Homecomings: Chapter 33

by Alex Cartwright

Chapter Thirty-Three: Follow Through

Jubilee was up uncharacteristically early the next morning. Despite only getting three hours of sleep (thanks to the party extending into the early morning and finally ending at the Summers・ home), she found herself quite restless and unwilling to lie in bed any longer. Pulling the covers over her head, she closed her eyes tightly, willing herself to slumber. She even tried thinking about Hank and Alex explaining the nature of rock formations during the Mesozoic era. Nothing. Sighing, she resigned herself to get up and face the day.

She noticed that it was about eight o・clock. Both Jean and Scott were still sleeping, probably recovering from the festivities from the day before. Jubilee・s sapphire-blue eyes brightened as her mind suddenly became inspired. Their favorite bakery, which Cook often solicited for the mansion, was open at this time. Picking up an assortment of croissants, prepared with butter and thin layers of yeast dough; brioches; and Jean・s favorite pains aux raisins, coquille-shaped pastries studded with raisins, would be a nice way of saying thank you.

After showering and drying her hair, she pulled on her favorite olive- green, canvas jacket over a yellow T-shirt and faded jeans with brown flip- flops. She shoved her house keys and wallet into her pockets and slipped out the door quietly. The cool, soothing late spring air gently brushed tendrils of dark hair from her face, caressing her fine cheeks. Overhead, the morning sun peeked from the lush branches of the trees that surrounded the mansion・s grounds.

Given how nice it was outside, she decided to walk into town as opposed to taking her 2000, yellow, Volkswagen Beetle from the garage. A birthday gift from both Jean and Scott, the car was also a reward for recently passing her road test. Scott anticipated that Jubilee having her own means of transportation would deter her from eyeing his beloved sports car and taking it out for a spin.

Her feet carried her down the winding road that led to the iron-wrought gates of the mansion. As she walked, Jubilee・s mind began to reel from the events of the day before. While she was aware that was now an adult according to her chronological age and the law, she did not feel any different than before. The only perks that came with this milestone was that she could vote, she could go into an R-rated movie by herself, and if she smoked, buy cigarettes. Other than, there were no trumpets sounded off, announcing this pivotal moment in her development. It was simply another year added to her life, bringing her closer to old age.



She supposed that it was because she always felt older. Sure, she tried to cling to and recapture her childhood through being a loud-mouthed, sarcastic mall-rat. The behavior was an attempt to attract the coddling and protectiveness of the adults and the older students around her, like Paige or Jono. That was the role she wanted to play at the time---the immature, little kid who wanted to be the center of attention. Sometimes, it worked to her liking (her relationship with Wolverine and later on, with Jean and Scott) and sometimes; it did not (constant reprimanding from Emma and Sean).

However, deep inside, that was not who she was. The perky mask of constant smiles belied the truth. Jubilee knew pain and loss more than anyone else her age should have known. At a very young age, she had come to know unhappiness many times. Over the course of her young life, she lost her parents and closest friends, who were almost like family to her, to death. The inconsistent presence of a man she had come to depend on as a father also shook her to the core. Then there was the physical and mental torture at the hands of ignorant individuals who feared what they did not know.

A more calloused person would have surmised Jubilee should be used to that kind of tragedy and unhappiness. After all, she seemed so quick to pick herself back up again. And looking at her now, she appeared so well adjusted for what had happened to her. It was almost as if any of these tragedies had no consequences to her life.

Her small mouth formed a grim line, wanting to scoff at those assumptions. No one could ever get used to having terrible things happen to them. It was just a matter of how one decided to deal with the aftermath. For Jubilee, the realization that she was alone forced her, at times, to deal with those circumstances accordingly. Yes, many of the adults at the mansion were sources of support for her during these trying times. In the end, however, it was Jubilee who had overcome her anguish by herself. Just like always.

But she did not want to be alone.

Not anymore.

Sighing, she tucked a lock of black hair with strands of midnight blue behind her delicate ear. Her mind flashed with memories of what could have been. There were little crushes here and there. But they were simply brief, fleeting infatuations. Nothing to angst over.

Since Everett・s death, Jubilee was unsure whether or not she could ever find someone to be happy with. He had told her no. Instead, he said he wanted her friendship and nothing more. Before she could convince him otherwise, he died.

Then there was Angelo. He wanted the chance to take their relationship beyond being friends. Yet, as lonely as she was, she said no. Worse than being lonely was lying to and hurting someone else just for the sake of having him around. Looking back, she wondered if she should have lied and given things a try with him. Again, she could have missed out on her chance at happiness.

As for finding someone at the mansion, that was a lost cause. Most of the adults seemed to consider her as the perpetual child, not a potential romantic interest. How could she compete with some of the women on the team? Older and more experienced in the world, it appeared quite easy for some of them to attract the attention of the males around the mansion. It also helped that many of them were better endowed than her.

Not that Jubilee wanted to pursue something with every man at Xavier・s.

There was just one.

And like other men before, he clearly demonstrated that he was not interested in anything romantic.

Not with her.

Not ever.

The past few weeks represented an unsettling period of time for her. Thoughts and feelings she had not experienced for quite some time were now acting intrusive. They distracted her mind constantly and prevented her from sleeping. Despite how these thoughts were impinging on her daily functioning, there was a sense of euphoria always associated with them. To her surprise, Jubilee liked these feelings of rapture.

She had lost count the number of times her stomach churned, her palms perspired, and her face and neck flushed pink. It was as if she were losing control of both her brain and body. Tried as she did to control her reactions, both mental and physical, the young woman was at a loss. Having taken Jean・s psychology class, Jubilee suspected that she was experiencing some problems with anxiety. However, these feelings were strangely familiar. In fact, she had not felt this way since Everett.

It was then that she realized what was the source of all this turmoil.

Initially, Jubilee tried to debate with herself how ridiculous the conclusion was. She even tried to rationalize that it was something else. Rather, someone else. As many times as she tried that approach, in the end, she knew the truth.

Bobby Drake. Iceman. No, it couldn・t be. She couldn・t possibly have feelings for Bobby Drake. Sure, she had a slight crush when she first met him, but being in love with him? That was different. Not the Bobby Drake who talked her into dragging an intoxicated Nightcrawler upstairs and dressing him up in a frilly green dress they found in Rogue・s closet. Not the Bobby Drake who invented garbage-lid sledding. Not the Bobby Drake who stole Hank・s briefs from the dryer and concocted a story, involving a breed of gnomes that lived under the mansion and needed other people・s underwear for food. Not that Bobby Drake.

Yes, it was that Bobby Drake.

For Jubilee, it was not just the sense of humor. She had come to know and cherish that during the years she had known him. It was that jokester side of him, deemed immature, that helped the two of them to bond. Yet, there was something else. It was also the fact that he trusted her enough to show his more introspective, serious side---a facet of his personality rarely seen by others at the mansion. Jubilee could not help but feel special and privileged to experience that.

His visits to her bedroom late at night were something she had grown to look forward to. With him, she felt heard, comfortable, and so safe. Sometimes, they would spend the evening, not saying anything at all. Instead, the two of them would lie on her bed and listen to CDs. For some reason, those were her favorite nights.

She noticed the change the day she took him with her to the lake. As they were hiking their way to the boathouse, she began to become aware of how good-looking he was. He had that boyish face that seemed open and light. Like the other men at the mansion, Bobby was in good shape. While he rarely strutted about in tight-fitting clothing or bare-chested, one could tell from his arms (left exposed from his trademark short-sleeved, Hawaiian shirts) that he was quite fit. Jubilee always thought he was cute, but there was something quite different that day. Possibly it was the fact that there was no goofy smile. She wasn・t sure.

The only thing she knew was that she suddenly felt her heart race and her knees become weak. It took all her strength to pretend that everything was normal, which seemed to work. This was especially true when he decided to circle his arms around her as he helped her with the camera. She could feel herself sinking against him slightly, much to her embarrassment. For his part, Bobby was oblivious, lost in his own thoughts for most of that trip.

She had pushed that event from her mind, dismissing it quickly as something strange being in the air. Then there was the night he came home early from the wedding reception. She was surprised to see him, but also quite happy. Again, she observed how different he looked. He no longer looked like the prototypical frat boy. Instead, there was dashing, charming quality to the way he looked that night.

And before she knew it, Jubilee was holding Bobby in her arms. There were so many things racing through her head at that moment---how right it was to have him this close, how she wanted to take away whatever it was that was bothering him, how wonderful it would have been if they could stay they were forever. When he pulled away abruptly, she was disappointed. She tried to hide it by trying to reassure him that they were still friends.

A week before her birthday, Bobby came over after leading an evening tutoring session for his Algebra class. As usual, he formed an ice-slide outside her window and rapped at the glass for her to let him in. Jubilee had just come back to her room, having finished washing the dishes from dinner that night. She drew back the curtain and pushed up the window. Unconsciously, a slight smile tugged upwards at her small mouth.

・How was teaching math?・ she had asked, watching him shed his ice-form to reveal a blue-green, Hawaiian shirt with dark-green flowers and a pair of chinos.

・As much fun as you make it sound, Jubes,・ he had replied wryly, climbing inside. His ears had detected the first Weezer CD, the Blue Album, playing in the background. ・If only the kids took me seriously as a teacher and not just think of me as a pretty face, then we・d be seeing some progress.・

Jubilee had closed the window, smirking. ・Are you sure they think you・re a pretty face? Maybe you・re acting as a legend in your own mind.・

Bobby・s expression was one of hurt. ・Oh, that hurts me right here,・ he had mocked, pointing at his chest. He had sauntered further into the room when he asked, ・So, any jitters about turning the big one-eight?・

The young girl had shrugged her shoulders as she seated herself on her bed. ・Not really.... I probably can・t get away with some of the stuff I used to because people will see me as an adult.・

・Isn・t that what you want?・ he had asked, sitting next to her.

Her sapphire eyes suddenly acquired a wistful, faraway quality at that moment. ・Yeah,・ she had replied, ・I guess so. It・ll just take some getting used to.・ She looked up at him thoughtfully and asked, ・What about you? Did anything change when you turned eighteen?・

He watched her lean back on the bed and then followed her lead before he had provided an answer. ・Well, I got a say in where I lived... My parents weren・t too crazy about me being here. Then I gave them a reason not to worry since I went to college right after.・

She turned on her side, propping herself up by one arm. ・So you・re saying I don・t have much to look forward to?・

・Pretty much,・ he said, laughing.

