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Chapter Text

A tear is only water
A sigh is only air
Whenever you feel haunted
The truth lies out there
~Sleepwalker's Dream; Delain

"Life is good, huh, bro?"

Bones Justice couldn't disagree. It'd been less than a month since his team won the cup, but the changes to their lives had been instantaneous. The past few weeks had been a whirlwind of interviews, endorsements and other money-making deals, and while Bones didn't participate in this sort of thing as much as his teammates did, he was letting them enjoy everything to the fullest. They deserved it.

And he, for the most part, was simply relieved the unsolved mystery that had haunted him for the last ten years of his life was finally over. A new chapter of his life had just begun, and not just because of the championship. He hadn't told anyone, not even his best friend, that he was now in a relationship. And he didn't intend to, at least not yet. It was still too new, too unknown to him. He wanted to get a better handle on his own feelings, on where this choice was taking him.

For a long time before her admission, Bones began to suspect Sherry's true feelings for him, but he had chosen not to say anything, and not just because he wasn't sure he could return those feelings. Up till now, he knew he would have been too distracted by everything else in his life--keeping his team alive and on top, not to mention his search for his father--to be able to attempt this, but all that was over now, and Prigg, miserably bent out of shape over the loss, hadn't been seen or heard from in weeks. Which meant they could all breathe a little easier...for now.

As for his best friend...Razor looked like he was in a particularly good mood tonight as they walked the short distance from the parking garage to the apartment they now shared. Renting the apartment had been Razor's first post-championship splurge and he all but begged him to be his 'roomie', and Bones, amused by his childish enthusiasm, hadn't been able to say no.

"Hey, did you hear?" Razor asked as he pulled out his shiny new key to the front door. "Darkstar just signed a movie deal. Now, if you ask me, his face is more appropriate for radio, but…"

Bones smiled patiently. "I heard."

Razor was practically bouncing with excitement as he headed inside and flicked on the living room light, so Bones knew Darkstar's latest career move wasn't the main thing on the young lizoid's mind. Knowing he'd spit it out eventually, he waited while Razor kicked off his sneakers and dropped back onto the couch.

"And guess who signed on for the soundtrack," he went on, his grin both excited and sly.

"I give up," said Bones, though he suddenly had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going.

Razor continued to grin at him as he kicked his feet up onto the coffee table and draped his arms across the back of the couch. He looked so excited, Bones practically expected him to start squealing like a cheerleader.

"Derikka, bro! The hottie in the flesh herself! Do you think she'll be at the premiere? Maybe she needs a date..."

"The movie hasn't even started filming yet," Bones reminded him, "so the premiere is, what, a year or more away?"

His bubble now popped, Razor deflated considerably. "Bones," he sighed, before grabbing the nearest cushion and hurling it at him. "You're such a buzzkill!"

"Just because she's famous doesn't mean she'll automatically go out with you," Bones pointed out after he dodged the projectile.

"It doesn't mean she won't," Razor countered.

Huffing, he got up and breezed into the kitchen, where he began noisily digging in the fridge. As a non-eater, the kitchen was far from Bones' domain, so he went into the nearby rec room instead. It had everything: a massive TV and stereo, classic arcade games, a pool table and matching poker table. Razor came in a minute later and flopped into one of the lounge chairs, flipping on the stereo as he sipped a drink. A brand of music Bones had not been previously familiar with or interested in filled the room; that of a female pop star.

Razor fell in and out of love in less than an instant, and his current infatuation/obsession started almost immediately after their big win. The entire team had gone onto a late night talk show, then departed en masse for more celebrating, without staying to watch the last musical act. When he tuned in to watch their interview later, Razor's tongue had literally tied itself in a knot when he first beheld what he'd just narrowly missed meeting in person: a leggy, sprightly wisp of a girl, who danced and bounded across the stage in a glistening spandex top and a mini skirt. Razor had been kicking himself over the lost opportunity ever since, and now spent most of his time saturating his life with anything and everything 'Derikka'.

Whether that was her real name or not Bones didn't know or care, but according to the poster that graced the nearby wall, some clever mind at her record company thought it would be a good idea to spell her name 'derikkA'. Beneath the lopsided title was a norm who couldn't look smaller or more fragile if she tried. No doubt to compensate, she was always photographed in spiked heels and short skirts, which made her slender, shapely legs look longer than they were. On the poster she was dressed in a pale pink mini dress with matching heels, and her waist-length black hair was billowing behind her as she tilted her head back to give the camera a coy smile with her full, pouty lips, her vibrant green eyes slanted.

Bones couldn't deny that she was attractive, but...

"She's kind of a child, isn't she?"

Razor gave him a look like he'd grown a second head. "Are you kidding? She's our age, bro. All woman."

"So? She still looks like a child."

Her figure, though slender, was womanly enough, but her face struck him as looking like someone younger than a person in her early twenties. She had a youthful, not quite grown up air about her that no doubt appealed to her young fan base, which was, to the best of his knowledge, mostly comprised of pre-teens. Which made his best friend's interest feel even weirder, but Razor was apparently the sort of guy who forgot girls had faces.

At least her music wasn't completely intolerable. It was perky and upbeat, especially for his tastes, but the lyrics were thoughtful and dealt with issues beyond first dates and prom nights...though he was pretty sure those were mentioned, too. But her voice had a mature, robust sound to it, and he imagined if it was put among more banging drum solos and screeching guitar riffs, it might be something he'd listen to himself. But in its thoroughly bubble gum pop setting, he was getting kind of tired of it.

"I'm going to go play my drums," Bones announced, though he was pretty sure Razor wasn't listening to him.

It was tempting to tell him to get a new hobby, but this too would fall on deaf ears, so he held his tongue--metaphorically speaking, of course. It was also tempting to mention, casually, that he finally had his first real girlfriend. Spoken during one of the rare times where Razor didn't have one...he knew the reaction would be huge. It would make Razor forget about baby-faced pop stars for a couple of minutes, at least.

But the reaction wouldn't be confined to Razor. Once word got out, both Bones and Sherry would be bombarded with prying questions, Sherry in particular. Bones wasn't ready to deal with that, and he didn't want to subject Sherry to the sudden swoop of celebrity gossip columnists hounding her for details, so he held his tongue about that, too.

And speaking of Sherry...he had plans with her in the morning, so after a wall-rattling session with his drums, he headed to bed. As a skeletoid, he didn't get to eat, and he didn't feel life the same way mutants with skin did, so sleep had become one of the simple pleasures he enjoyed the most. Sometimes, though, it got a little weird. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of a dream about his childhood, about playing carefree games with his friends, and think he could still feel shadowy hints of things on the skin that wasn't there anymore, like the warmth of the sun.

But that night he didn't have any dreams he could remember, and in the morning he rose in good spirits. In his room down the hall, Razor was snoring hard enough to rattle the light fixtures, so Bones dressed and left quietly.

Dates with Sherry weren't full-blown dates, at least not in the traditional sense. They didn't head to popular restaurants or explore museums or something, since they were avoiding places where someone was likely to spot them and figure out they were together. For now they were content to travel to private, secluded areas, where they would simply enjoy being together. Most of the time they talked quietly, about themselves, their lives, what they expected and hoped for in the future. It wasn't easy for him to open up so much, and it was proving to be a slow process, but Sherry, knowing better than anyone what he had been through, was infinitely patient with him.

It made him wonder that morning, as they walked through the wooded area they often went to together, where love actually came from. He didn't have a heart any more than he had any other internal organ, but sometimes, like when she took his hand with a soft smile and waited as he struggled to find the right words, he definitely felt something inside him, something warm and comforting. It wasn't something he'd felt before, but he still wasn't sure if what he felt for her was love.

But Sherry, whose years in journalism had given her a keen, perceptive eye, seemed to already know this, and looked content to wait until he knew for sure either way. If she was willing to take that chance on him, he knew he owed it to her to find out, no matter how awkward the journey turned out to be.

Sometimes, it was easier to talk about other people.

"Razor's driving me nuts," he announced abruptly, as they strolled down an overgrown path together.

Sherry let out a laugh. "Of course he is," she said, in her soft accent. "He's your best friend. And you live together, so that door probably swings both ways."

Bones hadn't considered that. He couldn't imagine what he might be doing that would rankle Razor's nerves, but it was something worth investigating--so he could keep doing it. Three weeks of non-stop pop music deserved a little payback.

"But speaking of Darkstar," Sherry began, and Bones couldn't help chuckling at the abrupt change of subject, "the studio he signed with is having a cast party tomorrow night. You want to come?"

She didn't outright say that she was going and she wanted him to go with her, but as she snaked her arm around his and smiled at him, she didn't really need to. Bones felt his own smile fade. "You mean, together?"

"I'm pretty sure the implication was there. I'm not looking forward to the fallout once we go public, but we can't avoid being seen together forever. And most of the time you can string the media along for a month or two while all the gossip rags argue about whether two people are actually dating or not before you finally have to admit it. I figure since everyone else will be there, it isn't likely everyone will automatically assume we're suddenly a couple."

She had a point. They'd gone a little overboard lately, going as far as avoiding being in the same room together when cameras were rolling, even when his teammates were around. At a big party like this, they were pretty safe unless they stayed glued at the hip all night.

After thinking for a minute, he asked, "This isn't black tie, is it?"

Not that he minded dressing up, since stiff fabrics didn't bother him, but his female fan base got even more riled than usual when they saw him in a suit.

"These kind of events are a toss-up, since most actors are pretty eccentric. Some will dress to the nines, others might show up in jeans and t-shirts. So just wear whatever you're comfortable with."

Even so, Razor was probably going to go overboard since he was going to meet at least one beautiful actress before the night was over. He might even rent a tux just for the occasion.

Sherry suddenly rested her head on his arm with a contented sigh, and thoughts of Razor and parties rapidly faded from Bones' mind. After thinking about it for a minute, he slid his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. He wasn't sure just where his choices were going to lead him, but he was more than willing to move forward and find out. His heart, or whatever it was inside him that flowed with feeling, was more open than it had ever been. And facing the future was a welcome thought because he knew he wouldn't be facing it alone.

"A cast party?" Razor repeated. "And you're going? Doesn't sound like your thing, bro."

"I'm not going for me," Bones told him, "I'm going for Darkstar."

"Yeah, I know," Razor quickly added, knowing where this was headed. "Just because it's the off-season doesn't mean we're not still a team, and we should be there for each other. Doesn't mean I have to be interested."

Bones arched a hairless brow. "You mean you're not? A lot of celebrities will be there, you know, including Luna Maxwell."

Razor let himself grin. "I was kidding, Bones. I'll come, if only for the free food."

Truth be told, he was secretly hoping Derikka would show up, even though it was highly unlikely since singing the movie's theme song wasn't the same as being part of the cast. He was curious why they had hired a pop singer to do the theme for a gory, R-rated action flick, though. Maybe she was branching out into a more mature, rock-based vein of music? It was a big departure from her usual style either way and he was curious what kind of song it would end up being.

Razor decided not to mention this to Bones, since he was pretty sure his best friend was more than a little sick of listening to him babble about a girl he'd never even met. He had high hopes for when he finally did, though he wasn’t really sure why. It was just a feeling--a strong one.

He decided not to mention this either since, as was often the case when he had his heart set on a lovely lady, Bones had few words to say about it. Although his silent facial expressions often said plenty all on their own, and he, having known Bones since childhood, could read his subtle-yet-pointed looks better than anyone.

"Tomorrow night, you said?" Razor commented as he went to flip through his collection of Derikka CDs. "Can't wait."

"Just a moment ago you weren't interested," said Bones, with the usual dryness he used when he was simply making an observation. If he had grown suspicious about his true motives, his tone would have borne a hint of amusement. Either that or annoyance, which was more likely than not right now. Bones had been annoyed with him a lot since they became roommates. Razor couldn't blame him; Bones had never been a fan of pop music. To be honest he wasn't either, but something about Derikka's voice allowed him to overlook the relentlessly upbeat perkiness.

"I told you, I was kidding," Razor reminded him wearily. "I can already tell, it's going to be a killer night."

As he spoke, the breezy sound of Derikka's title track from her third album, Instinct, filled the room. And Bones, as he often did when Razor started playing his new favorite artist, wordlessly went to his room and started wailing on his drums. Razor eventually gave up trying to listen over the intense pounding and went out to cruise in his new car instead.

Chapter Text

The cast party was being held in a hotel ballroom the studio was renting, and when he and Sherry arrived together, Bones saw they had nothing to worry about, even if they decided to stay close all night. Members of the press weren't allowed inside without an invitation, and the handful here were busy milling around Darkstar and his new costar, Luna Maxwell. The rest of the cast and crew were dispersed around the room, talking among themselves, and with friends and family.

The other members of their team were already here, and having a good time, from the look of it. Mo and Spew had taken root at the buffet table, and Cannonball was off in a corner talking to a norm with blazing red hair and a tailored suit jacket colored snow white, with a matching skirt that was almost indecently short. Thrasher was here too, sitting on the rim of a giant fountain spouting in the middle of the room. She looked like she was alone as she sipped something from a bottle made from blue glass; her father--their coach--wasn't in sight. Not that Bones expected to see him. Parties weren't exactly Malone's thing.

As Sherry predicted, some of the actors were dressed almost award show ready, while others, mostly members of the crew, were in ratty t-shirts and jeans. A thirty-something norm with shoulder-length hair was wearing a baseball cap and a grubby t-shirt that read Grip. No, not that Grip. He was drinking from a beer can and looked a little tipsy.

Bones had decided to go the semi-casual route: clean jeans, a crisp white shirt and a plain black blazer. Razor, who was following behind him and Sherry, had surprised them both by showing up even more casually in relaxed jeans, an old t-shirt and a worn denim jacket. His dark green skin looked a shade or two lighter than normal, though, like it always did after he spent an extra long time in the shower.

Despite the preening, he looked a little bored as he scanned the room. "Too bad Luna's taken, huh?" Sherry commented slyly.

"Uh-huh," Razor responded, not glancing at the mutant in question.

Luna Maxwell was one of the highest paid mutant actresses in Hollywood, and her credit list ran from romantic-comedies to award winning dramas. Her upcoming flick with Darkstar would be her first venture into action, though from the look of her it wasn't much of a stretch. Like their male counterparts, mutant females were significantly taller than normal women, but Luna was taller still. She was also toned and muscular, and she held herself so straight and with such confidence, she managed not to look dwarfed even while standing next to Darkstar.

Despite her impressive build, Luna exuded an air of grace and refinement, and Bones, having seen one of her interviews, knew she was extremely well-spoken and articulate. She had taken time off work a while back to return to college, where she had garnered at least one degree and learned a number of foreign languages. If that wasn't enough, she was also a knockout, which was no product of a skillful surgeon, since everyone knew that mutants didn't take to plastic surgery. They healed well afterward--a little too well, with the parts they were trying to change stubbornly growing back to the way they were.

A glass of wine in one hand, she wore a subdued smile as she weathered the almost smothering attention currently being showered on her, but the group of journalists were soon escorted from the party. In an act that subtly conveyed her relief, she briefly tossed her head back and shook out her long hair, which was naturally colored a bright, attention-grabbing pink. Her skin was whiter than ivory and as luminous as a pearl, and the impossibly bright blue orbs that were her eyes were the subject of many a young boy's fantasy. Most women, on the other hand, hated her on principle.

Fortunately, Sherry seemed comfortable and secure in the fact that her boyfriend wasn't the type to wander...although she did have a bit of a jealous streak where he was concerned, particularly around Thrasher.

The female athlete in question was the other thing Bones worried about once his and Sherry's relationship went public. The strong-willed mutant had clearly shown interest in him practically from the day she joined the team. And even though she was aware of Sherry's feelings for him, she didn't know that they had progressed to something beyond friendship and continued to flirt with him on a regular basis. He had the unpleasant suspicion she was going to blow her top once she found out.

He was just sneaking a glance to see if she had noticed him yet when Razor suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm so tightly he was glad he didn't have skin or blood anymore. If he did, he'd be bleeding all over the polished marble floor as Razor's sharp nails dug into the bone of his forearm. "I can't believe it," he hissed, his voice low and bursting with excitement. "She's actually here!"

Razor gave his arm such a tug Bones nearly stumbled, and he pulled a face as he followed his friend's gaze into the crowd. His eyes appeared to be glued to a petite young norm, who didn't strike Bones as being anyone special. The daughter of a crew member, maybe?

"So? Who is she?" Bones asked once he'd twisted his arm free.

Razor tore his eyes away long enough to gape at him in shock. "Are you whacked? It's Derikka."

In disbelief, Bones looked again. It sure didn't look like Derikka, whose image he'd been bombarded with all month, but after taking a longer look, he realized that Razor was right.

She looked completely different from the flirtatious creature captured on posters and CD covers. Her signature wavy black hair, always left loose and flowing in promotional images, hung straight and smooth and was clipped back behind her left ear. And instead of heels and a skirt, she was sporting an outfit that looked like it had been snagged from a vintage 80s clothing store: hot pink high tops, high-waisted acid-washed jeans, a lavender crop-top over a pink tank top. Without the spiked heels she was even shorter, but without all the glossy makeup, she looked older than she did on her album covers.

Razor must have memorized her face after all, because there wasn't the faintest trace of pop star Derikka anywhere else. Yet she looked perfectly at ease, clearly giving off the vibe of someone who was comfortable and happy in their own skin.

Sherry, who was watching the two of them, suddenly spoke up. "The director is a guy who tries to reach all possible demographics. He hired her for the soundtrack because he knew it would attract young women, but he decided that wasn't enough and gave her a small role in the film itself."

"How big of a small role?" Razor asked eagerly, clearly oblivious of how this sounded out loud.

"It's called a cameo, Raze," Bones said wearily.

"Well, is it a big cameo?"

"I think you need to look up the definition of cameo."

"Or you could just go ask her yourself," Sherry suggested slyly.

For a moment Razor actually looked nervous at the idea, but he quickly got over it and scurried off into the crowd. If he had lungs, Bones would have breathed a sigh of relief.

"Hopefully he'll get this out of his system soon," Sherry commented.


He looked down at her, and she smiled shyly at him. "We're alone now," she noted softly.


Sherry smiled a moment more, then drooped with a sigh. "Time for me to go wander aimlessly then, and mingle with total strangers. See you later."

As she brushed by him, she paused to give his shoulder a squeeze as she leaned close to him. "By the way," she whispered into his ear canal, "you look gorgeous."

For the second time in the last five minutes, Bones felt glad he didn't have skin. He'd always been bad with compliments and a remark like that would probably make him blush.

He wasn't all that great with parties either, especially when he was left alone. He wasn't much of a conversationalist, so mingling was out, and he couldn't keep himself busy by cruising the buffet table. But hanging out with his fellow Monsters seemed like a good idea about now, so he started across the wide floor--only to stop short as his eye fell on Razor.

More specifically, on the sight Razor made with Derikka. The petite pop singer was five-foot-two if she was an inch, so standing next to Razor's towering six-foot-seven frame like that, it was little exaggeration to say she was eye-level with his naval.

In spite of this, she didn't seem to be at all intimidated. Their conversation was lost in the din of the bustling room, but her laughter rose up above the surrounding chatter, and frequently at that. No doubt Razor was flirting like only he could--shamelessly, recklessly. Derikka didn't look embarrassed, but she didn't look particularly flattered, either. She was amused, at least, and Razor loved making women laugh.

Bones was about to look away and continue on to the buffet table--and then something strange happened. The diminutive singer, hand to her mouth as she laughed again, suddenly spotted him. Her laughter died and her hand fell away as she stared, all trace of mirth vanishing from her face. Bones felt something funny stir inside him; her green eyes were almost blazing with intensity.

Oblivious, Razor continued to talk, gesturing animatedly with his hands. His arm suddenly moved in front of her face, blocking her view; she actually leaned over until she could see him again. Bones didn't know what to make of it. It wasn't at all like the shy-yet-eager stare of a fan, struck speechless at the sudden sight of him, although Derikka did look like she'd forgotten how to talk. It looked like she'd forgotten everything--she actually jumped when Razor put his arm around her and guided her to another part of the room.

The weird moment broken, Bones turned and hurried for the buffet table. Mo and Spew were still there--sipping punch directly from the bowls, to the amusement of the norm onlookers. Cannonball had joined them, and as Bones neared he saw a woman heading in the opposite direction. She looked like the woman in white he'd seen Cannonball talking to earlier, only instead of blazing red, her hair was a cool blond.

"Twins?" Bones wondered as he reached his friends and teammates.

Cannonball looked puzzled. "Twins? Where?"

"Never mind."

Thrasher suddenly joined them, moving close to Bones' side. "Looks like the Kidd is making an idiot of himself," she noted wryly.

"I wouldn't go that far," Bones responded.

A moment later he saw the statuesque mutant heading to the back of the room, trotting behind Derikka as she moved with a surprisingly long, strong stride. The silly mutor couldn't have heeled better if she'd told him to.

"On second thought, forget I said that."

Thrasher nudged him. "You look bored," she observed. "Want to dance?"

"By ourselves?"

Music was playing, but it wasn't exactly a dance tune.

"So? We'll start and they'll join in. Come on, what're you afraid of?"

"Breaking your foot. I haven't danced a step in my life."

"Mo and Spew can rock a mean mosh," Cannonball volunteered.

Bones grinned as the comment caused their pointy ears to prick up. "So they can, but I don't recommend it. They might hurt someone."

Looking disappointed, the troll siblings went back to eating. Thrasher was bristling; patience had never been her strong suit.

"Fine, I'll go find another partner," she threatened.

"Good idea. Where's Malone?"

"He's not here. And what the hell are you suggesting by that, anyway?"

"Nothing," Bones responded, and he hadn't been. "I was just wondering."

Not interested in continuing this conversation, he headed away from the table again. He briefly scanned the room for Sherry, but she was lost in the crowd. Darkstar and Razor, on the other hand, were impossible to lose. Along with Luna, they towered over the mixture of mutant and normal actors clustered around them, talking business with the nearby director. Bones couldn't see her, but he knew that Derikka had to be with them. Razor wouldn't have been there otherwise.

Feeling the need to be alone, really alone, he made his way to the other side of the room, to a set of French doors nestled between gauzy curtains and exotic potted plants. It led out to a small balcony, and into the cool night air, which Bones found refreshing despite not being able to enjoy it in his absent lungs. It helped clear his head, at least. He'd felt oddly distracted ever since the weird stare-down from little miss pop star.

As he was leaning against the railing, gazing out at the lights of the city on the horizon, he heard a soft footstep behind him. He must be even more distracted than he first thought; ordinarily he felt a person coming before he heard them.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you," a quiet voice said.

It wasn't a voice Bones recognized, so he was a little surprised when he turned around and found Derikka's bright green eyes peering up at him. She sounded a lot smaller and quieter in person than he would have imagined someone with such a soaring, robust singing voice to have. But if the shy look on her face was any indication, she wasn't speaking up in normal tones right now.

"I'm in the Mutant League, so I don't disturb easy," he joked.

She was obviously nervous and he was trying to put her at ease, but it didn't seem to work. She didn't look him in the eye as she spoke, instead staring down at her pink high tops. "I'm sorry I followed you out here," she faltered. "I just wanted to--that is I..."

She trailed off and pressed a hand to her forehead, which had puckered as she frowned. "I really don't know what I wanted. I don't even know why I'm bothering you. I just..."

She let out a huff of air, clearly frustrated and impatient with herself as she stumbled over her words. "Never mind," she finally said. "Just forget I was here. I'm so sorry I bothered you."

Before Bones could respond, she had fled. Bones could only assume that her awkward behavior meant that Derikka was a shy fan after all, starstruck despite being a star herself.

Only as he went back inside, he was reminded that this wasn't true at all. Across the room near the bar, Luna and Darkstar were standing alone together, chatting as they sipped drinks. Derikka suddenly appeared and went right up to Luna to shake her hand. Luna looked flattered by whatever Derikka was telling her--that it would be an honor to work with her, Bones assumed--and flashed the famous Maxwell smile, displaying her delicately curved fangs. She then smirked and, her eyes on Darkstar, made a comment Bones couldn't hear.

Whatever it was, it made the massive mutant scowl his harshest, scariest scowl--although Bones knew him well enough to know it wasn't the real, I'm-going-to-rip-you-to-pieces-scowl that he used on the field. It was the mock-scowl he used when he was just kidding around, which was what he and Luna were obviously doing as she laughed jovially.

Only Derikka didn't know him well enough to know his real scowl from his pretend one. In spite of this, she turned and shook his hand too, and Darkstar's fear-inducing expression dissolved into a look of amused surprise. Derikka then slipped off into the crowd and vanished from sight.

A presence neared, and Bones recognized it as Sherry's. "Having fun?" she asked as she came up beside him, her voice both happy and relaxed.

"I'm people-watching," he reported. "It's mind-numbing. I don't appreciate that; my mind is the only organ I have left."

Sherry let out a giggle and leaned on his arm. "You can be so cute sometimes. Have I told you that lately?"

Bones was beginning to suspect that she, too, had been enjoying the wine. "No," he said briskly, "but please don't."

Sherry was quiet for a moment. "We're going to have to tell them eventually, Bones."

"We will," he promised. "Just not tonight."

Sherry breathed a sigh, but she left him alone again. Only he wasn't alone for long; Thrasher swooped in to take her place.

"You two looked awfully cozy there for a second," she noted, her tone accusing.

"We were friends long before I met you, Thrasher. Get over it."

"Well, aren't you a little ray of sunshine," she said dryly.

"I'm having a weird night."

"It's a party."

"Not to me. I think I'll head out early. Catch you later."

Without waiting for a response, Bones turned and headed out of the hotel. He went to where his bike was parked, glad that the three of them had arrived separately. It hadn't surprised him that Sherry had taken her jeep, though Razor telling him to take his bike instead of letting Bones ride in Razor's new car had. Now Bones understood why; he'd been secretly hoping Derikka would be here tonight and didn't want to get stuck with having to take him home.

Bones was used to this sort of thing, since Razor had been abandoning everything from work to friends in order to chase girls since grade school, but sometimes it got on his nerves. It was almost tempting to admit to his relationship with Sherry just so he could run out on him for a change...but that kind of petty, vindictive behavior just wasn't him.

No, after a night like tonight, it was best to thrash pavement for a few hours, then sleep in tomorrow. With that decided, he thumped his helmet on and took off.

Chapter Text

Suddenly finding himself alone and feeling irritated about it, Razor pushed his way through the crowd--though he couldn't push very hard since there were more norms than mutants present. He hadn't seen when or how, but Derikka had slipped away from him and vanished. After a fruitless search around the room, he returned to Luna and Darkstar and asked if they'd seen her. They told him she left.

Just when they were starting to get to know each other? The thought made Razor nervous. He sure hoped he wasn't losing his touch. But as he checked the empty hallways connected to the ballroom, then headed out to the parking lot, his fears continued to mount. It looked like Derikka really had left him, and without even saying goodbye.

And then he spotted a pair of hot pink high tops, moving along the top of the short brick wall surrounding the hotel as their owner expertly balanced along the narrow surface. Relieved, Razor hurried across the lot.

"Aren't you a little old for that?" he teased when he caught up.

Derikka stopped walking and looked over her shoulder with a smile. "I studied gymnastics until I was out of high school."

To prove it, she preformed a smooth back walkover. Razor shamelessly stared at the way her slender body coiled and curved, so flexible her head dipped below the backs of her knees as she drew herself back. He found himself wondering, distantly, what a body like that could do in...other situations.

"Sorry I left so suddenly," Derikka said as she straightened up again. "I just wanted to think."

"About what?" Razor wondered as he moved to match her slow, lazy gate as she started walking again.

Derikka didn't answer right away. Her forehead was lined with thought, her rosy lips turning up in a pout. Those lips, so pink and plump...

Razor absently licked around his mouth with the tip of his long tongue. He'd been fantasizing about those lips for weeks.

"I was just wondering about that mutant I saw behind you," said Derikka, shrugging.


All Razor remembered was her looking at him as she laughed. When did she look behind him?

"The skeletoid," she explained. "I thought maybe you knew him."

There was only one skeletoid around tonight that he knew of. "You mean Bones?"

Wait, she came out here to think about Bones?

"So, you know him?"

Razor stared at her. "Uh, he's our team captain. You know...the number one leader of the number one team, the Midway Monsters? The best team in the Mutant League--and dare I say the world?"

Recognition flickered across Derikka's features. "Oh. That Bones."

"You didn't know that was him?"

"No. I never saw him before. Or you, either. I didn't know who you were until you told me."

Razor continued to stare. "Are you serious? You really didn't know I was..."

It seemed unthinkable. Everybody knew who they were, especially now. Images of him and the rest of the team were all over sports news, magazine stands, TV commercials--everywhere.

Derikka bit her lip. In spite of his stunned puzzlement, it was all he could do to keep from reaching up to help her.

"I know that must sound pretty stupid, but...I've never followed sports--any kind of sport. Mostly because of my mother; she hates sports with a passion. That's kind of how I ended up in gymnastics. When I was four I told her I wanted to play baseball, and she told me there were far more constructive physical activities I could get into. Next thing I knew, I was enrolled in a tumbling class."

She giggled softly at the memory. Razor reached up to take her hand; she stopped walking and smiled shyly at him.

" really didn't know who I was?"

She shook her head. "I'd heard your name, of course," she quickly added, "but I never saw a picture--not of any of you. When I learned who Darkstar was and whose team he was on, I knew the rest of you might be coming to the party, but I didn't know who was who."


She smiled shyly again. "Seriously."

Razor quickly thought back to the moment they first met. It had been simple, as far as first meetings go. He went up to her, hand lifted in greeting, and said "Hey."

"Hey," she’d said in return, and then flashed that dazzling smile of hers, her green eyes turning even brighter than they looked in pictures. Next thing he knew they were talking and laughing together, natural as anything. It was easy to make her laugh, so he had promptly taken the goofy-but-sexy-flirt route. He remembered now it wasn't until he had moved them to a quieter spot that he first told her his name.

"I'm Derikka, by the way," she had said once they were away from the din.

"I know," he had responded. "I'm Razor Kidd."

At the time, he had thought her bright smile faded for a second, but it was back so quickly he was sure he had imagined it. Now he understood that she'd been realizing she was talking to a major sports star. Yet he knew he hadn't imagined how her eyes lit up when she first saw him. She was attracted to him--to him, not just his League achievements. In a 'she liked him for him' kind of way.

This sort of thing had never bothered him before. In fact, luring girls with his reputation was one of the easiest ways. But now that he had seen the other side of the coin, he found he liked it--a lot.

Smiling his subtle-but-seductive smile, he held up his arms. "Commere."

Derikka's face turned pink, her smile shy and uncertain, but she leaned down to him. Her arms went around his neck as she slid from the wall, almost gliding into his arms, her face drawing near to his. Razor felt his heart skip a beat; her mouth was so close to his he could feel her breath on his skin.

He had been dreaming about this for much too long. Gently tightening his hold on her, his jade lips parted automatically as he leaned close to that painfully seductive, oh-so-pink-and-plump mouth.

Just when he was about to taste that mouth for himself, Derikka bit down on her bottom lip and turned her head away. Razor felt his heart sink into his shoes.

Clearing his throat, he set her down gently. "Can I take you home?"

Derikka, whose soft cheeks had turned more red than pink, swallowed visibly. "My mom..."

She stopped herself. "Never mind. Of course you can."

Relieved that he hadn't completely screwed up, Razor led the way to his sleek new car, black and silver and beautiful. Derikka looked dwarfed next to it, as she did next to him. He kept marveling at how tiny she was. And he had to remind himself that he needed to be careful, to be as gentle and soft-handed as he could possibly be.

Trying to keep your strength and speed down to a safe level when norms were around was an issue all mutants faced, and it was beyond frustrating most of the time--especially when it came to being intimate. Mutants felt longing and desire just like everybody else, but only a few could actually act on those feelings. And it wasn't because of a lack of willing partners. It was because of a lack of partners who could actually handle it. Smaller mutants had little trouble, but larger ones like himself...

He had to be extremely careful, even with fellow mutants. Even a sturdy one was more fragile than an athlete, and restraint needed to be exercised--and more often than not, no amount of restraint was enough when dealing with a non-mutant. A lot of mutants, some at the cost of their own hearts, had sworn off ever having sex with norms. It was risky business, and always would be. Just one overzealous thrust could end up being fatal.

If that wasn't bad enough, there was also the issue of STDs. Most mutants, especially ones like himself, were extremely resistant to all forms of germs and almost never got sick, and transferring disease from one mutant to another was even rarer. Unfortunately, they all seemed to carry mutated forms of bacteria that, while benign to them and theirs, were debilitating when introduced sexually to a norm, sometimes even lethal.

Fortunately, many advances had been made in sexual protection over the last ten years, so it was possible to avoid this problem. And Razor, since he couldn't help feeling attracted to any female, mutant or not, had his own way to work around both problems, a method he had spent years honing. Come his senior year in high school, the hallways had been humming with the rumors, and by the time he reached college, he had earned himself the nickname The Boy With the Golden Tongue.

What could he say? You worked with what you had. And what he had was a tongue that could take any woman to the highest throes of passion and pleasure, make her sing out at the top of her lungs and then lay trembling, spent and satisfied. Once they recovered, they would usually figure out a way to safely return the favor. Or sometimes, though not often, he met someone who could handle taking him into her bed, though he always exercised his number one rule in sex: he was never on top.

The best way to avoid breaking someone's pelvis was to keep off them, and he didn't mind this arrangement one bit. In fact, he absolutely loved it. He loved lying still, watching a woman's naked, glistening body writhe and gyrate as she worked to pleasure him and herself. And he wasn't idle; he got to stroke and touch her everywhere he could reach, finding and teasing all the special places hidden on her body.

He loved exploring a woman's body. It was pretty much his favorite pastime. Each one was so different; the touch and smell of her skin, the secret places it hid.

And as he looked at Derikka again, so small and fragile as she got into his car, he felt a surge of panic. He was absolutely out of his mind to think that he could take it that far with her. For one thing, she was a norm, and norms couldn't handle his size. For another thing, she was the single smallest norm he had ever seen over the age of thirteen. As he reached to close the door for her, he almost felt afraid to look at her, as if the weight of his gaze alone might break her fragile form.

But that was nuts, and he pushed the thought from his mind as he climbed in and started the engine. He could look at Derikka all he wanted. Looking was safe. But he couldn't help but quietly entertain a thought or two about other activities, some of them not quite so safe.

They had ridden in silence for several minutes when he suddenly remembered why she'd left the party. "What was that you were saying about Bones, anyway?"

Derikka gave a start, as if she'd been lost in thought. "Oh--him?"

She turned to look out her window. "Nothing. Forget it."

Razor frowned a little. "You sure? He's my best bud, so if there's something you want to know..."

Derikka shook her head. "No, I just..."

She let out a huff of air. "I can't explain it. I don't know what I was thinking."

She leaned to rest her forehead against the cool glass of the window, and silence filled the car after that. Not knowing what to say, Razor kept his eyes on the road--until it dawned on him that he didn't know where he was going. Embarrassed, Derikka gave him the directions. He turned a corner and headed into a pretty swanky part of town, where only those with bankrolls the size of Texas could hope to live. Razor mused that he could probably afford to move to a place like this now too, but he didn't really want to. It was pretty far from the League, and Bones would hate it, since he'd never been much for high society.

Thinking about Bones reminded him of the odd conversation he just had with Derikka. With a sinking feeling, he hoped she wasn't actually attracted to him. She'd be in for an unpleasant surprise if she was; Bones had zero interest in women and dating. You couldn't really fault the poor guy for it though. As a skeletoid, he wasn't exactly 'equipped'.

But that didn't stop many of his female fans from believing they could work around it, or that all it took was a little flirting to chip away at his stoic exterior. Bones was always polite, but firm, when he told them that he had a strict policy about getting involved with fans. He was less than polite about drilling this policy into his teammates. Razor always had trouble avoiding fans completely, so he tried to only date ones who were in a profession that already had them regularly exposed to media attention, although he often rationalized that it was almost impossible to date someone who wasn't a fan to at least a small degree. If someone didn't like him as an athlete, then how could they like him as a person?

Fortunately, he had an out with Derikka--the fact that she was clueless about famous athletes was a pretty strong argument--though that was only if things progressed that way. Honestly, he was having doubts, and he felt a little down as he turned off the road and down a long, winding driveway. The evening started off so well, but now Derikka wasn't even looking at him.

When he pulled to a stop and switched off the engine, he was momentarily distracted by the mansion looming in front of him. It wasn't as big as some he'd seen, or as flashy, but it was still pretty impressive. There weren't any lights on inside, but there were beams shining up from the shrubbery lined up out front, so he could see that the house was white with cream trim. It had arched windows, second floor balconies, and a wide, sweeping porch complete with regal support pillars.

"You live here alone?" he wondered.

Derikka didn't answer; she was staring off into the distance and absently twisting a lock of hair around her finger. Razor stifled a sigh and hit the button that unlocked the passenger door. "Well...pleasant dreams."

Biting her lip, Derikka looked at him. "Can I see you again?"

Razor gave a start. "See? You mean--"

The sudden question caught him off-guard. He was usually impossibly smooth in situations like this, and now look at him. He was so flustered he was stumbling over his words.

Derikka was flushing, but she smiled. "I mean like a date. If you're interested."

Grinning, Razor reached up and softly touched her cheek. "You kidding? Here--let me give you my number."

After he wrote it down on a scrap of paper and handed it to her, Derikka leaned over and lightly brushed her lips across his cheek before climbing out of the car and hurrying up the front walk. The brief touch had been so whisper-soft, Razor felt achingly tantalized, and he knew he wouldn't get much sleep tonight as he fantasized about and anticipated what might be.

His head was so high in the clouds it wasn't until he'd driven about ten miles that he realized he hadn't asked for her number in return. And it wasn't something he'd be able to find on his own; he'd already tried to dig up numbers and addresses after he'd first laid eyes on her on TV, but her personal life was kept under lock and key. He didn't know her last name, or even if Derikka was her real first name or a stage name.

He'd have to ask when she called, and knew he'd be waiting, ears tingling in anticipation, for his phone to ring. Now there was a switch.

Chapter Text

After cruising around for a while, Bones changed his mind about going home and rode over to the secluded place he usually met Sherry at: a quiet, wooded area complete with footpaths and picnic benches. There was a large pond in the middle of the slightly rundown park, with several wrought iron benches set near the shoreline so people could fish or toss snacks to the local ducks. Bones chose one at random and, hands tucked in his pockets, watched the reflection of the stars in the quietly lapping water.

He wasn't there for very long before he heard the hum of a vehicle engine in the distance, followed by a set of high heels clacking on the stone walk that circled the pond. In a moment Sherry came to sit beside him, arms folded and legs crossed. "You didn't tell me you were leaving."

Bones merely smiled, knowing her well enough to know she was only feigning annoyance. "I knew you'd find me."

She pursed her lips, pouting for a moment, then leaned against his arm. "It's beautiful here at night," she commented softly as she rested her head on his shoulder.

