Homecomings: Chapters 1-8

by Alex Cartwright

Summary: Not all homecomings are happy ones.
Disclaimer: These characters are the Property of Marvel Comics. No profit is made from their use.
Feedback: Please, please at [email protected]

Chapter One: Sometime to Return

It had been two years since Bobby Drake had been back to the sprawling mansion in Westchester. Two years since he had left his friends・the people he had considered to be his second family・to care for his ailing father in Long Island, a man he had stopped talking to when he was only sixteen years old. While he was able to close the distance between them, his mind always went back to this place.

He stared at the familiar wrought iron gates that separated his black Volkswagen Jetta from his former home. Suddenly, he felt apprehensive. What kind of reaction was his homecoming going to elicit? Welcoming arms or hostile stares? He almost thought about turning his car around and driving away. Then he stopped himself, snorting.

This is ridiculous. I was an adult when I left with things to care of. Anyone would understand why I had to go and why I couldn・t come back. Well, at least, not right away. He pulled out the remote control for the gates from his glove compartment. As they drew open, he felt as if they were somehow greeting him back from a long absence.

He parked his car in front of the garage. Throwing his duffel bag over his shoulder, he peered around the manicured grounds. In spite of how large the property was, he instantly felt at home. He smiled to himself as he made his way to the front door. Much to his surprise, his key still opened the foreboding oak door with brass lion・s head knocker.

As he entered the foyer, a mixture of familiar scents greeted his nostrils. They were faint, but he knew them all too well. The fragrance from Ororo・s rose garden, the spicy musk from Cuban cigars Bishop favored, motor oil from Scott・s second loves in the garage, the sweetness of the peppermints the Professor kept in his study for the younger students. Thinking about the latter made Bobby realize he was quite hungry after his road trip. Apparently, a bag of Combos and black coffee from the local convenience store didn・t go as far as he thought they would.

The kitchen was still warm from Cook・s famous ginger snaps, which she would bake daily before dinner. While the portly Englishwoman was nowhere in sight, her cookies sat atop wire racks on the counters for cooling. He glanced sideways to see if anyone was around. Many times, he had experienced slaps in the back of the head from Jean, Ororo, or Betsy for his attempted thievery. When he noticed no one was around to stop him, he pounced on the sweets, devouring two in his watering mouth.

Ahh・This is what I really missed, he thought, popping another cookie into his mouth. I wonder what・s for dinner?

・Hi, Bobby.・

Bobby turned around, swallowing. His eyes took in the girl he had first met when she was thirteen. She was seventeen now, but somehow she appeared older than that. There were no lines to her face, just a certain wariness that emanated. The short, spiky black hair now tumbled down her shoulders, streaked with midnight blue. As she sauntered towards him, he noticed she was taller and slimmer. Even her once child-like face had matured as well. However, this did not diminish the exquisiteness of her features. Instead, the years had only served to enhance them, particularly her eyes. Despite the time that had passed, those eyes remained that striking shade of sapphire blue. Her clothes also reflected her sense of maturity. Gone were the pink sunglasses and bright yellow raincoat with matching gloves. Instead, she wore a pair of faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and a navy, zip-up cardigan. Her trademark roller blades were now replaced with quieter sandals.

Bobby quickly cracked a smile to greet her. ・Hey there, Jubes,・ he drawled, leaning against the kitchen counter. ・Long time, no see. You look・Great.・ He was about to say beautiful, but recovered. Still, he could feel the beginnings of a blush creep across his cheeks. Confused, he briefly turned away from her. For some reason, it felt strange and wrong to say something like that to her.

Jubilee smiled, not noticing his discomfort. ・Thanks,・ she replied, ・School・s kept me tied up. Since the academy closed, everyone here・s determined to make sure I don・t fall behind. Especially, Dr. McCoy.・ She shuddered at the thought of the chemistry homework that still awaited her attention.

・Yeah, Hank never loses his enthusiasm for passing on knowledge,・ Bobby mused with a laugh. He could almost picture his old friend pontificating about the finer points of learning for the sake of learning.

・Tell me about it. He・s already put together my summer reading list, and it・s only November!・ She held up a copy of ・The Stranger・ by Albert Camus to emphasize her point.

Then her grin faded as she asked, ・So, what have you been up to?・ From the serious tone she used, he could tell that someone had told her why he had left. At the time, she had been in Massachusetts with Emma and Sean, and was not around to see him leave.

Bobby simply shrugged, his eyes lowered. He did not want to see what he thought was pity from those old-soul eyes. ・Just went home to take care of my dad,・ he replied nonchalantly. ・Started working as an accountant again with this firm in Manhattan, but the pressure of being a big-shot got to me so I・m here.・ He tried to laugh, but the sound came out as a rough bark.

She watched his attempt to cover his feelings with empathy. Hank often said that Bobby・s great defense mechanism was his use of humor. This was no exception. Clearly, the two years he had spent with his father, a man he had been estranged from for some time, had some effect on him. However, he seemed reluctant to say how much.

Instead of prodding him for more information as Jean or Ororo would, Jubilee decided to respect his need for privacy・at least for a little while. ・Well, I・m glad you・re back. Things were really boring without you. I mean, nobody here has a sense of humor,・ she told him, reaching into the refrigerator for some milk. She then retrieved two glasses from the cupboard and proceeded to serve. ・You・re here to stay, right?・

Bobby was taken aback from the soft, almost imploring tone in the young girl・s voice. He could see years of pain and abandonment in those blue eyes. He knew she had experienced her own share of loss during her brief lifetime. There was the death of her parents. Then Logan, the man she had considered her surrogate father, left the mansion to conduct some soul-searching and severing all contact with everyone, including the Professor. Those two losses combined had been rough on her. He remembered overhearing Scott comforting the young girl right after Logan left. Her tears and her unanswered pleas for him to come back were heartbreaking to anyone who heard them.

He was surprised to find that his absence was almost comparable. It wasn・t that they did not get along・quite the contrary. When he was living at the mansion, they were partners in crime as far as pranks and wisecracks were concerned. But since he was older than her (by seven years), they really did not spend all that much time together. While she was at the academy, he was often involved in saving the world. Then there was Logan. When he was still living at the house, he kept a tight rein on his little prot・・ evidently wary of other men and their possible influence on her.

Suddenly, he felt strange about the rush of feelings he was experiencing. It was a mix of affection, protectiveness, and something else he could not quite put his finger on. He knew they were intense, which made him quite uncomfortable at that moment. What is the matter with me?

Bobby managed a weak smile, trying not to meet the sapphire gaze of the young girl. ・Are you saying you missed me, Jubes?・ he asked, his tone rather teasing. ・If you did, I can put you on the mailing list for my fan club. I・m sure you could easily be president.・

Her solemn expression became light. She grinned and retorted, ・Then that would make me the only member.・

・That was harsh,・ he commented, running a hand through his sandy hair. He was relieved that there was some levity between them now. It was almost the way things used to be.

・Sorry, but the truth hurts.・ She peered down at her watch and finished her glass of milk. ・I should get going. I・m supposed to help Jean with dinner tonight.・ After they got married, Scott and Jean asked the Professor to construct a house on the grounds so that they could be close by, but have their privacy. Just before Bobby left to care for his father, Jubilee moved in with them, to get away from the memories of Logan.

・What・s for dinner?・ Bobby inquired; still hungry even after the cookies he had inhaled. He was half-hoping for an invitation.

・Not cookies,・ a familiar voice informed him.

He turned around to see the smiling face of his good friend, Jean Grey, who was standing in the doorway. She was as striking as ever. Her thick, red hair was pulled into a sensible ponytail, which brought attention to her swan-like neck. Her green eyes sparkled while she took him in. Always a conservative but stylish dresser, she wore a light pink blouse and a black, A-line, wool skirt with black heels. As she walked across the room toward him, he noticed that she was graceful as ever. It was no wonder the males around the mansion vied for her attention.

She pulled him into a friendly hug, the scent of her lilac perfume tickling his nose. ・Welcome home,・ she whispered. Then she drew back to get a better look at him. She could sense something was bothering from the fact that he wasn・t wearing his trademark grin. Even without doing a scan of his mind, she knew he had been through a great deal during his time with his father. While no one in the mansion had any idea how sick the elder Mr. Drake was, Jean could tell that the thought of almost losing his father was too much for Bobby. Peering into his face now, she wasn・t sure if that was what was the only thing troubling him.

・Hey, Jeannie,・ he greeted. ・It・s great to see you. You look beautiful as ever.・

She laughed. ・Always laying the charm.・ To Jubilee, she said, ・You should watch out for that.・

Jubilee smiled, then shrugged. ・Please, it・s Bobby,・ she replied jokingly, rinsing her glass and placing it in the dishwasher. ・Do you want me to start dinner? I think I can handle the lasagna.・

・Why don・t we have dinner here? Bobby・s home and we can ask Cook to do something special. Do you want to ask her?・

・Sure.・ As she began to walk out of the kitchen, she paused at the doorway, turning to Bobby. ・I・ll see you around,・ she said, her voice soft. The younger, brash Jubilee would never have used that tone of voice.


Jean followed his stare to the now empty doorframe. ・She grew up.・

・Yeah. She turned out alright.・ Alright was an understatement.

・She certainly did. It・s a miracle, especially after what she・s been through,・ Jean mused, referring to the many losses in the young girl・s life, as well as her brief imprisonment at the hands of Bastion. ・Some people have this inner resiliency.・

・It also helps to have supportive people around her, like you and Scott.・ Bobby pointed out quietly. He witnessed first-hand the couple・s efforts to help her after she had returned from those months with Bastion. It had been Scott and Jean, not Logan, who made sure the girl received the medical and psychological care necessary for her recovery. While Logan wanted to seek retribution and immediately set out to find Bastion and the others, Scott and Jean created a safe home with them for the girl. They were the ones to realize that she needed to feel protected and loved, rather than revenge for what had been done.

Jean smiled, leaning against the counter. ・We did what we could. She was the one who did most of the work to get herself back together.・ She then changed the subject. ・So, how are you, Bobby Drake?・

・Me? I was hoping that you would have me over at the house for dinner.・

・That could be arranged. But you didn・t really answer my question.・

・Are you reading my mind?・ He was suddenly defensive and surprised. Usually, Jean did not like probing without the other person・s consent unless it was absolutely necessary.

She shook her head emphatically. ・No, I didn・t have to do that. It・s just that I can tell from the way you・re acting. You seem tense.・

Inwardly, he sighed with relief. ・I have been on the road for several hours. It・s been a long day for me.・

・Is that all?・ After growing up together, Jean knew when Bobby was trying to be evasive. Weak humor and lame excuses were the usual defenses he used to avoid talking. It was trademark Drake. ・Bobby・・

He watched her face become drawn with concern for him. She had always played the role of the dutiful, older sister when they were growing up, making sure he was he was fine and that he was adjusting to his gifts. Whenever Scott or Warren would attempt to leave him out of their activities (they were older and found his sense of humor immature), she would make an extra effort to include him. Staring back into the face of his loyal friend, he knew he could no longer keep up his fa・de of normalcy.

Bobby walked over to the kitchen table, motioning for Jean to join him and take a seat. When she did so, he said, ・My dad・s doing better.・

・Bobby, that・s wonderful news.・ Jean paused, noticing that her friend did not share her enthusiasm. ・But?・

・We were getting along well, but the whole mutant thing was always in the way. He was always so scared at first, thinking that Creed and his goons were going to come back to finish him. It seemed worse when I was home. He didn・t want anyone we knew to know that I was home with him and my mom. He was afraid that they were aware of what I am. With strangers, he was more than happy to introduce me as his son, provided I didn・t show off my powers.・

His gray eyes became bitter as he continued to speak. ・It was as if I didn・t belong at home, with my family. I went to the city and got a job, tried to be as normal as I could for him. I even stopped calling here to give Scott and the Professor updates. Somehow, it wasn・t enough. I was miserable. There were many times I wanted to say, ・Screw it・ and leave. But I couldn・t leave my mom completely alone. It would have been too much for her, so I stayed and endured being the shame of the family for the next two years.

・The only thing that kept me sane was thinking about this place. You know, eventually coming back here.・ He swallowed hard, his boyish features edgier than they had ever been. ・I didn・t realize until I was gone that this was and still is home for me. I guess I never appreciated the family I had here until I left.・

Jean put a sympathetic hand on his arm. ・I think we all feel that way sometimes about things in life,・ she told him quietly.

He nodded. ・It・s just that when I was with my folks, I felt guilty about wanting to come back here. I should have focused mentally on my dad, but I kept thinking about you guys here and what I was missing. When he had finally recovered, it was as if I could not get away fast enough.・

As she listened to him, she could understand his ambivalence about saying anything. He was clearly torn about what had happened. It also sounded as if he was disappointed about not healing his strained relationship with his father. She knew when Bobby was getting ready to leave the mansion, he was looking forward to making up for lost time and getting close to him again.

He shrugged. ・Well, at least I got an invite for Christmas dinner from my dad. Maybe he・s coming around.・

Jean bit her lower lip, wanting to take some of the pain her friend was experiencing away. Unfortunately, that was not one of her gifts. ・I・m sorry things didn・t work out the way you wanted them to,・ she said finally, voice filled with empathy. ・But I can say for all of us that we・re happy to have you back. You were missed, Bobby Drake.・ She offered an encouraging smile.

・Thanks, Jeannie.・ That wasn・t so bad, he thought, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders slightly. He had forgotten how talking to Jean always had made him feel better, no matter the situation. Had she not chosen to remain at the mansion, she could have been a successful therapist.

Bobby peered around. ・Who else is here?・ he asked, changing the subject.

Jean followed his lead, forgetting about her suspicions about something else being on his mind. ・Scott・s at the house with Jubilee. The Professor is in Washington, DC, presenting at a conference on mutant rights. I think Hank and Bishop are probably in the lab, working on something for the Professor. Ororo and Warren went into town with some of the children to shop for school supplies. Kitty, Neal, and Kurt took another group of the children on the grounds for a nature hike. Betsy is England, visiting her brother. Rogue is probably around here with Joseph.・

Bobby whistled. ・Full house. Just like the old days.・

・Yeah, but I like it.・ Coming from a close family, Jean always loved having the mansion full. Like Bobby, she considered many of the occupants to members of her second family.

He noticed there were two notable omissions from her list of current occupants. ・No word from Logan or Remy?・ he asked in a low voice.

