Save for the Grace: Parts 1 - 9

by Wallace

Disclaimer: Many of the characters and concepts contained within are the sole property of Marvel Comics. Do I look like a major comic-book publishing company?

Note: This one may not be everyone's cup of tea, hence the rating. If you've been living in a box all your life, back away now.

I honestly don't know where it came from.

Continuity: Erm, haven't read X-Men Unlimited. Leave out Hollywood, though, and the rumoured situation is the background for this story.

Girl 1

When I was a kid, I thought I knew where I was going.

Generally, I was going to the mall, sometimes by way of the gym.

It all looked simple ...after all, I was a twelve-year-old American with rich parents. Life was going to be easy, and there were certain things I'd never have to worry about.

But then my rich parents died, and there was the orphanage ...which was bad ...and then juvie ...which was worse ...and four years on here I am.

Jubilation Lee, Teen Prostitute. Eat your heart out, Jodie Foster.

I used to think I was going somewhere. I used to know how to get there.

These days? Well, I may be going nowhere, but I still know how to get there. The way is right here, in the needle and then in the vein.

You know you're an addict when you can't get through an ordinary day without a fix. The way my life is, though, it's pretty much a miracle I only shoot up once every twenty-four hours.

Of course, in my line of work you can't afford the most reliable, honest or consistent of suppliers. This time, I've got it off Aleister, who's not too bad, though kind of creepy ...he likes to pretend he's some deep and powerful mystic. He might be right, for all I care ...his shit hasn't killed me yet, and he doesn't overcharge or get a kick out of hurting women, and really that's all that matters these days.

I'm lying on my back watching the ceiling move and listening to Aleister do some crazy incantation in yet another of his attempts to contact other worlds when suddenly ...everything shifts. There's a bright white light, and for a moment I think I've finally gone Roast Turkey and it's goodnight, sweetheart, but then I realise I'm just no longer in Aleister's dark and smelly basement, and the sunlight is blinding me. It's a relief ...better a blackout than a full-on OD.

It takes me a few moments to think about getting up, and when I do I see I'm lying on the edge of an empty lot full of junk. The skyline tells me I'm still in LA, and nowhere near Aleister's place. My clothes are intact, but there's no sign of my bag, no clue how I got here, and judging by the fact that I can still feel the heroin doing me good I wasn't unconscious very long at all. Unless whoever it was brought me here gave me another shot while I was out.

I make it to a lamppost and lean against it to watch the traffic and remind myself just why you should never try crossing the street while high. While I'm doing this, I remember that my keys were in my bag, and I'm going to have to try to get back to Aleister's place or I won't be able to go home. For a moment I find myself missing Harvey, but isn't that the way of men, never there when you need them?

Before I can even pick a direction to walk in, though, a man does turn up, skidding a bright red convertible to a halt beside me.

'Jubilee?' He says in surprise, and I turn to look at him. He's not familiar ...I don't know anyone with grey skin.

'Know ya?' I ask. The world's moving funny, and he can't really have grey skin, so there's no telling what else about him I'm not seeing right. He stares at me in shock for a moment, and then grabs my arm. Oops, left off my jacket. Bad little Jubilation, leaving the track marks out for anyone in the world to see. Grey guy obviously knows what they are, too, because he starts swearing in Spanish.

'Get in the car.' He says. I may be high, but I'm not that high.

'Eighty bucks.' I tell him. Too bad my knife was in my bag along with almost everything else. For some reason the price seems to shock him. 'C'mon, rich boy, Harvey told you my name, he must have told you the price range.' I look around, but can't see the son-of-a-bitch anywhere. He must be looking after one of the others.

Grey guy just carries on staring at me for a moment, and then says, 'You're not Jubilee.' I resent that comment...wouldn't you?

'Fuck, I am. Jubilation Lee, Jubilee. Do you actually want me to go with you, or do you wanna stand here arguing all day?'

Grey guy seems to come to a decision. He goes for his wallet, and gives me a hundred-dollar bill. I don't have change, and I tell him so; he just gestures to get in the car, and when I do he drives off, fast.

Girl 2

It's been a long and glorious day in the life of this mutant mall- rat. A dozen of the finest shops LA has to offer have been left reeling in the face of Jubilation Lee, Shopping Machine, and I'm loaded with shopping bags and stuffed with junk food when I drag myself out of the taxi outside Emma's apartment building. The doorman helps me get all my stuff into the lift, and when it gets to the top floor I just drag everything into the hall and then head over to fetch Skin to carry some of my purchases.

When I open the door I'm met by the sight of Angelo ...who should have had a highly relaxing day, cruising in the kind of car his kind of guy has wet dreams about ...looking about as stressed as I've ever seen him. As I enter he starts violently and then just stares at me for a moment.

'Uh, Ange? Is there . . . a problem?'



'You might wanna come and see this.' He starts to head for my bedroom.

'Hey! Whatever it is, it can wait 'till after you've helped me carry my shopping in.' He seems to wrestle with that for a moment, and then comes and drags my stuff into the apartment and me into my bedroom.

And that's where I see her for the first time, lying passed out in my bed. Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you didn't have superpowers? Well, looking at Barely Legal Hooker Jubilee With Needle-Track Accessories, looking like skin and bones with far too much makeup, I get an idea who I would be.

You could say it's a shock, if you like understatement.

Girl 1.

 I fell asleep in one of the nicest cars I・ve ever been in. I wake up in one of the nicest bedrooms I・ve ever been in. Judging by the d・or, I don・t think it belongs to Grey Guy, either. It・s furnished primarily in white, with shades of cream and pale grey on the soft furnishings. It・d be kind of stark, if it wasn・t for the fact that the contents of a very brightly-coloured wardrobe ・and, looking closer, laundry basket ・appear to have exploded across the floor.

I・m alone in here, my clothes are still intact, and it looks like I was just laid on the bed to sleep it off. My boots are on the floor nearby, and I pick them up and carry them as I head for the door.

On the other side of it I can hear grey guy talking.

・No way. There is no chance in hell . . .・

・C・mon, Ange. What are the chances of you running across her in the first place?・ It・s a girls voice, familiar. I can・t quite place it. ・What have we got so far, then?・

・Okay. First on the list. Skrull. Wouldn・t they need to sample you or something first?・

・They already did, on the Shi・ar throneworld, back when I was . . . y・know. But can we not dwell on that, ・cause it involved a naked Professor Xavier, which I really don・t want to remember.・

・So that・s a possibility.・ He pauses. ・Clone. Who・d make one?・



・・Kay. Probably not a clone, then.

・Next. Alternate reality version of you, possibly nonmutant. I like that one.・

・I don・t. I mean, did you see her arms, Ange? She・s, like, Ewan Macgregor in Trainspotting, and I mean that in a bad way. No way would I end up like that.・

Me. They・re talking about me. Obviously I look a lot like the girl ・ and, God, she sounds kind of like I do, too, which is why her voice sounds familiar ・and they・re trying to work out who I am. While being certifiably insane, or at least delusional. The grey guy ・Ange ・is still talking.

