Author's Note: Yeeeep, a new story. This time, less of a crack pairing. For the beginning, it'll be a more in-depth analysis of the story leading up to the present (and future), but I've got big ideas! Here's a a start for you.
Disclaimer: Don't own it.
It was never an easy thing. It never promised to be. The birth of their relationship was tumultuous, as births tend to be. The beginning was simple, if ill-conceived: a gruff introduction from a gruff old man.
"This is Laura, my sister. She's a genetic clone crafted from my DNA and... You know what? It doesn't matter. The bottom line is, she has my claws and, yes, she could kill you if she wanted. So, don't make her want to. Consider yourselves introduced."
Now, Laura was not a social expert by any stretch of the imagination, but before Logan had even left the room, she could tell that that was not an ideal start to her residence at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters.
His words had not been inaccurate, though. She did possess claws and, judging from the files she'd read on their powers and training, could conceivably kill each of them (except perhaps Rockslide and Mercury, though subduction by other means was possible) without much of a struggle. The bottom line, as Logan had put it, was that they were children and she was a soldier - no, a weapon, bred to kill quickly and efficiently through any means necessary.
But from her too brief time in the care of Debbie and Megan, her only living family, she had garnered that overly elucidating was often not the best venue for communication, especially when one wished to strengthen relationships. Unfortunately, Laura had been unable to put this lesson to work when she was introduced to her roommate, Sooraya Qadir, code name Dust. Sooraya was a quiet and polite girl with deadly ability, so naturally, Laura discovered the slightest hint of symmetry between the two of them. Sadly, their initial conversation's topic happened to regard Laura's knowledge of Afghanistan... and that she had performed assassinations there before. The dialogue halted immediately, as though impeded by a barricade of pure awkwardness. Mentally, Laura kicked herself for yet again failing to successfully generate a personal relationship.
To Laura, though, that slip of the tongue's repercussions were minute compared to that of Logan's. As he'd left, Laura's eyes wandered to the boy in front of her; he was tall, muscular, and... something about his facial features, some uncanny characteristic, elicited an unknown emotion within her. Her brain could not properly identify this new reaction. It did not fit the definition of anything she'd studied in her countless hours at the Facility. And his scent... she breathed deep to slake her olfactory center's thirst for it. It wasn't just any male scent. It was... Laura had few words to describe scent, as the average human nose was not powerful enough to distinguish its properties and thus attach words to them. But to Laura it was... radiant and sharp. She wished to investigate further, but her impulse control would not let her, leaving her instead content to gaze upon his visage further.
Stymied as she was, the argument he was having with the blue-haired girl Laura would later know as Noriko Ashida, or Surge, only registered peripherally with Laura; the rules of decorum so thoroughly ingrained in her mind were not triggered. Thus, it came as a startle when he barked at her, "What are you looking at, clone?!"
There it was. "Clone." The word served to remind her that she was not human, not even mutant, no matter what her biology said. She was not a girl; she was a thing. She was a weapon, and weapons were not allowed feelings. Logan had brought her to this school so that she could discover her supposed humanity. The mission was not progressing promisingly.
Later, she picked up his scent, the scent of her roommate, and many others in tunnels underground. Her mind concluded they must have been congregating for a reason. Suddenly, her clothes disappeared, replaced by scentless cloth and blood... which meant she was in the Danger Room, or a variation thereof.
The metallic girl, Cessily Kincaid, code name Mercury, had asked if she would like to "play," but as this was another concept that did not click in her rigid mind, she remained silent.
Suddenly, he approached her. He drew closer and closer, allowing her enhanced eyes to scan his every feature as he walked. A smile of confidence blossomed on his face. His scent was getting more powerful... what was happening to her? Her body wanted to... do something with him, though she could not fathom what. It was as though the hardware were trying to run program that didn't exist. He stopped and muttered but two words; his tone was much softer, and his voice... for a reason she couldn't hope to identify, her mind went to velvet and honey just at its sound.