・No,・ Jean replied sadly, clasping her hands together. ・The Professor and I have tried searching for them. Logan・s in Canada, but he hasn・t contacted any of us, except for Jubilee. He・ll send the occasional postcard, wishing her well and nothing else. She used to think they were indicative of him coming back soon. Now, she doesn・t get her hopes up anymore.・

Bobby could tell from the way Jean was talking that unlike her husband, she wanted to gruff Canadian back at the mansion. While their attraction to one another was limited to light flirtation (at least from Jean・s end), there was still a bond between them. Aside from Jubilee, Logan considered Jean to be someone he could trust and confide in. For her part, she admired his sense of honor despite his violent streak. She was also able to find a tender side to him, one that would protect all he loved at any cost. Bobby found the latter hard to believe since he found himself threatened by those adamantium claws more than once.

Jean continued, sighing heavily. ・And Remy・I don・t know. We tried to look, but nothing. It・s been five years and either he・s gone forever or he simply does not want to be found. Ororo and Jubilee wanted to continue the search, but Scott and the Professor decided it would be best not to bother. Their sources weren・t able to come up with anything, so they did not see why Ororo and Jubilee should risk their own lives to look.・

・I・m sorry to hear that,・ Bobby said. He himself did not care for the sweet-talking Cajun, but no one deserved the fate he endured・being left in the middle of Antarctica to fend for himself for a crime he had committed unknowingly and in the past. What made it worse was that the person he had loved for some time was the one who dispensed with that punishment. However, since Bobby and Rogue were close friends, he felt obligated initially to side with her.

She nodded. ・People come and go. That・s a fact of life.・ Her green eyes were affectionate as they peered at Bobby. ・Sometimes, if you・re lucky enough, they come back.・

Chapter Two: The World Has Turned and Left Me Here

Late summer turned into early fall in Westchester several weeks later. Scott Summers leaned against the windowsill, his second cup of coffee in hand. He was an early riser by nature, often leaving Jean to sleep in. As usual, he was drinking it just the way he liked it・black with plenty of sugar. Behind his ruby-quartz sunglasses, his eyes watched over the serenity of the grounds in front of his farm-style, white clapboard house. Fallen leaves of varying shades of orange, yellow, and red were strewn across the manicured lawn, providing a crisp contrast to the scenery. The sun shone brightly against the clear, blue sky during the morning hours. Yes, this was definitely his favorite time of year.

He was in the midst of contemplating taking Jean and Jubilee out for a hayride later that week when Jubilee sauntered into the living room. Scott was surprised since she was the antithesis to him when it came to sleeping habits, even loathing the idea of rising early. She greeted him with a small smile, carrying a dog-eared copy of ・Antigone・ with her.

・You realize it・s only eight-thirty,・ he teased, watching her head to the coat closet. He almost thought about checking her forehead to see if she was sick. ・Where are you off to that you had to get up so early?・

She pulled a brown corduroy jacket over her olive-green, crew-neck sweater and low-riding cargo pants. ・Very funny,・ she retorted lightly and then proceeded to explain. ・This was on my reading list, but Dr. McCoy・s copy is missing the last five pages and I have a report to work on that・s due in two days. The Professor said I could borrow his copy, but that I would have to pick it up around breakfast since he・s teaching physics.・

Then her blue eyes sparkled mischievously. ・Cook is also making strawberry pancakes and I want first dibs before Dr. McCoy and Drake get there.・ Both were notoriously for the bottomless pits otherwise known as their stomachs.

Scott grinned and then finished the rest of his coffee. ・Then you・d better run over right now. Those two don・t show mercy when it comes to strawberry pancakes.・

She studied the chiseled features of the man she now considered her father figure. When Logan was still at the mansion, he would make sure she rarely spent any time with Scott. He was very clear that he did not like the man. He often talked about how stiff and bossy the man was and gave him nicknames that he often used to his face, such as ・One-Eye・. According to him, there was no one more uptight in the world than Mr. Scott Summers. At the time, Jubilee thought it was just her Wolvie being funny. There were even times when she believed what she was hearing.

After Logan left, however, Jubilee discovered that while Scott was rigid and authoritative, he only acted that way because he felt responsible for the well-being and safety of everyone around him. She also observed his carefree side. Granted, he only showed this to herself and Jean when they were at home together. But still, who knew that Scott Summers was secretly addicted to reality television? Last year, he and Jubilee had their own ・Survivor・ finale part at the house while Jean was away at a conference. She was also surprised to find out that while he could never compete with Drake as a stand-up comedian, Scott did have a dry wit that was all his own. Since then, the two of them would exchange good-natured barbs back and forth.

If you only got to know him, you・d see he・s a good man and that you two might have more in common than you think, she wanted to say to Logan now. Her hand gripped the knob of the front door as she asked, ・Would you like to come?・

Scott shook his head. ・No, but thanks. As soon as Jean gets up, we・re going to head to the mall to buy a new VCR.・ He raised a brow at the teenager, who suddenly blushed.

Jubilee smiled sheepishly. She was trying to tape her favorite soap opera last week and fired a spark into the machine on accident. As a result, the VCR was rendered useless. ・Sorry about that again. I guess I should pay attention when setting the timer, huh?・

・Obviously,・ he agreed, reaching over to pat her shoulder. ・We・ll probably be back by early afternoon. Do you have your keys in case we・re not around?・

She nodded, opening the door to leave. ・In my pocket,・ she informed him proudly. When she first moved in with Scott and Jean, she misplaced her keys almost every other week. Scott had suggested to have them surgically grafted into her hand should she lose them again. Jubilee learned quickly to keep track of the house keys after that.

・Okay, then. Well, we・ll see you later.・

・See ya, Scott.・ She paused in the doorway and without thinking; she darted to him and gave him a brief hug. Then she pulled away and left the house, not saying another word.

Scott stared after her, a mixture of astonishment and fondness seeping across his face. From the window, he watched her walk across the lawn in order to reach the mansion. Then he remembered that he had forgotten to ask Jubilee about the hayride. He opened the front door to call out to her. He stopped himself when he saw something familiar on his doorstep. Kneeling down, Scott made a closer inspection.

There was a cigar, surrounded by fresh ash, lying on the doorstep. It appeared as if the owner had furiously stomped it out, leaving black soot marks on the concrete. Scott・s mouth set itself in a grim line. He knew all too well who had been here.

Ororo Munroe placed her hands on her slim waist, surveying the scene before her. She was in her private sanctuary, otherwise known as her greenhouse. Unlike Scott and Jean, she had chosen to remain at the main house with the others. While she enjoyed the company of her friends and the children, there were times she yearned for some quiet time. This was it. Every morning before breakfast, she checked on her ・lovelies・, as she called them to see how they did during the night, if they needed water or fertilizer, or simply needed to be pruned. She was pleased to see that all of her plants, particularly the new lilies she had just purchased, were doing well.

She was about to change the pot for one of her ferns when she saw Jubilee walking by. The young girl waved to her before continuing her pace towards the mansion. Ororo smiled, tucking a locking of silvery-white hair behind her ear. Like Jean, she had taken on the role of a second mother to the young girl, especially after she had returned home from her ordeal. Ororo had spent many hours with the recovering Jubilee, helping her with her physical therapy and teaching her how to meditate. Despite the fact that Jubilee had moved out of the mansion, the two continued to spend time together to talk. It was wonderful to see that the child had made so much progress.

Like Scott, Ororo was furious when Logan left to ・go find himself・, as the Professor put it. She was aware of what kind of role the self-professed loner and cynic had in the girl・s life. He was her father figure, her hero. The two spent a great deal of time together, whether it was on assignments or for travel. His protectiveness, while overbearing at times, had made the young girl feel loved and cared for. When he departed, Jubilee became despondent and consequently blamed herself for being a burden on him. Ororo remembered the many afternoons she had spent, comforting a sobbing Jubilee over Logan・s absence.

The weather goddess・s features became alert when she felt someone else・s presence in the greenhouse with her. The person・s gaze was practically searing a hole into her back. She could already sense that the person was not hostile, so she kept her own defenses at bay as she turned around.

Her facial expression quickly switched from surprise to wariness. ・You・re home,・ she finally said flatly.

・That・s a welcome?・

・You・re lucky you・re not being tossed around in hurricane winds.・

Even though he had been away for a couple of years, Logan・s physical appearance failed to reflect any aging process. To Ororo, he looked pretty much the same as he did before leaving. His thick, dark hair was still shaped into those two trademark points on either side of his head. Thick sideburns framed his face, accentuating the perpetual five-o・clock shadow he sported. While he was not as tall as Warren or Piotr, Logan was still a foreboding presence physically. She could tell that he had kept some sort of exercise regimen during his time away from the mansion. His body maintained the same sleek, muscular tone she and the other women had admired during Danger Room sessions when he first arrived. Wearing a weathered leather jacket over a red flannel shirt, gray T-shirt, and dark jeans with boots, Logan continued to project the image of the resident rebel.

Ororo was able to notice something amiss in her former teammate. He looked even more bitter than usual. He finally paused in his steps and leaned against one of the tables where she kept her African violets. At first, he was unable to meet her gaze, keeping his green eyes on the ground. Then his head snapped up, green eyes narrowed.

・Guess I deserve that one,・ he finally said, meeting the stare of the weather goddess. She was as striking as ever, her long, white hair rippling down to her waist, providing a contrast against her clear, coffee-colored skin. The flame-patterned, fitted dress she wore showed off her small, lithe figure. As usual, she wore very little make-up, which only serve to highlight her exotic features.

She decided not to respond to that. Instead, she asked, ・Where have you been?・

・Back to Alberta for a little bit to sort things out in my head,・ he replied, grimacing. ・Wanted to see if I could find out more about what happened to me all those years ago. I thought if I did, then those nightmares would stop.・

・Were you able to find anything?・ Her tone became softer.

Logan shrugged. ・Just more loose ends and questions.・ He wasn・t in the mood to say anything more than that. The leads the Professor had come up with did lead Logan to a military facility in Canada. Unfortunately, the complex appeared to have been abandoned for some time. He had searched in vain for records・anything that would have pieced together those missing years of his life. Apparently, someone had prepared for such an event. Any documented records of what transpired there were nowhere to be found.

Frustrated and bitter with being thwarted in his search for the truth, Logan retreated to the wilderness of Alberta. There, he spent the following years in solitude, getting in touch with his surroundings to make peace with his inner demons. Just as he tried before, there was no escaping the nightmares, the fragmented memories that would suddenly appear, and the sense of helplessness he felt from not knowing his past. While he contemplated returning to the mansion during his time away, he was not sure if it would have done much good. His yearning for finding out more about those missing years would have been an impediment to focusing on missions and on teaching the children.

Yet, there was something that was always calling him back. It was not the Professor using his telepathy. Rather, it was a combination of things. He was beginning to miss going out on missions with the others, taking out his pent-up aggressions physically. While he refused to admit it, he also longed to be affiliated with the group again, as much as some of them (One-Eyed, Popsicle, and the Cajun) grated on his nerves.

There was also Jean・beautiful, intelligent, kind, and empathetic Jean. Despite the fact she married Scott, Logan still felt just as strongly about her as he did the first time they met. She had been another reason he had left the mansion so abruptly. Watching her and One-Eyed play happy couple was almost too much for him to stomach. He hated himself for being in love with someone could never return his feelings. He hated himself even more for not taking initiative to convince her otherwise. His honor and his love for her restrained him from sharing the intensity of his feelings.

While he was away, Logan had his share of female companionship. There were countless redheads he had met on the road and taken back to his cabin. None of the women could ever come close to replacing what he wanted most back in Westchester. So, he tried to make do with what he had and forced his mind to create his fantasy. Still, it was not good enough. Intertwined with the dreams of the missing years of his life were ones that centered on Jean. In them, she returned his love freely. These dreams were so intense that he had to convince himself they were only that once he awoke alone.

Jubilee. The girl he considered his prot・・ and his daughter; the girl he swore to protect and take care of. Logan had wanted to tell her that he was going away to keep her safe. He felt he had failed her when she was kidnapped and tortured by Bastion. Blaming himself for what had happened, he had tried to find the bastard and his minions to make them for they did to her. In his own mind, he believed that tearing those animals apart could make up for his inability to protect her. When he finally reached Bastion・s base of operations, he was disheartened to find it had been destroyed before he arrived. As he stood over the ashes of the complex, he could not keep himself from thinking he had failed the girl.

It was following that incident his nightmares became more intense and frequent. He was seeking help from the Professor during private sessions, but even with that, they were still pervasive. Soon, it got to the point where they were affecting his functioning while he was awake. He was irritable and tense, more so than usual. During a Danger Room session with Hank, he experienced visual hallucinations and delusions that he was being hunted by other people who wanted to hurt him. Had it not been for Jean and Rogue, he would have torn his friend and teammate into pieces.

Ororo crossed her arms over her chest, studying the bitterness etched into the man・s face. As usual, he was being his laconic self. While she was no telepath, she could sense something was bothering him. Was it guilt for leaving the child? Was it his unrequited love for Jean? Did he need help from the Professor? She wanted to ask these questions, but was not sure how her teammate would react. She decided to start with a general inquiry.

・So what brings you back?・

He raised a brow at her. If she were Scott or Warren, he would not have hesitated to unsheathe his claws. ・Got bored of the country,・ he replied gruffly. He could already tell from her frown that she knew he was lying. Inwardly, he sighed. Ororo would not stop prying until she got the answers she wanted. He considered backtracking out of the greenhouse, but figured that she would summon a windstorm to keep him with her.

・Guess everyone・s doing fine without me,・ he finally said, not bothering to hide his bitterness. He wasn・t sure if he was referring to the happy Mrs. Summers or the young girl who had moved on without him.

Ororo was not going to give him her sympathy・at least, not yet. ・What makes you say that?・

He did not answer her question. Instead, he asked, ・Any chance Jeannie・s having marital problems?・

The weather goddess was uncertain as to whether or not Logan was joking. He did not smile, but there was a great deal of sarcasm in his voice. She always thought he continued to carry a torch for her.

・No, Scott and Jean are quite happy together. He・s a good husband to her.・

・Jean isn・t the one he・s playing house with. Looks like he wants to play Daddy Dearest with the kid.・ Logan snorted.

Ororo raised a perfectly tweezed brow at him. She was aware of Logan・s animosity and jealousy towards her old friend. However, she only thought these involved romantic feelings toward Jean Grey. She never expected he would be just as hostile about Jubilee.

