Los Angeles

The brownstone apartment block sits in a quiet area of the city, there are no gangs here, no defined neighbourhoods, and everyone just wants to live in peace. As the Los Angeles sun caresses the stone walls of the building, on the fifth floor, apartment 512, there is a young girl sitting at a desk, typing on the keyboard of a laptop computer. Her name is Jubilation Lee, although most of her friends call her Jubilee. She is a couple of months shy of her 21st birthday, yet sometimes she feels much older; born to Chinese immigrants who came to America, she was orphaned at a young age and spent several years bouncing around the foster care system. Then one day, she just ran away, disillusioned by her unstable life. Jubilee carved out an existence as a mallrat, and amateur thief, living on the streets and spending her days trawling the malls of Los Angeles.

Around the age of 12 or 13, when she reached puberty, she discovered that she was a mutant, able to generate “plasmoids” or small fireworks from her hands. The fireworks could be used to blind people temporarily, or cause minor burns, depending on the intensity. Once generated, they could be reabsorbed back into Jubilee’s body without harm. Jubilee used this trick to impress her friends, and, when needed, to scare off security guards too.

However, after the timely intervention of an aborigine mutant named Gateway, she ended up in the Australian outback, and before long, she was a member of the X-Men. Jubilee formed a strong emotional bond with the mutant Wolverine, whom she came to view as a surrogate father. After the Phalanx Covenant, when Jubilee helped to protect the next generation of mutants, she enrolled at the Xavier Academy for Gifted Youngsters in Massachusetts, to gain a deeper understanding of the power she commanded. She then became a member of the mutant group Generation X, which operated from the school. Several months ago however, the academy finally closed its doors after a bomb devastated the building, claiming the life of Jubilee’s friend and one-time crush, Everett, in the conflagration. Jubilee and her former colleagues went their separate ways into the world, saddened by their loss and in need of some normality. Jubilee decided to return to her home, Los Angeles with her classmate, Angelo Espinosa.

Two weeks, Jubilee thought, two long lonely weeks. I really can’t believe that jerk would be so stupid, figures though, all those extra skin cells had to come from somewhere, so why not his brain?

Jubilee was thinking about her flatmate, Angelo. As another member of Generation X, he had fought alongside Jubilee for a few years. He had been born and raised in L.A., although he became involved in the gang scene early in his teen life. In Generation X, he was nicknamed Skin because his mutant ability was to stretch his distended skin, extending his reach, wrapping enemies up, that kind of thing. Angelo managed to escape the gangland life only by faking his death, “killed” by a suspected mutant. In actual fact, he was that very mutant, but it served to let him leave L.A. quietly and join the Massachusetts Academy.

However, since his return to the city of angels, and unbeknown to Jubilee herself, he had reacquainted himself with his former colleagues, and again became embroiled in the Hispanic gangs of the city. Jubilee had taken a job as a waitress at night, to earn some money, and just to have some fun, and therefore knew nothing about Angelo’s nocturnal activities until the one evening she had got off work early. That had been just over three weeks ago, three weeks since she confronted Skin, since they had a blazing row. Angelo had stayed for another week but the tension between them had become too volatile, so he decided to leave, choosing to rejoin his old friends on the street, rather than remain with his former team-mate.

Funny, this must be the first time in years I felt truly alone, well, okay, there was that time when Bastion kidnapped me and tortured me but I so don’t want to go there. Jubilee returned her attention to the computer screen. She was currently browsing through some chat-rooms on the Internet and had come across one where people were debating about mutants. Intrigued, she had spent the better part of half an hour reading their comments, staring in disbelief at some of the posts. Well, I am feeling a little pissed off, may as well take it out on some of these feebs.

She registered on the site under the pseudonym Firecracker, another nickname she had acquired during her teenage years and logged into the message board. Picking a topic, she started to type.

Posted by kingsley:I am fully in support of mutant registration; we have a right to know whether our teachers or our workmates are secretly mutants. I mean, why are these people so reluctant to come forward, why are they so scared to show their faces? What do they have to hide?

Posted by knightkiller:Yeah. Bring them on. We all want to know who they are so we can get rid of them once and for all! I say drown them all, it’s about time we cleaned up our genepool.

Jubilee chose her moment and replied.

Posted by firecracker:So you’d murder an innocent human being, just to clean up your genepool?

Posted by knightkiller:Human?! Muties aren’t human! That’s my point. They’re worse than animals, and we don’t call killing animals “murder”, now do we?

Posted by kingsley:Perhaps that is a little drastic, knightkiller, but as I said, we have a right to know. Some preach that mutants are simply misunderstood, that may be so but some of them are insanely powerful, I mean, how can you really trust someone who can read minds, or blow up buildings just by looking at them. I say that mutants should be partitioned, to keep them separate from the rest of humanity.

