Anyway, Annie, I really am sorry about leaving without saying goodbye.  I mean, I meant it when I said we'd stay friends, I really did.  But – I just couldn't stay there any more, you know?  Couldn't stand everyone speculating how long it'd be before Bobby Drake was nothing but an ice sculpture, couldn't deal with the knowledge that no one CARED, anyway –  everyone made that pretty obvious.  Well, except you.  But…well, I couldn't stand seeing you with Alex, either.

Bobby stopped typing for a minute, pausing to reread what he'd written so far, and sighed, then backspaced out the last two sentences.  It was true, but Annie didn't need to know that.  It was just…fuck Alex Summers.  Just fuck him.  First friend he'd made at the mansion who actually seemed to CARE about him, lately, and in waltzes Alex…  Again.

"Ok, Bobster, knock it off, you're starting to SOUND like a Summers.  If you're going to write to her, be casual, ok?" he informed himself, running his hand through his hair.  He turned back to the computer screen on which he was composing the e-mail, and began typing again.

So anyway, JP wanting to leave was the perfect opportunity.  I was kinda surprised that Paige wanted to tag along, but I'm glad for her sake she did.  No reason for her to sit around, moping about Warren.  Besides, it's hilarious listening to her and JP argue; they seem to do it nonstop…

_________________________________________________________

Jean-Paul picked up the remote control the moment he entered the room, his lip curling in typical sneer, and clicked off the television.

Paige watched him do it, supremely disgusted. She had been watching that. It was a story about animal testing, in fact, a subject that was near and dear to her heart. And, she knew, that was exactly why he had turned it off. "Jean-Paul I swear, I want to take you home to my mother and have her teach you some manners."

He looked down his nose at her and moved to the easy chair just to her left, taking a seat, before finally replying, "What have I told you about watching CNN in the house?"

"We all live here now. I know it's your house, but just because you're hopelessly conservative--,"

"No CNN," he held up a hand. "It's insulting. And I'm not conservative."

They'd been through this a thousand times, of course. He claimed that he was only a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal. But as far as Paige was concerned, being gay did not a liberal make. And if he thought that was enough to give him a reason to turn off CNN when she was watching it, he had another thing coming.

She narrowed her eyes at him, despite the fact that he hadn't looked at her since he sat down. He was now flipping through the chunk of newspaper Kurt had left for them, after running off with most of it this morning. "You are a tight ass. You wouldn't be willing to help society change if it begged you personally."

Surprising her, he suddenly looked up, electric blue eyes flashing for an instant. And then laughed. It was a dry, brittle sound, and it made Paige realize that although she had seen him smile, recently, she had never actually heard Northstar laugh. She certainly hoped it didn't always sound so hollow, because if it did, she wasn't sure she wanted to hear it ever again. But then... he'd had a rough week. "Listen to me, little girl. I was in college working for the FLQ when your mother was still packing your lunch and sending you off to school with all the other ankle-biting coal-miner brats. Don't talk to me about revolution."

She felt her brow furrow involuntarily, letting the "little girl" crack roll off her back, and blinked at him. "The FLQ?"

"The Front de Libération du Québec," he replied, looking back down at his paper now.

"You fought for the Quebecois seperatist movement...?" she nearly whispered, as it dawned on her what that meant. She studied his sharp features as he studiously avoided her eyes. "You were a terrorist?"

He sighed now, and rolled his eyes, "I didn't say I was proud of it, Paige. I just said I understand, and I am not some fucking conservative who is afraid of change. Comprenez?"

She raised her eyebrows at him. Man. It was like one thing after another with Jean-Paul, wasn't it? Initially, she hadn't cared for him, and she was certain he hadn't noticed her more than in passing. Other than to express his princess-like disgust with her husking, of course.

That didn't bother her.

His constant slagging off Warren almost did, but really, what did she care now? And anyhow, he'd been right. Worthington Industries was obviously not in capable hands... and Warren had cost Jean-Paul money... not that he needed it.

So that didn't really bother her either.

Honestly, he was smart, capable, trustworthy, and pretty damn nice to look at. He had a lot going for him. But he was just so damn... abrasive all the time.

"Oui, je comprends." She answered, still a bit awed. She wanted to ask him about it, actually. Why he'd done it, what it had been like, and if he'd ever really been involved in anything violent because... well, that would change her opinion of him quite a bit. And while the FLQ wasn't terrorist, per se, it had so many splinter cells that were, and he'd practically admitted just now to being a part of one of them...

