Occurs in the hours during and immediately following Wolverine 100-101 and well before Uncanny X-Men 333. I'm setting it after Generation X 16 and before Excalibur 97, mostly arbitrarily. Based on the Sarah McLachlan song of the same title, from her album, 'The Freedom Sessions.
The table was quiet. That was unusual in and of itself; with seven teenagers in one room, chaos usually ensued. But no one felt much like talking tonight.
The main cause of that was sitting at one corner of the table, poking her fork at her food without actually eating it. Jubilee was so far away she might as well not even have been in the room.
It wasn't so much her silence that subdued her teammates, but the reason for it. None of them had forgotten her 'partner', the rough- tempered warrior who had come to teach them. He'd ended up fighting something none of them understood, any more than they understood what he was fighting this time. Any more than they understood the bond Jubilee shared with him.
But they knew it was bad from the barely contained grief in Sean Cassidy's eyes, and the concentrated calm Emma Frost was trying to project. And from the sight of indomitable Jubilee huddled in on herself in her chair, trying to pretend she wasn't trying not to cry.
There wasn't one of them who didn't understand pain.
The fight between Jubilee and Sean had raised the roof; she'd been all in favor of hijacking a plane to get to Westchester after Jean Grey had contacted them. Sean had insisted she -- and all of them -- still needed to rest after what they'd been through with Emplate. He'd won the battle, convincing Jubilee to wait until morning.
Now Sean looked at her as if he regretted winning. "Jubilee...lass..." he started.
Jubilee stood up abruptly, setting down her fork. "MayIbeexcused," she mumbled, leaving the room before anyone had a chance to answer.
Sean watched her go with a heavy sigh. "Dammit," he cursed softly, tonelessly.
Emma echoed the sigh. "We knew it could come to this, Sean."
"Not like this. Neither of them deserve this."
In a gesture that frightened the teenagers more than any amount of arguing, Emma laid her hand over Sean's clenched fist. "There was nothing you could have done."
He didn't meet her eyes, staring instead at something none of them could see, rage and frustration screaming from his face. "I was... I *am* his teammate. His friend."
"I know." They were amazed at the sympathy in Emma's eyes. "He's still alive, Sean; you can still help him. By helping Jubilee."
Kitty Pryde stared at the viewscreen, which stared back at her blankly. "This can't be happening," she whispered, as if trying to convince herself. "It can't be. Not again. Not after what Magneto...."
Next to her, Kurt Wagner leaned his head on his hands, mumbling words that could have been a prayer or a curse. Moira MacTaggert rubbed the back of her neck, her eyes closed, her face set; Rahne Sinclair wept quietly next to her. The other members of Excalibur clustered around them, letting the news sink in. Wolverine... Brian Braddock remembered the many times a man called Logan had saved his twin sister's life, and she had returned the favor. Meggan remembered shapeshifting into a body of keen senses, to defeat Jamie Braddock; remembered later meeting eyes with equally keen intelligence, and pain. Pete Wisdom knew only the stories Kurt and Kitty told of their fierce, loyal teammate.
A rhythmic pounding began shaking the room; they turned to see Piotr calmly and methodically trying to put his unarmored fist through a wall.
Kitty went to him, grasped his arm in both hands. "Don't, Peter." She leaned her forehead against his shoulder. "Don't. Please. He's still alive. At least he's still alive. He's still there."
He stopped, slumping forward. "My fault," he said thickly.
"Nein," Kurt said. "You cannot take responsibility for this."
"I was there, when Magneto....
"He acted on his own then, and he had nothing to do with this. This was Genesis, and Logan chose his risks. As do we all." Kurt shook his head. "Blame genetics, or fate, if you must blame someone. But not yourself."
"We have t' go t' them," Rahne said, tears choking her.
"We will. All of us."
"I'll prep the Midnight Runner," Brian offered, he and Meggan heading quietly for the hangar, glad of something to do.
Pete envied them. He could only watch, helplessly.
Jubilee ran into the biosphere, not knowing where she was going, only wanting to get away. Her eyes burned; she swiped at them with a gesture so violent it knocked her off-balance. She stumbled and fell, scraping her knees and barely feeling the pain, gasping for breath.
She felt a gentle touch and forced herself to look up, to try to hide her emotions. Penance stood over her, one taloned hand lying on her friend's shoulder, as if trying to offer comfort.
Jubilee tried to smile, tried to be cool, but couldn't. "It's not fair, Penny," she said in a voice that didn't sound like her own. "Why does everything bad always have to happen to Wolvie? Why didn't he just take me with him and we could have gone cruising together, just like before. We wouldn't have had to fight or get hurt or anything...I would have gone...I would have gone anywhere...." Her voice broke; she fought for the control that was so important, the control Logan had taught her. "I'm sorry, Wolvie. I shoulda stayed with you, I shouldn't have left you. I'm sorry...."
