Angelo stared at his carefully pressed suit, hanging in the closet in a clear plastic cover. It was absolutely irrational, of course, but he was certain that the outfit was grinning at him. 'You're going to put me on in two days,' it seemed to say smugly, 'and something is going to go terribly, awfully wrong'.
"It is not," he told the suit firmly. "I'm going to get married in two days, and everything is going to go *fine*."
He closed the door before it could answer him.
It had all happened surprisingly fast. They'd relocated to the Massechusetts campus (because the ceremony was legally easier in Massechusetts, and because there was a lot more rooms for guests), and Jubilee had set to with her usual energy, cheerfully dumping a series of demands on Xavier and Wolverine, involving flowers and caterers and clothes and cars and all the other things that went to make up a successful wedding. Wolverine had actually seemed to enjoy providing anything and everything his baby girl desired, and as Xavier was too polite to refuse outright, and Jubilee was cheerfully immune to hints, she'd gotten things entirely her own way. Angelo's contribution had been the ceremony itself - he'd located a nice church, an understanding priest, and gone over the vows carefully to pick out the bits that he just knew would upset her. Other than that, he'd elected to let her arrange things however she pleased, as long as she didn't make him do or wear anything embarrassing.
Rogue, surprisingly, had been the biggest help. She and Jubilee had similar taste in wedding extravaganzae (everything, with extra everything), and she'd been a trusty and able lieutenant, terrorizing caterers, cajoling florists, and generally having as much fun as if the wedding she was planning with her own. Marrow had mostly contributed by watching 'the monkey' as she continued to refer to him, and not complaining *too* much about her dress. Everyone else had been either disapproving or wedding-illiterate.
Now everything was arranged, and tonight... he brightened slightly... tonight was his buck's night party. Which Jono was organizing. Jono knew how to party. Tonight was gonna be *fun*.
* * *
"Augh." Jubilee flopped on her bed, throwing an arm theatrically over her eyes. "I wish it was all over."
"So do I," Marrow complained, sprawling in a chair. "Do I really have to wear that stupid dress?"
"Yes, you do." Jubilee said heartlessly. "You're going to look pretty whether you like it or not, so deal."
Marrow grumbled, secretly pleased. The dress *did* look surprisingly good on her. And she was a *bridesmaid*, which was Big Ceremonial Status any way you looked at it. Even Storm hadn't gotten to be a bridesmaid. "Jubilee?" she asked cautiously.
"What's a hen's night, exactly?" She could ask Jubilee these things. Jubilee didn't laugh because she didn't know, just explained it.
"A party for the bride and all her female friends. There's a lot of booze and giggling and if we're lucky, a stripper."
Marrow blinked. "A... stripper?"
"A really cute guy who comes in, does a dance, takes off nearly all his clothes, flirts a bit, then goes away again." Jubilee grinned. "I'm not supposed to be having one."
Marrow looked disappointed. "Why not?"
"Because Angelo gets upset if I lookit other guys parading around in their underwear. He's insecure about it," Jubilee explained. "So I told Rogue not to get one."
That was a pity... hey... "You told *Rogue* not to get you a stripper."
"Rogue *likes* naked guys doing little dances. I've looked in her video collection."
"She's probably going to get one anyway, as a surprise."
Jubilee sat up, grinning wickedly. "I'll be very disappointed in her if she doesn't."
Marrow snickered. This was the sort of devious behaviour she liked. "And you told her not to, so you can tell Angelo that you said no, and Rogue did it anyway."
"See how it all comes together?" Jubilee giggled. "I love Angelo, I really do, and I think he's got a nice bod, but I've never even SEEN a live stripper. It's not much to ask, is it?"
"Not if you don't sleep with him," Marrow decided after a minute. "Or flirt a whole lot."
"That's what I thought." Jubilee nodded. "And we're having it now so's everyone will have time to get over their hangovers before the wedding. Including us."
"But they don't let us drink," Marrow complained, deeply aggrieved at this injustice. Just because Jubilee was 'too young' and Marrow herself 'got too violent'. "It's not fair."
"That's all right," Jubilee said complacently.
"Rogue's doing the punch, too."
* * *
"I would like to propose a toast," Bobby said with the careful enunciation of the more-than-slightly schickered.
Everyone cheered and waved their beer-mugs.
"I'd like to toast this nice man," he pointed to Angelo. "Who is going to marry our li'l Jubilee and make her eskl...exterm... very happy. To Angelelo!"
"To Angelo!" everyone roared cheerfully. It was a good party so far. Some good food, some good jokes, and a lot of very good beer. It wasn't terribly *big*... Jono, Hank, Bobby, Logan, Scott, Remy, Kurt, Piotr, Everett (to show that all was forgiven), Jamie Madrox (who'd been invited because he was there for the wedding anyway and was always fun at parties) and of course Angelo himself.
"I'd like to make a toast too," Scott beamed. He'd loosened up amazingly after the fourth round. "To Angelo's new son."
