Homecomings: Chapters 9-18

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 Nine: Don・t Know Why

A few flakes began to spiral to the ground, signaling the arrival of the first snow of the season. Since it had yet to snow until that late afternoon, many of the farmers and other outdoor vendors had continued to sell their goods in the town square. As the flurries began to drift down, stands were being packed up and trucks and cars were being loaded at a quick pace. A few shoppers were still roaming the lumpy field full of tangled vines behind one of the farm stands to pick the remnants of the last pumpkin crop of the year. Meanwhile, children were scampering to gobble the last of roasted pumpkin seeds.

The frosted grass crunched underneath Logan・s feet as he and Jubilee walked away from one of the farm stands. Cook had sent them out to buy some apple cider, pumpkins, and apples for dinner that night. Around this time of year, she always prepared her special tart apple and creamy pumpkin pies, meals of stews and roasts with robust red wines, and pots of chicken soup. Her most beloved specialty was her hot chocolate, which seemed to instantly disappear as soon as it was made. She made many servings of it for the students and the staff. Her secret was blending powdered cocoa, whole milk, sugar and a bit of salt and vanilla.

This was Logan・s favorite time of year. It reminded him of past winters in his native Canada. He often spent the first few days of the season splitting oak logs with his old hammer and wedge, and sometimes, his claws. This winter was especially kind to the self-professed loner. Recently, he began to spend his evenings, visiting Jubilee at the Summers・ house. He would bring hot drinks in a thermos and a wool blanket to spread in front of the fireplace. Sometimes, they would talk into the late hours of the night (or until Jean hinted for him to leave) about life at the mansion or his travels on the road; sometimes, they would simply curl up together to watch the flicker of the vibrant flames. Despite how much she had changed, she was still able to connect with him without using any words. Those were the nights he liked the most. They reminded him of the way things used to be.

He turned to his young companion, who looked especially beautiful that day. She almost looked ethereal as her long hair whipped behind her in the wind. Her cheeks were flushed pink from the cold wind and her blue eyes sparkled with excitement from their day out together. As they trudged towards his truck, he knew he did not have to worry about the native Californian being too cold. Jubilee appeared to be quite bundled in her khaki, wool toggle coat over a gray, turtleneck sweater and navy, boot-cut jeans with black suede clogs.

While they were browsing the various stands, Logan had become acutely aware of the stares he and Jubilee were garnering. Over the years, he had gotten used to them and immediately sensed what thoughts were racing through their minds. His rapid healing ability also made it impossible to tell how old he was by just looking at him. For the last twenty years, he never looked a day over thirty-five. Walking around with a teenaged girl who clearly did not look like his child easily gave people the wrong impression. Not that he ever cared what people thought. Still, it was irritating nonetheless.

Besides, he wasn・t interested in any of that now. Logan had his share of one-night stands, brief encounters, and relationships. His past with women was extensive and often centered around lust rather than romance. There were many・Caley Blair, Elektra Natchios, Gahck, Kayla, Yuriko, Silver Fox, Stacey the waitress, Mary Walker (Typhoid Mary), Mystique, Viper, and those twins from California・

Despite his raucous past, he knew what real love was. The closest he had come to it, something pure was what he had with Mariko. As he reacquainted himself to the young girl he considered his family now, he was reminded of those emotions. When he was around her, he was no longer the animal who experienced violence fits of rage, who was deemed too dirty and tainted to be worth anything. He was redeemed; he was saved. Granted, his feelings were not the same for Jubilee as they were for Mariko, but they were just as intense and gratifying. There was the same devotion and affection, but channeled and directed in a different way・a way he was content with now.

・How・s it going, kid?・ Logan asked, balancing the two crates of produce in his arms. He could not wait to dump them in his truck. It wasn・t that they were particularly heavy. It was just that the wooden crates were proving to be more awkward than he initially thought. Fortunately for him, his gray pick-up was only a few yards away.

She walked alongside him, carrying a paper bag of candied apples and a jug of apple cider she had purchased. ・OK,・ she replied, shivering slightly. While the rest of her body was covered, her face was still exposed to the chilling wind and drifting snow. ・I・d like to get home and warm up. I don・t think I can feel my nose anymore. Or any other part of my body for that matter.・

・We・re almost there, kid. Anyway, it・s not that cold.・ His tone was slightly teasing at the end of the second sentence.

・That・s easy for you to say. You practically lived in this weather all-year round for the past few years. Well, that and you have tons of body hair.・

・Care to repeat that last one?・

・What? I didn・t say anything!・ She laughed merrily as she watched him growl softly and then lapsed into silence. After a brief pause, she said, ・Wolvie?・

・Yeah, kid?・

・I had fun today.・

・Yeah, me, too.・

・We should do this every year. You know, make it a tradition・just you and me.・

・Sure, kid, we can do that.・

Her eyes were thoughtful as they approached closer to the truck. ・Really?・ she asked, voice filled with some wariness.

Logan frowned at her. He could tell from her tone she did not quite believe what he was saying to her. ・What does that mean?・

・I don・t know・I just didn・t think shopping at the farmer・s market was really your thing. Actually, anything not involving alcohol, cigars, or tearing apart stuff wouldn・t be up your alley.・

・That・s a pretty shallow picture.・

・Sorry. I・m working from what I remember. Most people can・t picture angry Wolverine spending the day at the farmer・s market.・

・Shows what they know・And you.・

She gave him a small, wistful smile. ・Yes, you・re always full of surprises, Wolvie.・

Logan raised a brow at her, his ears detecting the teasing tone in her voice. It was exasperating, but still part of the charm that was all her own. He growled at her softly, trying to pretend she wasn・t bothering him.

・Don・t look so smug,・ he told her gruffly, shoving her gently with his shoulder. ・You・re not that funny, kid.・

Jubilee・s smile broadened as they reached the truck. She knew she had touched a nerve ever so slightly, just enough to evoke a reaction. There was a delicate balance between annoyance and rage with Wolverine. It was a difference between being on the receiving end of a stony glare and being threatened with sharp, adamantium claws. Fortunately for her, she was always able to sense how far she could go with him.

The young girl juggled the paper bag of candied apples to fish the car keys he had given her earlier out of her coat pocket. She opened the driver・s side first for Logan. Then she circled around the truck to open the passenger・s side door. ・I may not be funny, but I・m really cold. Can we go home, Wolvie?・

Logan placed the crates in the backseat and hopped into the truck. He gently brushed her silky hair from her face. ・Yeah, kid,・ he said quietly, ・we・re going home.・

Many years had passed since an orphaned child had found a savage man crucified and near death in Australia. All that rage and violence had been frightening to a thirteen-year-old girl. Yet, she could sense his pain and isolation, which were very much like her own. Now, as they were heading back to the home they shared, the two found themselves sharing something else・peace.

The wintry afternoon found Ororo sitting in her bedroom. The area reflected her calm and feminine persona, as well as her taste in old world style and modern flair. Beeswax candles burned bright, giving the room a soft, yellow glow to the cream-colored walls. The lustrous natural brass of the hurricane lamps imparted a subtle radiance. A Renaissance-inspired, four-poster bed with twisted columns and a gently curved, padded, raffia headboard was situated against the back wall of the bedroom. The bed was outfitted in layers of polished poplin, cream crewel lace, luxurious suede, and a soft, cream-on-cream, floral piano shawl with silk trim. Beaded, cream pillows accented the bed. Meanwhile, a 17th-century Mediterranean-style armoire sat across from the bed. The large piece boasted a highly distressed and darkened cedar finish with rich details in its paneling. In front of the bay windows was a pair of butterfly chairs, complete with leather slings and saddle stitching and mahogany frames.

The weather goddess was seated on her bed with a small, neon-blue box with a white ribbon on her lap. Her face was pensive as she opened it slowly. It had been a ritual she performed repeatedly since receiving it so many months ago. No matter how many times she participated in this private ceremony, she was still awed with what was inside.

A two-carat solitaire diamond set in a four-prong setting of platinum.

She struggled to blink back the tears that welled up in her eyes. They always came whenever she thought about the person who had given her the ring. As much as she wanted to forget the pain associated with the person, her mind would never allow her to do so.

If only, Ororo mused sadly, slipping the ring out of the box. She held it between her fingers and fondly stared at the fiery, white gemstone. If only you had waited for me, I could have, I would have・Things would have been different. I know it.

・It・s beautiful, ch・e.・

She turned around to see Remy LeBeau leaning against the doorframe. His red eyes glittered mysteriously as they gazed upon the large diamond. She wasn・t able to figure out how long he had been standing there, which was quite unnerving. Quickly, she placed the ring back in the box and snapped it closed.

・It is rude to sneak up on someone like that,・ she informed him stiffly.

・Your door was open, ch・ie.・ He gave her a coy smile as he sauntered inside. The tall, lean Cajun thief appeared relaxed, his wavy auburn locks flopping over his red-on-black eyes. With cat-like grace, he seated himself on the bed with his old friend.

Her eyes peered up at him warily. ・What can I do for you, Gambit?・ Ororo knew that her friend had sworn off his thieving ways while he was living at the mansion. However, there was a part of that sensed he never really gave up that lifestyle at all. It was as if his old life was firmly ingrained into his personality, which made it difficult at times to know whether or not to trust him.

・Rest of de mansion is tr・ froid. Gambit figure Stormy・s room always warm.・ Part of it was true. Coming from the Bayou, winter was not his favorite time of year, something he shared with Ororo. He was always fiddling with the thermostat in his room to achieve the mild temperature he desired. Even now, he was wearing his trademark brown leather duster over his jeans, long-sleeved black T-shirt, and scuffed boots.

He had also sensed that something was wrong with her. Ever since they had arrived back from Bermuda, she seemed more distant. As a result of actively monitoring her emotions, Storm sometimes came off as distant and cold. However, Remy noticed this was more exaggerated. It was as if she were struggling to keep something locked inside her. After seeing the diamond solitaire and his friend・s reaction, Remy was immediately aware of what was troubling his friend.

Ororo nodded, white hair spilling down her slim shoulders. ・You are welcome to keep me company,・ she informed him, ・as long as you do not call me Stormy.・

He watched her lean over to her bedside table and slide the box inside the drawer. ・Whatever you say, ch・e.・ He paused and then said, ・You keep dat for long time.・

・I don・t know what you mean.・

・Gambit talking about de ring. Gambit t・inks it might be troubling you, ch・e.・

・Why would a piece jewelry be troubling me?・ Ororo felt a strange surge of fear and confusion beginning to creep over her, feelings she was quite unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.

The wiry thief placed a hand on her arm. ・Mebbe de person who gave it to you,・ he said softly, his red eyes very gentle.

He knows, she thought, biting on her lower lip furiously. Her eyes quickly averted from his intense, concerned gaze. ・How?・ She was shocked that she could even manage to speak that much.

・Gambit saw de way Forge fawn over you, Storm. Not surprising de old man ask you to marry him.・

Despite his long absence from the mansion, the Cajun thief still remembered the Cheyenne contractor who swept Ororo off her feet. He had never seen the weather goddess so happy around another person. Fiercely private and almost constantly stoic, Ororo fought to keep her personal life under wraps. Joy, rage, and sadness were never expressed, but suppressed for fear of losing control of her powers. It had been a lonely and isolated existence for the weather goddess, but one she had accustomed herself to over the years.

That soon changed when she met Forge. After saving her life, he returned with her to the mansion. There, the two became closer eventually leading to a romance. During that time, it was obvious how Storm had changed. While she managed to keep her emotions in check for the most part, she also expressed how happy and carefree she was. Many around the mansion suspected it was no accident that there were many sunny and fair days while she and Forge were a couple.

Ororo・s eyes were distant as they scanned the room. ・That was a long time ago, my friend.・

・Looks not so long to you, ch・e,・ Remy commented, placing an arm around her shoulders. He pulled her close to him and surprised how vulnerable she was at this moment. He was quickly reminded of the times he had comforted her when she was a small child.

To his amazement, she did not jerk away from him. Instead, she heaved another resigned sigh. ・He left before I could say anything,・ Ororo told Remy, still refusing to look at him. ・I never got a chance to give him an answer. He just assumed・・ Her voice trailed off.

・Assumed what, ch・e?・

・That I would say no.・

・Why he t・ink dat? You were in love.・

・You don・t understand, Gambit.・

・Den enlighten me.・

Ororo stared at him. Never had she seen such sincerity in those red-on-black eyes as she did now. Without thinking or reasoning, she decided it was safe to confide in the man with a shaky past. ・When Forge proposed, he wanted to know that he would have all of me.・

・Dat makes sense, ch・e.・ Remy nodded.

・I suppose it was because he knew that I had devoted my entire life to Xavier・s dream,・ she continued, ・and he wanted to have something of a ・normal life・ for a while. A life where we weren・t fighting or looking over our shoulders to see who would be after us.・

He gave her a quizzical look after he had processed her explanation. ・What would you have said?・ he finally asked.

She smiled at him bitterly, her eyes flat and emotionless. ・The strange thing is that I actually considered it,・ she admitted and rested her head against Remy・s chest. ・I suppose Forge did not know me well enough to hear my answer.・

Chapter Ten: When You Sleep

The Professor had sent six members of the group to investigate possible mutant phenomena in a small farming town in Pennsylvania. The town in question was encased in darkness that was traced back to one of the inhabitants. While the townspeople were able to access to electricity, their crops, the source of their livelihood, were dying.

Scott had been assigned to lead the group. Logan, Bobby, Kurt, and Sam Guthrie were sent to collect information from the townspeople. Finally, Hank McCoy accompanied the group to consult on scientific aspects of the phenomena. To keep themselves as inconspicuous as possible, the team used Sam Guthrie・s navy-blue Ford SUV for the road trip and Kurt used his image inducer. Meanwhile, Hank opted not to use one, relying on the perpetual darkness and bulky clothing from the local Big and Tall to conceal his features.

The winter weather was making it difficult to continue any sort of reconnaissance work. In addition, most of the group was tired from the long car ride from New York. Scott decided that the team should get a good rest for the night to start their investigation the next day. Quickly, they located the nearest inn for a relaxing respite.

Or so they thought. Scott found himself in a lengthy conversation with the innkeeper about the rooms. The others opted to wait in the lounge to watch the local news and polish off a round of beers and a plate of potato skins and Buffalo wings.

・Okay," Scott announced when he rejoined his teammates. "This is going to be hard to deal with, but the innkeeper only has two vacant rooms for us tonight. This means we're all going to have to sleep three to a room. Logan, you're with Bobby and Hank; and Kurt, you're with Sam Guthrie and me. Anyone have any problems with those arrangements?"

Logan grunted, narrowing his green eyes. "I do. I've had lots of experience roomin' with the Odd Couple, and I already know it's not gonna be fun. Can I switch with someone else?"

Scott struggled to hide a smirk. "Sure.・

Logan turned to Kurt, who was fiddling with his image inducer. "Okay, Elf, switch with me."

"Right, Herr Logan. I'm not stupid."

"Aw c'mon!"


・Fine, then.・ Logan next turned to Sam Guthrie. ・Hayseed?・

The tall young man from Kentucky swallowed nervously, wishing for some more beer. He was known for his politeness. However, he knew there was no way to provide a graceful response in this situation.

・Um, Mr. Logan, sir,・ he began, running a thin hand through his sandy-blond hair. ・Ah・m gonna to have agree with ya about roomin・ with those two not bein・ fun. So, Ah・m afraid Ah・ll have to say no.・

Logan growled at him, but received a warning look from Scott, who was struggling to hide his amusement with the situation. Meanwhile, Bobby and Hank exchanged looks.

・I don・t know why no one wants to room with us,・ he said to his old friend, popping the last potato skin into his mouth. ・Just because you snore and I scream in my sleep・・ He and Hank immediately broke out into laughter.

"All right, everybody get to bed," said Scott, hoping to cut off the duo・s loud chuckles. ・We have a busy day tomorrow.・

The team went into their respective rooms and settled down for the night. Each room contained two queen-sized beds with a TV, desk and armchair. This meant that one person would have a bed to himself, while two would be forced to share.

Bobby decided to take a shower before retiring for the night. He wanted to clear his head and warm up from the cold outside. As he stood underneath the stream of water, he thought about Gambit・s comments from the other night. For the last few days and nights, all he could do was think about what the Cajun thief had said. While no one else caught on as to what was implied, Bobby still uncomfortable nonetheless. He wasn・t sleeping well and found himself tensing up whenever he saw Gambit, who seemed to have that coy and knowing smirk permanently affixed to his face. What made things worse was the fact that he was unable to figure out why he was so bothered by the other man・s comments.

・Seems like Iceman find luck in more than one place, mon ami・ Mebbe you ask Monsieur Drake why his latest favorite song is ・Tank Heaven for Little Girls.・

Maybe all that cold weather・s gotten to Gambit・s brain, Bobby snorted, turning off the water. He never knows what he・s talking about. So I visit Jubilee. Logan does it all the time. Hell, sometimes, he sleeps over at Scott and Jean・s just to spend time with her. No one makes anything out of that.

He had been tempted to tell Jubilee about it. She would have found it hysterical. He could picture them laughing over the whole thing. Yet, he did not. Looking back, he wasn・t sure why.

While Bobby was in the bathroom, Logan and Hank crawled into their beds and drifted off to sleep. They didn't remain that way for long, however. Bobby came out of the bathroom, clad in his boxers and a Georgetown University T-shirt, and rolled a pajamas-clad Hank over next to the wall. Then he plopped himself down on the bed.

"No, Bobby," said a groggy Hank, pushing him away with a large, furry hand. "You're sharing with Logan."