The rush of sensory input was astounding. Three out of her five enhanced senses were paralyzed by this boy in front of her. Her mind searched for a function it knew how to perform in this sort of situation, and a sound rang out to clear her senses: snikt. The scent of her own blood thawed out her conscious brain and she fled, not wishing to be paralyzed by his proximity. Again, he snapped at her, "Didn't they clone you with a sense of humor?"
Clone. Just a clone. Not human. Not mutant. A clone. A weapon.
The scenario shifted, and Laura was hit with a flash of instinct: He is in danger. Assist him. Finally, software she could run. She leapt into action, killing the simulated demon. His voice became indignant. "Back off, claws-"
Not clone, this time. Claws. Still weaponry.
"I don't need anyone to rescue me." His words were incongruous with reality. Without hesitation, she leapt at the next attacker behind him. Her claws shredded the enemy, and yet... he didn't seem to care. The indignation still resonated clearly in his voice, this time aimed at Surge.
The simulation faded. She was returned to her normal attire, as the rest were. Like a magnet, her emerald eyes shifted to watch him. The large, stone man, code name Rockslide, whispered to his team, not knowing she could hear every word, "The weird girl's looking at us again."
A ridiculous notion. Her view contained but one subject... and he was shooing her away like a stray cat. Without a word, she left, liberating her senses at last.
The next few days passed rather dully... and depressingly for Laura. She spent a great deal of time in her room, observing her roommate Sooraya, and an equal amount of time studying her fellow "students." She felt that knowing their strengths and weaknesses could aid her in missions, but as the Facility had taught her... any ally can become an enemy in an instant. So she studied the files, paying little attention to the boy she'd rescued in the Danger Cave.
However, the day arrived that Emma Frost, the White Queen, decided that the remaining students would engage in a battle royale to determine the members of a new X-Men squad. Though these students had been taught by veteran X-Men, the difference was as she'd hypothesized days ago: they were children and she was a soldier. Fortunately, she did not even need to use her claws to defeat them. In fact, the whole thing was routine for her, not even a struggle... until she found herself paralyzed. Emma Frost's condescending tone cackled in her mind and she knew she was being sabotaged. One part of her mind went into panic, realizing that she would be vulnerable to any attack from any direction; a situation she had rarely encountered. The inevitable attack arrived: the mutant known as Onyx charged her. She closed her eyes, waiting to be struck down...
... But then that scent tickled her nose.
A green flood of energy hoisted her into the air and she came face to face with her savior. His face was indignant for... some unknown reason.
"Nobody saves me! Got it?" he said scoldingly.
She was confused. His words were easily disprovable. Despite this, she merely replied, "Okay," and could not help but notice Emma Frost's disapproving glance. The incident stayed in her mind, replaying sub-constantly for the next few hours until the devastating attack on the former students from the Purifiers. Already Laura had been ostracized from the others; this only served to further the divide.
After the funeral, while Sooraya sat outside in prayer, Logan visited Laura in her room. Though he knew that she could detect his scent well before he would arrive at the doorway, he knocked anyway. "Hey, kid? Laura? C'n I come in?"
Gently, Logan twisted the knob and plopped himself on the bed opposite Laura's. "Hey," he said again.
"Hello," she replied simply.
"How're you doin' with... everything that's been goin' on?" From his tone, Laura guessed he was not requesting a report.
"I am..." she paused, gathering her thoughts. "Not well," she finished.
"You brought me to this school because you said that I would benefit from the company of others here. Since my arrival here, I do not believe this is true."
"I have not made any friends. Most if not all of the other students do not consider me to be anything more than artificial." She omitted her hypothesis that Logan's introduction had prohibited her from gaining any friends.
"Give it time," said Logan. "When I first came here, people didn't like me much neither. Hell, a lot of 'em still don't like me, but they sure as hell'd do a lot more for me these days."
"How much time is necessary?" Laura's only experience with a friend had been Megan, but that relationship had bloomed much more quickly. Her data was inconsistent.