"To Angelo's new son!" Cheers and clinking of glasses.
"And to all those that'll come along later!" Jamie added with a grin and a nudge.
"Yeah," Logan agreed. "To my grandkids, present and future." He thumped Angelo fondly on the back, and Angelo spilt most of his beer. "Eventually, mind. Not right away."
"Definitely not," Angelo agreed hastily. Everyone drank solemnly, and another round was poured.
Jono stood up, waving for attention. <*Fellows, we're coming to the best part of the evening now...*>
"The stripper!" Jamie carolled gleefully.
Angelo groaned. "Oh no, you didn't... I *told* you, no stripper!"
"Why not?" Bobby complained.
"Because I told Jubilee I didn't want *her* to have one. So I can't have one either. That's fair." Angelo went so far as to put down his beer. "You promised."
<*I promised not to *hire* a stripper,*> Jono corrected, giving the impression that he was grinning.
Everyone had to think about that for a minute.
"And how exactly did you get around that?" Angelo asked suspiciously. "Barter?"
<*No,*> Jono said smugly. <*It's in th' nature of a favour.*> He grinned at Logan, who grinned back. <*A little arrangement between friends. And she's not really a stripper, neither, just a friend wot's gonna give us a bit of a dance.*>
"Madre di Dios..." Angelo groaned. "What did you DO?!"
<*Me? Nothing.*> Jono ostentatiously changed the CD in the stereo, his hand hovering over the play button. <*I swear, it was all Wolverine's idea.*>
Logan grinned complacently at his prospective son-in-law's panicked look. "Ain't nothin'," he said magnanimously. "Betsy practically volunteered, once I brought it up."
The music started. A slender leg appeared 'round the door. The cheering and whistling quite drowned out Angelo's panicked whimper.
* * *
"Presents!" Rogue announced. Since the wedding was going to be on Jubilee's birthday, they'd arranged that she'd get the wedding presents on the day, and a round of more ...personal gifts at the hen's party. "Me first." She handed Jubilee a white box with a lavish green bow on top. "Go on, open it."
Jubilee did so, and beamed. "Oh, it's *lovely*!" She held up the delicate silk negligee to show everyone, admiring the shimmering blue fabric.
"Ah thought you'd like it," Rogue grinned.
Storm gave her a repressive look (they'd felt too guilty not to invite her), and held out her own rather large gift. "To show that I wish you well, Jubilation, always."
Jubilee smiled as nicely as she could, and unwrapped... she blinked. "Storm, did you actually buy this yourself? For *me*?"
"Yes, of course!" Storm suddenly looked worried. "Do you not like it?"
Jubilee held up the blue velvet gown and gazed at it. It was long, and a little more demure than most of her dresses, but it was nonetheless an exceptionally beautiful one. "Storm, I love it! Thank you." She folded it up carefully and tucked it into its box.
"My gift seems to coincide nicely with the dress," Monet volunteered, holding out a small box.
"Thanks M... hey, it does, too!" Jubilee admired the heavy gold-and-sapphire bracelet, which had obviously been made to match the rest of her one nice set of jewelery. "Thank you!"
"Me next," Cecelia volunteered. She was on her third glass of the alchoholic punch, and had relaxed visibly. Her box clinked.
Jubilee opened it cautiously, and began to giggle. "Chocolate flavoured everything! Body-paint... body-topping... massage oil... chocolates shaped like little... and chocolate flavoured... things." She blushed a bit. "Cece, you've been hiding a wild streak." There was a mass leaning-over to see, and a sudden spate of giggles.
Cecilia giggled too. "I couldn't resist the chance you see your face when you opened it," she confessed.
"Ha-ha," Jubilee blushed. "Who's next... thanks, Jean." She shredded the silver tissuepaper eagerly. "Champagne... very *old* champagne. Jean, this is older than me and Angelo put together!"
"I know," Jean said proudly. "It was the best bottle I could find." She winked. "It's for... after the party."
Jubilee giggled. "Champagne, lingerie, and the naughtiest chocolate assortment I've ever seen. This is shaping up to be a good night." All the women giggled. "Next!"
After a bit of nudging, Marrow held out her present shyly. It was wrapped rather clumsily in blue paper, with a blue bow perched jauntily on the top. "Here," she mumbled, looking a bit pinker than usual.
"Aw, thanks..." Jubilee eagerly tore into the wrapping paper and opened the box. "Oh my..." she slammed the lid down, blushing furiously. "Sarah, you... I... where on earth did you *find* this?!"
"Don't you like it?" Marrow asked anxiously. She'd tried so hard to find something suitable! Rogue had explained the tradition and she'd thought this seemed just right...
"I'm never, ever going to have the nerve to wear it!" Jubilee sneaked another peek, and blushed harder than ever. "But if I do, Angelo's brain is going to explode." There was an immediate rush to get a look at the contents of the box, which Jubilee clasped to her defensively. "No! Back! Nobody is ever seeing this except my husband!" Her cheeks were still flaming as she grinned at Marrow. "Thanks. I like it. And Angelo is going to adore you forever."