"He・s still pissed about that impromptu snowball fight. I think he wants to make me into a Picasso painting."

"I don't care. I・m not sharing the bed with you. Besides, Logan doesn't bite...hard."

"Fine." Bobby attempted to crawl into Logan's bed, only to be greeted by a rumbling growl and a flash of adamantium claws.

"Get outta here, Icicle. I don・t share my bed with anyone.・

Hank sighed, feeling sympathetic for his friend. He knew he was going to regret his decision in the morning. Cursing himself for being a pushover, he said, "All right, you can share my bed then. Just don't drool on me, kick me or even breathe on me."

"Fine." Bobby plopped himself down on Hank's bed and settled in. Hank rolled over and faced the wall. The room was silent, but only for a short while.

"Hey, Hank?"

"What, Bobby?"

"I can't sleep."

"Well, try."

"What kind of answer is that?"

"Just go to sleep."

"But I just told ya--"

"Bobby, go to sleep!"

That silenced Bobby for only a minute. "Hey, Hank?"


"What's your favorite bar?"

Hank didn't answer. He hoped that ignoring Bobby would discourage him. Unfortunately, he underestimated how persistent his young friend was.



"Aren't you going to answer?"

Hank sighed heavily, clutching his pillow tightly. "If I do, will you shut your mouth and go to sleep?" he demanded warily.

"Yeah." Bobby replied innocently, blinking his eyes.

"Okay. Tony & Joe・s in Washington, DC."

"I like that place, too."

"That's nice. Now go to sleep."

"Yeah, go to sleep!" Logan barked and pulled his pillow over his head. One-Eyed is gonna pay for this・

Hank rolled over and started to finally fall asleep. His snores were rhythmic in the dark. Even the ever-vigilant Logan was peacefully slumbering.

However, Bobby found the silence less than comforting. It forced his mind to replay Gambit・s sly comments in head over and over again. He could feel his apprehension and anger wash over him as they did many nights before. Still unable to find rest, Bobby broke the silence again. "Hey, Hank?"

"What?" Hank growled between clenched teeth.

"What's your favorite kind of beer?"

"Bobby, who cares? Go to sleep!"

Bobby rolled over away from Hank, flipping on his side. He was immediately greeted with Logan glaring back at him from his bed. "Hank?"


"Logan・s looking at me weird."

"Ignore him and go to sleep."

This time, Bobby was quiet for almost five minutes. However, his anxiety began to seep in, which forced him to start the conversation again. "Hey, Hank?"

Hank cursed himself for not bringing a set of earplugs with him for this trip. "Now what?" he asked flatly.

"Do you think the Mets are going to win the World Series this year? I mean, they・ve been looking pretty good this season." Bobby asked, staring up at the ceiling.

"Shut up!" Logan hissed.

Bobby gave him an indignant look. "Hey, I'm askin' my buddy a question!" he snapped, and then he turned back to the big, blue lump of fur next to him. "So what do you think, Hank?"

"I think you should shut up and go to sleep, that's what I think."


No longer able or willing to contain his anger, Logan interrupted. "For the love of all that is good and holy, shut the hell up!" he barked, sitting up in his bed.

"Well jeez, I just wanted to ask Hank a question. Is that a crime?" Bobby responded matter-of-factly.

"No, but you know what is? What I'm gonna do to you if you don't shut your hole and go to sleep!" Both sets of claws sprang from the back of Logan・s hands. In the dim moonlight, they shone brightly, highlighting their sharpness.

Yikes, Bobby thought, his eyes widening at the sight. Then he rolled over on his back and closed his eyes. He sighed, willing himself to go to sleep. Unfortunately, his body was not complying. Instead, he decided to take a walk around the inn to relax. He pulled on a pair of jeans, socks, a green roll-neck sweater, and his brown leather boots before leaving the room.

Bobby wandered downstairs to the gift shop. To his surprise, it was still open at ten o・clock at night with several straggling customers. Like the rest of the inn, the shop boasted natural wood furnishings, which gave it a European country feel. In addition to quilts, stuffed animals, and other assorted items, the store boasted a collection of vintage jewelry. He found himself browsing the glass case and the surrounding shelves.

・See anything you like?・ An older gentleman, presumably the manager, asked Bobby. His dark eyes were kindly as they scanned Bobby・s face for an answer.

・I didn・t think stores were open this late. At least in the country.・

・Since the blackout, it・s hard to tell what・s late and what・s early. To my surprise, it・s been good for business. Since I live at the inn, I can open and close whenever I like.・

・Must be nice.・ Bobby observed, studying a necklace that had caught his eye. A slim strand of pink beads with a sterling silver lobster clasp surrounded a small, silver flower. It looked like something Jubilee would wear.

The manager followed his gaze and nodded approvingly. ・That・s a pretty one, isn・t it?・

・It sure is.・ Bobby agreed, tapping his fingers against the glass. Christmas was coming soon and he had not started shopping yet for anyone. Shrugging, he figured he could use a head start. ・Could I take a look at it?・

・Sure thing, son.・ The manager quickly unlocked the case and gently slipped the necklace out of the case. He held it out to Bobby. ・It・s made by a local artisan. One of a kind piece, you know. The woman who receives it as a present is guaranteed to love it.・

Bobby took the necklace from the manager. His gray eyes inspected the delicate piece carefully. Then he checked the price tag. Reasonable, he mused. ・I・ll take it,・ he announced, handing it back to the manager. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket.

The manager looked pleased. ・This for someone special?・ he asked, walking to the register.

Bobby watched him ring up the necklace. Handing the manager his credit card, he said, ・It・s for a friend.・

The older gentleman carefully wrapped the necklace in tissue paper before placing it in a small box. ・Must be a special young lady,・ he observed.

Bobby found himself blushing. For the first time that evening, he had nothing to say.

Chapter Eleven: Bad Reputation

The mansion was in the midst of preparing for the upcoming holidays. With the upcoming holidays came a relaxed atmosphere, which had eluded the mansion for some time. Classes were winding down at the school. Many of the students were enjoying the goodwill of their instructors, who were using the last fifteen minutes of their classes to enjoy some down time. First there was Ororo, who brought her class freshly baked sugar cookies and fruit punch from Cook. Jean showed holiday themed movies, such as ・A Christmas Story・ and ・It・s A Wonderful Life・ (her personal favorite), to her class. Meanwhile, Warren allowed his students to sneak time in the Blackbird simulator. Kurt brought his class trinkets from a recent trip to his native Germany. Then there were Bobby and Hank, who took the children on a ・nature expedition・ to build snow forts and engaged in some winter warfare.

Scott, Warren, and Bobby had left several hours ago to buy a tree for the mansion. Rather than wait for them, Rogue and Kitty decided to proceed with their mission of decorating the mansion. They had recruited the help of some of the students in getting the storage boxes from the attic (thanks to promises of Cook・s gingersnaps). The two friends were now sorting through the various decorations before hanging them up. Meanwhile, many students were piling into the living room, assisting in the decorating project. In the background, a CD of jazz-flavored holiday songs was on. Rogue・s favorite song on the album, Chet Baker・s horn-infused version of ・Winter Wonderland・ was currently playing.

Kitty had just finished setting up a silver menorah on the mantle of the fireplace. ・There,・ she said with a small smile of satisfaction, ・just like how Mom and Dad used to do it.・

Rogue pulled out a worn, baseball cap with mistletoe hanging from the brim. Her brows furrowed together in confusion. ・What in the world・.・

Kitty rolled her cat-like brown eyes behind her square, black-rimmed glasses. ・It・s Bobby・s, remember? That Christmas before he left, he was chasing all of us with it.・ It puzzled her sometimes how Bobby could keep his inner child alive for so long. Maybe this is why he doesn・t have a girlfriend, she observed inwardly.

・Then it goes in the trash. We have enough mistletoe hangin・ in this place.・ Rogue tossed it behind her, shaking her head. A couple of days ago, Jean bought several bushels of mistletoe and hung them in the doorway of each public room of the mansion.

Her friend grinned as she eyed a large star pendant Rogue was now holding. Intrigued with the intricate, shimmering gold and silver printing over the thick, rice paper of the star, she said, ・I haven・t seen that before.・

・That・s because it・s new,・ Rogue informed her, suddenly looking wistful. ・Joseph left it here before he went to Guatemala.・

Having heard about the earthquake that devastated the Holy Sepulcher Orphanage, he traveled to assist in the relief effort. He had told Rogue about his feelings of guilt from killing the criminals who had kidnapped Sister Maria and the children from the orphanage. By helping them rebuild, he thought he would be atone somewhat for the violence.

While Rogue understood and empathized his intentions, she could not quite feel disappointed. She had been looking forward to spending the holidays with him. Even though he was a grown man, the amnesia he had suffered made him childlike in many ways. This was going to be his first Christmas and Rogue wanted to teach him everything about the holiday, from the religious to the secular.

Maybe next year, she told herself. For a moment, she found that she was trying to convince herself there was going to be another chance. Angry with herself, she quickly pushed her uncertainty from her mind.

Kitty patted Rogue・s sleeved arm gently. ・Well, it・ll just be us girls for the holidays then. We can make potato latkes and sing carols by the fire, you know.・

Rogue・s hazel eyes were surprised. ・Ya not goin・ home, sugah?・ She knew that while things were less than functional in the Pryde home, Kitty longed to put her family back together. There were many nights Rogue remembered consoling her good friend over her parents・ divorce and later, her father・s violent death.

Kitty sighed, shrugging. ・My mom・s spending the holidays with my brother and his wife. And, unfortunately, Marla isn・t too fond of mutants. It・s just as easy for me to stay here.・ Despite her sunny smile at the end of her sentence, there was something in her eyes that spoke her disappointment.

・Ah・m sorry.・

・Don・t be. It・s her loss, you know. Besides, I・m looking forward to catching on some shopping.・

・Don・t worry, sugah. Ah haven・t even started. Maybe we can go out to the mall tomorrow and check out the sales, y・know.・

・Sounds like a plan.・ Kitty opened another box and lifted several strands of red pepper berry garland. ・Oh, this would be perfect on the railing, wouldn・t it?・ Then she removed a strand of sparkling bay leaf garland and tilted her head slightly. ・But this one is nice, too. Which would you choose, Rogue?・

Rogue was about to voice her preference when she noticed a woman saunter in from the foyer. She was curvy, wearing an outfit that accentuated her figure・tight, white pants, a zipped-up bodice, and a white blazer with white stiletto heels. Around her neck was a choker with a gold X. Golden tresses cut in stylish layers framed nearly teal-blue eyes, refined yet delicate bone structure and silky, translucent skin. Her face reflected a mixture of boredom, coolness and detachment・an expression she often wore.

・I see that Frosty is back,・ Kitty observed, following Rogue・s gaze and invoking Jubilee・s nickname for Emma Frost. Like most of the other women in the mansion, she had rather mixed feelings about the former Hellfire member. Emma was icy and reserved towards many people, especially women.

In addition to her psychic abilities, she frequently and freely used her sexuality as a means in getting what she wanted. This was not only true with adversaries, but with many of the male team members. Related to this was the fact that Emma continued to dress provocatively. This would not be so bad if she wasn・t an instructor at the school. Kitty recalled recently observing some of the male students and Bobby gawking at Emma, who was wearing her usual white field uniform・long leather pants, platform boots and leather trench coat with strategically placed scraps of fabric on her breasts and neck that left enough of her chest and stomach to form an X.

・What Ah want to know is how she ain・t cold in that get-up,・ Rogue whispered, feeling somewhat frumpy in her black, drawstring leggings, gray, zip-neck sweater, and white sneakers.

Kitty pursed her lips, peering down at her own jeans and University of Chicago pullover. ・More importantly, how does she keep everything so white?・

・Ah guess all that bleach isn・t only used for her hair・・ Rogue raised a brow at her friend. She had her own reasons for disliking Emma, many of which stemmed from the way the White Queen treated Bobby in the past. Being a close friend of Bobby・s, Rogue hated how Emma would tease and lead him on. She thought of the blonde as a predator of sorts, preying on Bobby・s loneliness and using the promise of sex to manipulate him.

The two of them immediately burst into a fit of giggles. For her part, Emma did not seem she was paying any mind to the two women in the living room. Not that either Kitty or Rogue cared.

Suddenly, Kitty turned her eyes briefly from her friend to the doorway where Emma was standing. There, she saw the tall, lean form of Remy LeBeau next to her. He did not seem aware that Rogue was in the next room since he was smiling flirtatiously at the blonde Emma. His red-on-black eyes flicked to the hanging mistletoe over both their heads, then back to her.

While Kitty could not hear what the Louisiana native was saying, she was sure what he wanted at that moment. Emma, usually immune to his charms and wiles, seemed receptive as she was continuing to listen to him. Ever so slowly, the Cajun thief flashed a seductive smile and leaned over, pulling Emma close to him. He then planted his perfectly sculpted lips over hers for a kiss.

Oh, noooo・ This is the last thing Rogue needs to see... Even though her friend was involved in a new relationship, Kitty couldn・t help but sense that Rogue still harbored feelings for Remy. Kitty・s head quickly whipped around to try to distract Rogue from the scene unfolding. She found that her friend had disappeared; leaving the star pendant in the spot she had been sitting.

On Sub-Basement Level Two of the mansion was the Danger Room. The area had recently been enhanced by Shi・ar technology as a result of the Professor・s relationship with the Empress. The revamped training facility now used highly advanced robots and sophisticated holographic projectors in many of the training simulations.

This late evening found Jubilee, Tabitha, and Sarah exiting the Danger Room after a particularly rough session. This was thanks to a physically exhausting simulation Sarah had programmed. The three young students were leaning against the wall outside of the training area, panting and wiping sweat from their brows. The girls were dressed in the standard attire for the students・form-fitting, black leather uniforms with black combat boots and padding around the elbows and knees. Needless to say, their clothing forced them to sweat even more.

・Okay, who・s gonna tell Scott about those broken robots?・ Tabitha asked, her wide aqua eyes sparkling. She was a wiry teenager with blonde hair that was cut into chunky layers around her edgy, but cherubic features. The girl was a recent recruit at the school, leaving an abusive home life behind her.

Sarah made a face at her, absorbing the bone structures back into her forehead. A Morlock whose abilities included generating blade-like bone structures, she had worked for many months at the school to gain control over her powers. Her rugged but arresting features became more visible, which were framed by her magenta locks, now pulled into a ponytail.

・Why don・t you do it? You・re the one who fried them. I saw you.・ She was referring to Tabitha・s ability create balls of explosive and concussive energy, which earned her the nickname, Boom-Boom.

Tabitha smirked, sinking to the floor to sit. ・How do we know it wasn・t one of your bone spikes that didn・t do it?・ she asked, eyeing the holes in the other girl・s black, leather uniform.

・I was on the other side of the room!・ Sarah turned her pale blue eyes to Jubilee, who was moving her head from side to side in an effort to stretch out her neck. ・Why don・t you tell him? You live with him and he treats you like his kid. He can・t be too mad.・

・Since he treats me like his kid, he can punish me like his kid,・ Jubilee pointed out. She could almost picture Scott having a fit about the equipment being broken・especially since the girls did not have one of the instructors with them. ・Maybe we should tell him together. That way, Tabitha・s not completely on the spot.・

Tabitha nodded slowly, fingering her choppy hair. ・Do you think we should have Jean around? He wouldn・t flip out too much if she were in the room with us. Maybe she can zap his head or something.・

Jubilee was about to respond to this suggestion when she heard a loud crash. ・What was that?・ she asked, straightening her posture.

The other girls frowned as they peered around. While the sound was loud, they were not able to discern where it came from. Immediately, shard-like bone spike sprang from one of Sarah・s arms. She pulled one of them out and gripped it tightly. Tabitha followed her teammate・s move and summoned several balls of energy into her hands.

Just as Sarah was about to dismiss the event and tell Jubilee she was hearing things, there was another crash followed by the sound of breaking glass. This time, the noises could clearly be heard from the doors of the women・s locker room. Tabitha tossed one of the balls at the steel doors that led to the women・s locker room. The doors immediately blew open with a thundering boom, which was not loud enough for the rest of the mansion to hear, given the soundproofed walls.

Jubilee was the first one to race to the doorway, summoning sparks from one of her hands. The room was dark, which made it hard to see anything. However, as the light from the hallway and her sparks poured into the room, she was able to discover the source of the loud noises. Quickly, flicked on the light switch, and slowly walked inside.

There, slumped against a row of lockers outside the shower stalls was Rogue. Her eyes were closed and her chin was pressed against her chest. The woman・s hair was rumpled, as were her clothes. Despite the doors being blown open, she appeared oblivious, almost appearing as if she were asleep.

・Rogue!・ Jubilee raced to her side, her eyes darting around the room to see if any possible attackers were present, which there was none. She absorbed the sparks into her hand. ・Are you OK? What happened?・

・Mmmph.・ Rogue waved a hand at her, disoriented. Her hazel eyes were heavy-lidded. Smiling widely at Jubilee, she patted the young girl・s head. ・Ya grew up, didn・t ya, Sweet Pea?・

Sarah was several inches from the two of them, crouching. ・I would say this happened,・ she said, holding up an empty bottle of Southern Comfort and pointing at shards of glass in a pool of amber liquid, presumably remnants of another bottle Rogue was in the midst of consuming.

Tabitha peered at the bottles and then at Rogue, who was flashing her a lazy smile. ・Oh, man,・ she cried, almost with glee, ・Rogue・s totally wasted!・

Jubilee rolled her eyes at her, then looked over at Rogue. Relieved not to find any cuts on the Southern Belle, she asked, ・How long have you been here?・

Rogue placed a gloved hand on Jubilee・s cheek. ・Long enough, Sweet Pea. Don・t ya worry. Ah can handle my liquor・・ She tilted her head back and closed her eyes.

