Homecomings: Chapters 26-28

by Alex Cartwright

Chapter Twenty-Six: Jealous Guy

Grinding his Cohiba between his teeth, Logan parked his motorcycle in the garage and headed inside through the door that connected the garage with the laundry room area. He had just gotten back from another ride to clear his head. The Professor tried to equate the experience to meditation, but Logan found that it was more than that. The rush of the wind on his skin and the speed seemed to make things, according to Logan, "fade away".

There was a need to make things fade away when he found out that the kid and One-Eyed were going on a road trip together. They were visiting colleges and university campuses nearby. Jubilee had received acceptance letters from these places and wanted to see what the schools were really like since she had neglected to do so during the application process. After all, she had reasoned, this was going to be a life-altering decision. Already she knew she was not going to be living on campus given that many of the schools were facing a housing shortage for freshmen and only out-of- state students were going to receive top priority. He was secretly pleased with this news. He wasn't going to completely lose her like he did Kitty when she went away to school in Chicago.

Logan had been one of the first to find out, along with Scott and Jean. He could not help but feel a rush of pride when she informed him. She was the closest thing he had to a child. Seeing her grow up and mature and achieve something like getting into college was.. Logan desperately searched his head for the right word, but was unable to for fear of sounding "sappy". There was a part of him that could not quite believe it either. His Jubilee, the 13-year-old he had met in Australia, the girl who loved roller- blading and incessantly popped bubblegum, the girl who would include the word 'dude' in every other sentence, was going to college. It forced him to face the realization that she was no longer his little girl anymore. He had to finally accept that she was truly grown up.

However, that was not what had troubled him to the point where he had to get away from the mansion. He could deal with that. Hell, he had been trying to deal with that reality since he arrived back months ago. It was still difficult, despite the talk they had months ago. There were times when he waited for her to spring into his arms whenever he returned home from a mission only to receive a small smile and a "Welcome back".

No, it was the fact that she had asked Scott to come with her to visit the schools and not him. She never even approached Logan about the idea; Scott had been her first choice. Granted, Logan would have declined since he didn't know very much about higher learning. Hell, he couldn't remember if he even went to college. And, yes, One-Eyed was a college graduate and knew some of the schools on her list. Sure, he looked like the right person to bring with you to a college campus for a visit---clean-cut, pretty boy with his preppy little khakis and sunglasses. He was bland and vanilla like that. Strange enough, a lot of people liked that about him.

What made it worse for Logan, but good for Jubilee was that Scott showed a genuine interest. He was just as affectionate with her as he would be with his child, which was almost sickening. During the preparations for the trip, Logan noticed small things. Like how he had mapped out their trip, making sure they would do something fun and interesting along the way to the schools. Like how he seemed to research each school, explaining the merits and drawbacks to each. Like how he would repeatedly say how proud he was of her. The type of things a father should say and do.

But still, why hadn't she asked Logan? He could have done the same things.

When she noticed the look of disappointment as she and Scott were packing their things into his car, Jubilee then asked him if he wanted to come along. She oblivious to the sudden tense and anguished expression on Scott's face, and to his credit, he quickly masked it by hiding in the car. Logan decided to keep his hurt to himself, not wanting to ruin her trip. He quickly came up with a lie and told her that he was only going to miss for those few days she was away from the mansion. As soon as he said it, he could feel a knife twisting inside of him. He, a man who valued honesty, found himself having to deceive and consequently, hated himself for it.

Fortunately, she thought nothing more of it and gave him a hug, her slender arms clutching him tight for a brief, wonderful moment. Then it ended when she slipped away to join Scott in his black Honda Accord. Logan then bitterly watched the car speed away from the driveway.

His mind drifted to a conversation he had with Jean while they were on a mission. This had occurred before she married Scott. They were discussing his confusion as to what she really saw in her future husband. Logan, still dealing with his own feelings of rejection and jealous, finally confronted her.

Jean gave him an enigmatic smile. "Girls flirt with the dangerous type," she had told him, "In the end, they want to settle down with a good guy."

Logan shrugged nonchalantly. "I could be the good guy," he had said. He wasn't sure if he was trying to convince her or himself.

Jean laughed softly and patted his arm to try to take the edge from her laughter. "That wouldn't be you."

Logan exhaled a cloud of bluish-gray smoke, entering the large, spacious kitchen of the mansion. Damn telepaths. Why is that they seem to know everything? He sauntered to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. Usually, he would have settled on beer, but he had already made a pit stop at the local dive during ride into town.

It was then that he noticed he was not alone. Sitting at the kitchen table was Joseph with a glass of merlot in front of him. He looked very haggard at that moment, which contrasted against the sharpness of his attire-blue cotton dress shirt and pressed, black slacks with black leather loafers. When he saw Wolverine, he silently nodded in greeting.

Logan nodded back, twisting off the cap of his water and taking a swig. He was never sure what to make of the guy. He looked and talked like Magneto, but he wasn't trying to goad Xavier about his dream for peaceful coexistence. At times, he even served with the team. Still, there were definitively things that were unknown about the younger clone. He supposed that was a commonality they both shared.

Joseph's flicked from his wine glass to Logan's face. "You know, it is all right with me if you want to sit down."

Logan raised a stony brow at him. "What makes you think I'm afraid to sit?" he asked.

The other man shrugged. "No reason. Forget I said anything. Perhaps the alcohol has gotten to my head already." He followed that sentence with a bitter smile, indicating that was not the case.

Logan grunted, grudgingly seating himself across the table from the white- haired man. They continued drinking in silence until Joseph said, "I saw that young Jubilation is gone."

"Yeah." Logan narrowed his eyes, uncertain if he was going to like where this conversation was heading. He decided to keep his cool until he found out.

Joseph nodded absently. "You must be very proud of her. Rogue told me you two are like father and daughter."

"Something like that." Logan wasn't even sure anymore what their relationship was anymore. He wasn't in the mood to discuss it, especially with Joeneto.

Joseph took a sip of his wine. "It must be hard to let her go."

"What do you mean, bub?"

"I don't know."

"Sure, you do. Just say it."

"Well, seeing her grow up, not needing you as much anymore. I heard college does that to you."

"Life does that to you. That's what being an adult is all about."

"I wouldn't know. I never had a childhood of my own. At least one that I could remember."

"Join the club."

The two men were silent for a moment, studying each other with hesitation. Joseph raised the glass to his lips, his eyes glossing over Logan with interest. He said, "I think we have something in common. Haven't you noticed how situations parallel one another? It's almost amusing. Amusing if you're not us."

Logan frowned at him. "What do you mean?" he asked.

The other man swirled the fruity bouquet of the merlot in his mouth before responding. "You and I.. We're being slowly being replaced by other men." There was no denying the stark bitterness in the tone of voice he used just then.

Green eyes narrowed. "Still not gettin' you, bub."

"You know, Scott for you, and.." Joseph's faced hardened as his voice trailed off. He didn't need to name the other person in his situation. It was too obvious after all these months.

Logan pursed his lips bitterly. "You have no idea what the hell you're talkin' about," he snapped, "at least where I stand. One-Eyed is just bein' nice to the kid. Plenty of other people around here do the same thing."

"And, yet it's not the same thing, is it?" Joseph watched with mild amusement as the other man winced, feeling the sting and truth of his observation. "Don't forget I was here before you got back. I've seen the way he treats her. I've heard the comparisons like, 'Scott took Jubilee driving today? That's something Logan would do.' I've also seen the way he looks at her with affection when she's around, and the way she reciprocates. It's quite precious, really."