Marrow beamed. "Good."
"Pony up, Paige," Jubilee demanded as soon as her face had cooled down a bit. "Where's my present?"
"Here," Paige held out a small oblong package. "Enjoy."
Jubilee hefted it suspiciously. "Paige, this is suspiciously booklike."
Paige smiled seraphically. "It is, isn't it?"
"You wouldn't try to improve my mind on my last-but-one night as a free woman, would you?"
"Well..." the blonde girl grinned wickedly. "Not your *mind*, no..."
The paper vanished in an instant. "The Colour Illustrated Kama Sutra? Hayseed, I never knew you had it in you!" Jubilee was blushing again, but giggling too.
"Ah could make a hideously dirty joke about what ya just said, but Ah won't," Paige said virtuously.
"Aww, go on... no? Well, we've done everyone except Emma, 'cause she got me my wedding dress...Hey, Betts! You missed the presents!" Jubilee shook her head, grinning. "Where'd you go?"
"Just had a favour to do for a friend," Psylocke said mildly, slipping back into her place and reaching for her abandoned glass of wine. If one looked closely, it was possible to discern a slight flush on her lovely face. "And I had to get your present."
"Forgiven, then. Fork it over!" Jubilee held out her hands.
"It's birthday-present and wedding gift in one, so you'll have to share it with Angelo," Psylocke cautioned, handing over a tiny box.
Jubilee nodded, shaking the box curiously. Did it rattle ever so slightly? She upended it, her usual impulsiveness only enhanced by the Special Punch.
It was a keyring.
With a key on it.
Rogue looked from key to Betsy to key. "Didn't Ah see you driving a new car with a baby seat in it yesterday, Betts?" she asked sweetly. "The nice shiny blue Mustang?"
"I know it's a little cliché, but-" Betsy was swarmed under by an enthusiastic hug as Jubilee carolled her thanks happily. "Yes, yes, I'm glad you like it." She smiled fondly at the girl, reflecting on the long, hard struggle she'd had to win her trust, and, later, her friendship. "Don't crash it."
"I won't... oh wow... a car! A real car!" Back in her seat, Jubilee was still bouncing happily. "Angelo's gonna be *so* thrilled!" Actually, Angelo would probably be so thrilled that he'd never let her drive it, but that was okay. She didn't have a license yet anyway.
"Speaking of thrilled..." Rogue had sidled over to the CD player, and had a guilty grin on her face.
"Rogue..." Jubilee shook her head reproachfully. "And after I told you not to."
"You said not to *hire* a stripper!" Rogue defended. Nobody noticed Betsy splutter slightly at that particular line. "You didn't say Ah couldn't ask a favour from a friend to come and, oh, entertain us some..."
"That's true. I didn't." Jubilee giggled. "Who is it?"
"Yeah!" everyone else chimed in. "Whowhowho?!"
Rogue twinkled impishly. "Ah can't help but notice that Jubes and Cece are a bit... flushed," she giggled, laughing almost too hard to get the words out. "Would there be *another* doctor in the house?"
"Why, there might indeed," said a suspiciously solemn and ever-so-slightly inebriated voice. "How very fortunate that I stopped by. And with my frosty-fingered assistant, too."
The screeches and whistles were deafening.
* * *
A little while later, Angelo was out on the porch sipping a glass of water, as a half-hearted gesture towards hangover prevention. Wolverine was sitting beside him, happily slurping down yet another beer. "I'm gonna kill you as soon as I'm sober," Angelo informed his prospective father-in-law seriously. "Jubilee'll understand when I explain."
"No you won't," Wolverine said with equal solemnity. "Because by the time yer sober, *I'll* be sober too."
"That's true," Angelo agreed. "That could pose a problem."
"It could." Wolverine nodded. "An' then Jubilee'd get upset."
"And we don't want her to get upset." Angelo sighed regretfully. "I suppose you get to live, then."
"It's not like you enjoyed it, anyway." Wolverine grinned the smug grin of a man who'd been right up front whistling and cheering the entire time, and gotten a garter on his nose. "You and Scott were both hidin' at the back o' the room."
"I never thought I'd ever have something in common with Summers," Angelo mused drunkenly. "But he was even more frightened of looking than I was. Why was he frightened?"
"'Cause Jeannie knows he's lusted fer Betsy before," Wolverine said sagely. "If she found out he'd been watchin' her strip down to her best uniform..."
"Ahh." Angelo nodded. That made sense. Scott was a smart man, then. "Wolverine?"
"Call me Logan," he grunted. "Yer practically family now."
"Thanks." Angelo was deeply touched. He'd been put on a first name basis by the man whose baby he was stealing away. "I appreciate that."