Logan sighed. "Look. Everyone's been through a lot, recently. These kids... they just saw forty five innocent people killed by some psychopaths. Now, t'you 'n' me, that's just your average tuesday... but these kids aren't like us. They're all weakened by this. If you wanna be their friend... you gotta respect their time of mournin', but help 'em out as best you can. Your kinda training's gonna come in handy, here. Do whatever y'can to show them how great a person you are."
"I am not a great person."
"Sure you are. You're kind, generous, and loyal to the point where you'd die for those you care about, right? Plus, y'don't stink of cigars 'n' booze all the time like me, right?" he added with a grin. "It'll all be fine, I promise. Now lemme see a smile, huh?" The corners of her mouth shifted upwards ever so slightly. "Thatta girl. So... anythin' else you got on your mind?"
Julian Keller. "No," she answered quietly.
He nodded. "Okay. C'mere," he said, extending his arms to her. She reciprocated somewhat stiffly, though the hug did allow her to catch more of his scent, which was always comforting. Pleasing scents always calmed her frame of mind. He rose from the bed. "Be well, kid," he said before exiting just as Sooraya entered with tears down her olive-skinned cheeks.
Sooraya sniffled as she wiped the tears away. "H-hello, Laura..." she said quietly.
"Hello," Laura answered automatically.
More tears spilled down her cheeks. "I apologize... It is just that... I lost many of my friends in that attack, and I- I have never witnessed hatred and pain on such a scale, and... I could not save any of them..."
Laura had no adequate response to the situation except, "If you wish, I can leave you to be alone."
"No!" Sooraya blurted, surprising the both of them. "That is... I think I would prefer it if you stayed here with me, Laura."
Laura's eyes widened slightly. "Okay," she replied. Perhaps Logan had been right...
Then, as if M-Day and the murder of the children weren't enough, William Stryker and his full battalion of Purifiers assaulted the mansion. Only through some trickery was Laura able to outwit them and only through her perfect training was she able to rescue Surge just in the nick of time from a bullet to the skull. Laura saw no need to push herself too much - she had killed twenty-seven highly trained soldiers equipped with extremely advanced weapons to take her down. Untrained fanatics were no match for her.
After Elixir killed Stryker and the mansion calmed down as much as it could, the New X-Men gathered inside the recroom. Cessily and Sooraya wrapped their arms around Laura, much to the latter's surprise, and thanked her for rescuing them all. Surge, doing her best to act like the leader of the team, put her hand on Laura's shoulder and congratulated her on a job well done. Even Hellion had said that what she'd done was "pretty cool."
She was confused. She had merely been following standard procedure for team-based missions, and they were thanking her for it? She had only ever been thanked for her actions by Megan and Debbie. A small fire of hope lit that night in Laura's heart; the wheels of fate had finally begun turning. But where would they lead her?
As the next couple of days passed, Laura found the school's environment much more inviting. As she walked the halls, people actually greeted her instead of turning away fearfully. They did not engage her in conversation, but she at least had some recognition.
Of course, not everyone was exactly warm and inviting.
"Hey, hey!" said Santo as he and Cessily walked through the halls. "What's X-23's favorite amusement park?"
Cessily approximated rolling her pupil-less eyes. "I dunno, Santo. What?" she asked flatly.
"Cloney Island! Bahahahaha!" His laughter at his own joke caused his rocks to grind upon one another gratingly.
Cessily put her palm to her forehead. Santo had been thinking up jokes to ridicule Laura for the past couple of hours, and though his wit only permitted that he come up with ten or so, Cessily was starting to grow tired of it. She swiveled around, her fluid body making a whipcrack as she extended an elongated arm towards Santo. "Look," she said sternly, bringing a claw-like finger to where his nose would be if he had a normal body, "You need to stop making fun of Laura - yes, Laura, not X-23 - okay? She's a good person. When the... attack... happened, you know what she did? Without even the slightest hesitation, she leapt into the fire to try and find survivors - and she'd only known them all for about three days? What were you doing, huh, Santo? Staring stupidly like the big, dumb idiot you are?"