・Long-lost close relative, possibly identical twin, but that・s even less likely than the clone possibility. And that・s all our possibilities.・

・Yeah. So ・waitaminuit! It・s Mystique! She・s made herself look like that to play with Wolvie・s mind.・

・So why did she come with me, then?・

I don・t know what to think of these people, but somehow I don・t think they・re gonna be too happy about my leaving. Still carrying my boots, I head over to the window. Which reveals that we・re something like thirty floors up and the fire escape is nowhere near. So I turn back to the door just in time to see it opening, to reveal Ange ・who really is grey, and his skin looks kinda flaky ・standing next to this little girl who looks . . .

She・s got blue eyes. I concentrate on that. She・s got blue eyes, and far more flesh on her bones ・though it looks like lean muscle more than anything else, this little girl obviously never had to stop going to the gym ・and she・s wearing this horrifically loud yellow trenchcoat when I never wear anything that isn・t black or earth tones, and fuck, but she looks young, she looks about as young as I really am.

If it wasn・t for all that, I・d think I was looking in a mirror.

Girl 2.

When I was with the X-Men, we saw this kind of thing every day. Well, every week at least. The world is full of evil shapeshifters, sinister masters of illusion, and insane geneticists, all with a mad-on for the number one mutant crew.

So I・m sitting with Ange, listing the possibilities, when I hear movement from my room, which is where he stashed her (without so much as a by-your-leave). Ange hears it too, so we both get up and head over to the door. On the other side of it ・there she stands, in all her skanky glory, staring at me like ・well, like I stared at her earlier.

・Who the hell are you?・ She asks ・not recovered from the shock of seeing me, yet, but trying to cover, which suggests either Angelo is right and she really isn・t some kind of supervillain, or she・s a really, really good actor. While I・m thinking this, Ange is answering for both of us.

・Angelo Espinoza. This is my friend, Jubilation Lee. Jubilee, meet Jubilee.・ That shocks her all over again. She stares at me.

・Heya.・ I say, trying to be flip and almost managing. ・Any idea how you ended up in the wrong reality?・

・What the fuck you talking about?・ She demands; she・s afraid, and trying to hide it by aggression; where have I seen that before? She does a pretty good job, too; she just doesn・t quite have the self-confidence. People can say what they want about my dress sense, but one thing it does do is make me more noticeable.

・What does the word, ・Mutant・, mean to you, J?・ I ask her conversationally.

Girl 1.

The other me and grey guy Angelo keep on interrupting and talking over each other, but they both agree on the gist of what they・re telling me. As best they can make out, I・m from some kind of weird, sci-fi, alternate reality, and in this world they have this subspecies of humanity called ・mutants and . . . well, a brief history of their world and its problems. The other me is loud and cheerful and keeps shouting her friend down and arguing points with him, and she can make fireworks just by thinking about it, and apparently this automatically qualifies her for an all-bills-paid lifestyle fighting prejudice and injustice across America.

It・s enough to make me feel sick.

Even with their evidence ・even with a superhero press conference being shown live on CNN ・I have trouble believing them, so they offer to let me use their ・phone. I don・t like that, so then they both walk me down to the nearest payphone.

Harvey・s number is cut off. I try a couple of the girls, and don・t get anything familiar. Either they・re telling me the truth or there・s been a massive conspiracy while I was unconscious.

I・m really not sure which option I prefer.

Then the other me starts offering me a change of clothes, and arguing with Angelo about where I should sleep, and comments that she・s gonna have to take me shopping, soonest, and it occurs to me ・they・ve picked me up off the street, and now they・re going to keep me. Like a pet.

 Girl 1.

I・ve been here nearly thirty-six hours and they haven・t let me out of their sight. Blue eyes seems to follow me around, making sure I・m alright. She・s been up before me the last two mornings, and pretty much lives on sugar, which keeps her bouncing off the walls until well after I go to bed.

I make her nervous.

・You don・t like me.・ I tell her. I・m eating breakfast, cooked by Angelo, who・s been going out of his way either to be nice to me or to get into my pants. I・m reserving judgement on that one.

The other me kind of starts at that, and looks like she・s going to argue, but then settles for, ・You don・t like me much either.・

・Gee, I wonder why not?・ I say.

・Well?・ She asks. She has a seriously intent stare.

・I asked first.・ I・m evading the question, but she・s kind of reluctant to answer me too. I don・t need her to, though. ・Could it be because when you look at me you see what you・d probably be if you didn・t have super powers and a nice, racially elitist sugar daddy looking out for you as a result?・ She reacts like I・ve just hit her.

・The Professor is not a racist.・

・Give. A. Shit. Whatever his reasons, he・s the only reason you・re not where I am.・ She・s on her feet now, tensed and ready, and I suddenly realise that not only does she have the ability to make the air explode at will, which she says she never uses on people, but she・s also in much better shape than me physically. I・m skinny and undernourished; she・s lean and healthy and probably knows how to fight.

It・s Angelo who breaks it up, stepping between us and just staring at her ・till she backs down.

・What do you want?・ He asks me. I look down at my hands. They・re shaking, and I drop them into my lap, below the tabletop.

・I want to know why you・re doing this.・ I ask him, but it・s Jubilee who answers.

・It・s like you said ・you・re me. That・s, like, closer than sisters. You・re family, pretty much all I・ve got ・my parents are dead, and I guess yours must be too, otherwise you wouldn・t be . . .・ She trails off.

・Wouldn・t be what? Wouldn・t be sucking dicks to pay for my habit?・ I suddenly can・t take it any more, and I get up and rush out.

Girl 2.

She・s been using my room, with me on the living room couch, and that・s where I find her after Angelo・s gone out, curled up on the bed. She isn・t crying.

・Are you okay?・ I ask. She turns to stare at me, and I get an answer. She looks ill ・trembling and pale.

・I should be working.・ She whispers.

・On the street?・ The idea is disgusting, all the more so because of who she looks like.

・At least I・d be supporting myself.・

・Your pride that important to ya, huh?・

・What else have I got?・ I sit on the bed beside her.

・Me.・ I tell her, and I mean it. ・I meant what I said in there. I・m not going to stop looking out for you just because I don・t like where you・ve been.・ I grab her hand; it・s clammy, and damp with sweat. ・What・s wrong with you? Is there anything I can do to help?・

・I dunno. Do you know a good dealer?・ She asks, and there・s an edge of hysteria to her voice. I shouldn・t be surprised ・she hasn・t bothered to hide the needle marks from us.

・Jubilee.・ I tell her. I grab her face and force eye contact. ・You don・t need it. It・s all in your head. You can beat it.・ She grins at that.

