The Jeep was still there. That was his only comfort. Wherever Jubilee was, she was on foot, which meant that she couldn't have gone too far. He would find her. He *had* to find her. She was alone somewhere out there and she *needed* him, of that he was sure.
He stood in the doorway, scanning the carpark frantically for any sign that she might have left. He was no tracker, no strategic genius who could figure out where she might go. He wasn't even a telepath anymore. His only assets were a long acquaintance and sheer desperation.
He didn't know what state of mind she was in, or why she'd picked now to take off. Hell, he wasn't even sure if she was awake. He couldn't rule out sleepwalking, in which case she might have wandered just about anywhere. He cursed silently. He had no way of knowing where she was. All he could do was search blindly and pray that luck smiled on him. He did have one clue, though; judging by his hurried look, the only thing she'd taken had been her coat. Her shoes were still lying on the floor by her bed, so wherever she was, she was barefoot. That, at least, put something of a limit on the places she might go.
With the shaky, queasy feeling of one who has woken to find the nightmare real, Jono hurried out to search for his missing friend.
* * *
Jubilee was lost. She wasn't sure where she'd been before she was lost, but she definitely didn't remember the place she was now. Pulling her coat tighter around her, she hurried down a dimly lit street. It was cold. She was glad she had her coat, she thought fuzzily then, looking down, she frowned in confusion. It was purple. Somewhere in her hazy thoughts, she thought that it should have been another colour... green, maybe, or yellow. Yes, yellow sounded right... maybe she'd dyed it? It didn't matter anyway. The important thing was that it kept the cold desert wind out.
Desert? Yes, that's right, this was a town in a desert. That explained the sand that was cutting into her bare feet. Why didn't she have any shoes? She wasn't sure. Maybe she'd lost them.
She couldn't seem to think clearly. Somehow her thoughts kept slipping away. She wondered briefly if she was dreaming, but that didn't seem important. The important thing was finding... finding... what? She was looking for something that she knew vaguely was important, but she didn't know what. She figured she'd know it when she found it, though, so she decided to just keep moving.
Jubilee tucked her hands into her pockets and turned a random corner. The silver dragon on her back glittered for a moment in the glow from a streetlight, then faded away.
* * *
Jono started the Jeep with shaking hands. In the last hour he'd thoroughly searched the area immediately surrounding the hotel, without finding any trace of Jubilee. With time passing at what seemed like an unnatural speed, he had decided to wager the increased amount of ground the Jeep could cover against the possibility that she might have wandered away from the roads. She would be on the roads. She had to be.
If he didn't find her within the next few hours, he resolved, he would somehow contact the police and convince them to help him search. That would, in the long run, make a great deal of trouble for himself, for Ms Frost, and for the school, but that was a risk he had to take. If necessary, Ms Frost could tamper with the memories of the cops involved, or bribe them, or something. The important thing was finding Jubilee.
He accelerated out of the carpark, ignoring the screeching tires.
* * *
Wolvie! Jubilee beamed. That was who she was looking for. Of course! How silly she was not to have realized. They must have gotten separated somehow, and now they had to find each other. That was comforting - it meant that she didn't really have to look anywhere in particular. If she just kept wandering around, she'd leave a trail in enough places that he'd be sure to run across it, and then he'd find *her*.
Her feet were really starting to hurt. The sand was scraping them raw, abrading the delicate skin cruelly with every step she took. She must have walked far enough, right? She must have left miles of trail by now. Wolvie would be sure to find her soon. He always found her, after all.
She sat down in a small angle between two walls, huddling out of the wind. Her small fingers clutched the coat tighter around her, and she pulled her knees up to her chest. It was colder now that she wasn't moving. She hoped Wolvie came soon.
She frowned, as a mental picture of someone tall, dressed in black flickered across her mind. He seemed familiar, too. A friend of Wolvie's? Maybe an enemy? She tried to think about something else. Wolvie. He would find her, and then everything would be all right. Wolvie always came when she needed him... didn't he? She shook her head. Of course he did.
