A/N: This is the final chapter of Jungle Drum. Thank you so much for reading it, and your kind reviews! I hope this ending satisfies everyone. Any unanswered questions (such as Emma's actions) can be assumed to be the same as 616 universe, unless otherwise mentioned. Also, I'm aware there are elements of cheese in this, but this was supposed to be a funny floofy story that made everyone feel good, so it will do that to the end. Thanks again and watch out for some of the other new stories I am publishing, such as thefive, and in the months to come there will be more!

~onelildustbunni


-8-

"Cessily," Laura said, looking at the metal girl. "I…I need to discuss something with you."

Cessily blinked in surprise, then opened her door. "Come in, sit down. That's what I'm here for."

Laura complied, feeling odd. She'd never discussed her emotional interactions with another human before; yet she felt the urge to now. The urge to
understand what was going on.

She sat on the bed, drew her legs into a yoga position, and took a steadying breath as Cessily closed the door.

"It is about Julian," Laura said, her voice even. "I need to understand what he is doing. He…"

Briefly she described the interaction in Frost's office, while Cessily folded her arms and touched her mouth, her brow furrowed.

"I think he just feels really guilty about hurting you," Cessily said finally. "That what it sounds like, anyway. He's…trust me, he's totally obsessed over
this other girl." She hesitated.

"Sooraya," Laura said, her voice unintentionally sharp.

"How did you know?!" Cessily gasped.

"I was present when he brought her flowers."

"Oh…" Cessily looked sad. "I'm so, so sorry, Laura. But hey…at least he knows it's wrong and is trying to make up for it. I mean—it's up to you whether
you can ever really be his friend again—"

Laura hung her head. "Thank you, Cessily," she said, slipping off the bed. Her friend stopped her and wrapped her arms around her comfortingly; Laura
began to cry silently.

Cessily was on a mission now; she had to tell Sooraya—for Julian—that he was 'addicted' to her. She took the other girl out for tea and told her straight
that this wasn't going to go away. Neither ordered food, Sooraya unable to eat in public, and Cessily unable to eat period (even though she normally
ordered to make her friends and herself feel more comfortable).

Cessily reached the part were she described the 'addiction', and again reassured her friend that it was not wrong, that everyone 'did it'.

Sooraya looked troubled.

"I cannot—I do not wish to see boys. I am devoted to my religion."

"But do you like Julian?" Cessily pressed.

Sooraya's eyes tilted away. "If I had had to…pick someone…it would have been Jay Guthrie. But he is…" she closed her eyes and sniffled.

"Oh, dear," Cessily said. "I understand. But…then why did you…" she left her question unfinished.

Sooraya looked confused.

"You know," Cessily said.

"I do not understand what you are talking about," Sooraya said.

Cessily paused, then leaned over and whispered in her friend's ear. Sooraya reacted as if a bee stung her; she jerked back and stared at
Cessily with wide eyes. "CESSILY," she gasped. "I—never! Allah! I—"

"It's okay," Cessily reassured her soothingly. "He told me. We all do it. Even me—with this guy once in highschool—"

"Cessily, I have done no such thing," Sooraya said seriously. "I am forbidden by my religion. I would never break my vow to keep myself pure."

"…" Cessily found herself believing Sooraya's earnest, guiltless face.

"Then who…" she paused. "Oh. My. GOD."

Laura had decided: she would leave. She wanted no part in this twisted web of lies and unnecessary emotional pain whatsoever. If she was to
be in pain, she preferred it be physical—the kind she could deal with.

She packed her bags, and began to sneak down the hallway, at the precise moment that Julian decided he had had enough, and would subdue
her with telekinesis—no matter how risky it might be—in order to make her stay put while he explained the situation. He opened his door, headed
purposefully down the hallway, and by pure coincidence headed her off by the stairs.

"X—" he said.

Laura closed her eyes, ignoring him.

"We need to—"

She began to run. She needed to lose him before she went outside, because she knew she stood little chance of outrunning him when he could fly.
Down the stairs, through the kitchen she ran, Julian in hot pursuit. She entered the den where the TV was blaring, hoping to momentarily confuse
him by hiding amongst the crowd of students gathered around the TV.

She plopped down on the leather couch, beside Rockslide, who was holding a bowl of cornflakes.

"Hey, X," he grunted.

Then Julian entered the room, his eyes glowing. "X! Get back here!" he snapped.

A multitude of heads swiveled in his direction. Laura jumped over the back of the couch, and shrieked as she was pinned to the ceiling, her
hair and locket hanging down.

The heads swiveled up, watching the ceiling crack around the enormous ball of energy.

"YOU'RE GOING TO STAY THERE AND HEAR ME OUT!" Julian roared. "I'm sick to death of you giving mixed signals and running away! You, of all
people, should at least be brave enough to FACE your problems!"

Laura glared at him, her eyes wide. "Let go of me," she hissed, her teeth ground together.