・You don・t know much about drugs, do you, Jubilee?・ She asks, ugly emphasis on our name and self-disgust heavy in her voice. ・What I am is a user, abuser and addict of heroin, an opiate made by refining morphine and notable for dulling the senses, numbing pain, inducing euphoria and eventually killing you. One major side effect of prolonged use of heroin is an enlargement of the nerve bundle situated at the base of the spinal column, leading to massive ill-health, nausea, vomiting, and physical disability unless placated with further application of opiates. The short version is that once you・re addicted to heroin you stay that way until it kills you.・ She laughs, mirthlessly. ・In other words, no I can・t beat it.・

・How much do you need?・ I can・t believe I just asked her that.

Girl 1.

It・s been a long wait, but the knowledge that she can find me a fix makes this part easier. I・ve been hiding the need since yesterday afternoon, but now it・s simply a countdown. She said two hours, and I spend the time getting ready. I left my equipment in Aleister・s basement, but I・ve got the run of this apartment (Emma・s apartment, it belongs to a woman named Emma), and it doesn・t take me long to find an antique table-lighter and a silver plate serving spoon, all I need to cook up. I take a bottle of water from the fridge and bring them all back to our room. I・ll use one of her belts to swell a vein ・she・s got half a dozen, scattered around ・so all I need is a syringe. I could bypass all this and just snort whatever she brings me, but I・ve been mainlining since my fifteenth birthday, and I really don・t think I・m likely to stop now.

Luckily, this Emma lady keeps a well-equipped medicine cupboard. I find two-dozen disposable needles in the bathroom, all nicely plastic- wrapped. I wonder if she・s diabetic, or if she just gives really interesting parties.

Probably the latter, as there・s also five adrenaline shots neatly lined up on the same shelf.

I take one needle with me and dump it with everything else. Then I flick on the TV and I・m about to start channel hopping when I have to rush back into the bathroom and get rid of the lovely fried breakfast Angelo made for me. It tastes a lot worse coming up, but I barely notice.

I・m still feeling miserable when blue eyes gets back, looking almost as bad as I feel and carrying a twist of paper in one hand and a free clinic needle in the other. I manage to slip the one I dug up under the bed when I see this; never know when she・ll decide to cut me off.

Girl 2.

Watching the other me cook up is probably the single most horrifying thing I・ve ever seen, bar none.

She heats powder and water in a silver spoon and then carefully sucks the mixture up the needle. She taps it, then glances at me.

・Knock out the air bubbles.・ She says weakly, and then picks up a belt that she・s laid out ready and puts it round her right bicep. She・s taken off her shirt for this, and I can see that there・s a lot more marks on her left arm than her right.

She holds the end of the belt in her teeth, and reaches for the needle. I glance at her face and have to look away; her eyes make me think of Emplate.

When put my hand over the needle, she just looks tragic.

・Why?・ I ask her. I have to know.

・Too late to stop now, blue eyes.・ She says quietly.

・Why・d you start?・

・Wasn・t doing anything better with my life.・ She・s whispering now, and I think she・s going to cry, but along with the sorrow she・s practically radiating raw need. I take my hand away, and she puts the belt back in her mouth and then picks up the needle.

I can・t look away.

She squirts a couple of drops from the tip, and then slides it into her arm. I watch as she draws a little blood up to cloud the mixture pink, and it・s the most fascinating thing I・ve ever seen.

That・s my blood, mixing with the heroin.

And suddenly Skin is there, his eyes burning red as he shoves me aside, his other hand extending to snatch the needle from her grasp. I didn・t even here him come in ・neither of us did, too absorbed ・and now she leaps at him with a cry of angry need and he just knocks her to the floor.

I start to my feet, and he glances at me once.

・Get out.・ He says.

・Ange . . .・ I begin.

・Get out. I・ll talk to you later.・ I have to leave. I can・t imagine ever obeying Angelo, but this time I do.

Girl 1.

His eyes are red and his skin stretches, raising his brows and sharpening his cheekbones as he stares at me. Then he looks down at the needle he・s still holding in his right hand.

・Please.・ I whisper. He looks up at me. ・Whatever you want.・ I mean it, too, and I・m already reaching for his fly when I meet his gaze.

He just carries on looking at me, and I・m almost crying.

・Don・t judge me!・ I yell.

He doesn・t say anything.

・I need it!・

He walks past me to the sink, and empties the needle down it. Then he turns back to me.

・Not any more.・ He says. ・It ends here, Jubilee.・

・You think I like this?・ I・m screaming at him, and right now I hate Angelo Espinoza more than anyone else in the world, and it・s only the fact that he・s already demonstrated that he can beat me down one handed that stops me going for his throat. ・You think I fucking like needing that stuff?・ I・m screaming now, but when he talks I shut up. His voice is quiet and almost gentle, but there・s an undercurrent to it that makes me realise ・right now he hates me even more than I hate him.

・You made her buy it for you, didn・t you.・ It・s not a question.

・I needed it. It・s her choice. She volunteered.・

・Jubilee is my friend.・ He begins, and I interrupt.

・I am Jubilee.・

・You・re not my friend. And if you ever get Jubilee involved with any kind of drugs, if you ever do anything like this again, I・ll break your skinny little neck.・

He・s silent for a long moment, pacing the room while I stare at him. I can・t look away.

・I need it.・ I whisper, and I・m begging.

・You・re cleaning up. Cold turkey starts today.・ He suddenly reaches under the bed and pulls out the needle I had hidden there.

・It won・t work. It doesn・t work, not for heroin.・ But I think he knows better, better than blue eyes, anyway.

・It・ll work. It hurts like hell and feels like dying for a week solid, but it works. People beat heroin all the time, Jubilee.・

・Try it and then say that.・ I whisper, staring him in the eye once more. They・re brown again, not glowing.

・I already did.・ He answers, equally quietly, and I can・t help it ・ I finally start to cry.

Girl 2.

Angelo has her locked in the master bedroom. She can use the en suite, but otherwise she・s a prisoner.

He takes her supper in on a tray.

・She・ll try and get out in a couple of days.・ He tells me when he comes back out. I・m not talking to him.

・Jubilee?・ He tries. ・She・s not going to die. Not of this.・

・If that dose had been the one that did kill her, though . . .・ He goes on, and it・s all I can do not to paff him for that.

・This is going to take a while.・

・When did you quit?・ I ask him finally, and he starts at that. ・C・mon, Ange, I・m not blind. It・s not like you ever tried to hide the marks.・ It・s not like I don・t know what they look like.

・When I manifested. I had to; my skin doesn・t show veins properly.・

・Huh. I figured Frosty must・ve put you in rehab or something.・

・You think . . . shit, of course she knows.・

・Because she・s a telepath?・ I ask him, and he nods. ・That・s right, but not how you think.・ He looks up at that. ・I did some reading. Pretty much all self-taught telepaths had to start off controlling with drugs. Frosty, Betts, the Professor ・they・re all ex-junkies. They・re also all rich enough to buy a cure, Ange.・

・She doesn・t need anything. A week, maybe less, she・ll be clean.・

・And that・s your opinion as a qualified medical practitioner, huh?・

・You want to explain who she is to a doctor?・

・We get on a plane, we go to New York, we talk to Cecilia Reyes. She・ll be able to sort this out.・

・You want to walk a pair of identical twins, one of them with major withdrawal symptoms, straight through airport security?・

・Okay, so we give her one last dose just to get . . .・ He・s looking at me, and I can tell: bad idea. ・At least let me talk to Emma about it.・

・・Kay・ He agrees. Oh, boy. Am I not looking forward to that conversation.