Her eyes were sleepy, a little lazy even, as if she could drift off any moment. Bones lightly brushed a lock of her honey-colored hair from her face. "Not as beautiful as you."

He never used to say things like that, but ever since they started dating, this kind of thing kept slipping out, and with increasing frequency.

Sherry's smile was soft as she lifted her eyes. She reached up to run her fingers through his hair for a moment, and then, as he knew she would, lifted her face to kiss him.

This was another simple pleasure he got to enjoy, though not as much as people with skin did due to his shortage of sensitivity. Sherry seemed to get a lot out of it though, which he always got a close up view of thanks to his lack of eyelids. She was being a little more vigorous than usual, her hands gripping his sleeves as she explored his mouth with quiet, frequent moans.

He'd no doubt that her boldness was owed to whatever she'd been drinking earlier in the evening, but he reminded himself that this had been going on for a while now. Longer, deeper kisses, caressing hands that roamed farther. Which was all normal in a developing relationship--natural, even, for a couple to grow more and more intimate as their feelings for each other grew.

Only he couldn't progress like other people could. There was nothing he could do for her beyond what they were doing right now. He knew she had to be aware of this, but she didn't seem to care. But it was hard, he knew, to squelch all instinct and desire. She loved him and no doubt wanted to be with him in every way, and he worried that when they grew even closer in the days to come, she was going to get pretty frustrated.

His mind wandered, going over different scenarios--none of them very good. Would she decide he was worth it and give up that part of herself completely? Or would she grow dissatisfied with him over time and ask to see someone else on the side?

If things progressed that far between them, if they both decided that they wanted to be with each other for the rest of their lives, he knew he wouldn't be able to refuse such a request--it wouldn't be fair. He would be insanely jealous, but how could he say no? She had already gone through so much, and he he'd no doubt there was even more pain in store for her because of him.

Disheartened, he pulled away. Sherry's sleepy eyes fluttered open; she smiled softly, though he could tell she'd picked up on his mood. "What's wrong?" she asked.

As usual, he wasn't sure how to put what he was thinking into words. "I just don't know," he finally said, "if being with me is what's best for you."

Sherry continued to smile, but a flicker of irritation passed through her eyes. "Shouldn't I be the judge of that?"

"I'm serious, Sherry. Are you sure I'm the one you want?"

She scoffed quietly as she put her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. "Of course I'm sure," she said, her voice muffled. "I love you with all my heart, Bones. Nothing is ever going to change that."

Part of him longed for that to be true, while the rest of him longed to repeat what she'd just said...but he couldn't. He still wasn't sure, and he wasn't going to say it until he knew he meant it. Instead, he put his hands on her shoulders and nudged her away from him, just far enough so he could plant a tender kiss on her forehead. "See you tomorrow?"

"I have work, but we'll see."

She gave him another long hug before getting up and walking back to her jeep, though she left with obvious reluctance. Bones waited until she was gone before heading back to where he parked his bike and starting for home. He just hoped that Razor was alone when he got there. Bones wasn't in the mood to step through the door and discover that his best friend had brought home company.

"Is there a TV in there or something?"

Razor flicked his tongue in annoyance. "No, bro. Just admiring how utterly awesome my new phone is."

In reality, he was waiting for Derikka to call him, and he'd been not so discreetly staring at his cell phone while waiting for it to ring. To pass the time, he started folding and unfolding it, though it was still acceptably large even when miniaturized.

Mutants couldn't handle--literally--the cell phones norms carried around, the size of a postage stamp and almost as thin. Their fingers were just too large, and many a time they would puncture a hole in the silly thing while trying to dial a number. The sleek new design he now owned was exclusive to members of the Mutant League, compact but with extra large buttons and made from triple-reinforced alloy. Installing TV access wasn't a bad idea, either.

"What are your plans for the day?" asked Razor as he flipped his phone open and shut again.

"Well, I was--"

Just then the perky sound of Derikka's song Just You started. Startled, Razor fumbled and dropped his phone. Muttering under his breath, he scrambled to pick it up and unfold it again. "Hello? I mean--Razor Kidd, mutant extraordinaire speaking."

Bones snorted softly. Razor ignored him.

"Hey," greeted Derikka, with the sweet laugh that sent his pulse racing. "I hope I'm not calling too early."

"You kidding? We mutants never sleep."

Bones snorted again and stood. "On that note, I'm going to go take a nap."

Razor ignored that, too. "What are you up to?" he asked, wanting to sound casual. It wasn't often a girl called to ask him out; he usually beat them to it. At least, he was assuming that was the reason she was calling.

"I have a recording session later, so in the meantime I thought you might like to explore the studio with me."

He'd tour just about anything with her, but visiting a movie studio was actually something he'd never done before. "Sounds fun," he said, with approval. "Should I pick you up?"

"No, I'll come get you."

"You know where I live?" he wondered wryly.

"I got your address from Darkstar last night," she admitted, sounding sheepish.

Razor grinned; she must like him even more than he thought. "I'll stay cool until you get here, then."

"Great. See you in a bit."

After hanging up, Razor hurried to his bedroom and tugged on his best jeans and snuggest t-shirt. He'd showered thoroughly just yesterday, but his natural lizoid scent always got a mixed reaction. Some women loved it, others couldn't stand it, and some were indifferent. Derikka didn't seem to mind, but just in case, he put on a touch of his favorite cologne.

The apartment was silent when he finished getting ready, and Razor could tell that Bones wanted to be left alone, so he headed out to wait on the front walk. Derikka pulled up a few minutes later in a dark purple convertible whose make and model he didn't recognize. He was pretty sure it was vintage, though, just like her clothes.

From the waist up, she was wearing a simple gray blouse that was fairly timeless, but from the waist down she was wearing a set of black leggings and a flirty denim skirt that screamed 1992. Razor didn't care. She looked hot, which he made sure to mention after he'd vaulted over the door and into the passenger seat.

The comment made her flush, but she smiled. "You don't look bad yourself."

She pulled away from the curb, and Razor discovered it was a pretty smooth ride, if a little different than what he was used to. "Is purple your favorite color?" he wondered, thinking about the lavender she wore last night.

Derikka chuckled. "How'd you ever guess? You strike me as the type who's partial to red."

"Guilty as charged," he admitted with a grin.

"Red is my mom's favorite color, too. She doesn't really use it much, though."

"Speaking of which, will she be mad when she finds out you're dating an athlete? Her being a non-fan of sports and all."

Razor almost expected her to flush and bite her lip, like she usually did when she was embarrassed, and mumble that they weren't technically dating--yet--but she didn't. Instead, she kept her eyes on the road as she thought it over, brow furrowed a little.

"I'm an adult now," she finally said, "and I'm going to make decisions she doesn't like or agree with. I just hate disappointing her and avoid it whenever I can. She hasn't had it easy and I hate seeing her unhappy."

She turned a corner, then flashed a smile at him. "But just because she doesn't agree with something doesn't automatically make it bad for me. I don't think she'll object to a guy just because of his profession as long as he's good to me."

"Which I definitely will be," Razor assured her, relieved.

Although another, equally unpleasant scenario soon crept into his brain. "She won't have trouble with me being a mutant, will she?" he asked quietly as Derikka paused at a red light.

Derikka gave him a funny look. "What? Oh--no. Her best friend is a mutant. And so is her husband's."

As the light turned green and she accelerated again, she muttered 'unfortunately' under her breath. She said it extremely quietly, but Razor's keen ears still heard.

"Her husband," he repeated. "Not your dad, I take it."

Derikka scowled. "No--thank goodness."

Her eyes on the road, her scowl continued to deepen, until she didn't look at all like the sweet, bubbly girl he knew her to be. "That man...he's not fit to lick dirt off her shoes."

This was one of those situations where you either sat awkwardly or laughed awkwardly, so Razor allowed himself to snicker. "Come on, Dare, don't hold back--tell me how you really feel."

Derikka gave a start, as if she'd forgotten she had a passenger. Flushing, she mumbled, "Let's not. I don't want to cast a pall over the rest of our day."

Razor felt himself turn blank. "Pall?" he echoed.

"Never mind," said Derikka, with an awkward grin. "When you write songs for a living, you sometimes talk a little flowery."

She smiled again, then turned another corner and pulled into the studio parking lot. A mutant security guard, who looked like he hadn't smiled in half a century, accepted her ID and pass with a grunt. "Derikka Drogues?" he said gruffly, after scrutinizing her photo. "You can go in."

"Thank you," Derikka said sweetly.

Razor waited for the guard to succumb to her charms, but he merely grunted again.

"You aren't intimidated by anything, are you," observed Razor as they walked across the studio lot.

"Not so you'd notice," she responded cheekily, then turned serious. "You can't be intimidated in this business. But then, there probably isn't a business out there more cutthroat than yours."

"Yeah, but the more you bleed, the more the fans cheer, so what can you do," Razor sighed, feigning sadness.

"Retire early?"

"The very idea...I never know when to quit. Just ask anyone who knows me."

Derikka let out a laugh and reached over to slip her arms around his waist. "You're crazy," she stated as she cuddled her head against his side.

Elated by the sudden display of affection, Razor slid his arm around her with a grin. "That's what they tell me."

Derikka laughed again and took his hand. "Come on--let's go get into trouble."

"Derikka Drogues, you are a woman after my own heart."

Chapter Text

"And this," said the tour guide, a sallow-skinned mutant with a pencil stuck through her green-blue bun, "is where they filmed a scene for Moonlight Is Eternal."

Razor recognized the name. It was a super popular over-the-top dramatic romance released a few years back, starring, naturally, Luna Maxwell. "I saw...part of that," he admitted. Specifically, he'd tuned in to watch the now legendary eight minute love scene, but he wasn't about to say so.

"Not me," said Derikka, sounding a little bored. "Romance films make me gag. Who talks like they do in those things, anyway?"

With a wry smile, the tour guide continued on without them as they lingered in the elaborate barroom set.

"Not anyone normal," Razor agreed as they wandered up onto the stage area, where he leaned back against a glossy piano. "Or anyone not normal, for that matter."

Derikka giggled. "Is there a third option?"

"Yeah: screenwriters. They fill a class all by themselves, and not necessarily in a good way."

Derikka giggled again and leaned beside him. "I rarely watch movies myself," she admitted. "I have a seriously hard time holding still for that long."

"Me too," said Razor, pleased that they had so much in common. "I never watch TV ads, I just star in them."

"But we'll have to watch this movie when it comes out," Derikka added.

"But only because Darkstar is our buddy," Razor finished with a grin. "Well, and because you're in it."

Derikka flushed and averted her eyes. "It is kind of nice in here," she noted, her gaze moving over the sleek glass-and-metal tables and dark red walls.

"Yeah," Razor agreed, discreetly moving closer. "It's kind of...romantic."

Derikka looked at him again, her smile shy but knowing. Heart speeding in anticipation, Razor absently licked his lips as he leaned down, his hand coming up to cup her face.

Just when he thought he'd reach his goal--those full, supple lips--Derikka dropped her eyes and turned her head. Her gaze fell on her watch. "Oh--we need to go. They'll expect me in the recording studio soon."

Withholding a sigh of disappointment, Razor hurried after her as she rushed from the set. "About this soundtrack," he began after he'd caught up. "Why the sudden change? I mean, this isn't exactly your usual gig."

"It will be," Derikka responded. "My new album is coming out soon, and it's going to be a little different than anything I've done so far."

Razor had already heard that it was slated to be 'edgier', though he wasn't sure what that meant, exactly. "Less pop, more rock?" he guessed.

"Basically. I've been wanting to shift focus for a while now, but I'm doing it gradually. Hopefully by the time this movie premieres, people will be used to the new me."

"Hey, don't sweat it. Most girls in your profession usually chuck their kid-friendly image by sixteen, don't they?"

Derikka flushed and twisted a lock of her hair around her finger. "Usually. But like I said, I hate disappointing my mother, so I do everything slow and careful. Basically I'm behind most of the major milestones in life by a couple or more years."

"But you are an adult now," Razor reminded her. "You can't always worry about what your mother is going to think."

"I don't," Derikka said promptly. "I worry about what I think first. About disappointing me."

Razor wasn't sure what to say to that, so he quieted as they stepped into the recording studio. It had dark walls and a long, sound-dampening glass window set in the wall leading into the recording area itself. In the little room outside there were leather seats and couches, and he was instructed to wait out here while Derikka went into the large recording booth.

By the time twenty minutes went by, Razor had learned there was way more to recording music than he thought. There was a lot of stopping and starting, a lot of discussion about what did and didn't work, a lot of comparing clips and samples. On top of everything, the music director had a 'vision' about a break in the middle of the song that would feature Derikka's voice being 'layered'.

What he wanted was to record Derikka singing one low note, then a slightly higher note, and so on, then blend it all together so it sounded like one continuous note and voice. It sounded needlessly complicated to Razor, and he started flipping through magazines and whatever else was lying around to combat the growing boredom.

Eventually he ran out of things to flip through, leaving him with nothing to do except fidget in his seat. Then movement inside the booth caught his eye; Derikka was holding a note up to the glass.

It read: You. Me. Lunch.

Beneath the clipped words was a curling heart. In that case, Razor thought as he settled back against the soft leather of the couch, he could wait.

After Razor left for his date, Bones lounged on his bed for a while, though he didn't really take a nap. His mind kept drifting to the past, and to his father, whose picture he kept on his nightstand and looked at often. Though he put on a brave face for the world, he was still coming to terms with his death, which happened only a short time ago and just moments after they finally met again.

"I know you're at rest now," he said softly, barely aware he speaking out loud as he gazed at the smiling image of his father in his hands, "and that you're proud of me where you are, were the only family I ever had. And now that you're gone..."

He was far from alone, but everyone he knew had family somewhere, and some of those families were closer than others. But his father had lost his own family long before Bones was born, so for as long as he could remember, it had only been the two of them. His mother, whoever she was, had never been in the picture. His father had never breathed a word about her, and he had always been evasive whenever Bones had asked about her. Bones assumed she had run out on them when he was too young to remember, or that she died when he was a baby. He was leaning toward the latter, though if it were the former, he wasn't interested in finding her any more than she was interested in finding him. His name and the name of his team was now known worldwide, so if she had wanted to contact him, she would have done it years ago.

He had Razor, at least, and for that he was glad. He knew they were about as different as two people could be, but that was kind of the point. They balanced each other out; Razor was always the one to lure him out through sheer enthusiasm whenever he was becoming too withdrawn. They didn't always agree, but Bones couldn't imagine them not being friends.

His cell phone suddenly rang; he set his father's picture down and opened the nightstand drawer, where he kept his cell when he wasn't out. Unlike Razor, he didn't enjoy upgrading to the latest model every other month, so not only was his cell phone 'old' (almost two years, practically a dinosaur) he only kept it on him for emergencies, and only his teammates, coach, and Sherry knew the number.

"Are you busy?" came Sherry's voice when he answered. She sounded a little tired.

"Not really. What's up?"

She made a coughing sound. "Just feeling the need to see a pleasant face, that's all. I just spent the last hour interviewing Madman, and he had garlic and onion pizza for breakfast."

"Ouch," Bones said sympathetically. "You at the Dome? Let me throw something on and I'll meet you outside."

After grabbing a pair of jeans and a shirt at random he tugged on his leather jacket, grabbed his helmet and hopped on his bike. The ride to the League wasn't long, since their apartment was only a few miles away. All things considered, it was too much a part of him to keep very far from.

When he pulled up out front, Sherry was waiting by the gate; she flashed a tired smile as she came to stand next to his bike. "Someone's bound to notice us riding around together," she commented as she climbed on behind him, though she didn't sound like she was particularly worried.

"I've been riding with you ever since I joined the League," he reminded her as he flipped his visor down, "so I don't think anyone is going to think twice about it."

"Just making an observation."

"Although they will notice if you do that," he said dryly as Sherry cuddled her head between his shoulders.

"Sorry," she said, straightening up again, though he could hear the grin in her voice.

He revved the engine and pulled away from the curb, heading into town to one of their usual spots. It was a large park with old fashioned lamp posts and cobblestone walks and, despite being positioned behind a shopping mall, was usually pretty empty on weekdays. The most active spot at any time was the center, which held food vendors that sold hot dogs, cotton candy and the like.

Keeping away from the central hub, they strolled around the rim together, passing between thick clusters of trees. In spite of his high-tech profession, Bones had a fondness for nature. It brought back memories of the fishing trips he used to take with his dad and Malone.

This particular place didn't have a pond, though, at least not like the one they had visited last night. A ways from the vendor hub was a large fish pond, complete with a fountain spewing curves of water into the air, effectively misting the plants growing around it as the droplets came back down.

For once, neither of them said anything, instead just enjoying the day and each other's company. Sherry slid her hand into his as they walked; he clutched it softly in return, always aware of how fragile she was. Sherry smiled and started to rest her head on his arm, but just then Bones felt a presence nearing. "Incoming," he said softly.

Sherry straightened and withdrew her hand from his with a frown, and Bones didn't wonder why. She knew Thrasher’s heavy steps just as well as he did.

"I think I'll go call my boss," she said, before disappearing around a bend in the walk.

Thrasher came into view a moment later, dressed in a dark gray sweatshirt and white jeans. She had her hands thrust in her back pockets and her head down, and almost didn't notice Bones in time to stop from walking right into him. "Sorry," she said, looking genuinely surprised to see him.

"Something on your mind?" he wondered.

She breathed a sigh and shrugged her shoulders, her hands still in her pockets. "My dad," she responded. "He's in a major funk. He's not talking to anyone right now, not even me."

Bones opened his mouth to ask what was bothering his usually unshakable coach--and then stopped himself. Malone was dealing with the loss of his best friend, whom he'd never been able to truly say goodbye to. His loss, Bones knew, was different than his own, but no less deep.

"I don't get it," Trasher went on, mostly to herself now. "Ever since Mom died, it's been the two of us. He's never shut me out like this before."

"I bet I know why," said Bones, after thinking for a moment. "Back in the days before the League, my dad was the one he went to when he was down, or looking for advice. Now that he's gone, he doesn't have anyone else to turn to."

"He can talk to me," Thrasher said indignantly.

Bones smiled discreetly. "I don't know him as well as you do, but I do know that Malone hates feeling vulnerable. And the last person he wants to look weak in front of is you."

Thrasher was quiet for a moment, looking less ruffled than she did a moment ago. "That might be true," she finally admitted, "but I still don't like it when he shuts me out."

"Look at it this way," said Bones. "There's no one who's closer to him than you. With you, he tells you to go away and leave him alone. With everyone else, he throws furniture."

Thrasher let out a laugh and relaxed a little more. "That's true. I guess I can't complain. It just bothers me that he's hurting and there's nothing I can do about it."

She then stopped herself, looking like she'd just remembered she was talking about not being able to help her dad with someone who just lost his. "Sorry," she murmured, avoiding his gaze. "I'll get out of your hair."

She hurried away just as Sherry came back around the bend, looking rankled. "My boss needs me to come in," she reported unhappily.

Bones was a little disappointed, but he nodded. "Need a ride?"

"No, they're sending someone to pick me up. Maybe I'll see you later tonight?"

Though she looked reluctant to leave him, she kissed his cheek and scurried off. Once she was gone, Bones wandered the park for a while, then drifted across the nearby parking lot to the mall. It had several music stores, and he was always in the market for new drum sticks, so he went inside and, dodging his way through the mutants and norms milling around, rode the elevator the second floor.

Chapter Text

Razor heard a voice singing to him in the distance, gentle and sweet. He tried to move, to reach out for the sound, but his body felt heavy and stiff. He couldn't see anything, but the voice drifted nearer and nearer, until it was singing quietly into his ear. "Open your eyes, Sleeping Beauty," it sang. "I'm hungry and lunch was an hour ago, so open your eyes..."

The melody was sweet, but the lyrics were a little sarcastic. Wincing, Razor opened his eyes and found himself curled up on the leather couch outside the recording booth, and not comfortably. "What happened?" he asked with a yawn.

Derikka was leaning over him, chin on her palm as she smirked at him. "You fell asleep. The excitement of the music world too much for you?"

Razor yawned again, then thought of something. "You know," he said slyly as he closed his eyes again, "you're supposed to wake Sleeping Beauty with a kiss."

To his disappointment, Derikka let out a snort and tugged at his hand. "Would you get up already? My stomach's not getting any fuller."

Razor let her pull him to his feet, where he paused to stretch before following her out of the recording studio. They headed back across the lot (Derikka flashed the guard a smile, which was ignored) and Razor hurried ahead to open the car door for her.

"There's a sandwich shack just down the road that makes great tuna subs," Derikka commented as she guided her convertible out of the lot.

What Razor really had a craving for right now was a greasy taco smothered in flies, but he knew better than to take a norm as delicate as Derikka--or any norm for that matter--to his favorite restaurant, so he agreed to the small sandwich shack instead.

"One of the pluses of this place," Derikka said after they had ordered and taken a seat at a table on the outdoor patio, "is that since it's so close to the studio, nobody cares that you're famous."

"No autographs or picture-taking?" Razor wondered, before taking a bite of his fly-free sandwich.

"Well, that happens occasionally," Derikka admitted, "but not often."

It seemed like Derikka preferred to stay out of the spotlight when she wasn't working, which would explain why she downplayed the way she looked so much.

"But don't you love it when fans run after you, knowing that you've made their day just by having seen you?” he asked, with a cheeky grin.

"I like interacting with my fans," she responded, after thinking about it for a moment. "The running and mobbing? Not so much."

Razor had always thought that part was kind of fun--but then he could fix any injuries he sustained in a couple of minutes. He looked at frail little Derikka with sympathy; being a norm celebrity had to be rough.

"Where to after this?" she wondered as she sipped her soda.

Razor thought for a moment. "There's this club I go to a lot," he began, then stopped himself at the look of horror that crossed Derikka's face.

"No thank you," she said quickly. "Large clusters of people are bad enough, but large clusters of intoxicated people...?"

She gave a shudder and took a long drink. Razor mentally scolded himself for suggesting it right after she made it clear she didn't like crowds. Most of the time he could dance till dawn without incident, but things got rowdy sometimes. The worst he'd ever left a club with was a fractured rib, but again, if Derikka had one, she wouldn't be able to fix it in an hour or less.

"Okay, no clubs," he promised. "Any suggestions?"

Derikka brightened instantly. She patted her lips with a napkin, then hopped up from the table. "Yeah--let's go shopping," she said, eyes shining.

"Shopping?" Razor echoed dumbly.

He'd never actually been shopping with a woman before, but he'd heard stories.

"What kind of shopping?" he asked suspiciously.

"You'll see when we get there," Derikka said, with a mischievous grin.

The vagueness of this statement had Razor feeling a little nervous, but he followed Derikka back to her car.

"Do I get a hint?" he asked after they'd driven for a while.

"There's something I've been wanting for a long time," Derikka said in response. "Only my mom has always said no."

Razor noticed that she mentioned her mother pretty frequently--and then it hit him. "You live with your mom, don't you."

Derikka started to turn red, and she bent over the steering wheel a little as she made a turn. "Let's not talk about it," she muttered.

Razor felt himself grin. "Don't be embarrassed," he said. "You two sound pretty close."

"We are," Derikka agreed, leaning back again. "But that's not really why I stick around."


Razor studied her a moment; her eyes had gone distant. "How come, then?" he wondered.

For a moment Derikka scowled, and Razor hadn't forgotten how angry she'd looked earlier. "Let's not talk about it," she said again. "Today is supposed to be fun."

Razor nodded and didn't pursue the matter, though he had a feeling he knew what the source of her irritation was.

After they'd driven in silence for a while, Derikka pulled into the lot of a large shopping mall, one that Razor had never been inside of but knew Bones came to a lot for new drumsticks. "I've a question," Razor began as they headed into the mall, which was packed and noisy. "If your mom says no to whatever it is you're getting, what's she going to say when you come home with it?"

Derikka flashed him a playful grin as she led the way to a glass elevator, bypassing the escalator. "I'm hoping she won't notice. Or if she you said, I am an adult now."

Razor breathed a sigh, pretending to be disheartened. "I'm a bad influence on you, aren't I."

"Let me put it this way: I'd never have the guts to go through with this if you weren't here."

Amused, Razor smiled down at her, unable to imagine her doing anything that qualified as shocking. During the brief elevator ride he noticed several people watching them through the glass as they went by. Judging by the way they gawked and whispered to each other, he figured it wouldn't be long before pictures of them were all over the gossip rags, flashed beneath captions of Are They Dating? with multiple question marks and exclamation points.

They were if he had anything to say about it.

Derikka walked briskly across the second floor, ignoring the glances and whispers. Razor followed and paused, with wry amusement, when she headed into a pet store. "Don't tell me your mom is one of those types who hates even the cutest, fuzziest puppy," he said as he followed her inside.

Derikka was eyeing a set of glass terrariums. "No, she loves dogs," she replied, sounding distracted.

Puzzled, Razor followed her gaze down the row of terrariums, which were filled with things he couldn't imagine the pretty young girl being interested in: tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, and other creepy-crawlies. Although he had to admit, the lizards were pretty cool.

"You know, if you want to bring a lizard home, all you have to do is ask," he said teasingly.

Derrika snickered and turned around--and stopped short, her gaze focusing on something behind him. Razor started to turn to look, but she suddenly grabbed his hand.

"I'm thirsty," she said, with her sweetest smile. "Would you be a darling and run across the way to that smoothie shop?"

Razor gave her a funny look. He could tell something was up, though he wasn't sure what. "Right now?" he asked, letting his suspicion show through.

Derikka's smile didn't waver. "Please?" she said, her voice somehow turning even sweeter.

Razor glanced over at the shop in question and noted in dismay that there was a long line at the counter. "I repeat: right now?"

"I'll give you a big surprise if you do."

Razor was extremely tempted to say no--once a woman figured out how easy it was to manipulate him with his libido it was never good--but he knew if he did, he would forever wonder what kind of 'big surprise' he'd missed out on. Sighing in resignation, he started across the floor. "Which--"

"Strawberry," Derikka called after him.

He looked back to see her watching him; she smiled and rested a hand on the giant tropical fish tank that was in the middle of the pet shop. Razor continued to glance back at her, wondering what the real reason she was sending him over here for was, but when he got inside the smoothie shop the crowd filled in behind him and he couldn't see her anymore. Sighing again, he faced the front counter and waited for his turn...which looked like it might take a while.

Bones absently twirled his new drumsticks as he left the music store. He went through several pairs a month--more if he was stressed out. He purchased the sturdiest ones he could find, but it was hard to make something that small mutant-friendly.

As he headed across the main part of the floor, he saw Razor coming out of a store in the distance. Surprised to see him here, and apparently alone, he started toward him, but Razor was crossing rapidly to another store and soon disappeared inside. Knowing he would never be heard over the din of chatter and the music coming over the loudspeakers, Bones slipped the drumsticks into his back pocket and kept going, dodging around the people who stopped to stare at him.

He wasn't sure which shop Razor went into, but then he saw something in a shop on the other side that made him pause.

It was Derikka, standing in the doorway of a massive pet store. She was staring at him hard, as if she wanted to come over and say something to him. When she didn't, he took a step toward her; she took a step back, moving closer to the giant fish tank she was standing next to.

Ordinarily he would have shrugged off such conflicting body language and walked away, but he kept going, though he wasn't sure why. With each step he took, Derikka took another step back, until she had safely placed the fish tank between them. He came to stand on the other side, where they gazed at each other through a wall of water and colorful fish.

Derikka put her hand to the glass. "Sorry I acted so weird last night," she began, her eyes on a pink cichlid. "It's not normal for me to get so tongue-tied."

Bones was tempted to point out that she was still acting a little weird, but he didn't. But beyond that, he wasn't sure what to say. She and Razor were obviously here shopping together, so he wasn't about so ask what she was doing. He never wasted time asking questions he already knew the answer to just to keep a conversation going.

But Derikka didn't seem to mind the silence. She watched a set of clownfish for a while, then lifted her eyes and looked at him. Even through the safety of the tank, she seemed to have trouble holding his gaze, but she managed. "How long have you and Razor been friends?" she suddenly asked.

"Since grade school," he replied, though he wondered why she didn't just ask Razor.

She smiled, a bit wistfully. "I think that's great. It's nice to have someone who's always there for you no matter what. Best friends are treasures."

Something about the way she said that...

"You don't have anyone like that," he said, as kindly as he could.

Her gaze dropping to a white anemone, Derikka shook her head. "I used to, but...there was an accident."

For a long moment she stared distantly at the swaying polyp while Bones stood feeling a little awkward. Derikka gave herself a shake. "I'm sorry--I don't even know why I'm telling you this," she said, with a nervous laugh. She then let out a sigh and pressed a hand to her eyes. "You must think I'm nuts."

"I don't," Bones said honestly. A little eccentric, maybe, but most celebrities were. So were most athletes, come to think of it.

"I'm sorry," she said again, face still hidden behind her hand.

"You shouldn't apologize so much," Bones said with a frown. "You need to be more sure of yourself."

She moved her hand then. Her smile was soft, though her eyes hinted at a smirk. "I am, usually," she said. "I only act like this when I'm nervous. And being around you definitely makes me nervous."

Bones lifted a hairless brow. "Didn't know I was that scary," he said wryly.

"You're not," said Derikka, just as wryly. "It's just...I can't even explain it. It's too weird."

Bones was debating whether he should pursue this further or beat a hasty retreat when Razor suddenly joined them. "Your smoothie, my dear," he said, passing her a giant cup overflowing with reddish-pink fluff. "Now about my big surprise..."

It was definitely time to retreat.

"I'll be running along now," he said, making a step for the door.

Razor looked at him in surprise. "Oh, hey, Bones. When did you get here?"

"I was just leaving," said Bones. "Catch you later."

Chapter Text

"Can I help you with anything, Miss?" asked a pet store clerk before Razor had a chance to press the issue of his 'surprise'.

"Yes," said Derikka, with decisiveness. She marched up to a small terrarium and pointed at something inside. "I want that one."

"Excellent choice," said the clerk, as he grabbed a temporary box and slipped on a pair of gloves. Derikka watched while she sipped her smoothie; Razor was studying the contents of the terrariums.

"Which are you getting, the gecko or the iguana?" he teased.

Derikka just smiled, a bit smugly, he thought. And then the clerk pulled out a small, skinny pink thing. A pink snake, specifically, with darker pink stripes and matching pink eyes.

"That's the girliest snake I've ever seen," Razor said dryly.

"It's a corn snake," said Derikka, with approval. "She's beautiful. It's a she, right?"

"Yes, Miss," said the clerk, who looked amused.

"Kind of puny," Razor noted.

"She's just a baby," Derikka said firmly. "She can grow to be over four feet long."

"Your mom's bound to notice, then."

"I sure hope not. I'll take that terrarium, too," said Derikka, pointing to a small glass tank with a built-in faux-grass bottom that opened from the front. "And that kit of supplies there."

"Their diet is mainly small rodents," said the clerk as he pulled the requested items from the shelf.

"I know. They're upstairs, right? I'll go grab some."

"This will all be waiting for you at the counter," the clerk called as Derikka set her smoothie down and darted up a set of wooden stairs that led to the store's upper level.

"Uh, what about my surprise?" Razor called after her.


Derikka paused on a step and fished in the pocket of her blouse. "Here, I forgot to give it to you before."

She passed him a slip of paper with her phone number written on it. "Ummm, thanks," he said, trying to hide his disappointment.

Derikka started up the stairs again, then paused and darted back down, black flats clacking. "Silly me, I almost forgot. You also get this."

And with that she slipped her hand around the back of his neck, pulled him forward and kissed him. Razor was so startled he dropped her number, but his shock didn't last long. Moaning softly--oh, but those plump, sweet lips felt good--he cupped her head in his hand and deepened the kiss, opening his mouth slightly and teasing her with the tip of his forked tongue.

Derikka shivered and, to his immense disappointment, pulled away, leaving him feeling both elated and tantalized. After experiencing a brief hint of what those lips were really like, he longed for another taste.

But now didn't seem to be the time or place, so he followed her up the stairs to where the feeder insects, fish, and other non-pets were kept. A female clerk placed a dozen or so frozen mice into an insulated bag and gave it to Derikka, and Razor couldn't help feeling impressed by how completely un-squeamish she was. "You don't freak out easily, do you," he noted wryly as they headed back down to the front counter.

"And a good thing, too," Derikka responded, with a sassy toss of her head. "I'll need a strong stomach if I'm going to watch my new boyfriend play sports in the future, which will involve, on occasion, seeing innards and body parts scattered across the field."

She spoke in an off-hand way, but her words made his heart speed a little. Although he tried, as always, to maintain his cool. "Who's your new boyfriend?" he asked casually. "Is he going to be mad that I'm stealing you away from him?"

Derikka snorted and finished paying for her supplies and new pet. "I better get her home," she said as they left the store. "Can I drive you back?"

"I'd rather not walk," Razor responded cheekily.

During the ride to his and Bones' apartment, Derikka stayed quiet. When she pulled up outside and switched the engine off, she sat back and flashed him a shy smile. "I know we just met yesterday," she began, "but I really like being with you. I hope we can do something like this again soon."

They would do something like this every day, if it were up to him.

"Are you busy tonight?" he asked, only half-joking.

Derikka bit her lip and glanced down for a second, and he knew the answer was yes. "I'll call you tomorrow," she promised.

"Or I'll call you," said Razor--then had a flash of memory of her number slipping from his hand. "Ummm...can you write down your number again? Something took me by surprise and I sort of dropped it back in the pet store."

Flushing, Derikka scribbled it on the back of the pet store receipt. As she passed it to him, Razor leaned over to cup her face. She lifted her eyes to his; he gazed into them a moment before closing his own and brushing their lips together. Derikka let out her breath slowly and curled her fingers around his. The softness of her touch reminded him that he needed to be gentle, so he didn't push into her as he kissed her a little more firmly, once again tickling her lips with the tip of his tongue, trying to urge her plump mouth open.

Instead of responding, Derikka put her hand to his chest and nudged him away. With her other hand, she pointed wordlessly.

Razor looked out the window and saw Bones standing on the front walk, watching them as he twirled what looked like a brand new pair of drumsticks. His face was deadpan, but Razor knew him well enough to know that he was amused.

Derikka, on the other hand, looked uncomfortably embarrassed, her ears darkening to a deep pink as she absently wiped her lips. "I'll call you tomorrow," she said again.

Smiling, Razor lightly tweaked one of her blushing earlobes before getting out of the car. As Derikka drove away, he headed up the walk and said, "Don't you have something better to do?"

"Not at the moment," Bones responded mildly.

"Really? We should hang, then. Have a boy's night out."

Bones seemed to approve of this idea, and he hurried to put his drumsticks away while Razor went in to grab his denim jacket. They then headed to the parking garage and got into Razor's car, and he drove them straight to Fly Taco. When they got there it was, as usual, bustling with mutants, all chatting loudly, laughing frequently and having a great time. Razor was a little sad that he would never be able to bring Derikka here; it had such a great atmosphere.

But it had a tendency to get a little rowdy, especially after dark, and since no norms were present, everyone goofed around without worry. They nudged and shoved each other--in a good-natured kind of way, of course. Not to say that, on occasion, things didn't get a little too rowdy.

Everything looked pretty laid back tonight, and Razor headed straight to the counter and ordered as many tacos as he thought his stomach could hold.

Standing at the bar was someone he recognized; Thrasher, looking a little downcast. While Razor waited for his order, Bones came up to her quietly. "How's Malone?" Razor heard him ask.

Thrasher gave a shrug. "Not sure. I haven't seen him since this morning."

They spoke for a moment more, then Thrasher slipped away into the crowd. Razor scooted closer to Bones and asked quietly, "What's wrong with Malone?"

"My dad," he said simply.

Razor nodded, feeling a little foolish; he should have been able to figure that out himself. Everyone was, to some degree, mourning the loss of the great Butch Justice, himself included. Naturally, Malone was someone who had to be feeling the loss keener than others. He'd already tragically lost his wife, and now with his best friend gone and his daughter grown up, he was probably feeling pretty lonely--and maybe a little old, too. Not that he'd ever admit any of this.

"You know who'll suffer the most next season?" Razor asked with a sigh.

Bones grinned a little. "You mean besides us?"

"It's not funny, bro. When he's mad, he puts us through the wringer."

"Maybe he'll have cheered up by then."

Razor snorted. "Yeah, maybe some hot, sexy mama will come along, and he'll be so busy having wild, kinky sex he'll forget about coaching altogether."

Bones made a coughing sound. "Thanks, Raze, for shoving that image into my brain."

Razor snickered. His order arrived a moment later, and they went to sit at a nearby booth. "Will you be seeing Derikka again?" Bones asked as Razor took a sip of his soda.

Razor cocked one of his hairless brows. "Any particular reason you want to know?"

Bones gave a shrug and fiddled with a napkin. "Just curious."

Razor kind of doubted that was the only reason he was asking. Bones never asked him about his love-life. He narrowed his eyes at his lifelong friend's deadpan expression for a moment, then said, "You don't like her, do you."

"I never said that," said Bones, clearly taken aback. "I barely know her."

Razor let out a snort. "You never have to 'know' someone, bro. You're the quickest judge of character of anyone alive."

And it was true. Bones could figure out what kind of person someone was within minutes of meeting them, and he was never wrong.

Bones continued to fidget; it wasn't like him to act anything less than decisive. "Guess I didn't talk to her enough to make that analysis," he finally said. "But she seems kind of like a nervous type to me."

"Nervous?" Razor echoed, shocked. "Dude, she just bought a pet snake. Granted, it's a pink, extremely girly snake, but...she'll have to feed it dead mice, and she doesn't care. Girl's got a cast-iron stomach."

Bones grew quiet after that. Razor couldn't help wondering what was on his mind; most of his relationships were brief and Bones didn't bother asking about his dates and girlfriends now any more than he did back in high school, so he found the sudden interest a little perplexing.

But Bones didn't say much else that night, and he didn't say very much over the next few days, during which Razor spent all the time with Derikka he could. The places they went to were pretty different from his usual hangouts; Derikka, he soon discovered, liked culture. She enjoyed museums just as much as malls and arcades, and even when Razor was sure he would find one of their outings boring, they always had a blast no matter where they went. This might have been because the places she chose weren't as bad as he thought...though he suspected it was mostly because Derikka herself was so much fun to be with.

At the risk of sounding cliché, she wasn't like anyone he ever met before. She was smart, sassy, and she had a great sense of humor. She wasn't afraid of anything, or of trying new things. They played around with norm-friendly sports together, if a little more out there than most. They swung on a trapeze one day and bungee-jumped over a swimming pool the next. Other days were more low-key, spent instead at a zoo or a park. Derikka was game for just about anything.

And then there were days where getting together just didn't work out. She had her obligations and he had his, though she always called his cell phone around bedtime to wish him goodnight.

