Old Dogs & New Tricks: Part One

by Anya

Standard Disclaimers Apply.

Author's Note: I'm a Jubilee fan. Yep. I have this thing for the youngest, or underdogs, which means that Iceman too gets a good solid role in this story.

BUT, the genesis of this fic has little to do with teams, love, tragedy, etc. It has to do with the annoying Marvel consistency of denying growth. Dammit all, Jubilee should at the very least be fifteen by now! *sheesh* (Actually, she should be 23 - 24, but that's nitpicking for accuracy!)

So, in my own usual way of saying "So, THERE!" I'm fixing the problem to my satisfaction. Hey, maybe if I'm happy with the end result, I'll do another segment to an overall series. Depends if people like it, I guess.

Part One

"Status?" Sinister's voice drew her back to the real world, making the wonderful cold bliss of unconsciousness fade away. Just another form of torture, in Jubilee's opinion, but it was of her own making. "How long before project completion?"

Her head was swimming, it was beyond hurting after all the stimulus that Sinister's little geeks had subjected her to. So many images colliding and clashing with memories she thought she knew. Where did reality start and fiction end or vice-versa? What was he doing to her?

Suspended with no resistant surfaces around her, she drooped limply from the various cables and intravenous cords that plugged into her body・ a body which felt bruised, stretched and agonized. Her throat was tight and sore after screaming her pain so long. Now, she was beyond screaming, all she wanted was to escape. Death called a lulling song towards the end of each session, but the geeks always stopped just short of her final and permanent escape.

She couldn't even twitch, or so it seemed. Her powers were so far away from reach, she was that weakened physically. What was he doing to her? Why? Just・ why?

"Developmental maturity of her abilities will be obtained within the next eight hours, Sir." The chief geek・ Jubilee's personal worst nightmare of a normal human nerd in labcoat and spectacles・ reported with his clipboard clenched tightly to his chest. "The process has had a steady and consistent stabilization, sir. Reversal is not possible."

Sinister let silence hang for a moment, his footsteps falling in a circle about the clear dome that Jubilee was suspended in. "Excellent." He purred, looking his latest acquisition over with careful intensity. "And her reconditioning?"

"That will begin immediately upon completion of phase I, sir."

"Wonderful work, Gentlemen." Sinister praised his scientists, the low voice as smooth as silk but far colder than the iciest arctic wind. This project was, primarily, self-rewarding since the entire procedure had been his thesis and development. These humans merely did the grunt work so that he could have a finished and final product. Namely: his own pet soldier fit to destroy the X-Men. "Carry on, Gentlemen. Ms. Lee's friends are about to find a way into the complex, and I would like to keep them far, far away from our little project."

Without opening her eyes, she knew precisely when Sinister had left. That's when the comments started, those little sly remarks that made her realize that more creepy than the villains the X-Men fought were the slimey little humans that got the villains to their point of clout.

"I hope he lets us have her for a few good bangs, before he sucks her dry."

If Jubilee could have cried, she still wouldn't have. However, if she could have taken an iota of her ability and blow each and every one of them to kingdom come・ oh yeah. Definitely do that.

There was a corner of her mind she had built as a retreat, a little space inside she could slip her consciousness into and hide from reality. Once Sinister was gone, a little escapism seemed like a great idea. After all, once the X-Men rescued her, Jean or Betsy could pull her out・ right?



"Stay in constant communication." Storm ordered, her voice fierce. This was intolerable. It was bad enough the way Sinister exploited adults, but to use Jubilee for his own ends. Regardless of the X-Men creed not to take life, the team-leader was inclined to sic a livid Wolverine at the beast and let blood flow.

If Sinister had hurt the girl・

"I do not like splitting us up like this, but to cover ground and isolate Jubilation." She continued, eyeing the other four X-Men with caution. It should have been all the X-Men here, but Sinister had chosen his victim and timing well, waiting until there was a crisis that made pulling even these four out of battle iffy.

Jubilee, however, was a priority, and Generation X was simply not up to running against Sinister. If this was simply a quest for further exotic DNA, well・ that material would be isolated and destroyed. Jubilation's potential was 'Alpha' class, and not something anyone wanted accessed by a power-hungry maniac like Sinister.

If it was something other that Sinister hoped to obtain out of Jubilee・ all the X-Men shuddered at the possibilities.

"An' if we find the p'tit, what 'den cherie?" Remy queried, his staff in hand. Cold, hard and no jokes in his face or casualness in his demeanor, Gambit was a prince of thieves out for revenge. "If she be hurt, we wait for backup or・"

"At your best discretion, Gambit." Storm replied, frowning thoughtfully. "Call us, no matter what, but if you feel you must interceded immediately, do so."

