Anyway, here it is... standard disclaimers apply, etc.
"I'm okay now." Jubilee straightened up, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Jono silently proffered a tissue. "Thanks." He crinkled, and tapped the end of her nose. Smiling shakily, Jubilee wiped her eyes and blew obediently.
Jono brushed the backs of his fingers gently against her cheek, then leaned down and, after a bit of fumbling, produced one of the bottles of juice. He held it out hopefully.
"Yeah, okay." She sniffled, opening the bottle and taking a mouthful. It was cranberry juice - her favourite - and she wondered how he'd known. <<Good old Jono>>, she thought fondly.
He gave her an inquiring look, reaching out as she lowered the bottle and touching her lips gently. "No thanks, dude. Dowanna talk about it." He nodded and squeezed her shoulder comfortingly, then pointed at the road. "Yeah," she nodded, wiping her eyes one more time. "Let's get goin'." Jono started up the jeep, and resumed his leisurely cruise down the highway.
Jubilee leaned back in her seat, closing her eyes. <<I should feel better now・>> she thought drearily. <<Isn't a good cry on a friend's shoulder supposed ta make ya feel better? But I don't. I just feel・empty. Like nuthin' matters anymore. What's wrong with me? Why don't I feel better?>>
Jono looked over at her, and she realised with chagrin that she'd said the last sentence out loud. "Forget it, dude・"
He shook his head and pulled over again, reaching for a pen and a small PostIt pad on the dash. Frowning, he scribbled a few words, and ripped off the sheet, handing it to her.
((You shouldn't feel better yet. It won't just go away like that.))
"So what should I be doin', then?" she demanded, a little irritated. "How do I make it go away?"
He frowned again, and wrote on another PostIt. ((It's your thing, sunshine. You have to work through it, in your own way. All I can do is be here for you.)) Jubilee blinked back more tears. "So・ it's okay for me to not feel better yet?" Her voice was shaky.
Jono nodded firmly, squeezing one of her hands. She smiled a little.
"Yer awful touchy-feely lately, Starsmore. Didn't know ya cared," she teased, trying to lighten the mood a little.
He turned, his brown eyes serious as he reached out to hug her gently. Letting go, he squeezed her hand and crinkled a little, ruffling her silky black hair. Then he patted her hand one last time before taking the jeep out of neutral, and pulling back out onto the highway. Knowing that her voice would crack pitifully if she tried to speak, Jubilee limited her response to a quick smile before she turned back to the window to hide her trembling lower lip.
* * *
"You think Emma told us everything?" Angelo asked, taking a thoughtful drag on his cigarette.
"Emma? Actually tell us EVERYTHING? Bite your tongue." Monet shook her head. "I gained the impression that she was trying to shield us from something."
"Me too." Paige nodded. "Ah know how blunt she was an' all, but Ah got the feelin' there was stuff she didn't want us to know. Ah mean, did any of you buy that explanation for why she let them go off alone?" Everyone shook their heads.
"Maybe she was concerned for Jubilee's safety?" Monet wondered. "That would certainly explain why she sent them off in such secrecy."
"Only if she was worried about someone we know." Angelo frowned. "I mean・ if it's the bad dudes that she's worried about, she'd have kept them here where we could protect them. If she's hidin' where they are from US・"
"Why would she suspect US of being a threat to Jubilee?" Gaia asked curiously. She pushed a lock of her bright pink hair out of her eyes. "We're her friends, aren't we?"
"Maybe it's not us she's worried about." Everett looked up from the discarded earring that he had found left in Jubilee's room. The earring that had been a part of her uniform while she had been with the X-Men, and that she had, until now, never gone anywhere without. "She said it was the X-Men's fault that Jubilee was like this. She probably just wants to make sure they don't hurt her even more."
"That could be it." Paige agreed, brightening a little. "Maybe if we promise not to tell anyone, she'll tell us where they've gone." "She didn't say it was the X-Men's fault," Monet contradicted. "If I recall correctly, she placed most of the blame on Wolverine."
