Title – Suffer the Children

Author - Ramos

Rating – PG

Disclaimer – These characters are the Property of Marvel Comics. No profit is made from their use.

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"Ple-e-e-a-a-se can we go to the mall!?"

"No!"

Logan flicked the newspaper back up and gave it his most ruthless attention. He had long ago lost track of how many times Rogue's annoying little roommate had made the same request. In a vain effort to ignore the unrelenting teen standing in front of him, her fists balled on her hips, Logan tried a little mental calculation. Let's see: four months since Magneto escaped, times thirty days in a month, times approximately fifty times a day…

"Dude! Do you have any idea how long it's been since Rogue's been let off her leash? One hundred and seventeen days!! We're talking cruel and unusual punishment here!" Jubilee punctuated her indignation with wild hand gestures, as though her body was not were not large enough to contain her outrage.

"Nobody's keepin' you here, kid," Logan growled at her.

"I'm not talkin' about me! I'm talking about her! Tell him, girl!"

"Tell him what?" asked Rogue absently as she entered the dining room, a stack of books under her arm. Since her field trip and other extra- curricular events had been curtailed, she'd taken refuge in the vast library, escaping mentally when she could not escape physically.

"Tell him you're going stir-crazy. You so need to get out for some retail therapy."

Rogue glanced out the tall, mullioned windows at the bright summer day outside. "It would be kinda nice to go out," she said wistfully. She turned her big brown eyes to Logan, and to his disgust he felt his resistance crumble. Even knowing that the two girls had probably rehearsed the puppy-dog eyes moment didn't make it any easier to deny the fact that it HAD been four months and not a single peep had been heard from Magneto or Sabretooth or any other threat. The house arrest had seemed prudent in the first few days, or even weeks, but now… it just seemed like overkill.

"All right," he grumbled from behind his printed shield.

The girls gaped at him, then immediately went off into high-pitched squeals that made his ears ache.

"Listen up!" he snapped, tossing the newspaper on the table. "Ground rules. You will stay together. You will stay within sight at all times. You will not disappear into dressing rooms. Are we clear?"

"Totally clear, dude. Wait 'til I tell Kitty -- we're goin' over the wall!"

"No," corrected Logan. "Just you two. And you," he pointed at Jubilee," will be part of security, do you understand? You plan on playing in the big leagues, little girl, you're gonna get some practice in. Got it?"

"Yes, sir!" Jubilee snapped him a salute with a middle finger emphasis. Logan was torn between growling at her and wondering what Cyke's reaction would be to the same salute.

Twenty minutes later he was locked in Xavier's older BMW with two chattering, highly excited girls and thankful for whatever small favors that Storm had agreed to go along. Nothing made a man feel less than manly like having a teenage girl ask if a particular dress looked good on her. The New Salem Mall came into sight, bringing another round of squeals from the back seat.

For the next three hours, Logan let Storm play den mother while he stayed in the main promenade and kept an eye out for trouble. Trouble, however, refused to make an appearance. In fact, it seemed Trouble had taken off to the Bahamas for the week and had no intention of showing its face for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, he had been dragged from one end of the mall to the other and had been talked into paying ridiculous amounts of money for food, if that's what you could call the greasy, plastic cheese- coated chili fries Jubilee had insisted on eating. Just looking at the mess had given him indigestion. He'd also paid for cotton candy, a round of sodas, and a salad of dubious freshness for Storm.

All three had tried to talk Logan into holding their packages while they did some more shopping, but he adamantly drew the line at holding pink bags in public. Even Jubilee's assurances that he had enough macho to overcome the henpecked image was not sufficient to convince him, which left him standing aloof and alone. Rubbing the back of his neck, Logan scowled at the masses of shoppers who were generating enough background noise to give anyone a headache, not just people with his sensitive hearing. He watched as the girls exited one shop and go into the one right next door to it, and wondered vaguely what the difference was between apparently identical establishments. Not that he'd be foolish enough to ask.

