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DISCLAIMER: Generation X and its respective characters are property of Marvel Comics. Used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters of Jen and Alison are original characters. If you wish to use them, you must obtain permission from the authors (we're generally very nice about this sort of thing). Please ask permission before archiving "Chambers of the Heart" or any other PABO story.

The PABO series is as follows, and can be found on JenX's Archive, which is located at <http://members.tripod.com/~jenx24/genx.htm>.

  1. "Problems & Bigger Ones" by JenX & JinxoLAL
  2. "Someone to Understand" by JinxoLAL
  3. "Open, Closed" by JenX
  4. "Precious Things" by JenX
  5. "Chambers of the Heart" by JenX

 

Many MANY thanks to Jeanne, my absolutely wonderful betareader-type-person, who took the time out of her hectic schedule to meet and discuss the finer points of this story. I thank you very much. Thanks are also in order to the OTL staff; they've been very very kind and forwarded things for me when my own e-mail was being evil. Also thanks to Jinxo -- because without you, where would I be today? :)

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Was sleep such a hard thing to ask for?

My darkened room was hot. The logical remedy would be to remove the mountain of blankets that was piled over me, but I was illogical and cold. The blankets would remain in place.

The rain fell angrily on the roof above me. I glanced at the ceiling warily, as though it might cave in and crush me beneath it. Not very likely, but not a good way to die, either. In response to my worry, light flashed so brightly outside my shaded windows and was soon followed by the dull roar of thunder in the distance. The rain became angrier.

Please, I wasn't in the mood for this tonight. I wasn't ever in the mood for a thunderstorm. Rain was all fine and good. The sound soothed me, and I loved the smell after a clean spring shower. But this was no shower -- this was the climactic battle in an overhead war.

Lightning struck again outside, this time closer. And again, thunder rolled. And again and again, and with each of the sky's efforts, the lapse between light and sound grew smaller. And the light only became brighter. Closer. I buried my head beneath the pile of blankets, hoping that the soft thickness would protect me from the raging storm outside.

Yet I knew if anything were to happen to the school, not all the blankets in the entire world would protect me.

I wasn't as bad as Alison was. Her fear was of tornadoes; mine was that some bolt of electricity might be guided by the hand of God to strike me dead where I stood.

But that was silly. The chances of getting struck by lightning were so slim.

Statistics, though, didn't qualm my fears.

I turned over in bed, trying to get into a more comfortable position. Lightning pierced the night sky again, painting designs on my walls using a palette of shadows and light. I should have expected the thunder that followed, but it was so much louder than any other noise that night. The rain pounded furiously on the roof, growing in intensity as though it might penetrate the ceiling overhead and slam into my helpless body, or at least create some other sort of damage to the building. I couldn't take this. The rain was too much; it only added to the fear the lightning struck in me. I had to get to a safer place -- downstairs. That was the best place to be in a storm. And knowing Alison, she was probably already down there.

Downstairs, I reminded myself, and wrapped one of the thick blankets around myself. Downstairs. I took the stairs in no time.

The storm raged outside, blowing trees and debris in the wind. Debris that could hit this building and maybe shatter a window or something. Wind howled even louder down here than upstairs. I pulled the blanket closer around myself and ventured into the common room, where through my muddy fear I thought I sensed someone might already be.

I pushed the door open. My throat tightened -- Jono. Here? But wasn't he --? *Hello, luv,* he greeted.

I really hadn't expected him to be here. The rest of the room fell into place around him: couch, chair, darkened television, a mess of blankets piled on the couch. "Hi," I replied quietly, nodding nervously.

I didn't want to look at the storm outside. I didn't want to feel the storm inside.

"Jen?" asked the pile of blankets on the couch. "You here?"

"Uh ... yeah. I'm here."

"Good," the blankets replied, unfolding from themselves to reveal Alison, who was just plain scared out of her mind. I also noticed a small, ragged grey mass of matted fuzz wrapped in the blankets with her.

