saga/title/fandom: Two of Us chapter 21 (X-Men)

author: Alex L

rating/genre: (R) - Romance/Drama

warnings: het, language, adult situtations

summary: Set after the kiss in Homecomings, Bobby finds happiness with Jubilee. In progress. Please read and review!

comments/disclaimers: I forgot the disclaimer for this one---my apologies. All characters belong to Marvel. The story is mine.Feedback is always appreciated.

Chapter Twenty-One: You and I Both

The day after Thanksgiving arrived the following morning. The golden sun sparkled against the crisp, blue sky. However, unlike the somewhat mild temperatures that dominated yesterday's festivities, the air was now cool. Winter winds were brisk, bending bare branches and lifting leaves and other debris from the ground in the air.

In the aftermath of holiday gatherings that transpired the day before, neighborhood streets were quiet. While the previous day held the promise of activity, today was rather subdued. Many decided to spend the morning recovering from partaking in the Thanksgiving tradition of preparing and consuming lavish meals. Promises of going on various crash diets to compensate for gorging on rich foods floated in the air. Accompanying them were also plans to embark on treks to the local shopping centers in order to stake out the Christmas sales.

The Drake home was still, mirroring the tranquility that surrounded it by nearby houses. While many of the neighbors were relishing the time spent with their loved ones and friends, the calm that fell over the Drakes' was quite different. The aftermath of last night's meal left a strained, tense air that swirled from room to room. No restful slumber graced the home, thanks to things said and things left unsaid from the night before. Any sleep that was had possibly resulted from the emotional drain of being upset and hurt.

Sitting at the foot of his bed rather glumly, Bill Drake was all too aware of the atmosphere that intruded upon his bright abode. His gray eyes soaked up the hardwood floor beneath his feet. He heaved a sigh, not bothering to control the volume of his exhaling breath. There was no one lying next to him that morning to wake.

His gaze traveled to the empty side of the bed, where his wife usually slept. After he left the dining room, he struggled up the stairs in order to seek some sanctuary in his bedroom. He had expected Maddy to join him shortly after, as she always did. Waiting up for her, he thought about her downstairs with the kids, clearing up the food and putting things away. In his mind, he laid out the half-hearted explanation she would give them regarding his behavior. She might reiterate her words when she and Bobby talked the first night he arrived back while apologizing profusely for her husband's behavior. Bill could picture her traipsing upstairs, ready to placate him and his embarrassed ego. He almost heard that comforting, throaty voice of hers telling him that of course he did not know and that she knew he did not mean to hurt the girl. Her face would be benign as she held him in her arms, offering her unconditional loyalty and love.

"You're my knight in shining armor," she would say to him, echoing her a line in her favorite movie, On Golden Pond. She often did so whenever he was feeling down. The manner in which she said it was oh so convincing. He felt invincible, like her protector, like he was incapable of doing no wrong.

But she never came.

Instead, he could make out her light footsteps as she wandered down the hallway two hours later. His ears picked up on the sound of the door of the second guest room, which was next to the hallway bathroom, opening and closing quietly. At first, he thought she was merely gathering blankets for Bobby and Jubilee. However, when he did not hear any noises following her entry, he knew she was retiring for the evening.

In spite of the hours that passed since then, Bill continued to be in state of shock. Never in all the years they were married, had Maddy ever displayed such anger towards him. Granted, they had their share of arguments through the years, but these disagreements were always resolved before they went to bed. He was used to his wife swallowing down similar feelings and using her diplomatic, but cajoling demeanor in order to get her point across. She never believed in the silent treatment.

Until last night.

It was strange, sleeping alone. He had not done so since his stay at the hospital, where he was immobilized for several weeks. Even then, Maddy was by side with her encouraging words and pleasant smiles. This was not the case last night. All Bill had to keep him company throughout the long, cold evening were her pillows, which smelled of lavender.

Needless to say, he did not sleep well. If he were pressed to provide a numerical amount of hours, he would have to guess about three. Most of that time was spent tossing, turning, and ruminating. He found himself obsessing as to how to lessen his culpability. Using his ignorance as his only defense, he internally rationalized a case for himself. He simply did not know about the girl's parents. There was no harm or malice behind his words. While he had not been convinced of the validity of such an argument at the time, he was trying to do so as he lay in bed.

As in the moments that haunted him after he uttered his question, Bill found himself quite dubious of his justification. Images of people's shocked and disappointed countenances flooded his mind. They continued to surround him even as he closed his eyes. It was then that his feelings of guilt and shame began to settle in like old familiar friends. There was no way he could allow himself off of the hook. No excuse was sufficient enough.

With his son, he would even venture to say that the young man was growing livid as each second passed. Prior to turning away, Bill noticed a change in his son's demeanor. Bobby's gray eyes, usually playful and friendly, glared at him with a fury Bill had never observed before. Sure, Bobby was upset when he confronted him over that girl with the skunk-like hair, but that was nothing compared to what transpired last night. He had looked as if he were struggling to restrain himself. His jaw was clenched tightly and the color of his skin was growing a pale shade of pink.

It was that picture of Bobby stayed with Bill for the rest of the night. Bill found it hard to fathom that his son, known for his good-natured sense of humor, was even capable of experiencing such fiery emotions. Furthermore, he never considered that he would be on the receiving end of such a look from his son.

