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Mutant League: The Tangents

Chapter Text

"I don't know if I ever mentioned this," said Derikka, "but I suffer from acute insomnia."

Her fiancé, Razor Kidd, didn't respond--unless a wall-rattling snore counted. Sighing, she rested her chin on her palms and peered closely at his wide open mouth, which was a part of him, despite how often they locked lips, that she never got a very good look at except when he was asleep.

Not that she ever made a conscious decision to study various parts of his reptilian anatomy...it just kind of happened. The methods insomniacs utilize to pass the time rarely make sense once the sun comes up, but seem like such a good idea when they first come to mind.

When she first moved in with him, Derikka had no idea Razor snored. She'd spent the night with him many times prior to actually moving in, plus he'd gone on her recent tour with her, during which they shared a hotel room each night.

They also--much to the disapproval of the mothers of her young fans if they knew, she was sure--had sex nearly every night during the tour.

Well, not 'sex' sex, but...they had definitely played. And played, and played some more. Derikka assumed it was because most nights they spent together ended in an orgasm-induced coma that she never noticed that he snored, or because some of those nights she was exhausted after a long performance. In either case, she could sleep through just about anything.

Or it might be that Razor slept differently when he fell asleep normally, instead of blissfully drifting off after an hour or more of some form of love-making. Whatever the reason, it came as a bit of a surprise one night, while she was lying awake beside him, that his mouth suddenly popped open with a thunderous rumble.

Not that she really minded. He looked so cute when he was asleep, snoring or not, but inevitably she felt the same thing she always did when someone was asleep and she wasn't: lonely.

Years ago, it was common for her to slip out of bed, tiptoe down the hall and crawl into bed with her mother, but when she passed the age of ten or so, her mother claimed that it wasn't cute anymore and told her to stay in her own bed. Derikka wondered to this day if her mother had any idea how many of the sleepless nights in the years that followed were spent giggling and whispering on the phone with Heather.

Razor suddenly gave a particularly loud snort, sending out a pleasant whiff of fresh wintermint as his warm breath touched her face. Given his odd diet staple of flies, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies, Derikka appreciated his meticulous grooming habits, particularly how often he flossed, brushed his teeth, and gargled. As a result, his mouth always smelled crisp and delicious.

And speaking of his mouth...it wasn't until the first time she took a good look after she found out he snored that she noticed he didn't have any back molars. Just two front rows of short, pointed fangs. She was curious if, after he first mutated, he had needed to relearn how to chew his food.

Not that she ever planned to ask him--but that was the random mental meandering of an insomniac for you.

Derikka breathed a sigh, blowing a wisp of black hair out of her eyes. She was really not looking forward to going back to sleeping alone once she left for her world tour. And it was actually her world tour that was indirectly causing her current bout of sleeplessness. She had a lot of promoting to do right now, plus Razor was getting ready for the new season, so lately when they went to bed at night, it was actually for sleep instead of sexual activity.

She had actually managed to forget how much she usually lay awake at night, and it was even more lonely now that she didn't lie here alone. Her fiancé remained completely oblivious of her affliction--despite the fact that she was sitting on his stomach, elbows propped on his chest as she watched him snore.

She'd started doing things like this a few nights ago, just to see if he would react. She told herself not to bother him, but as the hours ticked by, it grew harder and harder to hold still. In the end, she'd given in to her restless urges and lightly poked him, but when he didn't respond, she eventually graduated to lifting his arms and dropping them, toying with his tail, and violently jostling the bed.

So far, the most he had done in response was mumble in his sleep and shift position a little. Last night was the first night she grew frustrated and parked herself on his stomach, but since he didn't react in the least, she made herself comfortable there again tonight, after lying awake for several lonely, boring hours.

Lying bored on her fiancé wasn't much better than lying bored on the mattress, but there was always the possibility he would wake up and give her a spanking for making a nuisance of herself. She could only hope.

She was beginning to think nothing short of a sonic boom could rouse him, so she passed the time by studying him in ways she couldn't while he was awake. In all honesty, she found his mutantcy fascinating. She loved the dark green color of his scaled skin, and how it felt warm and textured, yet smooth beneath her hand. And she squinted now at the thin slits that were his nostrils, impossible to see except when you were this close to him.

Not that any of it mattered to her. When she first laid eyes on him, she had felt such a ripple of excitement, one that set her heart racing. She hadn't any idea who he was at the time, but she had known in an instant what kind of person he was: fun, playful, a little mischievous. Outspoken and outgoing, maybe even a little wild, but at the same time warm and caring. In short, everything she hadn't even known she was looking for.

He could have had any profession or been any kind of a mutant--or even not a mutant, that was fine, too--and she still would have fallen hard and fast for him. So what if he had scales, a tail, and only eight fingers and four toes. He was her match in every way, her one perfect fit.

Feeling a swell of affection, she rested her head on his shoulder. Her eye fell on his ear--his cute, pointed little ear...which was actually quite sensitive. On impulse, she leaned up and planted a kiss on the soft lobe. Razor fidgeted a little in response, his mouth closing, quieting his snores. He slept on.

Not everyone was as comfortable with mutants as she was. But she was only ten when the quake hit so, having been exposed to them for over half her life, she had adjusted easily, accepting them, loving how they were different just as much as how they were the same as everyone else.

Having Heather and Cecilia in her life had no doubt helped. The two sisters, who were as close as two people could be, lived in the States, while she and her mother had lived abroad, but the pair traveled frequently back and forth, so they saw each other often.

Her mother had known Cecilia since grade school, but Derikka first met Heather, who had been many years Cecilia's junior, when she was four. They had both been dragged, she by her mother and Heather by her sister, to some swanky business party neither of them cared about. Heather was several years older than her, but it hadn't mattered at the time. They were the only kids at a party full of boring adults, so running off together looking for mischief had been a no-brainer.

After that night they were inseparable. Cecilia did business to and from Europe all the time, so she made sure to bring Heather with her wherever she went after that. Derikka had also been allowed to visit her back across the pond, as they say, though her mother never went with.

They were in different places as far as things like school went, but their tastes were so similar, and they had so much fun when they were together, it really didn't matter. Heather loved football and was head of the flag squad by age twelve, and before long she graduated to full-blown cheerleading. She had taken tumbling classes when she was younger, so when Derikka started gymnastics, she had happily given her tips and pointers.

Fast-forward a number of years, when she and her mother first heard about the devastating quake back in the States, and the shocking result of it. Even with the heads up, it was still a surprise the next time they saw the Wintercrest sisters--Heather with her new skin and hair color and more physical strength than she knew what to do with, and Cecilia with more color in her hair than a box of crayons.

Cecilia had been away on business and was nowhere near the stadium when the quake hit, but Heather had been watching the game in person. She had just gone to the bathroom and had been out in the halls when the tremors first started, so she had been able to escape through a nearby exit unharmed, but that didn't prevent her mutation any.

After the initial shock wore off, Derikka didn't care in the least, but Heather had. Her new strength was considered an unfair advantage--plus a danger to others--so she was taken off the squad. Undaunted, Heather promptly created a new squad--an all-mutant one, and her lofty goals for them had included being the top cheerleading squad for the newly-formed Mutant League.

She was extremely disappointed when she learned that the League wasn't going to include cheerleaders, citing them as a distraction for the players as well as running the unnecessary risk of putting non-athletes on the field. Her dream gone, Heather retired from cheerleading after she graduated high school.

By then Derikka was fully immersed in her music career, though with the two of them living on the same continent now, they stayed glued at the hip even after Heather went off to college and took a position at Wintercrest Unlimited. Sometimes Derikka wondered what life would be like if that plane had never gone down...but she didn't really want to think about that right now.

Instead, her mind wandered back to the time when she and her mother left their home in France and took root here, in the town her mother grew up in. Derikka remembered being unhappy about it at the time. She was closer to Heather, but she was also closer to Steve, who during that time started pleading marriage harder than ever. Her mother, to her relief and smug pleasure, refused more adamantly than ever in return.

In fact, Derikka remembered the two of them fighting a lot for the next few months. She had hoped against hope at the time that Steve would finally give up and disappear...no such luck. He eventually backed off, though not completely of course, while her mother remained pensive about something.

Derikka had been too busy performing and getting into trouble with Heather to pay much attention, but looking back now, she realized what her mother had been doing those first few months, roaming quietly around town like she did. At the time Derikka just assumed she was getting reacquainted with everything and everyone, but she knew better now. She had been looking for her husband, whom she never actually divorced or stopped loving, the man sports fans across the globe were mourning the loss of.

He was assumed dead, but no one knew for sure. And her mother, she now knew, spent the next seven years in misery and self-loathing, regretting how she had lost the chance forever to tell him how much she still loved him. It was that misery and lack of self-worth that finally made her say yes, once her missing husband was legally declared dead.

Derikka was furious at the time, but now she had to wonder if she would react any different, if she was in her mother's position. If something happened to Razor, would she do the same thing? Let her grief and loneliness consume her until she couldn't stand it anymore, and settle for someone she didn't love, or even trust?

A shiver ran through her, and she clung to Razor's warm, comforting frame and hastily pushed these dark thoughts from her mind. Insomnia really sucked sometimes. Not that it was ever really good, mind you, but it was especially bad when the sleepless haze that settled into one's mind sent one's thoughts down paths they were probably better off not traveling.

To keep her mind from getting away from her again, Derikka went back to what she'd been doing in the first place; studying her fiancé's exquisite body while testing what, if anything, would wake him up. Her head on his shoulder, she absently ran her fingernails over the toned muscles of his chest, slowly drifting down to the firm plains of his midsection.

Derikka vividly remembered, while she and her mother lived abroad, and frequently traveled through places like Paris, London, and Venice, how female tourists loved to gush how exciting and exotic they thought the local men were. No offense to local European men, but once mutants came into existence, Derikka couldn't think of anything else as being very exotic, or all that exciting. Nothing said--at least to her--one-of-a-kind temptation like a man with a nigh foot-long tongue.

Cecilia had the same opinion. Normal men, which were nothing more than a game to her anyway, bored her to tears once she saw the plethora of sizes, shapes, and colors mutant men came in. She spent the next ten years going from one type of mutantcy to the next, like it was some kind of experiment. Derikka's mother quietly disapproved, but eventually gave up trying to curb her amorous behavior.

Her growing relationship with Darkstar was nothing short of shocking, and both she and her mother kept waiting for one or both of them to grow bored and call it quits, even with the two of them spending more time together than ever these days. Derikka mused that the old saying was actually true: for every pot there's a lid.

Of course, thinking about that just made her want to tell them to put a lid on it every time she caught them making out. Or was the proper expression for them to put it on ice? She had trouble remembering. Expressions were always changing or becoming outdated as time went on, or--

Derikka let out a groan and thumped her head against Razor's shoulder. "Will you shut up in there?" she grumbled out loud.

It seemed like the harder she tried to quiet her rambling thoughts, the louder they got. It was really annoying sometimes.

She kept on thumping her head while she continued to mutter to herself...and then she felt a warm hand rest on the small of her back. Sheepish, she slowly lifted her head, until she was gazing into Razor's large, round eyes, which were blinking sleepily at her.

"Are you trying to start something, little minx?"

"Um..."

Derikka pretended to think it over, then scooted up a little and pressed a kiss to his frowning mouth. "Maybe?"

Razor let out a sigh, which didn't quite mask the look of amusement in his eyes. Grinning suddenly, he wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, and Derikka, with a sigh of relief, slid her arms around his neck and let all her random thoughts trickle from her mind as they were replaced with something much more...pleasant.

Chapter Text

It was a warm, fragrant, lazy afternoon, and Bones was relaxing in the living room with his drum set. Well, he couldn't be sure about the fragrant part, but that was what he heard. The flowers and trees were in full bloom, the local parks brimming with color. Outside, birds were singing, dogs were barking, and children were laughing as they played. He listened to this mixture of sounds with a faint smile on his face as he absently tapped his drumstick against a symbol.

And then a new sound joined the mix, one he never heard before. He would definitely remember it if he had. Now smiling in amusement, he sat back on the drum stool, thinking to himself that a tinier, daintier sneeze couldn't possibly exist.

Most mutants--especially athletes--were anything but dainty when they sneezed. Aside from the explosive sound, it was often...messy. This quiet sound was more like an involuntary exclamation of 'A two! A two!'

When the sound came again, he couldn't hold back a snicker. He slid off the stool, crossed the hall to the kitchen and slid his arms around the figure he found standing near the kitchen sink. "Sherry Elizabeth Justice, you have the cutest sneeze I've ever heard."

In response, Sherry sniffled loudly and blotted her nose with a tissue. "It won't be cute for long," she muttered, sounding cranky. "And neither will I."

"You're always cute, at least to me," he said honestly, kissing her forehead.

Especially in outfits like the snug white tank top and pink shorts she was wearing. She noticed his wandering eyes and edged away. "Don't get any ideas," she warned, before sneezing again.

"Still cute," said Bones, snickering.

Sherry gave him a weary look before heading into the living room. She curled up on the sofa, where she blotted her nose and looked a little droopy. Bones noticed as he sat beside her that her nose was turning pink, and her eyes looked a little puffy. "Are you sick?" he asked in concern.

"No." Sherry blew her nose. "Don't you know what season this is?"

Bones pretended to think about it. "Summer?"

She gave him a look of exasperation. "Hay fever," she corrected. "Happens every year."

"News to me," he said. "You never looked like this at work."

Groaning, Sherry scooted down to curl up on the sofa and tucked a cushion under her head. "I take allergy meds. Usually."

"Don't we have any?"

As someone without sinuses, allergies weren't exactly his forte.

"I thought I had some, but they were expired."

She sneezed again. Bones frowned; her eyes looked puffier than just a moment ago. "I'll double-check," he said, getting up and heading back to the kitchen.

He poked through the cabinet above the coffee pot, sifting through bottles of vitamins, calcium pills and herbal supplements. There wasn't anything that mentioned allergy relief, so he went back to the living room. "I'll head to the pharmacy and pick something up for you," he said, leaning over to run a soothing hand over his wife's hair.

"Please do," Sherry said, without opening her eyes. She was starting to sound a little stuffed up. "I'm too fuzzy-headed to drive right now."

Bones noted that her nose was looking more red than pink now, and there was a growing mound of tissues on the end table. "Any preference?" he asked as he grabbed his keys.

"Nothing that says non-drowsy, it'll make me hyper. I want to sleep."

"Got it."

He left the apartment and headed out to the parking garage, where he mounted his bike and rode to the nearest pharmacy. The allergy section wasn't hard to find, though it looked well picked over. Sherry wasn't the only one in need of an antihistamine today, it seemed.

He grabbed a box at random, noted the words 'non-drowsy formula' in big block letters and put it back. In the spot next to it, pushed a little to the back, was a brightly-colored box with the words 'ultra-strength' across the front. On the back, at the top of the precautions list was the message May cause drowsiness, do not take when driving or using heavy machinery.

Perfect, thought Bones, feeling pleased with himself. He headed to the front counter, where a young mother had her small son propped on her shoulder as she dug in her purse. The boy squealed in excitement when he saw him, and Bones humored him by signing his t-shirt before making his purchase and returning home.

And not a moment too soon. Sherry's nose had turned puffy, the tip of it scarlet from so much blowing. The mound of tissues on the end table had grown into a mountain during the short time he was away.

Sherry stayed curled up on the sofa and didn't look at him as he took out the bottle and shook out two capsules. Cupping her hand, he placed them both carefully in Sherry's palm.

"Wadder."

Bones looked at her blankly. "What?"

She sneezed--loudly--then made a drinking motion. "Wa-dder."

He caught on--and quickly turned away before she noticed the smile he was trying to hold back and not quite succeeding. In the kitchen, he poured a small glass of water and returned to the living room; Sherry sat up and took the glass from him. "Dank-yoo."

Bones bit back a snicker. "You're welcome."

Sherry narrowed her puffy eyes at him, then washed both capsules down with a gulp of water. She curled up on the sofa again, arms tucked under her head and knees pulled to her chest. Bones sat on the other end of the sofa and picked up a magazine. He glanced at Sherry, who looked sleepy already, and lightly tickled the bottom of her bare foot with a smile. "You're still cute," he whispered.

Sherry made a grunting sound and curled up tighter. "Am nodt."

Bones tried to suppress another snicker and held his magazine a little higher, hiding his smile. Sherry kicked at his hip with her heel. "And dop labbing adt me."

Bones snorted on laughter. "Yes, dear."

Grumbling, Sherry grabbed another tissue and blew her nose loudly, then curled up again. She looked awfully groggy--and pretty cranky--so Bones quietly left the living room and headed out to the basketball court that was behind the apartment building. It was usually empty this time of day, and it was nice to play on a court that wasn't full of hazards once in a while.

He stayed out there for an hour or so, leisurely sinking shots, then went back inside. Back in the living room, Sherry was sound asleep, and her eyelids didn't look as puffy. Bones picked up his magazine again and sat quietly, not minding the lazy afternoon.

A while later Sherry stirred, stretching her legs out and rolling over. She yawned, and Bones noted that she looked almost like her usual self again. "Feeling better?" he asked.

