It doesn’t surprise Rictor at all that the first thing the Canadian authorities do after they cross the border and they assess the situation is sending them all to a facility and provide all of them with a psychologist.
Admittedly, he hadn’t felt too at ease with the prospect of living in another facility, but it turns out it wasn’t anything like the Terrigen hospital in Mexico City. This mansion is filled with more kids like them – turns out that Mexico City wasn’t the only place in the world where people tried to create mutants, the fuckers, and so there have been more of them rescued from the US and a few other places.
It does look a bit like the X-Men mansion in their old comics. Rictor doesn’t know if they did it on purpose after realizing that most of them lab-created mutants had somehow read the comics or if it was some kinda coincidence, but however the story is, it’s no contest with what came before it.
Each of them has a room for themselves, for one. There’s math and English and history classes for whoever wants to take some. There’s a training gym for whoever wants to actually use their powers and keep themselves in shape.
And then there are the psychologists.
Most of the others balk at the prospect of talking to one and Rictor can’t blame them – they had their share of so-called psychologists in Mexico City who of course always said they were ready to proceed in the next step of the program when they weren’t trying to harness their anger into things Rictor really would fucking like to forget.
But he goes to his first appointment, because someone in their group ought to, they still see him as somehow in charge and Laura hasn’t spoken a word since they buried her father and someone ought to help her, and Rictor’s not sure he even would know how to start.
The man introduces himself as Doc Samson and he’s nothing like his former psychologists. For one, he offers Rictor a glass of water and a few chocolates, telling him to help himself if he’s hungry or thirsty, and when Rictor asks him what they should talk about, the man merely shrugs.
“Well,” he says, “we should talk about a lot of things, but let’s just start easy. How are you feeling?”
“… About what?”
“About anything, really.”
Rictor thinks about it. Then shrugs. “Is it bad if I say I’m relieved?”
“Relieved of what?”
He drinks some water. “That I’m not in charge of anyone anymore, that I don’t have to try and find ways to avoid killing people when I’m told to and that I don’t have to share a room with anyone else.”
“How old are you?”
He shrugs. He remembers his first few birthdays.
(He was the only survivor of the first generation. They still had birthdays. It was before the doctors found out and stopped the practice altogether.)
“Sixteen. I mean, seventeen in a few months, but. Yeah. Sixteen.”
“Honestly? No one should have dealt with that at sixteen. I also would be relieved and enjoy not having to share a room with anyone. More water?”
Rictor accepts it and decides that he doesn’t mind therapy this much, if that’s the entire point of it. Except –
“Listen, what’s the point of this? I mean, is it to see how fucked up we are and if we can be useful for others, or –”
“This is a help facility. And you’re kids. There are some programs for the ones who want to, well, use their abilities to make the world a better place, but honestly, until you’re eighteen, the only thing you’re all supposed to do here is get better. I’m here to assess how bad you had it and to help you with it. What do you want to do with it after is entirely up to you. Some of the younger kids we had were adopted, admittedly, and if any of you would rather try to find a family we can arrange it, but again, up to you. Not to me. Was that the answer you were hoping for?”
“… It might’ve been,” Rictor shrugs. “Well, sounds – reasonable.”
He doesn’t even consider the adoption route – he’s almost fucking an adult and he’d take the spot from people who need it more. But he likes that at least he’s not being talked down to and he’s being given a choice.
So, he just goes on and talks about how he actually ended up being in charge of all the others for the first time in his life and it’s almost liberating, actually.
By the end his throat is sore but his head is clear, and he tells the others that really, it’s okay if they want to give it a try.
He goes back once per week. If anything, because he can’t talk about any of what went on with the others. Most of them look eager to just move on, the ones who aren’t shouldn’t be saddled with his problems on top of his own and he can’t certainly go tell Laura about how much he’s glad they’re here and all right and he’s not responsible for them all when she just buried her father and she hasn’t said a word since then still.
