#12 in the Rising Sun Series.
Jubilee spread her fingers. The sapphire on her third finger glimmered. She tilted her hand a bit. The twin diamonds on each side sparkled brightly. Michael gurgled, reaching for it, and she smiled. "No, angel," she whispered. "You can't have that. Daddy gave it to me, yes he did, because he loves me." Rogue made an agreement-noise, and tickled Michael's round tummy with one gloved finger.
They were sitting on the grass out back of the mansion, under a spreading shade tree. On the basketball court, Remy was challenging Angelo to play basketball without powers and, to his complete surprise, was losing. Jubilee and Michael were cheering for Angelo, of course, but Rogue was keeping whatever preference she had to herself.
"Look, Michael." Jubilee sat her son up against her chest, pointing. "Daddy's winning. And he's got his shirt off." Rogue snickered, and Jubilee grinned. "Silly daddy's going to get a sunburn, isn't he? But he's doing it just for me, so we'll forgive him."
Michael cooed, looking particularly adorable in his little blue sunsuit and matching sunhat. He was growing rapidly, and at four weeks old was a chubby, placid baby with a rare, wide smile and the serenity of an infant Buddha. "And we're proud of daddy, aren't we?" his mother cooed fondly. "Because he's beating the pants right off Uncle Remy." She paused. "Which, come to think of it, would be quite a sight."
Rogue smiled wryly. "It is. But Ah wouldn't get your hopes up if Ah was you. Remy's got an honourable streak when it comes t' other guy's women. Well, guys he knows."
"Darnit." Jubilee shrugged philosophically. "Ah well. Rogue, can I ask a favour?"
"Sure, doll. Anythin'." Rogue lolled lazily on the grass, watching the basketball game with vague interest.
"Will you be a bridesmaid? At my wedding?" Jubilee did her best hopeful-kitten expression, which invariably reduced her fiance to adoring mush.
In this case, the effort was entirely unnecessary, as Rogue bounced enthusiastically. "Ah'd *love* to!" she squeaked happily. "Darlin', Ah'm so happy ya asked me!" She hugged the younger girl very carefully, the long sleeves she'd worn for baby-holding purposes coming in handy. "What'll Ah wear?"
"So far, I've decided on blue." Jubilee grinned her sweet, gamine grin. "You're gonna hafta help me pick out patterns and lengths and・ stuff. Actually, I'm gonna need help with pretty much everything."
"Look no further!" Rogue beamed. "Ah'll personally help you with every single detail of the whole weddin'."
"Good. I was hoping you would. Jean and Emma offered too, but・" Jubilee trailed off.
"Oh, *them*." Rogue dismissed them with a wave of her hand. "They'd want somethin' all stylish and understated and borin'." She bounced happily. "This is a weddin'. Plenty of everything, with extra everything, that's what we want, am Ah right?"
"Right." Jubilee grinned. "Knew I could count on ya, cornpone."
"Absolutely. When it comes to all out extravaganza, Ah'm your woman." Rogue paused. "Although Ah was kinda hopin' ta talk to you about the husband part of it."
Jubilee stared at the older woman, feeling a lot surprised and a little betrayed. "But you *like* Angelo!"
"Ah do! Ah do, honest!" Rogue said hastily. "He's sweet, and charming, and kinda sexy, and・ well・" She looked back at the court, where Angelo and Remy were sweating out the battle for masculine supremacy. "It's just that・ well・ he's a lot like Remy."
Jubilee blinked. "He is?" After all, while SHE thought he was as sexy as all get out, and absolutely adorable too, she understood that grey and a bit flappy wasn't every girl's cup of tea.
"Uh-huh. Charmin', disreputable, and・ uh・" Rogue blushed a bit.
"Sex-crazed?" Jubilee suggested helpfully.
"Yeah." Rogue eyed the guys. "An' nice butts."
"Very nice butts," Jubilee agreed admiringly. "So what's the problem?"
"Well・" Rogue huffed a bit, looking more than a little out of her depth. "Ah know Ah'm hardly the person t' be dishin' out romantic advice, but nobody else is game, and anyway this is kinda the one Ah *know*, so・ well・ are ya sure about this? About gettin' married right away?"
Jubilee wanted to get annoyed, but the anxious expression was just too damn cute. "Yeah," she said mildly. "Why?"
"Because・ you know me'n Remy finally called it quits, right?"
"Finally, yeah. I heard." Jubilee considered making some unflattering comparisons of Remy-and-Rogue and Paige-and-Jono, but decided not. "And?"
"Ah just don't want you to end up like me," Rogue said earnestly. "Just swept right off your feet by some guy, just 'cause he's charmin' and disreputable an' sexy as heck. Ah mean, Remy's real sweet sometimes, and Ah really did love him for a while there, but not *enough*. Not the right way. An' he was the same way about me, an' we just both ended up gettin' hurt bad. Ah don't want that for you an' the baby."
Wow. An actual, relevant concern. Jubilee was rather touched. "It's sweet of you to worry," she smiled, reaching out to pat Rogue's hand. "And I know Ange'd be happy t' know you think he's sexy and charming enough ta sweep me off my feet. But it's not like that, honest. We've worked together platonically for a couple years now, we know each other pretty well, and・ it's not one of those unattainable things, you know? There are a whole lot of problems that you and Remy had that Ange and I don't. He's a lot more forthcoming about his past, for a start." She smiled wryly, giving Rogue a rather direct look. " And so am I."
Rogue blushed uncomfortably. "Ah see your point," she admitted. "And Ah'm glad it's not like it was for us, for you. Ah was just・ concerned, okay? Wanted to make sure you'd given it some thought."
"It's appreciated," Jubilee said sincerely. "Really, it's nice that you wanted to make sure."
Rogue gave her a relieved smile. "That's okay then." She squinted down at the court, where Remy seemed to finally be conceding defeat. At least, given that he was doubled over wheezing, she *hoped* he was conceding defeat. Angelo, to his credit, didn't seem to be laughing *too* hard. Rogue grinned. "And that fiance o' yours is quite a charmer, grey or not. You let him know Ah don't think he'd have any trouble at all sweepin' a girl off her feet, if he had a mind to it."
Jubilee grinned. "Will do. And thanks, for everything."
"Anytime, Jubes." Rogue's name was called, and she looked up to see Storm strolling towards her. "Hi, Storm. Didja want something?"
"Merely to remind you that you and I have a Danger Room session in a few minutes," Storm said mildly.
"Aw, shoot・ okay, okay, Ah'm comin'." Rogue scrambled to her feet, blowing a kiss to Michael. "Byebye, honey! You be good for your momma, now! An' Jubilee, Ah'll dig up all mah old magazines and stuff and tonight we'll get started picking out dresses, 'kay?" Storm looked rather disapproving as Jubilee nodded, and the two older women walked away.
