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It was a bright, sunny spring morning. The birdies were singing, the happy little bunnies were gambolling, and if you could have opened the scenery it would have had a sickeningly sweet greeting poem inside. In Westchester, Wolverine woke with a nagging feeling that something was wrong. There was nothing specific・ no strange scent, no unusual sound・ just a little niggle at the back of his neck saying that All Was Not Right With The World. He grumbled quietly, hauling himself out of bed and over to the window. Weather was nice. Not the weather, then. Knowing from experience that it could take days for whatever it was to surface, he decided not to worry about it too much. He'd stay alert, of course, but no sense in getting himself in a knot over something he couldn't help yet.
How important could it be?
* * *
In Massechusetts, Paige was already up and packing her bags with Monet's help and Gaia's well meaning hinderance. "Ah hate havin' to leave." Paige fretted, nibbling on her lower lip. "Y'all promise me you'll call me the minute you hear anything?"
"Of course we shall." Monet placed another minor miracle in the art of shirt-folding in Paige's rather dilapidated suitcase. "But naturally you must go to your mere, if she is so ill."
"Ah know." Paige stuffed another handful of underwear into the suitcase. "Ah don't know who to worry about more, Momma or Jubilee. Still," Paige brightened a little, "Jubes has Jono to look after her. She'll be okay."
"I hope so." Gaia frowned as the sweater she was trying to fold wrapped itself around her arms. "I have not known Jubilee long, but I like her very much."
"I will deny it if you ever tell her I said this, but I am rather fond of her myself," Monet confessed. "In a rather irritated way, of course. And I still cannot bear her taste in clothes," she added a little defensively.
"A'course not." Smiling, Paige risked giving Monet a quick hug. "Sam's already home, by the way - when Ah see him, Ah'll ask him about・" she trailed off uncomfortably. "You know."
"I don't." Gaia frowned, giving up on the sweater and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I don't have the faintest idea what all of you are talking about. You just mutter and look uncomfortable."
"Uh・well・" Paige stuttered, blushing like a peony.
Shaking her perfect head, Monet came to her teammate's rescue. "We believe that the possibility exists that Wolverine may have sexually abused both Jubilation and Shadowcat in the course of their relationships. Paige intends to question her brother as to any possible confirmation of this theory."
Gaia blinked. "Oh," she said in a small voice.
"We're probably wrong." Paige hastened to add. "It could just be a product of Ange's sick little mind." She leaned futilely on the lid of the bulging suitcase. "Would you gals mind sittin' on this so Ah can close it?"
* * *
In a small motel room somewhere in Pennsylvania, Jubilee's eyes fluttered open. She was still fully dressed - only her jacket and shoes had been removed, and placed neatly at the bottom of the bed. She blinked, yawned, and looked blearily around at the room. Grungy walls with paint faded to a dingy brown, tacky lace curtains, an old chair, her bed, her, a thin carpet, a foot・ a foot?
The foot was dangling a few inches above the carpet. It was long, a little bony, and looked like it hadn't seen sunshine since the eighties. It was attached in the usual way to a similarly bony ankle, which in turn led to a shin with a scattering of coarse brown hairs. Following the leg upwards, Jubilee saw it vanish at about mid thigh into a tangle of greying motel sheets, which formed a lumpy bundle around what might be a body. Her eyes wandering up the sheets, she found the spot where a bandaged chest emerged, somewhat reluctantly, and continued up across a non-existent neck and chin to a comprehensively tousled head. Untidy brown curls flopped over peacefully closed eyes, as Jono slept the sleep of one who may not be innocent, but who has nevertheless really, really earned a good night's sleep, and intends to get the most possible mileage out of it.
Jubilee threw a pillow at him.
It landed on his head, and for a moment remained there undisturbed. Then a large hand lifted it, and a pair of brown eyes stared reproachfully at Jubilee from underneath. She was not of a mind to notice. "What are you doing in my room?!" she demanded, glaring at him.
He tucked a hand under his cheek and closed his eyes again. "Yeah, I know you were sleeping, but why are you sleeping in _here_?!" Jono blinked at her in bemusement, pushing the pillow away and sitting up. He shrugged. Jubilee was about to start yelling again, when something distracted her.
In sitting up, Jono had pushed his mess of sheet and blanked down to almost hip level, and Jubilee had just gotten her first ever look at Mr J. Starsmore's stomach, which didn't vanish into the bandages until nearly sternum height. It was actually a pretty nice stomach, flat and muscular, with a neat, unobtrusive bellybutton, and normally she wouldn't have objected in the least to seeing it. Under the circumstances, however・
"Jono?" she asked in a slightly strangled voice. "You don't, like, sleep in the buff, do you? Because I've got way too much to deal with already right now."
