After Auden




War sounded nothing like the games. On the PlayStation back home, sounds attacked from all sides especially if you were lucky enough to have a proper sound system. In real combat, Iceman heard nothing except the cracks of shot rounds. He saw nothing except his target. But he could smell everything.

Bullets, he'd learned, smelled like shop class. If shop class could be spritzed in a bottle, it would smell just like a bullet firing from an AK-47. A gas fire hit the nose much sweeter than any other types of fire, the difference between cooking on a stove and cooking on the barbeque. Blood smelled like oxygen or a penny in the mouth. Burning human flesh smelled like the crispy ribs from Harry's Hideaway and decomp... Iceman tried not to inhale for those.

Twisting his body in midair, Iceman scrunched his nose and blasted ice in front of the shots spraying over his sector. The surrounding air pulled at his arms as he constructed a six-inch-thick ice wall in under a minute then dragged it a foot to catch any stray bullets. The other SHIELD trainees close by, used to this tactic, cleared the area under the ice block just in time. Before it thunked on the ground, Iceman was already moving, throwing ice shields at his next target.

"Fireworks overhead," Jubilee said through their commelinks.

Iceman and his SHIELD partner, Crackle, averted their eyes as Jubilee released her powers. The heat from the pyrotechnics momentary distracted a pair of heat seeking missiles, giving some other agents time to change cover.

Crackle leaned against his knees, panting. "Home, time?"

"Ten more minutes," replied their connection to SHIELD's helicarrier.

"Wonderful," said Iceman.

Crackle muttered as he reloaded his weapon, "They didn't have this in the recruitment poster."

"Join SHIELD, see exotic places, become bomb bait."

"Yeah, that about covers it. On my three."

He and Crackle ran from their cover, firing at targets in plain view. In the back of his mind, Iceman knew that the more senior SHIELD operatives had to be finishing up on their assignment now, past the most difficult stage of destroying the warlords' underground pipeline and heading back to point. Nine more minutes. Nine more minutes of distracting the enemy soldiers and he would be back on the helicarrier, having a nice long soak in the showers, and relaxing in front of some gratuitously brain-numbing reality TV.

"Iceman! Behind you!"

Bobby paused. Immediately, he knew that was the wrong reaction. The first bullet hit his arm, skewing his aim. A shot of ice uselessly froze a rooftop. Cringing to the left, Iceman cryoed the injury and tried to crawl away from the rest of the shots but the sniper had already locked into him. His Kevlar popped three more times, signaling more hits moving slowly towards the only unprotected part of his body-- the head.

Iceman prepared to say his prayers.

With a yodel that would do Tarzan proud, Jubilee vaulted off an outcropping boulder, tucking her head between her knees like a cannonball. Her back hit Iceman's and they both tumbled away from the sniper's line of fire, tumbled, tumbled, tumbled until they finally came to a rest behind half a house. A moment later, a dirt and stone exploded where Iceman had just stood. Jubilee sprawled on his chest as shrapnel rained down.

"Saved your life again," she said when their hearing came back, smiling like a crazed woman

"I don't think my ass will be thanking you," he said, willing his tailbone to numb.

"I can be bribed with extra dessert rations."

"If I give you extra sugar, everyone in the bunk will kill me." He smacked her leg. "Come on. Five minutes and forty-two more seconds before we can hit the showers. Feel like getting our asses handed to us again?"

"At least I've got a nice one," said Jubilee, patted the posterior in question.

Iceman grinned.

Once more into the breach. Jumping on all fours, he glanced back to see how Jubilee was doing. She was... still lying down.

"Jubilee?" Iceman slid back on his stomach. "Hey, you ready?"

She smiled weakly and Iceman realized that she was clutching her side. His heart wedged in the back of his mouth. Somehow, without really being conscious of the fact, he pushed her hand away to take a look at the injury. Peeking through her Kevlar was two-inches of steel. He couldn't see how much more was in Jubilee.

