Disclaimer: Characters are Marvel's, story is mine. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. That about sums it up, I think.
Jubilee awoke in the dark, sweating. It was not the first time that night her thoughts had disturbed her to consciousness, and she didn't expect it to be the last. After too long turning and yawning, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Spitting her mouth dry, she brushed her teeth excessively to get rid of the taste of sleep-ridden breath. Avoiding her own reflection in the mirror for fear of what she saw, she washed her face, savouring the feel of clean water on her skin, too long in captivity. Finally, she moved back to her bedroom, pulling on jeans under her night-shirt. She was about to reach for her blades when - [and don't skate in the house] - Warren's words echoed in her skull. She sniffed, determined not to cry - again - and instead picked up her normal trainers, not putting them on until she had padded safely along the corridor and down the stairs to the front door.
As she laced up her shoes, sitting on the front steps, she listened to the night. It was so different here in Massachusetts to the last time she had heard it in New Mexico, only a few nights before. There, where the constant sound of wind kept her afraid of Sentinels, she had not appreciated the natural rhythms of air and life. Here, she could only immerse herself in those noises to keep the thoughts of Bastion [even her mind spat out the word] and the torture from her head. Sitting on the steps, she closed her eyes and leant back, grateful for the smooth and cool stone on her spine, even through her night-shirt. She was almost totally out of her own thoughts when she heard the unmistakably tinny cheer of the TV coming from the direction of the Rec. Room. Almost irritated at whoever it was disturbing her peace, she nonetheless decided she ought to know who else was awake, even if she didn't feel like talking to them.
Paige watched, silent, as Jubilee picked herself up from the floor and headed off to another building. She had seen something in the younger girl's eyes just then that had been missing since she had been returned...the old firecracker? No, she doubted that would ever be the same. It was more like relaxation. God knows, the poor child needed to relax. She had been cooped up in her room too long. There was something almost frightening in the way she had been refusing to talk about Bastion... Jubilee, who had laughed in Emplate's face; Jubilee, who had freed Wolverine from crucifixion; Jubilee, who had fought with the X-Men on the other side of the galaxy. Jubilee, the thirteen-year-old girl without a mother.
Paige wrapped her arms around her knees. She thought of her own mother, the strong country woman who had brought seven children up on a farm, alone. The woman who had tried to protect her from the Phalanx and failed. She loved her mother. She missed her. She wanted to tell her mom everything that had happened to her, to hug her and be protected again. She shivered slightly as the memory of the Sentinels overcame her for a moment, their huge, hulking forms shadowing everything in sight. Her fingers felt the scars on her arms, remembered waking under blocks of concrete, her costume clinging wet to her peeling rock skin, remembered screaming, screaming as she couldn't husk the rest of her skin off, screaming as blood poured from cuts she didn't remember getting. And finally, she remembered Ev's voice above her - [for God's sake, get her out, get her to a hospital] - Ev's saving voice.
//Paige?// It wasn't Ev's voice in her mind now, but Jono's. She wiped her eyes hastily, surprised to find them barely damp, then looked up at him standing right in front of her. She put her hand out and he pulled her up, lingering slightly over letting the hand go.
//I wondered where you were,// he said. When she made no response he continued. //I haven't see you in days, Paige. I wanted to talk to you about...everything.//
She nodded slightly. She wasn't sure if she could handle this right now, so she didn't commit herself. "I'll listen," she finally offered.
//I..I don't know where to start.//
She took his hand. "Just tell me."
//I thought I'd killed you,// he started quietly. //I thought it was all happening again, and I'd only just got you back.//
She could feel his hand go tense, she could almost have tasted his guilt. She tried to soothe him, "I was rock, Jono, I was only stunned. You couldn't have hurt me."
Jono looked down at that beautiful face, those red eyes pleading him for something he couldn't quite place. He shook his head. //You don't get it... It could have been...it was almost your pretty flesh, Paige, your beautiful blood smeared across the...the...// His psionic 'voice' faltered, and he looked away. //Let's walk,// he said shortly.
