Title - Home from the Hill Chapter 5
Author - Ramos
Disclaimer Only borrowed, not stolen. Played with carefully. Sorta.
"I'm ho-ome," carolled Jubilee from the front hall, dropping her duffle bag only marginally out of the paths of the teenagers following her through the door.
"Big deal," came the hollow response from down the hall. The sounds of the television in the media room grew louder as Bobby cranked the volume, and the odd whirring noise began to make sense when the NASCAR announcer's voice became clear.
"Huh. Guess you have to be gone longer than three days to be missed around here," she groused.
The volume on the race went down again. "How was it?"
"Not bad. Seemed smaller than I remembered," she called back. "Having the headmaster sober was of the good. What?" she asked innocently as she caught Storm's exasperated expression.
The weather witch carefully stepped over Jubilee's duffel and dropped the car keys into the drawer of the hall table. "Jubilee, if you wish to have a conversation with Robert, please go in the same room with him and stop bellowing back and forth like two lovesick cows in separate fields."
"Bobby, I'm going upstairs. I'm not supposed to be bellowing!" she yelled. Behind her, Dee giggled.
Grinning foolishly, Bobby appeared and crossed the polished wooden flooring, oblivious to Storms irritation. So, what did you think? he asked the younger woman. "Think you can handle Mutant High?"
Its great, answered Tommy, from behind her. His pale green skin darkened slightly as he realized the question had been directed at Dee, and went even darker as the girl smiled up at him. The sixteen-year-old had reached the stage where even being noticed by a female brought a blush to his cheeks, and a smile from any of the women in the mansion reduced him to stuttering.
Why dont you guys put your stuff away? Jubilee suggested. We can go over the course schedule after dinner.
Yes, Warleader," they echoed each other. Bobby waved at them both as they headed up the curved stairs in Storm's wake, and Dee shyly waved back.
She's a cute kid, he commented.
You didn't tell her that, did you? Jubilee asked, alarmed.
Bobby held up his hands in self-defense. Hey, I learned my lesson the first time her big brother took a swing at me. He glanced back up the empty stairs. Is she gonna be all right?
Im pretty sure she will be, though it might take some time. I had a talk with the staff psychologist there at Snow Valley. Once I convinced her that Dee really is from another planet, not a mutant, we got along pretty well. She'll give me a call if they need me, but I think Tommy being there will help a lot. And as much as I hate to say it, I think getting away from her big brother might help, too. He's just a little too protective.
"Don't I know it," muttered Bobby, rubbing his jaw. One little compliment, and the guy tried to take my head off. He fights dirty, too.
He learned from the best, Jubilee replied with a smirk, and reached out to bat at Bobbys head. He made a grab for her hand, only to get biffed from the other side. Giving up on the hands, he made a sudden lunge for her waist, digging in and getting a spate of giggles for his efforts.
Uncle, UNCLE! cried Jubilee, bent over with laughter. Effortlessly, she slid out of his reach and grabbed up her bag, holding it out as a baffle between herself and her assailant.
The grin on Bobbys face faded as he reached out and took the bag from her. "You do that on purpose, don't you?"
"Act like an obnoxious kid sister."
She shrugged with one shoulder. Eh. Sometimes I do it to remind the kids what it's like to be a kid. Sometimes it's just me, Bobby. I haven't really changed that much.
Huh. I could almost believe that. Then I see that scar on your face and remember that youre not just home from college. Sorry, he added, as she self-consciously ran her fingers over the line on her cheek.
No prob. Actually, thats one of the reasons I didnt take the Professor up on his offer for cosmetic surgery. I wanted a reminder, memento maybe, of everything I went through that Dee and her brother and all the others went through. This, and her finger deliberately drew the length of the scar, keeps me from doubting my own sanity. Weird, huh?
No weirder than you, firecracker, he teased lightly, slinging her bag over his shoulder and his other arm around her neck, mussing her hair and planting an affectionate kiss on the top of her head. Hows pizza sound?