She struggled against the emotions that were threatening to destroy her grip, choking them back. She didn't know Sean was there until his arms closed around her stiff body and pulled her back against him.
Sean gently forced her head to rest against his shoulder, smoothing her hair like a child's. She was hurting too much to resist, holding on with every ounce of strength in her."We'll go home now, Jubes," he promised, the familiar brogue offering more comfort than she would have thought possible. "I'll get ye t' Logan. Ye'll be there when he comes home."
Kitty packed carelessly, trying not to think. But there were too many questions spinning around in her head, things that had to be answered. How long would she be gone? When would she return? What would she return to?
She scrubbed her face with an impatient hand, pulling clothes out of her closet at random and throwing them to her bed. Lockheed perched on the headboard, watching her with silent sympathy. Across the room, Rahne packed more methodically, tears escaping to splash on her clothes.
Kitty couldn't help but remember the other roommates -- Illyana, Rachel. Both gone, stolen from her by fate, or destiny; she didn't didn't know which. It didn't matter anyway; they were gone, and nothing in Heaven or Hell could bring them back. They'd tried both.
She threw sneakers across the room with more violence than she had intended; they missed the bed and hit the wall beside Lockheed with a loud thump. Rahne jumped and froze, staring at her with wide, confused eyes.
"I'm...I'm sorry," Kitty managed to say. "I was...I just..." Lockheed left his perch to fly to her arms; she cuddled him, burying her face in his warm scales.
"Rahne." Piotr's quiet voice came from the door. "Moira needs you in the lab."
Rahne nodded and wiped her eyes, putting down the shirt she had been folding. Piotr stopped her as she went through the door, saying something Kitty couldn't hear. Rahne nodded, and tried to smile before leaving. He walked over to Kitty. "Pete and Kurt are helping Brian and Meggan; we will be ready to leave in half-an-hour."
"I'll be ready in a minute." Kitty put Lockheed on her shoulder gently and started to sort through the jumbled pile of shirts and jeans. "I just need to finish this."
Piotr raised his hand as if to touch her; she stiffened, concentrating on the mindless job of folding. His hands dropped; he stood silently for a moment before picking up a shirt and helping.
They finished quickly and Kitty closed the latches, realizing she didn't have the faintest idea what she had packed. It didn't seem to matter much.
"He's going to be all right," she heard herself say. "We've come through worse than this together. The Brood, Ogun, Dallas.... he'll be fine, just like always."
She refused to hear him. "He'll be fine. He won't leave me again, I won't let him."
Piotr sighed. "I know, Katya. I know." He followed her out of the room.
The car roared down the road, going many miles over the speed limit. Anyone who tried to pull it over would receive a nasty surprise, as the occupants were in no mood to be stopped.
Sean was driving, Paige sitting in the passenger seat next to him. She'd heard about her brother's part in the events of the last few days, and had quietly insisted on accompanying them. Neither spoke, but simply stared out at the road ahead of them.
Jubilee sat in the back seat, grateful for the silence. Her breath steamed against the cold window; she ran a fingernail through it idly, doodling in the grey mist. If she tried, she could see pictures, more intricate patterns than the thin lines she drew.
She could remember almost every second with him, from first day they'd met, when she had nursed him and they'd fought the Reavers. She had almost carried him out of the Australian outback to the nearest town, then stayed with him when he'd gone searching for his friends. She'd been wounded on Genosha, and it had been his turn to nurse her.
They'd fought together, his friendship easing her way into the X- Men. Muir Island had turned them against each other, then he'd held her when she faced the darkness in her soul, the same darkness he had battled his entire life. They'd been together when his love, Mariko, had been killed, when he had refused even her attempts to comfort him. Then he'd offered her his shoulder -- when little Illyana died in front of her, and after she faced down the men who had killed her parents.
He'd taught her to fight, with her fists and her powers and her will. Been teammate, friend, partner, teacher, father.
And she'd sat helpless as Mageneto destroyed the man he had been. And she'd waved goodbye when he left her.
She was going to see him again. Once, the thought would have been enough to send her dancing through the room. Now, she wondered if he'd even know her name. Wondered who would hold her up if Wolvie wasn't there any more.
Her hands fisted on the brim of the battered hat in her lap, as the night flew by outside her window.
Brian's skill sent the Runner flying smoothly over the ocean, cruising through the night at speeds no airliner could match. The cabin was silent but for the occasional beeps from his instruments, and the breathing of the occupants.
Moira and Rahne sat together in one corner, Rahne sleeping fitfully on her foster mother's shoulder; Moira held her as if Rahne might be the next to leave. Piotr sat alone, studying the waves below them as if they held the secrets of the universe. Meggan was in the co-pilot's seat, drawing silent comfort from Brian's closeness.