He entertained himself by checking out the people passing by, but it seemed every woman cruising the mall that day had either a boyfriend or small children in tow. Roaming bands of teenagers swooped around him in boisterous flocks. Several of them acted offended when he didn't move out of their way; a glowering look from him usually sent them scurrying.

When he caught sight of two well-preserved older women giving him the once over, he wasn't sure if he should feel flattered or creeped-out. The uncomfortable feeling doubled instantly when Storm came hurrying out of the store towards him.

"Are the girls out here with you?" she asked urgently.

"No -- they were with you. What happened?"

"I was making a purchase, and they were looking at a rack just a few feet away." Storm held up the small plastic bag. "I only had my back turned for a moment."

"That's all it takes with those two," he growled. "They probably thought it'd be a scream to give you the slip."

He grabbed Storm's elbow and all but dragged her behind him. Once inside the boutique, he took in the layout and noticed the second exit on the far wall. "Shit."

Customers and sales personnel scattered at he stalked through the pastel clothing displays and other fripperies to the opening in the glass wall. Out in the main avenue again, they scanned the throngs of people in both directions without seeing their quarry. Logan tried to smell them, but the overwhelming number of people made it impossible to isolate the girls' scents.

"When I get my hands on those two I'm gonna kill 'em," Logan vowed.

"You don't think anything has happened to them, do you?" Storm asked, concerned.

"No, I don't. I think they're down at the Food Court laughing their asses off." Storm had to hurry as Logan took off again, his longer legs covering the ground in angry strides. He was in no mood for any nonsense, so when he first heard the faint popping sounds from behind him, he ignored it. Then the screaming started.

"Logan!" Storm yelled and broke into a run in the opposite direction, heading for the bright flashes of light that came from further down the promenade.

Dodging around the knots of fleeing people, he heard a ferocious roar and it left no doubt who was ahead. The familiar red rage slid down over his eyes, narrowing his focus to the metal doors that clanged shut just as he and Storm skidded around the corner to the access hall. Logan sprinted the length of the hall and slammed the doors open. He growled savagely as he saw Victor Creed across the loading dock parking lot, dragging a wildly struggling Rogue.

The huge mutant was further hampered by the semi-conscious blue woman at his side. Mystique stumbled, weaving drunkenly as he hauled her to her feet. A crack of thunder got Creed's attention and he whirled at bay, still too far from the sports utility truck parked at the curb, engine running.

"Let her go!" Storm demanded, her eyes going white as she summoned her namesake.

Creed snarled in reply. "Come any closer and I'll slit her throat!" He stepped backwards, retreating a step at a time towards his vehicle. Advancing anyway, Storm and Wolverine separated slightly, offering two targets instead of one. Logan wondered briefly at Sabretooth's scorched hair, but kept an eye on the man's captive.

"You got your hands full, there, Creed," Logan taunted. "Gonna need two hands to do that." Mystique wavered again, one long blue hand going to her forehead as though trying to clear the fog. Without her partner in crime's support, she would have fallen. Rogue, clutched in his other hand, continued to yank against his grasp and flail her fists at him.

Thunder rumbled warningly as boiling clouds gathered rapidly overhead, then several things happened at once. The thin wail of police sirens became audible; lightning struck behind Creed, violently startling Mystique; and the button on Rogue's dark blue jacket popped. The girl immediately slithered out of the sleeves and dropped to her knees, rolling away from her captor. She scrambled towards Storm and let out an '"eeek" as she evaded Creed's last-moment grab.

Swearing, Creed grabbed Mystique instead and shoved her towards the waiting vehicle. Wolverine charged after him, but hesitated as Storm shouted "No! Not now, Logan!" In that lost second, Creed threw himself in the driver's seat and threw the vehicle in gear. Gouts of flowers, grass, and dirt flew up as the he plowed across the landscaped median and nearly collided head- on with two police cars. The cars swerved wildly and spun around in pursuit, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Logan heartily wished them good luck, which in actual case would mean that the police did NOT catch the violent mutant. He jogged back to Rogue and Storm, scooping up the girl's jacket as he went. The weather witch was helping the teenager to her feet.