Yawning again, she stretched her arms above her head. Bones discreetly admired how her torso curved beneath her thin tank top. "Uh-huh."

She sounded a lot less stuffed up, too. He smiled. "Still cute," he teased.

Sherry giggled suddenly, crawled across the sofa to him, put her arms around his neck and noisily kissed his face. "You're cute."

"Well, thank you, Mrs. Justice."

Sherry giggled again and cuddled against his side, running her fingers through his hair as she rested her head on his shoulder. She looked so relaxed and content, he half-expected her to start purring.

He continued to flip through the magazine, and she continued to run her fingers through his hair, occasionally twisting a lock around her finger. He didn't mind. It was kind of relaxing, actually. Though he did think it was a little odd how she kept rubbing her cheek against his arm.

Giggling softly, Sherry leaned up to nuzzle his face, running the fingers of both hands through his hair. "Cute," she whispered.

"Yes, dear," Bones said absently.

He was reading an article that claimed to have the inside scoop about their own Mike's--AKA Cannonball's--engagement to actress Luna Maxwell. Bones wondered who's butt they pulled this story out of. As on top of things as gossip rags liked to believe they were, if a member of his team was engaged, nobody would know before the team did. And even though the two were deeply in love and had been dating for a while now, Cannonball was extremely shy and would probably need more time before he gathered the courage to pop the question.

That didn't stop the press from printing their gibberish. If he had a dime for every ridiculous rumor they printed about him and Sherry...

Beside him, Sherry suddenly leaned over and opened one of the drawers in the end table--the one she kept her sewing supplies in.

"I think those meds have made you a little too loopy to be handling a needle right now, Ms. Steele," Bones advised, eyes still on the page.

Sherry closed the drawer and curled up at his side again. "I wasn't," she said sweetly.

"Good."

She curled her fingers into his hair again. Bones snickered absently. "According to this, Cannonball is going to have his honeymoon in Honolulu. I wonder if he knows that?"

"Doubtful," said Sherry, snickering with him.

She gathered a clump of his hair in her hand and twisted it for a moment. "Hey," he said in surprise; she was tugging kind of hard. "Easy, there."

Sherry let go just as the doorbell rang. As Bones got up, she scooted to the other end of the sofa and grabbed the cushion she'd been using as her pillow. He glanced at her, hairless brows raised, as he headed to answer the door. She was holding the cushion over her mouth to muffle her giggles.

"Go back to sleep, Sher," he advised.

She continued to giggle quietly as he headed down the hall. Shaking his head, he opened the door and found Razor standing in the outside hallway. He had a smile on his face as he opened his mouth to say something--and then his jaw fell open and his eyes bugged out.

Bones lifted his brows again. "Yes?" he asked dryly.

Razor gawked at him for several more seconds, his mouth opening and closing like he was trying to ask something. Then he slapped a hand over his mouth as he snorted on weakly suppressed laughter.

Bones finally threw his hands up in exasperation. "What?"

Razor waved his free hand and shook his head as he struggled to compose himself. "N-nothing," he said, stepping past him and into the apartment.

"You sure?" Bones asked dryly as he closed the door. "Because you look about as loopy as my wife, but at least she has an excuse."

Razor was shaking with silent laughter. "Why?" he finally asked, out of breath as he wiped his eyes. "What's wrong with Sherry?"

"Allergies," Bones said simply. "Apparently, she gets hay fever around this time every year."

Razor took a shaky breath. "Oh," he said, sounding almost composed now. Almost.

"Does Derikka have any allergies?" Bones wondered.

"Not really. Just bird feathers. Good thing I'm not high maintenance and refuse to sleep on anything but goose down, huh?"

He grinned--a little too broadly.

"Uh-huh. Speaking of Derikka..."

"Out," Razor reported with a sigh. "Something about a photo shoot. I got bored and thought I'd come see if you wanted to hang or something."

"I wouldn't mind," said Bones, with a glance at the living room.

Hopefully, if Sherry slept for another few hours, she would be back to normal by the time he came home.

Razor was still grinning at him, which made Bones narrow his eyes. "What?" he finally demanded.

"You, uh, might want to change first."

Bones glanced down at his t-shirt and jeans; so what? It was what he usually wore when he was at home.

Not understanding what was going on in his best friend's mind, he turned to grab his jacket from its hook--and then his gaze fell on the set of mirrors hanging on the wall, casting his own reflection back to him in a geometric pattern.

Everything looked exactly the way it should...except for one tiny thing.

The bright pink bow in his hair.

"Sherry!"

A peal of laughter came from the living room--a sound Razor echoed. Hand on his side as he doubled over, he stumbled for the door. "I think I'll let you two sort this out," he gasped between cackles.

As he staggered out the door and down the hall, Bones heard him dialing his cell phone. "Hey, Dare, are you sitting down?"

With a groan, Bones slammed the door behind him and yanked the unwanted ornament out of his hair. That was just what he needed--for news of this to reach his twin. Knowing Derikka, she wouldn't breathe a word about it. Not until his entire team happened to be in the room, of course.

Muttering to himself, Bones marched back to the living room and folded his arms. Sherry had her knees pulled up to her chest and the cushion pressed to her face. Only her eyes showed over it, which danced in merriment as she continued to snort on muffled laughter.

"I think somebody around here needs a good spanking."

Giggling, Sherry tugged the blanket that was draped over the back of the sofa onto herself and curled up under it. Shaking his head, Bones reached over and snatched up the bottle of capsules from where he left it on the end table. "What's in this stuff, anyway?"

He started to scan the ingredients--but when his eye fell on a message printed near the bottom of the bottle, he stopped.

New mutant formula: not recommended for non-mutants.

Bones felt like kicking himself for not seeing that sooner. Knowing she could have wound up seriously hurt, he was glad the only side affect Sherry seemed to be experiencing was extreme goofiness. His annoyance forgotten, he reached over and tenderly tucked the blanket around her.

He then quietly discarded the bottle, grabbed his jacket, went back to the pharmacy and found something norm-friendly, which he discreetly placed on the end table when he got back.

Sherry woke up with a yawn a few hours later. She rolled over, stretched luxuriously beneath the blanket, then smiled at him.

"How long have I been asleep?" she wondered.

"Most of the afternoon," Bones said lightly, not looking up as he flipped through a music book.

Sherry yawned again and rubbed her eye. "That stuff you bought must have really knocked me out. I can't remember a thing after you came home and handed it to me."

"Nothing happened," said Bones, just as lightly as before. "You laid down and went right to sleep." He glanced at her. "Any dreams?"

Smiling, she shook her head and got up. "None that I can remember. Anything exciting happen around here?"

Bones pretended to be absorbed in his reading as he lifted the music book a little higher. "Nope. Not a thing."

Chapter Text

Razor glanced at the clock, then got up eagerly and hurried to the bathroom. He flipped the light switch connected to the medicine cabinet, then dimmed it down so the glow from the fixture above the mirror was soft and pleasant.

Humming to himself, he wiped down the sink, then started setting out all the things he knew he would need. "Let's see, shampoo... liquid soap... powder... extra-soft sponge..."

He arranged everything along the marble top of the bathroom counter, then took out a soft towel and draped it over the nearby towel bar. He then rolled up his sleeves and started filling the sink basin with warm water. "I think that's everything," he noted.

Feeling pleased with himself, he scurried out of the bathroom, down the hall and into the living room. "Okay, Trina," he said happily. "Bath time."

Only three months old, Trina was too young to understand what he said, but she flashed a happy, toothless baby smile as he bent over and carefully lifted her out of her bassinet.

Before she was born, Razor still had a few lingering doubts about being a father, especially so soon after getting married. But all those doubts vanished the moment she was placed in his arms for the first time.

Like her mother, she had ten fingers and ten toes, and her iris and pupils were visible, like his own. Unlike his own, they were colored a bright cornflower blue--a shade that Derikka suspected would change when she was older, since it didn't run in the family. Razor sure hoped not.

Her skin was the same dark green as his own, though her tiny scales were so fine they were almost imperceptible. He imagined they would turn a little harder when she was older, but right now, her skin was every bit as soft, pliable, and tender as any other baby's.

Though she spent little time in her mother's womb, she was now growing at only a slightly quicker rate than normal, so she was about the size a three-month-old was supposed to be--maybe even a little smaller. The first time he held her, Razor hadn't been able to believe how tiny she was. She was fully-developed and perfectly healthy, yet she only weighed a few pounds when she was born. He actually felt afraid in that first moment. She was so helpless, so fragile.

That frightened feeling was washed away by another--an intense swell of love that wasn't like anything he had ever felt before. A sense of wonder to know that he was holding something that belonged to no one but him and his wife, a precious, perfect little treasure that trusted and depended on him for everything, and he knew that he would die to protect her.

With all the experience he had on the subject of love and affection, he never believed you could really, truly fall in love with someone the second you met them. He knew better now.

"In you go," he cooed as he gently lowered his tiny daughter into the sink. Trina gurgled cutely in response, kicking her jade feet and making tiny splashes.

Cupping her carefully with one hand, Razor used the other to blot the sponge over her soft skin. Trina continued to kick, and while she was still too young to laugh, she smiled and gurgled again as he cleaned her shoulders and arms.

Filled with fatherly love, he paused to plant a kiss on her downy forehead before continuing. He eventually worked his way down to her toes, which were a challenge to clean with her kicking like that. Laughing, he pinched her ankle between two fingers and blew a raspberry on the bottom of her foot.

When her feet were done, he moved on to the part that clearly marked her as his daughter; her short, slender tail. As he dabbed at it, it shifted and curled tightly around his wrist.

"Uh-oh."

This, he had been quick to learn, was Trina's version of how a baby clung to their parent's finger. Try to pull away--instant tears.

Razor tapped his toes on the plush rug beneath his feet, waiting patiently for her to lose interest, but judging by the way she was rubbing her face sleepily, she was perfectly content to take a nap just the way she was.

Just then, he heard the click of the front door opening. "Anyone home?" came Derikka's cheery voice.

"In here, babe," he called. "Can I get a hand?" he asked jokingly. "I'm being held hostage."

There was a clink and a soft thump as Derikka set her keys and purse down, and then she came down the hall and stood in the bathroom doorway. She took one look at the position he was in and started to laugh, her eyes brimming with love.

"I haven't the heart to separate you two," she sighed. "Anything I can finish up for you?"

"Her hair," he instructed.

Smiling, Derikka squeezed a drop of baby shampoo into her palm and lightly worked it over their sleepy daughter's hair, which was every bit as black as her own. Afterward, she helped rinse her off, then blotted her dry with the towel.

Trina yawned as the sink was drained and cuddled against her father's shoulder, who held her close and rocked her until she drifted off to sleep. Derikka turned and headed down the hall; moving softly, Razor followed her into the room they had made-over together while Derikka was expecting. The ceiling was cream, the walls lavender, and smiling moons and stars dangled from the mobile hanging above the crib.

"Looks like a baby-version of your old room," Razor cracked once.

"If she doesn't like it when she's older, we can repaint it," Derikka had replied crisply.

Her smile soft, she pulled the crib blanket back; Razor gently laid their daughter in the crib and placed the blanket over her. Then, with a sigh of contentment, he put his arm around his wife and drew her close.

"I'm so glad I met you, Dare," he said softly.

"Me too," she responded, just as softly. She rested her head on his side, smiling as she watched Trina dream. "Do you ever wonder where we would be right now if we had never met?"

"Nope," Razor said honestly. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her temple. "I stopped imagining my life without you a long time ago."

She smirked. "Flatterer."

"It's the truth. I don't want to think about being somewhere else. Being right here with the two of you is exactly where I want to be."

Derikka was quiet for a long moment. When she lifted her head, reaching up to wrap her arms around him, her green eyes were moist, even as she smiled. "Me too," she whispered.

Chapter Text

Using the old key he borrowed from Sherry, Bones let himself into Mom's house and took a look around. It would probably be easier to do this in the backyard, he decided, but he wanted to decorate the living room, too, so Mom would see the moment she walked in.

With that in mind, he set the box he was holding down and pulled out two rolls of crepe paper; one white, one lavender. He spent the next half hour or so hanging streamers around the room, taping them so they came together in the center of the ceiling. When that was finally finished, he started taping up the pastel-colored banner he brought.

He was only about half finished when there was a knock on the door. "About time," he muttered as he opened it.

"Hey," Razor said defensively, "I was out buying these."

He displayed his heaping armful of roses, which were accented with baby's breath. "Well, you work on putting those out," said Bones. "I'm busy with this."

"Aye, captain," said Razor cheekily.

Bones was pretty sure the lizoid would have saluted, if his hands weren't full. Smirking, Bones went back to taping up the banner. Razor busied himself with separating the giant clump of roses, sorting them by color. The largest group, colored deep red, was placed in a sparkling vase he set out on the coffee table. He put the rest in smaller groups of lavender and white and started placing them around the room in smaller vases.

When he finished, Razor took a step back and eyed his work for a moment. "Anything else?" he wondered.

"Yeah--help me tie these around the patio," Bones instructed, grabbing a clump of glossy bows from the box. Razor grabbed another clump and followed him outside.

"Who's handling the food?" Razor wondered as they began tying the bows to the patio furniture.

As if on cue, a rumbling car engine approached. "Oh."

A few moments later Malone joined them, his arms full of catering boxes. He took one look at the top two members of his team, decorating in pastels, and smirked in amusement. "You two ever think about retiring from sports and getting into interior decorating?"

"You ever think about what my fist tastes like?" Razor shot back.

Bones calmly straightened the patio table and stepped back. "You can handle setting the table, right? We'll go make sure everything else is ready."

Snickering, Razor followed him back inside, leaving Malone to take care of setting all the food out. Inside, there wasn't much else to do, other than tidy up a little. They eventually went back outside; Bones lifted a brow in surprise.

A larger table had been set out in place of the regular one, draped with a classy white cloth. The table was set neatly with Mom's favorite china and silverware, complete with crystal wine glasses. As they stepped outside, Malone was lighting taper candles.

"Dang," said Razor, clearly impressed, "he's good."

Malone looked smug as he waved the match out. "You really think I don't know how to spoil my own wife?"

"I stand corrected," said Razor, with mock-solemnity.

Out front, a car pulled up. Bones exchanged glances with Razor. The lizoid smiled knowingly. "Go on. We'll wait here."

Malone gave a nod, and Bones, with a sudden flutter of nerves, went inside.

Though it was still unlocked, he hurried to open the front door, just as his mother was coming up the porch steps. She smiled in surprise when she saw him. "Well, hi, sweetie. When did you get here?"

Instead of answering, Bones stepped forward, put his arms around her and held her tightly. Sensing what was on his mind, Mom rested her hand on his hair and stroked it softly, holding him close. "It's okay," she whispered. "I'm here now."

Bones nodded, but he couldn't quite keep tears from moistening his eyes as he stepped back. It had taken twenty-two years to find each other, but now that they had, he knew she was never letting him go again.

Smiling softly, he took her hand and led her inside. Mom took a look at the living room and flew a hand to her mouth. "Oh, Bones..."

Her eyes trailed over everything slowly, eventually resting on the brightly-colored banner cheerfully wishing a Happy Mother's Day. Her eyes grew damp, though she smiled.

"I knew something was up when Sherry suddenly decided to take us both shopping," a voice behind them said.

Laughing, Bones turned to hug his feisty twin as she came to join them. "It's for you, too, twerp," he reminded her, his eyes on the sweet jade-green face peeking out from the lavender blanket cradled in his twin's arms.

Derikka looked down with a soft laugh. "Oh, that's right. I've only been a mother for a few months...it still hasn't completely sunken in."

Bones chuckled, kissed her tenderly, then let go as Sherry joined them. She was holding Regina, who blinked sleepily as she was passed to her mother. Sherry's expression, Bones noticed, was a little wistful as she watched Mom cuddle her small daughter close. He put his arm around her as he ushered his mother, sisters and niece out to the patio.

When she saw the meal waiting for them, Mom started tearing up all over again. Malone lovingly pulled her into his arms for a moment, then cradled Regina in the crook of one arm while he pulled a chair out with the other.

Not to be outdone, Razor took Derikka's hand, led her to the table and pulled her chair out for her, too. Sherry's eyes were dancing as she glanced at Bones, clearly wondering if he planned to try and top that. He gave a shrug, scooped her into his arms and sat her at the table.

Razor snorted. "Show off."

Sherry gave a laugh and poured herself a glass of sparkling grape juice. Turning to Derikka she asked, "Which do you prefer, white or red?"

Razor clucked his tongue. "That's sissy stuff. Where's the real drinks?"

"Put away until us mothers are done nursing," Mom replied crisply.

Razor grinned. "I was kidding, I never drink anything but the sissy stuff anyway."

"White or red?" Sherry repeated patiently.

"Both," said Razor, pouring each bottle into his glass at the same time.

"Slow down there, wild thing," teased Derikka.

From out front came the distinct hum of the latest hovering car model. "We're back here," Mom called.