A heavy silence filled the air, which was only interrupted by the crashing of thunder. I bit my lip so I wouldn't emit some embarrassing sound and regret it later.

The rain had stopped.

Why had the rain stopped?

Alison was muttering something under her breath about tornadoes. Tornadoes? In Massachusetts? I hadn't ever heard of a tornado in Massachusetts. But the storm was pretty bad.

Boredom dominated as I wriggled out of my cocoon of hot blankets. The television stared blankly at the room, its screen empty and black. If nothing else was on, the Weather Channel could at least let us know if there really was going to be a tornado. I reached for the remote control.

*Power's out,* Jono explained.

I let the remote go and retracted my hand into the blankets that surrounded me. I pulled them up around my shoulders again.

Alison barraged me with a steady stream of ~fear~ -- why on earth would she be so worried when it wasn't even raining anymore? "Alison ... um, it's not raining."

And now that I'd mentioned it, why was I even still down here if it wasn't raining?

"Tornadoes happen when it's not raining," she managed to explain, even with her face buried in the couch pillows as it was.

Great ... if anyone would know that, it was Alison. As if to confirm her waxing suspicions, something crashed outside -- not thunder, but the clatter of metal against something.

"What was that?" I asked, worried.

My question was, however, interrupted by an incredibly irritating wail that penetrated the air. I jumped. I could breathe again. Something crawled along the back of my neck and I tried in vain to swat it away. Alison hid under her blanket. I hoped it wasn't --

"Air raid siren ..." mumbled the lump under the blanket beside me

on the couch. "Tornado ..."

Jono raised an eyebrow at her odd behaviour.

I shrugged. "She ... she does that," I tried to explain, but my voice had a terrible time coming out and I didn't even know if he'd heard me.

Alison's steady stream of ~fear~ was easily overwhelming. It enveloped me as though it were my own emotion. My hands trembled with her fear, my throat tight and sinuses clear. Breath shook before it

could escape my lips -- this was a bad place to be.

The siren wailed again and Alison's ~fear~ spiked high and the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed and I was getting dizzy and sick and adrenaline coursed through my veins and I just wanted to --

The room came alive with colour despite the blackness -- dark colours shining around the pile of blankets, and around my own hands, and around Jono, and a faint trail of static sparkles between him and

me, a line that connected us -- the link. I could see the link. I shouldn't have been able to see it -- no, not even in the dark like this. I barely had time to wonder what this was when I realised --

It was his.

The link was completely, entirely in his possession. And I saw the mechanics of it: like a one-way mirror. He could see out -- into my mind -- but whenever I tried to reach him, all I got was my own reflection.

All that served to do was confuse me even more.

"What?" I demanded, seemingly out of the blue.

"Huh?" Alison asked fuzzily, poking her head out from beneath her blankets.

I kept my eyes, mind, and attention focused on Jono, not even bothering to respond to Alison.

He didn't answer. He wasn't going to.

"How could -- what? Why? What's going on?" I repeated firmly.

*You don't understand,* Jono tried to explain.

Alison's ~fear~ kept hitting me and I only continued to absorb it. The air raid siren kept up, pushing my fear-sharpened hearing into overtime. Everything was clearer; I did understand. I understood perfectly. I felt my head nodding slowly, the light coming on.

"No," I replied, "I do." He held the link. It was as plain as that. "But ... but how? Why?"

He liked it.

That simple glance into his mind startled me -- I shouldn't have been able to do that. He liked it.

"You --?" I began, afraid to say the words aloud in case I might curse myself in their falsehood.

Jono looked at the floor. He was embarrassed by his emotions, feeling angry and betrayed by -- by something. He didn't want to talk about it. But his thoughts again confirmed the answer I wasn't sure he'd

given me -- yes, he liked it. And that was why he'd put the lock on it -- which wasn't truly a lock as much as it strengthened our bond ... strengthened it so that Emma couldn't cut it. He liked it.