"Oh, we'll do something." Logan growled, claws popping. "Let's bust-a-move, peoples. The kid ain't got time for us to lolly-gag around. Sinister's had her too long already." In was a remarkable show of self-control that he was still thinking. Emma's call as to the girl's abduction had sent Wolverine into an outright rage.

Time, Jean-Grey's telepathy and Storm's threat (that he would not join the team sent in to extract the girl) had sufficed to stifle his lean towards insanity, leaving behind anger and fear. Fear that the child he regarded as his own daughter would be beyond his ability to save. Anger at himself that his inattention had let this happen.

"Alright." Storm roused them all from their thoughts. "Keep in touch, and move-out. Do not try to engage Sinister alone, understand?"

Bobby glanced at Jean, nodding easily to that command. Maybe of Cyke were here, they'd have a chance against Sinister, but・ well, there was no going down that road. Wordlessly, but focused on his objective with no humor in mind, he slipped from the Blackbird and followed Gambit to an entry point.

The computer and equipment on the Blackbird made this a relatively safe point of entry, offering multiple routes in a rather complex corridor. Their best hope was in that they were not taking normal precautions. Sinister knew their patterns well, and never did an X-Men operate alone.

Unless that X-Man happened to be named "Wolverine" or "Gambit." More than not, those two would draw Sinister's attention and allow Storm, Jean and himself an opportunity to infiltrate deeper.

"Bien, go." Remy whispered as he secured an opening. "Good luck, homme."

"Et tu. Faites attention, et n'essayez pas d'être le héros." Bobby stifled a sudden grin at Remy's startled expression. Sure, French wasn't his first choice of language, but it wasn't like he didn't know it. Or at least, some of it. He had, after all, listened to Hank study it endlessly and some of the language was bound to rub off no matter how hard he tried to ignore the growled mutters about l'aison of the verbs.

Keeping close to the walls, the X-Men watched for security systems, whether they be digital cameras, laser trackers, or anything less humane. 'Can we short it?' Bobby pushed the thought at Jean. It would be easy to freeze the black consul on the wall beside large steel doors that led to the main body of the base.

'No.' Jean responded. 'Hank gave us a universal key to try.' Nodding her head towards Storm, Phoenix and Iceman watched with interest as a small metal device was drawn from the discreet leather pouch at the side of the Weather-mutant's uniform.

Silent as the thief she had been, Storm set it down on the panel, moving it easily over the surface and watching the readouts it gave. Bobby wasn't sure what the information meant, but she cycled back up and over an area of particular activity and pressed some side switch on the gadget.

The doors slid open. 'Neat. I wonder if Hank can make me one of those!' Experimentally slipping his head through the opening, Bobby glanced around for people, and then down at the floor for any sign of security preventatives. Nothing.

Still cautious, he reverted his body to a snow form, and then tried a new trick and slid his body into a pre-snowfall state, rather like a cloud -- nearly solid but not quite --and walked through the area. Nothing. His density didn't change.

"It's clear." He called, smirking at Storm's expression. A tough task-mistress, she'd never anticipated that he, lazy cocky Iceman would try to develop new applications of his ability.

"Indeed." Storm felt her mouth twitch in a smile. "Well then, split up, and good luck." With that, the Windrider opened her arms and departed, taking one of the openings between walkways and gliding down several floors.

"Gambit take the high road, n'est-ce pas?" The Cajun saluted, his glance mostly on Wolverine.

"I'll go low. Got'it." Logan agreed, heading off along the rightmost walk-way and to a large cold-air return. Claws popped out, and a second later, so did the grill. With a merry whistle, the Canadian disappeared from sight.

"That leaves us." Bobby glanced at Jean, a little worried about her mood. Ever since Scott's・ death・ she'd been so quiet, so removed. Leaving the team and rejoining it with such volatile displays of emotional pain. It didn't feel right to let her go through Sinister's little lair without a grounding influence in sight.

She looked at him blankly. "I can't sense Jubilee's thoughts, but there is a great deal of electrical current blocking me on the north end, underground."

Bobby nodded. "I'll take that. I can disrupt electricity without hurting myself. What about you?"

"Stands to reason that if there's so much energy vested north, I'd better check out where it's heading on the south end."

"Good enough." With less than a thought, he resolidified his body into solid ice, holding out a hand for Jean. "Will you do the honors, or me?"