Jubilee snorted. "Storm doesn't approve of me marrying your daddy, " she confided to her son. Michael gazed at her solemnly. "S'right. Dried up ol' goddess doesn't want me gettin' any nookie. " Jubilee sighed deeply. "Little does she know she's already getting her way. Daddy's got way too much self-control, sweetie, and that's the truth." Well, okay, she'd appreciated that self-control when she'd been frightened and shaky about anyone touching her, and all the times she'd crept into his bed trembling after a nightmare. But now was different. Now she wanted his body, and she wasn't getting it, because if there was one thing Angelo was, it was stubborn.
Speaking of her fiance・ she smiled at him as he bounced up the slope to flop down beside her. "Did you leave Remy any of his pride at all?"
"Not a lot. Vato mighta been good in his day, but his day was at least five years ago." Angelo chuckled, leaning over to kiss her lingeringly. "I out manlied him."
"Yuck. Ya musta overwhelmed him with yer BO." Jubilee snickered, kissing him then fending him off. "*And* yer gonna have a sunburn."
Angelo looked down at his bare torso. "Not really," he shrugged. "I kept shifting the skin around so not much of it was in the sun for long." He smiled, tucking one finger into his son's bunched fist. "Hey, you. You been lookin' after your mama?" Michael giggled. "Yeah, you have. I saw you." Angelo leaned down to kiss the little sunhat, an uncharactaristically peaceful expression on his face.
Jubilee smiled, ruffling his sweaty hair fondly. "I talked t' Rogue. She says she's gonna help me plan the wedding out so it's all just perfect."
"Good." Angelo smiled at her, a loose strand of hair falling across his face, making him look oddly vulnerable. "I want this to be something special for us, amante. I don't plan on ever getting married again."
"Me neither. And believe me, this is gonna be special. I'm decimating my college fund for this." Jubilee smiled down at him, reaching to brush that strand back with gentle fingers. The trusting expression in his eyes almost made her feel guilty for involving Rogue, but not so much that she'd change her mind. He'd *said* they could have a big wedding. It'd all been his idea, even. "I mean, it's not like I'm gonna use it for college."
Angelo looked up at her, surprised. "I didn't even know you had one." Where had she gotten money? He'd thought she was broke, like him.
"Neither did I." Jubilee smiled a sweet, fond smile. "Wolvie didn't tell me about it until now. He's been salting it away for me since we met, for the day when I wanted to do something expensive."
Oh. Well, okay, he could live with that. Wolverine was the dad, he was supposed to pay for the wedding anyway. "Handy. Can I have the baby?"
"Don't smother him with your stink," Jubilee grinned, handing him over. Angelo snuggled the little body against his chest, and she smiled. They were so perfect together, the young man and the tiny baby, and they were perfect for her. And・ his eyes met hers over the baby's head, and her heart turned over・ she loved them both, more than anything else in the world.
* * *
"You can *not* tell me that it does not bother you."
"It doesn't bother me."
Logan sighed, coaxing another lungful of smoke out of his cigar before he answered. "'Ro, it doesn't bother me. He's a good kid, and he makes her happy."
Storm scowled at him. She was pretty when she was angry, he mused admiringly. Fiery. He liked fiery. "Logan, they are children! They are not mature enough to marry!"
He shrugged, sucking on his cigar again. "They seem t' be doin' just fine, so far."
"But・ she is too *young*, Logan. It is too soon!" Storm didn't just sound angry, she sounded upset, too, pacing up and down the room. "I have seen such marriages before, and she will find herself unhappy and trapped and-"
"Hey, hey, 'Ro・" He reached out to wrap a big hand gently around her arm. "Calm down. I dunno who yer thinkin' of, darlin', but just 'cause it's happened before don't mean it'll happen now."
Storm turned away a little, looking out the window. "At home・ in Africa・" she said haltingly. "When I was young・ such things were common. Sometimes the girl was happy. Often she was not. All finished with unhappiness."
"I figured." Logan released her arm, resting the hand lightly on her back. "Lissen, 'Ro・ Jubilee's like my own little girl, you know that. You think I'd be agreein' with this if I didn't think it was a good thing? Hell, if I thought that boy'd hurt her, I'd rip him inta tiny pieces and nobody'd ever know what'd happened." He looked a little shamefaced, clearing his throat gruffly. "Already tried, kinda, but Jubilee convinced me otherwise."
Storm blinked at him. "You have? When?"
Logan actually blushed a little. "I・ ah・ it was th' first time they・ were t'gether. I was all set ta beat the tar outta the kid the next mornin' when I found out."
She stared at him. "They・ were intimate?" She looked positively scandalized. "When?"
"F'r the last month or so before Michael was born. Look, 'Ro, it's none of anybody's business-"
"How can you say that?!" Storm demanded, her voice rising with distress. "She is just a child! That・ that boy she wishes to marry should *never* have・"
"Now you stop that!" Logan growled a bit, his never-great patience wearing thin. "Jubilee's a lot o' things, but a child ain't one o' them. She's a young woman, Storm, with a child and feelings and・ desires of her own. If I can accept that, it shouldn't be that hard fer you."
Storm's lip quivered. "But she will be *hurt*," she wailed. "How can I stand by and let her be hurt?!"
Logan stubbed out his cigar, and wrapped a massive arm around the taller woman's back. "Look, 'Ro・ it's obvious that you've got problems o' yer own with seein' Jubilee get hitched so young. Me・ it doesn't seem wrong, ta me, 'cause the way I see it, if she's old enough ta want to make the decision, then she's old enough to go through with it. Maybe it'll work out, maybe it won't, but that's up ta her." He sighed, giving her one of his rare, appealing smiles. "Talk ta her about it, okay? Explain ta her why you're worried."
Storm nodded reluctantly. "I must, I suppose," she said resignedly. "But it is not a conversation I look forward to."
Logan nodded. "Doubt she's lookin' forward to it either, darlin', but being who she is, if you don't talk ta her about it, she'll sit yer down and bully it out of you."
Storm chuckled a little at that. "She would, would she not?"
* * *
Storm took a deep breath, and tapped on the thick oak door. "Jubilee?"
"Come in," the girl answered softly, barely audible through the door.
Storm slipped around the door. "I・ was hoping we could talk," she said awkwardly. "If this is a bad time・"
"Not as long as you talk quiet." Jubilee looked up from the cot, holding a finger to her lips. "He just nodded off."
"Of course," Storm agreed softly. She looked down at the baby, her eyes unreadable. Michael was curled a little on his side, fists pulled up under his chin and his knees tucked up under his round stomach. He reminded her, oddly, of Wolverine. They both slept the same way, folded into themselves in a way that should have denoted tension, but bespoke only calm and relaxation. "Can we・"
"Talk? Sure." Jubilee moved across the room, to where two comfortable chairs were pulled up to an open window. "It's okay, he's used to it." She sat down, and Ororo looked at the other chair uncomfortably. Jubilee smiled wryly. "That's my chair. I'm sitting in his."
"Oh." Ororo settled into the chair, looking a little shamefaced. "I・ Jubilee, please understand, I do not wish to intrude on your life, I am concerned for you, as a friend・"
"Ro, calm down." Jubilee smiled lopsidedly, looking younger than ever sitting with her feet tucked up under her, hair in two untidy bunches. She was wearing an oversized flannel shirt that Ororo had seen Angelo wearing several times, and loose, faded jeans. "I pretty much guessed that you got a problem with this. Me'n Ange, I mean."