A moment later Thrasher came around the side of the house carrying a bouquet-esque bundle of balloons; Razor snapped his fingers as she set the weighted bag tied to the end of the strings on the table. "I knew we forgot something."

"Oh, relax, everything looks lovely," Mom said with a laugh.

Thrasher sat down between her and Malone and happily took Regina. "How's the cutest baby sister in the whole world?" she cooed.

"Almost as cute as her niece," said Razor, snickering as he reached over and ran a hand over his tiny daughter's downy head. Thrasher rolled her eyes. Razor thought it was hilarious that, despite being only a few months older, Regina was technically Trina's aunt.

Bones had to admit, it was kind of funny.

"They're both adorable," said Derikka. "All babies are treasures."

She cuddled her baby girl, who cooed happily in response. While everyone else spooned food onto their plates, Bones watched the two of them, feeling a little envious. Derikka noticed and smiled. "Want to hold her?"

"Yes, please."

She handed his niece to him, and he carefully rested her against his shoulder. Trina yawned toothlessly and absently clenched her tiny fist around a lock of his hair. Thrasher grinned at him from across the table as she lightly patted Regina, who was squirming and trying to grab a drumstick off her plate. "Want to hold this one, too?"

"Why not? It's not like I need my hands to eat."

She passed Regina to him, while Mom looked at him sympathetically. "It's okay, Mom," he said, knowing what she was thinking. "I barely remember the taste of food."

In fact, he could go for months without thinking about what it was like to eat--and then he would have one of those weird dreams about his childhood, of visiting the park with his father and slurping on ice cream cones. Sometimes he would wake up right in the middle of a lick and swear there was still a ghost of flavor in his mouth for a moment. It was kind of creepy, actually.

Regina suddenly twisted in his grasp, cooing baby gibberish as she reached to snatch a drumstick from Razor's plate. "Now, what are you going to do with that?" Razor wanted to know, eyeing her partially grown, pearl-like rows of baby teeth.

"What do you think she's going to do with it?" asked Derikka teasingly as Regina squealed and tossed the drumstick onto the patio.

Razor pursed his lips as he bent to retrieve it. "Uh, you do know that that was just on the ground, don't you?" Bones asked dryly as his brother-in-law started to bring the chicken leg to his mouth.

Razor blew on the drumstick briefly before biting into it noisily. "Good enough."

Derikka stared like she couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Razor Kidd, that is disgusting."

"Is not," Razor protested. "It's crack-your-teeth-crispy--the very best kind."

Derikka rolled her eyes, then looked over at Trina. "For an example of how not to behave, just watch your daddy."

Razor snorted. "Look who's talking."

"Sorry, I'm not sure I understood that, what with you talking with your mouth full and all."

Around the table, the rest of them were trying hard not to snicker too loudly. "This is the best kind of Mother's Day," Mom suddenly noted with a happy sigh. "A lovely dinner with my wonderful family."

"It has great entertainment value," Thrasher added with a grin.

Bones just smiled softly as he gazed across the table at his mother. It felt so good to be here with her--with everyone. This was exactly how he wanted life to be.

Well, he thought as he gazed down at the squirming babies in his arms...there was that one little thing he wouldn't mind having. But there was time to think about that later.

For now, he quietly enjoyed the playful banter going on around him. Laughing at something Razor said, Mom suddenly caught his eye and smiled. Bones smiled in return and whispered, "Thanks."

Mom leaned closer. "For what?" she wondered.

"For being my mom."

Mom's eyes moistened a little as she reached over to rest a hand on his face. "Thank you," she said softly, "for being the best son a mother could ever want."

Beside her, Thrasher made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a gag. Bones glared at her; she cleared her throat and avoided his gaze. "What's that make you?" she asked Razor.

Razor turned blank. "Ummm...second best? Just like always?"

He maintained his deadpan expression a moment more, before he dropped his face into his hands and pretended to sob. Trina blinked at him curiously. Derikka patted his head and discreetly took his glass away. "No more sugar for you."

Bones snickered. Smiling softly, Mom gave his hand a squeeze before sitting back again. Yes, Bones thought as he settled down in his own seat, his tiny niece and sister drifting off to sleep in his arms. This was exactly how his life should be.

Chapter Text

"Well, they finally did it."

Bones was relaxing in the living room watching TV, but he turned it off and went to peer over the back of the nearby easy chair to see what had caught his wife's attention. "Did what?" he wondered.

Pictured on the front page of the newspaper she was holding was a young woman with a glowing smile and a rounded middle. Standing with his arm around her and beaming with obvious pride was a pale green, rather spiky-looking mutant.

"They finally figured out how to completely sterilize mutant sperm," Sherry reported. "Now all those happy couples out there can safely get pregnant through artificial means."

Bones eyed the happy image for a moment. "Well, that's a relief," he noted, thinking about how many mutant-norm marriages there were now--a number that continued to grow. Some of them were couples who had been together since before the quake and stuck it out afterward. No doubt they were the most ecstatic over this scientific advancement.

"Now all they need to do is figure out how to protect against those mutant STDs," Sherry went on, as Bones absently glanced over at the TV. Sitting on top of the entertainment center were two recent photos of his little sister and niece. He could scarcely believe they were already three years old.

"Maybe they could invent a general vaccine," she mused as she folded the newspaper. "Something to really boost normal immune systems."

"Not that you or I need to worry about any of that," Bones said, not bothering to hide the slightly bitter note that crept into his voice.

Sherry looked at him quietly for a moment, a small frown touching her lips. "I'm just glad they figured it out so soon, before anyone else hurt themselves."

After the news of Regina Malone, the first mutant-normal hybrid ever born, reached the public, a ripple of excitement and hope had shivered across the globe. Word of how Bones' mother and twin were extra-sensitive sexually got around, and a handful of eager women who shared this blessing decided to see if they could conceive their own child with their beloved mutant spouse.

Fortunately, no one had died as a result, though a few of those women were now unable to carry a child even with this breakthrough, thanks to the irreparable damage from the infections they wound up getting.

Once it started to get around that couples who could be intimate without worry of physically hurting each other were attempting unprotected sex, doctors started an avid campaign discouraging this until they figured out exactly what enabled Mom and Derikka to conceive in the first place. At first it was suspected that there was something different about them that both raised their resistance to mutated bacteria as well as their likelihood of becoming pregnant. But a series of tests had shown that both women were just as vulnerable health-wise as any other normal woman--they had just been extremely lucky.

Further tests also showed at they were extra fertile. Although more tests on both male and female mutants proved that compatibility, while still extremely low, wasn't quite as low as first believed. Some even went so far as to say that the idea that mutants and norms couldn't procreate was exaggerated deliberately in the hopes of keeping them from engaging in direct sexual activity. Not because relations between the two were viewed as wrong, but because it was potentially dangerous. It was possible that someone thought that if people believed having children was impossible, couples would stick to safer, external activities when enjoying each other.

Given all the other misconceptions about mutants floating around out there, Bones was willing to believe this was true.

"How did they solve the problem, anyway?" he wondered.

Sterilizing sperm without killing it in the process was bound to be a challenge.

"I'm not sure I understand all of it," Sherry admitted sheepishly. "Something about adding cells from normal sperm. This also helps increase chances of conception."

Bones was glad to hear it. There were a lot of devoted couples out there who spent the last ten years sadly longing to expand their family.

"Their next step is to figure out a way to enable your average guy to impregnate a mutant female," Sherry commented as she stood and placed the newspaper on the nearby end table. "Seems like their sperm isn't hardy enough to handle mutant eggs..."

"Again, not something you and I need to worry about."

Sherry was quiet for a moment. "A lot of couples out there aren't concerned," she noted, not looking at him. "They're perfectly happy with the idea of it being just the two of them."

Bones immediately thought of Darkstar and Cecilia. No one could quite explain how or why one who turned his nose up at marriage and another who enjoyed a man and then tossed him aside like a used candy wrapper ever got married--least of all to each other. But married they were, and married they remained. Happily, he might add.

He once overheard a conversation between her and his mother--not a hard thing to do, given how loud Cecilia liked to talk--where the two recalled a young woman they met once, years ago. Like Cecilia, she was a normal mutant; relatively normal in appearance, yet strong and sturdy. She had been in a loving, monogamous relationship with someone much more mutant than her, but that hadn't stopped her from engaging in unprotected sex with him--not because they wanted children, but because neither of them thought she would get sick as a result.

She survived the infection she eventually contracted, but only because the doctors managed to isolate and remove all the infected organs. And while normal mutants are hardy healers, they can't regrow limbs or other organs.

This tale of a woman forced to have a hysterectomy--and start premature menopause as a result--at age twenty had left quite an impression on Cecilia. She had sex--lots of it--but only when it was as safe as it could possibly be. Even with the new sterilization process, Bones doubted she wanted anything to do with anyone's sperm, mutant or otherwise. Not that he--or anyone in their right mind--thought that she or Darkstar were interested in being parents.

He, on the other hand...

"I thought we agreed--"

"We did," Sherry said quickly as she turned around and hugged him tightly. "I'm perfectly content with our lives just the way they are, but I wouldn't say no to sharing our home with the right child. Just say the word, Bones, and we'll start looking."

Bones felt a swell of affection as he put his arms around her. "You mean it?"

"Of course," she said, suddenly grinning cheekily. "You may be League MVP now, but someday some young upstart is going to be itching to take your place. Might as well be someone you trained yourself, right?"

Bones laughed a little. "That would be kind of nice," he admitted, thinking back on the things his own father taught him and imagining what it would be like to pass those things on to someone else. "But I don't have to train the next League superstar. I'd be perfectly happy adopting someone not interested in sports--or someone who isn't a mutant. It doesn't matter to me."

Sherry smiled and planted a quick kiss on the bridge of his nose. "Me either," she said, slipping out of his arms and crossing to the sofa. "But I bet Razor will be glad to not have the competition."

She sat down and picked up the phone, and Bones snickered. Razor called them up a few days ago to brag that Trina could already toss a baseball over the back fence. "And she's only three," he had gushed. "Of course, the neighbors weren't as thrilled when the ball went through one window and out the other, and Dare was even less thrilled when they made us pay for it..."

Smiling at the memory, Bones sat down next to Sherry and waited quietly while she spoke on the phone, occasionally making notes on the pad in her hand. When she hung up, she sat back with a hint of anxious excitement on her face. "Well, it's official," she announced. "The agency knows we're interested. There are a lot more steps to go through, paperwork to fill out...but the ball is officially rolling."

Bones felt his own flutter of excitement, and he sat staring off into the distance for a moment. Then he turned to his wife and pulled her tenderly into his arms, holding her close and tight. "Thank you," he whispered.


As he stood at the base of the agency steps, Bones felt a bundle of nerves that he hadn't felt since...

Actually, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this nervous.

Sherry noticed and smiled softly as she gave his hand a tug. "Come on, Mr. Justice. They're just kids."

"Yeah, but..."

But if all went well today, one of those kids would be theirs. What worried him was that things wouldn't go well, at least not today. He found the thought of getting some lonely child's hopes up only to dash them heartbreaking, and he didn't even have one.

An even worse scenario crept into his mind. He was extremely popular with children age ten and younger; suppose they all rushed him and begged him to take them home? And he managed to keep word of this away from the press so far, so all he needed today was for some journalist to sneak in and--

Sherry suddenly laid a hand on his shoulder. "Hey," she said, a touch of amusement in her voice as she straightened his collar. "Relax."

"I'm relaxed," he said weakly.

"Uh-huh," said Sherry, smiling now. "Don't worry," she said as she gave his hand a tug, pulling him up the steps with her. "We don't have to make a decision today. Finding just the right child for us will take time."

"That's not all that worries me," said Bones. "I also want to make sure that we are the right choice for a child."

"Oh, I'm sure any young boy would be ecstatic to have you for a dad," Sherry commented wryly.

"That worries me too," he admitted. "Public image isn't the same as the real thing. Someone with their hopes that high is bound to be disappointed, in some way or another."

When they reached the top step, Sherry paused and looked at him. "You're right," she said quietly. "Someday you will disappoint him. Just like he--or she--will disappoint you. And that's okay. It's part of being a parent."

Bones was quiet as he looked at her, his worries lifting a little. He smiled softly as he rested a hand on her face, stroking her cheek. "I'm glad I married you, Sherry," he told her softly.

Sherry smiled warmly. "Me, too."

She kissed him briefly, then turned to push open the front door. In the foyer, the adoption agent came to meet them.

"We do things a little differently here than orphanages in the old days," she said after shaking their hands. "We don't have scheduled adoption days, and we don't tell the children who is coming and when. We like to keep their environment as relaxed and natural as possible. It helps keep the tension off the children--as well as the prospective parents."

Smiling, she led them down a hallway, which was covered in paneling colored a warm, soothing brown. The entire house had a welcoming feel to it, and the room the agent led them to was full of small children who chattered and laughed as they played.

"Following your preference, most of these children are between the ages of eight and ten," she told them. "You requested that, right?"

"We did," said Bones, "but we're open to adopting someone younger."

"I have another couple I need to meet, so go ahead and take your time," said the agent she walked away, leaving the two of them alone.

Most of the children noticed as he and Sherry stepped into the room and sat down in the seats kept near the door, though only a few stopped playing. The handful that did sat quietly, trying to look well-behaved while also trying not to look too obvious that they were anxiously waiting to be noticed. A few of the others glanced at them while they continued to play, while some didn't even notice they had company.

"This might be harder than I first thought," Sherry whispered after they sat in silence for a few minutes.

She looked a touch nervous now--or at least anxious. Bones smiled wryly. "What was that someone told me earlier? Something about them only being kids?"

Sherry swatted his arm. "I mean, they all seem wonderful in their own way. It's so sad that none of them have real homes yet."

Bones had to agree. As far as he knew, most of these children had come from loving, happy homes, aside from several who were abandoned as infants. Most of them had lost their parents to an accident or disease and were left with no one else to take care of them. In other words they were truly orphans, not foster children.

Not that there was anything particularly wrong with foster children, or foster care...it just wasn't what he wanted. Foster care usually meant that the child's parents were still alive but incapable of caring for them properly, for a variety of reasons. That also meant, usually, that the arrangement was only temporary.

An admirable venture, for those who undertook it, but Bones wanted something more permanent. He wanted his and Sherry's parentage to be iron-clad and indisputable. He'd heard too many stories about negligent parents changing their minds and dragging a perfectly happy adopted family to court for a custody battle.

Sherry suddenly took a breath and stood. "Okay, I'm going to go mingle. Wish me luck."

Bones watched as she moved across the room and knelt down beside a group of small children who were playing a game. He took a quick glance around the room, wondering which direction he should head first--and then he felt a tug on his sleeve.

He looked down and saw a pair of large brown eyes peering up at him from a pretty heart-shaped face. "I saw you on TV," she said, sounding shy and eager at the same time.

She looked all of six years old. "Aren't you a little young for that?" he asked, voice teasing. "The Mutant League can be pretty scary, you know."

"Not to me," the tiny girl insisted. "I'm brave. I even go to the bathroom at night by myself."

She sounded very proud of this fact. Bones couldn't withhold a small chuckle; something about her attitude reminded him of Derikka.

Across the room, a group of girls sitting around a make-shift tea table suddenly called out; the brown-eyed girl drooped with a sigh. "I gotta go," she said, scurrying off. "If you need someone to show you around, let me know!"

Bones snickered and stood. His nerves forgotten, he moved around the room for a while, talking with the children who noticed him and watching the ones that didn't. Sherry was doing the same, though he noticed her looking over to check on him from time to time. She caught his eye once and he smiled; she smiled in return and went back to talking to a small, cherry-red mutant.

This place had a little of everything. Normal humans, full-blown mutants and some who were something in between. Some group homes--not to mention hundreds of other establishments--balked at the idea of mixing normal and mutant children together, since they were worried about accidents stemming from mutant strength.

From the look of things, everyone here was comfortable and happy together. Bones was glad to see it; his family had a mixture of everything imaginable, so it would be easier to introduce a child used to this than someone kept carefully separate.

Bones had always disliked this kind of herding, having experienced it himself once. Back when he was placed in foster care, he was kept away from all his old friends and everyone else he knew who hadn't turned mutant as he was moved in with strangers. If not for Razor, he probably would have lost his mind.

Bones gave his head a shake, dispelling the old memories that were trying to scratch their way to the surface. Now wasn't the time to think about that. He got up from the seat he had taken next to one of the bookcases and started toward a spot he hadn't visited yet--then stopped in surprise.

There was a small boy sitting in the seat next to his. He had his head bent over a book and was being so still and quiet, Bones almost didn't notice him.

"Hey," he greeted, in his friendliest manner.

Some of the others hunkered down when he was near, too, either because they were shy or because they were ordinarily loud and brassy and were trying to behave. Bones spoke to them all regardless, and usually after a few minutes they relaxed and their true selves started to poke out.

The boy glanced up from his book for roughly half a second. "Hey."

He slunk lower in his seat. Undaunted, Bones asked, "What's that you're reading?"

"A book."

"I can see that. What's it about?"

"About five hundred and twelve words. Is there going to be a test later or something?"

