigh. "My work is never done."

"Speaking of which, aren't you and Jean supposed to work on some mental exercises posthaste?" Hank inquired.

As if on cue, Jean entered the medi-lab with Ororo at her side. The two women were conversing in soft tones.

"Well, lookit what the cat dragged in," Logan commented dryly from his perch against the wall.

"You look like you could use this," Hank told Jean, handing her a towel. Due to her fair complexion, Hank would normally expect Jean's face to appear flushed after such an obvious exertion; at the moment, however, she was looking rather ashen.

"Thanks, Hank," she replied softly, using it to mop the perspiration from her brow.

"Would you like some cold water?" Ororo suggested, already heading toward the refrigerator.

"No, I'm fine," Jean told her, walking over to where Jubilee sat on an exam table. "How'd your session go, sweetie?"

"Fine. How was yours? You look like you just finished a marathon."

Jean managed a weary smile. "As much as I'm chagrined to admit it, I think Scott was right. I'm a little out of practice."

"Nonsense," Ororo countered. "This morning's workout was unusually intense. You held your own, Jean, and performed quite admirably."

Jean rolled her eyes. "I think I'm getting too old for this," she grinned. "That, or I'm losing my touch."

"It is just that this particular scenario required an equal component of physical exertion and mental effort," Storm insisted.

"Are you saying that as team leader, or as my best friend?" Jean asked, hoisting herself up to sit beside Jubilee.


"Well, I don't buy it, but thanks all the same, Ororo."

"Man o man," Jubilee muttered, getting a good look at Jean's spent visage. "And I thought Wolvie was a regular drill sergeant. Whoever wrote that training program could have a successful career running boot camp." She shook her head sadly. "And would probably enjoy it too, the sadistic bastard," she muttered almost as an afterthought.

"That 'sadistic bastard' would be my loving husband," Jean remarked dryly, even as she patted down her face yet again with the towel.

From across the room, Wolverine snorted. "Sounds ta me like ole Scotty's gonna be sleepin' on the couch tonight."

"Laugh it up all you want, Wolvie, but don't forget your turn's next," Jubilee pointed out.

"Yes, don't you have a training session to attend?" Jean inquired with mock innocence.

"Yep. Ya comin', McCoy?"

"Momentarily," Hank replied, making a final notation in Jubilee's medical file before placing it on a table and shedding his labcoat. "Ladies, I bid you adieu."

"Catch ya later, Beastie-boy," Jubilee called. "Same time tomorrow, Wolvster?"

"Yeah. Catch y'all later."

After the two men left, Jean turned to Jubilee. "You ready for our session?"

Jubilee's brow furrowed. "I am, but I don't think *you* are. Don't you want to take a breather for a little while? Maybe take a shower?"

"I'll be fine," Jean replied, hopping down from the table. "The idea is to adhere to your schedule," she said, reaching out to take Jubilee by the waist and help her down.

"Surely rescheduling for later this afternoon will prove just as effective," Storm suggested, handing Jubilee her braces.

"I don't see what the big deal is about sticking to the schedule as originally planned," Jean said, her patience growing short. "Now, Jubilee, are you coming or not?" Without even waiting for a reply, she was halfway out the door.

"Yeah, hold on. Catch ya later, 'Roro," the girl called, arranging her braces so that she could hurry to catch up to Jean. "We goin' to the usual spot?" But Jean did not reply. "Jean, I said are we goin' to our usual spot?"

"Yes," Jean finally responded, her voice soft and weary. "The garden always seems to be a relaxing place, don't you. . . ."

When Jean's voice trailed off before she could even finish the thought, Jubilee looked up at her. Jean had stopped walking, and now stood holding her head. She started to waver.

"Jean?" Jubilee tried to steady her, but remaining upright herself was often a struggle. Suddenly, Jean lost her balance, and fell into Jubilee's arms. The sudden addition of Jean's weight was more than the girl's unsteady legs could bear. She felt both of them tumbling toward the ground. They landed hard, Jubilee's crutches making quite a clatter.

Ororo, who was still in the medi-lab, immediately heard the crash. She hurried into the corridor, where she found the pair laying in a heap on the floor.

"Goddess! Jubilee, are you injured? Did you lose your balance?" Ororo asked, grabbing her beneath the arms to help her to her feet.

"It wasn't me," the girl explained. "Jean fell on me. I think she passed out."

Ororo bent down and gently turned Jean onto her back. She felt her neck for a pulse, and was relieved to find it beating strongly. "Jubilee, go see if you can catch Hank and Logan while I get Jean into the medi-lab."

Jubilee looked down the lengthy hallway. "They'll be in the Danger Room before I even make it to the elevator," she protested. "'Sides, I wanna make sure Jean's okay."

Without further protest, Ororo lifted Jean into her arms and swiftly carried her back into the medi-lab. She had no sooner placed her onto an exam table than Jean's eyes began to flutter.

"She is starting to come around," Ororo told Jubilee, who was just now approaching the exam table. "Jean, can you hear me?" she asked, gently tapping her cheek with the back of her hand.

"Nnnn," she moaned. Slowly, her eyes opened. She looked up at the concerned face staring down at her. "R-Roro? Wh-What . . . what happened?" she asked, trying to sit up.

"Careful," Ororo warned.

"Oh!" Jean gasped, even as another wave of vertigo flooded over her. She grabbed her head, even as she squeezed her eyes shut against the nausea.

"Here, try putting your head between your knees," Ororo suggested, helping her into the position. "Jubilee, can you wet down a cloth with some cool water?"

"Sure," Jubilee said, hurrying to the sink as fast as she could. She returned a few moments later with the cold compress, which Ororo placed on the back of Jean's neck.

Ororo and Jubilee stood by silently, waiting to see what would happen next.

After a couple of minutes, Jean slowly sat back up.

"Easy does it," Ororo said, reaching for her wrist to feel her pulse. "Feeling any better?"

"A little," Jean replied wearily. "I've still got the shakes."

"Jubilee, can you go get some juice from the refrigerator?" Ororo suggested. "Your blood sugar is probably low," she told Jean. "Lightheadedness is often a result of hypoglycemia."

"That's what you get for skipping breakfast," Jubilee chastised. "Tea's not enough when you work out like you did today."

"Especially when you have not pushed yourself so hard in weeks," Ororo added, taking the small bottle of apple juice from Jubilee and opening it before handing it to Jean. "Take small sips."

Jean accepted it wordlessly and did as instructed.

"Jubilee, perhaps you should go fetch Scott," Ororo told her.

"No!" Jean protested, perhaps a bit too emphatically. "No," she repeated, this time much softer. "I skipped breakfast and pushed myself too hard. There's no reason to disrupt his training session for that."

"You sure?" Jubilee asked. "I'd think he'd want to know if anything happened to you."

"So he can lecture me on my poor dietary and exercise habits? I've had more than enough of his preaching for a while. Really, I'll be fine."