He actually looked up and smiled, however, when she answered him in French. "Good."

A few moments passed, in silence. And Paige leaned forward, over the coffee table, and turned the television back on.

She could feel him glaring at her, as she sat back to watch some more CNN.

He may have been interesting, but that didn't mean he was going to keep her from getting her news. "Social liberal" or not.

_______________________________________________________

In any case, we're all settling in.  It's definitely not the mansion, Kurt and I are sharing a room, and so are Paige and Jubilee.  Not enough furniture, either – I lost the toss last night and ended up on the couch downstairs, which wouldn't have been bad except Paige woke me up at 5:00 this morning because she wanted to do her damn exercise video, and the TV's in there.  Invited me to join her.  Needless to say, I didn't take her up on it, despite the fact that she looks damn good in spandex. 

But I think I'll have the room tonight – Kurt took off this morning early.  It was kind of weird; he was just reading the paper, and the next thing I knew he was taking off out the door, mumbling something about having something to take care of.  AND he took most of the paper, so we have NO IDEA why he left.  Weird, hey?  Very unlike him.  I hope he didn't find out he had any more relatives – any more and his family tree is going to be as convoluted as the Summerses.  Not to mention I'm not entirely sure that I would survive the experience this time…

_________________________________________________________

Kitty Pryde had enough presence of mind, waking up, not to phase through her alarm clock, but enough to not knock it off the nightstand.  Grumbling, she tried to grope for it blindly on the floor, succeeding only in pushing it further away.  Finally, she gave in and got up, not trusting that she'd wake up if she didn't hit snooze.  It'd been a late night at the Belles of Hell, and she was pretty well wiped out.

Lockheed raised his head, glared at her for a moment, and let it sink back down to rest on his forelegs.

"Yeah, wish I could do that," she mumbled, grabbing some clothes out of the closet and thanking god that she'd had the presence of mind to take a shower when she'd gotten home from work the night before.  She really didn't have time this morning for more than a bagel and a cup of coffee if she wanted to get to Professor Benes's class on time.  And, given the fact that they were planning the next stage of the reactor rebuild, she really didn't want to be late.

She wandered into the kitchen, still pulling her sweatshirt over her head, and made her way to the coffee maker, which she was happy to see had followed its program for a change and brewed up a pot.  She poured herself a cup, wandered over to the door and, counting on no one being in the hall this early in the morning, phased her arm through and groped until she found the paper.

She carried it back to the kitchen table, sipping at her coffee, and set it down.  And nearly dropped the coffee when she saw the headline.

"Alderman Candidate Exposed as Mutant Terrorist!"

She stared blankly at the photo of herself that accompanied the story, which showed her in the black outfit she'd adopted when she'd first left Excalibur, unable to believe her eyes.

"…sources reveal that Katherine Pryde, a senior at the University of Chicago, is in truth Shadowcat, a member of the terrorist group that terms themselves "The X-Men.  Ms. Pryde will be called upon to answer to charges that she…"

"Fuck," she said disgustedly, then pushed the paper to the side, grabbed her backpack, and prepared to make the trek to the campus.  She couldn't believe this was happening.  She'd finally thought, after all the years in spandex, that she'd found a REAL way to make a difference in the REAL world.

And now this.  What the hell did she do to deserve this?  She'd once been proclaimed one of Britain's greatest heroes; how did that equate to mutant terrorism, anyway?

"Should've listened to Kurt when he suggested I go to Oxford," she mumbled, turning the door knob to the building's outside door.  But when she opened the door, a microphone was immediately thrust at her face.

"Katherine Pryde, how do you answer the allegations that you're a mutant?" a curly-headed blonde pressed, her photographer's camera lens peering over her shoulder.

"Ms. Pryde, it's been suggested that the reactor accident at the University last year was no accident, and that you were responsible.  Would you care to respond?" a man with graying hair and a mustache was asking, trying to push his way past the first reporter.

"ARE you a mutant?" another voice called out. 

Kitty raised her head, and looked at the crowd of people who'd assembled around her building, more than half of them members of the press.  Further back, she could see protestors already arriving, members of Purity she recognized from campus among them, their signs bearing mutant hate slogans.  She should've known they were behind this; shit, she could see Alice, right there in the front, a megaphone in her hand, though she was too far away to hear what she was shouting.  And she sighed, then pulled back her shoulders and faced the direction from which the question had come.

"Yes, I am," she said defiantly, and phased right through the pushy blond, much to the woman's dismay.  She could hear the microphone shorting out, heard it fall to the ground and smash.