Posted by firecracker:We’ve already tried that, kingsley, and look what happened to Genosha, millions of people, men, women, and children, human and mutant alike, wiped out.

Posted by lion:Hey knightkiller, say you had a younger brother or sister and when they hit puberty, you discovered they were a mutant, what would you do?

Posted by knightkiller:Sibling or not, I’d make sure it was killed, even if I had do it with my own hands; humans have a responisbilty to prevent muties from reproducing.

Posted by lion:Well, that shows how much you know about genetics then. In most cases, two mutants cannot necessarily produce a mutant child, and similarly, the majority of mutants that exist were born to human parents. And picking up from firecracker’s point, how on earth can you condone such killing?

Posted by kingsley:Let me set this straight, I’m not saying that what happened to Genosha wasn’t tragic, it truly was, such a massive loss of life is always a tragedy. But I firmly believe mutants have to be controlled, just look at the past ten years, the depredations of Magneto, Mystique and her “Brotherhood”, that terrorist Cable, and those X-Men.

Posted by knightkiller:Oh, come on, don’t be so soft kingsley, what happened on Genosha was a godsend, look at how many of those freaks were wiped out, and the world will be a better place for it.

Posted by firecracker:Hey, Knightkiller, don’t be such a bigot, I can’t believe you can be such a jerk. Bet you were one of those kids who built stuff up in Lego and then knocked it right down again.

Posted by knightkiller:Jerk?! It’s them or us, either we kill off the muties or one day, we’ll all wake up and the world won’t be ours anymore, this is survival of the fittest baby.

Posted by firecracker:Bigot.

Posted by knightkiller:What are you? A little mutie lover? Stay out of this, a mutie lover has no place here.

Posted by firecracker:Why, you arrogant little jerk. Bet you ain’t so tough if you weren’t hiding behind your computer, I’d kick your ass, you jumped up little…

Posted by moderator:Firecracker, this is a warning; no personal attacks against other posters. Continue to disrupt this debate and you will be banned from the site.

Jubilee sighed and massaged her temples. They don’t want anyone who disagrees with “mutants are bad” policy. She was about to log out of the message board when a private chat window suddenly popped up, sent by another poster, Lion.

Lion > Hey.

Firecracker > You want to have a go at me too?

Lion > Not at all. Sounds as if I wouldn’t last too long in a fight with you anyway, and I really don’t want to get my ass kicked.

Firecracker > That guy was so getting on my nerves, and that dumbass moderator didn’t even call him on it, guess everyone’s opinion is welcome here, as long as it’s the right opinion.

Lion > And there I was, beginning to think I was the only one here who opposed those jerks.

Firecracker > Jerks? Really, you’re being too kind lol!

Lion > Hey, it was your word but yeah; sometimes it does feel that way. Put them all in a box and shoot them into space, lol! Hi, my name’s Kate by the way, but my friends all call me Katie for some reason, not my first choice for a nickname, but I had to get used to it.

Firecracker > Just think, it could be worse, you could have had a ridiculous nickname like Kitty or something. Although, I’m not one to talk, I’ll only tell you my name if you promise not to laugh…

Lion > Kitty? Now that would have been annoying. And I promise I won’t laugh, unless it is really ridiculous.

Firecracker > Very funny, and thanks for that wonderful vote of confidence. That was sarcasm, right? Anyway, it’s Jubilee. Dumb, isn’t it?

Lion > Maybe not, I actually know a girl called Jubilee, well, it’s really her nickname, she’s okay, a bit mad on occasion and “so totally” a motormouth but I like her, she has spirit.

Firecracker > Well, Jubilee’s just my nickname too. My real name is even worse.

Lion > Shoot.

Firecracker > Ah, what the heck, believe it or not, my name is Jubilation Lee.

Lion > Jubes? OMG, it is you! It’s Kitty, Kitty Pryde.

Firecracker > Kitty?! Of course, Pryde, lion, makes sense. Ahm, what I said, about the dumb name, that was just a little joke, okay?

Lion > You worry too much, but you’re right though, Kitty made me sound like some little girl with pigtails and big wide eyes. Keep having to remind myself I’m not a teenager anymore.

Firecracker > I heard you quit the team a while back, Wolvie told me the last time I saw him.

Lion > In some senses, yeah, I did quit, so I moved to Chicago, doing the college thing at the moment, Literature with Politics.

Firecracker > Hey, I thought you were the big science/computers whiz?

Lion > I wanted to do something different, I know I’m a good engineer, and to me, there’s no point doing something that I’m already very good at, so I went for a challenge. The last year has been so hard, what with Moira dying, and not to mention losing both my ex’s, I just needed to get away from it all, get some fresh air, a new perspective.

Firecracker > I know that feeling totally, but both of your ex’s? What do you mean by that?