It’s just ridiculous and cruel, he thinks, that the only one of them who had a parent to speak of had to find him and lose him in the span of one fucking week but at the same time she probably knows that most of them are envious of her on some level because at least she had a parent in the first place.
Anyway, he can’t tell her that, he can just try to encourage her to talk about it with someone who can actually help her, and so he just – really needs to talk about it with someone else. So, Doc Samson it is.
“I think,” he tells Rictor one day, “that you’re about the only person in this entire facility who enjoys coming here.”
“You have a nice office,” Rictor shrugs. “And it’s free extra chocolate.”
“Something tells me it’s not the entire truth.”
“No, I just have to talk about things with someone and I can’t dump it on them.”
“On who, your friends?”
He shrugs. “They’re my friends, but – y’know. Had to keep them alive until barely a month ago. It’s kinda hard to see them as friends only.”
He tries to put it in coherent words. “I just – I don’t even know if I’ve ever had friends. I mean, I don’t – from what you see in those comics we read, it’s a… fifty-fifty thing? Like, I dunno, it seems like you’re equals and you like the same things and you do stuff together for fun. I’ve never done that with the others. I couldn’t do that with the others. At most we watched a few movies here in the common room, but that’s – not exactly the point.”
“You know you can leave? There’s a cinema in town.”
“I know, I’ve been out sometimes, but just – they don’t particularly feel like it yet. It wouldn’t be the same thing anyway. I’d spend the time looking out for them and shit.”
“That’s fair. What about the other kids around here?”
Rictor shrugs. “I talked to a few,” he admits, “but… it just… didn’t go anywhere? Not yet? Also, the oldest person that’s not me is like fourteen. It’s cool, but –”
“Not your age, I understand. Well, hopefully someone else will come along.”
“Dunno,” Rictor replies. “That’d mean someone else who should end here and if it’s the case then they probably had a shitty life. Wouldn’t want to wish that on any more people.”
“You know, you could go to school in town next year if you wanted.”
Now that’s a thought. “Well,” he says sincerely, “I’ll think about it.”
He also thinks about that conversation later, when he’s off to bed.
Madre de Dios, he’s never had a friend to speak of.
How fucked up is that even, he doesn’t want to know.
Anyway, for the next two days he mulls over the problem before reaching the conclusion that there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. It’s already enough that he’s alive and in one piece and not going anywhere for the next two years.
And then the red-headed alien falls out of the sky in the middle of the facility yard.
One day they’re all going about their business and them a fucking dimensional rift opens in the sky, or something close to it, and a kid who looks about Rictor’s age even if taller and significantly more muscled crashes to the ground just before it closes itself back up.
The kid is also dressed in a weird white uniform, has hair longer than most women Rictor’s ever met, of a bright red color that doesn’t look quite human, almost slashes at the first person trying to get near with what looks like a real fucking sword and doesn’t speak a word of English – it’s some guttural, weird-ass language Rictor doesn’t think is human, either.
But other than that –
The first time Rictor sees him, his second thought after this guy must be fucking dangerous is fuck me, I’ve never seen anyone as good-looking in my entire sad life.
It’s not just the height, the muscles and the hair – the guy is just really well-built, with a face that seems out of some kinda old sculpture, with pale blue eyes that for some trick of light almost look silver if you don’t pay attention and a weird-ass huge star-like black tattoo covering half of his face that… is fucking hot, all right?
Now, if only he wasn’t using a double-edged sword and looking scared out of his mind, maybe it would be even better.
Then he says something that sounded dangerously like X-Men.
Well, damn. If it was the X-Men he was looking for, then he’s shit outta luck.
Rictor has no clue of how someone managed to actually talk him down – they were told to leave the yard at once – but that evening, there’s an emergency meeting in one of the school rooms. Doc Samson is the one talking and he informs them of everything they managed to find out about the guy.
Yes, he was looking for the X-Men.
