"Really? You're joking!" Ev held the phone away from his ear for a moment and looked at it, then spoke into it again. "He did? Wow・ Okay, thanks, Paige. We'll let you know if anything more happens at this end. Bye." He hung up, and turned to the semi-circle of teenagers that surrounded him.
"Spill, amigo! What did she say?" Angelo asked, leaning so far forward that he was nearly climbing into Ev's lap.
"I'll TELL you, if you get out of my face." Ev shook his head, his face unusually grim. "She SAID that she told Sam the whole story-"
"WHAT?!" Monet almost squeaked. "She wasn't supposed to do that!"
"I know, I know, but listen." Ev shushed her peremptorily. "Anyway, the minute she told him, Sam up and literally *flew* out the door. He went straight back to the mansion, grabbed Marrow, and took her back to the farm with him!"
"Oh really?" a cool voice asked. The assembled members of Gen X swung around guiltily to see Emma Frost standing in the doorway. "And what, precisely, is significant about that?"
"Uhm・ well・" Ev stuttered, staring up at her. "We just・uh・"
"Well・ she's about the same age as us, right?" Angelo shrugged, lighting a cigarette in complete defiance of the no-smoking-in-the-house rule. "And if Sam reacted like that, then he coulda tried it with her too, which means that I could be right about what's bugging Jubes so bad that she took off without telling anyone."
Emma shook her head slightly. "I assume I'm missing something here, since I can't picture Samuel Guthrie 'trying anything' with ANYONE. Would someone care to fill in the details of your little theory, children?"
"It's Angelo's theory, Ms Frost. Whether or not it is correct has yet to be determined," Monet corrected primly. "He has advanced the suppostition that Wolverine's prediliction for young female 'sidekicks' may not be as innocent as previously believed."
Emma, always pale, went as white as a sheet. For all her fury at the Canadian X-Man, *that* had never even occurred to her. But now that it did・ she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, they were as hard and cold as ice. "Oh really? And did Paige say *why* Cannonball took it upon himself to carry Marrow off?"
Ev nodded. "She said that he said that Wolverine beat Marrow up pretty bad only a couple days after she joined. Marrow said that he didn't try to・ you know・ grab her or anything," Ev blushed a little, "but she ALSO said that she wouldn't put it past him."
"No・" Emma's face was a cool, composed mask, but her voice simmered with rage. "Neither would I." She spun on her heel and headed for her office. "If you hear anything else about the situation, please inform me at once."
"Yes, Ms Frost." The students chorused.
When Emma was gone, Gaia looked at her fellow pupils curiously. "Is she always like that? I mean・ she always seems so distant and cold, but she seemed so MAD when we told her that Jubilee could have been hurt."
Ev nodded, smiling a bit bashfully at her. "Yeah, she's like that. Ms Frost isn't all that nice most of the time, and she's not good at showing it, but she really does care about us. Right, guys?"
Penny waved a hand for attention, and nodded vehemently. Monet looked at her combined sisters with the usual mix of guilt and affection in her eyes. "They told me that Emma tried to reach out to them more than once while they were pretending to be me. Not very *well*, but she tried."
The students fell silent, oddly comforted. No matter how hard Ms Frost was to deal with sometimes, she'd never actually let anything *hurt* them. She'd proved that when she'd dragged them all off in a confused attempt to 'hide' them during the Onslaught crisis. Now that she knew, she'd make sure Wolverine didn't hurt Jubilee again. She'd probably put out a contract on him and the rest of the X-Men and get Sabretooth to fill it before she let anyone hurt Jubilee again. She was like that.
In her office, Emma picked up the phone and tucked it under her chin while she looked up a number. Time to add a little.. insurance to her plans.
* * *
Wolverine, blissfully oblivious to the dark cloud of suspicion that hovered over him, had just finished a leisurely lunch at Harry's, and was stopping by the post office on his way home. Probably just bills, of course, but Kitty and Kurt was expecting a letter from Rahne, and Storm had sent away for some exotic seeds or other that she was looking forward to getting with an almost childlike enthusiasm.
Normally, Logan wouldn't be sent to collect the mail, since he had a rather reprehensible habit of taking anything that looked like bad news and making origami cranes out of it, but this time he had promised faithfully that he would not turn one single thing to 'a better use'. He was in a good enough mood that he might even accidentally 'lose' a bill or two by paying it himself.
Yup, life was pretty good, he decided, taking the handful of assorted post and heading back out towards his bike. The new team was starting to settle down a little, Kitty was back with them, and maybe this weekend he'd have the time free to go see・the kid・
"WHAAAAATT?!?!?" He bellowed, staring at the parcel in his hand. ((Resident no longer at this address)) stared back at him. "What the hell do you mean not at this flamin' address!?!?!" The parcel remained silent.