Lion > Piotr wasn’t the only past love I lost, Pete Wisdom was killed too, he was supervising X-Force and he was shot. Sam Guthrie contacted me shortly afterwards, to chew me out actually, because I hadn’t attended the funeral. But I honestly didn’t know…

Firecracker > Oh my God, I never even knew about that. I’m so sorry Katie, it must be even worse for you. Did you hear about Everett?

Lion > Yes, I did, I tried to contact you at the time but I wasn’t sure whether you wanted my sympathy or not. But Everett was another tragic loss.

Firecracker > I know, I still miss him terribly, he was the first real crush I ever had, it hurts when I realise I won’t ever see him again. Sorry, I just realised, you and Piotr, you and Pete. That must have been hard for you too.

Lion > I did love Piotr, even up to the end, funny, in hindsight, I think he might have been “the one”. As for Pete, I don’t know, can’t deny that we had something, I just wasn’t sure what it was. Thinking about it makes me angry, sometimes I think Magneto might be right. Look at the people on that board, they really do hate us, hate mutants, maybe it’s time that we learn to hate them back a little too?

Firecracker > Hey, ghosty girl, I haven’t lost that much faith yet, even after all the death. Sure we’re hated, so what’s new? Can’t fight fire with fire, you’ll just make things worse. Look at the amount of times we kicked Magnus’ butt from here to Hoboken. Face it girlfriend, Maggie tried his way and got his head handed to him way too many times.

Lion > Yeah, but maybe he had the right idea, even if the execution didn’t work. Xavier’s “dream” has turned out to be a sham, things are worse for mutants now than they were a decade ago, even with the X-Men fighting and bleeding and dying. What has it accomplished? Maybe we need a new approach, a compromise between Xavier’s way and Magneto’s. It’s something to think about. By the way, where are you now? I know Generation X split and Sean closed down the Academy, where did you go?

Firecracker > Skin and I came to L.A.

Lion > Cool, back home then. How’s Angelo doing?

Firecracker > Well… he moved out about a fortnight ago, he’s gone back to his “homies in the ‘hood” as he says. I’m thinking of skipping town now, got no reason to hang in L.A. anymore. It’s not like I’m going to become an actress or anything. Might head out on the road, do the drifter cross-country thing.

Lion > Look, if you’re really serious about leaving L.A., do you fancy coming up to Chicago? I’m stuck in a dorm on my own, well, okay, Lockheed’s here, but there’s plenty of room, I could get an extra bed put in so you could crash here if you want. It would be good to have you around; I could do with a mallrat in my life. You might be able to teach me how to be a normal girl, instead of retired superhero and cynical old girl.

Firecracker > I’m a reformed mallrat, sheesh, some people … you spend like a year hanging around some malls and suddenly, you’re “the mallrat” for the rest of your freakin’ life. As for teaching you how to be a girl, I could try, but I’m not a magician, little miss superhero.

Lion > Unbelievable, you can actually rant with a keyboard as well. Nice to see you’re still a motormouth. I take it back, stay away from me girl. Lol! Seriously, just let me know when you are coming and I’ll pick you up. Lockheed says hello by the way.

Firecracker > Send me the address and number and I’ll be in touch soon, I promise. And give Lockheed a scratch behind the ear for me.

Jubilee logged out and immediately checked her email. Two minutes later, a new mail arrived, from Kitty, with her address and phone number. For the first time in months, Jubilee felt truly happy, the future looked a little brighter now. Jubilee stretched, her legs stiff from sitting in front of the laptop for so long, and she began to pace the apartment.

I wonder what Kitty meant about Magneto being right? Jubilee thought, It’s as if she’s planning something, still, maybe I can keep an eye on her. She looked out the window of her apartment. At least I won’t have to rent this place on my own anymore; I can stay with Kitty. Chicago, this is going to be so cool!

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. Jubilee looked through the peephole and saw two men, one wore a baseball cap, and the other had a hood on which obscured his face. Jubilee opened the door a crack.

“‘Sup girl?” spoke the first man, “We lookin’ for Angelo, we heard this is his crib.”

“Yeah,” said his companion, “We need to talk to him.”

Great, thought Jubilee, just what I need, a couple of gangbangers.

“Must have the wrong house boys, there’s no Angelo here.” Jubilee went to close the door and realised that one of the men had stuck his foot in the opening. Jubilee swore softly under her breath, way to go girl, why don’t you just invite them in, give them coffee?

Baseball cap spoke, “You listen here girl, we know that Angelo been here, we been watching this place for a while now.” He started to push against the door, his friend joining in a few moments later. Jubilee threw her whole weight against the door but to be polite, she wasn’t exactly a big girl, and the two heavies outside began to slowly push their way into the apartment. The one with the hood grunted, “Aren’t you gonna let us in?”