She sniffed indignantly. ・He・s been a great source of support. Given what the child has been through, I would think you would commend him for that.・

Logan winced. While he realized she had a point, the scene that unfolded before him this morning was too much for him. He had come to the Summers・ house in the hopes of seeing Jean. Wanting to surprise her, he had parked his Harley in the garage and walked to the home. He paused in front of the door to peer inside. Instead of the redhead, he saw Jubilee, grown up and quite beautiful, talking with One-Eyed. He could not hear what they were saying, but he was hoping she was giving the tight-ass a smart line or two. However, his hopes were dashed when she quickly reached over and hugged the other man. Shocked and bewildered, Logan dashed to the other side of the house when he heard her open the door.

Again, he knew that Ororo was right. The child deserved to have some stability in her life. As much as he hated to admit it, Scott Summers was the perfect person to provide that and loving support. There was even a small part of Logan that was pleased that the man he disliked so strongly was looking after Jubilee. Still, he could not help but feel somewhat slighted that he was replaced so easily. He wanted to believe that he was the only one who received those bright smiles and warm hugs from the young girl.

Ororo could sense he was upset. Despite how savage and wild many thought he was, there was a tender side to him that he rarely revealed. She often observed this whenever he was around the child. The road trips, the inside-jokes, the glances of adoration from her all testified to the bond the two had shared.

・Logan, she misses you a great deal.・ She paused for a moment and then asked, ・Does she know you・re here?・

・No, not yet. The only person who probably knows is Chuck.・ He had not called or checked in personally with the Professor, but was sure the powerful psychic could detect he was here.

・Then what are you waiting for you? I・m sure Jubilee will be very happy to see you.・

・She doesn・t need me anymore, Storm. I・m aware of that now.・ The scene of his Jubilee throwing her arms around that nerd with the sunglasses made him spat in disgust.

・There・s no one who could ever take your place. Not in her eyes, at least. I mean, you two are very close・・

・Were close,・ he corrected, his face grim.

・That・s ridiculous, Logan. I・m sure she would say the same.・

He grunted in response, slumping his shoulder slightly. ・I wouldn・t blame her if she felt differently.・ He remembered how she had begged him to stay those many years ago. It took all the strength he had that day to turn away her tearful face so that he could leave.

The corners of Ororo・s mouth lifted into a gentle smile. ・Children are very forgiving; Jubilee, most of all. While Bastion did a great deal of harm towards her, she has learned to move on with her life and let go of her anger and rage. What makes what you did any more different and damaging?・

He turned away from the weather goddess. ・I left her alone. I should have never done that. I promised to take care of her.・

・But you・re back now. If you talk to her and tell her why you・ve been gone, she・ll understand. Trust me. I・ve spent quite a bit of time with her.・ She began to edge closer to the tormented soul in her greenhouse.

Logan was not convinced. ・I really hurt her,・ he said softly, his eyes on the ground. ・She deserves better than me. You know, someone who doesn・t run, who isn・t a danger to her and other people.・ He stopped short of saying that Scott Summers would fit the bill.

The white-haired woman with the smooth, toffee-colored complexion placed a slim hand on his shoulder. Ororo was surprised that he would allow her to touch him so easily. He almost always flinched when other people besides Jean or Jubilee would do so. She peered into his lost eyes with her calm ones. In her most serene tone, the weather goddess replied, ・You are that person, Logan.・

Chapter Three: Come Together

The later afternoon found Bobby Drake and his old friend, Dr. Hank McCoy, together in the doorway of the main living room of the mansion. While Bobby was the active prankster, the good doctor was usually nearby to enjoy the humorous outcome. Sometimes, Hank would even help his young friend, which seemed to fly in the face of the fa・de he projected as the mature, highbrow scientist.

The two had passed by one of the recreation rooms after teaching classes (for Bobby, it was Algebra; for Hank, photography and chemistry--separate) that day when they saw two figures curled up on the couch in front of the television. Upon closer inspection, the individuals were identified as Bishop and Lockheed. Both were sound asleep. Exchanging mischievous looks, Bobby and Hank immediately knew what they had to do. The two friends were trying not to giggle as they snapped a picture of the brawny time traveler and small, pink dragon curled up together like two puppies.

"This is gonna be great," said Bobby eagerly, but keeping his voice low as not to disturb the much larger and stronger Bishop. "It's going in the photo album with that picture of Sam Guthrie when he bent over and his ass crack was showing, and the one where Kurt put a straw up his nose when he thought no one was looking."

"What about the one where Scott fell asleep on the Blackbird and drool was running out the corner of his mouth?" Hank asked, furrowing his blue, furry brows.

"Oh yeah, that was great! And what about the one where Gambit was checking out his own butt in the mirror?"

Hank laughed. "Now that was priceless! The best one was that one of you when you thought no one was looking and you put that mop on your head so you could pretend you had dreadlocks." He suddenly realized Bobby wasn't laughing. "Oops, I guess I forgot to tell you about that one."

"No problem," Bobby replied. "I have video of you singing Anne Murray songs in the shower."

"All right, I won't show anyone that picture of you."

The two friends were grinning as they left. They walked into the living room, which had recently been redecorated by Betsy. The theme in this space definitely reflected the Englishwoman・s tastes. There was a palette of muted jewel tones・eal and amethyst, plum and garnet, loden and amber-colored mohair plaids and velvet paisleys, fringed tattersalls and Harris tweeds, borrowed from her favorite hacking jackets and warmest carriage blankets. A selection of oversized photography books was stacked on a side table, while a leather ottoman was used as a resting place holding a tray set with a teapot and two cups on antique saucers. Timeworn velvets, faded damasks and vintage leathers, which took their cues from the walls・ antique patina to create a well-worn setting, accented the room・s well-worn plank floors. Located in the room were a well-worn leather sofa and corduroy chairs with pillows of shearing, mohair, and luxe touches of coyote, taken from her country home. Across the generous library table crowned with an abundant spray of pussy willows, was a clubby sofa in a tone-on-tone loden stripe mixes tweedy pillows with a glamorous coyote throw. The room was finished off by the curves of intimately scaled leather chairs, emphasized by nailhead trim.

While the room complimented the other main rooms in the house, Bobby was still impressed that the Professor even agreed to allow Betsy to go through with it. He remembered the time he had proposed putting up his ・Animal House・ and ・Blues Brothers・ movie posters up in the recreation room. Immediately, he began to experience a sharp, piercing headache. No doubt the Professor had something to do with it.

Hank wanted to find the most recent issue of ・American Photo・ magazine. He was going to use one of the articles in his next photography lecture. There had been an interesting portfolio by the late Herb Ritz, which made use of sienna-colored tints to celebrity portraits.

Meanwhile, Bobby waited for his friend to finish his search by the French windows. The young man stared out at the vast backyard of the property, which was cluttered with leaves in varying shades of red, gold, and orange. Brightly shining overhead was the autumn sun, contrasting against the crisp, blue sky. He admired the picturesque landscape before him. There was nothing better than fall in Westchester. He then thought about asking a group of people from the mansion as to whether they were interested in going on a hayride through the town. It had been a yearly tradition with him, Hank, and Rogue before he left to care for his father.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw flowing raven hair with midnight blue streaks. He recognized the tresses belonging to Jubilee, who was strolling through the backyard away from the mansion, but not towards the home she shared with Scott and Jean. Instead, she seemed to be venturing in the direction of the lake nearby. She looked lost in her own thoughts, unaware that she was being watched. While the expression on her face was one of thoughtfulness, it was quite enigmatic at the same time.

Bobby suddenly felt the urge to follow the young girl. He turned to Hank and said, ・Listen, I・ll catch up with you at dinner, OK?・

Hank had found the issue and was now thumbing through it to find his article. His eyes were scanning the table of contents. ・That sounds fine, Bobby. I will most certainly save you a seat,・ he replied absent-mindedly.

・Thanks, Hank.・ Bobby called over his shoulder and darting out of the house. Jubilee was already several yards ahead of him. She looked as if she were heading to the dock by the lake. This struck him as strange since the canoes, kayaks, and pontoons were primarily kept in the boathouse, which was on the other side of the lake. Despite the scenic, autumnal conditions, it was still too cold to swim in the lake・s waters. Curious, Bobby continued to follow her down the stone path to the dock.

Jubilee found her way to the edge of the dock, where she finally sat down. She smiled faintly as she felt the cool breeze brush against her cheeks. There was something that was off today. She couldn・t quite put her finger on it. Classes were long and boring as usual. The Professor was not in alert mode when there was a mission to be dealt with.

What gave it away that something was amiss? Scott seemed desperate to have a word with her alone after he and Jean got up. It turned out that they decided to skip the mall that day. However, he was sidetracked when he was asked to take a group of children into town for a field trip. Ms. Munroe, who was supposed to go, was uncharacteristically mysterious, informing the Professor and the others that she had some ・things・ to take care of at the last minute. As for her, Jubilee did not see her all day after passing by the greenhouse, which was strange. Usually, the weather goddess would stop by one of her classes to check up on her. Meanwhile, Jean, like Scott, really wanted to discuss something with her in private, but wanted to find Ororo first. After that, Jubilee did not see Jean for the rest of the day.

I・m either in trouble or I・m getting a car, she mused jokingly, not placing a great deal of stock on the latter. She and Bishop had taken one of the cars around the block when she was trying to get her learner・s permit. When they returned to the mansion, he immediately jumped out of the car and kissed the ground. He then grabbed Scott and threatened to pummel him if he was asked to take her out on the road again.

The placid waves of the lake were enough to allow her to clear her head. However, she was not totally relaxed. She could hear the footsteps of someone else on the wooden planks of the dock behind her. Her limbs immediately began to tense in preparation for a confrontation with an intruder. Deep down, she realized that was unlikely. But I used to feel that way at the academy and that・s how Bastion got me, she thought. Her hands were now cradling a ball of bright light.

・Hey, kid,・ a low, husky voice drawled.

Her eyes widened as she dissolved the ball of light back into her body. Slowly with her heart thudding in her ears, she turned around. Only one word escaped from her lips. ・Wolvie?・

Logan nodded, amazed as to how the young girl had grown. She was even more beautiful up close, reminding him of past loves. Her short hair she sported when she was a pixyish teenager was now long and flowing down her graceful shoulders. Her taste in clothing seemed to be influenced by Jean, which seemed to be trendy but tamer than her mall rat days. While she looked her age physically, there was something about her that made her older than her years. Those striking blue eyes he had first noticed all those years ago remained sparkling, but were more wary than they used to be. His stomach twisted inside. There was no doubt in his mind that his absence had played a role in that.

The younger Jubilee would have quickly scurried to her feet to greet him with an energetic hug. This older version of the child, instead, sat very still at the edge of dock and studied him thoughtfully. It reminded him of the Professor or Jean and the two had this way of analyzing him with only their eyes. He found it particularly unnerving from the girl he had considered a daughter. Logan quickly yearned for the days before he left. He was unsure as to how to interact with the new, older Jubilee.

・You alright, kid?・ he finally asked, realizing there would be no hugs or squeals of enthusiasm over his homecoming today. Maybe she・s sick or worse, she hates me.

・You・re home,・ she said quietly, her sapphire eyes still fixated on him. He looked the same・stony eyes, hair shaped into those silly points on both sides of his head, lumberjack wardrobe. There was something different about the Wolverine who stood before her; something she had never seen before in all the years she had known him. He looked uncertain, not as confident as he usually did.

Logan found himself not comfortable under her intense gaze. He decided to take a seat next to her on the dock, allowing his denim-clad legs to swing over the edge with hers. ・You don・t seem happy to see me,・ he drawled dryly.

She shrugged, her stare turning to the waters ahead. ・I gave up on the idea that you would come back.・ Her body stiffened involuntarily when he settled next to her.

He grimaced, noting how her words suddenly stung him. His ears picked up on the faint trace of sadness in her voice, which was mixed with a strange, hardened quality. ・You must hate me,・ he mumbled.

・No, I don・t hate you. I don・t think I could ever hate you.・


・But, I don・t really understand you. I thought I did, but I don・t.・

・What do you mean? Kid, you・re the only one who really gets me in this whole damned place.・

・That・s not true.・

・Why would you think that?・

・If I really knew you, I would understand why you left. I don・t.・


She did not allow him to finish. ・When you left that day without telling anyone why, you really hurt me. I was left to come up with reasons why. At first, I thought it was because you didn・t want a kid around, bringing you down anymore. Then the reasons weren・t important anymore. You were gone and no amount of rationalizing wasn・t going to bring you home.・

His green eyes widened as he listened to what she was saying. He never realized his absence had affected that much. Equally surprising was the logic sprouting from her at that moment.

She continued, still without looking at him. ・So, I moved on. I stopped marking anniversaries on calendars. I stopped cherishing those two-sentence postcards you sent every once in a while.・


Her mouth then set into a grim line, something he had never seen her do. ・I needed you the most during that time. I was still recovering from what Bastion and his goons had done to me. I needed to feel protected and secure and the only person I thought could provide that sense of both was you. Then you leave.・ She turned to him, her lovely face filled with bitterness. ・Do you know what that did to me?・

Logan found himself at a loss of words. Finally, he shook his head.

・It convinced me that Bastion and his lackeys were right,・ she said flatly. ・When they had me in their hideout, they did all sorts of things. They played with my head to make me think that all of you were dead. They beat me so that they could find out more about the Professor and the X-Men. Sometimes it hurt so badly, I even thought of breaking, but I didn・t because that・s not what I was taught to do.

・Then one night, a group of the men broke into my cell and tried to rape me. Fortunately, they didn・t. They just took one look at me and said I wasn・t worth it because I was a stinking mutant kid. They said that no one would ever want to get close to me was because that・s all I am. I was ugly, undesirable and that I would be lucky to have anyone close to me.・ Her voice changed as she re-enacted the event, still fresh in her mind as ever.

・After that, the verbal abuse continued, mixed in with the psychological manipulation and the physical torture. You know, there were times when I actually believed it. But then, you found me and I thought everything was going to be fine. As long as you were around, nothing could bring me back to that place again.・

Logan watched her struggle to hold back her tears. He wanted to reach out and wrap an arm around her, but he wasn・t sure how that was going to be received. He continued to sit next to her, his face drawn with worry and horror as she relieved her ordeal.

・When you left, I began to think they were right. I drove you away. It was like I became that undesirable, hated thing Bastion・s goons said I was.・ Jubilee was determined not to cry, especially not in front of him. She had worked so hard all this time to be stronger than that.

・That・s not true.・ He wanted to strangle those bastards for what they did to his beautiful Jubilee.