"You okay, kid?" he asked, concerned. Rogue was gasping for breath but fending off the concerned touch of her teacher.

"Where's Jubilee?" she asked, and she had to repeat herself before Logan understood the question. When he did, his stomach suddenly contracted to a ball of ice.

The jacket in his hand was wet. Turning it over to see the sharp creases where Creed's hand had clutched it so tightly, it was deeply stained with blood. Logan grabbed Rogue's shoulder and spun her around, but the shirt across her back was whole and untouched.

"Go get the car," he ordered Storm in an urgent undertone. "NOW!" he snapped, when the two started to argue, and took off at a run for the metal doors they'd so recently exited. The resounding 'bang' brought the attention of several lingering gawkers, but the bright yellow raincoat Jubilee habitually wore was nowhere in sight.

His heart racing, Logan burst onto the main avenue, but the passing shoppers were a sea of casual conversation and unhurried movement, the excitement dying to a murmur. No clumps of concerned citizens hovered over a body, no yellow form launched itself out of the crowd with a loud "Hey, dude!"

Logan turned back to the access hall. Utilitarian gray and depressingly industrial, the walls were smooth paint over concrete blocks. But the smell… he was suddenly struck by the peculiar ozone tang of Jubilee's fireworks. At the end of the short corridor, a small cul-de-sac framing unmarked doors carried the distinctive odor of Sabretooth. This was obviously where the man had lingered while Mystique had lured the girls away from Storm. Blackened streaks on the walls showed more evidence of the altercation, as did a dent in the metal door. Logan opened it carefully this time, scanning the ground.

Even though he expected the spattered blood on the stained concrete, his eyes closed for a moment before he could follow the droplets. Only a few of the spots were round; the majority were elongated arcs pointing to the side. Crumpled under the edge of a cargo trailer like so much trash was the unmoving form he was searching for.

"Oh, Christ," he breathed as he knelt down and felt for a pulse. As his fingers pulled back the lapel of her jacket, her eyes opened.

"Hey, Wolvie," she said in a tiny voice, and Logan couldn't help but smile at the nickname he loathed. Only Jubilee and Rogue had the guts to call him that, and no amount of growling had been able to dissuade them. He swallowed hard as he saw the amount of blood puddled inside the waterproof fabric.

"Hey, kid," he replied, looking for a wound. Her right side and back looked fine from what he could see, so he took a risk and gently rolled her flat. A short, harsh scream came from her lips before she bit them, hard, and a single tear came from her tightly shut eyes.

Logan was appalled. Her left side was awash in red, and the faint whistling in her breathing scared him more than he wanted to admit. Even as he watched, the pool of blood was growing. He cursed under his breath and ripped at the front of his flannel shirt, not bothering with the buttons.

"This is gonna hurt some, Jubilee." He was vaguely aware of the Xavier's car coming around the ravaged median, but his attention was on the wad of fabric as he carefully stuffed the folded shirt underneath the girl's left arm. A keening moan came from her as he wrapped Rogue's bloodstained jacket around her and lifted her up.

"Open the damned door!" he snapped as Storm got out. As carefully as he could, he climbed into the back seat with his burden. Storm slammed the door behind him and hastily got back behind the wheel and threw the engine into drive. "Get Jean on the cell phone, and make sure she's ready when we get there."

"Shouldn't we get to a hospital?" asked Rogue, her eyes wide at her friend's condition.

"And tell 'em what, Rogue? That yer pal here got attacked by a wild animal in the middle of New Salem Mall?"

An infinitesimal chuckle came from the bundle in his arms. "Wild shopping frenzy -- news at eleven!" Jubilee muttered, then coughed. Several fine droplets of blood hit Logan in the face.

