Once on the road, Jubilee wrapped her arms around Logan and laid her cheek against his warm back--there were advantages to having a hairy male friend. She was tired and her head throbbed from its encounter with the beer bottle. In the distance, light flashed in the sky followed by a low rumble. Summer storms were common here. She heard Logan open up the throttle, and the Harley responded. Maybe he too wanted to get back to the mansion before the storm. Whatever the reason, he was in a hurry. The roar of the Harley's engine through the drag pipes lulled her into a light doze.
An intense bright white flash penetrated the lids of Jubilee's closed eyes. She jerked upright and only Logan's quick reach around kept her from falling off the Harley. Then, the loudest boom of thunder she'd ever heard exploded around them, almost on top of them. Jubilee thought it would rattle her teeth from her head. Logan brought the Harley to a halt, and braced one foot on the road. A growl rumbled from his chest.
"What is it?" Jubilee squeaked, blinked and peered over his shoulder. At first, all she saw was the outline of a small child-like figure standing in the middle of the road. Then that figure began spinning something attached to a rope over their head. A whirling vortex of sparkling lights lit the forest canopy .
"Oh no, Wolvie. Tell me that isn't who I think it is."
"Gateway," Logan confirmed. "Not now, you pint-sized pinhead," he shouted, "I ain't in the mood."
Gateway remained as silent and impassive as always. The only time he appeared was when he had something to show them, but tonight Jubilee wasn't always interested. She wanted two things: warm clothes, warm bed. A chill traveled up her spine and tightened along her scalp.
"You know, I never could figure out this guy."
"You and me both, darlin'," Logan replied. "Don't matter, though, I think we're going on a ride whether we like it or not."
A hurricane of lights shot towards them, surrounded them, sucking them in and howling over their heads.
"I hope the landing doesn't hurt!" Jubilee shouted, shut her eyes and held on. Her stomach lurched. The hurricane picked them up and twisted them around. "Now I know how Dorothy felt!" she shouted, but the wind swept away her words. She could only hear the wind in her ears and her hair stood on end and crackled with static. Sparks danced up her arms and covered her and Logan's in a blanket of light.
And just as quickly it was over.
Jubilee opened her eyes... and they seemed not to have moved at all. She peeked over Logan's shoulder. Something was very strange, though, and it took her a moment to realize that she heard...nothing. Absolute silence. No swish of distant traffic, no chirping crickets, and no wind in the treetops. In the distant sky she could see gray boiling clouds back lit by flashes of lightning, but no thunder. Above them, tiny pinpoints of light rained from the heavens and disappeared over the tops of distant trees. If those lights were aircraft, there was no sound of engines.
"Uh, what just happened?"
"Have no clue, Jubes. No flamin' clue," Logan grunted. "But wherever we are, it can't be good if Gateway sent us." He motored the Harley off to the side of the road and pushed the kickstand down with the heel of his boot. He climbed off and Jubilee got her first look at him. Static electricity had his hair standing on end.
"Wolvie!" she laughed and pointed. "You... you... you look like an electrified terrier! Ha ha!" She wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her sleeve. "Where's a camera when you need it!"
"Smart ass," Logan grumbled and smoothed down his black hair. "Put a lid on it, Jubes. There ain't something right here."
Jubilee's laughter died. She suddenly felt uneasy and she stared into the dark forest. Shivering, she wrapped her arms round herself. "It looks like the woods around the mansion, but why is it giving me a galloping case of the creeps?"
"It ain't the same." Logan sniffed the air and growled. "There's someone familiar here, though. There's a scent I recognize, but something else is here, too, and it ain't' the welcome wagon lady."
"Uh, how sure of that are you?" she asked, knotting her fingers together. "Kinda sure? Pretty sure? Or is this a hundred percent kinda thing?"
Logan popped his claws and fading moonlight glimmered down their silvery adamantium length.
"Um, I'm guessing it's a one hundred percent sure kinda thing?" She knew she was babbling but couldn't help it. "Wolvie, when I bugged you to let me tag along, I didn't think a trip to Nowheresville would be part of the bargain."