He looked first confused, then mortally offended. Shaking his head reproachfully, he shoved the sheets aside and stood up. At his first move, Jubilee clapped her hands over her eyes and kept them there. There was silence. Blushing slightly, she peeked between her fingers. Jono was standing in the middle of the room, wearing a pair of cut-off sweatpants and a deeply reproachful expression. She blushed a little more, and lowered her hands quickly. He frowned at her, and bowed gracefully, then straightened, lifting his chin and fiddling with imaginary cufflinks. "Oh yeah? Well if you're such a gentleman, what are you doing in my room?"
He folded his hands against his cheek and closed his eyes again. She glared at him. "We've already established that, Starsmore. WHY were ya sleeping practically in the same bed as me?"
He pointed outside and shook his head, flexing his muscles and swaggering briefly. Jubilee relaxed slightly. "There's a rough crowd out there?" He nodded. "And ya decided to protect my virtue?" He shook his head, pointed at her, and hid behind an imaginary person. "Ya wanted _me_ ta protect _you_?" He nodded cheerfully. She snorted. "Chyeah, right, Jono. Nice try."
He crinkled at her, turned around, and headed for the bathroom, scratching his behind absentmindedly. "Jono!" Jubilee shrieked after him. "That's gross!! Some gentleman _you_ are!!"
* * *
When it was her turn in the bathroom, Jubilee stood for a long time under the hot water, her eyes closed and her head back. She emptied her mind, letting her senses fill with the heat, the feel of the water beating on her head and running down her body, and the smell of soap and steam that drifted around her. <<Just live in the moment, babe・enjoy it・>>
Eventually she sighed and opened her eyes, reaching for the shower door with plastic-mittened hands. She wasn't allowed to get her bandages wet for another few days, and so she had to wear the most ridiculous pair of neon pink mitten things she'd ever seen in her life. <<Dumb things>> she thought sourly. <<At least they've got those incredibly lame looking rubber grips on the palms so I can get the shampoo open.>>
Towelling herself off, she grabbed the first clothes that came to hand out of her bag and yanked them on. Clean underwear, baggy green t-shirt, faded jeans, and her beloved yellow coat・ she paused. Then, for reasons she could not quite define, she stuffed the raincoat into her bag, and instead pulled out an old Celtics jacket Sean had given her years ago. Laying it aside, she started unwrapping the bandages around her wrists.
The deep cuts still hurt, a lot, and she winced painfully as she bared them to the warm air. At least, she thought gratefully, Jono had covered the gauze pads not with ordinary bandages, but with some of the black ones he used himself. At least she looked like she was making some sort of weird fashion statement, instead of a loser who couldn't even kill herself right. At least no-one could tell what a loser she was by looking.
That would have been too much to bear. She bit back a whimper, cleaning the cuts with rather more energy than she needed to. Pain was real. Nobody could tell her she didn't feel it, or that she was wrong about it, or that it wasn't what she thought it was. Pain was pain. Pain was real.
The bathroom door squeaked open, and she looked up from her position in the middle of the floor to see Jono standing in the doorway, his eyes worried. She looked down again, only then realising that she'd rubbed so hard at one cut that it had reopened, oozing blood around the stitches. Her bottom lip trembled, and she bit down on it hard.
Jono knelt in front of her, and reached out to pick up the scattered medical supplies, straightening them absently. Then he picked up a cotton pad and looked at her questioningly. She looked away from him, out of the tiny window at the blue blur of the sky.
She waited for him to reach out and take her wrist. To bandage her up again and protect the dumb kid from herself again. To bundle her up and keep her safe from the whole damn world so she never ever has to make a decision for herself. Just like everyone else.
Eventually, she looked around at him again, snuffling as the tears made little trails from her eyes to her chin. He was still sitting in the same position, one hand a little extended but not touching her, the other resting loosely on his knees, as a vagrant tear trickled unregarded down his cheek. His eyes were full of pain.
Jubilee just looked at him.
He just looked back.
And Jubilee realised that he simply would not cross those few inches unless she asked him to. <<The bastard actually wants me to beg him to help me?! Is that supposed to be some sort of sick form of therapy? His fucking power trip is gonna make _me_ better!?!>> She lifted her hand to strike out at him, to push him away, to make him _hurt_ for doing this to her・
And he extended the hand again, then folded it into the other in a gesture of pleading, another tear following the first. _Please_・
He didn't want her to ask. He was asking her. He was asking for her permission to help her. He wanted her consent to be helped.
He wasn't going to make her.
He wanted her consent.
"Y-yeah." Her voice was a cracked whisper. "Go ahead." She stared at him as he gently cleaned her wrists and padded them in fresh gauze with light, careful fingers. His head was lowered and she couldn't see his face, but she heard the faintest possible sniff as he wrapped the black bandages neatly, with the ease of long practice. Then he looked up, and crinkled a little, as he took another cotton pad and wiped her cheeks dry.