Logan glared at the man's smug expression. He thought about threatening him with a flash of adamantium, but then decided against it. He had been doing too well lately to just lose his temper over someone else's interpretation of the situation. There was also the fact that the guy had Magneto's abilities, which might prove to be painful if he was pushed to defend himself.

"So, he's a good guy."


"Last I heard that ain't a crime."

"No. No, it isn't. Perhaps you should be grateful for that."

"Perhaps you should keep your half-assed opinions to yourself and concentrate on your problems." Logan smirked, all too aware of the little melodrama playing out between Joseph, Rogue, and Gambit. He, too, had observed many things as well.

The other man scowled, stiffening in his chair. After a brief silence, he sniffed loudly. "If you must know, I have been."

"So that's what you call drinking wine by yourself?" Logan jeered, gesturing to the now empty glass. "I have to hand it to you, that's real constructive."

"You don't anything," Joseph told him coldly. "You don't know what it's like.."

"From what you just told me, I'm supposed to understand. We're in the same situation, remember?" There was a certain glee Logan experience as he threw the other man's words back into his face.

"I said our situations parallel one another. I never said they were necessarily the same."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Anyway, there's no way you could ever comprehend what I'm going through."

"So, Rogue's angstin' over pretty boy Cajun. What's left to understand? I understand completely and I'm not even involved."

"You make it sound so simple."

"Well, because it is."

"Shows what you know, Logan. I'm the one who loved her. I'm the one who showed her that she could have human contact without hurting anyone. I'm the one who makes her happy. At least I used to be."

He stared down at his hands, which were now shaking in frustration. "Then he comes back to the mansion and overnight, everything is different. She's more distant, but tries hard not to be when we're together. She cries a lot. She hides the fact that she does, but I know. I always know."

Logan was tempted to rise out of his chair and leave the kitchen. He hated hearing about other people's angst, particularly the romantic kind. It always made him feel uncomfortable, almost voyeuristic in a way. However, for some strange reason, he remained seated.

Joseph failed to even notice as he went on. "Then there are the stares they exchange when they're in the same room. It is almost as if I do not exist when he is around. I may not say anything or to try to challenge, but I'm aware. I'm not as blind or na・e as some around here might like to think. I know there's quite a bit of history between them. I would be stupid not to even think about it. But what's been going on has gone beyond that, I think."

He stopped to laugh harshly. "You know, I have to give him some credit. He hasn't tried anything with her. From what I heard, he's not the most trustworthy person in the world."

Logan bristled. He had a point. The Cajun wasn't exactly the model of good behavior all the time. But he was always could be depended on in the heat of battle. There were times Logan believed that Gumbo actually relished being the scoundrel who had to repeatedly prove himself again and again to the team. It seemed like some form of challenge for the former thief.

When it came to women, that was an entirely different story altogether. Gambit was a notorious ladies' man, and continued to live up to that reputation after his return to the mansion. He went into town almost every night to meet with some girl he had met. His returns to the mansion often clocked in during the wee hours of the morning. To his credit, the man was no braggart regarding his sexual rendezvous. However, the perpetual glint in those demon-like eyes told an entirely different story.

Logan said simply in defense of his friend, "He has his good moments."

"I see." Joseph pushed aside his glass and sighed. "I think this makes my decision easier to make."

"What decision?"

"I'm going to Guatemala for a while. The orphanage I helped to rebuild still needs some work."

"Rogue goin' with you?"

"No, it might be best that we have some time apart. For a while."

"Does she know about this?"

"Not yet. I think it will be good for us to have some time apart to work out some of the issues."

"You mean so she can decide who she wants."

Joseph shrank back, not quite ready for Logan's bluntness. "Well, if you put it that way."

Chapter Twenty-Seven: I've Been Waiting

She had offered to go with him.

He refused. He said something about how he needed to be on his own for a while. He told her that he had to find his own place in the world. But he never said when he was coming back.


She knew better. She knew why he had left. And yet, she did very little to stop him from leaving.

Then, as quickly as he came into her life, he was gone.

Rogue heaved a sigh, seating herself on the well-worn sofa in the recreation room. She wished she could have said she never saw this coming; that this was unexpected. However, to do so would be lying to herself. She had done enough of that lately.

She rested her chin against her knees, which she had drawn to her chest. What was worse was that she had lied to him. Not deliberately or with malice, but it was still deception nonetheless. And, he had seen through all of it apparently. At one point, she would have told anyone that she was happy with him. After all, this was the first relationship where she could have physical contact with another person without hurting them. Joseph had given her not only love and companionship, but also a sense of normalcy---something she had craved for many years. For that, she would always be grateful.

Despite this, there was always something missing from their relationship. Contrary to what many around the mansion thought, her misgivings started prior to Gambit's return. Initially, Rogue wasn't able to put her finger on what it was exactly. On the surface, things seemed fine. Joseph was kind and compassionate, exercising a great deal of patience around her insecurities with her powers and herself as a woman. He never looked at other women while they were together. Repeatedly, he would tell her that his heart only belonged to her. Taking his cue, she responded with the same sentiment. Looking back, she realized how empty her words and actions had been all this time.

What had been missing all this time was any sense of real connection. Yes, she did feel some affection towards him. And, yes, she felt close to him physically. But, there was a lack of any real passion in the relationship; that drive where you would do just about anything to be with the person you committed to. There was never that spark that lit inside her belly, making her heart race and skin flush warm with excitement---all the elements of a romantic high. There was never that twist inside whenever she was away from him for long periods of time.

In the beginning, Rogue would tell herself to wait and that it would come eventually. Other times, she would admonish herself, saying that she could never expect for her relationship with Joseph to be like previous ones. That simply wouldn't be fair to him. So, she continued investing herself in the relationship, in the hopes that something would happen.

It never did.

Instead, what evolved was a sense of safety and reliability to their relationship. Joseph fostered this image of him always being there for her, offering her his loyalty no matter what. She came to conclusion that safe was good. It was a hell of a lot better than being alone for the rest of her life.

But safe was not the same as love.

In the weeks following Gambit's return, Joseph was Stoic, and at times, indifferent. Rogue waited for him to say something beyond that one night where he expressed that he was aware of the history between her and the Cajun. He never did, choosing to remain distant and Stoic about the situation. She wasn't sure how she would feel if he did express some sort of jealousy or anger. Maybe she would be more willing to fight for their relationship. Maybe she would be tempted to end it right there and then. It was too late and too useless to speculate either way now.

She was hurting him by being duplicitous about her own feelings, which made her feel truly disgusted with herself. She hated every second of it, but found that she could not stop. He deserved better than that. He deserved a person who could truly reciprocate his feelings and did not think of other possibilities when they were together. He deserved to be happy.

Then there was the Cajun. Many nights she had spent trying to get over her feelings for him, trying to get over what she had done to him so long ago, trying to convince herself that she could be happy without him. In the end, she was lying to herself once again. She had done even more damage by trying to push him away and then trying to put up a fa・de that she could be friends with him. Rogue spent the past few weeks, trying to be friendly towards Gambit, but at the same time, reminding him that she was with someone else. Sometimes, she actually thought she could be nothing more than friends with him.

In spite of her best efforts, her thoughts were always about those red-on- black eyes and the voice that evoked images of whiskey and cigarettes. It was not that the attraction was based on Remy's looks alone, although they helped to make the case a great deal. Rather, it was a combination of things that continued to draw her to him. There was the Cajun charm he exuded from almost every pore like it was a pheromone.