It wasn't like any relationship he'd ever been in before. Razor wasn't sure exactly what it was, but something was definitely different. She'd been the only thing on his mind since the moment he first laid eyes on her, which wasn't anything new--but what surprised him was the excitement he kept feeling. Normally by the time he knew a girl for two weeks, that 'new girlfriend' feeling had faded, but with Derikka it wasn't like that. The more he spent time with her, the more interested in her he became. He wanted to know everything there was to know about her: her favorite foods, where she liked to go when she was feeling down, even her childhood memories. She had gotten to him unlike any other girl ever had.

One afternoon he lay on the living room couch, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Hands folded on his chest, he said, "I think I'm in love."

Bones, who was sitting in the nearby easy chair reading a newspaper, made a scoffing sound and turned a page.

"I'm serious, bro," Razor insisted, irritated by his reaction. "I'm really starting to think she's the one."

"Yeah, I've heard that one before."

Razor sat up and glared at his friend. "It's so easy for you to judge, isn't it," he muttered. "You, who keeps away from girls like you're allergic or something."

Instead of ignoring him, like Bones usually did when he was pushing it, he lowered the newspaper and stared at him hard for a long moment. Razor stared back mutely in return; he had more to say, but something in Bones' stony expression made him forget.

"Remember Sherry Steele?"

Now Razor gave him a peculiar look. "Uhhhh, yeah?"

"We've been seeing each other since the night we won the cup."

Razor almost fell off the couch. "What?" he cried.

"Don't tell anyone," said Bones, his voice firm but pleading. "I'm still getting used to it and I'm not ready to deal with the press yet."

Razor rolled his eyes. "I think you know me better than that."

The media was already having a field day with seeing him and Derikka together so often lately, though no one had approached either of them with the obligatory 'okay, what’s going on here?' interview yet.

"You could have told me sooner, bro," he went on.

"I know," Bones said, a note of regret in his voice. "I just wasn't ready to."

Armed with this new piece of knowledge, Razor felt kind of like a heel, looking back at some of the comments he'd made in the last few days. And this, he suddenly realized, was probably why Bones was suddenly asking how things were going between him and Derikka. Maybe he was looking for a few pointers. "You ever need any advice, I'm here for you."

Bones smiled a little. "Thanks, but we're doing pretty good so far."

Razor didn't doubt that. Sherry's interest in his friend, which began shortly after they met, had remained subtle, but most knew about it by now. Thrasher's interest, on the other hand...

He sat up straighter. "Thrasher's going to blow sixteen gaskets," he noted dryly.

"Which is another reason I'm not ready to go public. Especially right now. She's already in a bad mood over Malone."

Like father, like daughter. Malone continued to brood, so in turn Thrasher was particularly moody. "It probably won't ever be a good time to tell her, but..."

"When the time comes, it comes," Bones said mildly. "Speaking of the time...don't you have a date?"

Razor glanced at the clock and jumped up with a yelp. "I'll see you later," he said as he hurried to grab his jacket.

"Don't tell her, okay?"

Razor paused. "Who--Derikka? Trust me, bro, we never talk about you. Remember that girl I dated in college?"

Bones smirked in response; clearly, he did. "Sorry about that."

"Not your fault," Razor sighed, though he'd partially blamed Bones at the time--for being so damn cool.

He'd made the mistake of bragging a little too much about his best friend's skill to a girl he'd been seeing. Next thing he knew, she dumped him and started chasing Bones instead, because he 'made him sound so interesting'. Bones hadn't reciprocated, of course, but the experience had been awfully embarrassing, not to mention ego-bruising.

Not that he was worried in this case. Derikka was different. She'd started pursuing him first, not the other way around, and he had put out a few feelers about her previous relationships. She had answered vaguely or dodged altogether, but Razor suspected there'd been few men in her life before him. The thought made him smile as he got into his car and drove out of the parking garage, eager to see the girl in question.

Chapter Text

As the days went by, Bones watched the newness of their championship slowly wear off, as he'd known it would. The extra attention ebbed a little as a result, though there was still a lot to do. Just because it was the off-season didn't mean his team wasn't busy--just differently. And it didn't mean they didn't still play, on occasion.

"A fund raiser?" he said after answering the phone one afternoon. "Sure, we'll play."

Benefit games were always nice and low key, and a lot less brutal since they were never played at the Dome. Playing on a normal arena was more risky for the fans who were watching, so the game-play was always subdued. In a way, it was almost all for show. Not that he didn't make sure they always won anyway.

"Who will we be playing against?" he wondered.

"I'm not sure yet," said the event coordinator. "You're the only team that's said yes so far."

Not surprising. Most of the other teams in the League weren't interested in playing if they weren't making money for themselves. Not that they wouldn't be paid for appearing...they just wouldn't be paid very much.

"Well, keep me posted."

After hanging up, Bones thought about how he could keep himself busy today, since he didn't have anywhere to go or anyone to meet. Razor left hours ago to film a commercial, and the apartment was empty and quiet for a change. It might be nice to just sit alone and meditate for a while.

Bones was about to head to his room when the doorbell rang. Which took him by surprise; he normally heard or felt when someone was coming to the door before they rang or knocked.

He went to open it and found Derikka waiting out in the hall, dressed casually in white-washed jeans and a silver-gray blouse. "Razor isn't here right now," he said after inviting her inside, "but he should be back soon, if you don't mind waiting."

"Not at all," said Derikka, smiling.

She had never been inside their apartment before and was looking over everything discreetly. Bones was half-afraid she was looking for something to hide behind, since she seemed to have a problem being in the same room with him, but she looked relaxed today.

"Can I get you anything?" he asked, not knowing what else to say.

Derikka smiled again. "I'm fine, thanks. This place rocks, by the way."

"Uhhh, thanks."

This was actually the first time a non-team member was seeing it. Not that he was worried about appearances.

Although, he had to admit as Derikka quietly looked around, hands in her back pockets, he felt oddly uneasy about something. Probably because he wasn't sure if she was as comfortable as she was acting, he assumed. Given her past behavior around him, he had his doubts.

And then it hit him--he really wasn't sure. Reading people was, for him at least, the easiest thing in the world. But he honestly couldn't get a handle on Derikka's mood right now.

It was just like the first time they'd met, during that odd moment on the balcony. He hadn't been able to tell if she was afraid of him, concerned for him, or just starstruck speechless. He hadn't been able to tell what she was thinking when she was talking with him through the aquarium, either. Out of everyone he'd ever met, why her? It didn't make sense.

Unaware of his thoughts, Derikka had moved across the living room and was peeking down the hallway that led to the bedrooms. "Razor won't mind if I sneak a peek at his stuff, will he?" she asked.

"I don't think so," Bones responded, though he wasn't sure why she wanted to.

Looking eager, she slipped into his friend's room; Bones went into his own bedroom and reclined on his bed. He lay there for a while, thinking--then sat up in surprise. Derikka was standing in the doorway, but somehow he hadn't heard her come up.

She didn't come in, to his relief. Not that he would care if she did, he reminded himself. He had nothing to hide--or prove.

"How's your, uh, pet?" he asked, unable to think of anything else to say.

Derikka smiled in amusement, though he didn't fail to notice she was giving his room the once over. "She's fine. I thought I'd finally pulled one over on my mom, but she came up to me the other day and said--" she put on a deadpan expression, "--'just so you know, I'm never going within twenty feet of your room again.'"

She chuckled at the memory and leaned against the door frame. Bones tried to smile, but he felt too aware of her eyes on him. It was weird.

Derikka suddenly breathed a sigh. "I have to confess...I knew Razor wasn't here. He called me before he left and told me to meet him later. I should probably leave soon."

Bones gave her a funny look. "Why are you here, then?" he asked bluntly.

She shrugged and took a step into his room, unaffected by his brusqueness. "I don't know. Just wanted to talk to you, I guess."

Bones was taken aback. "Me? I repeat: why?"

She shrugged again. "I don't know. It's just a feeling I get. I can't really explain it."

"Yeah, you said something like that before," he said dryly.

He wasn't sure he liked the idea of his best friend's girlfriend getting 'feelings' around him.

Derikka started to say more, but then she stopped herself. Something strange flickered across her face; she stepped farther into his room and lifted his father's picture from where he left it on his dresser this morning. "Who's this?" she asked, her voice oddly soft.

“My father,” Bones responded, an edge in his voice.

He didn't particularly like her coming in and looking at it without his permission. Not that he cared what she thought.

Derikka continued to study the image, a soft smile on her face. "He looks so kind."

Bones felt a suspicious tingling in his eyes. He never cried--except when it came to matters of his father. If he started shedding tears in front of this girl...

"He was," he said, somehow keeping his voice even.

Derikka breathed a quiet sigh and set the picture down, with the same delicacy someone would handle a porcelain doll. "I never knew my father," she suddenly said, in a distant voice that suggested she was mostly talking to herself. "He ran off with another woman when I was a baby. That's why--"

She stopped herself, pressing a hand to her face with a look of embarrassment. "I'm sorry--I don't know why I'm telling you this. I should get out of here and quit bothering you already."

She turned and left, and Bones, relieved, lay back down to think.

Razor dashed off the on-location set and ran across the parking lot to his car. Filming the commercial took a lot longer than he thought it would. He fumbled to pull out his phone as he ran. He would have to call...

He slowed down, a smile breaking across his face. Derikka was already waiting by her car, which was parked next to his. "Hey, gorgeous," she greeted casually.

His smile broadening to a grin, Razor quickened his stride again. "Commere, you," he ordered when he reached her, lifting her tiny frame into his arms and holding her close to him. Her arms went around his neck, and he cupped the back of her head as their mouths meshed.

No one was around, so he moaned freely, relishing in the feel and taste of the lips beneath his own. He tickled and teased her with the tip of his tongue, making her shiver in response. As always, he started coaxing his way past her lips, eager to explore her mouth fully--and Derikka responded by flushing and pulling away. As always. It was getting kind of frustrating.

"Where to?" she asked as he set her down again.

"Where to," he repeated, acting like he wasn't really sure as he headed for his car. "Where to, indeed?"

He grew quiet as he reached through his car window and fished out something lying on the back seat. "You think this'll fit you?" he asked.

Derikka smirked as she studied the dress he was holding up by its hanger. It was powder-blue, short, and kind of tight, with a diamond-shaped cutout at the bust-line. The thin shoulder straps crisscrossed down the low back.

"It's my size," Derikka said wryly. "But I thought red was your favorite color."

"It is," he said, a note of lament in his voice. "But after filming enough TV spots you pick up on makeup and clothes lingo, like how everyone has to go by their 'personal color palette.' Yours is soft colors."

"So it is," she said, with equal lament as she took the dress. "That's why I never wear plum or wine shades."

She smiled. "Seriously, where are we going?"

"Only the swankiest restaurant in town," Razor said smugly.

"Cuire Celeste?"

His smug look faded. "You've been there?"

"Sure, my mom and I go there all the time. It's her favorite."

That was a little disappointing; he was hoping to surprise her. But this might be better, he told himself as they went to their separate vehicles, since this was a place she already liked. Although, he realized unhappily as they pulled out of the parking lot, she didn't say it was her favorite.

Razor gave himself a shake; it wasn't like him to get nervous. He'd been planning this out for days, and he was determined it was going to be a great night.

When they got to Cuire Celeste, which was as glitzy as he remembered it--gleaming white walls, scarlet carpets and marble floors, golden wall sconces and dazzling chandeliers--they separated inside as they headed to the lounges to change. He'd come prepared in all respects and handed her a designer bag to put her clothes in. "What about shoes?" she wondered, looking down at her sneakers.

"They're inside," he replied, smug again.

Derikka raised her eyebrows, clearly impressed, and disappeared into the women's lounge. Razor hurried into the men's lounge, where he changed out of his jeans and into a dark red, almost black suit. It might not be Derikka's favorite color, but it was his, and he looked good in it.

He straightened his tie, pleased with his own appearance as he gazed at his reflection in the row of full-length mirrors. Like one would expect in a place like this, the frames were gilt, and the glass bore a subtle crackle affect, like the whole mirror had been dipped in gold. He looked himself over one last time, then went back out into the main part of the lounge, and Derikka joined him a moment later. The sight of her nearly made his heart stop.

The pale dress, a little daring compared to what she usually wore, fit her perfectly, hugging every delicate curve exquisitely. The short skirt and matching blue pumps made her legs look long and graceful, almost gleaming in the soft light. And the hint of cleavage the diamond cutout displayed was both a delightful and cruel tease.

Derikka absently smoothed her hair, which she had pulled back into a twist. "I always keep a French twist pick on me for just such an occasion," she commented wryly. "Well, either that or a sudden wind storm."

Razor, who was eyeing her empty earlobes, didn't smile. "Didn't you find the jewelry?"

Yes, he'd thought of everything. And he'd spared no expense.

Derikka's smile was coy as she held out her hand, palm up. "I was hoping you would put them on for me."

Not something he had been asked to do before, but he was game. He gently took the glittering pile of gems--genuine white gold and diamonds--from her hand. Derikka turned around, giving him a lovely view of the bold design of the back of the dress. Realizing he was staring, he gave himself a shake and slipped the necklace around her creamy throat. After fastening it, he carefully placed the earrings in her ears, where they dangled and glittered in the light.

Done, he placed his hands on her bare shoulders. Derikka shivered instantly at the contact. His hands felt warm even to him, and as he drew them down her arms, he realized she had never bared so much skin around him before. And oh, that skin--it was smooth as silk and soft as velvet. He ran his hands back up to her shoulders, which he squeezed softly; she shivered again.

"Dinner," she faltered.

Razor was nuzzling her hair, which smelled like perfume and flowers. "Let's skip it," he said, his voice low and husky. "I want to dive right into dessert."

Derikka gave a laugh and swatted at him as she moved away. "Razor Kidd," she scolded, "really."

Yes, really, he wanted to say, but kept his mouth shut as they headed into the main part of the restaurant. But there was no denying that he was more than ready to kick their relationship up a notch. As they were escorted to their table--a beautiful spot near the fountain and under the main chandelier--he spent more time thinking about how much he wanted to feel every inch of her flawless skin than what was on the menu he was handed.

Unaware of what was on his mind, Derikka flipped through her own menu and chattered about her small part in the upcoming film, her mother, and occasionally Libby, which was what she'd named her new pet snake. Razor gave her a suspicious look and said, with pretend sternness, "You didn't bring her with, did you?"

"She's in my bag," Derikka responded mildly. "If she gets hungry, run to the kitchen and get her something, will you?"

Razor started to laugh. "I think the chef would have a fit if knew you were suggesting there are mice in his kitchen."

"Well, she can't eat ants."

He continued to laugh--then turned suspicious again. "You're just joking, right?"

Derikka rolled her eyes and set her menu down. Smiling, Razor reached across the table, took her hand and brought it to his lips. Instead of letting go afterward, he pressed her hand to his cheek and just looked at her. Derikka lowered her eyes shyly, but she didn't seem to mind. Razor was glad; he couldn't take his eyes off her. She always looked beautiful, but tonight...she was downright ethereal. It took his breath away.

"Are you ready to order?" asked their waiter.

Razor forced his eyes away from Derikka and onto his menu, though not until after he'd kissed and let go of her hand. "I'll have the, uh..."

He trailed off. Having only eaten here once before, he'd forgotten that most of the menu was in French. Everything except the wine list and kiddie menu, in fact.

"We'll start off with a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace," he said quickly, hoping Derikka hadn't noticed his moment of bewilderment.

"We haven't any Oozewizer," said the waiter.

Taken aback, Razor gave him a funny look. "I didn't ask for any..."

He stopped himself when he realized he was talking to Derikka. "And we don't have the remains of the frogs slaughtered for frog legs stashed anywhere," the waiter went on, "and we're all out of 'bisghetti' and meatballs."

He spoke with the utmost solemnity, but his eyes were dancing. Derikka 'tsked.' "Too bad. I'll have the croque provençal."

"Excellent choice. For you, sir?"

Razor glanced at the menu again. "Ummm..."

"He'll have steak haché," Derikka said calmly.

"Very good," the waiter commented.

He took their menus and walked away. Trusting her to have picked something that wouldn't give him the willies, Razor leaned across the table a little. "Okay, I give up. What was that little exchange about?"

Derikka laced her fingers, rested her chin on them and pursed her lips for a moment. "My mom," she began, "takes high society dining very seriously. So, as her daughter, it's my duty to screw with her whenever we come here."

Razor sat back again, the picture of how she must behave all too clear to him--and started to snicker. "You're a little minx, aren't you."

"I guess," said Derikka, with a sigh and a shrug.

"I'm going to have my hands full with you, aren't I," he said, his sigh matching hers as he leaned his head on his palm.

Derikka's smile was coy, yet playful. "Am I too much for you?"

Razor decided to ignore the bait and just smiled. "If it were up to me, Dare, I'd never let you go."

Chapter Text

When their meals came, Razor saw that Derikka ordered him what looked like a hamburger without a bun, complete with a side of fries. Derikka had a toasted ham sandwich dripping with white cheese and garnished with tomatoes. Despite her reputation for naughty behavior, she sliced everything carefully into bite-sized pieces, which she nibbled daintily.

The two of them made light conversation between sips of wine. Derikka kept hers delicate, while he took only slightly larger ones. Fortunately, it took drinks a lot stronger to make a mutant drunk, though wine tended to make him feel mellow. "So, your new single comes out next week," he commented before taking another sip.

Derikka poked at her plate and didn't reply. All of a sudden she looked distracted, like her mind had drifted somewhere far and away from their dinner.

Razor reached over and rested his hand on hers. "Something wrong?" he asked softly.

She shrugged. "Just thinking."

He smiled and rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. "About what?"

She softly chewed her lip for a moment, as if she were debating whether or not to tell him. Finally, she said, "Bones."

Razor was glad he wasn't sipping his wine right now; he probably would've sputtered it up his nose. "Uhhh, any particular reason why he's on your mind?"

The notion that his girlfriend was thinking about his best friend during the most romantic dinner he'd ever come up with was a little weird.

Derikka looked at him for a moment, then laced her fingers and rested her chin on them. Her eyes had turned distant. "I'm not sure why," she murmured. "He's been in and out of my thoughts ever since I talked to him earlier."

Yeah, that definitely qualified as weird. "You talked to him today? When?"

"When I stopped by your apartment before going to meet you. I'm not sure why I wanted to, I just..." She sighed quietly and closed her eyes. "I don't have a father, either. I guess I feel like that makes us kindred spirits, in a way."

"And that's what you talked about?"

"More or less. Well, I talked. He glared at me like I was bugging him. Which I probably was."

Eyes still closed, she clasped her hands and rested her mouth against them. Razor took another sip of wine as the silence mounted. "Did he tell you what happened?" he finally asked.

Derikka gave a start and focused on him, as if she'd forgotten he was there. "Huh?"

"Bones," he reminded her. "Did he tell you what happened to his father?"

She shook her head and poked at her plate again. "No. He didn't say much of anything, actually. I can tell he doesn't like me...I probably shouldn't bother him anymore."

Razor doubted it was actual dislike, but he didn't doubt that Bones had been giving off unhappy vibes today. His father was a sore subject.

"What did happen?" she wondered as they resumed eating.

"I'd rather not tell you now," he said, with a glance at the classy décor. "It's not a happy story."

Derikka nodded mutely, but Razor could tell by the look on her face and from the handful of times she briefly alluded to it that the story about her own father wasn't very happy either. "Want to talk about it?" he asked gently.

She thought it over for a moment. "Not much to tell, really. He left us, just like that. Ran off with some other woman like my mother meant nothing. That's how..."

She stopped herself and shook her head. "Never mind."

"No, go on," Razor said gently.

He could tell this was painful for her to talk about, but he wanted to hear. To show her he was here for her, even for the unhappy parts of her life.

Derikka sighed, but she continued. "That's how he got her," she said darkly. "He preyed on her weakness--he still does it. He uses and manipulates her, and she just can't see it. That's why I don't move out," she added, through clenched teeth. "He knows I see through his crap and hates me for it, so I stick around just to piss him off. Plus someone needs to watch out for her."

Through this narration, Razor squirmed awkwardly. He couldn't picture someone as sweet as Derikka hating anyone, but as she spoke, it was plain that she hated her stepfather--with a passion.

She shook her head, shrugging off the subject. "Let's not talk about it anymore. I don't want to ruin our whole evening."

"If you want," said Razor, though he was secretly relieved. He didn't like that dark look in her eyes when she talked about this guy, whoever he was.

After a lengthy silence, he said jokingly, "How soon can I see you tomorrow?"

Derikka smiled, but only briefly, to his disappointment. She kept staring droopily at her plate, so he reached across the table and gently lifted her chin. "Are you going to cheer up," he asked solemnly, "or am I going to have to stand on my head? And believe me, when you have a head shaped like mine, that's no fun."

To his relief, Derikka started to laugh. "Oh, Razor," she sighed, taking his hand and resting her forehead against it. She let out her breath slowly, and when she spoke again, her voice was low, and it quavered slightly. "I know we've only known each other a few of weeks, but..."

Razor sat up straighter, his heart quickening in his chest. "But...?" he gently pressed.

For the longest moment Derikka didn't respond, but just sat there clutching his hand. Eyes still closed, she softly kissed his fingers.

Then she let go, pushed her chair back and said, "I need to use the ladies room."

Razor's heart dropped as she walked away. Well, that was disappointing.

With his dinner companion gone, he let his eyes wander the room. There were enormous potted plants set in the corners and near pillars, probably some ultra-expensive imported fern; the white table cloths adorning the tables almost glistened in the light, while the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling glittered like jewels; to his left were rows of arched windows, with a set of French doors that led out to a walkway that wound around the side of the restaurant, so couples could take a romantic stroll after they ate--and walk off a few calories.

Razor hadn't been out there before, but he guessed there was a polished stone railing that you could lean on, with a garden to gaze at below. He would have to take Derikka out there later--but for now he was enjoying the quiet music playing.

On the other side of the fountain was a small stage, with a piano, microphone and other instruments. The only musicians currently present was the piano-player, accompanied by the violinist. It wasn't really his style of music, but it was the best kind to dance to after a big dinner--especially when your dinner date was someone you wanted to hold as close as possible.

Several other couples were on the floor already, so when Derikka returned a few short minutes later, he stood with a smile. "Care to dance, my lady?" he asked teasingly.

Derikka stopped and looked at him a moment, then at the dance floor. "Okay," she agreed, stepping closer to him.

She started to reach for his hand, then stopped herself. "Wait, hold on."

Curious, Razor watched her as she turned to pull a chair from their table. She scooted it over, stood on top of it and slid her arm around him. "There--perfect," she said as she took his hand.

Razor started to laugh as he put his arms around her and rested his cheek against her hair. "Oh, you silly minx," he sighed.

And oh, how soft that silly minx felt, and how good her hair smelled...

Moving his hands up and down her back, he kissed along her jawbone, then cupped her face and captured her lips with his. Derikka let out a sigh and clutched at his shoulder as she kissed him back, teasing and tantalizing him with those plump lips of hers.

Razor let out a low moan, keeping it quiet since they were in public, and held her closer. He started running his forked tongue across her lips, back and forth, making Derikka gasp softly. It wasn't much, but the intake of breath parted her lips just enough for him to push his way past them and into the recesses of her mouth. Moaning again, he stroked the roof of her mouth, her tongue, coiling and tangling around it as his heart raced in his chest as his excitement started to mount. He wasn't the only one getting excited; Derikka's body had stiffened in his arms, and he could feel her heart thumping away through the thin fabric of her dress.

He held her closer and continued to coil his tongue with hers--and then, to his surprise and dismay, she twisted her head away and laid it on his shoulder, where she panted, clearly out of breath.

He bit his lip a moment; he must have gotten more carried away than he thought. But her warm, glowing skin was too delicious to pass up, and he started kissing and nuzzling the exposed curve of her neck. Moving slowly, he worked his way down to her shoulder as he teased her bare back with his fingertips.

Suddenly Derikka squirmed. "Razor, people are looking," she whispered.

"So let them look," he murmured, his lips still pressed to her skin.

She squirmed again with a small sound of protest. "Just stop, please," she said, her voice strained, pleading.

Surprised, Razor loosened his grip. Derikka stumbled and almost fell as she climbed down from the chair. She all but ran out of the restaurant, exiting through the French doors.

The other diners pretended to be absorbed in their meals as he hurried after her. Outside, the air felt cold against his face, which was still flushed with excitement. As he'd suspected, there was a fancy railing running along the edge of the walkway, though instead of a garden, there was merely a row of hedges on the other side, with a few trees beyond them, separating the yard from the next parking lot over.

Derikka was leaning against the railing as she took deep breaths, looking like she was trying to calm herself down. Frowning, Razor came up beside her quietly and rested a gentle hand on her arm. "I didn't mean to embarrass you," he said uncertainly.

Derikka managed a weak smile, though she didn't look at him. "It wasn't that," she said quietly. "I just..."

She stopped herself, putting her fingertips to her mouth. "What?" he prodded gently.

She shook her head and closed her eyes. Razor reached up to stroke her cheek. "You can tell me anything, you know," he told her softly. "Anything at all. I don't shock easy."

He was trying to lighten the mood, to make her smile, but Derikka didn't look ready to cheer up. Sighing, she pressed her hand to her eyes, hiding her face. "I'm not used to being that excited," he heard her say, almost too low for him to hear.

He thought about that for a moment--then let out a chuckle of amusement. "That almost sounds like something a v--"

Derikka flinched. Razor shut his mouth so hard his teeth clacked as reality hit him, and hit him hard.

Holy crap on a cracker. He was dating a virgin.

"I didn't mean--" he faltered.

Too late. Derikka had turned away, red-faced and cringing with embarrassment. She started taking brisk steps away from him; he hurried to catch up and wrapped his arms around her from behind.

"I'm sorry," he groaned, leaning down to rest his head on her hair. "I have a horrible habit of putting my foot in my mouth at the absolute worst times. But I never do it on purpose--honest."

Oh, yeah. That was the best apology ever. He sounded about as mature as a fifth grader.

"I mean," he went on, knowing he should shut up but unable to stop rambling, "It's not like I had any way of knowing--and I don't know that I've ever seen one. You know. Up close."

Done. Stick a fork in him, because this relationship was done, done, done.

And then Derikka did something that made him feel even worse. She sniffled and wiped her eyes.

"Are you crying?" he asked gently--stupidly, since she obviously was.

He turned her, as gently as he could, until she was facing him. Her face was dry, but her green eyes were moist with unshed tears. A few spilled free as she avoided his gaze and lowered her eyes, trickling slowly down her cheeks.

Pain stabbing at his heart, Razor cupped her face and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. "I'm the worst boyfriend ever," he sighed, drooping in miserable resignation.

Derikka looked at him then, with a weak laugh. "You're not," she said, sniffling again. "You're sweet--most of the time."

"But you're the last person alive I'd ever want to hurt," he insisted, still angry at himself.

Derikka smiled softly and took hold of his hands. She kissed his fingers, then pressed one hand to her cheek. "It's sweet that you care."

Cheek still pressed to his hand, she said, "I surprised you, which can't be helped. Like I said, I'm behind on most of life's major milestones."

He hadn't forgotten her telling him that. Paired with how she always shied away whenever they started to get more intimate...he should have figured it out.

"I was surprised," he admitted, "but I could've handled it better. I mean, it's not a big deal or something. I don't care either way."

And he didn't. What did it matter? They would never be able to go all the way. In fact, it was probably better like this. If all she ever knew were his tongue and his fingers, she would--hopefully--never long for more someday.

Razor felt a jolt at the direction his thoughts had just taken, which was a direction they'd never gone before. When he started a relationship, he knew as well as anyone that it wasn't likely to last, so he always made the best of it and enjoyed it while it did. But Derikka was different. She had been different from the beginning. He'd known it from the moment he set eyes on her, before they had even met. This person--this sweet, wonderful, beautiful person--wasn't someone he could imagine only seeing briefly and then forgetting about.

This was a person he could picture spending the rest of his life with.

The notion shocked him to the core. He had never--ever--considered marriage before. But now, all of a sudden, he was laying out his life before him--and he wanted Derikka to be with him, every step of the way.

The concept left him breathless--and speechless. Derikka was looking up at him curiously--no doubt he had a funny look on his face--but for once in his life he couldn't speak, couldn't figure out how to put his thoughts into words.

So he blurted out the first words that came to mind, the ones he thought might sum everything up in a nutshell.

"Derikka, I love you."

Derikka's eyes widened. Her grip on his hand tightened. Razor swallowed. "Too soon?" he asked, with a nervous laugh.

Her green eyes drifted away from him, gazing off into the distance as she thought. Cupping his hand in hers, she laced their fingers together. "I don't think so," she said softly, quietly. "I was trying to tell you the same thing earlier, but I lost my nerve."

Razor grinned--more than grinned, he was sure his smile was dazzling--and gripped her other hand. "I was wondering where that "We've only known each other for a few of weeks" sentence had been going," he said wryly.

She gave her head a shake and rested her face against his hand again. "I know it hasn't been that long, but..."

She let out her breath slowly and closed her eyes. "Everything about this feels so right."

Razor gazed at her, her face so soft and beautiful in the starlight. "Maybe it doesn't matter,” he said quietly, after thinking for a long moment. "Maybe sometimes, you don't need that much time before you know. Sometimes it takes longer, but other times..."

He gave a nervous laugh. "I hesitate to say that sometimes it's just meant to be, but..."

Derikka laughed with him, her eyes and smile bright. "I think it is. I think you're the one I've been waiting for my whole life, the one I didn't even know I needed."

Razor didn't want to talk anymore. Without a word, he scooped his tiny Derikka into his arms and held her to him as their mouths met. Derikka's arms went around him tightly; he turned and set her so she was sitting on the railing, which he leaned his hands on as he took his time getting to know her mouth, slowly, gently, without force.

With his eyes closed, he couldn't see the stars, but the ones dancing behind his lids were just as bright.

Chapter Text

Bones must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew, he was sitting up in his darkened bedroom, feeling a little disorientated. It took him a moment to realize that the sound of the doorbell ringing was what had woken him up; he hopped out of bed and hurried to answer it.

Sherry stood in the outside hall, though instead of her usual pale pink suit, she was dressed in faded jeans and a hooded sweatshirt that read Mutant League: Yes, it's that cool.

He snickered, and she looked amused that he'd noticed. "What's up?" he asked.

"Work wrapped up late," she answered in a casual tone. "I thought you might like to take a walk."

"I wouldn't mind," he said with a smile, "but I'd rather ride."

"Don't you need your jacket?" she asked, eyeing his thin t-shirt as he grabbed his keys.

"I don't feel cold," said Bones, with mock solemnity.

Sherry pursed her lips, pouting. "But I like it when you wear leather."

"Well, that's different then."

After tugging his shiny leather jacket on, they headed out to where he'd parked his bike, and she climbed on behind him and wrapped her arms around him tightly. She didn't tell him where to go, and she didn't need to; their habit was to just ride for awhile, enjoying each other's company and the silence brought on by the roar of the bike engine. He would go wherever it pleased him, eventually stopping at one of their favorite haunts.

Tonight, after riding for maybe an hour or so, he stopped at the pond, where they sat on the same bench they did the night of the cast party. Sherry wrapped her arms around one of his his and rested her head on his shoulder.

"I love you, Bones."

She said it quietly, almost in passing, but Bones felt that same stirring inside him, that desire to say it back. But he still couldn't.

But like always, Sherry didn't react to his silence. She ran her fingers down his arm to his hand; he closed his fingers around hers.

"Come home with me."

Bones felt a jolt. "What?"

Sherry lifted her head, her smile soft and pleading. "Please."

For a moment Bones was too shocked to say anything. She knew better than this.

"Sherry," he said uncertainly, "that isn't a good idea. I mean, you know I can't do anything..."

With a scoff, Sherry let go of his arm and stood. "I know that," she muttered angrily. He'd never had a problem with her fiery temper before--he kind of liked it, actually--but ever since they started dating, he squirmed when that temper was directed at him.

"I'm not asking you to 'do something,' Bones," she went on, eyes snapping a little. "I just..."

She let out her breath and rubbed her eyes, hiding her face. "I just want to feel what it's like to wake up in your arms. That's stupid, and I'm sorry."

Bones quickly stood and put his hands on her arms. "No," he said firmly. "It's not stupid. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to want."

And if that was really all she wanted, he had no reason to refuse.

He tenderly kissed her forehead and said, "Take me home."

Sherry lowered her hand and looked at him, her eyes gauging whether or not he meant it. She put her arms around him for a long moment, and then they wordlessly mounted his bike.

Bones had driven to Sherry's house plenty of times, but he'd never been inside. As he pulled up outside of the small, one-story cottage, he felt a strange flicker of apprehension, of stepping into the unknown. He gave himself a shake; it was only his girlfriend's house. Or maybe that was the point.

Sherry opened the quaint white gate in the middle of the short fence bordering the yard and led the way up the front walk, which was lined with round garden stones. The house itself was yellow, while the porch was white, and complete with a small table and chair on one side and a classic A-frame wooden swing on the other. He never really paid attention to any of it before, but now he found himself studying everything as he followed her up the porch steps and into the house. It really gave him an idea of what Sherry was like outside the Dome.

Inside, Sherry turned on a lamp, which rested on a glass end table positioned next to a sofa. The sofa faced a TV, with a cabinet with glass doors housing videos beside it. Almost everything was made out of glass and natural wood; a bookcase, a coffee table, a side table on which Sherry set her keys. She slipped off her shoes and left them on a shelf beneath the table.

After considering it for a long moment, Bones did the same, though he rarely took off his shoes or gloves if he could avoid it. It was partly out of vanity, though he hated to admit it, and partly for convenience. His bony fingers were awkward when they were out of his gloves due to their shape and slipperiness.

Sherry had nothing to say about his skeletal toes; she didn't even glance at them as she went to light another lamp. He noticed that she liked lamps with a classic round, ceramic base, with cream shades. All in all, her home had a warm, welcoming vibe. It was one of those places that was so cozy, just about anyone felt comfortable--himself included.

Letting himself relax, Bones slipped off his jacket and hung it on the brass rack next to the front door. For a brief moment Sherry looked at him uncertainly, but Bones knew she was smart; she wouldn't ask him if he wanted anything, only to remember there was nothing to give him.

As he suspected, she skipped showing him the kitchen, instead leading him through the living room and down the adjoining hall. They passed a bathroom, which she didn't bother to point out since he didn't have much reason to use it. It wasn't until she ushered him inside and turned on the light did he realize she had taken him straight to her bedroom.

He stood awkwardly in the doorway for a moment, feeling strange for a reason he couldn't quite name--but then it dawned on him. This was why Derikka had wanted to 'sneak a peek' at Razor's room; a bedroom was a person's most private, personal space. You could learn a lot about someone here, things you might not ever know otherwise--maybe even things they didn't want you to know.

As Sherry moved to the other side of her bed to turn on the other lamp, Bones let his eyes wander over everything. Two nightstands, one on either side of the bed; a sliding closet door to his left; a dresser against the wall across from where he stood; a tall, wide window at the back, with a large desk beneath it. On the desk was a computer--and a fat, cream-colored book that closed with a snap.

Bones went over and picked it up with interest, though he didn't open it. "Anything in here that'll make me blush?" he wondered wryly.

Sherry looked up--she was turning the bed down--and smirked. "Sorry, Justice, that's just my planner. And I didn't know you could blush."

He smirked in return. "I was kidding," he said, putting the planner back where he found it.

Next to the computer were several pictures in silver frames. One of Sherry with an older couple he assumed were her parents, another of her and her studio crew...and one of, naturally, himself.

Bones 'tsked.' "I always look so washed out in photos."

Sherry snickered. "At least you never have to worry about makeup. Believe me, being hit in the face with a powder puff every few takes gets old--fast."

Bones smiled and turned away from the desk--and was glad he didn't have a throat. Otherwise he'd have started choking.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.

Sherry gave him a funny look and finished pulling her sweatshirt over her head. "Getting ready for bed. What's it look like I'm doing?"

"Please don't."

He knew he should have anticipated this--did he think she was going to sleep in her clothes?--but he wasn't ready.

Sherry paused, hands on her hips, dressed only in her bra and jeans. "Something the matter?" she asked, a touch of dryness creeping into her voice.

Bones felt flustered. And that wasn't a feeling he liked. Not one tiny bit.

"I think we both know," he forced himself to say, "that I've never seen a woman naked before. Not this close."

Sherry pursed her lips. "What about all the fans that flash you from the stands?"

Bones cringed inwardly; he had hoped she didn't know about that. "That doesn't count. I don't know any of them."

Now Sherry lifted her eyebrows, clearly perplexed. "So, seeing total strangers naked is okay, but the woman who loves you...isn't?"

"No," Bones said wearily, putting a hand to his eyes, "that isn't it at all."

He held his hands to his eyes for a moment more--having no eyelids, this was the only way to shield himself from the world when he needed to--before lowering it and looking at her again. "Let's just save that for next time, okay? Please?"

For a moment Sherry just looked at him. He could tell she was annoyed with him--she wanted to share herself with him and she was hurt that he didn't want her to--but there was understanding in her eyes. She always understood.

"Okay," she agreed reluctantly, turning to pull fresh nightclothes from her dresser. "I just thought it was only fair. I've seen you naked, after all."

Bones smiled in spite of himself. "True, but there isn't exactly something to see."

Sherry clucked her tongue. "No? You've got a pretty cute pelvis."

"Yeah," Bones scoffed after she'd left for the bathroom to change. "That's all I've got."

Left alone, Bones let his eyes wander again, though his attention was mostly focused on the bed now. It wasn't anything special, as far as beds went...other than the fact, as he couldn't help noticing as soon as he came into the room, it was a double bed.

In the past, he had done a good job of keeping the idea that Sherry had had other men in her life before she met him at the edges of his mind, but faced with something like this made it kind of hard to. His main consolation was that the only one she wanted to share her bed with now was him, but that consolation was bittersweet since sharing the bed was the full extent of what they could do.

With this thought lingering in his mind, he undressed slowly--there was no reason not to, since she'd seen all there was to see several times already--then went around to one side of the bed. As he slipped under the covers, he noted mentally that he didn't know which side she normally slept on. He could scarcely believe he was even worrying about something like that.

When Sherry came back into the room, she didn't pause to take note of anything, his position or otherwise, before crawling onto the bed and climbing in beside him. She didn't waste any time doing so, but Bones still got a good look at what she was wearing--what little there was. Snug white bikini bottoms and a loose-fitting pink sleep top...nothing more.

"How long have you been sleeping in a double bed?" he asked as she leaned over him to switch off the lamp.

He hadn't meant to say that--it just kind of slipped out. If Sherry saw any other reason for him to ask this question, it didn't show as she turned to reach for the other lamp.

"Since I was fourteen," she responded lightly. "My parents insisted. I tossed so much in my sleep as a teen I kept falling out of bed. I don't thrash as much these days, but I'm used to it so I doubt I could sleep in a single again."

The lamp clicked off and darkness descended. Even with his sunglasses on, Bones still saw better in the dark than most. Although, he realized as his eyes quickly adjusted, it wasn't completely dark. There was a soft, dull light coming from the direction of Sherry's desk, probably from the computer hardware.