She rolled her eyes at him and gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. ・Thanks.・ Then she became silent for a moment, chewing on her lower lip. ・Well, if everyone else is going to start treating me like a grown-up, then what about you?・

・If you mean am I going to start calling you Jubilation and expect you to start paying rent around here.... I・m considering it.・ His grin had widened as he gave her his response.

That elicited another swat on the shoulder. ・I was looking for something else, smart ass.・

・Like what?・ Bobby had inquired, taking off his purple-tinted sunglasses and slipping them into his shirt pocket.

Jubilee shook her head, dark hair rippling down her slim shoulders. ・I don・t know. Maybe inviting me out when you guys go to that bar in town.・

・Nothing doing. You gotta be twenty-one to drink.・

・I・m not interested in drinking. Just being some place where adults hang out and relax. I spend all my time here at the mansion with all the kids. It would be nice to see how the other side lives.・

・I don・t know. I get the feeling Logan and/or Scott would tear me a new one if they found out I was corrupting you.・

・And I told you before, I wouldn・t drink.・


・Oh, come on, Bobby. I promise I・d be good. Please?・

She had made a point to lean towards him to give him a taste of her secret weapon---pleading, pitiful blue eyes. Known to sway even the hardest of hearts, such as Wolverine・s and Scott・s, she was confident the ploy would work on a notorious softie like Drake. She had even stuck out her lower lip in a playful pout for relish.

His gray eyes had widened slightly, as he stiffened. ・You think I・m that easy?・ he had finally asked, somewhat insulted. ・How much of a sucker do you really think I am?・

・I・m not trying to manipulate you,・ she had replied reluctantly. Then she edged closer to him, resting her head against his chest. ・How about now? Come on, Bobby. I・d be really happy....・

・Now I know for sure you don・t respect me,・ he had sniffed.

・That・s not true,・ Jubilee had protested, ・I respect you as much as anyone else around here.・

Bobby・s lips immediately had formed a smirk. ・Thanks a lot then,・ he had pretended to grouse.

She had smiled up at him, liking how close he was to her now. Her nose had picked up on the cologne he wore even though it was quite faint. Despite the fact that he was known for his low body temperature, she had felt a sudden surge of warmth envelope her. In her mind, it had seemed to come from a combination of Drake being nearby and her own reaction to him.

・So are you coming to my party next week?・ she had asked.

He had nodded. ・Wouldn・t miss it for the world. I just gotta buy your gift from the Dollar Store.・

She gave him a playful swat on his shoulder. ・I・m glad you・re going,・ she had told him, blue eyes shining.

His smile had softened as soon she had said that. ・Me, too.・ Then he had cleared his throat and asked, ・You sound like you・ll be missing people this year.・

・Rogue and Gambit. They・re still traveling together,・ she had replied.

Bobby had made a face at the mention of Gambit・s name.

Jubilee had given him a quizzical look. ・What?・

・Nothing,・ he had replied, trying to be evasive. ・You talked to them?・

・Just Gambit. He called this morning.・ She noticed that Bobby was inching away from her so that there was more space between the two of them on the bed. A wave of dismay had washed over her as soon as he had done that.

・So what did he have to say?・

・Um, he wished me a happy birthday, told me to expect something in the mail, and....・

・And what?・

・It was kind of weird.・

・Anything that comes out of that guy・s mouth is weird. I・m surprised he knows this much English.・

・No, not that. He also said that this year, I should be taking chances. I don・t think he meant gambling, either.・

・Are you sure he wasn・t reading something from a fortune cookie?・

・I don・t think so. Maybe he meant I should go after what I want and not care what other people think.・ Her blue eyes had peered deeply into Bobby・s face.

He had looked as if he were contemplating her words for a brief moment. Then he had said, ・Maybe that・s not the best idea. There are some things out there that aren・t good for you.... Those are things you shouldn・t even consider. It・s just better to move on.・ With that, he had slid off of the bed and onto his feet. ・I should get going.・

As she edged closer into town, Jubilee racked her brain about that night. She wished she had confronted him, telling him what he was saying wasn・t necessarily true. Looking back now, she wasn・t sure if that was going to sway him. And while he was being deliberately vague, she knew he was talking about the possibility of any kind of romance between them. Eager to talk to him at the party and change his mind, she was disappointed when he could not make it. It was then she had lost hope.

Bobby slipped off his purple-tinted sunglasses. He shifted in the backseat, which he was sharing with Jean-Paul, of the black SUV they were riding back to the mansion in. Restless from being on the road all day, he yearned to leave Toronto and return to Westchester. The day and a half reconnaissance mission had proven successful. The team, composed of himself, Warren, Jean-Paul, and Kurt, managed to collect information from various sources about a dummy corporation located in Toronto.

However, much to Bobby・s chagrin, the mission took a while longer than anticipated. Adding to his irritation was the fact that Warren had chosen to take Kurt・s SUV rather than the Blackbird. He was in no mood for a road trip with the guys. Kurt was feeling uncharacteristically cheeky during the entire mission and often expressed his newfound sense of humor, at Bobby・s expense. Warren and the French-Canadian curmudgeon known as Jean- Paul Beaubier were only too willing to serve as an audience. For his part, Bobby managed to shrug off their comments.

There were other things on his mind he wanted to deal with.

・Are we home yet?" he demanded, not bothering to open his closed eyes.

"We・ve got another hour," Warren replied, gripping the steering wheel. If Bobby asked that question one more time, he was really going to pull the car over and.... He shuddered. Now, he was beginning to sound like his father and even worse, Scott.

Bobby was quiet for several minutes. He propped his head against the headrest. The silence in the car was deafening to him, forcing him to concentrate on the issues that racked his brain. Suddenly, he announced, "I'm hungry.・

"You・re always hungry, Chilly Willy,・ Jean-Paul observed, not raising his china-blue eyes from the latest issue of Kiplinger・s. While he would have been usually thrilled with the prospect of being this close to the object of his unrequited love, the former Alpha Flight member was finding that Bobby Drake was better in small doses. Hearing him complain about not being able to return to New York incessantly irked him to no end. Biting his usually sharp tongue to hold back a series of quips and retorts did not help either. The things we do for love.... he grimaced.

Kurt, who was sitting next to Warren in the passenger・s seat, turned around. He was currently employing his image inducer, so not to attract any attention from any passing motorist. With Kitty・s assistance, he had managed to program the device to provide him with a human-looking appearance that took about five years off. "I'm not," he said with a grin, taking a savoring bite of his bear claw.

"Hey, where'd you get that?" Bobby sat up in his seat.

"At the gas station vhen ve stopped for gas." Kurt smacked his lips together for an added effect.

Bobby felt his stomach growl. "That's not fair! I want a bite!"

"Vell, you can't have any." The German native annunciated each word slowly, his mouth hovering over the sugary pastry. He only wished Logan was here to see how bent out of shape Drake was getting. Low blood sugar was often a sure way to get him hot under the collar. His friend would definitely appreciate the scene.


"No vay, Bobby. This is mine."

・Just a bite?・

・Nein, Bobby.・

"You have to share, asshole!"

Unaccustomed to being sworn at, Kurt turned to the blond driver. His face was filled with mock pain. "Varren, did you hear that? Did you hear vat Bobby called me? Are you going to let him get avay vit that behavior?・

"Well," Warren remarked, smiling slyly. "I know a certain mutant who's going to be sleeping in my bed tonight."

There was a long pause in the conversation. The others gave him strange, stunned looks. Kurt scooted away from him, shocked. Jean-Paul struggled to hide a smirk behind his magazine.

"Oh, sure," Warren huffed, his eyes steely as they focused on the road ahead. "You guys make disgusting jokes and everyone thinks it's funny. But when I make one, you all look at me like I'm a freak."

Bobby scowled, slipping his sunglasses back on. He leaned back in his seat. His eyes closed as Kurt turned on the radio to break the thick silence that followed. The slick, polished voice of the local disc jockey intoned that the station was kicking off their countdown of the greatest love songs for the weekend (・Just because everyday should be Valentine・s Day...・). Bobby mentally gagged. He wanted to tell Kurt to switch the station, but refrained. No sense in bringing any more attention to himself.

Given Warren・s unwillingness to make another pit stop, Bobby found himself forced to confront thoughts that had been eating away at him since he left. While part of him was happy to get away from the mansion and all the reminders of his dilemma, there was a part of him that did not want to go on this mission in the first place. It seemed like the coward・s way out, in terms of dealing with his issue. Sure, he had an excuse not to think about it while he was gone, but that was only temporary. The problem would always be there once he returned.

There was also the fact that he hated he had left things with Jubilee. He had basically lied and told her that he was not interested in anything more than friendship. As he deceived her, Bobby felt insides grow cold. In spite of his mind telling him that it was the right thing to do, he could not help but feel miserable. Not bothering to gauge the young girl・s response, he fled her room so that he could be alone with his emptiness. She probably thought he was crazy anyway or had no idea what he was talking about altogether. Good, another reason why she should not be with him again.

Yes, Bobby decided, things were better this way.

And yet, he knew deep inside, that they were not.

Guilt, remorse, and despair mixed together to haunt Bobby during the entire mission. Guilt for not being able to attend his best friend・s birthday party; remorse for lying to her; and despair over the prospect of losing her. Everywhere the team went in the Canadian city, he was reminded of what he had left behind. The bright lights that lit up the entertainment district were reminiscent of the fireworks she produced, their colors luminescent against the dark buildings. The young Asian waitress at the sushi bar Kurt recommended elicited memories of Jubilee・s casual style of dress. The waters of Lake Ontario were a deep, crystalline blue, which paled in comparison to her sapphire-blue eye color, but resembled the streaks in her black hair.

Then there were his ruminations.

Jubilee was eighteen now---old enough to make decisions about whom she wanted to be with. Sure, Logan and Scott would express their reservations, but in the end, she would be the one responsible for her choices. She could have gone to The Robin, the local bar and club in town that catered to both humans and mutants, and met someone while he was gone. The thought of some other guy kissing her, wrapping his arms around her, telling her how wonderful she was and how much he loved her was unbearable for Bobby. No, that wasn・t it, really. Rather, it was the thought that it was not going to be him ever that truly disturbed him.