Just like her potential political career.

Once the crowd realized she was not planning to stop, they backed out of her way, apparently deciding they didn't want to be phased through in turn.  She ignored all their protests, their questions, and kept walking.

By phasing through a few buildings, she managed to lose her entourage, but had been greeted by more reporters when she arrived at the campus.  Dodging them, she made her way to her class building, then down the largely deserted hallway to her class.

She opened the door, late, and walked in to find her fellow students staring at her.  A few waved hesitantly; even fewer welcomed her with something resembling their usual warmth.  She sighed, realizing that the solidarity they'd showed last year when one of them was only 'suspected' of being a mutant didn't stand up to one of them being exposed as one.  But as she went to take her seat, Professor Benes cleared his throat. 

"Katherine, could I see you outside for a moment?" he asked nervously.

By way of an answer, and deciding that this day couldn't possibly get any worse, Kitty stood back up and exited the room.  Professor Benes followed her out.

"Katherine…," he said, not meeting her eyes.  "I've been asked – no, I've been told to tell you that your presence at this University is no longer welcome."

"Wha-" Kitty replied, struck speechless as she stared at him in total incredulity.  This was unexpected; the University had a tolerance policy second to none.  As she knew, having been sent to a psychiatrist for not being tolerant enough.

"I'm sorry," Professor Benes said, shaking his head.  "This wasn't my idea, and I argued with the Dean.  But…given the accident with the reactor last year, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding it, and the fact that you are already on probabation... well, the Dean won't ignore that you falsified your application."

"In other words," Kitty said irritably as the words finally sunk in, "I've been expelled so that the University of Chicago doesn't have to deal with the 'Mutant Problem'."

Professor Benes took a deep breath, then let it out, shaking his head.  "Kitty, you're one of the most talented engineers I've had the pleasure of working with.  I was looking forward to having you as a PhD candidate.  I have no real idea as to how we're going to get the reactor rebuilt without your assistance.  But I'm not being given a choice, either."

"I understand," Kitty replied, realizing that Professor Benes meant what he was saying.  "Don't worry, I won't make a fuss.  Thank you – for everything."  She hiked her backpack over her shoulder, then stretched out her hand.  "It's been a pleasure, Professor."

"Likewise," he replied, accepting her hand and shaking it.  "If you need a reference of any kind, don't hesitate to call on me, you understand?" he said insistently.  Once she nodded, he asked, gesturing to the closed classroom door, "Did you wish to say goodbye to anyone?"

Kitty shook her head, unsure that she could retain her composure in front of her classmates.  "No, just tell them for me, ok?  And tell them thanks - for everything."

Without another look behind her, Kitty turned and made her way out of the building.  As she crossed the quad, she saw the building that housed Dr. Lyszinski's office, and paused, trying to decide if she wanted to stop and say goodbye.  Shaking her head, she kept walking.

By taking a circuitous route home, she managed to avoid any further encounters with either reporters or protesters, and slipped through the back wall of her apartment building to avoid those at her door.  She airwalked her way through the empty apartment below hers into her kitchen, and had just set down her backpack when a familiar voice startled her.

"Hell of a day, Katzchen?"

She turned around to see Kurt seated at her table, his feet propped up on a chair, his tail swishing behind him, and gave him a half-hearted smile.  She had never seen a more welcome sight in her life. She didn't care how, or why he'd known. Or what the hell he was doing in Chicago. Not one little bit.

"Kurt, I…" she began as he stood up and walked over to her, wrapping his arms around her.  And there, in the warmth of her friend's arms, she began to cry silently.

_________________________________________________________

Bobby stood up and stretched, his back cracking as he reached his arms over his head.  He looked over at the computer, and shook his head.  So much to say, none of it what he *wanted* to say.  Fuck, he wasn't even sure what he wanted to say…

Despite Carter's accusations, he WASN'T in love with Annie.  Oh, he liked her; she was pretty, smart, and could actually out-quip him if she was having a good day when he was having a bad one.  Which had been all too often, lately.  But, much as he'd enjoyed kissing her the night before Alex and Lorna's aborted wedding, he hadn't wanted to take it any further. 

Not then, at least.  He might've changed his mind as things progressed, he knew, but then Alex had called off the wedding – and damn, he knew before things had even started that that was where Annie's heart was.

As for his – well, it was probably changing to ice with the rest of him, anyway.  But it didn't really matter; it'd been stomped on too many times already.  And the most recent was still fresh in his memory, even though it'd been over a year ago.