Iceman locked eyes with her.


They opened their eyes to buzzing metal bars. The helicarrier's engines whined under their feet, high pitched but muted. In time, they'd learn to ignore it but that first night, it pervaded every corner of their minds. They were one to a cell. Each cell had a bed, a block seven feet by two feet by two feet high with a mattress on top. The toilet was a cylinder rising seamlessly from the metal floor, one and a half feet high, six inches in diameter with a five inch rim. It had with a motion sensor flush and no lid. The sink was a semi-circle moulded out from the walls with a motion sensor faucet that let out a weak stream of perfectly tepid water.

Food came in through the bars, delivered by faceless guards after they'd been knocked out by a puff of gas. The trays were twelve by seven by three-quarters of an inch, unsectioned. The food was always enough to fill them but bland enough to make eating a chore. No one spoke or if they did, something muted everyone's voices so there was really no point in trying.

For one week, they had nothing to do but measure the dimensions of their prison.

The close quarters were easy to get used to. After mortar shells and ravaged towns, greying dead bodies and enraged living ones, it was a comfort to sleep surrounded by friends in their farting, snoring, drooling glory.

Bobby and Jubilee tended to bunk beside each other, out of necessity at first. The other SHIELD members had begun to accept them but at the end of the day, having a fellow Xavier's student was like a security blanket. He talked to her about "remember whens" and "when we go backs." They could convince each other that they wouldn't have this existence forever. He missed conversations with Rogue most of all. When you couldn't make-out, a relationship took on deeper dimensions. Description failed his poor teenage mind. He was only seventeen and he missed the warmth of his girlfriend at his side.

"You know what I miss the most about the school?" Bobby whispered this night.

Jubilee shivered as she shook his head. They were in Uaic this week. No one told them that desert froze at night. When he got back to the school, he was going to shred his geography textbook.

"I miss Mr. Summers' shop class," he said. "If we were there right now, I'd have that '75 Fairmont totally fixed up. He said I could have it as a graduation present."

"I miss the professor's Sunday dinners," said Jubilee. "And the way Storm looked when I came down in a totally inappropriate dress."

"You dress up like that just to piss her off, don't you?"

"One day, I'll make her crack."

They lay in silently for a while, face to face, listening to the night time shuffling and the occasional wild animal in the distance. Strangely isolated.

"How's your wound?" Bobby asked.

Jubilee shrugged. "It's fine. I've told you that already."

"I know, I just... Someone has to be Cyclops around here."

"Dude, not even if you tried." She tried to smile but, quickly, it wobbled out of place. "I'm scared, Bobby."

"Shhhh, it's okay." He wriggled a hand out of the sleeping bag and stroked her cheek, cautiously at first, unsure of how welcome he would be. "We're not only SHIELD-trained, we're Junior X-Men. We kick so much ass--"

"It's not that," said Jubilee. "I'm scared... I'm scared we're going to be stuck here with these people. That we'll never go back to the school and see Kitty and Rogue and Pete and everyone and we'll have to keep fighting and dying and watching other people die and sometimes I swear I can still smell--"

"Shhhhhh." Bobby shifted closer. "That's not going to happen. Cyclops will find us. He's good at that."

"He couldn't find his brother." When Bobby didn't have a retort to that, Jubilee said, "Never mind. That was totally callous of me."

"No!" Bobby quickly interrupted. "No, sometimes... sometimes I think that too, y'know. I feel like shit afterwards but... well, Cyclops' never let us down before, right?"

Slowly, Jubilee nodded. "I'm still scared."

"So am I." His fingers twitched near her cheek. "But when we're together, it's not so scary any more."

She pulled her hand out from her own sleeping bag and reached for Bobby. The kiss, when it came, was frighteningly natural. What came after the kiss, a lot more so. Celebrating life negated fear of death.

The training began at week two. Jubilee felt more wrung out by her week of isolation than any bootcamp she could imagine. Bobby looked the same.