Kitty sat in the circle of Pete's arm, one hand clutching Kurt's as he sat on her other side. Lockheed rested on her lap, for once not objecting to Pete's presence.
She tried not to think about Ororo's message -- the news that Wolverine was alive, that he had torn himself out of the hands of Genesis and the Dark Riders. That doing so had cost him everything that had been Logan.
She couldn't quite picture that. Even at his worst, when he had sought help at Muir Island months before, she had been able to see beneath the berserker to the teacher who had determinedly reversed what Ogun had done to her, giving her back her soul. To the teammate, who had been willing to kill or die to save his friends, to keep *her* safe -- from the Hellfire Club, from the Brood, from the demons of Limbo, and all the other enemies they'd fought together.
She'd been able to see to the warrior, who understood honor on a bone-deep level and followed it, and to the friend, who teased and smiled and accepted.
All of that had made him Logan. If it was gone.... what was left?
She'd give anything she owned to see him smile at her again.
The gates were closed, but opened at the touch of a button. The car glided up the curving driveway, stopping at the front door. A single light burned in the windows of the infirmary, silhouetting a burly figure moving around. Beast, preparing for the return of the rest of the team.
Sean turned the engine off. In the faint light from the moon, Jubilee saw his closed eyes, the tired pain etched across his face. He opened his door, letting the chill wind sweep through the car; Paige followed suit, stepping outside.
Jubilee pressed her cheek against the cold glass a moment longer, staring at the familiar doors. She hadn't lived there all that long, yet it seemed as if she'd spent most of her life in the mansion. The important part, anyway.
'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.' She sighed, barely more than a breath, and opened her door. Home for her was where Wolvie was -- even the Massachusetts Academy was just a place to live. So where was home now? Would... whatever was left of him have a home? Anyone to take him in?
She stared up at the moon, past it, her heart clenching in a wordless plea to whoever was listening, if anyone was. She wasn't strong enough to deal with this alone. For all her bravado, she never had been.
Remy LeBeau met them at the door, taking the small bags from Paige and Jubilee. "Dey're not back yet," he told the girls, his face guarded, but his eyes gentle. "Last we heard, dey'd located him an' Cannonball. Dat was a few hours ago."
Jubilee nodded. "Thanks, Gumbo," she said, with a flat attempt at humor. He responded with an equally flat attempt at a smile, reaching out to pat her shoulder. She twitched, but accepted the awkward gesture before walking past him into the mansion.
Not 'where they have to take you in', she thought vaguely. Where they *want* to.
Oh Wolvie...please come home.
The hangar door was open when they landed, one of the Blackbirds missing. Kitty very deliberately didn't look at the empty space, focusing instead on the far wall, where Remy leaned, waiting. Ororo stood next to him, her aura of calm sadness reaching out to fill the hangar.
Before she knew she'd moved, Kitty was across the hangar, clinging to her foster mother with desperate strength. Ororo rocked her back and forth, wordlessly.
"Dey're not back yet," she heard Remy say quietly. "We ain't heard from X-Factor, but Sean and two o' de kids, Jubilee and Paige Guthrie, came an hour ago."
"How are they?" Kurt asked.
"How're any of us?" His voice held volumes, of fear and anger, badly hidden. "We de welcomin' committee. Sean would've come, but he don't want t' leave de girls alone. Bishop patrollin', Hank's in de infirmary -- gettin' ready."
"We will join Sean and the girls after we unload the plane."
Kitty loosened her hold on Ororo reluctantly at Kurt's words, ready to help. Ororo released her, but kept her hand, holding her other out to Piotr. "It is good to see you, little brother."
"I would wish for better circumstances," he answered gravely.
Kitty looked around for Pete; introductions seemed too prosaic, but they were necessary. He stood apart from the reunion, uncomfortable and trying to look as if he didn't care. "Storm, Gambit, this is Pete Wisdom. He's... um..."
"I know." Ororo saved her from having to find the words. "Welcome to our home, Pete."
He nodded, eyes shuttered, hands searching his pockets for cigarettes that weren't there. Gambit grinned crookedly at the gesture and offered a pack. Pete looked sorely tempted, but shook his head.
"Go on wi' ye," Moira gestured tiredly at the five, ending the introductions. "We c'n deal wi' things here."
"*You* go on," Brian told her. "Meggan, Pete and I can get this unloaded."
"No, Brian, I'll..." Moira tried to argue.
"Go." She wanted to keep arguing, but gave in.
"Sean and de others in de rec room," Remy volunteered. "Gambit'll stay here and help."
Pete looked at Kitty; she tried to smile. "Go on and help, Pete, I'll be all right."