Yet, who was he to say anything? After all, he had made it clear to her that he wasn・t interested. He was not an option even if he had said nothing at all. What could he offer her? A couple of good laughs, but that was not enough to base a relationship on. He had learned that the hard way. And at some point, he would do or say something that would make her upset and leave him. That was what happened with his previous girlfriends. Then he would lose her not only as a girlfriend, but also as a friend--- which would have been the ultimate hurt. No matter how much angst he was experiencing now; he was convinced that the potential for disaster outweighed any strong feelings for her.

As for Jubilee, he was not sure. Bobby wanted her to feel the same, but there were times when she seemed oblivious to him. Those nights up in her room, they would lounge on her bed and listen to her CDs or the radio. Sometimes, they would not talk during the entire evening. Instead, the two of them would simply lie back for hours and absorb the lyrics and melody of the music. For Bobby, these were his favorite nights. It was as if they did not need words to communicate.

Initially, he and Jubilee would settle next to one another on the bed with some space between them. As the hours would pass, Bobby would find himself holding her close in his arms. There was no awkwardness or tension, but a sense of safety and well-being. While Bobby was determined not to make any romantic advances towards her, there was a part of him that was in bliss. He almost had what he had wanted for so long. This was going to be the closest he was going to allow himself to being with her. This was his small piece of heaven.

As Etta James・s ・At Last・ played on the car radio, Bobby remembered one of his nightly visits, where he had ended up circling his arms around her once again. The air was so still and quiet, so much so that she had fallen asleep. He recalled how peaceful she looked, how hauntingly beautiful she was as she slept. Her sweet perfume of bubblegum and cinnamon was a welcoming scent to his nose. It was hard for him to take his eyes off of her. His fingers tangled themselves in her silky hair as he brushed his nose and lips against her forehead lightly. Inwardly, he told her how crazy he was about her and how badly he wanted to be with her. Considerations raced through his head that would not otherwise, such as sneaking a brief kiss from her lips or saying out loud what his feelings were for her. How right it had felt to be so near her. There was no awkwardness or tension. Just the two of them. If only Gambit wasn・t right; if only he wasn・t guaranteed to hurt her. Then they could be happy together.

Bobby must have fallen asleep because when he opened his eyes again, he was in Westchester. The others were out of the SUV, unloading their things from the trunk. Jean-Paul made an unintelligible crack (at least to Bobby・s ears), which elicited some snickers from Warren and Kurt. Rubbing the sleep out of his weary eyes, Bobby hopped out of the car and grabbed his travel bag. His neck was killing him from sleeping in the backseat of the car, which was not the most comfortable place to nap. Then he made his way inside the mansion, using the entrance from the garage to the kitchen. He needed to get some breathing room from his teammates. He had spent enough time with them already.

Still dazed from the trip and his nap, Bobby climbed the spiral staircase upstairs. Groggily, he walked to his door. His eyes widened when he noticed that his bedroom door was slightly ajar. That・s strange, he mused to himself. I thought I closed this before I left. Cautiously, he iced up one of his hands and kicked the door wide open. Either it was a prowler or a victim of one of his practical jokes seeking revenge. In any case, one could never be too safe.

Inside, it was still dark, as the sun had almost disappeared from the summer sky. As a result, Bobby had a hard time seeing, but could see the outline of a body on his bed. He called out sharply, ・Turn on the bedside lamp---nice and slow.・

The figure complied as the room suddenly became alight.

Bobby・s jaw nearly dropped when he discovered who it was. ・Jubes?・

The object of his unrequited affections sat on the bed, slender legs swinging from the side. Her dark hair looked tousled, as if she had been lying in his bed before he had come in. She had on one of his Hawaiian shirts over her white T-shirt and khaki, cargo shorts. Wearing little make- up as usual, she was striking. As he walked further into the room, closing the door behind him, he saw that she was shivering. Instinctively, he pulled off his black leather trench coat he wore as part of his uniform and draped it around her slim form.

・I never noticed how cold it is in here,・ she said, staring up at him with her sapphire-blue eyes.

He shrugged his shoulders. ・It would be kind of weird if Iceman preferred the thermostat at seventy,・ he mused, seating himself next to her and making sure there was some space between them. ・What do I owe the pleasure?・

Her face was solemn. ・I missed you last night---at the party, I mean.・

・Yeah, sorry about that. I was unavoidably detained. You know how Warren likes to cross every ・t・ and dot every ・i・.・ The laugh he added sounded quite rough to his ears. Then he said abruptly, ・It also means I didn・t get a chance to get a present---・

Black hair with midnight blue streaks rippled down her shoulders as she shook her head emphatically. ・No, that・s OK. I don・t care about that.・ She paused and then said, ・I just want to know what・s happening to us.・

He feigned an innocent look and frowned at her quizzically. ・What are you talking about?・ he demanded.

・I don・t know,・ she replied slowly, as if still trying to figure things out herself. ・There・s something different.・

His heart began to race. ・What do you mean by ・different・?・

・I mean, things are.... I don・t know how to describe it, really. It・s like things aren・t the way they used to be.・ She tilted her head to the side, her face thoughtful.

・I・m still not tracking with you, Jubes.・ He knew perfectly where she was going with this.

Jubilee sighed softly. ・Things used to be comfortable all the time. Now, it・s not like that. I mean, I think we like being with each other, but there・s something kind of weird between us.・

Bobby hated how despondent she looked after she spoke. He was kind of a pushover like that. He placed a comforting hand over hers.

After a brief pause, she said, ・I just want to know what I did.・

He looked at her incredulously. Is she crazy? ・What?・

・What did I do to make things weird?・



・Jubes, you・ve done absolutely nothing. Well, except for being a great friend.... It・s.... It・s me.・

・Now, I don・t get you.・

・I・ve been the one acting weird. That・s probably what you・re picking up on. It・s my fault.・

・Bobby, it・s not about fault....・

・Yes, it is. I・ve done it again.・

・Done what again?・

・I・ve ruined things with someone I care about. I always do this. And to think, I was doing this to....・


・Never mind.・

・No, Bobby, tell me. Please.・

He could not help but stare into those hypnotic blue eyes. They were imploring just like the rest of her features. All he could do was think about how lovely she was. Before he could censor himself, he blurted out, ・I was acting that way because I wanted to protect you.・ He mentally slapped himself on the forehead. Nice, Drake....

She looked up at him quizzically. ・Protect me? What do you mean? Protect me from what, Bobby?・

・From me,・ he muttered bitterly, turning away from her.

・What was that?・ she asked, leaning towards him.

Bobby・s shoulders heaved as he turned to face her again. ・From me,・ he said quietly.

Her face immediately was filled with concern. ・I don・t understand, Bobby. Why would you need to protect me from yourself?・

・Because I・m not good for you,・ he told her, his voice still low. ・Because if I get any closer to you, I・m going to hurt you.・

The young girl shook her head, unconvinced. ・Bobby, you wouldn・t---・

・I know,・ he said, cutting her off. ・I wouldn・t knowingly try to hurt you. I would never do that, not in a million years. But you don・t understand my track record with women. I have a lot of ex-girlfriends for a reason, Jubes.・

She shook her head again. ・No,・ she protested softly. ・No, none of that was your fault. I don・t believe that.・

・You don・t know. You weren・t there. I was. All of them left because of me. Because I screwed up.・ His gray eyes were suddenly cloudy with gloom. Then he continued, ・I don・t want that to happen. Not with you. I don・t think I could ever live with myself if I did.・

She pressed her lips together, nodding. ・Well, I guess you・re right,・ she said slowly. ・I don・t know what exactly happened in your other relationships. I wasn・t there.・

Bobby nodded as well, glumly.

・But,・ she said, leaning closer towards him. ・I・m a big girl now. I don・t want or need you or anyone else to make an executive decision as to what・s good for me and what・s not. I trust you, Bobby. I trust you completely.・

He drew back, feeling as if he did not so then he would not have later on. ・You don・t know what you・re saying,・ he said to her quietly. ・You don・t know---・

・All I know is that I trust you,・ she whispered, squeezing his hand. ・Why can・t you do the same?・

He was about to answer when he felt something slap his shoulder. Then he heard muffled sounds from the other side of the room. Startled, he felt the slapping intensify.

・Stop snoring,・ Jean-Paul・s gruff, French-Canadian-accented voice chided, shattering the peaceful scene. ・I can・t read with all this snoring!・

Bobby・s eyes opened wide, staring around him. To his disappointment, it was all a dream. He was still on the road in the SUV. He was still without any sense of closure. He was still alone. Dammit.

Logan was making his way to the kitchen from the elevators. His mouth was as dry as cotton from thirst and exhaustion. He had been downstairs, training for an upcoming mission he, Storm, Sam Guthrie, and Bishop were leaving for that evening. The session he had programmed for the Danger Room was more vigorous than expected. He was slammed against the wall, chased down by various robots, and dodged laser beams and other projectiles.

Needless to say, he loved every minute of it.

Still wearing his black leather uniform, which was now drenched with his sweat, he sauntered past the living room. He almost passed by the rec room when he saw Jubilee sitting on the coach. His steps were quiet and stealthy as he made his way to her. A smirk touched his lips when he reached her. The young girl was sporting two messy, tangled ponytails, which she was furiously trying to undo.

・What・s the deal with this?・ he asked, gloved fingers brushing against one of the tangled masses of ebony-and-midnight-blue tresses.

She scowled at him, making her look even younger than her eighteen years. ・Hannah wanted to play beauty shop. Guess who was the first customer?・ she groused, blue eyes narrowing as she tugged at the rubber band in her hair. This was the last time she was going to let her sympathy override her wariness.

He tried to his amusement. ・It・s a good look for you,・ he told her, continuing to smirk.

・Ha ha,・ she muttered, continuing to pull at the rubber band still tangled in her hair. Her eyes immediately began to tear up. ・Ow.・

Logan sighed, kneeling down in front of her. SNIKT! ・Here, kid,・ he said, leaning towards her.

Jubilee shrank back, her face blanching. ・No,・ she said, covering her ponytails with both of her small hands. ・I don・t want to play beauty shop with you. I like my hair long.・

He rolled his eyes at her. ・I・m not gonna cut your hair, kid. Trust me.・

She stared into his face. The smirk had since disappeared to be replaced with a grim expression. His jaw was set in a determined manner, but was softened by his green eyes. It was not quite pleading, but something else she had seen before---a mixture of concern and reassurance. In the aftermath of her ordeal with Bastion and later on after her crucifixion, that expression was a fixture for many days. Yet, it disappeared when he did.

