I was digging in the fridge for a cold one when Jubilee and Drake blew in from a Danger Room session and started at it again.
"Hey, gimme that back!"
"Finders keepers, Jube. You ate the last of the Sugar Bombs, I get the last of these."
'These,' it turned out, were the tail end of a bag of chips, and Drake was currently using his ten-inch advantage in height to hold the bag out of Jubilee's reach. Dumb move really, and I heard the 'oof' just as I went back to excavating the bottom shelf. Yep, sounded like an elbow in the gut, and believe me, that kid's got some sharp elbows. Aha, there's the beauty I was looking for, hiding in the very back.
The sound of mylar rustling and Jubilee's giggling and Bobby grunting and protesting her underhanded tactics was damned annoying, and it ratcheted up about ten notches when I pulled my brew out and read the label. Diet cherry-chocolate soda, with a crust on the rim of some unknown leftover. I slapped it back down on the shelf and shut the fridge with a little more force than was strictly necessary. It must have caught Fric and Frak's attention, 'cause the two looked up from a tangle of arms, legs, and scattered chip flotsam on the floor. For some reason, that just pissed me off a little bit more.
"Dammit, you two, why don't you grow up?"
Bobby actually looked a bit embarrassed at my growled demand, but Jubilee just propped herself on his back and narrowed her eyes at me. "Wolvie, when's the last time you got laid?"
I dunno if Drake laughed or barked, but I was beginning to get really riled. "None of your damned business," I snarled. Jubilee may not have been a teenager any longer - heck, she graduated from college almost a year ago, but I was not about to discuss my sex life, or lack thereof, with her now or ever.
"Uh huh," she said archly, extricating herself from Drake and pulling him up off the floor with ease. She wasn't super strong like Rogue; she was just in damn good shape. She brushed the chips out of her messy black hair and pulled a broom out of the utility closet, and I caught myself noticing the nice way she filled out her uniform. I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets. Crap, maybe she was right.
"I'm goin' out fer a beer," I announced.
"No, you're not," Jube had the nerve to reply, as she thwacked Bobby in the chest with a dustpan and started sweeping the mess up. "We got mutant time at the petting zoo tonight, remember?"
I muttered something obscene, which only got another chortle from Jube. Damn, damn, and double damn. Chuck had some stupid benefit or other in New York tonight, guaranteed to be excruciating, and we'd all promised to show up. Show everybody what nice mutants really looked like. Freaks on flamin' parade. I stomped off and just made it out the door into the main hall when Jube grabbed my arm from behind. Her eyes darted to Bobby through the doorway.
"Hank and Popsicle Boy have a half case of Moulson in the laboratory fridge," she whispered. "Hank's not due back for an hour, and I'll keep Bobby busy for ya." Then she winked at me.
Impulsively I grabbed her by the ears and planted a wet one on her forehead. "Jube, you're the best."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she replied, grinning.
I left a twenty on the shelf where the beer used to be and went back upstairs to find my monkey suit. Not even for Xavier would I wear a tie, but Jubilee had nagged me until I'd finally let her drag me out shopping to get some clothes. Everything was in black, so I didn't have to worry about matching stuff. Clean shirt, pants, and a jacket, and a bolo tie that was a quick slide on or off, and I never had to worry about the knot being square.
Between the beer and the painless clothing choices, I was feeling better by muster time. Seven adults and an hour-long ride into the city demanded two cars, and I was convincing the Professor's collapsible wheelchair it would fit in the trunk of the BMW when Jubilee finally made it down the stairs. I was busy and didn't look at her just then. I mean, cripes, you can hear that girl a mile away even when she's trying to be quiet. You'd think I'd never taught her a thing about stealthy movement.
I finally shut the lid and then I got a look at her as she was climbing in the back of Bobby's new convertible. I'm not sure what the style was called, but it was made of blue cobwebs and showed one bare shoulder and nearly all of one leg, and was definitely not designed to cover while its wearer climbed over a bucket seat.