Santo was stunned into silence. Her words had cut deep. "Okay... sorry, Cess. Geez, I didn't realize you cared about her that much. I'll back off."
"Good," she replied, satisfied, and turned to walk away.
"You and her, you aren't, uh, lesbians, are you?"
"No!" she snapped.
"Alright, alright! Just checking." Cessily detected a hint of disappointment in his rumbling voice.
Later, Ms. Marvel of the Avengers arrived at the mansion seeking to talk with Emma Frost and Cyclops about what she thought was a private matter. She almost immediately alerted Laura's senses to her presence with her high concentration of perfume. In small doses, Laura enjoyed perfume; it was quite the pleasing stimulus and it tickled her enhanced nostrils quite pleasantly. However, too much of the fragrance, as Ms. Marvel had worn it, turned that tickle into an awful stinging. Despite this, Laura was able to detect the other scent that Ms. Marvel carried: Icarus, Jay Guthrie, the boy who had accidentally betrayed Sooraya to the Purifiers. Laura reflected upon the advice Logan had given her before: Help 'em out as best you can. "She was with him," she announced to her teammates. "She smells of Icarus."
From there, the New X-Men were able to figure out that the Sentinel from the future Nimrod had been the driving force behind the Purifier attacks and was now attacking Forge. Surge became eager to destroy it once and for all. And so, a plan was hatched; distract the Sentinels guarding the X-Mansion, steal a jet, and rescue Forge from Nimrod.
As they boarded the jet, Laura noted, trying to sound helpful, "I brought guns."
"Wonderful," came David Alleyne's reply in a dry tone. Laura was a bit confused; the X-Men seemed opposed to using guns, despite their inherent usefulness in completing difficult missions.
Their escape from the mansion had been successful. However, Surge had grown worried about the plane's flight. "David? Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine, Nori," he replied calmly.
Laura, however, found a logical incongruity. "No, it is not," she attempted to correct him.
"Yes, it is."
"I've been watching you. You do not know how to fly this plane."
"Well, I know how to use the autopilot."
"Are you sure we're okay? What's with the beeping?!" Surge asked, panicking.
"That is not flying." Laura's attempts to reason seemed not to have any notable success.
It therefore came as no surprise that their plane was shot down. They managed to escape unscathed only thanks to Hellion's telekinetic shield.
Inside Eagle Plaza, they discovered Nimrod's robotic attack force and in their haste accidentally caused Nimrod to re-emerge from Forge's design.
Laura had battled countless robotic drones during her training at the Facility, but none even compared to Nimrod's power. Her only tactical recourse was to damage it so that its energy would be spent in repair.
Nimrod, however, managed to calculate a response to that effort by blasting Laura with a high-energy discharge weapon. She was unable to dodge; her skin ripped away, leaving her immobile on the ground... yet her healing factor was not activating. Why wasn't she healing?
The pain was immeasurable. With no outer layer of skin to protect her, every piece of debris on the floor was like a spike driving into her flesh. What had Nimrod done? She could barely breathe and her eyes were beginning to dry from her missing eyelids. No one seemed to notice; how could they? They were focused on Nimrod and, of course, assumed she would heal. Her vision blurred. Tears sprang from her eyes to compensate for the lack of moisture, yet even the slight amount of sodium in her tears felt like acid thrown on her face. She needed to start healing soon...
... or she would die...
Gently, Sooraya lifted Laura onto her lap, not realizing that Laura was unable to communicate the pain she was in.
"Hk... hk..." she wheezed pathetically.
Julian gazed into her large, green eyes, still so vibrant amidst the damage to her body. Panic erupted in his heart. "We have to get her to the institute! We have to get her to Josh!" he declared, lifting her with his telekinesis. The green energy around her alleviated a fraction of the pain.
"Julian..." Surge said quietly, "She's not healing. She's not going to-"
"We have to help her!" he persisted angriy.
"The Blackbird... it's wrecked," said David. "There's no way to get her home... not in time."