He liked --

... me.

Me. More than he'd let on.

The breath I'd been holding escaped my lips in a tight laugh of disbelief. A chill rose along my arms and around the back of my neck, some physical manifestation of all the energy and power that I'd had

access to in order to glimpse such a thing. I bit my lip as I turned my head directly towards him, and as he looked up I felt my teeth slide back over my lip to their proper place.

*You know.* Jono's psionic voice was flat, merely stating the fact.

I nodded slowly, almost imperceptibly, tasting the metallic salt of blood just beneath my lip again. "That ... " I began, the word falling from my mouth of its own volition without any more to follow it.

I swallowed, feeling my eyebrows only barely knit together in slight confusion. "That was what you didn't want me to ...?" I asked, each word its own entity, spilling jaggedly from me with little help from my brain.

He didn't answer. He'd regained control of the link, though just by a slight margin. There was a shield in place, as before, that I couldn't get completely through, but it seemed thinner now, almost translucent. And though there was no direct response to my haphazardly phrased question, I could sense a shimmer of affirmative just beyond that shield.

"But I --" I began, the words coming from me in much the same manner as before. "I --"

Silence dominated the room as I tried desperately to collect my thoughts before the link grew any more opaque to me.

Thunder crashed again outside and it brought me from my perplexed reverie, what I wanted to say falling neatly into place. "You know how I feel," I explained softly. "Why would you want to --"

*Because it isn't right.*

"What?" I asked, shaking my head at the floor, then looking back up to him again. He stared blankly at an invisible spot right across from him. "What do you mean, it isn't right? If we both ... then why

...?"

*I'm not going to hurt you,* he insisted, turning his head towards me. For a second his eyes grabbed mine and held them tight in the darkness. For a second -- then he broke the eye contact, preferring to stare at that spot again.

"No," I agreed, though with different intent, "you're not going to hurt me. We've been ... " I sighed. "We've been over this before."

*Why would you even want --*

"Because." I didn't want to even listen to that stupid question again. "Because I do."

A delicate rhythm began to tap on the roof in the long silence that lingered following my affirmation. The chill ran along my arms again and down my spine -- not an after-effect of power, now, but a response to the coldness of the room. I wasn't about to hide beneath a mountain of blankets, though -- I wanted to be able to see Jono. The patterns of rain overhead pounded louder. The faint crystalline images

between us intensified, unprecedented, and I felt the energy that made up the link flow strongly around and through me, sharpening all my senses and increasing my awareness of Jono. His emotions and sensations were clear to me now. I felt my eyes widen in surprise, my lips curling into a soft smile. He'd opened my end of the link, lifting the shield he'd placed around himself. "Oh ... " I breathed. "Thank you!"

But words were unnecessary; he already knew of my gratitude even without me thanking him. "I -- I -- " I couldn't believe it. And yet I did -- I embraced each sensation so completely, relishing each offered moment. My surprise clouded any fear Alison might still be giving off; these emotions of mind echoed through Jono and back to me in a dizzying loop. My head spun, not with illness or overload, but with unadulterated joy I thought perhaps it would bring tears to my eyes.

I looked up at him again.

*Jen -- *

"I feel you," I whispered. "Again. I -- " I wanted to reach out to him -- closer -- but someone was approaching. I couldn't tell who -- I turned to see who it was, waiting.

A dark, feminine figure came into view. A flash of lightning lit her form eerily, showing for a second that it was quite obviously Monet. Without a word, she placed herself on the couch and pulled one of the blankets over her knees. What was she doing down here?

*Eh I don't mean to pry,* Jono began, *but what are you doing down here?*

"I heard the air raid siren, so I came downstairs," she explained smoothly. Beneath her calm exterior, though, she exuded a quiet ~fear~ that betrayed her words. She was as scared of the storm as Alison was. I tried to shield myself from her emotion, in case it gave me another unexpected power boost. But I was getting tired. And cold. I truly didn't appreciate that Monet had usurped my blanket, but there wasn't anything I could do about it now. I just wished she'd go away, but she wasn't moving -- just sitting there looking placid while turmoil raged in her emotions.