Ororo nodded, biting her lip. "Jubilee・ you are too young for this," she said softly. "For all of this. I know that I cannot ask you to give up your baby-"
The crystal-blue eyes narrowed. "And you'd better not try."
"I would not! I would never, ever, expect you to give up your son!" Ororo shook her head firmly. "Although I know it will be hard for you, I also know that you love him. You will not be alone." She gave Jubilee a pleading look. "You do not have to do this."
"I know I don't." Jubilee looked down at her hands. "I know you guys'll be here for me, whether I marry Angelo or not. That's not why I'm doing it."
"Then why?" Ororo reached out, taking the small hand gently in hers. "Why are you tying yourself down this way? I know that you love him, Jubilee. But you are only fifteen. It is too soon, you are too young, for marriage. For that kind of commitment."
"How do you know?" Jubilee looked up at the older woman, blue eyes meeting blue. "'Ro, I know you care about me, but it's been years. Hard, long years. You just don't know me that well anymore."
"Jubilee, you are *fifteen*! Can you really make a lifelong vow to someone?"
"I don't know! But I'm going to *try*, 'Ro!" Jubilee bit her lip, eyes glittering with tears. "I love him so much・ he's good to me, Ororo, he really is・"
"But you do not know, not for certain・ oh, Jubilee, you are rushing this too much・" Ororo clasped the younger girl's hand gently.
"Nobody *ever* knows for certain!" Jubilee cried softly. "I know I love him, Ororo, I know that he loves me. And maybe it won't work out, and maybe it will, but we have to *try*. I'd never be able to live with myself if I didn't."
"Then love him. Be engaged to him, but do not marry him yet," Ororo pleaded, her own eyes full of tears. "Jubilee, I have seen so many girls your age marry, and it has never worked! I do not want to see you alone, your heart broken, your children bereft of a father, not when the final step is not yet taken."
"I have to," Jubilee whispered. "Storm, if something happens to me, they'll take my baby."
Ororo blinked, train of thought unexpectedly diverted. "What?"
"I put Angie's name on Michael's birth certificate, but it's not true. A basic genetic test will prove that." Jubilee bit her lip. "If I・ if something happens to me, Angelo won't be able to keep custody. Neither will any of you, 'cause you're not family. He'd go into a *home*, Ororo! If it was just the two of us, we'd leave it for a while. Maybe a year or so, just to see how we hold up. But with Michael・ I need to do what's best for him, and that's giving him a daddy who loves him, and who'll be allowed to take care of him."
Ororo stared at her. She'd never considered・ but Jubilee had a point. Without the law on his side, a mutant・ especially one like Angelo・ would stand no chance of retaining custody. "I do not know if you are being very foolish, or very responsible," she said softly. "Perhaps both."
"Perhaps," Jubilee agreed, sniffling a little. "I'm just trying to be the best mom I can, ya know? And... I got high hopes for this marriage. I really think it'll work out for us."
"I hope so, for your sake." She smiled weakly. "I・ I cannot give my blessing to this event, Jubilee. I still believe that it is a mistake. But I will not do anything to disrupt or detract from your wedding."
"I'll take it." Jubilee leaned over to hug her tightly. "Thanks for caring, 'Ro."
"Always." Storm returned the hug. "I promise."
* * *
Angelo hummed tunelessly, up to his elbows in warm water. "Rubber ducky, you're the one・" he sang under his breath. "You make bathtime, so much fun・"
"Oh, rubber ducky, I'm ever so fond of you・ doot-doot-de-doot!" carolled another voice, even more out of tune.
Angelo looked around, to see Iceman hovering in the doorway. "Hola."
"Hi." Bobby leaned hopefully. "Can I watch?"
Angelo grinned. "Sure, if you want." Michael was, to his father's fond eyes, even more adorable than ever when he was all damp and a little sudsy and vulnerable-looking. And he giggled so happily when Angelo tickled his little toes.
"I want. I love watching baby-bathing." Bobby arranged himself on the other side of the plastic tub on its little stand, out of the way and with a good view. "Will the kid spit up in the bathwater? Will the soap get into the eyes and cause tragic tears? Will daddy drop the soap? It's all part of life's rich tapestry."
Angelo nodded, and was almost immediately reabsorbed into a tiny warm world of splashing and wriggling and huge, trusting hazel eyes smiling up at him. He cooed and murmured softly in Spanish, the skin of his hands extending to cradle his son as he washed the little body gently, every little finger and toe getting special, individual attention.
He'd almost forgotten about Iceman by the time he lifted his son gently out of the water, swathing him in a specially selected soft and fluffy towel. "*Was that fun?*" he murmured, cuddling the little bundle against his chest. "*You like your bath, huh?*"
"Now, see, I knew everyone was worrying for no reason. You're gonna do great." Iceman sounded as pleased as if he, personally, had arranged everything.
Angelo gave him a blank look. "Huh?"
"I mean, look at you, all snuggly and happy and doing the other language thing." Iceman waved a hand expansively, hair flopping into his eyes. "You're just screaming 'hey, I love being a daddy', only quietly, in the laundry, with nobody noticing but me."
Angelo looked down at the baby. "It's hardly conclusive evidence," he argued, putting Michael down on the carefully cleared bench and beginning the process of drying him off, tickling him and babytalking softly. "I mean, he's just had a bath and that's so *cute*・"
The older man snorted. "Kid, you're soaking wet, your hair is a mess, there's drool on your collar and what I'll bet is vomit on your pants. And you're still googling and gurgling at him like the sun shines out of his diaper."
Angelo looked down at Michael. Michael blew a spit-bubble. Angelo grinned. "There goes my tough-guy image."
"You're still tough compared to me, if that helps." He grinned, reaching over to tickle Michael's bare pot-belly. "Who's a fatso? Who's a porker? You are! You are, you little blubber-belly you!" Michael giggled.
Angelo snickered. "He is, isn't he?" He stretched out a finger to snag a fresh diaper, arranging it under his son's backside with the ease of plenty of recent practice. "Aw, but you're still good-lookin', you are!"
"Yeah. You're booful, just like mommy." Bobby sighed sentimentally. "She *is* gorgeous, isn't she? Jubilee, I mean."
Angelo nodded, a dreamy smile wandering briefly across his sharp-featured face. "She's amazing. I mean・ she just glows, you know? And it's not just a Mommy thing - although that's nice too - it's just the way she *is*. And when you see her with Michael, her eyes are just like・ incredible."
Bobby nodded. This one just came out well on *all* the tests. "Yeah. She might not exactly be Psylocke・" the guys exchanged guilty grins. "But she's got something special." He clouted Angelo amiably on the shoulder, and baby powder went everywhere. "Okay, timing・" He coughed theatrically. "Anyway, I just wanted you to know I'm glad you're here for her."
Angelo looked at him, and Bobby saw a rare, vulnerable expression that touched his tender heart. "Really?" Angelo asked softly, for once looking as young as he really was. "You don't think she's・ making a mistake, bein' with me?"