Bones was quiet for a moment. Across the room, Sherry had joined the tea party. Each of the other girls sitting around the table had a doll in their lap (their 'daughters,' Bones assumed) and the little brown-eyed girl skipped to hand one to Sherry, chestnut curls bouncing. Bones had a sudden urge to join them. He'd probably wind up with a doll in his lap, but...

"Do you read a lot?" he asked instead.

The boy glanced at him again, looking a little surprised that he was still here. "Sort of. Yeah."

The shelves were crammed with picture books, and some of the smaller children had coloring books. The one clutched in the boy's small hands was a hardcover novel. Granted, it might have been a young adult novel, but five hundred-plus pages required more of an attention span than most children in his age group were willing to spare.

"How old are you?" he wondered.

The boy finally laid his book down and surveyed him fully for the first time. "Ten," he said shortly, though he didn't look away again.

Bones noticed for the first time that the boy's ears bore small, elf-like points. This would suggest that he encountered a touch of toxin at some point, but he was too young. Mutants had stopped appearing within two years of the quake. More likely he was the offspring of two normal mutants, as they were known.

The ears were the only visible mutant feature, and yet there was something about his appearance that made him seem different--striking, even. His skin was a pale, ivory-like color, which complemented his shaggy locks of red-gold hair. His skin looked flawless save for a tiny dusting of golden-brown freckles across his nose.

What struck Bones the most were his eyes. They were a very bright, vibrant blue, and pale like a robin's egg. Encircling the iris and pupil was another, darker color, a smoky gray.

They reminded him of his mother's eyes.

"So, how's it going?" asked Sherry as she suddenly joined them, apparently finished with the tea party. She followed her husband's gaze and smiled. "Who's this?"

The blue-gray eyes shifted, scrutinizing her a moment. "Ed," was the clipped response.

"That's nice," said Sherry, still smiling. "Is it short for Edward?"

"No, it's short for Edsel."

Sherry gave a laugh. "Isn't that a car?"

The blue-gray eyes turned hard. "My mother was an idiot."

The boy bent over his book again. Sherry's smile faded. "Yes, well..."

The cherry-red mutant from earlier suddenly scampered up. "Commere," he said eagerly, giving Sherry's hand a tug.

She looked a little relieved to be dragged off, but Bones didn't want to walk away on such an unpleasant note. "You know," he said quietly, "I was your age when I lost my father."

Ed snorted. "I know, I've seen your player profile. And I didn't 'lose' my mother--she threw me away."

With this sharp remark, he slumped in his chair and raised the book until it hid his face. Bones was frowning to himself. Other children here had been abandoned, but only shortly after birth, and the parents had never been tracked down. If Ed could remember his mother he must have been older when he came here, and if he had been abandoned and not actually orphaned, then his mother was probably still around somewhere.

Which wasn't something Bones was going to discuss with a small child, of course. That was something to bring up with the agent, if he wanted to.

Right now he felt like taking a break, so he and Sherry quietly left the room and drifted down the hall. The right-hand side was lined with windows; outside the sky, which had been clear when they first arrived, was starting to fill with gray clouds.

"So," Sherry said casually, "what do you think?"

"I think we have our work cut out for us," Bones responded, a touch thinly.

Sherry snorted softly. "Tell me about it. They all seem so wonderful, how are we supposed to pick just one?"

"We could always pick two," Bones suggested teasingly.

Sherry snorted again. They had agreed on only one child for now--though they weren't against the possibility of another, in the future. Bones had also suggested adopting an older child since, as he had jokingly put it at the time, they already had plenty of babies in the family.

Honestly, he had another reason. He had visited enough hospitals and places like this to know that there were a lot of children out there who deserved far better than the hand they had been dealt. Those children deserved to be taken in and loved by someone who understood.

He wasn't sure, but it might be the memory of another ten-year-old boy that was leading him to think this way.

As they rounded a corner, they paused as a young woman came out of a bathroom up ahead. She had a mixture of emotions playing across her face as she passed by them; anxiety, excitement, hope. "This is a lot tougher than I thought it would be," she commented.

Sherry laughed softly. "Tell us about it."

Bones glanced over his shoulder as the woman met up with her husband and headed into another room down the hall. But what caught his attention was that he and Sherry had a spy; a pair of bright blue eyes peeking around the corner at them.

When he realized he had been spotted, Ed gave a startled gasp and jerked back out of sight. Sherry noticed and smiled a little.

A moment later the adoption agent rejoined them. "I see you've met Edwin," she noted, smiling.

"We talked," said Bones. "Sort of."

"Is he always this withdrawn?" Sherry wondered.

"And borderline confrontational?" added Bones.

The agent frowned for a moment. "Only when possible adoptive parents are here. When he's alone, or with the other children, he's a perfect angel. Always behaves, always does things when he's told to--and he's remarkably intelligent."

Sherry frowned, looking puzzled. "Then why does he...?"

"Act so repellent when visitors are here? I don't really know."

Bones did. All at once he understood. Head down, he took a step away from the two women, his mind filling with images of that other ten-year-old boy. He saw himself in foster care--one of the most miserable times of his life--spending most of his time alone, since the adults who were supposed to be taking care of him were too busy trying to sort out their own lives to pay attention to him.

Back then, it wasn't understood that most mutants didn't have super-strength. Most of them, even with all the new, bizarre features they had, were only a little stronger than the average norm. It was only people who already had significant strength to begin with due to their lifestyle or occupation--like an athlete, for example--who could casually uproot a small building or two.

It was years before this was figured out, so the confused mutants and frightened norms kept strictly separate from each other, for the most part. Left to his own devices for the next few years, Bones eventually decided that--aside from Razor, of course--he was on his own. At first the thought terrified him, but he slowly grew used to the idea of fending for himself--of depending only on himself. One day he embraced the thought completely, and when he was fourteen he chucked foster care and started looking after himself.

He only had two goals: find his father, and achieve a career in sports--carrying on the legacy his father left him. Beyond getting his father back again, he abandoned any thought of forming any other sort of family with anyone else.

Bones was willing to bet that this boy did want a family very much, but after being thrown away by the one who was supposed to love and care for him above all others...

"Is his mother still alive?" he wondered.

The agent hesitated. "We operate with an open information policy here, but..."

The man from before was calling from down the hall. "Excuse me," said the agent, before hurrying away.

Bones turned back to Sherry, who opened her mouth to say something--then closed it again, her gaze drifting past him. Sensing they were being watched again, Bones turned around.

"If you want to know something about me, you could just ask me," Ed muttered, pressing his back against the wall.

"We wouldn't want to upset you," Sherry said quietly.

Ed shrugged, scuffing the heel of his sneaker on the carpet. "I'm over it. She dumped me outside some stranger's house because her boyfriend told her to. Then she died."

Sherry's eyes snapped. "That's disgusting. I don't understand how when there are so many women out there who can't have any children and are dying to that other women can be so selfish and debased to just throw theirs away."

She started to say more, but then she remembered who she was speaking in front of and bit her lip, looking embarrassed by her own outburst. But Ed didn't look upset. In fact, he was eyeing her with a look of intrigued curiosity.

"The others did it, too," he went on, his eyes full of dark challenge. "Most of them were nice, but they didn't know what to do with me, or didn't have time to take care of me forever after they found out my mother was never coming back. So they left me here instead."

Sherry scrunched her face up like she was in pain. "So is that why...?"

She trailed off and turned away, but not before Bones had seen the tears welling in her eyes. Ed must have seen them too, because now he was staring at her with a look of disbelief.

Sherry had figured it out, too. Ed acted up because he didn't want to be adopted--or rather he did, but he was afraid to be. So he withdrew into himself to keep potential parents away, to avoid the risk of being part of a family again only to be tossed aside later.

Bones went over and put a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder; she turned to him and rested her head on his chest, sniffling quietly. His strong little Sherry almost never cried. In fact, during all the time they'd known each other, he had probably shed more tears total than her.

"No child deserves a life like that," she whispered, sniffling again.

Bones glanced over, but Ed had retreated back into the room down the hall. "You know," he said quietly, "when we left the apartment this morning, something told me that when we found the right child, we would know."

Sherry lifted her head and absently wiped her eyes. "I agree. I wasn't thinking about finding the child who's the easiest to love. I think we're meant to find the child who needs our love the most."

Bones tenderly kissed her forehead. "And I think you're right."


"Sorry I didn't say anything earlier," said the adoption agent as she pulled out a folder and opened it on her desk. Across from her, Bones sat with Sherry, holding each other's hand as they waited for her to sort through the papers.

"Like I said, we believe in open information here. Places that deal with sealed documents can potentially cause grief for both the parents and the adopted child in the future. The parents have the right to know a child's background, and we leave it to their discretion whether or not to share that information when the child is older. However," she went on, folding her hands on top of the desk and looking at them, "we also don't just casually pass out information. We only divulge history when someone is seriously asking about it."

She quieted as she took a moment to scan the contents of the folder, though Bones noticed that she only took a quick glance, as if she knew the information she was about to relay by heart.

"Edwin's mother was a classic troubled teen," she began, folding her hands on the desk again. "A high school drop-out, she ran off with Edwin's father before getting pregnant with her son. Not much is known about his father, other than he was in with a dangerous crowd and involved with things like drinking and gambling. After he died under quote-unquote 'mysterious' circumstances, Abigail Morris took their son and ran off on her own. She didn't know much about taking care of herself, though," the agent continued grimly, "so she got involved with pretty much any guy who was willing to take her in. While none of them were outright abusive, thank goodness, Edwin was pushed aside and all but ignored most of the time. And when things went sour--and they always did at some point--Abigail would pack up and run off with him again."

Bones had been listening in grim silence, but now he asked, "How did she die?"

"The boyfriend that convinced her to abandon Edwin killed her during a drunken rage shortly after."

Sherry sat back in her seat, her eyes distant. "Wasn't she a mutant?" she asked quietly.

"Vaguely. She had no notable feature other than unusually pink skin that men seemed to find irresistible. His father was also inconsequentially mutated."

Sherry let out an angry huff of air. "Two mutants still have a relatively low chance of having a child to begin with," she muttered. "Some people just don't know a good thing they have when they have it."

Smiling softly, Bones gave her hand a squeeze. "You're cute when you're passionate."

Startled, Sherry started to flush. "Bones, what a thing to say--and what a place to say it."

"Just trying to break the tension," he said mildly.

At her desk, the agent looked amused, though only for a moment. "At first Edwin was placed in foster care, but he was never in one place for very long. Something always seemed to go awry--some problem that would arise in the family or household that would make them feel that they couldn't give a small child the care he deserved, so they would move him to another household, and so on. After a while Edwin grew understandably tired of being shuffled around and started to act out in ways that led the last family he stayed with to believe it was better for everyone if he was taken to a group home instead. He's been with us ever since."

"How long ago was that?" Bones wondered.

"Two years ago. He was six when his mother abandoned him."

The agent closed the folder and sat back a little. "That's about it, so if you truly intend to adopt Edwin Morris..."

Bones pushed his seat back and stood. "Hold that thought," he said.

The agent frowned. "Is there a problem?" she asked suspiciously.

"No," said Sherry, getting to her feet. "There's just something we need to do before we come back and sign the papers."


They found Ed sitting out in the hall in front of the row of windows, knees tucked to his chest and the book from earlier in his hands. The murky clouds outside had grown even murkier, and a soft patter of rain started hitting the windows.

When Ed noticed the two of them, he looked surprised. "You're still here? I'd have thought you would have adopted Lily and gotten out of here by now."

Bones glanced at Sherry, who smiled and gave his hand a squeeze. "Was she the little one with the curls? I don't really think we were the best choice for her."

Ed looked even more surprised. "Really? You seemed to hit it off to me. Well, doesn't matter. That other couple already called dibs."

Bones snickered a little at his choice of words before moving closer and resting a shoulder against the wall. "You know, this isn't like a trip to the supermarket or something. It's important to make sure this decision is the best one for everyone involved."

Ed had looked down at his book again as Bones spoke, but now he lowered it as he lifted his head and narrowed his eyes a little. "Don't the guys in charge here help weed all that out?" he asked suspiciously. "If you're even in here, that means you've been approved. You can adopt anyone you want."

"True," Bones allowed. "But we don't plan to adopt someone who doesn't want us to adopt them."

Now Ed looked downright incredulous. "You mean if you wanted to adopt a kid and they said they didn't want you as parents, you'd just leave?"

Bones glanced at Sherry, who had been quiet until now. "We wouldn't force someone to come home with us if he didn't want to, if that's what you mean," she said softly.

Something flickered through Ed's pale eyes. "You mean me, don't you," he said, his tone accusing.

"Why not?" Bones asked seriously. "You deserve a real home as much as any of the other children here."

Ed glared at him with obvious doubt and...was that a trace of fear? "I don't see why you'd want to," he muttered. "I'm not big and I'm not strong, and I don't know anything about playing sports. And I don't want to learn," he added, his tone full of challenge. "I'm not interested in becoming a sports star."

"That's fine," said Bones, in a casual tone. He wasn't quite sure what to say, but he wanted to let Ed know that they were truly interested in making him part of their family without being too forceful about it. "There's no law saying I have to raise the next superstar or something."

Again, Ed looked surprised. "You don't want to?"

"Not really."

"We would rather raise our child to be whoever he or she wants to be," Sherry said softly. She paused, then said, with a gentle smile, "I bet you'd like to be a writer someday."

Ed glanced down at the large book still in his hands. He shrugged and put it down. "Maybe," he mumbled.

Silence fell, marked only by the soft patter of the rain. It was such a gentle, soothing sound. Still, Bones felt his body tense as he prepared to take the next step in this conversation. "Would you like to come home with us?"

For a moment Ed stared at him, his emotions plain in his pale eyes; a burst of hopeful excitement, but that trace of fear still remained. Fear of hoping only to be rejected again. His look hardened. "What if I say no? Will you really just walk away?"

Bones hoped that wasn't how this turned out, but he still answered honestly. "If that's what you want, yes."

Ed's eyes narrowed as they shifted to Sherry. "What I want," he said darkly, "is a mother who won't act like I'm the worst thing that ever happened to her."

"If you've been watching us on TV," said Bones, as Sherry glanced down at her hands, "then you know that Sherry would never do that. She's the kind of person you can count on for anything. And she won't ever let you down."

Sherry smiled a little. Ed's expression smoothed. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I think she'd make a good mom."

Sherry smiled again, then moved closer and sat down. Ed studied her a moment. "You were crying earlier," he noted. "Was that really because of me?"

He spoke in a hushed, almost amazed tone. Bones waited quietly, not wanting to interrupt while Sherry nodded slightly. "Uh-huh," she said softly. "It was. No child should have to go through what you did."

"It happened more than once, you know. They all decided to get rid of me at some point."

Sherry swallowed, her eyes turning moist. "I know," she whispered. "But if it were up to me it would never happen again."

She scooted a hair closer; the small boy dropped his gaze. "Ed, would you like me to be your new mom?"

Ed didn't answer--not with words, anyway. Instead, his carefully controlled expression melted away and tears flooded his pale blue eyes. He threw his arms around her neck and buried his face in her shoulder. He clung to her for the next few minutes, sniffling quietly.

Feeling relieved and a little drained--yet excited--Bones sat down next to them. "There are some more papers to sign, and then we'll have to visit the courthouse to make it all legal...but after that, we'll take you to your new home. Okay?"

Ed gave a tiny nod. Sherry smiled and stroked his vibrant hair. "You know, Bones never lets anyone down, either. He'll make the best dad."

"Uh-huh," said Ed, sniffling again. "Sounds cool."

Bones chuckled a little and rested a hand on his back. Ed wiped his eyes and looked at him. "Are you sure about this?" he wondered, a flicker of doubt crossing his face.

"If I wasn't, we wouldn't be here talking about it," Bones said firmly. "What they don't tell you on MLSN is that I was shuffled around foster homes for years, too. I might not know what it's like to have a mother willingly give me up, but I know what it's like to feel alone."

"But you at least had Razor," Ed pointed out.

Bone smiled thinly. "True. But he wasn't family."

"Yeah, but he is now."

Sherry sighed and stood with a roll of her eyes. "He's bantering with you already. You couldn't ask for a more perfect fit."

"She's right," said Bones, with mock sternness. "So are you going to let us adopt you or not?"

"If it'll make you happy," Ed sighed, though his pretend indifference didn't hide the eagerness in his eyes.

Bones looked at him a moment, then casually scooped him up in one arm, propping him against his shoulder. "I think it'll make you happy," he noted, as he and Sherry started down the hall. "So let's go sign those papers already."

Ed look startled for a moment--and then he smiled faintly and rested his head on his shoulder. "Okay...Dad."

Chapter Text

"I can't believe summer vacation is almost over," groaned Ed as he flopped down next to Bones on the sofa.

Bones watched in sympathy as his adopted son curled up against the arm of the sofa and hid his face with a throw pillow. Thanks to the negligence of his birth mother, he hadn't actually been to a real school since the first grade.

But Ed had been blessed with exceptional intelligence, and his love for reading and the guidance he got from tutors once he was placed in foster care had helped. Bones had helped him study over the summer and when he and Sherry had him tested a few weeks ago, the teacher reported that his scores showed that his education level was about equal to the other ten and eleven-year-old students he would be schooling with this year.