Almost like a nightlight, he realized, but he would have been able to see the warm smile Sherry flashed him as she scooted closer even without it. She reached for him--and he found it was surprisingly easy to open his arms and pull her to him.

As he started to lay back on the pillow, Sherry twisted around, reaching down his arm. "You always sleep in these?" she asked, tugging at his glove.

"Always," he said simply.

He usually slept in his shoes, too, but he didn't think she'd appreciate that, so by the door they remained.

Sherry was trying to pull his left glove off. His fist balled in resistance. "I could poke you," he said as she continued to tug.

She snorted. "You sound like my mom when I wanted to sleep with my Barbie dolls."

"Smart mom," Bones said with a wry smile. "You could put an eye out."

"Humor me."

Seeing that she wasn't going to give up, he loosened his fist, resigned. After pulling his left glove free, she twisted around to pull off the other one. Once they were both tossed aside, she scooted up, wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his arm.

It was a position, foreign as it was, that Bones knew he could get comfortable with in a hurry. A moment later, so swiftly and quietly he had no idea what she intended to do, Sherry snaked her hand up and pulled off his sunglasses.

She set those aside too, and then, also before he knew what she intended to do, she leaned up and pressed a soft, tender kiss between his sensitive eyes.

She settled against his arm again after that, her breath touching his breastbone as she closed her own eyes. Bones looked at the light coming from the desk, glad that it was too weak to make him squint, though he still felt more exposed than he had in a long time. Gloves and shoes were one thing, but his sunglasses?

He didn't wear them out of vanity. If that was all it was, he would gladly turn his perpetually red eyes on his opponents, knowing the affect of them glowing like fire when he was mad would be all that more impressive without being obscured by black shades. But his eyes remained the most sensitive part of his body, and with no lids to protect them, they were vulnerable to damage and debris. To say nothing of what the harshness of light did to them.

Sometimes, Bones felt like kicking Jukka like a football for helping perpetuate the belief that mutants didn't feel pain. This belief, maintained by most norms and some unfortunate mutants, only helped to diminish and negate what little humanity a mutant had left. Jukka, as a scientist and the one who invented the Rejuvenator, knew better than anyone that this wasn't true.

Mutants felt pain differently, but they still felt it. The chemical reaction inside their bodies that triggered from severe injuries helped dull it, even stop it completely in most cases. The greater the injury, the greater the reaction, and a lot of his fellow athletes had learned how to trigger this ability at will, controlling what little pain they felt and allowing them to lose limbs and heads without consequence.

It was ironic, really. Small injuries triggered a much smaller reaction, since their bodies didn't perceive them as life-threatening, so lesser injuries often hurt more than anything else. Which was why he made sure the weak target his eyes presented was never discovered, and so far he had kept it a secret. The sharpest pain he commonly felt was when sunlight happened to slip around his shades.

Thinking about it now, the greatest physical pain he had experienced in recent memory was the time he was torn in two. Trying to rejuvenate cells that weren't there anymore had caused him an agony he hadn't known he could still feel. Remembering that time brought a different kind of pain, a cold one, from deep inside him. He hadn't handled that situation well, but Sherry had stayed by his side, not caring about anything but being there for him. But he had been too full of shame and embarrassment from being so vulnerable, so he had sent her away.

He wondered now if he had known then how strongly she felt for him if he would have reacted differently. Not that it mattered. He had done it--hurt her when all she wanted was to love him. But even after that, she was still there for him--and here with him now, closer to him than anyone else had ever been. And Bones, knowing that she had gone through so much for him, and was determined to stand by him no matter what, knew that she deserved for him to love her with every last fiber of his being--and he wanted to. In that moment he wanted to more than anything...he just wasn't sure if he could.

While all this was tumbling through his mind, Sherry's breathing remained soft and rhythmic, having fallen asleep shortly after she closed her eyes. Unable to close his own, he settled deeper into the pillow and gazed at her face, so peaceful in the almost darkness, occasionally reaching up to brush back a lock of her hair, until sleep finally claimed him.

Instead of saying goodbye at the restaurant and driving home, Derikka followed Razor back to his apartment so she could tell him goodnight there, which suited him just fine. After pulling into the garage, he met up with her out front, where he promptly lifted her in his arms and held her as close as he could. He wanted to hold her as tight as possible and never let go--but breaking your girlfriend's ribs and crushing internal organs wasn't the best way to end a romantic evening, so he held her gently instead, planting soft kisses all over her hair, her face, her lips.

Derikka moaned softly and responded in kind, kissing and nuzzling his face and throat. Now that he knew the truth about her experience level, Razor noticed a change in her affections. She was more at ease, more sure of herself. And he, in turn, was more gentle than ever, not doing anything until he was sure she wanted him to.

Setting her to her feet, he cupped her face in his hands and slowly snaked his tongue past her lips. Her mouth opened to him as she moaned low in her throat, a sound that made things in his lower region tighten--to say nothing of what it did to him when she started licking his tongue back, even sucking on it a little.

Needing to break for air, he pulled away with a slight gasp, his face as flushed as hers. "You know," he said lowly, his voice coming out husk, "it doesn't look like Bones is back yet. You could come in for a while..."

He trailed off, leaving the rest of the that sentence to her imagination. Biting her lip, Derikka lowered her eyes for a moment. "I don't think I'm ready for that. Not yet."

Razor was disappointed, but he wasn't going to pressure her. And now, he decided, was as good a time as any to explain what they could and couldn't do.

"Just so you know," he said softly as he smoothed a stray lock of hair from her face, "we'll probably never be able to go all the way together."

Derikka frowned, her eyes full of confusion--and disappointment, although he also detected just the tiniest flicker of relief. "Why not?"

"Well, it's like this," he went on, though he felt a little awkward talking about this on the front walk. But she'd refused his invitation, so he wasn't about to repeat it, or insist that they discuss this inside. "Sex has been an issue for us mutants ever since we came into existence. It's particularly hard for us athletes. We can get pretty carried away in bed and we run the risk of hurting a weaker partner, especially a norm."

"But that's okay," he added quickly as Derikka looked away with a frown, "I've learned how to work around it. I've got good, strong hands and a nice, long tongue, and believe me, I know how to use them."

Derikka started to redden, and she laughed nervously for a moment. "But what about you?" she asked, lifting her eyes again. "I don't doubt that you know how to show a lady a good time, but...don't you get to have any fun?"

"Of course," he said with a smile. "You've got hands of your own, plus a few other things. But," he hastily went on as she started to blush again, "I would never pressure you to do anything you aren't comfortable doing. But when you're ready, I've got a few toys...believe me, we can have fun. We can have plenty of fun."

Derikka laughed nervously again, then studied him seriously for a moment. "But we'll probably never, you know...have full, actual intercourse?"

Razor withheld a sigh. "I doubt it. I say without vanity--well, sort of," he said with a grin, "that I'm pretty big even for a mutant. And I freely admit that I have a history. I've had quite a few ladies in my bed, but only a handful have actually been able to handle me."

Derikka turned quiet, lowering her eyes as she thought. Her silence made him a little nervous; most women he started dating knew about both his professional and personal life, so they knew going in that he had a weakness for a pretty face. But Derikka, having admitted she knew nothing of sports, Mutant League or otherwise, didn't know this until now.

But when she looked up at him again, all she said was, "And you don't mind?"

"That we won't ever go all the way? Honestly? No. I'm used to it. Like I said, we can work around it."

Smiling softly, he tenderly cupped her chin and tilted her face back, the starlight catching her eyes. "And I would never risk doing anything that might hurt you."

For a long moment, Derikka didn't say anything. She just looked at him, her expression soft, her eyes unreadable.

Then she crooked her finger, and with a grin, Razor bent to meet her waiting lips. After she'd held him to her and kissed him soundly, she buried her face in his chest with a sigh. "You're wrong," she said, her voice muffled, "you're not the worst boyfriend ever. You're the best."

"Tell me more," he said eagerly.

Derikka chuckled and let go. "I will, but tomorrow. I'll call you first thing, okay?"

"Not if I call you first," he said as she went to her car.

Chuckling again, she waved, and Razor watched until she pulled out of sight before turning, with a happy sigh, and heading into the apartment.

Chapter Text

Bones was awakened by a touch to his face. He almost jerked in surprise, forgetting for a moment where he was, but then a smiling, sleepy face came into focus and he remembered. He was in Sherry's room--in her bed, specifically. Sherry herself was wrapped in his arms, her soft limbs clinging to him tightly. It felt a little strange, but at the same time natural.

Across the room, sunlight was peeking around the blinds that hung over the window. The touch to his face had been Sherry slipping on his sunglasses.

"Thanks," he said, adjusting them slightly.

Sherry smiled again and tucked her head beneath his chin, cuddling against him with a sigh of contentment. She didn't look interested in getting up, though he knew that he probably should, and soon. His team had a game to plan.

"Did you, uh, sleep well?" he asked, not knowing what else to say.

Sherry sighed contentedly again and nodded. "Uh-huh. I haven't slept so good in ages. You make me feel so safe."

Such words warmed something deep inside him...but at the same time he felt a twinge of emptiness. Of worry. This was probably the worst time in the world to bring it up, but he had to know. And he had to know now, before this went any farther.

"Sherry," he said softly, sitting up and gently bringing her with him, "I have to ask you something."

Sherry smiled, her eyes loving as she was unaware of the turn his thoughts had taken. "Ask away."

Bones looked away for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts and ask this in a way that wouldn't upset her...although that was probably impossible.

"Will you really be happy with me?" he finally asked, still not looking at her.

A brief silence passed. "What do you mean?"

He steeled himself. "I mean, will you be happy," he went on lowly, "even though I can never please you like someone else could?"

He still wasn't looking at her, but he felt her stiffen. "What?" she asked, an edge in her voice.

Deflating, Bones gestured vaguely at himself. "You know what I mean. I don't have anything that--"

"Wait a minute."

He looked up; Sherry was pushing the covers off, her eyes narrowing at him, though she didn't look annoyed so much as she looked surprised and puzzled. "You really think," she said as she rested on her knees, "that even though you aren't equipped like a regular guy, there isn't anything you can do for me?"

Bones didn't answer, letting the silence speak for him. He knew there wasn't. He'd heard the stories that went around during his college days--Razor Kidd, Boy With the Golden Tongue. Razor had figured out a way to please any partner who fancied taking him to bed, no matter how small and fragile she was. But Bones didn't even have that option.

"You really think that?" Sherry pressed.

"I know it," he said quietly.

Sherry let out a huff of air. "How long has this been on your mind?"

"A while," he admitted.

"Could you be more specific?"

"Pretty much ever since we started dating."

Sherry was frowning at him, looking more annoyed than anything else now. "Why didn't you say something to me sooner?"

Bones gave a shrug. "I wasn't sure how to bring it up."

That was partly true. The main reason he hesitated to mention it was because he was worried about what her reaction might be. Deep down, he thought he knew that she would never leave him, even over this...but the worry lingered.

A long silence passed--and then Sherry reacted in a way that never once crossed his mind. Before he knew what she was doing, she tugged her sleep clothes off and kicked them aside. He was so surprised he almost fell off the bed.


Ignoring his astonishment, she leaned back on her palms, her slender body exposed fully to him. The sight didn't affect him like it did most men, but he found that he still appreciated what he was seeing. Hidden beneath the layers of her work suit, he had never realized how full and round her breasts really were. How soft and perfect her skin really was.

The sight pained him, too, because there wasn't anything he could do about what was being offered to him.

"Prove it."

Bones gave a start. "What?"

Sherry lifted her chin defiantly. "I don't mean to me--prove it to yourself. I had no idea you were worrying about this--it would never have crossed my mind, because the Bones Justice I know never quits until he's mastered something, no matter what."

If he had skin, he would have blushed until it hurt. "Sherry, this is different," he faltered.

"Is not," she said obstinately. With a shake of her hair, she arched her back a little; her breasts seemed to beckon to him.

"Go ahead," she said firmly, "and see for yourself just what you can do for me."

"And if I can't?" he said, after a silence.

Sherry let out a sigh. "Then you're right and I'm wrong. End of story. It's not like it'll change anything between us."

Bones felt a flicker of hope--and something else, something he couldn't quite name. "It won't?"

She shook her head. "No. Bones, if I really cared that we can't make love in the normal sense, you wouldn't even be here right now. But I don't care. I love you too much for that to ever matter to me."

Bones felt that suspicious tingling in his eyes again. But Sherry wasn't someone he was afraid of crying in front of. Not anymore.

"You mean that?" he asked softly, though it was obvious she did.

"Yes," she said firmly. "But I know you'll never be satisfied with my word alone, so go on already. Touch me."

Bones made a face and held up his skeletal hands. "With these?"

He looked at his fingers, white and knobby, then at her pink, perfect skin. The thought of touching her barehanded seemed obscene to him. "Don't you want me to put on my gloves first?"

"No. Now quit stalling."

When he continued to hesitate, Sherry reached over, took his wrists in her hands and firmly pressed his palms to her breasts.

The first thing Bones noticed was how smooth she was beneath her clothes, even smoother than her hands and face. He couldn't feel her warmth very well, but he liked it just the same.

The second thing he noticed was that Sherry didn't look instantly repulsed by the contact, like he assumed she would be. Regardless, he felt awkward and unsure of himself, and he knew he could easily pull away despite the pressure Sherry was applying, but a thought stopped him. This was, as she said, something he needed to prove to himself--to them both. He still doubted that Sherry would truly enjoy his touch, but if she was willing to bare herself to him like this, willing to throw away all caution for him just like she always did, then he owed it to her to finish what was already started.

This decision didn't help him feel any less awkward. He knew the glimpses of adult video he'd seen over the years weren't anything to go by, and he didn't trust his own instincts--if he even had any.

But Sherry, just like always, seemed to know just what to do. Hands still pressed to his, she gently curled his fingers around the swell of her breasts, guiding the tips of his thumbs to her soft nipples. "Like this," she said softly.

Bones caught on, slowly and carefully moving his thumbs in a circle. He was half-afraid she would squirm and pull away, but instead she let her breath out slowly as her hands slipped away from his. She leaned back on her palms again. "Keep going," she urged in a whisper.

He obeyed, noting how her nipples grew firmer the more he stroked them. He stroked the rest of her breasts, too, exploring their shape as slowly and gently as he could.

Sherry responded by closing her eyes and tilting her head back with a soft moan. Bones paused, brows lifting. He was almost tempted to ask if she really meant that or if she was just humoring him, but that sounded a little rude...and he really wasn't interested in talking anymore.

Instead, he glided his hands over her breasts and down her silky torso, feeling a touch of pride when she moaned again, her body arching into his touch. He listened to her soft sighs of appreciation for the next few minutes as he continued to caress her, feeling pleased that she found his touch enjoyable after all. But the swell of pride he felt was short-lived as he sadly reminded himself that this was a far cry from actually giving her an orgasm.

He wasn’t failing to get her excited, though. She kept moaning, and biting her bottom lip, one hand resting on the soft flesh of her throat. Her other hand reached out to grip his shoulder, and she leaned against him as she reached down and grabbed his wrist.

Bones tensed. "Sherry, I don't--"

Before he could finish, Sherry had pushed his hand between her legs. Her flesh, hidden from his sight, was swollen and damp. Though he couldn't feel it very keenly, he could tell she was almost hot to the touch.

Sherry bit her lip again, moaning quietly as she pressed his hand firmly against her core. "Don't stop now," she begged, her voice breathless.

As she spoke, she rocked her hips a little, rubbing herself against the side of his hand. Being so close to such a tender area, and one he couldn't see from where he made him a little nervous. His fingertips weren't the bluntest things in the world.

Sherry didn't seem to care. Her grip on his shoulder tightened as she closed her eyes again, her hips still rocking slowly against his hand, her own pressed firmly over his. With her fingers she angled his hand a little, then slowly released him and gripped his other shoulder. Her hips stilled, and he knew she wanted him to continue this on his own.

"Are you sure...?"

She nodded her head vigorously. "Yes. Please don't stop, your touch feels so good..."

Encouraged, Bones carefully stroked the indicated spot, staying mindful of his fingertips as he watched in quiet amazement how her body grew flush with excitement, her skin glistening faintly with sweat. Her breath came in short gasps, her back arching a little with each gulp. He noticed that the soft sighs and moans she was making kept getting higher and higher pitched. Her hips seemed to jerk and twitch on their own, and he knew he must have jabbed her once or twice when that happened, but she didn't seem to notice.

The hands on his shoulders suddenly tightened. Sherry arched back, her breasts brushing against him as a sharp, wordless exclamation escaped her lips. Her body trembled and jerked, even after he stilled his hand as he watched her writhe against him.

With a release of air, Sherry fell forward into his arms. Still trembling, her arms fumbled around him and she clung to him, panting. She let out a shaky laugh. "For not knowing what you're doing, you did a pretty good job," she quipped.

Bones was in disbelief. "Did you just...?"

She lifted her head with a coy smile, then cupped his face in her hands and kissed him deeply. Then, with a sigh of contentment, she rested her head on his shoulder again.

Bones looked at her, then at his own hand, which was wet and slippery. He absently rubbed the fluid between his fingers as he thought. "I never knew it was that easy," he said, a touch dryly.

That wasn't what he'd heard, at least.

Sherry laughed again. "It is when you do it right," she said, her voice practically a purr.

"But I thought..."

He hadn't forgotten all the stories he heard in college, especially the ones about Razor bragging to fellow classmates that he could slip his tongue clear up to a girl's cervix.

"I thought it only happened inside."

Sherry lifted her head again, eyebrows arched. "And who told you that?" she wondered.

"No one, exactly," he admitted. "Sex has always been a subject I avoided, I just hear things from time to time."

He avoided the subject like the plague, actually. Having mutated into a skeletoid before hitting puberty, he had never really felt any of those masculine urges. As he grew up, he didn't see any reason to pay attention to something he could never have, so he had firmly blocked out Razor's racy chatter, and left the room when a movie turned raunchy. His own ignorance had never bothered him before, but now that he was in a relationship, it was both regrettable and embarrassing.

"Ever hear of a clitoris?" asked Sherry.

"Once or twice."

She took his hand and placed his fingertip on a spot between her legs. "It's right here," she instructed, "and contrary to popular opinion, most women orgasm only when it's stimulated. In fact, many can't orgasm at all otherwise."

Bones cocked his own hairless brow. "Seriously?"

Sherry nodded and brought his hands to her lips, kissing them in turn. "And oh, these hands," she sighed, purring again. "They're perfect."

"Seriously?" he said again.

She laughed at his earnestness. "A bumpy texture gets more reaction than a smooth one," she informed him.

Bones looked at his own hands, which he had been sure she would find ugly, in a whole new light. "And that's all I need to do?"

It seemed too good to be true.

Sherry smiled and kissed him again. "I came, didn't I?" she asked as she ran her fingers through his hair.

She did, didn't she, he thought to himself. And with her body arched like that, flushed and glistening, he didn't think she'd ever looked more beautiful.

It was a sight, he thought wryly as he slowly lowered her to the mattress, that he wouldn't mind seeing again.

Chapter Text

"Would you like to try our squid and snail platter?" asked the petite waitress, who was dressed in a skimpy white shirt and black skirt combo with a small red apron. Her nametag read 'Clea'.

"I'm still deciding," answered the male patron she was addressing. He was a big, burly mutant dressed in a snug black muscle shirt and even snugger black jeans, and he had an eye-catching tattoo of orange and red flames across the side of his face.

Seated opposite him was a lithe, gorgeous creature garbed in a wisp of a red sheath dress, which was an attention-grabbing contrast to her snow-white skin. While blatantly rubbing her foot up and down her male companion's leg beneath the table, she told the waitress in a sultry voice, "I'll try the skirt steak."

"You sure you can handle that?" asked her companion, his smirk sly and seductive. "I hear that's a pretty tough cut of meat."

"Good," the other purred, slinking her foot higher. "I like my meat hard."

Instead of growing embarrassed by this blatantly sexual exchange, the waitress looked amused. "If you two really can't decide," she said sweetly, clutching her notepad in front of her, "there's a room in back you can borrow while you make up your minds."

"Cut!" yelled a voice from across the room.

Razor, who was standing next to the director, was snickering to himself. Not so much because it was a funny scene--which it was--but because it was so contrary to the people playing the parts.

"Derikka," said the director, addressing the young singer tugging at her brief skirt, "when you say that last line, fold your arms behind your back and lean forward a little bit, okay?"

Derikka complied, while Darkstar yawned and rubbed his eye. "Smile more when you say the line, too," Razor suggested.

"Like this?" She flashed a crooked grin.

Razor snickered again. "Yeah, it's funnier that way."

Beside him, the director let out a long sigh. "Thank you, Mister Kidd," he said in a weary tone. "Would you kindly shut up and let me do my job?"

"Hey, I think I know my girlfriend better than you do," Razor retorted.

"Darkstar," the nearby makeup artist suddenly cried. "Will you stop rubbing off your tattoo?"

"It itches," Darkstar grumbled, scratching his face.

Mumbling and whimpering, the makeup artist stalked over with her kit and starting touching him up. Knowing this always took a while, Luna pulled her foot from Darkstar's lap and stood. "I'm going to go call my boyfriend," she announced as she left the set.

The makeup artist whimpered again. "Razor," she said, her voice a plaintive whine, "please leave Derikka alone."

"Can't," he said as he stole his way on set and scooped his tiny girlfriend into his arms. "You need coffee. I need my Dare's lips."

And he claimed those lips, though the frazzled, weary makeup artist started throwing brushes at him. "I've quit better jobs than this," she muttered as she came to touch up the lipstick he'd just licked off.

"Are we ready, Miss Maxwell?" the director called loudly.

"I doubt it," said Razor, even though Luna was already hurrying back. "I'm pretty sure she masturbates to those phone calls."

"Razor," Derikka cried, with an embarrassed laugh. "That's a terrible thing to say."

"Probably true, though," said Darkstar with a snicker.

Luna simply breezed onto the set, without affording either of them a single glance. After Razor first met her, Darkstar slyly told him the talented actress had nerves of steel, and the two of them had been testing exactly how steely they actually were ever since. Neither of them had had much luck, and Darkstar was quickly tiring of the game, but Razor couldn't resist when an opportunity presented itself like that.

"All right, let's take it from the top," the director called as everyone took their places again.

This was Derikka's only scene in the film, which was why Razor came to watch. When it was finally finished and the crew moved on to the next scene, she changed into her normal clothes--a pair of dark jeans and a lavender tank top with spaghetti straps--and left the studio with him.

"I'm glad you don't wear much makeup off set," Razor commented casually as he leaned across the seat and cupped her face while they were stopped at a red light.

"Just lip gloss," she said lightly after he'd kissed her soundly. "Though it doesn't last long, usually."

Razor grinned. "You got that right."

He started to kiss her again, but behind him, angry car horns suddenly blared. "What?" he cried irritably.

Derikka giggled. "The light is green, silly."


Flushing, Razor went back to driving. "So, where to, pretty lady?" he asked, behaving as though she were some random hitchhiker he just picked up.

Derikka thought it over for a moment. "Home," she decided.

Razor's heart gave an excited thump. "Mmm, bold," he purred. "Won't your boyfriend mind?"

"I doubt it," she replied smoothly. "My mother is there."


Razor sat up straighter as the reality of that statement hit him. "Oh," he said again.

"If you're not ready..."

"No," he said quickly, his voice coming out higher than he meant it to. "I can meet her."

Derikka beamed, and he smiled in return, but inside he was ready to panic. He hadn't been taken home to meet a girl's parents since high school.

Stay cool, he told himself as he took slow breaths. All he needed to be was his usual, charming self. No acts; just smile and be polite.

Despite telling himself this, he noticed that he kept driving slower the closer he got to the house. Derikka noticed too, though she didn't say anything as she smiled quietly to herself.

Inevitably, he wound his way up the long driveway and parked outside the massive dwelling. As soon as he turned off the engine, Derikka scooted over, turned his face to her and kissed him.

"Just remember," she said softly, "that I love you. And that what's important to my mom is what makes me happy. Nothing makes me happier than you."

Razor was glad to hear it, but he was still a bundle of nerves as she led him up the walk, up the front steps and through the front door.

The foyer, as he suspected it would be, was wide and grand, with a marble floor and a spotless white runner. There were rooms and doors on either side, and a grand, sweeping staircase lay before him. It curved to the right from where he stood, leading to the second floor. The gleaming wooden railing continued the full length of the upper hall, allowing an open view of the second floor hallway from the floor below.

The colors were soft; pale blue, yellow, and white, along with warm oak wood furniture. Despite its grandness, it felt welcoming, not sterile like most rich environments.

"Mom," Derikka called, "I'm back."

Like something out of a movie, a door on the second floor opened and a woman breezed out. She seemed to float down the hall and down the stairs to them, and Razor could tell by the way she carried herself, back straight and head held high, that she was a woman of refinement.

She was also, he noted as she drew nearer, very beautiful. Her facial structure was similar to her daughter's, though the similarities ended there. Her hair was a deep, vibrant red and bore a soft, natural wave. And she was tall for a norm, standing at five-foot-eight or so. True, that was still shorter than he was, but she held herself so tall and straight, she would have made a striking figure even if she were as short as Derikka.

She was almost as slender as her daughter, the arms slipping from her blouse sleeves fit and toned, as were the legs beneath her knee-length skirt. Her hair was pulled back and clipped behind one ear, similar to the way Derikka often wore it, only it looked more draped and elegant. Her eyes, which watched him as she descended the stairs, were ice blue.

Razor figured she was in her early forties or so, but her age didn't show in the least. Her skin, a shade or two lighter than Derikka's natural tan, looked smooth and flawless, and her face, despite bearing no visible sign of makeup beyond a little eyeliner and lip gloss, didn't appear to be lined.

"Mom," Derikka said, while those icy eyes continued to study him, "this is Razor Kidd. The one I was telling you about?"

Mrs. Drogues turned her head toward her daughter, making her earrings sway. "That 'pet' of yours escaped this morning."

Derikka gave a start. "What? How?"

"I have no idea. But you better hope you find it before me."

With a groan, Derikka ran up the stairs and disappeared down the hall. Razor was torn between yelling 'wait!' and running after her.

He stood his ground instead. Smiling his best smile, he swooped up her mother's hand and kissed it. "It's nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Drogues," he said, as politely as he knew how.

The icy eyes blinked once. "It's Brooks," she corrected. "Emmaline Brooks. Drogues was my maiden name. Call me Emmaline, please."

Razor nodded mutely. In his nerves, he had forgotten that she remarried.

"Derikka said you were charming," she went on, though Razor wasn't sure if it was meant to be a compliment. "You're a member of the Midway Monsters, aren't you?"

The question took him by surprise, but he answered promptly, with a grin, "Best team in the Mutant League."

It wasn't until after he said this did he remember that, as a hater of sports, it was highly unlikely she would be impressed. It was hard to read the emotionless expression she wore. "Has Derikka ever met other members of your team?"

Razor had been expecting questions about himself, so he wasn't sure where this was going. "Well, yeah," he said uncertainly. "She just finished filming her scene in Darkstar's movie. I don't think she's met anyone else though, other than..."

He trailed off. Derikka was marching briskly down the hall and down the stairs, with Libby coiled around her wrist. "Mina must have found her and put her back," she commented, her voice dry and crisp, "because she was right where she belongs."

"She must have," her mother agreed, recoiling.

Derikka glanced at her, then held out her hand with her sweetest smile. "Want to hold her?" she asked Razor, lifting the pink snake up for him to see.

Her mother shrank back further as the snake slithered uncomfortably close to her face. Razor hid a smile. "Why not?" he said, taking Libby from her. "She's kind of cute."

Emmaline cleared her throat. "I'll pour you some refreshments," she said, before turning on her heel and hurrying from the room.

Razor snickered. Derikka sighed. "I should have known that was just smokescreen. Did she ask you anything embarrassing?"

"No, actually."

Derikka cocked an eyebrow. "She must like you, then. The last time I introduced her to a boy, she asked him what kind of protection he planned to use."

"And?" said Razor, pitying the poor boy, whoever he was.

"And he never called me again," Derikka finished sadly.

She wrapped her arms around his waist a moment later, grinning. "But that's okay--now I have you. And I plan to keep you."

"Even if it turns out your mom can't stand me?"

"Even then. Like she'd be one to talk--she married that slimy toad even though I begged her not to."

"I'm reptilian," Razor said mildly, "so I'm never slimy."

Grinning again, Derikka took his hand and led the way through the house and out back, to a patio lined with white brick and furnished with pine wood love-seats with plush outdoor cushions, and a matching table and chairs set. Across from the patio was a huge yard and garden, brimming with vibrant color and heady with fragrance.

Emmaline was setting glasses of lemonade on the table. "If we're going to have a pleasant little chat," she said, her voice cool, "you're to take that thing to your room first."

Derikka blinked, then looked up at Razor innocently. "Okay, but can you hold Libby while we're gone?"

Razor bit back a snicker. Emmaline sat down and buried her face in her hands with a groan. "Derikka, what am I going to do with you?"

"I'll be happy to take her off your hands," Razor offered, as solemnly as he could.

Emmaline dropped her hands and sighed heavily. "Five years ago I would have said no, but..."

Razor grinned. "Seriously. She's like no one I've ever met. After knowing her I don't think I could ever be happy with someone else."

Derikka smiled shyly at him. Emmaline studied the two of them for a moment, the faintest hint of amusement--and was that approval?--in her icy eyes. And suddenly, Razor knew in his heart that everything was going to be all right.

Chapter Text

"I'm curious," said Emmaline as she stirred sugar into her lemonade, "about what sort of profession you would choose if you weren't involved in sports."

"I'm not really sure," Razor admitted, after taking a sip of his own lemonade. "I've been into sports for almost as long as I can remember, mostly because of Bones' dad. Now there was a guy who lived, breathed, and slept sports."

Emmaline glanced at him for a second, something flickering through her eyes--so quickly that he couldn't tell what it was, or if it had really been there or he just imagined it. But he suddenly got the strange feeling that the mood around the table had darkened, somehow.

"You knew him and his father?" she asked, her voice crisp. "Were you close?"

Razor noticed she didn't need him to clarify who he was talking about. "Closer than close. Bones is the best friend I've ever had. Always has been, always will be."

Beside him, Derikka made a quiet sound. He glanced at her and saw her expression had turned sad, her eyes downcast over her untouched glass.

"He must be very proud to have led his team to the top," noted Emmaline, speaking in such a way that Razor knew she wasn't interested in continuing this particular line of conversation.

"What about you?" he asked instead. Despite her crisp mannerisms, Razor had come to the conclusion she wasn't going to bite his head off if he said the wrong thing. "What sort of business are you in?"

"I work at the offices of Artwel and Company," was the response. "It's a subsidiary of my husband's law firm."

"Partner?" said Razor, impressed.

"My husband? Yes. Someday he'll be head."

Derikka made another sound--a rude one, and Razor was pretty sure her mother heard. "Have some lemonade, dear," she said sweetly.

"No, thanks," Derikka muttered. "My bladder is bursting as it is."

"Then you know where the bathrooms are," Emmaline said wearily.

"Come on," Derikka told Razor, looking relieved to have found an excuse to get away. "I'll give you the guided tour."

She took his hand and pulled him off the patio and back into the large house. On their way upstairs, they dodged past a petite young woman carrying towels. "That's Mina, our maid," Derikka explained. "She comes in twice a week, and this time of year our gardener comes almost every day."

She showed him around the second floor, though she only pointed out the master bedroom without opening the polished wooden door. There was a library, a study--locked at all times, Derikka told him--a small rec room (Derikka claimed there was a much larger one downstairs), and two bathrooms, not including the private ones connected to the bedrooms. There were quite a few guestrooms, too.

"And this," said Derikka, all but pushing him into a room with white carpet and lavender walls, "is my room. Stay put while I make use of the facilities."

She scurried off through a door on the other side of the room, and Razor let his eyes wander while he waited.

Derikka's bedroom, he realized, didn't look quite like a room belonging to a woman in her twenties. Reflecting her focus in music--the one she was currently shifting--it looked more appropriate for a girl in her late teens. It was decorated mostly in whites, pinks, and purples, and he noted with interest that Derikka had a thing for celestial images.

A sun-shaped clock, colored silver, hung near the dresser; pink and purple tealight candles rested in star-shaped glass holders; the dark purple blanket on the bed was covered in stars and crescent moons; a silver crescent moon lamp with a vibrant blue glass shade sat on the white nightstand.

Beside the lamp was a photo in a gunmetal frame. It was of Derikka, dressed in a hot pink tank top and cutoff jean shorts, several years younger than the girl he knew now. Standing next to her, smiling just as brightly as the girl she had her arm around, was a pretty mutant with pale blue-green skin and sea-foam green hair. Her eyes, like many mutants, had no visible iris or pupil, instead bearing a hint of pale blue beneath the monochrome white.

When Derikka emerged from the bathroom, she noticed that he was looking at the picture and stretched out on the bed on her stomach with a sad smile. "That's Heather," she explained. "She was my best friend."

Noting the word 'was,' Razor asked gently, "What happened?"

Derikka glanced away for a moment, her expression mirroring the sad look she wore on the patio a little while ago. "She was older than me--my mom's best friend's little sister, actually--but we became friends the instant we met. But about three years ago she started working in the same office as her sister. She boarded a plane that winter for a business trip, which had an engine malfunction and blew up in midair. No one survived."

Razor's heart pained for her. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

Derikka shrugged, folded her arms and rested her cheek on them. "I really miss her sometimes," she murmured, voice muffled. "She was the one person I could tell anything and everything."

"You can tell me anything," he offered as he sat on the edge of her bed and gently stroked her hair.

She turned her head and smiled at him, sniffling a little. "How about you tell me about yourself instead," she suggested. "You never mentioned before that you got into sports because of Bones' dad."

"It was kind of hard not to," Razor said with a grin. "Sports were his passion. It was impossible to be his son's friend and not have a basketball or something tossed at you every time you dropped by."

Razor smiled at the memory, then sighed wistfully. "He was known as the best athlete alive when he disappeared. People across the world were devastated."

Derikka sat up, her face curious. "What really happened, anyway?" she wondered. "You can tell me now, I'm already kind of unhappy."

Razor wasn't really in the mood to go into vast detail, so he gave a brief account of the entire story. How mutants had really come into being, what had really happened to Butch Justice and many other innocent victims. By the time he had recounted the events shortly before their championship win, Derikka was in tears.

"How can Bones bear to go back?" she asked, sniffling and wiping her eyes. "How can any of you?"

"It wasn't easy," Razor admitted. "But it was what he wanted. The best way we could truly defeat Prigg was to make him small."

Still sniffling, Derikka rolled onto her stomach again and placed her head on her folded arms. "I feel like such a jerk," she mumbled.

"Why?" Razor wondered.

"That day I talked to Bones, I babbled about my own dad. My story is ice cream and cake compared to that. He must think I'm a total bitch."

"I doubt that," said Razor, petting her hair again. "He knows you didn't know."

"I know now," she groaned. "I hope he'll forgive me for being so dumb."

"Out of curiosity," said Razor slowly, "why are you so concerned with what Bones thinks?"

Derikka was quiet for a moment. "I don't know," she finally said. "It's just the feeling I get around him."

"And which feeling is that?"

She sighed and hid her face in the crook of her arm. "I don't know why, but I really want him to like me."

"You barely know him," Razor pointed out, confused.

"I know," Derikka said, groaning again. "I told you it was weird. That's why I get so nervous near him. I'm afraid of saying something stupid. And boy," she sighed, "did I ever."

"What did you say?" Razor wondered.

"Same thing I told you, mostly. I'm not sure why. It just spilled out."

Razor nodded, remembering the brief history she gave him during dinner the other night. "There's more, if you want to know all the details," she mumbled.

"Only if you want to tell me," he said kindly, still running his hand through her hair.

"It's not much," she said, rolling onto her back. "Mind you, my mother never talks about it, ever. I know what I know from him, but he told me most of it in her presence, and she never corrected him, so I assume it's all true."

Derikka was quiet for a moment as she thought, then sat up and rested her chin on her knees. "It started with a fight they had when I was a baby. I have no idea what it was about, but my mother was so hurt and angry, she took me and went to stay at a hotel. While she was there she slowly cooled off, until she decided that whatever they had argued about wasn't worth it. She still loved him, and she started sending him letters saying she was sorry, that their young tempers weren't worth losing what they had. She wrote him a letter every day for three months, but he never answered."

She grew quiet again, chewing her lip as Razor waited patiently for her to continue while a picture of what she was telling him formed clearly in his mind. A young mother sitting in a hotel room with her baby girl, realizing that her pride wasn't worth sacrificing the man she loved, and waiting desperately for him to come and say he still loved her, too.

"Finally, she went looking for him, but when she got home their apartment was empty. She started to worry herself sick that something bad happened, or that the words she said to him before leaving had hurt him so much he'd done something drastic--but then she found out he'd moved to another part of town and was doing just fine, and he wasn't living alone."

Derikka shook her head with a scoff. "She was so hurt, and so betrayed, she got on the first plane she could and went to stay with her family, who were living abroad in France at the time. It was years before she built up the courage to come back."

"And then she met your stepdad," Razor guessed.

Derikka made another scoff of disgust and leaned against him. "No," she said as he put his arms around her, "they had already known each other for years before all this happened. As far as I know, he had been against her getting together with my father from the start, and he begged her for years to come back from France. Though even after she did, she didn't marry him until five years ago."

"And she never spoke to your father again?"

Derikka shook her head. "Not a word. She hasn't seen him, and he hasn't seen her. I don't think my mother has any idea where he is now. I sure don't--I've never even seen a picture."

This kind of separation made sense--to a point. "Out of curiosity," he said slowly, "if they haven't spoken since that argument, how did they get a divorce?"

Derikka grew blank. "I have no idea," she said dryly. "I never heard a word about them going to court, and with a blabbermouth of a lawyer like Steve, I sure should have."

Razor absently clacked his fangs together, able to come up with only one reason why never meeting up again and going to court wasn't an issue. "Maybe...they were never actually married?" he suggested quietly.

Derikka let out a groan and covered her face. "Great--I'm a love child."

"The cutest darn love child what ever lived," Razor cooed, kissing her cheek.

"That's still no excuse for never once trying to contact me," Derikka mumbled, pressing her face against his chest. "So what if he had a fight with my mother--what about me? Didn't he love me? Didn't he want me?"

Razor didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet as he held her. Derikka sniffed and pulled away. "He never tried to fight for either her or me. I hate him, whoever he is."

Downstairs, a door banged open and a male voice called out. Derikka groaned loudly. "And him, too," she muttered.

"Come on," she ordered, grabbing his hand and yanking him out of the room. "If he corners you you'll never get away."

Before Razor could respond, she had tugged him down the hall to the stairs. She stopped on the landing; a tall man with pale yellow hair that was going gray around the temples was coming up. He was dressed in a brown suit and carrying a briefcase, and when he saw Derikka he scowled, a look she mirrored.