It was a genuine smile that brightened her eyes, something he'd been trying to achieve for days. "Let me. You always make a mess." Her fingers, gloved and insolated, curled around his hand and she genuinely took in the warmth of his friendship.

Telekinesis held them with less than a whisper of a push. One moment solid ground was beneath his feet, the next・ well, it was like being in space without gravity. Smoothly Jean lifted them over the dividing rail between walk-way and open air in the factory like structure, and they lowered with a great deal of velocity, but not the feeling of dropping.

The ground floor was typical, a clean concrete floor, solid walls and steel trim abounding. Clean, crisp and it felt sterile. "There has to be an opening to the underground section somewhere." Bobby found himself muttering, his eyes not seeing a thing that suggested there was anything more below the factory.

"Sinister would conceal it." Jean theorized. "He would use whatever means would most confuse us, disorient us, or lead us astray.

Brown eyes slid to the corner of his eyes, watching her. "So?"

"It could be an illusion, or projected image making us walk right past an opening. Or, the walls could・"

"I get it." Frowning in concentration, Bobby broke his body apart from ice into a fine cold mist. It was hard doing this. His awareness was so scattered that retaining purpose of action became challenging, as was the awareness enough to recombine.

Was this how Cloud had felt?

Stretching out, he hugged oxygen molecules and let it push him into every solid or dense object・ and into each and every opening. Including the concealed one. Sucking his mass together took a minute, but once he had it, he converted from gas to solid. "Well, well."

'Bobby?' Jean's thought was tinged with panicked concern. 'Are you okay?'

In a gaseous state, she must not have been able to sense him. 'Yes.' He formed the thought in his mind and let her find it. 'Can you sense where I am?' Hands pressed against steel, the door not visible on the other side, but very distinctive once beyond it.

Solid, heavy and very broad, he didn't even feel Jean tap on it. He did feel her telekinetically reef it apart, though, shoving each segment back into the bays that secured it when in an open position. "Guess, so, huh?"

She hugged him. "Don't EVER do that to me again." She scolded. "I couldn't even hear normal mental activity. Nothing. It was like you didn't exist."

Bobby frowned, but he had existed. There was consciousness, loose and stretched paper thin, but a consciousness of being all the same. Wasn't that the same thing? "Sorry."

"Okay. So, now we split up." Jean breathed a low gust of air. "I don't sense Sinister around, but there is a lot of people down here. Keep a low profile, and shout if you need me."

"Ditto." Bobby grinned, feigning his usual cheerful careless demeanor for her benefit. "Go find the squirt, Jean. Wolverine gives great presents when you do nice things for him."

Jean smiled, pushing him away with a small telekinetic shove. "Shoo. Good luck."

"You too." He waited until she had turned down a corridor, heading south, before turning himself towards a general northerly direction. Keeping close to the walls, he paid special attention to where he sensed heat. That was another nifty thing he'd learned about his powers, that he could feel were bodies of temperature were, especially humans. The human body was made up of so much moisture, it amazed him he'd never considered feeling for those individual areas of concentrated liquid.

After all, he needed matter in a liquid or gaseous state to alter it's temperature, creating ice, snow, or any other unpleasant cold substance. 'I wonder if I can move my consciousness into remote areas of ice?'

This wasn't a time for experimentation, and mindful that Jubilee needed him more than he needed a new trick, he ignored the thought and pushed onwards, steering clear of any people.

'Wolverine's encountered Sinister.' Jean's voice slid into his head. 'Gambit is heading towards him as backup.' It was nothing more than a 'head's-up', not a call to rally. It was also, in some ways good news. If Sinister was with Remy and Logan, that meant he, Storm and Jean were clear to search without dire interruption.

'Hopefully, one of us finds her soon.' Bobby pushed himself tight against a pillar as two lab-coated individuals walked past. Sucking in his breath, he concentrated on not being seen・ right up until he heard them speak.

"・ looking good. I wouldn't mind a sample myself.' The one on the right, a brilliant red-head snickered. "Imagine force-growing your own woman, you could condition her to respond in certain ways, never an unfaithful thought. I'm telling you, it'd be a huge marketable success."

"But mutants? Do you know what this kid's ability is?" The other scientist was black, his deep voice American. Broad-shouldered and tall, he could have been Bishop's long-lost cousin. If Bishop had a cousin in the 21st century.

The smaller man shrugged, his back under close scrutiny by an icy and nearly livid mutant crouched close to the wall. "Something nuclear. Able to detonate on the sub-atomic level from what I've read in the boss's dossier about her."

"Amazing no one's missed her."