Jubilee relented and the two men spilled through the doorway into her apartment. Jubilee backed away from them as they began to look around the place. She spoke wearily, “I’m telling you, there is no one called Angelo living here, just me.” She gave them a beaming smile, and was annoyed that they seemingly ignored her. “Hey,” she cried indignantly, “I’m talking here.”

The hooded man turned his gaze to Jubilee, “Where is he?” he asked.

Jubilee became even more annoyed, “Hello? Have I turned invisible or something? Do I need some kind of volume control? I told you, I am the only one living here.”

The man with the baseball cap replied, “Don’t be giving me this bull$£*% girl, Angelo was here, so why don’t you just tell us where the man is?”

Jubilee was about to protest once again when the hooded man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a gun, pointing it at Jubilee. “Maybe this’ll help you remember, answer the question or I’ll put a cap in you.” Jubilee’s mouth went dry, okay, so this is serious then, she thought. “Angelo doesn’t live here anymore, hasn’t for about two weeks now.”

The hooded man turned to his companion, “You see?” He said. “I was right, Angelo does hang here after all. His girl just needed a little persuading is all.”

“His girl?” cried Jubilee. “Wait a minute, I am not his girl.” She took a step towards the two men, her fists clenched. The hooded man swung the barrel of his gun back to her face and Jubilee stopped, holding her hands out empty, a gesture of surrender. “Look,” she said. “I don’t want any trouble, what do you want Angelo for?”

The man with the cap answered, “Your boyfriend has been interfering where he shouldn’t. Let’s just say that Espinosa caused me to lose some… business.”

Jubilee nodded drugs then, or something else, but it’s all about money she thought grimly. Angelo, what have you got yourself into now? Jubilee smiled at the two men again, hoping that they wouldn’t notice that she had taken another step towards them. Have to take out the shooter first, but the trick is getting close enough to the other guy to hit him too.

Luckily for Jubilee, the two men were busy conversing with one another. She stood silently, straining to listen to their hushed exchange. As she listened she began judging distances, evaluating and discarding attack patterns, running through all the skills she had been trained in by Sean Cassidy and Emma Frost, her teachers at the Academy. She mentally prepared herself to take the two men down as quickly as possible, still, the up side is, I’m the only person who can be hurt by these mooks.

The hooded man turned back to Jubilee again. “Okay,” he said, “So Angelo isn’t here, that’s cool, we’ll just leave him a little message…” Jubilee saw the dark look on the other man’s face and knew immediately that their ‘message’ had something to do with her.

Baseball cap responded, voicing Jubilee’s thoughts “Yeah, if we can’t talk to Angelo personally, we’ll just have to leave a little ‘reminder’ not to be messing with our business.” He gestured to his companion. “What do you think, should we cut the pretty little Geisha girl up?” To emphasise the point, he drew a knife and took a step towards Jubilee.

Jubilee didn’t wait to see what would happen next, with reflexes honed over nearly eight years of fighting with the X-Men, she pivoted on her left foot, swinging her right leg up and out from her body. Her foot connected with the hooded man’s gun, sending it flying across the room to clatter against a wall. Jubilee did not relent; she pressed the attack, closing the distance between her and the two men with a graceful hop. She grabbed the hooded man by the shoulder, driving her knee into his midriff; he fell to the floor winded.

The other man lunged with the knife and Jubilee quickly dropped to a crouch, easily avoiding the blade that flashed harmlessly over her head, she stood quickly, her back to the man, and grabbed his arm. Deftly, she twisted his wrist and the knife fell from his grip, she spun round, her elbow catching him across the face, she followed up with kick that caught him under the chin and knocked him unconscious.

The hooded man had begun to recover so Jubilee crouched down and forcibly banged his head off the wooden floor. He stayed still this time. Jubilee stood up again, brushing off her clothes, then set about dragging both men out into the hallway. When she had finished, she closed and locked her apartment and calmly walked down the stairs to the ground floor. She immediately went to the room across from the main entrance and knocked on the door.

A disgruntled voice answered from within, “What is it?”

“Mrs. Kowalski?” Jubilee asked. “I need to have a word. It’s Jubilation Lee.”

The door opened and a heavyset middle-aged woman gazed out. The look on her face was anything but welcoming. “Ah, 512, what the hell do you want?” Jubilee involuntarily took a half step back from the frightening woman before her. “You know I don’t like being disturbed in the morning.”

“Just to let you know,” Jubilee replied with a smile, “that I’ll be phoning the police so don’t be alarmed when they get here.”

“What?” the landlady roared. “What are you playing at missy?” She poked Jubilee in the shoulder. Jubilee resisted the urge to poke the woman right back.

“Nothing much, couple of gangbangers broke into my apartment,” Jubilee replied.