Then his eyes fell on him and his expression turned to one of surprise. "You're Razor Kidd."

Before Razor could think of something to say, a business card was thrust into his hand. "Steven Brooks, attorney. Give me a call sometime. I can make sure you continue to enjoy all that luxury they've been piling on you lately. Because you never know, someone might swoop in and take that trophy of yours, and then all your fun will be over."

Razor had a few choice words about that, but the pushy lawyer had already disappeared down the hall. Not that Razor believed he would have listened to a thing he had to say.

"What a blowhard," Razor muttered once they were out on the front porch.

Derikka wordlessly took the business card from him and shredded it to tiny pieces. "I doubt I have to tell you this, but please, stay away from that man, and don't believe a word he says. He's scum."

"He's a creep all right," Razor allowed, "but I've met worse."

"So have I, apparently," Derikka said crisply. "Take a wild guess who his best friend in the whole wide world is."

Chapter Text

Bones lay quietly on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and thinking. He hadn't really wanted to leave Sherry's house, but Sherry needed to shower and start work. And he needed to prepare his team for the upcoming game--not that that much prep work was needed for a benefit game. But he at least needed to tell them that he'd scheduled one.

Across the apartment he heard the front door open, and a moment later Razor came and leaned against his doorframe. He looked a little upset. "Hey, bro," he began, "would you mind if Derikka moved in?"

Bones cocked a hairless brow. "Is she moving in?"

"No," said Razor, after a moments pause, "but she should. I just met her stepdad."

"That bad, huh?" wondered Bones.

Razor scowled darkly. "Guess who he's 'like that' with,” he said, holding up his hand and crossing two fingers together.

Bones frowned as he sat up. There was only one person he could think of that would have Razor this upset. "You're kidding me."

Razor shook his head. "They've been tight since high school. Bosom buds. Prigg does business with this guy's law firm all the time."

"And he knows this guy's family?" Bones asked.

"He has dinner with them on a regular basis, or so Derikka just told me."

Bones could understand now why he was concerned for Derikka's safety. "It can't be doing their reputations any good," he began, "but you don't think they're in any real danger, do you?"

Razor thought for a moment. "I guess not," he finally said, "at least not yet. Her mom has only been married to this guy for five years, but it sounds like they've known each other for over twenty. If nothing weird has happened in all this time, I doubt anything will, but that's not what has me worried."

Bones could easily guess what did have him worried. "You're thinking that once Prigg gets wind of you dating his best friend's stepdaughter, he's going to figure out a way to use it against you."

"Against all of us," Razor muttered, "because he's just that nice a guy."

"Even if he hasn't been seen or heard from since we won the cup," he went on as he went to lean against Bones' dresser, arms folded, "that's bound to change. You just know he's holed up somewhere, scheming something dirty."

"That's a risk we all run," Bones pointed out, "and so does everyone who associates with us. If Derikka has known him for pretty much her whole life, then she already knows that, too."

"I suppose," Razor said doubtfully. "But I'm still worried about her."

"I worry about Sherry, too. You know he'd love to shut her up, but she's going to keep talking."

"That doesn't make me feel a whole lot better," Razor muttered. "Derikka hasn't done anything to him, but he'd hurt her just to get at me. And if he's welcome at their house, then he's in a prime position to do it."

"So keep a close eye on her, then," said Bones. "It's all we can do right now."

Razor sighed, but he didn't say anything else about it. Then he suddenly noticed the look on his friend's face. "What are you so smug about?" he asked suspiciously.

Bones smiled. "I'm not smug about anything."

"Are so. What'd you do?"

"Several things," he said vaguely.

"Such as?" wondered Razor, narrowing his eyes.

Bones shrugged and lay back again. He looked at his own hand, free from his glove, as he absently rubbing his fingertips together. "Did you know that one of the quickest ways to give a woman an orgasm is to apply soft, steady pressure to her clitoris with a nubby object?"

Razor looked at him blankly for a moment--and then his expression turned wry. "My, sounds like you were busy last night."

"This morning, actually. Then she had to leave for work."

He tapped his fingers together, making them click. "Okay," Razor said, leaning forward, "how many times did you get her off?"

"I never kiss and tell."

"You just did."

"Well, then I won't tell any more."

Razor clucked his tongue. "That many times, huh? I hope she said thank you."

Bones chuckled, then gazed up at the ceiling again, content. He had only just discovered it, but giving Sherry an orgasm had become his favorite hobby. She looked so beautiful like that, body arched, skin flushed with desire and glistening with sweat, mouth open and crying his name...

The phone rang, interrupting his fantasy. "I'll get it," Razor offered with a grin. "Your mind looks a little busy right now."

Before Bones could say yay or nay, the lizoid snatched up the extension on his dresser and answered it. "Yeah? No, but this is his roommate. A what? With who?"

Razor turned to glare at his friend; Bones hastily sat up and grabbed the phone from him. "Sorry--is this about the benefit game?"

"Yes, is next week okay?"

"That should be fine," Bones responded.

Everyone else was free, but Darkstar might be filming that day. But that was all right. It was only a benefit game.

"Excellent," said the coordinator, and there was the sound of a pen scratching paper.

"Who are we playing?" Bones wondered.

Razor was still glaring at him, though Bones had to wonder why. It couldn't be The Slayers, because charity games weren't their style. The only team Bones could picture accepting right now was The Ooze, mostly because Liquid Laser had a better head on his shoulders than the other team captains. Not to say he didn't have his moments.

The pen continued to scratch. "That would be the Screaming Evils," he finally said.

Bones lifted both brows. "Are you serious?"

"They were the only ones who would agree after I told them who they'd be playing against," was the sighing response.

After Bones finished with the arrangements and hung up, Razor pinched the bridge of his brief nose. "Bones, I'm not in the mood," he said wearily.

"You're not?" Bones countered. "I'm the one Madman likes to chew on."

Razor sniggered in spite of himself. "You're right. And it's just for charity, so things shouldn't get too out of hand...I hope."

Bones hoped so, too. Getting up he said, "Come on, let's go round up the team."

When Razor arrived at the locker room the following afternoon, it was Thrasher who noticed Derikka first. "Who's this tiny person and what is she doing in here?" she wondered, curious and rude at the same time--typical Thrasher.

Razor put a protective arm around her. "She's with me," he said significantly, "so you better get used to seeing her around."

Thrasher came closer and squinted for a second. "Wait, I recognize you--you're Derikka. We met at the party."

"Uh-huh," said Derikka mildly, reaching to shake her hand. "Nice to see you again."

"Uh, likewise," said Thrasher, who looked a little surprised that Derikka wasn't the least bit intimidated.

They spoke a moment more, alluding to some conversation they'd had at the party, then Derikka drifted from Razor's side and began roaming the locker room. Before long, she was seated on a bench talking to Mo, Spew, and Cannonball, who looked like they'd just had their socks charmed off.

Razor grinned. He was pretty sure his sweet girlfriend could charm anyone--except maybe Bones, who was pulling gear out of his locker and pretending like she wasn't here, or so the distant look on his face suggested. Razor was just opening his locker to grab his uniform when Malone breezed into the room. Razor hadn't seen him much since their championship game. He didn't show any sign of the depression Thrasher claimed he was in, though he definitely didn't look happy. Not that he ever really did.

"Okay, children," he called loudly, voice rumbling. "It's our first game since winning the cup, and normally I'd say that's no reason not to play as hard, fast, and furious as ever..."

With a grunt, he rubbed his eyes and straightened his hat. "But this is a charity game," he went on, with far less booming authority, "and one played mere feet from norms to boot. While I think that's an incredibly stupid thing to arrange, it's what they want, so you're going to have to play as soft as you can...I can't believe I just said that."

At that very moment, Derikka started to giggle--to Razor's horror. He whirled, as did Malone, to see her still sitting off to the side with the trio, the four of them obviously not paying attention to a word their coach was saying.

Said trio caught their coach's death glare and scrambled away with unbecoming squeaks, while Derikka, as Razor watched from nearby feeling a little faint, stood and turned to gaze up at the red-clad mutant who was over twice her size.

With her sweetest smile she said, "Sorry--didn't mean to interrupt."

Razor almost fell over. Didn't anything scare this girl?

As Malone bent closer, eyes narrowed in scrutiny, Razor scrambled over and put his hands on her shoulders, in case he needed to shove her out of the locker room in a hurry.

"Friend of yours?" Malone asked dryly.

"Derikka Drogues," Derikka offered, still unaffected by his surliness.

Malone pulled himself straight, something flashing across his face. Something Razor couldn't quite name. "Drogues," he repeated. Like the name was one he knew.

The cold white eyes narrowed again. Turning to see that his team was dressed and ready, he let out a sigh. "Okay," he instructed, with a wave of his hand, "let's go out and practice throwing like sissies."

Bones yawned as he finished putting his gear away. The scheduled game was a basketball game, which was probably the dumbest sport the school could have booked, since there would be no barricades between them and the fans. They had spent the afternoon practicing moving fast, yet lightly, and throwing with only a fraction of their strength in case the ball went wild.

Malone had looked ready to cry. "May as well wear tutus instead of uniforms," he had all but whimpered, "because you look like a troupe of ballerinas."

"You wanted me to be a ballerina once," Thrasher had said smugly.

"Shut up, O daughter of mine."

Yawning again, Bones closed his locker with a bang. He almost jumped; Derikka was standing behind the door, hidden from sight until he'd closed it.

She looked at him uncertainly as she leaned her shoulder against the row of lockers. "I hope I didn't upset you," she said softly. "You know, that day I came over."

"You didn't," said Bones, surprised she would think so. Sure, she made him think about his dad, but a lot of things did. She didn't know any better--or so he thought.

"Razor told me what happened to your father," she went on, her voice turning even softer.

Bones felt something inside him tighten a little. "Did he now. When?"

"Yesterday," she answered hastily, clearly reading his annoyance. "And it's a good thing he did, because now I understand how..."

She trailed off, her green eyes looking away as her fists clenched. Bones didn't wonder who she was thinking about.

"It sickens me," she muttered darkly, "thinking about the kind of things those two must plot together. I want them both out of our lives."

"I can't blame you," he said honestly.

Her eyes focused on him again; her dark looked faded and was replaced with remorse. "I'm sorry," she faltered. "I'm bugging you with my problems again. You've got your own worries...forget I said anything."

Before Bones could respond, Razor came around the corner, whistling a tune. "Ah, there you are," he said, his eyes lighting up when he saw Derikka. He leaned down and noisily kissed her cheek. "Ready to go?"

"Uh-huh--wait, I forgot my purse."

She scurried around the row of lockers. Razor watched her go, then grinned at him. "Okay, what'd you two say about me?" he asked.

"We weren't talking about you," Bones said bluntly, not in the mood to joke.

Razor made a face. "Sheesh, I was just kidding. What's got you so uptight?"

"Just forget it," Bones said wearily, because he honestly wasn't sure himself. Something about Derikka continued to put him on edge.

Frowning at him, Razor turned and disappeared around the lockers. Bones turned to grab his jacket--and then the voices of his best friend and his girlfriend drifted over to him as they headed out of the locker room together.

"I did it again," Derikka moaned.

"Did what?" Razor wondered.

"I started babbling about myself. I wish I could stop doing that."

"I wish I knew why you cared so much what Bones thinks," Razor said in response.

"I don't know," said Derikka, with another moan. "I just want him to like me."

"He's not the warmest of guys, so you really shouldn't take it personally if he acts kind of frosty."

"Maybe, but he's your best friend, and if I'm going to be your girlfriend for all eternity we're bound to see a lot of each other. I want him to like me at least a little."

The conversation continued, but they moved too far for Bones to hear anymore. As he finished pulling on his jacket, brows raised, he felt a little perplexed. Few, if any, of Razor's past girlfriends had ever thought or cared about him and his opinion of them. Mostly because, he reminded himself, the relationship lasted so briefly he rarely met them. This relationship was prepped to break Razor's record for longest time with one girl, but that didn't mean they wouldn't part ways in another week or two. After that, Derikka would probably forget about Razor and his friends--and this weird interest she seemed to have in him.

Until then, Bones planned to keep his distance...though he really wasn't sure why. She was just one little girl. What was it about her that got to him so much?

Chapter Text

After leaving the Dome, Razor and Derikka grabbed a quick bite to eat before reluctantly saying goodbye, even though the night was still young. "I have to do some PR for my new single over the next few days," Derikka said, an apologetic note in her voice. "You know, mall appearances, surprise stops at high schools...that kind of thing."

"But you're still coming to the game next week, right?" Razor asked.

Sure, it was only for charity, but...she had slyly commented earlier that he looked pretty cute in his basketball uniform, and he didn't want to miss out on a chance to show off in it again.

"Of course," she promised, pulling him into a tight hug. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

She clung to him a moment more, then tore herself away with a small sigh, got into her car and drove off. Razor got into his own car and went home. When he got there, the apartment looked dark and empty, which didn't surprise him. Bones had slipped out late last night and didn't come home again until this morning...and Razor was pretty sure he knew where he was, who he was with, and what they were doing.

Not that he was jealous or anything.

After taking a long shower, he flopped back on his bed, though he didn't really feel tired yet. It was still wasn't that late, and practice hadn't exactly been hard, so he still felt energetic. Restless, even. He tried to lay quietly for a while, before he--inevitably--rolled over and grabbed his cell phone off his nightstand.

He knew Derikka needed her rest right now but, at the risk of sounding clingy, he already missed the sound of her voice. He procrastinated for a while, absently tossing his cell from one hand to the other, before he flipped it open and dialed her number.

It rang several times before someone picked up. Only instead of the perky voice of his lady fair, a cool, crisp voice said, quite frankly, "I'm sorry, Mister Kidd, but she's already asleep."

Razor felt his ears warm unpleasantly. "Oh. Sorry."

There was a pause, and then...soft chuckling? "No need to apologize. I haven't forgotten what it's like to be young and in love, you know. That burning feeling of withdrawal when you're apart for too long."

She sounded amused at his expense, but Razor didn't mind. In fact, knowing there was a sense of humor underneath her cool demeanor made him feel better. "Tell her I called, okay?"

"I will."

Another pause. "I noticed that most of your nighttime calls come in around this hour, or later. Do you always stay up so late?"

"Ummm, not really," he fibbed. "You?"

"Often. Especially when my husband is away on business."

Razor clucked his tongue. "He leaves a woman like you all alone? He's either very trusting, or not very bright."

This time Emmaline laughed outright. "My, you are a charmer, aren't you? Don't worry, you needn't butter me up. I already fully approve of you dating my daughter."

"Really?" He had suspected as much, but he was glad to hear it.

"If you've passed her rigorous inspection, then you must be above average in all respects. I've no reason to disapprove, even if..."

"Even if...?" Razor repeated curiously.

"Never mind. I'll tell her as soon as she wakes up that you called. She might not have time to call you back until later, but I know she'll be happy to hear that you're thinking about her."

"All the time," Razor said honestly.

"And she you. I know. I was young once too, remember? Goodnight, Mister Kidd."

Razor started to point out that she definitely didn't qualify as old, but she'd already hung up. Feeling amused--and a little hyper--he got up and went to kill some time in the rec room.

"Should I answer that?"

Bones was lying in bed with Sherry--almost on top of her, actually. He had one hand on her full breast, gently stroking and teasing it with his bare hand while he kissed and nipped at the other. He recently discovered that Sherry liked being nibbled on, and so he proceeded to nip at every sensitive spot he could find.

His other hand was tucked tightly between her thighs, two fingers gliding in and out of her body in slow, deliberate thrusts while his thumb stroked and teased her clitoris. Sherry had been gasping sharply, clawing at the sheets and trembling in such a way that he knew she was seconds away from an orgasm--and then the phone rang.

"Don't you dare," she cried, writhing. "Don't you dare stop!"

Bones grinned, then playfully nipped at the tender flesh of her belly. "You sure? Might be important."

She moaned wordlessly in response; he sat up and reached for the phone with his free hand while his other continued its activity.

"Hello?" he said, just as Sherry let out a loud moan. "Sorry, she's busy right now. Can I take a message?"

He listened for a moment, then hung up. "That was your boss," he said, as he gently pushed back the soft layers of skin that protected the ultra-sensitive core of her clitoris, which he began to stroke lightly with his thumb while his fingers continued to thrust.

He pulled his hands away a moment later and sat back; Sherry's hips bucked pretty hard when she climaxed and he didn't want to hurt her by keeping his fingers inside her. He watched, enthralled, as her body writhed and twisted, her fingers twisting the sheets as cry after cry passed through her lips.

Her body arched one last time before she fell, spent and panting, to the mattress. Though she was still breathless and trembling, she lifted her arms and beckoned to him. He went to them gladly and she pulled him to her, crushing their mouths together.

"Oh, Bones," she panted as she rested her face against his hair. "I love you so very, very much."

Bones was quiet for a moment. Their bodies were pressed together, her breasts crushed against his chest. He absently slipped a hand up to stroke one of them as he said, "Can you be at the office in ten minutes?"

Sherry started to laugh. "I don't think so."

He kissed her tenderly. "I better call him back and tell him you'll be late. Don't worry, I'll say it was my fault."

"You're not going anywhere," she murmured sleepily, her cheek pressed to his shoulder.

Bones smiled softly, feeling happier than he had in a long time. He had never been so glad to have been proven wrong. And he was even more glad that she was here with him, sharing this new chapter of his life.

Something stirred deep inside him, something that made him sit up, even though he didn't want to let go of her. Sherry just smiled lovingly at him, her eyes drowsy. He studied her for a long moment, drinking in every last part of her, memories old and new playing through his mind--and knew. He knew for sure now.

He leaned over her and touched her face. "Sherry," he said softly, "I wish I could tell you that I love you with all my heart."

Her smile faded as surprise registered across her face.

"But I can't."

Confused now--and a little hurt--she started to look away, but he quickly cupped her face, stilling her. "I don't have a heart," he went on, brushing her cheeks with his bony thumbs, "so is it romantic to say that I love you with all my brain?"

Sherry stared at him blankly for a moment--and then started to laugh as tears filled her eyes. "No," she said, sniffling as she held him tightly. "But say it anyway."

"All right," sighed Malone, looking like a high school basketball court was the last place on earth he wanted to be, "go out and play like wussies."

"Good thing Darkstar had to film today," Razor said with a snicker.

"He's not the only one embarrassed by this," muttered Thrasher.

"Hey, it's for a good cause," Bones reminded them. "So put on a good show."

"Trying telling him that," Thrasher said sourly, pointing across the court.

Razor looked over at Madman, who was grinning at Bones in a way that clearly said that even though this was a 'friendly' game, it didn't mean he wasn't going to do everything he could to make the skeletoid's life miserable.

"Just leave him to me," said Bones, though he didn't sound too thrilled about it.

Fortunately, the game went by without incident--almost. For the most part they all kept to the middle of the court and away from the fans, playing flashier than necessary for their benefit. But even playing 'softly,' they still played better, and about half-way through the game Madman started to get ticked and thought it would be funny to chase Bones around, swiping ribs, since there wasn't anything he could do in retaliation without hurting someone.

By the end of the game, even though they won, Bones was missing most of his ribs and almost all of his temper. "You can always cream him in the parking lot," Thrasher suggested with a smirk.

"Forget it," Bones muttered. "It would make his day to see me lose it, so I'm not going to give him the pleasure."

Instead--and Razor had to give him credit for playing it cool--he went up and congratulated the Evils for a 'good game.' Madman was not pleased.

Smirking, Razor watched as the surly team captain stomped off the court, ignoring the fans asking for autographs. He was kind of in a hurry himself, but he made sure to make the rounds with the rest of his team before he scooped Derikka out of the stands and ran off the court with her.

"Where are we going?" she asked with a laugh as he went out into one of the empty hallways.

"Someplace quiet," he purred. "Where we can be alone."

He felt Derikka's heart speed up in her chest. "Are you sure?" she asked, sounding nervous. "I made reservations at Cuire Celeste for all of us. You know, to celebrate."

Razor paused. "When?"

"Almost an hour from now," she admitted. "I made them for late in case the game and autograph signing ran long."

"No worries, then."

Plenty of time for a little post-game celebration, with time to spare to head home and change. He continued searching, then stopped when he found a hall he thought was acceptably far from the gym. No one was likely to pass through here, and he gently set Derikka onto a steel bench next to a row of lockers.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, eyeing him uncertainly as he knelt in front of her.

He smiled slyly. "I'm always in a good mood after we win. I want to give you something."

"What?" she asked, but he could tell by the look in her eyes that she had a pretty good idea 'what.'

He started running his fingers up and down her thigh. She was dressed in a simple yet elegant sheath dress, tight and sleeveless, modest but sexy. It was short, the pale pink color matching the pumps he slowly slipped off her tiny feet. He kissed the sensitive underside of one foot, then started up her leg, nipping at her inner thigh.

Derikka gasped softly in surprise. "Wait," she pleaded, sounding frightened.

Razor stopped and looked up at her. "What's wrong?" he asked gently. "You know I'd never hurt you, but if you really don't want me to..."

"It's not that," she said quickly. "I'm just nervous. I mean, I never..."

She trailed off, blushing hard. Razor smiled and reached up to caress her face. "I know you've never done anything like this," he said softly, lovingly. "It's okay, I'll go slow. And if it's too much, I'll stop."

"It probably will be," Derikka murmured softly, not looking him in the eye. "I've never had an orgasm before."

"Never?" he repeated, taken by surprise. "Not even, you know...solo?"

"No," she said sharply, blushing again. "I felt weird trying that, so I never did."

Razor had heard about girls like that, but he'd never met one before. Just like he'd never been this close to an actual virgin before. It made him tremble a little in excitement. The thought that he was her first, in all respects...

"I'll be gentle," he promised, as he slowly pushed her skirt up to her hips.

Derikka looked just as nervous as before, but she didn't resist as he began pulling her lace-trimmed underwear down. He slid them down her legs with deliberate slowness, enjoying their silky feel against his skin. When they pulled free of her feet, Derikka shivered.

She was leaning back against the bench now; Razor slowly slid his hands up to her knees, which he gently pushed apart until the apex of her legs was open and visible to him. Derikka cringed and looked away, clearly embarrassed to have him see her like this. Which was a completely new experience for him. Most women he met were all too eager to spread their legs for him, even if he couldn't take them all the way. Vowing to be as tender as possible, he gently caressed her thigh as he drunk in the sight of her core. He let out his breath slowly. "You're so beautiful," he whispered.

Derikka kept her eyes closed and didn't look at him. Absently licking his lips, Razor slid his fingers up her thigh, until they brushed the outer edges of her sex.

Derikka flinched in response, her breath sucking in sharply. Razor flicked a glance at her face, then experimentally touched her outer flesh with two fingers. Her hips jerked slightly as she gasped again.

Wow, thought Razor. He'd touched norms before, but none as sensitive as this. After thinking about it for a moment, he decided it was best for him to not use his fingertips for now. If she kept jerking like that, he was going to scratch her.

Instead, he started stroking the backs of his fingers along one inner thigh while he slowly licked along the other. Derikka let out a soft moan in response, her abdominal muscles tensing in excitement. The moist opening of her sex clenched along with them, a sight that made his own nether regions tighten, and hard.

She was getting aroused, no doubt about it, but she was still scared, so he continued to move with deliberate slowness. The soft flesh of her core grew plump and damp even as he watched while he continued to run his tongue up and down her inner thigh, each time moving closer and closer to her sex.

When he dared to tease her outer flesh with the tips of his forked tongue, Derikka flinched with a startled gasp and started to clench her legs together. Razor automatically put his hand in the way, then felt a twinge of guilt. "Do you want me to stop?" he asked gently.

Derikka finally cracked her eyes open, her lids sweaty. "No," she whispered, cheeks flushed. "I trust you."

Razor took her hand and kissed it tenderly. "I love you," he whispered back.

Derikka smiled faintly and closed her eyes again, and he slowly snaked out his tongue and, with as little pressure as he could, licked a line from the bottom of her sex to her clitoris.

Derikka let out an 'oh!' of surprise, her back arching against the bench. Her eyes stayed shut, her fingers curling around the edge as she panted. What Razor really wanted to do at this point was plunge his tongue as far inside her as he could--but he was putting his own impulses on hold until she was ready for that kind of thing. He'd decided beforehand that this was going to be a strictly external session, and he planned to stick to that decision.

He continued to tease and lick all around the outside of her sex, hoping to prepare her for when things really got going. All the while, her flesh kept getting plumper as her excitement mounted, until her clitoris was visibly engorged. He decided not to touch its core for now, knowing that touching her through the protective layer of skin would be enough--probably for several times to come.

Derikka suddenly took her hand from the bench and slid it to the back of his neck. Caressing his scaly skin softly, she said, "Keep going. I'm not scared anymore."

Razor looked up and saw that she meant it. The uncertainty had gone from her eyes, replaced by longing and love. He smiled, letting his own love shine through his eyes, then closed them and planted a firm kiss between her thighs. Derikka reacted with a jerk, as he suspected she would, but he didn't mind. He kissed her again and again, drinking in her softness and the sweet liquid that was flowing freely. Norms tended to be tastier, sweeter, than mutants, but Derikka put them all to shame.

Moaning deep in his throat, Razor dragged his tongue across her opening, then drifted up to her clitoris, which he started licking lavishly. Through it all, Derikka was squirming and gasping, crying out his name as her excitement mounted. Her hands grappled for him, holding him closer to her.

"I love you, Razor," she gasped.

I love you too, he thought, as he alternately kissed and licked. As he started peppering her with feather-light kisses, he could tell she was moments away from an orgasm, but her tense body was fighting it.

Don't be scared, he thought, running his hand up and down her middle in a soothing manner. Just let it go. Let it all go.

As if she had heard his thoughts, she suddenly threw her head back, body arching sharply, and let out a strangled yelp. Her slender form trembled as her hands clawed at him, desperately looking for something to hold on to as her body wracked with pleasure for the very first time.

Razor watched, amazed, as she gyrated and twisted, gasps and cries of his name slipping through her lips, for longer than he had ever seen. When she finally slumped, breathless, against the bench, he sat up to hold her tightly and kissed her face.

"I love you, my sweet Derikka," he whispered.

Derikka laughed sleepily in response. "Is it always like that?"

He had to smile wryly and say, "No. Only when you're with someone who loves you as much as I do."

Her smile was sleepy but adoring, her eyes moist and full of emotion. She looked at him a moment, then slid her shaky arms around him and kissed him deeply. He knew she must be able to taste herself on his lips and tongue, but she didn't seem to care.

When they parted, she said breathlessly, "Do it again."

Razor chuckled and stood. "I'd love to, but we have dinner reservations, don't we?"

Derikka let out a groan and tried to stand, but her legs wobbled and he had to grab her. He bent to pick up her lacy undies, then noticed the wetness still between her legs. "Here--let me clean you up," he said eagerly.

Derikka held up her hand, a funny look on her face. "I think I have to go to the bathroom, actually."

She took her underwear from him and headed shakily to the nearest restroom, which happened to be the men's room, but she didn't seem to notice. Grinning, Razor sat down to wait--and felt a jolt like ice water shooting through his veins.

Someone was standing in an adjoining hallway, watching him. Watching them, he realized in horror.

It was shadowy, but the figure took a step closer when he realized he'd been seen, and the unmistakable dog-like shape of Madman's head came into view.

Razor could only gape, appalled to know someone had spied on such an intimate moment between him and the woman he loved. If that in itself weren't bad enough, Madman was grinning sadistically, clearly aware of and enjoying his discomfort. And then, in a move that turned Razor's stomach and nearly brought bile into his mouth, he brought his own hand up and licked along his palm in an obscene manner.

Snickering in that twisted way of his, Madman turned and disappeared into the darkness. Sickened, Razor leaned back for a moment, then stood and pulled himself together. The last thing he wanted now was for Derikka to notice he was upset and ask what was wrong.

When she came back out, looking like she'd washed her face and fixed her hair and makeup, she took his arm with a smile. Razor pulled her close to him, vowing to forget the creepy incident--Madman was Madman, after all--and left with her to join the others for dinner.

Chapter Text

Emmaline Brooks stood on the upper level of Cuire Celeste, a glass of wine in one hand and the other rested on the railing as she looked down at the 'party' taking place below. Other patrons, both on her level and on the main floor, were paying more attention to the group sitting around the large table in the center of the restaurant than to their own dinner. This was more due to them being famous than them being mutants, since mutants ate here all the time--although she suspected people would stare no matter who they were, given the scene they were making.

"Who made up this menu, anyway? A wussie?"

"They have brains in this restaurant. I can't eat brains. What would Mo and Spewter think?"

"Eat dirt?"

"Dead meat!"

If it had simply been a noisy spectacle and nothing more, Emmaline would have merely finished her drink and continued on her way, but an important detail kept her eyes glued to the rowdy bunch: her daughter was with them.

It was like a cruel twist of fate--no, more like a sadistic one. Looking at the statistical improbability of it all, she knew that someone, somewhere in the universe had to be laughing at her. Her daughter could have fallen in love with anyone, but no. She had fallen in love with an athlete. If that didn't bring certain things uncomfortably close all on its own, she had fallen in love with a mutant athlete--who out of all the teams in the Mutant League just happened to be a member of the Midway Monsters.

She didn't blame Derikka, or the athlete in question. Neither of them had any way of knowing what sort of memories this was dragging up, what old wounds were being ripped open. Aside from herself, only three people knew and understood what was happening here--and two of them were in the room right now.

As if summoned by her thoughts, Cecilia Wintercrest, her best friend since middle school, floated up beside her and peered down, taking a sip from her glass of brandy as she leaned her free hand on the railing. As always, she was dressed in snowy white--deliberate irony on her part. Also as always, her hair was coiled to perfection, tonight in a soft braided bun.

Cecilia's hair, which was ordinarily a rich, golden blond, was marked with streaks of pale pink as she leaned farther over the railing, as sure sign that she was entertaining a sexual fantasy. "He's handsome," she noted, in her usual purring voice. "For a skeletoid, I mean."

Emmaline felt something unpleasant knot in her stomach, which she tried not to let show on her face. After taking a sip of her wine, she said, "He's young enough to be your son."

"So?" Cecilia countered. "Dirty old men snatch up girls even younger all the time. We have every right to do the same."

Emmaline stifled a sigh. "This is 2016," she reminded her friend, "not 2006. And that 'cougar' business was nonsense back then, too."

Cecilia scoffed and sipped her brandy, her hair cooling to a frosty gray-white.

Cecilia was what was known as, unkindly some felt, a 'normal mutant.' Which was the term used when referring to individuals who had an inconsequential mutant feature--a cat-like nose, a patch of feathers--and nothing else. Mutants such as these weren't considered real mutants by those who were truly transformed, and Emmaline could understand why. Aside from one or two unusual features, they bore no further traits. They were often sturdier than normal humans, their injuries healing more quickly, though fatal ones, such as decapitation, still qualified as fatal.

Cases such as this had continued to pop up all across the country for more than a year after the quake. Residents of other countries, who were all quite shocked when they received their first mutant tourist, often wondered why there were so many when the incident had been contained at a single football field.

It hadn't been. True, the bulk of mutations, especially the most severe ones, had happened there, but the fumes from the toxins had gotten into the air and spread for miles. If that wasn't enough, it had rained the next day, washing the chemicals into nearby ponds, streams, and riverbeds, and eventually seeping them into water reservoirs.

As a result, people started mutating all across the country, and continued to do so for months to come, albeit sporadically. And the entire time, a massive crew had worked to contain the contaminates, though they soon learned that no suit or glove could protect them from mutating themselves.

Over time the contamination grew weaker, spawning creations like Cecilia, who, as a person who had never been one to mask her feelings to begin with, enjoyed having 'mood hair.' All Emmaline had to say was that she was glad she had been abroad at the time.

When she had finally returned to the States, and to the town she called home, it was like stepping into a different world. People were divided in two, one half saying that the mutants should live separately from them, the other half saying that how their outsides had changed didn't alter who they were on the inside, and that they should remain with the friends and families that loved them.

The mutants themselves hadn't been sure what they wanted either, some agreeing with the latter and some the former. It was fortuitous, many felt, that her husband's best friend had created a place they could belong, if they so chose.

Cecilia suddenly nudged her, pulling her from her thoughts. Emmaline automatically glanced at her hair, which was an odd mixture of red and brown. Most people colored anger red, sadness blue, sickness green, and happiness purple. Not so for Cecilia. Red was arousal, anger was black, sad was gray, and mixed feelings were brown--and that was just the most basic of moods. When she was neutral, her hair went back to its natural color.

Cecilia nudged her again, one finger lifting from her glass to point. "Hey--there's Malone."

Something unpleasant knotted in her stomach again. "Uh-huh."

"You should say hi."

"He wouldn't recognize me."

"I doubt that," Cecilia muttered, but she went back to drinking after that.

Emmaline did the same, though she didn't move away from the railing right away. Her eyes drifted over the center table below, until they came to rest on the mutant dressed in red. He wasn't engaging in conversation with the others, nor was he eating anything. He sat with his seat edged a little away from the others and sipped a drink, acting as though he were alone in the big room.

Some things never changed.

Cecilia suddenly let out a happy sound; Emmaline looked to see her heading for the stairs, her hair now a swirl of pale pink and scarlet. "There's Cannonball. I'll catch you later, okay?"

Emmaline watched, brows lifted dryly, as her friend chased down a squat mutant who was heading for the lounge. He seemed to recognize her--no surprise there, really--and looked like he giggled in embarrassment when Cecilia followed him into the men's lounge.

Emmaline had learned long ago that getting worked up over her friend's behavior was a waste of time, so she just gave her head a shake and started to turn away--and then she noticed, with an icy jolt to her veins, that Malone was looking at her.

For one horrible moment, she stared down at him, and he up at her. Then, he pushed his hat forward, hiding his eyes, and went back to his drink. Emmaline felt a rush of grateful relief.

He knew as well as she did that some things were best left buried.

Bones was sitting back, watching in amusement as his teammates argued over what to order, when Sherry suddenly came scurrying into the restaurant. She was wearing her regular suit, having not had time to change on her way over, but he didn't care. Her smile was so radiant she couldn't have looked prettier.

"What are you doing here?" Thrasher asked suspiciously as Sherry came over to their table.

"Just wanted to congratulate you on your win," she said, her smile unaffected by the female mutant's surliness.

"It was only a charity game," Thrasher muttered.

"So?" Sherry asked seriously.

Razor turned to Derikka, his smile loving. "How'd you know we were going to win, anyway?" he wondered.

"I didn't. If you lost, this would be a consolation dinner. But I really didn't think you were going to lose," she added with a grin.

They started to cuddle, which prompted Darkstar, who had finished shooting in time to join them for dinner, to make gagging sounds. Bones got up with a grin. "I'm ready if you're ready," he told Sherry.

"Why are you leaving?" Thrasher demanded, looking irritated.

"What am I going to do here? Enjoy the fine cuisine?" he asked sarcastically.

Across the table, Derikka suddenly looked a little hurt. "No offense," he said quickly.

She shrugged, not looking at him. "I forgot," she said quietly.

"Never mind that," said Thrasher, exasperated. "Why are you running off with her?"

"Why not?" Bones countered.

Sherry bit her lip as he put his arm around her. "It is time to tell?" she asked in a whisper.

Not that they really needed to say anything now. Not when he was holding her so close.

As expected, Thrasher started to redden in anger, while the others just stared in surprise--except for Razor, who was trying not to make eye contact with Thrasher. She noticed him glancing at Derikka and snarled, "You two knew about this?"

Razor flinched, but Derikka snapped back, "I didn't know a thing. And what business is it of yours, anyway?"

Bones cocked a brow, undeniably impressed by her ability to shrug off Thrasher's angriest glare.

Malone suddenly spoke up. "None," he said quietly, though there was something dark in his voice that warned of anyone arguing with him. "And I have a strict policy about members of my team dating each other."

Thrasher looked furious and ready to argue, but instead she shoved her chair back and stomped out of the restaurant. The rest of the team didn't look particularly surprised, though they looked a little uncomfortable at the moment.

Fortunately, Derikka chose that moment to start laughing, which, although odd, cut the tension. "Hey, D, don't tell me you're secretly dating Luna now."

Darkstar pulled his fiercest scowl. "That nut?" he muttered. "I know better than to date a costar. As soon as the movie is released and PR is over, the relationship is over. Hollywood love is a joke."

Derikka snickered. "Wow, only a few weeks in the biz, and you're already a pro. I'm impressed."

"Don't forget, she has a boyfriend she masturbates to between takes," Razor added slyly.

Derikka hid her face with a groan. "Will you please stop saying that?"

Bones watched their banter in amusement. He just told them his big news a minute ago, and they were already over it and acting normal again--like he knew they would. With a grin, he pulled Sherry just a little closer to him, and they left the restaurant together.

Chapter Text

"Well, I'm about full," Razor announced with a loud belch.

Next to him, Derikka was finishing up her order of quenelles de brochet, taking dainty bites between sips of wine. Razor had secretly hoped during dinner she would show a sign of the behavior she seemed legendary for here. All the waiters who passed by their table winked at her, obviously familiar with her antics. But it seemed like those antics were reserved for when her mother was around.

"Where've you been all night, anyway?" Darkstar asked Cannonball, who had returned to the table just a few minutes ago.

"I had to go to the bathroom," he said, with an odd blush.

Derikka suddenly twisted in her seat. "Hey--there's my mom. I'm going to go say hi."

Razor watched as she scurried across the room to where Emmaline Brooks was standing, then, after thinking about it for a moment, excused himself and got up to follow.

"Cecilia and I were just leaving," Razor heard Emmaline say as he neared. "I'd tell you not to stay out too late, but..."

She breathed a sigh and shrugged. "You're an adult now. You can do what you want."

Razor came to stand behind Derikka and gently rested his hands on her shoulders. "In that case, mind if I steal her away for the rest of night?"

Derikka stiffened and started to turn warm beneath his hands. "Raz-or," she hissed, shocked.

Her mother sighed again. "She's an adult now," she repeated. "It's up to her."

She bade them both goodnight and left, followed closely by a leggy blond. Derikka turned and swatted his arm. "I can't believe you just asked my mother if you could take me home," she muttered, still blushing.

"I thought it was only polite," he said mildly. "And as she said, it's up to you."

Derikka pursed her lips a little as she thought it over. "I doubt Bones will be back tonight," Razor told her, in case she was worried about him overhearing...something.

"Okay," she finally agreed. "But only for a few minutes."

Half an hour later, she was lying naked on his bed, and he was running his hands everywhere he could reach as he rained kisses all over her soft torso. Lit by the soft moonlight shining through the open window, her skin gleamed, and he moaned low in his throat as he licked around her navel.

Derikka made a sound and squirmed; he lifted his head to gaze at her face, which was deeply flushed, her eyes closed as she panted. "Too fast?" he wondered.

"Oh, I don't know," she groaned. "I think I'm about to lose my mind."