"What the hell are you wearin', kid?"
She stood up straight, and I guess it did look better if she held perfectly still, but she pulled her sunglasses down and glared at me. "Don't start, Wolvie."
I held up my hands, signaling surrender, so she flopped down in the seat and pulled the shawl, excuse me, wrap, over her shoulders. I took shotgun, and Bobby made us all put on our seatbelts before we followed the Beamer out of the drive and out onto the highway.
Scott drives like a little old lady and I could see 'Ro and Jean gabbing away in the back seat, obviously not in any hurry, so it took us a while to reach this shindig. I listened to Drake bragging about the car, and Jubilee bitching about the back seat being too small, and could he turn up the heat, she was freezing her butt off. For some reason, that made me grin. Don't get me wrong, Jube can gripe like nobody's business. Take her on a mission, she breaks a nail and it's a major catastrophe. But the funny thing is, when the chips are down and the prospects of just surviving seem bleak, she's the toughest person I know. Tougher than me, sometimes. She just doesn't know how to quit and she'd never let you quit either, no matter how hopeless you feel or how bad it really is. So listening to her complain was sometimes just an amusing Zen exercise.
The amusement lasted about five minutes after we hit the door. Half the politicians and assorted big sticks Xavier knew had been invited to this event, and as much as I appreciate the fact that this crowd had made being a mutant a lot easier in the last couple of years, I wasn't about to put a sticker on my chest that said 'Hi, I'm not human.' Scott was officially out of the closet, and Jubilee was gonna put on a little show tonight, but the first yahoo who asked me if I was 'one of those people' was gonna wake up wondering who spiked his drink.
I hit the bar regularly, ignored the speeches, and generally cooled my heels for several really boring hours. Jubilee's little show was the highlight, as far as I was concerned. She told me once she performed in a mall for tips, making her sparkles and fireworks into pictures. I don't know how good she was back then, but she was damned fabulous now. She started off slow, with flowers that bloomed and burned, a lion pounced out of nowhere, then curled up and disintegrated, but the whole crowd was gasping by the time a flight of multi-colored dragons swooped down on them, then wheeled and enacted an aerial battle. The applause was sustained, and I have to admit I felt pretty proud of her right then.
She almost escaped off the stage when some yahoo I recognized from a news show cornered her at the stairs and started asking her a bunch of questions about how strong was she really, had she ever done any damage to property. Moving in, I was close enough to hear her make a joke about popping a bag of popcorn without a microwave. Geek didn't know ol' Jube could probably take down the entire hotel if she were really trying, but from the way her shoulders were tensing, if he didn't back off, she might let him in on it.
"Aren't you afraid you could hurt somebody with powers like that?"
I put a heavy hand on the guy's shoulder, ready to hurt him some without any powers, when Jubilee smiled sweetly at him.
"Actually, if I wanted to do some damage, I'd probably just punch him out."
He finally took the hint and moved out of the way, though my grip grinding his shoulder bones together might have had something to do with it.
I got her moved away from the stage and found her a club soda at the bar, shared some of the tortured chow being passed around as edible, and spent the rest of the evening acting like a guard dog against the idiots who thought the cute mutie would be an interesting addition to their bedpost notches. I'm still processing the fact that Jubilee's an adult now, not to mention she can kick butt and take names with the best of 'em, but old habits die hard. She, on the other hand, showed her appreciation of my efforts by flirting outrageously and collecting their business cards like they were valuable or something.
Things finally wound down, and Scott and Jean began making noises about getting back to the mansion and their kids, like Hank couldn't watch over a pair of ankle biters sound asleep in their own beds. Xavier was staying at the hotel for a conference, so when I turned to tell Jube it was time to go, the speculative look in her eye caught me by surprise.
"Bobby, can I borrow your car?" She never looked at him, just kept pinning me with those dark blue eyes and the little wheels in there were spinning for all they were worth. Foreboding, yeah, that's the word I'm looking for.