"Orphan. Perfect fodder for the boss. Y'know how he is. She's affiliated with the X-Men, which is why the Boss is leading them on a goose-chase."

'Not so chased, is this goose.' Bobby's eyes narrowed to slits. 'Jean・ I hope you're listening. I've got a lead, and it doesn't sound good.'

He felt her gentle touch whisper though his mind, gathering the relative and significant information he'd acquired. Nothing more, just a touch, no words, thoughts or her own impressions of the information.

He was moving before she was gone, creeping closer to the door the scientist's had left. A clean-room, decontaminating area with two double steel doors built to keep things in, not out. "I'll take door number one, Bob."

The large pillars on the right side of the room connected by an overhanging beam to a twin pillar on the left. The constructs weren't natural, and were part of the decontamination process. Eyeing them carefully, Bobby stepped closer to one and studied it. It depended on a shadow breaking a constant beam to trigger it, that was clear. So, how to avoid the trigger?

"Can't go over, under doesn't seem likely・" Bobby chewed thoughtfully on his lip, "Oh-boy." Squatting low, to the point he was nearly lying on the ground he studied the unit. Maybe under was possible. There was almost two inches off the ground before the beam started・ A puddle could slide from one side to the other no problem.

Bobby sighed. For all that he was proud of his latest accomplishments with his power, feeling exhausted all day tomorrow wasn't on his list of "fun" things to do. Still, there was a better than average chance Jubilee was beyond those doors・

His body slipped into a near-liquid state instantly, sliding across the floor like a quicksilver puddle of molten silver. The vibrational hum of the surveying laser hummed above him, an ever-present reminder of why he was pushing his powers to every limit.

Reaching the doors, the liquid consciousness slid up, hugging the steel and then slowly shifted into a hominid structure. Without hesitation, he slapped the open control on the doorframe, and the giant doors slid open.

And stepped into another entire world. A tri-floor structure with flooring encircling the room and a wide-open free-space from ground to ceiling containing a single ball of crystal suspended without any definitive point of contact.

Cautiously taking a step in, Bobby looked hard to his right and then left, seeing no one but aware of activity scurrying about. 'This is too weird.' Staying close to object he could use for cover, he move further into what he could only describe as a laboratory. Row upon row of computers lined the walls, flashing lights and monitors blinking in sequential order.

This was the source of the electricity Jean had felt, a concentration so intense it distorted her telepathy in this region. This wasn't the power center, but the application of the power. How could an operation this complex go undiscovered so long?

More importantly, what was Sinister doing down here?

Stepping beyond one structure, Bobby looked up into the crystal sphere, marking the flow of current springing inside it. Like a giant light bulb, only, a good look at the filament and his stomach utterly turned. Her body glowing, muscles jerking sporadically in response to the stimulus, Jubilee was wide-eyed and beyond screaming.

'Oh, God, Jubilee・ what are they doing to you?' Bobby looked frantically for a way to block the current without causing her further pain. To put any moisture in there, though, would kill her.

Brown eyes, angry and intent with a new resolve to stop this nightmare, snapped away from the girl to study the room with cold care. He wasn't Hank, scientist supreme, but he wasn't stupid either. Sinister's people were trying to "force-grow" her, develop her biology to the point where the fullest blossoming of mutant powers were secured. What they would do with her after that, well・ Bobby didn't want to go there.

Scanning the three floors quickly, Bobby counted perhaps thirty various technicians and scientists in the room. In various shapes and sizes, there were no apparent mutations, no indicators that these people were other than human researchers, nothing except the inhuman way they participated in torturing this girl. On the second tier, a central console was positioned in front of the approximate foci for the electrical currents. Watching their subject with care, and yet also paying close attention to their monitors for the field results the three white-coats earned the bulk of Bobby's instant hatred. These were the men in control of the experiment, their blank expressions focused on their victim and the digital board laid out in front of them.

It was child's play shorting the board out. Electrical machinery, computers and even magnets didn't really like moisture, especially COLD moisture.

"Power down! Stat!" A technician screamed shrilly as electricity sparked across the board. "Shut the generators or everything will blow."

As if the entire system was controlled by a light-switch, everything shut down, including the radiation blasting Jubilee's abused body. She slumped, dropping to the floor of her crystal prison like a rag doll or marionette, given the ways various cords, tubes and other invasive connections hooked to her body.


"Don't bother. She's out cold. Won't need it. Get those boards fixed fast, before the boss gets down here. We're almost completed phase I." One of the leader's called out, turned away from Jubilee.