No, they have no idea of why because he doesn’t speak a word of English but they somehow managed to make him understood that the X-Men are currently no more, and since then he has pretty much clammed up and stopped talking altogether.
Yes, he’s definitely a different species – he let them run a few tests and it turned out that while he looks human and shares most of his DNA with humans, there are some significant differences, albeit nothing outwardly noticeable. They can’t say how old he is but it can’t be older than seventeen or eighteen at most.
No, he really doesn’t speak English and no, they have no idea what’s the Mojo thing he’s referring to, or seems to be referring to.
Yes, he’s staying for the moment since he also seems to be some kind of mutant.
No, they don’t know what’s up with the sword but it’s definitely real.
That’s about it.
Rictor goes to bed thinking of how terrified the kid had looked when he had crash landed on the ground.
The next morning, the new kid is standing in one of the corners of the yard. No one’s trying to talk to him or anything, probably because he gives out very bad vibes – he’s looking down at the ground but obviously scowling and no one probably wants to try anything with someone who is obviously dangerous and would use a sword half his own size if feeling threatened, and who doesn’t even speak the language on top of that.
Sense tells him that he should just bolt.
But – Rictor’s seen the guy’s eyes. And he’s – he looks about his age, and he looks like he’s even worse off than Rictor is, and he remembers what he told Samson. He wouldn’t have wished on anyone the things that bring you in a place such as this.
But regardless of that, it seems like their new guest has lived through something like that or possibly worse, and –
He breathes in and walks in front of the other kid. He’s trying really hard not to refer to him in his head as Hot Alien Guy, but it’s not working really well.
Okay, not very smooth. The kid stops looking at the ground and his eyes make contact with Rictor’s instantly, and for a moment Rictor feels intimidated and wonders what the fuck is he even doing here, but then he looks better.
Damn. That’s not the look of someone dangerous. That’s the look of someone who hadn’t expected anyone to talk to him in the first place.
Well, fuck this noise.
“Uh, I know you probably can’t understand me, but – I just, it looks like you’re having a crap time. Given that you’re not even from Earth, I guess you’re having, like, a very bad week. Or month. Or – whatever. And – I’ve been at the dining hall. They said you haven’t eaten anything since you got here and I just –” He figures he’s not going to be smooth while doing this at all, so he just shrugs and lifts up one of the two paper bags he had been holding. He had the people behind the counter pack two sandwiches instead of eating his lunch there. He holds out one of them. “That’s some food. If you want it.”
The other kid takes the paper bag. Their fingers don’t touch, but Rictor can see that his fingers are calloused in ways just the hands of people who handle swords can be.
He opens it and – it was obvious he hadn’t expected food. Rictor clutches at his own, then takes out his sandwich. The other kid does the same.
“I, uh, I thought, if you don’t want to eat on your own, I could. Or if you do, I can just leave. It’s fine either way.”
He takes a couple steps back, figuring that the intentions should be clear.
A hand clamps on his free wrist.
Shit, Rictor thinks, those fingers really are rough. Then he looks back into the other kid’s eyes. He definitely doesn’t have the face of someone who wants to have lunch on his own.
“Okay,” he says. “I’m staying then.” He moves to stand against the wall white Hot Alien Guy lets his wrist go.
He eats quickly but glances at what his lunch companion’s doing – shit, he wolfs down the entire thing in three bites.
“Shit,” Rictor says, “should’ve gotten you more than one, I guess.”
No answer, of course.
That said, they’ve been… more or less talking to each other for a good while. Maybe –
Hey, he’s done pretty well for now, given that he’s never had a so-called friend in his life, technically.
“I, uh, what’s your name?”
The blank stare he receives in return is enough to confirm it’s not going to work like this.
“Uh, I’m Rictor,” he says instead, putting a hand over his chest. “Right, they used another where I come from, but – never mind. You?” He moves his hand, points at the other kid, then lets it drop back to his side.