Jubilee wanted to fling her arms around his neck and cry into his bandages, but instead she only smiled weakly at him. "Thanks, dude." He nodded, picked up the medical kit, and left silently.
"Heh." Jubilee picked up the Celtics Jacket and stared aimlessly at it. "Well. That was, like, different." She pulled the jacket on, and rubbed the sleeve across her face, scrubbing away the last traces of tears.
"That is one odd guy yer hangin' with, Jubes. Sweet, but seriously odd."
* * *
It was the jacket that was bothering him, Jono decided a few hours later. They had eaten a typically bland motel breakfast and gone on their not-quite-merry way, and the jacket was definitely starting to bother him.
It just wasn't Jubilee. Good as the Celtics looked on Sean, they made her look about eleven, which was very much not what they were trying for with this trip. He was quite clear on that. Jubilee had to finally be permitted to grow up, and that was not going to happen if she went around looking like a child.
<<Not that the gel can't look like a kid if she wants,>> he amended hastily. <<But I don't think she does. That's why she stopped wearing the other one. What she needs is t' feel like she's in control of 'er life.>> He tapped on the wheel thoughtfully. <<And a new jacket. She definitely needs a new jacket.>>
He resolved to address the matter as soon as the opportunity arose.
* * *
Monet sighed elegantly. "Why, might I ask, have I been included in this expedition? I do seem to recall having mentioned that I have no particular interest in-"
"Repeatedly. But the kids are off playing with their new camera, Miz Frost is too 'busy', read depressed, to come, Angelo is too worried about Jubes," Paige gave Monet a don't-you-even-think-about-telling-Mr-Cassidy-why-Ange-is-so-worried-it'll-only-upset-him look, "and Ev and Gaia are much too busy flirting ta come and see me leave and Teresa arrive, so you're it."
Monet returned a don't-you-try-to-tell-ME-about-tact-and-manners-you-peasant look and attached a glitteringly insincere smile to her face. "Of course. When you explain it like that, I see at once that it is my scholarly duty to accompany you and Mr Cassidy to the airport."
"That's enough, lassies." Sean looked around. "She should be here any・Terry!"
Theresa Cassidy hugged her father happily, and they chatted for a few moments, before deciding to spend some time in a park nearby. (Note: If you read the comics, you know what happened, if you don't, don't worry about it, it was ignorably dull.)
Paige and Monet soon found themselves in the airport cafeteria, which, in the manner of airport cafeteriae everywhere charged astronomical prices for bad coffee, ludicrous prices for the same coffee in a nicer cup, and a dollar and a half for for a glass of tapwater. The food was also incredibly expensive, but since most of it was approximately as appealing as a meal of rubber boots and gravel, that did not pose any particular problems.
Monet managed to procure a decent cup of coffee by the simple method of paying as for it much per ounce as the current price of gold. She sipped it, and stared superciliously across the table at Paige, who hadn't trusted the cafeteria people or their unpleasantly sticky looking fingers and was drinking Coke out of a can. "I do not expect me to amuse you as well," Monet said, rather more snottily than usual. "I am firmly of the opinion that in driving here, engaging in mindless pleasantries with a distinctly unpleasantly behaved Irishwoman, and actually putting airport coffee into my body, my duty has most decidedly been done."
"Yeah, sure." Paige stared into her can, idly wondering what it would look like in there if there was light enough to see in. "D'you think Jubes an' Jono are all right? Ah mean, Jono's lost his powers and all・" "I am sure they're fine." Monet definitely sounded snappy. Paige looked at her in surprise. "What's wrong with you?"
"In case you, like the rest of the team, have completely failed to notice, _I_ lost _my_ psi-powers as well." Monet bit her lip, looking down into her coffee. "And nobody cares." She finished in a very small voice.
Paige immediately dragged her chair around the table and took Monet's hand. "Ah'm sorry, M. You're right, we shoulda realised that you were goin' through a lot. Ah guess we all thought that you could handle anything, bein' perfect and all." Impulsively, she reached out and eveloped Monet in a hug.
"I _am_ perfect and I _can_ handle anything." Monet said, her voice slightly muffled in Paige's shoulder as she awkwardly hugged the southern girl back. "It's just nice to be acknowledged."
"Ah'll remember that in future," Paige promised, squeezing a little before releasing the hug.
"Good." Monet attempted to resurrect her composure, flicking back her hair and sipping her coffee. "While you are consigning things to memory, perhaps you should consider purchasing another suitcase." She looked down at the shabby, old-fashioned case beside them. "That one appears to have reached retirement age."
* * *
Emma rested her head in her hands. It was so silent. She had come to the office for sound, for noise, for the bustle that could sometimes almost approximate the constant susurration of a dozen or a hundred or a thousand living minds.
It wasn't working.