They guy in black just wouldn't go away, though. He kept popping into her head, wavering just out of focus. Jubilee concentrated, trying to see the image clearly. She was sure that if she could pull it into focus, she'd somehow pull her brain into focus too. Maybe he was a telepath, screwing with her head! She shook it, trying to dislodge the nagging image. He didn't want her to find Wolvie, that was it. He was trying to keep her away from Wolvie!
Jubilee scrambled to her feet, fear clutching at her heart. He was going to keep her away from Wolvie, so she had to get away from Him. He would be looking for her, so she had to hide... but where? Where was a place He wouldn't look for her? She clutched her head, trying to think.
* * *
Jono screamed silently in frustration. If he'd had his powers, he could have trailed her... sensed where she was and gone to her... but all he could do was roam around blindly trying to find a trace, a clue, something, anything...
He pulled to a halt, resting his forehead on the wheel. His friend was lost and almost certainly in danger. He could not find her without telepathy. Therefore, he must somehow regain his telepathy for at least the moment or two he needed to pinpoint her. Simple. Easy. He could do that. No problem.
He closed his eyes, and focused inwards, seeking out the place inside his mind that no longer did what it was supposed to. Then, for the first time, he probed deeper. It wasn't enough that he knew where the problem was. He had to figure out *why* the problem was.
Telepath he might no longer be, but he still had the abnormal *awareness* of his own mind, the access to his self from outside as well as from inside. Like a snake inspecting its coils, or a cat looking down its own spine, he searched through the corners of his mind.
The breach itself was surprisingly easy to find. A long streamer of darkness had somehow wrapped itself around his telepathic abilities... which currently resembled a radar dish. Jono had a rather un-telepathlike habit of thinking in metaphors, which meant that when he explored his mind it tended to look more like a rather cluttered underground complex than the more 'realistic' abstract amalgamations most telepaths envisioned. While this sometimes caused problems, it was also occasionally useful. Such as, for example, now. Jono looked around, picked up a half forgotten mathematical equation, and clouted the streamer with it. It twanged, but didn't let go. Jono scowled. This...THING was taking up the powers he needed to find Jubilee. Obviously what he needed was heavier ammunition.
He knew just where to find it, too.
Jono left the streamer and the radar array and headed down a relatively unused corridor. Metaphorical dust lay thick on its hypothetical floor, and Jono tried not to try not to think about it, which was what he usually did and why the dust was so thick, but while he was actually IN his mind, thinking about something else would put him some*where* else and he didn't have time for that. Taking a small amount of comfort in gritting his imaginary teeth, he pushed open a door marked 'Gayle'. It didn't take him long to find a wickedly sharp memory, as hard as adamantium and as cold as ice. He picked it up, ignoring the cruel edges that sank into his hands.
His friend needed him.
Jubilee needed him.
He clung to that thought like a talisman as he struggled through the hallways of his mind, the agonizing memory slowly numbing his arms and weighing down his feet. Blood dripped down his arms and splattered in the dust.
Jubilee needed him.
The words repeated over and over in his mind. What seemed like aeons later, he staggered into the room containing the radar array and its darksome parasite. It shimmered a little in the light, like a fat, glistening leech fastened onto a vital part of himself.
Jubilee needed him.
Three words like a prayer. He gathered the last fragments of his strength, and lifted the memory high. The intruding power-leech quivered a little as the heat of his rage washed over it, but it held, seeming to defy him. Jono clenched his teeth as the memory fell with a whistle like the scream of a tortured soul.
Jubilee needed him.
He let the words hum in his mind as the hard, hurting memory sliced through the intruder, tearing it loose as it hissed and squealed in denial. The pain and loss and guilt of it tore the leech asunder, sending it back whence it had come in a flurry of blood and shrieking psychic feedback.
Jubilee needed him.
He clung to the remnant of the thought as his consciousness faded, white-hot pain blazing in his head as the unforgiving memory sliced through the radar array that was his telepathy, shattering and tearing a huge section of it away.