I wondered if maybe she was doing that Monet-zoning-out-thing again. Probably not; her aura remained a uniform shade of violet, and whenever she'd zoned in the past, she'd always evidenced that weird double aura. Either way, it didn't matter.

I could feel my eyelids falling closed, though my mind had not yet reached that foggy point where I might naturally fall asleep.

If only Monet hadn't come down! Then I might not feel so weird.

(*Weird how?*) Jono inquired through the link.

/I don't know,/ I answered. /Just just weird. Like -- /

(*Like you don't belong?*)

Of course he knew exactly what I meant. /Yeah./

(*It's only Monet.*)

Well yeah. It wasn't like it had been Paige, or even Emma. But it was still someone else, and another person in the room so soon after such a revelation made any after-effects rather anticlimactic.

Lightning struck dangerously close outside. I didn't want to be near the window. I didn't want to be near Monet or Alison, either, but I felt obligated to be near them because they were so scared, almost like my presence might comfort them in the same way that Jono's presence comforted me.

"It is dark in here," Monet commented flatly, then looked to Jono as though he might be able to fix that problem.

Of course he could fix it, but he wasn't about to sit there like a tiki torch and illuminate the room for us.

"I um, could get some candles," I suggested. It provided a wonderful opportunity to get away from the terror that raged outside -- as well as from Monet.

"An excellent suggestion," she commended.

*There's some in the basement,* Jono volunteered. *I'll I'll show you where they are.* He stood.

Monet looked from Jono to me and then back to Jono, an indeterminate expression on her face. Her emotions were so cloaked with fear and confusion that they, too, proved illegible.

"Are you going to be okay?" I asked. I still hated to leave her alone. It seemed that she was still a child in so many ways, despite her imperious and arrogant attitude.

"I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself," she replied, straightening her posture even more.

I nodded and stood, heading for the door. Jono followed. It was so unusual -- though the link had been in place, I'd never actually been able to sense his location so strongly. It was like some sort of weird pulling -- like a psionic compass needle in my head always directed towards him. The sensation was fairly unsettling, but I wasn't too worried.

*You're just now noticing that?* he asked from behind me. He'd been able to sense my location all along, I realised.

"Well, so strongly," I explained. The hallway was too dark "Um the candles?"

*Right. The candles. They're *

"In the basement," I finished. At least that's what he'd said.

It was even darker in the basement than it was upstairs -- I hadn't thought such a thing was even possible, but obviously it was. My own aura, now blue, danced in front of my eyes, further impairing my vision.

I reached for the railing only to find that it didn't exist. Expecting solid stair beneath my feet, I lost my balance, but regained it shortly after catching myself against the wall.

*Careful,* came Jono's one-word warning. Wordlessly, he lifted just a bit of the bandages that covered his face, letting out just enough light that I might see where I was going.

"Thanks," I replied, feeling stupid for tripping over my own feet.

I followed him to a cabinet against the far wall. Jono opened one of the doors, sure he'd seen the candles in there some time ago. Feeling only slightly helpless just standing by and watching, I concentrated on ~candles~ and eventually got a reading from the cabinet just above Jono's bent head. I reached over and grabbed the box from the cabinet and turned towards the door to leave.

No. This whole endeavour, getting candles, was too easily accomplished. I didn't have to leave right away if I didn't want to. Monet was upstairs, and in her presence, I would not be able to --

What was it that I wanted to do?

I didn't know. I wanted to stay here with Jono. I wanted to leave, because I was so scared to actually be down here; I didn't know what the next step was. I didn't want to admit that I didn't know. Jono surely knew. Of course he knew. But as scared as I was, I didn't want to leave. All these things were becoming so much more apparent to me -- and quite possibly to him, too. But I knew I wasn't going to admit to these emotions, not verbally, and even though the link was a perfectly viable form of communication, doubts remained.