"You're gonna be all right, kid, you hear me?" he told Jubilee urgently. "You are not going to die!"

"'Course I'm not," she agreed with him, her voice thready and weak. "No mangy tomcat like that is gonna do Jubilation Lee in." Her eyelids sagged to half mast, and for the first time Logan noticed that her pupils were a brilliant midnight blue. He'd always assumed they were brown, to go with her Chinese features.

"Stay with me, kid. Don't go to sleep."

Jubilee blinked several times before she managed to focus on his face. Her black eyebrows drew down in a frown. "You went off and left my stuff, didn't you?" she accused him.

Logan frowned back at her, thinking. "Yeah, I guess I did."

"You're gonna buy me replacements, dude. Those clothes cost me all my allowances for the last three months."

He glanced up as Storm took a wide turn onto the rural highway that led to Xavier's. It marked the halfway point between the mall and the school. He could feel the car surge forward as she floored the accelerator, now that they were away from the usual highway patrol haunts.

"I'll buy you a whole damned wardrobe," he replied, turning his attention back to Jubilee.

She didn't reply.

"Jubilee!" He fumbled for her pulse again, but her neck was slick with red and he couldn't find it. Leaning down closer, his sensitive hearing could just barely pick out the fluttering, uneven beating of a heart in distress.

Fortunately someone had already opened the front gate at the mansion, or Storm might have barreled right through it. Jean met them in the hallway and listened to the brief description of the injury as they ran towards the elevator where Scott stood, holding the door open.

In the medical bay Logan gently laid the girl down on the table Jean indicated. He heard her call for blood and for saline solution, and saw Scott scrambling to get the other things she asked for. The newest member of the faculty, a large blue furry doctor Logan had met only recently in a staff meeting, swiftly cut away the beloved yellow coat and the thin shirt beneath, revealing a blood-soaked bra. It, too, was delicately snipped, the cut edges carefully eased away to prevent the elastic from snapping back and tearing the blood clots. Taloned fingers, so very much like the ones that had caused the damage in the first place, carefully peeled away the blood-soaked flannel wad.

"Logan. LOGAN." Scott had to call his name twice before he got the man's attention.

"What," he replied flatly.

"Security containment. We're at a disadvantage here and we're vulnerable…"

"I got it - I'll take care of it." Still, Logan had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the still form on the table.

"Logan. She's not the only student here," Scott reminded him.

"I know," Logan growled, turning and making for the door. Beside it but out of the way Storm stood with her arms around Rogue. The girl had tears streaming down her face.

"You okay, Rogue?" he asked, one hand on the door.

She nodded. "I'm fine. A couple of bruises, but no big." She managed a brief, wan smile, and he nodded.

"Okay." Logan pushed the door open, only to realize his hands were tacky with blood, going dark as it dried. He rubbed them together fitfully as the elevator took him back to the main floor. When it opened, he looked up to see most of the student body gathered in the hall. It should not have been a surprise; Jubilee was one of the oldest residents, and while she might not have been universally popular she was certainly infamous.

Looking over the scared faces, Logan picked out Bobby Drake, one of Rogue and Jubilee's closest friends. "Hey. Iceman," he called gruffly. "Would you mind gettin' a mop or something and cleaning the floor up?" A trail of blood drops ran like a string of red beads from the front door to the elevator.

Bobby shrugged, unaccustomed to the Wolverine asking for things, rather than snapping orders. "Yeah, no problem. Is Jubilee… is she going to be okay?"

"Yeah," Logan lied. "She's gonna be fine. Don't you worry."

The Security room beside Xavier's office showed all was quiet; the front gate had been closed and all the cameras were on line. The computer that monitored news reports and certain military and police frequencies from around the country for certain keywords, such as 'mutant,' 'unexplained,' and others, had no tattletales indicating anything out of the ordinary had hit the airwaves in the last day. For several hours he stood watch and ran the sophisticated security system through an exhaustive check. Eventually, the repeating image of the car haphazardly parked by the main entrance began to annoy him, until he grabbed the spare keys and headed out the front door.