Girl 1.

My third time waking up in this bed. Actually, make that my third morning in this bed. I must have woken up fifty times during the night.

Life right now is kinda shitty.

Angelo expects me to try something. Like I could right now. He・s brought me my breakfast.

・You ever been to New York?・ He asks me.

・City of opportunity and a thousand hiding places.・ I croak at him. ・Never left LA. Why do you ask?・

・Jubilee・s on the phone with a friend right now. It looks like we might just be able to arrange transportation East.・

・Transportation? Is that some kind of euphemism for smuggling my cold turkey-ing self onto a plane?・

・Private jet. Emma・s arranging it.・ Emma. The owner of this place. I・ve seen a lot of apartments and hotel rooms and none of them compare. But then, it・s not like I was in great demand among the rich and beautiful of Southern California.

・Well, whoop-de-do-de-do. Colour me impressed. You people really do have it all, don・t you?・ He scowls at me.

・A year ago Jubilee was kidnapped.・ He says, out of the blue. ・She spent a month being tortured, drugged and interrogated by a crazy bastard name of Bastion. I saw the condition she was in when they brought her back. It took about a week of the best medical care on the planet to get her as healthy as you are right now.・

・My sympathy to blue eyes.・ I sneer at him. ・So, what? She・s been where I・ve been and knowing her life has been shittier than mine is meant to suddenly dispel all my feelings of bitterness over the oh-so-easy life she has right now?・

・No.・ He tells me coldly. ・Just consider this. She had far more than you to lose, and she lost all of it. The fucker convinced her that everyone she cared about was dead. He tortured her, drugged her, and tried to shred her mind from the inside out. And after all that she laughed in his face and got her friends out of there. You・ve both been to hell. Only difference is, she had the cojones to drag herself back out.・

Girl 2.

It doesn・t take Emma long to grasp the situation ・she・s an X-Man, after all. She announces that she・ll send her private jet to pick up all three of us first thing tomorrow.

She doesn・t say anything nasty or sarcastic at all. It・s seriously worrying.

She wants to get us to New York, set us up in one of her places there. Says she・ll get a doctor in to look at the other me. Asks if she should tell Wolverine.

I almost say yes. If she・d been her usual bitchy self, I would have done, but she doesn・t deserve that, not really. I・ll be telling him myself, as soon as I work out how to put it.

Ange took a tray in to Junkie Jubes half way through the conversation. He comes back out of her room just as it ends.

・How is she?・ I ask him.

・Trembling, vomiting, feeling like shit and acting shrewish.・ He says. ・She・s doing fine.・

・・Kay.・ I say.

・I told her about Bastion.・ His skin is sagging, his shoulders are hunched ・if I didn・t know him like I do I・d think he was guilty about something.

So he should be.

・Me and Bastion?・ I ask him. For a moment I consider calming down and acting rational, but quite frankly Bastion・s name kinda makes that hard. He just nods. I have to get out of here.

・I guess you told her about Ev, too.・ I throw over my shoulder. Then I・m gone.

I go to the gym, first ・Emma・s building has a private one, well fitted out. I spent a few minutes on a speed bag, then go through some forms and routines of martial arts and gymnastics, just to make sure. Then I walk over to the mirror that takes up one wall, and put on the face I learned from watching Scott. In a fight, Wolverine is savage, fast and brutal, but Cyclops is utterly cold, dispassionate. For this, I・m going to be cold.

After that, I go find the dealer.

He・s a tough-looking guy, a few years older than me. He・s Hispanic, and for all I know he could have been a friend of Angelo・s, once. He・s got a couple of bruisers hanging around, and even before lunch he・s sitting in a bar ・one of those shitty dives that never asks for ID and never closes ・drinking whisky and selling smack to all comers. He sees me coming, and gives me a wave and a leer.

・Hola, chica. Back for more already?・

I don・t say a word. I just walk up to him and break his nose with the heel of my hand. His two goons start to get up, and, leaping up, I manage to kick one in the balls and the other in the throat while they・re still reaching for weapons. Then I land on the table and smash a beer bottle in their boss・s face.

No powers, here, just them and me. They・re bigger than me, stronger than me. They・re carrying knives and guns, and I・m outnumbered three to one. It takes me twenty seconds to disarm all three of them. They stop fighting back two minutes after that.

I carry on hitting them.

Eventually someone ・the bartender ・fires a gun in the air, and yells at me to back down, and I come down enough to realise what・s going on.

I・ve wrecked the place. There weren・t many patrons when I came in, and pretty much all of them look to have cleared out. Half the furniture is smashed, and I threw one of the guys into the row of bottles behind the bar. Luckily, I・m carrying cash.

I walk to the bar ・at the far end to the ・tender, who・s still holding his gun on me. Then I drop five hundred dollars, where he can see them. I still don・t speak, just head over to where the dealer was sitting. There・s a shoulder bag left in his place. Yesterday he took drugs out of there and put money in. Today I tip it out on the top of the pool table.

Banknotes, crumpled and battered. Small pieces of jewellery. A dozen foil-wrapped condoms, which makes me think of the other me once more. And a couple of dozen little plastic bags, holding white or brown powder. I take a good long look.

The bartender is still watching me.

・Put the gun down.・ I say, without looking round. He pauses a moment, and then I hear it hitting the counter top, gently. He・s still holding it.

・I don・t kill people.・ I tell him, and look up. He・s nervous, and instinctively jerks the gun up towards me. ・Sometimes I really wish I did.・ I reach out with my mind and stroke the molecules in the air over the pool table just so, and the dealer・s horde explodes in a burst of brightly coloured plasma. The bartender yells in shock and fires on reflex, but I・ve already moved, and now I shape the newly-generated plasmoid into a bright orange fireball. ・After all,・ I go on, reaching out and touching it, ・it would be so easy.・ I pull the energy back into myself, and smile at him. He drops the gun.

・Tell them.・ I say, gesturing to the three men lying, unconscious and bloody, on the floor.

Then I walk out of there.

 Girl 1.

There・s a stretch limo waiting for us at the airport ・right there on the tarmac, we literally head down the steps and into the car. It looks white, sexy and very expensive, and that・d do as a description of the lady waiting inside.

・Jubilations.・ She greets us. ・Angelo. It・s a pleasure to see you again.・

・Hey, thanks for the ride, Frosty.・ Blue eyes answers, and gets ignored for her pains. Instead the white lady turns towards me.

・Emma Frost.・ She says, holding out a hand. She・s got pale skin and white-blonde hair and she・s wearing white leather in a way that most of my colleagues would think a little extreme. She・s got the looks for it, though. She is so obviously the owner of that white-on-white apartment in LA. I stare at her hand for a moment, and then take it.