"If I had told ya', darlin', ya' wouldn't have believed me." Logan stepped forward, then fell into a combat crouch. His animal-like senses had picked up something she couldn't see or hear. Then Jubilee heard a faint sound, an odd scraping, chittering noise somewhere on the road ahead of them.
"Wolvie?" she whispered.
"I'm going to need some light on the situation, Jubes," Logan said, his voice guttural and a snarl lifted his lips.
"Uh... okay. You got it," she replied. PAF! Fireworks sprang from her fingers and lit up the sky. "Aaaaa!" Jubilee screeched and retreated. "Gross! Bugs! Why bugs? I hate bugs! Oogie, creepy, crawling, disgusting, bugs!" Logan was ignoring her. "Say something, Wolvie!"
"Where's a can o' raid when you need it," Logan growled.
"That's not what I meant!" Jubilee had never seen anything quite like these creatures. They were at least twice her height and a strange cross between beetles and wasps. "Where in the world did these things come from.... Ahhhh!"
A bright energy beamed streaked out from one of the creatures toward Logan. He leapt to the left, tucked and rolled and came up snarling. "Doesn't matter 'cause right now they're in the World o' Hurt! Watch those beams, kiddo!" he shouted and dodged another. With a roar, he leaped into the midst of the advancing creatures, a gleeful half-smile on his face. Adamantium claws tore through the bugs, gutting them, ripping through exoskeletons.
Expecting to be spatter with something gross like bug guts, Jubilee cringed and held up her arms. Instead, the sound of Wolverine's adamantium claws screeching through metal set her teeth on edge. They were cyborg bugs? Jubilee ducked as a sharp metal fragment flew over her head.
"Hey, watch were you're flinging that stuff!" she shouted. "You could hurt somebody, like me!"
"Keep the fireworks comin', pun'kin," Logan called. He disemboweled a bug with a fast back slash. Components sparked and the bug fell to its back, its tiny legs clicking madly in the air.
"More light on its way!" Her pafs, quick and strong, leapt from her fingers. The bugs chittered and moved away from the light. "Don't like that huh? Eat fireworks!"
Jubilee watched Logan use one of the downed bugs as a launch point to jump on top of another. He punched his claws into the top of its head. The thing screeched and little bug arms fluttered wildly. They might be cyborg, but it appeared that they didn't like Logan ripping them up. Another bug snatched Logan from the top of its shrieking buddy. Logan strained back and stuck a trio of claws into one of its eyes.
Logan was shredding them as fast as he could, Jubilee knew, but there were too many for him to deal with alone. They didn't like her fireworks, but she couldn't seem to penetrate their exoskeletons.
Then, a ruler-straight energy beamed smacked into Logan mid-section. The beam picked him up, doubled him over and drove him backwards.
"Ugh!" Logan grunted. He slammed into a tree, slid to the ground and lay still. Excited, the bug things chirped and moved in, surrounding him.
"Wolvie!" Jubilee ran towards him, sending fireworks into beady little bug eyes. "Man o man, why do I always have to save your hairy butt."
The bugs moved back, and in the midst of sparking wires, and dangling parts, Logan rose up, a bug's head speared on the claw points of one hand.
"Something's going on, kiddo'" Logan called, "that beam wasn't meant to kill."
"Oh yeah, right. I was thinking that these cuddly little bugs dont' want to hurt lil' Wolvie. NOT!" she returned, and paffed a bug that came too close. But they weren't interested in her; they were interested in Logan. "So what exactly was it?"
"Stun beam, but they didn't figure in my healin' factor," he called to her again.
Having been given a good taste of Logan's fighting prowess, the bugs regrouped and chattered, clicking their metallic arms. Jubilee noticed a few of them watched her, but their focus seemed to be on Logan, who crouched before them, arms out, claw extended, growls rumbling from his chest. Perhaps having formulated a new plan, the bugs came at him again, this time trying to catch him in a three way cross beam. Logan rolled under the beams and came up behind the leaders and opened them up with furious upper cuts from both sets of claws. There were just too many of them and for everyone that he incapacitated, three more took its place.
"See what you can do to distract more of them!" Logan shouted.
Jubilee lit up the sky again with another paf, then toward the opposite end of the skirmish, she saw someone at the edge of the forest. At first she thought it was Gateway, but quickly revised that first impression. The lone figure was too big, and they held a large gun-like weapon.