"Now that I think about it・" Ev frowned. "Jubes said something about Shadowcat a few days ago. Something about her being a Wolvy-napper. She laughed when she said it, so I didn't pay much attention." He looked miserable. "I should have."
"You were not to know." Monet patted him on the shoulder, one of the most demonstrative gestures anyone had seen her make. "As I recall, Shadowcat and Wolverine shared much the same relationship as do he and Jubilee. It may be that Jubilee was simply jealous." She shrugged. Most of the others looked dubious, one or two a little perturbed.
"Maybe." Ev shook his head, looking at the earring again. "I think vanishing in the middle of the night and leaving every single X-Men thing she has behind sounds like a bit more than 'jealous', though."
"Ah could call Sam and ask what's goin' on," Paige offered. "Ah won't tell him why, just ask how everyone is and all." She smiled. "He don't let on much, but Sam's a real gossip when ya get him started. He'll tell me everything there is to know."
"It's a thought." Monet nodded. "Angelo? Is something wrong?"
Angelo looked around, and forced a smile. "Nada, M. Just wonderin' if those two're being careful out there." He stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. "C'mon・ we'll be late for lunch if we don't hurry."
They trooped down the stairs, chattering about less fraught topics as they subconsciously shied away from the frightening, confusing topic of their classmates disappearance. Angelo joined in, cracking a couple of jokes so sexist that Monet threatened to slap him into next week. But the worried look didn't leave his eyes.
* * *
"Jono?" Jubilee broke the long silence. "Did you ever, like, have someone bail on ya?"
He nodded, casting a sympathetic glance at her as he tried to overtake a blue Volvo that was trundling along at around ten miles an hour. It wasn't co-operating.
"So ya kinda know how I feel." He nodded again, and inched up behind the Volvo until the space between them might barely have admitted a credit card. The driver made a rude gesture out the window. Jono returned it, then nodded for Jubilee to continue.
"Heh・ anyway, I just dunno WHY he did this ta me, ya know?" Her bottom lip trembled. "Did I do somethin' wrong?"
He shook his head firmly and reached over to pat her shoulder, with the hand that had been on the steering wheel. The car swerved a little, and the driver ahead suddenly speeded up by at least another ten miles. Jubilee sighed. "I totally miss him・but I'm mad at him too. It's like, he's always told me how special I am to him and all, and then when I get kidnapped by Bastion and get my head all screwed with and get beat up and starved and all-" Jono nearly went right off the road. Straightening the car, he reached over with one arm to give her another hug. "Uh・ yeah, sorry ta drop it on ya like that." He shook his head and took her hand, holding it firmly. The driver in front was starting to look very nervous. Jono sped up a bit more.
"Anyway, all that stuff happens・ and he doesn't even check ta see if I'm coping, ya know? Not even a phonecall." She wrapped her free arm around herself. Jono squeezed her hand a little. "He said he'd always be there for me, ya know? He promised. And sure, he came and found me when I was in the desert. Man, I thought I was dead then, but he just came up outta the night and saved my hide." Her voice was bewildered. "And I thought everything was gonna be okay・ but then he just left me. I figured, yeah, that's okay, ya done this a million times, Lee. Just throw it off. But I couldn't throw it off, an' I didn't know why, which only made it worse, and I hadda hold it together fer Ev and all 'cause he's so, like, NOT used to this, and I am, so I should be the strong one, right? And I just felt so awful but I didn't want anyone ta know, 'cause, like so much bad stuff had happened ta you guys and M turned out ta be the twins and then there was that whole thing with Trace and the Pooka and I had ta keep it together 'cause you were all countin' on me and I couldn't cope anymore so I called Wolverine ta come and see me, okay? And he said he would, an' I thought it'd all be okay for real this time. That he'd come and help me sort it out and I'd stop having nightmares and I'd be happy again and・ and・" She gulped miserably. "An' he didn't come. I waited an' waited an he didn't come."
