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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 05/10/2010 11:31:24 PM

Chapter 64

"This is impressive, Cyclops," Colonel Fury said with a sweeping look around the cavern where Excalibur and X-Force resided.

What had been a jumbled mess that first day had become a well-organized staging area. In one corner, Bobby and Mystique were demonstrating the methods and tools needed to break down the ubiquitous black sensor pads to a mixed group from the other teams. On the far side of the cavern, several members of Excalibur practiced cover fire tactics as they moved through a mocked-up set of hallways.

Scott acknowledged Fury with a wry nod. "Iím so glad you approve."

The colonel raised an eyebrow at his tone. "Why do I get the feeling this means youíre going to ask me for something?"

"Because I am." Scott allowed himself a smile. He led Fury to a single table set off to the side a ways, where Cable, Domino, Sean, Moira and Kurt waited with the rest of the X-Menís leadership.

Fury took in the group with interest, his gaze pausing when he reached Gambit.

"Weíve done some reorganizing in the X-Men," Scott said before Fury could comment. He made his tone conversational. "Iím still Blue Team leader, with Storm as my second in command. Gambit is now Gold Team leader, with Wolverine as his second." He gestured to each of them as he spoke.

Furyís eyebrow rose over his good eye.

Scott pretended not to notice. He gestured to the nearest empty chair. "Please."

Frowning, Fury sat down in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

Instead of jumping immediately into mutant-related business, though, Scott turned to Remy.

"How did your meeting go?" he asked the other man. Remy hadnít gotten in until after six that morning following yet another round of Guild-cartel negotiations.

It wasnít curiosity that made Scott ask. Looking back, he was amazed by how simplistic heíd always believed verbal communication to be. There was what you said and, to a lesser extent, how you said it. It had seemed quite straightforward. But after spending the past year with the thieves, heíd discovered that there was another element in every conversation that he had never paid attention to-the why. And why someone said something was often far more revealing than the words themselves.

Remy shrugged in response to his question, his expression sour. "I didnít have tí shoot anybody," he answered.

Scott bit back a smile. "I guess that counts as a positive." He took his own seat. Remy had developed an active loathing of the Bogota Cartelís new jefe, for which Scott couldnít blame him. From what heíd heard, the man was a borderline sociopath. "Did you make any progress?"

Remy glanced toward Colonel Fury before returning his attention to Scott. Scott had no doubt the Guildmaster understood what he was doing in offering Fury some upfront information he could barter in the intelligence or law enforcement communities should he choose, but Remyís skeptical expression made it clear he didnít entirely like it.

After a moment, though, Remy sighed and stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankle. "Not much. De cartelís already capitulated on de major stipulations, so now itís all about how much dey can manage tí get on de small stuff. Unfortunately, de Kingpinís gettiní impatient so Iím runniní out oí leverage."

Scott nodded his understanding at the same time as Kurt leaned sharply forward.

"What cartel?" Kurt asked suspiciously, splitting his gaze between Scott and Remy. "Are vee talking about a drug cartel?"

Scott shrugged. "Afraid so," he answered.

"Why are you negotiating with drug dealers?" Kurtís expression was more confused than angry, but Scott knew the anger wasnít far from the surface. Kurt was probably having the hardest time out of all of the newly arrived mutants adjusting to the X-Menís new mode of operation. Scott sympathized with his struggle; heíd gone through it himself. It had been hard to accept that there was a kind of heroism in taking on the ugly and often conscience-searing burdens-things that simply had to be done-so that others wouldnít have to.

He bit back a sigh. Having Mystique in the thick of things, doing her very best to demonstrate her support and approval of both Remy and the tactical plans, didnít help either.

"Weíre negotiating with the cartel because itís necessary," Scott answered after a moment.

Kurtís tail lashed back and forth, making a loud thwap each time it struck one of the chair legs. "Necessary for what?" His eyes narrowed and Scott saw the anger flare to life. "You are not going to tell me zhat you are helping them bring drugs into this city-"

"Jusí de opposite," Remy injected, his tone cool. He didnít look at Kurt, but instead kept his gaze focused on Scott. "But now prices are startiní tí skyrocket aní gang violence is goiní up, neither oí which makes de Kingpin a happy man."

"So itís time to let it go," Scott concluded for Kurtís benefit, "and get back to our primary mission."