He turned around and stormed back to the counter, looking angry enough that the three people waiting in the queue decided not to make an issue of it. "What the fuck is this?" Logan shouted, waving the offending parcel at the hapless attendant.
"A・returned parcel?" The man said hopefully, shrinking back.
Logan gave him a filthy look. "I KNOW it's a flamin' returned parcel, punk," he snarled, leaning across the desk and grabbing the younger man by the front of the shirt. "WHY was it returned?"
The hapless postal worker, who had up until this minute lived an utterly blameless life and who in no way deserved what was happening, took a firm grip on the shreds of his courage and managed not to wet himself. "I don't know, sir. All I know is what it says on the parcel. You'd have to ask the people at that address if you want to know more. Sir."
Logan shook his head, trying to control his temper. "Uh・ sorry, kid." He let go of the younger man, who sagged slightly with relief. "Yer right. I'll go ask them." He stamped out of the post office, fuming. **When I get my hands on ya, Frost, yer either gonna tell me where Jubilee is or yer gonna rest in _pieces_・**
* * *
A little later that same day, Gaia answered a thunderous knock on the door to find a short, vicious looking man standing on the steps, flanked by a tall, beautiful black woman with white hair, and a shorter girl with soft brown eyes.
Gaia might be fairly new to the whole 'normal life' thing, but she knew better than to say 'come in' to a total stranger - especially one that looked that nasty. "Who are you?" she asked, keeping a firm grip on the door. "And what do you want?"
"We are looking for Jubilation Lee." The tall woman said coolly. The girl seemed to be trying to restrain the man, who was growling quietly.
Gaia stepped back a little, clearing the way to slam the door if necessary. "She's not here anymore. She left over a week ago. Sorry." She went to shut the door.
"Wait!" The girl said, over the man's incoherent snarl. "Where did she go? And why didn't she tell us?"
Gaia looked appraisingly at the strangers. They were all wearing spandex, with X's all over it. That being the case, she was fairly sure WHAT they were, if not who. "Are you X-Men?" She asked cautiously, trying to look as if 'yes' would be a good answer.
"Yes, we are." The girl smiled, looking relieved. "So you see, it's-"
Gaia promptly slammed the door and bolted it. Then pushed the hall table in front of it. Then she turned, cupping her hands around her mouth, and yelled as loudly as she could. "THE X-MEN ARE HERE!!! WHAT DO WE DO?!?!"
Everett appeared on the landing as if shot from a cannon. "Was there a short, hairy one in blue and yellow?" he demanded.
Gaia nodded. "The one who looked like he wanted to eat me?"
Ev promptly cupped HIS hands around his mouth and bellowed. "BATTLE STATIONS!!!" When the door fell in three minutes later, the entire population of the school were gathered in the lobby, looking distinctly unpleased to have guests.
This may have had something to do with the pitifully slashed and scarred remnant of a once fine oak door. Or the expensive hall table that lay in splinters. Or the headless state of a perfectly innocent if overly cute stone puppy that had until now done intermittent duty as a doorstop.
Of course, the identity of the new arrivals probably had more to do with it.
Emma folded her arms and glared. "Well, Wolverine, once again you manage to astound me. And here I thought you'd already sunk as low as possible," she said icily.
Wolverine blinked. This wasn't what he'd expected. "Why was this returned?" He demanded, brandishing the offending parcel. "And where's Jubilee?"
"Gone." Emma said flatly. "Thanks in no small part to your selfishness, unreliability, and general neglect. Now get out of my school before the police arrive."
"Is that what you think of us?" Storm demanded, while Logan sputtered incoherently. "You simply state that our friend is gone and expect us to leave? How do we know that you have not taken her for your own dark purposes, as you once did Kitty?"
"Think of you?" Emma walked forward until she was only a few feet away from the trio. "What do I THINK of you? I THINK that you're a selfish, egotistical bitch with delusions of godhood! I THINK that he is a mind-bogglingly self-centered, thoughtless, irresponsible bastard who I will not dignify by calling an animal, because no self-respecting animal would behave as he has done! I THINK that you both in particular, and the X-Men in general, have behaved with an appalling lack of concern towards a seriously traumatized child you somehow seem to believe that you still have a claim on!" She took a deep breath, and when she spoke again her voice had dropped from a near scream to her usual controlled tones. "And I THINK, since I am the only person that Jubilee felt able to trust with her whereabouts, that I have no intention of divulging them to you. Now get out, before I make you."
Woverine crossed the distance between them in two strides. "Try it, Frost," he hissed, "and yer gonna get carried out of here. Now tell me where Jubilee is, and don't give me no shit about her trustin' ya."
Emma looked down at him, her blue eyes as cold and hard as the pale blue topaz they resembled. "Never."
His claws popped out with a sickening sound. "Tell me, or I'll carve it outta ya."