"No! We're not done!" Julian shook his finger at her. "Wait—why the hell are you wearing a backpack?!"

"I am leaving," Laura said.

His grip tightened. "WHAT?! No! You need us, Laura!"

"I do not need you at all," Laura said calmly. "I am leaving…in order to extricate myself from this situation you have caused. You should be
honest. If you are pursuing Sooraya, do not—"

"…" Julian continued to shake his finger at her. "...what?"

"This is awesome," Rockslide whispered, turning off the TV (which no one was watching any longer).

"I said—" Laura's claws popped out, to gasps amongst the small crowd. "You are dishonest. You are a liar. You are like the people who
created me—you are consumed with greed. You are involved with another female, and yet you are not satisfied. This will stop. I—"

Julian tilted his head. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked.

Then Cessily rushed into the room, out of breath (even though she didn't breathe air). "JULIAN!" she shouted. "I HAD THE WRONG PERSON!"

The heads swiveled towards her.

"I thought…" she wheezed, doubled over. "I thought you were talking about Sooraya! I had no idea that—"

"The hell? Cess, do you really think I would do that with—" his eyes widened as he realized what he had just said, in public.

"You! And X!" Rockslide pointed at him. "You're kidding! Dude, that is wrong! She creeps me out so—"

"Yeah," Julian said, his eyes burning. "On that sofa, actually."

People scrambled to get off the couch, Rockslide making dry gagging noises (extra dry, because he had no bodily fluids). "DUDE! WRONG,
WRONG, WRONG—"

Laura glared at him from the ceiling. "Release me!" she said.

"X—" Julian said, then Cessily stretched elbowed him in the ribs. "Her name is Laura, you perfect a-hole!" she hissed.

"—I have never looked at Sooraya that way," he continued, rubbing the side Cessily had prodded him in. "Ever. I've been trying to tell
you, for the past month, that I'm sorry for what's been happening…and I want to talk to you more—but somewhere private." He glared
at Santo, who was still making noises. "If I let you go, can you promise you won't run off on me?"

Laura considered. "Okay."

He released her; she dropped like a stone and he tried to catch her. She hit him in the shoulder instead and they landed in a dazed
pile on the floor.

"Oh, man," Julian said, staring up at the damage to the ceiling. It looked as if it may have extended into the next floor. Then he sighed
and gathered himself up, taking Laura's offered hand (as she had been the first to get to her feet).

Cessily watched them leave, clasping her hands. "They're so cute together!"

"I don't care. They were being cute all over this sofa, and I think I got some of Keller's spunk on me," Santo snapped.

"That's milk from your cereal, you idiot," Josh said, watching the bowl in Rockslide's hand tip.

In the garden, Laura re-shouldered her back pack and waited for Julian (who was beat red, and rubbing his face) to start talking.

Finally she spoke. "You are wasting my time."

"You've got plenty of it," Julian snapped, then wrinkled his nose. "Damn it, X, why do you keep making me rag on you? I don't mean half the
things I say, but they always come out around you!"

"I cannot answer that," Laura said. "You wished to speak to me. Speak."

"Give me a second. I don't want to be angry when I talk about this." Julian took a deep breath, and sat down on the garden bench. "Look,
come sit here and we'll sort things out, okay?"

At first, Laura considered turning around and simply leaving—carrying out her earlier plan—but then she complied, reasoning that he might
actually say something of value now.

"You go first," he said.

"…" Laura raised her eyebrows. "With what?"

"You know exactly what." Julian waited, for a minute, while Laura stared at him blankly (and angrily). "Okay, maybe you don't. You said…you liked me."

"I will not repeat myself."

"Well…I think I kinda like you, too," Julian said, flushing.

Laura stopped. "But—"

"Just a bit. I'm not—I'm not sure what Cessily said to you—she probably made it sound like I wanted to marry you and have babies but that's
totally not how it is."

Laura shook her head. "Cessily told me you wished to pursue Sooraya."

"I have no idea where—" Julian stopped, something dawning on him, something that made sense. "The fucking flowers, right?"

She nodded, slightly, watching him.

"I got them for you," he said, looking down. "But—I kind of chickened out when I saw she was there too. I don't know why." He paused. "Did you
get to see them?"

"Yes," Laura said. "We put them on the dresser. They smelled nice."

"Oh, okay." He hesitated, then reached over and took her hand. "I don't know where this is going…and it's off to a really lousy start…but do you
want to, I dunno, see where it goes?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I dunno." He looked away. "Okay, I do. I, uh, want to spend more time with you…alone time."

"Why?" Laura asked.

He paused, remembering what Ms. Frost had said. Reaching out, he put his hand on her upper chest, near her
shoulder. "I feel the same way you do."

"Oh." Laura seemed to understand now; he could see that she was digesting this information.

"And…I don't feel that way about anyone else," he added. "Just to clarify, because this has been really confusing."