Colonel Fury watched their exchange with an evaluating expression. Scott could see him pondering the reasons behind the X-Men having this conversation in his presence, which was exactly what Scott wanted. It made a statement that no amount of sincere words could match. We need something from you, the action said, and weíre willing to pay for it in currency that has value in the world you live in.

A short silence followed his words. Scott shifted his focus to Colonel Fury. Now it was time to see if that would be enough to win SHIELDís cooperation.

Scott forced himself to adopt a casual stance. "So, Colonel... where, exactly, is the Helicarrier?" he asked.

Furyís expression reflected surprise. He seemed to debate with himself for a moment, but then Scott saw him nod fractionally and knew his tacit offer had been accepted. Out of curiosity, if nothing else.

"Itís parked off the coast of New Zealand under about five hundred feet of sea water," Fury answered with a keen stare. "Why?"

Scott had to step on his sudden excitement and saw a flicker of reaction from both Remy and Logan. New Zealand was nearly perfect.

"Can you raise it?" he asked Fury, and saw a stir of interest from the table. His own team knew what he had in mind, but the others didnít yet.

Fury scowled at him. "Only if I donít mind Bastion shooting it right back down again. Why do you think we parked it in the first place?"

"Does Bastion know the location?" Logan asked from the far side of the table.

Fury smiled humorlessly. "His satellite passes right over the top of it, every orbit." He paused. "Unless itís tasked on something else."

Scott schooled his expression to something he hoped was suitably solemn. He leaned forward, clasping his hands together and laying them on the table in front of him.

"Colonel, if the X-Men were to ask you to raise the Helicarrier and move it to support ground operations in, say, Los Angeles, would you be willing to do it?"

He got a round of mystified looks from the non-X-Men at the table, which he ignored.

Fury reached up to adjust his eye patch. "As far as I know, there are no counter-OZT ground operations in, or even near, Los Angeles," the colonel said in a conspicuously neutral voice.

"Regardless." Scott met his gaze. "Would you be willing to do it?"

Fury stared at him for a long moment. "OZT would shoot the íCarrier out of the sky before we got there."

Scottís fingers tightened around each other. "How long could you evade him, best case?"

"Best case?" Furyís expression sharpened abruptly. "In simulations, maybe six hours."

Scott glanced over at Remy and Logan, gauging their reactions. The beam weapon wasnít housed on the space station, which had a fixed orbit. Instead, its satellite had the ability to change orbits pretty radically, and, if Bastion gave the order, it was capable of chasing the Helicarrier around the Pacific Ocean despite the extreme orbital mechanics involved.

Remy and Logan conferred in a short flurry of words pitched too low for Scott to hear, but then Remy cautiously nodded.

"Itíll be tight," he said.

Scott nodded and looked back at Fury. "Well?"

Fury stared at the tabletop, brow furrowed, but eventually he raised his head. "First tell me why."

"Iíd like to know that, too," Cable added with a frown.

Scott nodded. "Because it gives us a six hour window during which we can guarantee Bastionís weapon wonít be in position to hit anything on land," he explained. The space-based beam weapon was nearly useless over water. There wasnít much there for Bastion to destroy.

Scott saw the other team leadersí expressions clear in sudden understanding. One of the things they needed to make their mission successful was a way to keep Bastion from using that weapon as leverage against them.

Colonel Fury cocked his head. "Interesting. What would the X-Men be doing during that time?"

Scott kept his expression still. "Iím not at liberty to say."

Fury actually grinned at that, but then he cleared his throat and leaned forward. "And what happens to the Helicarrier?"

Scott met his gaze evenly. "Most likely, Bastion will shoot it down."

At that, Fury sat back and crossed his arms again. He stared hard at Scott. "Thatís a trillion dollar military platform youíre talking about."

"I know." And Scott did. "But if we want to bait Bastion into pulling his satellite out of position, it has to be really good bait."

Fury was silent for a long moment. "So, how do you plan to convince Bastion thereís a counter-OZT offensive in the works on the West Coast?" he finally asked.

Scott smiled. "I donít." He stared pointedly at Fury until the other man caught his meaning.

Fury snorted and shook his head. "I see. You want a lot, donít you?" He shoved himself to his feet. "All right. Iíll talk to the President, but I canít guarantee anything at this point."

"Make sure he understands it canít look like a feint," Logan said, looking up at Fury from under his eyebrows. "Heís got ta commit a full carrier group, at least."

Fury nodded. "Understood." He focused on Scott. "And if the President asks why he ought to sacrifice American lives on the X-Menís say so, what would you like me to tell him?"