At that, it seems like he was understood – he can see the other kid thinking about it, but then he shakes his head and shrugs as if he’d like to share but can’t.
“Okay, it’s fine,” Rictor says at once. “I don’t need to know now. Just, share when you can. If you want. Shit, you don’t understand me, do you?”
Another shrug. Rictor just leans against the wall and the other kid does the same and they spend the next hour or so in comfortable silence.
It’s, admittedly, not bad at all.
The next morning, he has therapy.
Unsurprisingly, Doc Samson knows about his small attempt at… befriending someone, he supposes.
“So, making friends?” He asks, sounding… smug?
Rictor shrugs. “I don’t know. I mean, given that we can’t even talk to each other…”
“Rictor, he hasn’t given us the time of the day since we got him to understand the X-Men aren’t around anymore. And when someone knocked on his door this morning to see if he might be convinced to go to the cafeteria, they almost got their throat cut before he understood that he was… well, not where he comes from. All things considered, I think you’re doing great.”
… All right, if that’s how it is, maybe the doc has a point.
“Seriously? But – I mean, I’m not –”
“I’d stop right there if you wanted to say you aren’t anything special or whatever. Given that you kept those kids together that long, escaped that prison and reached North Dakota with relatively little help, I think your CV isn’t half bad either.”
… that’s another point, Rictor supposes.
“Just keep on doing whatever it is that you’re doing,” the doc goes on. “I’m sure he’ll come around.”
Rictor has no idea of what he even expects if and when it happens, but he leaves that be. He has enough on his plate to think of already.
The next time he brings lunch over, he has the server pack three sandwiches rather than just one.
He’s sure no one should look this grateful just because someone brought them some shitty cafeteria food.
The next day, he brings over a few of his comics. He figures that if he was looking for the X-Men maybe he could want to read them.
“That’s – uh. Stuff about the people you looked for,” Rictor says, handing them over. “They’re – they’re all dead now. But if you wanna read them, it’s fine. Just keep them however long you want.”
He gets a confused stare in return, so he pushes the comics into the other kid’s hands. He doesn’t fall into the temptation of curling those same hands around them himself – he doesn’t want to cross any boundaries.
The kid clutches the comics to his chest.
Well, seems like he got it.
The next day, Hot Alien Guy isn’t around.
Rictor decides to not take it personally, and goes to have lunch in the cafeteria. Obviously, there are questions.
“So, how is he?” Bobby asks while they bring their trays to the table.
“Rictor, the weirdass alien guy is talking to no one but you. Given that he looks like he wants to murder everyone –”
“He doesn’t,” Rictor interrupts. “He – listen, he’s not talking to me, that’d be the contrary, but honestly, he’s – okay. I guess.”
“Really?” Bobby doesn’t look too convinced.
“Really,” Rictor confirms, because he knows that it’s true. He does. No one who wants to murder people would have looked that grateful at being given fucking comic books.
Two days later, he’s in the yard getting some fresh air when Hot Alien Guy stalks out of the building and walks right up to him – and Rictor doesn’t think it’s a coincidence he chose a moment when no one is around.
“Hey,” he says when the kid stops in front of him. He has the comics in his hands. Rictor’s about to tell him to keep them, seriously, but then the kid hesitantly hands them over, and –
“Thank you,” he croaks with the voice of someone who’s trying a new language out and has no idea of whether they’re getting it wrong.
“You’re – you’re welcome,” Rictor replies, taking them lest the other guy assumes he’s being… disrespectful or something. “So… uh… you can understand me?”
The guy shrugs. Then points at the comics. “Some,” he croaks. “Those… help?”
“… You learned the basics reading comics?”
The kid shrugs. He’s still not quite looking at him. He takes back one of those comics, opens it in the middle and hands it back.
Oh. There’s an entire exchange in between Professor X and Phoenix where he thanks her for her help or something of the kind which sort of mirrored half of what they have said until now.