Paige and Jonothon were gone less than five minutes before the quiet of the driveway was disturbed again. The slam of the limo door echoed through the night, followed by the sharp, rapid footfalls of Emma Frost running crosscampus. She whirled into the Rec. Room, breathing heavily, and stood with her hands on her knees for a full minute to get the rhythm back.
Jubilee and Everett looked over the back of the sofa, eyes wide. "Ms Frost-" the girl started.
"Where's Sean?" The question was almost a snarl.
"Uh, in the 'sphere with Penny." Jubilee knew better than to argue with the woman in that mood.
Without a word of thanks, she was running again.
Jubilee looked back at the one she shared a seat with. "Carry on," she said quietly. "You've just kissed Monet and..."
Ev's face was serious. He had to tell her, now he'd started. But there was no way in hell she was ever going to talk to him again.
"I think I was in love with her."
Jubilee said nothing.
"Well? Aren't you going to judge me?" He stood up and paced to the other side of the room.
"She's eight years old." Jubilee's voice was barely a whisper.
"You don't think I know that now? God, Jubes," he came close and kneeled in front of her, "believe me. I didn't mean to feel like that."
There was more silence.
He lost his patience. "You know what?" He rose again, and headed towards the door. "I'm not going to explain. You've obviously no idea what I'm talking about."
She stood up herself, and for the first time let her voice out. "Why? Because I'm thirteen, I don't know what love's like?"
He stopped, and looked at her. For a moment he became the old Ev again, her best friend. "I didn't mean that, J. I meant, you've never had your heart and mind fighting like this. You, I love you, J, you're my best friend here, but Monet was something else." He hung his head. "I don't think I could explain."
"Jolt and Sugar Bombs, Ev!" He was trying her fraught nerves. "Try!"
He moved back towards her, and they sat again in the plush red cushions. He shifted uncomfortably for a while but eventually settled, not looking her in the eye.
He started talking then, and didn't stop until he had purged every guilt-ridden word from his body.
Angelo's midnight walking had brought him no satisfaction. Torres still plagued him, after so long. "I thought I'd gotten her out of my system," he muttered under his breath, for the thousandth time. "I'd almost forgotten her before I went back. I almost thought seeing her would have no effect. I thought - well, I thought a lot of things. But I had no idea she would do this! She's tried to kill me, and still I can't keep her out of my mind. In a near-death experience, what's my first thought? Not 'My skin's been ripped off in chunks and it hurts' or 'Well, hello hell', but 'I'm never going to see Torres again'." He sighed, and pushed open the door to the kitchen with his foot. "And now I get to spend six weeks with my arms so bandaged up I look like something from Scooby Doo, and I still can't get her off my mind!" He backed through the outside door, and shivered at the blast of comparatively cold air that hit him. A flash of light caught the corner of his eye, and he saw two figures standing away to the left, arm in arm. He raised his eyebrows. "Now why didn't I go after Paige whan she was available? There were sparks, but I didn't follow them up because of one little Barrio girl I never expected to see again! Paige is gorgeous, here, and nice, but no, Angelo has to fall for Torres, who's hundreds of miles away and wants to kill him." He shook his head. "This is doing me no good." He looked to the stars and smiled. "You are killing me, Torres, without even trying."
Penance crouched in a tree, watching without apparent emotion what was going on below her. Although no sound penetrated her ears, she knew an argument when she saw it, and she knew who would win.
"This is MY property, and I have every damned right to expell you from it."
"Just like you had the right to give a child in your charge to a monster!"
"According to you, Sean, I AM a monster! What difference would it have made?"
"If you really want rid of us- "
"What 'us'? You are not taking those students from my school."
"You can't run this place on your own, woman! You'll get them all killed!"