Bobby eased behind a structural support moving closer to the sphere. Still, only partially seeing Jubilee from where he was it was mostly a result of the way he watched the people around him. They were all his enemy, as was the risk of discovery. Getting Jubilee out of that shell would cause a lot of noise, he didn't see how he could extract her, unhook her from all that equipment and then escape without too much of a resistance raised against him. So, instead, he eyed another computer panel, smirking slightly as he pondered just how much frustration the geeks could take. Geeks and their computers, after all.

"Found the short." Bobby's lips thinned in disgust. He hated competence. Less than ten minutes, and they'd solved their first problem. He'd have to make sure the next spark was far bigger. "We'll be up and running in five."

There really wasn't much option but to wait them out. He glanced back at the crystal prison, wincing at the curled lump Jubilee had instinctively balled her body into. She was thinner than when he'd last seen her a few weeks ago, perhaps taller. Even her hair was longer.

'They've had her less than twelve hours・' Bobby's heart froze, his eyes studying more intently. Already so old beyond her years, his mind couldn't accept what he knew had happened intellectually with what the physical evidence presented.

"Boss is coming back." A voice called, jerking Bobby from his horror. "Look busy people." Great. Sinister. Did that mean Gambit and Wolverine were okay, or not? Jean hadn't said・ another board sparked electricity, eliciting a groan from the men and women in the lab and another silent groan from Bobby.

'Electrical interference, dope?' Closing his eyes for a moment, Bobby tried to revise his plans. How long would it take Sinister to get here, anyway? And could he see Bobby from the door if he came in that way?

A scraping sound grabbed everyone's immediate attention as Jubilee's wrist slid against her crystal prison. The cords digging into her wrist making a horrid sound on the glassy cage. Palm flattening, her shoulder's heaved as her body shifted from prone to hands and knees.

'Jubilation?' Slender, the baby-fat gone from her body, Bobby knew he wasn't seeing any fourteen year old, this was a grown woman. Sleek, limbs somewhat akimbo since she wasn't familiar with her revised body, she trembled like a newborn colt.

The head tilted back, looking up to the ceiling of the dome and her hair cascaded along her shoulders to cover her back. No light, no sparkles, none of the sound and roar of her mutant skills manifested but, within the space of a heartbeat her prison suddenly imploded. Terrifically sharp shards of crystal rained down torrentially on her naked tired body.

'No!' Bobby spun a shield of ice around her, cocooning her body completely before he went through the painful task of sliding the ice towards him. 'Was I fast enough? Jeez・ what was she thinking of?' Slowly, steadily and very cautious that too long would deplete Jubilee's air supply, he coaxed the ice closer.

Screams surrounded the room, men and woman springing down to the lowest platform where Jubilee should have been. There wasn't much time for Bobby to dawdle, so he didn't risk it. 'God, can the rest of the team get down here a LITTLE GODDAMN BIT FASTER? Surely by now they've gotten the clue from Jeanie?'

One step forward, and his hand rested on the cocoon, absorbing the ice back into and of himself and liberating Jubilee. 'Christ.' She reacted without thinking, shooting plasma in a radiant beam towards his head. "Jubes・ I'm the good guy, remember?" He tried to whisper to her, fearing she was beyond listening.

Blue eyes closed, face lax, she seemed more on automatic than conscious. "Frosticle?" The weary murmur tore into Bobby's soul, more for the warmth he felt at her recognition. The body was a stranger, but the voice and eyes were so well-known. Slipping out of his icy-state, he pulled her up, ignoring the fact she was naked, or that her body and possibly mind had been prematurely aged and twisted by Sinister's little goons. Cradling her close, he moved back into the shelter of the structure's pillars, slipping into shadows and out of the immediate sight of the techs.

She was shivering, not that Bobby blamed her. It was a likely combination of shock, cold and exposure on an exhausted body. "It's okay, Jubes. Everything will be fine." He cooed encouragingly, soothing her just as he would a newborn and hungry infant. "Can you walk?" He whispered close to her ear, running one hand up and down her back soothingly. "Or try?"

Jubilee nodded, though she clung tight to the arm bracing her upper body up. Arm flat across her back, his one hip bolstering her up as she practically sprawled against his warm chest, she really didn't see how she could possibly move a single muscle. "I'll try." The whisper was broken, thin.

Bobby frowned. Sure, she'd try and fail. No matter what else she'd endured before, never had Jubilation been so unaware of her environment or self. No matter how she was horsing around with the others, or her own age-group, she was a typical fourteen year old and painfully self-conscious.