Bobby shook his head. "I think she's doing just right. I mean・ if you weren't here, I'd be doing this part - you know, lookin' after her and the baby and stuff - but I couldn't really be *there* for her like you are. And it's a good thing. And it's a thing I'm happy about, because good things are happy things." He beamed at this irrefutable display of logic. "So when you're done, you come upstairs, and I'll steal some beer for you, and we can drink to your upcoming wedding."
Angelo blinked. "Beer? Real, foaming, intoxicating beer?" He actually stopped trying to coax Michael's foot into his little sock. "As in, beer?"
Bobby nodded. "I take it it's been a while?"
Angelo tossed the little socks over his shoulder, scooped his son up with one arm, and used the other to drag Bobby towards the door. "I've given up smoking, I've given up practically all my other bad habits, but beer I'll love forever. Gimmegimmegimme."
Bobby grinned as he was hauled towards the door. "Aw, I'm having deja vu... I remember when I was too young to buy my own beer. Hank would buy beer, and then he would give me some of his beer, so that we could both have our beer together. That used to be so much fun." He sighed reminiscently. "Even if he'd only ever let me have one."
Angelo almost stopped. "HANK? Bought you BEER?"
"Oh, yeah. He's a lot cooler than he lets on." Bobby paused. "Although, now that I think about it, he might just have been doing it because I'm funny when I'm drunk."
Angelo chuckled, still determinedly hauling Bobby up the stairs. "Yeah, that's what everybody thinks."
"Angelo, I used to take off all my clothes, put on a bald cap, make a wheelchair out of ice, and do a 'Crazy Naked Professor' act."
".... Si, okay, that's pretty funny."
"Especially when I tried to stand up after sitting naked on a seat made of ice."
Angelo snickered. "You still do that?"
Bobby chuckled. "Occasionally. It takes more than one beer now, though."
They reached the kitchen, and Bobby looked around furtively. "Okay, now there's something you need to know about beer. It's a thing that I know, and many other people do *not* know, that makes the beer lots more fun."
Angelo raised a sceptical eyebrow at the thought that someone like Robert Drake, Accountant, could know more about intoxicating substances than Angelo Espinosa, Career Delinquent. "Which is?"
There was nobody around. Bobby crept furtively towards the fridge. "It's more exciting when you swipe it."
Angelo looked suddenly alarmed. "It's not Wolverine's, is it? Only I promised Jubilee I wouldn't do anything to get into another fight with him and stealing his booze is *definitely* in the 'fight' catagory."
Bobby straightened up and gave him a reproachful look. "Angelo. Honestly. Do I *look* like a man who wants to die?"
Angelo looked him up and down. "Am I going by your pants or your shirt?"
Bobby gave him a pained look. "Don't you start. I have people who do my clothing comments, okay? Lots of them."
"They're not working hard enough," Angelo snickered.
"Says the man who just dressed his own son in a little lavender baby-suit with pictures of duckies on the front," Bobby retorted. He reached into the fridge, fishing out two bottles of Expensive Beer. You could tell it was expensive. Even the caps looked specially designed. "And this is Warren's."
Angelo ignored the comment on his son's attire (His son! HIS son! Every time someone said it it made his heart sing), and gave the beer a dubious look. "Is it any good?"
"We won't know until we try. And... lessee... this is Hank's. He won't mind. I'm allowed to drink his beer." Bobby pulled out three more bottles of beer, of a different brand, and then another one of Warren's. "But we'll take some down for him, so he can partake of the toasting."
Angelo nodded. He liked Hank. He liked Bobby, too. Of all the guys at the X-Mansion, they were the only two he really got along with. "Sounds good. What about that one?"
Bobby hastily batted his hand away from the blue box shoved into the bottom of the fridge. "No! The Hahn Ice is Wolverine's! We don't touch that!"
"Right, right... what about that one?"
Bobby looked. "Ooh, Rogue's XXXX Gold! We'll have some of that!" He snagged a further three bottles, standing them on the table with the others. "Lessee now... hey, here's some of Scott's boring generic stuff. We should save him from it." All six bottles went onto the table. "Think we've got enough?"
Angelo eyed the pile critically. "That's... lemme see... five each. Think that's enough?"
"If it's not, we can come up and get more." Bobby grinned mischieviously. Everyone else was having problems with the new guy who'd sashayed in and seduced Jubilee with his charm and his sex-appeal and his willingness to change dirty diapers, but not Bobby. Bobby was going to go right ahead and form a Manly Bond with the kid.
He and Hank were going to get him drunk.
"Right." Obviously, this was some sort of macho guy thing - well, as macho as Hank and Bobby were capable of being. Well, it would be fun. Angelo'd always been a social drinker. The more he drank, the more social he got. "I'll just take Michael back to Jubes, and I'll be right back to help you carry it all."
Bobby nodded. "Tell her we're bonding. I'll find the chips while you're gone."
A few minutes later, Hank looked up from his microscope as a series of clanks echoed around the hall outside. "Come in?"
Bobby staggered in, carrying four bottles of beer in each hand and two bags of chips in his teeth. "Mf!"
Hank shook his head in mock-disapproval. "Bobby, it's three o'clock in the afternoon."
Angelo staggered in behind him, festooned with beerbottles, each dangling from its own little skin-loop. He had a package of twinkies in his mouth. He dropped it on the floor. "It was all his idea. He wants to drink to my wedding."
"Oh. Well, as long as there's a reason." Hank set about putting all the bottles in a line on the table, in little clusters of three. "Toss me those twinkies, there's a good fellow..."
"Don't," Bobby advised, spitting the chip-packets out hastily. "If he gets his hands on the bag, we won't get to eat a single one of them ourselves."
Hank looked wounded. "Bobby, how terribly untrusting."
"Oh yeah? Remember what happened last time?"
"I gave one to you!"
"Yeah, but it was the squashed one!"
Hank scowled. "Robert, I hope you're not insinuating that a mere squashing could in any way render a Twinkie less creamily delicious. Because that would be sacriligious. And I would have to kill you."
Angelo grinned. Except for the lack of swearwords and the actual content, the goodnatured bickering was just like home. "You can't kill him. We'd have to drink all his beer." He looked thoughtful. "Although... on second thoughts..."
Bobby grinned complacently. "See? He's gonna fit right into our little Beer Afternoons."
Some time later, they sat in a row and stared owlishly at the row of empty bottles.
"Warren's beer is crap," Bobby decided.
Angelo nodded. "Even Cyke's beer was better," he agreed. Ah, the warm fuzziness of being slightly tipsy... he'd missed it.
Hank nodded too. "I like Rogue's beer," he said meditatively. "And mine, of course. I like mine."
"That's probably why you buy it," Bobby agreed solemnly.
"I think you're missing the point, guys," Angelo said after a thoughtful moment. "The point is that there's no more."
"He's right. We've drunk it all." Bobby gave Hank a transparently conspiratorial wink. "We need some more to drink, Hank."
Hank nodded. "It just so happens," he said with massive dignity, "it just so happens that I have... somewhere around here... a bottle of the Professor's brandy. The very, very old brandy."