There was also sly and devious air about him, which made people uncertain as to where they stood with him. He was like Logan in that he often threw caution to the wind when it came to restrictions, choosing to handle things his way instead of going through the proper channels. It was not uncommon to see either Scott or the Professor admonish him for some transgression. "Another loose cannon" as Bobby had put it during their cross-country road trip together. And, while Rogue would sometimes join in on the scolding, there was a part of her that was fascinated with his rebellious behavior.

But there was a different side to him; a side he rarely showed to anyone outside of herself, Storm, and Jubilee. It was a side that was devoid of the teasing, smug, devil-may-care attitude. Underneath all of that, was a gentle and reflective soul---something he desperately hid from others in the mansion.

Her mind drifted to last week when she passed by his room on her way to meet Jean and Ororo for coffee. His door was wide open and she could see him standing over his record player. Unlike the younger people in the mansion, Remy LeBeau was a purist when it came to his music. His position was that modern technology ruined the true nature of the pieces, especially his favorite genre jazz. He had selected a Billie Holiday record to play.

"Ya feelin' sad, Cajun?" she had asked in greeting from the doorway. She had tried to resist the urge to look him up and down as she had observed many of the other female residents do. However, it was hard to resist when he was in those jeans that seemed to cling to the right places.. She remembered blushing wildly at the thoughts racing through her head at that moment.

He had looked up, surprised. Then he shook his head, auburn locks flopping over one brow. "Non, ch・e," he had replied, a sly smile curling his sculpted lips. "Just appreciatin' de music. Dese kids around here don' know anyt'ing about music. Rock and roll. Hah. Give me Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday any day, eh?"

She had nodded in agreement, taking a few steps inside. Rogue wasn't sure if it was the music that had enticed or if it was the room's occupant. "You really like Billie, huh?" Her voice had suddenly sounded thick and foreign to her own ears.

"Oui, ch・e," he had answered huskily, approaching her very slowly with a catlike grace. "Her voice reminds dis ol' t'ief of the Bayou. Don' she remind you of home?"

Rogue found herself staring up at his perfectly chiseled features. His words at that moment seemed to drown out the lush, angst-ridden voice of the legendary blues singer. "Sometimes," she had managed to say. Then she inquired, "How does she remind you of home?"

He looked thoughtful. "She sounds hot, like de summers in de old neighborhood. Like she got a fire comin' from her belly to her heart and she got to let it out." His voice had gotten huskier and softer as he made his observation. Then he had paused for a moment before asking a question of his own. "You know what dat like, ch・e?"

Drifting back to where she was sitting in the recreation room, Rogue winced as she recalled her reaction. In retrospect, she likened it to that of a nervous schoolgirl---staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, and then mumbling something inaudible before scrambling off. She sighed and cursed her lack of grace; her lack of courage. Even now, she wasn't sure if she would ever be able to handle things any differently.

A pair of red-on-black eyes observed the Southern Belle from the hallway. The owner of those demon eyes stared longingly at her from where he stood. Then he clutched the metal collar taken from Hank McCoy's laboratory with a grip so intense, it nearly overwhelmed him.

Bobby was in the middle of packing for his cousin's wedding in Long Island. He was supposed to leave that night to help with the preparations. Who the hell gets married a week after his bachelor party? he wondered, feeling somewhat travel weary. It felt like he had just arrived back from the trip to Vegas and now he had to head out again for another week. He supposed this was what Bon Jovi was singing about in that song, "Dead or Alive".

Speaking of that trip, he spent the rest of it being known as Bobby, the best man who likes to do weird things with food. While it was humiliating, it was better than Bobby, the guy who got some from the stripper. He realized that latter would have afforded him some respect from his cousin and his friends, but Bobby really wasn't into that kind of thing. Fortunately, the teasing had not followed him to the mansion, although every time Warren saw him in the kitchen, the other man would give him wary looks and shake his head.

As he folded another Hawaiian shirt to pack into his travel bag, he began to think about what had pulled him from his alcoholic haze with the stripper. He really didn't process what happened at the time or the days following. The only thing he was aware of was that what he had found himself doing was wrong. Now, reflecting on the incident, Bobby began to realize why.

The time he had found himself in a compromising position with Emma, Jubilee was there. The look of surprise and disappointment had tugged at him for days after she left for Paris. It had kept him awake for many nights. He found himself anxious as to whether or not he had lost her friendship. Maybe it was this fear that compelled him to end things with the blonde before they went any further. Maybe their friendship alone was enough for him not to engage in something meaningless and that he would regret later on.

No, it was something else.

It was the thought of her those old-soul, blue eyes. It was the memory of the bubblegum and cinnamon that emanated from her soft skin. It was the silky hair he had threaded through his fingers when he held her that night. It was the rush and euphoria he experienced whenever he was with her. It was the overwhelming need to protect her from anything and everything. It was the way things seemed to be right in the world when he was near her.

I want you just the way you are.

Bobby paused in his packing. All of a sudden it hit him. Things suddenly made sense. Why hadn't he seen it before? His stomach suddenly turned as he seated himself on his bed. Nervously, he raked a hand through his sandy hair.

No, he couldn't be. They were friends. They had been for so long, from that moment she stepped into the mansion in that ridiculously loud yellow raincoat and neon-colored clothing. No, it wasn't that. Bobby was lonely and had been for so long--that was it. His loneliness was making him think about Jubilee in that way. Yes, that was it. She was the nearest sympathetic female who took the time to reach out to him and he was mistaking that for something else..

Stop it, Drake. You're in love with her.

He buried his face in his hands, shaking his head. This could ruin things. He couldn't allow that to happen. He wasn't sure what he would do if he lost her, as a friend or otherwise, like he did Lorna Dane and the others. It had been quite painful to lose these relationships, taking him a great of time to recover and deal with his loneliness. However, the prospect of losing Jubilee seemed all the more agonizing.

At the same time, Bobby didn't think he could live with himself if he kept denying the truth any longer.

He sighed wearily. He was relieved to have figured out the confusion behind what he had been feeling for the past several months. However, it was still unsettling. There was also the fact that he had no idea how she felt. He knew that she thought of him now. He was Fun Bobby, the guy she watched comedy movies with, the guy she played pranks with, the guy she told things to when she thought the other adults in the mansion, like Logan, Scott, or Jean, wouldn't understand.

Fun Bobby, the guy she didn't think could sweep a woman off of her feet. Would it be possible for her to think of him in another light? How would she react if he revealed his feelings to her?

Bobby's eyes flicked to the window. Out in the distance, he saw her window was alight from where he was sitting. He could stay in his room and continue to pack, speculating as to what she might do or say. He realized he wasn't going to get any piece of mind if he took that option.

Taking a deep breath, he tossed the shirt he was folding into the travel bag and quickly jogged out of his room. He then moved quickly down the spiral staircase and out the front door. In all his life, he couldn't remember the last time he moved so fast and with such a sense of purpose. It was as if his feet had a mind of their own at that moment.

Suddenly, he stopped a few yards shy of the Summers' home. Bobby realized he had no planned speech, no eloquent words to express his feelings. Panicking, he contemplated turning back and heading to the mansion. That would be the safer thing to do until he could compose himself.

I want you just the way you are.

His gray eyes were steely as her soft voice echoed his head. No, if he was going to do this, he was going to do it sans prepared statement. Otherwise, it wouldn't be him. I'm just going to be honest and tell her how I feel and hope that she feels the same way.. His heart raced as he thought about her reaction if she responding with the same feelings.

Bobby walked a few hesitant steps toward the house. Before he could ice up and form his usual slide to her bedroom window, he was tackled from behind, his chest slamming against the ground. As he struggled to turn around and defend himself from his mysterious attacker, he felt something cold and metal slide around his neck, closing with a crisp CLICK! Finding a surge of adrenaline pumping through his veins, he flipped over, throwing the attacker on the ground. Then he held his hands in front him, preparing to shoot ice at the other person.