Drake choked on the last of his drink. "Of course not."
"C'mon, Bobby. Lend me your car, and Wolvie will let ya take his bike out for a spin."
"Like hell," I grunted, at the same time he said "Absolutely no way."
Jube rolled her eyes at both of us. "Gawd, why don't you just pee on them or something. They're vehicles, dudes, not your 'nads."
Drake stuck to his guns. "No way, chick. You are not taking my wheels."
The little brat stalked right up to him, crossed her arms and stuck out one hip like she does when she's being stubborn, like that's an unusual situation. "All right, final offer. Your car, tonight, for a favor to be named later."
She must have been serious, 'cause Jube just doesn't usually make that bargain. She was offering her word to do whatever Drake wanted, from breakfast in bed for a week to a blind date from hell with one of his old frat buddies. Bobby was considering it when a set of keys dangled in front of her face.
"I'll take that offer," Scott smirked. "I've got a ton of paperwork at the office, the Blackbird needs waxing . . . " Even 'Ro and Jean were laughing, but Jube grabbed the keys in a flash.
"Deal. You hitch home with the Popsicle, and I'll be along later."
"Wait a minute," I said, grabbing her arm. "That little car ain't gonna hold five people."
"Wow, you're right," she replied. "It'll hold four, though, and you're coming with me."
"Jubilee," I growled.
"C'mon, it'll be fun," she wheedled, reversing my hold on her and pulling. I pulled back, and I still outweigh her by a good fifty pounds, even if she's taller than I am. Just barely taller, but I didn't budge.
"No way, Darlin'."
"Oh, you want to go back to brooding in the mansion. Think you're Bruce Wayne, or somthin'?"
I stuck my jaw out, prepared to be obstinate, but she knew me too well. Leaning in to my ear, she murmured, "I'm buyin' the booze, and if you're lucky, we'll find a bar fight somewhere." I think she was kidding about the fight, but with Jube, you never know.
And hell, I really didn't want to go back to the house.
"Alright," I grumbled, and was rewarded with a brilliant smile that made me feel like a jerk. She gave a merry wave to the rest of the gang, dragging me along.
"See ya later!"
"Where are you going?" Cyke wasn't curious; he was probably weighing the likelihood of having to post bail.
"Trolling for babes!" she shouted, ignoring the shocked expressions of the older couple who had to get out of the way of her charge. "Don't worry, Dad, we'll be home by dawn!"
I should have known better.
Like a force of nature, Jubilee had me in the car and zipping down the freeway to another part of the city before I could ask her where the hell she was kidnapping me to. Pulsing music, at least it was supposed to be music, rolled out into the street when she parked illegally in the little parking lot and left me trailing after her. The building was plain brick, and over the door a flashing neon sign spelled out something. I was trying to puzzle out the jagged letters, but she grabbed me by the hand before I could finish.
A line of people were waiting in a line up the steps, but the firecracker ignored them and gave the bouncer at the door a full body hug and a kiss on the cheek. The bastard returned the favor, giving her butt a squeeze in the process and getting a giggle for his efforts. I was thinking about detaching his hand painfully from his arm and making him a present of it, especially after he grinned at me, but he opened the door and Jube slithered in, dragging me right behind. The queue still standing out there started protesting, but their yammering was drowned out by the sudden and really painful increase in music volume. Jube must have seen me wince, cause she dropped the car keys into her miniscule purse, dug out a pair of disposable earplugs and stuffed them in my ears, and damned it didn't confirm she had this evening planned.
"What the hell are you up to, Jubilation Lee?" I shouted over the music.
"Quit bein' a grouch, Wolvie! I'm gonna take care of your lizard," she shouted back.
I wasn't even sure I wanted to know what that meant.
Apparently she was looking for someone, cause she parked me on a barstool with the instructions to stay put, paid the frou-frou behind the bar way too much for some really bad bourbon, and took off. I caught site of her a bit later, whispering in the ear of a blonde with jazzed up hair. Blondie looked at me and gave me a speculative once over, then sauntered my direction while Jube disappeared again.