"Then I'll get her there," Julian answered, presenting bravado in lieu of worry. Carefully, he lifted Laura's body and began to carry her away. Fighting through the pain, Laura approximated the time that would elapse for them to reach the institute at Hellion's maximum velocity. The answer told her only one thing...
... She was going to die in his arms...
As always, Julian rebelled against logic and continued to fly towards New York. "You hang in there, do you hear me?!" he roared. His heartbeat was accelerating. "You're not leaving me, too! Stay with me, Laura!"
He is trying to save my life... she concluded. "Achk..." she choked.
"Miss Frost?!" Julian called to the air, "Please, help me! Laura's dying! I can't fly fast enough... Don't tell me that! Please, I'm begging you... you have to do something! Miss Frost, please! I don't want to bury any more of my friends!"
Suddenly, green energy erupted from Julian's body and he began tearing through the sky at an immensely increased velocity. Laura's heart quickened; at this speed... could he...? Her mind was too flooded with pain to deduce the answer. Perhaps he hadn't sped up at all; perhaps her consciousness was just rushing towards death.
Julian pushed forward, moving the very air itself to grant them passage. Almost unconsciously, he held her closer to him, allowing her nose to come into contact with his neck. She took a small sniff, the best she could muster.
Pleasing scents always calmed her...
Her heart rate was slowing. Her brain was shutting down. Panic had left her mind, perhaps due to her impending death, or perhaps simply because she could smell him.
A blur of images ran across her eyes: they were flying through the halls of the mansion. Distantly, she heard Julian cry, "Elixir! Elixir! Get up! She's dying, Foley! You have to save her! Come on!" Julian poured all his energy into dismantling Josh's medical equipment. She's not going to die, he promised himself. She's going to live. Everything is going to be okay. It has to. It has to! His sanity slowly dwindling as it hinged on whether or not the girl in front of lived or die, he implored Elixir, "Heal her, dammit! I know you killed Stryker... but you're not a murderer, you're a healer!"
"Can't..." Josh groaned weakly.
The hell with that! I am not going to let her die! "Just because you couldn't save the others, just because you couldn't save Laurie, doesn't mean you can't save her... come on, Foley... Save her!" he barked as his mind reached the end of its rope.
"Htt!"Laura exclaimed as the brilliant golden light enveloped her from Josh's fingertips. His jet-black skin reverted to its shining gold sheen. Julian watched in awe and hope against hope as Laura's flesh regrew itself.
"Laura?" they inquired simultaneously. The next moment seemed to pass for an eternity. The suspense was killing them. "Laura?"
Finally, her brow furrowed, and slowly but surely, her vibrant green eyes opened to the sight of the infirmary and two boys in front of her wearing ecstatic grins. "Are... are you okay?" Julian asked softly.
"Hi," she replied pleasantly.
"Hi," repeated Josh with a chuckle.
Julian breathed a sigh of relief. The adrenaline wore off, and he began to fall. But that didn't matter... she was safe. She was okay. "I-I knew you could save her..." he muttered as he fell, "I knew-" He collapsed, content with the events of the night.
"Don't you freaking move!" yelled a storm of O*N*E guards.
"Okay," said Laura. There was no need to struggle. Her mind lingered on Julian. Why had he been so eager to save her life? None of her other teammates had acted with such urgency, not even Cessily or Sooraya. She had been relatively certain Julian despised her... so why?
This definitely necessitated further investigation.
"Hey, Laura!" Logan called down the halls of the institute.
She stopped. "Yes?"
"How are ya?" he asked.
"No, I mean, since the whole Nimrod thing. I heard you got messed up pretty bad... you okay now?"
"Yes. Hellion brought me to Elixir, who healed me to maximum capacity."
Logan nodded. "Good. Just checkin' in." He grinned. "Still, Nimrod. Even we never beat that thing. That's impressive, kid."
"Thank you," she replied, and continued walking.
"Where're you goin' now?"
She paused. "I am investigating something."