Scott fought to keep the impact of the words off his face. That really was what they were asking for, wasnít it? The knowledge settled on him like a lead weight.

Taking a deep breath, Scott forced himself to meet the colonelís gaze. "Tell him we all have the same goal."

"Which is?"

He straightened his shoulders. "The end of OZT and the restoration of legitimate authority in the United States."

Furyís eyebrows rose, but then his expression turned wry. "Iíll tell the President he has the X-Menís support."

Scott regarded him coolly. "Every president has the X-Menís support, Colonel." He was not about to let Fury or anyone else turn the X-Men into a political entity.

The answer gained a scowl and a grunt of acknowledgment from Fury.

"Weíll keep in touch," Scott said.

Colonel Fury inclined his torso in a motion reminiscent of a bow, then turned and strode away. Scott watched him go for a moment before turning back to the table.

"Do ye think heíll do it?" Sean asked. "The President, I mean."

Scott nodded, trying to project confidence. "Weíre coming up on an election year. Heíll do it."

Remy made his way slowly through the darkened tunnels, the fingers of one hand trailing lightly along the moist, uneven walls. He knew this part of the Morlock tunnels in minute detail but even that didnít feel like enough to take him safely to where he was going.

Every so often, a small scuffle betrayed Bishop walking about fifteen feet behind him. The big man wasnít trying to hide-in fact, Remy suspected he was making more noise than he needed to in order to advertise his presence. Remy wanted to order him to go back to the others, but he was pretty certain Bishop would ignore him. Clan or not... son or not... Bishop would consider the call to guard Remyís safety a higher authority than the Guildmaster himself.

Remy sighed silently. The constant shadowing was beginning to wear on his nerves, though he could hardly argue with the X-Menís concerns. These days, no matter where he went or what he was doing, there was always an X-Man around and often a senior thief as well, keeping an eye on him. He was beginning to think that the only reason he got to be alone in bed with his wife was because she was an X-Man, too.

His thoughts fell away as he neared his destination. A formless kind of dread took their place, squeezing his stomach until he wanted to gag. Ahead, pinpricks of warmth glowed like tiny stars against the cold background. A single human silhouette knelt in their midst, her hands moving gracefully as she lit another candle and set it in its place.

Remy forced himself forward. He knew this place with horrible intimacy, could walk its uneven slope, winding between the headstones erected to memorialize the innocent fallen without a single misstep. Heíd come to this place so many times in his dreams that it felt as familiar as his familyís home in New Orleans despite the fact that this was only the third time heíd ever physically set foot in this cavern.

Ororo said nothing as he walked up behind her. From the set of her shoulders he knew she had heard his approach, but, as had been the case ever since she learned the truth, she did not speak to him. Even getting shot had not been enough to break her silence, though for one short moment she had held onto him with the warmth and concern she had always shown him in the past.

Wincing as his bad leg protested, Remy knelt beside her, careful to keep a respectful distance between them. He reached over to pick up one of the candles that lay on the stone in front of Ororo. The last time heíd been here heíd helped her set the memorial candles out but it hadnít done anything to ease his guilt-only made him feel like a hypocrite on top of everything else.

He weighed the candle in his palm. The last time heíd been here, Ororo had asked him about the Morlocks and heíd lied to her, just like heíd lied about everything else.

Ororo paused as he lit the candle off the nearest flame and held it out to drip wax onto the top of the headstone in front of him. When a soft pool had formed, he set the base in it, squishing the end of the candle down until the wax hardened enough to hold it upright. As he watched, the cooling wax slowly disappeared from his sight, leaving only the brilliant teardrop shape of the flame to mark its position.

"Why are you here, Remy?" she asked when he reached for another candle. Her tone was brittle, her heat signature bright and angry.

He bit back a sigh. "Was hopiní tí talk tí yí, íRo."

"There is nothing you can say that I wish to hear." She reached for another candle, her motions stiff.

"Not even an apology, chere?" he asked. He owed her that, regardless.

Ororo froze, hands raised. "I do not want to hear it." The angry flaring of her signature took on an accusatory edge. "You lied to me." She drew a ragged breath. "Every moment of every day we have known each other, you lied to me."

The words went into Remy like a knife, even though heíd expected them. He tried to roll with the blow, absorbing the pain without letting it make him angry.