"Jubilee and I will make sure of that," Ororo assured her. "We will get you home, get some food into you, and put you to bed for some much-needed rest."

"Ororo, that's hardly necessary. I'll be fine. Besides, Jubilee and I are supposed to have a session--"

"Will you shut the hell up about this goddammed session?!" Jubilee shouted. Her small frame was shaking with barely-controlled rage. "I don't care about this stupid session! I care about *you*, Jean. And you're pushing yourself too hard. Running yourself into the ground. If you don't start taking better care of yourself, you're gonna make yourself sick. And that's not gonna do you or me or Scott or anybody any good."

She paused to take a breath, and felt the tears stinging her eyes. "I don't wanna lose you, Jean. Call me selfish, I don't care. I've come to depend on you too much. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't there for me anymore. I don't know how I would find the strength to go on."

The tears were falling freely now. "See, this is all your fault. You're the one who taught me to be open about my feelings. To be honest with myself, and with others. Well, now I'm doing exactly what you said. I'm telling you to take a step back and slow down before you self-destruct. If not for yourself, then do it for me. I need you, Jean. Please."

Jean stared at Jubilee, quite taken aback. But the girl's words managed to hit home. She *had* been pushing herself too hard lately. In her selfless desire to do all that she could to ease Jubilee's struggle during her recuperation, she had managed to neglect herself. Which, just as Jubilee said, was not going to do anyone any good. She had not realized how deeply she had managed to touch Jubilee. That knowledge in and of itself made her own heart ache with joy. She held her arms open in silent invitation.

Jubilee immediately moved closer, nearly falling into Jean's embrace. She held onto Jean tightly, even as the sobs shook her.

"Shh," Jean murmured, stroking Jubilee's back. "I'm sorry, Jubilee. I'm so sorry. I'm not going to leave you, sweetie. I'll always be here for you. I promise. I'll take better care of myself, so I can take better care of you. It's going to be better now. It will. I promise." She turned her head to kiss Jubilee's temple.

While Jean held and comforted Jubilee, Ororo meanwhile busied herself with straightening up the medi-lab. It was not until several minutes later, when Jean called her name, that she finally returned her attention to her friend. A touch of color had since returned to Jean's cheeks, Ororo noticed, though she still looked weary to the bone.

"Are you ready to return home now?" Ororo asked.

"Yes," Jean replied, slowly rising to her feet. Jubilee and Ororo each took a step towards her, hands reaching out protectively to steady her should she fall. Jean took a moment to ensure that her legs would hold her, and then took a cautious step forward. She did so steadily.

"I shall walk you both home," Ororo said, linking her arm with Jean's as the trio headed toward the door. "And while you take a warm bath and change into something more comfortable, I shall prepare something for you to eat. After which, you shall go to bed for some rest." The commanding tone of her voice made it perfectly clear that she would accept no arguments.

This did not, however, stop Jean from trying. She opened her mouth to protest, but Ororo cut her off before she could even get the words out. "Do not worry about Jubilee. She will spend the afternoon with me. We will practice her meditation skills. If weather permits--" and there was a smirk on Storm's face as she said this-- "perhaps we shall attempt to commune a bit with nature. And I shall check with Betsy to see if she has some time to perform some psychic exercises with Jubilee so that she does not fall behind in her lessons."

Silently, Jean nodded her head. Ororo had definitely thought this out. She had covered all the bases, left no stone unturned. And Jean had to admit, the idea of letting someone else shoulder the responsibility for a day while she permitted herself some time to relax and regroup was delightful. Oh, to be able to indulge in a long soak in the tub and a nap! She could not remember the last time she had permitted herself such a frivolity.

"Thank you, Ororo."

"You are quite welcome, Jean. We all keep trying to tell you that we would like to help out. Just because you agreed to be Jubilee's legal guardian does not mean that you have to shoulder the entire responsibility for her care. You need some time for yourself as well. Rest assured, when you do require such time, Jubilee will be in good, capable hands."

"I know," she said, pulling her friend's arm closer to her and giving her hand a quick squeeze of appreciation. "The best."


After making a quick meal of some toast and jam, Jean retired to the bathroom. While she took a relaxing soak in a warm tub, Jubilee helped Ororo prepare lunch for later that afternoon. She was put to work chopping vegetables for some sort of exotic salad that Ororo had planned. They were just putting the almost-finished product into the refrigerator when Jean re-emerged. Bundled in a terrycloth robe, she looked much more refreshed.

"How was the bath?" Ororo asked.

"Wonderful. I can't remember the last time I indulged like that. What time is it?"

"Almost ten-thirty," Ororo replied, wiping off the countertops.

"Looks like you two have been busy," Jean said, even as her words were swallowed by a yawn.

"Preparing a mid-afternoon meal," Ororo explained. "And it looks like it is time for you to get to bed."

"But what about--?"

"As soon as we finish cleaning up, Jubilee and I shall be going for a walk. We shall return in a couple of hours for lunch."

"Don't worry, Jean, we'll wake ya before we eat. There's more than enough rabbit food ta go 'round."

"You're sure you don't mind, Ororo? Jubilee, it's okay with you if I skip out on our session?"

"Do not give it another thought, my friend. We shall be fine."

"Yeah, it'll be a nice change of pace," Jubilee agreed. "Go on, now--start countin' sheep."

"All right. Thanks, guys. Have fun."

"We will," Jubilee called, waving, as Jean headed for the bedroom.

Ororo walked to the sink to wash the knives they had used for preparing the salad. "Do you truly mean that, or was it said merely for Jean's benefit?"

"Hey, I'm a modern girl, 'Ro. As such, I like to keep an open mind."

Storm smiled down at her. "I am delighted to hear it. Come, then. Let us get started."

A few minutes later, they were following a path into the woods that surrounded the mansion. It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun shone through the breaks in the trees, creating dappled shadows on the dirt path and the surrounding grass. Ororo slowed her pace considerably for Jubilee's benefit, but she took the opportunity to closely examine their surroundings. She would point to various trees or flowers, naming them, or stop when she heard a birdsong to identify it. Jubilee could not help but admire the view from the trail they were following.

After about ten minutes, they caught sight of a clearing up ahead. They exited the woods, emerging now in a small meadow. They slowly made their way towards its center. Somehow, in all her time living at the school, Jubilee had never managed to discover this spot. She wished she had.

"Wow," Jubilee muttered, a smile slowly spreading across her face. They were surrounded by lush, green grass that was sprinkled with an assortment of wildflowers. Jubilee did a slow three-sixty, taking in the full effect of her surroundings. In the distance, Breakstone Lake was barely visible, the sun glistening off of its glass-like surface. She gazed up at the sky. Deep blue, without a single cloud in sight. She closed her eyes, letting the sun beat down on her face. After spending a morning cooped up in the gym, this felt heavenly.

"Beautiful, is it not?" Ororo asked, also looking around.