"I will not have you talk that way to me!" Emma was having trouble keeping her psionic emotions under control. As it was, some anger was leaking straight across the astral plane to Sean, and she knew the headache would emphasise her words. "Mr. Cassidy, if you are still on these grounds in two hours, I will have you forcibly removed."
Sean had no reply, but stood stock-still, lips tight. Suddenly he lowered his seething eyes and walked straight past her, out of sight.
Emma did not wipe the lone tear from her chin. She took three deep breaths and started to walk further into the jungle. Within a minute she was in the centre, surrounded as far as she could see by green plants, the only noise the rushing waterfall to her left. She spun around quickly as another sound whispered on her hearing; the blood-red shadow of Penance was now in front of her, not crouching as usual, but standing with the posture of any other teenage girl.
//Are you unafraid now? Do you not condemn me as the others do?//
Penance tilted her head, knowing that the feelings in it were this woman's. She felt suddenly philosophical and smiled at the strange timing. This woman was afraid and alone, and had never hurt her, she thought. There was no reason to make her feel worse and every reason to help her. If only she could. She looked down at her hands, and again at the woman who was watching her incredulously. Penny tilted her head again, this time enquiring.
Emma stepped towards her, carefully judging her movements to be inoffensive. She noticed for the first time how utterly blue the girl's eyes were; how liquid and human they seemed compared to the razor-sharp package they came in. And, with one fluid motion, she wrapped her arms around this poor, lovely, stranger-child, wanting nothing more than to care and be cared for, ignoring the lines of blood bulging from the contact.
//I'm sorry, Gateway,// she thought. //I've failed you both.//
"I've just completely screwed my life up, amigo, completely screwed it up." Ev sanked down against the front wall of the school. "And I've just lost my best friend."
Angelo lowered himself more carefully. "Drink?"
Ev half smiled. "Volume?"
"4.8%. Cassidy didn't lock the cupboard."
"Thanks." Ev took the bottles from Angelo's sling and opened them on the step. "Mom and Dad are coming by tomorrow. I don't know when I'll be back." There was a tone in his voice that gave the impression he might not be.
Angelo nodded. "At least you've got that choice. I don't know what's going to happen now."
"Emma's back." Ev nodded towards the limo parked a few metres away. "
"She was yelling at Cassidy last I heard."
"You saw them?"
"No. I was checking up where Irish was so I could get these. Could hear them from his cottage."
"Everything's changing, isn't it?"
"Of course. It always does, sooner or later. We can't live in the past forever."
"You and Torres seemed to talk a lot about it." Ev knew Angelo talked a good line, but what he thought was anyone's guess.
"Yeah, well, she meant a lot back then."
"I'll get over it." Angelo drained his bottle.
"How long will it take?"
Angelo looked at him. "Drink up," he said. "It's almost dawn."
"I'm sorry, they're still out, Mr. Cassidy."
The nurse led him into the darkened room, where two girls lay comatose. On one bed, the child lay under the tight blue hospital sheet. Her monitor showed a regular heart-beat, normal blood pressure and her breathing was as though she slept. The other girl was smaller, and was curled in a rumpled, sweaty bed.
"I'm afraid Claudia's life-signs are weak, Mr. Cassidy. She has a tumour in her throat, and it doesn't look good."
"Is it operable?"
"It might have been, but with the recent trauma..." Her voice trailed off significantly.
He nodded. "Monet?"
"She's physically fine. We've just got to wait until she decides to come back to us."
He took a last look at these two little girls and was almost sorry for his decision. But it was made, and the flight to Ireland booked. There was no turning back.
After he had signed out, he reached into his pocket, pausing as he looked at the small piece of card he drew out. It was crisp and rectangular, white as the woman who designed it.
"I'm going abroad," he told the nurse. "I'm transferring guardianship of the twins to Ms. Emma Frost. She can be contacted here, at this number." He handed it over, put on his hat and was gone.
Mail the author, Cynjen, with comments!