What baffled him was that things seemed to be progressing well. Not excellent, but well. Bill was trying to get to know the girl in his own way. He had wanted to get beyond the image that had been seared into his brain earlier that day. Watching his son's choice in girlfriend exhibiting her freak-like abilities was not a pleasing picture to replay over and over again. It still unsettled him as to how easily and freely she had chosen to use her powers.

In the end, he knew that he had not meant to be the aggressor towards Jubilee. To him, she was very different from that other girl, who had ended up having ties to organized crime. This girl was patient when dealing with his rapid-fire questioning, giving him candid answers. She also seemed to be honestly taken with Bobby. The way she stole glances at him during dinner was something Bill had learned to pick up on.

He had also detected nuances in Bobby's behavior. It was clear that he was happy to have this girl by his side. During the meal, he exuded this fierce protectiveness of her and was prepared to take Bill to task regarding anything that might have been construed as insulting. He was making it quite clear that this was someone who was different from the other girls he had brought by in the past. This girl, Jubilee, was someone he deeply cared about. She was worth getting upset over, even at his own father.

Despite the case that was being built as to how this girl might be good for Bobby, Bill remained reserved in his judgment. After his experience at the hands of those violent thugs, he learned not to rush into making decision. After all, there was still the issue of her being what she was. She was a mutant, someone who was hated by the majority in society. Nothing about her station in life was all that reassuring or comforting. She and Bobby faced the likelihood of being hunted down, harassed, or even worse, killed for being different. What kind of future was that?

Despite his innocent intentions at the time, there was his previous track record to consider. Not one known for his tolerance and understanding, Bill knew that some of his behavior was hurtful. Back then, he did not care who was upset. He was only protecting the best interests of his family. In essence, he was ensuring a normal life for them, free of any potential danger that threatened to wreak any havoc. So, in the scheme of things, what he was doing was not really spiteful since his motivation stemmed from concern for Bobby.

Bill shook his head in disbelief. For years, he had invested a great amount of time and energy into securing a safe existence for his family. He shrugged off any doubts that might have plagued him. Being the head of household, he knew what was best. This was the truth he wanted to know. As he continued to mull over the events of last night, it was becoming increasingly clear that this was not the case at all.

Bill's mouth formed its' characteristic grim line. As much as he wanted to believe that the girl caused friction between father and son, the truth would not let him. She was nothing but courteous and kind, acting as a complete character foil to him. No. That night, he was the monster. He was the one who brought ugliness, fear, and shame into the house. It was his actions that roused such a reaction from Bobby. Any other considerations would be based on lies.

There was so much hope that led up to the dinner---at least, that was what he was able to interpret. The house was gleaming and smelled of a wonderful meal. Maddy had even made a request that he try to monitor himself. This was rather unusual as she often avoided any discussion about his behavior towards Bobby's friends. It was no secret to him that she was wary of some of the things he said and did. However, as a person who did not like confrontation, she did not address it with him explicitly. But she did, in her own low-key way. It was her hope that everything about the gathering would go well.

Bill observed the same sense of hope emanating from the girl. She was polite, offering her hand in the gesture of good tidings. Unlike her predecessor, she appeared genuine in her desire to get to know him. There were some moments where he expected her to throw some fireworks at him or something. Yet, none of that ever happened. Her responses to his rapid-fire questioning were earnest and patient. She was even willing to talk about what happened in the living room, which he had to give her credit for. Given his initial reaction to what he saw, she had to have known that he was not thrilled about what she did.

In analyzing the two women, Bill became aware that the two of them shared something else besides hope. They seemed motivated by the desire to make the evening a pleasant one for Bobby. Both knew that he was wary of the situation, the prospect of Bill meeting his son's latest girlfriend. Working independently of each other, Maddy and Jubilee sought to make the experience as painless as possible.

In short, they were the ones really looking out for Bobby.

Bill raked a hand through his hair, his shoulders slumping in resigned failure. He sat on his bed, coming to accept that he was now an old man realizing that he had let down his family. Instead of protecting them as he had mandated himself to do, he was, in fact, hurting them. The pained, ashamed expressions on his wife and son's faces were damning evidence of this conclusion.

All these years he wasted pursuing ideals that were based on deeply flawed logic. In his pursuit of normalcy, Bill became blind to what was truly harmful to his family. As a result, the only thing he was receiving for his efforts was a son whose resentment of him and everything he stood for was growing with each passing minute. He could still hear Bobby cursing after him after their encounter in the living room.

"That son of a bitch...What the hell did he think he was doing? Goddamn him."

Bill could only come up with one explanation for his conduct. He was simply operating under a set of cues and schemas ingrained into him after years and years. There was no other way he could operate. However, getting his son and his wife to believe that was already proving to be an arduous task altogether.

Jubilee lay awake in bed. She blinked, trying to moisten her eyes. The lack of sleep, combined with the parched air, dried them out. She closed them tightly in an attempt to coach herself into getting more rest. Much like the previous times she had tried to do so, she found herself restless and nowhere near slumber.

Like Bill Drake, she was thinking about the events that transpired the night before. She wondered if there was any way it could have played out differently. Perhaps, if she had tried to be evasive about her parents, there wouldn't have been that painfully awkward moment. If she really tried, she could have found a way to steer the conversation towards another topic. Maybe they would have had an uneventful Thanksgiving meal just like other families in other homes.

Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way.

There was a part of her that was disheartened by the outcome of the dinner. Like Maddy, Jubilee had wanted things to go well. She was aware of the strained relationship between Bobby and his father. Not wanting to add to the tension, she tried her best to make things work. She was polite and honest with him, providing the elder Drake no conceivable reason to hold anything against her personally. Yet, that was not enough. As irrational as it sounded, she felt somewhat to blame. She could not place her finger regarding why or how, but felt part of the burden fall on her shoulders.

She remembered when Bill posed his question. He did not sound accusatory or mean-spirited. Rather, it seemed like he was curious. Bill was acting like any other father whose son brought home someone new to meet the parents. He was trying to gather as much information as he could on her. His approach left much to be desired, but she thought his intentions were somewhat reasonable.

Still, she found herself uncomfortable as she formulated her response. Too much time had passed since her parents' death for tears to well up in her eyes. Tragic as the circumstances were, Jubilee felt that she had found strength in her life through her new family and new life experiences to be able to move on. However, when Bill asked about her parents and what they would have thought of her, she felt quite off-guard. She remembered racking her brain as to a candid reply, but was disappointed when she discovered that she did not know. For a moment, she felt as if she lost them all over again. Surely, she should have known. After all, they were her parents.

The silence was deafening in the minutes that followed her subdued, almost doleful answer. Bill's usually unreadable face was now filled with palpable guilt and surprise. Obviously, he had no idea. His ignorance regarding the topic of her parents was genuine. This only served to exacerbate the uneasiness he was experiencing. His embarrassment regarding the situation finally forced him to flee the dining room, leaving herself, Bobby, and Maddy staring after him.

When she peered over at the remaining Drakes in the room, both of them wore identical expressions anger and shock. Maddy's hand trembled as she placed it over her mouth. She stared at her husband's empty chair and then looked at Jubilee ruefully. Her resentment soon turned to disappointment. It was clear that she had high expectations going into these festivities. Preparing the house and working in the kitchen almost all day, she made it her goal to give the family a picture-perfect Thanksgiving. As she sat back in her chair, Bobby's mother contemplated the evidence of her perceived failure. She looked as if she believed she was the one who had let everyone down.

Meanwhile, Bobby was no longer hiding his frustration. Jubilee had never seen him like this in all the years they had known one another. It was frightening to her to witness such a change. Sitting next to her was not the easy-going Bobby Drake she knew, but a stranger. His gray eyes turned steely, much like his father's, as he stared after the old man in disgust. He pursed his lips, the scowl drifting over his boyish face deepening in intensity. Under the table, he had pulled his hand away from hers and placed it on the table. The knuckles were white from how tightly he had been clenching his fist. Cold air radiated from his hand as he began to speak.

"That does it," he had said in a surprisingly even voice. "I'm going to kill him."

Maddy had shaken her blond head reprovingly at her son. "Bobby, please..." Her voice trailed off, demonstrating her uncertainty as to how to respond to his remark. For the first time, she was at a loss for words. Usually, she had some defense to provide for her husband and his behavior. Yet, tonight was different. She had realized there was no way she could do so and keep her son.

She had turned to Jubilee, still reeling from what happened earlier. "I am so sorry," she had said. "I don't know... Are you all right, dear?"

Jubilee remembered nodding mutely, but still locking her eyes on the enraged young man sitting by her side. Searching for a way to diffuse his potentially volatile mood, she had put her hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I'm fine, Bobby. He---he didn't know or he forgot. Either way, it's not important. Besides, he looked like he felt like idiot..."

"That's not an excuse," Bobby had cut in, still staring straight ahead. "He... He was a jerk to you before we sat down to dinner. What he did just now didn't help, either. The man's been crapping all over our holiday. I don't know if I want to spend the rest of my weekend with someone like that."

Maddy's had brows shot straight up as she observed her son throwing his napkin on the table in a disgusted manner and rising from his seat. "What are you talking about?" she had asked, her voice colored with fear. It was growing apparently clear what her son had in mind, but she needed to hear him.

His tone had softened as he addressed her. "Mom, I know you've tried your best here. Dinner was wonderful, but there are some things you can't control, namely Archie Bunker upstairs." He then sighed wearily, pressing his lips together. "I don't want to stay here tonight---not with him."

Maddy's crestfallen face blanched. "Bobby, no... For God's sake, it's the holidays. You should be here with your family."

"I can't," he had insisted, shaking his head. "I'm not comfortable here, Mom. You saw what happened. There's nothing you can say or do that could possibly defend that. Why the hell should I sit by and watch Jubilee be treated badly?"

His mother had folded her hands together at the table, wringing them nervously. "I'm not saying that you do that at all," she had said softly. "But you don't have to pick up and leave... Sweetheart, you just got here."

He had turned away from her pleading stare and shook his head again. "I'm sorry, Mom. Jubes and I are going to pack up stuff and get on the road as soon as possible. He's made it clear that he doesn't want us here, and I'm not going to stick around to try to tell him that he's wrong. I'm too tired for that."