"You're here because we can use you just like we can use your little school with their dinky little teachers," said the sergeant. His boots clanged with each step. "Make no mistake: I will train you harder than you've ever trained. You will follow because the alternative is being in the cell. If you try to escape, not only will you be in the cell but SHIELD will call off the truce it has with your school. Are we clear?"

Jubilee nodded.

The sergeant leaned down to growl in Jubilee's face. "So I can hear you, shitheads."

"Yes, sir."

Leaning back, the sergeant snorted. Oddly, it reminded her of Cyclops. He'd been... strange lately. Oh, he'd always been strict with the junior team but lately, since one brother went missing and the other arrived, he had an uncomfortable intensity during class. "You're here for survival training, first and foremost. If you don't survive, you fail the course."

Nodding to the hallside guards Jubilee slid her pass through the scanner and pressed her palm on the reader at the same time. Triple doors slide open: horizontal sliding doors, a laser grid, and vertical sliding doors. The roomside guards, practically twins to the hallsides, didn't seem to notice her but Jubilee knew better. If she twitched the wrong way, she'd be tomato sauce.

"I'm going to Cell 109-K," she said.

The roomside to her right nodded minutely and pressed a button on his cuff. The red light over Logan's cell flashed, alerting the rest of the roomside guards down the hall to her presence.

She always felt self-conscious walking down to Logan's. The first few weeks, her discomfort stemmed from seeing some of the prisoners in the open cells who leered or shouted muted epithets at her. Now that she worked with SHIELD agents-- slept, ate, and showered with them-- having a connection with one of the prisoners made her feel uncomfortable. It was stupid, she knew that, Logan was from the school not the guards, but in reality, she had more interaction with the SHIELD agents in the three months she'd been here than she ever did with Logan back at the school. He talked to the staff and to Rogue and that was it.

Her escort clomped past ten doors, stopping at the eleventh to swipe his passcard through. The metal wall slid away to reveal a forcefield that buzzed blue at when looked at sideways or if an especially large dust mote passed through. Logan stood spread-eagle on the far wall, his arms and legs clamped with adamantium, his waist belted with more of the same.

The roomside dragged a stool behind Jubilee and she sat, giving him a small smile. It wasn't returned.

"Hi, Logan."

Logan lifted his head. "Hey kid. Nice shirt."

Belated, Jubilee remembered that she was still wearing her uniform. She fidgeted with the matte black SHIELD logo at her sleeve, the mark of a trainee, and tried to forget the sparks of longing for the silver badges that the elite team wore.

"What's up?" she asked.

"How long has it been?" he asked in return.

Sighing, Jubilee said, "Eighty-seven days."

Logan swore. "No one's called?"

Her lips twisting, Jubilee replied, "Not a peep. From anyone. We might as well have fallen off the face of the earth."

Looking unusually contemplative, Logan nodded his head. "They're on their way. Cyclops wouldn't be able to stand the idea of his kids unprotected."

"They're training us real good," said Jubilee, feeling an inexplicable need to defend SHIELD. "I can throw my pyros like ten feet farther now and Bobby can--"

"These people aren't your friends, Jubilee," Logan said, his voice hard. "They kidnapped you and Bobby. They probably hurt your classmates who're trying to get you back."

"I know that!" Jubilee snapped. "I'm just saying we're not like enslaved, okay? That you don't have to worry. Geez, spaz!"

A low growl rumbled out of Logan's chest. "Good to hear, kid," he said in place of an apology. "Look just... be careful."

"I will," said Jubilee, still affronted.

"And tell Bobby to be careful, too. I'll never stop hearing it from Rogue if her boyfriend comes back with his pretty little face scarred."

Jubilee tried not to smell like guilt for the rest of her visit. They had a breakout to plan.