・You weren・t around to argue otherwise.・ She turned to look into his eyes.

・I・m telling you now. You could never drive me away. It was never about you.・

She nodded, finding some comfort in his delayed response. ・Then what was it?・ she asked, tilting her head to the side.

Logan hesitated. The day after the Danger Room incident with Hank, he became involved in a heated traffic argument while he was driving into town with Jubilee. The teenaged driver, probably Jubilee・s age, had cut Logan・s truck in traffic and given him the finger on top of that. Instantly incensed, Logan pulled up to the young man with green hair and multiple facial piercings at the stoplight. He hopped out of his truck and grabbed the boy from the open driver・s side window. He began screaming at him threats of bodily harm. The younger man・s face paled as he stammered incoherent apologies. Horrified at the scene that was unfolding in front of her, Jubilee attempted to intervene, begging her Wolvie to stop. When she pulled at his arm, he shoved her against the truck without thinking. While she was unhurt, Logan knew that he could not trust himself around her or anyone for that matter. He soon left after that, not wanting to tell anyone else about his fears.

・I thought I was going to hurt you,・ he said after a long silence. ・I couldn・t let myself even think of what if, so I left.・

Jubilee stared at him, puzzled. ・Why? I know you would never do that.・

・I would never intentionally do it, but I was losin・ control of myself. There was nothing anyone could do. Even the Professor.・ He did not want to go further with any details and hoped she would be satisfied with what he had just given her.

・Did you give him a chance? He・s helped you before.・ She had heard stories from Scott and Jean about how he had acted when he first arrived to the mansion. Jean told her that the Professor had dedicated a great deal of time helping Logan face his demons.

・Yeah, didn・t work. It was better for me to deal with my stuff alone. You didn・t need me around. You had Scott and Jean. Turned out fine to me.・ He narrowed his eyes as the thought of Cyclops playing Daddy Dearest raced through his brain.

She detected the bitterness in his voice and knew where it stemmed from. ・They・ve done a lot for me,・ she said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. ・But what you・ve taught me about being strong also helped, too. I remember everything you passed on to me when you were living here. I wanted to make you proud.・

・You have, kid.・ A hint of smile crossed his lips when she touched him. ・Seems like I missed out on a lot.・ He fingered a silky strand of her hair.

・But you・re here now.・

・Yeah, kid, I am.・ With that, he extended a muscular arm and pulled her to his chest.

Jubilee paused before asking, ・Are you here to stay?・ She knew what she wanted him to say, but wasn・t sure if he was feeling the same way. Immediately, she began to brace herself not to get her hopes high.

He looked deeply into those clear, blue eyes, which were imploring, but wary of him. Here was his chance to make things right again between them. Things would be different because he was different. He had control of the beast and rage inside. There was no chance now that he would ever hurt her again.

And, he owed it to her. It was becoming more apparent how he had let her down all those years ago. He had no idea what kind of impact his absence had on her until now. Like Cyclops needing the Professor・s approval, Logan needed Jubilee to believe in him again.

・Yeah, kid. I・m here to stay.・ He rested his stubble-ridden chin on the top of her head. He breathed in the scent that was uniquely hers and sighed. For the first time since he left the mansion on Graymalkin Lane, the Wolverine felt a soothing calm wash over him. There was no need to run anymore.

At the top of the stone path that led to the dock, a figure with a boyish face and sandy hair observed the happy reunion. He watched with some happiness and concern for the young girl. As he turned on his heel to walk back to the mansion, he hoped that the loner would keep his word.

Chapter Four: Two Points for Honesty

Logan had been back at the mansion for several weeks. His return garnered some mixed reviews from the other residents. While old friends and colleagues, like Jean and Kurt, greeted him warmly, others who had strained relations, like Scott and Warren, with him before were less enthusiastic. The younger students, many of whom did not know him well, were wary of the hairy, brooding man who liked smoking cigars with Bishop. They simply stayed away from him for fear of being growled at.

For his part, Logan quickly adjusted back to his old life. He resumed his vigorous physical training with the others in long Danger Room sessions. He went along on the occasional mission, even following Scott・s brusquely delivered orders. Surprisingly, he allowed the Professor to talk him into teaching several self-defense classes at the school. He also returned to sneaking off with Scott・s prized motorcycle every once in a while; just to get under the other man・s skin・that and incessantly flirting with Jean in front of him.

Even though he was still attracted to the statuesque redhead, he soon realized that there could be nothing between them except for friendship. She had chosen stable, boring, vanilla Scott over him long ago. Her behavior demonstrated devotion to her husband and their married life together. At first, he began to experience those old feelings of jealousy and angst over his unrequited love for her. However, as time passed since his return, it became easier for Logan to deal with.

This was because he had found a new priority. Despite the understanding he and Jubilee came to on the docks weeks ago, Logan found that he still had some work to do in repairing their relationship. He had never expected it to be easy. In his experience, nothing ever was. He yearned for the days she would eagerly tag along by his side, chatter on and on about their great adventures in ・the old days・, and hang on his every word. Now, she was the one who was approached, not the other way around anymore.

But he had her back and that was all that mattered. Getting to know the new Jubilee was interesting. There were parts of her personality that remained the same, such as the incessant need to shop, wisecracking sense of humor, and wide-eyed innocence. However, Logan could discern traces of Scott and Jean・s influence in his young prot・・・thoughtfulness, analytical sense, and empathy. While he resented Scott for taking charge in the girl・s life, he could not help but be somewhat grateful to the other man for doing a wonderful job in raising Jubilee.

I just won・t give One-Eyed the satisfaction of knowing, he smugly smiled, lighting a Cohiba cigar Bishop had given him as a gift. He was now sitting on one of the benches by the rose garden, staring at the flowerless shrubbery in the early evening hours. Logan pulled out a photograph from his jacket pocket. Gently, he fingered the dog-eared edges of the picture. In it, stood was a grinning thirteen-year-old Jubilee with her prized teddy bear he had bought her one Christmas. As he stared at the photo he had carried everywhere, he realized she needed him as much now as she did then.

・Hey, Logan,・ a familiar voice broke into his thoughts.

Startled, he quickly shoved the picture back into his pocket and looked up. A curvy, young woman stood in front of him, dressed in a pair of low-riding, black flared pants, a midriff-baring, red T-shirt with a silver-and-black X on the front, and black-and-white sneakers. Even though it was slightly cool outside, she also wore a pair of black leather gloves. Her hair, which had been long and curly before, was now straight and bobbed just below her chin. However, the color or colors remained the same・brown with white streaks framing her face.

・Rogue,・ he finally replied in greeting. He had not seen much of her since he had returned. She had been on vacation with her new boyfriend, Joseph, or ・Joeneto・ as Popsicle and Jubilee liked to call him, up until last week. As wary as he was of the amnesiac version of the Professor・s old friend and nemesis, Logan was relieved that Rogue had found someone to establish a relationship with, where touching could be done without harm. From what he had observed of her since coming back to the mansion, she seemed happier, more at peace. This was in stark contrast during her time with the Cajun. Logan remembered the many nights he watched her pine and angst over the man she both loved and did not trust. To this day, she rarely said anything about Remy LeBeau and what exactly happened before she left him in Antarctica.

She seated herself next to him. ・Ah heard from Kitty ya were back. Welcome home.・ Her hazel eyes were genuine as she spoke.


・Life on the road treated ya OK?・

・Pretty much. Good to have time to myself.・

・Ah bet Sweet Pea・s glad you・re back,・ Rogue observed, using the pet name she had given to Jubilee. While Jean and Ororo had taken on maternal roles toward the young girl, Rogue was more of the fun, older sister.

He wanted to think that was the case, but wasn・t sure since she was still a little reserved around him. ・Yeah, I guess she is.・

Rogue gave him a sympathetic look. ・She is. She・s a teenager now and things ain・t as simple as they used to be. We・ve all been there.・

If I was, I don・t remember any of it, he thought, puffing on his cigar bitterly and peering down at the ground under their feet. Suddenly, he said, ・I・m not leaving her again, you know.・

・Course not, sugah.・

・I really mean it. Some people around here think I・m going to up and leave again, but I won・t.・ His eyes narrowed, recalling the judgmental glares he had received from Scott, Warren, and Betsy when he first arrived. He was no mind reader, but he could instantly tell what the three of them were thinking.

Rogue placed a gloved hand on his cheek, turning his head to face her. ・Logan, Ah believe ya,・ she said softly. She was suddenly surprised to see the anguish on his face. This man, a loner who prided himself on being tough and cynical, was now on the verge of breaking down・or something close to that.

Shocked from her touch, Logan pulled away slightly. He was not afraid of what she could have done since she was wearing gloves. It was just that he was not used to being as open and honest as he was with his thoughts and feelings. Not unless he was being subjected to a mind-scan by Jean or the Professor. He was beginning to feel exposed and vulnerable, which made him very uncomfortable. In order to save face, he decided to change the subject.

・So, where・s your other half?・ he asked.

Same old Logan, Rogue thought, hiding her amusement. He gets close to talking about his feelings and clams up. She was not annoyed or offended that he shut down, but hopeful for the day when he would stop reverting to that defense mechanism. ・He・s at the mansion,・ she replied. ・resting from our trip. We just got back from Bali.・

Logan nodded. ・Everything OK with the two of you?・

・Yeah. Ah have to say Ah・m real happy now. He・s a good man, Logan.・

・Good. You deserve it.・

She beamed brightly, but then her expression became thoughtful. ・Everyone・s comin・ home now・Kitty, Sam Guthrie, you, and Bobby. Ya evah think about who else might be comin・ back?・

Logan raised a brow at her. He could tell she was dancing around the question she wanted to ask. ・We talkin・ about Gumbo?・ he asked. Never the diplomat, he was always the type to get to the point.

A mixture of shock and irritation crossed the Southern Belle・s face. ・Course not,・ she retorted haughtily, almost snorting with disgust. ・Haven・t thought about that swamp rat in ages.・

He knew she was lying from what he saw in her eyes, the tone of voice she used just now, and the smell of anger coming off from her. This was not the reaction from a person who did not care, but someone who was passionate and desperately hiding her conflicted feelings. Logan tried to hide his own amusement, chewing on his cigar thoughtfully.

・That seemed to be where you were going with the conversation, darlin・,・ he finally replied, watching her cheeks flush red with indignation.

・Ah was not!・ she informed him hotly, rising to her feet.


・Just wanted to speculate with ya, but ya wanted to make it into something else.・ With that, she turned on her heel and marched back to the mansion.

How he missed teasing her to the point of losing her temper. Drake was right. This was fun.

Since Logan・s return to the mansion, Scott kept a close eye on him. It was no secret the two did not get along well. Logan was the rebel, the man who went about things by the seat of his pants. Rather than evaluate the evidence, Logan・s inclination was to follow his instincts. This was antithetical to Scott, who followed the rules and analyzed things to the finest detail. Their differing life philosophies often clashed, both in and out of battles. Had it not been for the interventions of others, their verbal sparring would have escalated to physical altercations.

He was no longer concerned about the other man・s intentions towards his wife. Jean had chosen him, not Logan to be her husband. He had figured that the flirting Logan engaged in with her was just to make him mad. Initially, it worked, but after they got married, Scott figured out how to ignore the Canadian・s antics or respond with a dry, sardonic comeback. It also helped to have Jean・s repeated assurances at night.

Even though he still considered Logan a loose cannon of sorts, there seemed to be an inner peace within the man Scott had never witnessed before. Before his departure, Logan seemed to be overwhelmed constantly by wild rages. Anyone was a target at any time, even members of his own team. Scott had consulted the Professor about this. He was concerned about the safety and well being of the others while they were on mission. Now, Logan was able to focus his aggression on the field, while keeping his head.

Scott turned on the solid brass pharmacy reading lamp at his desk. His eyes flicked to a framed photograph of Jean and Jubilee taken last year. It was Jubilee・s birthday and they were on a picnic by the lake. The two were beaming brightly as the sun that shone behind them that day. It was the happiest he had seen Jubilee in sometime. There was no trace of the angst she had been experiencing since Logan・s disappearance, no fear and trauma from her time with Bastion. It was simple, unadulterated joy in being alive that radiated from her face.

Scott seated himself at his desk, wishing he could keep her that way forever. With Logan・s return to the mansion, he was not sure it was necessarily the best thing for the young girl. In spite of the other man・s newfound inner peace, he was not the epitome of stability. Jubilee・s history of loss and trauma required just that.

So, he and Jean created a home life that was supportive and loving for her. They invited her into their home and doted on her as if she were their own. She reciprocated, opening up about her experiences while she was captive and allowing both of them to help her recover. While she had been wary of being close to anyone else other than Logan, Scott sensed that she was now attached to both himself and Jean. It was as if they were a real family.

He only hoped that Wolverine・s return would not jeopardize that. Even though she appeared to have adjusted well, Scott was still concerned. There was no telling when Logan would leave again. Sure, he was here and promised Jubilee he would not run. But given Logan・s troubled past, how could anyone trust him?

He had discussed his worries with Jean, who had assured him that Logan was a different man. She had faced him in Ororo・s greenhouse when he first returned. From their conversation and a mind scan, Jean informed Scott of his reasons for leaving in the first place as well as his honorable intention of remaining at the mansion for Jubilee・s sake. She was adamant that Logan was being genuine this time. In response, Scott expressed his doubts, but promised his wife he would keep his opinions silent around the young girl.

However, that was not going to stop him from being vigilant. While he did not confront Logan with his concerns at the request of Jean, Scott continued to watch the other man・s every move with suspicion. This was particularly true whenever he was with Jubilee.

His worried thoughts were interrupted when the front door opened. He heard the girlish laughter of Jubilee over his wife・s lilting voice. Both walked by the study, arms filled with shopping bags.

He managed a dry smile. ・I take it your outing was successful?・

Jean nodded. She motioned for Jubilee to step forward. ・Jubilee even got a present for you,・ she told her husband, green eyes twinkling.

Jubilee pulled out a slim, white box and presented it to Scott. ・Go ahead and open it,・ she urged, exchanging a knowing glance with Jean.

・This better not paf in my face,・ he mock-warned, but began to uncover the contents of the box anyway. Inside, was a pair of wrap-around, ruby-quartz sunglasses. He was taken a back and found himself at a loss for words.

Jubilee broke the silence. ・I was watching MTV and saw this U2 video from a while ago. Bono was wearing some shades similar to these and I thought you would look great in them. Also, you really need to update your look, Scott. Square frames are totally out this season.・ She added a laugh.