She was a fine lookin' woman, and, to give her credit, she knew how to walk when a man was watching her. She told me her name, which I promptly forgot, and offered to buy me a drink. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against bold women, and believe me, she was bold, but something about her set my teeth on edge. She leaned on me, squeezed my knee, asked leading questions and all but got a yardstick and asked how I measured out. Finally, I guess I pissed her off, 'cause she left me alone. I had thirty seconds of peace with my booze before a brunette moved in. This one stuffed a piece of paper with her phone number on it into the pocket of my pants with some interesting moves of her finger along my thigh.
An eternity later, I checked my watch, then just to be sure asked the jackass behind the bar what time it was. When I did the math I'd been there for all of forty-five minutes. The annoyance I'd been dealing with earlier today returned, and brought some of its buddies with it. I'd had five women buy me drinks, six push their phone numbers in my pants, and one gal that I'm pretty sure was actually a guy in drag offered to do something to me that I ain't repeating in a million years, even if you torture me.
Right now, though, I was ready to torture one particular teammate of mine, as soon as I found her. The dance floor was one of those raised affairs, and I circled the perimeter searching for a certain lethal blue dress. I might not be as tall as the GQ wannabes surrounding me, but they all got the hell out of the way when I ran down my quarry. She was dancing with a buck who had one hand on her neck and one thigh arched over hers, and he made nice big saucer eyes at me when I ground my heel on his toe and yanked Jube right off the floor. Seriously, I wrapped an arm around her middle, lifted all hundred pounds or so of her, and headed for the exit.
The same guy was at the door as I hauled her out with me, and she said something to him I was too pissed off to hear. Anyway, he stayed where he was, and I toted her across the street and halfway to the car before I dropped her and made a grab for her purse. Jube is faster than a snake, though, and she evaded me and held it behind her back.
"Gimme those keys!" I demanded.
"What the hell is your problem?"
"Next time I wanna be pawed over by a bunch of women, Jube, I'll find my own whores!"
"They're not whores, Wolvie. They're friends of mine. And don't worry, they knew ya wasn't in the market for a relationship, just a good time."
"What exactly did ya tell 'em?"
She glared at me. "I told them your lizard was lonely, and that you had stamina. That's all."
"And just what in hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Everybody's got two brains, Wolvie. Regular brain handles complex stuff like which flight gets you to D.C. faster, stuff like that. Your lizard... handles the basics."
"The basics," I echoed, knowing where this was going.
"Yeah, you know, the basics." A slight flush rose in her cheeks. "Hungry. Cold. Horny."
Oh, great. As if I didn't have enough trouble keepin' my inner beast under control, now apparently I had a lizard in there too.
"I can handle my own sex drive, Jube!" I shouted, not really caring if it came out the way I think it just did.
"Apparently not!" she shouted back. "You've been a major league grouch for three weeks solid, and I'm getting real sick of it! Something's bothering you, and if it's not the lack of horizontal exercise, then what the hell is it?"
"Dammit, kid! It's none of yer flamin' business!"
I tried to control it, but in a split second I remembered that Jubilee had known Rosie, had spent time with her, and possibly remembered her with some of the same affection I did. It must have shown in my face, because Jubilee got real quiet for a second. The purse and the shawl dropped on the sidewalk, forgotten as she planted a hand on each of my shoulders and pinned me with a look in her sapphire eyes I don't often see. It basically meant the world could come to an end, but she wasn't budging until I answered the question.
"What. Is. It?"
My mouth opened, then closed again, but it took a painful moment I could grind the words out. "I got a letter from Madripoor, coupl'a weeks ago."
Jube just waited until the uneasy burn in my chest forced my mouth to move again. "Rose Wu died."