No matteer how noisy it was on the outside, the inside of her head was as silent as a tomb. She was all alone.
Work. Work would help. Work would occupy her, help her to think, fill up her mind with _something_, at least. She looked at the pile of papers on her desk. Lots of work here. Good.
Some time later - she wasn't sure how long - her personal assistant stuck a cautious head around the door. "Ms Frost?" She asked in a wary tone. "There's a call for you from a girl who says she's one of your students. Should I tell her to call back?"
Emma considered sending whoever it was away, but decided that that would be both irresponsible and selfish. No doubt Paige was calling to say that she'd arrived safely, so that no-one would worry. Wondering a little sourly why the girl had called here instead of the school, Emma waved for Amina to put the call through and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" she said in a rather acerbic tone.
"Hi." The voice on the other end of the line was so dull and listless that it took a moment for Emma to identify-
"Jubilee! Are you all right?" <<Stupid question, stupid question, I KNOW she isn't all right, that's why she's GONE.>>
"Fine. Jono made me call ta tell ya we're okay." Emma could almost hear the shrug. "We're okay."
"Good. I appreciate your calling." <<Bad, wrong, I sound like I'm mad at her・ could I possibly be any colder?>> "Have you gotten far?"
"We're in Pennsylvania. Jono's at the gift place buying tourist stuff." A very faint note of what might have been humour entered her voice. "Includin' a t-shirt, a teddy bear, a mug, a watch with a picture of the state on it, an' the dorkiest hat I ever saw in my life."
Emma boggled silently. "_Jono_ is buying _tourist stuff_?!" <<What on earth? Have I been worrying about the wrong one?!>>
"Yup. Keeps tryin' ta get me to wear the hat." The brief spark faded from Jubilee's voice. "I'll call ya again later, 'kay? Seeya, Frosty."
"Goodbye, Jubilee. Take care." The line went dead. Emma sighed. <<I hope I'm doing the right thing.>> She shook her head briskly and put down the phone. <<Don't be foolish, Emma. There is no 'right' thing to do here and you know it. All you can do the best you can.>>
* * *
Jubilee hung up the phone and stepped out of the booth. Strolling over to the Jeep, she looked around. "Jono? Dude? You done buyin' cheap crap?" She couldn't see him anywhere. "Jono?"
He ducked out of his third shop, clutching half a dozen parcels. Waving happily, he hurried over to her, the goofy green hat perched incongruously on his head. Crinkling his eyes, he fumbled with his parcels until he managed to hold out a small teddy bear wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Pennsylvania on it. With a bit more flailing, he managed to tap the first four letters of the name under the picture, then looked at her inquiringly.
"Ya bought that for Penny?" He nodded, holding it up hopefully. "Yeah, I think she'll like it. It's cute."
Jono fumbled for a few minutes with the keys, eventually dropping them as well as two of his parcels. Maintaining his grip on the remaining packages with some apparent difficulty, he gave her a bambi-eyed look of utter helplessness.
"Oh, okay, okay." Jubilee picked up the keys - and the parcels - and unlocked the Jeep, tossing the packages into the back seat. "Yer kinda cute when yer helpless, Jono." He nodded, fluttering his eyelashes exaggeratedly. "Oh, stop it."
Jono piled his purchases in the back, and bowed deeply, gesturing for her to climb in. She did so, rolling her eyes. "Will ya stop clownin' around? I ain't in the mood."
He nodded penitently, and trotted around the car to climb into the driver's seat. Looking at her, he pointed to a public bathroom in a nearby park. "Yeah, yeah, I went. Let's go."
They drove in silence for a few minutes, Jubilee staring out of the window. After a while, she turned to look at him. Despite the fact that she could only see half of his face, he definitely looked a little droopy. Even the silly hat had lost some of its perk.
"Jono?" She reached out to touch his shoulder. He looked around, his brown eyes concerned. "I'm sorry I snapped at ya."
He crinkled, and patted her shoulder, then fished around in the backseat for a minute with one hand. Proudly, he produced a slightly smaller hat - a blue one with large googly eyes that was blowing a raspberry at the world. He plopped it on her head with the air of one conferring a great favour, then looked hopefully at her.
Jubilee sighed. Refusing the hat would have been like kicking a puppy. "Thanks, Jono." She smiled at him.
It was amazing how he managed to beam without half his face, she thought fondly. It was so cute how easily pleased he was. Here was someone who didn't ask for her life, her alliegance, or her commitment. Just wear his dumb hat, and he was perfectly happy.
* * *
Wolverine stuck the final stamp on the small parcel, and smiled. Jubilee would love it, he thought a trifle smugly. She loved getting parcels in the mail, and he'd promised in the card that he'd come and see her some time soon.
After all・ her birthday was in two days. She knew he wouldn't miss that. He wouldn't let his little girl down.
End of Chapter Four