"I ainí never been a particularly honest man," he answered when he was certain he had his reaction under control. "Yí knew dat already." He paused. "Or should have, anyways."

Ororo rose to her feet like an uncoiling spring. "That is not an excuse! I trusted you, Remy! I trusted you and you used me."

Nodding, he rose slowly beside her. "Oui, chere, I did," he admitted. Memories of the days theyíd spent together in New Orleans rose to paint the muddy darkness around him with ghostly images.

He looked down at his shoes. "Yí were a lilí girl dat needed somebody tí depend on. It ainí yí fault dat I let it be me." Taking care of the child-Ororo had been his first taste of fatherhood, and had reignited the ache for family that heíd nearly managed to bury in the craft and a long string of meaningless relationships.

He shrugged, pushing the memories away. "At de time, it seemed like a good deal fí both of us. Wití de Shadow King on yí tail already, I didní really want tí leave yí to yí own devices."

She turned abruptly. "You knew-?" She paused, her heat signature flaring, and tipped her head back. "Of course you knew." She sounded disgusted. "And you deliberately let me walk into the Shadow Kingís trap so you could then rescue me."

Remy winced. Laid out that way, it sounded so ugly. Heíd intended to grab her once the Shadow King and his minions tried to move her away from the estate in Cairo, but Ororo had managed her own escape early, courtesy of a massive lightning bolt fueled by terror and her nascent powers. It had been a gamble to let the Shadow King capture her, but if he hadnít it would have fallen to Remy to reawaken her memories of the X-Men, and that would have stirred up too much suspicion of himself and his motives.

Truthfully, heíd originally targeted Psylocke as his best means of getting inside the X-Men. It would have been a fairly simple step from her bed to the team roster. But the X-Men had been so scattered and consistently on the move that he hadnít quite managed to get far enough ahead of Elisabeth for a believably coincidental meeting when the rumors about the white-haired child thief surfaced.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Canít deny it, íRo. I didní know yí, then."

"I was a child, Remy. It should not have mattered!"

Remy looked away at the bitter disappointment in her voice. Heíd done a lot of evil things in his life, though putting a childís life at risk for his own sake ranked pretty high on the list. A few of those sultry nights in New Orleans heíd put Ororo to bed and then drunk himself as close to a stupor as he could get before his mutation burned the alcohol away, trying to drown out the knowledge of what the Shadow King would have done to her if his risky plan had failed.

As if his silence had clinched something in her mind, Ororo turned away. Remy could see her slowly stiffening, her body language betraying her as she worked to lock her hurt away.

Unable to help himself, he closed the distance between them and reached up to cup Ororoís cheek in his palm, turning her face toward him. Like Rogue, touch had always been the key to getting past her defenses.

"Iím sorry I couldní be who yí needed me tí be, padnat" he said quietly. "Yí deserved better."

Ororo shook her head but didnít pull away from him. Remy could feel her trembling, and then, in a sudden burst she was in his arms, her own wrapped around his neck as she sobbed into his shoulder.

Remy held her close until the storm of tears eased. Ororo slowly straightened, brushing at the dampened wrinkles in his shirt. Like a little girl, she sniffed and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand.

"I forgive you," she said, her voice thick. She looked up at him, and Remy could imagine her piercing, sky-blue gaze. "But you must know I can never wholly trust you again."

He swallowed against a lump in his throat. "I know." As much as heíd cherished Ororoís unwavering support-her childlike trust-he could never live up to it. "Probíly best dis way, non?"

She nodded, though without conviction. Sighing, Remy pulled her close again and kissed her on the forehead. Then he let her go.

They stared at each other as the silence grew increasingly awkward. Finally, Ororo made a sweeping gesture with one hand, setting the nearby flames to flickering.

"My friend, will you help me light the rest of the candles?" There was only the slightest hesitation in her voice.

With a bittersweet pang, Remy nodded. "Fí you, ma chere, anytíing."

Jubilee hunched her shoulders and wiped her palms on her jeans as she walked through the darkened stone tunnels. It was creepy enough being down in the Morlock Tunnels, and even worse with the Fantastic Four flanking her like armed guards. If it werenít for Loganís steady presence beside her, she wasnít sure she could have kept putting one foot in front of the other. What if the X-Men didnít want her? What if they only saw a monster when they looked at her?

She bit her lip. What if she tried to kill them?

As if heíd read her thoughts, Logan wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "Itís gonna be okay, Jubes," he said gruffly.