As she was peering down at him, there was something noticeably different about those eyes she had grown to know so well. They were searching for something. They were searching for an opportunity to make up for not being around many times. They were searching for redemption.

The young girl relented. ・OK, Wolvie,・ she said slowly, dropping her hands to her sides.

Logan suppressed a smile. It was not in his nature to grin like some giddy boy. Instead, he nodded briefly at her. Gingerly, he took one of the tangled masses of hair between his fingers. In a very un-Logan manner, he took great care and precision in pulling the chunks of hair from the rubber band. Then, using one claw, he sliced the elastic, making sure to separate it from the rest of her hair. Within a matter of minutes, he untangled her thick locks from the broken pieces of the rubber band. More surprising was the fact that he had managed to do so without inflicting any pain or pulling out any additional hair.

Jubilee stared up at him, almost in disbelief. ・Thanks,・ she whispered, smoothing out the section of hair he had freed.

He raised a brow at her. ・Didn・t think I would be gentle?・ he asked as he went to work on the other side of her head.

・You and gentle don・t necessarily go together.・ Her blue eyes twinkled.

A low growl emanated from his throat. ・Watch it, kid. I can still pull your hair from here.・

The sparkle faded from her sapphire eyes, as she grew quiet. Her face took on a more contemplative expression. Logan・s brows furrowed together, observing her and untangling the mass of hair on the side of her head. He hated that look---it made her look older, wearier of the world and others. Someone like his Jubilee should not have to wear such an expression. It was reserved for someone else; someone like him.

・You OK, kid?・ he inquired, cutting away the second rubber band from her thick, tangled tresses.

・Yeah, Wolvie. I・m OK.・

・You・re sure?・

・Yeah. You don・t have to worry about me. Not anymore.・

・Can・t tell me not to do that, kid.・

・I guess not.・ Jubilee smiled at him. However, this smile failed to reach her eyes. As much as she wanted to confide in her Wolvie, there was a part of her that warned her against the idea. He would not understand. He would not want to understand. If it were up to him, she would be his little girl forever---still in love with roller blades and the mall, and wanting nothing to do with boys or any complicated grown-up matters. While he never expressed this view explicitly, she picked up on some of the signs detected in his behavior. Even after she turned eighteen, he still called her ・kid・; a term of endearment and his way of holding onto the idea that she was still a child.

Perhaps that was all people around the mansion would continue to view her as---Jubilee, the eternal child. Perhaps that was the reason why Bobby did not want her. Not now; not ever.

She had witnessed evidence of this two nights after he returned from his field mission with Warren, Jean-Paul, and Kurt. She was on her way to the mansion from the Summers・ house. Bobby had sent an electronic gift certificate for her favorite website via email. Grateful for the belated birthday present, she was curious as to why he seemed to be avoiding her. His nightly visits had stopped. Their passing interactions around the institute were brief and ended by Bobby, who would brush her off to go work on lesson plans or train in the Danger Room. He was uncharacteristically abrupt, as if he was he wanted nothing to do with her. Confused about this change in the Bobby she knew, Jubilee wanted to confront him about what was going on. Surely, there must have been some problem weighing heavily upon him that made him act this way. Maybe there was something wrong with his father. Maybe he was still adjusting to Lorna living at the mansion again?

As Jubilee crossed the manicured lawns of the mansion that early evening, she had racked her brain on how to approach her friend. She knew she had to keep her emotions in check. Part of her was still hurting from his roundabout rejection of her. His strange behavior only added to that.

Walking past the rose garden, she had been mentally coaching herself as to what to say to him. Her feet were quickly picking up momentum as she neared the mansion. She had been moving with purpose, with conviction. However, her movements came to a halt when she came across the large, white gazebo the Professor recently ordered to be constructed. The young girl・s lower extremities had suddenly felt heavy. It had been as if her feet were firmly planted in place, not allowing her to turn immediately away from what she was seeing. Her face began to drain of all color as she continued to stare.

There were two figures huddled closely in the gazebo. One of them was a curvaceous, scantily clad woman with thick, white hair. Jubilee instantly recognized her as a mutant Kurt and his team had rescued from Genosha several months ago. The woman had been laughing softly and sighing about how lovely the stars were. Throughout this, she had been leaning against another figure.

Jubilee identified the other person as Bobby. The purple-tinted sunglasses, the wry jokes, and low chuckles were trademark Drake. There had been no denying that. What was worse was the fact that he actually appeared quite content, relaxed---the way he had been with her. His arm had been draped over the other woman・s shoulders. Like his companion, he had been commenting about how wonderful this night was for him.

The young girl had finally managed to free herself from the spot she stood. A rush of emotions had flooded every part of her being. The reaction was quite familiar. She had experienced this when she discovered Everett and Monet were together. However, this was quite different from that situation. For some reason, finding out about Bobby seemed to hurt much more and very deeply.

・Maybe I should get Drake down here and tell you one of his lame one- liners.・ Logan・s gruff voice cut into her thoughts, bringing Jubilee back to the living room.

Startled, the young girl almost jumped. For a moment, she almost suspected he had developed some form of telepathy. A tiny frown creased her delicate features. ・What? No, forget that,・ she almost spat out. ・I・d rather pop in a tape of Carrot-Top.・

Logan raised a brow at her, smoothing her hair from those lovely features. ・I thought you guys were buddies,・ he mused, very aware of the bond the two shared. Not only did it stem from their closeness in age, but their love of practical jokes and physical comedy. For the kid to react that way to the mention of Drake, something must have been up.

Jubilee rolled her eyes. She didn・t even want to hear Bobby・s name, let alone talk about him. ・He wishes,・ she huffed, resting her head against Logan・s broad and steady shoulder. Then she pulled away from him, her nose wrinkling. ・Ew.... You smell. Haven・t you heard of deodorant?・

He exhaled loudly, shaking his head. Just when he thought he had lost the kid and no longer knew her, there were glimpses of the child he had bonded with. That comment was a shining example. For a moment, he wanted to envelope her in a tight hug, but refrained. Instead, he stood up and rumpled her hair affectionately. ・Guess that・s my cue to get cleaned up before I go.・

She looked confused, staring up at him. ・Go where?・

・The Professor・s sending some of us to Thailand to look into something,・ he informed her, watching her face take on a crestfallen expression. She was furiously attempting to conceal, but Logan knew that look. He remembered being on the receiving end many times over the years. It almost shocked him to see it again; it had been so long. As much as he hated to admit it, a part of him was pleased.

He dropped down to his haunches and took her chin between two gloved fingers. Staring deeply into her sapphire depths, he said quietly, ・I・m not going to be gone for long, kid. It・ll be just a couple of days until we find what we・re lookin・ for and that・s it. Besides, I thought you said there was nothing for me to worry about.・

She shook her head, giving him a small smile. ・No, I・m OK. It・s just that.... I thought we could do something tonight. You know, the two of us, like in the old days.・ Given that the mansion was almost empty and Scott and Jean spending a romantic evening at home, she did not want to be alone. Then she would be forced to think about Bobby.

・We will,・ Logan said, his usually stony eyes softening somewhat. Then he pressed his lips against her forehead, inhaling the scent that was uniquely hers. After a few moments, he stood up again and gave her a long, hard look. The wordless communication from his end conveyed his affection and pride for the young girl who was still his. Without another word, he nodded at her and walked out of the room.

Jubilee rubbed her forehead, as if trying to keep the kiss there forever. She knew that what he had done was quite rare. Logan was not one to display his tender side very often. He would rather project the image of the tough, brooding loner rather than be known as the softie she sometimes saw. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. As despondent as she had been feeling, she felt a wave of comfort wash over her just then. It was strange, but Logan, the antithesis of a nurturing parental figure, seemed to always know what to do to make things better.

・Hey, Jubes,・ Tabitha greeted, the jangling from the many silver, bangle bracelets she wore announcing her presence even before she said a word. She appeared quite dressed up that night, wearing a tight-fitting, navy halter top and a black mini skirt with matching sandals. Her choppy blonde hair framed her dramatically made-up face, which made her appear much older than she really was.

Unaccustomed to her friend・s appearance, Jubilee let out a cheeky wolf whistle. ・Where・s the fire?・ she asked, blue eyes sparkling. She knew that the blonde had recently broken up with Sam and made it no secret that she was looking for someone new.

・A couple of us are going to The Robin,・ the taller girl explained, playing three silver hoops in one of her ears. ・It・s eighteen to get in tonight.... Wondering if you and Paige wanted to go out?・

Jubilee made a face. ・Paigey・s making goo-goo eyes at Worthington,・ she replied, still remembering the syrupy sweet behavior exhibited by the usually levelheaded Paige Guthrie. Deep down, she envied the happiness and euphoria her friend was experiencing. At least, she got what she wanted....

・And you?・ Tabitha・s singsong voice chirped up. ・You in?・

・Me?・ Jubilee bit her lower lip.

・Yeah, you,・ Tabitha said pointedly, giving her a strange look. She shook her head. ・Don・t get me wrong. Your birthday party was great and all, but it・s about time you celebrated in style. You know, leave the tea party crap behind.・

Jubilee looked thoughtful for a moment. She had contemplated staying at the mansion and ruminating over her situation. As comfortable and easy as that would have been, nothing constructive would come out of it. In the end, she would still be miserable and depressed. She knew the cycle---she had gone through it when she lost Everett to Monet. The same would be true with Bobby. She would spend the night wondering why he did not want her, wondering why no one wanted her. Something had to change. Her shoulders heaved as she made her decision.

Leave the tea party crap behind.

Leave Bobby behind.

・Sure, I・m in.・ She rose to her feet, smoothing out the remaining tangles in her hair. ・Let・s go.・

Tabitha frowned at her, aqua eyes critical. ・Aren・t you going to change?・

・Why? What・s wrong with what I・m wearing?・ Jubilee peered down at the red- and-navy, short-sleeved Rugby shirt and faded jeans she was currently in. Then she peered over at Tabitha again, realizing her faux pas. Not exactly partying clothes. ・Oh. Yeah, well.... I was just messing with you. Of course, I was going to change.・

The blonde grinned at her. As abrasive as many around the mansion thought she was, those who got to know her well discovered she was quite genuine and a good friend. It was a rare treat for anyone to catch a glimpse of that. Most could not get past the loud voice and borderline histrionic personality. ・Great. Dani, Allison, and I will meet you back here in fifteen. Is that enough time?・

・Um, sure,・ Jubilee said, fishing her house keys from her pocket.