・Rogue? Rogue?・ Jubilee started to shake her shoulders to wake her up. When the other woman opened her eyes, Jubilee turned to Tabitha and Sarah, who appeared fascinated with a drunk Rogue. ・We have to get her upstairs.・

・And get this place cleaned up,・ Sarah added, standing up again. ・Scott・s going to flip out more if he sees this.・

Tabitha crossed her arms over her muscular chest. ・You know, we could just leave her here and pretend we never found her. Why should we have to do anything?・

・Because she・d help you if you were in the same situation.・

・Fair enough.・

Jubilee bit her lip as she bent down and placed one of Rogue・s arms around her shoulders. ・Come on, Rogue,・ she coaxed, trying to pull her up. Being smaller than the other woman and not having super strength made the task more difficult than she thought it would be.

・Yeah, come on,・ Tabitha grunted, taking Rogue・s other arm and trying to prop her up on her feet. ・Ugh, she・s heavier than she looks. Must be all that fried chicken and grits she eats.・

・Hey!・ Rogue suddenly exclaimed, then rested her head on Jubilee・s shoulder.

Sarah watched the two girls successful raise Rogue to her feet. Then she sighed as she stared down at the bottle and broken glass at her feet. ・I guess I・ll take care of this then.・ Her pale eyes then looked rather amused, as if she got the better end of the deal and knew it. She decided not to let the other two on.

・Good luck,・ Jubilee told Sarah, now dragging Rogue to the door with Tabitha.

The girls decided it would be easier to take the elevator from Sub-Basement Level Two to the second floor, where all the private living quarters were. During the elevator ride, Rogue became increasingly alert. Her eyes remained open and she was able to stand. However, she still required the assistance of the two girls to keep her gait steady. In addition, she started to talk・or rather, babble. Much of what she was saying either came out of left field or was unintelligible altogether, expressed in a series of grunts.

・Finally,・ Tabitha said as the elevator doors open. She wasn・t sure what was more burdensome・carrying Rogue or listening to her babble on and on about country back roads.

Jubilee glared at the taller girl, assisting Rogue out of the elevator. ・We have to do this quietly. Some of the kids are already asleep.・ She nodded towards a row of closed doors down the hallway.

Tabitha scowled, but then gave Jubilee a resigned look. They proceeded to lead Rogue to her bedroom, which was at the other end of the hall. Rogue was being cooperative and surprisingly quiet. She simply rested her head on Jubilee・s shoulder, eyes dazed at her familiar surroundings. However, their trip to her bedroom wasn・t going to be as effortless as anticipated. Without any warning or provocation, Rogue threw herself on the floor and buried her face in her arms. The girls immediately raced to hoist the intoxicated woman to her feet. This time, Rogue was not easily moved.

・Rogue・ Come on, Rogue, get up.・ Jubilee pleaded, struggling to pull her up. ・We・re almost there.・

・G・way. Ah like it here.・ Rogue mumbled, kicking the hardwood floor with one foot.

・Rogue!・ Tabitha hissed. She peered around frantically to see if anyone heard. The last thing she needed was to be associated with another disturbance. She was still serving out her punishment, cleaning out the Blackbird after every field mission, for tossing a handful of energy balls into the men・s locker room.

Unfortunately for the two girls, someone did hear the commotion. A light flicked on in one of the bedrooms. The occupant was definitely an instructor or simply a field team member since most of their rooms were located at the end of the hall. Footfalls could be heard sauntering across the hardwood floors. The mahogany door slowly swung open very slowly, pouring light into the dim hallway where the three women were.

Tabitha quickly rose to her feet, shaking her head and throwing Jubilee a sympathetic look. There was no way she was going to be written up again. ・That・s it. I・m outta here.・ She then sprinted down the other side of the hall, towards the room she shared with Sarah, Theresa, and Dani.

Great, Jubilee groaned inwardly, her eyes on the belligerent figure next to her. Still on her knees, she gave up on trying to help Rogue to her feet. Then she heaved a sigh and waited for the reprimanding adult to ask her what was going on.

Who confronted her was the antithesis of a stern, reprimanding adult.

・Petite, what・s goin・ on?・

Her eyes stared up at the tall, lean Cajun thief. Despite the fact he was dressed for bed in only a pair of black, silk pajamas pants, Remy LeBeau appeared as if he had not been sleeping for long. His red-on-black eyes were alert, surveying the scene in front of him. The usual amused and smug expression he wore was missing, replaced by one that communicated concern.

He raked a hand through his thick, wavy reddish-brown hair and knelt down by Jubilee and Rogue. His nostrils were already filled with the strong smell of alcohol, permeating from Rogue. He shook his head in dismay. Then he turned to Jubilee and asked, ・Well, Petite?・

・I found her like this,・ Jubilee explained, sapphire eyes widening. She decided to leave Sarah and Tabitha out of the entire situation. No sense in making things any more complicated.

He nodded, knowing the little one would not lie to him. With a swift and rather graceful move, he scooped Rogue into his arms and rose to his feet. To his relief, she did not stir. ・Come, Petite,・ he whispered, watching the young girl stand up. ・Help me wit Rogue, huh?・

Jubilee nodded and followed him to Rogue・s door quietly. As they made their way down the hall, she realized this was the closest Gambit had been to Rogue since he returned. She kept her questions to herself, knowing full well the Cajun never shared his feelings with anyone. Once they reached the bedroom, she moved past him to open the door and flicked on the lights.

The room was composed of a palette of delicate pinks, soft greens, Gustavian blues, and champagne and gold. Painted, timeworn furniture complemented a patchwork of florals, aged damasks, glistening beadwork, and dressmaker details. The smell of fresh pears wafted in the air faint, but strong enough to detect.

Remy strode inside, surprised that nothing had changed. He remembered spending many nights here; some good, some bad. All that time in Antarctica, he could have never predicted he would have ended back here. There were many nights he dreamed about being here with her. Needless to say, he was not expecting that he would be under these circumstances.

Then he stared down at the sleeping woman in her arms. Rogue・s comely features were peaceful, making her appear innocent and unassuming. Gently, he brushed a lock of white hair from her cheek. There was so much he was thinking, feeling, and wanting to say. For now, this was fine enough for him. He knew if she were awake now, she would never allow him anywhere near her.

Remy found the king-sized sleigh bed in the middle of the room. As he laid the still sleeping Rogue over the luminous Odelette quilt, he saw Jubilee walking out of the private bath with a glass of water, a trashcan and a bottle of Advil. She placed the water and Advil on the classical, iron-wrought night table, a piece reminiscent of Pompeian-inspired and Napoleonic campaign furniture with its lion・s paw feet and lion・s heads with rings capping each leg. Then she placed the trashcan by Rogue・s bed. Surprised that the young girl knew what to bring, Remy looked taken a back.

・My last foster mother was a raging alcoholic. I always had to take care of her after drinking.・ Jubilee explained, her blue eyes reflecting a hint of sadness and pain. Then she quickly changed the subject. ・Is Rogue OK?・

Remy nodded. ・I t・ink so. She be sleepin・ it off.・ He paused, and then asked, ・Petite, you know how much she have?・

・Maybe a whole bottle of whiskey and a half? I don・t know. The other bottle was broken by the time I found her.・

・How long she be drinkin・, Petite?・

・I don・t know. By the time I found her, she was already like this.・

・When dat be?・

・Almost twenty minutes ago.・

The Cajun・s thief・s mouth formed an uncharacteristically grim line. He peered down at Rogue, who looked rather comfortable. Hard liquor consumed in large amounts for an indeterminate amount of time. Who knew how much damage Rogue had done. As much as he hated to do it, he knew he needed to wake her up. However, he did not want to do so in front of Jubilee. He had figured she did not need to see that.

He turned to the concerned face of the young girl. Touching her cheek with slightly calloused fingers, he leaned towards her. ・You did good, Petite. Gambit take care of Rogue from here, huh? You go home and get some rest.・ Then he craned his neck low and placed a soft kiss against her forehead and her cheek.

Jubilee immediately turned beet-red, realizing she was living out the fantasy of almost any woman in the free world. She smiled weakly and slowly walked toward the door. ・Good night,・ she murmured, rubbing her cheek as she left the room.

Remy smiled fondly after the girl. Gone was the irresponsible child, replaced by a thoughtful young woman. Scott and Jean had done a good job, indeed.

・So, now ya moved on to little girls?・

He turned around to find Rogue, sitting up in bed with the quilt thrown off of her. Her hazel eyes were blazing with a mixture of anger and confusion. She straightened her position, her mouth curled in a seductive sneer.

・Ch・e,・ Remy drawled, his demon-like eyes filled with concern. He walked by her bedside. However, he stopped short of sitting next to her. I・m not going to push・

・Ah swear, ya touch her again, ya won・t need to worry about Logan. Ah・ll take care of ya myself.・ The last statement came out in a slur.

Realizing that she was not herself, Remy decided not to acknowledge what she was saying. Instead, he picked up the glass of water by the bedside table and offered it to her. ・Here, ch・e. Drink dis.・

She pushed his hand away and scowled. ・Get the hell away from me,・ she snapped. ・Ah don・t need your help and Ah certainly didn・t invite ya here.・

Remy winced. He placed the glass back on the bedside table and sighed. ・Ch・e, you don・ know what you sayin・,・ he whispered huskily.

・Oh, Ah know, swamp rat. Ah know someone like ya can・t nevah be trusted.・ Her head rolled to the side and she closed her eyes. Then she laughed. ・But who can blame ya, sugah? We all have needs.・

He gave her a quizzical look, watching her open eyes, which were now heavy-lidded. ・What does dat mean, ch・e?・ he asked, edging closer to the bed.

・Ah know what you want, Remy. Ah know what you always want.・

・And what dat be?・

・Don・t deny it, swamp rat. Ya always were a lousy liah.・

・Ch・e, please・ You need to drink some of dis water. You not goin・ to feel so good if you don・.・

Rogue smirked at him. ・Know what ya need?・ When he did not answer her, she continued to speak. ・All those years in the arctic made ya lonely, didn・t it? Lonely enough to sneak kisses from Emma and Jubilee?・

Remy bristled, eyes narrowing. He understood she was drunk, but for some reason she had hit a nerve with him then. His lips pressed together in an effort to keep himself from saying something he would regret. In their previous fights, he had never seen this side of her. This was someone who wanted to do her best to hurt him now.

In her drunken haze, Rogue winked at him seductively. ・Ah know what ya wanted since ya got here,・ she said, her voice soft and whispery. ・Ah・ve always known.・

・So what is it dat I wan?・ He hoped that by participating in this drunken conversation, he could convince her take some Advil with the water. She was going to be in bad shape the next morning if she did not.

Her gloved hand took his arm and guided him to the bed with her. Then she removed her sweater, leaving her with only her bra and leggings on. She ran her slim fingers through his wavy hair, remembering how she had done so many times before. She was now close enough to smell him・cigarettes and pine.

Remy found himself transfixed with the half-naked nymph, tempting him. His red-on-black eyes were smoldering as he stared at her. Even disheveled, she was still beautiful to him. There were many thoughts racing through his brain at that moment. So intent on his thoughts, he did not even notice her gloved hand traveling from his bare chest, down his washboard stomach toward his tapered waist.

Suddenly, he inhaled sharply and pulled away. ・No, ch・e,・ he said quietly, placing her hand back in her lap. Abruptly, he turned his back to her. His heart was now thudding in his ears loudly.

・What・s the matter, sugah?・ Rogue cooed, her gloved hands now roving over his muscular back. ・Ah・m here for the takin・. Don・t ya want me, sugah?・

Remy jerked away, jumping to his feet. He shook his head and said quietly, ・No, ch・e. Not like dis.・ He was almost insulted that she could have such a low opinion of him to think that he would even・

Her face flushed red as she glared at him. Then she threw herself back down on the bed, flipping on her side to face away from him. For his part, Remy approached the bed again. Wordlessly, he draped the pompadour cotton paisley jacquard flat sheet over her. Next, he moved the trashcan to the other side of the bed. He noticed that Rogue had passed out again, her mouth wide open as she slept.

He decided to sit with her for a couple of minutes, in case she needed anything. The water was a lost cause, but he thought she would probably drink it when she woke up next. From his experience of alcohol-induced slumbers, they never proved to be restful. Sinking into an overstuffed armchair with floral prints, Remy sat across from the bed. He leaned back, watching his former lover sleep. As he sat, he realized how shockingly different things now were.

Chapter Twelve: The Good One

Rain lightly pelted the snow-covered grounds of the mansion on a gray afternoon. By and large, the halls of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters were quiet. Many of the students had accompanied Betsy, Neal, Jean, and Storm on a shopping expedition at the local mall. Others remained at the mansion to catch up on final projects and study for exams before the end of the semester. Some of the instructors, like Hank and the Professor, were in the midst of preparing their lesson plans for the closing weeks before the holiday. Meanwhile, a field team composed of Scott, Rogue, Warren, Chamber, and Bishop was en route to California to investigate violent hate crimes against mutant businesses.

Bobby hated the quiet and inactivity he was surrounded by that day. Both forced him to contemplate the many thoughts that raced through his head. The holidays were soon approaching and his family, particularly his mother, was expecting him to come home. Instead of looking forward to the Drake family gathering, he felt a sense of dread. Before leaving, he and his father never really reconciled their differences that came between them over the years. Rather, it was more of an uneasy understanding that Bobby was a mutant and would always be different. There was no further communication beyond that.

Until his mother called the other night to remind him about the invitation extended to him for Christmas. During the thirty-minute phone call, he noticed not once did she mention anything about his father being pleased that Bobby was coming home. When he did manage to confront her about the glaring omission, she nervously dismissed his concerns and told him as she did many times before that the elder Drake was not one to express his feelings so openly.

So, as usual, Bobby had forsaken his own ambivalence to please a loved one. He would be leaving quite soon・right after administering his last trigonometry final to his class for the year. In anticipation of the trip to his parents・ Long Island home, he had taken out his old duffel bag from his college days from the back of his closet. It was now hanging from the back of a chair in the room, empty.

Equally troubling was the return of Scott・s brother, Alex, otherwise known to Bobby as ・that dork who stole my girlfriend・. The younger Summers was visiting for the holidays from Washington, DC, where he was attending graduate school in physics. Much to Bobby・s dismay and irritation, the tall, blond Alex was staying with Scott and Jean for a couple of weeks until school started.

Despite the fact that Alex had broken off his engagement with Lorna Dane, Bobby could not help but still feel some lingering resentment and bitterness towards the other man. Lorna had been his first serious girlfriend, someone he had seriously considered proposing to until Alex came along. It had taken some time for Bobby to recover and to accept the fact she no longer cared for him the same way. To this day, he had been convinced that their breakup was a harbinger for the many disastrous relationships he would become involved in.

Not that he made any effort to make things work. He did. Maybe he tried a little too hard. According to Jean and Rogue, Bobby seemed too eager to please when it came to women. This approach always seemed to set up him for heartbreak. Whether it was Opal or Zelda, the result was still the same: he was alone.

He was still ruminating over those issues when there was a slight rapping at his door. Frowning slightly, Bobby walked over to the door. After opening it, his frown immediately disappeared.

・Hey,・ Jubilee said in greeting, sapphire-blue eyes twinkling as she smiled up at him. She had walked from the Summers・ home to the mansion, which was evident from her flushed cheeks. To keep warm from the wintry weather outside, she was wearing a pair of boot-cut jeans, a pink, lambswool sweater that fell to her hips, and a dark-camel pea coat. Her long, dark hair tumbled down her slim shoulders, framing her delicate features.

・Hey, Jubes. To what do I owe the pleasure?・

She held out a pair of purple-tinted, wraparound sunglasses. ・You left these in my room last night,・ she informed him, ・Scott was kind of suspicious as to why they were on my desk. I told him they were part of an old Halloween costume. I didn・t even want to explain how your version of a lawn ornament appeared outside my window.・

Bobby grinned, taking the glasses, a part of his uniform, from her. He had visited her after returning from a mission, wanting to tell her about how Hank picked up some network reporter and asked her for cocktails. They spent the rest of the night, talking about their holiday plans and playing cards. He did not leave until late that evening, around eleven-thirty or so. As usual, he had formed an ice slide to her window and knocking for Jubilee to let him in.

・You should have told him it was an early Christmas present from me,・ Bobby replied, motioning for her to come inside. When she obliged, he closed the door and then said, ・So, you came all the way here to return these, even though you・re supposed to be studying? Did you miss my smile that much?・

Jubilee smirked at him, peering around the room. She noted the framed posters of the Three Stooges as well as movie posters from ・Animal House・, ・Blazing Saddles・, and ・Porky・s・. The room was reasonably neat, compared to other males she had known (who could forget Jono・s underwear hanging from his bookshelves?), but still had a disheveled quality to it. Clothes were haphazardly piled on a chair and on his king-sized bed, while issues of Sports Illustrated and Maxim were stacked on his black lacquer desk. CDs and loose papers were scattered on top of his 32-inch television. His collection of his favorite comedy movies and standup comic performers on DVD was proudly exhibited in two black-framed, glass display cases that flanked the television.

・Um, you wish,・ she finally retorted, ・I・m also looking for a movie to watch on my study break.・

・Do you want to look through here?・ He motioned towards the two display cases. ・There are a couple movies I could recommend.・

She peered into the case, dropping to her knees and eyeing the titles inside carefully. ・As long as they don・t have any gratuitous nudity or any smutty stuff, I・ll be OK.・

・If want any of that, you should visit Gambit.・ Bobby laughed.