・Thanks, kiddo. This is a great gift,・ Scott said, not taking her fashion criticism too seriously. He closed his eyes, removed his old sunglasses, and slipped on the new ones, which were surprisingly comfortable. ・How do I look?・

・So handsome,・ Jean pretended to gush. She followed her comment with a wink.

・If we could only do something with this hair,・ Jubilee said, reaching forward to tousle his thick, brown locks. ・What about blond highlights?・

He ducked out of her reach and smirked. ・Forget it.・

The two laughed and began to chatter about their excursion to the mall. Scott・s mind soon drifted off into his own thoughts about Logan and Jubilee again. He suddenly set his mouth into a grim line.

Jean noticed the serious look on her husband・s face. Is there something wrong?

No, nothing・s wrong, Jean. He quickly flashed her a wan smile and focused his attention on Jubilee, who was describing an outfit she had just purchased. Watching her now, she seemed to project such light and happiness. There was no way he was going to let Jubilee get hurt again.

Chapter Five: The Man Comes Around

・I don・t know about this,・ Katherine ・Kitty・ Pryde said to the white-haired weather goddess sitting across from her, pulling her thick, wavy brown hair into a messy ponytail. ・Not everyone・s going to be happy about what we・ve found.・

・You do not know that for sure,・ Ororo replied calmly, finishing her favorite drink, an Oscar 75 cocktail, which was made by combining sparkling wine and mango liqueur. The two women had just completed a mission in Bermuda, and were enjoying a well-deserved break at Henry VIII Restaurant & Pub on South Shore Road. The Tudoresque establishment was known for serving Ye Olde Fayre amid pewter knickknacks.

The coral cliffs, protected coves and dozen of scenic beaches bedecked with palm trees and hibiscus taunted them as they furiously worked to track down a missing, Apocalyptic scroll from the Mesopotamia era. Fortunately for them, they were able to locate the undamaged artifact while browsing a local flea market within days of their arrival. Through contacts Ororo already established during prior missions in the area, they were able to find out who was behind the theft and why it had been taken. It had turned out that one of the museum administrators was experiencing financial difficulties and was desperate to earn fast cash. Needless to say, after the two women resolved the situation, they caught up on sightseeing, shopping, and restaurant/bar-hopping・not necessarily in that order.

As she studied the concerned expression on Kitty・s round face, Ororo was reminded how fond she was of the young girl she considered a daughter. She was pleased that Kitty decided to return after graduating from college with her degree in computer science. The failed relationships the girl had faced during her brief lifetime・the first with her estranged father in Chicago, the second with the late Colossus, and the third with the Englishman Pete Wisdom, a former member of Excalibur and now ex-boyfriend in London・had devastating effects. She had become depressed, finding little joy and comfort in the people who cared for her at the mansion.

Bitter with these unsuccessful relationships, she decided to leave Xavier to pursue a new life, where no one knew of her abilities and no one could place any expectations on her weary shoulders. Kitty had been a gifted student and team member at the mansion. Eager to please, she sought the approval from others at the mansion, particularly the Professor, who often acted as a surrogate guardian. Looking back now, Ororo feared that the Professor held the young girl to too high of standards・training her vigorously in Danger Room sessions, asking her to lead Excalibur.

The years away from the mansion, immersed in the real world benefited the girl who had come to them, unsure of her abilities and her place in the world. She was more confident in her decisions and not as anxious when it came to what others thought of her. Despite these changes in her personality, Kitty still retained her tendency of wanting to please everyone all the time. Her ambivalence regarding their latest discovery in the tropics was a testament to this pattern.

Kitty frowned, not taking much solace in her friend・s words as she would when she was younger. She played with the gold Star of David that hung from around her neck, contemplating the ramifications of bringing back what they had found to the mansion and wishing for Ororo・s stunning fashion sense. Wearing a faded, pink tank top and army green cargo shorts with flip-flops, she felt somewhat inadequate and tomboyish sitting with a woman in a flowing cotton, cream-colored sundress with coral flowers and thong sandals with matching sequined flowers. Kitty was convinced that if Ororo had not devoted her life to Xavier・s dream, she could have easily been a model.

・I still don・t know about this,・ Kitty said, returning to the subject at hand as she took another sip of her pinot grigio. Unlike her friend, she preferred sparkling wines to mixed drinks. ・It・s just that people might not totally embrace the idea of bringing home・・

Ororo cut her off in mid-sentence. ・And what would you suggest we do?・ she asked.

The younger woman shrugged her shoulders, brown eyes hesitant. ・I don・t know, Storm,・ she replied, taken aback from her friend・s directness. Her brusque manner was usually reserved for Scott and Logan during missions or sessions in the Danger Room. As second in command to Scott, she cultivated and developed that demeanor to keep her head in battle.

Seeing how her words had stung Kitty, Ororo gave her an apologetic smile and placed a comforting hand over the younger woman・s. ・I・m sorry, dear,・ she said quietly, ・it・s just that we do not have a lot of time before our flight leaves tonight. We just need to have some faith in the others. They might not react as badly as you anticipate.・

Kitty sighed, her heart-shaped mouth and cat-like, brown eyes working together to form a troubled frown. ・I just wish we could have talked to the Professor about this. He would definitely know how the others would respond. If only he weren・t visiting Lilandra and the Shi・ar・・ Her voice trailed off wistfully. ・I don・t want to make people upset if they don・t have to be.・

The weather goddess nodded in agreement. Xavier・s input would indeed prove to be helpful in this situation and would provide some peace of mind to Kitty. However, contacting him at this point would take nine days・time they did not have. She could only resign herself to trust her own instincts. Surely, the others could not be angry when confronted with what she and Kitty were about to bring home. Could they?

Back in Westchester, it was a blustery, autumn late afternoon. The sun was beginning to sink behind the hills of the mansion property. Classes had ended for the day at the school and many of the children were outside, enjoying the crunch of the dead leaves on the ground under their feet as they played. Despite the cooling temperatures of the season, it was still warm enough to go outside without heavy layers of clothing.

Logan and Jubilee found themselves taking the opportunity to enjoy the seasonal weather as well. The two were walking towards the Summers・ home on the other side of the mansion. The farm-style, white clapboard house provided a crisp contrast against the darkening sky overhead.

Since Scott and Jean were away on a romantic getaway in the city for the next couple of days, Logan had taken it upon himself to look after Jubilee. It seemed like a logical decision. He could get to know the older Jubilee and repair their relationship at the same time. Slowly, he began to see results. He noticed that she was more open with him and less wary when he was around. Granted, she no longer overwhelmed him with boisterous hugs and yelps of glee when she saw him, but at least things were getting better. They could talk again without tension, without anger about who was abandoned.

Logan pulled out a cigar from the pocket of his worn leather jacket. He slipped between his lips as he searched for his silver Zippo lighter. Grunting after not being able to locate it, his stony, green eyes glanced sideways at Jubilee. ・Can ya spare a light, kid?・

She paused in her steps, blue eyes disapproving. ・You know smoking can kill you, right? I can show you the pictures from my health textbook.・ She shuddered at the thought of the photographs of diseased lung tissue and the emaciated, bald victims of lung cancer.

・Listen, kid, I・ve faced Sabretooth, Magneto, Sentinels, and Apocalypse more times than you・ve practiced driving. I don・t die easy.・

Can・t argue with that logic, she mused, summoning a spark between her index and middle fingers. Grinning and raising one of his brows at her, he leaned forward, lighting his Cohiba. She then absorbed the light back into her hand. Logan nodded his gratitude.

・So, what do you want to do tonight?・ he asked, continuing their pace towards the house. ・We can order pizza for dinner again.・ He made a face as he uttered the last sentence. The thought of another night of Chicago-style pizza was beginning to be too much.

・I know this doesn・t sound like me, but I・m kind of sick of eating pizza for dinner every night. How about chili cheese fries? We can go the mall and get a huge thing of them.・ Jean had tried to wean her off junk food, but Jubilee found that old habits die-hard. Unbeknownst to Scott and Jean, she hid candy, chips, and gum in her bedroom.

・Sounds good. Live it up, kid. Your freedom away from One-Eyed won・t last forever.・

The wind suddenly whipped her long, black hair with midnight blue streaks across one side of her face. Underneath her veil of tresses, she was frowning. ・I wish you wouldn・t talk about him that way,・ she said quietly, pushing her hair behind her shoulder.

・Care to repeat that, kid?・

・Wolvie, it・s just that when you say things like that about him, it makes me uncomfortable. He・s a good man.・

Logan stared at her in disbelief. He almost doubted his super sense of hearing. ・You・re taking sides with him?・

She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her brown corduroy jacket, blue eyes on the ground. ・I・m not on anyone・s sides. It・s just that spending all this time with him made me realize he・s not that bad a guy, really. When you say mean things about him, it・s not cool.・

Logan scowled, puffing on his cigar. He hated to admit it, but the girl was right. He had known it for some time, but could not help but to take every chance to get under the other man・s skin. However, he found that like Jubilee, old habits were hard to break. Besides tearing up the occasional bad guy, putting Cyke in his place was what he lived for.

・You・re right,・ he muttered, grinding his cigar between his teeth. He wanted to spit on the ground in disgust, not quite believing he made his admission out loud.

・I・m sorry, Wolvie. What was that? I couldn・t hear you just now.・

・Don・t be a smart ass. You heard what I said.・

She grinned mischievously and placed her arm through his. ・I know,・ she replied. ・I just thought it would be funny to hear you say it one more time.・

He grunted, pulling her closer to his side. With anyone else, he would have threatened them with a taste of adamantium. Staring down into those sparkling sapphire eyes, he softened somewhat. There had been a flash of the old Jubilee. Granted, it was at his expense, but the outcome still brought back memories of the way things had been between them.

When he was not residing in his Park Avenue apartment to oversee the day-to-day functions of his company, Warren Worthington lived in the east wing of the mansion. The wing was separated from the common areas and sleeping areas of the students and other team members by the front foyer. This provided him with the privacy he craved and accessibility to the going-ons in the mansion.

Despite how many times he had been in this area of the mansion, Bobby still could not get over how affluent his old friend truly was. Not that Warren constantly flaunted the fact in other people・s faces. He seemed to keep a low profile when it came to discussing monetary matters. It was almost as if he were embarrassed about being himself sometimes. As Bobby stood by the French windows of the living room, he wondered why a man who had everything・good looks, wealth, education, and charm・would curse his own existence.

His eyes flicked to the sofa, where Warren and Kurt were sitting, engrossed in chess match. The two men made a contrasting pair in terms outward appearances. With the exception of large, feathery wings protruding from his shoulder blades, Warren was the epitome of the All-American boy. His perfectly coiffed, wavy blond hair flopped over his blue-green eyes, complimenting his sculpted, unblemished features. Tall and well built, Warren maintained his physique through Danger Room sessions and missions. The fact that he was a former polo, lacrosse, and soccer player also helped.

On the other end of the spectrum was Kurt. His earlier career as a circus acrobat provided him with the agility and small build needed to jump high in the air. What was most noticeable was his demon like appearance・long tail, fang-like teeth, and piercing yellow eyes. Also, unlike most humans and other mutants, Kurt only had three fingers on each hand instead of the usual five. His hair was black and cropped, which seemed to blend in with his dark blue skin. Upon his face were tattoos, symbols derived from an ancient, angelic language. He had told Ororo and Bobby long ago that each tattoo was for each sin he had committed before he devoted his life to the scriptures. Despite his frightening appearance, Kurt was the gentlest soul one could ever come across. He was thoughtful, patient and kind, always taking a spiritual perspective when it came to approaching missions and teaching at the school.

・I believe ve are at a stalemate, mein freund,・ Kurt observed, rubbing his chin and peering over at the pieces on the board. Both even had equal number of pieces captured.

Warren nodded in agreement. A gifted businessman, he disliked unresolved situations, which he viewed this stalemate as. He began to rack his brain for a plan of action when he noticed Bobby staring out the windows intently. Curious, he asked, ・What・s got your attention, Bobby?・

The younger man did not turn to face his friends, but continued his vigil. ・Nothing.・

Warren exchanged a knowing look with Kurt. ・Nothing?・

・That・s what I said.・

・So, I suppose staring at nothing is more compelling than pulling one of your charming practical jokes?・ Warren recently heard about the fallout from Bobby・s latest prank. Bobby had planted a cigarette load (a tiny exploding piece of wood) in the end of one of Bishop・s cigarettes and slipped it back into the pack. One of the older students, Ray Crisp, had joined a group on an outing to the local bar and asked for one. Bishop slid one out and the boy slipped between his lips. Just as the brawny time traveler began to light the cigarette, Ray expressed second thoughts. Suddenly, the smoke blew apart with a loud BANG! Needless to say, the young man swore off cigarettes for the rest of his life.

Bobby did not reply. He had been watching Logan and Jubilee, who were beginning to make their way to the mansion from the Summers・ home. Even in the dimming light of the early autumn evening, he could still discern Jubilee・s fine, delicate features. She looked radiant. Her smile was broader than he had ever seen it. As he continued to observe, he could not help but wonder why he was suddenly fascinated with the young girl. It was almost unnerving because he still could not make out the nature of this interest. He had always seen her as the loud-mouthed teenager who was also his partner in crime. Now, things were different.

・I believe he・s admiring the view,・ Kurt piped up, winking at Warren. Even though he could not see what was out the window, he was sure that Jubilee was within Bobby・s view. Since Bobby・s return, Kurt noticed how the young man・s behavior was different whenever she was around. He seemed more nervous and unsure of himself.

Bobby turned around, startled. For a moment, he thought Kurt was insinuating something. However, the other man looked innocent and guileless. Well, as innocent and guileless as a man with a tail, yellow eyes, and blue skin could look.

Bobby recovered and flashed a grin. ・You know how I love fall.・

Before Warren or Kurt could comment, they heard the door open in the foyer. The unmistakable smell of Logan・s cigar wafted inside by the cooling wind. This was followed by the scent of Jubilee・s bubble gum. The three men in the east wing of the mansion quickly made their way to the foyer to greet them.

Jubilee was asking Logan about the possibility of getting another set of piercings in her ears. Jean had expressed reservations about allowing her to get them, but Logan did not seem to mind. As she was about outline how she was going to pay, she bumped into a wall, covered in jersey material. For a moment, she lost her footing and began to fall backwards. Quickly, the wall・s arms reached out and grabbed her, pulling her close.