Jubilee's eyes widened, and I felt like a bastard for not telling her earlier. She and Rosie musta had some girl time I didn't know about, 'cause damned if she didn't look like she was going to cry.
"Oh, god," she whispered. "What happened?"
I sighed. "Nothin' happened, Darlin.' Rosie was pushing sixty somethin', and she had a bad heart. She died in her sleep."
Two shimmering tears squeezed out from her eyelids as her arms went around my neck, and after a moment I put my arms around her, too. "I'm so sorry, Wolvie," she sniffled quietly. "Rosie was a great gal."
I rubbed Jube's back, glad we weren't yelling any more, and kinda touched that Jubilee remembered Rosie so well.
"Yeah, she was." I leaned my head against hers and closed my eyes, which turned out to be a big mistake when she suddenly yanked away from me and nailed me with a right cross that had me seeing stars.
"You ASS!" she yelled.
I worked my jaw and blinked at her. "Huh?" Two fists grabbed me and banged me back against the brick wall.
"You think we're all gonna die on you, don'cha? Don'cha!? You listen to me, bub, I'm gonna be seventy-five years old and calling you every other day nagging you to come over and fix my drains and change my lightbulbs and bitchin' about how young people got no respect. You hear me? You're gonna die first, just so you can get away from me!"
She was so outrageous, so typically Jubilee, that I couldn't stop the weak laughter forcing its way out of my chest. Only Jube would think of making me feel better by reassuring me that I would indeed die some day. Hell, who needs a shrink to examine your psyche when Jubilee can peel your head faster than unwrapping a piece of bubble-gum.
"Yeah, darlin', I hear ya."
"I don't believe this!" she fumed. "You really think you'll live longer than me? You've aged a lot since ya lost your adamantium, you know, and I swear to ya, Wolvie, the miles are showing a lot more these days. I even saw a gray hair on you the other day."
On reflex, one hand made it up to my head. Jubilee snickered.
"Well, if there are any, you put 'em there."
"Uh huh." She eyed me critically, then gave me another quick hug that made my ribs creak. They say sorrow shared is sorrow halved, and right then I believed it. I had to admit that I felt a heap better than I did just ten minutes ago.
Jube scooped up her stuff and held out a hand to me.
'C'mon." She tugged on her hold, and didn't let go as we walked down the sidewalk. The flickering light of yet another bar called to us, and we headed for it without discussion. This joint was more like Hardcase's place, with a full-sized bar and cracked vinyl booths. Pool tables in the back, and a small open space where two couples were shuffling in slow circles to the moldy oldies from the jukebox.
We pulled up a couple of stools at the end of the bar, and the older gent behind the bar just grunted and started lining up the shot glasses when Jube ordered an even dozen shots of bourbon. We lifted the first pair and clinked them solemnly.
"To Rosie," she said.
"To Rosie," I agreed, and tossed it back.
Gamely, Jubilee tossed hers back as well, the cleared her throat with a rasp. I handed her the next, and took one for myself. We lifted them together, and I gathered my thoughts while I gave her a minute to recover. Her eyes were dark blue in the dim light, and her hand steady as she held out the shot glass, and it occurred to me that there was no-one else in the world I'd rather be with right now than her.
"To friends that are gone, and friends that are still here," I said. She smiled, just a little, and I think she understood.
We downed our drinks, and this time Jube's eyes started to water. I patted her on the back, only slightly tempted to laugh at her, and the bartender brought her a glass of water when I waved. Jube doesn't have the body mass to drink like I do, and she sure doesn't have my healing factor, shot to hell as it is. She drank the water, then murmured something about the ladies room, pushing the rest of the drinks my way.
There were two shots left when a woman slithered her way onto Jube's barstool and offered me a simpering little smile that left no doubts in my mind what she was after. From the smell pouring off of her, she'd had at least one customer already that night, and it made me tired just thinking about dealing with her.
"I'm waiting for someone, darlin'." I drank the next shot.