"Yeah," Jubilee agreed, breathing deeply of the fragrant spring air. "We should've brought Jean with us an' made a picnic of it."

Ororo laughed. "Perhaps next time. Let me know when you are ready, and we shall get started."

Jubilee's brow furrowed. "'Get started'? Doin' what? I thought we were goin' for a walk to commune with nature."

"Yes, but we are also going to spend some time meditating."

"Oh geez, not you too! What is it with everyone and this stupid meditation! Can't you all get it through your thick skulls that I'm not into this whole New Age thing?"

Ororo arched an eyebrow. "Where is all of this hostility coming from, Jubilation?"

"I'm not bein' hostile. Just truthful. I don't wanna meditate."

"Why not?"

"I just don't like it, okay? What's the big deal?"

"Obviously you have had some negative experiences with it, and I am just curious as to why that occurred," Ororo said. "Let us sit down, and you can tell me more."

Ororo lowered herself down onto the grass, and Jubilee reluctantly followed suit, struggling a bit with her braces.

"So, why is it you feel so poorly about meditating?"

"'Cause I've already tried it, and it doesn't work. It just makes me mad."

"What sort of meditation have you attempted?"

Jubilee sighed. "A couple kinds." She explained to Ororo the techniques that first Jean and then Logan attempted to teach her, and the problems she had with each of them. Ororo listened attentively, nodding as Jubilee described the techniques she had tried and the issues she had had with each of them. When Jubilee completed her exposition, Ororo sat silently for several more moments, digesting it all.

"You know, Jubilation, there are many types, many styles of meditation. Not every technique is appropriate for every person. I suspect that you have just not found the right one for you."

"Or maybe it's possible that none of 'em are right for me."

"Yes, I suppose that is also true. But you have only attempted two techniques. I do not think you should give up yet."

"Why is it so important that I meditate? I just don't get it."

"Jubilee, it was not just your body that was injured. Your mind was also attacked. Your soul is not at peace. If nothing else, your regular nightmares are a manifestation of your inner turmoil."

"But Jean's been workin' with me, to undo the psychic damage Tessa did."

"Yes, and you two are making wonderful progress. But in the meantime, the nightmares still persist, do they not?"

"Yeah. But what does that have to do with meditation?"

"Well, when I meditate, I like to call on various energies from my surroundings--from the earth, from the light. I allow it to fill me, surround me, protect me. It empowers me. I believe that if you were to call on these energies, your mind--your soul--would be more relaxed, more peaceful. And the nightmares would subsequently cease."

"Ororo, I admit nothing would make me happier than to be rid of these horrible dreams, but I don't think this all-powerful mother earth is gonna cut it. Let's face it, you're a much more spiritual person than I am. What good will this lightforce do if I don't believe in it?"

"It is all about visualization, Jubilation. If you can picture it in your mind, if you can see it moving throughout your body, if you can feel it . . . then belief is not far behind."

"I don't know, Ororo. It sounds awfully hokey to me. No offense."

Storm smiled. "None taken. Perhaps if I describe to you a common technique I use, you will have a better understanding of meditation."

"If you wanna do it, I won't stop you."

"All right then. I usually begin by sitting on the floor or ground cross-legged, with my hands gently folded in my lap," Ororo explained, her position mirroring her description. "I close my eyes, and take some breaths from deep in my belly to get started. Then I allow my breathing to achieve its own level. Whatever is natural, and feels comfortable." Storm took a few moments to find a slow, gentle rhythm of respiration. "Next I visualize a beam of rainbow light as it enters the center of my forehead."

Before she could stop herself, Jubilee sniggered. She quickly clasped a hand over her mouth, not wanting to be rude.

"It is not necessary to actually see the light. What is important is that you are able to imagine it. Picture it moving down to the center of your body, dispersing to all the cells in your body." Ororo paused, no doubt completing the visualization exercise.

"As I do this, I silently say to myself 'I am in The Light, I am filled with The Light.' I continue to do this for several minutes." Another pause as Ororo continued with the meditation technique. After a minute or so, she breathed deeply, nearly startling Jubilee.

"Once I feel a connection with The Light, I move my attention to my jaw. I concentrate on what it feels like. Whether it is tense or relaxed, if it hurts at all. I do not attempt to change whatever I feel, just to be aware of that feeling. After a time, I feel it relax, at which time I tell myself, 'My jaw is relaxed.' Along with this thought, I feel some of the tension leave my body. Sometimes my jaw does not relax immediately, and so I need to tell myself 'Let go, let go' over and over until it does, in fact, relax. When I feel my jaw relax, I let go. Again and again for several minutes. Occasionally, my mind may wander, and that is okay. I just gently bring it back to my jaw, and letting go."

Ororo fell silent again as her attention returned to her jaw. Jubilee found herself staring intently at the other woman. As she watched, she could swear she could notice the changes in Ororo--that she could actually see the way Ororo's body relaxed. Just sitting there watching it happen was calming in and of itself.

After a time, Ororo spoke again. Her voice was soft and gentle, no sense of tension or urgency present. "I then repeat the entire process with my shoulders, my solar plexus, the center of my chest, gradually making my way from my head to my toes. How much time I spend at each area depends upon how I am feeling that day. If I just want a general scan, I may only spend a minute or so at each area. But if there is a particular problem--for instance, if my shoulders ache from a particularly strenuous workout--I may spend ten minutes getting them to relax.

"I find that being aware of what I am feeling in my physical body allows me to better understand what I am thinking and feeling emotionally." With that, Ororo opened her eyes and turned to look at Jubilee. "Any questions?"

Jubilee continued to stare at her in amazement. "You do this every day?"

"When time permits, I try to do it when I wake in the morning, to help me start the day feeling refreshed, and also before I retire for the night, so that I may sleep soundly."

"Wow. That's a lot of effort."

"Not really. With time, and a little practice, it comes quite naturally. In fact, it often feels as though my body and mind go through the motions of the exercise without my having to use much conscious thought. It depends upon how distracted I am at the time. Often times I change my technique, depending upon my mood, or what I feel would best suit my needs at the time."

"So you don't always meditate this way?"

"No, there are several different meditation techniques from which I choose. Would you like to give this one a try?"

"I don't know, Ororo. I had enough trouble trying to listen to my breathing with Wolvie earlier this mornin'. I'd probably just screw this up."

"Jubilation, there is no right way or wrong way to meditate. If you would like to try it, I shall not judge you. I shall only offer some suggestions if you feel as though something is not working or not comfortable."

"Thanks, 'Ro, but I really don't think this whole light thing is my cup of tea. Spiritual visualization isn't exactly my strong point."

"Hmm," Ororo murmured, bringing a finger to her lips. "Perhaps we should start with something even more basic, until you get used to the entire process." She tapped her finger against her mouth as she thought. "Yes, I think I know just the one. I think you should try the Watching-the-River Exercise."

"It'll be kinda hard without a river, though, won't it? Guess we could always go sit by Breakstone Lake."