BOOM! FFFFSSS-zzzzt! A blue tinged beam shot from the weapon's muzzle and burned through several of the cyborg bugs. Again the weapon's energy beam sent a burning destructive line thought the bugs and took down at least a half dozen of them.
"Looks like the cavalry just arrived!" Logan shouted.
Bolstered by this mysterious aide-de-camp, Logan's ferocity increased, until in the end, he stood panting and snarling in the middle of what looked like a huge heap of scrap. The bugs retreated, and Jubilee watch the tiny lights streak silently back into the air. They had won.
Logan's clothes were torn, he was bloody from numerous, but healing, cuts and a coil of metal hung off one spur. He tilted back his head. "Awwwoooooo!".
"That's my guy," Jubilee said and despite feeling exhausted, she giggled.
Then, out of the sparking, smoking carnage loomed a tall, lone figure. Logan turned, sniffed the air, then a faint grin tugged at his lips and he retracted his claws.
"Only one man I know that can howl like that," commented a deep voice. Jubilee recognized the man with the silver hair and a funny eye. Nathan Summers, AKA Cable. He and Logan had been part friends, part adversaries for a long time.
"Evenin', Nathan." Logan dug a cigar out of his pocket and scowled at the smashed tip. "Damn bugs," he muttered. "Hey darlin', how about a light?" Jubilee complied with a tiny paf, and Logan puffed on the cigar a moment then motioned to Nathan. "Fancy meetin' you here."
"Could say the same," the big man replied. He had the beam weapon hefted over one massive shoulder. "Hard for a man to get a quiet drink without some disaster interrupting."
"Know what you mean." Logan gestured with the cigar. "Have any idea where the tin roaches hail from?"
"Hopin' you'd know," Nathan replied and switched the beam weapon to the other shoulder. "Don't even know how I got here."
"Courtesy o' Gateway."
"Heeellooooo? Woo-hoo!" Jubilee said, stepping between the two men and waving one hand. "Oh Dorothy, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more and wouldn't ya' know that I went and left my ruby slippers at home."
"And there ain't a flamin' thing we can do about anything until Gateway's ready ta' send us back," Logan replied, unruffled. He nodded to Nathan. "In the meantime, let's check the bugs and ta' see if we can find out who sent 'em."
The two men left to sift through the rubble of the cyborg bugs.
Jubilee sat on Logan's Harley and sulked. "You know, you guys can be worried if you want and I promise I won't tell anyone!" she shouted. They ignored her. "Macho poopheads. I just wanted to hang out for awhile and what do I get? A loser trying to pick me up at a biker dive and a hoard of escapees from the roach motel."
"No lethal weapons that I can find," Nathan called. "Just the stun beams they hit you with. This technology is alien." Nathan pushed some rubble off an oblong pod with a glass-like top. "Look at this."
Jubilee watched the two men poke around for a moment trying to find a way to open the pod, but Logan opened it his own Logan-like fashion. He leapt on top of the pod, popped his claws, rammed them into the top and opened it like a sardine can, peeling back thin curly-cues of metal.
"A one man capsule," Nathan said. "Exactly your size, Logan. I bet if you lay in there, it'd fit you perfect. Know something you ain't telling me?"
"If I knew what the flamin' hell was happening, Nathan, maybe I'd let you know." Logan looked about as worried as a man like him could.
Which wasn't much, Jubilee thought. If he looked too worried he might tarnish his macho reputation. She rolled her eyes. "Wait. Take that back, girl," she said to herself, and her eyes narrowed. "Something is eating at him, and I bet it's the reasons he's been big time crunching the scenarios in the danger room. He didn't seem too surprised by all this, maybe he knew of it beforehand." She watched Logan speared a part with his claws and tossed it over his shoulder. "Whenever you guys are like done, you know? I don't want to be here if more of these things show up," she called.
Logan strode forward, then stopped, looked up at the sky and sniffed. "I believe we should be lookin' for shelter."
"Why..." Jubilee began. A blinding flash of lightning lit the woods, and the downpour that had been threatening became a reality. Jubilee jerked her coat over her head. "Who turned on the shower!"
