A/N: Apologies if the German in this chapter is wrong, I am not fluent in the language and used Google translator :o)


-8-


After calling the police from a phone booth (while using a voice distorter), Julian orders everyone to regroup at a location he provides mentally. They get in the Humvee and pick up Weapon and Omega on a street corner three blocks away. The latter is huffing to catch his breath, while communicating something to Julian mentally.

"We can try again tomorrow, when he's less freaked out," Julian says.

"God, I hate this shit," Weapon says. "And I was right, she did less than nothing."

"Guys, lay off. She'll end up saving our lives someday, trust me."

"Not like my life is ever in danger," the other mutant responds.

They head back to the school.

"Unavoidable," Professor Xavier agrees. "Try again tomorrow. Poor Mr. Wagner has simply had an overwhelming night. He's quite a pleasant young fellow when he's not being held at gunpoint for three days, and blindfolded. He needs to see where he's teleporting to."

"Makes sense," Julian says. "Good work, Gem and team."

'Gem' beams; Surge and her group looks tired and worn, having failed their objective.

"That all, Professor?" Julian asks.

"That will be it for tonight, Julian. Thank you all, as always."

"Alright." He looks at Laura. "Let's go grab our stuff. I'll show you were we hose down and change…then we'll go over the different rooms around here."

Laura follows him down a long hallway. They are tailed by the rest of the group, who are talking amongst themselves; Julian darts into the outfitting room and returns with their regular clothes, then leads her to a set of locker rooms: one for women, the other for men.

"See you in a bit," Julian says to her.

"And last but not least…this room is Cerebro," Julian says, as the doors slide open to reveal an enormous, round room tiled with what looks like LCD panels. A metal catwalk leads out to a control chair, and before that is a large panel. Above it rests a metal helmet with many wires ascending into the darkness above. "This is how the Professor can find mutants. It magnifies his telepathy by about a million times, allowing him to reach mutants that are hundreds of miles away—even thousands. It's based on nano-psionic technology. Thinking computers." He pauses. "Cerebro is basically ten million microscopic brains obeying whatever Professor Xavier tells them to do."

Laura stops in her tracks and blinks.

"This must have been very expensive," she says quietly.

"I'd imagine." Julian grins. "So, what do you think?"

Laura pauses. "Impressive." She tilts her head. "Can you use this machine?"

"No." Julian shakes his head. "Like Quentin said, I'm pretty weak. All I can do is project."

"Oh." Laura wonders briefly what else he can do; then she thinks of Kenny.

"I need to—"

"Yeah, let's go." Julian heads for the door, followed closely by Laura.

It is ten o' clock when Laura reclaims her daughter.

"She's been sleeping peacefully this whole time," Shan says with a smile, seeing the girl's mother rush to her crib with a worried expression. "How'd it go?"

"Didn't get our guy," Julian says. "But there's always tomorrow."

"That's the spirit." Shan nods at the woman reaching into the crib. "Take care of them."

"I will." Julian also watches Laura as she picks the sleeping infant up, carefully supporting her head and her bottom.

They leave the daycare center, and head towards their room.

Laura suddenly stiffens. She is lying on her side—facing away from the other person in the bed—and has just felt his hand move to her thigh. She feels a kind of disbelief. He's not asleep; she can tell from his breathing, and the rhythmic movement of his fingers as he strokes her bare skin. She feels the tips glide up, to her side, to the edge of her top.

She hesitates. Can she do this? Many times before she had done the deed without an emotional connection. This time, though, she has one—whether she likes it or not—and he doesn't. He might even think of the other woman.

This thought is unpleasant. She feels his hand slipping up under her sleeping t-shirt, and onto her breast. Laura breathes a little deeper, and decides that she can.

"Laura?" he asks in a whisper.

She rolls her head over to look at him, and sees his face in the dark. His eyes are half lidded and he seems unsure.

"I—" he hesitates, then scoots over slightly, pressing himself against her side and wrapping his arm around her. He tilts his head a bit, and their lips meet in the dark. Laura closes her eyes, almost trembling; she realizes that she's been wanting this very badly, for a while now.

A few moments later, he sits up and begins to work her t-shirt off. She complies, raising her arms and head. Her fingers then find the hem of his shirt and pull it off; her eyes drink in the sight she reveals. He looks the same as the night they'd first met.

After sliding off their lower garments, he pins her against the pillow and kisses her more deeply as he moves. She runs her fingers over his chest and stomach, his shoulders and back, trying to memorize the feeling in case this is a one-time deal.

"Mmph!" He makes a sound into her mouth, eventually, and she feels his stomach tensing against hers. She closes her eyes and breathes through her nose, enjoying the closeness when he relaxes against her. Soon, though, he draws away; Laura is prepared for him to curl away from her on the bed like before. Instead he grins at her in the dark, his hands stroking down her stomach and legs as he sits up and scoots downwards.