Cool. You buying?
He laughed. Not a chance!
Aw, cmon, Bobby I just spent all my cash on gas
As usual on a Friday night, Wolverine found himself wandering down to the Danger Rooms observation deck to watch Jubilee and Creed pound the living hell out of each other. Most of the time it was simply an exuberant workout for the two, but at least once a month the pairs mercurial tempers flared and the two of them hashed out the pecking order in a no-holds-barred contest. The big mutant pulled few of his punches, occasionally leaving his opponent in need of stitches, and he spent a fair share of his time healing from the pyrotechnic shots he received in return. The sessions ended either with Jubilee limping out on her own two feet or the two of them laughing insanely on the floor, dabbing at split lips. On rare occasions they ended up at one of the local bars, not coming home until the early morning.
Tonight the metal-lined hallway was ominously quiet. Lights came on automatically as he entered the small control room but the activity log, when he called it up, showed the latest occupants had left nearly an hour ago.
A casual amble around the house let him verify the whereabouts of the rest of the household. Gambit, Bishop and Bobby were explaining the significance of yipee-ki-yea to Tweed while watching a classic Bruce Willis movie. In the library, Storm tapped away at a computer.
With Dee and Tommy out of the house, the white-haired goddess had been spending more and more time e-mailing the teenagers and exploring the electronic horizon that held absolutely no interest for Logan. The oldest exile, Chibar, had been offered a chance to go to Snow Valley as well, where his past history as a teacher would have been an advantage. Hed turned the offer down without any explanation.
Hank, he was sure, was down in the lab, while the miasma of perfume wafting from Psylockes quarters left him with little doubt that shed gone out for the evening.
When he checked in the spacious garage, his own Harley Davidson stood silently beside Creeds vintage Indian and Jubilees newest toy, a ninja-style racing cycle. Logan had been quietly furious that shed bought a motorcycle at all, let alone a tricked out, barely street-legal machine capable of mind-boggling speeds. But she hadnt sought out his opinion before buying it, and she certainly didnt need his permission. She had consulted Scott, though, and the two of them had added a few after-market gadgets. Shed also sensibly invested in a jacket and leggings with reinforced elbow and knee protection to go along with her helmet.
For now, though, the black leather garments hung on the wall beside her bright yellow helmet. Checking over his own ride, Logan was mystified to see a fine layer of dust on the seat. Looking back, it had been over a month since hed taken it anywhere. Thinking further, he realized he had not left the mansion for one of his solitary rambles since hed returned three months ago.
When Jubilee had returned.
Well, that made some sense, he told himself. He didnt trust Sabretooth in the same house with all the others, and most especially with Jubilee. There was no way hed go off and leave that killer to run loose in the mansion. And while he mentally understood the changes that had taken place in both Jubilee and Creed, Wolverine's instincts nagged incessantly that he needed to stay right where he was to keep an eye on things. However
Three minutes later, the mansion was left far behind as the evening air whipped past him, blowing off both literal and figurative dust. While Logan wouldn't place any bets on whether absence made the heart grow fonder, Hardcase's beer and whiskey chasers tasted finer than he remembered, the pool hustlers were dumber, and the women prettier. By the time he called it an evening and pulled back out onto the moonlit rural highway, almost all was right with the world. Even if he was living in the same (albeit expansive) mansion with that dickweed Sabretooth.
The temptation to drive past the Auger Inn, the only other roughneck bar in the county, came and went, but he ignored it.
Logan had just parked his bike and was checking out the fridge for a bite to eat when he heard the sound of the jeep pull up outside. It didnt park in the garage; instead it was left in the drive, engine running, while the doors opened and shut. Moments later, the kitchen door crashed open. Creed took one look at him and grinned. Jubilees limp form was slung casually over one broad shoulder.