Logan carefully parked the BMW in the garage and inspected the back seat. The chocolate brown upholstery was unmarked, which struck him as odd until he realized his jeans were stiff with dried blood. He slammed the car door shut and headed for his room, suddenly unable to stand the sensation on his skin. Stripping under the spray of the shower, he scrubbed his legs and arms harshly several times and left the clothes soaking in the water that backed up when the fabric blocked the drain.

A knock came at his door as he was pulling on a new shirt. Scott, his own hair still damp, gave him an unfathomable look from behind red shades as he leaned against the frame.

"Briefing room. Now," he said, and walked away.

Nearly all the kids were watching television in the media room when Logan went past it. Rogue was on the floor, sandwiched between her other roommate and one of the boys in her grade level. Kitty and St. John, he reminded himself, and went on to join the other adults.

Charles Xavier had returned early from his conference when Storm had called him with the news about the attack. The bald man sat at the metal table, slumped slightly in his wheelchair and looking older than Logan had ever seen him. Hank McCoy joined them at the last minute, looking as worn out as a man covered in blue fur possibly could. He had donned a new lab coat, but the scent of Jubilee's blood still clung to him.

"How is she?" Xavier asked immediately.

"Jubilee is stable, for now," Hank began, removing his gold-rimmed glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "As best as I can ascertain, her assailant struck her a rising blow with his talons, which caught her on the left side of her torso. The talons," and he held out his own cupped fingers, the triangular nails illustrating the movement, "tore through several ribs, the pectoralis major muscle group, and then shattered her collar bone. The carotid and the jugular were narrowly missed. Additionally, her left lung was punctured at least two places."

Dr. McCoy paused for a moment, letting the information sink in before continuing. "I've repaired the punctures and removed the bone fragments, but I plan to leave Jubilee on a ventilator for several days to allow the punctures to heal before they're subjected to the stress of respiration. The muscle groups have been stitched into place, but I fear injury may be permanently disabling for an athlete of her caliber."

Across the table, Scott made a small sound of dismay.

"My greatest concern, at this point, is infection," McCoy stated flatly. "While I make no comment about Mr. Creed's personal habits, I can testify first hand how difficult it is to keep nails like these clean." His hands flexed above the table, the carefully trimmed and filed tips fully extended. "I have little hope that Jubilee's attacker is as fastidious in his care."

"Thank you, Hank." Xavier looked around the table gravely. "I'm sure you have done your utmost. But what I want to know now is how this happened in the first place."

"It's my fault," Logan said flatly. "I should never have let them go out."

"Logan, it's been months since Rogue was allowed to go out of the mansion," Jean objected. "We had to let her out sooner or later. There's no way you could have known they were watching so closely."

"I must concur," Xavier added. "We have had no indication that Magneto was still interested in acquiring Rogue's abilities. You cannot blame yourself, Logan."

Logan stared at the tabletop, determined to blame himself regardless of how many times he heard it wasn't his fault. Marie was his responsibility, and he'd told a seventeen-year-old girl it was her job to help protect her friend. Lee weighed maybe a hundred pounds, and he'd let her stand between Marie and Victor Creed. The guilt was overwhelming, threatening to choke him.

"I spoke to Rogue earlier this evening about why she and Jubilee left the shop," Storm began. "She told me that Wolverine had suddenly appeared before them and ordered them to leave, claiming that a mission had come up that required all of the X-Men."

"Mystique." Scott's distaste only echoed Logan's disgust.

"Exactly. She said that Logan – Mystique – had rushed them to the exit when Jubilee suddenly paused and said something, and then without any provocation whatsoever attacked him – or rather, her." Storm waved away the irritation of the gender conflict.