Laura said nothing, but she smiled ever-so-slightly.

"About…" he cleared his throat. "I'm so sorry for how I treated you. I didn't—I've been going through a rough patch of my life…and I'm not
used to it. I shouldn't take it out on you…and that's what I did. Well, the first time." He half-smiled. "The rest of the times…I was trying to
apologize, but I got a bit…distracted."

"Oh," Laura said.

He paused. "So we're good? You're not mad at me?"

Laura said nothing, but she smiled again, seeing that he expected a response. She didn't really understand why it was important to him;
she was used to such treatment, and it was the lying that had upset her most.

He hesitated, then reached out and put his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer and feeling like a big weight had been
lifted off his chest—because he had finally made things OK.

- Epilogue -

Six months later, Julian took a moment to recount events of late. The facility had indeed tried to reclaim Laura; then the war had begun,
over a newborn mutant in Alaska. The team had been torn apart, the X-men disbanded; he had been injured and nearly killed by a woman
that called herself Deathstrike; and for a while, he'd lost track of all his friends and mentors, abandoned in a hotel room.

He'd been in pain for most of the duration, lying in bed. Then Worthington's credit card had bounced—something about the purchase of a
large area of land—and they had informed him that he would need to check out the next morning.

In the evening, someone knocked on his door: probably the room service he had ordered, the last square meal he would obtain for a while.

"Come in," he'd croaked, wincing. His body didn't like when he spoke.

There was an odd sound—not the usual keycard noise from housekeeping—and then the door swung open. He couldn't see who it was
due to the small hallway, but he watched it anxiously.

A few moments later Laura entered the room, and stood by his footboard, surveying him. They were both silent.

"I have been looking for you," Laura said. "I was informed you were deceased."

"Oh." Julian stared at her.

"Are you in pain?" she asked.

"Yeah, quite a…bit," he said.

"Can you walk?"

"No." He looked at her pleadingly. "Don't leave me here. Laura, I…I love you, I should've told you before all this happened—"

"I won't," Laura said. She paused. "What does 'love' mean?"

"…" Julian stared at her, wanting to burn her into his retinas. She looked like he'd remembered her, her hair perhaps a little
longer. "Come here and I'll show you," he wheezed, grinning slightly (and wincing in pain).

"Later. You are too weak right now." Laura touched his foot. "I love you too. I will return for you."

"No, don't—" he pleaded. "Come here—"

Laura turned her back on him and exited the room, just like everyone else. He waited, and waited; every time room service came,
he twitched, thinking she might come back. She didn't, at first; he noted that the hotel was no longer contacting him to leave.

Finally, she did return, with a wheelchair (very humiliating for him) and a somber expression. She helped him off the bed very carefully,
noting the scars all over his abdomen and the areas that required cleaning; then she wheeled him out of his prison and down the sidewalk.

He now lived a quieter life, in an apartment in California. Laura went out often, on business he knew was for the X-men; however, he found
he did not miss it as much as he'd thought. He was slowly recovering; he could now limp around himself, and the wheelchair sat in the corner.

He felt guilty about relying on Laura for everything, including money and food; but he promised himself that—as soon as he was better—he
would participate. He had never imagined that their strange connection would take them this far, into a world of partnership and loyal
companionship. He'd worried, in the early stages, that they were just built on attraction and that one dry period could wipe them out;
but he'd thoroughly tested that, now. Most of their evenings consisted of lying on the bed, watching TV together, her head tucked on a
certain spot of his shoulder, and her hand carefully on his abdomen, not touching the scars.

And he found himself content. Beyond the inherent longing to couple, of course.

He stroked the fur of the small kitten that Laura had brought 'home' one day, offering no explanation but putting it in his hands with wide,
hopeful eyes that he would like it. 'She' was all black, and he had found himself comparing the slinky movements to those of his human
companion. He had therefore named the kitten X, since he called the girl by her real name, now; she had seemed to notice this, and
used this name for the cat herself.

The door opened, and he looked to the side. Laura was holding a slew of straining grocery bags, and had opened the structure with her foot.

"Oh," he said, heading towards her.

"No. You are injured. I can—"

He lifted the bags mentally and set them down on the kitchen counter, then wrapped his arms around her waist. "You okay?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Anyone hurt you?"

Laura paused. "I was shot."

"Where?" He slid his hands up her sides.

"My right shoulder."

Julian peeled her shirt down slightly. "I'll kill them," he said, even though they both knew this was an empty threat, and the skin he saw was unmarred.

Laura smiled slightly, and he kissed her shoulder. "Guess what I want to do?"

She tilted her head. "You are still injured."

"Only the upper shoulder." He took her hand and laid it on his stomach. "Feel that? It's a hundred percent."

"A hundred percent of what?" Laura asked.

"This." He slid her hand down further, under his waistband. She arced an eyebrow and he mirrored her. "We have yet to use the bed here," he grinned.

She followed him into the room and shut the door.