The Robin was a local bar/club that catered to both humans and mutants. While Jubilee had heard about the establishment from Bobby and Tabitha, actually seeing the place was completely different. The first thing that struck her was actually witnessing the co-mingling of humans and mutants--- drinking together, talking together, and even dancing with one another--- things unthinkable outside of these walls. Then there was the building itself. Converted from an old bank, The Robin had a grand staircase entrance, marble floors, and high ceilings. In place of teller windows there was an enormous bar along the interior's east wall, staffed with sleek and swank bartenders. An enormous chandelier hung over the dance floor, laden with flickering orange bulbs in lieu of candles. Above the light fixture was a smoke machine, which sent wisps of smoke floating down through the chandelier. This resulted in an eerie and beautiful effect, something one would see in "The Phantom of the Opera".

In spite of how busy and crowded it was, the girls were fortunate enough to secure a table near the bar. The smoky air, flashing lights, and the 80s music blaring from the many speakers combined to captivate and excite. They huddled together, observing the bustle of activity around them. While they were people watching, they were surprised to see many of their fellow students, teammates, and instructors. Who would have known that Kitty and Kurt were smooth operators on the dance floor?

For Jubilee, who had changed into a black tube top that hugged her slim form over her jeans, she was relieved she had decided to go out with the group. Tabitha・s brash and blunt comments about everything and anything were entertaining, sending her into giggles with the others. It was easy to catch her enthusiasm and lose herself, lose her preoccupations. She made a mental note to thank her later for inviting her. She could not remember the last time she had felt this free.

・Well, you guys ready to have some fun?・ Tabitha piped up, sweeping her blonde bangs to the side.

Dani nodded, black braids bobbing at her sinewy shoulders. ・Yeah. I just took my last Trig exam ever and I・m glad it・s over. I didn・t even study for it.・

・You had an A coming into it,・ Tabitha pointed out, rolling her eyes. Unlike her friend, she was facing the possibility of taking the course again in the summer. Her poor study habits and inability to pay attention to the lectures were primarily responsible. ・I・m sure you could risk it. The final wasn・t that much. Plus, Drake offered extra credit.・

Allison played with the strap of her green camisole. ・Speaking of whom, where was he? Dr. McCoy had to proctor the thing.・

Tabitha leaned forward, blood-red lips curling in a slight smile. ・Well, I heard from Paige who was talking to Carter who heard from his mom that Bobby・s been in the infirmary.・

・What?・ Up until Tabitha disclosed that piece of news, Jubilee had attempted to feign disinterest in the conversation. Her stomach began to twist in knots as thoughts of an injured or ill Bobby raced through her mind. Immediately, she became worried. In spite of how upset she was with him, she could not help but feel some concern.

Tabitha was oblivious to the younger girl・s reaction as she went on. ・Yeah, he got the crap kicked out of him by one of those mutants from Genosha. Like, this big mud dude found Bobby snuggling with his wife. Needless to say, he was pissed! So, he starts throwing Bobby around like a rag doll and was about to kill him. Good thing Jean-Paul was around, otherwise we・d be at a funeral.・

・Tabitha!・ Dani said reprovingly, shaking her head at the morbid thought.

・Well, serves him right,・ Allison chimed in, now reading over the drink menu in spite of the fact that she was still under aged. As she read through the selections, she was looking forward to her 21st birthday in two months. ・I mean, you just don・t go after someone who・s married. That・s pretty sleazy.・

Jubilee frowned at the blonde sitting across from her. ・Bobby wouldn・t do that,・ she protested. Her cheeks immediately stained with a pink flush. I wish the floor would just open up and swallow me whole, she thought desperately.

Fortunately, no one else noticed her sudden discomfort, either because of the dim lights or the loud music. Inwardly, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her face immediately began to cool as she calmed down.

Tabitha shook her head. ・Yeah, Drake・s not like that. Plus, I don・t even think he knew. Not that he・s totally innocent, either. You would think he・d have better taste than to go after a skank like that. Or maybe he likes the wild women.・

Jubilee・s frown deepened as her fingers fiddled with the delicate pink beads of the necklace he had given her. Looking back, she was not sure why she had bothered to keep it on. It was a reminder of Bobby and what she thought he was. She forced her hand away from her neck, feeling very uncomfortable at that moment. All the feelings and ruminations she had tried to push out of her mind were slowly creeping back into her head. Thoughts of leaving the club and taking a taxi back to the mansion raced through her mind. They were soon interrupted when a red-faced, curvaceous waitress with long horns protruding from the top of her head sashayed to their table.

・Here you go, hon,・ she said, setting down a small glass in front of Jubilee. It was filled to the rim with dark-brown liquid. ・Southern Comfort. Compliments of the guy at the bar.・

Jubilee and the others followed the waitress・s gaze. A tall, young man smiled back, exhaling a cloud of bluish-gray cigarette smoke. Despite how warm and humid it was inside the club, he was wearing a long-sleeved, white T-shirt under a navy T-shirt with black jeans. His cherubic features were framed by rumpled, brown hair. What was truly intriguing was the air about him. He seemed quite at ease and relaxed in his surroundings. It was as if nothing could possibly faze him.

Unlike some people.

As the waitress waded through the crowd of people swelling up towards the bar, the others turned to Jubilee and the shot of whiskey in front of her. She stared down at the glass, knowing full well that she was not of age. Never ever had alcohol, she was curious. In health class, she had heard about the effects. She had even heard stories from Remy about his outings with Logan.

・You know you can・t,・ Dani told her, coffee-brown eyes wary. Then she shook her head after the waitress. ・I can・t believe she didn・t even card you, Jubes.・

・Yeah.... Me, neither.・ Her sapphire blue eyes were glued to the glass. Suddenly and without thinking, she picked it up and raised it to her lips. The liquid was like fire as it slid down her throat. She almost gagged at the bitter taste. Almost immediately, her skin radiated with warmth. How could Wolvie and the Cajun drink this stuff for fun? Not only was it gross, it also made her extremities feel numb.

・Jubes!・ Tabitha hissed, hopping out of her chair and dashing over to her friend・s side. Images of Scott and Logan chasing her down and threatening her with various punishments flashed through her head. ・Are you crazy? We・re going to get into so much---・

Before she could complete her sentence, the young man who had sent over the whiskey shot ambled over. He inched himself between Tabitha and Jubilee. ・Hey,・ he greeted, placing a hand on Jubilee・s back. His brown eyes suddenly became concerned. ・Not a fan of So Co?・

・If it was only that,・ Tabitha muttered, rolling her blue-green eyes. Behind her, Dani held her hand over her mouth. Meanwhile, Allison was struggling to appear as if she were not with them.

The comment was unheard or not acknowledged. ・I・m Mike,・ he drawled, grinning at Jubilee. ・And you are?・

・Jubilee.・ The young girl・s voice sounded strangely thick to her own ears. She flashed him a dazzling smile, which lit up her radiant features. ・Thanks for the drink.・

・I didn・t think you liked it,・ he said, still perplexed. Then he brightened, his grin broadening. ・Let me make it up to you. Let・s get out on the dance floor.・

・Sure,・ Jubilee said cheerily, ignoring the warning stares she received from Tabitha and Dani. She took Mike・s offered hand and climbed down from her chair gracefully. Why shouldn・t I? After all my stupid boo-hooing, I deserve a good time.

As soon as they reached the dance floor, which was flooded with other patrons, she began to raise her arms over her head and swiveling her slim hips. She smiled up at Mike, sapphire eyes sparkling. While she was by no means drunk, she found it easier to lose herself in the music, in the atmosphere. It was easier not to think about what had been bothering her.

A few songs later, Mike grabbed the tassels of her black ribbon belt, using them to pull her close to him. His hands began to rove down her sides and around her waist. He nestled his head against her neck, brushing his mouth against her jaw. As his hands skimmed over her hips, he buried his nose in her hair and nuzzled her ear. Almost instinctively, she moved against him. He murmured something intelligible in her ear as his fingers slid inside the back pockets of her jeans. The technotronic beats of New Order・s ・Bizarre Love Triangle・ flooded her sense of hearing. All the while, she could not help but think how nice it was to be held this close; even if it was not by the person she wanted.

Suddenly, she felt a very cold hand on her shoulder.

Jubilee jumped, startled. Then she turned around to see a furious Bobby Drake, sporting a fading bruise on his cheek. Other than that, he looked no worse for wear. Though he was wearing his purple-tinted sunglasses, there was no mistaking the fact that he was glaring. Wearing his usual Hawaiian shirt and Dockers, he almost blended in with the crowd.

・I think it・s time to go,・ he said to her curtly.

She glared back at him. Who the hell does he think he is? ・What?・

Mike stepped forward, draping his arm around her shoulders. ・Do you know this guy?・ he asked, frowning.

She rolled her eyes at Bobby. ・Oh, he・s some guy I met on the Internet,・ she replied breezily, tossing her silky hair over one shoulder. ・He lured me with candy and the promise of funny stories.・ She then turned her back to him and smiled up at Mike.

・I・m her ride home,・ Bobby snapped, grabbing her arm firmly and pulling her away from Mike.

She pulled her arm away from him. ・I・m having a good time, Bobby,・ she snapped at him. Then she added, ・Don・t you have a married woman to seduce or something?・

His face glowered with suppressed anger and indignation. How on earth did she know? ・We・re leaving now.・ He grasped her arm again. This time, he tightened his grip. Then he promptly and forcefully yanked her off the dance floor. Together, they marched past the bar and the trio of Tabitha, Dani, and Allison, who were appeared sympathetic.

Jubilee jerked her arm away from his grasp, blue eyes blazing with fury. She didn・t think she had ever been this embarrassed before in her entire life. Who did he think he was---pulling her out of the bar like that in front of all those people? There was no way she could ever show her face at The Robin ever again. Not after that.

Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. ・What the hell is the matter with you?・ she demanded hotly.

He scowled, storming out the hall and ignoring the curious stares of the other customers. ・I should ask you that same question,・ he snapped, quickening his stride. ・You don・t know that guy. He could have been some kind of slime ball.・

・If he was, I could have easily taken care of him myself,・ she snapped, rubbing her arm. The skin was quite cold for Bobby・s grip.