Nothing happened.

Confused, Bobby stared down at his hands and tried again. Nothing. Then he stared into the darkness. When he discovered who his assailant was, he was furious.

Scrambling to his feet, he yelled, "Gambit, what the hell?" He then pulled at the metal collar around his neck. When he discovered it was not coming off, he thought he was going to explode. He knew what it was from Hank, who had been concerned about a missing collar his team had retrieved from Genosha. "This is really sick if this is your idea of a prank!"

Gambit's red-on-black eyes regarded him coolly. "No prank, homme. Just wanted your attention."

"Well, you got it," Bobby snapped, continuing to pull at the collar. "Now get this off me!"

The Cajun gave him a Cheshire cat smile. "Soon, Drake. But you need to listen first."

"Listen to what? How you're scheming to go after Rogue now that Joeneto's gone? Please, everyone's been waiting for that." Bobby rolled his eyes in disdain. This only served to cement his opinion what a jerk this guy was. What on earth could his friend possibly see in him?

"You be in a precarious position maintenant. Gambit advise you to shut your mouth and listen to what Gambit has to say, non?" When that rendered the younger man silent, he continued. "Gambit see what you been up to wit' de petite. Gambit t'inks it's not a bon idea."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Gambit not stupid, Drake. You can't handle femmes your age, so you go after de petite. Again, not a bon idea."

"It's not how you're making it sound."

"Oh? And where you goin' den?"

"To see de petite---I mean, Jubilee."

"To do what?"

"None of your business."

"I t'ought so."

"Whatever it is you're thinking, only guys like you do that kind of thing." Bobby felt some satisfaction when he saw the other man scowl and advance towards him.

Gambit thought about charging a card. He had one ready to go in his pocket. However, he decided against it. No sense creating a scene. He wanted to take care of Drake privately. "Gambit may be a lot t'ings, but not a child molester."

Bobby's gray eyes widened with disbelief. Of all the nerve.. "You're accusing me of being a child molester? You son of a.."

"You can call Gambit all de names you want, homme. Gambit cares about de petite and will do anyt'ing to protect her."

"You want to protect her from me? That's hilarious."

"Not'ing funny about it, homme."

"It is since I'm not the one she needs protecting from."

"You don' t'ink she be too young for you? Or, mebbe you like dat sort of t'ing."

"She's going to be eighteen soon. Besides, there's not that much of an age difference between us."

"So you worked out de math, eh? Not surprising."

"What? No! Listen, Warren's seeing a new girl, and there's a bigger age gap between those two. Why don't you go harass him with your lame attempts at being the morality police?"

"Gambit don' know Paige. Gambit cares for de petite and would do anyt'ing for her."

"So would I."

"Do you really?"

"Yeah, not that it's any of your business. I care about her. That's why I was going to see her. To tell her that."

"Gambit can't let you do dat."

"Listen, I don't need your approval for anything.."

"You say you care about de petite? Den let her be, homme. Let her be wit' someone closer to her age. Let her be wit' someone who don' carry baggage when it comes to de femmes. Let her be truly happy."

Bobby shrank back, grimacing. He couldn't help but feel some sting from the words that left the Cajun thief's mouth. He never really thought of any of that. Some around the mansion might frown on his 24 years to her 17 years, particularly Logan and Scott. Yes, she was going to be 18 in a couple of months, but then what? There would always be that gap between them, different life experiences between them. Perhaps being with someone closer to her own age, who shared similar experiences because of that age, would be a better idea.

There were also Bobby's own issues surrounding women and his failed romances. In his own mind, he had screwed up so many of those relationships. While he could do his best not to hurt her, it was still too risky. He couldn't let Jubilee down the way he had done the others. He was damaged goods. She deserved better than that. She deserved better than him.

"Maybe you're right," he finally said somberly, his face withdrawn. He cast a forlorn look at Jubilee's bedroom window. His mind continued to reel of thoughts of what could have been if the Cajun thief had not intervened. No, she was better off not knowing. He hoped she would be happier this way.

The Cajun thief silently removed the metal collar from Bobby's neck. He then watched the younger man make his way to the mansion. Moments later, Drake's Volkswagen Jetta pulled out of the garage. Red-on-black eyes glittered in the darkness of the spring night as the car sped down the winding drive before disappearing through the wrought-iron gates.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight: Hurt

Paige Guthrie twirled a lock of straw-blonde hair around her finger, her eyes flicking to the security monitors in the lower level of the basement. It was her turn to watch the grounds of the mansion, a task that many of the senior team members often looked down on. Her brother used to call it "over glorified babysitting" when he used to visit her at the academy. But Paige didn't mind. After all, she was starting on the team and if this was the way she had to move up the ranks, then she was more than happy to do it.

"Hey, Guthrie," Jubilee greeted, entering the control room. She handed her two fashion magazines she borrowed from Jean. Then she seated herself next to her former roommate, tossing her long, black hair over one shoulder. "Inside are the latest fashions from Europe. Now, you can look a waify, heroin-addicted model, too."

Paige wrinkled her nose at her friend's attempt at sarcasm. "Well, as long as there's something in here I can afford, I'll be happy. I can't go to the wedding in something like this." She stared down at her black turtleneck, pink corduroy shirt, and gray trousers.

"Well, you'll have to bundle up in any case," Jubilee said, reminding her of the cold front that suddenly enveloped Westchester. Unfortunately, mild spring weather usually came late in the area, forcing residents to continue to wear sweaters (at least) until mid-April. Case in point, Jubilee wore a gray V-neck sweater over corduroy pants and black flip-flops.

The blonde sighed, flipping through ads for various designers. "Why is it that you have to be high or brain-dead to actually wear some of this stuff in public?" She showed Jubilee a picture of a 90-pound woman, posing in a bikini that appeared to be made of moss.

"Bleech," Jubilee said, echoing her friend's sentiment. "And people think mutants are weird."

Paige shook her blonde head, continuing to browse through the pages. Then she said, "By this time next year, you'll be finishing your first year of college, Jubes."

Jubilee turned to her friend, thoughtful. "Yeah," she replied finally, still surprised with the notion herself. Given her lack of interest in academics when she was younger, she never thought she would actually be putting herself through another four years of school. "It's weird, you know? I always thought it would be you going and not me. What happened, Hayseed?"

Paige checked the monitors again to make sure nothing was going on before responding to Jubilee. "I don't know," she said, shrugging. "I mean, I thought I would be going to school right after the academy. When I was in Europe with Sean, I realized that there were other things out there that were just as important. Maybe I'll go back someday, but not now. I want to focus my efforts on becoming a full-fledged member."

The younger girl gave her an amused smile. "There's the Guthrie I know--- the perpetual overachiever. Maybe by the time I finish my freshman year, you'll be running this place instead of Scott."

Paige blushed at her friend's comment. While it was secretly her aspiration to do so, she didn't think she was ready to do so at this point or anytime soon. She decided to focus the conversation on Jubilee. "So, what gives, Jubes? You're abandoning life as an X-Man to be a scholar?" Her tone was teasing to take the edge off her words.

Jubilee frowned thoughtfully, absorbing the questions in silence. Then she answered, "I don't think I was ever cut out to do the superhero thing. I mean, the whole idea appealed to me when I was a kid---fighting the baddies with our powers and saving the world for both humans and mutants. And for a while, when I was with you and the academy, it was right. But now, I know it was never for me. I mean, look at what happened. I nearly died. I almost took about a bunch people when I paffed that building that one time. Thank God, no one got hurt or.. Well, I'm giving a normal life a try and see how that works out. I just don't trust myself otherwise."