"No problem. As long as you make Jubilee happy, yer all right with me." Logan patted the boy's shoulder in a comradely manner. He really was a good kid. Took good care of Jubilee and her baby.
"Ditto." Angelo basked in the friendly feeling on the porch and tried to remember. Had he been going to ask something? Oh yes... "Logan?"
"I just want you to know," Angelo said solemnly, putting his glass down to lean forward. "That I love Jubilee very, very much. More than anything. In the whole world. The whole galaxy. The whole universe, even." He waved an arm expansively, nearly knocking Logan's beer out of his hand. "I love Jubilee more than *everything*. And I want you to know that I'm going to take esktremely good care of her. And of Michael." His eyes misted over. Angelo had always been a sentimental drunk. "Michael too, yeah. My little boy. Our little boy. I'll take esktra good care of both of 'em."
Logan put down his beer and wrung the younger man's hand, deeply moved. "I know ya will, kid," he agreed. "I may've been a little sush... suspishus right a' first, but I know now that yer th' best, the *only* one fer my little girl."
"You two are drunk." Jubilee stood in the doorway, grinning at both of them. "Really, really drunk. Good fer you it's cute."
Logan sniffed. "You've been drinkin' too, darlin'," he said disapprovingly.
"Only a couple glasses of slightly spiked punch," Jubilee defended, moving outside to join them. She plopped herself down on Angelo's lap and twined her arms around his neck. "Rogue and Emma were both watchin' me like mommy hawks."
Angelo hugged her close, smelling perfume and warm skin and the faintest hint of alchohol. "Well, it's our party night." He cleared his throat nervously. "An' speaking of parties... uh... you know how Jono organized mine?"
"An' I told him no stripper?"
"I should hope so, after you said *I* couldn't have one," Jubilee said sternly, but with a twinkle in her eyes.
Angelo pointed a wobbly finger at Logan. "Well *he* got Psylocke to show up and strip down to her uniform," he accused. "And dance, too."
Jubilee started to giggle. "Aha, so *that's* where she went! A favour for a friend, huh?"
"Yup," Logan said complacently. "She thought it was a hoot."
"I'll just bet she did," Jubilee giggled. "You and yer jokes, Wolvie."
Angelo gave her a hopeful look. "You're not cross? I did *say* not to."
Jubilee kissed the tip of his nose gently. "I know it was only a joke, love, so I won't be if you won't."
Her fiance's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Meaning?"
"Rogue pulled the same stunt." Jubilee giggled at the looks on both their faces. "I *told* her not to, I swear I did, but she wriggled out of it. Well, sort of... it was more of a comedy routine than a strip-show."
Logan leaned over to her. And sniffed. And started to laugh so hard that he spilled his beer all over himself. "*Drake*!?!"
Jubilee nodded, grinning. "And Hank, too. It was a two-man act. They started with a strip down to the costumes... well, tighter versions of the usual, but still, blue spandex underpants. Then they tap-danced for a bit, then they finished up with the Bobster kissin' all the ladies under a portable spring of mistletoe, and Hank carryin' Cece off over his shoulder an' he was making caveman noises."
Angelo and Logan were both spluttering with laughter. "That's even better than ours," Angelo said weakly. "Psylocke just stripped down to her skimpiest uniform, did a little dance, then..." he blushed a bit. "Well, flirted a bit before she left."
"Yer man here was hidin' down the back the whole time," Logan tattled. "Too embarrassed to look." He grinned wickedly. "Thought he'd faint when Betts sat in his lap."
Seeing Jubilee scowl, Angelo tightened his hold on her and kissed the side of her neck. "She was just kidding, love," he reassured. "And you're nicer to have in my lap, honest."
"I am?" Jubilee pouted uncertainly. "Why?"
"Because you're lighter," Angelo said seriously. "Psylocke nearly squashed me. Call me sexist, but I like a lady I can pick up without hurting myself."
Jubilee giggled once again. "Oh. Okay." She kissed him warmly, and that went on for quite a while.
"I'll just go get some more beer," Logan said mildly.
He grinned, and ambled off in search of more beer. There was relative silence for some time. Then Angelo reluctantly pried his lips away. "We agreed on waiting," he chided gently.
"I know. But that doesn't mean we can't make out for a while, does it?" Jubilee nuzzled his neck.
"It does if I'm too drunk to have any self-control." He fended her off firmly, planting one more kiss on her soft lips before sliding her off his lap and onto the couch beside him, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She pouted, and he hugged her gently. " Just two more nights, amante," he said softly. "And we'll be married. Together forever."
Jubilee nodded, snuggling against him. "I'm looking forward to it."
"Me too." He kissed the top of her head. "All mine forever."
"Yours and Michael's," she corrected firmly. "You've got to share me with him."
Angelo nodded absently. "Him and the others," he said absently. "Got toasted for that."
Jubilee stiffened under his arm. "Others?"
"You know. Other kids," Angelo explained vaguely. "One day..."