He was a phenomenal reader and speller and fairly good at math. He was also skilled at geography (something he picked up from all the impromptu traveling he used to do with his mother) and liked to study maps. One area he had a problem with was history, which Bones had been helping him with.

Ed had a perfectionist streak (now why did that sound familiar...?) and a fear of failure, so working with him was sometimes slow going, but Bones knew that beneath the pouting and grumbling, Ed was eager to learn and to please.

"You'll do just fine," Bones said mildly, reaching over to tousle the shock of red-gold hair peeking over the top of the pillow. "In fact, I bet you'll be one of the most popular kids in school this year."

Ed snorted, his blue-gray eyes narrowing at him over the pillow. "I don't need a bunch of strangers kissing my butt and pretending to like me just because my dad is famous," he muttered unhappily.

"There's always the chance they'll kiss your butt because they like you for you," said Sherry casually as she strolled into the living room. "Or at least because you're such an intelligent, well-dressed young man."

Ed glanced down at his torn jeans and stained t-shirt. "Well-dressed? Me?"

"Well, you will be."

Bones hid a smile as he eyed his wife. She was dressed in a casual but pretty cream-colored blouse over blue jeans, with a small brooch pinned at her collar. She had her favorite purse slung over her shoulder, which Ed didn't fail to notice.

"No shopping," he cried, darting out from under the pillow and into Bones' lap. "Dad and me are playing video games."

"We are?" asked Bones, glancing over at the blank TV screen.

Ed socked him for not backing him up; Bones snickered. Sherry put her hands on her hips. "Now is the time to go," she said firmly. "Most stores put the back to school sales into affect a day or two before the ads in the paper claim. That way the savvy shoppers can get there before everything is picked over."

Ed scowled as he clung to his adopted father's jacket. "And how would you know?" he demanded. "You've never been back to school shopping before."

"Neither have you," Bones pointed out.

Sherry smiled. "I got a hot tip from your grandmother. She's a very wise, knowing woman."

Bones snickered again. They made sure never to use that word when Mom was in the room--it always made her bug her eyes out. So far she had yet to call Trina anything other than 'her daughter's daughter.'

"Come on, big guy," said Bones, getting up. Ed continued to cling to his jacket, like a koala clinging to a tree trunk. "It'll be fun."

"Will not," said Ed obstinately.

"You think shopping with your Aunt Dare is fun," Bones reminded him.

"Yeah, well, that's because Aunt Dare is cool. There's nothing cool about shopping with your mom, especially when she's not a rock star."

Sherry folded her arms and pouted her lips. "If you weren't only ten years old, I'd have a mind to be insulted."

"Relax," Bones said firmly as he set the feisty redhead down. "Between the three of us, you should..."

He trailed off as he noticed the look of disappointment that crossed Sherry's face. It was brief, but he still caught it.

For the last few weeks he and Ed spent a lot of time alone together. Bones had taken him to parks, museums and local historic landmarks, all in an attempt to make learning fun as he prepped his adopted son for his return to public school. Clearly, Sherry had been hoping that she would have Ed to herself today.

"On second thought, I think you two can handle this without me," he decided, giving one of Ed's pointed ears a light tug.

Sherry beamed, and Bones reached over and put his hands on her waist, pulling her close to him. As he kissed her softly, Ed made gagging sounds. "Get a room," he grumbled.

"Get used to it," Bones countered. "I've been loving on my wife since long before you showed up, so I'm not about to stop now."

"You can't blame him," said Sherry, though she didn't sound at all concerned as she cuddled her head on his chest. "He's an adolescent boy. It's part of his nature to be disgusted by AHDA."

Ed scratched his head, looking bewildered. "AHDA?" he echoed.

Bones grinned. "At Home Displays of Affection," he explained.

"Oh."

"And I don't think it bothers you half as much as you act like it does," Bones went on. "You don't even notice when your aunt and uncle go at it."

Ed made a face, looking like he felt like he'd just been caught in the middle of a fib. "That's different," he insisted. "Only your own parents count when it comes to the universal taboo."

It was Sherry's turn to look bewildered as she stepped back from her husband's arm. "The what?"

Ed looked uncomfortable. "You know...we kids never talk or think about our parents doing, you know--stuff--even though we have to be aware that you're doing stuff just by us kids being here."

Bones didn't smile, though the analogy was amusing. It reminded him too much of how careless Ed's mother had been, including with things like what she did with her boyfriends in front of her son. As a result, his innocent little boy was a little too sexually savvy for his liking.

Sherry looked equally uncomfortable with the thought. "But we're not your--" she started to say, then stopped herself. "We're your real parents," she said, "but we're not your biological parents. Doesn't that make us exempt from the, um, universal taboo?"

Ed appeared to think it over. "Nope," he decided. "Biology doesn't matter. You're the only parents I've ever had that count."

"That's sweet," said Sherry, "even if it means you throw up in your mouth whenever we kiss."

"Oh, let's just stop talking about this and go shopping already," said Ed, sounding flustered.

Hiding his smile, Bones saw them to the door, which he closed behind them as they left to go clothes and school supply shopping. A moment later the phone rang.

"You busy?" Razor asked after he picked up the extension in the kitchen.

"No, I have the afternoon to myself, actually. Why?"

"Dare just took off for a photo shoot for some magazine and left me all alone," Razor reported, sounding like he was pouting like a child.

"Didn't she leave Trina with you?" Bones wondered, trying not to let his smile of amusement show in his voice.

"Nope. It's a shoot featuring famous mothers and their children. Now, if it were up to me, I would have made it about famous families, but..."

"You can come over," said Bones. "Now that I'm Dad to a growing boy there's plenty of snacks in the house."

"What, that healthy crap Sherry stocks the fridge with? No thanks, I'll bring my own real junk food."

He hung up, and less than a minute later the doorbell rang. When Bones answered the door, Razor promptly thrust a fizzing glass bottle into his hand. "Here's to the greatest friendship two mutors can have," he said grandly as he swept into the front hall.

"A fine sentiment, but...what am I supposed to do with this?"

"You get to hold it while I chow down on these," Razor informed him as he tore into a bag full of brackish-colored chips.

Bones didn't even want to guess at the flavor. "Thanks," he scoffed, "but I'll pass."

He set the bottle down; grinning, Razor snatched it up again and followed him into the living room. "Ooh," he suddenly cried, diving for the entertainment center. "I've been dying to try this one out."

He was referring to the brand new game system that had just hit the market. "Couldn't you get one of your own?" Bones wondered as his friend switched the TV on.

Razor flushed a little. "Derikka says TV slows a baby's learning ability, so we're officially unplugged until further notice. I tried to talk her out of cutting even basic television, but she says she can watch our games on her portable and unhooked the antenna."

"Sounds like she's taking this motherhood thing seriously," Bones noted with a grin. "Is it hard to handle?"

"Not having TV? Honestly, I don't even notice except when she runs off without me."

"Thought so."

Razor finished hooking everything up, and Bones humored him by picking up a controller as he perched on the edge of the couch. Razor flopped onto his belly and loaded in a gory fighting game. "Did she unhook the old arcade games, too?" Bones wondered, thinking about how much his diminutive twin loved all things vintage and out of date, like arcade systems from thirty years ago.

"Yup, those are off, too," sighed Razor. "What's Sherry's opinion of things with flashing lights?"

"I'm not really sure. Ed's a reader, so TV isn't really a problem."

Razor, on the other hand, had had an aversion to the printed word on an otherwise blank page since childhood. To this day, he rarely picked up anything other than a colorful magazine. Bones vividly remembered Trina's first birthday party; Mom had given her a large set of picture books, and Bones had, naturally, teased his brother-in-law relentlessly when he found him later, curled up in a plush chair with his baby girl, fanciful book in hand. "Don't forget, there are words there, too," he remembered saying.

That Razor, in angry haste, had fumbled for and chucked a stuffed duck at him made the memory all the funnier.

The memory faded as he concentrated on the images on the screen, trying hard to remember the complex button combinations the game demanded. Not that he ever learned them to begin with, a fact that showed when he proved unable to survive a round for more than a few seconds.

"Wow, you stink at this," Razor noted after beating him soundly yet again.

Grunting, Bones set his controller down and stretched. "I didn't get it for me," he muttered, "I got it for Ed."

In fact, the game system was the first thing Ed had asked for that he didn't exactly need. He had voiced the question in his shiest manner one day, and Bones wouldn't have been able to say no if he'd wanted to.

Razor sat back with a yawn--then sat up straighter, like something just occurred to him. "Wait--does this mean this is something I'm actually better at than you?"

"So it would seem. But you're not going to gloat, right?" asked Bones, as the lizoid hopped up and did a victory dance in the middle of the living room.

"Of course not."

Razor danced a moment more, then dropped to the sofa and picked up a magazine from the end table. He shook his head with a 'tsk'. "Now if they were to ask me, they would know exactly how many of her costars Luna has slept with over the years," he declared, referring to the image of the ivory-skinned actress on the cover.

Pictured next to her was her current leading man, and beneath them was a caption claiming that the issue had all the sordid details of their on-set romance. She had been dating Cannonball long enough for the entire team to know that she was actually extremely picky about who she went out with, and she had an even pickier and strict policy about getting even remotely involved with coworkers.

"Says here they just took a break to party in Cancun. Was that before, during, or after she and Mike flew to Bermuda to celebrate their engagement?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," said Bones mildly. After flying back from this celebratory trip, Cannonball had shyly gathered the team to tell them the news, and now the pair was busy planning the wedding between takes.

Bones could only assume the reason the press kept trying to pair Luna off to another actor, only to be forced to backtrack and report that she was still with Cannonball, was because the small mutor wasn't exactly what Hollywood types considered handsome. After the fiasco that was her previous relationship, Luna was beyond caring about looks. Cannonball placed her on a gold pedestal and treated her like a princess, and as far as she was concerned there were none better.

Razor set the magazine down with a sudden snicker. "They might have stayed in neutral forever," he commented, "if Luna didn't decide to take matters into her own hands."

Bones was sure that Cannonball had wanted to propose, but his shyness and the fear of rejection fueled by seeing her work with polished, sophisticated actors every day had kept him from taking that step. So Luna decided to take it for him and asked him herself.

Razor snickered again, then leaned back into the cushions with a sigh. "But that's the modern day woman for you," he intoned.

Bones lifted a hairless brow. "What do you mean?" he wondered, knowing that remark hadn't come out of nowhere.

Razor flushed and slunk lower in his seat. "Nothing," he mumbled.

But Bones had caught on, and he didn't bother to hide his smile. "Did Derikka beat you to the throw, too?" he asked slyly.

Razor flushed harder. "Yes," he mumbled. "By that much."

Bones snickered for a moment. "Don't feel bad. Sherry asked me, too."

Razor stopped flushing and sat up straighter, a look of surprise on his face. "Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"Not too shocking, really. She had it bad for you for a long time."

Bones smiled a little as he thought back to those early days, after he and Sherry first met. He remembered her being frustrated with him a lot, and it had probably taken longer than it should have for him to realize that her impatience and concern for him was a sign of just how deeply she cared for him.

"She may have beaten me to popping the question," Razor went on, "but the whole setup was still mine. We were engaged on the same bridge we got married on, you know."

"Uh-huh," said Bones. "Derikka told me."

Razor eyed him suspiciously. "Is that all she told you?"

"Yes, Raze," Bones said wearily. "She never let on that she proposed and not you. She might be naughty in other ways, but she respects the things the two of you say and do in private."

Razor sat back again, mollified. "What about you?" he wondered. "Where were the two of you when Sherry asked?"

Bones had been a little afraid he would ask that. He leaned, resigned, against the arm of the sofa. "In bed," he admitted.

Razor's ears perked up. "You mean, 'in bed,' bed...?"

"Is there another kind?" Bones asked wearily.

"Uh, yeah, bro," Razor said, with a wicked grin. "You were either in bed..." he mimicked resting his head on a pillow, "...or you were in 'I got my woman so hot she begged me to marry her' bed."

"That's not what happened," Bones said testily--though it was uncomfortably close to the truth. "And don't make fun of my wife, or else I'm sending you home, and not gently."

"I'm not making fun of anyone," said Razor, sounding surprised that he thought so. "I'm just congratulating you on a job well done. It's what guys do, you know."

Bones gave him a weary look as he propped his head on his hand. "Do we really have to talk about this?"

"Why not?" Razor asked seriously. "We both know you've gotten pretty good in bed. Not as good as me, but..."

He trailed off, his smirk fading. "Seriously, you're not, right? Because if it turns out that my dickless best friend is better in bed than me, I'll probably kill myself--or you, depending on how much better we're talking, here."

Bones snickered in spite of himself. "Raze, relax, this isn't a contest between us. And even if it was, it's not like we could pick a clear winner. Not without our wives around to compare scorecards, anyway."

Razor snorted and grabbed his unfinished bag of chips. "If Sherry is half as vocal about it as Derikka is, then she's not shy about telling you what's the best thing you do and what she wants you to do more."

He had a point. "The best?" Bones mused. "That's probably getting her to squirt, right? At least, I've always heard that's the best thing a man can do for a woman. You know...'in bed.'"

Razor almost started choking on a chip. "Squirt? You're just screwing with me, right? You never actually got her to do that...right?"

Bones smiled and shrugged casually. "It's all a matter of getting the right angle."

Razor looked at him hard, his disbelief plain. "Okay, no joking around here, bro. How many times?"

"It's not like I keep track or anything..."

Razor narrowed his eyes and continued to stare. Bones waited a few seconds, then shrugged again. "Twenty. I would do it more, but she's pretty tired afterward so we have to work around her schedule. It's best to keep for a day she doesn't have to go anywhere later."

With a loud groan, Razor dropped his head into his hands. "It's just not fair," he wailed dramatically. "I haven't done that once!"

Bones was a little surprised. "Seriously?"

"Not with Derikka," Razor sniffled.

"But you've been together almost four years now, didn't you--"

"Never even attempted it," Razor muttered. "Even though we can do more than we used to, I still have to be careful. Trying for that never crossed my mind."

"You could always borrow one of the toys I seem to have the best luck with," Bones offered.

With a strange face, Razor held up a hand. "We're fine, thanks."

"Hey, don't worry about it being unsanitary," Bones went on relentlessly. "We always wash them when we're done."

"Uh, I wasn't thinking that," said Razor, wrinkling his nose. "Until now, that is."

Bones tried not to snicker too much. Razor had been making him squirm with this kind of talk since junior high, so it was actually pretty fun to get a little payback. "Well, look on the bright side. Sherry's just a normal, uh, norm, so I still have to take it easy, even though I don't have to worry about getting carried away, since I don't get very much out of it."

Razor brightened at the idea. "Since she's a normal mutant and all, Dare's built up terrific stamina. Well, that and she's a Justice at heart...which means when she really wants to, she plays through the pain. So to speak."

"Okay, too much information," said Bones, rubbing his forehead. "This is my twin sister we're talking about."

Smirking, Razor started to saying something, but then the doorbell rang. Thank goodness, thought Bones, as he got up to answer the door.

He was greeted by a tiny smile as bright as sunshine. "Hi, Uncle," Trina cooed, stretching her jade-green arms out to him. Her eyes brimming with motherly love, Derikka passed her smiling daughter to her twin.

"How was the shoot?" Bones wondered, as his niece snugged her arms around his neck.

"Same 'o, same 'o," Derikka said with a yawn. A second later Razor swooped up and shoved Derikka out the door, just as she was coming in. "Come on, we're going home," he informed her firmly.

"Umm, okay, but what about our daughter?"

Razor glanced at Trina, who had her head on Bones' shoulder. "Bones can watch her. Right?"

"I suppose," Bones said mildly.

Trina let out a quiet yawn. "Uh, what's the rush?" Derikka wondered, as her husband picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder.

"I thought I'd pay you back for leaving me alone all afternoon," Razor said in a playful voice as he scurried down the hall.

"Am I going to like this?" Derikka asked suspiciously.

"Trust me...you're going to love it."

With a shake of his head, Bones closed the door. "Come on," he told Trina. "Let's go find some healthy junk food."

Chapter Text

"Well, would you look at this, now?"

Smiling, Bones looked up from the onion he was chopping and over at the kitchen table, where his mother-in-law was holding up a framed certificate. "It's special, all right," he agreed, eyeing the decorative border and official signature.

"I think it deserves a place of honor," Dolores went on, pushing her seat back and getting up.

Across from her, Ed slumped in his chair a little. "Oh, come on," he mumbled.

"I agree," said Bones, setting the onion down and taking the certificate. "And I know just the place."

Sherry stayed at her spot by the stove, quietly stirring a boiling pot as she watched them with a smile. Ed slumped farther in his seat before hopping down and trailing after them into the living room. Bones rearranged the top shelf of the trophy cabinet he kept next to the entertainment center and hung the brown frame above it. "Perfect," said Dolores, with approval.

Ed was wiggling his bare toes into the plush carpet. "It was only a spelling bee," he muttered.