He shook his head, causing his hair to fall over his eyes, and absent-mindedly pushed it back with his hand.  No, he didn't want to think about Genosha…

Sighing, he sat back down at the computer and resumed typing.

Anyway, despite the lack of space, we're doing ok.  Jubilee and I went grocery shopping yesterday – yeah, can you believe that?  I actually *volunteered*.  Of course, if you saw what J-P has his frig and cabinets stacked with, you'd understand why.  I'm almost positive that J-P must be allergic to sugar and caffeine.  Jubilee insists it's because of his mutation; she thinks the sugar makes him vibrate.  But even Paige was complaining about lack of decent breakfast cereal, and when *Paige* complains about something other than the news you know things are serious.

Jubilee's doing pretty well – we had a nice talk yesterday after I caught her on the phone with Logan…

_____________________________________________________________

Jubilee paused in front of the telephone in the kitchen, then took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and dialed the mansion.  She stood, biting her lip and listening to the phone ring, but just as she was about to hang up someone picked up on the other end.

"Xavier's Institute, can I help you?" a familiar voice said.

"Hey, 'Ro!  Logan there?" Jubilee asked nonchalantly, as if she'd left only hours instead of days before.

"Jubilation!  Where are you?  We have been worried…Logan is nearly clawing the walls…" Storm replied, and Jubilee could hear the concern in her voice.

"No, I'm fine – look, can you get him to the phone?" she pleaded.  This attitude was exactly the reason she'd been in a hurry to leave; she'd lived in LA alone for months prior to her unexpected return to the mansion, and no one had worried one bit.  "Shit, now I know how to get some attention around there," she thought disgustedly as Ororo went to fetch Logan.  "All I have to do is get crucified on the front lawn…" 

"Damn it, kid, I was worried sick!" Logan yelled into the phone without preface, and she grinned despite herself.  Logan's reaction was perfectly predictable.  But she knew how to diffuse it.

"Well, I'm sorry you were worried!  It's not like I left just to scare you, right?  And I'm calling now, so it's obvious I'm all right.  Chill out already!" she yelled back.

"What the hell – ok, we'll play it your way.  Where are you?" he grumbled, and she relaxed.

"I – I left, Wolvie.  Couldn't stand it there anymore.  You know how it goes, right?"

"Ya could've said something…"

"Oh yeah, I'm sure, you're like the perfect example there, right?  How many times have YOU taken off without leaving a change of address form?"

Logan chuckled on the other end of the phone.  "Never claimed to be a role model, kid.  So, where are ya, or are ya gonna make me track you down?"

"I'm in Chicago."

"In Chicago?  What, did ya take it into yer head to go visit Kit or something?"

"No, I'm here with some of the others," she admitted, irritated with herself that she hadn't even remembered that Kitty was in Chicago.

"Hah!" Logan exclaimed, sniggering.  "So that's where they all got off to.  One-eye's been having a bird, says he lost half his X-Men.  Good to know they're still around."

"Well…" Jubilee hemmed, unsure as to whether or not she should tell Logan what was going on, or leave it to Kurt or one of the others.  She shook her head.  If she asked Logan not to tell, he wouldn't, if only to keep Scott uncomfortable for a while longer.  "Between you and me?" she asked.

"What're you up to?" he growled.  "Ya know, suddenly this whole thing is starting ta sound awfully suspicious…you're not off on a mission, are you?"

"Umm, yes and no?" she said hesitantly as she plopped down into one of the chairs at the kitchen table.  "Like, we totally went to help Johnny find his sister, but we're not coming back…"

Just then, Bobby walked into the kitchen, and she let out a sigh of relief, even as Logan started hammering her with questions from the other side of the phone line.

"Anyway, Wolvie, I'm fine, but I've gotta go – J-P's too cheap to bust for another phone line, and Bobby wants to make a call.  Can you just send my stuff to J-P's place in Chicago?  Have Jean pack it up or something if you don't want to, tell her I moved back to LA, whatever.  Yes, I am fine!  I just need to go, so bye!" she concluded, pushing the button on the phone to disconnect the call.  "Thanks, Bobster – perfect timing.  I swear, Logan thought I was abducted or something.  As if!" she sniffed, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, hard to believe that one," he replied as he walked to the kitchen cabinet and opened it up.  Pulling out the box of Twinkies, he turned back and smirked at her.  "I mean, who'd want you?"

"Hey, I've been abducted by the best," she sniffed at him, then smiled half-heartedly.  "And the worst."