“Does… anything else help?” Rictor asks, and meanwhile he realizes that wherever the other guy comes from, at least they have the same alphabet.
Another shrug. Then –
“Listen,” the guy says.
“Uh, so if I talk, that actually helps you?”
“Oh. Okay. Got it.” He tries to think about what he’s just heard, and then he thinks, maybe he has an idea. “You ever went to the media room?”
The confused stare he gets in return says all.
“Never mind. Uh, you wanna come with? I think I know a way to help you learn faster.”
Hot Alien Guy shrugs and falls into step with him.
Madre de Dios, he just hopes no one is in dire need of using the television right now.
The media room is, sadly, occupied, but there’s a television in Rictor’s room, too (not everyone has it).
Well, fuck that sideways.
“Right. Just – you mind coming up to my room?”
Hot Alien Guy shrugs again and follows.
Rictor’s just glad he tidied the place up yesterday.
“Uh, just sit wherever,” he says, motioning to the bed. “I’ll just –” He starts, and then he sees that the kid’s face goes ashen pale when he sees the screen.
“Hey,” he says, “it’s fine. Really, it’s all… fake stuff.”
“Yeah, just – I’ll show you. Just sit.”
The kid doesn’t look too convinced but he does, and Rictor turns the TV on quickly – he switches channels until he finds some harmless sitcom and then fumbles with the remote until he finds how to turn on the closed captions, then he sits back.
He can see that his current guest has understood at once what he was trying to do by the astonished look on his face.
“Yeah, uh, that’s – some tv show. It’s dumb, but like, the captions are what the people are saying, just written. If that shit helps you just knock yourself out.”
He throws the remote towards the bed – the kid catches it at once.
“I’ve got therapy and shit,” Rictor says, “but you can just stay here and watch whatever you want. No, really. I’ll be back in the evening I think. Just knock yourself out.”
He gets a soft nod in return and he figures it’s fine – he leaves the room, wondering what people writing actual movies would make out of his fucking life right now, and heads for the doc’s office.
He comes back to find his guest completely engrossed with some movie – just to switch the channel ten second later.
Then he does the same ten more seconds later. Then he does it again. All of this while not noticing that Rictor’s even into the room.
Given that he’s getting a headache just glancing at this, Rictor figures he’ll leave him to it and goes to grab dinner in the dining hall – he can just come back later.
“So,” Charlotte asks him, “where’s your guy?”
“He’s not my guy,” Rictor replies defensively. “And he’s, uh. In my room. Watching television. He’s being… manic about it, I guess.”
“Manic?” Bobby doesn’t sound too convinced of that.
“Switches channel every ten seconds.”
“Hey, if that’s how he likes it, he can knock himself out.”
Laura snorts and Rictor figures that anything that gets her to laugh can’t be that bad. Still, what was that your guy talk about? Never mind that Rictor doesn’t even know his name, but –
Yeah, and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
He goes back to his room after lounging around with the others for a bit, figuring that at worst he’ll just let the guy hang around if he puts the volume on low.
It’s been some six hours – he sort of hopes he’s not watching stuff changing channels every ten seconds still or Rictor’s head will explode out of sympathy, but when he comes in, there’s no channel switching. His guest is watching some old black and white western movie starring John Wayne, but he mutes it the moment Rictor comes in.
“Hey,” Rictor says, “it’s – if you want to stick around you can just turn the volume down, I don’t mind –”
Uh. Okay. He can.
Hot Alien Guy puts away the remote, then sits up on the bed.
“The… on the first day,” the guy starts, and shit, his pronunciation got a lot better in the last six hours. For the love of –he really learned the basics of a language watching television?
“You… asked me something.”
On the first day – oh. Right. He nods.
“Ask me again.”
Okay then. “You mean… what’s your name?”
“Yes. I could not answer you then.”
“You can now?”
The guy shrugs. “I have two,” he says. “I… do not like… either?”