"But you took first place," Dolores pointed out.

"Yeah, against everyone else in my grade. We weren't even competing against other schools."

"It's still an achievement," Bones said firmly. "Just because it's small doesn't mean you shouldn't be proud of it."

Ed still had trouble with confidence, something Bones was trying hard to help him with. Just competing in the spelling bee to begin with was a big step, one he probably wouldn't have taken if it wasn't for Derikka. Recognizing that familiar perfectionist fear of failure, she had firmly told him to worry about disappointing himself first and let everyone else follow.

This seemed to help Ed reach a point where he was more willing to face failure from trying than being a failure for doing nothing...but his shy streak was still running strong.

Bones knew him well enough now to know that he was secretly pleased under his bashfulness, so he didn't say anything else as they returned to the kitchen. A moment later Alan breezed in, tucking his cell phone in his jacket pocket. "We had better get going, luv, if we want to make our flight."

"All right," said Dolores, sounding reluctant as she gave Sherry a quick hug. "Take care of yourself, hun."

"You too, Mom. Have fun in Tokyo."

"Bye, Gramma," called Ed from the doorway.

Bones hid a smile. Unlike his own mother, Mrs. Steele not only didn't mind the title, she encouraged it.

Sighing happily, she bent to gather the small redhead in her arms and squeezed him tight. "You make sure to write me, now, so I don't miss you so much. We're really two of a kind, you know? Even have the same hair color."

"A lot of people think he has Emmaline's eyes," Sherry said casually.

Alan snickered. "Yeah, only in her case, the color is natural."

Dolores' fair cheeks flushed prettily as she straightened and slapped her husband's arm. Bones tried not to snicker too loudly. "I'll be in the car," said Alan, as his wife turned to grab her purse from the table.

"You know," she said thoughtfully as she glanced around the kitchen, "this really is a lovely apartment, but it's kind of on the small side, isn't it? You might want to think about upgrading now that you have a growing boy to take care of."

"If you have time, call us when your flight lands," Sherry said significantly.

If she got the hint, her mother ignored it as she took her time hugging Bones goodbye and straightening her hair before finally heading out the door. Bones latched it behind her, then returned to the kitchen and started setting the table. "She has a point, though," he commented, as Sherry took a taste of the beef stew she was making. "Ed's kind of puny now--" Ed stuck his tongue out at him, "--but that's going to change before too much longer."

He had already grown noticeably since they adopted him--almost half an inch. Bones was pretty sure that puberty and further growth spurts were just around the corner. And even if it were still just him and his wife...the idea of moving to a different, cozier location would have still appealed to him.

Sherry wrinkled her nose as she dried her hands on her apron. "You really think we've outgrown this place?" she wondered.

"I think I could survive having a few miles between me and my twin now, if that's what you mean," Bones noted with a grin.

"What about Eddie?" wondered Sherry, knowing as well as he did that the young boy loved his aunt and uncle.

Ed, who had since taken a seat at the table, looked down at his place mat and shrugged. "Doesn't really matter," he mumbled.

Bones quieted. He hadn't forgotten how many times Ed had been moved around in his previous life, so the thought of leaving this place probably didn't faze him. Houses, apartments, trailers...they were all the same to him. Places to stay for a while and then abandon. He wasn't accustomed to the thought of having a home.

"You know, it's all right to tell us your opinion," Bones reminded him gently.

"Absolutely," Sherry agreed with a smile. "We're a family, and that means we don't make big decisions without knowing how all three of us feel about it first."

Ed stayed quiet, absently fiddling with his napkin while Bones finished setting the table. When Bones sat down--even if he didn't eat with them he liked to join them at mealtimes--Ed looked up and studied him, looking like he was wondering if he should really voice what was on his mind.

"I don't want to move," he finally blurted. "I like it here, and I'm just starting to make friends at school, and..."

He stopped, glancing nervously at Sherry, like he was worried she would get angry with him. Instead, Sherry finished filling two bowls with stew and carried them to the table. "We know better than to pull you out of school in the middle of the year," she said, running her hand over his shock of red-gold hair. "I think your father wants us to move someplace close by, and in the near future."

Ed looked at her, then glanced at Bones, who smiled. "You mean, I would still be able to go to the same school and stuff?" asked Ed.

"Of course," said Bones. "We'd only move a few miles at the most."

"But only if you want to," Sherry added as she sat down. "If you would be happier staying here, then we will."

Ed appeared to think it over for a few moments. "I've always wanted a big house," he said brightly, "with a great big yard full of playground equipment, and lots of room to run around with my big pet dog."

"Sounds like you've got it all worked out," Bones commented as he watched his son with affection.

"It also sounds like your plans are too, uh, big for this place," Sherry noted with a grin. "And you never mentioned wanting a dog before."

"Not enough room here," Ed responded crisply. "I want a big dog--like a bull mastiff."

Sherry made a face. "Uh, we'll work up to it. Don't forget, your dad has a little problem with dogs," she added, her smile teasing.

Ed deflated considerably. "Oh. I forgot."

"Hey, don't worry about it," Bones put in quickly. "If I can handle Elanore's psychotic poodles, I can handle anything."

At least, he hoped he could.


Over the next few days, the three of them spent a lot of time discussing what kind of house they'd like to move into, a subject that Ed grew more and more excited about. In fact, it was the first time since making him a part of their family that Bones had seen him open up so much, to the point where he gestured animatedly as he described something while his pale blue-gray eyes shone.

Ed was normally so withdrawn and reserved, avoiding getting too emotionally invested in something out of fear of having that something taken away. So to watch him now, so eager to start something new--to make a change that he had a hand in--it made Bones love him even more than he already did. Adopting him was definitely one of the best choices he had ever made.

"Of course, this is all just speculative, right?" Sherry asked one day.

"I think we're well beyond that point," said Bones.

The two of them were sitting on the couch, and Ed was lying on his stomach on the living room rug, feet lazily kicking in the air behind him as he flipped through a furniture catalog. "I want a bunk bed," Ed said eagerly, pointing to an image of a dark oak frame with a set of plush mattresses and matching blue-and-white sheets and comforters.

"By yourself?" wondered Sherry, eyes dancing as she sipped a cup of tea.

"Nope. I get the top bunk, and my future puppy gets the bottom."

"I think a plain old dog bed on the floor would work just as well."

Ed gave a shrug and flipped to another page. "Maybe. Hey, can I get a loft bed instead?"

Bones chuckled at his enthusiasm for a moment. "Where'd you get that, anyway?"

"Aunt Dare," Ed responded, without looking up from the page. "When I told her we're thinking about moving into a big house, she told me to tell you to stop reading her mind."

Bones lifted his hairless brows in surprise. "Derikka and Razor want to move out of their apartment, too?"

"That's what she said. Not right now, though. She says they're thinking about it once Trina and the family get a little bigger."

Bones started to nod--and then did a double-take. "The what?"

Ed shrugged again and kicked his feet. "I guess they plan to have more kids someday."

The room grew quiet after that. Ed continued to flip through the catalog, while Bones sank back into the couch as he processes this unexpected update. Over the last couple of months he had devoted every second he could to his newly adopted son, so he actually hadn't spent a whole lot of time with either Derikka or Razor--and he had all but forgotten about that important scientific breakthrough Sherry told him about.

Not to say that all the newsstands and talk shows weren't bursting at the seams with chatter about it, since it was a development that changed lives all across the country. He had just blocked all that out, since it wasn't something he needed to bother with--or worry about anymore. It hadn't occurred to him that his best friend and twin might use this breakthrough to expand their own family in the future.

Sherry suddenly set her cup down and stood. "You know, I could call up the real estate I used when I sold my house to your mom. I'm sure they’d be happy to send us some information."

"Would you? That'd be great."

Smiling, Sherry took a moment to kiss both her husband and son before heading into the kitchen and getting on the phone. "We probably shouldn't worry about staying too close to your school," Bones commented, after thinking quietly for several minutes.

Ed finally looked up from the catalog. "How come?" he wondered.

"Well, in a few short years you'll be starting junior high. I think we should probably pick a spot that's reasonably close to both the grade school and high school."

Ed looked at him a moment, russet eyebrows raised, like he couldn't believe he was planning that far ahead. "No harm in covering all angles," Bones said mildly. "Because after we do this, I don't plan to do it again."

"You mean, never move again?" asked Ed, sounding like the notion was foreign to him--which it was. "Not even after I'm all grown up and off in a place of my own?"

"Not even then," Bones confirmed. "I want us to end up in a place that'll be great for both you to grow up in and then Sherry and me to grow old together in."

"Sounds like a plan," said Sherry as she rejoined them. "But you should know that I don't plan to start growing old for another, oh, forty years or so."

"Really? Me neither."

Grinning, Bones playfully pulled her into his lap; Ed made a face and lifted the catalog so it hid his view of them. "Don't you have homework?" Bones wondered, as Sherry cuddled her head on his shoulder.

"Nope." Ed glanced at them. "You want me to go to my room or something?" he asked suspiciously.

"No," said Sherry with a smile, "that's where we send you when you're in trouble. When we want privacy we send you next door."

Ed brightened instantly. "Cool, can I have dinner over there?"

"If they say it's okay," Sherry called, as Ed ran for the front door.

Chuckling, Bones tightened his arms around his wife--and then the phone rang. "I hate that thing. Have I mentioned that?"

"Frequently."

To his disappointment, Sherry got up and went back to the kitchen, so with a mental sigh he grabbed the extension on the nearby end table. "Hello?"

"Hello, Bones," said a male voice that could only be described as neutral. "It's Marshall."

Bones felt an unpleasant tightening inside him. He hadn't heard from his mother's lawyer in almost three years, and all the times they had spoken prior to that had meant bad news.

"Is something wrong?" Bones asked, as calmly as he could. He wasn't in the mood for the sort of situation the last time Marshall had called his family had led to.

"Not exactly," said Marshall, in an equally neutral voice. "Someone recently contacted my offices and I thought you should know."

Bones couldn't imagine who he meant. "Oh?" he prodded.

"He probably would have contacted you directly, but that's not really possible, seeing how he's in prison and all."

The tightening inside him grew to an uncomfortable degree. He was surprised he didn't crack the phone in half as his hand clenched. "Are you an idiot?" he asked lowly, darkly. "You actually went through the trouble to call me up and tell me that you got a call from him? Well--"

Marshal sighed loudly, cutting him off. "No, I'm not an idiot," he said, impatience creeping into his tone. "If it were him, I would have told him to shove it and hung up. But it wasn't, and like I said, I thought you should know. It's not like you have to respond if you don't want to."

Bones relaxed his grip--he heard the distinct sound of plastic creaking--as the fiery wave of anger inside him ebbed. No, of course it wouldn't be him, he reminded himself--even if he was insane enough to try to contact him, it wasn't possible. He was kept in maximum security and solitary confinement, not allowed to speak to anyone inside the prison itself, let alone someone on the outside.

But beyond him, Bones couldn't imagine who else was trying to bother him.

"Okay, I give up," he said tiredly. "Who are we talking about, then?"

An image of Kang suddenly popped into his mind, trying to sleaze a few years off his sentence. Well, Bones would be happy to remind him that it was a life sentence without chance of parole, and hang up.

"It's Jukka," said Marshall.

Bones felt his brows lift. "Jukka?" he echoed, in dry surprise.

He would never have expected this. The scientist knew better--or at least Bones thought he did. Bones couldn't imagine what he wanted--and he didn't want to find out, but memories from three years ago, ones he had long since let himself forget, slowly came crawling back to him.

When the verdict came, they basically dragged Prigg off to prison, kicking and screaming. Jukka had gone quietly, willingly, as if he had known all along this was how things would end up. In fact, he didn't say a single word the entire time, other than to admit that he was guilty of everything he was accused of. He almost seemed relieved to have finally been caught, for his own actions to finally be stopped.

It made Bones wonder at the time--and wonder again today--if Jukka hadn't been, in a way, a prisoner already. Not just of Prigg, but of his own scientific nature. Bones knew he was capable--there was video to prove it--of turning off all sign and trace of human compassion and empathy.

But Bones had also seen another side of him that completely contradicted this part of his nature. If he had wanted to, there was plenty of opportunity over the first two seasons Bones was part of the League to directly attack him or his team--sabotage the Rejuvenator, or something. But he never did, not unless Prigg told him to.

And there were other times when he had outright helped them--like when Razor ODed. Bones had been desperate and didn't know where else to turn, and Jukka had taken Razor and did what he could to treat him without hesitation. Looking back now, Bones had to wonder if Prigg had berated him later for letting such a chance slip by. He could have easily let Razor die--something that would have affects far worse than just weakening the team--but he didn't.

That didn't mean Bones was willing to forgive and forget and go have a friendly chat. The scientist had still done horrible, unspeakable things--including hold Bones' father prisoner and working him and many others to death, searching for a 'cure' for mutantcy that didn't exist.

Bones never believed for an instant that there was a way to reverse what he and so many others had become, and now that what was once considered an unnatural change was now being recreated through the most natural of means--procreation--it would seem that the change was now a permanent part of humanity. Like it or not, mutants were here to stay.

Being a scientist who studied mutancty through some of the most direct, intimate, and grotesque means imaginable, Jukka had to know this better than anyone...so Bones had to wonder just what it was he wanted to talk to him about.

"He didn't say," said Marshall when he asked. "He just said he needs to talk to you directly--he refused to say what about. But he's also aware that you'll probably say no, so he told me to tell you that if you do, he wishes you well and promises to never disturb you again--his exact words, in fact."

Bones snorted quietly. "I'm pretty sure he knows the odds of me saying yes, so I'm surprised he bothered in the first place."

"So was I, but I figured I should at least tell you what was going on before advising him to leave you alone."

"Which you will," Bones said meaningfully.

"Of course. Sorry to bother you like this. Hopefully the next time I call, it will be with happy news."

He sounded genuinely remorseful that he always seemed to call with the other kind, so Bones politely thanked him for bringing this to his attention before hanging up. A moment later Sherry breezed back into the room, a dish of ice cream in her hand.

"Before dinner?" he noted, with forced humor.

Sherry smirked and curled up beside him. "I won't tell Eddie if you won't."

She then frowned as she studied his expression. "What's wrong?"

After hesitating for a moment--she was in such a good mood he hated to ruin it--Bones briefly repeated the conversation he just had.

"Well, I know he's not stupid enough to try to worm his way out of prison somehow, so I can't imagine what he wants," Sherry said sourly after he finished.

Bones couldn't either. Not only had Jukka acted relieved to be sent off to prison--like he knew it was where he belonged--he had done a lot of things to hurt too many people to name, and the family and loved ones of those people were out for his blood. He knew he was safer staying locked up behind force field-reinforced walls.

Freedom obviously wasn't what he was interested in, so why? What could he possibly want to contact him about three years later?

"I think it's crazy," Sherry muttered, absently poking her half-melted ice cream with her spoon. "After all he did, what could you possibly have to say to him?"

Bones didn't think that was the point; Jukka was the one who wanted to tell him something. But it bore repeating: what did he think had changed in the last three years that made him think for a moment that Bones would want to listen?


"It just makes no sense."

Feeling drained after thinking about it for so long, Bones slumped back onto the couch. Seated on the floor next to the coffee table, Derikka was busy going through the mundane task of switching her credit cards, ID and spare change to a shiny new wallet.

"I know it's cheesy," she said playfully, displaying the glossy white wallet covered in blue and orange Ms, "but I just had to have it."

Bones gave her a weary look. "Have you been listening to me?"

"Yes," she said, with an exasperated roll of her eyes. "How long have you been internalizing over this, anyway?"

Bones rested his head against the back of the couch. "About a week."

Derikka 'tsked.' "You should just forget about it and go back to the important things--like finding the perfect house."

Bones grew quiet for a few minutes as he studied his twin. Next to her, happily coloring in a coloring book, was Trina. She would turn four in a few months, but she was still awfully small, only a little larger than Regina--not that a lack of size meant they wouldn't pack a serious wallop someday, as Thrasher made sure to remind them all.

Despite her diminutive stature, Trina had an alertness, an intelligent air about her that made her seem older than she was. Looking up from her work, she flashed her sunniest smile. "I'm sleeping in a big girl bed now," she commented proudly.

Eyes full of affection, Derikka reached over and smoothed a hand over her daughter's glossy black hair. "We'd have moved her out of the crib sooner, but...well, Razor convinced me that if we use a bed frame that's extra low to the ground, it shouldn't hurt much if she rolls out of bed even though she's still so small."

"It won't hurt," Trina said firmly. "Daddy says I'm tough like him, and I'm going to grow big someday."

Bones smiled in amusement for a moment--and then he remembered something, something that managed to slip his mind.

"Ed told me you plan to make Trina a big sister someday."

Derikka took a moment to put her new wallet into her purse before responding. "Funny he mentioned that. I said in very vague passing the other day about how we were thinking about getting a bigger place--a nicer yard for Trina to play in--with maybe a little room for a few more. Not quite the words I used but...like I said, it was in passing."

"But you two must have talked about it once or twice for that to be on your mind," Bones pointed out.