The other two perked up. "Good one," Bobby approved. "Where is it?"
Hank looked around a bit helplessly. "I don't know precisely. I swiped it a couple of weeks ago and I've moved everything around since then."
Bobby clapped Angelo fondly on the back. "We'll help you find it," he said earnestly. "Won't we, Ange?"
"Absolutely." Angelo nodded. "We don't want to stop drinking now, do we?"
"Absolutely not. You look under all the benches, I'll look in the cupboards."
Angelo gave him a suspicious look. "You don't seriously think it'll be under something, do you?"
"It might be," Bobby said, quite truthfully. "Last time we did this I found a dozen wine-coolers in the centrifuge."
Hank rolled his eyes. "That wasn't the centrifuge, Bobby."
"Well, whatever it was, it sure shook them up well."
After a bit of searching, they found the brandy hidden carefully under a labcoat, and three cups. Bobby looked closely at his mug, which bore the legend 'Kiss me, I deserve it'. "Didn't I get you this?"
Hank nodded. He himself was using a beaker. This was quite safe, because it was his special drinking beaker, that he kept for when his mugs were full. There was even a special blue sticker on it to remind him which was the safe one to drink out of. "You did. And the one Angelo's using, too."
Angelo's mug had a picture of Betty Boop on it, looking particularly flirtatious. "Cute," he said mildly, and took a mouthful of his brandy.
The other two watched him closely.
"I'm impressed," Hank said mildly. "Only one splutter."
"I've drunk stronger stuff than this," Angelo said, his always-scratchy voice sounding perhaps a touch hoarser than usual. "But not without any warning."
"It's good, isn't it?" Hank said happily, admiring the deep amber glow of the brandy in his beaker. "A toast, gentlemen・" He lifted the beaker solemnly. "To love."
"In all its fearsome glory," Bobby seconded, raising his own mug.
"It breaks our hearts, and exalts them," Angelo said solemnly. They clinked their mugs together and downed a good mouthful of brandy.
"That was very poetic," Hank said admiringly.
"Thanks." Angelo shuffled a bit, looking pleased. "I've been・ thinking about it, lately."
The other two nodded understandingly. "There's something about an impending marriage・" Bobby sighed, taking another mouthful of brandy. "The important thing is that we're invited. We are invited, right?"
Angelo nodded. "Guests of honour," he said. "First on the list after Wolverine an' Emma an' Gen-X."
Hank put down his beaker, and leaned forward. "Angelo, there's something Bobby and I wanted to ask you," he said seriously. "I don't want you to think that we're trying to interfere, we're just・concerned."
Angelo, while still more or less in control of all his faculties, was feeling decidedly mellow by now. "I won't mind," he promised. "Ask away."
Hank's big blue face wore an expression of gentle concern. "Marriage is such a big step・ Are you sure you're ready for this?" he asked kindly. "You are still rather young, and it's a very large commitment." Bobby nodded solemnly, giving Angelo an enquiring look.
Angelo blinked. "You know something? You're the first ones who've asked me that. Everybody's asking Jubilee if *she's* ready, but nobody's asking me. Except you guys."
Bobby nodded. "That's why we're doing it," he explained. "We don't need to worry about Jubilee. Everyone else is doing it for us. But nobody seems to be worryin' 'bout you, so we thought we should."
Angelo blinked, touched to the heart. "Well・ yeah, I think I am. I've thought about it, and it feels like the right thing to do." He smiled crookedly. "It scares the hell outta me, but I sill wanna do it. I just・ I love her."
"As long as you're not doing it out of any sense of obligation," Hank said seriously. "Because there's absolutely nothing wrong with living in sin, if that's the level of commitment you feel up to."
Bobby nodded. "Because it's not good if you feel like you're being pressured into this. Believe me, that sort of thing just never works out."
Angelo nodded. "I've seen those," he agreed. "Bad stuff. Especially when there's a kid involved." He took another sip of brandy, rolling it around his mouth reflectively. "But this・ this is different. I didn't have to be there for Jubilee. I didn't have to get involved with her, and I certainly don't have to marry her. But I *want* to."
Hank and Bobby gave him identically pleased looks. "I like him," Bobby said decidedly.
"So do I." Hank nodded. "I think we'll keep him, don't you?"
"Absolutely. Well, Jubilee'll keep him. We'll just help." Bobby lifted his mug again. "To the marriage of Angelo and Jubilee!"
"May it last forever," Hank added, hefting his beaker.
"And happily," Angelo finished, and they all drained their drinks. "I・ appreciate this, guys," he said awkwardly. Thanks didn't come easily to him, especially for such intangibles as kind words and good wishes.
"Think nothing of it," Hank said softly, reaching out to pat the younger man's thin back with one enormous blue hand. "You are a mutant, and a bearer of the X, and Jubilee's fiance, and therefore one of us. Any X-Man would do the same・ well, they *should*."
"They don't, though," Bobby said sadly. "We're the only nice, caring guys around here. Everyone else is all wiggy 'cause Jubilee's so young."
Angelo held out his mug for more brandy. "I'M wiggy 'cause Jubilee's so young," he admitted. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I love her like nobody else on this earth, but she's still just a kid. I feel like some kinda cradlesnatching Bluebeard kinda guy."
"I don't think you can cradlesnatch someone who's only a couple of years younger than you," Bobby said meditatively.
"Sure you can. You get her when she's emotionally vulnerable, and seduce her." Angelo scowled. "That's what people think I did. And I didn't."
"That's a shame. Seduction can be such fun." Hank grinned reminiscently. "I know I've always liked it."
Bobby nodded, grinning. "Me too. You mean you guys haven't・ you know・" He gave Angelo an inquisitive look. "Made the L?"
Angelo blushed brilliant lavender. "Uh・ I didn't say that・"
"Ooh, you HAVE!" Bobby bounced in his seat, coming perilously close to spilling his drink. "Did she seduce YOU, then?"
Angelo shook his head, blushing harder. He didn't usually blush, but now he was a bit tipsy and talking to Jubilee's Adult Friends about something he felt very private about. "Uh・ no・ it was kind of mutual."
"Ah, the best kind," Hank said solemnly. "We shall ask no more."
"Aww・" Bobby sulked.
"I said we shall ask no more, Bobby," Hank said repressively. "Would you please pass me a Twinkie?"
Bobby handed out a round of Twinkies, and they all munched reflectively. "Hey, Hank・ do you have any straws?" Bobby said after a minute.
"Uh・ yes. From when we were making iced strawberry drinks." Hank rooted around in a drawer and pulled out a packet of pink plastic straws. "Will these do?"
"Perfect. Now, here's the plan, Brain・" Bobby bit the end off a fresh Twinkie. "See, you suck up the brandy like this, into the straw・" He demonstrated, then carefully put his finger over the end. "Then you put your finger like this, to make a vacuum, so the brandy does not come out of the straw, see? Then you insert the straw into the creamy filling of the Twinkie, and slowly・ gently・ let the brandy dribble out to mix with the cream. Twiddle the straw a little to mix it in, and voila!"
"That looks devilishly tasty," Hank said admiringly, reaching for a straw of his own. "Twinkie me."