・Jubilee.・ I tell her. ・But then, I guess you knew that already.・ She gives a strange little smile.

・How are you feeling?・ She asks me.

・Like shit in a food processor.・ I tell her, ・cause it・s true.

・Methadone?・ She offers me, and then glances at Angelo. ・Actually, probably best not at this stage. You・re past the worst.・

・What the fuck would you know about it?・ I whisper; I spent most of the flight in the toilet, and my system・s completely empty, but otherwise I・d be puking my guts up right now. Again.

・Oh, I・ve done a little research.・ She turns to the other two. ・We・re going to my apartment in Manhattan. I・ve had a room prepared.・

・Who else knows?・ Blue eyes asks.

・Hank is aware that I・m going to be helping rehabilitate a young addict. He is not aware of her being your apparent double. She will need a full medical examination as soon as possible.・ Blue eyes nods at that, and turns to me.

・You・ll like Hank. Everybody does. Well, everyone who・s not a raving anti-mutant bigot, anyway.・ She glances at Frost. ・What about the Professor?・

・He・s offplanet.・ She replies. ・With the Shi・ar.・ Which exchange leaves me totally confused. My double spots this.

・The Shi・ar are these high-tech aliens with a major galactic empire. Professor Xavier・s boffing their Empress-type lady.・

・Jubilation.・ Stern, but she looks like she・s suppressing a smile.

・Don・t I get a say in my life?・ I ask.

・No.・ Frost tells me. ・Legally, you don・t exist, and so far as I can see you are in no position to take any responsibility for yourself.・ And she turns away, like she・s just switched me off, and starts talking to Blue Eyes.

・Don・t worry.・ Angelo mutters beside me. ・Emma・s like that. She・s one of the good guys, she just has a hard time showing it.・

・Well fuck you and her both, you floppy-skinned bastard.・ I mutter.

・No can do, Jubecita. Wolverine would kill me.・

・Wolverine?・ I know what a wolverine is. It・s a kind of big, vicious, weasel. A mincing machine on four legs.・

・Jubes says your family.・ He・s grinning. ・That means her surrogate dad・s gonna take an interest.・

・Her surrogate dad is a wolverine?・ I・m feeling too shitty to raise my voice.

・Nope. Called Wolverine. He・s one mean hijo de ・son of a bitch, too.・

Girl 2.

Frosty bitches at Junkie Jubes a little, and then turns to me.

・Jubilation.・ She says again.

・That・s my name. Ya lookin・ to wear it out single handed, Frosty?・ I ask her.

・As you are well aware, we monitor the international media for incidents that might require our attention.・ I raise an eyebrow at this. I・ve been practicing.


・It appears a young Chinese-American mutant girl was involved in an . . . incident, yesterday afternoon. Three men ・alleged criminals ・ were severely beaten, and the bar in which they were relaxing was wrecked. The girl then apparently used pyrotechnic abilities to destroy certain . . . items that they were carrying. The Los Angeles Police Department believe the girl to have been a mob enforcer, sent to put this alleged drug dealer out of business, and that the items she destroyed were his stock.・

・Frosty,・ I begin, but she・s looking at me in that way she has. ・Emma. Right then, it was burn the smack, or burn the dealer.・

・Misguided, but well intentioned. I can see why the X-Men wanted you back.・

・They want me back?・ Now that sounded plaintive. Way to come off as pathetic, Lee.

・They wanted you back as soon as Generation X graduated.・ She sounds kind of amused. ・I pointed out to them that you deserved a chance to make your own decisions in life.・ I don・t believe her.

・Frost! You knew I wanted to be an X-Man more that anything.・

・You felt beholden to the X-Men, and therefore bound to join them. Jubilation, you are far too capable to waste your childhood because you can・t see past your own loyalty. You are also still too young to risk your life on a regular basis.・

・Like we didn・t with GenX?・

・Do not be obtuse. Generation X encountered problems. They did not seek out and do battle with mutants such as Magneto or Apocalypse. In any case, that is beside the point.・

・So what is your point?・

・That if the X-Men had made you an offer, you would not have considered any of the other possibilities.・

・Like what?・

・Higher education. Going home. There are so many options, Jubilation, so many opportunities you would have let slip by for a chance to follow around a short, hairy psychopath with a habit of picking up young girls.・ She didn・t. She did not just suggest . . .

・What・re you saying, Frost?・

・That you need to find your own way in life, which few of the X-Men have ever managed to do. And if you mean about Wolverine, merely that he cared for you as a child needing protecting. He did the same thing for Katherine Pryde, until she grew up, and as with her he would eventually move on. I did not spend three years training you to be a retired sidekick or another uniformed face in the mutant parade.・

・So what are you doing now?・

・I? Jubilation, I am a teacher, not an X-Man. I do not even wear their uniform.・

・Okay, so I needed to find out who I was other than an X-Man. Well, guess what, Emma. She・s sitting right there.・ I point at JJ, and Frost actually flinches. So does the other me. ・You want I should head back to LA and find myself a street corner?・

・Your mutation does not define your life, but it does shape it. She may be who you would be if you were not a mutant, but the fact that you are a mutant is as much a part of you as your atrocious colour sense. Being a mutant, though, does not necessarily mean being an X-Man.・

・So what else does it mean?・

・Jubilee, there is far more to you than your mutation, far more that sets you apart. Robert is a mutant, after all, and yet he trained as an accountant because it was an area in which he was talented. In his case a lack of confidence in his powers proved ultimately beneficial. Never mind who your double is or what route her life has taken, you are not her. What would you like to do with your life?・

Honestly? I have no idea. I never thought past going back to the X- Men. I guess that was obvious, at least to Emma.

Girl 1.

Another white-on-pale apartment. Another bedroom with a locked door. Blue Eyes and Angelo still serving as my gaolers-cum-caregivers. It・s enough to make me wonder why we left Los Angeles.

Dr McCoy is something new, though ・I mean, I thought Angelo looked weird. He・s about six feet tall and his shoulders are about six feet wide, and he・s completely covered in this freaky blue fur. If it wasn・t for the colour it・d look like he・d just stepped out of a Disney film, ・cause he・s got a face like a lion, too. Apparently he・s a mutant megagenius and a friend of my . . . acquaintances.

When he was brought in to see me he just stared for a moment, and then stood there looking between Blue Eyes and me for about ten seconds.

・I suppose it was inevitable, really.・ He said when he finally found his voice. Frost raised an eyebrow at that, and he went on hurriedly. ・I merely suggest that we all appear to have a duplicate, clone or alternate-reality equivalent wandering the world while wearing our visage. And I feel obliged to state that you would appear to have been more fortunate in your choice of doppelgangers than myself, Jubilation.・ He put down his bag and started unpacking it, and it seemed like he just switched off everybody else in the room. He got out all kinds of medical equipment, most of which I recognised from my dad・s stuff but some of which was seriously, weirdly high-tech.

His hands were big, and soft, and surprisingly warm even through the rubber gloves. I grew up in a doctor・s house, and he seemed as competent as anyone, but he didn・t look at my face, at all.

