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4822FIC: Past Forward (5/15) PG-13

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  • Jamie Madigan
    Apr 23 11:11 PM
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      Past Forward - Jamie (madjm@...)
      Disclaimer, etc., with prologue


      5
      Jubilee

      "This is so 'Star Trek'," Jubilee said quietly as they followed Celeste
      through the woods. Risa trailed a few paces behind them. Jubilee had offered
      to share the bunny slippers with Rogue, who was barefoot, but her friend had
      declined. She still seemed to be in shock from what was happening, and
      Jubilee couldn't blame her.

      They weren't exactly prisoners, but Risa had told them she couldn't allow
      them to go back through the cave. She wouldn't give them much information,
      other than the fact that someone -- this Sidre person -- knew they were
      coming and sent Risa and Celeste to wait by the cave.

      Risa answered everything with "You will have to ask Sidre," as if that
      cleared everything up. Which was still more than Barbie -- Celeste -- had
      told them. Any time they asked her something, she would just shrug or smirk
      at their ignorance. She seemed particularly put out when she found that
      Jubilee had lied about her name, though Risa had told her to get over it.

      "What do you mean?" Rogue asked.

      "Hello? Alternate universe? Obviously, we've encountered a warp core breach
      in the space-time continuum." She was glad to see a smile on Rogue's face.
      "If only Bobby were here."

      "Why do you say that?"

      "Well, he's a 'Star Trek' geek, big-time. He could figure out how to use the
      Prime Directive to repair the temporal anomaly."

      Rogue laughed. "Jubes, how many Jolt Colas did you have tonight?"

      "Um ..." Jubilee thought back. "Two. And a package of Skittles. And a Pop
      Tart."

      Rogue raised her eyebrow, an eerie reflection of Logan.

      "OK, two Pop Tarts. ... And a cappuccino and whipped-cream-filled
      chocolate-frosted doughnut."

      "Ugh," Rogue made a face. "No wonder you puked back there."

      "Dude, I was fine until I came through your looking glass."

      "It's not *my* looking glass," Rogue muttered.

      "But you were meant to go through it," Jubilee said quietly. "They were
      waiting for you, not for me. Where *is* this place?"

      "I don't know," Rogue glanced around them. The farther they walked, the
      darker it got as trees pressed in on them from every side. Jubilee had been
      kicked out of Girl Scouts after making up obscene lyrics to the tune of
      "Make New Friends" and starting a petition for a shopping merit badge. All
      she knew was the trees were tall, probably really old, and making her feel
      claustrophobic. "But it feels ... familiar. I don't remember ever being
      here, but there's just something about it."

      "Maybe one of your head cases was here once?"

      Rogue looked startled, then cursed as she tripped over a tree root. Celeste
      stopped in her tracks and turned to glare at them.

      "You must be quiet," she ordered softly.

      "Why?" Rogue stuck her hands on her hips and glared back, but she kept her
      voice level with Celeste's. "Why do we have to be quiet?"

      Surprisingly, instead of the usual smirk, they got an answer this time.
      After glancing back at Risa, Celeste said slowly. "There is an enemy camp
      nearby. We must pass without attracting attention."

      Without any more explanation, she turned and continued walking. Jubilee
      noticed that Celeste's passing made no noise and seemed, to her untrained
      eye, to leave no mark. Obviously Celeste was a Girl Scout, or the
      alternate-universe version of one.

      Jubilee leaned closer to Rogue. "We have enemies? That can't be good."

      "Agreed," Rogue whispered. "I guess I'll have to give Barbie the
      satisfaction of following her orders."

      "Life's a bitch, chica."

      ***

      After the last glimmer of light vanished from between the leaves of the
      trees, the terrible two finally called a halt to the march. Jubilee felt
      certain her feet were both frozen solid and on fire. The many other aches
      and pains in her body paled in comparison. But she refused to complain
      because she didn't want Celeste and Risa to know how tired she was and
      because she knew Rogue's feet had to be in much worse shape. Yet her friend
      didn't utter a word of complaint.

      Jubilee was an X-Woman, and she wasn't going to let some
      Star-Trek-meets-Robin-Hood bimbos best her. Still, she barely contained a
      groan as she sank to the ground beside Rogue.

      Her friend gave her a weak smile. "OK, Jubes?"

      "Never better," Jubilee said. "All I'm missing is food, water, a warm bed,
      twelve pairs of socks --" She gasped and jerked back as a small bag was
      dropped in her lap.

      Celeste frowned down at her. "Eat. Even you cannot eat and speak at the same
      time," she said in a low voice.

      Rogue chuckled. "You don't know her as well as I do."