The landlady looked around nervously, “Are they still there?” she whispered.

“Nope,” was Jubilee’s cheerful reply, “they’re lying in the hallway, I managed to surprise them and knock them out.”

“I’ll phone,” said Mrs. Kowalski, “It’s my building.” She shut the door in Jubilee’s face. Jubilee walked out the main entrance to the apartment block and went down the side alley to the dumpster. She found a length of wood, part of a demolished wardrobe so she returned to her apartment. She stood silently outside the door, the gun and knife left where they lay inside. Jubilee willed the men to wake up, so she could knock them back down again. I swear Angelo, when I get my hands on you… Dimly, Jubilee realised her aggression had more to do with Skin than the gang members that had threatened her. Yet, she still felt disappointed when the police arrived and the two men were escorted away, still unconscious.

It was nearly three hours later that Jubilee was able to have some peace and quiet, the police officers had been thorough in questioning her statement, perhaps not willing to believe that a small petite girl could overpower two armed men. Jubilee sighed and sat down by the window. It was mid-afternoon and she was bored. Thinking about Chicago had made her realise why she had come to L.A., to see if she could start a new life in her old hometown but that wasn’t possible anymore. With Angelo gone and the rest of her friends scattered across the country, she was alone, and she was already tired of being alone. How does Wolverine do it, she thought wistfully, he seems to like being on his own, me, I absolutely hate it.

Jubilee padded barefoot into the bedroom and opened her wardrobe; she looked at the small collection of clothes she had stashed there. Do I seriously want to go to Chicago, she thought, knowing full well that the answer was yes. She began to pack her things then, gathering a suitcase and folding her clothes into it. For the next two hours, she packed her belongings, leaving only the bare essentials. Looking around the empty apartment, she felt a pang of regret, in sharp contrast to the enthusiasm she had felt when she first saw the place several months ago. Back then, she saw it as a new beginning, now it was nothing more than a hollow reminder that she would have to struggle just to live a normal life.

Jubilee sat at her desk again, and began scribbling a note to her landlady, letting her know that she was planning on vacating the premises. Thanks to Angelo and the two men she had faced today, Mrs. Kowalski was thoroughly convinced she was involved in the gangs herself, despite Jubilee’s insistence that she had nothing to do with the particular way of life. So what? Let her get some other nice little couple in. Jubilee had enough to cover the rent for another month but she felt an overwhelming need to get out of the city before something happened that might force her to stay. Hate running away, but that’s what it is, isn’t it Jubes? The cynical voice inside her was right but maybe it was time to face a few home truths, she might be 20 but she was still a kid, she had no young life, she had to fight just to stay alive. Maybe I’m not cut out to have a “normal” life?

Jubilee stood up and just looked out the window of her apartment, feeling no joy, just emptiness. As she watched, the sky grew dark as twilight approached. Jubilee watched silently as the sun set and the streets grew darker. She sighed once again; better get travel arrangements made for the next few days. Walking over to the door of the living area, she thumbed on the main lights, casting a soft glow throughout the room.

Returning to her desk, she booted up her personal laptop and connected the modem, and scant minutes later, she was online. First, she ran an Internet search for airline tickets and brought up the five most likely choices on screen. Basically, all she needed was a quick hop from L.A. to Chicago, nothing fancy, since she had very little money anyway, waitressing not being the most highly paid job in the world. She ordered a ticket, the cheapest she could find, flying out tomorrow evening direct to Chicago. Next she accessed her email and sent off a mail to Kitty, sorry, Katie Pryde, letting her know the time she was expecting to arrive. Not waiting for a reply, she closed down the computer and pulled on a pair of shoes, and her favourite denim jacket. Taking the note she had written to her landlady, she walked down the stairs and slipped the piece of paper under her door. Without looking back, she left the building, making her way down the darkened street.

She walked for nearly an hour, just thinking and reminiscing about her life here, when she was a runaway in her early teens, she visited the arcades and malls where she spent her days way back then, almost ten years ago. She compared her life then to her life now, what can I say? She thought. Back then all I had to worry about was shelter and food, and I didn’t care about anything, or anyone, except myself of course.

Jubilee released belatedly how far she had come since those early days, now I feel the need to make the world safe for puppies and little children, well, okay, puppies are cute but little children? She chuckled at her own sense of humour, face it girl, once you wear that big old ‘X’, there is no turning back. Jubilee felt the future opening up before her, uncertain and daunting. She wasn’t in the Academy anymore, she couldn’t run to Sean or Emma if she had a problem, she was on her own now, making her way in the world, I wonder how many of the X-Men actually know what real life is like?

Jubilee’s negative feelings faded, she knew that her life in L.A. had stalled but that didn’t mean she had failed, it only meant she needed someone in her life to depend upon. After so many years insulated from the outside world in Westchester and then Massachusetts, she just couldn’t exist very well on her own.