She shook her head. Nothing had been okay since the day Sentinels had come crashing through her schoolís walls. "We shouldnít be doing this. Itís too risky."

"Gotta do it sometime," Logan countered with a glance at her from under his brows. "The X-Men need yer help."

The words lit a tiny flame in the middle of Jubileeís chest, but didnít ease the nervous churning of her stomach. So many things could go wrong.

"Because I can talk to other sentinels?" she finally asked.

His grip on her tightened. "Scottíll tell ya the details."

Jubilee accepted that with a grimace. The X-Men werenít going to tell her anything until they were certain she wasnít a threat.

Several paces ahead of them, Colonel Fury came to a precise halt. He glanced over his shoulder, the shadows from their flashlights turning his lined face into a barren landscape.

"Itís just ahead," he said. He focused on Jubilee. "Donít do anything threatening and youíll be fine."

Jubilee supposed that was his attempt at reassuring her. "Gotcha, dude," she answered, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

Furyís expression thinned, but he simply turned away. "Letís go."

He started walking again, and Jubilee forced herself to follow. To her left, Sue Richards watched her sympathetically, but she turned away when Jubilee noticed. The Fantastic Four hadnít said much to her today, as if they needed to keep their distance. If things went badly, it would be up them to destroy her before she could hurt any of the X-Men.

Logan released her as they walked around the corner. There, several tunnels came together in a small cavern. The floor was interrupted by clusters of stalagmites, and here and there stalagtites and stalagmites merged into tall, narrow columns.

Suddenly, large halogen lights came on with a mechanical thunk that echoed in the underground space. Jubilee flinched at the bright light, raising a hand to shield her eyes. But even as she did, her vision swirled and then dimmed as if sheíd just put on sunglasses. The nannites seemed to be able to adapt to almost any need.

Jubilee lowered her hand. Scattered around the cavern, the X-Men waited for her. She saw Scott first, dressed in his black uniform and holding an energy rifle in his hands. The nose of the rifle was pointed at the floor, but targeting information still flashed to life in front of Jubilee, scrolling across her vision without obscuring her sight. Her weapons systems automatically went into ready mode, and she switched them back to passive with a shudder.

"Hello, Jubilee," Scott said. His voice was friendly but he didnít smile. "Itís good to see you again."

"Hi," she answered weakly. A few paces behind Scott, Louis Kim watched her with a frightened, sympathetic expression in his dark eyes. The other X-Men stood silently, weapons ready.

Scott glanced over his shoulder at the engineer. "Mr. Kim, where would you like to start?"

Louis looked at something on the tablet computer he was carrying and cleared his throat. "Weapons systems," he answered.

Scott gestured for him to proceed, and he turned to Jubilee.

"Bring your weapons systems online, Jubilee," Louis instructed her, his voice much tighter than when it was just them in his lab. But it was still Louis, and sheíd done this a million times, bringing systems online and back off as they tried to decode the logic written into her microcomputers.

Biting her lip, Jubilee nodded and did as he requested. The nannites had gotten very quick at slicing open the skin and muscle of her arms to allow the laser cannons to emerge. It still hurt, but there was hardly any blood any more. The targeting iris brightened, spinning from person to person as she measured distance and calculated trajectories. The iris had made her dizzy at first, like those first moments after stepping off a ride at an amusement park, but now she hardly noticed.

"Online," she told Louis. The engineer glanced questioningly at Scott, who nodded.

"All right." Louis glanced at his notes, written on a single sheet of graph paper that he held clamped in one hand along with his tablet. "Target lock next."

Jubilee nodded. "Where?" Theyíd done this before, too, with shooting range silhouettes taped to the walls in place of real targets.

"On me, Jubilee." Scottís grip tightened on the rifle in his hands, but there was no hesitation in his voice.

She blanched, instinctively rocking back a step, and shot Logan a desperate look. "Do I have to?"

He shrugged, his blue eyes shadowed. "Yeah, ya do. I told ya we were gonna have ta run through everything we can think of that might be a trigger." At his sides, his fingers twitched as if he were fighting not to ball them into fists.

Jubilee slowly turned back to Scott. Self-conscious, she clasped her hands together behind her back, threading her fingers together as if that could somehow keep her from ever raising her arms into firing position. Without her willing it to, the targeting iris centered on Scott.