"What about additional training here? I mean, you could talk to Scott or Logan.."

"No, it's not only my powers. I have better control over them thanks to Danger Room sessions here. It's something inside of me. I don't know what it is exactly."

From the tone of voice Jubilee used, Paige could tell her friend was wary about going any further with the conversation. She nodded empathetically. "I think I get you now. Well, I hope you'll be happier. Do you know what you might study?"

"Well, the school I'm going to is known for their fine arts program and their psychology program. So, I'm interested both, but I don't have to decide on a major until the end of freshman year." Jubilee had finally decided on a small, well established, private university that was 30 minutes away. The school had also offered a generous scholarship as well, which made the decision easier to make.

Paige smiled. "Well, I guess I'll have to live vicariously through you then instead of the other way around."

"Yeah, the glamorous life of a frazzled college student." Jubilee laughed. When she and her friend stopped, she asked, "So, what's going on between you and Worthington?" Like others in the mansion, she was aware that the millionaire playboy had recently asked Paige to attend Joel's wedding with him, which appeared to be an indication of something serious. While some bemoaned the age difference between the two (his 33 years to her 19 years), Jubilee was secretly relieved that her friend had found someone after Jono. She liked both of them, but found that the Englishman's defense mechanism of constantly pushing Paige away took its toll.

"I don't know what it is yet," Paige answered quietly, twirling a lock of hair around her finger. "I'm crazy about him, Jubes. I babble about him all the time to anyone who would listen."

"Yeah, I know." Aside from the institute's nurse, Annie, Jubilee was the second recipient to most of the babbling.

Paige glossed over her friend's comment. "It's just that it's early, you know? I guess that's why I'm nervous about finding something to wear. I mean, most of his girlfriends were models or former models. How am I supposed to compete with that?"

"You shouldn't feel like you're competing at all," Jubilee told her, frowning thoughtfully. "If he really cares about you, then you could wear a burlap sack to the wedding and he wouldn't think twice about his decision asking you."

Paige nodded quickly, realizing her friend had a valid point. "You're right, but this is coming from me. This is my first relationship since Jono and I.. I just want to do my best to make sure I don't get hurt."

"Isn't that the risk anybody takes when they get involved with anyone else?" Jubilee countered.

Paige quirked a brow at the younger girl with an amused expression on her face. "Your psychology class with Jean?"

"No, watching Dr. Phil with Scott yesterday." Jubilee grinned.

Paige giggled at the image of Cyclops watching daytime television. It was almost too much. When she recovered, she inquired, "Well, what about you? Are you going to this wedding with Bobby?"

Jubilee's sapphire eyes widened in surprise. "No," she answered. "Why are you asking?"

The younger Guthrie shrugged, tossing one of the magazines on the table next to her. "Well, I've seen you two together a lot. I thought he would ask you before he left."

Raven hair with blue streaks spilled down the young girl's shoulders as she shook her head. "No, he didn't. He's probably wrapped up in helping his cousin get things together for the wedding."

At least that's what she had concluded since he had not conducted his usual nightly visit to her bedroom. She remembered waiting up for him so that she could say good-bye since he was going to be gone for a week. When he never appeared, she simply assumed that he became overwhelmed with last minute planning tasks. As she went to sleep that night, she could not help but feel somewhat disappointed about not being with him. His visits had become part of a ritual, something she often looked forward to.

Paige nodded in agreement. "I guess that's the burden of being the best man." She paused for a moment. "So, I take it that you and Bobby are not dating."

"Well, he says we're friends."

"He says you're friends?"

"Yeah. He says we're friends."

"Um, OK. So what do you say?"

"I say.. I say that one of the cameras is busted."

"Huh?" Paige's blonde head quickly snapped up to see static on one of the monitors. She groaned, rolling her eyes. "Great. I hope nothing happened."

Jubilee stood up and began to head to the door that led to the elevators to the main floor. "No big deal," she told her friend reassuringly. "That camera's on my way to the house. I'll check it out for you and see if I can fix it. If I can't, I'll give you a holler from the house, OK?"

"Thanks, Jubes," Paige said gratefully, watching her friend disappear through the steel doors of the security room. Moments later, she realized that Jubilee never addressed her question.

"See anythin' ya like?"

Remy LeBeau's lips formed a seductive smile, taking in the pert blonde bartender standing across from him at the bar, wearing a low-cut top. "We not talkin' 'bout de drinks, are we, ch・e?"

The bartender tittered helplessly. "No, I don't think we are."

Oh, for God's sake, Logan groaned inwardly, chewing on his Cohiba. He immediately regretted his decision to invite the Cajun out for drinks and pool at the local bar in town. Not that interactions like this with the female species were completely out of the ordinary. It was just that they tended to slow Logan's beer refill rate substantially. Logan kicked himself mentally for not being more mindful of this fact.

"I'll have another beer," he piped up, shoving his empty stein in front of the blonde.

The bartender's brown eyes flashed at him in a brief moment of anger and irritation. Then she sighed, picking up the stein and walked to the other side of the bar where the taps were located. Rolling her eyes, she began to refill Logan's beer.

Remy exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke, looking rather entertained. "I t'ink you made her mad, mon ami."

"She's getting paid to serve drinks, not to make goo-goo eyes at you," Logan pointed out. He nodded his thanks to her when she returned, which was ignored since she was being called over by another customer. Wordlessly, he slapped some cash on the sticky, wood tabletop for her to pick up later on.

"Mebbe it's one of the perks, non?" Red-on-black eyes twinkled with mirth.

Logan snorted, his eyes drifting around the increasingly crowded bar. "Call it what you want. It's annoyin', Gumbo," he told him, taking a gulp of his pale ale. "You don't have to come on to anyone female. See, there's this thing called self control.."

Remy gave his friend a stunned look. "First, Storm and Cyclops tell Gambit he can't be a t'ief no more. Den you tell Gambit he can't flirt no more. Why doesn't Gambit just lay down and die?" He laughed as he watched Logan scowl.

Logan grunted at him, continuing to work on his drink. "Very funny, Cajun." It was bad enough he had beat him in three consecutive games of pool, but now he felt the need to show off what kind of comedian he was. Maybe a flash of adamantium would take care of that.. He decided against it.

"I t'ought so." Remy took another drag of his cigarette, smirking. Grating on Wolverine's nerves was almost as fun as stealing or picking up a beautiful femme.

Logan shrugged, pretending to watch someone stuff a quarter in the jukebox across the room. He then turned to the tall, lean Cajun thief. "So, Joseph split."

"You're tellin' Gambit like he don' know." It was Remy's turn to be irritated. He narrowed his eyes into razor-thin slits.

Logan resisted the urge to smile. "Well, I'd thought you would capitalize on your chance."

"Chance for what?"

"Cut the innocent act. I've known you for a long time and I'm not a moron. With him outta the way, you can go after Rogue."

"What makes you t'ink Gambit would do dat?"

"Listen, bub, I've been forced to watch this pathetic soap opera play out since you got back. Hasn't that been what you wanted for these last few months? Your competition's gone."

"Hah, Wolverine. You don' know what you're talking about."

"Really? I think I've pretty much summed up what's been goin' on."

"Hah. Just because dat homme is gone, don' mean dat Gambit is goin' to do anyt'ing."

"Oh no?"

"Dat's right. Gambit don' go where he's not wanted."

"She said that?"

"No, Gambit just knows."