It took them a while to get the hang of it, but Brandy Twinkies were, they decided, worth the effort. They'd polished off the entire package and most of Hank's Twinkie stash before they started to feel sick.
"Urgh," Angelo groaned. "I can't face any more sugar・"
"Me neither, and I never thought I'd hear myself say that," Bobby agreed. He looked at his watch. "Hey, guys, it's nearly seven!"
"What?" Hank and Angelo yelped in ragged chorus.
"Fraid so," Bobby said sadly. "I think we missed dinner."
"We can get pizza," Hank comforted. "Just like old times."
"That sounds good・ but I gotta go find Jubilee," Angelo said remorsefully. "She'll be wondering where I am, and I left her all alone with the baby for four whole hours!"
"Then go," Hank smiled. "And bring her back with you. If I recall correctly, she will much prefer pizza to anything Ororo has prepared."
Angelo grinned at him, and slipped out, scampering hastily up the stairs towards the room he shared with Jubilee. He was happier than he'd been since Jubilee accepted his proposal, and his heart was as light as a fresh, fluffy twinkie. He'd been accepted! At least two people in this crowded, hostile mansion approved of him, and liked him, and treated him like a friend instead of an intruder.
"Jubilee?" he said softly, sliding around the door into their room. "Are you here?"
She was, curled up on the bed, fast asleep, baby in her arms. Angelo froze, hardly daring to breath in case he woke them up. They looked so tiny and vulnerable lying there, so beautiful and so infinitely precious. He tiptoed over to them, feasting his eyes on her sweet, beautiful face, on his tiny pout as he slept, on her silky hair spreading across the pillow, on his tiny fists tucked under his chin. He smiled, and reached for a blanket to pull over them.
Jubilee's eyes opened, and she smiled sleepily at him. "Hey, you."
"Hey," he whispered, leaning over to kiss her gently. "I'm sorry I woke you up."
She grinned. "Your breath's almost enough to put me right back to sleep. Were you and the Dire Duo drinkin'?"
"Uh・ yeah. A bit." Angelo tried to look ashamed of himself and failed. "We were・ I dunno・ talking. And drinking. It's a guy thing." He smiled shyly. "I think they like me."
"Of course they do. They're men o' taste and discernment." She sat up, easing gently away from the baby so as not to wake him. "Did you have a fun guy-thing?"
"Si. It was fun." He pulled her in for a lingering, brandy-and-Twinkie-flavoured kiss. "I love you, you know that?"
"I should hope so," she said mildly. "Or I might have to rethink the getting-married thing. Love's very important for that."
"Absolutely." He smiled at her. "Did you sleep right through dinner?"
Jubilee looked at the clock and groaned. "Oh lord, I did, too・ and I'm *hungry*・"
"Don't worry, amante." He chuckled, scooping her up bodily in his arms. "Hank sent me up to get you. We're ordering pizza."
"Pizza! At last! Real food!" Jubilee kissed him enthusiastically. "Now put me down so you can put Michael in his crib."
Angelo went to do so, but as soon as he picked his son up, the big hazel eyes popped open, and he cooed softly. "Hey, you're awake, huh?" He patted the diapered bottom experimentally. "And I think you need changing, too."
Michael grunted a bit in reply. "I think yer right," Jubilee agreed. "He's definitely got a 'Hey, guys, I got a poopy butt' look on his face."
Angelo nodded. "I'll change him." He kissed his wife one more time. "You get started heading down to the lab. We'll catch up."
He changed the nappy as fast as he could, pleased that while he was still pleasantly fuzzy, his dexterity hadn't been damaged by the approximate shot and a half of brandy he'd consumed. Only a minute or two later, he was padding down the hall with Michael on his arms. "We're having pizza, nino. Now, you're too young to really appreciate a good slice, but trust me, in a couple o' years you're really gonna love it."
Michael gurgled, nuzzling his daddy's neck, and Angelo sighed. Dios, he loved this little scrap of humanity. "Yeah, I promise, as soon as you're old enough, I'll sneak you a piece."
He looked up. "Buenos noches, Jean," he said cheerfully. "I know, I missed dinner. Sorry."
"It doesn't matter, just this once," she smiled. Then her eyes narrowed as they neared each other in the narrow hall. "Angelo... have you been drinking?"
Angelo nodded. "Just a little," he said brightly. It really WAS just a little. Back in LA, he'd been known to drink three or four times as much in three hours. Of course, that had left him blind drunk and vomiting, but still. "Hank and Bobby and I were making Brandy Twinkies. You know, guy bonding stuff."
Jean sniffed suspiciously. He'd been drinking BRANDY? On top of beer, knowing the way Bobby liked to do his drinking. And now here he was. "Are you sure you should be... carrying the baby?"
Angelo's eyebrows rose about three inches. "Jean, I've driven a semi after drinking more than this. And I didn't hit *anything*."
Jean blinked. "Why on earth were you driving a semi?"
"Swiping cars'd gotten too easy," Angelo said ironically. He knew what she thought of him, why prevaricate? "You know what it's like when you're thirteen. Reckless."
Jean gave him a horrified look. "Angelo, I don't think-"
"I know, but we don't hold it against you." Angelo smiled sweetly and zipped past her. "Gotta go. We're having pizza."
He heard her huffing as he scampered down the stairs, and thanked his lucky stars that she was who she was. Any older woman from HIS old neighbourhood woulda smacked him around the head for that one. "Jean hates me now," he announced, striding into the lab. "But I'm too drunk to care, so that's cool. Did we order yet?"
"What did you shay to Jean?" Bobby slurred. The second brandy was obviously hitting him.
"I told her I stole a semi while I was drunk when I was thirteen. It upset her." Angelo shrugged, snuggling Michael closer. "Serves her right for saying I shouldn't be carrying the baby."
Hank eyed him thoughtfully. "I must say, I'm impressed by your capacity, my young friend," he said mildly. "Bobby is rather incapacitated, I'm afraid."
Bobby hiccupped. "I am not. I'm just very, very cheerful." He laid his head on Jubilee's shoulder as she sat enthroned on the one comfortable chair in the room. "Aren't I?"
Jubilee giggled. "You're drunk, Bobster."
Angelo slid a possessive arm around her, kissing the top of her head. "And don't think I'll take that as an excuse for you to snuggle my lady," he grinned. "Try it and I'll stuff Michael's diaper down your pants."
"It could be handy," Bobby grinned, but he straightened up. "Who's gonna watch for the pizza? Me?"
"If you like," Hank said indulgently. The beer and the brandy had combined to render the enormous scientist extremely mellow, without being nearly as inebriated as the other two. "Have fun."
"Watching for pizza is fun?" Angelo asked, looking up from his absorbed snuggling of fiancee and son.
"It is the way we do it," Bobby grinned. "See, you hang around up on the balcony and wait for the pizza to arrive. Then you wait for someone else to open the door, and see if they'll pay for it."
"Ah." Angelo grinned. "I'm gonna like you guys, I can just tell."