Ororo chuckled. "The name refers to a metaphorical river. That of your own thoughts. And if your description of your attempts at the breathing exercise this morning are any indication, it sounds as though this will be a useful exercise for you to practice."

Jubilee eyed her warily. "What do I have to do?"

"First, come sit across from me, and copy my position."

Grudgingly, Jubilee bent her legs to match Ororo's posture.

"Good. Now, gently fold you hands in your lap, as I did before. Excellent. Next, close your eyes."

"No ticklin' me while I'm not looking." The last thing she saw before she shut her eyes was Ororo's smile. "Now what?"

"Take a few deep breaths."

"In through the nose and out through the mouth?"

"Whatever feels comfortable."

"Do I have to hold 'em at all?"

"Just breathe normally, Jubilation. Try to relax."

With a slight nod of her head, Jubilee took a deep breath. She could smell the sweet fragrance of wildflowers. In the distance, she heard birds chirping. She could feel the comforting warmth of the sun on her face and neck, along with a gentle breeze. Almost of its own accord, her body began to relax.

Over a minute passed before she remembered that Storm was sitting across from her. "Ororo?" she called, trying not to open her eyes.

"I am still here, Jubilation. You are doing wonderfully."

"Now what?"

"Now, you just sit."

"Just sit? That's it?"

"Yes. Right now, your mind is probably a jumble of thoughts. Am I correct?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Is that bad?"

"Quite the contrary. I do not want you to try to stop them. I want you to watch them."

"Watch 'em?"

"Yes. Picture yourself sitting on a riverbank. Your thoughts encompass the river flowing by. Do not try to stop the river. Merely watch it."


"If you practice this exercise regularly, over time you shall see the river slow down. Try not to become impatient. But if you become bored, that is all right. Just let those thoughts join the others making up the river. Watch them pass by as well."

As Storm spoke, Jubilee pictured Ororo's words joining her own thoughts, comprising the current of a river flowing in front of her. With the sounds of nature around her, it was not difficult to visualize that she was sitting on a riverbank. Each thought she had--about her surroundings, her morning workout, her fight with Logan, her concern for Jean, her desire to regain her memory--joined with the others in a steady flow before her mind's eye. Watching the river itself had a surprisingly calming effect on her. Although it did not stop entirely, she did notice that the river slowed to a nice, steady pace. Her thoughts streamed by unhurriedly, one at a time. She watched the soothing current, felt the tension begin to leave her body. She felt loose, relaxed, peaceful.

Jubilee did not know how much time had passed when she finally opened her eyes. She saw Storm sitting across from her, but now facing the direction of the woods. She seemed to be staring off in the distance, as though her eyes were focused on one particular spot. Soon, however, she broke her gaze, and turned to look at Jubilee.

"Well? How did it go?"

"Pretty good, I think."

"Were you able to see the river?"

"Uh huh. I think I may even have gotten it to slow down."

"Really? So soon?"

"Not a lot. Just a slow, steady pace."

"Jubilation, that is wonderful. I am so proud of you," Ororo said, placing her hand on the girl's.

Jubilee could not help but grin up at Storm. "I just wanna say thank you, Ororo. For talkin' me into giving meditation another try, an' teachin' me the river exercise. It's actually kinda neat."

"I am glad that you enjoyed it, Jubilation," Ororo replied, returning the smile. "You know, you look much more relaxed than when we started out."

"I feel much more relaxed too. It's pretty cool that just picturing a river in your head can do that."

"So, do you think you shall try the exercise again?"

"Yeah, I think I might give it a whirl tonight, before I go to bed. Keep the demons at bay, an' all that."

Ororo nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. You might also want to try it in the morning, after you wake up. It would probably be helpful if you do have the dream, to help center yourself. But even if you do not, it would be a wonderful way to set the tone for the rest of your day."

"That sounds good. I was, uh, also thinkin' that maybe. . . ." When she hesitated, she felt Ororo squeeze her hand encouragingly. "Well, I was thinkin' maybe I might tell Wolvie about this exercise. Like you said, different strokes for different folks, right? An' if I'm comfortable with the river exercise, then maybe I can do that before our workout sessions?"

A bright smile slowly spread across Ororo's face. "Jubilation, I think that it a marvelous idea."

"You don't think Wolvie'll be upset?"

"Not at all. In fact, I think he will appreciate the fact that you were willing to give mediation another try--albeit from a different approach. I think he will be quite happy."

"I was kinda upset about yellin' at him. I was just feelin' kinda frustrated, ya know? I think I was just havin' a bad day, what with the nightmare, an' then not being able to breathe right an' all."

"Your frustration is perfectly understandable, Jubilation. Many aspects of your life have become a struggle. You have to work hard to regain that which you have lost--which you are doing remarkably well. And along the way, I think you have gained a great deal more."

"I have?"

"Yes. You may not even realize it, but I think that all that you have been through has forced you to grow up a bit faster. In some ways, just learning that you were a mutant--becoming a member of the X-Men or Generation X and learning to control your powers--forced you to acquire some additional responsibilities. But added to that are the consequences of your recent injuries. You have suddenly been forced to work hard to obtain things that many of us tend to take for granted--walking, talking, remembering our past. And while enduring such challenges would be more than many people would be even capable of bearing, you are able to overcome them. You are thriving despite them. A lesser person would simply sit back, and let others do things for her, would rely on those around her to get through the day. Although you lean on others when necessary, you also stand on your own two feet whenever you can.

"Another girl your age would be wallowing in self-pity, while you are taking the time to notice those around you. The Jubilation Lee I used to know would not have cared if she upset Logan by not meditating. She would not have given the notion a second thought. And yet you opened your mind enough to give it another chance. And you are going to discuss the matter with Logan.

"Similarly, I was very impressed with what you told Jean this morning. Many of us have been trying to get her to take it easy for quite some time. But it was you who was able to get through to her. And the reason you were able to do so is that you have come to care for her a great deal. Those feeling showed today, when you opened your heart to her. I know you often tend to be a private person when it comes to your feelings. And yet, you bared a little bit of your soul this morning in order to help someone that you care about. You have matured a great deal these past few months, Jubilee. I think I speak for many of us when I say that I am quite proud to see the remarkable young woman you are becoming."

Jubilee stared at Ororo, completely floored. For one of the few times in her young life, she was completely speechless. She was not used to such open praise. She was far more used to criticism or reprimands--though not without reason most of the time. For such heartfelt words of approval to come from Ororo--someone Jubilee greatly admired but also someone to whose high moral standards she felt she would never be able to measure up--made them twice as meaningful. Never in her wildest dreams would she ever have thought she would be capable of impressing Storm, a woman who was once worshipped as a goddess.

She felt a blush creep across her cheeks. "Th-thanks, Ororo," she stammered, gazing down at the grass.