      Jubilee smacked her friend. "Way to stand up for me," she began before
      Celeste gestured at her to eat. Rolling her eyes, she opened the bag.
      "Yum."

      "What is it?" Rogue asked quietly.

      "Jerky of some kind. I think I won't ask where it came from." She grabbed a
      piece and started chewing on it, then passed the bag to Rogue.

      The enemies were apparently still nearby, and Risa wouldn't allow them to
      have a fire. Still, Jubilee fell right to sleep after eating, wrapped in the
      cloak. She convinced Rogue that it would be safe to sleep next to her,
      back-to-back, to help keep them warm without taking a chance that she'd be
      zapped by Rogue's power.

      Risa and Celeste were taking turns keeping watch; they obviously didn't
      trust Jubilee and Rogue to protect them. Which, in turn, was fine with them.
      They needed the sleep, anyway.

      Jubilee felt that she'd just fallen asleep when someone shook her awake.
      Before she could say anything, a hand went over her mouth. "Be silent," Risa
      said softly. "We must go."

      Rogue was already awake, standing next to Celeste, looking at something on
      the ground. Jubilee stood up quietly, rearranging her cloak around her
      shoulders. She crept closer. There was a person on the ground, a man. She
      came up beside Rogue. The man was unconscious; she could see him breathing,
      so he wasn't dead. He wore what looked like a uniform of some kind. A dark
      color, maybe, though it was hard to tell in the faint moonlight that shown
      through the trees.

      Jubilee looked at Rogue, who leaned close to her ear. "Enemy soldier.
      Celeste knocked him out."

      Jubilee began to feel uneasy. What if they were on the wrong side? She'd
      kind of assumed that the Good Guys had picked them up outside of the cave,
      but what if she was wrong? Just because they were looking for Rogue didn't
      mean they were on the right side.

      Risa touched her shoulder. "We must go," she said again. Rogue and Celeste
      nodded in synch, and Jubilee shrugged. She hoped her bunny slippers were up
      to the challenge.

      They'd been walking for 20 minutes, slowly picking up speed as the trail
      seemed to smooth out, when they heard sounds of pursuit behind them.
      Indistinct voices were yelling back and forth. It was difficult to tell in
      the forest, but they sounded too close for Jubilee's comfort.

      Celeste began to jog in front of them, and Jubilee and Rogue exchanged a
      glance and followed suit. Suddenly, the blonde vanished from the trail. The
      two immediately slowed, picking their way carefully forward in case there
      was something they hadn't been warned about. Troll, werewolf, 500-foot
      dropoff, something like that.

      At the same time, they both spied Celeste's arm off to the left side of the
      path, waving them to follow her. Carefully, they eased into the brush.
      Jubilee bit back a curse as someone -- Celeste, no doubt -- yanked her arm.
      A thin branch hooked her cloak and scratched her other arm, and she narrowly
      missed having her eye put out by another one.

      She was shoved to the ground next to Rogue, who was huddling with her cloak
      wrapped around her, trying to untangle her long hair from the prickly
      bushes. Celeste slid down next to her, and Jubilee didn't know whether to be
      relieved or scared that she had both of her knives out.

      Risa suddenly appeared out of thin air, wrapping her cloak around her and
      nearly melting into the brush. Maybe 10 minutes later, a group of men
      tramped past them on the path. They apparently weren't very good at
      searching, since they didn't look to the right or the left, only forward.
      They weren't very quiet, either. A herd of elephants would've made less
      noise.

      Jubilee decided right then and there that soldiers that careless must be the
      Bad Guys. She started to stir, but Celeste clamped a hand, knife and all, on
      Jubilee's arm. Without taking her eyes away from the path, she shook her
      head. Jubilee looked over at Rogue, who shrugged.

      They waited. And waited. Jubilee got a cramp in her hip. Still Celeste
      didn't move. Jubilee shifted, wanting to stretch her leg and hip. Her
      bladder began to nag. Celeste stared at the path. Just as she was about to
      stand up, permission or no, Jubilee heard something from the path.

      It was barely there, a whisper of a sound. A breath, or a foot sliding
      slightly on the ground. She froze, cramp forgotten, though there was now a
      distinct possibility that she would pee her pants. Celeste adjusted her grip
      on her knives and shifted soundlessly beside Jubilee.

      Suddenly, she could see a figure, a dark shadow of a person, through the
      brush. He was creeping along, studying the path and the forest on either
      side. Jubilee's heart began to pound. It was like the nightmare she'd had as
      a child, when a faceless bogeyman was chasing her, while she stood frozen,
      unable to move.

