Running on Empty
Niagara Falls, October 13
I'm doing it. Screw being scared.
Westchester, New York: November 15
"Johnny?" Small fingers closed over his bare shoulder and shook firmly. St. John Allerdyce knew that voice, knew that shake, and knew she wouldn't survive the night at this rate.
St. John considered three things as he lay there in his warm, comfortable bed against the cool body of his lover--the first, quite obviously, was exactly how he was going to kill Jubilee. The second was where to hide her body. The third, and perhaps most important, was what his alibi would be. Got all three. Good. Cracking open one eyelid, he caught the fluorescent face of the digital clock beside his bed and groaned.
Alibi--he was sleeping in his bed, like anyone with sense. Barbecue the girl.
"Johnny, wake up, babe. Gotta ask a favor."
It was three fucking AM. No way in hell.
"Jubes--" he whispered, kicking at Bobby until the younger boy's arm moved from its position locked across his chest as Bobby rolled on his back, letting out a half-hitched, wet snore near his ear. Johnny rubbed idly at the spot. "You--"
Are going to die now. It was three in the morning. No human on earth could be faulted if they strangled or broiled any idiot who dared wake them up that early.
"Johnny, it's important."
Opening his eyes completely, caught by the strange quality in her voice, St. John raised himself on one elbow and looked down at her kneeling beside his bed. The big brown eyes looked swollen and bloodshot--she hadn't been sleeping, that was for certain. Dark circles had made deep indents beneath, but it'd been that way for awhile. Come to think of it, several weeks.
Why hadn't he noticed that before, anyway? Sitting up completely, St. John checked to see if Bobby was still fully unconscious, then turned to look at her again.
"Jubes? What's the problem?"
The soft lips pulled tense briefly.
"I need you to cover for me tomorrow--I need to go somewhere."
"Go somewhere?" he echoed, and she clambered to her feet awkwardly. Fully dressed, no less, her yellow jacket replaced with something in dark grey and much heavier, thick leather gloves on her hands. Clutched between her fingers was a hat, and she wore a sturdy pair of boots.
This didn't bode well. She was dressed to blend into scenery, and frankly, that simply wasn't Jubilation Lee by a long shot.
"Yeah." She sniffed a little, and St. John raised a hand, letting a fire start in the middle of his palm, and that's when he saw the traces of tears and the red rimming her eyes. Whoa doggies. Kicking the blankets aside, fully awake, St. John got out of bed, absently tucking Bobby back beneath the covers, before reaching out and tilting her head up to look fully into her eyes.
"What's going on?"
She hesitated, and St. John frowned, glancing around the room, before leading her to his and Bobby's unused other bed. Pushing her down, he gathered his scattered wits and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
She took a breath, then let it out.
"I'm gonna check on Rogue, amigo."
St. John blinked, trying to think through that, then caught a breath.
"You haven't gotten a letter yet?"
Everyone was used to the Rogue Updates, their random Sunday afternoons together, in which Jubilee shared select portions of Rogue's letters to her with Rogue's closest friends. It was always entertaining reading, and St. John had just begun to wonder if Jubes was for some reason hiding letters back recently. This was weird--in fact, the last time Rogue had gone so long without writing, Jubilee had looked a lot like this.
"Jubes, what's going on?"
"I don't know," she answered slowly, crushing her hat in her hand. "Look, can you do it or not?"
"Where are you going?"
"Niagara Falls, the motel she wrote that last letter from. The one after the one Amy brought. I--I expected something, you know? Either Logan saw reason or--didn't. But either way, she would've contacted me by now--unless something went wrong."
"What could go wrong?" Jubilee hesitated again, and he could almost read the calculations going on behind her eyes. "Jubes." The brown eyes skipped to his, the worry plain in them no matter how much she tried to hide it. "Jubes, what do you mean, something went wrong? What could go wrong exactly?"
He watched her lean back on one arm, obviously thinking something through, and this couldn't be at all good. Not at all.
"Johnny, you trust me, right?"
"Yes." No question of that--they'd been friends since they'd both arrived, only days apart. The simple, utterly inexplicable knowledge that they'd never be young enough to call kids again had bound them in ways that persisted to this day. Not like Bobby, who had most of his adolescence spent here, happy and protected and cherished, or Kitty, whose parents sent her hear to train, not to disappear. Jubilee had been on the street for almost two years before she was found by Miss Munroe; St. John had rescued from a hellhole in Santa Fe.