Jubilee bit the inside of her lip hard enough to bleed and then, with a shudder, commanded a target lock. The iris stopped spinning abruptly, snapping into place with a jolt. The accompanying firing solution flashed to life behind her eyes. She stared at Scott. All she had to do was raise her arms and he would be dead.

She squeezed her hands together behind her back so hard the knuckles began to ache. "Locked," she told Louis.

His only response was a nod as he studied his computer screen. "Looks good," he told Scott. "Weapons are active and she has a solid target lock." He glanced up at the X-Menís field leader. "A sentinel would have fired on you as soon as it had a firm solution."

See, Iím not a sentinel! she wanted to shout at them, but kept her mouth closed.

"Could she be holding off for some... programmed... reason?" Scott flashed her an apologetic look before turning his attention fully to Louis.

Louis shrugged. "Jubilee, what is Mr. Summersí current status?"

Jubilee met the engineerís gaze. She couldnít look at Scott.

"Mutant: priority target," she answered through a throat that had gotten so tight she could hardly speak. "Threat level red-thatís highest," she added and then swallowed convulsively. "Kill on contact."

She saw the ripple that went through the gathered mutants at her words. They glanced uneasily at each other, hands tightening instinctively on their weapons. It made her want to cry. Or scream.

Instead, she forced herself to breathe; in and out in long gulps as if her lungs couldnít function without her consciously commanding them to. Loganís hand closed on her shoulder, fingers digging painfully into her flesh.

"Yer all right," he said gruffly.

Jubilee managed a nod. She leaned toward him, needing one of his bonecrushing hugs, but pulled back at the sound of Scottís voice.

"Letís switch targets now."

She looked up at Scott, who gestured toward the opposite side of the cavern. "Target lock on Gambit, please." Behind Remy, Rogue took a step forward as if she might protest, but paused when Remy glanced back at her.

Biting her lip, Jubilee obeyed. The command to kill sizzled through her brain again, just like with Scott, but she clenched her teeth and ignored it.

"Locked," she told them.

There was a long, silent moment while Scott and Remy looked at each other, but then Scott stirred.

"All right." He let his breath out in a gusty sigh and the tension seemed to run out of him. He turned to Louis. "Whatís next, Mr. Kim?"

Over the next thirty minutes, Louis had her run every system diagnostic theyíd developed until Scott seemed satisfied that she could control the sentinel programming. After that, Scott lowered his rifle to hang from one hand and walked over to her.

"Iím sorry we had to put you through that," he said and reached over to lay a hand on her shoulder. "I hope you understand."

Jubilee found it strange to look up into his eyes-warm and brown, not covered with a ruby red visor. It had always been so hard to know what Scott thought, but now she could read his concern clearly.

She swallowed against the lingering tightness in her throat. "Yeah, I know." It didnít make their wariness hurt any less, but in her head, at least, she understood why they had to be that way.

The other X-Men drifted toward them. Jean reached her first, and to Jubileeís surprise, held her arms open with an encouraging smile. With a hitching little sob, Jubilee launched herself into the older womanís arms. Jean wrapped her up in a tight hug.

Scott moved past them, offering his hand to Reed Richards. "Thanks for coming. We appreciate your help."

"Any time," Reed answered with a smile. He glanced over at Jubilee, his smile dimming. "Iím just glad you didnít need us."

With a last sniffle, Jubilee tore herself away from Jeanís comforting embrace. The adults would start talking over her head again if she let them.

Turning, she stepped up beside Scott. She couldnít help but wipe her palms on the thighs of her blue jeans as she turned to Reed. "I guess I should say thank you, too." She stuck out her hand, which Reed shook after a moment.

"Good luck, young lady," he said solemnly, though his eyes glinted with both affection and amusement.

Just as quickly he released her and turned back to Scott. "Weíll be leaving for Los Angeles in a couple of days," he said, "but you should be able to contact us through SHIELD if necessary." His voice held a wealth of unspoken meaning and Jubilee wondered what might be happening in L.A.

Scott nodded. "Take care, Reed."

Reed smiled and reached over to catch his wifeís hand. "We will." With a sweeping nod to the rest of the X-Men, he turned away, taking the Fantastic Four and Colonel Fury with him.

When they were gone, Logan stepped up beside Jubilee and nudged her shoulder. "Címon. Let me show ya where the rest oí the teams are stayiní."

Jubilee couldnít help the smile that lit her face at that. Nodding enthusiastically, she turned to follow him. Regardless of anything else that happened, she was finally back with her family.


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