“That’s right, by the way. Uh, well, I guess I get it.”
“You said… you had another, where you come to?”
He probably meant, come from. Never mind. They’re talking, who even cares. And the guy has such a nice voice on top of that –
Crap. Not the moment to ponder how much exactly Rictor’s never felt attracted to women or to any of the nurses going around Terrigen INC, but instead he had felt attracted to the male doctors.
Which was fucked up already, but never mind that.
“It’s – well, most of us here, and all of my, er, friends, we don’t have parents. Or families. We grew up in a lab. They basically – created us enhanced,” he says, shrugging. “I can make earthquakes. Laura has adamantium in her bones. Bobby can turn stuff into ice just by breathing. They – they gave us names, over there, but the ones of us who didn’t like them picked others. Mine was Julio, but – I’d rather go by the one I chose myself. That’s what I meant.”
He hadn’t been looking at the other kid while saying this – it’s not anything he likes to talk about, especially looking at other people in the eyes, but then he hears a sharp intake of breath and when he looks up, he sees such raw understanding on the other kid’s face, it about makes him lightheaded.
“I – I, too.”
“I – you have understood, I do not come from Earth.”
“That was… sort of obvious?”
“I come from another planet. It is named Mojoworld.”
“… Sounds like cheap-ass reality entertainment.”
“It… I think it is… cheap-ass reality entertainment. That… that is a television, correct?”
“You said most things that are not… news aren’t real.”
“On Mojo, everything that is on… television is real. I – I, too, grew up in a… lab, as you call it.”
No fucking way.
“In… I think you would call it, gestation chamber.”
“On Mojo, if you are born in a gestation chamber, you are… destined for different uses. The people in my line, we were supposed to fight in… I think you call them arenas. The fights were aired on television.”
“Shit. That’s why – I’m sorry, if I had known –”
“You have a very good idea, and you could not know.”
Rictor can’t even wrap his head around how well the guy’s speaking right now. Shit.
“So that’s why you came in with… swords?”
“Yes.” The kid sighs. “On Mojo, there is… a resistance. Against the people who… run things. I escaped and joined it. There are also… stories. About the X-Men.”
“Let me guess, amazingly skilled warriors who’ll help people in need? I didn’t know they were that famous.”
“They are. Mojo has… very advanced technology. We managed to put together a machine that was supposed to send me to Earth to ask for their help. It was supposed to be a, how do you say it, I couldn’t come back if –”
“A one-way trip?”
“Yes. Yes, a one-way trip. But we also knew the X-Men also had very advanced technology and could help me go back.”
“I have a feeling they should have sent you back some thirty years ago, amigo.”
“I have the same. However, I cannot go back for now. So, I suppose it was all for nothing.”
“I – I’m sorry. That has to… really fucking suck?”
“It… does.” It’s kind of scary how he’s being so calm and collected about it, but Rictor doesn’t point out that being angry about it might be healthier. “However. In my… gestation chamber, everyone had the same name and a different numerical designation.”
“My first name, it is… in your language it sounds like, Gaveedra Seven. Because I was the seventh of that series.”
“… That’s fucked up.” There’s nothing else he can come up with. “You said you have another?”
“It… is fucked up, yes. I am afraid that the second is not much better.”
“… How can it be not much better?”
“I used to… fight in arenas, as I said. Everyone has a… how do you call it? Battle name?”
“Yeah, I suppose so. Don’t tell me the other name is –”
“Shatterstar. It was my battle name, yes.”
This is not getting any better. “And how long have you been… fighting in arenas?”
He shrugs. “Since I could hold a sword. I am… seventeen of your years now. About ten, I suppose.”
Wow. They do have a shitload of stuff in common, don’t they?
“So… I think I dislike both names.”
“No shit. I would, too. Shatterstar is for the tattoo?”
“Yes. I think I was born with it.”
Rictor does not resolutely say, it looks hot.