"And ain't I someone?" she countered, brassy and sugar sweet all at once. A hand with bright red nail polish swept in and took the last shot of bourbon, and it disappeared between red lips without any effect. The gal was attractive enough in a blowsy, well-worn way, and I'd spent plenty of time in the company of women just like her. Tonight, however, I wanted to spend with Jube, not an on the prowl hooker.
"My name's Linda," she offered, holding the empty glass to her temple, like I didn't already know it was empty. I grunted back at her, then a flash of blue caught my eye, and I looked up to see Jubilee staring at the newcomer with narrowed eyes.
"You wanna get your butt off my seat?" Trust Jubilee to use the least tactful approach. I may not be a gentleman, but I knew how easy it would be start something here, and I don't usually bust up a bar unless I know the place better.
Linda turned on the stool, leaning her elbows back and deliberately showing off a cleavage that you could lose your car keys in. "Aren't you up past your bedtime, little girl?" she purred.
A nasty little smile formed on Jube's mouth, and I stifled a groan. The fastest way to get her knickers in a twist is to call her little girl. It took me a while to learn that, but Linda was about to get the speed readin' version of this lesson.
"What, no bingo at the retirement home tonight?"
"Why, you horrible little."
"Listen, doll." Jubilee interrupted, putting her weight on one hip and sounding bored. "You know, if you really want him, he's all yours, but he promised me five hundred to spend the whole evening with him. Now, you wanna buy him out, that's fine, but he already owes me a c note for the blow-job in the car, and frankly, I don't think he's got more than two fifty in his wallet."
I could feel my face going red, cause I'd kinda forgotten how to breathe just then. Linda just looked me over once, then apparently decided I wasn't worth it and slid down off the seat.
"He's all yours, dearie."
Jubilee switched out the stool with the one next to it and plopped herself onto it with a smug expression on her face. I coughed and sputtered for a second, staring at the girl beside me with disbelief. Finally, the laughter won out and I just shook my head.
"You're something else, Jube."
The jukebox started up again just then, and another couple headed into the open area and started swaying slowly, and it gave me an idea. I used to love slow dancing with Rosie, back before it was renamed ballroom dancing and dismissed by anyone under the AARP cutoff age.
"Dance with me," I said.
"Huh? You don't dance."
I gave her my best scowl. "I don't jump around and grind on a gal's leg like a damn dog, ya mean. That ain't dancing. C'mon," I demanded. "Dance with me."
She rolled her eyes, but chucked her high heels under the brass kick bar and let me pull her out on the floor. I could understand why they'd hurt, even if I never would understand why women wear the things in the first place. With her in her stockings, my boots let me look down on her for the first time in years, and I couldn't help the little smirk on my face because she'd crowed like a rooster when she turned seventeen and was officially taller than me. The look in her eye told me she knew exactly what I was thinking, and dared me to say anything about it.
I folded my other arm around her, and she snuggled up to my chest and demonstrated the fact that Emma Frost had managed to get a few things besides book learning and world domination through that little head. She followed my lead and matched my steps for a bit before we noticed every other fool out there was staring at us like we were idiots. Well, screw them.
And you know, all the accumulated tension of the last three weeks just seemed to fade away. Jube does that to me. She's my opposite, in a lot of ways, but she has the knack of getting me out of my bad times with an ease that still just floors me. A peaceful sensation came over, and I let it settle around me, for one moment in time not thinking about anything at all.
But I still kept one eye open for unexpected rights.
We finished that quarter on the jukebox and had started another when I saw my would-be flame heading out the door. A few seconds later, a guy who was trying for casual and only made it to goofy-looking followed her out. I could feel Jubilee's back shake as she held down the snicker. 'Hope he's got more than two fifty in his wallet."
I resisted the urge to smack her on the butt. "Kid, you're gonna be the death of me."
That earned me a small feminine chuckle. "Don't be stupid, Wolvie. I'm the life of you, and you know it." Her head tucked itself back on my shoulder.