"Nah, not even close," Bobby assured her, grinning and taking the chair across from her.  "I've got you beat – I got kidnapped by a Norse god once.  Beat that?"

"Hmm, good point," she conceded thoughtfully.  "Betcha you weren't crucified, though…"

"No, gotta admit that," he conceded, then grinned.  "Keep it up and they'll make you an honorary Summers!"

Jubilee stuck her tongue out at him, relieved that he hadn't insisted on making an issue out of her recent history.  That was one of the reasons she'd decided to tag along – you could always count on Bobby not…pushing.  Which was a nice change, compared to most of the people at the mansion who'd wanted to wrap her in bubblewrap…

Of course, Bobby had problems of his own, she reminded herself, remembering how he'd been scratching at his chest the other night.

"So, what's up with you, Bobster?" she asked, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms behind her head.  After all, not pushing applied only to her, not to him.

He leaned one elbow on the table, and held his head up with that hand, then gave a shrug. "Same old. Doing the ice sculpture thing, wondering if it's gonna send me back to that great snow-cone maker in the sky."

Hmm. That didn't sound promising.

Funny how the reason that things were so crappy at the mansion lately was because they were crappy for everyone individually lately. You'd think that misery would love company, and they would've banded together. But who had time to think about their teammates when they were dealing with some scary-ass secondary mutation, or being crucified and resurrected, or having insane missing family members, or having their heart broken by amazingly hot men with wings, or finding out that their life and everything they've held dear is a lie?

The idiots. Couldn't these people figure it out? Things would be so much easier if they all just... helped. Or something to that effect.

Not that she needed help. She needed a little breathing room. But damn, how much effort does it take to pull your head out of your ass and ask a few questions?

"You're gonna be ok," she told him, shaking her head but smiling. "You've been through worse, right?"

He smiled back, "Like I said, kidnapped by a Norse god... that was hell on the powers too. Guess they're always fucking with me, somehow."

"And every time, you triumph!" She announced with the best mock-drama she had in her.

Bobby shook his head and rolled his eyes. "I'll bet you made the earth shake, the first time you set foot in Hollywood."

"You know it, Drake. Seriously, though, we're gonna get it figured out. What did Hank say?"

His lower lip actually stuck out, and the corners of his mouth turned down in a pout that made him look about twelve years old. And all he said was, "Nothing, Jubes. Nothing at all."

_____________________________________________________

Kurt dropped the tea ball into Kitty's oversized mug, and sat beside her on the couch. He patted her leg gently, and examined her reddened eyes for any trace of salt water. With great relief, he noted that the storm seemed to have passed, and she had gone from utter depression into a valiant attempt at acceptance.

It had only taken a half hour for her to cry herself out. It broke his heart, of course, to see it, but he had known as soon as he saw the paper this morning that his Katzchen would need him. Kitty Pryde didn't need much, but she was, after all, only human. He knew how much this life, this normal life, meant to her.

And he had missed her. Even when she was crying, her sheer presence reminded him of better times, his days with Excalibur, the early years with the X-Men. Not that things had never gotten messy back then, but at least he'd had some kind of foundation to stand on. Some kind of reason for the madness.

"I'm sorry, Kurt," she sighed, pushing long brown hair out of her face with an impatience that Kurt found comfortingly familiar. "I didn't know I needed that... but I did."

"Ja, Liebling, I agree," he nodded, reaching for his own cup of tea now that he was certain she was functional again. "And I am always here for you."

She looked over at him now, with a tired sort of smile, and cocked an eyebrow. "Speaking of which... not that I'm not happy to see you... but what the hell are you doing in Chicago?"

He grinned at her from behind his teacup, and tapped his tail once on the couch, absently letting it swish. He had planned to wait awhile, until he was certain that she was fully recovered, to present his idea to her. But since she had asked... "Well, you see, Kitty, things at Xavier's lately have been... less than satisfactory for most of us."

Rolling her eyes, she drawled, "Imagine that."

He kept grinning, and continued his explanation. Honestly, he hoped that she would want to be a part of their team, for both her sake and theirs. But there was one little hitch, one that very few people aside from Kitty, Kurt himself, and the other involved parties were aware of. And if he could just get through this without having to list the entire roster of Fallen Angels, there was a good chance that she would come with him.

Because she needed them. Just like they needed each other. Even if she agreed to work with them only as a reservist, ala the Avengers, she needed them.

"So some of us left," he told her, "And we're setting up our own operation here, in Chicago."

Large brown eyes grew wider, and her mouth fell open. "You're... are you nuts?"