Girl 2.

Hank chased us all out of JJ・s bedroom while he did the medical thing. The three of us ended up sitting in the kitchen.

・You realise there is no way that either Beast or myself will be able to hide her scent from Wolverine?・ Frosty asked me.

・No big. I・ll swing by the mansion with you, just ta say hi.・

・Her current condition will be part of the scent.・

・You mean he・ll be able to smell . . .・

・That there・s another of you. And if you do not accompany us, he will assume that you are yourself using heroin. I rather doubt he would be very polite to either Dr McCoy or myself.・ She did that funny head-tilt thing she sometimes does. ・In other words, you need to explain to him as soon as possible.・


・Unless you want all five of us to sleep here.・ I nod at that; she・s got a point. Wolvie does tend to get overprotective.

・What are we going to do with her?・ I ask, finally. I・ve been wondering that ever since we worked out who she is.

・Nothing.・ Frost says. I stare at her.

・She・s her own girl, Jubes.・ Ange elaborates. ・Once she・s got cleaned up, we can・t tell her what to do.・

・Yeah, but she・s . . . I dunno, my sister. I can・t just let her . . .・

・Quite. Treat her as a sister.・ I look up at Frosty at that, and either she・s reading my mind or what I・m thinking is way obvious, ・cause she takes a step back and goes on, ・My family is not the best example.・

・So who・s is? Scott and Alex? The Professor and Juggy? Oh, I know, how about Monet and Emplate?・

・Sam and Paige.・ Angelo interrupts again. Why does he always have to be so right?

・Omitting the section wherein you fake your own death, and allow her to become an environmental extremist.・ Frosty interjects.

・Still not certain how that happened.・ I mutter.

・I am given to understand that Domino felt that X-Force could be more effective if the world believed . . .・

・No, I mean Paige turning into a tree-hugger.・ There・s a pause there; none of us have any idea.

Girl 1.

When the Doc・s finished peering at me and has packed all his stuff away, he still hasn・t looked at me.

・What did you mean?・ I ask him, just to get him to treat me like a human being. ・Back there. About her having a better double than you?・

・Mayhap you would not see it that way.・ He says.

・Does this have anything to do with your not looking at my face?・ I ask. He kind of starts at that, and then he does look at me. I know what a guy trying not to cry looks like, and a big blue lion guy looks pretty much the same. I ran out of sympathy for wimps a long time ago. ・What? Don・t like to think that your precious little blue-eyed girl would be a whore if she wasn・t a mutant?・

・Jubilation . . .・ He begins, and then looks away.

・Or is there something else? Something everyone・s not telling me?・

・Jubilee, you are correct. It is sadly irrefutable; every time any one of us looks at you, we glimpse what might have been. I think you are fully cognisant that our version of you begrudges you for everything that is thereby implied concerning her place in an equal world, disregarding the fact that, in your life as in hers, time and chance govern all. There is more differentiating your two paths than the presence or absence of the X-Factor gene, just as, I hope, there is more distance between myself and the other McCoy than an altered world order. However, you seem unaware of the profound emotional effect your presence will have on all of Jubilee・s friends. Emma, Angelo, myself ・we all feel that we have failed you by allowing your life to take such a course. There is nothing we could have done, but we all feel that there is so much we should have done for you.・ He pauses. ・And I wish I could tell you that your troubles are over, that we and the X-Men will protect you ・but this is life.・

・Meaning what?・

・That we will do everything humanly possible to assist you, Jubilation, but ultimately you will have to make your own way, either in this world or, if you so desire and chance allows it, your own.・

Girl 2.

In an ideal world, I・d be able to leave telling Logan to Emma, but then, in an ideal world, a lot of things would be different. I・d be flipping a coin between J August Richards and Hugh Jackman, for starters. There would be no point in wasting time, as Angelo points out. Emma stays to keep an eye on him and JJ; Beast drives me back to the mansion. It takes a couple of hours, but that・s not nearly long enough.

The place is different, of course. I・m not so na・e as to think I can just slide back in, but even so it・s disturbing. For one thing, there never used to be a dozen hack photographers camped outside the main gate, which is the reason Hank gives for going in the back way. As we drive through the grounds, I catch glimpses of a whole bunch of mutants I don・t know. I guess it should make me unhappy or nostalgic or something; instead, it just irritates the crap out of me. I can・t say anything, of course, though if I see the guy who coma-ised Blue he won・t know what hit him. That doesn・t matter right now, though; I・ve got someone far more difficult to deal with.

He・s outside the front when we pull round there, doing katas on the lawn. Like Hank he・s wearing one of the new black leather numbers; because he・s the Wolverine, he・s left off his shirt.

There・s no way to tell whether he smells me or sees me first, but he breaks off his latest sequence of movements and lopes over towards us. He stops about ten feet away. We・re both still sitting in the car.

・Heya, Wolvie.・ I say. He grins, but in a slightly puzzled way. Hey, I・m sixteen. I don・t have to hug him on sight.

The new uniform makes him look a lot taller. At least, I think it・s the uniform. Stranger things have happened around here.

・Jubes.・ He growls in acknowledgement, and my mood breaks and I can・t stop myself from grinning right back at him. He starts to prowl forward, and I vault the car door and hit him in the chest. It・s been way too long.

After a few moments Hank gives one of his patented ・Dr McCoy will see you now・ coughs behind me, and Wolvie puts me down and goes back to grinning at me. I grin back, and if the big blue guy hadn・t coughed again, louder, that might have gone on all night. But he does, and I remember why I・m here, and also what Emma said about overdependence. I take a step back to lean on the car, and almost manage to make it look casual.

・What・s wrong, darlin・?・ He asks.

・I・ve got a double.・ I say quickly, before I can lose my nerve. He doesn・t seem to get it.

・What kind?・ Asks a new voice, and it・s Scott, Cyclops, standing on the doorstep looking stern and strong and anal retentive and more like home than anything I・ve ever seen. I don・t hug him. You need a psychic link with Scott before you get to do more than pat him on the shoulder, but I give him a little smile. He doesn・t smile back, of course, but he・s pleased to see me. I can tell.

・A nonmutant doppelganger from an alternate reality.・ Hank supplies from behind me. ・Essentially harmless, or as much so as an individual with the name of Jubilation Lee can be, but adrift, alone and alarmed. Jubilation and Angelo encountered her in Los Angeles, and conspired to convey her across the continent.・

・What aren・t you telling us, McCoy?・ Logan asks. His growl isn・t so friendly any more. Kitty told me once that this guy called Ogun managed to put one over on him, once. I don・t think anyone else ever managed it. I like Blue. I seriously don・t want him dead, and not just because Bobby would never forgive me, and that・s why I answer for him.