      The shadow man came nearer, stopping to kneel down and look at the path. His
      head turned, and he looked right at her. She couldn't see eyes, but she
      could feel them digging into her, feel his sense of triumph at catching his
      prey. She wanted to yell, get up and blast the bastard, but her body wasn't
      cooperating with her.

      It happened so quickly, she only had an impression. The arrow flew out of
      the brush next to her and hit the shadow man, who crumpled to the ground.
      Risa motioned for them to wait, then moved cautiously onto the path. After a
      few minutes of silence, she waved at them.

      Jubilee let out a breath she hadn't remembered holding, and got to her feet.
      Rogue caught her when her cramped hip sent her wobbling. She waited for
      Celeste to make a snarky comment, but the blonde merely steadied her from
      the other side before picking her way out of the underbrush.

      Jubilee and Rogue followed her, and all four knelt around the dead shadow
      man. Who was, Jubilee noted in surprise, just that.

      A shadow.

      She'd assumed that the low morning light had simply made the man look dark,
      but in fact his entire body was black and apparently hairless. He wore only
      a baggy pair of black pants and black boots, and there was a curiously
      rounded look to all his features. Strangely, as she watched, parts of his
      skin faded to a pale color, then back to dark.

      "Who the hell was he?" Rogue asked.

      "*Donte*," Risa whispered.

      "Dante? That's his name?" Jubilee frowned. "Did you know this guy?"

      "He is *donte*," Risa said. "It means, 'shadowed ones.' They are hunters,
      able to blend into any surroundings."

      "Handy Gift," Rogue commented, standing up.

      Celeste stood up, too. "It is no Gift," she said angrily. "It is no
      *natural* Gift. He was made, not born."

      "What --" Jubilee began, only to be interrupted.

      "The troops may return when he does not join them," Risa said. "We must go."

      After gathering their things, and allowing time for a brief call of nature,
      the four set out along the path. This time, Risa disappeared in front of
      them, to keep an eye out for the soldiers. After perhaps half an hour, she
      returned, just as the path ended at an open field. The soldiers were nowhere
      in view, but Risa urged them to cross the field at a run.

      Jubilee sighed and barely kept up with the rest. Bunny slippers weren't made
      to run, she decided, wondering how on earth Rogue was handling all this
      barefoot. She was dead tired, but there was something lovely about being out
      in the open again. The sun shone bright, warming her instantly, and the air
      seemed to be fresher, lighter out here.

      She hadn't realized how oppressive the forest had been, and she wanted to
      laugh out loud at the free feeling bubbling up inside her. That was easily
      tamped down when she saw that Risa was leading them into another edge of the
      blasted forest. Her brief moment of happiness blew out of her in a wordless
      growl.

      Rogue, right next to her, chuckled softly. "I second that," she murmured.

      Celeste and Risa didn't even bother to turn and glare at them for talking or
      not keeping up; they simply vanished into the woods. After a minor
      hesitation, Jubilee followed them, Rogue bringing up the rear.

      There wasn't even a path, just trees and bushes crammed impossibly close
      together, with scraggly underbrush filling in the empty spaces. Jubilee
      followed Celeste's movements exactly and found that there was a path of
      sorts, though it seemed to be carefully hidden and needed to be cautiously
      navigated. Easing between trees and brush, weaving in a distinct pattern and
      trying not to snag her cloak on anything, it took Jubilee fifteen minutes to
      cover probably 10 feet. It took Rogue a bit longer, when she got her hair
      twisted and tangled around a branch that almost seemed to come out of
      nowhere.

      Jubilee helped her friend rescue the hair, grinning at Rogue's promises to
      hack the hair off at the first opportunity, and they joined the other two on
      the path. A blessedly wide, lovely, smooth dirt path. Jubilee braced herself
      for more walking, which wasn't a thrilling concept despite the nice path,
      but this time they had barely begun before a roaring sound started to build
      in the forest around them. A few minutes later, they entered a clearing with
      a beautiful, tall waterfall beating down into a small river.

      The sun beamed down on the lovely scene, glinting off the water and adding a
      glimmer to the white foam of the waterfall. Rogue smiled at her, and she
      wondered if her friend was thinking of their planned tropical vacation. This
      clearing could've been a scene out of one of the brochures that she, Kitty
      and Rogue had been pouring over for a month.

      Rogue moved past Celeste and Risa, who were talking in low voices, and
      nearly skipped up to the edge of the river, starting to kneel down. Jubilee
      rushed up beside her, laughing. Both girls froze, even their breathing cut
      off, as twin arrows flew at them from the direction of the waterfall and
      drilled into the ground at their feet.


      Jamie
      ~*~
      The Nightowl: http://www.geocities.com/panda_grrl2000