Never in a million years would she ignore her own cold tired body, forget her lack of clothing, or cling to anyone unless she was beyond her last measure of strength. Walk? He thought not. Scooping her up without any resistance from her, he ran for the doors, this time not giving a damn about the decontamination units. Alarms went off like the Fourth of July celebrations, the huge doors at the other end automatically starting to close. "Crap."

Plasma singed the air and the doors exploded.

Bobby glanced down at the tiny woman huddled in his arms and felt his eyebrow arch. Was this the full maturity of her powers Sinister had craved? If so, Bobby was starting to understand why. Those doors, he was willing to bet, were admantanium. She'd literally torn the molecules of the strongest metal known to mankind apart as if they were cobwebs when she was physically pushed beyond endurance..

There wasn't time to wonder at the phenomenon or worry about where the rest of the team was, unfortunately. He just kept moving, staying in human form for the sake of the burden cuddled close to his chest. The cold of his ice-shape would do her far to much harm to justify taking that recourse.

Down corridors and along the path that had led him to the labs he barreled through technicians, scientists, and the guards that tried to stop him. It wasn't ethical, but he didn't care, he literally froze the very blood flow in his opponents body, triggered migraines, strokes or heart-attacks. If these bastards could be so unethical to use a child like this, well, he could be equally as unethical about whether they lived or died.

Sliding to a stop beside the first tech to fall over before Bobby could pass him, he set Jubilee down and jerked the coat off the fallen man. Blood wept from the man's ears, but Bobby just ignored it. There would be time later to regret his choices, but in the here and now, only Jubilee mattered. Quickly and with more consideration of the need to minimize her exposure to environmental factors, he wrapped the coat around Jubilee. Securing it so it wasn't too tight, but definitely covering any point of contact his body made with hers, he scooped her up and iced up.

Sliding via his ice-slides made transport faster, easier and he could dodge any of the Sinister's little parasites of society. Keeping his ice thick to absorb shocks from guns, he pushed his powers further than he had before, welcoming the hard lesson Emma had taught him. He hadn't even found his limit, yet.

The girl shivered in his arms, something he regretted but didn't know of a way to prevent. Once they were on the blackbird, well, the medbay was stocked sufficient to tend to her immediate needs. The rest・ he doubted Hank could undo what Sinister had wrought.

"Jubes・ listen." He jarred her a little, giving a slight nudge with the hand curled onto her shoulder. "Are you with me, squirt? Can you blow the doors at the end of the hall, here?" He coaxed, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the doors Jean and he had first passed by. Jean had slid them back into position so as to be less noticeable.

Theoretically, he could have pushed them apart, but there just wasn't enough time for that. "Jubes?" Okay, maybe there would have to be time for ・

The doors slid into the recesses, slowly, Bobby tensing with every inch. Ready to turn about and take whatever hits might be coming, thereby sparing Jubilee, his face broke into an icy grin to see the X-Men.

Wolverine looked a little singed, but all in all, they were ready for a scrap. All eyes were fixed on the huddled bundle in his arms with questions shining on their faces. "Later," Bobby urged as he moved past the doors. "I really think we should leave first, ask questions later."

The doors slid shut behind him, silencing the shouts of guards and goons as they raced to recapture their master's prize. "Sinister's gonna be really pissed with me after what I did."

He deiced immediately, relieved when Jubilee stopped shivering so violently. The cotton labcoat really wasn't enough to protect her, but it was the best that Bobby had to offer. "Gambit?" Brown eyes reached for the red-mutant gaze of the Cajun thief. "Could you・?"

Wordlessly, Remy slipped his leather overcoat off and held it open, ready to receive Jubilee into his undoubtedly warmer arms. It wasn't a burden Bobby gave up lightly, but it made more sense. Gambit's body temperature wouldn't have an adverse effect on the girl, and right now as much as Logan wanted to protect her, he was better doing so as a fighter.

"Is she.." Storm's voice broke off, one hand reaching up to touch the girl's cheek. Jubilee stirred uncomfortably, curling closer into Gambit's chest.

"Alive. She's probably hurting." Bobby let the curt anger fill his voice. "Let's get her out of here. She needs more help than we can offer, right now." What Jubilee needed was Hank, her friends and her family's undivided support. "Logan, can you keep Sinister off of us?"

"You bet, kid." Logan growled, dark eyes fixed on his protegee's wan face. "Be happy to."

Bobby nodded. "Then, let's go." He hadn't meant to override Storm's clear wish to understand what was happening, but hey, he hadn't hung around Scott all those years without knowing when a retreat was a good thing.

'I'll take lead.' Jean's voice eased into their minds, connecting them all loosely and non-intrusively. 'Logan the rear. Gambit, you must stay in the middle.'