They went punking together when they lived at the school. They had whole weeks of prank wars, each trying to out-do the other. The longest rally lasted seventeen days, ending unsurprisingly after Ms. Munroe accidentally got in the way of Bobby's ingenious prank to end all pranks. They had to fumigate her side of the dormitories. He and Jubes cleaned the kitchen, swept after the horses, and were banned from all video game consoles for a month.

But it was worth it. The planning, the executing, the rush of a prank gone right. No one else understood.

It was so worth it.

Cyclops came.

Of course Cyclops came. He had the best timing, just over an hour after they figured out how to break Wolverine out of his cell. Bobby stared at the door of their lock up with so much hope and excitement that Jubilee felt like hitting him. Didn't he realise what this meant?

Immediately, she smacked herself. Of course he realised what it meant. Home. Rogue. And, Christ, she wanted to go home too and Rogue was one of her best friends but how in the hell was she supposed to explain this? The logistics of their non-sleeping together didn't seem to be penetrating Bobby's head.

"What do you think they're trading for us?" Bobby asked.

Jubilee shrugged. She picked at the scab on her forearm, a graze from their last assignment. Sometimes, the armour did the damage. "Rogue's going to kill us."

He started.

"What? It didn't even occur to you to explain?"

"Of course it did!" Bobby shouted back. "You don't think-- Jeez, she's already so... because of her powers and now we've... it's like..."

"Fucked up."

Bobby snorted. "It's like it's fucked up." He slumped against the wall. "We can't do this."

"Are you for real?" Jubilee cried out. "So like what now? We do a friggen' Casablanca? We'll always have fucking Balochistan? Fuck. You."

"Jubilee, please--"

"No! Shut the fuck up! I like you, Bobby. I fucking like you." She poked his chest with two fingers and she knew it would hurt because they learned that pressure point the fourth week in and they practiced it on each other, tickled each other until they were breathless and not scared and now he was fucking it up.

He took her hands. "Ow. Jubes. Stop it." When she would have struggled away, he pulled her closer. "Stop it."

He kissed her forehead. Jubilee would have sobbed if she was the type to sob. She really wasn't. She was still convincing herself when their lips met.

The door hissed open. Jubilee wrenched away, fixing her shirt which had somehow rucked up to her chest but Cyclops had already seen them.

"Cyclops!" Jubilee, never before at a loss for words, could only open and close her mouth soundlessly after spitting out that one name.

Expressionlessly, their teacher said, "Leave us alone for a minute."

Mr. Worthington stepped back as Fury said, "The cell's bugged."

Cyclops didn't look as if he cared. "Are you both okay?" he asked as soon as the cell doors locked behind them.

Jubilee traded nervous stares with Bobby. "Yeah, I guess."

"You haven't gotten hurt?"

Wow, that was totally a loaded question. Jubilee stared at her knuckles.

"Jubilee got hurt a month ago," Bobby revealed to which she protested "I'm fine now!"

Taking a long, calming breath, Scott asked, "What kind of hurt?"

Sullenly, Jubilee said, "It was only a pipe bomb and I wasn't really hit by the bomb, just the fallout and they have Star Trek medicine here so it healed real quick. I can barely even feel it any more."

"She had thirteen staples in her stomach," Bobby countered with obvious agitation. "They had to cut off a piece of her small intestine and sew the two other pieces together."

"But I'm fine now."

"You still have to take medication!" Seeing her sulk, Bobby grabbed Jubilee's hand, stroking her palm with his thumb. "Don't be so stubborn. Cyclops is here; we don't have to worry about being SHIELD any more."

Under her breath, Jubilee muttered "Maybe I liked worrying about being SHIELD."

Cyclops' lips thinned. "What happened with Wolverine?"

Again, the two silently consulted each other before responding. "We didn't do anything to make the alarm go off," said Jubilee, Her careful wording didn't slip past Scott.

"That's good enough for me," he said. "I'll see what I can do to get you out of the hold."

They were free. Free, free, free. And Jubilee couldn't help notice that freedom sounded like war.

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