Could we even pursue this? Would it work as a relationship, or was it best to keep this in the back corners of our minds?

I knew Jono's emotions were real, but now, only moments later, he was perfectly willing to close them off from me again. What was I doing that was so wrong?

~need~

I risked bringing my eyes to his as he turned from the cabinet -- and I fell in. ~pain~loss~fear~ I wanted to abolish all those negative emotions; I wanted to cure his pain -- I wanted to take him in my arms and never let go.

I couldn't. I didn't want to do anything wrong. Everything had finally begun going right, and any step I took to further this relationship could easily completely mess it up.

And yet, if I didn't do anything at all, it would never happen, because he certainly wouldn't take the initiative.

I still wanted to hold him.

"We should, um, bring these upstairs," I suggested. I held up the box of candles to indicate what I was talking about, but my feet still would not move.

After a moment of helpless indecision -- should I take the risk of thoroughly ruining this? -- I finally realised that bringing the candles upstairs, as I'd suggested, required at least some movement on my behalf, and I commanded my feet to take me up the stairs. The hand that didn't clutch the box of candles pushed against the side of the wall for support, since there was no railing.

Jono had cleverly manoeuvred around me to block the doorway at the top of the stairs.

"What?" I asked impatiently. I didn't want to prolong this for fear I'd do something rash and wrong.

Emotions flashed across the link too quickly for me to pick up and pick out what they were and categorise them before Jono finally replied with a short, *Nothing,* which I knew wasn't nothing at all, but I was reluctant to press the issue.

I didn't say any more as I passed by him and pushed open the door. I headed straight for the common room, where Monet was staring vapidly at two candlesticks she'd set up on the table before her. A book of matches rested beside the candlesticks, and a pile of blankets was balled up on the couch; I assumed Alison was buried somewhere within. And the siren had quieted.

Fortunately, Monet was not completely zoned; she looked up as I entered the room and sat on the couch. I opened the box of candles and set them in the holders, lighting them as soon as I was certain they were straight. The last thing I needed was to burn down the dorm, especially not after the whole thing with the bathroom. Frost was mad enough at me as it was without another disaster to blame on me.

I sighed and sat back from the candles, watching the flames dance on the burning wicks.

Alison mumbled something beneath her blankets.

"What?" I asked.

She threw the blankets off and sat up. "I said," she enunciated, "this is not the safest part of the house."

"That is correct," Monet corroborated. "The windows in this room provide a particular hazard. However, the likelihood that we will actually be struck by this purported tornado is non-existent. Because of this, it is of no real importance that we find this 'safest corner' -- we shall be just as safe here as there. It is, after all, only a thunderstorm."

Alison's eyes were so wide I thought they would engulf her head entirely. "Only a thunderstorm? What about the tornado warning, huh? My weather radio said -- "

"Your weather radio is wrong," Monet interrupted.

Any conversation to follow would certainly not be healthy, and I wanted to avoid it. Obviously, I couldn't, and Alison began to list the features that gave her weather radio its high quality.

Monet finally conceded with a refusal to resort to such childish behaviour when the door to the room opened to reveal a dripping wet Jubilation Lee. She displayed mild ~surprise~ at our minor congregation, and lingered in the doorway.

"Why are you wet?" I asked.

Jono emitted some sort of muted concern in my direction, but I couldn't place the reason for his emotion, so ignored it.

"It's raining," Jubilee answered. "It's no so bad. I mean, it's not like it's cold or anything." Slightly perplexed, she searched the room for something to dry herself off with.

"Are you out of your mind?" Alison demanded. "There's a tornado out there!"