It was at that point Jubilee finally spoke up. Turning to Bobby, she had said, "She's not asking you to stay for your dad. She's asking you to stay for her. Isn't that enough?"

It took over an hour of reasoning and appealing to Bobby in order for him to change his mind. In addition to his sense of humor, he was also known for his stubbornness. Usually, once he had his mind set on something, he was very unlikely to change his position. Yet, he found himself in a rather helpless position as he was being assailed with arguments from both his mother and Jubilee regarding why they should not leave immediately. Overwhelmed with their collaborative effort, he relented.

Watching Bobby threaten to leave, she almost thought that Maddy was going to break down. The Drake matriarch was nothing but kind to Jubilee since she arrived, opening her home to her. The young girl felt compelled to do something to return the kind gesture. Bill had done enough that evening. There was no reason why Maddy should continue to suffer because of what he had done. In the end, Jubilee was pleased with his decision.

Despite appeasing his mother, it was no secret that Bobby was not thrilled about caving in. Jubilee could see the wheels turning in his head as they helped Maddy clear the table that night. To him, that meant another day of putting up with his father, and feeling unwelcomed and on the defensive. The prospect was enough to take away the twinkle that was usually present in his gray eyes. She could also see that he was still upset with himself for bringing her here in the first place. In a way, he was taking on some culpability when it came to the way things turned out.

Jubilee had to admit she had her own reservations about remaining at the Drake house. It was still unclear to her as to how Bill Drake really felt about her. She knew that he disapproved of her using her powers and was wary of the fact that she was a mutant. Other than the remark about getting into other people's heads, he did not make any other comments that could have been construed as hostile. Again, she found herself feeling completely off-balance.

However, she was willing to consider the possibility that he might deeply dislike because of what she was. Sad to say, this would not prove to be the first time she faced such prejudice in her young life. Not too long ago, she died at the hands of people who hated and feared people like her. Heeding the Professor's advice, she took the time to think about what happened to her instead of rushing to judge. Given that she and the rest of her friends lived in a world dominated by "normal people", there was a need to be levelheaded and pragmatic about these things. That was to say, she simply could not tell off or paff every person who was unfriendly towards her. At the same time, she was not completely willing to sit back and overanalyze the situation from the other person's point of view, either.

When it came to dealing with Bobby's father, she was definitely sure that neither of those approaches would be effective. She almost thought he expected such behavior from her as he fired off those questions. It would have been easy to snap at him or to coolly give him a Freudian-like response about his hostility. Quickly, she decided that she did not want to choose the easy way. Instead, she forced herself to be calm and tolerant, drawing strength from a supportive and caring Bobby by her side. Without him, she was not sure if she could have made it through most of the night.

There was also something that aided in fortifying her inner resolve. Several months ago, while Jubilee was in the infirmary following an encounter with Creed, the Professor had stopped in to visit. The man she associated with such insight and understanding into everything was quite aware of her fear that the sociopath Creed would come back. Normally, he would have offered to probe her mind in order to help her confront these anxieties. However, he decided not to go that route, but provided her with something else. It was a biography of the famous female scientist, Marie Curie. The Professor had marked a passage he had wanted her to read. Opening to the page, she was surprised to read the following:

"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."

For some reason, the quote, simple and succinct, seemed especially poignant.

Jubilee rolled over on her side, her cheek brushing against the soft, worn jersey material of Bobby's T-shirt. A faint smile tugged at the corners of her small mouth as she gazed upon him. Bobby's boyish face was angelic while in repose, his mouth slightly open. He had sneaked out of his bedroom as soon Maddy turned in for the night, and made his way to Jubilee's bed. He had been too exhausted to say much about what happened except that he was sorry. In spite of her initial protests, she was glad she relented and allowed him to sleep over. His arms draped around her slim form provided a temporary reprieve from reliving the evening in her mind.

Despite Bobby's soothing presence, she was still unable to fall asleep. Not wanting to disturb him, she decided to slip out of bed. She grabbed his Georgetown University sweatshirt and pulled it on over her gray T-shirt and green-and-black flannel pajama pants. The air was cool, which may or may not have been attributable to the person sleeping next to her. Shivering, she planted a soft, feathery kiss on his forehead. He stirred slightly, but did not awake. With great stealth, she made her way out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

As Jubilee descended down the staircase, she wasn't sure what she was going to do while she was up. She supposed she could make herself a cup of tea. Perhaps a nice, hot cup of chamomile would do the trick. That always helped Jean whenever she was combating insomnia. However, when she reached the bottom of the stairs, the thought of a cup of tea was quickly pushed to the back of her mind.

Standing in front of the hallway closet was Bill Drake.

Jubilee contemplated racing back upstairs, hoping to avoid him before he noticed she was there. She realized that this was outside the realm of possibility when he turned his head towards her. No longer stern and disapproving, he appeared quite subdued. There was a weary glaze that clouded his usually steely eyes, which were also lined with dark circles. The elder Drake was already showered and dressed for the day in a vintage, indigo work shirt, a long-sleeved, maroon shirt, and a pair of chinos with loafers. His skin took on a pinkish hue, which was possibly from the copious amounts of hot water he used this morning.

Bracing herself for another awkward moment, she tried to put on a graceful front. "Good morning," she greeted, flinching slight when she heard how shaky her voice sounded to her own ears. Inwardly, she was cursing herself for leaving the safety of her bed and Bobby's arms.