The grin would not leave his face, as she gave the expected reaction. "We very well may be. But we were all unhappy there, Katzchen. The politics, the pretention. And we wanted a new start. So, we found a reason to leave, and we're setting up shop, as they say."

Face still frozen in disbelief, Kitty shook her head. "Why... how?"

"You remember Jean-Paul Beaubier?"

Her smooth ivory brow creased as she thought it through. "That Northstar asshole from Alpha Flight? I heard he was teaching at the Institute..."

"We found his sister for him, and we are now living in his lovely, if somewhat cramped, house here in Chicago."

Again, her eyes popped, "You're kidding me, Kurt. Tell me you're kidding me."

He raised an eyebrow at her, and sipped at his tea again, "Perfectly serious. It's a good team. And I'm in charge."

"Sounds scary already," she joked, finally over her shock, it seemed.

"We don't have any tech support. And we'll have to start building on, adding in the equipment we need soon," he informed her, nonchalantly crossing one leg over the other, swishing his tail a few more times.

Despite the fact that she was obviously trying to fight it, a smile slowly appeared on her face, practically lighting up the room. He knew it'd take a lot more convincing, of course. But that did seem to bode well.

"Is that an offer?"

"Ja, naturlich. Who else would I want?"

She shook her head, still smiling, and reached for her own giant tea cup, pulling out the metal ball and sipping at it gingerly before answering, "You know how I feel, Kurt..."

"I do. But the offer is on the table. We've all had some difficult times lately. This might be our chance to... start over. And if you want it, it's yours."

Kitty avoided his eyes by staring into her tea, as if by concentrating hard enough, she could read her fortune there. She chewed at her lip a moment, then said, "Everything I thought I wanted, everything I thought I would be, just got pulled out from under me in the past three hours."

That, Kurt Wagner could definitely understand. And it was something he would never wish on another person. Hearing that painful note in his friend's voice brought it all rushing back, all too quickly.

He put a hand on her back, hoping to reassure her, and sighed, "I know how you feel, Kitty. And if this isn't what you need to help you through this, I'll do whatever I can to help you find what you need. But you're the best at what you do."

Half-heartedly, she smiled into her tea, "Been talking to Logan?"

He grinned, "As always. Jubilee is at the house."

"Jubes?" She looked up at him, finally.

He nodded. "You don't need to answer now. The offer will always be open to you. But I think it would do you good to see her.  And vice versa," he added hopefully.

Kitty nodded back, and started to smile again. "I think I want to meet this team of yours, fuzzy-elf."

_________________________________________________

So seriously, Annie, things are working out for the best, here – well, aside from the sleeping arrangements, and Jean-Paul's got a contractor coming out tomorrow.  I miss you, but I honestly don't miss much of anything else.  And I kinda doubt anyone there's even noticed I'm gone…

"Hey, Bobster, telephone!" Jubilee shouted from downstairs, and Bobby jumped.  Who the hell could be calling him here…

"Who is it?" he yelled back.

"And why can't you people deliver messages at a reasonable volume!" Jean-Paul inserted irritably.  Bobby laughed and stood up, stretched yet again, wincing as his skin pulled against the less flexible ice.  He made his way downstairs, and took the phone from the smirking Jubilee, who stuck out her hand, miming a request for payment.  Bobby raised his eyebrows, grinned, then turned his back on her.  He heard a raspberry from her direction, and her footsteps heading out the door.

"It's your dime, start talking," he said into the phone.

"Once again, you fail to allow for the rate of inflation, in this case with regards to the cost of a long distance phone call, my friend," he heard.

"Oh, hi Hank, how'd you find me?" he asked, sitting down on one chair and propping his feet on another.

"Interesting greeting.  But if you must know, Logan made reference in a team meeting today that half our resident team is not only no longer resident, but also no longer part of our team.  Purely to irritate Scott, I am sure, but afterwards he admitted to having recorded the phone number displayed on the caller identification unit.  In any case, I took his unexpected revelation to mean you would probably not be keeping your appointment in the medlab this afternoon, and took the opportunity to call you with the results of your last examination.  But first, I wonder if I might ask what you think you're doing, and why you didn't talk to me before leaving the team?" Hank asked, and Bobby could hear the hurt in his voice.  "I thought we were friends."

"So did I," Bobby retorted, pushing his hair back off his forehead with the hand not engaged in holding the phone.