Then her thoughts turned to Skin again, and Jubilee made a decision, I can’t just up and leave without letting him know, I may be angry at him but he had his reasons for leaving, just as I have mine now. With a more determined pace, she changed her direction and headed for Skin’s new home. He had told her where he would be, should she ever need help, she had been so stubborn and determined not to accept his offer that she never went near that neighbourhood. Still, here she was, practically marching down the street towards his ‘crib’. She knew she was being watched by men hidden in the shadows, ready to move if she posed a threat to anyone in the neighbourhood. Jubilee felt a strange admiration, I bet you the moment anyone pulls a gun or knife, someone will stop them, talk about effective policing!

She reached the building that Angelo had told her about. Without any hesitation, she pressed her forefinger to the lock on the door and activated her powers. The low-level blast fried the lock as Jubilee reared back and kicked the door wide open. She winced when she realised how heavy the door had been and her ankle hurt but she wouldn’t let stop her dramatic entrance. Inside the building, several men and women lounged on sofas, watching TV. Others were gathered around a pool table set at the other end of the room. All of them had been startled by the sudden crash of the door being forced open; some of the older men had guns drawn, tracking towards the open doorway. Jubilee calmly stepped into the room, evaluating the situation should she need to fight. One man, tall and black, with an athletic figure, strode up to Jubilee, a gun held at his side.

“Anyone teach you it’s not proper to enter a house uninvited?” the black man said in a deep, gruff voice.

Jubilee gave him her biggest, most innocent smile in response, “What are you complaining about, I knocked, didn’t I?”

The black man’s eyes flared and Jubilee tensed her body, waiting for the attack. Suddenly, from the back of the room, a familiar voice spoke. “Usually chica, when he mean ‘knock’, he mean gently, not kick the whole door down.”

Angelo Espinosa stepped out of the shadows, dressed in black with a red headband, the clothes proved to be an interesting contrast to his pale sallow skin. “Tyrone,” he said, “Leave her be, she’s a friend.” He looked at Jubilee, “Hi there, Jubes, what brings you to see me?”

Tyrone moved aside, still eyeing Jubilee suspiciously. She responded by sticking her tongue out at him, which did nothing to improve his temper. Angelo quickly put himself between them, “trust you to try and piss off the toughest man in the room,” he said with a smile. “C’mon, let go talk in private.” He gestured to a door. Jubilee followed him quietly as they climbed a set of stairs and came to another door. Angelo unlocked it with a key that hung round his neck and opened the door, allowing Jubilee to enter first. Inside was an office of sorts, a rectangular desk set against the wall to the side, and a round wooden table set in the centre of the floor. Angelo led Jubilee to a sofa at the far end of the room.

Angelo spoke first, “Jubes, I… I want to apologise, I know I ran out on you, chica, and I’m real sorry. It’s just… well, I got things to do here.” He chuckled. “You know, I had this all planned out, what I would say when I saw you but…”

Jubilee raised her hand, trying to silence him. “Ange, I just got a visit today from a couple of gangbangers you pissed off.”

Angelo was shocked, “Today, at the apartment?” He shook his head. “I knew I should have had some of my people watching the place.”

Jubilee gave him a dubious look, “Your people? Ange, look, I don’t know what’s so important to you here, but I don’t like drug dealers or whatever those jerks were knocking on my door, and it’s my door now, since you aren’t paying rent.”

Angelo laid a hand on Jubilee’s shoulder. “Look, I’m sorry, I never thought that anyone would work out where I had been living, and I’m sorry for putting you in danger.” He gave her a hard look, “I can promise that you’ll be protected.”

Jubilee brushed his hand away angrily; “You don’t get it, do you? Angelo, you left me! We’ve been friends for how many years? And you decide that running a gang, dealing drugs, whatever else you get up to, is more important.” The venom in her eyes was unmistakable.

Jubilee moved towards the door, Angelo sprung up and stopped her, “Jubilee, please, I just want to talk, no more arguments, okay?” When Jubilee turned back to face him, he noticed there were tears running down his cheeks. “S.Skin…” she stuttered. Angelo responded by pulling her close, hugging her against his body and in that moment he realised just what he had done. He had left her, one of his closest friends; he hadn’t tried to explain why he had done it, so he just left. Angelo had been so busy these past weeks, reorganising his old friends into a worthwhile group that he had spared little or no thought to Jubilee, and the effect his actions had on her.

A few tears leaked from his eyes then, as Jubilee held on to him tightly. Jubilee pulled away from him then, and looked into his eyes, “I’m leaving,” she breathed softly.

“Jubilee, please…” Angelo began.

“I’m leaving Los Angeles.” Jubilee broke away from him and stood, watching his reaction.