Jubilee regarded her as she might regard someone who had just informed her that a busload of random purple goldfish was dancing the macarena out there. "Uh, whatever," she commented. "I'm going to the kitchen for a towel, then I'm gonna get some dry clothes on. Anyone need anything?" She looked around at each of us for any possible requests, then left the room, trailing wet footprints behind her.

After watching her leave, Alison threw the blankets back over her head and Monet resumed staring at the candles. I sighed. This was all quite hopeless. Excluding the quiet concern, even Jono seemed bored.

I wanted to be closer to him, physically closer, but I knew he would never let me that near.

Never was such a long time. Didn't even a possibility exist?

Well, yes. The chances were slim, true, but still there. And I couldn't deny all I'd seen through that brief power surge. I still couldn't help feeling that that was something I shouldn't have seen.

Still, I had seen it!

Why wouldn't either of us simply take the initiative? Was I that scared? Was he?

What were we so scared of?

I didn't get it.

I shook my head and stood up, walking into the kitchen adjacent to the room we took refuge in. Jubilee was still in there, drying her hair with a kitchen towel. She threw it on the counter and noticed me in the doorway. "Hey," she said.

"Hey," I responded automatically, and went to the refrigerator for something.

"You okay?" she asked.

The fridge was dark inside. I hoped the food wouldn't go bad. "Dark," I muttered. And it seemed that word fit for so much -- not just the condition of the room, but also inside me.

Nothing inside the fridge looked any good.

"Jen, hey, what's up?" Jubilee asked with apparent concern.

"It's dark," I repeated. "And so am I."

"Um, close the fridge," she suggested, "or the cold air'll all come out, 'cause the power's out and stuff."

I pushed the heavy door closed and stood with my back against it. Jubilee's dark eye makeup had smeared overnight, leaving dark grey patches around her eyes, streaked where the rain had fallen. Her hair was not looking well, either, wet and mussed by the towel that had not been entirely effective in drying it. "It's the same stuff, right?" she asked. "The whole Jono thing?"

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the floor. I felt so weird talking about it with other people -- it was such a personal part of my life. At least Jubilee didn't know that we were linked.

"This is gonna, like, totally eat you if you don't just let it out."

"I know!" That was the problem. I couldn't "let it out" because it already was out, and I knew how he felt, too. I just didn't understand why nothing came of it -- why we were at this terrible stalemate, and nothing grew or changed. I hated these circles we kept running around in.

"So just tell him. I mean, you guys are friends, so it's not like you're totally terrified of him or nothin'. And for Jono, I mean, that's like a plus. And -- "

"But," I interrupted, "that isn't the problem."

Jubilee gave me a sceptical look, her eyes narrowing and an eyebrow arching clear to her scalp beneath her disarrayed bangs. "Then what is the problem?"

How could I possibly tell her when there was so much more to the story? I searched for the best words to use without needing to explain everything else to her. "I feel like it isn't going to work. Like I've come so far -- yeah, I've already told him, well, he knows -- and I'm not sure where to go next."

Jubilee bit her lip and hummed pensively. "You're making such a huge deal out of this," she finally decided. "Just let it happen."

I knew she wasn't quite sure what to do with me, so resorted to offering overused advice likely gleaned from teen magazines. Oddly enough, she was right. I couldn't force this.

"Look, I'm, like, still dripping all over the place. I'm gonna change and go to sleep. You should, too. It's like so late."

"Yeah. Bye." I watched her retreating form and then turned back to the refrigerator. There still wasn't anything in there; time would not change its contents.

I wasn't tired. I couldn't sleep during a thunderstorm. But the weather seemed to be waning, so perhaps sleep might come. The window displayed a light rain; the lightning had abated and I heard no thunder.

When, I wondered, had Jubilee become so sage? And when had she and I ever grown so close that I could come to her for advice -- or even a kind ear to listen such as she'd offered?

But friendship wasn't forced with contracts anymore. It just happened. And that, I figured, was Jubilee's point -- it was the exact same way with relationships.