Derikka gave a shrug and absently fiddled with a crayon, her eyes distant. "Razor brought it up, actually. Right after the news of mutants and norms being able to have children safely hit the papers, he just up and told me we should have one or two more someday."

She smiled a little as she glanced at Trina, who was busy coloring in a picture of a puppy and not paying any attention to them. "It surprised me at first, but...it probably shouldn't have. Having Trina in our lives has made him so happy in so many ways. I can understand why he wants another child to love."

Bones grew quiet as he thought about his own family. He and Sherry had also discussed the possibility of adopting another child someday, and maybe one day they would...but right now, life felt so whole, so perfect just the way it was, he didn't really want to change it.

He looked at Derikka, who had her chin propped on her palm as she studied him, as if she knew what he was thinking--just like always. Darn twin mind-reading.

"Like I said--someday. Maybe a few years from now. And by the way, don't I think I didn't notice how you changed the subject."

Bones made a face. "I was trying to forget about that."

"It sure sounded like it was on your mind when you came in here and told me all about it," Derikka noted, narrowing her eyes warily at him.

"Well, there's nothing else to say about it," he said firmly. "I said no and that's the end of it."

Derikka didn't look convinced. "Uh-huh. Then why are you still thinking about it?"

A good question. Unfortunately, he didn't know the answer.

Trina suddenly looked up from her coloring book. "What are you talking about?" she asked curiously.

Derikka smiled thinly as she reached over to straighten the collar of her daughter's blouse. "Somebody your uncle used to know wants to talk to him, but your uncle doesn't want to."

"Why not?" Trina wanted to know.

"Well, he did some really bad things and hurt a lot of people. People who didn't deserve to be hurt."

Trina appeared to think this over for a moment. "Maybe he wants to say he's sorry," she suggested.

Bones snorted. Derikka shot him a look. "Maybe," Derikka allowed slowly, "but I don't think your uncle would accept that apology."

"If he means it he should," Trina declared, with the firm frankness only a three-year-old could wield. "If someone says they're sorry and really means it, then you let go and move on. That's what Daddy told me."

Derikka sat back on her heels and bit her lip, while Bones felt his hairless brows raise in surprise. "Honey, why don't you go color in your room now, okay? Mommy has to start on dinner."

Trina looked reluctant to leave, but she grabbed her book and box of crayons and ran off. "I wasn't aware that Razor had become so zen," Bones commented dryly.

Sighing, Derikka ran a hand over her forehead, pushing her long bangs out of her eyes. "People change, B. They grow up in ways you don't expect sometimes. He must have told her that after what happened with Madman a few weeks ago."

Bones jerked his head up. "You ran into Madman? When? Where was I?"

Derikka didn't look at him as she fiddled with the crayon again. "It was after practice, so you had already gone home. I met Razor outside the locker room with Trina and Madman showed up to tell me he was sorry."

Bones found that extremely hard to believe. "And he was serious?" he asked, incredulous.

She gave a shrug. "You wouldn't think so, but...we were heading down the hall, goofing around as we talked about where we wanted to go for dinner. I felt like someone was watching us, so I turned around and there he was. He said 'I'm sorry' and hurried away without another word."

Not that more words were needed. They all knew what he was apologizing for. Bones was just shocked that the words had been spoken without sarcasm.

"People change," she repeated, idly plucking at the edge of the paper encasing the crayon.

"Are you trying to tell me something?" Bones asked suspiciously.

Derikka gave her head a shake and stood. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, if that's what you mean," she said as she started for the kitchen. "But I know you. You hate leaving anything unfinished, so if you're still thinking about this a week later, chances are you'll keep on thinking about it. But what you're going to do about that is up to you."

Bones had the unpleasant feeling that she was right about this continuing to gnaw at his mind. He had an even more unpleasant feeling that there was only one way to make this gnawing go away.


"You know, I had a suspicion you were going to change your mind," Sherry commented as they walked across the parking garage together.

"And I have a suspicion you won't change yours," Bones noted, with a glance over at her jeep. Ed was already waiting patiently inside.

"Nope. I'd much rather spend the day at the library helping my son with a book report than visit a prison. Call me when you're done, okay?"

Bones promised he would, took a moment to kiss her goodbye, then reminded her not to mention any of this to Ed as he headed over to his bike.

The only other time Bones ever visited a prison--this very one, in fact--was when he was locked up in it, so to be welcomed politely and ushered over to the visitor area was quite a different experience.

It was a lot different than a prison for norms, that was for sure. There was no sign of softness or color, even here in the visitor area. Just an ice cold rigidness that grew worse the deeper inside the prison you went. There was no wallpaper or carpeting, and there wasn't a sliver of wood in sight. Only reinforced metal and alloy, from floor to ceiling.

The seat he took was metal too, as if no one wanted to break up this harsh scheme with the sight of oak, or even a cushion. The reinforced glass wall in front of him was inches thick, though it didn't hum quietly as an electric force field pulsed through it, like many of the other walls in this place. A very large, persistent mutant might be able to punch his way through--but no doubt the heavily armed guards keeping watch greatly discouraged this.

Bones sat there for about a minute or so before Jukka appeared, escorted by another guard to a seat on the other side of the glass. It was kind of strange, Bones realized. Even at the Dome, between the handful who worked there and the many fans, you still saw norms hanging around. Here, there were none.

The guard took up his post behind Jukka as the scientist settled into the chair and folded his hands in front of him. The first thing Bones noticed was that he was wearing a lab coat over his prison uniform--a detail he couldn't help raising a brow over.

The second thing he noticed was that Jukka wasn't wearing his goggle-like glasses--which he didn't spot right away because the deep red lenses were actually the same shade as his eyes. Aside from the blood-like color, there were deep lines and hollows around and under his eyes, giving him the appearance of extreme exhaustion--an image his tired posture mirrored. Bones suspected that the weariness was attributed to prison life, but he also suspected that the unpleasantness of his eyes was completely unrelated and didn't wonder why he used to keep them covered at all times.

Not that Bones really cared. Keeping his expression as neutral as possible--though he could tell by the tightness in his jaw that it was edging closer to stony--he sat silently. He had come to listen, not to speak, so he didn't see any reason to say anything at this point. A pleasant greeting would be both inappropriate and insincere.

Jukka made an attempt anyway. "Thank you for coming," he began, in a tired voice that was scratchier than Bones remembered. "After you said no, I didn't think you would change your mind."

Bones didn't see any point in mentioning that. He was here, and he wanted to get this over with. "You can skip the phony pleasantries," he said coolly. "You know I don't like you any more than you like me, so let's just get to the point. What do you want?"

Jukka looked like he had been expecting this kind of bluntness. "I'll get right to it, then. You've heard of the new sterilization process that allows mutants and norms to procreate safely, correct?"

Bones was so taken aback he didn't answer right away. "Yes," he finally said, in a very dry tone. "But what does that have to do with..."

All at once it hit him. He sat back in his seat, stunned, feeling like...

Actually, he wasn't sure how he felt about this.

"It was you. You were the one to invent the process."

Jukka smiled thinly. "I was one of many who worked on that project, actually. Just one small name in a massive scientific endeavor."

Though his words were humble, Bones could tell by his tone, the look in his strange eyes, that he had played a much bigger role than that. Others may have perfected the process--he couldn't do much inside a prison, after all--but he had been the one to come up with the idea.

"Why?" Bones asked bluntly. "That's not exactly your usual field of expertise."

But even as he spoke, Bones realized the answer to his own question. Jukka's smile was both tired and grim as he rested back in his seat a little. "That was exactly the point. I know I can never make up for all the things I did, but I plan to spend the rest of my life trying. Helping create new life was the least I could do in return for all the ones I helped take."

He spoke plainly, bluntly, just like when he told the court all the things he was guilty of. He didn't try to hide behind excuses or pretty words--like his ex-employer had.

"So, you're trying to make amends, then," Bones said slowly, cautiously.

"More or less."

Bones felt his jaw tighten again. "If you're thinking about apologizing to me, you can forget it."

Jukka let out a low, humorless laugh and shook his head. "Relax, dear boy, I'm not nearly that stupid. No, I just want to give you something. I know it will never make up for everything I took from you, but...as I said before, it's the least I can do."

Bones wasn't sure he understood what he meant--or maybe he did. But he didn't see how that was supposed to help him. "If you're referring to your new breakthrough...I think we both know it doesn't do me a whole lot of good."

"No," the small mutant allowed slowly, "not the process that's now being practiced in special clinics across the country. But--"

"But there's another one," Bones finished, suddenly understanding where this was going. Though he still didn't get how this did him any good.

"Correct. It hasn't been brought to the public's attention--or anyone's, for that matter--because we're still in the earliest stages of development. And even if we weren't, it probably wouldn't matter much. With the other process on the market now, it's doubtful we will receive funding to produce this one, since it isn't likely there will be much interest in it. To put it bluntly, thanks to advancements in fertility and other treatments in recent years for normal humans, there are very few out there, mutant or otherwise, who are as incurably sterile as you are."

Bones didn't really need to be reminded of that. "I know I'm a lost cause," he said simply, unconcerned. "That's why we adopted."

Jukka paused again, studying him a moment. "I see. Still, I wanted to present this chance to you before the project is put away indefinitely. Several of my colleagues are eager to try the process on human subjects before moving on, but with the other process out there, we aren't likely to get volunteers."

"So why bother at all?" Bones asked. "If there's no market for it since there are so few like me in the world, why are you still trying?"

"I told you," Jukka said quietly, with another tired, thin smile. “I want to give you something. I know it won't make up for what I took, but..."

Bones frowned, a touch of disbelief creeping over him. "So what you're saying...is that you came up with this not-quite-legal process just to help me?"

"Exactly."

Jukka studied him again. "I know you, Bones. I know how much you love children. It doesn't surprise me at all that you've already adopted. Wouldn't you like to have one that's your own flesh and blood? And that of your wife?"

"I don't have any flesh and blood," Bones pointed out dryly. "I don't have any fluid worth mentioning anywhere--except maybe a little in my brain."

The miniature scientist turned thoughtful. "That might work," he mused. "Either that or a scraping from one of your eyes. I'm not sure. We've only taken small flesh samples so far."

Bones stared at him for a moment. "Okay, I give up. How exactly do you plan to pull this off?"

"It's...complicated," Jukka began, resting back in his seat as his tone turned business-like. "To put it in the simplest terms I can, we will take the sperm from a male donor, strip it of all the original DNA encoded in it and replace it with yours--once we've taken the appropriate sample."

If he'd had eyelids, Bones would have blinked--numerous times. "Is that even possible?"

"Like I said, it's complicated, but not impossible. It's a similar process, actually, to how the nucleus is removed from a female egg and inserted into another, albeit much more complex than that. But similarly to manipulating a donor egg, it might not have come from your body, but when everything is finished, it will be one-hundred-percent your child."

Bones looked away and was quiet for a long time. It sounded too good--too science-fiction--to be true, but he knew that Jukka wasn't going to waste either of their time by making something like this up. And he could see past the tired, business-like look in his eyes--see the hope, the eagerness. He was truly remorseful for all the wrongs he had done and wanted to do anything he could to make things right, to give back in this small, yet monumental way.

And truthfully, part of him did want this--very much. And while Sherry had willingly set aside that part of herself--the part of her that longed to carry and give birth to a child of her own--for his sake, forgotten about it...he was pretty sure if she knew about this, that part would start to wake up again.

"What happens after that?" Bones wondered quietly. "After the, uh, DNA stripping part."

"After that it becomes any other case of in vitro fertilization," Jukka explained. "The altered sperm will be combined with an egg taken from your wife, and once the resulting embryo is ready, it will be injected directly into her uterus. And as I mentioned earlier, thanks to recent advancements, the chances of conception through this process are much higher than they used to be."

Bones gave his head a shake and started to push his chair back. "I have to think about this. A lot. And I need to talk it over with Sherry."

"If you're reluctant to partake in something I helped create, I understand completely," Jukka noted as Bones stood--startling him a little.

"That's not why..."

Actually, that was part of the reason he didn't feel comfortable with this. As admirable a venture as this may be, Bones simply knew too much about him to trust him so easily--with this or anything else.

"Rest assured, I wouldn't be handling anything directly," the scientist went on. "You would be taken to a most reputable clinic many miles from here and looked after by some of my highly-skilled colleagues--most of whom have never met me in person. I would never have brought this up to anyone if it weren't completely safe and on the level--least of all with you. And the procedure would be covered by our funding, so it wouldn't cost you a thing."

"I'll have to talk it over with Sherry," Bones said again.

Jukka gave a nod. "Of course. I don't expect you to decide now. And if you refuse, I understand. Just remember," he called, as Bones turned and started for the exit, "once this opportunity passes by, it won't be available again."


"So, what are you going to do?" asked Razor.

The two of them were sitting in Razor's car out in the parking garage. It was late when Bones finally came back from the prison, and Razor had just pulled up with a bag full of tacos. His best friend could tell he wanted to talk, so they sat and ate in his car.

Well, Razor ate. Bones listened to him crunch loudly while he leaned his head against the window, replaying the long conversation he had this afternoon in his mind.

"I haven't decided yet," he said dully. "I still need to tell Sherry. Frankly, I'm a little afraid to."

Razor took a noisy sip of his soda. "How come?" he wondered, after swallowing.

Bones grew quiet as he pictured the change this would bring to his life--to all their lives. He imagined taking Sherry aside and explaining everything to her quietly, calmly. He wasn't quite sure what her reaction would be, and honestly, it didn't matter. Whether she said yes or no, they would make that decision and go from there, together--just like they always did.

Sherry wasn't the one Bones was worried about. Their recently adopted son, on the other hand...

He had only just started to show a little confidence, a little conviction. It was a slow, long process; it had taken months for him to show interest in something the way he had taken to the idea of helping pick out a new house--yet Bones knew that was actually impressive progress. Given the kind of life he had had up until he became a part of their family, Bones knew that Ed had opened up to him and Sherry extremely quickly.

He also knew that confidence, that openness, was very fragile. The wrong thing said or done at the wrong time could send Ed retreating back into himself, shutting them and everyone else out.

So far the love everyone had shown him had made this highly unlikely, but doing something like, say, telling him that he and Sherry were going to go through a medically-unapproved procedure to have a biological child...

Ed wouldn't say anything. He would just look at them, all of the emotion draining out of his face until only the pained look in his eyes remained. A look that clearly said: what am I doing wrong? Why aren't I enough?

Bones gave his head a shake; it was too soon. And even though he and Sherry had talked about adopting again someday...he wasn't so sure anymore. He still wanted to do everything he could--donate to places like children's hospitals and make sure they were being given the best care possible--but when it came to changing the family they created...

But if this was something that would be permanently shelved soon, then this would be their one and only chance.

"Well, it's not the most legit thing in the world," Razor noted, breaking the silence, "but if he really had a hand in that other process, then it sounds like all he wants to do is give someone a special gift. You know, to try and make up for all the crap he's done."

"But why me?" wondered Bones.

Razor shrugged and slurped the last of his soda for a moment. "Maybe he figures you deserve it the most. He didn't exactly help keep your life comfortable those first two years, regardless of what else happened."

"Maybe," Bones allowed, "But he's hurt plenty of other people. And mine wasn't the only parent he took."

"True. But you're one of the only ones who the public procedure won't help."

That's what Bones figured, too. And speaking of which...

"Derikka mentioned--in passing--that you two might make use of that procedure yourselves someday."

Razor shrugged again. "This won't make me change my mind, if that's what you mean. I don't like the guy, but if this is part of paying his debt to society, then I'm fine with it. And I love my little girl. I want at least one more."

"And if you don't end up with a girl?" Bones asked, in a weak stab at humor.

Razor pretended to think it over for a moment. "Well, then he'll just have to get used to the idea that his big sister is the one who's going to be my kick-ass successor."

"Or they could both be," Bones suggested, with a tired smile. "Another brother-sister team."

"Like you and Dare," Razor added, picking up the train of thought. "Or rather, how you and Dare would have been if she'd gone mutant with you. Hey, can you imagine what it would be like if she was on the team? We'd never lose."

Bones allowed himself to snicker, though the thought caused him more pain than pleasure. It made him picture what life would have been like if all four of them had been there that day, so long ago--if Mom and Derikka had been with him in the stands, watching.

A lot would have probably turned out the same, though Razor was probably right. Derikka wouldn't have been content to pursue a different career when her twin was tackling sports for the sake of their father. She was too small to be an athlete, but she was extremely stubborn and would no doubt have found some other way to stay at his side, lending her support. Maybe between the two of them, she and Heather could have overturned that no cheerleaders rule.

Bones let the thoughts fade from his mind. What happened had happened, and where life had led them all--though the journey had been difficult--was better than it had ever been.

"Speaking of Dare," Bones went on, "she also mentioned that you've been pretty mellow and forgiving lately."

Razor gave him a funny look. "Was that how she put it?"

"Not exactly. That's sort of what I put together myself."