Jono's hands tightened on the wheel as if it were Wolverine's neck. How could he have done this to her? She had _counted_ on him. She had _relied_ on him. And all Jono could do was hold her hand, rubbing his thumb over hers as his heart shattered at the lost, confused tone in Jubilee's voice. <<Like a puppy wot's been dumped. It don't know why its family've gone away and left it, so it just sits by the road, lost and scared and waiting f'r them to come back・>> He scowled, and nearly climbed the back of the car in front in fury. The Volvo was starting to waver.
"So I called." Jubilee's voice was wavering all over the place. "I figured they musta been on a mission or something. So I called. You know what he said? He said 'Yeah, sorry kid. Kitty's havin' a tough time right now.' Kitty. Kitty is having a tough time. Kitty just waltzed home from Excal to be welcomed with open arms and SHE'S HAVING A TOUGH TIME?!?!?! I WOULD KILL TO HAVE A TOUGH TIME LIKE THAT!!!!" Jubilee suddenly realised she was shouting. "Uh, well・ I mean・"
Jono pointed at her, then reached over to tap her right hand. She smiled weakly. "I'm right, huh?" He nodded firmly. "Thanks, dude." She frowned thoughtfully. "I _am_ right, aren't I."
He nodded. She was mad. Mad was good. He stamped on the accelerator and screeched victoriously past the Volvo. The driver had his head on the wheel.
* * *
"Okay, Ange, what's wrong?" Ev folded his arms and glared at his friend. "You've been acting weird all day."
"Es nada, I told you that!" Angelo dragged on his cigarette, not looking Ev in the eye. "Look, I'm just worried about the chica, okay? We all are."
"Yes, we are." Monet rested her chin in one graceful hand. "But _you_, Mr Espinosa, are hiding something."
Angelo looked around. He was trapped. His fellow students Everett, Paige, and Monet, assisted by Gaia, had formed a circle and bailed him up on the couch, and obviously didn't plan on budging until they dragged it out of him. He sighed, and stubbed out the cigarette. "Okay, okay・ but remember, I don't know this Wolverine guy very well, and I could be totally wrong about this."
"Fine. Spill." Ev insisted.
"Well・ I didn't know about Shadowcat, okay?" He looked uncomfortable. "I never heard that he'd had this other kid he took 'under his paw', if you know what I mean."
"So what?" Ev looked blank.
Angelo shook his head. "I knew you wouldn't get it. It's probably just my imagination. Let's drop it, okay?" He stood up.
Everett grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him back down. "I don't know where you're going with this, Ange, but you aren't moving until I do, got it? Now TELL ME!!!"
"Look, amigo, back home we've got a real bad name for guys that go around collecting teenage girls, okay!?" Angelo snapped. "And a lot of those girls ended up in a state just like Jubilee."
A ripple of absolute silence slowly spread through the room. Dawning comprehension slowly turned to full-blown horror.
"You're wrong." Paige whispered, with no conviction in her tone. "You must be wrong."
Angelo looked gravely at her. "I hope so."
* * *
"It's not like he hasn't taken off before, you know?" Jubilee sipped her second bottle of juice. "But at least he, like, left a note that time. He let me know that he cared. This time it's like I've fallen off the face of the earth or sumpthin'." She shook her head. " I know how tough it is bein' an X-Man, I mean, I SHOULD know, right? It ain't like I wouldn't understand. But not even one measly little phonecall! How long does that take?"
Jono shrugged. He pulled the sandwich out of his pocket and offered it to her. She took it absently. "And I'm MAD at him for that, Jono! He promised me he'd always be there for me and the bastard didn't even call!!"
He nodded, punching the air enthusiastically. She unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite automatically. "And I'm still bummed out about all this, but it's not, like, my fault, you know? I was there for him, when he needed me, and he let me down, and・" She looked down. "You tricked me into eating this sandwich. You actually got me to eat the damn sandwich. Ya little・" She glared at him.
Jono crinkled unrepentantly and held out a candy bar he'd fished from the other pocket. She looked down at it. "Didja buy that when you got the juice?" He shook his head. "Then how did・ Jono, did you SHOPLIFT this?"
He nodded smugly. She grinned. "Heh. It really is always the quiet ones."
End Part Three