"I did not mean to embarrass you, Jubilation. But I also felt these were words you needed to hear. We all need some encouragement once in a while. Or a little push, as was the case today with Jean."

Jubilee nodded. "Yeah, Jean's done so much for me these past couple months. I guess I had just been assuming she knew how much I appreciate all that she's done. But, like you said, sometimes people just need to hear it out loud, right?"

Ororo nodded.

"I just wish I could do more."

"What do you mean?"

"Words are all well an' good. I mean, it's great to get those warm fuzzies inside. But in many ways, that doesn't change the problem. We can all tell Jean to slow down till we're as blue in the face as the ole Hankster, but the sad truth is that she ain't gonna do it. She only took it easy today 'cause you insisted. And yet, look how much better she looked today after just having an hour to herself in the tub. I'm sure she's gonna feel even more relaxed than I do now after her nap. I'd just like to do something for Jean like you did today--only on a bigger scale. Something to force her to relax. To have some time to herself--but for more than an afternoon. I just don't know how to do it without twisting her arm."

Ororo's eyes narrowed in concentration, even as her finger returned to tapping her lips. After a moment, a sly grin slowly crept across her face. "Between the two of us, I am sure we can think of something."

Jubilee looked at her hopefully. "You'll help me do something really nice for Jean?"

"It would be my pleasure."

"Thanks, Ororo."

"You are quite welcome. Now, we should probably get back to the house. It is approaching one o'clock, and I think we can all do with a little lunch."

"Mmm, rabbit food," Jubilee declared with mock enthusiasm as she got to her feet with Ororo's help. "Can't wait."

"You may actually end up liking it, you know. Life is full of surprises that way."

"Hey, I'll try it," Jubilee said, arranging her crutches. "I'm all for keeping an open mind, ya know." With a wink, she fell in step beside Ororo and they headed across the meadow toward the trees.

Chapter 5

"Scott, have you seen my moisturizer?" Jean called from the bedroom.

Peering into the refrigerator, Scott grabbed the container of eggs, carton of milk, and tray of margarine, and pushed the door closed with his foot. "Did you check the bottom shelf in the medicine cabinet?" he called back, carrying the armful of ingredients over to the counter.

"What can I do?" Jubilee asked from where she sat at the kitchen table.

"Why don't you measure out the pancake mix?" Scott suggested, bringing her a measuring cup, mixing bowl, and the package of mix.

"Found it!" Jean shouted from the bathroom.

"How many are we gonna make?" Jubilee asked, studying the instructions on the back of the box.

"Depends," Scott replied, retrieving a frying pan from a cabinet. "How hungry are you?"

"Scott, have you seen my green sweater?" Jean asked, walking into the kitchen. "I can't find it anywhere."

"Mornin', Jean," Jubilee called.

"Good morning, sweetie," she replied, bending to place a kiss on top of her head. "Pancakes, huh?"

"Yep. Scott's idea."

"Did you try the hall closet?" Scott suggested. "Maybe you put it in with the coats."

"The hall closet," Jean repeated, as though one of the world's mysteries had just been revealed to her. "Let me check."

"What's gotten into her?" Jubilee asked, struggling with the plastic liner inside the box of pancake mix.

"I think it's been so long since she's gone away for the weekend that she's forgotten how to pack," he replied. "How about six-to-eight? Is that an option?"

"Yeah. Thick or thin?"

"Light and fluffy."

Jubilee frowned. "That's not an option. The choices are thick or thin."


She snorted. "I didn't realize that word was in your vocabulary, Fearless."

"While there is great value in being prepared and having a well-thought-out plan, a good leader should be able to observe the new circumstances, process all available information, and revise his or her strategy."

"Roll with the punches?"

"Precisely. So, how many eggs do you need?"

"Well, near as I can figure, in order to get 'em 'light an' fluffy' it looks like just one," she replied, measuring out the mix. "And 'bout three-quarters of a cup of milk."

"Coming right up."

"Found it!" Jean announced, cutting through the kitchen, sweater in hand, on her way back to the bedroom. "What time is it, Scott?"

He glanced at the clock. "Going on eight."

"Dammit! Ororo's going to be here any minute, and I still need to figure out what shoes I'm taking."

Scott shook his head. "Jean, honey, you're going to be gone two days. How many pairs of shoes can you possibly need?"

"It depends on what outfits she's packed," Jubilee explained, dumping the mix into the bowl. "And the weather."

"You women make things entirely too complicated."

"No, you guys just have it way too easy. You can wear the same pair of pants and shoes for anything from a casual get together, to a business meeting, to a semi-formal dinner party. The same is not true for a woman."

"You just give yourselves too many choices, that's all," Scott countered, adding the milk and egg into the bowl. "You wanna mix that all together?" he asked, handing her a wooden spoon.

Just then, the doorbell rang.

"Tell her I'll just be another couple of minutes!" Jean called from the bedroom.

"Poor 'Roro," Jubilee sighed, shaking her head. "She doesn't know what she's in for this weekend."

"Better her than us," Scott replied, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. Jubilee looked at him, and was sure that if she could see his eyes through the ruby-quartz glasses he wore, he would be winking. "Be right back. Keep mixing, Jubilation. I don't want to see any lumps by the time I get back."

"Geez, it's not like it's mashed potatoes or gravy," he heard her remark as he headed for the door.

Opening it, he found Ororo standing on the porch, dressed in a long, flowing leopard print sleeveless dress. Her long white hair was twisted up and off her neck, a few stray pieces hanging casually near her ears. The large, golden hoop earrings she wore helped to accent her elegant neck, and offset her bright blue eyes. As usual, she was a striking sight to behold. There was little wonder as to how she could have once been worshipped as a goddess.

"Hi, Ororo. Come on in," Scott said, stepping back so that she could enter.

"Good morning, Scott."

"Can I take your bag?" he asked, indicating the small duffel bag that was swung over her shoulder.

"No, thank you, I am fine. Is Jean not ready yet?" she asked, glancing around.

Scott smirked. "Can I interest you in a cup of coffee? Or perhaps some pancakes? Jubilee and I were just making breakfast."

Ororo's eyebrows rose. "That bad, huh?"

He nodded. "She's been running around like a chicken without a head. Her latest quarry is shoes."

"Goddess, we are going to a spa, not a country club. I do not foresee many opportunities to even wear shoes."

"You know Jean. She has to be prepared for any contingency. I swear, she must have been a boy scout in a previous life."

Ororo smiled. "Perhaps I should go check on her and see if she requires any assistance."

"Please do if you'd like to leave before noon. You're sure I can't interest you in something to eat or drink?"

"No, thank you. I shall hopefully return momentarily with Jean."

"Good luck," Scott said, saluting her, before returning to the kitchen.

He found Jubilee kneeling on a chair for better leverage, one arm around the mixing bowl, the other hand moving the spoon in tight circles. The tip of her tongue was visible at the corner of her mouth and her brow was furrowed in concentration. "Hey, Scott, ya got any chocolate chips 'round here somewhere?"