He gripped the handle of his aluminum cane tightly, nodding curtly. "You're up early," he observed. He was surprised to find that without primping, the girl was still radiant as ever. It was unreal how attractive she was.

"So are you," she replied, tucking a lock of silky, ebony hair behind a delicate ear.

He shifted his weight, supporting himself with the cane as he pulled open the hallway closet door. "I don't usually sleep in," he told her, his voice sounding gruff to his own ears. He grabbed his hunter-green down coat off of the wooden hanger. "Anyway, thought I'd get some air... Still smells too sweet in here." He snorted to punctuate his point.

She gave him a quizzical look. Actually, she liked the enveloping aromas of cinnamon and butter that wafted inside these walls. Watching the craggy man struggle with his coat, she was not surprised he disliked it. He probably had a penchant for things that were stark in nature. It would be consistent with his personality.

He leaned against the wall, placing his cane under the doorknob. The trick here was to maintain his balance while pulling his coat. Even after months of physical therapy, he was still unable to completely put weight on his right leg. He narrowed his gray eyes in frustration when his arm missed one of the sleeves. Normally, Maddy or Bobby would assist him in the effort by holding out his coat for him to slip into. Unfortunately, neither one of them were up to help. Even if they were, he had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that they would not be willing to volunteer.

Briefly, he glanced at the girl, who stood next to him. Her face was impassive as she studied him with those sapphire eyes. He could only imagine what kind of sad picture he provided for her. Here he was, a pathetic old man who couldn't even put on his own coat. What a waste. If she laughed or smirked, he would not have blamed her.

Suddenly, he felt the coat being taken from his hands. He looked up and saw that Jubilee was holding it out for him to slide into. His gray eyes widened in surprise, but searched for any trace of pity or annoyance in her face. Perhaps, she had gotten tired of him making a fool out of himself. He had done a bang-up job last night, after all. But there was no trace of either. She simply stood there expectantly, waiting to help him. Reluctantly, he shuffled towards her.

He gave her a short nod. "Thank you," he muttered, trying to hide his shame for appearing so weak in front of her. It was a role he had grown to hate. Weakness was something that made him different, attracting attention he did not want or need. He felt that he was no longer regarded with the same respect he had commanded prior to the assault, but as an invalid---someone who elicited feelings of sympathy. The latter often produced a lump in his throat that made it hard for him to swallow.

She tried to look nonchalant, hiding her own feelings of self-consciousness. The encounter was strange and almost surreal in a way. She had considered throwing out a lame excuse in order to make a swift getaway, but found herself providing help. Part of her wanted to be cold like he had been towards her by turning her back on him. But she restrained herself from indulging this urge. Even after how uncomfortable he had made her in this house, she knew that she was not be capable of doing something like that.

Jubilee racked her brain for possible explanations since she was still stunned. Perhaps there was a part of her that wanted to please Bobby by being patient and kind. Or, it could be that she had unknowingly set out to make Bill look like a fool through her polite fašade. Maybe it was the insight that the Professor passed on to her regarding how sometimes regular people were simply prisoners of their rigid thinking. In spite of the potential options, she was left with nothing concrete and feeling even more off-balance.

Bill shuffled towards the door, searching for his keys on the pub mirror hooks. He could see the girl was just as disturbed as he was. There was no point in him remaining with her. To him, that would simply add more stress to the situation. He should make a graceful exit now before he could say or do something.

But first, he had to find those goddamn keys. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found on the hooks of the pub mirror. His steely eyes searched them over and over again. Nothing. He soon found himself grumbling about not finding them and how his wife probably hid them from him.

"Why would she do that?" Jubilee's girlish voice inquired, shattering his self-absorbed reflections.

He was startled. His head jerked up to stare at her. There was a part of him that expected a skeptical look to meet his gaze. Hell, he thought he would see a smirk or a sneer. However, from the expression on her face, she seemed genuinely curious about his assertion. There was a wide-eyed, child-like quality to the girl's face as she peered back at him.

His first instinct was to turn away and not answer her. After all, it was none of her business. Bill was not one to advertise his family's idiosyncrasies. That kind of thing was deeply personal and should stay here in the family, in this house. Who the hell was this girl? She was just a nosy child who clearly did not know her place. It should have been so easy for him to ignore her question.

But it wasn't.

Against his better judgment, he went against what his instincts were telling him to do. "Maddy doesn't like me going outside by myself," he managed flatly. His gray eyes quickly averted her perplexed face as he continued to speak. "She thinks I can't get around right because... because of this."

Jubilee followed his withering glare to the aluminum cane that was steadying his gait. She simply nodded, not communicating her opinion either way. The gesture was meant to convey her understanding of the situation. She did not want to make a condescending comment about how he was still recovering from his injuries, nor did she feel that denying the severity of his disability would the right thing to do. Hearing the bitterness in his tone as he referred to his cane reflected his own ambivalence about venturing out in the world. To glibly brush over that would be like denying his experience. As a survivor of many traumatic events in her young life, she was not one to advocate such an approach.