Jono woke up with his head on the steering-wheel. He sat up groggily, head aching and pounding in a rhythm that would make him a fortune if he ever recorded it. Too bad he was in too much pain to pay attention to it. **Rot it... reckon I did some sorta permanent damage in there...** He touched the remains of his face, and his hand came away red. Nosebleed. His brain was leaking.
That, however, was less than important. He still didn't think he could speak, but he could vaguely sense a comfortingly familiar mind not far away. Good enough... his telepathy was back on its feet, and if not running, then at least limping in the right direction.
Jono restarted the Jeep and floored it.
* * *
Jubilee settled herself a little more firmly in the fork of a tall tree. Hah. She'd like to see Mr Tall, Dark and Unfocused get her up here. Nope, this was a good tree. Wouldn't take anyone heavier than her, that was for sure.
She shivered, wondering briefly why she was only wearing her pyjamas under her coat. She felt so groggy and confused... she wasn't even sure what she and Wolvie had been doing when they got separated. On a trip, maybe? She was vaguely aware that it had been a long time since they went on a trip. Come to think of it, she thought it had been a while since she'd even seen Wolvie.
A very small part of her mind was jumping up and down and screaming for attention, but the static filling her head drowned it out.
Below her, a Jeep hurtled around a corner and screeched to a halt. She looked down hopefully. That looked like the way Wolvie usually drove. But no.... the figure that emerged from the battered vehicle was tall and thin. It was him! But not in black this time, she realized. He was wearing a faded pair of sweatpants and a ragged grey t-shirt, with what looked like blood splattered down the front, and his feet were bare. The black wrappings covering his face were askew, and a faint glow seeped out between them.
He staggered, one hand going to his head, and Jubilee fought down a sudden surge of concern. She huddled in her tree, not making a sound. **He won't find me if I'm quiet... I can hide here and he won't find me...**
He stumbled over to the tree, weaving a little, and looked up at her. His face was caked with blood and his eyes were red-rimmed. Tangled hair fell over those eyes , making them narrow a little as he peered through it. He was a mess.
But oh, so familiar a mess.
The haze in her mind vanished, and Jubilee scrambled down the tree, scraping hands and feet in her hurry. Sobbing, she tumbled into Jono's arms, which tightened comfortingly around her. "I w-was lookin' fer him... J-Jono, I w-was looking fer W-Wolverine... I th-thought he was g-gonna come and f-find me..." Bone-deep sobs wracked her as betrayal and loss hit her afresh.
**It's... don't... okay... Jubi...** A faint, static-filled psionic voice echoed in her mind. She looked up in surprise, to see his face twisted with effort. Fresh blood was trickling out of his nose.
"Stop that!" She glared at him through her tears. "Yer all I've got left, Jonothan Starsmore, so don't you go hurtin' yerself just ta make me feel better!" He nodded, wincing. "Jono... what happened to ya?"
He touched her cheek lightly, then looked around as if searching for someone. Then he touched his head and winced. "You tried ta use telepathy ta look for me?" He nodded again. "Jono... what happened to me? Was I dreaming?"
He shrugged, hugging her protectively. Jubilee snuffled, wiping her eyes on his shirt. "What if it happens again?" Jono tapped the remains of his chest, then looked around again. "What if you can't find me?" He touched his temple again. "But... it hurts, doesn't it? Your nose is bleeding." He shrugged again, crinkling at her. Jubilee sighed. "Jono, when I said I wanted ta hurt someone, I didn't mean *you*."
Jono touched two fingers to the outer corners of her eyes, then did his searching look again, and touched his chest. She sighed. "O'course I woulda done the same thing fer you, that ain't the point! *I* wouldn't deep-fry my brain trying!" He shrugged, poking her gently in the sternum, then nodding his head. "Well, if I *could*, yeah, but..." She scowled at him, a faint twinkle finding its way back into her eyes. "Yer seriously weird, ya know that?"
He gave her an affronted look. "Oh, ya ARE... I mean, seriously abnormal, and not just the bio-nuclear-furnace thing." She grinned at him. "I mean, like, *most* guys in this situation would be at least puttin' a few moves on me. All yer tryin' ta do is bleed all over my pyjamas."