Jubilee opened the sliding glass door and pulled out a copy of ・Monty Python and the Holy Grail・. ・I heard Dr. McCoy talking about this one with Scott. They both seem to think it was funny, but the production quality doesn・t look so good.・ Her blue eyes narrowed as she inspected the back cover.

・Well, it was the seventies, you know. The production quality takes nothing away from the yuks.・ Bobby lowered his voice, surprised at how defensive he was about the film. It was on his top-ten list for favorite film of all time. Then he asked, ・Besides, what do you know about movie production? I didn・t think we offered those classes here.・

She continued reading the back cover. After a brief pause, she answered, ・I have first-hand experience.・

His gray eyes were puzzled. ・What do you mean?・

・When I was living in L.A. with Angelo after Gen X broke up, I decided I wanted to be an actress,・ Jubilee began, facing Bobby who was now kneeling next to her on the floor. ・So, I got a couple of gigs in these movies.・

Bobby remembered that time. Jubilee decided to follow her good friend Angelo to the West Coast to get her thoughts straightened out after the school closed for good. As she was talking, he was beginning to sense he wasn・t sure he was going to like where her disclosure was going. ・What kind of movies?・ he asked, his voice concerned.

・Just these low-budget Asian flicks. They were bit parts, you know. But, they still helped to pay the bills.・ Jubilee shrugged. She studied the increasingly troubled expression on his face with curiosity. ・What・s with you?・

He ignored her question and pressed on. ・What did you do in these parts?・ He was hoping they didn・t involve the images flashing in his head at that moment. If they did, he was going to personally ensure the people involved were going to pay.

・Well, in one I was a waitress and had one line about picking up the check. Then in this other movie, I was a secretary but I had no lines. The last one I was in, they made me play a Geisha girl, even though I clearly do not look Japanese.・

Jubilee shuddered as she recalled spending long hours in make-up and wardrobe for that particular role. To make things worse, she still looked quite ridiculous. She didn・t even recognize herself in the mirror when the crew was done.

Bobby was relieved. ・No, you don・t,・ he said quietly. After a brief silence, he seated himself on the floor and inquired, ・So, what made you leave show business?・

She bit her lower lip before responding. ・I was on an audition for this action movie,・ she began, ・and one of the producers says I could use make more of my talents if I only wanted to. I asked him what the hell he meant by that, to which he said my clothes were holding me back from making it.

・After I kicked him in the crotch and tore the toupee off his bald head, I made a decision that being an actress was not in the cards.・ She rolled her eyes and eased herself on the floor.

He fought to suppress a smile, pleased to hear how she was able to take care of herself. ・The world truly missed out on the next Meryl Streep,・ he commented teasingly, ・if only we could see the early work.・

・Well・ I guess・Never mind.・

・What, Jubes?・

・Nothing, Drake.・

・No, what is it?・ Bobby leaned towards her, his gray eyes solemn. Whatever secret she was keeping, he wasn・t going to let it go.

Jubilee stared into his boyish face, which was uncharacteristically free of any mockery. She sighed when she realized he was not going to laugh or make fun of her. ・I still have the tapes,・ she admitted, two pink spots coloring her cheeks.

He couldn・t quite hear her since she seemed to mutter her response. ・What was that?・

・I still have the tapes,・ she repeated crossly.

・Really? Why didn・t you show them? I・m sure everyone around here would have a kick out of seeing you on the screen.・

・No, no. No one knows. You・re the first and only one I・ve told.・

・Really? Not even Logan?・

・Not even Wolvie.・

・Wow. Um, why not?・

・Are you kidding? I mean, he would totally get the wrong idea and explode. He・d yell and scream at me about how I could be so stupid to be taken advantaged of even though I wasn・t. Next, he・d try to go after every single person at the studios and tear them all new ones. I think we・re all better off if he doesn・t know. In fact, I think we would be better off if no one else knows about this, OK?・

・Then why do you keep the tapes?・

・I don・t know. They・re like souvenirs of the whole experience. I mean, I guess some day, it would be fun to watch them.・

・Then let・s.・


・Let・s watch the tapes. You and me.・

・I don・t know, Bobby・.・

Bobby stared into her blue eyes, which were filled with uncertainty and wariness. He edged closer to her and whispered, ・Listen, I know it took a lot for you to tell me about the movies since this is the first time you・ve mentioned this to anyone. If you we watch the tapes, I・m not going to laugh or make fun. It・s up to you, Jubes. No pressure, OK?・

She looked intently at his face and realized the second time since she had come in to see him that he was being completely serious. It threw her off somewhat because she, like many in the mansion, was used to the Bobby Drake who constantly cracked jokes. This was a sensitive, thoughtful version of the man who won the mansion・s St. Patrick・s Day contest by sticking two green markers up his nose. While this part of him was unfamiliar to her, she found herself surprisingly comforted. It was as if it were easy to tell him everything and anything on her mind now.

・OK,・ Jubilee said softly, nodding. Other than Logan and even Scott, she never thought she could trust another man the way she did Bobby at this moment.

・Really? I don・t want to pressure you.・

・You・re not, Bobby. It・s about time I saw them, too. And, I can・t think of anyone else I・d rather see these cheesy movies with than you.・

・I・m not sure if I should be flattered or offended by that last part.・ Bobby snorted, but was thrilled inside that she was willing to share this deeply private part of her life with him.

She grinned at him. ・Flattered, I would think,・ she replied, tossing her hair over one shoulder.

・So, when do you want to do the premiere?・ he asked, the scent of bubblegum and cinnamon suddenly filling his nostrils. ・I need to know since I have to roll out the red carpet and make the popcorn.・

She rolled her eyes at him, still grinning. ・Oh, please.・

・Come on. This is important. It・s not everyday I find out one of my friends is a movie star. So, when are you going to premiere your work?・ His gray eyes were teasing as he spoke.

Jubilee looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, ・Why don・t we do it now? I could go home, grab the videos, and the rest of my stuff. I could say I・m going to be studying over here. I don・t think Jean is going to have a problem with that.・

・Then I・ll make the popcorn and get sodas while you・re gone and we can meet back in my room,・ Bobby informed her, rising to his feet. He extended a hand to help her up. She took it and he pulled her up gently.

・Sounds like a plan,・ she agreed, finding herself still holding his hand after she was on her feet. To her surprise, it was warm, not at all icy, as she would expect. Quickly, she released it and began to head to the door. ・I・ll see ya, Bobby.・

He smiled after her, watching the door quietly close. As he was clearing space in his bedroom for them to sit to watch the tapes, he began to feel his spirits rise. She saw something inside of him that she did not see in either Logan or Scott or even Jean that she could open up to. The fact that Jubilee, someone who was constantly wary of the world for good reason, was willing to trust and share with him this secret she had been harboring for some time was extraordinary to him. It made him feel special and important・feelings he had not experienced for a long time.

Several doors from Bobby Drake・s bedroom, Remy LeBeau leaned against the doorframe, shuffling a deck of cards. He had watched the young girl walk into Iceman・s room. The Cajun thief began to become concern regarding how long she was in there until the door opened again. He noticed how flushed her cheeks were as she made her way down the hall and down the staircase.

Staring after her, Remy was tempted to march into Drake・s bedroom and confront him as to what happened. However, he managed to restrain himself. After all, he was not Logan. There were other ways to deal with things.

Chapter Thirteen: The Day I Tried To Live

Bluish-gray smoke billowed from the butt of Logan・s cigar as he circled his motorcycle up the hill and towards the mansion. Much to Scott・s surprise and unstated elation, Logan finally broke down and purchased a vintage Harley-Davidson late last month. It was a gorgeous, sleek piece of machinery, which purred ever so softly but was swift as the wind. He was as protective of it as he was of Jubilee. Now, he could go out on long rides without putting up with a lecture from the Boy Scout.

Logan raced through a thicket of black trees, their limbs devoid of any life. The snow that had fallen several days ago crunched underneath the tires of his motorcycle. As he turned a corner towards the gates, the wind suddenly began to die down. He pulled out the remote from his pocket of his worn leather jacket to open the wrought iron gates. As they slowly slid open, he peered up at the darkening sky overhead. While not threatening of any snow or rain, Logan decided he should get inside as soon as he could. There was something he did not like about the way it looked. He almost laughed at himself, shaking off his wariness and riding through the gates and into the garage. You・d think I was Storm or something・

To his surprise, inside the mansion was quiet and inactive. Closing the door behind him, he attributed it to the approaching holidays. Some of the students had finished their exams early and consequently, went home for the three-week long break. Not that he was complaining. Unlike Jean or Ororo, a house filled with noisy kids wasn・t his idea of domestic bliss. Not that anyone could accuse Logan of being the domestic type. He welcomed the peace and tranquility that came with limited occupants at the institute. It reminded him of his solitary days in Canada.

Logan trudged up the winding staircase that led to the floor where his bedroom was located. Still puffing on his cigar, he made his way down the hallway to his room. He noticed that things were equally still, which was quite strange since many of the instructors/field team members on his floor had agreed to stay behind for the holidays. As he opened the door to his bedroom, he shrugged off his concerns. At least I can get some sleep in peace, he thought, pulling off his leather jacket and tossing it on a chair next to the door.

Unlike many of the rooms in the mansion, one would never know that Logan actually occupied this area. There was nothing that indicated any attachment to this place. The walls were stark, without any photographs or paintings hung up. On the far side of the room was a plain dresser, which was half-filled with the clothing he had brought with him from his last trip. Against the wall closest to the door was his bed・a queen-sized mattress and box spring on a metal frame. Next to his bedside was a small, wooden table with a black desk lamp and an alarm clock. On the other bedside table was a box of Cohibas Bishop had picked up for him a couple of weeks ago. Underneath the box was the dog-eared photograph he often carried of Jubilee as a young girl.

He remembered how Ororo and Rogue had constantly chided him over the emptiness of the room. This was many years ago, when he first arrived at the mansion. Rogue even bemoaned how cold it was, offering to help him redecorate. She and Ororo had even brought in fabric swatches and paint samples. He had responded with a raised brow and a trademark grunt.

While the idea was ridiculous to him, Logan did not disclose the truth behind his reluctance. He found it difficult to personalize the room when he had no idea what kind of person he was. Sure, he was tough and the epitome of strength and stoicism. However, those were aspects that were consciously available, known to him within the last fifteen years. Prior to that, there was no recollection as to who or what he had been. To cover up the emptiness, would be, in a way, lying to himself.

Logan stripped off the denim and flannel shirts he had been wearing over his white tank top. His wiry, muscular body was about to sink on to the comforting softness of his bed. He stopped himself when his ears picked up noises from outside his door. His brows knitted together as he willed himself to be quiet.

Thump, thump, thump.

He frowned as he yanked the door open and stared into the hallway. Nothing. He narrowed his eyes into razor-thin slits, still unconvinced that he was not alone.


・Who・s there?・ he called out, adamantium claws already bared. One could never be too carefully, especially with the likes of Friends of Humanity out in the world. It wasn・t too long ago that the school had been broken into and the children terrorized by those slime bags.


Logan grunted, briskly walking down the hallway and opening the door to each room he passed. Every time, he found that each were missing their occupants. He grunted again. If someone was trying to scare him, they weren・t close to doing it. However, they were doing a great job of pissing him off. He hated playing games.

・Come on out!・ he barked, contemplating where he was going to aim his claws when he caught the person.

There was a long, deafening silence. Suddenly, a deep, condescending voice drawled, ・Well, well, Logan. No need to get excited. It・s just an old friend popping in for a visit.・

Logan・s green eyes widened; he did not need to see the person to know who it was. He growled, clenching his fists. ・Get out here so I can see what I・m shredding to pieces!・

Chuckling softly, a solid-looking man in his late fifties sauntered from behind a column. All those years in the military could still be seen in his aging form. His graying hair and beard complemented the silver framed bifocals perched over his crooked nose. Always the crisp dresser, he wore a slate-colored, wool suit and a black turtleneck. As he edged closer to Logan, his fleshy lips curled into a sneer, his eyes flat and soulless.

・Now, now, Logan,・ the man said, his voice dripping with mockery, ・that・s no way to speak to an old friend.・

・How the hell did you get in here?・

・Not even a hug for old times sake. I・m crushed, Logan. Absolutely crushed.・

Logan held out an arm, claws still extended. ・You・re going to be more than crushed in a minute,・ he informed him, tracing a circle under the other man・s chin. Then he spat out the man・s name in disgust, ・Stryker.・

The former military general, William Stryker, paused in his steps, but retained his smug expression as if he still held the upper hand. ・Well, at least you remember my name. Looks like that memory isn・t all that bad, after all.・

・You didn・t answer my question, old man. What the hell are you doing here?・ Logan tried to hide his shock at seeing the man who was responsible for his claws and shady past. The last time the two encountered each other, Logan had left him at the bottom of a snow covered mountain just before an avalanche swept through the Canadian forest. While he was no psychic, Logan had just assumed that Stryker met his fate as the billowing rush of snow tumbled down the mountain.

・You didn・t think I was going to let you believe you were happy?・ Stryker laughed sharply, taking a step backwards. ・Only people can know happiness. You・you・re nothing but a science experiment that・s gone wrong. A mistake.・

Logan leaped at him, grabbing him by the shirt and slamming him against the wall. He strategically placed his claws inches from the other man・s throat. ・I don・t have listen to anything else, bub,・ he snapped, green eyes blazing with a mixture of fury and pain.

・Oh, but you do.・

・Really? Looks like these claws you put in me say otherwise.・

・That・s right, Wolverine. Blame me for what you・ve become. The truth is, you were a mistake to begin with. I only tried to improve you. Let・s say I tried to help you. How does that sound?・

・Shut up.・

・Perhaps that・s why you・re alone. I mean, what person in their right mind could ever see something decent in you?・

・You don・t know a goddamn thing.・

・That・s where you・re wrong, my dear Logan. I do know. I know you blame Scott Summers for taking Jean from you, and then Jubilee. What made you think you could make either one of them happy? You see, Scott, while a mutant, is more of a man than you could ever be.・

Logan・s grip tightened. ・I・m over her, bub.・

If Stryker was experiencing any fear of the man who was close to slicing his throat, he was doing a good job of masking it. He continued in a matter-of-fact tone. ・A real man doesn・t run at the first sign of trouble. A real man doesn・t abandon those he claimed to hold dear. A real man takes responsibility. Given what I・ve said, I don・t think you meet the criteria, do you?・

・And a real man doesn・t sacrifice his kid to get revenge,・ Logan countered, referring to Stryker・s late son, Jason, whose telepathic abilities rivaled that of the Professor・s. He had died in that same avalanche all those years ago.

The verbal jab did not even faze Stryker. His face was expressionless as he replied, ・Expendable. Much like you are. Face it, Logan, if you were to die tomorrow, do you honestly believe anyone would notice?・

Logan scowled. ・Maybe you should be asking yourself that same question, bub.・ My hand could slip and accidentally stab him in the throat. Who・s to say otherwise?

Stryker ignored his last comment. Instead, he laughed again. ・Don・t tell me you think that anyone here would miss you, would grieve for you? People are missed, not mistakes・and that・s all you・ll ever be, Logan. A mistake.

・Take Jean Grey. She・s happily married to Scott, and I do believe they are thinking about starting a family. She feels pity for you, like she does for any freak of nature. How could you think she could ever love you? She has a real man to take care of her.

・And your dear Professor? I suppose he pities you as well. But it・s nothing compared to the frustration he must feel. As much as the old man has tried to help you, Logan, you always manage to disappoint him by losing your temper and running off. How many times has he had to chastise you, like you were some poor animal? Hmm・Too many it would seem, would it not?

・Your teammates? Hah. Most of them either distrust you or quite afraid of you. You・d do them a favor if you just disappeared. You can・t deny that I・m right on that one. Just observe how they look at and treat you. You・re a disease to them, Logan. Fascinating, but nothing to get attached to.

・Finally, there・s your precious Jubilee. Looks like she・s doting on Scott Summers as well. Tell me, Logan, how did it feel that day you came back to see her embrace him the way she used to embrace you? And don・t tell me the irony of the situation hasn・t been lost on you as well. The man you consider responsible for not allowing you a future with Jean Grey is now taking on the role you tried to play years ago. Personally, I find it all quite amusing.・

That was it. All that rage・blinding and hot・suddenly overwhelmed him. With a choked out scream, Logan plunged his claws into Stryker・s abdomen. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, hoping it would help him process what he had just done. When he opened them again, he had been expecting to be greeted with the sight of a pain-filled and dying Stryker.

He immediately retracted his claws when he saw the anguished face now had wide, pleading eyes.

・Logan?・ Jean managed to whisper. Blood began to rain down from her pink lips and onto the cream-colored, wool turtleneck she was wearing. She coughed, revealing her blood-soaked teeth. ・Why?・

・Jean, I・I didn・t・ I didn・t mean・・ Logan watched in horror as he watched the statuesque redhead begin to sink to her feet, still pressed against the wall. He quickly began to apply pressure to her wound, the thick, coppery liquid flushing through his fingers. ・Stay with me・ Come on, don・t・・

Then he screamed, ・Someone help me! Help me!・

Jean・s eyes rolled in the back of her head. The coughs coming from her mouth were getting softer and lessening in frequency. Suddenly, she was very still. Logan, shocked and horrified, was frozen as he stared at the now dead woman in his arms. This beautiful creature was now gone. He had done this; he alone. He pulled her close and buried his face against her swan-like neck.