"Jubilee attacked first? For heaven's sake, why?" Xavier was extremely puzzled, and for him, an intriguing puzzle was like a fine wine. "What was it that Jubilee said, just before she attacked?"

"Rogue wasn't sure," Storm replied. "She thought it was something along the lines of 'wide dimes' or 'white lines,' but she couldn't quite remember."

The room was silent for a moment, before Jean suddenly blurted out, "White Diamonds. It's a perfume. I think one of the girls received some for a gift recently."

"She smelled Mystique's perfume?" Scott questioned aloud.

Everyone in the room jumped as Logan slammed both fists on the tabletop. They stared, appalled, as he jerked to his feet and kicked his chair across the room, the metal legs clattering hard on the floor.

"Logan?" questioned Xavier gently.

"I gave her a detention," Logan said. He rubbed both of his hands over his face, anguish evident in the tense lines of his shoulders. "During the self defense class last week, I gave a lecture about using all the senses, not just visual cues. Jubilee made some smart-ass comment, and I gave her a detention for not paying attention."

"I believe it will be some time before Jubilee will be serving any detentions." Xavier had meant it as a jest, but it fell flat. "Well. I believe we have our answer. Mystique lured the girls disguised as Logan. Jubilee realized it was a trick and attacked her."

"She hit Mystique hard enough to dent the door and knock her half unconscious," Logan added. "The kid packs quite a punch."

"That delay made the all the difference. It allowed you and Storm time to catch up and prevent Creed from escaping with Rogue." Xavier rubbed his temple and pulled himself up straighter in his wheelchair. "Let us hope Jubilee pays no higher price for her bravery than she already has."

Long after the students and most of the faculty were in bed and asleep, Logan lay on his bed, tossing. Unable to sleep, he stared at the ceiling and examined the day's events in his mind. The girls, all giggles and enthusiasm as they dragged the adults from one shop to the next. Himself, growling at them to hide any enjoyment he might have shown over seeing their antics. Storm, her attention slipping for one brief instant, giving a window of opportunity for Mystique to impersonate him.

Logan swore and flipped over, burying his head in the crook of his arm, but the image of the two girls trustingly following his own copied form continued to play across the inside of his eyelids. Jubilee recognizing a perfume and suddenly letting loose with her fireworks, slamming the pretend Logan into the metal doors. Creed erupting from his hiding place and grabbing the helpless teens and shoving them out the door, possibly tripping over the blue form of his accomplice. Not so helpless, Logan considered, remembering the burnt hair around Creed's face. Jubilee must have given him a face full of her pafs as well.

Just before the bastard tried to rip her in half.

Sitting up abruptly, Logan grabbed his jeans and pulled them on. The medical bay was dimly lit by the firefly glow of LED's from the equipment when he came in, softly padding on bare feet and gently easing the door closed behind him. Hank McCoy stirred on the cot by the wall, and Logan held out a quieting hand.

"Just me, Blue."

The bulky form grunted lightly and subsided as Logan made his way to Jubilee's bedside. The metal rails enclosed her form, and Logan frowned at the sight of her small body. The girl was seventeen, the same age as Marie and Kitty, but her boisterous personality made her seem to take up more space than the other two girls combined. Now, unconscious, Logan was struck by the fact that the teen was physically smaller than either of her roommates.

The antiseptic smell of the room burned his nose and brought out an automatic animosity, but Logan ignored it as he sank into a chair beside the hospital bed. The machines clicked and whirred and pumped in the quiet room, the sounds oddly soothing. Jubilee's chest rose and fell obediently with the action of the ventilator, the air hissing with each cycle as it was forced through the corrugated plastic tube that snaked its way between her jaws and down her throat. The girl's left arm was encased in gauze and strapped to her body, the bandaging evident under the loosely tied hospital gown. The slight incline of the bed propped her torso up slightly, while her head lolled to one side. The raven black hair stuck up in lank chunks.