She relaxed again. "As long as you don't mean right now," she observed. "'Cause it's, like, gonna be years until I wanna go through that again. Gettin' too huge fer words then having to push it all out..."
Angelo looked down at her tenderly. "Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are when you're pregnant?" he asked softly.
Jubilee eyed him suspiciously. "Yeah, but I thought you were lying to make me feel better about looking like a toothpick with an olive on it."
"I wasn't." Angelo took her hand and gazed soulfully at her. "You looked incredibly beautiful. And desirable. Especially when you'd put your hand on your stomach and get that dreamy little look on your face." His eyes misted over again. "It used to just turn my heart inside out every time."
"Really?" Jubilee gave him a slightly worried look.
Angelo nodded. "You looked like... like an angel," he said with drunken determination.
She pouted ever so slightly. "What about now?"
Adoring grey-brown eyes focused on her with some difficulty. "Now you look like a fairy," Angelo said solemnly. "All little and perfect. And pretty."
She beamed at him, mollified at once. "Aww..." He was certainly adorable when he was drunk and happy.
"Your hair's getting long," he noted absently, running one silky strand of it through his fingers. "Nearly past your shoulders."
"Mhm. Haven't had a chance to get it cut in a while." And she just couldn't quite make herself do what Angelo himself did, which was put it in a ponytail then chop the whole thing off to the proper length.
"I like it," he decided. "It's nice. It's nice short, too, mind you. Makes you look like a pikx... a pixkie. All pretty and sparkly. Longer makes you look older and more fairyish. They've all got long hair in the pictures." He kissed the top of her head gently. "Either way, I think you're perfect, but then I'm terribibly biased."
Older? Longer hair made her look older? Long it would be! "Good. And I think you're pretty nifty, too." She kissed him one more time, then stood up. "I gotta go, though. Michael's gonna be fussing soon."
"Yeah... I'll see you tomorrow," Angelo said wistfully. They'd been sleeping in separate rooms since they arrived, in a little nod to propriety, and he missed them both dreadfully. "Panicking, probably."
* * *
"Hank... you know I appreciate how strongly you've supported this whole getting-married idea, right?"
"And I've come to consider you a friend. An amigo."
"Entirely mutual, I assure you."
"And I think it's great how you want everything to go perfectly tomorrow."
"I do my best. Could you lift your arm?"
Angelo lifted his arm resignedly, letting Hank examine his hand as the younger man sat shirtless and chilly on the examining table. "I just don't understand why I need this eleventh-hour physical, you know what I'm saying?"
"I quite understand," Hank agreed mildly, twiddling at the hand thoughtfully. "It was Jubilee's idea. She said it would adequately engage your attention, thereby preventing the onset of unnecessary anxiety. Wiggle your fingers, please."
Angelo wiggled his fingers, which were currently stretched half way across the room. "Does that mean that she wants me kept busy so I won't panic?"
"Precisely." Hank had given up on the arm and was feeling his way down the fingers. "I do admit, her claims that your body actually seems to alter its physiognomy slightly according to your mood were most interesting."
"Uh-huh." Angelo watched for a minute as Hank squeezed and poked his way down another foot of Angelo's index finger. "What exactly are you doing?"
"Looking for bones," Hank explained, poking at a promising looking nobble. "They must be in here somewhere."
"Uh... Hank, I only control my skin. Not my bones. They stay attached." Angelo gave the fuzzy doctor a suspicious look.
"That's what we all thought, yes." Hank eyed a little kink in the pinky finger with interest. "But I've already checked your hand and I couldn't find any finger bones. They must be up here somewhere." He prodded hopefully at the pinky and scowled. "Drat... they must be *somewhere*. They can't have just disappeared."
Angelo was goggling at him. "What do you *mean* you can't find my finger-bones?!"
"Well, they're not on the end of your hand, and they don't seem to be anywhere in your fingers... suck your fingers back in again, would you?"
Angelo's fingers snapped back to his hand so fast his fingernails nearly got whiplash. "WHERE ARE MY FINGER BONES?!" he yelled at the top of his voice.
Hank poked the grey fist experimentally. "Oh look, they're back. How interesting."
"*Interesting*?!" Angelo squeaked, hyperventilating. "I lost the entire contents of my *fingers* without even *knowing* about it and you say it's *INTERESTING*?!?!"
"All right, fascinating then," Hank agreed amiably. "Would you extend again for a moment?"
"Not until you tell me where my fingers are going to be!"
Hank gave him a testy look. "You've done this a hundred times, Angelo. Your finger bones have always come back before, haven't they?"
"Well... si..." Angelo looked worriedly at his hand. "But that was before I knew they *went*."
"I sincerely doubt that they actually disappear," Hank observed. "Spontaneous bone dissolution and reformation is hardly congruent with your other powers. Given that this is so, I would like you to extend your hand to... oh, say the window... then allow me to scan your arm." He poked Angelo's arm with a dissatisfied expression. "They can't possibly just be disappearing."