Adamantium claws sprouted without a second thought. You got exactly two seconds, Creed
Lees a lightweight, Runt, interrupted Sabretooth with a smirk. Cant take moren six shots and she starts dancin with some bonehead biker. Thought you woulda taught her to hold her booze bettern that.
One large hand went on Jubilees no-longer-skinny behind. Course, theres lots of things I figured youd a taught her that you aint. His other talon-tipped fingers caught her by the collar of her shirt and vest, and as he leaned forward, Jubilee slid bonelessly off his shoulder. His grip kept her from thumping to the floor too hard, but she still groaned as her head hit the tiles. Creed flipped his ponytail back as he stood and looked down at the unconscious woman, the lascivious gleam in his eye a challenge to the other man.
Get outta here, Wolverine ground out.
Oh, Im going, Sabretooth assured him. Me an Jube, we kinda ran off some of those bikers, so theres all kinda lonely women down at the bar waitin for a fella to buy em a drink. He grinned widely. Dont wait up.
The Jeep peeled out of the drive moments later, leaving Logan standing in the kitchen with the insensate Jubilee. Thoroughly irked, he took Sabretooths idea and grabbed a handful of collar, looped his other hand in the back of her jeans, and flipped the cold water on in the sink with his elbow.
The first gasp should have warned him, but the subsequent sputtering satisfied some of the irritation he felt. He paid for it though, as she suddenly bucked in his hold, her knees at the edge of the counter pulling her head out from under the streaming faucet. A fist clouted him across one ear as she flailed for balance. Her other hand scrabbled for purchase on the edge of the sink, giving her bearing enough to lash out with one booted heel, catching his hip as he lost hold of her waistband, then her collar. He tried to backpedal, but her spinning roundhouse kick caught him in the face. He rolled with it, and congratulated himself on a good decision as another kick in virtually the same place whisked by overhead.
He stayed on the floor; the force of her blow would have broken the jaw of anyone without metal plated bones. As it was, he could feel the bruise rising rapidly. Jubilee froze, wavering slightly, and frowned down at him, her adrenaline surge subsiding as fast as the water running down the drain in front of her.
Wolvie? she slurred. What rya doin? She hung on to the edge of the sink as her traitorous legs threatened to collapse beneath her.
Me?! Logan growled. Youre the fool getting drunk with that overgrown kittycat. Of all the stupid crap, kid, thats gotta take the cake.
Droplets flew out as she shook her head violently and ruffled her fingers through her sopping hair, roughly massaging her scalp and getting her brain functioning again. Oh, yeah. She inspected her wet hands, then rubbed them dry on her pants leg. Cool. It worked.
Logan looked at her as he regained his feet, disbelief and anger warring for dominance on his face. What the hell are you talking about?
My plan worked. Im still alive.
The bruise on his cheek was fading fast, but Logans rage was only building. You got plastered on purpose? With him? Are you nuts?
Nope. A lopsided grin, once more flawless after several trips to the dentist, flashed as Jubilee rolled her eyes at her best friends protective instincts. I had to prove something tonight.
What, that youre stupid? he snarled.
Her head came up at that, face blank, eyes suddenly cold and hard. A lifetime of experience fighting some very dangerous opponents made Logan's sense of danger flare and he stared at her, looking for signs of the girl he once knew. After a moment, she reappeared, as Jubilee relaxed and leaned against the sink. With the back of her hand, she swiped at the water dripping down her face and wiped it on her pants again.
It was a calculated risk, Wolvie. Vic's been gettin antsy. I had to show him that I trust him, and I mean really trust him. Enough to give him an opportunity to slit my throat, and see if he did. Lucky me; he didnt.
I'm leaning more towards 'nuts' here. Grade A certifiable, kid.
Maybe." Jubilee shook her head again, gently this time, then reached for the dishtowel hanging beside the sink and used it to half-heartedly mop up some of the mess they'd made.