Angelo was understandably shocked. “Please, not because of me.” He pleaded.

Jubilee smiled then, “No bonehead,” she said, her humour returning, “I’m just not happy here.”

“Talk to me,” Angelo replied, pulling her back towards the sofa. “I know I haven’t been there for you this past month but please, let me try to make it up to you?”

Jubilee sighed, “Okay.” She sat down and began to talk. “We both came here because it was where we grew up, kinda, but, well, you’re happy enough here, but me… well, L.A. just isn’t what it used to be, for me anyway.” She smiled again, “It’s not my home anymore, I just need to do something, anything really, hate being on my own and well, I kinda like saving the world a lot…”

It was Angelo’s turn to smile. “Once an X-man…” he began. “Yeah, I know where you’re coming from, Jubes, part of why I’m here with the old ‘hood.”

Jubilee pouted, “Um, Ange, you know, being in a gang isn’t like being a superhero.”

Angelo laughed then, “Jubes, would you stop that mouth running for a minute and let me explain, and believe me, this is long overdue, I should have told you from the start but you can be stubborn sometimes.”

Jubilee punched him on the arm, “Hey! I am not stubborn!”

“Lee, zip it.” Angelo replied, smiling. “Look, when I came back here, with you, I did a circuit of the city, checking out my old haunts, that places I used to hang.” He waved his hand in Jubilee’s direction, “You did the same yourself, remember, I showed you and you showed me. The one thing I noticed the most was how things had changed, my old ‘hood was run by about three gangs, the police just avoided the area while the gangbangers beat on each other. It was sad, I used to love this place, okay, had to fake my death to escape it but it was still home in a way. L.A. has gangs, some are innocent enough, certain ethnic minorities banding together to protect themselves, kinda like the X-Men, a group of mutants exclusively brought together to keep them away from harm in the outside world.”

Skin stood up and began to pace the room. “You seemed happy here, the waitressing kick, your dreams of being an aspiring actress, me, I had nothing.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I was working in a burger joint, flipping patties and serving fries, after all the years of learning how to control my powers and learning how to fight, my weapon of choice was a spatula and a hot griddle.” He laughed out loud at his own joke. Jubilee laughed in response, watching him intently, listening to every word he said. “I ran into Tyrone one night, the guys had been out on a job and stopped in to grab some eats, Tyrone near flipped out when he saw me, but he recognised me all the same, even after all this time.”

“He waited for me after my shift and we got talking.” Angelo came and sat back down again beside Jubilee on the sofa. “I just told him the truth, always trusted him to watch my back so I thought it fair that I let him know the deal. He wasn’t happy that I felt the need to lie to him but hey, I was a bonehead back then, and still am. He told me he had known about my… heritage, well, look at me.” Angelo’s skin was pale, and seemed almost loose somehow, as if his skin was just a sheet draped over his bones. At the Academy, he claimed to have a rare skin condition, an excuse that seemed to satisfy the other school kids, even if it meant he was still ostracised. Anyone looking at him would suspect he was unhealthy, although with years of training, he was on top physical form.

“Anyway, Tyrone didn’t care whether I was a Martian, a mutant, whatever, he was glad to have his friend back. Made me happy.” Skin looked at Jubilee, and saw the look of concentration she had on her face; it was obvious that she genuinely wanted to hear what Skin had said. “He took me back to my old neighbourhood, introduced me to the new guys and reacquainted me with my old homies. I saw how bad things had become since I had quit town.” He looked directly into Jubilee’s eyes. “I had to help, I couldn’t walk away from that.”

Jubilee spoke, “Skin, it is so totally a bad idea, can’t you see that? It goes against everything we’ve been taught, even if we didn’t listen half the time.”

Angelo smiled, “Would you just listen for a moment? Jubilee, you are a hero, always have been, you ran with Wolverine and Xavier long before you got stuck with Jono and me. But sometimes, helping people isn’t as black and white as you may think, I have a purpose here, Jubes, one which I think is important.” He took her hand, “We were trained to be the next generation of the X-Men, and not just that, we were trained to lead future mutants. You with me?” He noted with satisfaction Jubilee’s nod. “What I am doing here is leading my old friends, we’re not dealing drugs or running guns or having turf wars, we want the fighting to stop.”

Jubilee opened her mouth and mumbled impatiently, “Can’t see how being in a gang is gonna help stop the fighting.”

Skin calmly replied, “It’s my intent that we’ll shut down the more aggressive gangs. See, most of the neighbourhoods are peaceful, since some of the gangs are more like communities, they work together to improve their way of living. But for every passive gang, there are half a dozen that want nothing more than conflict and earn their way by extortion, violence, drugs, you name it. It’s those guys I want to shut down.”

Jubilee snorted, “Bit ambitious.”