Angelo looked down at his arm, then nodded reluctantly. "I'm not gonna be happy until I know where they're going now," he admitted. "Okay, let's do it."
Ten minutes later, he was looking over Hank's shoulder as the doctor held two of the scans up to the light. "They just look like arms to me," he said in a disappointed tone. "With stubby little hands with no finger bones."
"An incorrect analysis, my boy," Hank said cheerfully. "I have located your delinquent digits."
"Oh yeah?" Angelo leaned further. "Where?"
"There." Hank pointed to the flipper-like hand. "See the thickness of the lines? Your fingers actually seem to have folded back over the back of your hands."
Angelo made a gagging noise. "That's *gross*."
"But practical. Where your digits to retain their normal configuration, the stresses and pressures on them when you put your weight on the extended skin could well do them damage. Instead they collapse into the single flexible flipperlike appendage that you see here." He looked around and blinked. "Angelo?"
"What?" Angelo was still trying to pick out his finger-bones. He'd never thought to worry about them before, but now...
"Are you aware that your neck is currently two feet long?"
Angelo looked down, belatedly realizing that he'd extended to get a better view. "Uh... this is what I do when I can't see from where I am," he said lamely.
Two enormous blue hands were already poking at the back of his neck. "I can't feel any vertebrae.... Wriggle, would you?"
"I can't, it makes me seasick... no, no way, you are *not* going to stick my *neck* into that machine!"
"Don't you want to know where your vertebrae are?"
"I'm going to take it on faith that they're in my body somewhere." Angelo backed away, hastily sucking his neck down to its proper length. "If a man can't trust his own vertebrae to stand by him, what can he trust?"
Hank pouted. "But *I* want to know where the vertebrae are. I'll be up all night wondering."
"You can wonder. I'm not putting my neck in anything that closes."
"Aw..." Hank brightened suddenly. "I know, you can hop into the full-body scanner. It'll only take a moment. Just off-"
"If you say off with my clothes, McCoy, you'd better be offering me a robe with your other hand," Angelo said threateningly.
"Angelo, I am a *doctor*." Hank gave him a sternly professional look. "I won't stare."
"I don't care what you are, I don't do nudity." Angelo blushed. "I want a little robe."
Hank opened his mouth to say no, don't be foolish... and then closed it again. "All right," he agreed mildly. "I'll get one."
Jubilee was hanging around outside looking inquisitive. "I heard screams," she said brightly. "Did you scare him or something?"
"A little. I temporarily lost his fingers, but don't worry, I found them again." Hank looked around the outer room and frowned. "You wouldn't happen to know where the little paper robes are?"
"In here." Jubilee kicked a cupboard, and it swung open. "Refusing to get naked again, huh?"
Hank nodded. No point in keeping it from her if she knew already. "Has he always been so self-conscious?"
"You kidding? He gets twitchy about taking all his clothes off for ME if it's daylight." Jubilee pulled out a little pink paper robe and held it out. "If he says he wants a blue one, tell him I said pink looks better on him. It gives him some colour."
Hank nodded, smothering a grin. "Very well. Uh... Jubilee... Angelo does not strike me as a particularly... modest individual. Certainly not around his fiancee. Why is removing his clothing such an issue?"
Jubilee smiled wryly at him. "He's not exactly up to the X-men standard of muscularity," she pointed out. "And his shoulderblades stick out. And he's kinda... droopy. Still hasn't quite gotten the hang of sucking all the skin in just right. Which is okay for the bits of him that he can SEE, because he can just watch and wiggle things around until it looks right, but around the back he's never quite sure unless I'm there to check for him, which spooks him a bit because he worries it'll put me off."
"Ah. I see." Hank trotted back into the exam-room, clutching the little pink robe. He could relate to poor body image. There was nothing like knuckles that dragged on the ground to help you relate to poor body image.
"*Pink*?!" Angelo complained loudly.
"Your ever-lovely fiance informed me that pink suited you," Hank said sweetly. "Given that you have often defended her taste in matters of colour, I thought it best to take her advice."
"Hmp." Angelo took the robe with a resigned sigh. "No peeking."
"I assure you, I have no intention of peeking," Hank said loftily, starting up the large scanner. He wished they'd done this back at the Mansion, with all his best equipment, but he could always get the boy down into the lab another time. Anyway, at least it was keeping him from fretting. "If I were going to peek, I would peek at, say, Ororo. Or Betsy. Or Cecilia. Which I do not do, because I do not peek."
Angelo made a scoffing noise somewhere behind him.
"Oh, all right. I do peek at Cecilia," Hank conceded with a small, smug grin. "But only because I know she doesn't mind at all."
"Better." Angelo slid back into view, scowling down at the dainty pink paper robe. It had a daisy on the front, something he was blaming on Sean, who got the things from Moira, who got them wholesale. "I feel stupid."
"Everyone does when they wear those things," Hank said, not without sympathy. "At least you don't have to get them custom made."