"If the topography is the same in this neck o' the woods, there's a cave near here," Logan said.
Jubilee followed close behind Nathan; he made an excellent rain block. Logan fetched his Harley and wheeled it off the road under the trees. Jubilee had explored the area around the mansion and knew of hidden palisades and rock formations, so it was no surprise when Logan led them through a thicket of bushes and into a large cave. Nathan was able to stand upright inside and he nodded, approving of their crude accommodations.
"How about some light, darlin'" Logan asked.
Paf! The cave wasn't much but at least it was dry, Jubilee noted. Thunder rumbled outside and any doubts she had about the cave faded. She'd rather be in here with these two tough guys then out there. Nathan gathered old wood scattered about the cave, while Logan stood watch near the cave's entrance. Jubilee sagged against the cave wall as the adrenaline rush faded. She felt ready to drop.
"Whoa there, kiddo," Logan said, and caught her with an arm around her waist before she collapsed. "We'll worry 'bout findin' our way out tomorrow. You look tuckered."
"I'll take first watch," Nathan said. For once Logan did not argue, to Jubilee's relief.
Logan sat down and leaned backed against the cave wall. Jubilee scooted up under his arm and snuggled into him. He held her tight and she laid her head on his chest. He was very warm, his body radiated heat, and the even, strong rhythm of his heart lulled her off to sleep.
* * * *
Nathan crouched by the cave's entrance and regarded the X-man and the young woman who slept, nestled at his side. Despite Logan's tougher-than-nails demeanor, he was a softie when it came to children. But Jubilee was no child, Nathan reminded himself. Logan seemed to be the only one who hadn't noticed that the thirteen year old had grown into a young woman. Nathan chuckled. He actually felt sorry for Logan. There was some trouble brewing for him, and it was the kind of trouble that his legendary fighting skills would be useless against.
Logan opened one eye and growled. "What's so flamin' amusin'?"
"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me. But you, my friend, will find out soon enough," Nathan replied, chuckled again, then turned away. Yep, it was going to be amusing when Logan finally figured it out.
* * * *
Jubilee knew she was wedged against something very warm and cozy. She sighed and burrowed deeper.
"Time to get up, darlin'," said a familiar voice near her ear. "I can't feel my arm."
"Warm. Comfy," Jubilee mumbled and took a deep breath. Her nose twitched. She smelled the faint odor of cigars, and the unmistable sent of a man. A man? She took another breath. "Wolvie?"
"Rise n' shine."
Jubilee opened her eyes, sat up, smacked her lips and rubbed her eyes. "I was comfortable. I didn't know that you made such a good pillow."
Logan rotated his arm. "A pillow? Had people call me plenty o' things, an' pillow has never been among those."
"I bet," Jubilee teased. "Oh, Wolvie, you have stuff in your hair." She scooted behind him and began to finger comb his hair starting at his temples and up to the ends. It was interesting the way his hair grew up from his temples into two points. And it was softer then she thought it would be. A sound close to a growl rumbled through him. It took her a moment to realize it was something like a purr. He liked this. Jubilee increased her efforts unaware of Nathan's amused interest.
A hand hard hand gripped her wrist. "That's enough, darlin'."
"You look like you've spent the night in a haystack. I'm not done, yet." Jubilee wondered why Nathan chuckled.
"Yes you are." His voice had a strangled quality to it.
"What a grouch." Jubilee sighed and stood. Great. Logan was already in one of his moods.
"I think it's time we look for a way out o' here." Then Logan glared at Nathan. "And whatever yer thinkin', keep it to yerself."
Nathan raised his hands, shook his head and smiled. "I ain't sayin' a thing."
Jubilee had no idea what the guys were talking about. Men. She'd never figure them out in her lifetime. She did know one thing though. Right now she wanted to get home, change out of these clothes and take a shower. She rubbed her aching left butt cheek. She wasn't used to sleeping on the ground.
She trailed the two men out of the cave. The sky was clear and blue, and rain dripped from the trees. The birds were back. Jubilee could hear them chirping in the branches, and in the distance she could hear the sound of traffic. Wolvie took point, using his senses to alert them of any impending trouble. Nathan had his beam weapon held ready. But at the edge of the road, everything seemed normal. Cars swished by on the road still wet from last night's rain. Logan's scoot was parked where he'd left it under a tree. The only remaining sign of the beetle things were a few singed tree trunks and some broken branches.