Jono crinkled at her, and hobbled melodramatically towards the jeep with one hand pressed to his back, the other wielding an imaginary cane. Jubilee giggled a little hysterically at the sudden relief in tension. "You are not old. Yer only...what... eighteen?" He nodded, hobbling even more dramatically. "Jeez, Jono..." She followed him to the car. "I know yer only tryin' ta cheer me up."
He nodded, crinkling fondly at her, and reached through the window of the Jeep to pull out an untidily folded blanket. Shaking it out, he slung it over his shoulder and reached for her jacket. Until then Jubilee hadn't noticed how cold she was, but she gratefully eased the thin jacket off her shoulders and let Jono wrap the thick woolen blanket tightly around her. He tossed the jacket into the back of the car, then picked her up, blanket and all, and settled her in the passenger seat. She suddenly felt very, very tired, and it was nice to be fussed over a little. Good old Jono. Yawning, she followed him with bleary eyes as he walked around and slid into the driver's seat. He fumbled a little with the keys, and she felt a surge of worry, but somehow her eyes were too heavy to focus on his face.
Ten minutes later, Jono pulled into the motel parking lot, and looked down at Jubilee. She was snuggled against his arm, fast asleep, looking like a rather grubby cherub. He crinkled fondly, ignoring the blinding headache pounding away like a hammer-happy Thor behind his eyes. Ordering his knees not to buckle, he carried her into their room and tucked her gently into bed, brushing the hair out of her face. She barely stirred, turning her cheek into the pillow and sighing softly before falling deeper into sleep. Jono looked around, and grabbed a dilapidated chair, dragging it in front of the door. Wincing, he settled down into it, pulling the blanket he'd unwrapped from Jubilee over himself, preparing for a long night.
* * *
Jubilee yawned. Bright, dusty sunlight was pouring through the window and onto her bed, and she was hot. Sitting up, she blinked at the light and rubbed her eyes. Her face was sticky, her feet ached, and it felt like there were twigs down her back.
"Guess that wasn't a dream." She closed her eyes for a moment, resting her head on her knees. Her subconscious had, she felt, let her down. **All that time getting' over the bastard an' tryin' ta move on, and he goes and sneaks in the back way. Typical.** She stretched, and looked over at the other bed.
Nobody in it. Hm.
Jono was slumped in a rickety chair pushed back against the door, a blanket sliding down his legs onto the floor. His face was still smeared with blood, and his shirt still spattered with it. Jubilee's eyes suddenly filled with tears. Somehow, what Jono had done eclipsed anything that Logan ever had. Jono had no healing factor, no hyper-senses, no years of experience and training. Not even a voice that worked. He couldn't blithely throw himself into harm's way in the sure knowledge that he'd heal in a matter of minutes. And despite that, he'd done it anyway. Not just in looking for her... but in leaving the relative safety of the school with only a thin layer of gauze to shield him from the outside world.
He'd been so tired he hadn't even straightened his bandages. Somehow the small cracks of light just made him look cute and defenceless. The blood kinda detracted from the cuteness, though.
Jubilee wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and dragged herself out of bed, wincing as her tender feet hit the rough, worn carpet. She hobbled into the bathroom and ran cold water onto a facecloth, wiping the sand and salt off her face. The coolness felt good, and she felt a small twinge of surprise. It was a long time since anything had seemed to feel good.
She rinsed the cloth out, and padded back into the bedroom. It only took a light touch on Jono's shoulder to wake him, and he sat up, blinking. Jubilee held up the cloth. "Hold still fer a minute and lemme get that blood off." He nodded, and winced. "Head still hurt?" He nodded again, more carefully this time. "Can't do much about that, but I can clean ya off." She smiled a bit grimly. "Hey, when I was with the X-Men I did this all the time."
Jono raised an eyebrow, and she nodded, sponging at the dried blood. His skin felt hot and dry under her fingers - almost papery. "The trick is not ta be too nice to it. Don't dab. That takes forever. You gotta get a little strength in the strokes... but not enough to do more damage, or grind in any dirt that's on it." She picked at a difficult spot with a fingernail. "And don't let it get to ya. It's just blood. Just because it came outta a friend doesn't make it any worse."