"Your turn," he whispers.

This morning, Laura wakes up to breathing in her ear, and another body pressing against her behind, his arms wrapped under her breasts and around her stomach. A bare body. She remembers the events of last night and smiles slightly, to herself.

"Mmrph?" Julian suddenly raises his head. They look at each other in the sunlight. Neither knows what to say; Laura is filled with dread now. It had been pleasant last night, but she is used to this. Used to clients regretting things in the morning.

It's not her that he wants. She is certain of this.

"Last night was…" Julian starts to say, his expressive eyes full of uncertainty, and his forehead wrinkled. She closes her eyes, not certain how she should react. Not with anger—although that, along with desperation and frustration overwhelm her—he won't react well. He might not want her, but if she does not overreact, maybe he will continue.

To use her.

"Mum?" from the crib.

Laura draws away, pushing the covers down, and picking up her discarded nightshirt from the floor, along with her underwear. She pulls them on quickly and moves towards Kenny, with a real, genuine smile, feeling as though she's stepped out of a smothering shell. "Morning," she says to the girl, lifting her out of the crib and hugging her tightly.

Julian watches silently. He knows he's not needed for these moments, but he's starting to feel more involved with them. Instead of guilt, he feels a warm glow. He remembers Laura's words, how grateful she is to have Kenny, and he feels somewhat happy that he was a part of that.

"Let's get something to eat," Laura murmurs to the girl, heading towards the mini fridge and opening it. "Let's see…apple, banana, carrots, or sweet potatoes?" She bounces Kenny, who thinks for a moment and then points at a jar, with a big smile.

"Apple it is," Laura says, reaching in and grabbing the jar. "I don't know where you get such a taste for sweet foods."

"Probably from me," Julian calls from the bed.

Laura pauses, and looks over. She hadn't thought he paid attention when she took care of Kenny. He hasn't put anything on yet; the covers are pooled around his waist, and she runs her eyes over his torso unwillingly, spurred by curiosity.

Her fingertips tingle slightly, from last night. She pales slightly, then flushes, and looks down. "I need to feed her," she says, even though he hasn't questioned her next actions.

"Anything I can do?" he asks.

Laura pauses. He's usually absent in the morning, leaving her to take care of the little girl, and prepare her for the day.

"Do you want to feed her?" she asks.

"Sure." Julian reaches out for his clothes on the floor, and they glow, flying to his fingers. Laura is still not used to this and stares.

"I never have trouble when girls stare at me, but you just might make me self-conscious," he says, grinning.

"I'm sorry." Laura looks back at Kenny. "Your…abilities…are interesting."

"Yeah, they're pretty cool." She hears the sounds of cloth rustling as he gets dressed again, then the mattress springs moving as he gets up. "Hey, that gives me an idea."

Kenny soon discovers the air plane method of feeding, in a different way than most babies do. She squeals in delight and claps her hands, as Julian sits on a chair opposite her baby-seat and floats the spoon to her.

Laura leans against the wall with folded arms.

"Looks like she likes me feeding her, huh?" Julian asks, grinning himself.

She wrinkles her nose. "That's easy…apple is her favorite. You couldn't do that with, say, peas. She hates that flavor."

"Got any?" Julian asks, raising his eyebrow in challenge. "I'll bet you five bucks."

Five minutes later, Laura is signing an IOU note with a disgruntled expression, and Julian looks pleased. "That's the last spoonful," he says.

"I am aware." Laura tears the piece of paper out of her notebook and thrusts it at him.

"Thanks." Julian grins smugly at her. "We should get going, take a shower and get down to the mission room. We've got to talk to that guy we were tracking last night."

"Okay." Laura picks Kenny out of her seat, and heads towards the changing station, as Julian stands up and heads towards the bathroom.

"So, what do you think of the volunteer work so far?" Julian asks, as they carry their uniforms to the changing booths.

Laura thinks. "It is…different."

"Feels good though, huh?"

She considers. "Maybe. I don't know yet."

"It will." Julian steps into a booth, and she hears the curtain rip shut. She does the same in the adjoining stall.

"It's also pretty awesome to get to use my powers like that—out in the open—and not have to hide them." Zipp, as he unfastens his pants.

Laura tries not to picture what he is doing. She removes her clothing, then pulls on her suit and zips it up to her chin. It's hard for her to remember—upon feeling the leather encase her body— that she is not about to do things that will haunt her for the rest of her unnaturally long life.

Zippp! as Julian pulls up the zipper of his uniform.

"Hey, Laura?" he asks suddenly. His voice has a slight waver to it.

"What?"

"We should talk about last night."

Laura closes her eyes. Here it comes.