・Why, Wolvie?・

His eyes snapped down at the face that was now beneath him. Jubilee・s crystalline blue eyes were brimming with tears, which were mixing with the blood that was streaming from the corners of her mouth. Her face was growing increasingly pale as she continued to lose blood from the wound in her abdomen.

Confused, he began to breathe shallow breaths. Sweat beaded at his brow furiously. He found himself paralyzed, unsure of what to do now. All his super-sensitive senses were stunted, particularly his sense of smell. For the first time in his life, Logan felt a sense of uncertainty and fear・emotions foreign and unknown to him. What is happening? How is this happening? Oh God・

・Why did you do this to me?・ Jubilee whispered, holding out a hand with her palm open. It was now dripping with blood・her blood, blood from a wound he thought he had inflicted on Jean.

How? I・I・didn・t mean to, kid・ Please・ Angry, bitter tears flooded his eyes. Logan・s face twisted itself into an expression of anguish. His hands shook violently as he struggled to rack his brain as to what he should do next.

He had failed again. Why had he failed again? Blinking the stinging tears away, he scooped her into his arms and whispered, ・Hold on, kid. Just hold on. You・re going to be OK.・

・No, she won・t.・

Logan peered down at his arms, which were now empty. Then he looked up to see a smirking and wound-free William Stryker. The other man crossed his arms over his broad chest. Logan・s face now reflected a myriad of new feelings・confusion and fury. His jaw clenched as he darted down the hall, toward the other man.


Logan・s rumbling growl soon turned into a loud roar. With claws extended, he hurled himself towards the other man, who was still smirking, still smug. He slashed at Stryker・s face, slicing into his cheeks, forehead and chin. His other set of claws gouged into Stryker・s middle, digging deep and tearing through flesh and muscle until he could feel them scraping at the other man・s vertebrate. However, while Logan could watch himself repeatedly stab Stryker, he could not smell the growing pool of blood around him.

He was so consumed with his own fury that he could not hear his own name being called out.

Only, it wasn・t Stryker・s voice that was calling it out.

Suddenly, it became very cold. A strong wind barreled from behind him. It forced him to knees, forcing his arms away from his body.

Then things went pitch-black.

・Logan!・ Ororo Munroe lowered her arms, calming the swirling winds that lifted her long, white tresses from her shoulders. She had just arrived at the mansion from a day at the mall with Rogue and Kitty when she heard Logan screaming from upstairs. Being the only one inside (the other women were unpacking Rogue・s car), she went up to investigate. After repeated knocks at Logan・s door, Ororo had let herself in.

What she found was quite horrifying・Logan screaming and howling in pain while slashing in the air with his adamantium claws. It was reminiscent of when he had first arrived at the mansion, where he suffered from recurrent hallucinations of tortured, but mysterious past. The weather goddess called out to him over and again, wary of getting close to him as he attacked his imaginary foe. When it was clear she was not going to get through to him, she summoned a paralyzing wind to attempt to shake her old friend out of his confused state.

Her wide eyes watched him collapsed in a heap in the middle of his bedroom floor, claws retracted. Quickly, she darted to his side and knelt down to inspect him. He was unconscious, but he appeared to be otherwise unhurt. Sweat beaded at his brows while his breaths came out shallow and rapid.

・Oh, Logan,・ Ororo whispered, her heart becoming heavy with sympathy and some confusion. He had been doing so well since his return to the mansion・so stable and free of his traumatic re-experiencing. ・What has happened?・

She was contemplating taking him to the med-lab to Hank and Cecilia when his eyes fluttered open. Logan・s brows knitted together as the rest of his face drew itself in a perplexed expression. No Stryker, but Storm, who was kneeling over him and looking as if she were going to cry.

・What・s going on, Princess?・ He used the old nickname he reserved just for her, his voice husky. Then he made an attempt to sit up, but instead slumped against her, feeling very weakened. ・Is everyone alright?・

Ororo・s dark eyes attempted to hide what the fear she was suddenly feeling as she held him up. He has no idea. ・Yes, Logan,・ she replied, ・everyone is fine.・

As she uttered the last part of her sentence, the lie left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Chapter Fourteen: More Than This

Remy LeBeau had just stepped out of the shower, his muscles still weary from the Danger Room session he had with Storm earlier that evening. During the session, he could tell there was something on his friend・s mind that had troubled her for days, but that she was also hesitant to share with him. While he did not want to pry, he was still concerned and offered to end the session early so that she could sort things out. After all, who was he to force someone to open with his or her secrets when he had so many of his own to guard? To his surprise, she had taken him up on his offer.

That was before she played rough with Gambit, he mused, stretching his lean, muscular arms over his head. Despite her graceful appearance, Ororo was quite the competitor. Not only were her powers at manipulating the weather awe-inspiring, but also she had become skilled in hand-to-hand combat, thanks to Logan・s training. No amount of charged objects or Cajun charm could take that away from her. Not that he wanted to. She had come a long way since the little girl he had met in the Bayou many years ago.

He leaned over the white porcelain sink, peering at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. The years had aged him, adding tiny lines around places where they had not been before. However, these signs of aging did not diminish the attractiveness of his chiseled features. Despite the cool and gray weather of upstate New York, he had managed to maintain his golden skin from his days in the tropics. His wavy, auburn hair, which he had worn long in his younger days, was now cut short, leaving sideburns and the top slightly longer so that his locks would flop over his brow. Steamy days in Jamaica saw to that decision in a heartbeat. The Cajun thief・s long, lean body was still muscular and tight, thanks to daily Danger Room sessions and the occasional field mission.

Remy knew he was a good-looking man. To deny it, would be lying and to him, he had told enough lies to last himself a lifetime. A person would be hard-pressed to think of a time when a woman did not flirt with him. This was especially true at the mansion, where he had cultivated a fan base among both the female instructors and the female students. He was, as Alex Summers put it in a conversation last week, ・A chick magnet.・

Naturally, Remy made good use of what he had born with. While he was in Jamaica, he had his share of female acquaintances・all of whom were only to eager to please. Who was he to say no? Besides, he deserved their comfort after all he had been through prior to coming to the island. He had been to hell and back, both physically and psychologically.

Yet, for all the companionship he had, there was still something missing.


It always came back to Rogue.

The first woman he had declared his love to. The first woman he had relationship with without being physically intimate. The first woman he thought of during those months in Antarctica.

Now the woman who was with someone else, who was not Remy LeBeau.

The first weeks after his return to the mansion had been incredibly awkward. He could see that she was doing her best to avoid him in all situations・whether it was during Danger Room sessions or on field missions. She clung to her new boyfriend, Joseph, as if for dear life whenever Remy was in the same room.

There were times when he wanted to confront her, to demand to know whether or not she really loved that man. However, Remy could sense that like him, Rogue was still hurting・from his lies and from what she had done all those years ago. No amount of coercion was going to change that. So, he had given her space, allowed her to treat him as if he had the plague.

Why? He supposed it was because he was still in love with her. At the same time, every opportunity he saw her, Remy could not help but feel some growing resentment and anger towards Rogue. Who was she to play the victim? It was he who was stranded alone in the arctic. He was the one was betrayed. He was the one who was left to die. He was the one who was now struggling to prove his loyalty to the likes of Scott and Warren in order to gain their trust again (other than Storm, Wolverine, Jean, and Jubilee, his allies were scarce). And her? She got to start all over again without him. She has the sympathy of some of the teammates.

His red irises flashed as the wave of frustration soon subsided. Non, he decided, no one is to blame. Not for any of this.

There was a soft rapping at his door. Without thinking of who could be on the other side of the door, he swung the door open while clad in only a white towel around his hips. Nothing could prepare him for who the visitor was.

Rogue・s cheeks immediately turned crimson. Her eyes cast down to the floor as she mumbled, ・Oh, Ah・m sorry. Ah・ll come back later・When ya decent.・ She began to turn on her heel to leave.

His fingers grasped her sleeved arm gently. ・Non, ch・e,・ he said huskily. Then he added teasingly, ・Come on in. Gambit not modest.・

・No, really. It wouldn・t be right.・

・When you get shy, ch・e?・

・Ah・m not shy.・

・Den what?・

・Ah just don・t think Ah should be talking with ya when ya half-naked, swamp rat.・

・And why dat be?・

・It・s not decent, is all.・

・Afraid you get distracted, ch・ie?・

・Distracted? Don・t flatter yourself.・

・It・s been known to happen, Rogue. Call it a phenomenon.・

She groaned and shoved him back inside the room with her gloved hands, closing the door swiftly behind her. Her hazel eyes were simmering with irritation, which she masked behind a controlled countenance. She was dressed less casually, wearing a pair of black, flannel cropped cargo pants, a black-and-white wool, zip-up cardigan, and a pair of mid-calf, black high-heeled boots. Her brown hair with white streaks was loose, framing her lightly made-up face.

Rogue scanned the room, a place she had spent a great deal of time a long time ago. Nothing much had changed since its occupant returned. The decor was a mix of sophisticated, cutting-edge modern touches with English classics, outfitted in black-and-white menswear fabric and accents of regal purple. Against the rich backdrop of the glossy purple walls was an ebony bedside chest with distinctive graining and striations. A stately, crystal hurricane with a silver and ebony base echoed the elegance of the chest it was perched upon. On the far side of the wall was his king-sized bed with its tufted leather frame and shirting striped and necktie silk bedding with dapper black-and-white patterns. The comforter, which she had purchased for him still remained・a herringbone alpaca blanket with touches of purple velvet, alligator, and mink. At the other end of the room was a sitting area, composed of a Lawson-style sofa upholstered in purple, plush auburgine velvet with rolled arms and nailhead trim, and a sleek modern chair made of high-tech carbon fiber and streamlined black leather.

As comfortable and inviting as the sitting area was to her, Rogue remained standing. She nervously crossed her arms over her chest, acutely aware of Remy・s eyes gazing upon her with great intensity. ・Ah wanted to say・Ah wanted to say・・ Her eyes fluttered away from his face, wanting desperately to finish her thought. Suddenly, it wasn・t the fact that he was almost nude that was distracting her.

・Say what, ch・e?・ While he was standing not very close, he could still feel her discomfort. He thought about touching her arm as an act of placating, but decided against it. He could never be sure if she would take it the wrong way.

・Forget it. Ah should have never come.・

・Wait, ch・e. What is it?・

She turned her back to him, realizing it was the only way she was going to be able to express a cogent thought. ・Ah wanted to say thank you・ for takin・ care of me that night. Ah wasn・t right in my head.・

Remy felt a weight being lifted from his shoulders. This was a start. She was trying to be civil. She was the one initiating a conversation. After a brief pause, he said quietly, ・You・re welcome.・

Then he inquired, ・You remember everyt・in, ch・e?・

・Some・a little here and there with some help from Tabitha and Sarah. Ah remember ya tryin・ to get me to drink some water and take Advil・ Ah should have listened to you on that one. Ah felt like hell the next day. Almost thought about absorbin・ Logan again to get some healin・ factor in me.・

Then she turned around to face him again, chewing on her lower lip. ・Ah also remember sayin・ really nasty and cruel things to ya, Remy,・ she continued, her voice dropping in volume to a slight whisper. ・Ah・Ah didn・t mean ・em. An don・t know why Ah said ・em in the first place.・

・Sometimes, we say t・ings we don・ mean when we drink. Alcohol is like dat, ch・e.・

・Still, Ah shouldn・t have said those things.・


・No, let me finish. They were hurtful.・

・Ch・e, you didn・t know・ You were not yourself.・

・Ya too kind, Remy. Ah basically called ya a child molester and then Ah・then Ah・・

His red-on-black eyes watched as his former lover struggle to contain her emotions. There was so much going on inside of her at that moment. He wanted to pull her close to him and tell her that it was fine; that she could never hurt him as badly as she thought she did. Instead, he edged closer to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

・You don・ have to say anymore, ch・e.・

She did not pull away, but finished her sentence. ・Ah threw myself at ya as if ya were goin・ to go for that, like some monster. That・s not what Ah think of ya, Remy. Ah know you・re a decent man.・

He stared at her. For so long he had wanted to hear those last words come from her mouth. Now that he heard them, he wasn・t sure how to react. Surprised, elated, smug? No. He simply continued to stare at her.

For her part, Rogue did not sense his confusion. She interpreted his stunned reaction as something else. Disgust? Anger? She didn・t want to find out. ・Ah know ya must not think too highly of me...・

At that moment, she wanted to run to the door, open, and race out before she lost her composure. However, her body was not cooperating. Rogue found herself planted in place, her eyes meeting the Cajun thief・s, which were now smoldering. He took a few steps closer to her and she could smell his freshly showered skin, which had a fresh pine scent to it.

・Ch・e, how could you say dat? Gambit never judge you.・

・Cajun, Ah know・ Ah・m sorry Ah put you in an awkward position・・

He leaned towards her. ・Rogue, you t・ink Gambit look down at you after a night of drinking? Just because you drink a little too much, you t・ink you hurt me? Den you don・ know Gambit well.・ Both of his hands were on her shoulders, gripping them tightly. There were so many things that were going through his mind at that moment that he wanted to say, but was afraid to. All he could think of doing was to hold her closer, to see if she could understand by just meeting his gaze.

Slowly, gloved fingertips grazed his stubble-ridden cheek. ・Remy・・ she whispered, hazel eyes brimming with tears. What is happening to me? Why am I acting like this? I just came to apologize and I・m totally losing my mind. I shouldn・t have・What was I thinking? Was I thinking? Oh, God・

・Why you cry, ch・ie?・ he asked, his hand holding hers gently.

・Ah・Ah didn・t mean to hurt ya.・ From the way Rogue choked out that statement, it was unclear if she meant that night or before. ・Ah never meant to hurt ya.・

・Shh・・ He stroked her hair, careful to keep his fingers away from her face. Then he placed an arm around her waist and drew her close to him. He made sure that her face and neck did not come close to his bare chest, which did not take anything away from the embrace. His lips brushed against her hair. He could smell her familiar and warm scent, pears and vanilla・sweet but subtle.

Rogue・s gloved hands raced up and down his muscular back. Her fingers traced light, feathery circles into his sinewy skin. She was breathing heavily, her breath hot against his chest. She also found herself pressed against him tightly, feeling every inch of him underneath. Slowly, she raised her head to stare into those handsome features she had loved for so long・perfectly sculpted lips, chiseled cheekbones, red-on-black eyes, and thick, wild hair of winter fire. Not at all like・

Suddenly, she pulled away, taking several steps away from. Her back was against the door. ・Ah can・t,・ she breathed, face flushed pink. She nervously smoothed out her sweater and her hair.

Remy sauntered towards her, his face filled with confusion. ・Ch・e?・ He reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, but she jerked away abruptly. What happened? What changed?

・Ah can・t,・ she repeated, almost stoically. Then she blurted out, ・Ah love him.・

Remy almost winced when he realized what stopped her. Rather, who. Even when he was thousands of miles away, Joseph still managed to have the upper hand. He groaned inwardly, wanting to tear his hair out in frustration. Instead, he whispered, ・I know. He・s a good man. Gambit see how he treats you.・

・Then ya understand.・ Rogue wanted to convince herself that he did. It would be easier for her if he did. Then all of this would go away・

He sighed in resignation. ・Non, ch・e. I just want you to be happy. You deserve it.・

・So that・s what ya want.・

・Oui, Rogue. Vraiment.・

She tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. Gripping the doorknob, Rogue nodded slowly. ・Then everythin・s settled.・

Remy returned the nods, glumly. There was nothing he could else he could say to her without feeling like traitor to himself. He allowed her to continue to think what she wanted.

・Good, good. Ah・m glad we talked.・ She opened the door and slipped outside, retreating into the safety of the hallway. Her footsteps were lightly as she jogged towards her own bedroom, which was on the other side of the hallway.

Remy closed the door behind her. He rested his forehead and palms against it, feeling the cool wood against his skin. His shoulders heaved as he said softly, ・I want you to be happy. I want you to be happy wit・ me, ch・e.・

Chapter Fifteen: All That I Know

On the day he was to travel home for the holidays, Bobby found himself mediating a conflict between two of the younger students at the mansion, Artie and Leech. He was almost out the door with his travel bag in hand when he heard the two boys yelling from one of the rec rooms. Curious and not in a particular hurry to get on the road, he decided to see what was going on.

The two were best friends from their days in Generation X. Given that they shared similar appearance and were roughly the same age, they naturally forged a bond. However, like many close friends, the two had their differences from time to time. Today, this was over who was the winner of the latest X-Box tournament. Artie was under the impression that he was the champion since Leech left his seat to grab a soda from the kitchen, and thereby forfeiting. However, Leech did not agree with this conclusion.

Since Bobby did not see any of the instructors around, he decided to intervene. First, he separated the two boys physically from each other (when he arrived, Leech had Artie pinned underneath him). Then he attempted to instill some knowledge about friendship difficulties through an anecdote.

・You boys know Dr. McCoy, right?・

The two nodded wordlessly.

・One time, he and I got into a fight over which one of us was ・Da Man.' That one got ugly. There was crying, screaming, kicking, biting... and that was just Hank. Scott made us go into our rooms so we could think about how silly we were acting. We came back out after a while and apologized to each other. Then we decided that we were both ・Da Man.'・

Artie and Leech exchanged brief, but confused glances. Then they peered up at Bobby blankly. ・What・s the point?・ Leech finally piped up, scratching the side of his head.

・That we all go through these difficulties. In the end, things work out.・ Bobby raised his brows expectantly at the boys before sighing. Somehow, he thought Jean or Scott would be doing a better job at this than he was now. Coming off as the disciplining adult did not fit Bobby Drake.