Bill's shoulders slumped slightly in defeat, resigning himself to the fact that he could not locate his house keys. He limped towards the front door. As he did so, he could feel a dull pain start to radiate from his right leg. His silvery brows knitted themselves in self-loathing. As much as he wanted to go off on his own, he knew his body placed some limitations. He had almost forgotten how bitterly cold air made that leg especially sensitive.

Still, he wanted to get out of the house. He felt almost suffocated by the lingering fragrances from last night's dinner. They reminded him of his family's disappointed glares and the actions that elicited these looks. It was like reliving those awkward moments over and over again. He needed a break.

Reaching for the doorknob, he tore his eyes away from the girl with the brilliant eyes. The Drake patriarch tried to hide the physical pain he was experiencing. He did not want to look any more pathetic than he already did. At least, that was the way he saw things.

"I'll be on the porch," he informed her brusquely, steely eyes soaking the hardwood floor beneath his feet. There was now tingling in his hip as he continued to stand in front of the door. The sensation was now making it difficult for him to move. He winced, struggling to turn the knob.

With some reluctance, she grasped the knob and opened the door for him. "Here," she offered, intervening sooner than she did when he was trying to pull on his coat. All the while, she made sure she was not looking directly at him.

A cool breeze danced along his cheeks from outside. His face was expressionless as he nodded his gratitude. That was twice she helped him without any solicitations from him. Why, he would have thought if he were in her position, things would be different. Like the rest of the Drake household, she should have wanted nothing more to do with him. Yet, she was still here, even assisting him in doing very mundane things.

He noticed how uncomfortable the girl appeared as she stood there. She looked at him warily, her face clouded with great ambivalence. While he would have thought nothing of it before, there was something about her demeanor that bothered him. It was then that he realized he was the one eliciting this reaction from her.

Edging outside of the door, Bill suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of shame. He never considered himself an aggressive sort. Yes, he handled his family with firmness, but their responses to him were quite different. This was the first time he viewed himself as some kind of intimidating ogre. Perhaps, through the years, they had become accustomed to his behavior.

But this girl, Jubilee, was not a part of the family. She was not privy to the history that Maddy and Bobby were. There was no "Oh, that's Bill just being himself again" running through her mind. Instead, what she probably pieced together was a picture of him as a cold-hearted bastard. A couple of years ago, this perception of him by one of Bobby's girlfriends would not have bothered him. He would have taken it in stride. He would be content in knowing that he was merely looking out for the family.

But this was not the case anymore.

Turning to Jubilee, his steely gaze softened slightly. He looked less stern when the harsh wrinkles disappeared from his brows. "I'm not a bad man," he told her hoarsely.

She tried to hide her shock at the disclosure. This was a far cry from the Bill Drake she encountered the day before. The man standing at the door came across as broken. He sounded desperate, hoping against hope that she would take credence in his words. It was as if something monumental was dependent on her believing him. The silence that followed was deafening and she needed to find a way to break it. Frantically, she racked her brain for something to say or do. She moaned inwardly with defeat when she came up with nothing.

Bill was dismayed when she did not say anything. Immediately, he was afraid. He had laid himself on the line, willing to appear vulnerable for a brief moment. Simply put, it was not an easy thing for him to do. He had expected some sort of reaction. What he received was frighteningly ambiguous. Her face was inscrutable, leaving no clue as to what she was thinking or feeling. The inferences he began to make were endless. Maybe he had made things worse between them. Maybe she was writing him off as a pathetic old man...

Maybe he should leave.

He cleared his throat, which made a raw sound that sliced through the quiet and stillness that hung in the air. "I'll be outside," he announced. He made a point of not looking at her since it brought on intense feelings of embarrassment. His fingers gripped the handle of his cane tightly as he led himself onto the porch. With the other hand, he grabbed the doorknob to the front door and closed it firmly behind him.

Jubilee's cerulean eyes widened with confusion. She rested her forehead against the door. I What just happened? /I she asked herself, shaking her head. Tapping her fingers against her small mouth, she was aware of how difficult it was for Bill to make his statement. She didn't know him all that well, but from what she was able to observe, he seemed to pride himself on being the rock of the family. He exuded this air typically associated with men who identified with traditional values and ideas. It was his role to be strong and invincible. Trying to justify anything he did was usually out of the question.

Adding to her puzzlement was the fact that his declaration was totally self-initiated. Neither Maddy nor Bobby was present to coerce him. Jubilee knew that she did not provide him with any prompts. At least, none that she was conscious of.

The young girl sighed. Obviously, there was no way she could allow things to remain unresolved. Being someone who was proactive in a lot of things in life, it was not in her nature. Something had to be done. In terms of what exactly, she was again at a loss. The only thing she was certain of was that she was now feeling even more out of sorts than she was already.

Outside, Bill removed the covering Maddy had draped over the porch furniture. With an unexplained surge of energy, he managed to toss the tarp-like material on the ground and settled himself on the rocker. He gingerly settled in. It was rougher on his hip without the cushioning between him and the chair. The cold air also began to aggravate the pain in his hip. Yet, he resigned himself to the current conditions. There was nothing he could do about it now.

He had come to a similar conclusion when it came to his encounter with Jubilee. Heaving a weary sigh, he only hoped that Maddy and Bobby would come around, allowing this holiday to fade from their memories as they had done previous times. As far as he was concerned, the weekend was a total wash. It was too late to take back anything he said or did. More disheartening was the fact that his lame attempt to defend his character was met with damning indifference. Granted, it was not quite the olive branch, but it was what he could manage.