Several people on both sides of the conflict started forward. This was getting very much out of hand. Emma ignored them, and sneered, her full lips twisting. "What's the matter? The little Shadowkitty not young enough for your・ tastes・ anymore?"
None of them even saw Wolverine's fist move. Emma went flying backward in a fine spray of blood, cannoning into Angelo who caught her with an admirable presence of mind. Ororo and Kitty grabbed Logan, glaring at Emma. Kitty was actually shaking with rage. "I don't know where the hell you get off, Frost," she hissed, "but that was WAY out of line."
Emma sat up dizzily, one hand going to her bleeding and obviously broken nose. "Really?" she said, as acidly as she could manage. "By his reagshud, I thoughd it was righd od the buddy."
Logan snarled, forcibly restraining himself from gutting her where she lay. Instead, he lashed out with one fist, sending a tall, graceful vase arcing through the air to smash across the floor at her feet. "Yer a good enough telepath ta know that yer blowing hot air, Frost," he said through gritted teeth. "Jubilee's like my own daughter, an' if she's hurt or upset then I wanna know where she is."
"Ye did," Sean said coldly, stepping forward. "Ye knew she was here f'r weeks, Logan. Ye knew what Bastion did ta her, ye knew what she'd been through, but ye didn't bother ta so much as call ta see if she was all right." His eyes unexpectedly filled with tears as he stared at his former teammates. "F'r god's sake, Logan, what were ye thinkin'? How could ye abandon the wee one right when she needed ye the most? She even called ye ta ask ye ta come, and ye didn't bother ta show up!"
A deathly cold feeling settled in Logan's stomach as he stared at Sean. "But・" he said weakly. "But・ she was fine. She said she was fine." **And since when does she say anything else? She's like you, you bastard, she never admits if she's hurtin'・**
"What the hell is going on here!?!" a new voice demanded from the doorway. Chief Authier stared in horror at the scene before him. The door beaten down, furniture and china lying smashed on the floor, and Emma Frost lying propped up by two of her students, with a broken nose and rapidly swelling eye.
Kitty, as usual, was the fastest on her verbal feet. "Sir, we came looking for a・friend" she said hastily. "And we-"
Sean cut her off. "I'm glad ye got here so fast, Chief Authier. We've a wee bit of a crisis here, as ye can see."
"Anytime." Authier said automatically, kneeling beside Emma. "Somebody should call an ambulance-"
"Nae need." Sean shook his head firmly. "I've been trained as a paramedic meself, since there's just the two o' us here, ye see. If ye could just do something about them," he pointed at the X-Men, "We can handle the rest ourselves."
Authier nodded and stood, looking critically at the conspiciously spandex-clad trio. "What exactly happened here?" he asked, folding his arms.
"That・woman," Storm snapped in her most regal voice, "is concealing our friend and will not tell us of her whereabouts."
"De wud I dold you aboud," Emma added helpfully. "Od the phode yesderday."
Authier nodded grimly. "Jubilee? And they came here looking for her?"
Emma nodded. "I dold you he was dajerous," she said, dabbing at the blood trickling out of her nose with a dainty white handkerchief. "I had do sed Jubilee away for her owd prodection, as well as do ged helb."
"Help?" Ororo snapped. "Why would she need help?"
"She dried do gill herself, Storb. Thad usually beans thad subwud deeds helb."
"She WHAT?!" Shrieked X-Men and Gen-Xers in ragged unison.
"I knew it!" Angelo snarled, glaring daggers at Wolverine. "And it's all HIS fault!"
"I wad resdradig orders. Lods of deb," Emma said firmly and rather indistinctly.
Authier looked puzzled. "What?
"She wants restraining orders. Lots of them," Angelo translated. They all stared at him, and he grinned a bit ruefully. "I've had a few amigos with broken noses over the years."
Emma nodded, wincing a little. "Be, Shawd, you gids, ad Jubilee. Ad I don'd wad hib dear by sgool, eider."
"I got most of that." Authier nodded. "I'll need the girl - Jubilee's - legal guardian to fill out the necessary paperwork, and you two as well."
"That'll no' be a problem." Sean nodded, handing Emma his own, rather larger handkerchief. "Emma and I are Jubilee's legal guardians. She's an orphan, poor lass. I'll handle all the paperwork necessary, but right now I'd like ta get Emma ta sickbay and set her nose."
"Good idea." Emma held up her arms. "Carry be."
Kitty decided that Wolverine's breathing had settled enough for her to take her hand away from his mouth and unphase him from the wall. He gritted his teeth and tried to speak calmly. "Are you tellin' me, Frost, that Jubilee tried to KILL herself? Here, in this school, under yer supervision?"