I could say I was hit with one of those epiphany things, but it wasn't bright lights, or the world realigning or some other dumb ass image. It was more like one of Jubilee's patented 'Duh' moments.
She was right. She was my life and my salvation. She'd been yanking my fat out of the fire since the day she met me, and of all the people I've ever known, she alone had never been afraid of me. Afraid for me, maybe, or fully aware that I could kill her in an instant, but never afraid of me no matter how close to the edge or over it I careened. Nobody else could say that, not even the women I'd loved. They had feared me at times as much as they'd loved me, even Jean, and I in return had looked upon them as someone to protect, to cherish. No matter how much I cherished Jubilee, she didn't really need my protection. We were partners, and teammates, and friends.
What more could a man ask for?
I said man, not lizard.
The music kept going, and I concentrated on the feel of the muscles in her back, shifting in time like steel cables under the silky texture of her cobweb dress. She felt wonderful, she smelled wonderful, and damn, she was beautiful. I glanced down at her bare shoulder, the skin a pale honey hue to go with her extraordinary almond eyes, and she must have felt the slight movement of my head because she looked up at me. Her expression was just one of mild inquiry, and could have meant anything from 'are you feeling better now' to 'need to inspect the bathroom before we hit the road?'
And I was perfectly, totally aware and in control as I lowered my mouth to hers and kissed her softly.
Her eyelids closed, and she began to kiss me back, then abruptly she shoved me away, her hands clenched in mid-air as multi-colored sparks dripped from her fists and popped and sizzled their way to the floor. Not a good sign. Her eyes flew open and pinned me with a hot blue stare.
"I am not falling in love with you again." She was out the door fast, and I was halfway there myself when I backtracked to get her shoes, then followed her out.
What the hell did she mean by 'again?'
Bare feet don't make a lot of noise on the sidewalk, but I could smell her heading for the parking lot. I caught sight of her dark hair moving through the scattered cars about the same time I picked up the scent of a man. The air was full of smells, the wet, cold concrete and gas and oil and rubber, but this one was fresh and smelled desperate. Crap.
On the far side of our car, Jubilee made an "Eep" sound and disappeared from view. I ran flat out, the red rage of my anger and fear almost drowning out the sound of blows as fists met flesh and the metallic sound of a switchblade being triggered. Desperate, I launched myself over the hood of the car with a roar, my claws popping out, before I realized what I was looking at.
"Jeez, buddy, what kind of an idiot are you?"
Jube was crouching over the semi-prone junkie, fishing a tissue out of her purse and ruthlessly stuffing it up his amazingly bloody nose. Bewildered eyes looked up at her as she rattled on.
"You really gotta be more careful, dude. Look, why don't you go home, or back to your alley or whatever, and I've got two words for you - re and hab. You'll like it there, I hear they're really nice, they've got showers and everything. You could take a bath, 'cause you, like, really reek."
She got a hand under his arm and hauled him up, and he made the mistake of reaching for the knife lying there on the pavement. Jube flicked her fingers at it and in a haze of plasma melted it into a puddle of slag.
"Oh no, ya don't. Look, here's a twenty. Get some food, and I mean real food, nothing that comes in a little vial, 'kay? Go home and get some rest, and then you think about that rehab thing."
The strung out fool nodded blankly, tangled hair bobbing, and stumbled away. Jubilee watched him for a second, then turned to where I was leaning against the car, grinning like an idiot. She didn't grin back. She unlocked the passenger door, then tossed the keys to me and got in the car without a word.
I did some thinking while I drove us home. Now, one of the advantages of being around for a while is you get something called experience. Big word for finally understanding the little things in life. For instance, realizing when you're about to stick your head up your ass. Take all those chick flicks I've endured with Jubilee, the ones that have these people who should know better being swept away by waves of supposed passion and doing stupid things when the mood strikes them like they've never heard of the word 'consequences.' And by the time the credits roll, everything just magically works out. Well, that's why it's called fiction, folks. Real life doesn't work that way, and Consequences should be a four-letter word. Or maybe a five-letter word, one that rhymes with witch.