"Then trust me in this. Something's wrong, and I have to go see if I can find out what. Look, there's--a lot you don't know. About what happened to Rogue."
Well, yeah, Jubilee had skipped pieces of the letters, and that one from Amy hadn't even been discussed. He'd figured as much. The 'what' however, was what was suddenly taking up significance. St. John blinked, letting his mind run through the possibilities.
"She got into something."
"And I'm betting anything it had something to do with that Specter guy, right?"
A hesitation, then she nodded again.
"So you're driving to Niagara Falls and seeing if a trail that's six weeks old is going to yield you some answers. Instead of asking the Prof."
"I talked to the Prof--he's not worried. Says Logan goes months without contact, so no biggie, and he says Rogue was definitely with him around the time I got her last letter. At another motel at the Falls. Anyway, Rogue managed an eight month old cold trail and got through it."
Yes, but Rogue had the memories of Logan, who was, for all intents and purposes, an excellent tracker in every sense of the word, not to mention her ability to anticipate him using those said memories. The Professor comment, though, made him curious.
"So if the Prof--I mean, wouldn't he know--"
"Not unless he thought something was wrong. And he doesn't."
"But you do." It wasn't a question. Jubilee nodded.
"Yeah. Call it woman's intuition, boyo, but that's it. I know something's wrong, and I gotta find out what."
St. John drew in a breath, absently raising a hand to rub at his temples.
"Does the Prof know everything?"
Longest hesitation yet, and St. John groaned, dropping to the bed beside her.
"Jubes, if it's that serious--"
"It might be, but I think Xavier's too public--he can only make it worse. Look, if I thought it'd help, I would have given him all the damn letters and let him handle it. But I don't think it'll help. It--it won't. If something--if something *is* wrong, and he asks the wrong questions, or the wrong people make the right connections--" Jubilee stopped as if she was confusing herself. She was losing St. John big time. For a moment, she stared at him. "Johnny, please. Do this for me. Just--"
Her face fell, and St. John shook his head, standing up.
Later, he'd have to say it was instinct that made the decision for him, because frankly, going out at three in the damned morning was just the most idiotic thing he'd ever heard of and his bed--and Bobby--called with almost irresistible force. Instinct he trusted--instinct had led him to accepting the Professor's help in Santa Fe, led him here to safety and friendship and security. Instinct had told him to approach Bobby at just the right time.
Instinct was yelling loudly in his ear that something was very wrong, and he'd felt it only once before with Rogue, during those tense weeks in late spring when Jubilee had seemed like she'd been on a different planet entirely and inexplicably sold off most of her jewelry at the pawn shop, the money for it disappearing from sight. Kitty had worried it was drugs.
For some reason, that thought had never crossed his mind. But Rogue had.
"I'm going with you. Let me get dressed."
It was cute, the way her mouth gaped open, but St. John didn't waste time enjoying the expression, going to the closet and pulling a heavy sweater off the hanger. A little bit longer to grab a turtleneck from his drawer and some jeans and thermals, before ducking into the top drawer for socks. Stripping out of the t-shirt, he dressed quickly, keeping his eyes on Jubilee.
"You can't drive for shit and your have no sense of direction. We'll run up there, check it out, and see what's what. Two of us looking'll go faster, and we'll be back before anyone really wanders where we've gone."
"St. John, I'm the reformed thief."
"Yes, but you're also a lousy driver. Let me get my boots." Boots, boots, boots--under the bed. Got it. St. John dragged them out and pulled them on with a muffled curse, then stomped his feet. Jubilee winced and looked pointedly at the bed, where Bobby slumbered on, unconscious to all but his dreams. Maybe he was dreaming of St. John. What a nice thought, and almost enough to send him jumping for the bed again. Damn. "Bobby could sleep through a war. Let me get my keys and write a note to Bobby. Grab my jacket out of the closet, would ya?" With that, he went back to his dresser, finding his wallet and keys and tucking them in his jeans, before going to the desk and opening the top drawer. Very Bobby, paper right on top. Grabbing a pen, he sketched down a brief note to Bobby and then turned around as Jubilee gave him his jacket.
"Johnny--" She stopped, her voice husky. "Thanks."