The two boys continued to stare at him quizzically before nodding that they understood. Then their eyes began to gaze past him at something. Immediately, both began to smile, nudging each other. Curious, Bobby turned around to see Jubilee, grinning and in the midst of mouthing something to Artie and Leech.

・Hello,・ she said somewhat nervously, but still grinning. Dressed in a pair of distressed jeans, a green-and-navy argyle sweater, and loafers, she looked quite relaxed. Her long, dark hair was pulled away from her face in a makeshift bun, held in place by two pencils. However, there were some pieces of black-and-blue hair that were loosely framing her face. She was holding a medium-sized box, wrapped in shiny, silver paper.

He smiled wryly at her. ・What were you telling them?・

・That you・re a fountain of knowledge and not to be messed with, of course.・

・Oh really?・ Bobby turned to the two boys behind him, who were giggling. ・This true?・

・A hundred percent.・ Leech managed to snort out before he and Artie retreated into the kitchen. Their gleeful laughter could still be heard even after they left the room.

Bobby feigned a stern look as he turned back to Jubilee. ・Listen, young lady,・ he told her, ・I don・t like that you・re undermining my authority.・

・What authority?・

・Oh, thanks, Jubes. That hurts.・

Her sapphire eyes twinkled up at him. Then she said, ・So, you・re going home. Anything exciting in store at the Drakes・?・

・If you count being asked by my mother why I・m not married and giving her grandchildren by now as exciting, then no.・ Bobby rolled his eyes, unbuttoning his brown corduroy car coat he was wearing over his charcoal-colored sweater with a Fair Isle pattern and gray wool slacks. ・And you?・

She nodded. ・Scott and I are going into town today to pick up Jean・s present. It・s this antique china cabinet we saw a couple of weeks ago. We・re going to bring it back here and hide it in the mansion. Other than that, I・m not sure. But, there・s going to be some other people around, so I・m guessing we・ll be doing something else.・

As soon as she said the word ・present・, Bobby was quickly reminded of something. He opened his travel bag and pulled out his gift to her, the necklace he had bought weeks ago. Rogue had helped him wrap the box in elegant blue paper with curling white ribbon.

・I wanted to give this to you before I left,・ he said, handing the box to her.

She smiled at him, and then held out the box she had been holding. ・I was looking for you to do the same thing.・

Bobby held the box to his ear. ・Well, it・s not ticking,・ he joked.

・Very funny. Trust me, you・ll like it.・

・I・m sure I will.・

・Well, whatever this is・ Thank you.・

・No problem. Thank you for the non-explosive present.・


・What, I・m thanking you. Jeez!・

She stared at the travel bag he was carrying, and noticed he wasn・t carrying much. She learned from Jean and Rogue that Bobby had been dreading the visit home since he did not get along with his father very well. ・How long are you staying with your mom and dad?・

・Until New Year・s, then I・m coming back,・ he replied, bracing himself for the less-than-receptive welcome he was going to receive from his recovering father and the constant clucking about being a single man from his mother. He grimaced. As soon as possible, I・m outta there.

・At least you still have parents that care about you to want you home.・

・You・d like to think so, wouldn・t you?・

・You know it・s true, Bobby. You just won・t admit it.・


Jubilee sensed his dread and placed hand on his arm. ・It・ll be OK,・ she assured him softly, ・Maybe things aren・t going to be as bad as you make them out to be. Who knows, maybe you・ll have a great time and never want to leave.・ The twinkle left her blue eyes as they became quite solemn. For some reason, the thought of him not returning to the mansion struck her as quite sad.

・Maybe,・ Bobby mused quietly, but silently doubted her words. ・Thanks, Jubes.・ He took her small hand in his and squeezed slightly, gazing into those beautiful old-soul blue eyes.

・No problem.・ The way he was looking at her suddenly made her anxious. It was an intense stare, something he had never done in all the years he had known her. While she was uncomfortable, she did not want to pull away from him. Instead, she returned the gaze, studying the serious expression on his boyish face.

Suddenly, a familiar, deep and husky voice drawled, ・Petite?・

Jubilee turned around to see Remy standing in the doorway, dressed in his brown leather duster over his blue jeans, boots, and a navy shirt. She pulled her hand away from Bobby・s and smiled nervously. ・Hi,・ she greeted. ・Um, what・s up?・

His red-on-black eyes were quite amused with he had walked in on and he made no attempt to hide it. He smiled smugly. ・Scott say you and he goin・ into town to pick up a present for Jean,・ he said, surveying the situation and noticing how Bobby was struggling to hide his frustration. ・Wants me to come wit・ you to help. We be leavin・ now.・

・Oh, OK.・ She turned to Bobby and gave him a small smile. ・I guess I・ll see you when you get back. Have a good time, OK?・

・I・ll try,・ Bobby managed to say, eyes narrowing at Remy who was still smiling coolly at him. He didn・t know why or what the Cajun thief had done to make himself so irritating at that moment. However, there was no denying his anger, coupled with a nagging sense of disappointment. Where the latter was from, he did not know. He thinks he・s so great because of that stupid accent・. If I could talk like Pepe LePew, then I・d be a chick magnet, too・.

・Merry Christmas, Jubes,・ he finally managed.

Remy motioned for her hurry along. ・Come, petite. Scott be waitin・ in de car and you know how cranky he gets when he has to wait.・ Looks I came here just in time, he thought, watching a furious blush stain Bobby・s cheeks.

She nodded and walked over to him by the doorway, tossing Bobby an apologetic look. When she reached Remy, the tall, lean man from the Bayou peered up at the doorframe and pointed out, ・Look, petite. We be standin・ under de mistletoe.・

・Oh yeah,・ she said, nodding. She wasn・t too excited about it since Jean had hung bundles around their house, giving her an excuse to make out with Scott in every room. At least, that was Jubilee・s impression. As for any possibility of being kissed, Logan had done a good job seeing that no one came near her to even contemplate it.

Remy chuckled, deciding to surprise Jubilee and to test Drake. He then drew the young girl close to him. Very slowly, he planted a gentle, but chaste kiss on her lips. ・Happy holidays, petite,・ he whispered when he pulled away, his arm still draped around her slim shoulders.

Shocked, her knees almost buckled underneath her. That was two kisses from Gambit・in the same month! Now I can say I truly lived, she told herself, her fingers brushing against her lips. Presents be damned.

The Cajun thief smiled down at Jubilee, amused. Then he turned around to face Bobby, who appeared as if he were going to charge at him at that moment. Instead, Bobby mouthed bitterly, ・Whore.・

In response, Remy mouthed back, ・Eternal virgin.・ Then he gave him a sly wink before ushering Jubilee out of the room.

Professor Charles Xavier folded his hands together, his face grim. Sitting across from him were three of his prized pupils, Dr. Hank McCoy, Ororo Munroe, and Jean Grey-Summers. The four of them were sitting in his study with the door closed and locked this afternoon, an unusual gesture since the Professor often liked keeping the door open to his students and X-Men.

Jean, dressed in a maroon turtleneck sweater, charcoal wool slacks and black flats, appeared uncharacteristically drawn and concerned as she peered over at her mentor, who was sitting behind his desk. She twisted her engagement ring (a 2-carat oval diamond with 8 pav・diamonds surrounding set in platinum) and plain, platinum wedding band nervously. She often did that, not out of conflicted feelings surrounding her marriage, but when she was concerned in general. This afternoon happened to be one of those occasions.

Ororo had just finished retelling her account of what happened several days ago. The usually calm weather goddess struggled to maintain her composure. However, her unease was quite apparent as she fidgeted in her seat. She would smooth the skirt of her black-and-white, jersey shirtdress or brush off imaginary dust from the knee-high, black leather boots she wore.

After discovering Logan in his delusional and hallucinating state, she convinced him to see Hank and Cecilia Reyes to ・check things out・. She even stayed by his side during the examination, still concerned over what she had witnessed. For his part, Logan was unaware that he had been hallucinating until Hank brought up the possibility during the exam and recommended that he seek help from the Professor and Jean. Surprisingly, Logan, now lucid, did not object. In fact, he saw both telepaths that same day.

Hank slipped off his wire-rimmed glasses before placing them back on again. Like the women, he was worried about his old friend・s state of mind. While he and Cecilia ruled out chronic mental disorders (primarily schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and schizophreniform disorder), deep down Hank realized something was quite wrong. He knew that Logan had a history of trauma, stemming from the implantation of his metal skeleton and claws. However, he, like many around the mansion, believed he had already come to grips and moved past what happened to him. To see him relapse was quite disheartening for those who were close to him.

・What now, Charles?・ he finally asked, startling the two women next to him.

Professor Xavier frowned before responding. ・Logan has had a setback and he realized it during our session,・ he began. ・He allowed me to scan his mind briefly in order to discover what triggered the latest episode.・ This had been quite a feat given Logan・s fear of being vulnerable. To him, allowing the Professor or any other telepath to do that made him feel quite exposed.

・And?・ Ororo raised her brows expectantly.

・And, he has shields so entrenched in his psyche that it was nearly impossible for me to even scratch the surface.・ The Professor・s blue eyes narrowed while he shook his head. ・There is a great deal of pain and rage so deep inside that it came back and destroyed the work Jean and I had initially done with him when he first arrived. Very characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly the bad cases.・

Jean chewed on her lower lip. ・Then I suppose we will have to start another round of sessions with him?・

・I・m not sure if that will be at all helpful.・

・What do you mean? It worked before. Why can・t it work again?・

・We could. I・m not sure it would do any good.・

Hank gave him a quizzical look. ・Why not?・

The Professor sighed. ・In addition, to the deeply entrenched shields, I sensed that Logan is desperately engaged in a fight. It is a struggle to keep himself under control. This makes it quite difficult to engage him in the therapy we conducted with him in the beginning.・

Ororo shook her head slowly, not liking the resigned tone in his voice. ・So there is nothing we can do for him. He・s simply going to be treated as a liability or a freak, forced to stay here during field missions? Professor, his delusions and hallucinations centered around that theme. I heard him telling himself that during his episode. If we give up, then we are, in a way, fulfilling・.・

・I・m not saying that all, dear Storm,・ Professor Xavier replied.

・Then what is it?・ Jean asked quietly, now wringing her hands.

The Professor sighed. ・I will be conducting private sessions with him. To have you, Jean, in the room would be quite dangerous, I think.・

・Because he thought he hurt her during his hallucinations,・ Hank piped up, nodding.

・Exactly. In a vulnerable state, I・m not sure how he will react with your presence in the room.・ The Professor looked at Jean.

Jean nodded in agreement. ・Understood. However, I・m not sure if I・m all that comfortable with the idea of you being alone in the room with him during the sessions. According to Ororo, Logan was quite violent during his episode, exposing his claws and slashing in the air. I just don・t want anything to happen to you.・

・I understand your concern and I appreciate it, but I assure you I can hold my own. I am not afraid.・ His blue eyes were kind, but firm.

She was relieved, but still determined to be worried. She feigned a smile, knowing that the Professor could sense her apprehension anyway. Ororo reached out and patted her friend・s arm comfortingly.

・When do these sessions start?・ Hank inquired, furry brows stony over his eyes.

・As soon as possible,・ Professor Xavier answered. ・I wanted the three of you here since all of you were aware of the situation. I have already talked to Cecilia and Annie about this as well. Logan has asked to keep this as much under wraps as possible. I will say that I agree with him. It・s not going to be helpful for the rest of the mansion to know.・ He turned to Jean and said, ・This means not telling, Scott.・

The statuesque redhead sighed wearily, realizing that keeping Logan・s condition from her husband was going to be difficult. Given their psychic bond, what the Professor was asking was going to be quite a task. ・It・s not going to be easy, but I・ll try.・

・Does this mean that Logan will not be able to go on field missions?・ Ororo asked. It was going to be quite suspicious if Logan was suddenly excluded. She did not even want to think about how she was going to fabricate an explanation to Scott.

The Professor pressed his lips into a thin line and shook his head. ・No, Ororo. That would draw more attention to the situation. I suppose we will have to hope that by the next one, Logan will be stable.・

・What is Logan・s reaction to all this?・ Hank folded his hands together thoughtfully. He couldn・t imagine Logan passively accepting the situation.

・He took it well, but was a little hesitant about what I had proposed.・ The Professor admitted. Hesitant was an understatement. Logan was furious with the idea of being treated as the Professor・s special patient. It took Professor Xavier over an hour to first calm Logan, then to persuade him that the solution was the only one.

・He has our support. He has to know that.・ Ororo declared firmly, as if in an effort to convince that her words were true.

・Of course, Storm. Although I would not make it a point to let him know that you know what is happening. He might see that as threatening as well. I would advise to interact with him as you do regularly.・

There was a pall in the room as soon as the words left Xavier・s lips. To help save the sanity of the most troubled member of the team, would mean having to lie to everyone else, even those closest to them. The three members sitting across the older man exchanged wary looks, unsure if they could truly live up to these terms.

Chapter Sixteen: Happy Christmas

Christmas morning finally arrived in Westchester. Fresh snow had fallen the night before, adding another layer of frozen white to the blanketed land around the mansion. The children who still remained peered out their windows excitedly, planning for many sled rides and snow fights after opening presents. Their squeals of delight echoed throughout the walls of the mansion.

The opening of the gifts was done in the living room of the mansion as the smell of cinnamon and apples hung in the air. Logan had carried wood from the shed outside to prepare warm, glowing fire. Jean and Ororo were serving cookies and punch, while Rogue and Kitty were handing out presents to open. The younger students were in one corner of the room, tearing through paper and showing each other their new prized possessions. Hank was at the new baby grand piano Warren had purchased for the mansion, taking requests. He was now attempting to coax the Professor into joining him in a duet of ・White Christmas・. The Professor, reluctant at first, but eventually broke down, revealing a smooth tenor voice he cultivated during his college days.

Jubilee was seated on one of the corduroy chairs in the room with a pile of wrapped gifts in her lap. She was in the midst of sorting through the many boxes and envelopes when Logan found her. He perched himself on the arm of the chair, wearing his most cynical expression and his usual blue jeans and flannel with a white T-shirt.

・Having fun, kid?・ he said in greeting. He didn・t need to hear her answer to know that she was. It was the happiest he had seen in her in sometime, which made him soften somewhat.

She peered up at him. ・Yes,・ she replied, blue eyes questioning. ・You・re not?・

・This kind of thing ain・t my style.・ He motioned to the crowded room around him, wincing at the shrieks of joy and laughter. Then he rolled his eyes in disdain.

She nodded. ・I could see that.・ She paused and said, ・Thanks for staying, though. I know you・d probably be somewhere up north by now.・

・Yeah, well・.・ His voice trailed off, signaling his awkwardness. She was right even though he would be determined to deny it to the end. He hated the holidays and desperately wanted to be alone since the recent episode. However, he had made a vow to stay and stay he did. Besides, he felt he was making some progress during his individual sessions with Charles.

Her blue eyes were solemn. ・No, really. It means a lot to me that you・re here.・

Clearing his throat abruptly, Logan asked, ・Aren・t you going to open your presents?・

Jubilee gave him a small smile, knowing that was his way of changing the subject. She held up the first box she could locate on her lap. From the widening grin on Logan・s face, she instantly knew it was from him. Tearing into the paper quickly, she discovered it was a Palm Pilot. Her smile became broader as she circled her arms around him. ・Thanks, Wolvie. How did you know?・

・I heard ya talk about it with Kitty,・ he admitted, not wanting to let go of her just yet. For a moment, it seemed like old times when she was the adoring little girl and he was her hero who could do no wrong. He had missed those days.

Meanwhile, Ororo, Kitty, and Rogue were sifting through their gifts and showing each other their new treasures. Even though she was Jewish, Kitty still partook in the holiday activities, exchanging presents with her friends. Rogue, eager for the distraction from her loneliness and conflicting feelings about Remy, was tearing through paper and boxes at a rapid rate.

・Ooh, looky here!・ Kitty cried, as Rogue pulled out a pair of black pearl earrings. ・You have to let me borrow those.・

・Only after Ah wear them once,・ Rogue replied, turning the gift card over. As she suspected, the Professor had given them to her. He was known for her elegant taste in gifts for his students. She made a mental note to thank him later on.

Kitty tossed a crumpled ball of pink tissue paper over her shoulder. Her perky features crinkled in a look of confusion and irritation. ・Why does Bobby buy the worst gifts ever?・ she wondered aloud, rolling her eyes.

Ororo・s eyes were amused. ・Whatever do you mean, child?・

The younger woman held up a copy of a book, ・1001 Things to Do on a Date: From the Romantic to the Silly and Weird・. ・I swear I・m unhappy enough about being single again,・ she groused, brown eyes flashing, ・but does he have to rub it in?・ Then she turned to a giggling Rogue and snapped, ・You knew about this! I know because I saw you helping him wrap his presents!・

・Oh hush, sugah.・ Rogue waved a hand, trying to suppress her laughter. ・If it makes ya feel any bettah, he got me a dancing Coke can. Ah heard he got Scott a pair of X-ray glasses, so you ain・t the only one. Bobby does this every year. You know that, hon.・

Ororo nodded, white ponytail swinging behind her. ・Yes, I have to agree with Rogue. Bobby just doesn・t have taste when it comes to gifts.・ To demonstrate her point, she showed her friends a pair of red polka-dotted gardening gloves she received from him. ・I believe Jean said it is part of his charm.・

Kitty rolled her eyes again, plopping the book down next to her on the floor. ・Then this is going to be someone・s gag gift, for sure.・

・Fair enough,・ Rogue said, green eyes twinkling. She moved onto the next gift. Already she could tell it was an article of clothing from the shape and size of the box. The paper used was quite nice・handmade and in a lovely shade of sage. Immediately, she knew who it was from and took greater care in opening the gift. She gasped quietly when the contents were revealed・a black silk nightgown trimmed in lace.