"Wolvie, the reason you and I get along is because you always saw me - you still see me - as someone who needs to be protected. Vic, he doesn't really have a protective instinct. He's been screwed with so much that he's stuck on 'survive' mode. And the first time I did something to protect HIM, I sorta tapped into that instinct.
She glanced up to see if he was listening. When Logan gave her a non-committal grunt, she took it as a sign that he was and continued. I've been picking the brains of a couple of animal behaviorists I looked up, and theyre telling me the one who protects is usually dominant. So whenever Vic tries to reassert his dominance and I kick his ass, well
it keeps me on top. The time we spent fighting the Gui'vos kinda tore him down to the basics, and if I can stay in control, then I can help him put the pieces back together in a different order. If I do it right, he might have a chance at being something besides a killer."
"You're takin' a hell of a chance, Jube."
"Maybe," she allowed. "But I'm in the right place at the right time to do something about it, and I'm the only person who can. I can't just walk away and let it all fall to shit." She gave a vague laugh. "Funny, that's kind of how I ended up running things back on Pagna-whatsit." She waved her hand absently, having no real idea which direction to point towards.
Logan grunted again, sorting through what Jubilee had said, trying to fit it with the feral monster he'd fought with for as long as he could remember, and putting those words up against the image of Jubilee he held in his heart. Finally, he took a deep breath and let it out. "You never were one to walk away from a fight, Jube," he said grudgingly. "But I still think you're nuts."
"Yeah," she replied with a grin, "but I'm still a lot of fun." She took a step towards him and made a convulsive grab at the counter as her wobbly legs went out from beneath her. Hey, Wolvie? Could you give me a hand? I seem to be having a little trouble walking.
Whatever the olive-skinned young man muttered must have been a swearword, since Sabretooth let out a guffaw as he heard it. Stalking into the media room, Jubilee glared at the truant who was doing his best to sink down out of sight beside Creeds chair. Across the room, Wolverine and Beast exchanged a knowing look before the latter flicked his newspaper page and studiously ignored the chewing out about to take place. Creed ignored them both, but took the opportunity to grab the Nintendo controller and defeat Tweeds character in a spectacular spray of computer generated gore on the big screen television.
You have two weeks until the GED, soldier. Are you gonna be ready?
Uhm, I think so. Pretty sure, boss.
The glare got worse. Is pretty sure ever good enough?
He wilted under her glare. No, warleader.
Dude, riding your ass is getting old, so Ill make you a deal. You hit the books, pass this test, and I'll introduce you to one of the great American rites of passage.
A derisive snort came from Creed. Which rite would that be, Lee? Pen and pencil set?
No, smartass. Her stern expression melted into a smug smile. Road trip.
Logans chair squeaked as he abruptly sat upright, dropping his motorcycle magazine, and McCoys newspaper flopped down as he peered over the top of it. After a second, Creed threw back his head and let out a bark of laughter.
Tweed looked back and forth between his diminutive leader and the big man beside him, confused. Is this a good thing?
You, me, and Vic. Two weeks, in a ragtop Caddilac. Sound interesting?
Absolutely NOT, injected Hank forcefully from his table. My dear Jubilation, you cannot possibly, seriously, consider carrying out such an ill-conceived expedition, such a, such a fool-hardy
Youre babbling, Blue. What, wanna come along?
Be serious, I beg you!
Tweed watched the toothy grin spread on Sabretooths face, the casual aplomb of Jubilee, and the escalating gibbering of Hank McCoy. A speculative gleam appeared in his eyes. Is this road trip - as much fun as I think it is?
Yes, answered Jubilee and Sabretooth, at the same time Beast said No!
Oh, fer Chrissakes, muttered Wolverine, disgusted, as he retrieved his magazine. The three of you loose on the world
He shook his head and went back to reading.
Gotta go study, declared Tweed, tossing the controller to Jubilee. She caught it and plopped down in his spot
You fry it, you buy it, Sabretooth warned her, before his character pounced on hers with a series of electronic kicks and exclamations that sounded like a cross between Mickey Mouse and Bruce Lee.