Nevertheless, he could not help but feel a bit perturbed about the whole thing. He did not like the idea of the girl operating under the impression that he was some kind of monster. For some reason unknown to him, it truly ate away at him. The more he ruminated about that, the more he felt misunderstood and alienated.

His reflections were shattered when he heard the front door open with a soft creaking sound. He jerked his head up to see the girl standing there. She had since thrown on her coat and a brightly colored scarf over what she was already wearing. "Can I join you?" she asked.

Bill nodded briskly, trying to hide his surprise. This was quite unexpected, to say the least. His gray eyes carefully watching her as she glided from the doorway to the glider nearby. She looked like a winter angel with her cascading, dark hair that rippled down her shoulders, creamy skin, and fine features. Her brilliant eyes put the sky above their heads to shame. He was able to witness how truly blue they were. Despite his reservations that lingered about her relationship with his son, Bill could see what drew Bobby to her in the first place.

Gracefully, she peeled back the tarp that covered the nyatoh structure and sat down. Beneath the calm mask she was currently wearing, Jubilee was screaming inside. Truth be told, she didn't know what she was doing. There was no plan, no prepared speech. She simply found herself at the door, watching him rock dourly back and forth in the chair. Part of her wanted to run back inside and put what transpired between them in the back of her mind. Tension from the uncertainty she experienced whenever he was present returned, coiling tight knots in her stomach.

For several minutes, the two of them sat on the porch. There was a palpable silence that descended between them. They did not look upon one another, but chose to stare across the street at the various houses and cars that lined up and down the neighborhood. Every once in a while, Bill would tap his cane on the floorboards of the porch lightly.

Jubilee tucked her slippered feet under herself. In younger days, she was attracted to chatter and noise. To her, it represented some excitement (most of the time for her, this was gossip) yet to be discovered. Now, applied to this scenario, talking promised something else. It offered her a way to deal with Mr. Drake and everything that transpired last night.

Her gaze still focused ahead as she drawled, "I know I'm not what you had in mind for Bobby."

Bill raised a brow at her. Not that he bothered to make his disapproval implicit, he was still taken aback when she made her observation. He slowed the pace of his rocking in response.

When he did not bother to cut her off by attempting to cover up what he had been thinking, she decided to press on. Shrugging her shoulders, she stared down at her folded hands. "I suppose I have two things going against me," she continued in a low voice. "I'm not going to pretend I don't know what they are."

He pressed his lips together firmly. The nostrils of his slightly crooked nose flared. "It's more complicated than what you're thinking," he said without looking at her.

"Is it?" she asked, tucking a lock of dark hair behind a delicate ear. Her tone reflected her skepticism.

His mouth formed a grim line. "Yes, it is," he replied flatly. "More than you know."

She drew her knees to her chest and rested her chin on one of them. Her sapphire eyes were thoughtful as she mulled over his words. She wanted to believe that he was simply a racist and nothing more. It would have been so easy to do. Casting a quick glance at him, she came to the realization that he was being candid.

Before she could say anything, Bill spoke up. "It's not personal," he said, avoiding her blue-eyed stare.

Jubilee's forehead wrinkled as she frowned quizzically. She thought about telling him that she felt otherwise, that his attitude was personal to her. However, she was aware that this was not going to accomplish anything. The fact that he was even talking to her like this---blunt and cryptic as he was---proved that he was conscious of how he made her feel. The tight manner in which he held himself as they talked was also evidence of this.

But there was nothing that answered the question that pulsed through her mind. "Then what?" she finally inquired.

The elder Drake swallowed hard, still refusing to make any sort of eye contact with her. His steely gaze was focused on the houses across the street. He wanted her to give up on pursuing anything and simply leave. Briefly, he considered saying something out of line, which would force her to leave. In a way, he would find some comfort in that. For him, it would confirm that this girl was not good for his son like all the others. There would be no need to explain himself to anyone else. Yes, it would be easier for him if Jubilee disliked him.

However, Bill Drake was tired of taking the easy way out.

His shoulders sank while he exhaled. Wisps of air escaped from his chapped lips. "You have no idea what it's like to be a parent," he said in a calm and even voice. "You're entrusted with this life to guide and teach. Sometimes, you have your doubts in anything and everything you do because that person is dependent on you and all the decisions you make." He paused and turned to her hesitantly, raising his brows. "Are you with me so far?"

She nodded, curious as to where he was going with his argument.

He looked away from her again. "There are triumphs and there are mistakes made," he continued, finding it easier to stare at a frost-covered, green minivan across the street. "It's not an easy task, being a parent. So, you learn along the way. All the while, your first concern is the well being of your children. You want to keep them safe."

A light, but cool wind rumpled Jubilee's dark hair. "From what?" she inquired, pulling her coat closer to her slender form. Her cheeks and nose were beginning to flush pink from the chilly air.

Bill peered over at her. The corners of his mouth tugged downwards slightly. There was nothing defiant or mocking in her challenge to his logic, but she was still confronting for an elaboration. Apparently, she did not fit into the fragile china doll mold as he expected. He had to respect that.