Kitty peered over her friend・s shoulder and then giggled. ・Wow. Maybe you should put that away before one of the kids walks by.・

Blushing, Rogue snapped the box closed. Joseph must have snuck it before he left, she thought. ・Well, Ah won・t be wearin・ it any time soon. Gotta wait until my man comes back.・

・Actually, I think you can wear it tonight,・ a voice announced.

She and the others stared up. Standing over them was Joseph, his face tanned from his time in Guatemala and his white hair cropped closely to his head. His steely blue eyes were a mixture of amusement and joy as the woman he loved suddenly rose from the floor and threw herself into his waiting arms.

Red-on-black eyes surveyed the scene unfolding on the other side of the room. He suddenly became consumed with rage, envy, and sadness. The air in the room was suddenly too suffocating for him to breathe. His only source of consolation was a walk around the grounds with his cigarettes. He was about to make his way out when he found himself face to face with Jean.

・Are you OK?・ she inquired, green eyes reflecting the knowledge of his intentions.

・Course,・ he lied, trying to force a coy smile. ・Didn・t know you cared, ch・e. Mebbe you had too much eggnog.・

・You・re my friend,・ she replied matter-of-factly, crossing her arms over her chest. ・Of course, I care.・

・Den you know Gambit has to go.・


・What, ch・e?・

・Storming off isn・t going to help anything. Come and hang out with us.・

・・Cause holidays time for sharin・? Gambit don・ do dat, ch・e.・

・So being alone in the cold is better?・

・For me? Oui.・

・Remy, please. If Rogue sees you leave, then she・ll feel responsible.・

・In a way, she is, ch・e.・ As soon as the words left his mouth, he instantly regretted them. He shook his head regretfully. ・Non・. Gambit didn・t mean dat.・

Jean nodded empathetically. ・I know you didn・t. But right now, you・re in plain view.・ Her eyes traveled to the other side of the room.

Remy followed her gaze. With bitter resentment, he watched Joseph and Rogue kiss, holding each other close. Rogue・s face was in sight and her eyes met his briefly. For a brief moment, she looked lost and very guilty. Then Joseph turned her around, her body disappearing behind his.

・I know it hurts,・ Jean whispered, touching his elbow lightly. ・But being alone isn・t going to help.・

He exhaled, still craving a cigarette but realizing that the redhead had a point. ・Suppose Gambit could sit wit・ de Summers family for a moment,・ he said, shrugging. ・You jus・ need to make dis ol・ t・ief a stiff drink.・

・Wow,・ Scott said, watching Jubilee reveal the necklace Bobby had given her. He had joined her and Logan after talking his way out of joining Hank and the Professor in a round of ・Silent Night・. ・Are you sure that・s from Bobby?・

She nodded and handed him the tag, studying the delicate pink beads in fascination. ・Yeah・. It・s beautiful.・

Logan snorted. ・Maybe Icicle got one of the girls to go shopping with him,・ he observed, watching her put the necklace around her slender neck.

Jubilee shrugged, fingering the silver flower gently. She, like the rest of the mansion, was aware of Bobby・s reputation as the worst person to receive gifts from. The fact that he had taken some careful thought into purchasing hers was surprising to her---in a good way.

Rogue, Joseph, and Kitty made their way over. As Kitty was handing Logan her gift to him, she bent down to inspect the piece of jewelry around Jubilee・s neck. ・Nice,・ she commented, straightening up to her full height. ・Who・s it from?・


・No way!・

・It・s true,・ Scott piped up from the well-worn sofa he was sitting on. He greeted his wife with a smile as she and Remy settled down next to him. He handed Kitty the gift tag as evidence.

・So that・s what was in that tiny box,・ Rogue said, smiling. ・Y・all didn・t see how nervous he was. Didn・t want me to even know what it was when Ah was wrappin・ it.・

Before any speculations could be made about this anomaly, Jubilee raised an envelope from her pile. ・From Scott,・ she read aloud, tearing into the flap. Before removing the contents, she pressed it against her forehead. ・It・s a blank check.・

Scott snorted, reaching over to give her a light shove. ・You wish.・

She laughed and opened the envelope. Suddenly, she stopped giggling. Her sapphire eyes widened as she pulled out a plane ticket. ・It・s to Paris for one week,・ she whispered, gazing upon Scott・s face. It was one of those rare occasions where she was desperately searching for words to express herself. ・I・m going alone?・

Scott leaned towards her, a loving and kind smile creeping across his face. His cheeks were beginning to burn with a slight blush. He could feel everyone else・s attention focused on him and the present through stares and whispers and gasps of awe. ・No, sweetheart. I・ll be with you.・ He squeezed Jean・s hand before continuing. ・You see, I thought it would be nice if you saw Paris for the first time with a man that will always love you.・

She placed a hand over her mouth in the hopes of keeping a sob deep within her throat. She hated crying, but was helpless in forcing her tears back. Shaking, Jubilee placed the pile of presents that were sitting in her lap on the floor and raced to Scott・s side, throwing her arms around Scott・s neck. She sighed, shuddering against him. ・Thank you,・ she whispered.

He squeezed her tightly and kissed her forehead. ・You・re welcome.・ Drawing back, his fingers brushed her saline tears from her cheeks. His heart began to expand in his chest from the euphoria that radiated from the young girl he now considered his daughter.

Meanwhile, Logan felt as if he could not keep his rage within long enough. His rugged features twisted themselves into an angry scowl. A soft growl could be heard emanating from his throat. Much to his ire, the others around him excitedly crowded Jubilee, firing suggestions as to where to go, where to shop, what to eat, what to pack. That just seemed to make things even more unbearable. Quickly, he rose to his feet and proceeded to slip out of the living room, but not before ・accidentally・ smacking Scott on the back of the head on his way to the door.

Scott was the only one who took notice, feeling his ruby-quartz sunglasses nearly slip off his face. Jean focused her telekinetic energy to keep them firmly in place. The couple exchanged a look, and then began to follow Logan outside into the foyer. They found him in the midst of making an exit through the front door.

・What the hell is the matter with you?・ Scott demanded, knowing he was not within earshot of the people in the living room.

Jean held her husband・s arm. ・Scott・.・

・It・s OK, Red. I ain・t afraid of the Boy Scout here.・ Logan snorted, backing away from the door somewhat. He made his way towards Scott and leaned towards him, sneering.

Scott glared at him. ・You know what? I・ve taken enough from you. Who the hell do you think you are?・

・Should be asking you the same question.・ Logan made a face and feigned a syrupy sweet expression, knocking his voice higher by a few octaves. ・Oh, Jubilee, you should go to Paris with a man who will always love you.・

Scott jerked his arm out of Jean・s grasp, obviously not amused with Logan・s mocking impression. ・Well, maybe I should have added ・who will always be there for you・.・

Remy wandered out into the hallway, observing the confrontation. He stood next to Jean, who looked quite upset. It was only a matter of time before this happened, he thought to himself. He decided to stay in the event the two men had to be physically separated. Otherwise, he was going to remain neutral over the situation.

・What the hell is that supposed to mean?・

・Please, Logan. Don・t try to act delusional over that one. You go running every time something doesn・t go your way. Not exactly the model of a loving, stable parental figure, huh? You know what? I don・t even think you even give a damn about her. Otherwise・.・

Logan could hear and see Stryker in front at that moment, replacing Scott. Immediately, he lunged at Scott and pinned against the wall. ・You wanna finish that sentence, bub?・

Scott・s fingers began to lower his shades as if he were going to give the other man a taste of an optic blast. ・With pleasure.・

・Stop it!・ Jean cried, watching Remy attempt to pry Logan off of Scott. When he did, he held onto his friend・s arms to keep him from attacking Scott again. ・The two of you are acting like children. It・s Christmas for goodness sake. We・re supposed to be・.・

・United? Happy?・ Logan spat bitterly. ・Apparently, One-Eyed here thinks I can・t do that.・

Jean・s green eyes met his. Then prove him wrong, Logan. I know you can. Jubilee knows you can. Isn・t that enough?

Logan raised a brow at her. A long time ago, he would have relented. He would have swallowed down his feelings and returned to the living room. He would have pretended that nothing was bothering him. But things had changed. It was becoming increasingly clear that the kid didn・t need him anymore. She had found what she needed in the man he could not stand the most. And it ate him up inside severely. It was like being betrayed by your closest friend. The worst thing was that there was nothing he could actively do to change any of it. To badmouth Scott or anything overt like that would make him look like the bad guy, which wasn・t what he wanted at all.

He simply grunted at Jean. Then he glared at Scott, tempted to leave him with a verbal barb. He realized that wasn・t going to accomplish much of anything. Finally, he shoved Remy aside---hard against the wall. ・Outta my way, Gumbo.・

The Cajun thief narrowed his red-on-black eyes as he withdrew a card from the pocket of his brown leather duster. He gave it a slight charge, watching Logan begin to exit the door. Not enough to injure him, but enough to provide a shock.

Scott stepped forward, placing a hand on his teammate・s shoulder. ・No, Gambit.・ Obviously, he had his fill of physical confrontations for one day.

Remy peered over at him, realizing Scott was right. He tossed the card on the floor, listening to it hiss as it discharged its energy. ・Eh, you right,・ he said flatly, ・He not wort・ it.・

Logan・s keen sense of hearing picked up the Cajun・s last words. He found his way into the garage and hopped onto his bike. As he sped away from the mansion in the bitter, icy cold, he began to discover that he could not agree with Gambit more.

Chapter Seventeen: I Hung My Head

New Year・s Eve arrived several days later. The late afternoon soon turned to early evening as the sun began to set over Westchester. A sharp, stinging wind began to pick up, swirling through the barren trees. The snow and ice that had begun to melt slowly during the day were now beginning to freeze again.

Inside the local pool hall, a lone figure sat at the bar, hunched over a half-empty glass of beer. Bluish-gray smoke billowed from the person・s mouth, concealing bitter features. Other lonely patrons who had been drinking as long as the loner had knew better than to approach him. Severe consequences were definitely guaranteed.

・Another Newcastle Ale?・ the bartender inquired, drying off a few shot glasses nonchalantly. Fresh-faced and somewhat chubby, she looked as if she had just turned twenty-one. Her hair was choppy, reddish-blond on the ends with black roots growing in and she wore heavy, caked-on make-up. She was the foil to the owner and the regular bartender, Harry, a haggard, plain man in his late fifties who looked like he lived a hard life, which was evident from the many lines in his face.

・Yeah・. Why not? Put it on my tab.・

・Sure, mister.・

At the rate this customer was going, she was guaranteed a nice tip. Nice enough to compensate for the fact she was working on New Year・s Eve. She quickly found a clean stein and proceeded to fill it up from the tap. Before passing it to him, she asked, ・You gonna be here for a while?・

・Why do you need to know?・

・Liability. Can・t let you on the roads until you sober up. You・ve had, like, eight beers in the four hours you・ve been here. The roads are gonna be a mess and the cops are likely gonna be on the look-out.・

・Listen, I don・t need advice from a kid. Besides, alcohol doesn・t get to me.・

・Whatever, dude. That・s what they all say. Listen, I・m just givin・ you the spiel I give to all the customers.・ With that, the bartender darted to the other side of the bar to wait on another customer. A new tattoo can・t be worth this trouble, she thought.

・Why is it that you feel the need to pick on people outside of the mansion?・ A voice inquired from behind.

He turned around and inwardly groaned. ・What do you want?・

Ororo Munroe peered around the dank and dark bar, which smelled of stale cigarettes and alcohol. The floor was sticky with beverages that had spilled hours before but not attended to yet. Loud, hard rock belted from the jukebox on the other side of the room. Not exactly her idea of a place to lounge around, but definitely the type of establishment she would find her friend. The elegant weather goddess certainly stuck out like a sore thumb in the bar, dressed in a long, double-breasted camel coat, a white cable-knit, turtleneck cashmere sweater, heathered wool slacks, and brown high-heeled boots. Her thick, white hair streamed behind her shoulders, slightly rumpled from the wind outside.

She seated herself next to her teammate. ・I wanted to see how you were doing, Logan.・

Logan puffed on his cigar, eyes narrowing. ・As you can see, I・m doin・ fantastic.・

・Really?・ She suppressed the urge to wrinkle her nose. ・You haven・t been at the mansion for several days.・

He finished the last of his beer then moved on to his new one. ・I・ve been around. You just haven・t seen me.・

・I see.・ She couldn・t tell if he was lying or not.

・Well, now that you・ve seen that I・m fine, you can run along and report that to the others. I・m sure you have other lost souls to save.・

・First of all, no one else knows I・m here. I came here for myself and the child.・

Logan almost winced at the icy tone she used just then. However, he managed to keep his stony demeanor. He decided not to say anything and hoped she would get the hint. She was always smart enough to other times.

Ororo shifted in her barstool, aware of what he wanted her to do. This time, she was not going to comply. Instead, she said, ・Jubilee is very concerned. She had been looking for you these past few days. She thinks you are avoiding her.・

・What if I am?・ Logan demanded flatly. ・I figured she would want time to bond with One-Eyed before their trip to Paris.・

Ororo noted the growing bitterness in his voice. She had heard from Remy about the altercation in the hallway between Logan and Scott several days after the incident. At first, she thought her friend was telling her one of his tall tales. When a concerned Jean confirmed the events of that day, Ororo knew her old friend was more troubled than they had originally thought.

・You are jealous.・

・If that・s what he told you, then he・s full of it.・

・Scott did not tell me that.・

・I would have thought the Boy Scout would----・

・Actually, I can sense it from you.・

・So now you・re a telepath?・

・I would not have to be. Your anger is quite apparent, Logan.・

・Then maybe you should get outta here. I might hurt you or something.・

・Is that why you picked on Scott?・

・What the hell are you talking about?・ Logan was genuinely confused as he stared at her. The beginnings of a scowl darkened his features. While he was quite fond of Storm, he was feeling very hostile towards her at that moment.

Her eyes pierced into his, unwavering and revealing no fear. She had that rare ability to stand up to him when she wanted to. It was something that was endearing to him, demonstrating her loyalty and unconditional acceptance of who and what he was. In a low voice, she said, ・Do you know what I think? I think you intentionally instigated that fight with Scott to drive some distance between you and Jubilee.・

Logan rolled his eyes at her. ・Why the hell would I do that?・

・Besides being jealous over their relationship, you want to protect her・protect her from your rages because you feel you cannot control them. However, you promised her that you would stay with her, so you could not just pick up and leave. So, instead, you・re pushing her away in the hopes of keeping her safe. But you are doing more harm than good. She is very worried about you.・

Logan was silent, allowing her words to sink into his head. He never wanted to hurt the kid. He had done enough of that over the years. He was supposed to be atoning for what he had done, to start over with her. It wasn・t supposed to be like this. Yet, as he stared into Ororo・s guileless eyes, he wasn・t sure how else he would have handled things.

Ororo straightened her posture. She didn・t have to ask whether or not he thought she was right. His body language spoke volumes at that moment. She watched him brood as she ordered a beer from the young bartender.

Logan raised a brow at her. ・Didn・t think you were the beer type,・ he mused, finishing his second.

She gave him a gentle smile, taking a sip. ・I appreciate it every now and then,・ she informed him. Her smile soon disappeared as she observed him stare glumly at the empty stein.

There was silence between the two old friends. Both stared ahead aimlessly at the collection of hard liquor bottles behind the bar. Logan continued to smoke his cigar, while Ororo was making headway in finishing her beer. Every once in a while, his eyes would glance at her absentmindedly, but they were curious nonetheless.

Finally, he asked, ・Why are you here?・

・What do you mean?・

・I mean, Princess, I know you have better places to be than here. Why are you wasting your time?・

She detected the bitterness in his voice. In front of her was not the snarling, irrational animal, but a man who knew who knew hurt. It was one of those rare moments he allowed this side of him to be seen by someone else other than Xavier. At first, she didn・t know how to react. Then the white-haired weather goddess extended a slender hand and placed it over his weathered one.

・Wasn・t that an amazing concert?・ Jean asked, green eyes bright with excitement.

Scott nodded, smiling fondly at his wife. They, along with his brother, the new nurse, Annie Ghazikhanian, and Rogue and Joseph, had attended a program performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in the city earlier that evening. The tickets had been left for them as a generous gift from Warren before he left for his family・s home in Switzerland. The group was now seated in an upscale restaurant and bar in Manhattan, recommended by Warren. After putting in their orders with the waiter, they relaxed with a bottle of 1999 Estancia, Napa, Warren had reserved for them.

The interior of the establishment was reminiscent of the vacationing Worthington: very swanky, very posh. It began with the small bar at the front, with its black marble fireplace, mahogany paneling and brass- and ebony cocktail tables. The dining room beyond completed the image with navy blue walls, interspersed with more mahogany, and was covered with artwork from Lauren's private collection. Herringbone hardwood floors lead to plush, caramel leather- upholstered chairs and banquettes. A blend of black and white photos (Mick Jagger, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra, for example) with old English oils that somehow complemented one another.