Angelo looked at the couch-like blue shoulders and nodded, stepping into the machine. "Point. Okay, what do you want me to stretch?"
"Everything," Hank said absently.
There was a long pause.
"When I say everything, I mean all four limbs, torso, and neck," Hank said evenly, trying not to blush. "Nothing... else."
"Good," came the rather muffled voice.
"Yes, well... let us begin."
* * *
Jubilee paced up and down, bouncing her son gently against her shoulder. "Shh... shhh..." she murmured soothingly. The excitement was getting to him, and he was fussy. She didn't mind.
His eyes were changing colour. They'd started out blue, but they were deepening to what might be hazel. Or brown. Probably hazel. There was green in there.
She glanced in the mirror at her own eyes, which had once been brown but had faded somehow to a bright, almost unnatural blue. She wasn't sure how it had happened. Still, if people could grow purple hair and pupilless eyes and extra appendages as a result or side-effect of mutant powers, she figured having your eyes turn blue wasn't a big deal.
Yes, she silently informed her reflection, she was avoiding thinking about the wedding.
No, it wasn't because she didn't want to get married. She did. She very much liked the idea. Given the massive upheavals she'd experienced in her rather short life, a mere lifelong commitment to one person - as opposed to a Dream, a Team, or a Way Of Life - was quite restful and unintimidating.
It was just... the wedding. All that planning and everything. It was going to be an Event. And if something went wrong, there was going to be murder done.
She'd get Marrow to do it. Marrow was being as helpful as she could, which was mostly a hinderance, but something about the idea of elaborate ceremonies and menacing everyone to make them do it right just seemed to speak to something inside Marrow's head. The florist had already been reduced to silent, terrified obedience, and Jubilee honestly pitied the X-Person who tried to steal an hors d'oevre before the ceremony. Apparently the Morlocks had had a deep and fervent belief in rituals. Any kind of rituals.
Against all the odds, she was starting to rather like Marrow.
Michael had calmed down now, and was dozing, his little fist curled gently against her neck. It was absolutely impossible to be nervous when he did that, and she cooed softly, stroking his small back. He'd grown such a lot already... from being a tiny, scrawny thing with huge eyes and a fluff of brown-black hair, to a small, serene person with a wise little expression that, to his doting mother's eyes, clearly signalled his immanent genius.
Wolvie said he looked like he was always just contemplating taking a really big dump, but HE had obviously never had a little baby of his very own, or he wouldn't say such silly things.
She was rambling. But that was okay. Mental rambling on the day before one's wedding was entirely permissible. And if she wanted to, she could panic, too. Only she couldn't, because if she did, Angelo was going to collapse in nervous hysterics.
"Daddy's terribly nervous," she murmured to Michael, who bubbled a little in his sleep. "He thinks something's going to go wrong. But it isn't. Because Rogue and Marrow aren't going to let it. They're being Wedding Bouncers, as well as bridesmaids."
Angelo was worried about that, too. For some reason, he didn't quite trust Marrow yet. Jubilee didn't really either, but she did't really have to. She'd figured out that all you had to do was tell Marrow that this was a Very Important Ritual, then give her a list of things that weren't supposed to happen during it. It kept her amused and out of the way, and if any Hand Ninjas or anything showed up, well, they'd only themselves to blame. Marrow had been shown pictures of the kinds of people who weren't allowed to come to the wedding.
Rogue, on the other hand, was in charge of making sure that things that WERE supposed to happen DID happen, and on schedule. She'd accomplished this so far with an even mixture of sweetness and terrible threats, and Jubilee was quite confident that this would continue to work.
Her dress was ready, too. And she'd already assembled something old (her heirloom engagement ring), something new (the dress itself), something borrowed (Emma had loaned her a pair of diamond-drop earrings that sparkled very nicely), and something blue (the gold-and-sapphire bracelet that Monet had given her). Veil, shoes, and underwear were also ready and waiting. And Emma had promised to hold Michael during the ceremony, and he had a darling little white outfit to wear, that included an absolutely adorable little beanie. And if he threw up on it or something, there was an equally adorable pale blue outfit as backup.
Everything was as organized as it was going to get.
The butterflies in her stomach, therefore, had no business being there and should take themselves elsewhere.
Logic, however, means very little to butterflies.
* * *
"Well, well..." Hank mused, gazing in fascination at the computer-screen. "That DOES explain a great deal, now that I think of it..."
"What?" Angelo, fully dressed again, peered over his shoulder and tried to interpret the gobbledygook on the screen. "What does it explain?"
"It seems that the assumptions we have made about your powers are... not entirely accurate," Hank said slowly, trying to remember to use short, easy words. "Your skin stretches, we know that... but there is more. It appears that skin is not the only thing you have in unusual abundance."
Angelo thought about that for a second, then frowned. "You mean I've got more of other stuff?"