He shoved the door open and held it open for her. ・Well, consider the job already done for you. Thank me later.・

She glared at him, stomping out. ・I don・t see what your problem is. We were dancing and that・s it.・

・Oh come on,・ he scoffed sarcastically. ・That hardly looked like dancing. The guy had his hands all over you.・ He almost shuddered as he recalled the other man・s hands gliding down her body. It took every ounce of self- restraint for Bobby not to pop the guy one.

・He did not!・ she retorted, balling her tiny hands into fists. She wanted to give him a paf at this moment, but decided against it. She did not want to cause a scene. Bobby had done enough of that. ・Besides, he was just being nice.・

Bobby snorted, shooting her a skeptical look. ・Are you serious?・

She rolled her eyes at him in disdain. Her dark hair was lifted off of her bare shoulders by the evening breeze. She decided to keep her mouth shut. There was no point in trying to argue or reason with him. The damage had already been done.

・Let me give you a piece of advice,・ he said when they reached the parking lot. His voice was uncharacteristically loud and harsh, even to his own ears. He slipped off his purple-tinted sunglasses and sighed. Then he lowered his voice, not wanting to attract any more attention. ・Men are never nice. They always want something.・

Jubilee stared at him, following him to his Jetta. As soon as they reached the car, she leaned against the side of the car. Then she asked quietly, ・So, what is it that you want?・

His gray eyes widened at the question. She was looking intently at him, arms wrapped around her slim form. Her beautiful face was no longer angry or indignant. Just confused.

・You said men always want something,・ she said, playing with the delicate pink beads of her necklace nervously. ・You・re a man.... What do you want, Bobby?・

Bobby inhaled sharply. He wanted her to drop it and get into the car so he could get her home. He wanted the moonlight to stop illuminating the radiance of her skin. He wanted to tear his eyes away from her lovely face. He wanted....

He wanted to take her into his arms and never let her go.

Slumping his shoulders in resignation, he sighed. No, that could never happen. Then he opened the passenger・s side door, turning away from her. ・Just get in, OK?・

She had studied his faraway, forlorn expression with concern. While she wanted to say something, she wasn・t sure what exactly she would say. Then she climbed into the car with him for the silent ride back to the mansion.

He was trying to forget.

Or maybe it was more like trying to deny.

Whatever he was trying to do, clearly it was not working. The story was still the same. What was worse, he had hurt the one person he was trying to protect. Ironic.

Sighing, Bobby tossed his red pen on his desk. He raked his fingers through his sandy hair, groaning. Tried as he did, his troubled thoughts would not be placated.

Bobby narrowed his gray eyes, stalking out of his bedroom. He had been struggling to draft his lesson plan for the math class he was going to teach in summer school. Technically, all syllabi・s were due last week, but he had earned a reprieve from Jean given what had happened to him. Even with the stillness of the mansion (thanks to many of the students out celebrating in town with some of the instructors), Bobby continued to struggle to concentrate. At first, he thought it might have been some residual pain from the fight he had gotten into with the Genoshan mutant. No, he had recovered from the injuries he had sustained in that fight. All that was left was a tiny bruise on his cheek, which was almost gone.

No, it was something else.

He remembered going to the club that night. It was after Annie gave him the thumbs-up to leave. He needed to get away from the mansion, away from his problems. He half-heartedly listened to the nurse as she admonished him for hitting on a married woman. Part of him wanted to snap at her that she couldn・t understand his position. Bobby knew he would never intentionally go after someone who was married. He was lonely and the woman, Josette, was only too willing to comfort him. She was beautiful, very interested in him, and seemingly available (he was about to be proven wrong about that later on). How could he have reservations?

But he did.

As they huddled together in the gazebo that night, he could not deny his attraction to the other mutant. Yet, there was something missing. He had tried to ignore his reservations or rather, his guilt. But it was brought back by Jubilee, taunting him about his actions that night. It was then that he realized she had seen them together. There was no other explanation for it. While she was indignant on the dance floor that night, there was a flash of pain in her sapphire eyes---something he never wanted to be responsible for eliciting.


Bobby grimaced, recalling images of watching her from his seat at the bar. She was beautiful that night, wide-eyed and curious regarding her new surroundings. Her long, silky hair rippled down her slim shoulders, left bare from the black tube top she had been wearing. Around her graceful neck was the necklace he had given to her so long ago. As much as he wanted to stop by the table she was sitting at, he felt that he had no right. What was he going to say? ・Hi, Jubes. Sorry about avoiding you, but I・ve been going through some things.... Wanna dance?・

Bobby had paid his tab and was about to exit the bar for the mansion, possibly to indulge himself in his own self-pity when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. A man sitting a couple seats away from him was talking with one of the waitresses. He was pointing to the table where Jubilee was sitting at and placed a filled shot glass on the tray the waitress was carrying. Curious, Bobby remained on his stool. When he noticed that the shot glass was placed in front of Jubilee, he became somewhat alarmed. Yet, he did not do or say anything at that point. He knew that the young girl would never drink the shot. Logan would explode and she knew it.

How wrong he was.

His heart skipped a beat as he watched her down the alcohol quickly. He could feel his face begin to drain of all color when he saw that the guy from the bar was now standing next to her. Watching her smile up at him and take his hand made Bobby・s stomach twist into knots. While he wanted to scurry after them, he felt glued to his seat. He could not move for the life of him. Instead, he was relegated to watching his Jubilee dance with the guy, smiling and laughing. He sensed his heart sinking as her face lit up, demonstrating how much she was enjoying herself. It・s already happening, he had thought to himself glumly.

The last straw came when the other guy allowed his hands to roam over Jubilee・s slender body, exploring every curve. Meanwhile, she appeared to reciprocate, moving closer to him. Bobby remembered scowling bitterly as the scene unfolded in front of him. He watched with murderous envy as her partner began to kiss her neck and jaw, slowly moving toward her mouth. It was then that Bobby pried himself from his seat, taking immediate action.

Most of the confrontation in the club, with the exception of Jubilee・s taunt, was a blur to him. His memory seemed to be diluted by the anger he had experienced that night. However, their argument on the way to the parking lot was clearer than ever.

・...Besides, he was just being nice.・

・Are you serious?・

・Let me give you a piece of advice. Men are never nice. They always want something.・

・So, what is it that you want? You said men always want something. You・re a man.... What do you want, Bobby?・

Bobby shook his head ruefully, jogging down the spiral staircase. He almost shivered as to how poignant the question still was. It was almost as if she knew. It was almost as if she was asking him to decide at that moment.

Do you want to be unhurt and alone, or do you want to take a chance and be happy?

But he did not.

Instead, he ushered her into his car hurriedly. The car ride home was quiet and filled with tension. The only words he uttered occurred after they arrived back at the mansion. He managed a flustered a sentence, assuring her that he would not tell Scott or Logan about engaging in underage drinking. Then he quickly made his escape inside the mansion, leaving her in the garage staring after him.

During the ride home, he made it a point to avoid looking away from her, his gray eyes steely as they focused on the road. He had been afraid that if he did look at her, he would simply break down. And that was something he could not afford. As painful as it was, he would have to continue to take the high road. It was his only choice.

Bobby was making his way to the kitchen when he heard familiar voices coming from the living room. His brows furrowed together. He changed direction and walked towards the area. His boyish face lost its grim expression when he discovered who the individuals were.

・Bobby, sugah,・ Rogue greeted in her signature Southern twang. His friend appeared relaxed and well rested---the opposite of what she was several months ago. Her normally peaches-and-cream complexion was now deeper in color, possibly from spending long days outside in the sun. Her brown hair with white streaks was pulled back from her face in a loose ponytail with soft tendrils framing her emerald-green eyes. She wore a green, hooded gauze tunic over a pair of white, cropped utility pants with sandals. As usual, she also sported a pair of black gloves on her hands.

He gave her a small smile. ・Hey, Roguey. Great to see you.・ Unconsciously, his eyes drifted past her grinning face as she embraced him in a warm hug. Instinctively, he stiffened.

Standing directly behind her was Gambit. His face was absent of any smirk. Instead, it was quite unreadable as he observed Bobby. Taking out a deck of cards from the pocket of his trademark leather duster, he began to shuffle them, leaning against the far wall. His red-on-black eyes glowed with a vague knowingness.

・Ah couldn・t wait to get back. We・ve been flying since early this mornin・....・ Rogue followed his gaze, drawing back slightly. ・What・s wrong, hon?・

・Nothing,・ Bobby lied, dropping his arms to his side. So much for Rogue moving on... I guess there are people out there who really love to punish themselves, he remarked inwardly. While they were not holding hands or acting overly affectionate, he surmised they were back together again. Forcing a tight smile, he managed, ・Hello, Gambit.・

The tall, wiry Cajun nodded at him briefly. ・Bonjour, Drake.・

There was a tense and awkward silence that followed the exchange. Rogue peered over at both men. She was all too aware of her friend・s distaste of Remy, but for some reason it seemed to be more intense than usual. Bobby had been vociferous about his disapproval of the man from the Bayou. He had been the one to comfort her during the more tumultuous periods of her relationship with Gambit. She was sure that seeing the two of them together did not thrill him to pieces.

However, this was different. It was as if Bobby was personally holding Remy responsible for something. It went beyond his condemnation of the relationship. For his part, the Cajun thief seemed rather aloof to the piercing glare from Iceman. Rogue was tempted to inquire as to what exactly was going, but from the expression on Bobby・s face, there was no way he was about to disclose. Knowing Remy, he would be just as evasive, if not more.

Rogue, in an uncharacteristic manner, plastered a bright smile across her features. Usually one to shoot straight from the hip, she would have confronted the two men as to what was happening. However, she was still drained from the trip home. ・Well, sugah, where・s everyone? We were expectin・ a full house.・

It took Bobby a great deal of control to stop gritting his teeth. His anger would have to simmer for now. ・They・re all out,・ he finally replied, tearing his eyes away from the person he held accountable for his unhappiness. Not that he was entirely culpable. No, Gambit was merely the one who had pointed out the obvious.

・Oh, that・s too bad,・ Rogue sighed, playing with the strap of her travel bag. ・Ah was hopin・ to see everyone. It・s been so long, ya know. We・ve missed y・all.・

Bobby raised a brow at her, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his chinos. ・So, South America got kind of boring?・ he asked

His friend shook her head, ponytail bobbing. ・No, it・s not that, sugah. But ya know, when ya get on the road, ya start missin・ home and family....・

Bobby nodded, empathic to what she was saying. ・Yeah, I know what you mean.・

For a moment, Rogue detected a faint hint of sadness to his voice and his usually mirthful gray eyes. She reached out and brushed her gloved fingers on his arms. ・Sugah?・ she inquired.