"I will not have my pancakes defiled by chocolate chips," he replied sternly.

"Aw, c'mon, Cyke. Where's your sense of adventure?"

"I don't have one," he deadpanned.

"Even you've got one, Scott. Don't you like to try new things every once in a while?"

"Not when it comes to my pancakes. I'm conservative that way."

"Puh-leeeze? Pretty please with sugar on top?"

"Forget it, Jubilation. The only thing sweet you'll be eating with your pancakes is maple syrup."

She pondered a moment. "It's not that fake stuff in the bottle shaped like a little woman, is it?"

"Nope. This is the real deal. Sean picked it up at some sort of county fair and gave everyone a jar for Christmas."

"All right. No chocolate chips. *This* time."

"Next time you pick breakfast, you can make whatever you want."

"Fat chance of that ever happening. Like Jean would let me cook in her kitchen."

"Hey, it's half my kitchen, too. If you want to--"

". . . sure I only need the one sweater?" Jean was asking Ororo as the two women entered the kitchen.

"Jean, the weather is supposed to be beautiful this weekend. Besides, I really do not think you need worry about being cold when traveling with me."

But Jean's mind had already moved on to other matters. She looked around the kitchen at the countertops and table already covered with food and utensils. "Look at my beautiful kitchen," she all but gasped.

"See?" Jubilee whispered to Scott knowingly.

He frowned. "Don't worry, sweetheart, we'll be sure to clean it up when we're done."

Jean looked from her husband to Jubilee, whose cheeks and pajama top were dusted with pancake mix. She was filled with a terrible feeling of foreboding. "I think you two should have enough to eat. There are some leftovers in the fridge, and I got several types of cold cuts. There are cans of soup in the pantry, and pasta's not too difficult to make. All you have to do is boil some water and heat up the sauce."

"Jean, we'll be fine. It's only a couple of days. You'll be back Monday morning--"

"Actually, I was thinking of coming back Sunday night."

"Nonsense. The gift certificate is for two full days of pampering. You're not going to skimp. You're going to take every opportunity to relax, and you're going to enjoy every minute of it. Isn't that right, Ororo?"

"I shall make sure of it," Ororo assured him. "Now, Jean, we really should get going."

"I know," Jean said, staring at Jubilee. "Are you sure you'll be okay by yourselves? Maybe I shouldn't go. . . ."

"We'll be fine, Jean," Scott insisted. "I've got everything under control."

"Yeah, Jean, no worries," Jubilee said surely. "We've got lots planned to keep us busy."

"Oh?" That was news to Jean. "Like what?"

"This afternoon we're going to a Mets game," Scott said.

"And tomorrow we're gonna catch a movie an' check out the mall," Jubilee added. "Scott was gonna help me pick out a new pair of 'blades."

"What?! Absolutely not. You are *not* going skating."

"Not yet. But Wolvie said I've been making great progress with my physical therapy. An' Hank said that in another couple weeks, I should be strong enough to start bladin' again."

"Jubilee, you still cannot walk without the aid of crutches. It's far too dangerous for you to attempt roller blading. I forbid it."

"Wh-what?" Jubilee stared at her in disbelief. She had been eagerly anticipating being able to go blading again ever since she started her physical therapy. Unbidden, she felt the stinging prickle of tears in her eyes. "You can't be serious!"

"I most certainly am. You are still recuperating, mentally and physically. The last thing we need right now is for you to sustain another head injury."


"No buts about it, young lady. So long as you are living under my roof--"

"Jean, I think you're over-reacting," Scott interrupted.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. We're not talking about Jubilee skating over hill and dale or through an obstacle course. We're talking about some laps around a smooth track, to help her strengthen her legs. Like everything else, she'd have to start out slow and work her way up to more difficult techniques."

Jean shook her head. "It's too dangerous."

"Bullshit," Scott countered, anger seeping into his voice. "She'd be wearing a helmet, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads. Jubilee was once an experienced inline skater. It won't take her long to regain those skills. Besides," he added, his tone softer as he took a step closer to Jean, "you know how much Jubilee loves to blade. How can you deny her that pleasure? Jean, she has to have something to look forward to, some goal to aim for, if she's to find the strength and incentive to continue with her physical therapy. If you deny her this, it'd be like clipping an eagle's wings."

Jean looked from Scott's determined face to Jubilee's anxious one. The girl was biting her bottom lip and seemed to be holding her breath. Were those tears in her eyes?

Scott was right. Mere months ago, Jubilee was never happier than when she was blading. If Jean took that away from her, the girl would be devastated. It would push her away, and countermand all the steps they had taken over the past weeks to build mutual trust and affection. How could she even consider it?

"All right," Jean conceded. "You can get the skates, Jubilee. But you won't use them until Hank gives his okay. And even then, you'll start out simple and slowly, and build up your strength before you try anything too radical. Okay?"

"Okay," Jubilee replied, beaming. "I'll be real careful, Jean. I promise."

Jean regarded her happy face and smiled herself. "I know you will, sweetie." Jean sighed. "All right, I guess Ororo and I should get going."

"Don't worry, Jean," Scott assured her once more. "Jubilee and I will be just fine. Don't give us a second thought. This weekend is for you. Enjoy it," he said, embracing her.

Jean nodded against his chest. "I will. If anything comes up, you'll call me?"

"Jean, nothing's going to happen in two days. Don't worry."

"I can't help it."

"I know, sweetheart. But try anyway." He gave her a kiss.

"Yeah, Jean, this is your time to indulge and get pampered. Don't stress. Relax."

"I'll try," Jean said, bending to wrap her arms around Jubilee.

"There is no try. Only do."

Jean chuckled. "I'll miss you, kiddo."

"I'll miss you, too. Now, go on. Get outta here."

"Well, you two enjoy your weekend together."

"We will," Scott assured her.

"See you Monday morning."

"Yep. Have a good time," Jubilee called, turning her attention back to the bowl. "You too, 'Roro."

"Thank you. Come, Jean. Let us go."

Nodding, Jean followed Ororo to the door. She paused a moment. "Good-bye."

"'Bye!" Jubilee and Scott called in unison, waving.

"Jean!" Ororo barked, grabbing her arm and pulling her out the door.

Watching the kitchen door swing back and forth, Scott could only shake his head. For a moment, he and Jubilee were silent, listening to the sounds of Jean gathering her bags as she and Ororo spoke quietly to each other. In short time, they heard the sound of the front door slamming closed.

Letting out a breathy sigh, Jubilee sat back in her chair. "Sheesh! I thought they were never gonna leave."

"Me either."

"I still can't believe we managed to convince Jean to get out of this house for an entire weekend."

"Well, I think that's in large part due to you, Jubilee. How could Jean refuse the gift certificate you gave her for a weekend of royal treatment at a health spa?"