Jono caught her hand, looking up at her with shocked eyes. A faint, humourless smile flitted across her face. "What... ya think it was all fun and games, dude? I mighta made it sound that way, but I didn't tell you rookies any o' the bad stuff. Ya get hurt a lot, an' it's the kid firecracker who's still in big enough pieces to clean the big guns off when they go down. Junior member's the one who's awake ta hang around wait in' ta see if the rest are gonna pull through one more time." He touched her arm gently, and she bit her lip. "Guess that's why it hurt so bad when they didn't wait around fer me, huh? All that time hangin' around outside the Medlab, down the drain."
Jono reached out and tugged her onto his lap, hugging her gently. She rested her head on his shoulder. "I just... thought I meant more ta them than that, ya know?" He nodded, resting his cheek against the top of her head. "And it looks like I didn't." She snuffled a little. He rubbed his hand in soothing circles over her back. She was talking. Talking was good. She was also getting snot on his t-shirt, but who cared.
Jubilee wept quietly, regretfully, but without the terrible bitterness there had been before. After a few minutes, she sat up, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "Thanks, dude." He nodded and shrugged, crinkling at her. She smiled, and tossed him the cloth. "Yeah, whatever. I'm gonna go take a shower and get dressed, okay? You clean yerself off and get inta some clean clothes so we can go grab some breakfast."
* * *
"The trick ta waffles is, you gotta get the syrup on both sides." Jubilee shoveled another large bite into her mouth. "That's what makes 'em really good." After a quick round of recuperative shopping, they had settled down to a late breakfast.
Jono nodded amiably, and pulled the plate away for the eighth time, replacing it with a bowl of fruit-salad. Jubilee grinned at him, and impaled a slice of peach with her fork. "Jono, what is it with you and eatin' healthy? I'm young! I'm out on the road away from the adults! If I eat healthy stuff I'll be lettin' down teenagers everywhere!" She popped the slice into her mouth and reclaimed the waffles. "I dunno 'bout you, but I think sugar is a major part of a balanced diet. The more the better."
Jono nodded again, and pulled the plate away again, pushing the fruit closer. She rolled her eyes. "Jono, you are not, like, *listening* to me. That is HEALTHY food. I don't LIKE healthy food.
He raised an eyebrow and poked meaningfully at the fruit salad. Jubilee sighed. "It is *too* healthy. Look, there's green bits in it!" Jono shook his head, and poked it again. "No, the icecream does *not* raise it ta the level of junkfood, it just makes it edible."
* * *
"It actually smells pretty good in here now." Jubilee sniffed critically. "I ain't too fond of pine, but it's better than dog pee."
Jono nodded, eyes twinkling. She curled up in her freshly cleaned seat, and flexed her bare feet absently. "Jono?" He raised an eyebrow. "Um... I gotcha a present. While we were shopping this morning."
He looked over at her, eyes gleaming. She giggled. "Pull over for a second, and I'll give it to ya." He did so, swerving onto the shoulder, then holding out his hand expectantly. Jubilee grinned. "Close yer eyes. I didn't get a chance ta wrap it up."
Jono closed his eyes obediently, still holding his hand out. Jubilee dug into her bag, turning her back to make sure he couldn't see, even if he peeked. "Well, actually, there's two of 'em, but one's pretty small." She plopped something cool and smooth into his hand. "Open!" He opened. Sitting on his palm was a small, neat paperback book. The plain blue letters on the front announced that it was 'A Beginner's Guide To Basic Sign-Language'.
Jubilee nibbled on her lip. "Well... I thought it might come in handy if y'ever had ta, like, talk to someone besides me, you know?"
Jono looked down at the little book in his hand, and suddenly felt like bawling. It was easily the most thoughtful present he'd ever gotten. Jubilee had obviously gone looking for something - he'd wondered why she'd taken so long in the book-store - that he really, genuinely needed. He leaned over and hugged her tightly, surreptitiously wiping his eyes behind her back.