"Yeah, whatever. Let's go. Faster we get outta here, faster we get back and report, okay?" Seeing her mulish expression, he grinned. "Don't worry so much, chica. Come on, let's get outta here."
St. John knew he should have stayed in bed. His bed, that is. Not this one that was trying to collapse on top of him. Keeping a hand on the broken slat, he kicked his foot, hoping that even if his voice was muffled through the mattress currently hovering inches above his mouth, there was an off-chance that the rhythmic thumping would bring Jubilee in to investigate.
Hopefully. He didn't like the way the other slats seemed to be creaking encouragingly. He was strong, but this was two king-sized mattresses.
"Johnny? Oh babe, I'm sorry." Her footsteps crossed the room and the jean-clad legs knelt beside him before a small face ducked to peer in at him curiously. "What happened?"
"The bed is attacking me."
"Huh. Slat broke?"
"Something like that. You mind helping me before I blow this thing to ash?"
He thought she laughed, and again wondered why he hadn't saved himself some stress and killed her already. Small hands slid underneath, and she braced the slat as he scooted out, the yellowy carpet burning against his back. Once out, he glanced back just in time to watch Jubilee drop it, and the foot of the mattress sank alarmingly toward the floor with a sad little muted thud.
Well. There went the security deposit. Shit. He didn't have that much cash.
"Can we both agree Rogue has shit taste in motels?" St. John asked, and Jubilee smiled a little, but her eyes didn't reflect it. Standing up, she wiped her gloves on her thighs idly before turning around to survey the room. The desk had been ransacked, the bed stripped of comforter, sheet, and bottom, the pillows practically opened to explore the stuffing, and St. John could verify he'd crawled every inch of the floor personally. "Jubes, there's nothing here."
With a swirl of her coat, she pulled out the desk chair and dropped into it, studying the room again, as if there could possibly be something they missed. Frankly, there wasn't much here. A bed, a dresser, a desk, and a television. This wasn't the Hilton.
"Jubes, she only stopped here before going to see Logan. She wasn't here long."
She nodded, blowing out a breath in frustration.
"That's the thing. She didn't say where he was staying and neither did the Prof. Niagara is it. This whole area. Shit knows how many motels and hotels there are."
Well, yeah. Gingerly, St. John checked the bed for relative stability near the head and then shook his head, instead choosing to lean against the wall.
"We could go ask around," he offered, and Jubilee's gaze swung to him, lips tight.
"Not enough money, Johnny. Managers like to see cold cash before they hand out sensitive information. And anyway--"
Shit, she was negative. Pushing up from the wall, St. John circled the room, then stopped beside her chair, looking down at her.
"You're scared, babe."
She looked up and the fear in her eyes was as naked as he'd ever seen it.
"Something's wrong, Johnny. She woulda written me otherwise. I know her. This was a big thing. A really big thing, you know?" Leaning back into the chair, she braced an elbow on the desk. "She would have written or called or something, I don't care if she's in the middle of a damn sex marathon. She would have called."
He had to agree--Jubes and Rogue were too close for this to be normal, and his back began to itch lightly.
"Logically, she would have chosen a place close to here," St. John finally answered, running his hand through his hair as he tried to think it through. Shit, he didn't know Rogue well enough to anticipate her, but Jubilee did. Surely she could try and think like the girl.
"True." Worrying at a thumbnail, the brown eyes came up and met his. "Look, I know you think it's silly--"
Not really, not anymore. Looking around the neatly ransacked room, he frowned, then turned to see Jubilee following his gaze with a puzzled expression.
"Did you notice how clean it was in here?" he asked slowly, and Jubilee slowly stood up, brown eyes narrowing a little. Dropping to her knees, she surveyed the carpet carefully, then raised herself up and sat back on her heels, looking around the room again.
"Really clean. You know, most motels of this class aren't that freaky about cleaning. But--it's been four weeks."
Yeah, four weeks. St. John slowly turned in a circle as Jubilee pushed herself to her feet, going back into the bathroom and stopped, hand on the lock, staring down at it as if she'd never seen it before.
"Johnny," she said, and he followed her gaze. New doorknob, new lock. That was---
"Yeah," he answered, going to the front door and pulling it open to study both sides of the doorknob there. Walking out on the tiny concrete sidewalk, he took a breath at the cold against his jacketless body before walking down to the next door. Old doorknob. Very old. Perhaps from the last century or something, and coming back to their door, he studied it. Much newer--perhaps only a few weeks old.