・I・ve got you, Jubes,・ Bobby said, staring down into her surprised blue eyes. No matter how many times he had seen them, he continued to be fascinated by their color and sparkle. He also noticed that this was the closest he had ever been to her. Suddenly uncomfortable, he pulled away and began to chuckle. ・Try not walking and talking at the same time. I・m not sure if your brain can handle both.・

Jubilee・s eyes flashed with indignation. She was about to come back with a smart response of her own when Logan interjected. ・This comin・ from the kid who went into the women・s locker room while talkin・ trash after a Danger Room session,・ he commented, wrapping an arm around the young girl・s shoulders.

Bobby gave him a smug smile. ・How do you know that wasn・t on purpose?・

・Ja, I think I saw you running from Rogue and Kitty,・ Kurt interjected, yellow eyes mirthful. The sight of horrified Bobby Drake racing for his life from two women in bath towels was enough to produce a smile.

Jubilee began to giggle, but quieted when she received a warning glare from Bobby. She cleared her throat and said, ・We・re heading to the mall. Does anyone want to come along?・

At that moment, the door opened once more. This time, the travel-weary face of Kitty Pryde appeared. She looked as if she had been sleeping on the plane ride back to the states. Her ponytail was slightly rumpled and her cat-like brown eyes were heavy-lidded. In preparation for the cooler temperatures at home, she had changed from her summer attire to faded jeans, black-and-white sneakers, and her favorite, but oversized University of Chicago sweatshirt. She sauntered inside with her two travel bags slung over her shoulders.

Kurt quickly took the bags from his friend. ・It・s good to see you home. How vas your trip?・

・Must not been that good. You look like hell.・ Bobby observed. Logan growled at the boy, who paled in response.

She wrinkled her slightly upturned nose at Bobby, and then turned her appreciative eyes to Kurt. ・It was good, thanks,・ she replied, patting his shoulder. ・We found the scroll, undamaged. It turned out no mutants were involved in the taking of the scroll. Storm is going to return it to the museum tomorrow.・

Warren nodded. He of all the people in the room had the most reason to be wary of anything related to Apocalypse. Hearing her brief them as to the results of the trip, he could not help but sense there was something else she was not disclosing. There was something in her voice・unsure and hesitant.

Ororo was the next to enter the foyer, pulling her suitcase on wheels with one hand and carrying multiple shopping bags in the other. Unlike Kitty, she appeared relaxed and well rested. ・Hello, everyone,・ she greeted, tossing her long, white hair behind her. ・I trust that Kitty has informed you of our activities?・

Warren frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. ・About finding the scroll, yes. Is there something else we should know?・ He knew Ororo would not be as evasive as Kitty could be about bad news, if there was any.

Logan・s nose began to detect cigarette smoke in the air. Neither Kitty nor Ororo smoked. The cigarettes were a particular brand; one that Bishop never cared for. Yet, they were familiar. At that moment, he realized what else the two women brought back with them besides the missing scroll. He smiled slightly, waiting for Ororo and Kitty to explain.

・We did find something else while in Bermuda,・ Ororo admitted, ignoring Logan・s sly glance.

Just then, a tall, lean figure stepped inside from the early evening shadows. He carried with him a knapsack over his shoulder and a long steel staff. Red pupils glittered from underneath a mop of wavy, auburn hair. The glow from the lighting fixture overhead traced his attractive, chiseled facial features, which had aged since his last appearance. Wearing an ankle-length, brown leather duster, one could not immediately discern what else the person was wearing underneath. However, those who knew him could be sure that he was sporting his trademark body armor.

・You mean someone, ch・e,・ the man corrected huskily, his voice reminiscent of whiskey and cigarettes. His distinct accent, Louisiana Cajun, was stronger than ever.

Jubilee・s brilliant blue eyes widened in surprise and disbelief. She pulled away from Logan and raced to the man standing before them. Her arms immediately went about him. The young girl buried her face against his coat, the smell of cigarettes filling her nostrils confirming his identity. ・Gambit・・ she murmured.

He smiled down at her gently, stroking her long, dark hair. ・Miss me, petite?・ he inquired. He felt her arms tighten around him in response and chuckled. ・I reckon so.・

It was all that Warren could do to keep his mouth from hanging open. He did not share Jubilee・s enthusiasm over the Cajun・s return to the mansion. The man had a shaky past and could never be trusted as far as Warren was concerned. He couldn・t believe Ororo and Kitty would even think that bringing him back to the mansion was remotely a good idea. The man was a thief, a liar, and worst of all, a murderer.

Suddenly a voice drawled, ・Remy.・

All eyes peered up the stairs to trace the source of the voice. Rogue stood at the top, gripping the railing. Her hazel eyes were wide and her bow mouth was set in an impassive line. Despite her emotionally stunted expression, she looked quite lovely that night. She was wearing an elegant, silk green robe; a present Remy had given her years ago.

Remy stepped forward, releasing Jubilee. ・Rogue・・ he whispered, feeling a sudden flood of emotions overwhelming him. There was love, anger, betrayal, and sadness・ He was beginning to lose himself all over again staring at her.

She opened her mouth to say something. However, she decided against it. The woman with the brown hair with white streaks quickly turned on her heel and darted away. Seconds later, the sound of the door slamming shut could be heard.

Logan smirked, leaning against the wall. ・Good going, Cajun,・ he commented, grinding his cigar between his teeth. ・It・s like you were never gone.・

Chapter Six: One of These Things First

Winter came rather slowly to Westchester that year. By now, first snow would have fallen on the grounds of the mansion. Only crisp winds and cooler temperatures signaled the beginning of the season. This was rather disappointing to the children and some of the adults who wanted to partake in snow-related games. More disturbed was Ororo, who was tired of fielding questions about the strange weather patterns.

On a bitterly cold afternoon, Professor Charles Xavier found himself in his study, catching up on correspondence to various senators in Washington, DC. He was writing to them about the impending Mutant Registration Act, which was going to be voted upon following the winter recess. The Professor was hoping that his eloquent words would be sufficient to sway these individuals to vote against the proposed legislation.

The d・or of the famous study was reminiscent of a converted carriage house in London, which had been a childhood vacation home. The walls were a glossy midnight blue, which were accented by lush, red velvet curtains, ancestral tartans and jacquards, and gold-framed sketches of horses, jockeys, and handwritten poems. Hurricane vases with brass trim sat on the coffee table next to textbooks and notebooks. Throughout the study, clean-lined chairs were upholstered in carriage-blanket plaids, while quilted velvet and suede pillows and drapes appeared to recall padded horse blankets. Navy pillows edged in gold trim inspired by cavalry epaulets, and gold buttons and leather buckles evoked crisp, tailored riding jackets. Beautifully appointed campaign furniture crafted from honey-hued mahogany and detailed with brass trim and mounts added to the English theme. There was a handkerchief-top game table that opened to reveal a leather-bound playing surface, while the traditional cane-sided sofa with sleek black leather cushions commanded the attention of the room. On the sofa, silk scarves featuring belted equestrian motifs were made into luxurious oversized throw pillows backed in navy suede.

Despite the classic feel of the space, there were contemporary touches. These touches could be traced to the tartan chairs with nail head trim and aged walnut trim, a red ostrich-leather ottoman with the same type of trim and recessed casters, and the Secretariat chest of drawers with its clean lines, honey-hued finish, and brass corner brackets. While the walls were dark, there was plenty of lighting from the floor-length windows and the numerous brass floor lamps.

He was in the midst of signing another letter when he noticed that he was not alone. He had not heard the door open. Instead, he felt familiar presence in the study with him. Without looking up from the piece of paper in front of him, he said, ・Come in, Jean.・

The statuesque redhead smiled, closing the door behind her gently. ・I hope I・m not bothering you.・

・No, not at all.・ He put down his pen.

Jean had accompanied him to many of his trips to Washington, DC, where he had testified in front of the Senate. She knew the kind of work that was entailed outside of these visits. Eyeing the stack of envelopes with completed letter inside, she asked, ・How・s it going?・

He motioned for her to sit down. ・I・ve gotten quite a bit done, but there is always more to do.・ Without probing her mind, he could sense something was troubling her. ・Is there something you would like to discuss?・

She stared into the aged, but kindly features of the man she considered a second father. While he could appear frail at times, he conveyed a quiet, but powerful strength about him. It was that strength she admired most about her beloved mentor.

・I could never hide anything from you.・ Jean sighed, green eyes weary. ・Have you noticed the tension that has come over the house recently?・

The Professor folded his hands together thoughtfully. ・I have,・ he acknowledged, nodding. While he had an idea as to the source of the tension, he wanted to hear Jean・s thoughts. He raised his brows expectantly for her answer.

She immediately took his cue. ・I suppose the tension could be traced to the recent homecomings,・ she began, remembering Scott・s heated reaction when he found out that Remy LeBeau had returned. It was similar to when he had discovered Logan had returned, but with more reservation. He was outraged that Ororo and Kitty had invited him back without consulting the others. He was unsure as to how safe it was to have him in their midst given his past.

・I・m certain not everyone shares Scott・s hesitation about Gambit.・

・True. People like Ororo and Jubilee are very happy that he・s returned. Then there are people like Warren and Bobby who are sympathetic to Scott・s concerns.・

・It is true that he has done some things that not a lot of us would be especially proud of. However, the circumstances were quite different. You and I understand that he did what he did under extreme duress, Jean.・

・Yes, Professor, I do. It・s just that some people are more focused on the act, rather than the situation. The deaths of many mutants, unintentional or not, has a sobering effect on people. There are times when I do empathize with Scott. He is simply looking out for the safety and welfare of the others here. I can・t really blame him for that, can I?・

・No, you can・t. At the same time, Gambit proven to us that he is worthy of our trust again. During the missions he has been on since his return, he has always been steadfast in the fight. He has also expressed his remorse for his part in the massacre. I know he is genuine and sincere about attaining atonement.・

The Professor・s mind drifted to a conversation with the Cajun thief days before. He had accompanied the Professor on a stroll around the grounds, now empty of the fallen leaves and blooming shrubbery. Despite using his humor and bravado, Gambit had seemed deeply troubled over what he had done. He had also expressed some unease about being constantly scrutinized by other members since his return. The Professor listened for some time, acknowledging his concerns. He then challenged the young man as to what he was going to do to address these issues. Initially, Gambit was taken aback, but then nodded in understanding. He had realized what he would have to do.

Jean・s voice broke into his thoughts abruptly. ・I agree with you. He is a good man, in spite of the front he tries to display to us.・ She likened him to the scoundrel in old stories, who was constantly trying to show his worth to the others. He seemed to take pride in being the sly, bad-boy thief rather than as a hero.

・The same could be said of another colleague and friend.・ The Professor popped one of his peppermints into his mouth.

Logan, Jean mused inwardly. A smile came to Jean・s lips as she recalled Scott・s initial impressions of the Canadian who flaunted the rules and made a point to go his own way.

・Yes, and as you recall, he was not exactly embraced with open arms.・

・True. It took time for him and the others to trust one another.・

The Professor nodded. ・I would daresay that the same would apply to our friend, Gambit. As you said with Logan, these things take time.・

・I know you・re right,・ Jean replied, tucking a lock of red hair behind her ear anxiously. ・People like Scott and Warren will come around.・

The Professor could hear the hesitation in her voice. He knew there was some other aspect relating to Gambit・s return that was troubling Jean. ・But?・ he inquired, hoping she would elaborate further.

・You remember how close he and Rogue were before Antarctica?・

・Yes, I seem to recall that.・

・I sense the other origin of the tension may stem from their fractured relationship. I have felt his frustration during his time here, trying to adjust to the idea that she has found someone else. She, on the other hand, has been experiencing a myriad of feelings.・

・I have sensed that as well. Some guilt and confusion.・ The Professor turned around in his wheelchair. He was facing the window of his study. Unless Gambit and Rogue are able to discuss openly their unresolved issues, I do not see an end to this tension.

Rogue pulled her quilted, silver down jacket closely to her. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, she decided to take a walk on the grounds. Fortunately, she had dressed in anticipation of the wintry air. Underneath her heavy coat, she was wearing a long-sleeved, thermal white T-shirt, a thick, zip-up black sweatshirt and matching pants with her black-and-white sneakers. A white, cashmere scarf around her neck and chin and black leather gloves completed the bundled-up look.

She needed to clear her head. Outside of the mansion seemed like the only place she could find solitude. The grass was crisp under her feet as she made strides toward the dock and the lake. There was too much going inside her to share with anyone else, even with those she considered closest to her.

When she reached her destination, she seated herself on the edge. Her legs dangled over the nearly frozen lake. She couldn・t feel the wind beating at her back any longer. However, she was able to see her ragged breath in the air.

It had been several weeks since Remy returned to the mansion. Rogue had viewed that time as the most miserable and torturous of her life. She did not share Ororo and Jubilee・s delight that he had come back. Both were comfortable enough to talk with him, to enjoy his company again. Even Logan, the man who claimed to not need friends, seemed pleased that his old friend had come home.

Meanwhile, Rogue found herself unable to face him. For several weeks, she had done everything she could to avoid speaking to him. Her own guilt was too much to bear. Whenever she looked at his beautiful face, she was reminded of how she had left him to die. She could still hear his pleas for help ringing in her ears. Their last moments replayed in her mind over and over again since his return.

She was hovering above him. The arctic wind stinging her cheeks as tears streamed down. However, these tears did not change her resolve. She had to do this.

・Ch・e, what you doin・?・ he cried, struggling to stand up. He was still weak from the trial and the trip.

・Ah have to go, Remy,・ she replied bitterly.

・No, wait! Don・ leave me!・ he yelled, reaching for her. His fingers brushed against the heel of her boot as she ducked away from him. ・Gambit won・ make it here!・

Rogue sneered at him. ・Ah don・t care. Should have thought of that before ya killed all those people!・

His eyes looked wounded as his lips turned an unsightly shade of blue. ・Ch・e, you don・ understand・・

・Ah understand perfectly. Ah understand you・re a cold-blooded murderer!・

・No, ch・e, it・s not like dat!・

・Save it, swamp rat. If ya ask me, you・re gettin・ off easy compared to those Morlocks ya helped kill.・

・Rogue, Gambit didn・t want to kill anyone.・ He exhaled heavily. Even carrying this conversation with her was draining him. It took all his strength to rise to his feet and continue talking. ・Please, ch・e. Gambit loves you. You love Gambit, too.・

She had turned away her face from him, wanting to hide the tears. What he said had been true. But that was a long time ago. That was before she kissed him and found out the truth; about what kind of person Remy LeBeau truly was. Now, all she was left with was lies.