・Wolvie, she . . . How can I put this? She had the life I・d have had if I hadn・t followed Storm and Betsy and Dazzler to Australia.・ He looks back to me at that, and frowns in puzzlement. Scott and Hank are getting as close to non-verbal communication as a guy with his face stuck in a visor and the Hairball that Walks like a Man can do. The ol・ Fearless Leader obviously gets what I・m saying. He・s probably spent a lot of time thinking about who he・d be without Xavier. Logan, on the other hand, doesn・t get it at all.

・We put her on cold turkey as soon as we found her. Beast and the White Queen have worked out a rehab program.・

It takes him a long time to answer. Finally:

・Where is she?・

We all get back in the car.

Girl 1.

The afternoon・s been pretty shitty by most peoples standards, which means not so bad by mine. Frost Lady helped me clean up, muttering something about getting me a haircut (yeah, ・cause then I・ll look just a little bit more like Blue Eyes), and she and Angelo have just got me settled down with cold water and salt crackers when the buzzer goes. She looks seriously pissed off.

・Why don・t you all come in?・ She says, very pointedly ・except I don・t see her lips move. Then she opens the door. Blue Eyes comes in first, with Hank at the back. In between them . . .

・Don・t mention prostitution.・ Frost・s voice says in my head. I・m tough ・I know I・m tough ・but I seriously don・t like her doing that.

The two guys coming towards me would almost look like a comedy act, if they weren・t both so grim. There・s about a foot between them in height, and they・re both dressed in black leather. Frost・s still talking in my head.

・Wolverine and Cyclops. Despite my best efforts, our version of you continues to regard them as her primary role models.・

At the last moment Cyclops hangs back, and Wolverine ・the short one ・walks up and just glares at me for a moment. I feel like a deer in the headlights. Luckily, Angelo chooses to step between us.

・Look, just back up a little, man.・ He says. ・Give the girl a little space.・

Wolverine growls at him ・actually growls ・and I remember what Angelo told me about him. He・s seriously scary. But then Cyclops puts a hand on his shoulder, and he seems to relax just a little. He takes a step back and sits down. Cyclops just looks at Angelo ・and let me tell you now that no-one can stare like a guy whose eyes are hidden by a weird-ass red and gold visor ・and he gets out of the way and goes to stand behind the couch I・m on. Finally, Cyclops sits in a chair off to the side of all of us.

He speaks first.

・Jubilation Lee? I・m Scott Summers. It・s good to meet you.・

Girl 2.

Wolvie has his faults ・he・s not the world・s greatest conversationalist, his personal hygiene is occasionally substandard, and he does tend to brutally murder anyone who annoys him, especially if they・re from Weapon X or the Hand, to list but a few of them ・but he takes his responsibilities fairly seriously. When we were together, he looked after me; when I had to go away, he put me in the care of one of his most trusted friends. I never really thought about what my disappearance might mean to him. He was glad to see me.

Junkie Jubes, on the other hand, makes him angry. He・s not angry with her; he・s angry at the world ・but then, isn・t he always? He・s too much aware of how little control most people have over their lives to blame her, but there・s nobody else. So he・s got her scared.

That・s why I brought Scott along. He・s annoyingly uptight all the time, and paranoid, and about as different from Logan as two men can be, but he・s about the only other person I・d trust to keep him under control. He・s doing that right now, with Hank and Ange and Emma hovering nervously and JJ cowering on the couch.

Scott・s not saying anything, he・s just sitting there, watching.

After a few moments Wolvie gets himself under control enough to speak.


・Yeah?・ She sounds sullen. I guess I sound the same when I・m frightened. He knows that. Everyone here does. But Wolvie seems to be at a loss for words all over again. He looks up at Emma.

・Look after her, Frost.・ He says, and then gets up and walks out of there. Scott and Hank go with him.

 Girl 2.

Time passes . . .

It・s been a week since we got back to New York, and Frosty has finally left us alone. I think she was doing stuff to help JJ through.

She・s also been trying to help me organise my life, with loads of talk about scholarships and internships. She said as soon as I get an idea what I・d like to do, she can get something organised to help me towards it. It got . . . kind of cramped, what with the White Queen running her business empire and my future in one room, and my junkie double throwing up and bitching in another, and Angelo and me not really doing anything. Emma and JJ have agreed that she should go back to school; the big disagreement at the moment is that Hank and Scott want her at the mansion, where they can keep an eye on her, and Emma thinks absolutely anywhere else on the planet would be better for her.

Hank・s been coming by most days, to check up on us. He and Ange hang out a lot ・they・ve always got on well. Today, though, he comes over and sits next to me.

・Emma mentioned you might be contemplating a career in the medical profession.・ He says.

・I was kidding. Would you trust me with a scalpel?・ I was kidding, too. It・s kinda flattering that Frost took me seriously.

・Oh.・ He looks slightly crestfallen. ・You understand, I had otherwise arranged for you to pass a brief time in the clinic supervised by the good Dr Reyes.・

I・m soft-hearted. ・That・d be great, Blue. You wanna take me down there?・ He smiles. I・m soft-hearted, but I・m also evil. ・Won・t Bobby be pissed about you musclin・ in behind his back, though?・

Girl 1

I haven・t been to school since my parents died.

Back then I always cut half my classes, which Emma says is not an option, wherever I end up. She and Cyclops have had another argument, and now I・m going to have to go have a look at mutant school. Cyclops is telling me not to be shy, and to remember that the other students are no better and no worse than me. Emma adds ・telepathically ・that he・s trying to find a tactful way to say that just because I used to be a hooker and they・ve all got super powers is no reason for me to feel inferior. I can・t tell whether she・s more amused by the situation in general, or Cyclops・ embarrassment.

Angelo volunteers to come along and hold my hand.

Girl 2.

・So, I・ve been thinking.・ I say. Hank and Cece are drinking coffee and Not Flirting with each other; I didn・t even ask for a cup myself. A girl can get sick of hearing the word ・No.・

・Yes?・ Prompts Hank.

・I might come back to the X-Men one day, if they・ll have me.・

・In a New York minute, my dear girl.・

・But in the meantime I・m gonna start studying.・

・For what?・ Cece asks, lifting her drink.

・You can・t get the Professor・s Dream by just beating up evil mutants and protecting innocent bystanders. I・m gonna be a lawyer.・ And Cecelia Reyes sprays hot black coffee across Hank McCoy.


・Yeah. I think I・d be good at it, and we need lawyers at the mansion.・

・Fraggin・ A.・ Cece puts in. ・An X-Man who might actually be a contributing member of society? Dios, but that・s unexpected.・

・You would certainly encounter little difficulty in the cut and thrust of legal debate. I imagine that your adversaries would often find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer weight of your verbosity.・

・Yeah.・ I say. ・Plus, when we・re arguing in court, I・d just talk them to death. Okay, do you know any lawyers I can talk to?・

・I know one.・ Cece puts in. ・A good guy. He・s cool with mutants.・

・Indeed?・ Hank asks. ・And who might this be?・

・Used to be an ADA, but then he went private. Name of Murdock. You want I should call him, see if he wants some help in the office?・

Girl 1.

It・s big. That・s my first thought when I see Xavier・s. It・s a great big mansion, in miles of countryside. I haven・t seen this much nature since . . . ever. And they want me to go to school here.