Going back inside, Jubilee was on her knees now, checking the tub and the toilet, before she got to her feet. As she came back out, St. John watched her remove the latex gloves she'd been wearing and wished he'd thought of that.
"Like surgery, baby."
Every instinct in St. John's body was suddenly very awake.
"So someone was here before us."
"She got to Logan, the Prof said, so it had to be after she left. Probably a couple of days--this place doesn't look like it gets that much traffic, and late fall isn't exactly prime time anyway." Pausing, she stuffed the gloves in her jacket before pulling it on, tossing him his from the remains of the bed. "Logan likes these seedy places 'cause people don't notice stuff, and she'd try to stay near him while she made her decision."
"Maybe close enough to watch, in case he took off," Johnny offered, and they both went to the door, looking out at the motel across the street. "How much cash do you have?"
"Fifty and my credit cards," she answered, and he watched the brown eyes narrow just a little. "You?"
"A hundred and my cards." He paused. "Let's not go higher than fifty."
The manager turned out to be much more accommodating than either of them had really expected. But then, pretty green dollars dropped on the desk helped, and St. John broke his own rule and jumped it to seventy-five to see the bill records which, miraculously, the man actually had. Taking the specific records with him, he followed Jubilee and the keys to the far room--what he definitely should have expected, with Logan's reputation. Last room, good access to the street, lots of ways to hide and escape if necessary.
He and Jubilee had been trained by Logan, after all. They figured, between them, they could figure out his patterns.
"Three days," he said, flipping through the notebook. "They were here for three days. According to this, the room was rented twice after, once for a week, and once for one day."
St. John flipped the pages.
"The single day was early November, and then all of last week by a couple." He flipped it back down. "Paid in cash, of course, Logan using Laughlin again when he and Rogue were here. The manager said he didn't have any visitors." He slanted a glance at Jubilee, who shrugged.
"She was under Elizabeth Andrews again with the room across the street, so she was still moving secretly. If she didn't want the manager to know she was there, he wouldn't."
Jubilee took out her gloves as soon as they were out of sight of the manager's office and switched wool for latex, stuffing her hands together to keep them warm as they approached the door. Brand new doorknob--manager hadn't mentioned trouble.
St. John snorted. Probably needed another few hundred to get that. Shit.
"Jubes," he said, motioning to the doorknob. Jubilee nodded and took out the key, pushing it in, and they entered into a room that it was definite that Logan had stayed in.
"Patched walls," Jubilee said softly, turning in a slow circle, eyes wide. St. John nodded, trying to catch his breath. There was a good chance the normal traveler would never notice--textured walls tended to draw attention away from imperfections of the surface area below the texture. However, training was training--St. John drew a gloved hand down the echo of lines, four feet long, that ran diagonal across the wall, ending at the edge of the window.
"New glass," she said softly, running her fingers over the window lightly. "Shit, Johnny. I'll search the desk. See if there's anyplace else that has signs of a struggle."
If he'd been itching in Rogue's motel room, this room was that times five. Above the bed were what looked like patched holes--small, faintly round, roughly as if three slightly cylindrical objects had been thrust inside. Twitching a little, he drew his hand back and jumped lightly off the mattress--which seemed somewhat stronger than the one in Rogue's room--and dropped to check under the bed.
"We're not going to find anything, Jubes." He could smell the faintest remains of detergent on the floor. "They were here, and I'll bet by this crap they left in a shit of a hurry. You know what kind of car Rogue rented?"
"Yeah," Jubilee answered as she walked into the bathroom. "She used Janet Reed to rent it, and I'm contact for that name."
St. John turned, blinking. Okay, that was new.
Jubilee shrugged as she thoroughly checked the bathroom, then came out, looking at the brand new doorknob with a frown, before the brown eyes fixed on him again.
"I--er, got creative while looking for her. After Harlingen, I figured she'd switch off her aliases more." She must have seen his blank expression and her lips parted in a little grin "Before she left, she left me a list of her aliases, in case something came up, same as the Prof had. I checked under them all and Janet Reed came up positive in Winnipeg for renting a Geo."
"You'd think by now Scott would have taught her the value of decent cars."