Outside Julian's room, Laura closed her eyes and allowed her ears to perceive the sounds of his room. Slow breathing and heart rate. Minor amounts of sweat. He was still sleeping. Silently, she entered and immediately her olfactory centers were flooded with information. The room was, of course, absolutely covered in his scent. It had been a pleasing scent before, but now... now, the reaction was like nothing she'd ever encountered. She opened her mouth to take in more of the scent still. It was making her delirious. "Ahh..." she breathed, relaxed.
She studied the room; nothing peculiar about it. Clothes were strewn throughout the room in a disorganized manner. They served as hotspots for the overwhelming aroma. Her hand, acting semi-involuntarily, reached down and plucked a shirt from the floor. The cloth was soft against her palm. Acting on instinct, she brought it to her nose and inhaled deeply. The rush was unbelievable; her eyes fluttered from the sheer pleasure of his concentrated aroma. "Ahh..." she sighed once more.
For a moment, she stared at the at the shirt before deciding to place the shirt in her pocket. Her eyes returned to investigating the room, this time looking for a proper avenue of escape should the situation become too dangerous.
The chair. Easy access to the window.
She bounded to the chair in one silent leap and crouched in a somewhat feral position. Her stare returned to the sleeping boy. He was shirtless, she realized happily.
Why should that please her? Confusion set in. Despite the lack of logical progression, she found herself unable to break her gaze, though she retained her usual scowl. Her breath, she realized as she watched his muscular chest rise and all, was quickening and her body temperature had risen by one fifth of a degree. Slowly, she fell into a trance... how many hours had passed since she had infiltrated the room? She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything...
This behavior is unusual. I do not understand.
Suddenly, Julian shifted. "Nnn... uh... Sofia..." he groaned in his sleep.
Laura's mind searched for data regarding the name. Sofia Mantega. Wind Dancer. Depowered. Formerly romantically involved with... Julian Keller. Hellion. Laura's nose wrinkled. Why was this making her angry? There was nothing aggressive or demeaning about her name. But for some unfathomable reason, she found herself growing enraged as the pain in her heart grew. She could bear it no longer.
Julian stirred, his eyes opened. "Huh?" he mumbled, gazing around his room. Nothing there, but the faint scent of... flowers? Weird. Without another thought, he allowed himself to drift back into the dream he'd been having...
"Sofia..." he muttered.
"Yes, Julian?" dream-Sofia asked.
"I... have something I need to tell you."
"What is it?"
"... I don't want to be with you anymore," he forced himself to say. Sofia looked upon him sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, Sofia, I-"
"Why?" she asked shakily. "Was it... something I did?"
"Is it because I am not a mutant anymore?"
"No!" he said hurriedly.
"Then... there must be someone else," she concluded. Julian did not respond. "So I see I am right."
He gulped. "Yeah. Yeah, there's someone else I'm interested in."
"May I ask who it is?" she said curtly.
"Sure. It's you." Sofia's form had shifted; in her place was a shorter girl whose features were mainly blurred, except for pale skin, raven hair, and bright green eyes.
Julian awoke, and though it felt as if only a minute had passed, over thirty-five hours had passed. "What was I dreaming about...?" he mumbled, scratching his head. "Sofia...?" Already the dream was fading from his memory. Soon, however, other needs took priority: Julian learned then that thirty-five hour naps were murder on the bladder.
Laura returned to her room to lie on her bed and think. The scent was still following her, somehow.
Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved the article of clothing. The fabric was soft in her palm.
I should dispose of it. It is a distraction. It is...
An urge overtook her; she buried her face in the shirt and inhaled deeply until she ran out of room in her lungs. The same rush, perhaps even stronger, coursed through her mind. Her limbs quivered with excitement as she rubbed the shirt on her neck. Her lips turned upwards in an inebriated smile. For once in her life, her mind did not run through combat procedures or tactical strategies. Instead, it resonated with just the name of the scent on the shirt.
Julian. Julian. Julian.
So... that's it! Review all you like, and I'll be glad to continue!