"Man, maybe it was just a bad danger room flashback," she said to no one in particular.
"I'm going to take Jubilee home," Logan was telling Nathan and the big man nodded.
"I'll keep looking around. If I find anything, I'll contact you."
Logan pushed the Harley out of the woods and back onto the road. Jubilee climbed on back and grimaced at the sensation of the wet seat sinking into her shorts. It was a short ride back to the mansion and by the watch on her arm it was close to noon when they drove up. She felt like a teenager who was way overdue home from a date.
Jubilee trailed Logan into the foyer and it was only then that she realized how rumpled and dirty they both looked. Their clothing was torn from their tussle with the bug things. Any thoughts of sneaking to her room were dashed when Jean and Ororo appeared from opposite directions into the foyer. Their faces held duplicate expressions of displeasure, both pressed hands to their hips like disapproving mothers. Remy happened to wander downstairs at that moment, looked at them, tapped his chin and tried his best not to smile.
"Mornin' Jean, 'Ro, Remy," Logan greeted.
"Mornin'? Is that all you can say? We were worried about you two," Jean finally burst out.
"And we heard there was a fight at the Auger Inn," Ororo added, "and you and Jubilee were cited as the instigators. And this came about an hour ago." She held up a piece of paper. "It's your share of the bill for damages."
Logan stepped forward to stand in front of Ororo. He first looked at her, then at the paper.
A single spur slid out and precisely speared the paper from Ororo's hand. "Thanks," Logan said.
At least one person in the room found this amusing. Jubilee saw Remy staring at the floor and trying to hid his laughter, his shoulders shaking, one hand clamped over his mouth. Ororo glared at the cajun.
"Logan, I can't believe you would take Jubilee to that place! What were you thinking?" Jean said, stared pointedly at the bill speared on the tip of one spur and then at Logan. He withdrew the spur and caught the bill in one big hand.
"Wait just a moment here!" Jubilee spoke up. They were talking like she was still thirteen. "I'm old enough to take care of myself. I don't need you two acting as my surrogate mothers." Jubilee stood in front of Logan and ignored his surprised expression. "I pestered Wolvie into taking me. And I'm the one who started it. This dweebie guy bothered me, and Wolvie punched him." She swiped at the air with one small fist. "And then that guy's brother--man, he was a big sucker--attacked Wolvie and Wolvie punched him. Wham!" She smacked her fist into an open palm "KO'ed! Down for the count. And then everyone got involved. Then a beer bottled whacked me upside the head, so Wolvie carried me out of there and we were coming home when we saw Gateway. He took us to a place where we were attacked by these huge, giant creepy bugs. Nathan showed up with a big bug zapper of a gun. Then it started raining so we spent the night in a cave... and ...and...." Jubilee trailed off at the incredulous wide expressions on Ororo and Jean's faces. "Hey!" She turned and looked at Wolvie for confirmation of her story and found a lopsided grin on his face. It was the first time she'd seen him smile all morning.
"Darlin', if there's one thing I've learned is ta' never explain ta' the others 'bout what can happen when I ride off for the evenin' on my scoot."
"You mean last night...?"
"You're lucky it was one o' the tamer nights, darlin'. One o' the tamer nights." He squeezed her shoulder, winked at Ororo and Jean, and strode away whistling a tune between his teeth.
"Wolvie!" Jubilee shouted at his retreating back. She shook a fist at him. "You get back here." She stamped a foot. "Big creep!"
"What possessed you to go with Logan?" Jean started.
"OOOOoooo!" Jubilee stamped her foot again and shook a finger at the two older women. "Don't start on me about this now. I'm not in the mood!" She swung around and stalked away in the other direction.
"What was that all about?" Ororo finally said after a stunned silence.
"Cherie, like Logan said, it's better not to ask, no?" Gambit said. He left the two of them alone in the foyer, his laughter echoing down the hallway. Ororo and Jean exchanged puzzled glances.
"Giant bugs?" they both said simultaneously.