His head snapped up, startled. He cursed himself for appearing vulnerable to her at that moment. He did not want to be comforted, especially not in front of Remy LeBeau. He forced another smile and said, ・You must be really tired from traveling. Why don・t you go up and rest for a bit and we can catch up later?・

Rogue・s green eyes gave him a quizzical look. ・Ah・m not that tired, hon,・ she reassured him. ・We can talk now if ya want.・

Bobby racked his brain for another excuse. ・Um, well, that would be great, but I・ve got tons of work to do. Professor・s got me teaching a summer math class tomorrow, and I・ve been procrastinating.・ Kind of true , he added silently.

・OK,・ she said warily, not quite believing him. However, she was too tired to argue with him. Turning to Remy, she drawled, ・Ah・m gonna head upstairs and get catch up on some rest.・

Remy nodded, a gentle smile curling his sculpted lips. ・Oui, ch・e. You do dat. Gambit will take care of de bags.・

・Thanks,・ she replied softly. The Southern Belle reached out and squeezed Bobby・s hand. ・It was good to see ya, Bobby. We・ll get together later?・

Bobby squeezed back. ・Count on it.・

When Rogue exited the living room, there was another uncomfortable silence. Bobby turned to the Cajun thief, eyes steely. He crossed his arms over his chest. ・Well, well,・ he remarked, ・looks you like you got what you wanted. At least one of us is happy.・

The other man paused in shuffling his cards. ・You want to say somet・in to Gambit, say it, Drake.・ Like Rogue, he was all too aware of Bobby・s disapproval. However, he knew that the younger man・s indignation stemmed from another source.

Bobby scowled at him. ・You know damn well what I mean,・ he snapped.

A lock of auburn hair flopped over Remy LeBeau・s brow gently. ・Mebbe. But dis ol・ t・ief・s memory kind of fuzzy. Refresh Gambit・s memory.・

・It・s unfair, don・t you think? After all the hell you・ve put Rogue through, you guys are together again. What kind of lies are you feeding her now? That you・ve changed again? How many times do you think she・ll buy that one?・ Bobby spat.

Gambit smirked, continuing to shuffle the cards. Before, such words would have hurt him, would have forced him to doubt himself, and would have provoked him into fighting back. But now, things were different; more so than Drake could ever now. Remy LeBeau was indeed a changed man--- for the better. What was more important was that Rogue knew that. No one else mattered.

・Gambit don・ t・ink dat de t・ing dat・s upsettin・ you,・ he observed, peering out the window.

・So now you・re psychic?・ Bobby sneered.

Gambit shook his head. ・Not psychic. Gambit just knows people is all.・

Bobby snorted, edging closer to the Cajun thief. ・That・s funny, given how you・ve screwed up with Rogue so many times.・

The other man narrowed his red-on-black eyes. ・Oui, mais dat・s in de past. As you say before, Gambit・s a changed man.・

Bobby rolled his eyes. ・Oh, please. Underneath your veil of promise to be monogamous and honest is still the slimy swamp rat that would sell his grandma down the river for a pack of smokes. You haven・t changed.・

To his annoyance, Gambit chuckled softly. ・Quite a picture you got dere, Drake.・

Bobby shrugged, still furious. ・That・s how I see it. People don・t change.・

・But you have.・ The other man pointed out, his chuckles ceasing.

The younger man・s gray eyes widened as he asked, ・What was that?・

・Gambit says you・ve changed.・

・What the hell are you talking about?・

・You say people can・t change, Drake. You t・ink people stay de same. Mais, you have. Gambit was just too blind to see it.・

・I・m still not getting you.・

Remy sighed, exhaling loudly. He was craving for a cigarette at that moment. There were other things he wanted to do beside have this conversation with Drake. Talking in this manner---so frankly---was not something he was accustomed to doing. However, there was something holding him back, forcing him to continue.

・Remember how Gambit said you no good for de petite?・ he asked, still shuffling his cards.

Bobby nodded bitterly, the words still echoing his mind. ・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.・

・Well, Gambit was wrong.・ Now, Remy really wanted a cigarette.

Bobby frowned at him, confused and in total disbelief. ・Excuse me?・

The other man sighed heavily again. While he wanted to believe that Drake was trying to make the admission harder on him, there was something that told him that the younger man was genuinely perplexed. ・Gambit was wrong,・ he repeated quietly. ・Gambit sees dat you honestly care about de petite. Gambit also knows dat de last t・ing you want to do is hurt her. You would do anyt・ing to keep dat from happenin・, non?・

Mutely, Bobby nodded his head. It was true. He had known that all along. Finally, he asked, ・So, why the change of heart? What made you suddenly think I・m good for her now?・

・It takes dis ol・ t・ief to learn t・ings,・ Remy told him mildly, pulling a card from the deck. ・First wit Rogue and now dis. In de end, Gambit gets it. Now it・s your turn, Iceman.・ He tossed the card at Bobby smugly before turning on his heel and heading out of the living room.

Bobby stared after him, more confused than ever. Then he flipped the card over in his hand. The Queen of Hearts.

That evening, Jubilee found herself in the Summers・ bedroom. Navy and cream ticking stripes mixed with blue floral duvet and ruffled shams implied seaside cottage simplicity. The creamy cashmere sham Jean recently purchased was reminiscent of the classic Irish fisherman・s knit. The distressed hardwood floors, vintage drawings of various aquatic animals and maps, and brass light fixtures, completed the theme. ・Why is everyone picking up and leaving all of a sudden?・ the young girl groused, kicking off her flip-flops as she seated herself on Scott and Jean・s king-sized bed. She tucked her coltish legs underneath her.

Scott paused in the midst of his packing. ・What do you mean?・ he asked, closing one of the drawers and tossing another pair of socks into his suitcase.

She stared up at him. ・First, Rogue and Gambit. Then Logan, Storm, Bishop, and Sam. Now you and Emma.・ Her sapphire eyes twinkled thoughtfully. ・Not that I mind Emma being gone....・

He smiled, amused with the idea of leaving Emma in the middle of Hong Kong by herself. He knew for a fact that the White Queen was not looking forward to this trip since she recently had some business deals that had gone south on her. There was also the fact that the woman could not speak any of the dialects to save her life.

Scott tugged at the collar of his blue-and-white, striped Rugby shirt which he was wearing over his khaki cargo shorts and navy flip-flops. He settled down next to Jubilee. ・You・re not completely alone,・ he told her. ・Jean・s here.・

Jubilee nodded. ・I know,・ she replied, her ears picking up on Jean・s voice floating from downstairs. The statuesque redhead was currently occupied on the telephone with a parent who was considering sending his child to the Institute. ・I don・t think she wants you to go, either.・

Scott・s jaw almost dropped. He and Jean had some words about the upcoming trip, with Jean expressing reservations about Emma Frost. However, these conversations took place behind closed doors at the mansion, not in their house. The last thing both wanted to do was to bring conflict back to their home, in front of Jubilee. Raising a brow at the young girl, he asked evenly, ・What makes you think that?・

She shrugged. ・I don・t know,・ she admitted, playing with one of the pocket flaps of her cargo shorts. ・Emma doesn・t really give good vibes off to other women. Course, Jean has nothing to worry about, right?・

・What do you think?・ He rumpled her thick hair affectionately.

She grinned up at him. ・Thought so. Besides, you・re not really Frosty・s type.・

Scott・s brows furrowed together as he ventured over to his still open and half-packed suitcase. ・Why・s that?・

・She likes the pushovers,・ Jubilee commented thoughtfully. ・Ever wonder why Sean was always the yes-man at the school?・ With a mischievous grin, she made a whipping motion with her arm.

He gave her a wry smile. ・I don・t even want to think about that.・ Then he resumed packing, opening his closet to search for some shirts. ・So, you sound like you・re going to be bored.・

She shook her head. ・No, not bored,・ she answered. Just feeling sorry for myself, that・s all.

・Oh, that・s right. You and Jean are going shopping tomorrow.・ Scott made a deadpan face. ・Don・t do too much damage on the card, OK? I・m not going to be gone forever, you know.・

She gave him a mock salute. ・Yes, sir. Purchases will only be made toward piercings and new Coldplay CDs.・

・Very funny. And by the way, no more piercings. Your ears are fine with just the two.・

・But, Scott---・

・You・re beautiful the way you are. Why do anything else?・

・Mmmph. You have to say that.・

・I mean it.・

・I think I would be more beautiful with another set of holes in my ears.・

・You tried that one with Logan?・


・Let me guess. He didn・t bite on that one, either?・

・I swear, it・s a conspiracy with the three of you!・ Jubilee moaned. Then she sighed in resignation and hopped off the bed. She slipped her feet into her flip-flops again and sauntered over to where Scott was standing. ・I think I・m going to head to bed.・

His expression was suddenly that of concern. ・It・s only nine-thirty. Are you OK?・ Like Logan, he was beginning to pick up on some nuances to the young girl・s behavior lately. While she seemed to be fine for the most part, every once in a while he would catch a lost, forlorn look in her eyes. It was the same expression he saw at the birthday party. In the days following, Scott attempted to query the young girl about what was going, trying to reassure her that she could always talk to him. She would respond by saying that she was fine and nothing was going on.

This time was no different. ・I・m fine, really.・ She leaned over and gave him a brief hug. ・Have a good trip if I see you leave.・ Then she slipped quietly out of the room, leaving Scott to wonder if things were really fine.

Jubilee closed the door to her bedroom, sighing. She then changed into her pajamas---a gray tank top and a pair of navy-and-white pajama pants. Peering over at her desk, she found the CD Paige had loaned her this morning. The younger Guthrie and Warren had gone into the city to watch the artist, Gavin DeGraw, perform and raved about him when they got back to the mansion. Shrugging, Jubilee popped the CD into her stereo.

As the singer・s raspy, angst-filled voice floated in the air, she shook her head. Staring at the photograph of Bobby still sitting on desk, she empathized with the emotional turmoil referred to in the song. Her eyes began to sting with tears as she was reminded of her own pain. As much as she wanted to get rid of the photograph, she could not do it. It was inexplicable, really. Maybe she was one of those masochists Jean talked about in psychology class.