Five bucks says you break yours before I do, she tossed back. In the last month alone, she'd zapped three controllers to melted plastic in fits of frustration. Creed's usually just snapped in two, and always at a critical phase in the game. The local electronics store had standing orders to keep a pair of extra controllers on hand at all times.
Several weeks later, Wolverine was the unlucky person who had to explain to Cyclops the significance of finding Tweed's GED letter, complete with a score of 97%, taped to the door of Xavier's office. The word 'BYE!" was scrawled in giant red letters across the top.
A quick check of the bedrooms showed all three vacant. Logan lingered for a moment in Jubilee's room, taking in the sparse furnishings. The only decorations were a tattered blue Bampf doll in a glass case on her dresser, and the energy pistol in its worn leather holster hanging on the wall. Unable to get replacement power packs for it, Jubilee had found a large hook and used it to display the spent weapon like a casually mounted trophy.
Logan knew it was anything but casual. After their conversation on the rooftop when she had first returned, Jubilee had declined to talk any more about her experiences on the distant planet. Occasionally she and one of the other exiles would make a vague reference about the war they'd fought, but for the first time Logan had found himself on the outside of a circle of veterans. It was an unusual situation for him.
Jubilee, Vic, and Tweed drove up in a dusty and battered convertible late in the afternoon on the sixteenth day after their disappearance. Scott and Logan, without discussion, stood glowering on either side of the garage door as the three piled out of the car. Tweed's bright blue hair had been dyed a rainbow of colors and given a bushy buzz cut that made him look like the slackers poster child. As he passed Logan, the exile flashed him the cocky smile of a twenty-year-old who'd just discovered sex. Vic gave him a nod of acknowledgement as he shouldered past with a handful of luggage.
Jubilee remained at the car, leaning casually against the scratched paint. She gave Logan a quick wink before focusing on Scott. "Can I just say one thing, before you start lecturing?"
"What?" Cyclops asked thinly.
She took a deep breath. "One time thing, never gonna happen again, I checked in with the Professor on the brain-o-phone, nobody got arrested, and I've learned my lesson 'cause I am just friggin' beat."
Scott's stern expression faded into an "I could have told you so" look. "All right, then. All yours," he directed at Logan, and entered the house. Jubilee pulled her shades down and crossed her arms defiantly as Logan moved up beside her. On closer inspection, the inside of the car was littered with fast food wrappers, empty beer cans, and hanging from the rear view mirror, a lacy black bra that was easily three times too large for Jubilee to wear. The ripe smell of too many bodies on old leather upholstery greeted his nose, and he backed away.
"Have a good time?" Logan asked mildly.
"Ya know Cyke's gonna schedule all three of you for a six a.m. workout in the Danger Room, don'cha?"
A groan answered him. "Do me a favor, Wolvie? Park this thing out back so I can hose it out later. I'm gonna go crash." A set of car keys landed in his hand as she leaned over to drag her miniature backpack purse out of the flotsam on the floorboards. A dark mark on her back flashed as her crop top shirt rode up, and Wolverine put a hand out to stop her movement.
She stiffened, then relaxed but let him push her shirt hem up a few inches. "It's a tattoo."
Logan inspected the Chinese character, inked in a deep dark indigo, and surrounded by slightly reddened skin against her normal pale honey-colored back. It looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it.
"What's it mean?"
"Chi," she replied. "It means life-force, or energy."
"Huh. Why'd you get a tattoo?"
did you know Vic can make a whole lot of sense when you've had way too much to drink?"
"He got you plastered and talked you into a 'tat," Logan stated with an experienced grin.
Whatever smart remark he'd been about to say disappeared as he realized the ridge under his thumb was not Jubilee's bra strap. He slid the hem up another couple of inches and revealed a scar longer than his finger and almost as wide. He traced it with a fingertip and felt Jubilee supress a shiver.