As the evening progressed, Hank watched the young couple. The loving way he looked at her, the soft glow in her eyes as she looked at him. The way they moved, always utterly aware of the other with every shift of position. The way they both held their child, murmuring soft endearments in response to his soft burbles and coos.
It was good, Hank decided. They genuinely loved each other, and it was good.
* * *
Bobby moaned. "I feel awful," he complained to a singularly unsympathetic Kitty.
She snorted. "You should have thought of that last night." Honestly, it was pitiful to see a grown man whimpering like that.
"I couldn't. We were too busy evaluating Angelo. You know, to make sure he was a good one." Bobby clutched his head weakly. "He is, but I think I'm dead."
"Evaluating Angelo? Is that what you were doing?" Kitty blinked at him. "Good grief, can he even walk this morning?"
"Si. Not so great with the focusing, but I'm walking fine." Angelo wandered in, heading directly for the coffeemaker. "Coffeeeeee....."
Kitty inspected him with the trained eye of a woman who's seen every stage of hangover there is, from mildly unwell to unable to rise from the bed. "You don't look as bad as him." "That's because I can hold it better," Angelo said, only a trace of weakness in his tone. "Kitty, I like you as a person and I consider you a very attractive woman, but if you don't move out from between me and the coffee, I'm going to have to move you."
Kitty smiled, moving away from the coffee machine. At least he was polite. "Want me to get you the milk?"
"Milk is for wusses," Angelo said mildly, filling a cup with midnight-black coffee and taking a gulp. "I only drink manly coffee."
Bobby gave him a horrified, nauseated look. "How can you DO that?" he moaned.
Angelo grinned. "Willpower."
"You're lying," Bobby accused. "You're only doing it because you can't taste it through the fuzz on your tongue."
Angelo raised an eyebrow. "Drake, I gave myself a tattoo when I was fourteen. Black coffee's not that bad."
"Kitty, make him stop! He's belittling my booze-capacity *and* my manhood!" Bobby looked pitiful. "I've already got Gambit for that."
Angelo and Kitty looked at each other and laughed. "I'm slightly impressed, but more by the coffee than the tattoo," Kitty grinned. "You want any breakfast?"
"No thanks. I think the coffee's enough for my stomach to deal with." Angelo grinned a surprisingly charming grin, and Kitty felt herself warming perceptibly towards the man. Sure, he was a *lot* like Pete Wisdom.... but in certain important areas like not smoking and not being allergic to commitment, he was way ahead.
"Good move," she said approvingly. He smiled again and... reached for a tray? "What are you doing?"
Angelo gave her a faintly surprised look. "I'm getting Jubilee's tea," he explained, as if this should be obvious. "She likes to have a cup of tea after she feeds Michael."
Kitty blinked. "You stagger down here, hungover, at a quarter to seven in the morning, and you're making Jubilee a cup of tea?"
Angelo shrugged and nodded. "Why not? It's not like it's *hard*."
Kitty leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "You're gonna do just fine," she said fondly.
He gave her that crooked grin again. "I like to think so."
"It's not fair," Bobby sulked, as they both left the kitchen. "Nobody's kissing MY hangover better."
* * *
Charles Xavier was concerned. Not worried. Worried implied that he feared he could not contain the situation if that became necessary. But still・concerned. He should・ discuss this with Jubilee. Yes, that would be best. He put out a mental trace, and tracked her to the library. She seemed to be alone with Michael. Well, good.
"Jubilee?" he said, hovering into the library. "I would like to speak to you, if you have a moment."
"Sure," she said from somewhere to his left. "I'm gonna be here for at least another ten minutes, the way this guy eats."
Xavier frowned, turning to face her. That sounded like・ like・
She was br・He could see her br・ she was feeding the baby!
Jubilee, for her part, was struggling valiantly not to blush. He couldn't really see ANYTHING, she knew, because the baby's head was in the way. And by the panic-stricken look on his face, the Prof had for once got all shaken up. So if they had to have a 'little talk', then now was a good time, because she had him at a disadvantage. "You wanted to talk, Prof?" she said sweetly, settling the baby a little more comfortably against her arm.
"I・ well, that is・"
Jubilee smiled brightly at him. "This doesn't bother ya, does it? I know it bugs some folks, but it's perfectly natural, right?"
"I... er... no, it does not bother me," Xavier lied weakly. He fastened his eyes firmly on the bookshelf above her head. And pretended not to hear the very clear mental snicker.
Jubilee settled back in her chair, stroking her son's fluffy hair. "So, what'd you wanna talk about? No, wait, lemme guess... Angelo?"
Xavier nodded stiffly. "As it happens, yes, I do want to talk to you about your... marital plans."
Jubilee nodded. "You and everyone else in the mansion," she said resignedly. Then she smiled. "Except Hank and Bobby. They were so cute, do you know what they did? They nabbed Angie and asked him if HE was sure he was ready, 'cause they knew everyone else was too busy worrying about me. Wasn't that sweet?"
Xavier frowned ever so slightly. "Indeed. Jubilee, are *you* certain that this is wise?"
Jubilee shrugged. He had to look at the bookcase again. "Define wisdom," she said mildly. "I know that this is what I want, and what'll make us both happy, if that's what you mean."
"Yes, well..." Xavier sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "I am concerned, Jubilee, about your choice of partner. Please forgive me for saying so, but I find myself... suspicious of Angelo's motivations."
Jubilee blinked. "What?"
"He is... very hostile," Xavier said as gently as he could manage. "Mostly towards me, but towards several of the other X-Men as well. He quite ostentatiously raises his shields whenever we come into contact, and his body-language becomes very... agressive. Please understand that I consider this to be cause for concern, for you and for your baby."
Jubilee stared at him. "Hostile? Aggressive? *Angelo*?" She paused. "Well, okay, sometimes・ okay, a *lot* of the time, but not with *me*."
"Are you entirely certain of that?" Xavier managed to give her a concerned look before putting his eyes back on the books where they were safe. "While I am sure he is a... a sterling young man, I cannot help but worry that you will find yourself in a... difficult relationship."
Jubilee sat up slowly, her soft blue eyes suddenly hard and cold. "Are you insinuating that Angelo would *hurt* me?" she hissed. "That he would hurt our baby?"
"I am not insinuating anything, Jubilee, I am merely voicing my concern-"
"Bullshit!" Jubilee snarled. "You don't like him, because you know he doesn't like you, and you're trying to scare me enough that I'll call off the wedding!"
"And why, precisely, does he not like me?" Xavier said calmly. "Does he have any motivation? Any reason to distrust me, besides the fact that I have made no secret of my concern for your welfare?"
"This has nothing to do with me!" Jubilee almost shouted. "You don't like him because he's a Latino juvenile delinquent who probably got up to who KNOWS what before he became One Of Us! And because you know he's not AFRAID of you like everyone else around here is! And he doesn't like YOU because you're authority! Because you're the Establishment! Because you're a rich, educated white guy!" She gulped, near tears. "And it's got nothing at ALL to do with me or Michael! This is YOUR problem!" Michael whimpered, and she took a deep breath. "Sorry, baby. Mommy won't shout anymore."
The Professor blinked.