"What do you mean by that?" Hank asked.  "Have we not always been the closest of confidants, the most intimate of amigos, the…"

Bobby cut him off, sighing.  Up until recently, he'd have agreed completely.  Now, he wasn't so sure.  But Hank was still quite probably the closest thing he had to a best friend, so he just said, "Yeah, ok.  I dunno, it all came up pretty fast, Hank, that's all.

"But surely, Robert, in view of your recently discovered condition, it would be far more prudent for you to be in reasonable proximity to specialized medical care, if solely as a precaution?  I truly think you're acting immaturely about the whole situation; perhaps you don't realize just how serious this could be, especially in view of my recent - "

Bobby laughed bitterly, interrupting, and did what he had promised himself he wouldn't do – he lost his cool.  Which was rather ironic, all things considered.  "You think I'm not taking this seriously?  Damn it Hank, I'm living it!  My whole fucking chest is practically see through at this point, it hurts when I move certain ways because the skin is more elastic than the ice, and it pulls, and I've got blood spots on most of my shirts from that, and they won't come out in the wash, not that it would matter because there'd just be new ones within an hour or so anyway.  About every twenty-four hours my powers whack out and I end up in a room full of ice, or switch to my ice form unintentionally, or fucking start freezing everything around me.  But you know what?  It's been going on for months, and not one damn person at the mansion, you included, even noticed.  Kurt's the only one who even asked me if something was bothering me; not you, not Warren, not even the Professor, and you'd think a telepath would've picked up on the whole thing.  And when it finally got so bad that someone did pay attention – and I'd like to point out that it was the kitchen help, not one of my so-called friends – they sent me out to go find Kurt.  So don't give me this shit about I'm not taking it seriously – I'm taking it seriously!  You just don't care enough to even notice!  So just go back to assembling the pieces of Emma, and don't worry about me, or my secondary mutation, or anything else!"  He found himself standing and pacing the room, without even realizing that he'd stood up, and heard Hank's sharp intake of breath on the other side of the phone.

 "Bobby, I – I'm sorry.  I've been wrapped up in my work, and my own difficulties, and I'll concede I should have been more observant as to your situation.  You could have told me, you know…"

"Yeah, but I shouldn't have had to," Bobby replied sulkily, knowing that he was being immature but not really caring.  Not anymore.

"But you've been working under the assumption that you're undergoing a secondary mutation, and the results of the admittedly cursory examination you underwent indicate that –"

"You know what, Hank?  I really don't give a damn, ok?  Just leave me alone," he said, and hung up.  He plopped back into the chair he'd been sitting in, buried his head in his arms, and began sobbing as all the pent up tension of the last few months finally broke free.  The phone rang again, repeatedly, but he ignored it, and luckily no one else came to answer it.  He had no idea how long he'd been there before he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned around to look at Jean-Paul through puffy, tear-filled eyes.

"Mon ami, is there something I can do?" Jean-Paul asked, an expression of concern twisting his features in a way that Bobby had only ever seen before when J-P was thinking of his sister.

"Yeah, Dude, let's get out of here for a while," Bobby said finally.  "I think I need a drink."

________________________________

"I know the perfect place," Jean-Paul assured Bobby as he stood up.  "Why don't you go change," he added, forcing nonchalance as he glanced down at the drips of blood Bobby that outlined the icy area on the other man's chest, not wanting to ruin the moment by commenting on them directly.  "I'll meet you down here in a few minutes."

"Sounds good," Bobby replied without, he thought, a great deal of enthusiasm.  But he preceded Jean-Paul out the doorway, then paused as they heard someone playing with the key in the lock.  "Must be Kurt," Bobby said, and had just moved to open the door when it swung open.

Jean-Paul watched, a large lump forming in his chest, as the blood drained from Bobby's face at the sight of the young woman who was laughingly preceding Kurt into the room, her face turned back as if to see the elf's reaction to what she had just said.  He thought she looked familiar, but hadn't yet placed her, when he heard Bobby say,

"Kit?"

Kitty Pryde, whom he had last seen as an irritating fourteen year old child, flipped around to face them, and very articulately said, "Oh shit.  Bobby…" 

And watched, the large lump forcing its way up from his chest to his throat, as the man who'd been about to accompany him out for a drink stood there staring at the girl in the doorway, his hands flexing and unflexing as if forcing himself not to reach out for her.

It had happened again.  Damn it, of all the men he could have fallen for, why did it have to be the one who should have been voted most likely to chase after anything in a skirt?