Razor frowned a little as he folded his arms and leaned against the door. "If you're trying to ask what happened with Madman...I'm not sure I understand myself. If I wasn't there and Dare told me about it, I would have thought he only meant it in a 'I'm sorry I got caught' kind of way. But I was there, and I heard him. He didn't sound sarcastic. He didn't even look at us. Just stared down at the floor and then ran off."

He gave a shrug and absently plucked at a loose fiber poking out of his jeans. "My guess is it got too weird for him. He was used to going after a girl and then never seeing her again. He sees Dare all the time, and she's not going to go away, so..."

He shrugged again. "I guess he saw so much of her, saw what she's like...he decided she didn't deserve it. That's what it looked like he was thinking, anyway. Whatever the reason," he went on, brushing the issue off with a sigh, "I figured I'd spent enough time hating him. It was time to let it go and forget about it. Dare did a long time ago."

Bones had known that--or at least known that she had stopped fearing him. It made him wonder just where she got that loving streak of hers, the one that allowed her to openly love anyone and everyone she met, as long as they never did anything to hurt her or someone she cared about. But it also seemed to allow her to forgive and accept those who had hurt her, too, as long as they were truly remorseful about it.

Mom claimed that Derikka took more after Dad, while Bones was bullheaded like her. Whatever the cause...he felt more comfortable with the thought of hanging on to an old grudge than to let somebody back into a position where they could hurt him again.

Razor checked his watch, then took a moment to stretch. "I'd better get upstairs and see what the little minx is up to," he said, crumpling the empty taco bag. "Let me know what you decide, okay?"

"I will," Bones promised. "Just don't tell anyone."

"Not even my sweet little wife?" Razor wondered as he got out of the car. "She knows how to keep a secret, you know."

"I know. But I'll tell her myself later, after we decide."

Razor shrugged and started across the lot. "I'll keep quiet. See you, bro."

Bones headed up to his own apartment, which was dark and quiet as he stepped inside. As he hung up his jacket, he heard a soft voice coming from the back of the apartment. He started down the hall toward his and Sherry's bedroom, noting that it was the sort of voice a person used when they were reading someone a story. Only it wasn't his wife's voice he was hearing.

"And they kicked butt and lived happily ever after," Ed was saying as he peeked into the bedroom...which made him wonder what the rest of the story had been like.

Ed was sitting on the bed, a book in his hands, while Sherry was lying back with her eyes closed, her head resting on the pillow. Ed glanced over his shoulder, then leaned over to set the book on the nightstand.

"Do you have work in the morning?" he asked.

Sherry gave her head a small nod. "Uh-huh," she said sleepily.

"Well, then you better settle down and go to sleep, young lady," Ed said sternly as he pulled the covers up to her chin. "And no sneaking out of bed to watch TV."

Sherry shook her head. "Uh-uh."

Bones snickered quietly; Ed leaned to kiss her forehead, then switched off the bedside lamp. When he hopped down from the bed, he hurried to grab Bones' hand and close the door. "Come here," he said eagerly. "I want to show you something."

He tugged him into the kitchen, where he switched on the light and pulled him over to the table. "Check it out," said Ed, as he hopped up to kneel on a chair.

Scattered across the tabletop were several brochures, along with a pile of photos, all displaying the same house at various angles. "What's this?" wondered Bones...though he had a feeling he knew.

"It's our new house," Ed exclaimed, bubbling with excitement. "Well, the real estate agent called and told us it was perfect, and Mom agreed but said we can't decide until we all see it together--but Dad, it is perfect--it's right between the schools, just like you said, and the yard is huge, and there's this big park less than a mile away, with spots for walking dogs and throwing Frisbees, and--oh, check this out."

He unfolded a large paper and spread it out on top of the photos. "See, this is the blueprint. The place is completely empty and nothing is named except for the kitchen and bathrooms and stuff. I want my room to be here," he said, pointing to a particular square. "This could be yours and Mom's room, or maybe this one here. Mom says Gramma would like this one if she sleeps over--it looks out on the garden. Just don't tell her we call it Gramma's room."

Bones shook his head solemnly. "Nope. Grandmother-in-denial's room it is."

Ed giggled and propped his chin in his hands as he continued to study the blueprint, though Bones had a feeling he knew the entire layout by heart already. "And you know the best part? The place is brand new--they just finished building it a few months ago. We'll be the first to ever live there. It'll be just ours."

Bones uncovered one of the brochures and flipped through it briefly, imagining the three of them taking a trip over in a day or two...though he already knew, deep down, what decision they were going to make.

Smiling softly, he set the brochure down and rested a hand on his son's downy hair. "You've got a good eye, kiddo."

Ed beamed at him. "That's what Mom said."

"Yeah? Did she also tell you that you're the best son anyone could ever ask for?"

Ed's smile turned shy, and he reached to put his arms around his father's waist as he rested his head against his side. "Thanks," he whispered, in a voice that was suspiciously close to tears.

Bones quieted, knowing that he was being thanked for a lot more than a compliment. Gathering his son in his arms, he sat quietly with him for a while, stroking his vibrant hair until he drifted off to sleep. Then he carefully got up, carried him to his room and tucked him in bed.

In his own room, Bones undressed and lay down in the darkness, knowing he needed to get some sleep. In the morning, he was taking another trip to prison.


"That was fast," Jukka noted as he took his seat on the other side of the glass.

Bones gave a shrug. "Sherry and I didn't need to discuss it for very long. We both came to the same conclusion."

"Which is...?"

Bone smiled faintly. "Thanks, but no thanks."

The scientist glanced away. "I see. Well, I'm sorry to have wasted your time."

"Don't get me wrong," Bones said quickly, "if you had offered a few months ago, we probably would have said yes. But now...our lives are perfect just the way they are. We talked about it and we decided that we couldn't ask for a better child than the one we already have. We're not interested in having another, biologically or otherwise."

"I see,” Jukka said again, his tone carefully controlled. "And that is your only reason?"

"For refusing? Pretty much. I'm not completely repulsed by anything you had your hand in, if that's what you mean. I'm not going to lie and say that I'm ready to forgive and forget, but...what you did has given hope to a lot of people. I can't say anything bad about that, especially if it's just the start of your attempts to right past wrongs."

Jukka looked away again as he swallowed thickly. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Just keep out of trouble."

The scientist laughed softly at that. "Believe me, I intend to. Good luck out there."

"You too...in here."

Bones lingered a moment more before getting up and heading out, feeling oddly light--and relieved. In the parking lot, he hopped over the door and into Sherry's jeep as she started the engine. Ed was practically bouncing out of his seatbelt in the back. "Now remember," Sherry warned as she pulled away from the curb, "we haven't decided anything yet."

"And even if we do," Bones added, "we aren't moving in until next summer."

"Aw, no fair--I already started packing."

"A little presumptuous there, kiddo," said Bones.

"Come on, let's move during winter break. It'll be fun."

Bones snickered and relaxed, resting his arm on top of the door as he watched the scenery go by. Ed continued to chatter about all the things they could do in the new house.

"I don't know," Sherry said warily. "It's awfully big."

"But you said it was perfect," Ed protested, pouting.

"That was before I thought about all the furniture I'll need to buy to fill it."

"Yeah, but think of all the extra room," Ed insisted. "We can have the entire team over for a change. You know, without feeling crammed."

He had a point. Neither theirs, Razor's, or Mom's place was quite big enough to comfortably hold every Midway Monster. But even with extra room, Bones had a feeling Sherry would follow Mom's example and nudge everyone out back.

"We'll decide when we get there," Sherry said firmly.

When they pulled up outside the house in question, Ed dashed out of the jeep and tore around to the backyard, yelling something about where the new jungle gym and trampoline were going to go. Smiling, Sherry laced her fingers with her husband's as they walked leisurely up the front walk together.

Bones had to admit, everything was exceptionally nice. The yard was mostly empty, waiting for bushes, shrubs, and flowers to be planted by the owner, but he could already picture where they could put those things--with Mom's expert help, of course. Young, slender plum trees whispered on either side of the walk, which was lined with round white stones.

They led to a set of wooden steps, which led up to a wide porch with a thick railing. Bones could picture an old-fashioned swing--like Mom's--on one side, maybe a few decorative stone figures near the door...

"A few flower pots on the side of the steps," Sherry noted, leaning her head on his shoulder with a contented sigh.

The air was cool and crisp, the surrounding trees just starting to turn color as autumn approached. The house was colored a creamy white, with rich brown trim. It might be new, but the house had a classic, timeless sort of feel. Exactly the place to comfortably raise a family.

"Come on, Eddie," Sherry called as they mounted the porch steps, "we're going inside."

Ed came racing back around to the front of the house, hair windswept, cheeks flushed and eyes shining. The sight made Bones remember Derikka's reaction when he and Sherry first brought him home. "He looks like something you'd find napping in a flower blossom," she noted when no one else could hear.

Between the pointed ears and perfect dusting of golden freckles, Bones couldn't argue.

While his sprightly son bounded up the steps ahead of him, Bones searched through his jacket and pants pockets. "Oops."

Ed stopped bouncing and turned around. "What?" he asked suspiciously.

"I forgot the keys."

This won him an impressive groan as Ed flopped across the porch railing. "Dad, you nincompoop."

Sherry burst out laughing. "That's a terrible thing to say," she chided.

"Says the woman in hysterics," Bones added dryly.

Ed continued to groan, and Bones continued to make a show of checking his pockets, until the creak of the front door opening interrupted. Ed stopped groaning and spun around in surprise. "What are you two doing here?"

Derikka folded her hands behind her back and gave her most innocent look, which Razor mirrored as he came to stand in the doorway with her. "Well, we told you we were going to check out a few houses for ourselves," she said slowly.

Ed looked horrified. "You said later," he cried. "And you can't check this house out, we're buying it."

He gave Bones' hand a tug, eyes imploring. "Right, Dad?"

Bones pretended to scrutinize the house as he scratched his head with his other hand. "I don't know," he said, his tone wary.

"Nobody can check this house out anyway," Razor lamented. "The real estate told us when we got here that someone else already claimed it."

Ed bugged his eyes out for a second, then narrowed them suspiciously. "They did not," he muttered, tone accusing. He tugged Bones' hand again. "They can't do that, right? I mean, they wouldn't really sell it to someone else when they knew we were coming today...right?"

Bones waited a moment before he answered. "Well," he said slowly, "someone did call the office early this morning to stake a claim on the place. It'll be a while before all the paperwork goes through, but technically, the house is off the market."

Ed stared at him for a long moment, his expression deadpan--and then a grin broke out as he lunged to hug his father around the waist. "You jerk."

Chuckling, Bones scooped him into his arms; Ed snugged his arms around his neck as he and Sherry stepped into the house. The main entryway, with off-white walls and a glossy tiled floor, was wide and open, with a staircase to the right leading up to the second floor. The stairs were wooden with a pale rose carpet runner up the center; the railing was a soft chestnut brown, with contrasting white spindles.

The entryway was devoid of furniture, but it was far from empty. Ed twisted in his father's arms as he stared in surprise. "Is this a housewarming party or something?"

"Sort of," said Mom, as she set a squirming Regina down so she could run and hug her extended family. "We'll throw another, bigger party when you officially move in."

"You know, with the whole team and oodles of food," Derikka added with a grin.

Bones set Ed down so he could scoop up his baby sister; Ed suddenly looked horrified again. "We don't really have to wait all the way until next summer to move in, do we?"

"We thought we'd compromise," said Sherry, smiling in amusement as Regina grabbed clumps of Bones' hair in either hand and stretched them out at the sides of his head. "We still don't want this to distract you too much from your studies, so we decided to move gradually on weekends after all the paperwork goes through. There's no rush."

"It won't distract me," Ed quickly promised, fairly bursting with excitement. "I'll get all my homework done before I do anything else."

"We know," said Bones, his smile loving. "You do that already."

He was quite proud to have such a studious, hard-working son.

"Come on," Ed said eagerly as he reached to grab Trina's hand. "I'll give you a tour of the place."

Bones set Regina down, and his son led both girls up the stairs. For the next few minutes the cheerful sound of lively, youthful chatter drifted down to the rest of them.

Razor chuckled. "He's a model big brother," he noted. "Even though, technically, he's...not."

Bones just smiled. Emotionally, Ed did indeed see himself as older brother to the two petite girls, even though--technically--one was his cousin and the other was his aunt. It didn't matter. He was very protective of them both and took the responsibility of setting a good example seriously.

"Come back down, kids," Mom called up a little while later. "We're having lunch on the patio."

Razor was busy checking out the empty rooms. "You're not planning to move too, are you, Emmy?"

Mom looked startled. "Me? I sure hope not. I love my little house and I don't ever plan to go anywhere else again."

"I agree," said Malone. "It'll be a nice place to retire in."

Thrasher snorted. "And since you never know when to call it quits, you'll be dead first," she declared tartly.

Razor snickered, and Malone shot him his darkest scowl. "Watch it, you'll scare the kids," Derikka teased.

"Not us," said Ed casually as he led the two girls carefully back down the stairs. "We know he's only a threat to opponents and stuff, so we're safe."

"Well, except if you were to crash his car or something," Sherry joked, "but we'll worry about that later."

To Bones' surprise, this teasing remark sent Derikka, Thrasher, and Mom into hysterics. Razor, on the other hand, looked irritated--and tomato red.

"I think I'm missing out on a doozy of a story," Bones noted, while Malone casually stepped past them all and picked up his petite three-year-old.

"We could tell you over lunch," said Derikka, as she and Thrasher leaned on each other for support while they struggled to compose themselves.

"Let's not," grumbled Razor, still blushing.

"I'll tell you later," Mom whispered as they all headed across the house to the back.

"These'll look so pretty with curtains," Sherry noted, eyeing the set of French doors that led out to the patio.

"You're having a big, manly game room somewhere though, right?" Derikka asked teasingly.

"That'll be that room there," answered Ed, pointing to the room across from the living room.

"Is Trina old enough for flashy electronics yet?" Bones wondered as they all took a seat around the large picnic table that was out on the patio--which must have been brought by Mom or Razor, since it wasn't there before.

"Only if they're educational," Derikka said firmly. "Though that doesn't mean I have to have that restriction," she added with a grin.

Bones hid a smile as Malone sat down next to him, still cuddling Regina. His coach was always so harsh, so deadly-serious at work, it always fun to see him melt and act like any other loving, doting father when his little girl was around.

A few weeks ago, Mom mentioned that a magazine had called saying they were interested in photographing her, which didn't surprise Bones. With her soft, sunshine-yellow hair and brilliant blue eyes, Regina was a remarkably pretty child. Malone had flatly said no, though, claiming that that sort of thing was out of the question until Regina was old enough to fully understand what was involved and could make up her own mind about it. Bones completely agreed with him.

"Now, before we dig in," Derikka suddenly spoke up, "we've got a little surprise."

"Another one?" asked Ed, sounding like he wasn't sure he could handle more.

Bones was pretty curious too. His mischievous little twin hadn't mentioned any other plans aside from showing up with food.

"If your daddy disapproves," Derikka went on, as Razor got up and scurried off, "we could always keep it for ourselves."

Trina started clapping, obviously in favor of this idea. Razor came back a minute or so later. "I know it's not quite a mastiff," he noted casually, "but it's still part 'bull.'"

Cupped in his hands was a sleepy-looking English bulldog puppy. Ed looked struck speechless as Razor carefully passed the yawning creature to him--but only for a second. "I can keep him, right?" he asked, eyes shining as he cradled the puppy in his arms.

"If we said no, you'd probably disown us," Sherry noted with a smirk.

"I wouldn't," Ed protested, not looking up from this new pet. "Well, not forever, anyway."

Mom chuckled, which made Regina and Trina laugh. Not because they got the joke, but because they, like all children, loved to laugh just for the sake of laughing--because they knew that laughter equaled happiness.

And as his young son continued to cuddle his new puppy while the rest of them started eating, Bones didn't think Ed could squeeze in another drop of that emotion. In fact, he was pretty sure a few of those drops squeezed out of his blue-gray eyes once or twice that afternoon, though he tried to hide them behind the puppy's head.

"I'd say the family is quite complete," Sherry noted at one point, reaching over to scratch the newest addition behind his ears.

"It's the best family," Ed agreed, sniffling.

"The best," Trina echoed happily.

"The very best," Regina put in.

"Eat your carrots," interrupted Malone, in case the two decided to continue this exchange until it grew to ridiculous proportions.

He didn't have to worry; Regina wasn't interested in talking anymore. After finishing what was on her plate, she crawled into her big brother's lap and drifted off to sleep. Bones held her quietly while soft chatter continued around him, his eyes on the local scenery. Aside from the dog park, there was also a nearby pond that allowed fishing.

Derikka noticed his wandering gaze and smiled suddenly, a bit smugly. "I forgot to mention it earlier, but we already picked out our new place, too."

"Oh? Where?"

Smirking, she pointed to his right. "Down that way, on the other side of the road."

Through the group of red bud trees swaying in the soft wind, Bones could see the outline of the large white house they passed on the way here. "Hm. So we added a few feet between us. Works for me."

He had changed his mind about having a few miles between him and his twin.

One thing he didn't see changing his mind about was the decision he and his wife had made today. Their family was complete and perfect just the way it was.

~fin~