Since Joseph's departure, Rogue had been keeping to herself. The day he saw in the recreation room was the first time he had seen in her in several days. As much as he had wanted to approach her, he wasn't sure how she would react. She could be irrational and decide to blame him for her lover leaving the country, blame him for the demise of her relationship with Joseph, blame him for being alone all over again. Gambit knew he did not want any of that.

So, instead, he decided to wait. He would wait for her to come to him. As long as it would take, he was determined to do it. He would not pursue her and force himself on her, as he knew others around the mansion had expected- --this was quite evident from what Bobby, and now, Logan said. No, that wasn't going to accomplish much of anything. Gambit was too old for that, too wise for that. He needed to know that he had at least a chance. Otherwise, his longing and whatever he would have done to "go after Rogue" would be worth absolutely nothing in the end.

There was also his uncertainty about how Rogue actually felt about Joseph. She could have actually been honest with him all those weeks ago when she said she was in love with him. There was the possibility that she did not really want him at all. In that case, Remy did not want to be her second choice, the old reliable lover she could then move on to since the one she had cherished left. No, there was no way he would have any part of that either.

Gambit put out his cigarette in the dirty ashtray in front of him. He placed a pile of bills next to his empty beer stein. "Come, Wolverine," he said to his old friend. "Let's go home. Dis ol' t'ief has had enough for one night."

The two rode on their respective motorcycles from the bar back to the mansion in silence. While this was fine with Logan, he was aware that this somewhat out of character for the Cajun, who would toss out unneeded comments during their rides. He realized that something was probably troubling the mysterious man from the Bayou, but thought against inquiring as to what it was. That was something Jean or Ororo would do, not the Wolverine.

He pulled out the remote control for the gates from his jacket pocket. Logan peered over at his friend next to him as the gates began to draw open. The Cajun flipped up the visor to his helmet and gave him a wink. Logan rolled his eyes and then raced ahead of him, towards the garage. As the two sped along the winding road that led to the garage, Logan's nostrils began to pick up on a familiar scent. Actually, it was a mixture of familiar scents. He quickly veered his motorcycle off the side of the road and onto the front lawn of the mansion. He parked it and hopped off, sniffing the night air.

Curious, Gambit followed his lead. He removed his helmet and surveyed damage the tires of their motorcycles had done to the manicured grass. "De Professor not goin' to be happy about dis," he joked, trying to figure out what was going on with his friend.

"Shut up, Cajun," Logan snapped, continuing to pick up the smells that wafted in the spring evening air. He began to briskly walk away from his friend, towards a grouping of trees on the other side of the grounds.

Gambit rolled his eyes, following him. The homme thinks he's a tracking dog or something, he mused, his own steps reluctant. He sighed, catching up with Logan and matching him stride for stride.

What they both found was chilling.

A few yards away was Logan's old nemesis, Victor Creed. The large, powerfully built mutant was on his knees; his face was blistered and covered with soot in some places. His usually thick mane of blond hair was now patchy on his mammoth head. The clothes he wore had massive burn holes in them, which left random scraps of fabric on his body. He was hovering a small body on the ground.

The small body belonged to Jubilee. She lay unconscious in front of the monster. Her palms, lying face up, were emitting wispy clouds of smoke.

"Ya little brat!" he snarled wildly. His jagged claws then tore her sweater into shreds. Surprisingly, he had been careful not to claw at her flesh underneath. His eyes lewdly grazed over the creamy, youthful skin and the soft curves of her exposed torso.

He bared his teeth, lowering his mouth just above her neck. "I'm gonna enjoy tastin' yer blood in my mouth, girlie. I bet ya taste real sweet."

Horrified, disgusted, and furious, Logan extended his adamantium claws and darted over. A primal, guttural scream burst from Logan's lips. His eyes were wide with anger and intensity as he stared at the monster over his Jubilee. If he does anything else, I'm going to kill him..

Gambit was by his side, his own mouth set in a grim line. As he gazed at the girl lying on the ground, fear and concerned washed over him like a tidal wave. "Hang on, petite," he whispered, "Gambit on de way." No one is going to touch the petite while Gambit is here..

Looking up, Creed sneered, which paralyzed both men in their tracks.

"Well, looks like I'm gonna get what I really wanted," he snickered, his hideously burned face glowering. "I guess the frail and the pretty boy sidekick of yours are bonuses. You two can watch me show the brat what a real man does and then we can dance." He leaned over, about to pick her up into his arms.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light hit him in the face as he was about to lower his face to Jubilee's slender neck. He screamed, howling in pain and stumbling backwards. This was followed by additional flashes of white- yellow light.

Gambit held up a deck of cards he pulled from the pocket of his brown leather duster. "De name is Gambit," he yelled, charging each one and tossing them at Creed to get him away from the girl. Pretty boy, indeed. "Remember it!"

Logan took the opportunity to rush at Creed while he was temporarily blinded. He slashed his claws at the hulking man's side, kicking him down to the ground. "Tryin' to use the girl to get to me?" he demanded, delivering a hefty blow to the man's face. "Real class act, Creed!"

Creed growled, wincing. Then he grabbed one of Logan's ankles and flipped him over. "Anythin' to get yer attention, runt." He scrambled to his feet, teetering slightly.

Meanwhile, Gambit reached Jubilee's side. "Petite?" he whispered, stroking her cheek gently with his calloused fingers. He noticed there was a small bruise beginning to form on the side of her forehead, turning a lavender color against her creamy skin. Yet, she did not stir even with the fighting around her.

He looked over his shoulder at Logan, who was already on his feet with his claws extended. The older man would take a couple of steps forward and then backward as he and Creed circled each other. Without taking his narrowing eyes off of Sabretooth, who appeared to be equally intent on doing some harm to Logan, he called out to Gambit, "Cajun, take the girl and go. Creed's all mine!"

Gambit nodded, stripping off his leather duster and wrapped it around the girl's half-naked form. Then he scooped her into his arms, holding her against his lean chest. "You safe now, petite," he told her softly, sprinting across the lawn and away from the two fighting men. "You wit' Gambit now. Gambit protect you."

His pace increased in speed when he noticed that she was not responding. He clutched her closer to him, cursing how far the med lab was at that moment. His muscles tightened with his fear as he finally reached the mansion. Kicking the foreboding oak door open, he dashed through the front hall to the elevator, ignoring the gaping stares of the students gathered in the nearby recreation rooms. Sweating, he punched the button for the basement floor, med-lab level.

He cradled the unconscious girl in his arms, waiting for what seemed like an eternity to reach his destination. Thank God he and Logan had arrived when they did. From what he knew of Creed, he was not above raping an unconscious Jubilee. Gambit just hoped that the girl had not been too badly hurt. He was becoming increasingly concerned about the fact that she still had not regained consciousness. She continued to lie limp in his arms, head resting against his chest. The bastard probably knocked her out, using his full strength behind the blow.

But not before you gave him a good fight, petite, Gambit mused silently to the girl in his arms. He remembered seeing how blistered and burnt the larger man was just before he and Logan attacked.

As soon as the elevator doors slid open, the Cajun thief's lean legs swiftly carried him and Jubilee down the hall. He had been so focused on getting her to the med-lab that he had not noticed anyone else in the area. Vaguely, he thought he could hear his name being called out. His head snapped in the direction of the voice.

"Remy?" Rogue drawled, stuffing her gloved hands into the pockets of her low-riding, olive cargo pants. Her green eyes widened in surprise when she saw Jubilee in Gambit's arms. "What in the world.."

Gambit cut her off before she could finish her question. "Is Beast here?" he asked abruptly, clutching the girl even closer to him.