Razor grinned and nuzzled the V that formed between her tightly clasped thighs. "Just wait till I get a little lower,” he purred.

Derikka moaned again and pressed a hand to her eyes. "Go ahead," she whispered. "I'm ready."

And then some, Razor noted as he nudged her legs apart. As before, he took his time licking around her swollen sex before brushing it with his tongue directly. Derikka gasped and moaned, and her hips rose so high off the mattress he had to push them back down.

Hooking his fingers gently around her hipbones, he started peppering her wet flesh with kisses, flicking out his tongue occasionally. Derikka continued to moan and writhe, her hips twitching in his hands. He drifted up to her clitoris, caressing it softly, lovingly with his lips and tongue until her body shook from the pleasure searing through her core.

Moaning along with her cries of passion, he pressed his tongue to her opening, drinking every last drop that flowed free. He then waited patiently until her trembling stopped, cheek rested on her thigh. Derikka brushed her hand over her sweaty eyes and let out a shaky laugh. "I've heard stories, but I never thought it could feel so good."

Razor grinned and nuzzled her thigh. "I'm not done yet," he said huskily.

He moved closer and kissed her sex again, then pressed his tongue to her opening. After tracing the shape with the forked tip, he slowly slid the length of his tongue inside her. Her hips jerked, and her hands grappled at the sheets. "That feels so strange," she gasped.

Razor wasn't surprised. Most girls said it felt strange--but it usually only took a few seconds for them to decide that it felt incredible, too.

But Derikka wasn't used to having anything inside her, so he took his time and made sure to be slow and gentle. He rubbed along her upper wall, taking note of her g-spot--when your tongue was as long and sensitive as his it wasn't hard to find--then licked deeper. Derikka was still squirming, taking longer to reach the 'it's incredible' part, it seemed.

He slowly swirled his tongue in a circle as he pushed deeper, until he was tickling the outside of her cervix. All the while, her walls kept clenching and unclenching tightly, effectively holding his tongue hostage...not that he minded.

Another part of him did. This was honestly the most difficult thing he did for a woman. The feel and taste of her always drove him wild, arousing him until it hurt. Even now, his own arousal was throbbing in his pants, begging for attention. It was getting harder and harder to ignore, but ignore it he did as he licked the hard edges of her cervix.

Derikka squirmed again. "That feels weird. But I kind of like it."

Razor was so surprised he felt he needed to ask something, and to do that he needed to free his tongue. Derikka let out a moan as he withdrew, her body arching. "That felt good," she whispered.

Razor was glad to hear it, but he was curious about something. "You could feel that? Even that far in?"

She nodded. "I could feel all of it."


Contrary to popular opinion, most women were sensitive close to their openings and had less feeling farther in, if any. Derikka looked at him curiously. "Is that normal?"

"To be that sensitive? No, honestly. You're a lucky girl."

Derikka smiled wryly. "You sure? Better double-check."

Grinning, Razor gladly made himself comfortable between her thighs again. She moaned lowly, body moving erotically, as he plunged his tongue back inside her. Using the tip, he experimentally poked the places that usually lacked sensitivity and got a reaction every time.

No doubt about it, Derikka was an extremely lucky girl.

For some reason, knowing that he had an unusually sensitive female in his arms made him more aroused than ever. But he continued to ignore himself and started working his tongue in and out of her, applying firm pressure as he went. Derikka's moans kept getting louder, and her walls kept squeezing tighter. When she started trembling hard, the sign she was extremely close, he slid his hand up and gently brushed his thumb over her clitoris.

Derikka arched with a shriek, her insides clamping so tight he couldn't have removed his tongue if he wanted to. And he didn't, really. He pressed his lips to her flesh and moaned deeply, letting the vibrations hum through her as she gasped and writhed through her orgasm.

When it finally ended--he couldn't help but notice that her orgasms lasted an extra long time--her body went slack and she lay still, panting; he slowly withdrew his tongue and licked his lips.

"I love you, Razor," she whispered.

"Love you, too," he murmured, moving to plant a tender kiss on her beautiful, swollen clitoris.

Derikka recoiled with a sharp intake of breath. "No," she mumbled sleepily, pulling her knees to her chest and curling up on her side. "No more."

By the time Razor had tucked the blanket around her, she was asleep. He tenderly kissed her forehead, and then--with a sigh--went to the bathroom to deal with the painful ache in his pants.

Bones paused his motions abruptly and asked, "You know something?"

Sherry's eyes flew open. "What?" she cried.

"I feel incredibly stupid for not thinking of this sooner."

Yesterday, after almost a week of experimenting with different ways he could pleasure his sweet Sherry, Bones suddenly remembered a device he had heard of but never paid any attention to: the strap-on.

They had been invented before skeletoids were, but they were so appropriate for someone with a problem like his they may as well have been designed for him. Of course, heading into a sex store and asking for one wasn't the best of experiences, and he hoped against hope that the disguise he had worn had been enough that word wouldn't leak out to the media.

Sherry let out a pleading groan and arched her back. "If you don't shut up and do it harder I'm going to kill you!"

Bones continued his actions, though he didn't do it much harder. He was kind of afraid to; he'd heard the horror stories of sex gone bad, but since he wasn't about to get so excited he got carried away with himself, he thought it was safe to be on top. He still didn't feel comfortable doing anything more than slow, easy thrusts, though.

Moaning in a combination of pleasure and frustration, Sherry gripped his sides and started lifting her hips, arching herself against him roughly as she met his thrusts, but she still looked unsatisfied. "Please, Bones," she begged, gasping. "Harder. Deeper."

"I can't," he said quietly. "This isn't really me, you know. I can't tell how hard is too hard. I don't want to hurt you."

Sherry let out her breath and pushed at his shoulders as she sat up. "Then let me," she said, urging him to sit. "I know what I can handle."

Happy to oblige, Bones sat back and let her straddle him. He watched closely as she rose up and down on her knees, moving much faster and harder than he would have ever dared. Not knowing what else to do, he held her waist and watched her breasts bounce and sway with her movements--a sight he enjoyed immensely.

He also enjoyed how she sounded when she came, her cries of ecstasy nothing short of amazing to him.

Finally she collapsed against him, trembling and panting and clinging to him tightly. Kissing his face and hair, she whispered, "I love you, Bones. So, so much."

"I love you back," Bones said softly. "With all of my..." He paused. "Being," he finished with a grin.

Sherry giggled and kissed his mouth for a long moment. "I want you with me every night," she sighed, her fingers coiling into his hair.

"I'd have to move in, then."

"Now there's an idea..."

He smirked. "I would worry that Razor might object, since we only just started being roommates, but he's already ready to swap me for Derikka."

"I didn't mean now," Sherry said with a grin. "I meant someday. You know, when we're married."

Bones felt his hairless brows lift behind his sunglasses. "I didn't know we were. Getting married, that is."

Her grin faded, her expression turning serious. "I sure hope so--someday. There's no one I'll ever want but you."

Bones pretended to think about it for a moment. "Could you do me a favor?"

She smiled, though she looked at him curiously. "Anything."

"I want you to orgasm again."

Sherry let out an embarrassed laugh. "Why?" she asked.

"Because I love seeing it. You're never more beautiful than when you have your head thrown back like that, body glistening with sweat, breasts gleaming..."

Sherry was blushing. "Okay," she said quickly. "I'm convinced."

She looked embarrassed for a moment more, but then she smiled slyly and leaned back on her palms. Hands still at her waist, Bones watched as she started undulating against him, her sex clenching and unclenching around his pseudo-member. Her moans grew louder, and he suspected she was playing it up a bit for his benefit, but it wasn't long before her eyes were squeezed shut, her body trembling like it always did before she came. Her gasps and moans reaching a particularly high pitch, she tossed her head back and arched sharply as she cried out loudly.

Bones quickly pulled her to him, holding her against his chest, wanting to feel every tremor that passed through her body as her climax shook her. She was still trembling a little when he kissed her lips tenderly. "If you want me, Sherry Steele," he said softly, "then I'm yours forever. Like you said, there's no one else for me."

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she threw her arms around his neck and held him so tight he was suddenly reminded that he was still missing ribs...but he didn't really care. He'd head to the Dome in the morning. Right now, he wanted to spend the night in the arms of the woman he loved. After switching off the lights, he pulled off his sunglasses and lay in the darkness with her, thinking to himself that marrying her would be just a small way of saying thank you for how happy she had made him.

Chapter Text

When Bones pulled into the parking garage of his apartment the following morning after returning from his pit stop at the Dome, he noticed that Razor's car was gone. Bones assumed he was out with Derikka despite the early hour--Sherry had to leave almost at dawn for the early morning news briefs, sadly--so he was a little surprised when he opened the front door and heard movement in the kitchen.

Moving swiftly and silently--you could never be too careful--he darted down the short hallway from the living room and peeked through the kitchen doorway. Someone was digging in the fridge, hidden by the door. Someone, he noted dryly, who was softly singing to herself.

Relieved but irritated, Bones walked in as Derikka closed the fridge and turned around. She gave a yelp of surprise, almost dropping the can of soda in her hand. "I didn't hear you come in," she said, fingers pressing to her heart.

Her hair was loose and a little tangled, and it looked like she wasn't wearing anything under Razor's old t-shirt--a sure sign she had been introduced to the 'Golden Tongue' last night. Not that he had any reason to feel jealous, he reminded himself wryly. Sherry had barely been able to button her blouse this morning.

Bones absently leaned against the dishwasher, noting that he had spent so little time in the kitchen, he barely knew where anything was. A swimsuit calendar hung crookedly on the side of the fridge, the model for the current month straddling a red car. Her pose and almost non-existent attire bordered on obscene. "Where's Razor?" he wondered.

Derikka shrugged and sipped her soda. "I'm not sure, he was gone when I got up. He left me a note but I can't read his writing."

Bones smirked; Razor had always had atrocious handwriting. "I bet I can decipher it," he said confidently.

She handed the note to him, and he unfolded it and glanced at the sloppy scrawls for a moment. Had to run to DD, it read. Keep that sexy ass of yours cool until I get back.

"He's at the Dome," Bones reported. "But he should be back soon."

Derikka nodded and started to take another sip--and then she glanced at his face and cringed. "It says something dirty, doesn't it."

Bones didn't particularly appreciate how easily she could read him, especially when he was still having so much trouble figuring out her moods. He could tell when she was embarrassed, at least, but that wasn't exactly difficult. "More or less," he admitted.

"Thought so."

Derikka hid her face behind her hand for a moment, then went back to sipping her soda. Then she looked embarrassed all over again as she suddenly remembered what she was wearing--or rather what she wasn't wearing. "I should get dressed," she said, tugging at the shirt as she started for the door.

Then she paused. "Only...I didn't bring anything except what I wore last night."

Somehow, Bones had known as soon as he entered the kitchen and saw her that they were going to end up spending time together today--whether they wanted to or not. "Did you bring your car?" he asked, though he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.

She flushed and shook her head. "I came here with Razor."


"Get dressed, then. I'll take you."

He almost expected her to hesitate, knowing how unsure she was around him, but she brightened at the idea. "I'll be quick," she promised, darting out of the kitchen. He waited by the front door, though only briefly. She came back a minute later wearing her brief pink dress from yesterday, and since it would be a chilly ride and she had no sleeves, he let her borrow his jacket.

She gave him directions, and it wasn't long before he was heading down a winding driveway and pulling up in front of an impressive mansion. "If it were up to me," she said as she dismounted his bike and handed his jacket back, "we'd live somewhere smaller."

She sounded apologetic, as if she didn't particularly like the showy house.

Bones didn't really care either way, so he didn't say anything as he watched through his visor as she started up the front walk. She paused at the base of the porch steps and looked at him, and he knew, with a sinking feeling, that she was about to ask him for something.

"Would you mind waiting?" she asked, after hesitating for a long moment. "It won't take me long to change, and I called Razor to tell him I'd meet him at the Dome. Only my car is at the shop right now and I'd rather not borrow my mom's."

Nice of her to tell him that now. "Fine," he said gruffly.

He didn't have anything else planned anyway--lucky for her.

"Thanks," she said brightly, either unaware of his sour mood or ignoring it. "You're sweet."

"Yeah, right," he muttered after she was inside.

Even in his best of moods, he didn't qualify as 'sweet.' It seemed to him that not only was she determined that he like her, she was determined to like him. It kind of bugged him...though he really wasn't sure why. Really, what did he care?

It was weird. None of Razor's other girlfriends had ever paid attention to him--barring the one who dumped Razor to chase after him, of course. The fact that his opinion mattered so much to her puzzled him. He wanted to tell her that it didn't matter if they did or didn't like each other. Even if she and Razor got married someday, he could still avoid her.

Not that he believed that Razor was the marrying type. He, on the other hand...

Derikka came running back out a few minutes later, dressed casually in jeans, sneakers, and a sweater. She also had a helmet in her hand. "Ready," she announced, after climbing on behind him and tugging the helmet on.

He wordlessly took off again, heading for the Dome. He wasn't sure what Razor was doing there, but it was common to be called there throughout the off-season. Much of a mutant's life took place there--at least when he was a member of the League it did.

Razor's eye-catching black-and-silver car wasn't hard to find; Bones pulled up alongside it, and Derikka hopped down from his bike. Having no reason to stay, he revved the engine and said, "Later."

Derikka turned to wave. "Late."

"Commere, you," Razor ordered as soon as Derikka arrived. After scooping her into his arms and kissing her with shameless passion despite there being multiple onlookers, he set her down again. "Where'd you get the helmet?" he wondered, nodding to the pink-and-purple object in her hand.

Derikka wobbled for a second. "Heather had a bike," she said absently.

Not wanting to make her sad by bringing up old memories, he kissed her cheek and said, "This interview will only take a minute."

"Actually," said the female journalist standing behind him, "it would be better if we moved this to our main studio."

"You mean, Q&A plus snapshots?"


Razor breathed a dramatic sigh. "A mutor's work is never done."

Derikka giggled. "It's okay, I'll wait here."

"It shouldn't take long," the journalist assured him.

Razor looked longingly at Derikka, not eager to part with her, but in the end he gave in. "Okay," he sighed. "But I'll need something to tide me over."

"Have you gone public with your relationship yet?" someone wondered, sounding embarrassed as Razor snaked his tongue into Derikka's mouth.

When Razor finally pulled away he said, "We can't do this in public, we'd probably be arrested."

Derikka giggled in embarrassment and wobbled on her feet again. "Take your time," she said as he started down the hall, moving--reluctantly--away from her.

"Stay safe," he told her, waving.

"I'll be fine," she assured him with a smile.

Bones decided to take a stroll through the park and was just shutting his engine off when his cell phone rang.

"They swapped out my early morning news brief for a player background special and didn't tell me until I got here," Sherry muttered after he answered.

Bones grinned and adjusted his hold on his cell phone as he promptly climbed back on his bike. "Hey, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I'm thinking about vacationing in Bermuda for a few weeks."

"Without me? Jerk."

He chuckled. "I'll be right there. I just left--again--but..."

"You were here a minute ago? How come?"

"Long story. Tell you when I get there. We'll do lunch."

"You don't do lunch," she said wryly.

"You could eat naked," he suggested.

Sherry started to laugh. "I think I've created a--oh, wait, never mind."

Chuckling again, he hung up and turned his bike around. When he got to the Dome, the corridors were empty, as they usually were when there weren't any teams roaming around.

Empty, but not exactly quiet. From somewhere in the distance there was the sound of a scuffle, which wasn't uncommon. Many in the League had short fuses, and fights were frequent. Only, as he drew nearer to the sound, Bones realized that it wasn't an ordinary disagreement between opponents.

"Stop," a woman's voice cried out. "Please, please just stop!"

Bones stopped walking as a sickened, enraged feeling started to boil inside him, and he bit back the urge to scream out a single word: why?

Why, when there were thousands of women out there fully willing to sleep with an athlete did these dickheads still feel they needed to force themselves on someone?

It made no sense to him, and he started walking in brisk strides, ready to do what he always did in this situation; not so gently toss the perverse mutor through the nearest wall.

This kind of thing happened more frequently than he appreciated, though he knew their intended victims appreciated it even less. The cries of 'stop' suddenly quieted, replaced instead with sobs, which gave him the unsettled feeling that he might be too late this time.

And then he rounded a corner, and the sight that lay before him was like a running tackle to his gut.

It was Derikka who lay on the floor, naked, her arms thrown across her face, hiding it from the world as she sobbed. Holding her in place by her thighs was Madman, and not gently, judging from the small trails of blood that were trickling from beneath his sharp nails.

With sighs of lecherous delight, he was licking between her legs; Derikka flinched with each stroke. "No more," she whispered.

If Bones had a stomach, he probably would have thrown up. But as it was, he was glad he'd gotten here before anything worse had happened. Moving silently, he stole up behind the disgusting mutant and tapped his shoulder.

When Madman, in shock and anger, looked up, he connected his fist between his eyes. When he recoiled with a pained and furious roar, Bones grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him with enough force for him to disappear, with an impressive crash, through the far wall.

Without another glance at him, Bones turned and scooped Derikka into his arms. The tiny girl let out a shriek, but then her eyes focused on him and she quieted. Completely, to Bones' surprise. He expected her to start sobbing again, but instead, as he hurried through the halls, she simply curled up as tight as she could and shivered.

Not knowing where else to go, he took her to their locker room. When he stopped moving Derikka suddenly started to cough; she turned her head and vomited on the floor.

He couldn't blame her.

Gasping and choking, she pressed a hand to her sweaty, teary eyes and hid her face in his jacket. She continued to tremble hard, and Bones, not knowing what else to do, continued to hold her.

She started sobbing again. "He said he watched me and Razor last night," she faltered, her voice so small and full of pained emotion it was almost unrecognizable. "He told me he'd been thinking about it ever since and had to have a taste for himself."

She choked over that last part, as if the words gagged her, and started sobbing harder. Bones felt a jolt of disgust and shock. "He watched you two? At my apartment?"

If that sick-minded mutor was spying through his windows...

Derikka quickly shook her head. "No--at the high school. Razor, he--I let him..."

Bones quickly put a hand to her hair, silencing her as he softly petted her. "You don't have to explain. What you two do is your own business. You didn't do anything wrong."

The last thing she needed now was to feel like she'd brought this on herself somehow. And he knew better than most that Madman didn't need much to get his dirty mind working. "It's not your fault," he told her softly as he continued to stroke her hair. "Believe me, you're not the first he's done this to."

And he was bound to do it again, Bones thought darkly. Madman wasn't stupid enough to leave evidence behind, and without it they had no proof of what he'd done.

Thinking about it made him remember the scratches. He looked down; the blood had stopped flowing, but bruises were already starting to form, small purple speckles caused by Madman's fingertips digging cruelly into her skin. "Can you stand?" he asked, as gently as he could.

Derikka wiped her eyes. "I'll try," she said shakily.

Bones had to admire how strong she was staying. The last girl he'd rescued had been a blubbering mess, unable to form a single word until long after he'd sent her safely home. Derikka, on the other hand, had a fierce look of determination in her eyes, like she wasn't going to let this get the best of her if she had anything to say about it.

Encouraged, he slowly set her feet to the floor, though he didn't let go of her arms. He'd actually managed to forget until now that her clothes were gone. She shivered a little and crossed her arms over her chest.

Bones didn't know why, but something about seeing her naked felt wrong to him, and would have even if she wasn't his best friend's girlfriend. He looked away. "Here," he said vaguely.

Still keeping a hand on her arm, he shrugged off his jacket one arm at a time and handed it to her. Hands shaking, Derikka took it from him. "Thank you," she murmured, wrapping it around herself.

Then she looked at him. Her green eyes were round and dark as she reached out and wrapped one slender arm around him and rested her head on his chest. "Thank you," she said again in a whisper, fresh tears trickling from her eyes.

Not knowing what to say, Bones wordlessly put his arms around her and held her gently while she cried, though her tears were softer than before.

Suddenly a musical tone rang out somewhere in the distance; Derikka gave a start. "My cell phone," she faltered. "It's probably Razor."

Bones thought for a moment. "I'll get it," he decided. "Wait here."

A look of fear filled her eyes; her arm around him tightened. "You're safe here," he said softly as he pulled away.

Even Madman wasn't crazy enough to go looking for an unfinished victim, especially while she was in the Monsters' locker room.

Derikka didn't look convinced, but she let go. Bones hurried down the hall toward the sound, which continued persistently--had to be Razor. He found the cell phone only a few feet farther, quite a ways from the rest of Derikka's things--including her clothes, which were in shreds. The phone was still inside her purse; he grabbed it and, after thinking for a second, opened the purse and answered it.

"Raze?" he said.

If it wasn't, he was hanging up.

"Bones?" came the surprised lizoid's voice. "What are you doing with Derikka's phone?"

Bones hesitated, but only for an instant--long enough for Razor to sense something was wrong. "Did something happen?" he asked sharply. "Is she all right?"

"She's fine," Bones said quickly. "Physically, at least."

"What the hell does that mean?" Razor demanded.

"Just get over to the locker room. I'll explain when you get here."

That probably wasn't the best way to handle it, but it was too late now. Bones hung up and hurried back. When he got there, he felt a jolt of worry; Derikka wasn't in sight. But then he heard the faint hiss of the shower spray.

A second later it turned off with a squeak. There was a silence, and then Derikka emerged, dripping wet and wrapped in a towel. "Just wanted to rinse off," she explained distantly.

Bones couldn't blame her for that either.

Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself and sat on one of the benches, though Bones suspected she wasn't shivering because she was cold. Knowing he would just stand around awkwardly if he didn't, he sat beside her until Razor arrived.

As soon as he appeared, Derikka threw herself into his arms and burst into tears. Alarmed, Razor looked her over--and soon found the claw marks.

"What happened?" he asked sharply, though the question was directed at his best friend, not her.

"Madman," was all he said.

It was all he needed to say. Razor instantly fell into a blind rage. "Where is that sick son of a bitch?" he hollered after punching a hole in the nearest locker. "I’ll kill him!"

"He's long gone by now," said Bones, as calmly as he could. "And attacking him won't do any good, not when we don't have any proof of what he did."

"Proof?" Razor spat in disgust. "What do you call these?"

He pointed to the ugly marks on Derikka's legs. "Inconclusive evidence, I'm afraid."

For a moment Bones thought Razor might actually hit him, he was so enraged, but then Derikka put her arms around him again. "Just take me home," she whispered.

Bones watched as his friend's rage evaporated, like it had never been there in the first place. Tears actually sprang to his eyes as he held the tiny norm and stroked her hair. "Okay," he whispered. "It'll be okay. I'm here now. No one is ever going to hurt you again."

Bones actually hadn't watched the two of them together for longer than a few minutes. And he'd never seen Razor act this strongly around a girl, ever. As he tenderly lifted Derikka in his arms, as carefully as if she were made from spun glass, it hit him: Razor was truly in love with her.

Over the years, Bones had seen his friend 'love' many women, usually for less time than his current relationship. But this, he now knew, was different. The raw emotion in Razor's eyes, the passion...he loved this girl, loved her with all his heart.

It was going to be painful no matter what, but maybe that love could pull them through this.

Chapter Text

Razor lay at Derikka's side, stroking her hair as she cried quietly. When he first started to drive her home, she surprised him by telling him she meant his home. "I can't handle seeing my mother right now," she had murmured. "And I can't see him. I just can't."

So now she lay on his bed with him, dressed in another one of his old shirts. It hung to her knees, which were tucked tightly to her chest. Her tears came in waves, ebbing and growing again. He held her hand and whispered words of love and encouragement to her, though inside he felt painfully helpless.

Suddenly she pressed a hand to her face, hiding her eyes as fresh tears formed. "Are you angry?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

"Of course," Razor said stonily. "Next time I see him..."

He trailed off. He wasn't sure what he was going to do. Bones was right...he couldn't attack Madman in public, especially without hard evidence. He would just have to wait and vent his aggression next season--hard.

Derikka sniffled. "I meant at me."

"You?" Razor was shocked. "Why would I be angry at you?"

She sniffled again. "Because--"

The words seemed to choke her and she stopped, pressing her hand harder to her eyes as she turned her head away from him.

Razor still figured out what she was trying to say. His teeth set together. "No," he said firmly. "Derikka, I don't blame you at all, not one teeny, tiny little speck. You didn't want him to."

Derikka made an odd sound. Like a sob and a gag at the same time. She covered her head with her arms. "It was disgusting," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. "It wasn't like you. It was all...slimy. I hated it."

Shuddering, she curled up even tighter and started sobbing quietly. Razor moved closer, put his arms around her and held her as tightly as he dared, wanting to hide her in the protection of his love forever. Tears came to his own eyes, but he held them back. He had to be strong for her.

No one was ever going to hurt her again. Not as long as he was alive.

Derikka continued to cry for a little while, but she eventually fell asleep. Razor was tempted to join her--he couldn't remember the last time he felt so drained--but the need to watch over her kept his eyes open. It was still early in the day when they lay down, but Derikka slept until dark. Stirring suddenly, she said softly, "I'm hungry."

Razor wordlessly kissed her cheek, then got up to head to the kitchen, though it felt funny--wrong--to leave her alone. He was tempted to carry her around with him...but that was silly. But he couldn't shake the feeling that he was leaving her exposed and vulnerable as he left the bedroom.

In the kitchen, he dug blindly in the fridge for a while before throwing together a sandwich and grabbing a can of soda before hurrying back. Derikka was sitting up on the bed when he got there; she accepted the meager snack with a tired smile.

"Thank you," she said softly, before taking a bite.

"It isn't very good," he said lamely.

She chewed for a moment, then said, "That's not what I meant. I'm saying thank you for what you've done today."

"But I didn't do anything," Razor said dully. "Bones was the one who saved you, not me. I wasn't there, I was--"

Off trying to get more money, he realized bitterly. Derikka set her sandwich down and took his hand. When he realized she was trying to comfort him, he wanted to kick himself. "You stayed," she said in a gentle voice. "That counts as something."

"Does it?" he said pessimistically as he brushed a hair from her eyes.

"It does to me. You probably already know this, but I'm going to be dealing with this for a long time to come. Some guys wouldn't want the hassle. Some would be gone by now."

"I won't leave you," Razor said when he realized what she was saying. "I could never leave you."

Smiling despite the tears forming in her eyes, Derikka reached to hold him. "That counts as something," she whispered as she pressed her face against his neck.

Swallowing, Razor held her close, and didn't let go until both their tears had dried.

"He can't be allowed to get away with this," Sherry fumed as she changed out of her work clothes.

Bones, who was already undressed and in bed, was quiet for a moment. "There isn't much we can do, Sherry. He got away with it last time, and he'll get way with it this time. And as callous as it sounds, I'm glad that what happened today was all that happened, and not something worse. The others have tried this kind of crap too, but only with mutants. You know if there's anyone who would think he could get away with raping a norm, it's Madman."

Sherry cringed. "Don't even say that. I don't want to think about it. But I bet he does think he could get away with it," she went on hotly as she pulled a sleep shirt over her head. "Only he would think he could bed a norm without snapping her like a wishbone. We all know he's nuts, and while we don't have proof, we're all pretty sure he abuses performance-enhancing drugs. He's dangerous, he should be locked up."

She spat out this last part as she crawled into bed. "He's not the only one, then," Bones reminded her quietly. "I've felt the same way you do right now after any one of the attempts on my team."

There had been many, but even though he always knew who was behind it, there was never any proof--never. The only thing he could do was keep winning.

"This is different, Bones," said Sherry, knowing what he was thinking. "She's someone who has nothing to do with any of that. She's innocent."

"I know," Bones said quietly.

She wasn't just innocent, she was someone who had become close to his team, himself included. He wouldn't exactly call the two of them friends, but Razor loved her, and that automatically put her under his protection. But comforting her tonight was Razor's job, which was why he decided to stay with Sherry for now. The two of them needed time alone to work this out.

He tried to push the entire affair from his mind so he could sleep, but even after he dozed off, images of Derikka lying in the hall kept haunting his dreams. He awoke several times in the night, and each time he did he turned to check if Sherry was safe.

It was strange. He didn't think he knew and liked Derikka well enough to be affected by this as much as he was...but part of him, for a reason he couldn't name, was taking it personally.

He told himself that it was because his best friend loved her so much and went back to sleep. In the morning, he was disappointed to see that Sherry was already up and dressed. "Duty calls already?" he wondered.

"You got it," she sighed. "I'll call you later."

She kissed him goodbye and left. Never one to be idle, Bones got out of bed, dressed, and went for a long ride.

Razor was in the kitchen preparing a bowl of hot soup for Derikka and a pot of coffee for himself when a thunderous crash came from the living room. His heart stopped in his chest, and his blood felt like ice as he bolted out of the kitchen, knocking over the trash can in the process. "Dare?" he cried, knowing he sounded afraid and not caring.

In the living room, one of the end tables had somehow wound up by the front door, where it lay lopsided against the wall. Derikka was sitting curled up in the easy chair, her mouth covered by her hands and her eyes wide with horror above them. "Did I break anything?" she asked fearfully.

For a moment Razor could only stare. "Did you do that?" he asked, amazed.

Swallowing, she lowered her hands and nodded. "I got mad," she mumbled. "I'm sorry."

She looked so serious, Razor couldn't help laughing a little as he bent to fix the table. "Dare, don't sweat it for a second. When Bones is seriously pissed, he throws his drum set through the wall."

Derikka snickered in spite of herself. "I'll have to make sure I never annoy him, then."

Razor chuckled with her, then turned serious. "He'd never hurt you, you know," he said as he put the end table back.

Derikka smiled a little as she rested her chin on her upturned knees. "I know."

"Where'd you get such a temper, anyway?"

"Not from my mom, that's for sure. She never loses her cool."

Suddenly an unpleasant smell tickled his nose; sniffing, he realized it was coming from the kitchen. "Aw, crap."

He dashed back to the stove, but the soup he had taken such pains with was more than a little overcooked. Derikka ate it anyway, claiming she liked the wild flavor, and sipped a cup of coffee--black, to his surprise.

"I need the energy," she said mildly. "I have a concert tonight."

Razor almost fell over. "What? You can't go out and sing, not now!"

"Why not?" Derikka wondered seriously.

"'Why not?'" Razor echoed, scarcely able to believe she was even asking. "After what you've just been through, how--"

"I'm a performer, Raze," said Derikka firmly as she got to her feet. "I'm expected to be at certain places at certain times, no matter what. I'm under contract. And even if I wasn't..."

She trailed off, her eyes growing distant for a second. "I'm going to take a shower, and then can you drop me off at the recording studio?"

"Dressed like that?" Razor wanted to know, eyeing his own shirt.

"My tour bus is there. I've got plenty of clothes, not to mention stage costumes. It's kind of my home away from home. You know, so I have somewhere to hide during the times Steve is between business trips."

"Don't change the subject," Razor muttered, but Derikka wasn't listening. She gulped down the last of her coffee, then headed off to the bathroom. Razor sat down, chin in his hands, and tried to figure out a way to talk her out of going.

He was still puzzling over it when Bones suddenly came in. "Is she still here?" he asked quietly.

"Shower," Razor responded dully. "Oh, and she's ready to run out the door to hold a concert I didn't even know she scheduled."

Bones didn't look surprised. "She has an album coming out soon, doesn't she? She needs to start promoting it. That means concerts and public appearances."

Razor was appalled by his lack of concern. "But if she tells them what happened, I'm sure they'd give her a break, at least for a little while," he pointed out.

Bones looked at him for a moment. "Is she going to tell them?"

Razor opened his mouth, then shut it again. Probably not, now that he thought about it. If she told her 'people,' this would probably make it to the news, and without solid proof, Madman would probably sue her for defamation of character. Razor realized, with a cold chill, that Derikka was about to head out the door acting like nothing had happened.

"But it's too soon," he insisted. "She's not ready for something like this."

Bones continued to look at him, his expression solemn, though he spoke gently. "I think you're the one who's not ready. You can't keep her under glass, Raze, so if she’s ready to go out, let her go."

Razor glared at him for a moment--then breathed a sigh when he realized Bones was right. "I'm just so scared to let her out of my sight," he admitted softly.

"So go with her, then."

He knew he could do that, but...

"I can't be with her every second."

"Don't blame yourself for this, Raze. We both know that blaming yourself for something you can't change is a waste of time."

Razor grew quiet; there wasn't anything more he could say. He did blame himself for not being there, but Bones was right about this, too. Focusing on himself and on what already happened would only waste time. He needed to focus on the things he could change.

"I'd still like her to wait another few days," he said in weak protest as Derikka stepped out of the bathroom--in his bathrobe, which was so ridiculously big on her he would have laughed and teased her about how cute she looked, if only he'd been in a better mood.

"I told you, I'm going," she said crisply as she rubbed a towel over her hair. "Even if something worse happened, I'd still go."

"Any reason why?" asked Razor, though he could see there was no point in arguing with her anymore.

"Because," Derikka told him, her voice turning dark, "when someone hurts you, it would make them even happier to see you curl up and go into hiding, so I'm going to keep living the same way I always have. If I don't, then he wins."

She turned and went into his bedroom, and Razor, hairless brows raised without humor, turned back to Bones. "You had a talk with her yesterday, didn't you."

"I didn't," Bones protested, sounding surprised.

"Then why, pray tell, did she sound exactly like you just now?"

Chapter Text

Bones was sitting quietly in the rec room listening to Derikka's latest single when she and Razor came back from the concert. He had been flipping through the stack of CDs in search of something else, but the new cover, not to mention the title, had grabbed his attention. Instead of her usual covers--cotton candy, he liked to call them, they were so colorful and sugary--the color scheme was muted, and instead of her usual flirty miniskirt, Derikka was dressed in a plain pair of jeans and a tank top. Her back was to the camera, and she was standing off to the side, gazing into an empty, featureless white room.

The song title, written in black, Gothic letters, was a single word: Father.

The lyrics, sung softly in a way that still sounded like the Derikka her fans knew, just grown up, were the first lyrics Bones heard her sing that he could actually relate to.

The day went by again
That special day meant just for you
And I celebrated the way I always do
Wondering why you're never here with me

Oh Father, where are you tonight?
Are you a poor man, a rich man, or somewhere in between?

Are you safe and warm and happy
Have all your dreams come true?
Do you ever think of me
The way I lie awake and think of you?

Some of that hit uncomfortably close to home, but her situation was a lot different than his. He'd been lucky enough to know his father for half his life, and he knew where he was now. Bones had finally found closure, but Derikka probably never would. If the new song was any indication, this was an issue she would always be dealing with.

When he heard the front door open, he switched the stereo off and got up. In the living room, Razor was swearing as he kicked into the furniture, fumbling for the light.

"Why's it so dark, bro?" he demanded, wincing and rubbing his knee. "You taking a nap or something?"

"Just thinking," Bones said simply.

Derikka was still dressed in her concert outfit: dark denim jeans and a matching jacket, leather ankle boots and, more like her pop star self, a pale pink tank top, hot pink earrings in the shape of shooting stars, and matching bangles. She looked sleepy, but content.

"Thanks for going with me," she said sweetly. "I had fun."

"Me too," said Razor, his scowl evaporating. "Now, if I could just talk you out of this tour thing..."

"I'm a singer," Derikka said patiently. "I have to go on tour. It's my job."

"But you'll be gone for months," Razor complained, "and don't tell me I can go with, bro," he added grouchily as Bones started to open his mouth. "It's a world tour. I've got my own responsibilities right here."

"That isn't until later, after the album is released," Derikka said quickly. "Right now they just want me to tour the country for a few weeks. Small venues, high schools...that kind of thing. You can come with if you can, or I could try to stop by if I happen to be somewhere close."

Razor didn't looked thrilled at the idea, but he didn't say anything else. "If you don't need me for anything," said Bones as he reached for his jacket, "I'll be spending the night at Sherry's."

"Have fun," Razor said absently.

"And I have to be getting home," Derikka said reluctantly. "My mom is probably getting pretty worried."

Bones paused at the door. "You're not going to mention what happened, are you," he guessed.

Derikka shook her head. "I can't. I know I should, but..."

She breathed a sigh. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, and she hates the Mutant League as it is--don't take it personally, she hates all sports arenas."

She turned to Razor, her eyes soft and loving. "I don't want her to blame you for this."

"I wouldn't fault her," he muttered. "I still blame me, a little."

She reached to hold him tight. "Don't."

While he watched this exchange, Bones was deep in thought. Even if he wasn't in sight right now, Prigg always knew what was happening inside the Dome. Bones wanted to meet this Steven Brooks person for himself, to see just how much of what Prigg knew got back to him.

"I'll take her," he offered.

Razor gave him a puzzled look. "I can drive her," he said. "Don't worry about it."

Derikka was looking at Bones, and again, she seemed to know just what he was thinking. "No, it's all right," she said, her eyes still on Bones. "You take the night off."

Razor looked disappointed, and a little hurt. "But..."

Derikka hugged him tightly again. "I'll call you first thing in the morning," she promised. "And stop worrying, okay? I'll be fine. I love you."

"I love you too," Razor whispered.

Bones decided to wait out in the parking garage while they finished saying goodbye. A minute or so later, Derikka hurried out to join him. He almost asked her where her helmet was, before he remembered it was probably still lying in the hallway somewhere.

"I have to say," he began as she climbed onto his bike behind him, "that you're very brave. Strong, too."

"For a norm?" she guessed.

He smiled. "For anybody."

"I guess I get that from my mom. She isn't afraid of anything. Well," she went on, a touch of bitterness creeping into her voice, "except of being alone. Oh, and snakes."

Bones flipped his visor down and took off. He hadn't forgotten the way to the mansion, but traffic was busy tonight, so it was well after midnight when he finally drove up the winding driveway.

There were no cars in sight, since they were all parked in the large garage next to the house, naturally. There were lights in the front gardens and over the garage doors, but the house itself was dark except for a single light burning in an upstairs window.

"His study," said Derikka. She couldn't have sounded more repulsed than if she were describing something she just found at the bottom of a drain. "When he's home, that light is always on. Sometimes he locks himself in there for days."

"He is a lawyer,” said Bones mildly, though if she suspected that Prigg's 'bosom bud' was up to something, he wasn't about to doubt her. "Maybe he's just catching up on paperwork."

Derikka snorted as she hopped down from his bike. "Yeah. And a compass always points east."

"Where does he go on all these business trips?" Bones wondered as he followed her up the walk.

"No idea," she muttered. "He could have a mistress for all we know. He never says anything, and my mother never asks. She's so in denial it's painful to watch."

When they reached the front porch, Bones paused. He had come here for his own reasons, but he found himself feeling more concerned for the two innocent women involved in this. "Why do you think that is?"

Hands in her jacket pockets, Derikka shrugged. "The fear of admitting she's wrong, maybe? Honestly, Prigg has given me the creeps since I was a kid. I used to hide whenever he came over for dinner. I always knew he was scum, and that Steve thinks he can do no wrong always rubbed me the wrong way. I was so glad that my mom turned Steve down every time he proposed--and he started begging her to marry him practically since the day she separated from my dad. After all this time, I never thought that would change--so when she said yes five years ago, I practically had a heart attack."