The consequences of screwing this up would be monumental. I'd lose the most important person in my life. But another thing I've learned after having been around for so long is that time does not stand still, and that point had been brought painfully home to me these last few weeks with Rosie's passing. Things change.
Now, I've loved Jubilee since the first time she told me she had nothing better to do than hang with me, but I'd have to work on my macho attitude. I think she was eleven. And no, I'm not talking anything sick here; I just admired the spunky attitude that covered up such a big heart. And now, things were changing, and experience was telling me that I was on that verge of falling in love again. Teetering, and still able to pull back if I needed to, or cross the line if I wanted.
I glanced at her sitting there, and she still hadn't said a word since muttering 'thank-you' when I turned the heater on in the car. She was my best friend, and I literally could not image my life without having her in it. Did I want to cross that line?
Hell yes, the man in me replied. The inner beast in me growled in approval, 'cause I'd never need to hide it from her.
And we all know what the lizard said, so I guess that makes it unanimous.
I pulled the car into the drive, and moved to intercept her when she headed for the front door. She didn't even seem surprised when I got my arm around her and led her out under the trees, 'cause I'll be damned if I'm going to have the most important conversation of my life on the front porch of the house like some sixteen year old.
At the last moment I realized the grass was wet with dew and probably cold as hell, but Jube didn't say a word and I'm sure this wasn't the time to do something stupid and macho like give her my jacket.
"What did you mean by that?" My voice was a little more harsh that I'd planned.
The fuzzy shawl shifted as she shrugged, and she refused to look at me. "I'm not going to fall in love with you again."
"That mean you've been in love with me before?" I asked gruffly.
Of course, the eyes rolled. "You are such a man." No kidding, that wasn't meant as a compliment. I reached out and put one hand on her arm. Those beautiful sapphire eyes finally met mine, and she sighed softly.
"Wolvie, I've fallen in love with you more times than I can count. I always get over it, 'cause I know you don't really think of me that way. But tonight. if I'd let you kiss me, I don't think I could get over it. Not when I know you'd be all embarrassed and 'forget about it, kid' later on."
Her soft voice hit me with more force than all the booze I'd consumed earlier, and warmed me more than it ever could have.
"And what if I don't want you to get over it, Jubilee?" I asked. My other hand found her opposite arm, and I could feel her trembling slightly.
"Logan," she almost moaned, and that answered every question I had.
Jubilee never calls me Logan. Not once, in years, had she addressed me as anything but Wolvie, Wolvster, or an amazing variety of annoying and endearing variations of my code name. Hearing her cross over to that adult, equal to equal name let me know what she really wanted. She wanted me. Triumph, and joy, and several other things for which I really outta get slapped crashed through me.
I let go of her arms, removing the temptation, and both disappointment and relief were evident in her posture. Then that old dog experience let me say something right instead of kissing her thoroughly and dragging her up to my room.
"Have dinner with me."
That got an eyebrow quirked at me. "Dinner," she repeated. "You're talking, dinner, like..." It took her a second. "A date?"
"You're asking me out?"
I couldn't help it. I'd never said the word before in my life, but I just couldn't help it.
"Duh," I replied.
She thought about it for a second, and I could see the conflicting emotions in her eyes before they narrowed and her head cocked to one side, that stubborn little chin coming up. One damp toe started tapping in the grass.
"Wear a tie."
"Bolo. Best offer you're getting."
"No honky tonk dives."
"No techno bars," I countered.
"No stuck up French waiters," we said at the same time. She laughed in response, the merry sparkle I loved so much resurfacing -- and then she shivered with the cold, and, damn my arrogant macho male pride, something else. I really wanted to kiss her at that moment, but this was too important to screw up. We had time to do it right.
"Deal," she said, softly, and held out her right hand.
I took it in mine. "Deal," I agreed.