"Sure, sugah. He and Cecilia are in the lab.." Quickly, she led him to the end of the hall, where the med-lab was located. She pushed the heavy, steel doors wide open and raced alongside him. "Hank? Cecilia?"

Gambit joined her in calling out the names of the two doctors. "Beast? Cecilia? We need you!" The volume of his voice did not hide the desperation underneath. Usually, he would care about looking so vulnerable, but in this situation, he pushed his insecurities aside.

Hank McCoy bounded out of his office, slipping on a pair of thick, black- framed spectacles. "What's going on?" he asked. It wasn't unusual to provide medical treatment at this hour. However, that only applied to individuals who went out on missions. The only team that was out (Scott, Jean, Storm, and Warren) was expected to arrive home sometime tomorrow. As a result, Hank thought he was going to be in for a night of free time for some research.

Then his eyes traveled to Jubilee in Gambit's arms. "Oh, my. What happened?"

"Wolverine and Gambit found Monsieur Sabretooth on de grounds of de mansion. He attacked de petite." Gambit explained breathlessly, watching Cecilia Reyes and Annie race out of their respective offices to bring over a gurney. "Petite's been knocked out. Beast, is she.."

Beast was already gathering the unconscious body of the girl and lowering her on the gurney. "We're going to have to do a scan to see if there's any head trauma or any other injuries from the blow. Did you see it happen?"

His large hand took her tiny wrist to take a pulse; careful to make sure she was still stabilized on the gurney. At this point, he wasn't sure if he was only dealing with a head injury or if there were any broken bones involved as well.

Gambit shook his head, watching Cecilia take out a penlight from her pocket and examining Jubilee's pupils carefully. "No, we got dere just after it happened," he replied, red-on-black eyes filled with concern and worry.

"So, you don't know how long she's been out?" Hank asked, relieved that her pulse was strong.

"Don' know. Mebbe ten minutes. Gambit not sure exactly." The tall, lean Cajun thief leaned over to take a look at Jubilee, only to be motioned out of the way by Annie. The dark haired nurse then stood over the girl, calling out her name and asking her if she could hear her. Annie shook her head when she received no response.

"Hank, her pupils are fine, but we really need to do a scan," Cecilia pointed out, motioning for Annie to assist her with moving the gurney to the other end of the laboratory.

Hank nodded quickly. "Agreed," he called over his shoulder. He was about to turn on his heel to join the rest of the medical personnel when he was stopped by Gambit.

"Beast, is de petite.. Is she goin' be all right?"

Hank looked almost taken aback. Never had he heard such fear and desperation in the other man's voice in all the years he had known him. These feelings were also reflected in his expression---furrowed brows, lips that were usually curled in a smile or smirk now formed an uncertain line. At this moment, Remy LeBeau, the man who prided himself on being the cool, smug loner was vulnerable.

He patted the wiry man's shoulder compassionately. Then he said quietly, "Jubilee is a strong girl. We will do our best to care for her."

As Hank McCoy's hulking form disappeared into another room, presumably where Cecilia and Annie were scanning Jubilee's body, Rogue stepped towards Gambit. She placed a sympathetic, gloved hand on his arm. "Remy, Beast is right," she said quietly, giving his arm a gentle, reassuring squeeze. "He's gonna take care of her."

"I know, ch・e." He gave her a weak smile, placing his hand over hers. He was relieved to have her with him at that moment.

She nodded, chewing on her lower lip. Then she remembered the account of what happened Remy had provided earlier. "Where's Logan?"

Meanwhile, outside of the mansion, by the far end of the grounds, Logan found himself being flipped over on his back by Creed. He landed with a thud on the soft grass. Quickly, he sprang to his feet and sneered at old enemy.

"Hey, bub," he said, panting slightly with his claws extended at his sides. Sweat began to bead at his forehead and around his thick sideburns. "I'm not done with you yet."

"Great," Creed responded, laughing sharply. "I'd hate to come all this way and be disappointed. Heard ya gone soft, Wolverine. Looks like that cue ball Xavier finally got to ya. Guess it was only gonna be a matter of time, runt."

"What the hell do you want, Creed?"

"Just want to talk, old pal. Heard ya were in town and I didn't get a phone call. I'm hurt, Wolverine. What's the matter? Not happy to see me?"

"I would be if I gouged my eyes out."

"Maybe I could take care of that for ya, if ya asked real nice."

Logan growled, charging at him. He shoved the burly man to the ground and pinned him down. Snarling, he raised his adamantium claws in the air. As he was about slash Creed's face, which was still blistered and swollen in some places, the trapped mutant managed to free one of his arms. Using his battered fist, he rammed Logan in the chest. This sent him a couple of yards away, near the mansion's rose garden.

Creed was somewhat wobbly as he struggled to rise to his feet. "Well, look at you," he spat, his voice rough like sandpaper and broken glass. He took a few steps toward the fallen Wolverine. "In the old days, I could have never gotten this far into your precious mansion. I guess ya X-morons are getting old and sloppy."

Logan grunted, pushing himself up with his weathered hands.

The larger man continued his taunting, the discolored burns on his face beginning to heal as he approached closer to where Logan was. "Ya know, it was real easy to get in here. Just had to take out a camera is all. Ya must have some brain-dead kid workin' security in that big house of yours."

Creed threw his head back and laughed. It was a raw, throaty sound that contained no joy, no other emotion that his pure hatred for the man on the ground. "Then I saw yer frail. She grew up since the last time I saw her at that other school. Not that skinny, little brat that used to follow ya around. Nah. When I saw her tonight, she looked real nice and smelled good, too. I could almost taste her where I was standing. But, I watched her for a while, walking in plain sight with no Wolverine to protect her. It was almost ya wanted me to take her." He licked his thick, chapped lips ferally, revealing a set of sharp canines.

Logan narrowed his eyes when he heard the singsong quality to Creed's voice. He could feel the cut on his forehead Creed had inflicted earlier begin to heal. The blood that had been dripping from the wound was still fresh on the grass under his body.

"Then I thought, 'Why can't I have some fun before I tear you apart?' So, I took my chance and grabbed the girl. Ya shoulda seen the look on her face. Ya know how I always like 'em scared. I could even smell it on her. Then she starts screaming for me to let her go. I tell her I'm gonna let her go when I'm done showin' her a good time. Then the little bitch zaps me in the face with her stupid fireworks. I was so mad I almost let her have it right there and then."

Logan managed a small, satisfied smile when he heard how Jubilee defended herself. From what he and Gambit had seen, the kid had inflicted quite a bit of damage to Creed. "What's the matter, pissed that the kid wasn't goin' down quietly?" he asked, gingerly regaining his footing.

Creed snorted when heard Logan taunt him. "Didn't take me long to show her who's boss," he responded, jeering. "She went down like a little rag doll. 'Course that might be what ya like about yer frails, huh, Wolverine? Who can blame ya? Little girls who need their hero to protect them. Hah. How pathetic. I guess that's what ya've come to."

Logan growled, hurling his sleek, muscular body at the other man. He attempted to stab a set of claws into Creed's massive midsection. At the last minute, Creed managed to move out of the way, darting to the side. Logan sprinted after him, determined to shut up that filthy hole Creed called a mouth.

However, Creed was feeling especially talkative that evening. This was unusual since he often resorted to slapping people around than working out things verbally. He spat on the ground, his small eyes gloating.

"Face it, Wolverine. As long as yer livin', I'm always gonna be around. Ya might've saved her sweet ass tonight, but I'll get her later.. The best part is ya never know when." He lowered himself on his haunches and launched himself in the air. Squaring his shoulders, Creed aimed himself for Logan below.