He didn't look convinced; she left Ororo long enough to go to him. "I'll be fine," she said again, burying her face in his neck for a moment, breathing in his comforting scent. His arms came around her once, tightly; he pressed a kiss onto the top of her head, then stepped away to join Brian, Remy and Meggan in unloading.
Kitty left the hangar with the rest of her team, settling into the familiar magnetic cars that would take them to the mansion. The short ride was taken silently. Pressed between Kurt and the window, Kitty stared at her reflection, not recognizing the face that looked back at her. Her hand crept up to fasten around the Star of David she wore around her throat, reaching for the comfort God had always offered her. It was harder to find now than it ever had been, except for that one terrible day when the X-Men had died.
Her lips moved in half-forgotten words. She couldn't have said who she was praying for -- Logan or herself.
When the car stopped, Kitty's feet carried her without conscious thought -- into the elevator, through the doors, along the halls. Memories assaulted her at every turn, but she shoved them away, concentrating ferociously on the pattern of her footsteps, Lockheed's weight around her neck, Rahne's whispers to Ororo.
The rec room hadn't changed since her last visit. Television, stereo system, pool table, fireplace -- there was even a fire burning. But there was none of the laughter and teasing that normally filled this room; its occupants sat quietly, waiting.
Sean rose when they came in; as Kitty had gone to Ororo earlier, Moira went to him. Rahne watched for a moment, then sank to the floor in front of the fire, next to Paige.
Dimly, Kitty heard voices talking behind her, but her attention was focused on Jubilee. The teenager was curled in the corner of the couch, playing with something, her expression closed and strangely familiar. With a wrench, Kitty recognized the battered hat Logan had always worn; Jubilee held it now like a shield. With a harder wrench, she realized that the expression was Wolverine's, too.
Jubilee looked up at Kitty's voice. The older girl was standing a few feet away, her hand resting hesitantly on the arm of the sofa. A wave of emotions passed through her, some she recognized, some she didn't. Jealousy, kinship, loyalty, resentment, friendship -- they whirled around in her heart, fighting for space. And she remembered another time Kitty had shown up on their doorstep -- the day before Illyana Rasputin had died. She turned her face into the cushion, clutching the hat to her chest.
Kitty hesitated for another moment, then sat down next to her, reaching out to touch the brim of the hat. "I remember this," she said quietly. "He was wearing it the first time I met him. He scared me to death. Scared me for a long time before..."
"Don't talk about him like he's dead. He's coming home." Jubilee's voice was muffled, choked, but Kitty heard her.
"You're right. I'm sorry." She fell back into silence, running her fingertips along the hat's soft felt. Wishing she had the words.
Jubilee huddled closer in to herself, wanting Kitty to leave, afraid she would. Wanting to be alone. Afraid she always would be.
"'Don't you give up on him.'" The words sounded familiar; she turned her head, opened one eye just a crack. Kitty was still looking at the hat, a faraway look in her eyes. "You said that, when we almost lost him to Magneto. 'He would never give up on you, don't you dare give up on him.'"
Something inside Jubilee cracked. A single tear finally escaped, burning hotly down her cheek, and she tried to speak, but nothing came out. She tried again.
"I know." Kitty met her eyes for the first time. They were mirrors, reflecting the same emotions. Reflecting the strange bond that would always join the two of them to Logan, and to each other.
"Believe me," Kitty said softly. "I do know."
"Yeah." Jubilee almost smiled. "Guess you do."
"They're here." Pete's voice was too loud, echoing oddly in the room that had heard only whispers and murmurs for hours.
Jubilee and Kitty looked up at him, then at each other. Jubilee took a deep breath, then bit her lip and stood up, putting Logan's hat on. It fell over her ears, past her eyes, and she shoved the brim up so she could see. "Come on."
Kitty nodded, rising. "I'm coming."
Sam Guthrie appeared behind Pete in the doorway, his uniform dirty, his face old beyond his twenty years. His forehead was bandaged, partially covering a bruised lump. Rahne and Paige went to him without a sound, and he held his sister tightly, resting his cheek against the top of her head, before he looked at Jubilee and Kitty. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, helplessly. "I tried."
"We know," Kitty replied, equally quietly.
"He's..." Sam struggled for the words. "...different."
"Doesn't matter." Jubilee's eyes were dry again, her voice steady.
He tried to say more, then gave up; Rahne leaned her head against his back, her arms around his waist.
Kitty looked at Jubilee. "Whatever he is... he's still Wolverine. Still Logan. No matter what."
The younger girl gave her a lopsided smile from under the hat. "You know it."
Kitty found herself returning the smile -- maybe it would be all right, after all.
Side by side, they walked through the door.
And, especially, it's dedicated to Gail and Jenni, and to my grandfather. Sleep peaceful, my dears -- we'll see another day, and praise it.