"What made her change her mind?" Bones wondered.

Derikka shrugged again and scuffed her heel on the porch. "Tired of being alone, I guess? I begged her not to, and she told me off and said that I'd never understand."

"But she wouldn't hesitate to divorce him, if it turns out his hands are as dirty as his best friend's, would she?"

"I don't know," Derikka said quietly. "I never thought she'd marry him in the first place. I really don't know what to think anymore."

Bones was starting to regret having brought all this up. But it was too late now, and he followed her inside after she unlocked the front door. As soon as they stepped into the foyer, a light clicked on. Derikka squinted; Bones looked up to see a man scowling over the second floor railing at them.

He was in his mid to late forties, Bones guessed, his forehead and eyes deeply lined. He was still attractive, though, his pale hair bearing the kind of gray streaks many women considered 'dashing.' Dressed in a dark silk robe, slippers, and holding a pipe, he looked polished and sophisticated.

In a snide tone, he said, "Nice to see you finally decided to--"

His sarcastic words came to a halt. His eyes had fallen on Bones, and he watched, curious, as the man actually paled and grappled for the railing for support. Prigg must have told some pretty interesting stories about him to get that kind of reaction.

Then his eyes returned to Derikka, his face shifting to a look of raw, unmasked hatred. Derikka glared back at him, though without much energy. She was tired, and looked beyond caring about him at this point.

For a moment, Steven Brooks curled his fingers around the railing so hard Bones thought it might splinter--and then he relaxed, his expression smoothing. An oily smile replaced the look of hatred as he started down the stairs. "You keep interesting company these days, my dear," he said smoothly.

"Like you care," Derikka muttered.

Her stepfather ignored her. "Bones Justice, correct? You have a personal attorney? Even if you do, you could always find a better one, right? I can help make your life very easy..."

"No, thanks," said Bones coolly.

Brooks faltered for an instant, clearly shocked that he was saying no, then recovered by whipping out a business card. "Give me a call if you ever change your mind."

Before Bones could react, Derikka plucked the card from her stepfather's fingers. She proceeded to shred it, letting the pieces fall at his feet.

Brooks responded by seizing her by the front of her jacket and yanking her aside. "One day," he said in a low growl, "you're going to push me too far. See if you don't."

Bones reached to separate them, but he had already let go and started back up the stairs. As he disappeared down the hall, Bones absently noted that if he had skin, it would be crawling right now. "Friendly guy," he said dryly, after a door closed somewhere inside the mansion.

"I hate him, he hates me," said Derikka. "Simple. Only I hate him even more now, after what Razor told me. They're such buds, he has to know a lot of Prigg's dirty business. He knows and he doesn't do a thing about it. He probably helps him."

She spoke in complete disgust. "Men like that worry me," Bones told her. "They live paranoid of being found out. Look how scared he got when he saw me--it was like he thought I'd come to bust him over something."

Derikka suddenly looked up at him, a trace of fear in her eyes. "You don't think my mom and I are in any kind of danger, do you?"

"I doubt it," Bones said quickly. "They only hurt people who know too much, and neither of you know anything."

"I know what Razor told me," she reminded him.

"A lot of people know that, and there's nothing we can do about it. But there's nothing they can do to us, either. If they suddenly eliminate everyone who knows that secret, it would raise a lot of questions. And he doesn't know you know, so I wouldn't worry."

"But it's more than that," Derikka persisted. "There are a lot more secrets out there."

"And you can't start digging for them," Bones warned.

Sure, he did it all the time, but that was different.

All Bones wanted to do when he came here was have a look, and now he had Derikka ready to start some covert operation. "If you start poking around, it won't go unnoticed. This is a 'bide our time' kind of thing."

"Not for me," Derikka said obstinately. "There are secrets right here in this house--I know there are. I don't know if they have anything to do with me, or you, or anyone we know, but they're here. And he's gone a lot, so there's no harm in me looking."

"It's still risky," Bones said doubtfully.

Scowling, Derikka folded her arms and pulled herself to her full--meager--five-foot-two height. "Just try and stop me," she dared.

"I bet I could," he said mildly, amused.

"What are you going to do, lock me up?"

"No--but I think I'm starting to understand what Razor sees in you."

"Was that a shot?" she asked suspiciously.

" was a compliment."

She pointed to the door. "Out."

"I'm going."

"And stop smiling like that!"

"Can't. You're just too cute when you're mad."

Growling in frustration, she slammed the door, and Bones, chuckling in amusement, headed home.

Chapter Text

Emmaline lay in bed, head propped on her palm, and watched her husband as he dressed. He was in a particularly good mood this morning, humming to himself as he buttoned his shirt. Emmaline hoped he didn't ask something stupid--like if last night had been as good for her as it had been for him--because she was running out of ways to answer without actually answering.

No point in bursting his bubble. If he left for the office in a bad mood, his clients would suffer. "I've an early meeting," he said as he pulled on his suit jacket, "so I'll leave you alone to rest up."

He winked, kissed her goodbye, grabbed his briefcase and left. Emmaline laid her head on her arm, but she really didn't need any more rest.

She married Steven Brooks for a multitude of reasons. On their wedding night, the main one on her mind had been that she was about to--finally--end her unwanted seventeen years of abstinence. It had been so long, she felt like a virgin that night--innocent, excited, hopeful. She had lain back and waited to feel like she had so long ago. To have a man take her, ravish her, shower his love upon her body until it felt like the pleasure was going to drive her soul out of her body and send it soaring among the stars.

In reality, her second wedding night had been painfully brief. While Steven snored, she had consoled herself with the thought that they would improve eventually--that they just had to get used to each other. Things could only get better with time.

It had already been five years, and she was still waiting for a sign of improvement.

Speaking up about it was difficult. In Steven's mind, he enjoyed it, so that meant she did, too. Emmaline could come up with two reasons why it was impossible for her to ever enjoy her husband. One, he didn't take his time. Two, she didn't love him.

Sure, she had grown fond of him after all their years of friendship, but it wasn't that soul-searing kind of need, that feeling of if I don't share my every breath with this person I'll die. As much as she tried to bury old memories, she couldn't lose the dull ache that came with remembering what she once had. No matter how much time passed, and no matter how hard she tried to deny it, part of her still loved...

A sound outside her room made her sit up. "Steven?" she said uncertainly.

He never came back after leaving in the morning, especially not when Derikka was home. And he had an odd habit of insisting they make love on a night she returned from a concert--coincidence, he assured her. Emmaline knew better. The two of them had never gotten along, and Steven knew Derikka was tired and in no mood to listen to them carry on--as brief as it was. It was strictly to annoy her, and knowing this she tried to refuse, but Steven always got angry.

"Didn't you miss me while I was gone?" he would ask.

She always gave in. When had she become so weak? Loneliness--it was a pitiful, pitiful thing.

Suddenly, she heard a scratching sound from somewhere down the hall. Today wasn't one of Mina's days to come in, and it was too early anyway. And Derikka was usually gone by now--off with her mutant boyfriend, enjoying their blossoming young love. They were probably enjoying amazing sex, too, she thought bitterly. She had heard that once a mutant worked around the obstacles taking a normal human to bed presented, they were incredible lovers.

The scratching stopped, and then, after a silence, a muffled series of thuds and thumps started. Emmaline pushed the satin comforter off, slid out of bed and, shivering, grabbed her silk robe from the bedpost. After tying it shut, she went out into the hall and headed toward the noise, her bare feet not making a sound on the plush carpet.

At the end of the hall, she stopped in shock; Steven's study door was open. It was never left open. Whether Steven was inside the study or not, that door was always closed. Locked.

He must have come back for something he forgot, she decided, though he was extremely picky about preparing all his papers the night before. It was the only solution she could come up with--except maybe for a break-in. But that was ridiculous. Why break into a study full of papers when there were plenty of valuables downstairs?

Steeling herself, she marched forward and peered through the doorway. She gave a gasp of shock. "Derikka!"

Her daughter didn't react to the shout. "Hey, Mom," she said absently, her back to her. She continued to rummage through the papers on Steven's desk--and for some reason she never changed out of her concert clothes from last night.

"Derikka, what are you doing?"

"Just looking."

"Steven is going to have a fit if he sees this mess, so put it away now."

Derikka stopped rummaging and turned to face her. Emmaline took a step back; her daughter's face was sullen, but her eyes were like fire. "No, Mother. Steven Brooks is scum, and I'm not leaving this room until I find the document that proves it."

She went back to the papers. Emmaline ran a nervous hand through her hair. "Derikka, sweetie, I know you've never liked Steven, but--"

"This isn't about me," Derikka said sharply. She threw down the papers in her hands and turned around again. "This is about something bigger than anything that's gone on inside this house. That man has been involved in things too horrible to even speak of--I know he has. This isn't about me, and it isn't about you. It's about the people he has helped hurt."

With a shake of her head, she went around to the other side of the desk and started pulling at the drawers. They were locked, naturally; Emmaline's mind was struggling with what her daughter was saying. She knew some of Steven's deals weren't completely honest, but he had never done anything truly illegal, or awful...that she was aware of.

"How did you get in here, anyway?" she asked, as Derikka withdrew something from her pocket.

"Picked the lock," was the clipped response. Derikka began jimmying one of the drawers open.

"And who taught you that?" Emmaline asked angrily. "That boyfriend of yours?"

Derikka's head shot up. Her eyes were blazing again, exactly like...

It frightened her.

"Heather taught me. And you leave Razor out of this. He doesn't know what I'm doing."

She continued to work the lock; Emmaline rubbed her temples. Her mind was racing and her head was starting to throb. "Derikka, this isn't like you at all. You haven't been acting like yourself lately, ever since--"

Derikka slapped her hand sharply on the desk, making her jump. "I said leave Razor out of this! I told you, he doesn't know what I'm doing!"

"Well, somebody put this idea into your head," Emmaline cried, her temper waning.

Derikka didn't answer. She had worked the drawer open and was digging through it. "You're right, Mom," she said, her voice softening. "Somebody did put this idea into my head. I'll have to thank him for it someday."

Emmaline was at a loss. She was torn between ordering her reckless daughter out of the room, or just letting this run its course. Once Derikka discovered there was nothing to find, she would cool off. Hopefully.

Suddenly Derikka straightened up. She had a strange look on her face--exhausted yet triumphant--and a letter in her hand. "Got you now, you dirty little bastard."

"What is that?" Emmaline asked fearfully.

She wasn't sure what worried her more. That Derikka was right, or that she had been wrong all this time.

"Nothing," Derikka said crisply, slipping the letter into her jacket pocket. "Go back to bed, Mom. There's someone I have to see."

Bones didn't enjoy being woken up at the crack of dawn by the phone ringing, and he enjoyed being called to the League this early even less. But when Malicious Malone called you up personally and said "Get over here," you listened. When he got to the locker room, Razor was already there, alone. He looked bored and restless without the object of his affection; a few practice rounds on the field would probably do him some good.

"Want to wrestle?" Razor asked dully.

"Not particularly," said Bones.

The others soon joined them, with Darkstar pulling up the rear. "I've got a scene to film, so let's get whatever it is we're doing over with quickly."

"Thrasher isn't here yet," Razor told him.

"And she's not going to be," grumbled Malone, who was pacing by the lockers. "There's been a little change in our team," he went on, stopping to face them. "That daughter of mine decided to take part in one of those off-season swaps they're so fond of. Next time you see her she'll be wearing the uniform of a Screaming Evil."

Razor jumped to his feet so hard the lockers rattled. "What?" he bellowed.

"It's her choice," Malone said simply. "Granted, I don't approve of her reason, but--"

"I'm not talking about the drama queen leaving," Razor raged on, "I'm talking about whose team she joined. Do you have any idea what went on here the other day?"

Malone looked at him, clearly uninterested in more drama. "No. Why don't you enlighten me?"

Razor bared his teeth for a moment--and then he quieted, sitting down again and letting his head hang. Bones understood his hesitation; if it were him, he would feel weird talking about it without his girlfriend's permission, too.

But his teammates weren't stupid. They knew that kind of reaction had to come from somewhere, and they all knew what--or rather who--was closest to Razor's heart right now. Darkstar eyed him suspiciously. "Madman didn't go where he's not welcome again, did he?"

Razor snapped his head up and glared daggers at him. Cannonball's eyes widened in horror. "Not with your girl," he said fearfully.

Razor didn't answer. His stony, hateful expression said plenty. Malone let out a long sigh. "Is she all right?"

Bones looked at him in surprise; he had never heard his unshakable coach speak in a voice that soft before.

Razor was too upset to notice. "All things considered," he spat. "He didn't hurt her, at least. And just so you know, next time we face him on the field, he and anyone who wears his uniform comes near me at their own risk---and I do mean anyone."

Something flickered across Malone's face, and Bones knew he was thinking about the fact his daughter had decided to join the team of a known lech. Obviously, Thrasher hadn’t been thinking. "She made her choice," he said again. "It doesn't change how we play."

"And how do we play?" Razor asked wearily as he stood.

"Hard, fast, and without mercy or remorse. Now get out there and show me you still know how to do that."

"Gladly," said Bones. It was high-time to blow off a little steam.

"Can't," said Darkstar as the rest of them started grabbing their football gear. "I have to go film a love scene."

"With Luna Maxwell?" asked Cannonball eagerly. "She's so hot..."

Darkstar snorted. "She can't even remember my name. When we filmed the first make-out scene, she kept calling me her boyfriend's name."

"Uh, shouldn't she call you your character's name?" wondered Bones.

"Doesn't matter. She can't remember that either. It's like her mind goes blank whenever she sees my face."

"I can relate," whispered Razor, making the rest of them snicker.

They finished gearing up and headed out, and several hours later Bones returned to the locker room feeling sore and tired, yet satisfied. As he was changing back into his regular clothes, Razor came up behind him and asked quietly, "How was she? When you dropped her off, I mean."

"Didn't she call you this morning?" wondered Bones.

"No. I'm a little worried, actually."

Bones had to admit that was a little strange. Derikka had called Razor at least once a day ever since they met. "Maybe she's still asleep," he suggested.

"Maybe," said Razor doubtfully. "I'll try calling her later."

Razor clapped a friendly hand on his shoulder and left. The rest of the team did too, though Malone lingered. He was sitting on a bench with his head down low, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes. Bones didn't have to see them to know his coach wanted to be alone, so he finished changing and left quietly. He had barely taken two steps down the hall when someone tapped his shoulder. Bones paused, thinking that if she could sneak this easily around everyone, she would make a terrific cat burglar. "Razor just left," he said.

"I know," Derikka responded, coming around from behind him. Bones eyed her, wondering if she ever went to bed last night. She was still in her concert outfit, minus the jewelry. "I knew if I let him see me he'd want to take me home and pamper me some more, so I hid," she added.

"Taking you home and pampering you is a bad thing?"

"Not really," she admitted with a grin.

Then she turned serious. "I need you to help me break into Prigg's office."

Bones was so startled he started laughing. "Boy, you don't mince words, huh?"

"I'm serious. He's hiding something in there for Steve. Look."

As she spoke, she held up a letter written by her stepfather. Thanks for looking after that little item I sent you a while back. It's still too risky to keep it here at the house, so hang on to it a little more for me. I'll pick it up when the time is right.

"Sounds fishy," Bones admitted, "but he could just be hiding a birthday present or something. It's not proof of--"

Derikka snatched the letter away with an irritated huff. "Oh, right, that's what it is. Never mind that he doesn't even known when the hell her birthday is. Not after twenty years of sniffing after her does he know."

Bones cocked a brow. "He doesn't?"

"He forgot their wedding anniversary last year, too."

After only five years? Even if this guy had nothing to do with Prigg, Derikka's mom could probably divorce him on grounds of irreconcilable patheticness.

"Even if this is connected to something shady--and I'm not saying it is--Prigg might not even have it in his office."

"True, but we won't know until we look."

"What's this 'we' stuff?"

Derikka let out a frustrated grunt and turned away. "Fine, I'll go snoop by myself. See you later."

Bones watched her stalk off for a moment, and then, with his own grunt, hurried forward and slapped a hand to her shoulder, stopping her. "Fine. If you're determined to take stupid risks like this, you may as well go with someone who actually knows what they're doing."

Derikka smirked at him. "Sounds like I'm not the only one who takes stupid risks around here."

"Shut up and follow me."

From inside her car, Emmaline gazed out at the vast expanse of the Mutant League. She vowed twelve years ago when it first opened that she would never set foot inside it. Granted, she swore never to set foot in any sports arena--but she had been thinking about this one in particular when she first said that. But Derikka's acting out began right after she started coming here, and Emmaline knew she had to be here this very moment. The mother in her told her to forget her own problems, march inside and drag her willful child home.

The rest of her told her to drive away as fast as her tires could squeal.

Torn between the two, she continued to stare out the window, absently thumping her hand on the steering wheel. Five more minutes, she told herself.

She would wait five more minutes, and if her daughter didn't come out...she was going in.

"It's that one," said Bones, pointing to the solid metal door that led into Prigg's large office. "But he hasn't been in there in weeks, and it's locked."

Derikka snorted. "Locked, shmocked. Stand aside, B."

Irritated, Bones stepped back and watched as she expertly worked the electronic lock. "Where'd you learn that trick?" he asked dryly.

"Heather Wintercrest," she responded absently.


"Remember that friend I used to have?"


There was a click, and the door swished open. The inside of the office was dark and empty. Derikka wrinkled his nose. "Not here in weeks, you say? It still smells like him."

"What exactly are you looking for, anyway?" Bones asked as she went inside.

"I don't know, but I will when I find it."

"If it's anywhere, it's in his desk," he said, though he still didn't think Prigg would ever hide anything in here, where someone could find it. Unless making sure something somebody else wanted kept out of sight wasn't a priority for him.

Derikka was already behind the desk, picking the locked drawers. Bones kept watch on the corridor outside, but there was no one around.

"Aha," Derikka suddenly exclaimed.

Bones looked and saw she was holding a small white envelope. "What is it?" he wondered.

"I don't know, but it has his office's return label on it. Gaudy, too. The man has no class."

"Well, grab it and let's get out of here already."

Derikka obeyed, shoving the envelope into her jacket and racing down the hall. She left so fast, she forgot to close the desk drawer. Withholding a grumble, Bones hurried to close it, though he had no way to lock it again.

As he was getting out from behind the desk again, he heard footsteps approaching. Great, he thought.

With nowhere else to hide, he leaped straight up and clung to the piping in the ceiling. The footsteps grew nearer, until a figure appeared in the doorway. To his relief, it was only Kang.

He didn't even seem to notice that the door was already unlocked as he crossed the room to a cabinet. After leafing through it a moment, he withdrew a folder and left, pressing a button next to the door on his way out.

The door closed with a click--and Bones realized, with considerable irritation, that he was now locked in.

He dropped back to the ground and started surveying the room, but it was no use. He had tried to break in here before, and there was no way in or out except the door--or maybe through the window. But breaking his way out wouldn't go unnoticed, and he knew any tampering would automatically be blamed on him and his team.

He was still mulling over it when he heard a scratching sound outside. A moment later the door opened and Derikka stuck her head into the room. "Coming, B?" she asked sweetly.

"This had better not have been for nothing," Bones said darkly as they walked back to the locker room together.

"I don't think so," Derikka said mildly, holding up the contents of the envelope.

It was a small key with a tag on it, marked with a series of letters and numbers.

"Looks like the key to a safety deposit box," he noted.

"That's exactly what it is," said Derikka, with restrained excitement. "First chance I get, I'm finding out what's inside that box."

"You do know," Bones told her once they were inside the locker room, "that opening a box you don't actually own is illegal, don't you?"

Derikka snorted and folded her arms. "Right, like if you had a way to send Prigg away for good that wasn't squeaky clean, you wouldn't do it."

She had a point.

"But that's different," he insisted, even though it really wasn't. "I'm used to this kind of thing and I know how to handle it."

"And I'm just a norm," sighed Derikka, unmoved. "Yeah, I've heard that before."

"I didn't say that."

"But you were thinking it."

Groaning, Bones rubbed his forehead. "Would you stop reading my mind? It's getting on my nerves."

Derikka giggled suddenly. "Well, even though you're a big jerk, I still appreciate you keeping an eye out for me. It was sweet of you."

"I'm a sweet jerk," he said dryly as she hopped to kiss his cheek. "Now I've heard everything."

Emmaline continued to tap the wheel. She kept telling herself 'five more minutes.' It had been at least thirty.

With a sigh, she tugged the seat belt off, opened the door and stepped out. Dirt crunched beneath her feet, making her glad she'd had the foresight to wear boots instead of heels. Smoothing her skirt, she started walking. She didn't know where she was going, but she soon discovered, with considerable surprise, that the Doom Dome had a very similar design, albeit wilder, to the original arena.

Before long she was roaming the empty halls, blind to all that was around her as memories played behind her eyes. She stopped abruptly and closed them; what was she doing?

She needed to get out of here, and fast. Before...

Someone was behind her. Hand clutching nervously at her throat, she turned around. And felt her heart pop into her mouth as her eye fell on a figure clad in red at the far end of the corridor.

Realizing he'd been spotted, he approached her slowly, until only a foot or so lay between them. Hands in his pockets, he looked down at her. She swallowed hard.

"Hello, Mal."

"Hello, Em."

Chapter Text

"You look good," said Malone.

Emmaline swallowed again. "Thanks," she faltered. "You too."

He chuckled at that. "No need to flatter me," he said, pulling off his hat. "I know I'm not as pretty as I once was."

Emmaline vaguely remembered Cecilia gushing over how handsome he was and bemoaning the fact that he was engaged...but in all honesty, she hadn't paid much attention. Her mind had been elsewhere.

She wet her lips. "I heard what happened to your wife," she said quietly. "I'm sorry."

He replaced his hat. "Life goes on," he said, a touch gruffly. "And I have Thrasher. Although we aren't on pleasant terms right now."

Emmaline scoffed and rubbed her eyes. "Tell me about it. Sometimes I feel like I don't even know my daughter anymore."

Malone was fiddling with the brim of his hat. "I learned just recently that you have a daughter. And that you remarried. Congratulations."

Coming from him, it didn't feel very congratulatory. It felt...wrong. "Thank you," she murmured, ears burning.

She wet her lips again. "I better go. Though it was nice seeing you again."

He nodded. "You too. Take care of yourself, Em."

Emmaline managed a weak smile before she hurried away. When she reached her car, she leaned against the cool metal of the door and struggled to compose herself. Her heart was racing, her hands were clammy, and those old wounds were painfully raw.

But all things considered, the encounter she'd been dreading for twenty years hadn't gone all that bad.

"So, what are you going to do now?" Razor wondered.

He and Derikka were curled up in bed together, though Derikka seemed more interested in the key she found than in him. "Figure out where the box it opens is, of course. I'll have to call the bank tomorrow and start asking questions."

"Do you even know which bank this box is at?" Razor asked doubtfully.

Derikka sat up to set the key on his nightstand. "No, but I'm sure I can find out."

When she came over earlier that evening, he got excited when he saw she had an overnight bag with her, and even more excited when she changed into a skimpy silk nightgown after dinner. Only now that they were in bed, he was having a hard time getting her attention. "You've got too much on your mind," he complained with a sigh.

Derikka smirked at him. "So distract me, then."

Razor grinned as he snaked his arms and tail around her--then stopped himself with a frown. "What am I doing?" he asked with another sigh. "I shouldn't do this with you so soon."

Derikka frowned at him. "Don't you dare not do it," she warned. "I'll probably have nightmares for years to come, but that doesn't mean I don't still love you as much as ever. I told you, I refuse to be afraid of anything because of what he did to me, and that includes being with you."

"It's still so soon," he objected. Licking her felt wrong to him, no matter what she said. It felt insensitive, and it would remind her too much.

"I'm not afraid," she said again. "Not when I'm with you."

Razor sighed and rested his head against hers for a moment...and then an alternative came to him. "There's something I've only done a handful of times," he said slowly, mysteriously. "But it's guaranteed to give you a little thrill."

Derikka cocked an eyebrow as she smiled wryly. "Sounds interesting. But if I don't like it, I'll let you know."

"Don't be afraid to tell me to stop," he told her firmly. "Being brave also means you know when to admit that you're scared."

"I thought being brave was being scared but doing what you need to do anyway?"

Razor grunted. "You know what I mean..."

Grinning, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. "Sorry. Go ahead, I'm ready."

"Then commere," he purred, pulling her closer and kissing her lavishly. Derikka responded by moaning softly and running her hands over his shoulders and chest. Razor felt a shiver run through him as he returned the caress, stroking her through her thin nightgown. Before long, he had slipped it over her head; his hands glided down her torso, where he hooked his fingers around the edge of her bikini bottoms and drew them down.

Only once he set them aside, he paused and placed his hands tenderly on her thighs, near her hips.

"Does it hurt it at all?" he asked softly, referring to the yellow-purple bruises still speckling her skin.

"Only a little."

Smiling encouragingly, she touched his face and kissed him. Razor was still hesitant, but he was only wearing a small pair of briefs, and the feel of her brushing up against him was starting to drive him wild. Turning her gently but never breaking away from her mouth, he moved her until her back was resting against his chest, giving him the perfect angle to tease and stroke her breasts. Derikka moaned again and rested her hand on the side of his face as her tongue entwined with his.

Keeping his touch soft so not to startle her by doing anything too suddenly, he started stroking the inside of her leg with his tail. He started with her foot and slowly worked his way up to her inner thigh, and by that time she was well aware of what he intended to do.

All the while, their mouths to continued to mesh, their hands roaming over each other. Like every time they were this close, it was difficult to ignore his own throbbing need, but he wasn't going to bring it to her attention. After what she'd been through, it still felt a little funny to be doing this, as much as he was enjoying it. He wasn't about to bring up his own excitement when it might make her feel pressured to do something she wasn't ready to.

Derikka's hand curled around his wrist as he started tickling his tail higher, until the tip was brushing her damp, swollen sex. Her muscles clenched a little, which he expected, but she relaxed again quickly, allowing him to tease and caress her softly, until he was rubbing directly between her plump outer flesh.

She was extremely wet, so stroking her was easy and slick. She grew used to the feeling quickly, her leg curving back to hook around his, giving him more freedom of movement. He teased her back and forth, up and down, and then, very gently, touched the thin tip of his tail to her opening.

Although much thicker than his own arousal farther down, most women he met were open to the tip of his tail, since it was so small. But when he started to push, very softly, Derikka put a hand to his chest, wordlessly telling him she wasn't quite ready for that.

He immediately backed off and started stroking her deeply instead, slipping farther down and then up to her clitoris and back again. But even though she was wetter than ever, it was still difficult to moisten that much of his tail. Not wanting to cause her pain from too much friction, he paused his actions and pulled away from her mouth to reach across the bed for his nightstand.

"You're prepared for anything, aren't you," Derikka observed wryly as he pulled out a bottle of lube.

"No harm in that, right?" he returned with a grin.

After prepping his tail, he added some to his hand and stroked between Derikka's legs for good measure. She moaned and shivered at his touch, her arousal nearing its peak.

Returning to his previous position and kissing her with more fervor than ever, it only took several slow, deep strokes to bring her. He held her close as she cried out and writhed against him, letting the tremors of her orgasm pass through him.

When she finally stilled, with a sigh of contentment, she curled up at his side and was soon asleep. Razor rolled onto his back and closed his eyes, wanting to keep close to her for a little longer before he left to deal with his own unfinished excitement.

He must have dozed off in spite of himself, because the next thing he knew, a soft touch on his middle roused him.

Derikka smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I was just...admiring."

"Well, don't let me stop you," he said, with a wry smile.

Resting her head on his side, she continued to run her fingers up and down his torso, feeling the texture of his reptilian skin.

Most women had misgivings about it, but once they felt it for themselves they always loved it. It was textured, yet smooth, though it was rougher and more pebbly in certain places. His stomach, which she continued to brush with just the tips of her fingers, was one of the softest, smoothest parts of his body.

Judging by where her eyes kept wandering, and how her fingers kept drifting lower, she was interested in the part of him that ranked number one on the smooth list.

"You don't have to do anything," he said, knowing she had to have noticed that he was still partially aroused.

"I can at least look, can't I?" she asked coyly. "You've seen me naked more than once now, but I've never seen you."

"Fair is fair," he admitted, as she began tugging his briefs down.

As he figured she would, Derikka looked a little stunned once she had them off. He just lay still, arms folded beneath his head, and smiled. "Told you I was a big boy," he said slyly.

Derikka sat back on her heels. "Doesn't look at all like pictures I've seen," she mused.

"Does your mother know you look at dirty pictures?" he quipped--to mask the slight poke his pride just took.

He flinched a second later, drawing in his breath is surprise; Derikka had taken him into her hands. "It's nicer," she said softly, sounding like she was talking more to herself than him. "It's not all vein-y, and no hair."

"Not a strand," he said proudly.

"It's soft, too," she noted as she felt along his length. "Well, not soft, soft, but..."

She flushed, and he smiled. He was used to getting that reaction. Most women didn't know how to describe in words how he could turn hard as a rock, yet still feel silky smooth to the touch. Powder-fine scales--they were a wonderful, wonderful thing.

And speaking of hard...her touches, gentle as they were, were upping his arousal again. She noticed and let go with another flush. "Sorry."

"No apologies necessary," he assured her slyly. "Though I'm probably going to have to do something about it in a minute."

Derikka frowned a little. "Have you been handling this on your own?" she wondered.

"Ever since I met you," he confirmed.

"Why?" she asked seriously.

Razor propped himself on his elbows and looked at her for a moment. "Because I know this is all new for you," he said gently. "I don't want to do anything you're not ready for. And if you aren't right now, that's fine. I can wait."

Derikka looked down at herself with another frown. "For what?" she wondered. "You already said we can't go all the way."

"No," he admitted, "but no matter what you do to get me off, I'm still a lot to handle. More than a regular guy, that's for sure."

Derikka was still studying herself, and him, as she rose up on her knees. "Are you sure we can't just...?"

Razor felt a cold chill as he realized what she was thinking. "No," he said quickly, ready to fly out of the room in case she was actually crazy enough to try it. "You could tear yourself trying."

"I'll tear anyway," she muttered, though she dropped back to her heels with a sigh. "I want to do something for you," she insisted. "You make me feel so good and I feel guilty doing nothing in return."

"I think it's sweet that you care so much," he said honestly. "But..."

He trailed off; she was touching him again. "That alone could work," he hissed as she stroked him with her hands, "though it isn't easy."

"I figured as much."

And she bent over to kiss his length. Razor moaned softly, wanting nothing more than to lie back and enjoy the feel of her lips, but he put a gentle hand on her shoulder, stopping her. "That's another possibility," he allowed, "but it isn't safe without protection. Plus you should know...when I come, I do it hard. I could choke you. You should really see what you're dealing with before you do anything."

Derikka sat back again, lips pursed. "Are you always this worried about how a girl will react to you?" she wondered.

He had to smile at that. "No. Just you. That's how much I love you."

Derikka looked touched for a moment, but then she slid off the bed. "Where is this stash of toys of yours, anyway," she muttered as she poked her head into the closet.

"Left side," he directed, flushing a little.

She dug around for a moment, then returned to the bed, tugging something over her hand.

Razor recognized it instantly; it was the vibrating glove he bought a few years ago. He had picked it up because even when a girl could handle his size, she could never take his length all the way, and while she was usually polite and tried to stroke what was left over, that alone wasn't enough, generally.

So far he hadn't had a chance to have someone try it out on him, though he'd used it both on himself and to tease a girl with several times.

Derikka switched it on and made a face at how powerful it was; she quickly lowered the setting. "Turn around," she instructed.

Razor sat up and obeyed, and as she settled down at his side, he realized how well she had thought this out.

She was situated at his side and not behind him, and she had her arm in front of him and not around him. He wasn't one to thrash when he came, but he did have the habit of arching, and if he were sitting up at the time he would probably fall back. In her current position, it was highly unlikely that he would fall on her unintentionally, and he relaxed with a sigh--a relieved one--and let himself get lost in the pulsing sensations Derikka was causing him.

Chapter Text

After seeing what Derikka planned to wear to bed, Bones decided tonight was a good night to spend at Sherry's. Only when he got there, he was disappointed to learn she was about to head out the door. "I've been called in," she reported with a sigh. "And I have to work early tomorrow, so we'll have to skip the earth-shattering sex when I get back."

"If you're that busy, I'll leave you alone to rest tonight. I wouldn't want to wake you accidentally."

"I wouldn't mind if you stuck around while I'm not here," she said, after giving him a quick kiss, "but you'd probably get bored. See you tomorrow?"

"First chance I get," he promised.

He was reluctant to let her go, and she was reluctant to be let go, but eventually they parted and she drove away in her jeep. Not anxious to return home, Bones rode around for a while, checking the spots his team liked to hang out at.

No one seemed to be around tonight, so he eventually rode to the pond; it'd been a while since he was able to sit somewhere quiet and think. Only when he got there, he discovered that his usual bench was occupied. A woman with dark red hair was sitting in it, her ice blues eyes staring distantly at the water.

She gave a start and stood when she noticed him. "Oh--is this your seat? My apologies."

"Doesn't have my name on it," Bones said mildly.

The woman stood looking out at the water, her eyes still distant, and he wondered if she'd realized who he was. Not that everyone, everywhere knew his face, but mostly everyone here in town did.

"I haven't come within a mile of this place in twenty years," she said softly, mostly to herself. "But I already broke one vow to myself today over a place I swore never to set foot in, so I figured I may as well break them all."

She turned her head and looked at him, smiling tiredly. She spoke casually, like she'd talked to him before--and Bones was suddenly struck with the strange feeling she knew exactly who he was. It felt like she knew him personally.

She certainly acted like she did, and he, even stranger still, felt as though he should know her in return. He studied her face, searching for some trace of familiarity--someone he met at a game, maybe?--but nothing about her jogged his memory.

But the longer he looked at her, the stranger he felt.

She smiled again. "Sorry, I'm being rude. I'm Emmaline. Is Derrika with Razor tonight? I looked for her all day but I couldn't find her."

Bones lifted his brows in bemusement for a moment--and then it dawned on him. "You're Derikka's mother."

He probably wouldn't have guessed on his own; they didn't look much alike. Though now that he knew, he could see the resemblance. "She's at the apartment with him, but how did you know I'd know?"

If this woman hated sports as much as Derikka claimed she did, he doubted that Derikka would have said very much about him to her.

Emmaline smiled again, though he could tell that deep inside, she was painfully sad about something. "You're Bones Justice, aren't you? Razor said you were his best friend, so I figured you must have met her at least once."

She paused, then asked, "He's good to her, isn't he?"

Normally Bones would have hesitated to have this conversation--most of Razor's relationships were extremely brief and based mostly, if not entirely, on the physical--but in this case he answered immediately. "Very. In fact, he treats her like I've never seen him treat a woman before."

"I took the liberty of reading up on him. He has quite a history where women are concerned."

"He does," Bones admitted, "but with Derikka everything's been different. He really loves her. I wouldn't be surprised if they get engaged soon."

Doubt flickered through her eyes. "Does he get engaged often?"

"Never. I don't think the word 'marriage' is even in his vocabulary. But he already said he wants her to move in, and he's never talked like that before."

Earlier tonight when Derikka first arrived with her overnight bag, Razor made the crack that she would need something bigger if she planned to stay forever. Derikka had laughed, not taking him seriously...but he had been, a little.

Emmaline looked out at the water again. "I'm glad to hear it," she said softly. "This is her first time in love, and I don't want things to end for her the way they did for me."

"I don't think they will," Bones said gently.

And he didn't. After watching them together, he was really starting to think that Razor had found what he'd been looking for.

Emmaline looked at him again, a touch of frostiness in her eyes. "She told you about that?" she asked.

"She mentioned it, once. I'm sorry."

He was also sorry that her current husband was shaping up to be such a sleaze. If whatever Derikka was determined to unearth was really that bad, then their marriage would most likely be over.

And for a reason he couldn't quite name, he didn't want this woman to end up any unhappier, to feel any more pain. Maybe it was because she was Derikka's mother. As much as the idea annoyed him at times, there was no denying that he was starting to like that crazy kid.

Silence mounted as Emmaline continued to gaze out at the water, watching the half-circle of the moon reflected in the waves. From the look in her eyes, he was getting a pretty good idea who it was she used to come here with.

"I should go," she suddenly said. "Forgive me if I've bothered you with my own troubles."

Like mother, like daughter, it seemed.

"No trouble," he assured her.

He watched her go, her slender figure pale against the darkness, until she was out of sight. Then he sat down and rested his chin on his hands as he gazed out across the water. "Sometimes I wish you were still here, Dad," he murmured quietly. "I know you'd like Sherry, and I know she'd have loved the chance to know you."

His mind turned to the future, planning out what life would be like once they were married. It wouldn't be much different from how it was now, and his mind wandered from wedding plans and started wondering what it would be like if his dad was still here, with the two of them.

Everything would be different then, but that chance had slipped away and thinking about it was a waste of time...but sometimes it was impossible to keep those kinds of thoughts from coming.

Just like his tears.

"It's nice to know you don't exaggerate," said Derikka, with a touch of wry humor.

Razor fell back with a groan and a sigh of contentment. He'd clean up the mess he just made later. Derikka switched the glove off, placed it on his nightstand, then curled up at his side. Resting her head on his chest, she brushed her fingers up and down his torso for a while. "I'll have to start making calls in the morning," she mused quietly.

Razor chuckled softly. "You still thinking about that?"

"I won't be able to forget about it until this is resolved," she said simply.

"And if it's a dead end?"

"Then I'll look for something else."

Razor quieted for a moment. Stroking her hair softly, he said, "Don't get too caught up in this chase, Dare. It can turn your heart black, and quicker and easier than you might think."

Derikka propped her chin on her hand and looked at him. "Sounds like a road you've traveled yourself," she commented.

He shook his head. "Not me, Bones. His father's last words to him were to make him promise that he would never end up like Prigg. Because by letting his hatred take over, he knew they would be just the same in the end."

Derikka folded her hands on his chest and rested her cheek on them, her eyes shifting away from his. "Bones' dad isn't my dad," she muttered.

"It's still sound advice."

For a long moment Derikka didn't say anything. Then, her expression abruptly turning wry, she looked at him again and said, "You're still awake."

"So I am."

"I thought guys pass out by now."

"Norms do, but I'm a mutant," he said simply.

With a rapturous sigh, Derikka wrapped her arms around him and cuddled her head under his chin. "Every girl should have a mutant in her bed, then," she decided.

"Even with the sexual obstacles?"

"Even then."

Grinning, he put his arms around her and closed his eyes. Lulled by the warm feeling of Derikka's breath against his throat, he soon felt himself starting to drift...and then an unpleasant thought occurred to him.

He made a pretty big mess a little while ago, and it was all over the sheets. If they went to sleep in their current position, they were probably going to roll in it sometime during the night. He wasn't anxious to get up, but all he needed to do was take a quick trip to the bathroom hamper; he could take everything down to the laundry room tomorrow.