Of course, the fact that the occasion had been Mother's Day really pulled at her heartstrings. Admittedly, he, Jubilee, and Ororo had conspired together to devise a way to get Jean away from the house and her responsibilities for a few days. Having Ororo accompany her for a girls' weekend out was necessary, they decided; but having Jubilee present the gift as a thank you for Jean caring for her synched it. She really required little convincing at that point.

"I'm just glad she agreed to go. She deserves some time for herself."

"That she does. How's the batter look?"

"Smooth an' ready to go." Jubilee got to her feet and carried the bowl over to the stove. Scott said nothing until she put it down on the counter, and only then thanked her.

That was one of the cool things about Scott. He did not make a big deal out of her present handicaps. Sure, he knew that she had limitations when it came to certain physical activities, especially anything that required a great deal of strength or endurance, but he did not dwell on it. Whereas Jean would coddle her and insist on doing things for her that required any sort of exertion, Scott would rather stand back and let her attempt it. If push came to shove and it was too much for her, he would help; but usually he would give her the opportunity to ask for it. Or, during the times when she became frustrated because her body would not permit her to perform the tasks she wanted to, he would wordlessly give her a hand. And he was always nonchalant about it. He never made a big deal out of it, he never tried to comfort her and reassure her that it would just be a matter of time. Rather, his encouragement came in the form of an understanding smile or a reassuring nod. By allowing her to struggle though her endeavors, he let her feel like a capable person. It was a refreshing change from the kid gloves Jean used to handle her. Not that she would ever begrudge Jean's desire to pamper her; it was just that sometimes she needed to expend a little elbow grease and do things for herself to know that she was alive and capable and on the way to recovery.

"Thanks for standin' up for me 'bout the 'blades," Jubilee said, watching as Scott added a pat of margarine to the heating frying pan.

"No problem," he said, picking up the pan and swirling around the melting margarine to coat the surface. "Jean means well, you know. She just wants to protect you. Prevent you from getting hurt."

"I know. It's just that sometimes I think she forgets that I'm not a little kid. I'm sixteen years old."

"Just give her a little time. When you first came to stay with us, you had to rely on Jean to do almost everything. She became accustomed to helping you all the time. And even though it was hard work for both of you, she really enjoyed it. You know as well as I do that Jean has a heart of gold. That she's a nurturing soul. So now that you're able to do things for yourself, she's finding it a little difficult to cope with the fact that you don't need her quite so much anymore. But I think she's coming to realize this--slowly. Sometimes, though--like today with the skates--she just needs a little reminder."

Jubilee nodded. "Well, thanks all the same. You know, you're not quite as square as I thought."

"More of a rhombus?"

She laughed. "Something like that. So, are we ready to start cookin', or what?"

"Let's find out." Scott dipped his fingers into a small cup of water and flicked the drops onto the frying fan. It immediately began to sizzle. "That'd be a roger. Want to ladle some batter into the pan?"

"Sure," Jubilee said, filling the ladle and pouring the batter into the waiting pan. "So, when's the game again?"

"Not until two. We should probably give ourselves about an hour-and-a-half to get there."

"So that leaves us with a few hours to kill after breakfast."

"That it does. Did you have something in mind?"

"Actually, yeah."

Scott picked up a spatula and flipped the pancake over with a smooth flick of the wrist. "Care to share?"

Jubilee paused, using the ladle to swirl the batter around the bowl a bit. "I was, uhm, thinking that we might, uh, go for a swim in the pool."

"Sure. Sounds like fun. Hasn't Logan been after you to go swimming as part of your physical therapy for a while now? What changed your mind?"

"Yeah, Wolvie thinks that the buoyancy of the water will help give me a sense of control of my body's movements. An' Hank said that it's a great means of building up strength an' endurance."

"Then why. . . ?" He turned to look at her, and as one, they both supplied the reason: "Jean."

"It wasn't just her being overprotective. Not at first, anyway. The cast on my wrist kinda nixed the idea for a while. But now that it's gone, I realized there was nothing to really stop me from givin' it a try."

"Well, I'd be more than happy to go swimming with you this morning, Jubilee. We should just make sure it's not right after we eat."

"Well, I've got an abbreviated PT session with Wolvie in an hour, so I was thinking we could go for a dip after that."

"It's a date," he said, tossing the first pancake onto a waiting plate. "Slap a touch of margarine on that puppy and I'll start on the next one."

"Ya got it, boss man."

Chapter 6

"Y'know, I've been thinkin'. . . ." Jubilee began as she nibbled on a french fry. She and Scott sat in a booth in an old-fashioned diner, finishing up their meal.

"There's a first," Scott remarked, polishing off the rest of his burger.

Jubilee scowled. "Hardy har har. Whoever said you didn't have a sense of humor obviously never spent any serious down time with you, Scotty."

"If that's a compliment, then thank you."

"It was, an' you're welcome."

Scott wiped his mouth with his napkin as he waited for Jubilee to continue. When she did not, he felt the need to prompt her. "You were saying?"

"Mmm," Jubilee nodded, taking a sip of her soda. "Yeah. I was thinkin' . . . for all I know, before my accident, I was a Yankees fan, an' today was your way of gettin' a major dig in."

"Would I do such a thing?" he asked innocently.

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

"If you were a true Yankees fan, that sort of loyalty would have been practically incorporated into your genetic code. At the very least, it would have been instilled from the time you came to live in New York. Even traumatic amnesia could not possibly counteract that sort of conditioning."

"They are pretty fanatical, aren't they?"

He nodded. "Besides, you have to admit that that was a pretty exciting game this afternoon."

"Hell yeah. How often do you get to see a grand slam? Piazza is finally earnin' his millions."

"You know, I seem to remember you pining over their former catcher. You were bummed for weeks when they signed Piazza as his replacement."

"Really? When was this?"

"A couple of years back. C'mon, Jubes, you must remember him. . . ."

"Gosh, what was his name?" She pondered as she chewed on a fry. "Olerud?"

"Nope, he was the first baseman. Traded to Seattle."

She closed her eyes, thinking hard. But it would not come to her. Finally, she opened her eyes and shook her head. "I can't remember. Who--?"

"Y'all done here?" their waitress asked as she approached the table.

"I am," Scott told her.

"Yeah, I'm finished, too, thanks," Jubilee added.

"Can I get y'all something else? Coffee? Dessert?"

Scott looked at Jubilee. "You want anything else?"

"I don't know. I'm kinda full."

"Why don't you get something," he insisted.

"We've got all sorts of shakes," the waitress said. "Pie, cake, ice cream sundaes. . . ."

"Do you have banana splits?" Scott asked.

"Yup. Three scoops, your choice of flavors."

Scott looked at Jubilee expectantly. "What do you think?"

"There's no way I could eat all that."

"We can split it."

"I don't know. That's an awful lot of ice cream. . . ."

"C'mon, Jubilee. Where's your sense of adventure?"

She twisted her mouth in a wry grin. "I guess I can eat some of it."