"Indeed you do." Hank looked at the results again. "Muscle, for a beginning. You MUST do, since skin is not, in and of itself, capable of motion. Also your cardiovascular and nervous systems must extend to match, otherwise you would have no feeling in the extended skin, and it would turn black and fall off."
Angelo gave him a long, hard look. "And none of this occurred to you before?"
"I've been busy," Hank defended weakly. Actually, now that Jubilee had drawn his attention to the matter, he was wondering how on earth he could have missed it. "I suspect that one of the reasons you have been unable to fully control your powers is because you have been trying to consciously control a very small portion of them, and the remainder of... well, of your body... has been reacting involuntarily."
"Oh." Angelo thought about this some more. "So... how much of my body CAN I control?"
"Eventually... probably pretty much all of it," Hank said, looking at the scans again. At one point, Angelo had extended his torso quite a bit. The disassociating vertebra and flexing ribs hadn't been so bad, but watching the boy's internal organs rearranging themselves into a much longer, narrower configuration had given Hank rather a turn. He didn't know HOW they'd not gotten disconnected from each other, but when he'd returned to normal they'd all snapped back into their normal places, and sat there looking smug. "Although I'd leave everything from the neck up alone, were I you."
Angelo nodded. "No messing with the brainpan," he agreed, looking a bit nervous. "That's a thing only really, really stupid people do."
"Amen," Hank agreed fervently. "But if you wanted to... ahem... bulk up a little, that shouldn't be any problem. You HAVE the muscle mass, you just keep folding it back up into the bodyshape you're used to."
"Really?" Angelo gave himself a thoughtful look. "I wondered why all the excercise and stuff wasn't making any difference..."
"Habit is a powerful thing, when it comes to mutant powers," Hank said, with a rather rueful smile. "Shapeshifters and body-manipulators of various sorts almost always have a 'real' shape that they return to simply out of habit."
"Huh." Angelo held out his hands in front of him and looked at them speculatively. "'s it possible to change the habit-shape?"
"I don't know," Hank admitted. "As far as I know, nobody's ever tried."
* * *
It was exactly 13 hours to Zero Hour.
Rogue had drafted Paige and Monet, and was doing a last minute inventory. Chairs had to be counted. Special reinforced or unusually shaped chairs for certain guests had to be checked. Someone had to jump up and down on every single table, to be sure it wouldn't collapse under the food in the morning. Tablecloths, napkins, plates, serving dishes, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, teacups, napkin-rings, vases, and candy dishes all had to be recounted and organized for maximum efficiency in preparation for tomorrow's deployment. And someone had to check all the seating arrangements again, just to be certain that nobody had accidentally been seated next to a life-long enemy, an ex, or an ex's new partner.
Marrow was patrolling the grounds, playfully stalking squirrels and bunnies and other furry animals. She quite liked being outside at night. It was cool and dark, there were lots of stars above her, plenty of little morsels wandering about on fuzzy feet or fluttering overhead, and Rogue couldn't make her count any more cutlery. Rogue, Marrow felt, was getting a bit hysterical about the cutlery. So what if there weren't quite enough forks? All the guests had fingers to eat with, didn't they?
Wolverine was out in the grounds too, sitting on a treestump, smoking a cigar, and giving thought to life in general and weddings in particular. They weren't entirely happy thoughts, but they weren't all sad ones, either.
Hank was still messing happily with his newfound data, oblivious to the passage of time. He'd very much needed this break from his work on Legacy, and he felt that exploring the true nature of mutancy would help him come back to it with a fresh perspective. Besides, it was nice to study someone who was alive and healthy for a while.
Emma was sitting in her study, doing paperwork as a signal that she was calm and collected and not the slightest bit worried about this. She didn't really like the idea of them getting married so young, but, unfortunately, she hadn't been able to bring herself to agree with Xavier and Storm, so she'd approved it on principle. Now all she could do was hope for the best, and sign things.
Everyone else had gone to bed, to hide from Rogue.
Angelo was curled up in a ball, hugging a pillow in his sleep. All the stretching and so on he'd had to do for Hank had worn him out, but even in his sleep he missed having Jubilee beside him... but it was only for one more night. Even in his sleep, he knew that.
Jubilee was asleep too, but restlessly, plagued by dreams of Wedding Disasters. In one, all the guests turned into pigeons and she had to find pigeon food for 200. In another, the MLF all showed up, and they had invitations so they had to be let in. The third, and worst, dream involved her hen's night, with all her presents turning into algebraic formulae and the Blob jumping out of a cake.
Michael was awake, just at this moment, and gazing thoughtfully upwards. He'd discovered that if he turned his head a little, he could see out of the window, where lots of little lights blinked at him in a friendly sort of way. He blinked back, sucking his fist thoughtfully, until he felt sleepy again, and then he went back to sleep... the only person in the entire school with absolutely nothing on his mind.
It was twelve hours and forty-five minutes until Zero Hour.
(End Part 13)
(Next... the wedding! Finally!)