Logan's quick reflexes helped him to shift out of the way. He watched his old enemy land on the ground a few feet in front of him. "It's kinda hard to keep that promise, don't ya think?" he sneered, kicking him in the ribs and knelt over him. Then he grabbed a patch of his sparse hair.

He pulled the man's grotesque head from the grass, high enough to meet Logan's face. "I'm gonna cut up your ugly carcass into shreds," he hissed in his ear. To make his point, he took the tip of one of his claws and traced a circle under Creed's rough-hewn chin. His eyes almost lit up as he watched the blood trickle down.

Almost immediately, his sessions with Xavier started to flood his head. All that time, all that effort, and all that control he now had--- everything could all go away with one slash to the bastard's throat. He had spent the last couple of weeks, convincing himself that he was not an animal, that he was better than an animal, that he could be trusted to be around other people. The rage he had worked so hard to contain was now threatening to overwhelm him.

It would be too easy. No one was around. The sharp edge of his claw just under Creed's chin was so close to his jugular. A flick of the wrist and it would all be over. Logan knew. He had killed before and he could do it again.

But if he did kill Creed now, he would be proving Stryker right. He would be succumbing to that negative, inner voice that told him that he was no good. The same hands used to help Jubilee into his truck, would be tainted with the blood of the piece of trash before him.

Let it all go, Logan.

Gambit folded his hands together, his mouth forming a grim line as he sat in the room Annie had set up for Jubilee. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this combination of fear, concern, and anxiety not for himself, but for someone else. All those years in the artic by himself and later in the tropics, taught him to be more selfish. It was easier that way. Now, he found himself nearly jumping out of his skin from concern over someone else beside himself.

The last two hours were a blur to him despite the fact that he had not left the med-lab. Fortunately, Hank and Cecilia found no skull fractures or any other injuries when they examined Jubilee. However, both told Gambit they would not be sure of the extent of her head injuries until she regained consciousness. Specifically, Hank said he was concerned about any memory loss that might have occurred as a result of the blow to the head. He and the others had been hoping that she would wake up, but were dismayed when she remained unconscious.

All the Cajun thief knew was that he wanted to stay with the child until she woke up. After what she had been through with that monster, she did not deserve to wake up alone. Besides, who knew when Logan was going to return from exacting his revenge? It slightly irked Gambit how his friend decided to go after Creed rather than accompany the girl he said he cared for. However, he also understood that was how the old man worked. Going after Creed was Logan's way of taking care of the child. Anything different would definitely be out of character for the man who prided himself on being the ultimate tough guy.

Jubilee lay across from him. Her body appeared quite small in the sterile, metal-framed bed. She was now wearing a pale blue hospital gown, her torn clothing discarded. The new nurse, Annie, had tucked Jubilee in after she had been scanned, using a crisp, white blanket covering the lower half of the young girl's slender body. She appeared at peace, unaware of the violence, fear, and concern that swirled around her.

Gambit's lean hand stroked her silky, black hair tenderly. Pauvre petite, he thought sadly, taking her small hand into his. You've been so much for your lifetime. Gambit knows what that's like..

"Just got off the horn with Scott and Jean," Rogue said, her Southern twang breaking into his thoughts. Quietly, she walked from the doorway of the room to where her former lover was sitting. Her green eyes traveled to his concerned, exhausted features.

"When dey be back, ch・e?" he asked wearily, not taking his eyes from the girl in the bed.

Rogue found a stainless steel chair in the corner in the room. "Scott hopes tomorrow morning," she said, drawing the chair to where Gambit sat and settled herself down. "Ah tried not to tell 'em how Sweet Pea hasn't woken up, but Ah think Jean already knows. It's hard to hide things from a telepath."

She then pulled nervously at her moss green, cable-knit sweater, her own face reflecting concern for Jubilee's condition. "Nothin'?"

The Cajun thief shook his head, a lock of auburn hair flopping over a furrowed brow. "It's like Sabretooth put her to sleep," he observed, eyes narrowing with contempt as he uttered the name of the monster who had hurt her.

Rogue nodded empathetically. Then she said, "Sweet Pea's a fighter. Ya said she got him before he hit her."

"Oui. Gambit hope de petite has some fight left." His voice sounded uncharacteristically somber.

"She does. Thanks to you and Logan, sugah. Two of ya got to her before he could do anythin' else." Rogue extended a gloved hand to give Remy's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

He turned to her, his lips curled in a grateful smile. "Merci, ch・e," he whispered. "Where's Beast?"

"He's with Sweet Pea's friend, tryin' to calm her down. She's real upset 'cause she thinks it's her fault." Rogue shook her head, recalling Paige's hysterical fit of sobbing when she was told what had happened. The girl wanted to sit in the room with Jubilee, but Hank and the others were uncertain as to whether or not this was a good idea. The last Rogue knew of what was going on, she had overheard Annie asking Cecilia about sedating Paige for the night.

Rogue turned to Remy, frowning slightly. "Ah don't see why ya wouldn't let us go after Logan," she began, sharing his irritation over the noticeable absence of Wolverine.

Gambit's expression was a mixture of surprise and defensiveness. "You know Wolverine, ch・e. Homme like to dake care of his business alone. If you and the others go out dere, he tell you to leave."

"Ah know he would, but that guy's dangerous. Ah know Sabretooth ain't above attacking innocent kids for kicks."

"All de more reason why Wolverine t'inks he needs to take care of de homme alone. No sense in ot'er people gettin' hurt, ch・e."

"Well, he should be here with her, too. Also, we should be thinkin' about the students. What if something goes wrong and Logan can't handle him this time?"

"Wolverine's a big boy. He take care of Sabretooth before easy. Homme can do it again."

"Well, Ah don't like how he wants to handle everythin' alone."

Gambit's red-on-black eyes gazed into his former lover's face. There was a brief flash of pain in their depths. "Sometimes," he said in a low voice after a long silence, "it be better to handle t'ings alone."

Rogue bit her lower lip, moving her hand from his shoulder. "Remy.." She wasn't sure if they were talking about Logan or if he was referring to another situation. Either way, she was uncertain as to how to respond. She just knew she couldn't look at him anymore.

When he saw the way she reacted, he immediately regretted his words. Gambit drew back from Jubilee's bedside. He studied the Southern Belle's grave-looking profile. It was painfully obvious that she struggled to be the strong woman she wanted everyone to think she was. Tentatively, Gambit reached for her gloved hand. He gave it an apologetic squeeze.

"Sorry, ch・e."

"No, Gambit.."

"Ch・e, Gambit didn't mean it."

"Yes, ya did."

"Non, ch・e.. Gambit was talking about Wolverine."

"Ah.. It's OK, Remy. Ah understand. It's just that.. It's just that it's good to let someone in every once in a while. The right person, Ah mean. Sometimes, ya have to be strong and smart enough to know that." Rogue returned the squeeze, her solemn expression accentuating the poignancy of her statement.

At that moment, Jubilee began to stir. A soft moan escaped from between her lips. Startled, Gambit turned to the young girl, pulling away from Rogue and grabbing Jubilee's hand. He rose from his seat and began to push her long, black hair from her face lovingly.

"Sweet Pea?" Rogue leaned over the bed railing. When she saw Jubilee shift in the bed, she raced out of the room to find Hank and Cecilia.

The Cajun thief pressed his sculpted lips against her forehead. "You safe now, little one," he said huskily, relief suddenly washing over him. The tension he felt for the past few hours began to dissipate. He watched her eyes begin to flutter open.

Just before Jubilee opened her eyes, she whispered, "Bobby.."