Gambit nodded, letting Storm guard his rear and Bobby his front, staggered so that Bobby was front right, and Storm rear left. Interceptor positioning. "No one touch de cherie." He swore, his chin brushing Jubilee's dark head. "An' later. We show Sinister precisely what de price is for messing wi' one of our own, ne?"

'Couldn't say it better.' Bobby silently agreed, following Jean but keeping an eye out for trouble. The entire base had to know that their project had been compromised. No one would stand idly by and let Jubilee just disappear. Especially not Sinister.

Two floors, no problem. It helped that Jean had each and every door telekinetically sealed shut, but even that seemed too easy. 'Where's Sinister?' That old demon seemed able to slide between space and matter, it didn't seem right that a few doors kept him from interfering. 'I shouldn't have thought that, should I? It's just asking him to--'

True enough, Wolverine let out an incredibly feral growl, pushing past Bobby to a position just in front of Jean as Sinister stepped out of thin air. Claws raked down the black leather chest seconds before Sinister blasted Wolverine back.

Jean scarcely had time to catch Wolverine before he could fall down to the lowest level. It would have shattered his spine.

"I'll take my prize back, thank you, X-Men." Sinister stared straight at Jubilee, ignoring the X-Men as if they were mere inconsequential wisps of clouds.

"Je pense que non." Gambit growled, letting Iceman, Storm and Jean all take a defensive position in front of him. It wasn't his nature to stay out of a fight, but to protect Jubilee, he'd gladly take this rear position.

The floor around Sinister slicked to ice, and Storm used her lightening to set it off electrically. Even grounded with rubber, it should have had some reaction, but Sinister didn't flinch.

Logan, behind Sinister from the way Jean had positioned him, threw himself at the unguarded back. It was a distraction buying time, Sinister's twisting to counter the beserker fury behind him leaving Jean with a powerful opening.

Eyes narrowed, she lived up to her pseudonym of "Phoenix" as she crashed through each and every shield the monster had. There was no way she could overpower or seize his mind for a long duration of time, but she hoped to have enough of a chance to do some good severe mental damage.

The demon's eyes went wide, hand's clamping to either side of his head as he battled the intruder in his mind. Bobby took the opening to freeze him in position, incasing his limbs in solid ice to the neck. Reaching behind, Iceman grabbed Gambit's arm, pulling him onto an ice-slide and went around Sinister. Seconds. They just had seconds, and yet... it worked.


"AAAARrgh!" Sinister roared, body straining, flexing and shattering the ice. Jean fell to her knees bonelessly, defeated and exhausted.

Storm took a position in front of her friend, expecting an attack when none was forthcoming. "I will have Jubilation!" He bellowed, his attention not at all centered on the two women, but on Gambit's retreating back.

Blast upon blast of power crashed into the Cajun, some of it absorbed by his costume, but not all. Wolverine lay one hand on Gambit's shoulder, shoving the Cajun behind his stocky build and took on the blows in lieu of the mutant thief. "Go." Wolverine barked.

Bobby iced on, moving Gambit into lead position. Even if only the two of them got away, it was worth the price. The X-Men knew the risks, it wasn't for Jubilee to pay the price of this lifestyle.

Wolverine's howl of pain made Bobby push harder and faster. Too little, too late, as the radiant power under Sinister's control crashed through the ice a scant foot between Gambit and Bobby.

Preternaturally skilled, Gambit twisted his body to land on his knees, not loosing his grip on Jubilee. There was no one between himself and Sinister now. Drake was moving, but not nearly fast enough. His staff in hand, he spun it fast and furious, charging it up as it spun. It would be over his cold, stiff unanimated corpse that Sinister got his hands on de petite again.

Sinister smiled, an expression Gambit reciprocated, both with feelings of contempt and disgust at the other. "So, you gonna scare Gambit to death, or do sumtin" The Cajun taunted.

"Give me the child, Gambit, and you can walk away. Just as before."

Gambit shook his head. "Non, homme. Gambit been down dat road. Never again." The staff spun on, the speed enough to deflect a few of Sinister's little blasts. If the big man tried hand-to-hand, though・ well, Gambit could always brain him for a bit.

"The child is mine, now." Sinister inched closer. "Mine to do with as I please."


A heavy weight smashed against his skull, and Gambit slipped to his knees. 'Quoi?' Hazily, he turned but Jubilee was still sprawled on the ground, eyes open but too weak to move. A pair of hairy inhuman feet filled Remy's vision, and he looked up into a fanged muzzle.