"We'll have a banana split," Scott told the waitress. "What flavors, Jubilee? You pick."

"Mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, and strawberry."

"You got it. One banana split comin' right up," the waitress replied with a smile as she cleared their dinner plates.

When she returned a few minutes later with a bowl piled high with ice cream, two bananas, chocolate syrup, nuts, whip cream, and three cherries, Jubilee's eyes nearly bugged out of her head.

"Enjoy," the waitress said, putting down two spoons and a pile of extra napkins.

"If I explode," Jubilee said, digging into the sundae, "Jean will hold you personally accountable, you know."

"How will she find out, unless you tell her?" Scott countered, taking a big spoonful himself.

"Need I remind you that she's a mind-reader? She's probably gonna search our brains with a fine-toothed comb when she gets back to see what we've been up to."

"You just leave Jean to me, and enjoy your ice cream," he replied. "Good choice of flavors, by the way."

"Thanks. I like to consider myself a connoisseur of ice cream."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah. I've consumed quite my share over the years."

"Did Jean ever tell you about the Kitchen Sink?"

"What, is the garbage disposal busted again?"

Scott laughed. "No, it's the name of a dessert. Back when we were students at the professor's school, we used to frequent a local hang out, the Coffee-a-Go-Go. They had an infamous dessert called the Kitchen Sink."

"Infamous, huh?"

"Yes. On one occasion, a good portion of a local high school football team had attempted to finish it. Half the guys ended up needing their stomachs pumped."

"C'mon! Half a football team? Yeah, right!"

"That was common lore at the time. So, anyway, one evening, we were all hanging out--Jean, Hank, Bobby, Warren, and I. Hank and Bobby were clowning around a lot, Warren was doing a lot of macho posturing."

"Everyone was trying to impress Jean, huh?"

"As usual, yes. So, one thing led to another, dares were given and accepted, and the next thing I knew they had brought out a Kitchen Sink. And let me tell you, that thing was aptly named. You think this sundae is big? It's a spit in the ocean by comparison. That monstrosity came out in a bucket this big--" Scott held his arms over a foot apart--" and this high--" he held his hands about a foot in the air. "It was huge."

"Holy crud."

"And we were determined to finish every last drop."

"You, too?"

He nodded. "You put four seventeen-year-old guys together in the company of a beautiful woman, common sense flies out the window."

"Hey, I went to school with 'em, I know exactly what you mean. You should see the concoctions Angelo has put together with his leftover mashed potatoes. He'd have us believe chocolate milk makes a better topping than gravy." Chuckling, Jubilee ate another spoonful. When Scott did not reply, she looked up to see him staring at her. "What?"

"What you just said about Angelo. . . ."

"Yeah? He was quite a sight, I tell yo--" She stopped suddenly as realization dawned. "Omigod! That memory, it's from Generation X. I-I remembered somethin' else!"

"You did," Scott agreed, beaming at her. "That's great."

She smiled happily as she ate some more sundae. "So, what happened with the Kitchen Sink?"

"Oh, yeah. So Jean sat back and watched in both amazement and disgust as the four of us guys proceeded to polish off the entire thing."

"You ate it all?"

"Remember, we had Hank with us, and you know how he can pack away food. Although the rest of us each had more than our fair share."

"Gosh, how did you feel afterwards?"

"I had never felt so full in my entire life. We could barely move. Jean ended up having to drive us home. Although half-way back to the mansion, we made her pull over."

"Oh God, who barfed?"

"No one, amazingly. Although the car ride brought us damned close. We had to get out and lie down on the grass at the side of the road. I just remember laying there, holding my stomach, staring up at the sky, praying that I didn't explode."

Jubilee snickered. "I can just picture the four of you laying there, moaning. What a sight. Jean must have been beside herself."

"Oh, she was anything but amused. Quite pissed, actually. Now that I think about it, she ended up leaving us there. She took the car back the mansion herself. The rest of us lay there a good hour or so before we managed to gather the strength to get up and walk it off on the trip home."

"Serves you right. You all tried to impress Jean, an' you just ended up making asses of yourselves."

"Well, teenaged guys are notorious for doing that. Us especially."

"I'll bet. Gosh, you all must've been quite a handful for the prof. Bobby's a handful now, so I can't even imagine what he was like as a kid."

Chuckling, Scott nodded. "Incorrigible, that's for sure." He picked up one of the cherries. "We sure had our share of good times, though. Those were some of the best years of my life."

"Yeah, there's nothing quite like hangin' out with good buddies." Jubilee picked up one of the other remaining cherries and stared at it a moment before biting it off of the stem with a sigh.

"We'll get you back there, Jubilee," Scott said, his voice solemn and full of promise, as he lightly placed his hand on hers. "By the time fall comes around, you'll be back in Massachusetts. I know it."

She looked across the table at him, and the determined look on his face. He believed in her, and her ability to work toward a complete recovery. And she knew that Scott Summers only put his faith in people whom he believed in wholeheartedly. For the first time in a while, Jubilee felt filled with hope. She could not help but smile.

"Thanks, Scott," she whispered.

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

"You want that last cherry?" she asked.

"Go for it. I'm stuffed. Just thinking about that Kitchen Sink made me full."

Laughing, Jubilee took the last cherry. "Hey, we did pretty good here ourselves," she remarked, surveying their nearly empty dish.

"That we did. We may just have to pull over on the way home."

"Does that mean I get to drive?"

"Maybe next time."



"Not even in the circle in front of the mansion?"

"Jean would kill me."

"But how would she find out unless you tell her?" Jubilee asked, smiling mischievously, as she echoed his words from earlier that evening.

"Ah, but you're not the one who will be sleeping on the couch for a week."

"All right," Jubilee relented, taking a sip of water.

"I'll think about it, though. Maybe when you're off the crutches."

"You'd really give me driving lessons?"

"Well, I was hoping Logan would volunteer since he's the one with the healing factor. . . ." He could not hide his smile. "But yeah, I'd be willing to give you some lessons."

"Wow. Cool. Thanks, Scott."

"No problem."

Just then, the waitress approached the table. "Well, I see you two managed to pack it all away."

"She's got a wooden leg," Scott said, pointing to Jubilee.

The waitress laughed. "Can I get you anything else?"

"No, just the check please."

"You two have a good night," she replied, putting the bill on the table.

Scott scanned it a moment before pulling some money out of his wallet. "You ready to head home?" he asked, putting a generous tip under a plate.

"Yep," Jubilee replied, reaching for her crutches.

Scott got up and waited for her to arrange the braces before slowly heading for the cash register.

"Hey, Scott?"


"I had a really good time tonight. Thanks."

He smiled. "You're welcome. I had a good time, too."

"We should, like, you know, maybe try to do stuff like this again sometime."

"Anytime, Jubilee. Anytime."


Jennifer Sorowitz V'02
[email protected]

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it. -William Arthur Ward

[main page | archive | forums | gallery ]