He could not have said how long he sat there, watching the pale green sheet rise and fall, when he noticed the fingers of her right hand twitch. A moment later, they moved again, flexing and then grabbing at nothing. Acting on an instinct, Logan reached out and took Jubilee's small hand in his own as it made an abrupt jerk and tried to bang itself against the plastic railing. His grip kept it from flailing up towards her face as she moaned, her eyes screwing shut as she fought her way towards consciousness.

At Logan's call, Hank McCoy threw back the lab coat that he'd drawn around him as a makeshift blanket and groped for his spectacles. "Do not allow her to grab the tubing – she may attempt to extract it." The blue man joined him at Jubilee's bedside as she blinked in the dim light. McCoy reached to the head of the bed and turned on a small lamp. Logan belatedly realized that Jubilee was most likely blind without the lamp, while the feral doctor could see nearly as well as he could.

She flinched as the small pool of light filled the room, twisting her head away as well as she could with the tubing in the way. Her hand convulsively reached for her face again, stopped by Logan's grip. He held on tightly as her fingers twisted in his, seeking escape, and her mouth opened in a silent scream that was far too reminiscent of his own nightmares. The snapping of rubber as Hank donned surgical gloves did not help.

"Jubilee!" he called to her urgently. "You're okay, kid. You're okay. Stop fighting." Logan put his free hand on her forehead, willing her to hear his words and calm down. He threw a frustrated glance at Hank, who was bustling around the equipment, hanging up another small plastic bag and adding the tubing to the saline drip in Jubilee's hand. Logan spared it a glance to be sure he hadn't dislodged it, but it appeared to be securely taped to the back of her hand.

Under Logan's touch, Jubilee seemed to calm, but her eyelids were still screwed tightly shut and a single tear tracked down each temple. He repeated the assurances, and gently wiped away the wet streaks. At his touch her eyes opened again, the incredibly blue gaze focused on him as Hank finished fussing with the tubing and approached the bed on the other side.

"That should help, Jubilee. The tube down your throat is helping you breathe, my dear. Your lung was punctured; you cannot breathe on your own until the wound heals."

Jubilee blinked at McCoy, then her gaze turned back to Logan before sliding past him and around the room. Her eyebrows laboriously drew down, puzzled.

"Do you remember going to the mall today?" Logan asked. After a moment, she managed a short nod. "You remember what happened?" The brows drew down again, and then her eyes widened.

"It's okay," he assured her again. "Creed and Mystique got away, but Rogue's fine."

"Jubilee," Hank interrupted, "your side and shoulder were injured in the attack, and you've been unconscious for about fourteen hours. You're going to need the ventilator for a few days, until your lung heals. The machine is inflating your lungs, rather like a balloon. Do what you can to relax and let it do the work for you. I've added some medication to your I.V. to help you remain calm."

Hank leaned over the edge of the bed, his face stern and serious. One furry hand to touch Jubilee's wrist and press it down, and Logan kept his grip on her fingers as they sagged towards the cover.

"This is very important, Jubilee. I want you to listen carefully. Under normal circumstances, a patient on a ventilator would be restrained, to prevent them from instinctively tearing out the tubing. As long as you refrain from this behavior, I will allow you free use of your hand. Now, I know this is very uncomfortable for you, but I believe you are strong enough to endure it. You have never ceased to surprise me with your strength or determination, my dear. I doubt you will change my opinion now."

Her fingers stirred in Logan's grip, and he let go. Slowly, they formed a fist, the thumb weakly lifting until she'd formed the classic "thumbs up" signal. Hank smiled jovially, the first time Logan had ever seen the man expose his rather impressive canine teeth.

"Good. I'm glad. I know how much you would have dislike to be restrained."