“Yes it is,” Skin replied, “But it’s something that needs to be done. I was never cut out for big superhero battles, my life has always been street-level, the X-Men deal with the big threats but they don’t really make an impact. Look around you, I have six gangs taking orders from me, every week, we stop another dealer or shooter, what I’m doing has an effect, we’re cleaning up an entire city, from the street up. And everyone of the people under me knows that I am a mutant, and they know that I’m doing this because it is important, not so I can become Magneto or anything.”

He gazed at Jubilee again; “Can you see that? Please, I need you with me on this, even if it’s just moral support.”

Jubilee met his gaze, and he saw her stubbornness melt away, “Ange, you know I’ll support whatever you do, and I don’t really know if this is such a good idea but you think it is and that’s okay for me. But I’m still leaving.”

“Where will you go?” Angelo asked tentatively, for some reason he had assumed that Jubilee would have remained in L.A. that she would be available if he ever needed her but now, that was obviously not the case anymore.

Jubilee smiled, “Heading to Chicago, Kitty Pryde has something planned, I’m gonna check it out.”

“Getting drawn back in then,” Skin smirked.

“Yeah, but it’s what I want Ange, I was getting bored with normal life anyway.” Jubilee suddenly lunged forward and enfolded Angelo in an embrace. He returned the favour warmly, savouring the closeness of his friend. “I’ll write you when I get settled.” She said simply.

Skin sighed, he knew the conversation was over, and he knew that when Jubilee left this building, that was it, they might remain friends but their lives would finally be separate. “Take care, mallrat,” he said, his eyes becoming misty.

Jubilee could feel tears welling up too as she spoke, her voice cracking as she spoke, “I will if you will.” She hugged her friend again; reluctant to go but knowing she had to. At least I know the deal now, she thought, he’s still my friend and still a hero.

After saying their goodbyes, Jubilee returned to her apartment and fell into bed, exhausted, she slept deeper than she had for the past months, all her worries had melted away after her conversation with Angelo. She awoke late the next morning, the sunlight streaming through her bedroom window. She felt refreshed as she showered and dressed, choosing a black T-shirt and torn jeans. She ate sparingly, not feeling very hungry and spent the rest of the morning finishing her packing. It was early afternoon when Jubilee left the building to go shopping. She visited the malls, going through the bargain bins and picking up some tank tops and cut-off sweaters. By late afternoon, she had gathered her bags and returned her key to the landlady. She took one last look over the apartment, a feeling of sadness weighing on her as she said goodbye to her first, brief home. Firmly resolved, she shut the door on that part of her life and waited patiently for the taxi she had ordered.

Three hours later, she was sitting in the window seat of a plane as looked out over the city of Los Angeles from the sky, she shed a tear for Angelo, but knew in her heart that they would bump into each other again some day. The flight was short and Jubilee noted that she hadn’t even had a chance to become bored as the plane descended into Chicago. She retrieved her luggage and made her way to the main entrance. She stood for several minutes, trying to sort out the throng of people, trying to catch a glimpse of Kitty Pryde, and then she noticed a young girl smiling at her and realised whom it was. Kitty, or Katie as she is now known, had grown taller since Jubilee had last seen her, and it was obvious that she had filled out too, she’s no longer of the itty bitty titty committee then, thought Jubilee with a cheeky grin. Neither am I, was the next immediate thought.

Katie ran over and hugged Jubilee, the radiant smile on her face was a sight to behold. As they walked outside the airport, Kate spoke, “You know, when I said come over to Chicago, I wasn’t expecting you the next day.” Jubilee stopped in her tracks, dropping her bags and placing her hands on her hips in an impatient gesture, as she opened her mouth, Kate quickly interrupted, “I’m teasing, Jubes, just teasing.” Jubilee responded by blowing a raspberry and then laughing out loud. Kate felt happy as the young girl infectious laugh washed over her.

The two girls clambered into a taxi and drove to the University. Kate directed Jubilee to her dormitory and the two carried Jubilee’s expanse of luggage up to the room. That night, Jubilee and Katie sat up most of the night talking, commiserating each other over their losses, praises each other’s achievements, and, as girls will do, talk about boys. For the first time in years, both girls felt exactly that, like young women, normal and uncomplicated by life. Katie spoke animatedly about her assignments and her campaign for mutant rights, Jubilee regaled her with a description of the finer points of modern fashion, while Lockheed, Katie’s pet dragon, hovered over the two of them, cooing and demanding attention from the new guest. Katie told Jubilee all about the coffee-house she spent her days in, and the new employee who had taken a shine to her, a fact that gave Jubilee ample opportunity to tease her.

Katie missed her lectures the next day, choosing to spend her time with Jubilee. It was a new beginning for both of them, one that had rejuvenated both women. Neither knew what the future might have in store but for now, they had each other, and that was more than enough.

The End

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