Rogue・s head quickly turned to look down at the man she had considered her soul mate. ・Love? How could Ah evah love a liar and a murderer? Ya really don・t know me at all, do ya?・ she snapped. She winced, feeling the sting of the words coming from her mouth.

Red on black eyes widened in disbelief and sadness. ・You don・ mean dat, ch・e. Not after what we・ve been t・rough. We mean too much to each other・・

She cut him off, soaring higher in the air. ・You・re wrong, swamp rat. Ya mean nothin・ to me. Nevah have, nevah will.・

・Rogue, wait! Please don・ leave me here! I love you!・ He collapsed and sank to his knees. The cold was beginning to weaken him again. ・Please tink about what you・re doin・・・

Her lovely features twisted themselves into an angry scowl. ・Ah have. First time Ah・ve seen clearly in years, sugah,・ she purred sweetly, her eyes cold. ・Ya where ya belong, now and forevah!・

With that, she turned around and disappeared in the clouds.

Not a single day after that did she not feel some remorse for what she had done. There were so many times she had tried to convince herself what she had done was right. After she was only providing justice where justice was needed. While the others at the mansion had seemed somewhat understanding of her actions, she still continued to be her own harshest critic.

That and she loved the man. Despite what she had told him in Antarctica, Rogue still loved him with every fiber of her being. Granted, their relationship had some problems. He had been a notorious womanizer and flirt with a long list of broken hearts in his dust. She had problems getting close to others because of her abilities. Needless to say, theirs was an intense, tempestuous romance. However, it worked on many levels. They were as devoted to one another as any other couple, even without physical contact.

Then everything changed when she kissed him.

Yet, she was able to find love again after abandoning Remy. His name was Joseph and was far different than Monsieur LeBeau. A younger version of the Professor・s archrival, Magneto, but with amnesia, he was wide-eyed, kind, and honest. He considered her the only woman central in his life. His eyes never strayed far from her. Most importantly, he had found a way for them to touch one another without getting hurt. For the first time since she kissed her childhood sweetheart, Cody, she could demonstrate her affection for another person physically.

When she told him of her former lover・s return, he was understandably concerned. They had not been together for very long when the Cajun thief came back to the mansion. He wondered what she was feeling at that moment. In response, she swore she no longer had feelings for him.

・There・s no one for me, ・cept you, sugah,・ she whispered, resting her head against his shoulder. They were in their bedroom, secluded from the excitement downstairs.

His mouth was set into a grim line. He did not seem assuaged by her words easily. ・You and Gambit have had a long history together. It would not be surprising if some residual feelings surfaced after seeing him again.・

・The only feelings Ah・m feelin・ right now are for ya,・ Rogue insisted, planting a kiss on his mouth and silencing him for the rest of the night.

As she sat on the dock, she drew her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Looking back on that night, she was not certain she was being all that honest with Joseph. Something deep inside her was different as they made love that night. Her mind was not on the man she was with at that moment. Instead, she found herself thinking about Remy and what he was thinking about after he had seen her that night.

Reaching into the deep pockets of her coat, she pulled out her CD Walkman. Rogue slipped on her headphones. She pressed play, waiting for the music to start flowing into her ears. As the CD played, tears began to sting her eyes. The CD was one that Remy had purchased for her while they were dating. It contained an assortment of jazz songs, performed by artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker. He had said their music reminded him of her・sometimes sad, but beautiful nonetheless.

What is wrong with me? I・m happy now・more than I・ve ever been in my life. Why am I thinking about someone else?

There, on the dock by the lake of the mansion, a woman with brown hair and white streaks was sobbing over an uncertain present.

Chapter Seven: With or Without You

・Looks like you scratch again, Wolverine,・ Gambit observed, rubbing some chalk on the end of his stick.

The two were playing a friendly round of pool in one of the recreation rooms in the mansion. Since there were children around, both Logan and Gambit agreed not smoke (at the request of Storm and Jean). It was late afternoon and classes had adjourned for the day. Since the air outside was cold, many of the students were inside watching television and talking about the day・s events. This was fortunate for both men, who did not consider themselves to be great babysitters. Logan often cited the trouble he, the Cajun, and Jubilee used to get into when they were all living at the mansion together.

While his arrival received mixed reviews among some of the team members (notably Scott, Warren, and Bobby), Gambit found acceptance with his old friend, Logan. The older man was one of the few X-Men who did not pass judgment upon him after the trial. Given Logan・s own shadowed past, he felt he had no right to. The two always had an affable rapport since they often found common ground. In addition to their shaky pasts, both men were seen as the renegades of the group who paid little heed to the rules. They also had histories of having to prove themselves constantly to the group on many occasions.

Just now, Logan found himself irritated with his colleague. He grunted, fishing the white pool ball out of the side pocket. ・Shut up and play pool, Cajun.・ The pretty boy had running his mouth more than concentrating on the game. It was almost enough to make him want to threaten the man with his claws.

Remy extended his long, lean body over the pool table. He wanted to set up his shot perfectly. With a flick of his wrist, he aimed for the last striped ball on the table. ・Dere it goes,・ he announced smugly, straightening his posture and watching the ball sink into the corner pocket. ・It don・ get better dan dis.・

Logan scowled. ・You didn・t charge your stick, Gumbo? If you did, I・d have to do something about it.・

The other man feigned a look of angelic innocence as he racked up the balls. ・Gambit・s always honest,・ he informed his old friend. Then he added with a wink, ・When it comes to playing pool.・

Logan rolled his eyes. The way the Cajun talked about himself in the third person was irritating at times. He sounded like he was speaking in code to an intergalactic, alien colony. However, whenever they were out at a bar together, there were always plenty of women who found it irresistible.

There・s no accounting for taste sometimes, he thought, narrowing his eyes. He had even noticed that some of the female students, including his Jubilee, were making goo-goo eyes at the tall, good-looking man from the Bayou.

・I want a rematch, Gumbo,・ he announced, motioning for him to hurry in racking the balls.

・Sure, Gambit has time to beat Wolverine again,・ Remy replied, smiling broadly. He centered the balls in the middle of the table. Then he pulled the wooden rack away. ・Finis. Solids or stripes, mon ami?・

・Lemme shoot first, then I・ll decide.・

・・Course, whatever you say.・

Logan raised a brow at him and then shook his head. He walked to the other side of the table to line up his first shot. Watching the white ball collide into the multicolored ones, he noticed that he had knocked in two solids into opposite corner pockets. He sauntered over to Remy, nudging him.

・Looks like I・m solids again,・ he told him. He could not wait to show the pretty-boy how to play the game. ・You・re up, Cajun.・

No response. Not even a snide remark.

It was then he noticed that the Cajun thief had a distant and cold expression on his face. The man・s red-on-black eyes were focused on something on the other side of the recreation room. Logan decided to follow his gaze. He then realized that his friend was intently staring at someone.

Standing on the other side of the room, was Rogue, who was talking with Kitty and Kurt. Wearing a green-and-white baseball shirt that came to above her navel and faded jeans with slightly scuffed boots, she appeared to be dressed for comfort. However, her body language conveyed the opposite. She looked nervous. It was as if she knew she was being watched at this moment. She was playing with her black leather gloves idly as she spoke with her friend and her blue-faced brother. When Rogue was not doing that, she was pushing her bobbed hair towards her face.

Just then, Joseph entered the room. He immediately found Rogue and wrapped a possessive arm around her curvy waist. Like Magneto, he had an imposing presence because of his stature and shared the same white hair, patrician facial features, and piercing blue eyes. His hair was longer than his predecessor・s, which he tied back in a ponytail. Since their vacation in Bali, his tan began to fade, but he still looked quite healthy. He was more of a formal dresser than his girlfriend, wearing a pair of slate-gray, wool slacks with a navy button-down shirt, and polished black loafers. It was no mystery why Rogue had been attracted to him.

Either he was unaware that they were being watched or he was quite adept at ignoring the stares, Joseph appeared to join in the conversation. Rogue seemed a little relieved that he was by her side now, but still uncomfortable. She turned her head into his shoulder so that Remy nor Logan could see it. At this point, she looked as if she were draped over the other man like an article of clothing. Logan also noticed that she was tugging insistently on her boyfriend・s arm.

Probably to tell him she wants to get the hell out of here, Logan thought, leaning against the railing of the pool table. Not that I can blame her.

・Merde,・ Remy muttered bitterly. His eyes narrowed into razor-thin slits. Situations like this made him yearn for the isolation for Antarctica again. Being cold, alone, and dying was heaven compared to this everyday drama.

It was hard enough that Rogue refused to have anything to do with him since he came back. What was worse was seeing her with someone else. He felt as if a knife twisted into his chest every single time he saw them together. Someone else had her love and devotion. Someone else would be there to comfort her. Someone else would know what it was like to touch her. He should have been that someone.

It would have been easy to hate Joseph, to say nasty things behind his back, to spread rumors about the man・s intentions toward the mansion, to doubt his feelings for Rogue. However, things did not work out that way for Remy and his new rival. Much to his dismay and surprise, he found himself actually liking the man. From what he was able to observe, Joseph was an honorable man. He was patient, open, and sincere. During his interactions with Rogue, Remy saw that Joseph treated her like a princess. He never teased her, never looked at other women, and never was coy about his intentions. Joseph proved to be someone she could depend upon.

Not like me, Remy inwardly spat. He could not remember a moment during his relationship with Rogue when they were not involved in heated arguments. It was difficult to make something work when the other person did not trust you completely. There were times he wanted to give up.

Yet, he had always come back to her. While Remy had had many loves before, he did not want anyone else. He had known lust and passion. However, things with Rogue were different. Despite the fact that they could not physically express their affection for one another, there was still a bond that was undeniable. She had been the first woman since Belladonna to hear that he loved her.

And what does she do? She gives up and run when she finds out I・m not perfect, he thought, placing his stick on the table. He could feel himself suffocating in just standing where he was.

・Why don・ we play dis game later, mon ami?・ Remy suggested, trying to hide the distress in voice and his face. He ran his half-gloved fingers through his thick, auburn waves. Then he began to make his way to the door. A nice walk would do him some good.

Logan instantly knew what was troubling his friend. Unlike Jean, he was not going to pry into someone else・s personal business. If he wanted to, the Cajun was certainly not going to be receptive to that sort of thing. ・Sure thing, Gumbo,・ he said, watching him leave.

Upstairs in the Summers・ home, Jubilee was in her bedroom, reading the latest email from her former roommate, Paige Guthrie. The younger sister of Sam Guthrie and self-appointed leader of Generation X was now in Europe with their former headmaster, Sean Cassidy. After the dissolution of the Academy, Sean had decided to move back to Europe and to start a faction of the X-Men. Many like, Paige, Monet, and Jono, decided to join and continue their training. Jubilee, meanwhile, had been too young at the time and needed to continue her studies. As a result, Sean had decided it would be beneficial for her to return to the mansion.

Not that Jubilee was complaining. After her experiences with Bastion, she did not feel ready to go out and save the world once again. And, while she was attached to many of her friends and teammates from Generation X, she also missed those at the mansion. They had been the closest thing she had to a real family.

She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a pack of pixie sticks. According to the email Paige had sent, the group was now in London, England. They had just infiltrated a Neo-Nazi group, which had been behind several vicious attacks against mutants in the city. Paige described how she worked to insinuate herself into the group, using her abilities. Then she teamed up with Monet, Jono, and Angelo to undermine the group・s plans to execute a mutant-rights attorney.

Jubilee tore open one of the sticks, ingesting the contents. Their lives sound so much more exciting, she thought, tapping the keyboard idly. The closest she was going to come to leaving the mansion was for Thanksgiving. Jean・s parents were hosting dinner that year in Connecticut and invited them to come. Still, Jubilee did not mind the mundane quality to her holiday plans. Scott always seemed a little more antsy and flustered around Jean・s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Grey, which was entertaining.

She was about type her response on her laptop when she heard a rapping noise at the windowsill. Curious, Jubilee walked to the other side of the room and pulled the gauze-like, cream-colored curtains aside. Opening the window, her eyes widened.

・I was wondering when you were going to let me in,・ Bobby Drake said in greeting. He quickly shed his ice-form body as he climbed inside her bedroom. Not affected by the cold outside easily, he was comfortable in a gray pullover, thermal shirt, jeans, and hiking boots.

Jubilee stared at him in disbelief, and then at the ice slide he created outside of the house to travel up to her window. Closing it and the curtains with a brisk snap, she informed him, ・Scott is going to kill you when he finds your lovely forget-me-not out there.・

Bobby shrugged his shoulders. ・So, you guys have a lawn ornament for a few days. There are worse things.・

He then stared around her bedroom. Before he had left to take care for his father, he used to spend some time up here, plotting many pranks. The walls were a creamy shade of white, which offset the modern floral prints and rosy solids of the canopy bed against the back wall. Pine furnishings, such as her desk, bookshelves, and side tables, complimented the walls and bedding. Framed photographs of various members of the X-Men hung on the wall along with movie posters. A cluttered bulletin board contained postcards, concert ticket stubs, photographs, notes, and magazine clippings.

She studied his face thoughtfully, noting he was observing his new surroundings. ・You want to trade decorating secrets?・ she asked, walking over to her CD player to turn down the volume. Her favorite U2 CD, Rattle and Hum, had been playing.

・Good taste in music,・ he commented, ignoring her teasing remark. Then he said, ・I was in the area and thought I would stop by.・

Jubilee offered him a pixie stick, which he took gratefully. ・So, what・s up?・ she inquired, spreading out on her bed. She motioned for him to join her.

・Not much,・ he replied, taking a seat next to her. ・I just got kicked out of the lab.・ Up until today, Bobby had been his friend・s lab technician. He would spend the long hours in the lab, assisting his friend with data entry, the procurement of tools, and collection of samples.

・What happened?・

・Let say that I knocked over several beakers while telling this story to Hank and that new doctor, Cecilia Reyes.・


・Well, that and I think our Beast wanted to be alone with Dr. Reyes.・

・No way!・

・Hey, Jubes, we all have our needs, you know.・

She rolled her eyes at him, propping herself up on a pillow. ・I don・t even want to think about Scott and Jean like that and they・re married,・ she told him. ・Besides, I thought Dr. McCoy was above all that emotional, lovey-dovey stuff. At least, that・s how he comes across sometimes.・

Bobby finished his pixie stick. ・Nope. He・s a hopeless romantic, just like the rest of us.・

Jubilee nodded. ・I could see that. I mean, he・s always reciting lines from poems all the time, even during Danger Room sessions.・ She paused, then said, ・Somehow, I can・t see you being romantic, Bobby.・

He looked a little hurt. ・What do you mean?・

She touched his arm and smiled gently. ・It・s just that you・re always goofing around all the time,・ she explained, blue eyes sincere. ・I can・t see you being the passionate hero. You know, the guy who sweeps a girl off her feet and sends her in a tizzy.・

・I・ll have you know that many women find a sense of humor an extreme turn-on,・ he informed her huffily. ・Also, I・ve had many girlfriends. They seemed to like it.・ For a while, he added silently, noting that these girlfriends were now exes.