"I shouldn't have jumped you like that. I'm sorry. I, uh, get a little worked up when I use my powers a lot." He pauses, leans his head against the partition. "I know that sounds lame. I hope things are okay between us."

Laura bites her lip, on the other side of the partition. Actually hearing the words are worse than imagining them, no matter how horrible she'd made it sound in her mind.

"Are we okay?" Julian asks, after a moment of silence on her part. He sounds worried. "I mean—we were doing pretty good, and Kenny seems happy and everything—I was a little scared that maybe I screwed it all up. I mean, it was kind of asshole-ish of me to just switch gears like that on you."

"No," Laura forces the word out of her. "Everything is…fine."

She hears him pick up his clothing.

"You sure?" He is outside of the booth now, waiting for her to exit. She picks up her garments slowly, gritting her teeth. There is a sharp pain in her temple, from distress.

Laura takes a deep breath, then pushes the curtain aside, and nods. "Yes."

"Okay." Julian smiles at her, then leans forwards and kisses her forehead. Like she is a child. "I'm glad. We've got a good thing going, and I don't want it to get complicated with misunderstandings."

Laura forces herself to smile back. She feels an intense hatred for Sofia again—for whom he saves his real kisses—but says nothing.

This time, the squad is sent to a pub in which Kurt Wagner is supposed to be hiding. They enter the establishment, Julian mentally explaining that Omega is providing psionic cloaking so that only their target can see them.

I think Laura should approach him first, Julian adds. I know if I was scared and running, I'd feel less nervous about having a beautiful girl talk to me.

Laura inclines her head slightly, accepts the business card he hands her. She's never heard him describe her in that way. He nods for her to proceed; she moves towards the stranger sitting at the bar. He is wearing a long, outback coat and a hat; she can see something flicking back and forth beneath the tail of his coat.

She thinks back to her days of prostitution, when she'd sometimes been made to troll through the bars, looking for clients.

"Is this seat taken?" she asks the figure.

He doesn't answer.

"I'll assume that means yes." Laura climbs onto the bar stool. "You look pretty lonely."

"I not look for…utters…meine Freundin." His voice is slightly muffled.

Laura pauses for a moment.

"Sie befinden sich Kurt Vagner, ja?" she asks. You are Kurt Wagner, yes?

The figure seems to start. He turns his face to her. Under the brim of the hat and the turned-up collar of the coat—and the scarf wrapped around his face several times—she can see burning yellow eyes, against a blue strip of fur-covered skin.

"Sie sprechen?" You speak?

"Ja, ein wenig." Yes, a little. Laura leans her head on her hand. "Genug um durchzukommen. So sind Sie?" Enough to get by. So, are you?

The figure hesitates. "Ich fürchte ja." I'm afraid so.

"Sie brauchen keine Angst zu haben." You don't need to be afraid. Laura pauses. "Wir bieten Freundschaft. Es gibt eine Schule ... wo es sicher anders sein wird." We offer friendship. There is a school...where it is safe to be different.

She holds out the card Julian has given her.

"Ich war einmal in den Schuhen. Ein schlechter Platz. Aber ... die Schule ist eine weitere Alternative. Hier." I was once in your shoes. A bad place. But...the school is another alternative. Here.

The figure reaches out for the card uncertainly, and Laura pauses for a moment. His hand consists of two large fingers, and a thumb.

"Was ist das? " What is this? The figure studies the card.

"Dies ist die Anzahl zu nennen, gebührenfrei. Rufen Sie zu sammeln. Wenn Sie sich entscheiden ... wenn du zu viel Angst jetzt sind." This is the number to call, toll free. Call collect. When you decide...if you are too frightened now. Laura gives him an encouraging smile, then looks back at her 'teammates'. "Das sind meine Freunde. Sie wollen Ihre Freunde auch." These are my friends. They want to be your friends, too.

Kurt turns the card over in his fingers, then puts it into his breast pocket. "Ich muss es mir überlegen. Ich bin misstrauisch ... jetzt." I will need to think it over. I am...mistrustful right now.

Nehmen Sie die ganze Zeit die Sie benötigen. Es gibt keine Eile." Take all the time you need. There is no rush. Laura pauses. "Es war angenehm ... ... im Gespräch mit Ihnen." It was...pleasant...speaking with you.

The figure hesitates. "Du auch. Ich fand es tröstlich zu können, mich auszudrücken." You as well. I found it comforting to be able to express myself.

Laura smiles. "Auf Wiedersehen." Goodbye.

"Auf Wiedersehen."

She slips off of the stool and returns to the three other volunteers, seeing the surprised look on Julian's face. "You speak—what was that?"

"German," Laura says. "He wishes for time to think over his decision."

"Of course."

They head for the exit, when the figure calls out.

"Warten Sie!" Wait!