Of course, he'd known that from the beginning. He didn't expect anything from Bobby, and he didn't know why he kept torturing himself this way. Unfortunately, however, that knowledge didn't make it any easier to watch.  Instead, he cleared his throat, drawing her attention away from analyzing Bobby's face, and said, "I take it you're the reason Kurt disappeared with the financial section this morning?"

"Ach, I apologize," Kurt said broke in, shrugging, a deliberate grin replacing the concerned expression on his face as he turned his face from the pair toward Jean-Paul.  "I'm afraid I got a bit too excited when I read the headline.  It's out in the car, though," he added hopefully.  "Come with me, we'll get it."

"I – yes, let's do that," Jean-Paul replied, seeing that Bobby and Kitty were once again trying to consume each other with their eyes, though neither had moved an inch in each other's direction.  "Excuse me," he coolly said to Kitty, who was blocking the doorway, and she moved over slightly, muttering something that sounded like "no prob" under her breath.  And followed Kurt Wagner, who to his mind had a lot of explaining to do, out the door.

Chilly air met him once they exited, but he welcomed it.  "All right, Wagner, what are you up to?" he asked. 

"Recruiting our new technician?" Kurt replied, a hopeful note once again in his voice.  Jean-Paul glared at him, and he shrugged, spreading his arms in a gesture that Jean-Paul was beginning to recognize as Kurt about to plead someone's case, and not expecting to like what he was about to hear.  "Katzchen was outed this morning on the front page of the paper."

"As a lesbian?" Jean-Paul scoffed, nonetheless feeling a tiny trickle of hope creep in.  It fled immediately as Kurt laughed, clasping his shoulder and steering him to the car.

"Nein, as a mutant," he replied.  "Her name was also withdrawn from the alderman race for her district and she was expelled from school.  I couldn't very well leave her there alone, could I?"

"Yet another fallen angel, I suppose," Jean-Paul said reluctantly, still seeing in his mind's eye the look that had appeared in Bobby's eyes.

"I hope so," Kurt answered, glancing back towards the door.  "She was unconvinced, and I'm afraid Bobby was not the first person I'd hoped she would encounter here."

Drawing in his breath, Jean-Paul asked in what he hoped was a casual manner as he watched Kurt try to reach the backseat of his car through the driver's side door, "They have a history?"

"Nein," Kurt replied as he emerged, paper in hand, a sad expression on his face.  "What they have is a tragedy."

Jean-Paul accepted the paper from him, as he came round the other side of the vehicle, and avoided those glowing yellow eyes. He normally looked people in the eye. It was what he did. But Kurt was dangerously perceptive, and Jean-Paul hadn't had time to calm himself yet, to think... "I see. Well... I certainly hope you know what you're doing."

Kurt made no move, and when Jean-Paul finally forced himself to look up, the other man was watching him. Kurt's dark eyebrows were drawn low, and he opened his mouth as if to speak, a sympathetic sort of expression on his face.

He knew. He hadn't known before, but he knew now. Jean-Paul held up his hand, to stop him, and shook his head. Sympathy and questions would not improve his mood. "I'd better go and have a look at this. My broker is expecting a call."

He didn't even wait to see Kurt's reaction, he just walked back into the house, clutching the financial section as if his life depended on it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Letters Page!

Due to the overwhelming response we received on our first issue, we've decided to create our own Letters Column.  Here we'll reply to some of the questions posted in the reviews you send.  If you have any suggestions as to a title for our column, please contact us via e-mail at penkivechbeaubier@hotmail.com.

But first, we'd like to thank everyone who reviewed "Issue 1: Leaving Home, Coming Home".  So, thank you TKD, Harry2, Caliente, Drunk on Tang, Linzer-b, Dana, Joey1, KnowInsight, crysofinx, Risty, Wishful Thinking2, zcjm72, BlueSqueak, Didi, style, and Galen.  If you're not reviewing, please do – we'd love to know what you think!

Ok, on to the "letters":

Linzer-b, Dana and Style:  As you can probably guess from this issue, Bobby and Jubilee will probably not be getting together any time soon, nor will Bobby and JP.  Bobby's not quite in the right state of mind for a new relationship.  But we'll keep it in mind – who knows what'll happen later?

Caliente and Joey1: We can neither confirm nor deny your ideas as to the last remaining future team member, but it's a safe assumption that WeaponX and Fallen Angels will be crossing paths in the near future.

Didi:  Underappreciated? We picked only our favorites for this new team.  But we're glad you appreciate them, too!

Zcjm72:  Don't you dare give up on the X-Men!  Now, go write! (makes shooing gesture with hand).  Seriously, though, glad we dragged you back in.