In the days following the club incident, she wanted to be angry with Bobby. She wanted to confront him, yell at him for humiliating her. Yet, she did not. For all the indignation she had been feeling, that was nothing compared to the ache she felt inside every time she saw him. In the end, it was this ache that ultimately held her back.

As for the incident, she struggled not to think about it. Neither one of them raised the issue either. In fact, Bobby was doing his best to avoid after that. Whenever she was in the same room, he would find someone else to talk to, or leave rather quickly. His actions seemed to make things even more painful.

She was startled from her thoughts when she heard a rapping at her window. Quickly, she composed herself and made her way to the window to open it. Her eyes widened when she saw who it was.

・Can I come in?・ Bobby asked quietly.

She nodded, watching him climb inside. The young girl shut the window and then walked to her stereo to lower the volume. She found him standing next to the window, his gray eyes soaking up the floor. Curious, she asked, ・So what can I do for you, Drake?・

He watched her cross her slender arms over her chest. ・I want to talk to you. It・s important.・

Her eyes widened as she studied the grave expression on his face. Never in her life had she heard Bobby Drake sound like that. Like he was dead serious and not fooling around, period. It was quite a shock to her ears. Whatever it was, he appeared that he really wanted to talk about the issue right away.

・Um, OK. What about?・ she asked, standing before him expectantly.

After a long silence, he cleared his throat and stared into his eyes. ・I don・t want to be friends,・ he told her quietly.

She stared at him in disbelief. ・What?・

・I don・t want to be friends,・ Bobby repeated, edging towards her. ・I don・t want to be friends with you anymore. I have enough friends around here. I don・t need more.・

Jubilee continued to stare, her stomach twisting in knots. At first, she thought this was a joke, that he was simply teasing her. However, from the serious expression on his boyish face, she instantly knew this was not the case. She could feel her eyes begin to brim with tears. This was possibly the worst piece of news she could have heard in quite some time. She was losing her one of her closest friends. Even worse was the fact that she had no idea why.

Finally, she asked, ・Why? Bobby, what happened? Why are you saying this?・ What did I do?

He pressed his lips together. ・Things have changed.・

・Like what?・ the young girl demanded, fighting off the urge to break down and cry.

Bobby sighed. He looked anxious while he was attempting to be evasive. ・A lot. More than you know.・

Sapphire blue eyes staring up at him were incredulous. ・You can・t just come up here, tell me that you want to end our friendship and then get all cryptic. Not exactly fair is it, Bobby? I expected better from you.・

Bobby nodded, shifting from foot to foot. ・I know. It・s complicated for me to explain.・

Jubilee detected the hesitancy in his voice. ・Well, I・m all ears.・ While she was upset, she wanted to let him know that she was willing to hear him out no matter what. Part of her was hoping that what he was going to tell her was something that they could fix together; that it would not force her to lose him forever. She had lost too many important people in her life--- her parents, Ilyana, Piotr, Everett, Angelo, and Logan from time to time. Losing Bobby would be the final straw. Not after being so close for all these years.

His gray eyes intensely gazed at her face. There was a mixture of conviction and fear that played out across his boyish features. He then reached out with his hand and brushed it against her cheek tenderly. ・Jubes....・

・Bobby....・ Her voice was pleading as she placed a small hand over his. It was almost as if she was begging for him to tell what was wrong; how they could be friends again. He made it clear that he could never think of her romantically, so being friends was all she had left. Now that was going to slip away. As much as she did not want to cry, bitter tears began to wet her eyes.

He leaned towards her, his lips brushing against hers. He ran his tongue along her lower lip slowly. In response, her mouth opened and she melted against him. He began to explore her mouth, sliding his tongue along her perfect teeth. He started tracing circles against her tongue, tasting her sweetness. As the kiss deepened, Bobby・s hands braced both sides of her head. His fingers tangled in her thick, silky tresses, pulling her closer to him until there was no space between their bodies. He inhaled her trademark perfume of bubblegum and cinnamon, which made him relish their closeness even more.

Bobby believed he could die happy at this moment. It was better than anything he dreamt or fantasized about during these past few months. There was no thought, no rational voice telling him that this was his friend, no images of Scott and Logan wanting to tear him a new one upon finding out what he was doing. Instead, there was only contentment and a feeling of how right this moment was; even if it would prove to be a brief one depending on what her reaction was going to be after the kiss was over. He only wished that he could have said some of things he had been thinking for some time before he kissed her: You・re amazing. You・re the best thing that・s happened to me in a long time....

Finally, he drew back, wanting to see her reaction. He saw her perplexed face as she placed her fingers over her lips. Those old-soul blue eyes he admired for so long were now blank. There was no anger, no sadness, no guilt, and no happiness. Nothing. Instantly, a wave of apprehension washed over him.

Bobby then concluded that he had gambled and lost. He had to do some quick damage control. ・Jubes, I・m sorry,・ he blurted out, struggling to hide his disappointment. ・I just wanted this for so long and it looks like I・ve screwed it up like I・ve screwed up everything else. If you want, we can forget about this. There・ll be no weirdness, OK? Hell, you can slap me and be pissed off for the next week or two. I・m an idiot.... I・m just.... I・m sorry.・


He sighed, realizing he should leave. He had done enough for one night. Obviously, there was nothing he could do then to repair the effects of his actions. It was clear that he had scared her.

You・ve done it again, Drake---another dysfunctional relationship with yet another female. You・ve definitely got the magic touch. Under different circumstances, he would have smirked.

Jubilee bit her lower lip. ・Bobby?・

・Yeah?・ As much as he did not want to look at her, he found himself once again doing so. It would have been easier if she weren・t so lovely standing there, reminding him what he could never have.

・What did you mean? Before all the weirdness stuff and saying it was OK to be pissed off with you?・ she asked.

He shook his head. ・Nothing. Never mind.・

・No. Tell me. What did you mean?・ Her blue eyes now reflected her puzzlement. They communicated their desire for the truth from him.

Bobby cursed himself for peering into their intriguing depths. He did not want to tell her, not after what happened just now, not after being rejected. Finding himself vulnerable again because of his ineptitude with the opposite sex was not what he had wanted. He was now convinced she had a secondary mutation of eliciting honest thoughts from others. Damn her.

Realizing there was no eloquent way he could phrase what he was thinking or feeling at the moment, he blurted out, ・I just wanted to be with you.・

Jubilee・s sapphire eyes widened in disbelief. For a moment, she almost doubted her hearing. No, it wasn・t possible. Not after all these years. Not after hoping that he would ever.... Besides, he had been with other women who weren・t as inexperienced as she was. What could he possibly see in her? ・Bobby?・

He went on, not wanting to pause for fear of losing his nerve. ・You remember that night I came back early from Joel・s wedding?・

She nodded.

・You were right.・ His gray eyes stared at her beautiful features, searching for an indication that she wanted him as well. So far, she only appeared curious.

・Right about what?・ she asked softly.

He sighed wearily. ・Right about why I・m alone. I don・t want to be hurt again.・

She simply nodded, encouraging him to go on.

・I・ve messed things up in the past and got hurt,・ he continued, shaking his head. ・I guess that stopped me from taking chances because it was my fault those relationships failed. I didn・t want to be with anyone if it meant going through all that again.... Until now.・ His gray eyes peered into her face again.

・But I・m not Lorna,・ she finally whispered, trembling. ・I・m not Emma or Annie. I・m not like any of them....・ After she finished her sentence, tears began to slide freely down her cheeks.

Instinctively, Bobby・s fingers brushed away her tears. Her skin was so soft under his fingertips, just like he had imagined it would be. ・I don・t want them. Not anymore,・ he said quietly, his stomach twisting in knots as if he was on the verge of a breakthrough. She didn・t sound angry or upset, but hopeful?

・Why? I mean, you haven・t exactly seen guys knocking each other side to get to me....・ Her cheeks immediately flushed with embarrassment.

Bobby cupped her beautiful face in his hands, which were shaking as well. His gray eyes bore into her shining, sapphire depths. ・And they・re missing out on the best.・

・Are you sure, Bobby?・ Jubilee whispered, her blue eyes still filled with tears. She wasn・t sure why she was crying now, but knew that she could not control them. ・Are you sure you really want me?・

How could she ask that? ・I found someone better,・ he said quietly, ・I found someone I・m crazy about and I want to spend every second of everyday with. I found someone who makes me feel that everything is right in the world. Not Lorna, not Emma, not Annie, but you, Jubes.・

・Really?・ Her voice matched the hope reflected in her eyes.

He brushed away her tears, stroking her cheeks and then her delicate jaw line. ・I・ve never been more serious in my entire life as I am right now. I haven・t felt this way in a long time. All I really want is you.・

She shuddered against him. ・Bobby....・

He noticed that she was shivering and considered stripping off his shirt to wrap around her. He wasn・t aware that he had lowered the temperature in her room. Given how anxious he was feeling, Bobby wouldn・t be surprised if he had suddenly lost control of his powers temporarily. ・Jubes, are you cold?・

Shaking her head, she suddenly smiled---a beautiful, radiant smile that seemed to lift him in the air. ・It・s just that.... It・s just that I never thought you・d feel the same way,・ she said softly. ・I wanted to be with you.... I just thought you wouldn・t think of me that way.・

Bobby rested his forehead against hers, planting an affectionate kiss on the tip of her nose. ・I・m sorry it took me so long. Can you forgive me?・

She laughed, relieved to hear him say what she had wanted him to say for so long. She shook her head and whispered, ・It doesn・t matter. You・re here now.・

Then she leaned towards him, brushing her lips against his hesitantly. He wrapped his arms around her small waist and pulled her closer to him. Jubilee became more confident in her kiss and circled her arms around Bobby・s neck. Her fingers stroked his hair and his ears gently, sending tingles of excitement throughout his entire body. She would draw back every once in a while to catch a breath, smiling up at him during these pauses. He returned the sentiment; his own smile glowing in the moonlight streaming in from the open bedroom window. Then he kissed her back, tightening his arms around her.

It had been a while since he could remember feeling this elated. Here was someone who actually wanted him---not one of his friends or his teammates--- him, Bobby Drake. Here was someone who returned his affections, not laugh at his intentions or merely humor him. Here was someone who was willing to explore the possibility of happiness with him. After months of confusion followed by weeks of torment about his feelings for her, he now had her where he wanted her. And he was never going to let go.