While the men wore almost identical-looking, black tuxedos, the females decided to express their own sense of style through their outfits that evening. Jean had chosen a fitted, strapless, navy cashmere dress with organza and matching heels. Her thick, red hair was swept up, which brought attention to her swan-like neck. To complete the look, she wore the double-strand of pearls Scott had given her last year. Meanwhile, Rogue kept more covered up than her friend, wearing a black pantsuit with gloves. However, her face was more made-up than usual---darker eyeliner and red lips. Annie maintained the simplistic style she was accustomed to as a nurse and working mother. Her dress was a muted gold, silk dress that skimmed her ankles, but fitted around her chest. The brunette・s hair was pulled back in a soft ponytail, leaving curly tendrils around her wide-set eyes.

However, she was not as relaxed as the rest of the people around. Her face formed a worry frown as she clutched her cell phone to her ear. She turned away from her date to focus on the call.

Concerned, Alex leaned over and asked, ・What・s wrong?・

・No one・s answering at the mansion,・ she told him, tugging nervously at a lock of dark hair. ・What if something・s happened? I・ve never left Carter for this long before at night・.・

Rogue waved a gloved hand in the air. ・Don・t worry, sugah. Ah・m sure the gals got everything under control at the homestead.・ She took a sip of her wine.

Jean nodded, giving Alex・s date a reassuring smile. ・Rogue・s right. Jubilee and Tabitha have sat for the children before. They・re probably watching a movie and don・t want to pick up the phone. Besides, if there were any problems, they would call.・

Annie hung up and slipped her phone into her silver-beaded clutch. Her lips curled into a self-conscious smile as she said, ・I・m sorry. I know you・re right. The girls are very responsible. It・s the mother-part of me that won・t go away.・

Scott refilled her glass with some more wine. ・Understandable, but it・s alright to have a night out every once in a while.・

She smiled at him shyly. This was the first time she had been around them outside of the mansion and outside of her duties as the nurse. ・Thank you.・

・No problem,・ he replied warmly. Though he knew little of her, Scott found himself genuinely enjoying her company. She seemed the perfect fit for his younger brother, whose relationship with his ex-fianc・ ended very abruptly. While Lorna could be overly aggressive, Annie was quite sweet and soft-spoken. Even looking at her now, she appeared to be happy to be with Alex. Fortunately this time around, the feelings were mutual.

Rogue leaned back in her seat, feeling Joseph・s fingers tangle in her hair. She exchanged a knowing glance with him. He gave her a small smile before turning his attention back to the conversation. As the discussion steered towards concert, she began to tune the voices out. So this is what it・s like to be in a real couple, she thought happily. We can touch and go out with other people who can do the same thing. I don・t have to worry about putting someone in a coma. It・s almost like being normal.

For so long, she had dreamed about having a moment like this---where she wasn・t the person people felt sorry for. She fit in for once. And she was in love with a good man, who took care of her, was honest, and would do anything for her. He was the one who brought this normalcy to her life. As she reflected on that last thought, she leaned over and squeezed his hand affectionately.

・Rogue?・ Jean waved a hand in front of her face, grinning. ・Earth to Rogue?・

Startled, Rogue shook her head. ・What・s up?・

・We were talking about New Year・s Resolutions,・ the redhead informed her. ・Do you have any to share?・

Rogue frowned thoughtfully. ・Ah・ll pass for now. What about y・all?・ She finished her glass of wine in one gulp.

・I resolve to feel less guilty about spending time away from Carter,・ Annie piped up, earning some chuckles from the others.

Alex nodded, taking his turn. ・And I resolve to finish my degree this year,・ he declared.

Scott snorted. ・You have to,・ he told him wryly, ・You・ve reached your limit as far as time is concerned. Otherwise, aren・t they going to kick you out if you don・t finish?・

・Shows what you know. I have one more year.・

・Alex, it・s been seven years. Get it over with!・

・Listen, you try saving the world and writing a dissertation on shifting plates. Then we can talk, bro.・

・Fair enough.・

Jean turned to her husband, an amused grin crossing her model-perfect features. Despite the length of time they had been away from each other, the Summers brothers acted as if they had been together for most of their lives. ・So, what・s yours honey?・

Before Scott could open his mouth to respond, Alex blurted out the answer for his older brother. ・To stop picking on his better-looking, smarter sibling.・ He smiled when he earned giggles from Jean, Rogue, and Annie.

Behind his ruby-quartz lenses, Scott glared at Alex, then rolled his eyes. He could see why Bobby found him irritating to be around sometimes. ・I resolve to send Alex back to school and not let him continue to eat me out of house and home.・

Rogue was saved from revealing her resolution or lack thereof. The efficient waiter then brought out the appetizers ordered earlier. He placed the steamed mussels with fennel, tomato, basil, and pernod in the center of the table. Next to that platter was the grilled duck foie gras ・la Murphy with an apple-pecan-lavender-honey-cognac sauce.

Rogue shrank away from the two platters, eyeing them skeptically. Unlike the others who were eagerly looking over the dishes, she wasn・t sure about ingesting either one of them. In particular, she found herself especially concerned about the innards of some poor duck. She shuddered inwardly.

・What・s wrong?・ Joseph inquired, already helping himself to a couple of mussels. Thankfully, he was keeping his voice low as not attract any attention.

・Ah don・t know, hon・. Ah don・t think Ah can eat this stuff.・

・You don・t think you・ll like it?・

・Nah・. It・s not what ya call traditional country cookin・.・

・Understood. But don・t you want to try? It won・t hurt. If you don・t like what you eat, I・ll gladly finish the rest.・

・Maybe,・ she said warily. ・But let me brace myself first, sugah.・ Then she placed her napkin from her lap on her plate and stood up. ・Ah・ll be right back, y・all. Ah need to powder my nose.・

Joseph peered up at her perceptively, but hid his amusement over his lover・s way of coping with something new.

If I stay here long enough, maybe they・ll finish everything and I won・t have to try something new, Rogue thought, closing the door of the ladies・ restroom behind her firmly. Exhaling loudly, she sauntered to the sink and opened her purse to retrieve her compact. She hummed softly as she dabbed a small amount of powder on the bridge of her nose and forehead. As she slipped the compact back into her purse, she noticed there was something else inside. Curious, she removed it.

When she discovered what it was, she froze. Suddenly, tears began to flow down her cheeks, ruining her make-up. She felt her knees begin to buckle. To support herself, she leaned against the counter and tried to recollect her strength.

Lying on the gray, marble counter was a tattered, playing card. It was the Queen of Hearts to be exact. Written lightly in one of the corners was the word, ・Always・.

Chapter Eighteen: The Luckiest

Logan tossed his worn, leather jacket on the back of a chair in his bedroom. He had just gotten back from a long bike ride around town, which was becoming a force of habit nowadays. Almost like clockwork, if you will. It was a hell of a lot better than picking fights with other people around the mansion. There were no judging stares or comments when he rode. It was simply him and the elements. The speed and the wind combined together to create a rush, emptying his mind of its conflicts and concerns.

That night at the bar with Ororo was a long one. He never admitted that she was right about her suspicions. He never gave anyone the satisfaction of doing something like that. Instead, the two spent the rest of New Year・s Eve, engaged in superficial conversation and knocking back a couple of beers. Logan was impressed with the fact that she was keeping up with him. However, she was not going to go as far as to smoke one of his cigars. That was where the weather goddess drew the proverbial line.

He stepped into his private bathroom to splash some water on his face. The warm and gentle water was like a caressing hand to his weather-beaten face. He leaned over the sink, sighing. Then he grabbed a towel from the rack and buried his face in the mothering darkness. He stood in the bath for several minutes, head in the towel. Things were so much easier if one didn・t have to face the world on a daily basis.

His musings were interrupted by a knock at his door. He groaned, throwing the towel on the rack and stormed to the door. This better be good, he snarled inwardly, I don・t do people at this hour. He yanked it open, preparing himself to growl at the person on the other side. Logan softened when he saw who it was.

・Can I come in?・ Jubilee asked, nervously playing with her scarf around her neck. She wore with it a V-neck, cream-colored sweater with gray wool elbow patches, faded jeans, and a pair of brown boots.

He nodded gruffly, closing the door behind her. ・Where・s your coat?・ he asked in greeting. ・It・s cold outside, kid.・

She gave him a strange look, and then shook her head, her long, ebony hair spilling over her slim shoulders. ・I left it on Sarah・s bed,・ she explained, seating herself on his bed. Her blue eyes peered up at him solemnly.

・So, what・s going on?・ he demanded, suddenly feeling uneasy. It unnerved how she looked at him like that sometimes. He hid his discomfort by frowning back at her.

・I know you・re mad,・ she began, palms resting on her thighs. ・No one told me. I just know.・

Logan raised a brow at her and grunted. ・What makes you think that?・

・You・ve been gone a lot since Christmas.・

・It is the holidays, Jubes. Time for celebrating, you know.・

・By yourself?・

・I don・t do the people scene.・

Her sapphire eyes appeared distant as she mused, ・Yes, I guess I forgot about that, Wolvie,・ she said softly. ・But you never said you weren・t mad.・

Logan grimaced. She was using that tone of voice she used when she was around the younger students. To him, it sounded patronizing. Anyone else, they would have seen adamantium. He forced restraint when it came to Jubilee. ・So what?・

・You don・t have to be angry,・ Jubilee told him, crossing her slender ankles together. ・Scott・s not taking your place.・

He frowned at her, pretending not to know what she was talking about.

She continued. ・You see, it・s different with him, but he・s not replacing you, Wolvie. I still need you.・

Transfixed by her confession, he sank on the bed next to his Jubilee. ・Kid?・

She turned to face him; lovely as the day he first met her all those years ago. ・I just need you in a different way.・

・What does that mean?・

・It means I・m not a little girl anyone. I・m not going to hang on every word you say or jump out of my skin when you come around. I haven・t done that in a long time.・

・Because I left you?・

・No, because I grew up. I・m responsible for making sure I・m happy, not you, not Scott.・ She sighed and then pressed on. ・It・s not that I love you any less, but you can・t expect things to be the same. If they were, I・d be committed by now.・

His green eyes stared ahead for a moment. He then peered back at her. ・So how do you need me now?・ he asked wearily. Logan wasn・t sure whether or not he was going to like her answer.

Jubilee・s brows knitted together as she pondered. ・I don・t know,・ she said finally, ・it・s like knowing that you・re here no matter what and that you care about me is enough. You don・t have to protect me from anything. I can handle things just fine.・

・And One-Eyed?・ he inquired, wondering if Ororo or Jean said anything to her about his recent episode. Listening to her determined tone of voice, she sounded as if she were talking about issues in general.

・He sets the boundaries. As much as I hate to admit it, I need that structure. Otherwise, I・d be a total anarchist. Just don・t tell him that. It would kill me.・

Logan snorted, pulling her against him. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her long, silky hair. ・Trust me,・ he told her, ・there・s no chance of that happening.・

Bobby Drake arrived at the mansion late in the evening New Year・s Day. To his relief, traffic on the roads from his parents・ Long Island home was light, which allowed him to make it back in record time. He peered around the front hall, noticing some activity in one of the rec rooms. He could hear Tabitha, Dani, Theresa and Sarah deciding on a movie to watch with the other children. Most of the students were beginning to trickle back from their vacation with their families. School was scheduled to start again later that week. Those that were back did not acknowledge his arrival, but continued to focus their attention on their leisure activities. Smiling, he climbed up the spiral staircase that led to his room so he could unpack.

As expected, his mother immediately greeted him with questions about possible girlfriends. This was soon followed with a point-by-point report on people he had grown up with and how they were married. Adding to her fervor was a visit from his cousin, Joel, who announced that he was engaged to be married. Bobby・s mother was overjoyed and began to chirp about how she would be more than happy to help. At the same time, Bobby could sense her disappointment with him. Needless to say, he kept a low profile as Joel and his mother went over the news.

For his part, Joel was sheepish over the attention his Aunt Madeleine was giving him. Later on that night, he quietly approached Bobby and asked him to serve as his best man. Bobby was taken aback, but realized his cousin was the closest thing he ever had to a brother. Before contemplating the repercussions of his decision, he said yes. Looking back, he wasn・t sure this was one of his better choices. He would have to put up with possible machinations from his mother・s pursuit of finding him a wife and future bearer of grandchildren. Knowing his mother, she was probably interviewing the bridesmaids by now.

His father was still recovering physically, using a cane to make his way around the house. While he and Bobby were never all that close, the elder Drake had made an effort when his son visited for Christmas. He was still wary of his son・s adventures and status as a mutant. However, there was a calm and understanding when they spoke. Bobby found it easier to relax and spend time with him, finding a respite from his mother. Unlike his wife, William Drake knew his son was young and did not worry about him living a lonely life for long.

Bobby opened the drawers and placed his freshly laundered clothes inside. His mother had insisted on doing his wash before he hit the road. No matter how old he was, she still considered him her little baby, much to his father・s chagrin.

He stared at one of the new presents he had received this past Christmas. On his desk, was a set of Three Stooges bobble head dolls. Out of the presents Bobby received, he had to say this one was his favorite. He smiled fondly as he remembered the card that accompanied the gift. To the biggest Stooge I know. Merry X-Mas, Jubilee. He fished the card out of the pocket of his coat and placed it next to the bobble heads.

I wonder what she thought of the necklace, he thought. Is she wearing it now? He remembered how nervous he was when Rogue was wrapping the gift for him. It was silly, really. Why was he getting wound up over a little present? He kept attempting to rationalize the situation in his mind. After all, he wasn・t anxious about the gifts he was giving his parents or his closest friends at the mansion. What reason could he possibly have to get bent out of shape over something that was going to a friend? It was almost as if----

Just then, there was a soft knock at the door. Startled, Bobby almost jumped. It took a brief moment to compose himself. ・Come in,・ he called out, his back still turned to the door and tossing his empty travel bag into his closet.

The door slowly swung open and slow, methodical footfalls crossed the floor in his room. ・Hello, Drake.・

Bobby immediately whipped around. His gray eyes were surprised when he discovered who the visitor was. ・Hello, Emma,・ he greeted, uncertain to what think of the cool blonde・s appearance this evening. ・What can I do ya for?・

The corners of the White Queen・s full mouth curled up slightly in a smile. ・I knew you were back,・ she told him, crossing her arms around her curvy chest. She was dressed rather conservatively that evening---well, conservative by her standards---in a knee-length, white silk dress with spaghetti straps and matching stiletto heels.

She continued to talk, her tone aloof. ・Anyway, I・ve been bored since I・ve gotten back. I need a real adult to talk to.・

He smirked. ・Gee, Emma, that・s the best compliment I・ve gotten from you. A real adult, huh?・ Given their past history together, he was right to be somewhat wary of her intentions. After all, she had taken his body hostage and warped his mind in the process. That, and she relished in using his loneliness for her own amusement, often teasing, inciting a chase before leaving him to dwell on his frustrated state.

・Well, I thought you might appreciate it・.Maybe now you won・t be thinking about little girls and whether or not they like you.・ She laughed softly at the end of her sentence.

Bobby scowled at her defensively. ・You and Gambit have a meeting of the minds?・ he snapped, gray eyes narrowing.

She circled around Bobby and stood behind him. ・No,・ she purred, her arms sliding around his waist. ・I know you think about her or have you forgotten what I can do?・

With that, she untucked his shirt from his chinos. Her manicured nails traced patterns around his taut stomach, drawing a gasp from his lips. Her mouth began to nip at his earlobe. Then her tongue began to flick at his one earlobe in quick darts. Meanwhile, her other hand continued to pull his shirt up.

・Like that?・ she whispered.

He didn・t answer. Instead, his eyes were closed tight as he willed himself to ignore her and what she was doing now. At the same time, he was summoning the mental strength he had left to tell Emma to leave. She laughed, instantly reading his mind.

・Bobby, you can・t do that,・ she informed him snidely, ・I・m afraid you like this too much. You・re having too much fun.・

Suddenly, she froze and her hands dropped away from his torso. ・Hello, Jubilation.・

Alarmed, Bobby turned around, frantically straightened his rumpled shirt. A blush crept across his cheeks as he pulled away from a smirking Emma. There was Jubilee, standing in the doorway, the door partially ajar. Her face was a mixture of many things just then----shock, confusion, and something else he could not put his finger on at that moment.

Bobby stepped towards her, still flustered. ・Uh, hey. Didn・t know you were there.・ His gray eyes immediately noticed his necklace around her neck. ・You・re wearing my gift.・ He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace.

She fingered the pink beads gently. ・I wanted to thank you for this and to see if you wanted to catch up before I leave.・ Then her blue eyes warily traveled to Emma. She never felt comfortable around her former headmistress since Emma murdered her own sister for money to keep the school afloat. ・But I see you・re busy, so we can talk when I get back.・ This is incredibly awkward to say the least. I wish I were Kurt now and just teleport right outta here.

He watched her turn on her heel to leave. ・Wait,・ he said, gripping the doorknob. ・Where are you going?・

Jubilee・s eyes were cast down on the floor, feeling very embarrassed for some unknown reason. ・Scott and I are going to Paris for a week. We・re leaving tonight to stay at a hotel near JFK. Tomorrow morning, we・ll be flying out.・

・Wow, that sounds great. Maybe I can come by with you to the house and we can talk.・

・Actually, I・m not going to be there for long. Scott wants to get in the city as soon as possible so we can rest. It・s an early flight and all.・

Bobby・s face fell in disappointment. ・Oh,・ he said quietly. ・Well, I guess I will see you when you get back. I hope you have a great trip.・

She gave him a small smile, fiddling with her scarf. ・Yeah, me, too.・ Then her eyes went to the bobble heads she had gotten him. Instead of commenting, she decided to nod her head emphatically and sauntered away.

He watched her leave, his disappointment giving way to something else.