Jubilee hugged him back, pleased by his obviously happy response. "Glad ya like it." Jono nodded into her shoulder, then sat up suddenly. He held up the book in one hand, and two fingers with the other. Hefting the book, he folded down one finger, then looked at the other. He grinned at Jubilee, and held out his hand. She chuckled. "Oh yeah, yer other present. Uhm... here." Rather diffidently, she produced a small square of cardboard and dropped it into his hand.
He held it up, and looked at it in some surprise. Pinned to the cardboard was a tiny golden angel, with a pale green stone held between its wings. The printing beside it announced that it was a Guardian Angel which would Watch Over Him and Bring Him Luck, and incidentally Contained His Birthstone. He looked over at Jubilee, who squirmed a little. "Well... they were on sale. And I figured we're going to need all the luck we can get, right?" She looked at him a little anxiously. "The birthstone's right, ain't it? It says on yer driver's license that yer birthday's in August."
Jono nodded, turning the little angel in his fingers and watching it sparkle. He looked up at Jubilee, and crinkled, touching a fingertip to his bandages and then to her cheek. She beamed at him. "Ya like it?"
He nodded, and carefully unpinned it from the cardboard, attaching it to the inside of his coat, right over his heart. Then he touched it, and pointed at her, raising an equiring eyebrow. "Where's mine?" she guessed. He nodded. "Why would I buy one fer me?" She reached over and patted his arm. "I've already *got* a guardian angel."
Some time later, mushy moment over, they rounded a corner to find a car pulled over on the side of the road, with a very obvious flat tire. Jono slowed down as they approached, giving Jubilee an enquiring look. She shrugged. "I guess we should help, huh? This ain't exactly a main road. Might not be anyone else along today. Just don't let them get a good look at ya, in case they're, like, FOHers or somethin'."
Jono nodded, and they pulled over. Jubilee leaned out of the window, putting on her best cheerful-and-harmless-california-girl-mutant-who-me-never-even-heard-of- them face. "You need a hand?"
"If it knows how to change a tire, we'd love one. Two would be even better." One of the two young women who were standing by the car looked at them hopefully.
Jubilee looked at Jono, who nodded. "Sure," she agreed. "We'll help out." They scrambled out of the Jeep, and Jubilee led to way towards the other car. "I can change a tire, and Jono'll gimme a hand." She jerked a thumb back at her lanky, black-clad companion. "Don't let the bandages bother ya none, he just got in a fight a while back and got his dumb jaw all smashed up. 's wired shut, an' it's pretty gross." She wrinkeld her nose and grinned. "That'll teach him ta cheer fer the visiting team at a home game, huh?"
The girl who had spoken before giggled. "I guess so. I'm Casey, by the way." She held out her hand. "That's Grace." The other young woman nodded, and smiled coolly, but didn't move from her position leaning against the car. "Ignore her, she's crabby because I went and got us a flat tire."
Jubilee chuckled, and shook the proffered hand. "I know how that goes, believe me." She cracked her knuckles. "So show us ta that spare tire, huh?"
A few minutes and some effusive thanks later, Jono and Jubilee were back in the Jeep and on their way. Jubilee stretched, and ruefully inspected a newly broken nail. "Think they suspected anything? A broken jaw was the best I could come up with on a moment's notice." Jono gave her a thumbs up. "Yeah, I think they bought it. Seemed nice, though... maybe they wouldn'ta minded." She shrugged. "Better safe than sorry, I guess." Jono nodded.
Behind them, Grace watched the Jeep vanish from sight. "Well, they sure seemed nice. Much nicer than I thought their kind could be."
Casey nodded, stretching and getting up from her position by the newly repaired wheel. "See? I told you, they're just like us, really." She tossed the jack in the boot, and thunked it closed. "Think they noticed anything?"
"Huh?" Grace shrugged and winced, reaching back and straightening out her tail, which had spent an uncomfortable quarter of an hour hidden against the car "Nah, they didn't suspect a thing."
End Part Nine