A light knock sounded on the kitchen door before it opened slightly. *Jen? Can I -- can you talk for a moment?*

I swallowed the something that rose in my throat and commanded it to stay down. I just had to be calm -- natural -- me. Nothing would work if I were phoney plastic, especially not when individuality was a quality I prized highly. "Yeah," I answered, allowing a nervous smile to creep across my face and shakily disappear.

*I know you're worried,* Jono explained. *But there's there's really no need to be.*

I bit my lower lip and looked at the countertop. "I just don't want to mess this up." As soon as the words left my lips, though, I realised what I'd said -- and then, immediately thereafter, realised it didn't matter if I actually said that because he knew anyway. This was so confusing; it was starting to make my head hurt, as if the late hour wasn't enough.

*You're not going to mess this up. You can't.*

What on earth was he talking about? Of course I could mess it up! There were a hundred ways I could ruin this before it even started.

*My opinion of you isn't going to change. It can't change. If anyone's messing this up, it's me.*

"What?" I wondered if it was his intention to be purposefully confusing, or if it was just a side effect of misplaced words. I should have known what he'd meant. "You know what you're doing. I don't."

*Not hardly,* Jono admitted, to my surprise. *You have a handle on your emotions.*

No, I didn't!

"But you've been in this situation before," I tried to explain, certain my words were falling short of what I really wanted to say.

*It's not the same,* he responded quickly. (*It's intimidating with someone in my head. I don't know if this is actually mine or if it's just something you're feeding me through this bloody link. I never asked to be linked. I don't know if you'll start something else I don't want. I don't know exactly what you're capable of. I don't know if you're just leading me with your own emotions. I almost feel obligated to this, and I don't want to be forced into anything.*)

"No," I agreed quietly, "it isn't." All his worries were the same as my own. Maybe not exactly the same, maybe not a direct mirror image, but they were close enough for me to understand where this was going. Our shared fear was what produced this stalemate, and even though we were both aware of them, we weren't willing to overcome them and move forward. "But Jono," I insisted, "I'm sorry if I'm making you feel that way. But I don't mean to. I don't want to force you into anything. It's entirely your decision if you want to pursue this. I do. You don't have to if you don't want to."

I knew full well that he wanted to, and even if I knew he didn't want to, I still would have given him the same option.

*I want to. You know that. You saw that much.*

There were no words that could adequately fill the terrible silence that hung over the kitchen. I wanted to hold him close I finally filled the space with a barely audible, "Thank you."

~open~

Open?

Open. I crossed the room and allowed my arms to encircle his bandaged neck and finally hold him tightly -- not for comfort within tears, and not for a shoulder to lean on. Now it was because I really wanted this physical contact, this affection, and this real emotion. And I had it. I felt so incredibly, undeniably lucky. So honestly happy. This was too strangely perfect -- things didn't work out this way.

But they just had.

I didn't want to let go. I held him tighter and I could feel his arms reciprocating that same action, holding me, and I couldn't believe this was actually happening.

Did this come from heeding Jubilee's advice?

No. It came from me. From honesty. From -- from everything leading up to this point, and everything that came afterwards.

What came afterwards?

No -- now wasn't the time to worry about that. Just worry about here and now.

I could have stayed in his arms all night, but I could feel Jono reluctantly letting go. *It's getting late,* he told me. *You should get some sleep.*

I laughed softly, finally removing my arms from his neck. "That's the second time I've head that tonight," I told him.

*Maybe you should,* he suggested.

I nodded. "Yeah," I said. "I'll I'll see you tomorrow," I said quietly. Somehow that wasn't exactly what I'd wanted to say, but it sufficed.

*Tomorrow,* Jono agreed. *Good night.*

I left the kitchen and went out into the common to retrieve my blanket, but Monet still claimed it as her own. She was, however, asleep, and I couldn't very well take it from her. I let her have it for the night; I'd get it back tomorrow.

I went upstairs and fell asleep almost instantly with great hopes for tomorrow.


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