Well, I remember what it was like to be rich. It・s just been a long time.

My second thought? Shit, the circus is in town. Seriously. It looked like half the population belonged in a freak show. And if I go thinking thoughts like that when a whole bunch of them can read my mind, I might not last too long.

Beside me, Emma smiles.

・You・ll get used to them. And they・re used to bad first reactions, most of them. And the first thing I・ll teach you is how to shield your thoughts.・ Comforting. Not.

・And if any of them try anything, Sen・ Logan will kill them.・ Angelo grins beside me. ・And I・ll keep an eye on you. Es nada, ・Lee.・

・Nothing. Right.・ I glance at him. ・You・re pretty weird looking yourself, Espinoza.・

・You were cool with it first time you saw me.・

・Yeah, well I was on the groovy part of the high just then. Is that an option here?・ It・s a joke. It says something about how well I・m doing that they both take it as such.

Frost・s limo stops, and I step out to face mutantkind.

 Girl 1.

Did I mention that my life・s been weird lately?

Imagine you・ve just moved clear across the country to start at a new school where you don・t really know anybody. Now imagine that you haven・t been to school in nearly four years. Then throw in that you・ve spent those four years doing drugs and turning tricks. And, just as a bonus, imagine everyone else in the school has super powers, and some of them really don・t like humans.

The first day, Angelo shadowed me throughout. I realised my life was irredeemably weird when I noticed that the guy with loose grey skin and eyes that turned red at odd moments was the most normal thing I could think of. Nobody tried anything that day, which is what led to me saying that I wouldn・t mind going back there. I mean, the place might be full of complete strangers with super powers, but Mr Summers and Dr Beast and Angelo were there, and they seemed okay, and Wolverine and Emma might not be particularly nice people, but they acted like they cared.

Emma did not approve of my saying yes to Mr Summers・ offer. She said that place was a long way from providing any kind of stability. But she also said she・d respect my wishes. And if I ever felt like backing down I should just tell her, and she・d have me into a private school with experienced counsellors within twenty-four hours.

The fuck I・m gonna back down.

Angelo agrees with me on this. He told me he went to ・Mutant High・ when it was three middle-class kids, a millionaire・s stuck-up daughter, a social-climbing hick, and him, and he only really stuck it out to show that a guy with comparatively lame powers and a background about as bad as mine was at least as good as them. Not being a mutant just gives me one more thing to prove.

Mr Summers wants me there, and he agrees with Angelo on the last point. He reckons my presence will help show the more prejudiced kids that humans and mutants are equal. It doesn・t seem to have occurred to him that someone like me may have the opposite effect.

It・s kinda flattering to think he believes in me that much. Although maybe really he just believes in Blue Eyes that much.

And Wolverine says that if anyone gives me any trouble I should just tell him, and he・ll rip them a new hole. Mr Summers gave him a look, and he added that he meant verbally.

Then Mr Summers took me aside, and told me to tell him first. And to tell him, not assume it was my own problem to sort out.

Then he told me that the other kids spent an hour a day working on controlling their powers. And he reckoned I could use that time as well. I asked, what for? He said, the faculty had a lot of useful skills between them. And some of those would put me on an equal footing with most of the people with super powers.

I can see it now. Jubilation Lee, Kung Fu Master.

Girl 2.

I don・t believe this. I・m working in a law office. In a month I start at NYU, and I・m probably gonna major in law. I・m still not sure if I want to be doing this.

Matt says that・s what this month is for. He and Foggy are gonna show me as much of their work as we can fit in the time. In return, I・ve got to turn up on time daily, do what I・m asked to do as well as I can, and not hesitate to ask stupid questions.

You see what I・m saying? He added, and then smiled.

I asked how he knew Cece. He said if she hadn・t told me, it was none of my business. He smiled as he said it, though.

You can・t win a staring contest with a blind guy. That・s one of many things him and Scott have in common.

I think I・m gonna like working here. Cece told me they were cool with mutants; I thought that would mean the usual ・some of my best friends are mutant. So, because you・re both the same species you obviously know exactly why Magneto did this, right?・ self-conscious liberalism I・ve met a few times ・people who work at being cool with mutants while still thinking of them as a separate class.

Matt and Foggy, though, don・t seem to think being a mutant means anything. I told them on the first day, just to get it out of the way, and Matt said,

・Yeah, Dr Reyes mentioned you were. Is that going to be a problem?・

・I don・t know.・ I said. ・Is it going to be a problem?・ And he was actually confused. He didn・t see how it might be.

Then Foggy got it, and just said, ・No.・

And that・s the last they・ve said about it.

Matt and Foggy are kinda weird together. They・ve got this vibe. I・ve seen it before; Bobby and Hank have it, and Scott and Jean, and not many others I・ve seen. It・s like they・ve known each other so long, they know each other so well, that they・ve already said everything that needs saying and don・t really need to talk any more. So when they do talk, there・s nothing they can・t say to each other.

Something else that・s weird. Matt・s always in the office before anyone else, every morning. He says it・s so he can read everything through and listen to the tapes of recent rulings he gets sent, but one time when I got there I passed a woman in the lobby, on her way out, and I・d swear to God it was the Black Widow. She didn・t seem to recognise me, but then, it・s been three years and I・ve changed my look a lot since the last time we met.

I・ll have to ask Matt about it. As soon as I think of a reason why I・d recognise her.

Girl 1.

The first day was okay. The second day ・it・s kind of like the second day of cold turkey. In that they・re both fucking awful.

It starts okay. My first class is Math with Mr Summers, who does make me stand up and introduce myself, but also makes everyone else in the room do the same. I remember about three names, and nobody speaks to me. I can take that.

After that I have to go to the bathroom. I walk out of the cubicle, and find myself face to face with five identical blondes. None of who look happy to see me.

They・re standing in a line in front of the mirror, and look kind of like they were gossiping, except none of them were talking at all. And when I step out they all turn to look at me.

I・m not wearing makeup; the only face I know is waterproof lip-gloss and fuck-me eye shadow. And I・m wearing jeans and a baggy sweatshirt; Emma had said I was overcompensating when she took me shopping, but hey, New York・s a lot colder than California. So I just wash my hands, and hope like hell that they don・t think I look like a hooker.

・Why would we think that?・ One of them asks, making me jump.

・Think what?・ I ask, once I get my heartbeat under control.

・That you look like a hooker.・ I don・t think it・s the same one.

Because I used to be one, I don・t say.

・Because, uh . . .・ They interrupt before I can think of a good excuse.

・You used to . . .・ One of them begins, before another ・and I think this is the one that first spoke ・interrupts with ・How old are you?・

・Sixteen. What・s it to you, girlfriend?・ I ask, but I・ve already got a bad feeling about this.

・And you used to be a prostitute?・ Says one of them.

What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?

The five of them walk out in step. Any other school, that・d look mundo weird.

And by lunch everyone in the school knows I used to earn a living on a street corner.