"Jubilee, did you just accuse me of racism?"
"No." She glared at him. "Classism. You're a snob."
He blinked again. "I most certainly am not."
"Are too. Elitist, that's what you are. And Angelo's... uh... is there a word for reverse elitism?"
"I... am not certain." Actually, the idea had never even crossed his mind.
"Well, he is. And you are. And it's a problem you're gonna have to deal with on your own time." Jubilee scowled at him. "And that problem is NOT one he has with me. Even if he did, he would never, ever hurt me. You know why? 'Cause he's like Hank."
Xavier's eyebrows rose to hitherto unexplored heights. "He is?"
"Yup. He's all... chivalrous. He couldn't hurt or upset a girl any more'n you could eat yer chops with yer fingers."
"I... see." Xavier frowned. "Forgive me, Jubilee, but this seems rather farfetched. The levels of hostility I have sensed from your prospective bridegroom are quite out of proportion to a mere resentment of my... social standing."
Jubilee shook her head. "You really don't live in the same world as the rest of us, do you? Prof, if you showed yer face in his old neighbourhood, it'd get fished outta the Bay the next morning. This isn't just a petty resentment thing, this is bone-deep, ingrained hatred. He hates everything you are, everything you represent, and the *only* reason he's not trying t' pick a fight with you is 'cause he doesn't wanna upset me."
Xavier blinked again. "Apparently I don't," he said slowly. "Live in the same world as the rest of you, I mean." This... had never occurred to him. The idea that a fellow mutant, a fellow member of the feared-and-hated, could resent him for something as paltry as... as... as an apparently unbridgeable cultural gulf.
Jubilee nodded slowly. "No great surprise," she said softly. "Prof, don't get me wrong here... but you're not exactly cutting edge anymore. "
Xavier's breath caught, his face freezing into immobility. "I am hardly a fossil yet, Jubilee," he said coolly.
She looked down at the baby, then back at him. "Well・ you kind of are, Prof," she said unhappily. "I mean, you grew up in the *thirties*. And I know you've been body-switched and de-aged and all that stuff, but in your head・ It's not that you're not smart, and powerful, with loads of experience・ but it's not the forties anymore. The world's changed. People have changed."
"In other words, I'm getting old and set in my ways." Xavier swallowed, taking a deep breath. "That is・ a harsh accusation, Jubilee."
She tilted her head, giving him a gently sympathetic look. "Sorry, but there it is," she said softly. "This isn't about me and Angelo, Professor. I know that nobody thinks I'm ready for marriage, and I can understand why, even if I don't agree. I can accept their reasoning, and yours. Can you accept mine? Look at what's been happening. The things we've all done. Look at the thing with the Skrulls. The Prime Sentinels. The Twelve. You're a good man, Professor, but your way *doesn't work anymore*."
"That is not true," he whispered.
"Yes it is," she said quietly. "We both know it is."
He looked down at his hands. "I・" he said helplessly. He couldn't・ he wasn't・
"I'm sorry, Professor," Jubilee whispered, her eyes full of tears. "I just・"
"You saw a problem, and you felt you should say something. That is all right, Jubilee. It is・ your duty, I suppose." He reached out to touch her hand gently. "I cannot thank you for it, but I understand."
She patted his hand wordlessly, and nodded.
Xavier crept away, and went looking for one of his Original X-Men. Specifically, for Hank. Although he considered himself very close to all the Originals, Hank was the oldest. And the best at adult conversations. He was in the lab, of course. "Hank? Are you busy?"
"Not so much that I cannot be interrupted," Hank said mildly. Unlike the others, he had showed no signs of being hungover at all.
"Good." Xavier hovered his way in, careful not to bump anything. "I was wondering if we might... discuss something. I have just had a rather... distressing conversation with Jubilee-"
"If this is about Angelo, Professor, I should remind you that I am in the 'affirmative' camp," Hank said mildly.
Xavier looked blank for a moment, then shook his head. "No, no, this has nothing to do with the upcoming nuptials. I just... that is..." He sighed, giving Hank an unintentionally pathetic look. "Hank, please tell me the truth... am I too old to lead the X-Men?"
Hank blinked. He took off his glasses, and inspected the Professor. "I certainly would not recommend you for the position of field leader," he said brightly, hoping to pass the whole thing off as a joke. "You aren't dressed nearly revealingly enough, I'm afraid."
"Please, Hank. Be serious."
Hank sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between a massive thumb and forefinger. "Charles... none of us are getting any younger. Even Bobby has a grey hair or two, and I myself have found more than a few silver threads. Time...passes."
Grey? Little Bobby? The baby of his original team?
Xavier leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment. "Jubilee told me that I... am no longer in touch with the world as it is today."
"No. Neither am I, for that matter, although since I never really was, that is no great milestone." Hank sighed, laying a gentle hand on his teacher's shoulder. "Everyone ages, Professor. Eventually... even you."
Xavier looked down at the big hand. "I find myself... unprepared," he said wryly. "So many disasters I've prepared for, so many villains I've faced and now... I find myself helpless and unaware as I am stalked by Time itself."
Hank chuckled softly. "Charles, in all my life, I have never known *anyone* who was truly prepared for finding themselves... old." He sighed. "Professor, you have been more than our leader for many years. You've been a friend and a mentor, too, to all of us. But..." The blue eyes held the same gentle pity as Jubilee's had. "The world has changed, and no force in all the world will change it back. In order to survive, the X-Men must change and grow with it, as must the Dream... and even you."
Xavier nodded, the unpalatable truth no longer avoidable. "And I... am not a gifted man at change."
"No." Hank patted his shoulder gently, then withdrew his hand.
"Why... why has nobody mentioned this? How long have I been... too old to be doing the job I still have?" Xavier choked on the bitter truth.
"Not long." It was the kindly, non-intrusive tone of a doctor. "Since Onslaught, there have been signs. Since Zero Tolerance, it has been a certainty, at least to me."
"And you didn't say anything?"
Hank shrugged helplessly. "What could I say? Professor, you have been one of my greatest influences since I was in my teens. You have been a brilliant leader and a truly noble individual for most of my life." His voice was very gentle. "And you still are. Just not... one who knows the world we now live in, not well enough. But how could I tell you that?"
Xavier nodded silently. He'd thought Onslaught was bad. He'd thought Bastion was worse. But this... this wasn't a villain taking his life from him, it wasn't something he could fight... it was just Time, cold, implacable Time, peeling his life gently away from him. "I... understand. I appreciate your care for my feelings, Hank." He lifted his head, battered pride still alight in his eyes. "I will formally readjust the structure of the X-Men, I think. Scott will make a good leader and I... will stay on in an advisory capacity. I can still do that." It came out a little hurt, a little bitter, and Hank reached out again to lay that gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Indeed you can, Professor," he said softly. "None better."
"Good, then." Xavier nodded a little jerkily. "I will go and begin the necessary paperwork." He turned his hoverchair, heading for the lift. From the lift to his office took only a minute or two, and he settled at his desk. He picked up a pen, looking at the neatly organized paperwork before him.
Then he dropped the pen, buried his face in his hands, and wept.