"Whatever...poses as a threat," he finally answered grimly. He rocked back and forth in his chair, keeping a steady rhythm across the floorboards of the porch. The cold, combined with his growing apprehension, was making it harder for him to speak. His voice sounded thick and foreign to his own ears.

Her brain pulsed as she attempted to decipher the logic behind this rationalization. "People who are different... You consider them a threat?" She tried not to sound incredulous. How could she, and others before her, possibly pose a threat to Bobby? Other than the incident with Opal at the restaurant, it was difficult for her to come to terms with what Bill was saying.

He inhaled sharply. Sitting near her, he felt as though he had already disclosed too much. To delve any further would probably prove to be painful. It was better that he keep his end of the conversation concise. "Yes... It's complicated."

"You've already said that," she pointed out quietly. There was no impatience or anger in her tone. Rather, it was just a confusion that could only be assuaged with the proper responses.

His fingers held onto the handle of his cane fiercely. "It's worth repeating," he told in a tone of voice he had often used with a more headstrong version of his son years ago. Usually, it was enough to keep the recipient in line.

However, Jubilee was not conditioned to this voice. She was not ready to let him shrink back from his broad assertions without a sufficient explanation. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean," she said, remaining as neutral as she could. "How are people...No, wait. How is someone like me a threat to Bobby?"

The elder Drake did not want to look at her. He tried to will his head not to turn in her direction. Yet, the impulse was irresistible. Staring at her delicate but strong face, he was fixated by what he saw. Her sapphire eyes reflected her genuine inquisitiveness. Overall, her presentation was devoid of any annoyance that might have resulted when dealing with someone as reticent as him. This seemed to make it more problematic for him to continue.

He grimaced. After several seconds, he told her flatly, "You're different."

"Different because I'm Chinese and a mutant?"

"I never said that. I'm not... I'm not what you think I am."

"I could say the same thing."

"Maybe so. Still, it doesn't change the fact that you're different."

"No, I suppose it doesn't."

"Perhaps you're too young to understand what I'm about to tell you, but what you represent... It's not good for Bobby. In spite of what you're thinking, I'm saying this as a concerned father."

"What do I represent that's so bad for Bobby?"

"People nowadays they're afraid of what's not normal."

"Like you?"

"That's not fair. I'm just protecting my son. My only son." Bill sighed and ran a hand through his silvery hair. He looked somewhat diffident, realizing the last sentence came out much harsher than originally intended. "You can think what you want about me, but I do care about Bobby. He and Maddy are all I have in the world. There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do for them."

Jubilee clasped her hands together, trying to generate some warmth on her numb skin. "But what if he's happy? Wouldn't you want to do everything you could to make sure he stays that way?" she piped up, her voice unwavering. Normally, she would have initiated some spark from her hands to combat the cold. She knew that this would not be the best course of action to take given her present company. Shivering, she settled for simply rubbing her hands.

"You make it sound so simple," the Drake patriarch said to her, shaking his head. "There are other things to consider. Because of what you are, life is more difficult. It's no secret that there are some people willing to hurt you simply due to the fact that you're not...normal."

She pressed her lips together firmly in an attempt to hide her chattering teeth. "Under your definition, Bobby wouldn't be considered normal, either."

Bill drew back slightly, his gray eyes surprised. Briefly, he was at a loss as to what to say. Then he recovered. "No, but he would still have a chance of having a normal life with someone who was not..." Desperately, he searched the channels of his mind for the appropriate word to use in this conversation.

"Like me?" she supplied almost too quickly.

He stopped rocking in the chair and turned away from her once again.

She leaned back in her seat. Suddenly, it became all too clear where he was going by using his flawed logic. Hard as it was to conceive, she found herself understanding his position. While he had not articulated things explicitly, he was quite clear. At the same time, she was not inclined to support or agree with him. She had her own position to convey as well. "How do you know that?" she asked quietly.

"How can I not?" he retorted, the nostrils of his slightly crooked nose flaring slightly. "I watch the news and read the papers. I also know what that crackpot Xavier's been teaching you. But here's the reality: you're going to spend the rest of your lives being chased down for being different. Being a mutant on your own is dangerous enough, but having a mutant couple together. That just brings more unwanted attention. Now, what kind of existence is that?"

Jubilee tucked a lock of silky hair behind her ear. "I'm not going to deny the possible validity of what you've just said," she said in a low voice. "Unfortunately, it's something we have to live with. But---"

"I tell you what, it's not something I want for Bobby," the elder Drake said fiercely, as if he were arguing for his child's life. "My son deserves to have a long, happy life, free of any persecution. What makes you think you can give him something remotely similar to that?"

In her younger years, she would have responded with a sassy retort. Even better, she would have shown him an impressive demonstration of fireworks on the porch. But she was older now, able to rationalize situations and make more levelheaded decisions thanks to some life experiences that came too soon. With a burst of deep-seeded courage, she determined looked this man, whom she found unapproachable at first, in the eyes with honesty that seemed to go beyond her years.

"I love him," she finally told Bill quietly. "I'd like to think that I've made him just as happy as he's made me. Other than that, I don't know what else to say. I just hope that's good enough for you because it's the truth."

Then the young girl rose from her seat and glided to the front door, leaving an old, broken man in the cold, wintry air.


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