"Goodbye, Lebeau. It's been・ an unpleasant association best suited to end." Sinister laughed from behind.

"Non." Cards flickered in Remy's hands, charged with less than a second of contact and hurling into the maw of that fanged creature. The explosion was sufficient to shred the skull, the corpse falling backwards and tripping over Jubilee's prone body.

Sinister's growl was a satisfying reward, but the burning in his back wasn't all that pleasant. "Aargh." Falling forward, Gambit sprawled protectively above Jubilee. "Petite. Now a good time for you to paff de bad guy, n'est-ce pas?"

Jubilee must have agreed, the blue eyes shut, then opened, blue fading from her iris and replacing with the same molten glow of her plasma. "Oui." She whispered, gaze fixing on Sinister.

Bobby touched down just behind the two X-Men, facing Sinister head on. Only, their enemy bore little to no attention on him, his jaw falling slack as his body convulsed. "What is she doing to him?" He asked, stunned.

Storm, supporting Jean drifted behind Sinister. "She's imploding him." Jean gaped, stunned. Instinctively, she pulled her weary mind away from Sinister, reinforcing her own shields. "My, God, Jubilee!"

"No more. Just, no more." The girl murmured, eyes not seeing, just staring blankly at the space Sinister occupied. Sinister screamed horribly, dropping to his knees, and then just falling still.

With the same curiosity of his namesake, Wolverine prodded his enemy, sniffing tentatively. "He's not dead." Was the verdict, spoken as if disappointed. "Not good, but still not dead. Too bad, I guess."

Jubilee sighed, a weary little thing as she pushed her body upright, clutching Gambit's coat close as her own awareness of self returned. "I didn't want to kill him, just・ stop him." Eyes heavy, but still determined to move on her own volition, she reached for the hand Bobby instinctively offered and let him pull her upright.

Tottering unsteadily, her body alien to her, she was instantly aware of just how drastic the changes were. No one towered over her, or at least, not as much as before. 'I barely made it to below Gambit's collarbone・ now・' Shuddering at the implications, she lost her balance somewhat, falling back against Bobby. "Please・ let's just go home. I just want this ended." Even her voice sounded odd, to her own perception.

Wordlessly, Bobby slipped an arm around her shoulder, pushing her towards the edge of the railing. "Jeanie?" He kept his voice low, soothing. "Could you・"

"Allez-oop." With a small smile to hide her own fatigue, Jean gathered all the X-Men into a telekinetic cluster and lifted them to the top floor, the bubble deflecting any shots the various perimeter safeguards could toss.

Bobby kept a grip on Jubilee, keenly aware of how unstable she was on her feet. All the coordination and agility she had known was tossed away due to a forced growth spurt. Now, she'd have to relearn everything. Including who she was. 'We'll help you, Jubes.'

Remy slipped ahead, securing the opening that led to the blackbird, while Storm activated the screening device to lower the bird back down to the ground. It was a defensive mechanism, based on the auto-pilot that helped give the X-Men a longer window of opportunity.

Leaving it unguarded risked having the plane tampered with. Setting it on a defensive auto-pilot, however, kept it tamper free, still mobile and moving out of aerial assault, and yet within their recall.

Jubilee hesitated at the stairs, her lower lip between her teeth with bruising force. The steps seemed so severe, and she just didn・t feel like she had the coordination to judge them properly. 'I'm tired, I'm so tired.'

"Let me, Jubes, please." Bobby coerced, dropping both his hands to her waist and tightening. Easily, lifting her up and positioning her on the top step. "Go sit down."

Jean scampered up the stairs next, keeping a careful monitoring eye on Jubilee's progress while the men exchanged a long silent look of concern. "Hank will need to have a look at her." Wolverine growled irritably. "I'd like to go back and slice into Sinister. Jubes never had to have someone help her like that before. No matter what."

Gambit shrugged philosophically. "Dunno, homme. Gambit learned dat every'un need a hand now and den." Sweeping past the other two, he climbed the stairs behind Storm. "We do what we have do, make tin's right."

Logan shook his head, irritable, angry and wanting to pound something. "Whatever." He growled, giving Bobby a long evil glare.

"What?" Bobby held his hands up blankly. "What did I do this time?" He scampered up behind Logan, looking around quickly to see the bulk of the team in their seats, Jubilee near the window and already asleep. Logan still glowered fiercely at everyone as he possessively took the seat beside Jubilee, leaving Bobby to sigh in resignation and turn for the cockpit. All in all, he was safer giving Storm a hand.

Fini, Part One
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