Only when he sat up, Derikka looked so happy and peaceful, dreaming with a smile on her face, he didn't have the heart to wake her up.

After puzzling over it for a moment, he carefully lifted her in his arms and carried her to the living room. He was thinking about laying her on the couch, but when he got there he stopped with a frown. The large living room window faced the row of apartments across the way. Anyone could look over and see in.

He briefly considered taking her to the rec room, but that had windows, too. Why the hell didn't they have shades, anyway?

There was only one safe, comfortable place he could think of, a place with heavy blinds to blot out the early morning sun: Bones' room. He probably wouldn't be back until morning, so Razor tiptoed down the hall and gently lay his girlfriend on his best friend's bed.

Derikka didn't stir during the journey, or when he placed the blanket over her. Hopefully, she wouldn't wake before he had clean sheets on his own bed, and no one would ever be the wiser.

He went quietly back to his room, tugged off the soiled sheets and hurried down the hall to the bathroom.

The apartment was dark and silent when Bones got back, just like he figured it would be. Razor and Derikka were probably in a sex-induced coma by now, he thought wryly. With a yawn, he hung up his jacket and headed to his room.

Only when he got there, he suddenly felt wide awake. Standing in the doorway, he stared blankly at his bed. What the heck was Derikka doing in here?

She looked sound asleep and perfectly content, and Bones turned to poke his head in Razor's room. There was no sign of the crazy lizoid, so he went, reluctantly, back to his own room.

He had no idea what was going on here, and he really wasn't in the mood to find out. Vowing to ask in the morning, he bent over Derikka, planning to carry her back to Razor's room--but when he realized she was naked under the sheets he stopped. Great, he sighed inwardly.

There was no way he would be able to wrap her safely up without waking her, so he might as well get her up her first. He put his hand on her arm and gave her a gentle shake. "Derikka," he said softly, "come on, wake up."

She woke up all right--with a frightened shriek. Bolting up, she pushed him away with one hand and slapped him in the face with the other. "No!"

Brows lifted in surprise, Bones rubbed his mouth. "Okay, then. Guess I'll sleep on the couch."

But when he realized her eyes were filled with terror he regretted his sarcastic words. Derikka stared for a moment, then let out a sob of relief as she hid her face in her hands. "It's just you," she whispered, shuddering. "I thought..."

She shook her head and lowered her hands. "Never mind. It was just a dream."

Bones didn't need to ask what it was about. "Sorry. I wasn't trying to scare you."

After tightening the sheet around herself, she gave him a funny look. "What are you doing in here, anyway?"

"Well, it is my room," he said dryly.

Now she looked at him strangely. "No, it's not."

Bones turned and wordlessly clicked on a lamp. Derikka let out a yelp. "Well, I wasn't in here when I fell asleep," she insisted. "Honest."

"Did you sleepwalk into here or something?" Bones wondered, his tone drier still.

Derikka groaned and rubbed her eyes. "I have no idea. I'll get out of here. Sheesh, I must drive you absolutely nuts."

"Occasionally," he agreed, grinning.

Blushing, she secured the sheet and slid her feet to the floor. Only when she tried to stand her legs got tangled; she lost her balance and fell. If he had lungs, Bones would have sighed. "Here," he offered, bending over.

Only it wasn't until he leaned closer did he realize that the sheet had been pulled down to her waist. He quickly looked away, glad that he couldn't actually blush.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Derikka 'eeped'; Bones straightened and glared at the lizoid standing in the doorway. "Better yet, what the hell are you doing?" he countered, eyeing his friend's attire--or lack thereof.

Razor followed his gaze--then grabbed a book off the dresser and shielded himself in embarrassment. "I came for my girlfriend," he said with a blush.

"Uh-huh. And what is your girlfriend doing in my bedroom?"

"Good question," muttered Derikka, who had untangled herself and gotten to her feet. "Where'd you go?"

Razor was squirming in embarrassment. "I was in the bathroom," he stammered. "Putting away the, um, dirty laundry."

"Any particular reason you decided to do laundry at this hour?" Bones asked blankly.

Derikka put a hand to her eyes. "That would be my fault," she said wearily. "I kind of made him make a mess earlier."

They both turned crimson, as did Bones--in spirit.

"I didn't want to wake you," said Razor, loving despite the awkward situation.

"So you carried me in here for the time being," Derikka finished. "That's sweet of you."

"Saccharine," Bones said icily. "Would you finish changing the damn sheets already? Thank you."

Razor saluted and ran off. "And bring that book back when you're done with it," Bones called after him.

Derikka started to snicker; Bones turned to glare at her. "It's not funny."

"Yes, it is," she said, still snickering. "This is one of those 'we'll all laugh about it years from now' situations, so why wait?"

Bones pointed to the door. "Out."

"Don't worry, I won't tell Sherry."


"You're pretty serious now, right? Are you going to make an honest woman out of her?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but yes."

Derikka gave an immature hop. "That's awesome," she exclaimed. "Let me know if you need help picking out a ring."

"Did I mention that I want you to get out?" Bones asked wearily.

Derikka smiled tightly as she reached to hug him around the waist. "Love you too, B."

And Bones was quite surprised to see that she wasn't joking.

Chapter Text

"And you're sure? I see. Thank you."

Razor opened his eyes groggily and saw Derikka sitting beside him, talking on her cell phone. "What's up?" he asked with a yawn.

Derikka closed her cell phone with a clack. "Told you I'd find it," she said smugly. "He keeps a separate account with some of his business partners at a branch across town."

Razor sat up and frowned. Derikka was dressed in a gray skirt and jacket set, with black pumps. She looked like a miniature business woman. "You're really going through with this, aren't you."

It didn't come out as a question. Derikka smoothed her hair and stood, and he immediately missed her warmth. "I have to," she said firmly. "There's something important inside that box--I just know it. And even if the only thing revealing it does is make my mother divorce him, then so be it."

"Is that really what you want?" Razor asked dryly. "Isn't your mother's happiness important to you at all?"

Derikka scoffed and looked at him like he was crazy. "My mother isn't happy," she spat. "In all my life I've never seen her really, truly happy. And marrying him didn't help. He's selfish, he uses her, and he lasts about three minutes in bed. If all that weren't bad enough, she's never loved him, and she never will. She can deny it all she wants, but she'll always be in love with my dad."

"Even after what happened between them?" Razor asked in a quiet voice.

Derikka shrugged and straightened her jacket. "What happened between them was left so unfinished. She's never found closure."

"You think what you're trying to find will give that to her?" he wondered.

"I can hope."

"But don't you have to sign for something like this?" he pressed.

"One of his partners is a woman. All I need to do is forge his signature giving permission to open it."

"Can you forge his signature?" he asked dryly.

"Sure. I've done it before."

With a grunt, Razor lay back down. "This is all going too fast for me. We'll continue this conversation after I've had some coffee."

"I'm heading out the door this very minute," Derikka informed him crisply. She leaned across the bed and kissed him. "I'll call you later and tell you what I find," she promised.

Razor quickly sat up. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with?"

He would have chased after her...if only he had some pants on.

"I can handle it," she said confidently. "I'm an actress now, remember?"

She waved and left.

Bones left the apartment before either Razor or Derikka woke up and rode over to the Dome. He called Sherry before he left and learned that she was at her desk already. Only when he got to her office, she was getting ready to leave for an on-location report.

"You're running off again?" he frowned. "I just got here."

"I'm sorry," Sherry said sadly. "But I have to go where my boss tells me to."

"Well, I'll be waiting right here when you get back," Bones promised, though he hated to let her go when they'd only just gotten together for the first time since yesterday. Plus Sherry looked exhausted, and he vowed to wait on her hand and foot when she finally got away from work.

After kissing her deeply, longingly, he reluctantly let go and watched her scurry off. Left alone, he decided he may as well shoot some hoops or something while he was here, and he headed down the corridor to the basketball court.

Razor must have fallen back to sleep, because the next thing he knew, the sound of his cell phone ringing was waking him up. He fumbled as he reached for it and ended up knocking it under the bed. Muttering under his breath, he felt blindly for it for a moment before he found it. "Hello?" he said when he finally answered it.

"Where's Bones?"

Razor sat up in surprise. "Derikka?"

It sure sounded like his girlfriend, but she sounded strange. It took his foggy mind a moment to realize she was crying. Hard.

"Babe? What's wrong?"

A touch of fear reached his heart; something awful must have happened for her to be sobbing like this. "Are you hurt? Derikka, what happened?"

"I'm fine," she told him, sniffling. "I need to see Bones."

"He's not here," said Razor, confused. "Why, what--"

"I need to see him," she insisted sharply. "Please, just tell me where he is!"

"He probably went to the Dome to see Sherry, but he might not--"

She'd already hung up. Razor stared, puzzled, at his phone for a long moment, then jumped out of bed and started tugging on his clothes.

As Bones netted another ball, his mind started to wander. He'd never looked into marriage before, so he wasn't really sure where to begin. Though a ring, he thought wryly as he remembered his conversation with Derikka last night, was probably a good place to start.

He dunked a ball and leaped back with extra speed--you had to keep on your toes now that they introduced those moving baskets--then caught the ball again before it stopped bouncing. He was dribbling it absently when he heard a sound behind him. Knowing only one person who could sneak up on him like that, he tucked the ball under his arm and turned around. "What's the matter, Razor still asleep?" he quipped.

It wasn't until after he spoke did he notice the tears streaming down her face. She was dressed in a matching suit jacket and skirt set, like she was ready for the office or something. Her hair was a little messy, like she'd recently raked her fingers through it a lot. A small metal box was clutched tightly in her arms.

"Bad news, I take it," he commented dryly.

Derikka choked on a sob and put a hand to her forehead, though she didn't take her eyes off him. "It's worse than you could ever imagine," she said, her voice thick and hoarse from crying.

Bones was sympathetic, but he wasn't sure why she was here telling him instead of Razor--or her mother. But she looked too upset to be left alone right now, so he took a step closer. "Come on. I'll take you home."

She shook her head violently. "No--I have to show you first. You have to be there when I tell her."

Bones lifted his brows curiously. "Your mother? Why me?"

"You have to," she insisted sharply. As she spoke, she opened the box, pulled out a slip of paper and held it out to him. "Read it," she ordered.

Brows still lifted, he took the paper and looked it over. It was a letter written on plain white paper, but that didn't blunt the impact of the words.

My darling Em, it began, I don't even know how to begin telling you how sorry I am for hurting you. I didn't mean a word I said to you--just like I know you didn't mean a word you said, either. We're both young and prideful, but that's no reason for us to fight like this. I love you with every last part of my being, more than I could ever tell you in words. Every moment I spend away from you feels wasted, every breath I take without you by my side feels meaningless. I don't even remember what we're fighting about--life is so empty without you, nothing else matters. Come back to me--all of it is forgotten. I love you and I can't live without you, so please come back to me. I'm waiting right here until you do.

By the time Bones reached the end of the letter--which was signed simply with the words Always yours, now and forever--an unpleasant knot had formed somewhere inside him. "So he didn't run out on her. He wanted her back."

And there was only one reason why a letter of love and forgiveness from a man to his wife would be in another man's possession.

He looked at Derikka and saw that she had pulled out a whole clump of letters. She clutched them tightly in one hand--and another clump in her other hand. "He wrote to her the entire time she was at the hotel," she said, an underlying note of rage in her quavering voice. "Just like my mom sent out letters from the hotel every day."

The other group of letters was written on hotel stationery. Bones felt sickened as he realized what must have happened.

Steven Brooks had intercepted them. Every last one.

"That's certainly grounds for divorce."

Derikka let out a strange laugh as fresh tears sprang to her eyes. "You think it stops there? There's more, Bones. Much, much more."

She knelt where she had placed the box at her feet, fumbled through its contents for a moment, then yanked out another paper. This one looked like some kind of official document. "Read that," she said icily. "See how that makes you feel."

As Bones took it, he noticed that Derikka was acting like all this affected him personally somehow. Granted, he cared about her and was sorry she was in so much pain...but this didn't actually have anything to do with him.

But he looked at the document just the same--and felt an unpleasant jolt.

It was a death certificate. He scanned the contents briefly, noting the sad age of the male mentioned therein. He had only been an infant when a fever claimed his tiny life.

Derikka sniffled and took the certificate back. "My mother never told me," she mumbled.

"Why?" said Bones sadly as she knelt down again. He knelt down with her as she pushed the box over and sifted through the rest of the papers. "Who was he?" he wondered.

Derikka didn't answer right away. Her eyes glaring stonily at the mess lying between them, she said, "Want to know a secret? Something I never told even my mom?"

He shrugged uncertainly. "If you want to tell me."

"I've always felt like something was missing from my life. I've always felt like part of me was lost, like I was incomplete. I thought maybe it was because I never knew my dad..."

She gave her head a shake and dug through the pile for a moment. Pulling out a pale yellow paper with a fancy border and holding it up, she said, "Now I know the real reason."

Bones looked at the paper and saw that this one was a birth certificate. Stamped at the bottom were four foot-shaped ink prints.

Two sets of baby feet.

"You had a twin," said Bones in surprise.

Tears were steadily flowing down Derikka's face now, but her eyes were snapping with rage. Her jaw was set firmly as she pushed through the pile. Aside from letters and other papers, Bones saw glimpses of photos.

"That's how he kept them apart," said Derikka stonily, her tone laced with hatred. "He knew that even if he convinced my parents that the other hated them, that wouldn't keep them from still seeing each other. Not as long as they still shared one half of their children."

She shook her head, dispelling her tears. "I always wondered why my dad never fought for me," she said bitterly. "Why he never once tried to see me. That bastard probably sent him a certificate saying I was dead, too."

Bones looked at the death certificate again--and his eye fell on the signature on the bottom, swearing as witness to the event.

Steven Brooks.

"It's fake," he realized, the unpleasant knot inside him tightening harder. Something was tickling at the edge of his senses now--something big. Something that was about to change his life forever.

Derikka was shaking her head and crying quietly as she picked up a stack of photos and started flipping through them. "I can just picture it--her crying in the hotel room with me, waiting for my father to come for her. She eventually went looking for him, you know, but by then he'd decided she didn't want him anymore and moved away with my brother."

And then Steven Brooks, who had orchestrated the entire thing, swooped in with a phony paper saying her baby son was dead. It was disgusting.

"That must be why," she went on, "she thought there was another woman. She must have seen him again with my brother, years later, and thought he'd already found someone else."

She scoffed. "Steve probably thought she would marry him then and there. He had a massive fit when she moved to France."

"Why did she suddenly marry him, after keeping him waiting for so long?" asked Bones.

"It might have happened sooner," Derikka admitted, "but there was one big problem in the way. She and my father never actually divorced. I thought maybe they never really married in the first place--but then, after that conversation you and I had the other night, it hit me. The timing of it is too perfect."

"What do you mean?" Bones wondered.

She looked at him hard. "My mother married Steve five years ago. She and my father never officially divorced, making marriage to another man illegal. Unless, of course, he suddenly disappeared without a trace. Then he would be legally declared dead seven years later, whether he was or not."

Bones thought about that for a moment. "But that would mean he disappeared when..."

He stopped. Something rose up inside him, something that threatened to choke him and made his head spin. Leaning his hands on the floor he looked at Derikka; she was watching him with a strange look in her eyes.

She was angry--furious--but at the same time, she looked almost overwhelmed with a sense of relief. "Do you get it now?" she asked in a whisper. "Do you see what he's done to us? To all of us?"

As she spoke, she held up a photo for him to see.

Her mother, Emmaline, was smiling brightly at the camera, her long red hair flowing in the open wind. And smiling just as brightly, his arm wrapped tightly around her...was his father.

Chapter Text

When Razor arrived at the Dome, the first thing he did was check his team's locker room, but it was empty. He continued on, exploring the long, winding hallways, though coming this far back made him edgy. He hadn't gone farther than the locker room since the day Derikka was...

And, as if left there just to remind him, he found her helmet lying discarded in a corner. Setting his teeth, he grabbed and it started walking again--and then it dawned on him that he could call her cell and ask where the heck she was. Not that there was any chance of him getting lost around here, but there also wasn't much chance of him running into his tiny girlfriend without help, so he whipped out his cell phone and dialed her number.

To his disappointment--and worry--she didn't answer. Frowning, he hung up and continued his search. She might have left already, he mused, but there was a chance Bones still was hanging around. Maybe he knew where she went.

Bones liked to practice on weekends, so Razor started checking the various arenas. He looked around the hockey rink, then the volleyball court--and when he poked his head into the basketball court, he stopped and stared in surprise.

Bones was in there all right--and so was Derikka. They were both kneeling on the hard floor next to a pile of papers and photos. If that wasn't odd enough, they had their arms wrapped around each other, holding each other so tight it looked like they never wanted to let go.

And they were crying--both of them.

Razor rarely saw Bones shed a tear, and when he did it was always over his father. So the fact that he was clinging to his girlfriend with tears streaming down his face really threw him. "Ummm, should I come back later?"

They both started to laugh, though neither of them let go. Derikka lifted her head from Bones' shoulder, pushed his hair back and gazed at him like she was trying to memorize his face, then kissed his forehead.

"Okay, seriously--what's up?"

Derikka laughed again and wiped her eyes. She started to stand--but then she changed her mind and hugged Bones again, like she couldn't stand to be away from him for a second. "Should we tell him?" Bones asked as he brushed the tears from his face.

"Tell me what?" wondered Razor.

This was starting to make him nervous.

"We might as well," said Derikka, "but I want to go find Mom as soon as possible. Steve's going to figure out what I've done and I don't want him to get to her first."

"Let's make it quick, then," said Bones, as the two of them finally let go of each other and began stuffing the pile of papers into a metal box.

"I'm all ears," Razor said dryly.

Derikka stood, holding a small photo in her hand. Her face was sad as she studied it. "Long story dad wrote letters to my mom while she was at the hotel, just like she wrote to him. Steven Brooks stole them all, and he forged documents to trick my mother into believing my twin brother was dead."

For a moment Razor was too stunned to speak. "Wait--you had a twin?"

"I have a twin," Derikka corrected. "He's just fine and my mother needs to know that."


Razor was at a loss for words. When he finally found his tongue again he said, "And she never told you? Not even hinted?"

Derikka shook her head. "My guess is she was too ashamed. I know her...she's blamed herself all these years, since he supposedly died while she and my father were separated. That's why she never chased after him, even though she still loved him as much as ever. She didn't feel like she was good enough for him, a mother who left her child when he needed her."

"And that," she went on angrily, "is probably why she finally caved to Steve. She's spent so many years telling herself she doesn't deserve any better she finally believed it."

Razor's head was swimming. "Wait--are you telling me that not only did he make her believe that her husband didn't want her anymore, he also tricked her into believing one of her kids was dead when he actually isn't?"

Derikka nodded.

"Okay, where is this little bastard? I think I'll kill him."

With a smile, she and Bones exchanged a knowing look. "I think Mom should get that pleasure."

"I agree," said Bones.

Razor stared at his friend. "What did you just say?"

The pair smiled again. Derikka passed the photo she'd been holding to Razor. "Here: that should about sum everything up."

Razor looked--and felt like his jaw just about hit the floor.

It was a snapshot of a wedding, capturing a radiant couple standing beneath a flower-covered arch. He instantly recognized the bride as Emmaline Brooks--and the groom was Butch Justice.

"Holy crap."

He looked up from the photo and stared, wide-eyed, at his best friend and the woman he loved. And reality hit like a slap. Derikka's black hair, green eyes, and naturally tan skin...

"Holy crap," he repeated, pointing. "That means you, and he..."

He couldn't even say it.

"Ummm," began Razor uncertainly, scratching his head, "you don't mind me dating your sister, right?"

Derikka started to laugh as she reached over to hug him. "Oh, commere, you big goon."

Razor put an arm around her and, not knowing what else to do, put his other arm around Bones. Bones didn't seem to mind; he smiled and put his own arm around his life-long friend, while taking hold of Derikka's hand. Derikka smiled in return, her eyes moist. "We better go," she said softly.

"Right," said Bones, brushing his hand over his sunglasses, like they were foggy. "Where is she?"

"Home, I think."

"I'll drive you," Razor offered. "It'll be quicker if we all go together."

The twins--he could scarcely believe he was calling them that--had no objection, and the three of them raced out of the Dome to his car.

During the whirlwind ride to the house, Bones couldn't bring himself to tear his eyes away from Derikka. She sat beside him in the backseat, the box of secrets and lies clutched tightly in her hands. He kept expecting himself to wake up in bed, to find that all of this was just a dream. He still wasn't fully convinced it was really happening, even as Derikka reached over to squeeze his hand as the car pulled into the winding driveway.

"I'll wait here," Razor offered after he'd parked and killed the engine.

He looked a little awkward as he glanced at the two of them, looking almost as deep in disbelief as Bones felt. Derikka leaned to kiss him over the back of the seat. "Thanks," she whispered. "I love you."

"Love you, too," Razor murmured as they both got out of the car.

As soon as he was standing on the driveway, Bones felt like his feet had taken root in the cement. He wasn't ready to go inside, though he knew he had to. Derikka's mother had to know the truth--his mother had to know.

His mother, he echoed mentally to himself. The woman he never knew, the woman he had believed was dead or never wanted him. The thought that she had been out there all along, loving him from a distance...

It made him want to lay down and weep.

Seeing him hesitate, Derikka gave his hand a tug. "Come on," she urged. "It's okay."

Bones really had no idea what to expect at this point, but he let his twin--his twin, now that was going to take some getting used to--tug him into the massive house. "Mom?" Derikka called as they stepped into the foyer together. "Mom, I'm home."

There was movement from somewhere on the upper floor, and then Emmaline Brooks came into view. Bones felt something ball up inside him, something that threatened to bring even more tears to his eyes. He hadn't cried this much in one day since he was ten.

As she descended the stairs, tall and proud, Bones took note of how little she had changed in the last twenty years. How her hair was still just as red, how her lovely face hadn't changed much from how it looked in the photo, except that she had grown even more beautiful over time.

When she saw the two of them, she froze, her jaw and eyes tightening. Bones had a suspicion he knew why seeing the two of them together would upset her. Even if she didn't know he was her son, it had occurred to him on the ride over that she indeed knew that he was his father's son.

Emmaline slowly relaxed, though her shoulders remained tight as she descended the last step. "I hope you're done looking for trouble," she said, with a hint of affection beneath her frostiness. "At least for now."

Derikka didn't respond, at least not with words. Instead, she tightened her grip on Bones' hand and pulled him closer to her. Emmaline noticed.

She lifted her hand to her mouth as she paled. "Who told?" she asked in a whisper.

Derikka frowned. "Told me what?" she wondered.

It seemed his suspicion was correct. "That was the real reason you kept Derikka away from sports while she was growing up, isn't it," he said quietly. "It's not because you hate them--it was because of me. You thought we were half-siblings and were afraid of what would happen if we ever met."

Emmaline only wanted to keep Derikka away from the Mutant League, but since that would make her look anti-mutant--which she obviously wasn't--she pretended to loathe all sports in general.

Derikka frowned harder. "I never thought of that," she said. "You believed that and deliberately kept us apart? Why?"

Emmaline was shaking her head, hand still pressed to her mouth as tears filled her eyes. She sank to the bottom step, where she sat with her head hung down. "Because your father made it painfully clear that he wanted nothing to do with either you or me," she said quietly, bitterly. "I know it was wrong to keep this from you, but I was so afraid of you being hurt. I didn't want you to wind up rejected by your father all over again, or to be rejected by his son, and whoever his mother is."

As she spoke, tears started streaming steadily down her face; she shut her eyes as she bit back a sob. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I just couldn't say anything. I couldn't."

Another sob rose up; she hid her face in her hands and shook with emotion. It didn't take a genius to see that the pain she felt over all of this was every bit as strong today as it was twenty years ago. Bones looked at Derikka, not knowing what to say. Derikka looked uncertain too, but she quietly opened the box and pulled one of the letters out. "Dad never rejected us," she said softly. "He never stopped loving us, or wanting you back. Not for a moment."

Emmaline lowered her hands and lifted her teary eyes to the paper Derikka was holding out to her--and snatched it up so hard the letter snapped like a whip. Her eyes dragged over the contents--and then she flung the letter away and clutched the sides of her head. "No," she whispered, trembling. "No, it can't be true."

"It's true," said Derikka darkly. "Steve lied to you. He lied about everything."

Emmaline burst into uncontrollable sobs. "I loved him so much," she all but wailed. "I don't even remember what we fought about--it doesn't matter. It was silly and stupid and I didn't believe for a minute that it was actually over between us. But he never came for me. I waited and waited but he never came..."

She was in so much anguish, Bones wanted to reach out and comfort her. But he didn't know if he should, so he stood by silently, awkwardly. And then she said something that tore at the heart he didn't actually have.

"I wanted my baby boy," she sobbed. "I wanted my son."

Fingers dragging into her hair, she hunched forward, shivering and sobbing. "If only I hadn't been so childish. If I stayed, he wouldn't have gotten sick. He wouldn't have..."

Derikka quickly sat down and put her arm around her mother. "That wasn't true either," she said sternly. "Everything that man has ever told you is a lie."

Emmaline shook her head, still clutched in her trembling hands. "No. My baby's dead. He's dead and it's my fault. I should never have left him. I should have gone home instead of writing those stupid letters. I should have..."

Bones couldn't take it anymore. Dropping to his knees, he took Emmaline's--his mother's--hands and held them as tightly as he dared as his eyes filled. "But I'm not dead," he whispered. "I'm here. I'm right here."

Emmaline stared at him through her tears. "But you're his, not mine. You can't possibly be mine."

Bones gave his head a small shake. "I never knew my mother. My father never talked about her, or even kept a picture of her. It hurt him when I asked about her, but I know that he loved her. He loved her with all his heart."

Emmaline was shaking her head, her eyes showing her conflicted emotions. "But Steven told me--"

"You know what Steven Brooks said once?" Derikka cut in sharply. "I heard him tell Prigg when I was three years old that he would do anything to have you. He said that if he had to kill to make you his, he would."

She held the box out, and Emmaline slowly looked through it all. The letters, the phony death certificate--and several notes and memos written by Steven Brooks himself, crowing in triumph over the success of his web of lies.

Emmaline pushed the box away and, for a long moment, hid her face in her hands. When she lowered them again, her eyes shifted to Bones. Hand pressing to her mouth again, her gaze drifted over his face. "All of these years," she murmured, "I've wondered what my boy might have grown up to be--what kind of person he might have become. And all this time I only needed to turn on a TV, or open a magazine, and see exactly what he'd become."

She choked on a sob as she reached out and softly touched his face. "I should have known. I should have known you were mine..."

Bones gently took her other hand as he gave up trying to hold back his own tears. "It's not your fault. You've been lied to at every turn."

"But we're all together now," Derikka put in. "We've found each other and that's all that matters right now."

It was nothing short of amazing, Bones thought. What were the odds of he and Derikka finding each other? Looking back, he realized that Razor could have easily turned the TV off after their interview was over, never seeing the performance that had literally left him tongue-tied. Or he could have missed bumping into her at the cast party, or skipped going altogether. If she and Razor had never met, then the two of them might never have, either.

He would have to thank Razor later--thank him for bringing this aggravating, lovable girl into his life.

And now he understood why it was so hard for him to read her. Whether she was aware of it or not, she was just as good at masking her emotions and presence as he was. It was something they had both gotten from their dad.

"I've missed so much of your life," Emmaline said sadly, still touching his face and hair.

"It's okay," Bones said quickly. "We can spend all day catching up. I don't have anywhere to be."

And even if he did, he would have canceled. There wasn't anywhere else in the world he'd rather be right now.

Chapter Text

Bones was still kneeling on the floor, clinging to his mother's hand when the front door suddenly opened. He wiped his eyes and looked over his shoulder. Steven Brooks was standing in the foyer.

He was gaping at the three of them with a look of utter horror, his eyes blazing with rage. His briefcase slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor. "What the hell is going on here?"

Emmaline gently pulled her hand away and rose to her feet. She stepped between her children, marched right up to her husband and slapped him sharply across the face. Bones felt a twinge of pride.

"Get out," she ordered.

Clutching his face, Brooks gawked at her. "What?"

"I said get out of my house," Emmaline cried, livid.

"Are you drunk? This is my house! I bought it when we got married!"

"As a wedding gift to me," Emaline corrected. "My name is on the deed, remember?"

Brooks started to turn red in the face, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides; Bones stood quickly, body tensed. If he so much as thought about hitting her...

But his eyes were on Derikka--and on the box still clutched in her hands. "I warned you never to cross me," he said darkly, darting forward. "Put that down!"

Derikka obeyed, though not in the way he'd intended. She let go, and the metal box fell to the floor with a crack, its contents bursting out for all the world to see. Red-faced and seething, Steven slapped Derikka across the face so hard she stumbled and fell.

Bones was on him in an instant, tackling him to the hard marble floor--though he'd wanted to run him clear through the wall. As he lifted his fist, he gauged how hard he could get away with hitting a norm without breaking too much of his face...

A hand rested on his shoulder. "Don't," said Derikka softly. "He's not worth it."

Bones knew that she was right, but he glared hatefully at the man under him for a moment more, his eyes blazing redder than flame, before slowly getting up.

While Brooks was still picking himself up, Emmaline pulled her wedding ring off and threw it to the ground. "My attorney will contact you," she said, with a cool calmness.

Brooks started to laugh. "You really plan to take me to court? I'll tear you apart, even if you have that."

He jerked his gaze to the papers on the floor.

"You think so?" Emmaline said icily. "I always knew, deep down, that marrying you was against my better judgement. I've never trusted you--not completely. So there are a few things I decided to keep to myself, like where I take all my legal affairs. You really think I'd ever trust anyone at your firm to handle my personal business?"

Her ice blue eyes turning dark, she took a step forward; Brooks actually shrank back. "I managed to get my son back, but because of you, I've lost my husband forever. For everything that's happened to the four of us, every last horrible little thing--I blame you, Steven. You can hide behind your rich friends all you want. When I'm finished with you, I'll have stapled your testicles to the wall."

Brooks balled his fists, his eyes blazing--but then he took a look at the pair standing behind her, at how they were both ready to spring on him again. Leaving his briefcase behind, he stormed out of the house and was gone.

Emmaline let out her breath in a rush and slumped to the floor. "He's dead, isn't he."

Bones forced himself to answer. "Yes."

Choking on a sob, she buried her face in her hands. "And he died believing I hate him. I wanted so badly to find him again, to tell him I still love him..."

Bones knelt beside her and put his hands on her arms. "I know it hurts to think about it," he told her softly, "but I think that where he is now, he knows. He loves you and he knows you love him."

It was a small comfort, but Emmaline dried her eyes and looked at him. "And you," she said softly. "I know we just met, but it doesn't matter. I've loved you your whole life. At least," she faltered, "I loved the boy that I thought I lost. But you're not lost--you were right here all this time. If I had known, I would never have..."

She trailed off, her eyes filling again. Seeing her in so much pain made him hurt right along with her. She would probably never really find closure in this. Thanks to Steven Brooks, she lost the man she truly loved. And Derikka would never have a chance to know her father.

The front door suddenly opened, making all three of them look up with a start. Razor was sticking his head into the foyer. "Can I come in now?"

"Yeah," Bones muttered. "And where were you when Brooks showed up?"

Razor lifted his hairless brows. "He was here? Sorry--I was out buying this."

As he spoke, he took a step inside; in his arms was a large vase brimming with flowers. The card sticking out of the top read Happy Family Reunion.

Derikka let out a laugh and hugged him. "You crazy zoid," she sighed.

For the rest of the afternoon, Bones sat next to Derikka in the parlor as Emmaline showed them old photo albums and other mementos. Derikka was shocked to learn that she had kept them hidden for all these years. "What else are you hiding?" she asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," Emmaline responded simply. "I made a vow today to never hide anything from you again--either of you."

She paused. "So I guess I should tell you that two other people know the identity of my first husband, and they'll probably end up being called to court before this is over."

"Cecilia," Derikka said promptly. "I'm stunned that blabbermouth managed to keep this to herself."

Emmaline smiled softly. "She can keep a secret, when it's something really important. Though I'm not surprised the other one kept silent. He never was one for talk."

"Who's that?" Bones wondered.

Emmaline looked at him for a moment. "You already know him. He's your coach now."

Across the room, Razor nearly fell off his chair. "Malone? You know Malone?"

"Of course," Emmaline responded lightly. "They were best friends up until Butch disappeared."

"Oh, that's right."

This news made Bones frown hard. Malone had known all this time who his mother was and never told him? "He certainly never said a word about it to me," he commented dryly.

"He wouldn't," said Emmaline, with a sad smile. "Your father probably told him not to talk about me, either to you or anyone else. Or to talk about our daughter, whom Steven no doubt did a great job convincing everyone was dead, what with us both off on another continent, and Malone had no way of knowing any better. To be perfectly frank, your father and I had a whirlwind romance; we married a month after we met, and I found out I was pregnant a month after that. During our time together, we all but ignored friends and family, we were so caught up in each other. I only saw Malone a handful of times, because at the time he was busy launching his professional sports career along with the rest of the team, plus he had just gotten married, and when the two of you were born his new wife was getting ready to deliver the little girl you now know as Thrasher. She was born around the same time your father and I separated, so it was probably months before Malone found out what was going on. And I know your father...when Steven tricked him into thinking Derikka was dead, he probably reacted the same way I did. No doubt he blamed himself, and decided that I was better off without him."

And no doubt Steven Brooks had helped perpetuate that belief, Bones thought bitterly. His father must have moved out of their apartment after seeing the fake death certificate, and with his wife running off in shame to another country, it was only too easy to make him believe she didn't want him--or their son--anymore. His father never gave up anything without a fight, and it would have taken a lot more than just a lack of response to his letters to convince him to act like his marriage never happened, to the point where he completely buried any knowledge of the fact that he had once had--and supposedly lost--a baby daughter.

Bones understood now why Malone reacted the way he did when Derikka first told him her name. He must have assumed, he thought dryly, that she was Steven Brooks' daughter.

Razor rested his chin in his hands with a scowl. "Remind me to punch this guy later."

"Mom already decked him," Derikka said with a grin. "It was awesome."

"Let's not talk about that," said Emmaline, her cheeks turning pink.

Bones turned to another page of the photo album, though the pictures inside brought him more pain than pleasure right now. They were mostly wedding photos, and the sight of his father, so young, vibrant, and happy, made his eyes sting.

Derikka put her arm around him, and Emmaline turned to the next page. Derikka laughed softly; below a photo of Emmaline in a hospital bed, smiling sleepily at the camera with her loving husband at her side, were two pink infants sleeping naked in a white crib.

"My, you were fat once," Derikka observed with a giggle.

Emmaline smiled wryly. "Actually, he wasn't very meaty when he was born. That's the first thing your father said when he saw him: he's just skin and bones. The name kind of stuck after that."

"Oh. My, you were always bony, even as a baby. That's kind of sad."

"What's that make you?" Bones wondered.

"The not bony one."

Bones frowned a little as something occurred to him. "Didn't it make you wonder, after I became famous, why I had the same name?"

Emmaline bit her lip, looking downcast. "It did. But I didn't know it was your real name. I thought it was just a nickname, considering what you became--and yet another way the universe was laughing at me."

They grew quiet for a moment; Emmaline wiped her moistening eyes and turned the page again.

Here, the twin infants were a little larger, and dressed in baby gowns--pink and blue, respectively. Even at that age, they both looked sleepily at the camera with their father's green eyes. "Which one's me?" Derikka wondered cheekily.

Emmaline snorted. "The one in pink, dear."

"You sure?"

In all honesty, without the color-coding, Bones would have a hard time telling them apart himself. At that age, they looked remarkably alike.

Emmaline continued to flip, and abruptly, pictures of their father vanished. After that, it was just Emmaline and Derikka, along with pictures of their best friends, Cecilia and Heather.

"I really miss her sometimes," Derikka murmured. "Say, it's the law office connected to Cecilia's company that you get your attorneys from, isn't it?"

"Guilty as charged," Emmaline said wryly. "She may be promiscuous, but I trust Cecilia with my personal affairs before I'd ever trust Artwel and Company and its related firms. And speaking of which, I'll be quitting my job first thing tomorrow. I'm sure Cecilia will be happy to hire me at her office."

Derikka flipped to the end of the most recent album, which was mostly photos of Derikka and her budding career. "Any pictures of me in there?" Razor asked cheekily.

"No," said Derikka, reaching to dig something out of her pocket, "but I can fix that."

She pressed onto the last page of the book a photo of her and Razor, arms around each other and smiling with the radiance of young, unbridled love. Bones felt a stirring inside him. The image was strikingly similar to the photo of their parents, the one Derikka showed him on the basketball court.

Suddenly thinking of something, Bones sat up straighter and fished a photo out of his own pocket. Clearing his throat, he held it out to Emmaline. "Here," he said uncertainly. "This is Sherry, my fiancée."

Emmaline took the photo and smiled softly. "She looks so sweet. I'm happy for you."

Derikka nudged him. "You ever pick out a ring?"

"And when would I have had time to do that since the last time you asked me, which was, oh, less than twelve hours or so ago?" Bones wanted to know.

"Bah! Excuses..."


"Bone bag."

"Will you two stop?" said Razor, exasperated.

Emmaline laughed as she got up from her seat. "Oh, just let them be. They have over twenty years of sibling banter to catch up on."

She left the room, and Derikka, with a girlish giggle, tackled her twin and playfully messed up his hair. Bones, grinning, easily pushed her away, but she tried to noogie him just the same.

Razor breathed a sigh. "I'm feeling a little left out over here."

Derikka rolled her eyes and got to her feet. "Fine, you big baby..."

She stalked over, grabbed her boyfriend by the neck and started kissing him with such fervor that Bones had to look away in embarrassment. A moment later, she sat beside him again, behaving like nothing had happened.

Razor was wobbling in his seat, face flushed. He gave his head a shake. "Babe, do me a favor. Don't start the mower unless you plan to mow the lawn. Okay?"

Derikka started to say something in response, but then Emmaline came back into the room and she thought better of it.

With a soft smile, Emmaline went over to her son and held a small, hinged velvet box out to him. "Here: this is for you. I hope life brings you nothing but happiness."

Bones felt a knowing ache deep inside as he took the box and opened it slowly. Nestled inside was a ring made from white gold and adorned with a cluster of gemstones: white and pink diamonds. "Sherry loves pink," he faltered. "She'll love this. Thank you."

He tried to fight back the threatening tears, but when he looked up and saw the moist eyes of his twin and mother, he decided not to bother. With a touch of uncertainty, he stood slowly and put his arms around Emmaline. She held him tightly in return.

"Thanks, Mom," he whispered.

It was surprisingly easy to say it. In a matter of hours, his life had been turned upside-down and inside-out, with things he had known as truth turning into lies and vice-versa.

But in the midst of all the loss, he had found something--something he had longed to have for ten years but never thought he would have again.

He had a family.