DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story are the intellectual property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission. This is a not-for-profit work and suing will be frowned on, as will archiving without permission and distributing for money.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a prequel to 'The Long Walk' [archived at Awkward Silences] which, therefore, you don't need to have read.

Pandora's Box

"Hey, babe!"

She jumped as his stretched fingers unexpectedly pinched her waist. As she turned, he was already putting his hands back into his pockets and leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe.

"Angelo!" she squealed, dumping the box on the desk and running to hug him. "Too long no see! How's it going? You said you'd call! You're not on Thanksgiving Break already, are you?"

He grinned at her garbled welcome and patted her wiry black hair as they broke the embrace. "My good little sidekick's gone over to the other side, I see. Never thought you'd be a pen-pusher, 'Lation."

"Huh? Oh, you mean this!" She looked down at the embroidery on her jacket which read, 'Senior Student'. "I was really, like, so shocked when Jono picked me -- I expected Ev, everyone did."

Angelo came further into the room and leant against an armchair as Jubilee went back to unpacking her boxes. She had obviously only just started fixing up the office, as most of the furniture was still the antique austerity that Emma had favoured. At that moment Jubilee was tipping out piles of the books with which she was going to adorn the shelves -- it was unlikely they would ever get read since she was just too busy. If it was possible the girl was taller than she had been just two months ago, but still had the bubble and bounce which made her so endearing.

"Well, he couldn't exactly pick Paige," he contributed.

"Why would he?" Jubilee's voice came from behind the filing cabinet. "She's much better at training than leading."

"Guys like him always choose their girlfriends if they can; makes for a solid leadership. Notice how organised we became after Cassidy fell for Emma?"

There was a chuckle and Jubilee emerged again to fetch another box from the desk. As she hung the framed gallery of memories high on the wall he watched with fascination.

She was wearing the traditional bright red uniform, zipped up to the neck but tight as a second skin, covered with worn denim jeans and the padded yellow 'Massachusetts Academy' jacket which proved her status. The overall effect was incredibly tactile.

"Wolvie'd be proud, wouldn't he?" she said with pride as she straightened a picture of her mentor.

"Anyone would have picked you," Angelo said softly. As his grey gaze met her surprised blue stare, he explained, "You've got such a complete knowledge of how super-groups work from your days with the X-Men. You're perfect."

"Well, I guess Ev isn't really up to anything like this at the moment," she conceded. "He needs more time to get used to it."

"He needs more time to go bonkers," Angelo muttered.

"He's adjusting!" Jubilee protested. "He'll get there."

"I wish he'd hurry up about it," he grumbled, finally sliding into the chair he'd been leaning against. He slipped off his jacket, revealing a blue and yellow MA t-shirt underneath. It caught her eye and she grinned.

"They haven't issued you with an 'I'm old and at university now' shirt yet? The ones with the gold 'Xavier' emblem rock!"

"Ah," he said. "There wasn't a lot of point, because I'm leaving."

"What?" Her head jerked up with surprise, but her voice only indicated that she hadn't heard him.

"I've decided to quit the Institute and the team. I've done what I came to do."

She moved around her desk and sat on it. She suddenly looked like an adult. "You're not serious?"

He laughed wryly. "I am. I can control this," - he flicked his nose out an inch and back in again to prove it - "which was all I wanted."

"But -- you've made friends here! We're a group! You can't leave!" She sounded confused and a little stunned...and she didn't seem to be talking to him so much as herself.

He got up and went to sit beside her. "Jubilee...you know we're not the close-knit buds we used to be; it was inevitable. And now I can hold myself together, now I'm not quite so freaky -" she started at the word "- maybe I can get a real job, go to a real college." He leant his head on her shoulder and patted her arm. "You'll be okay -- you're pure leadership material."

She stood up abruptly. "I - I was counting on some support -- I don't know how to handle Monet and her moods, for one thing." Anxiety was bringing crinkles to her forehead.

"You'll learn! That's why you're only deputy," he teased her. "Jono'll break you in, no sweat."

"But I can't handle it without you! You're my best friend and I'm in lo- " She stopped herself and took a deep breath before finishing more calmly, "I'm in complete awe of your skills; you're too valuable a member to lose." She awaited a response to that with baited breath, but his face had darkened and his eyes were lowered. She hoped the discussion was closed and started to move away.

"Jubilation!" he finally hissed, his long, grey fingers stretching and grabbing her arm. She was forced back to face him and was reminded that he really could tower over her if he wanted to. She tried not to show any emotions that would back up what he might have guessed and stared at him resolutely, not missing his gaze flick dangerously from her eyes to her mouth and back again. She felt curiously suffocated by the depth of the gaze and let slip an involuntary gasp.

Suddenly he dropped his grip and murmured, "Exactly, Jubilee." As he walked away his voice drifted back to her.

He was singing.

She stood open-mouthed for several minutes after he had gone, breathing in short, staccato shudders. "Oh crap," was all she managed to whisper. "What the hell have I done?"

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