"What happened here?" he asked gruffly.
"Someone stabbed me in the back. I fried his face, and Vic ripped his head off." She shrugged, and while her words were even and unemotional, Logan knew she was describing the events literally. "Bishop slapped a piece of goshi - that's a kind of leaf that can be used to waterproof stuff - and they got me to a healer before my lung collapsed any more.
Jubilee straightened up slowly, moving so he could no longer see the scar. The healers in my army were pretty good. They could make a body heal itself a lot faster than it does by normally as long as that body has the energy for it, and apparently I have a lot of energy."
She slung the little backpack over her shoulder. "Anyway, do you mind? Parking the car for me?" she reminded him.
"No," he managed. "No problem, darlin'."
Her hand squeezed his wrist faintly in gratitude. "Thanks Wolvie."
He watched her walk off, the dark edges of the tattoo peeking from beneath the hem of her shirt with every stride, until she disappeared into the house.
Perched on the stone railing around the terrace, Jubilee let her leg swing freely, drumming her heel against the base of the railing and tried not to be obvious as she spied on Chibar. The older man was carefully trimming the rosebushes and other blooming flowers in the backyard garden, following Ororos instructions with obsessive care as he moved about in the waning daylight.
The kitchen door clicked loudly and a familiar tread let her know Bishop was behind her. Large hands dropped onto her shoulders, and she groaned appreciatively as his thumbs began to dig into the muscles on her back.
Id keep you around just for your backrubs, Bish, she commented lightly, but her expression quickly slid back to the pensive frown shed been wearing earlier. Tugging at one of his hands, she pulled him down to sit beside her. He chose to straddle the stone barrier, one large thigh behind her hips. Jubilee leaned into his chest for a moment, then straightened her spine with a sigh, as though deliberately removing herself from any comfort he might offer.
Hes still out here? Bishop finally asked quietly.
Since six this morning, Jubilee replied. His room looks like a monk lives there, and hes only eating about one meal a day now.
You cannot save everyone, Jubilee.
You think I don't know that?" she said bitterly, then bit her lip and put a hand on his arm in apology for the sharpness of her tone. "Gotta try, though."
I could believe no less of you. You would not be who you are if you didnt.
His compliment coaxed a half-smile from her, and she brushed his dark cheek with her palm.
"Always," he rumbled, catching her hand with his own. He pressed his lips against her fingers before shifting his grip to assist her slide down to the ground. He watched her head across the lawn to the older man, where she initiated a conversation with expressive body language, and said something that brought a smile to the older mans face. Within minutes, she was listening as her oldest veteran pointed out a defect in the bush he was currently working on, and helped him hold the spray of greenery as he continued his maintenance.
"If you have something to say, Wolverine, then say it and stop glowering at me," Bishop commented quietly. He pulled his other leg over the wall and turned to face where Logan stood in the doorway to the house.
"What's with you and the kid?" Logan demanded bluntly.
"We're friends," Bishop returned impassively.
"Looked like more from where I was standing."
"We were once... more. And less." Bishop was not impressed by the warning growl. "You have been in combat. You know what its like, to reach a point where you are desperate to remember that you are capable of something other than death, than killing."
No reply came, and Bishop continued, choosing his words with care. "We used each other. Yet our friendship remained. Does your objection center over the fact that she chose me, or that she was intimate with anyone?
No verbal answer came, but Logans jaw muscles were clenched in powerless rage. Bishop stood and turned to face him. You have a choice, Logan. Accept Jubilee for who she is and who she will be, or continue to cling to that which she once was. But remember that little girl no longer exists, and clinging to ghosts has never given you or anyone a shred of comfort.
Turning on his heel, he headed for the kitchen door and left Logan stewing on the terrace. At the last moment, he paused and called over his shoulder, his voice holding just a hint of pain.
"One last thing. The nights I shared with her
the only time she ever made a sound was when she called your name."