Logan shot the doctor a puzzled frown. Hank returned an arched eyebrow, which indicated plainly that Logan of all people should understand why a teenage mutant would fear being restrained. To his chagrin, Logan realized that he'd never really thought about what fears Jubilee or any of the other kids might harbor. For the first time, he considered what a black ops group would do to obtain the services, willing or not, of a mutant like Kitty Pryde or St. John Allerdyce. Jubilee as well would be a powerful weapon in the hands of the wrong people.

Logan dragged his wandering attention back as Hank flashed a small penlight about, asking Jubilee to follow it, and performed several other small tests to judge her condition. While she could not speak, her thumb went up or down to answer yes or no, but she was obviously getting both frustrated and weakened. Hank seemed to realize this, and put away the light.

"I think you need your rest, Jubilee. It's actually quite early in the morning, nearly three-thirty am. Are you in any pain right now? The benzodiazepine I've given you isn't very strong, it's more of a mellowing agent to help you relax."

Jubilee's hand rose off the bed, trembling slightly as it waggled from side to side in a "so-so" gesture. Hank harrumphed.

"On a scale of one to ten, one being just fine, how much pain are you in?"

The hand fluttered and then held up all five fingers, then two more. After a second thought, a third finger was added before the hand collapsed onto her stomach.

"I thought you might be. Let me get something for you."

Before he could turn away, the hand rose again, making an abortive rush towards her face before it paused and pointed.

"It's going to be two or three days, possibly more, before we can remove the tube," Hank answered.

The hand thumped down on the bed, then rose and pointed again. Then it made another "thumbs up" that tilted to one side.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. What are you asking for?"

Trembling harder, Jubilee made a circle of her thumb and fingers and repeated the tilting. Hank frowned, still not getting it, and her hand collapsed again. Tension around her eyes made small, anguished wrinkles.

"Hey, relax," Logan told her soothingly. "Hank's a smart guy, he'll figure it out. Maybe you can make up some sign language or something."

He'd only been kidding, but Jubilee's eyes lit up. Her hand rose again, this time making a circle of her thumb and last three fingers, the index finger pointing, before the first and second fingers twined around each other, as though making a wish. Then the thumb and little finger spread out while the other fingers tucked themselves into a fist. Hank peered at her fingers as they repeated themselves.

"D. R. Y. Dry. Your mouth is dry?" he questioned, and got another "thumbs up." Hank beamed at her and turned to the drawers, retrieving several items, then pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Logan scowled at her, and her blue eyes, although pinched and tired, still managed to send out a mischievous glimmer.

"You and your little mates have been talking in my class with that crap, haven't you?" he accused her. The eyes went wide with attempted innocence. Logan couldn't help the grin as he leaned closer to her and whispered, "Busted, Lee."

He moved back and let Hank wipe the girl's lips and mouth with a wetted cloth, then use a cotton swab to apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the cracked lips. The simple act of communicating such a small detail had exhausted her and she sagged on the bed, her eyes closed. She never even flinched as McCoy lifted the edge of her covers and injected her left hip with a large syringe.

"I'm sorry I couldn't give you this morphine earlier, my dear. I wanted to be sure you had not received any trauma to your cranium, and I could not ascertain that until you had regained consciousness. Now that I'm sure you haven't sustained a concussion, we can make you more comfortable."

Eyes still closed, Jubilee nodded minutely. Logan watched the dark, circled eyelids slowly relax, and her hand uncurled as the drug took effect. She did not move as Hank turned off the lamp, the click barely audible over the monitoring machines' noises.

"My professional advice to you, sir," Hank began as he stripped off the rubber gloves and deliberately placed them in the red trash bagged receptacle, "is to go to bed and get some sleep. Quite frankly, you look nearly as tired as I feel."

"Yeah," Logan said absently. He rose off the metal chair and staggered slightly as the circulation was restored to parts south, and his feet tingled as they reminded him they had been on the cold floor, without socks, for far too long. Another glance assured him that Jubilee had not moved, then he muttered "See ya later" to Hank before heading out of the lab.