・I didn・t mean to hurt your feelings,・ Jubilee said apologetically.

Bobby snorted, leaning back on the bed with her. ・I don・t need you pity,・ he said with mock pain. Then he turned to her and asked, ・So what about you? Any action I should be looking out for during class? Any public displays of affection I should break up?・

・No, because one, I don・t have any classes with you, and two・・ Her voice trailed off. She shook her head emphatically. ・There isn・t anyone. Not since Everett.・

Everett had been the object of unrequited love for the young girl. Good-looking, charismatic, and intelligent, the young man had been everything she was looking for. He had been a member of Generation X until his untimely death. The loss hit Jubilee particularly hard, forcing her to wonder what might have been.

Bobby frowned with concern. He noticed how her mood suddenly became more somber. ・Jubes...・ He moved closer towards her.

To her credit, she was not crying. Never had she cried in front of anyone else besides Logan and Jean. She was certainly not going to do so in front of Bobby Drake. Instead, she sighed wearily against him.

・I guess I・m still waiting for that guy to sweep me off my feet,・ she said, laughing weakly. Immediately, she could hear Bastion・s lackeys taunting her all over again. ・But who would want to date a mutant freak?・

Bobby suddenly wrapped his arms around her, stroking her long, silky hair. He rested his chin against her forehead. His nostrils were filled with her scent, bubblegum and cinnamon. Then he whispered, ・You・re not a freak. Don・t you ever say that. You・ll find him, I promise, and he・s going to be one lucky guy.・

It was then he realized he was very close to her. This time, he was not uncomfortable. This time, he did not want to pull away. In fact, Bobby found himself to be very at ease and content as to where he was at this moment.

Outside of the Summers・ farm-style, white clapboard house, a pair of red-on-black eyes glittered in the early evening shadows.

Chapter Eight: Here Comes Your Man

According to Ororo, Kitty, and Kurt, yoga was the original mind-body workout. The postures, or asanas, helped to align their muscles and bones, which promoted a sense of unity and balance (something needed following exhausting Danger Room sessions or missions). They also found that practicing yoga strengthened their bones, increased flexibility, improved heart and lung functioning, boosted energy, and reduced stress. Being the spiritual one of the group, Kurt found that yoga had some less tangible benefits. From his own experience, he found that he developed more patience, compassion, and curiosity・tools that assisted him navigate life・s many ups and downs.

That afternoon, the trio invited Rogue to join them. Both Kitty and Kurt expressed concern about their friend. Since Remy・s return to the mansion, the Southern Belle had not been herself. She was less focused, more distractible, somber, and constantly on edge. They also noticed she was doing everything in power to avoid any interaction with the Cajun thief. She would schedule Danger Room sessions when he was not around. There was the fact that she and Joseph were taking their meals in their room, instead of eating in the common area. Kurt had even overheard her talk to Scott about assigning her to a different team; one that Remy LeBeau would not be on.

For her part, Rogue was willing to try anything to take her mind off her anxieties. Her usual workout involved weight training and kickboxing. She was finding yoga not as stimulating as she had hoped. Instead of feeling relaxed, she felt quite silly. All I・m doing is breathing and stretching, she thought woefully. How is this supposed to help me?

・Remember to breathe, Rogue,・ Ororo instructed, ・each movement should occur on an inhale or exhale. Your breathing should be done through your nose and not your mouth.・

Rogue watched the white-haired weather goddess straighten her body in the top of a push-up position, supporting herself on her hands and toes. ・Ah don・t know,・ she began, trying to emulate her friend. ・Ah・m not feelin・ any more at ease, y・all.・

・It vill take time,・ Kurt assured her gently, exhaling. He was engaged in the child・s pose. Pressing his lower back onto his heels, he was stretching his blue arms forward and resting his forehead on his yoga mat. This was his favorite pose since he found that it calmed his mind, opened his hips, and massaged his abdomen.

Kitty nodded emphatically. ・Yeah, the results are gradual. Just trust us.・ She was now inhaling, dropping her stomach toward the floor as she lifted her pelvis, chest, and face toward the ceiling. A loyal follower of yoga for years, she considered herself an aficionado of poses.

Rogue gave her friend a cautious look, exhaling sharply. ・Ah still feel like Ah・m doin・ nothin・,・ she muttered.

Suddenly, the door to the workout room swung open. Logan, freshly showered from his workout in the Danger Room, strolled inside. He had changed into a pair of faded jeans, boots, and a white T-shirt. While his hair was still damp, those trademark points had already formed. His stony eyes widened slightly as he took in the scene before him.

・Joseph・s a lucky guy,・ he remarked, raising a brow and watching Rogue shifting her chest forward and placing it on the floor between her palms with her chin on the floor.

She flipped herself on her back, hazel eyes blazing with indignation. ・Ah don・t want to hear it,・ she grumbled. Then she slumped her shoulders and sighed, turning to the others who were undoing themselves from their respective poses. ・What do y・all say about callin・ it a day?・

Ororo pulled up the strap of her light-blue tank top. ・Fine idea,・ she replied, ・we have been here for an hour already.・

Kitty bounced to her feet and rolled up her purple yoga mat. ・Great. I can make smoothies for everyone then. I got this cool recipe from the paper last week.・

・Vat kind of smoothies?・ Kurt asked, already heading towards the door with yoga mat under his arm. His yellow eyes appeared intrigued.

Following him, she said, ・Peanut butter and banana. Sounds good, huh?・

Ororo tried to suppress a look of disgust. Her tastes did not dabble in such heavy ingredients. ・I think I will pass,・ she told the younger woman, patting her arm kindly. ・Besides, I need to work on my lesson plan for tomorrow・s classes.・ She then slid between them to exit the room.

・I・m fine, Kit-Kat,・ Logan assured her when she turned her eyes to him. He exchanged a knowing look with Rogue.

Rogue nodded, catching on. ・Me, too, sugah. Maybe another time.・

・OK. More for us, Kurt.・ Kitty linked her arm with Kurt・s, who still appeared fascinated with the idea of peanut butter and banana smoothies.

After they left the room, Logan shook his head. ・I love the girl, but she could never cook.・ He leaned against the far wall across from his teammate.

Rogue smiled, pulling her knees to her chest. ・To each their own, right?・

He stared at her, curious. ・So what were you doing?・ he asked. ・Looked like you were dancing with the ground or something.・

She smiled for what could have been the first time in several weeks. ・Yoga,・ she answered. ・They thought it might help with relaxation or somethin・. Ah just felt weird, y・know. Ah would have felt better hittin・ a punchin・ bag.・ She paused, her gloved fingers brushing against her lips. ・Ah just sounded like you, Logan.・

He snorted. ・There・s hope for you after all, Rogue.・

She rolled her eyes at him and hunched her shoulders slightly. ・So, did ya come to talk to me about somethin・? What can Ah do for ya, sugah?・ Not that they were not friendly, but lately, she had chosen to avoid him since he seemed to be around Gambit all the time.

Logan crossed his arms over his broad chest. She was more perceptive than he had given her credit for. ・What・s up with you lately?・

・Ah don・t know what ya mean, hon.・ Her voice became defensive. She clenched her fists, digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands.

・I guess I・m hallucinating when you run away from the Cajun.・

・Ah still don・t know what you・re talkin・ about. And, Ah don・t run from anyone, ya hear?・

・Cut the crap, darlin・. What・s your problem lately?・

She glared at him. ・Ah don・t see how this is any of your business,・ she snapped, rising to her feet and stomping towards him. ・How Ah handle things ain・t no concern of you or anyone else!・

He leaned towards her, his breath hot against her cheek. ・Oh, it・s my business, darlin・,・ he told her. ・It・s my business when our people are sent out on missions thinned out ・cause someone can・t deal with her personal life.・

Rogue sniffed, stepping away. She crossed her arms over her chest and asked, ・So, whaddaya want me to do, sugah? What・s your advice?・

・Act like an adult. Decide what you want.・

At the moment, the door swung open. Joseph stood in the doorway, his face curious. ・Am I interrupting something?・ he asked.

Rogue could only stare at Logan open-mouthed, and then shook her head slowly at Joseph. Words seemed to fail her at that moment.

"Okay, whose turn to deal?" Warren asked, blue eyes narrowing in concentration.

"Mine," Scott replied, and Warren passed the deck of playing cards to his right.

While it was mid-winter in Westchester, the first snow had yet to fall on the grounds of the mansion. Instead, cold and bitter rain fell from the gray sky. Given the conditions outside, all of the residents remained inside the mansion. That day, Scott, Warren, Ray, and Bobby were seated around a small, round table in the center of one of the recreation rooms with Jono, a former member of Generation X who was visiting from Europe. To entertain their guests, Warren suggested a friendly card game. Mindful that were children in the mansion and not wanting to set a bad example, Scott insisted that no gambling take place. Minutes later, an open bag of salt ・n' vinegar potato chips laid open on the table and each card player had his own pile of potato chips in front of him. Warren placed two of his potato chips in the center of the table and Scott dealt the cards. The men eyed their cards and then eyed each other, looking for any sign of emotion.

Jono scratched the side of his nose, his fingers brushing against the navy bandages around the area where the lower half of his face should have been. I'll bet two chips, he told the others telepathically, placing two of his potato chips in the center. Your turn, Drake.

"Huh?" Bobby looked up from his cards. All that remained of his chip pile was a few scattered crumbs.

"Your turn to bet some chips," Warren informed him, shaking his blond head slightly. Typical Bobby. Some things never change・

The younger man looked down at the crumbs in front of him. "Uh oh," he said, grinning sheepishly. "I think I ate mine again."

"Bobby, for the last time, you can't eat your chips until we're all done!" Scott groaned, dealing his teammate a new pile of chips.

"I think I'll only bet two.・

"You're just trying to save all your chips so you can eat them all when we're through!・ Scott then turned to Warren and said, "Gimme four cards."

His old friend watched him toss four chips into the center pile. Always competitive, Warren decided to follow Scott・s lead. "Hell, I'll bet five," he finally said.

A few hands later, Warren turned to Jono. "Do you want to draw any new cards?"

Let me think about it, Jono replied thoughtfully, using his psionic voice. Before making a decision, he briefly scanned the minds of the others around him. He started with the ever-competitive Scott Summers.

Hmmm, I think I'll stay in since I've got two aces, Scott said to himself inwardly, adjusting his ruby-quartz sunglasses. Jono moved onto his Bobby Drake. He decided to skip Warren since he was probably engaged in similar thinking as Scott. When he peered over at Bobby, he noticed that the New York native was smirking behind his cards.

What a dumbass! Jono hasn't even noticed that I stole, like, ten of his chips! Bobby thought smugly, brushing the crumbs from the sides of his mouth.

Jono frowned and narrowed his eyes in concentration.

Suddenly, Bobby felt a sharp, stinging pain at the base of his skull. He squealed, "Ow, my head!"

I think I'll fold, Jono told the others, placing his cards down. His brown eyes were solemn as usual.

After he recovered from his mysterious assault, Bobby gave Warren a quizzical look. "What's a Royal Flush again?" he piped up.

"It's when you have the ten, Jack, Queen, King and Ace all in one suit," Warren replied, an errant lock of blond hair falling into his eyes. He knew that Bobby rarely played cards and did not mind helping him out every once in a while.

"And that's the highest hand you can have?"

"Yes, Bobby."

An impish grin spread across Bobby・s face ever so slowly. "Cool," he finally said.

The others glanced at each other.

"I'm folding," Warren announced, throwing his cards down. He was competitive, but he was also a shrewd businessman. He was not afraid to cut his losses.

・Me, too,・ Ray said glumly, following Warren・s example.

Bobby・s gray eyes turned uncharacteristically steely as he declared, "I'm not. In fact, I'm gonna bet all the rest of my chips." He then pushed his chip pile, which was suddenly the largest, into the middle of the table.

Scott found himself staring at the younger man in disbelief. He sighed resignedly. "I'm out.・

"All right, I win again!" Bobby cried with childish glee as he drew the pile of chips nearer.

Suddenly skeptical, Scott was not ready to hear his teammate gloat. "Wait a minute," he interrupted, grabbing the younger man・s arm. "What did you have?"

"A Royal Flush," Bobby answered innocently.

Scott wasn't entirely convinced, however. "Let me see your hand," he demanded sharply. Bobby held up his palms, forcing Scott to groan in frustration. "Your cards, smartass."

Bobby laid his cards facedown on the table and slowly pushed them over to Scott. He folded his hands in anticipation of the other man・s reaction.

Scott・s eyes carefully inspected the cards in front of him. His face suddenly became a shocking shade of pink. "King of hearts, two of spades, seven of hearts, ten of diamonds, three of cl.....Bobby, you don't have anything!"

"I know," Bobby flashed him a catlike grin. There was no one in the world he loved to irritate more than Scott・something he seemed to share with Logan. He could not explain the rationale, but Scott・s response, usually centering on anger and irritation, was quite satisfying to say the least.

・Who would have t・ought that Iceman would pull a fast one on you, Cyclops?・ drawled a husky voice.

Scott bristled, turning to the doorway to see Remy LeBeau leaning against the frame. He looked amused and aloof at the same time, shuffling a deck of cards. From the expression on his face, it was apparent that he had been observing the game for some time.

・Bobby was lucky. It・s not likely to happen again.・ Scott answered through gritted teeth, ignoring Warren and Bobby・s snickering.

Remy shrugged. ・Seems like Iceman find luck in more than one place, mon ami.・ His red eyes peered over at Bobby, who appeared confused and somewhat indignant.

Scott was oblivious to the interaction between the two. ・What are you talking about?・ he asked.

・Mebbe you ask Monsieur Drake why his latest favorite song is ・Tank Heaven for Little Girls.・ With that, the Cajun thief turned on his heel and sauntered into the hallway.

Bobby clenched his fists at the table, unaware of the curious stares of his friends and Scott・s immediate line of questioning.