"And mine," Sean interceded. "And don't think we're any too proud o' lettin' it happen." He lifted Emma gently, and glared at the X-Men. "But at least we TRIED ta be here for the lass, which is more than I can say for ye. Now if you'll excuse us・" He turned his back on the X-Men and walked away. The students clustered together, obviously dying for someone to start a fight.
"I'd appreciate it if you would leave without making any more trouble." Authier said, without much hope. "I'm not fool enough to think that I can MAKE you leave, but I'l make myself damn inconvenient until you do."
"But・" Ororo protested weakly. Logan was standing hunched over beside her, no longer paying any attention to the proceedings. His face had fallen into the blank mask that she and Kitty both knew he used to cover intense emotion.
"Out." Monet said firmly, taking a step forward. "Or WE will make you leave." She smiled a smile that would do a crocodile proud. "On second thought, you may stay if you wish. I'm sure that forcibly ejecting you from the premises would make us all feel much better."
Ororo glared. "If you think you can push us around-"
"Oh, we can. And we will." Angelo, surprisingly, stepped forward to stand beside Monet. He pointed upwards. "You see that security camera?"
"Yes." Storm nodded uncertainly. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Either you leave, senora, or there's going to be a late-breaking special on the evening news about how the X-Men broke into a prestigious private school and beat up the headmistress - complete with video-taped evidence." He leaned forward, wearing the ugliest, most vicous expression Ororo had ever seen in her life. "And don't think I won't do it. I will."
There was a mutter behind him at that, but it died quickly. None of the remaining students had any particular loyalty to the X-Men, and to a teenager would not hesitate to sell the entire senior team down the river for what had happened to Jubilee and Emma. "And if he doesn't, I will." Everett agreed, folding his arms. "So you three can go play happy families somewhere else." He spat the phrase out. "Everything's just like it used to be, huh?"
Kitty involuntarily held her hand to her lips, the pieces finally falling into place. "No・ no, it isn't like that. Really・I didn't mean to・" Her eyes filled with tears.
"But you did." Monet said coldly. "I hope you're proud of yourselves. Now GO."
* * *
The next morning, Marrow stared into her bowl with a dubious expression. "It's got little brown bits floating in it."
Paige supressed a chuckle. "Ah know. That's nutmeg, it's supposed to be in there."
"And it's got curdled bits in it." Marrow complained, poking a an offending lump with a finger. "Look, they're as big as eyeballs!" She perked up slightly. "ARE they eyeballs?"
Paige shook her head and took a firmer grip on her patience. "Those're banana lumps."
Marrow looked at the food again. "It's grey." She said a bit sulkily. "It looks like an old sock."
Paige sighed. "It's porridge, Marrow. It's supposed ta look like that."
Marrow scowled. "That isn't porridge. Porridge is a sort of beige colour and it comes out of a box. This is grey with brown spots and big whitish lumps and little brown ones. That look like rat droppings."
"They're raisins." Paige leaned her chin on her hand and looked mournfully at the young Morlock sitting across the table. "Sarah-"
"All right, Marrow, Ah ain't trying to poison you. This is real country porridge. The kind that'll fill your stomach and keep you going all day and make you grow up big and strong. Just put some milk and syrup on it and give it a try, please? THEN complain about it, if you want." She pushed the two pitchers across the table.
Marrow looked at them, then at the bowl again. Then at the pretty, normal looking girl with the tired blue eyes who had tried to take time from looking after her mother and her brothers and sisters to make the newcomer feel welcome. With a martyred air, she picked up the syrup and sloshed it into her bowl. The milk she avoided. She'd seen it come out of a cow only a couple of hours ago, and she still wasn't used to the idea. Cautiously, she mixed the glop together, spooned up a mouthful and tasted it. Sludgy, but not too bad - she bit down on a raisin and blinked at the sudden change in taste and texture. The next bite had a piece of banana in it, which was different again.
Marrow decided that she liked real country porridge, and devoured the rest of the bowlful in three or four gulps.
A shrill growl from around ankle height interrupted her minute inspection of the bowl. Marrow looked down resignedly, reaching behind her to pull out a smallish bone that was just about ready. Sam regarded her as a sweet if misguided girl, his mother was apparently convinced that she was eight years old and in need of mothering, and the younger children had pronounced her 'cool' with an awe usually reserved for $800 action figurines.
Maisie the terrier, after about an hour of growling and hackle-raising, had apparently decided that Marrow was an unusually mobile snack machine. One which, if it didn't provide when growled at, would get a good sharp nip on the ankle.
Not that Marrow couldn't beat a little dog in a fair fight, but she was just starting to enjoy her new surroundings and didn't want to get herself into trouble just yet.
End Part Six B
Okay, guys・ this story is just getting too wide to handle. From now on, Maturity in B Minor will only follow Jono and Jubilee. But don't worry, true believers, the X-Men and Gen X will be covered in stories of their own. :)