“Listen, uh, just – you saw that in those comics everyone has a hero name or something like that, right?”
“Well, we do a similar thing, here. I mean, we give each other nicknames and the likes. If you don’t like either of them just… pick one?”
“I would not know where to start from.”
Christ, if a couple years ago you had told Rictor he’d end up meeting someone whose life was even more of a dysfunctional mess than his own he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Well,” he starts, “er, you want me to find you one?”
Shit, extremely dysfunctional.
“Okay, well, I’d avoid… the serial name. I mean, man, sorry, that’s fucking creepy. At least we weren’t serialized.”
“The other one… well, the, uh, the tattoo is kinda cool, actually.”
“Yeah. I mean, it looks badass. Shit, I don’t know how to put it, but if you don’t know the backstory it’s the kind of stuff people like. Maybe…” He thinks about it. He shrugs. “Shatterstar isn’t really so bad, but if you don’t like it, just ‘Star wouldn’t be too bad?”
There’s no reply for a moment as – Shatterstar? Hot Alien Guy? Gaveedra Seven, fuck’s sake – thinks about it, but then his lips curl up in a ghost of a grin and –
“I think I like it,” he says, as if he barely can believe he’s saying that.
“Good. Tell me if you find anything better,” Rictor says. “By the way, you really learned this much English while watching television?”
“You had a very sound idea… I imagine you would rather go by –”
“Yeah. Rictor’s fine. Well, if you want to watch something else knock yourself out, just keep the volume low if I pass out.”
Turns out, he’s dead tired, and so he passes out not long after changing into pjs and hitting the bed. He doesn’t even mind the low audio, to be entirely honest, and the last thing he thinks as he falls asleep is fuck this noise, am I holding a sleepover for the first time in my life?
He wonders if it counts, if one of the people involved doesn’t actually sleep.
“So, you still think you aren’t making friends?”
Rictor shrugs, staring at the empty glass of water in his hands.
“I guess I am,” Rictor tells the doc, figuring that there’s no point in denying it. ‘Star’s spent more time inside his room watching television than doing anything else in the last week or so and he’s actually talked to other people since deciding his English was good enough.
Given that he learned it in one week, Rictor thinks it’s plenty good enough.
“You sound perplexed.”
“I am perplexed. Do you know when was the last time I sounded like the one whose life wasn’t completely fucked up?”
“No. When was it?”
“Never,” Rictor snorts. “It’s weird. The good weird, I guess, but still.”
“Well, I’d say keep it up.”
Yeah, how is another question entirely, but he had no plans on stopping.
Fact is: when he’s learned enough English to speak freely and when he’s not thinking he has to be ready to kill someone any other moment, ‘Star’s actually freaking cool.
Never mind the whole badass look he’s sporting, but when he actually talks about things… never mind that, again, he learned a language watching TV, but it’s just fascinating to hear him talk about his home planet even if it looks like a complete nightmare out of bad dystopias. Also, the first time he agrees to play Risiko in the common room he about wipes the floor with all of them – then again Rictor figures someone who had to fight for a living without literally knowing anything else would at least know how to strategize.
It’s also obvious that he barely has any experience even interacting with other people and he doesn’t get in-jokes or puns or anything of the kind (yet) but he’s trying – and he definitely enjoys wiping them out of the floor at Risiko, anyway.
Some three weeks after his failed dimensional travel, he goes to the training room. Rictor hasn’t set foot in there since he arrived here – he’s really not that keen on using his fucking powers for anything at any point – but ‘Star’s obviously not of the same opinion. He goes in every day at some ridiculous hour in the morning and leaves at lunch time, and a couple of afternoons he goes as well. Everyone kind of assumes he has issues – why would he keep on doing that when he’s just ran from having to do it in order to live?
Rictor doesn’t like to assume and asks him while they watch another movie in his room. They’ve started doing it every other evening.
‘Star thinks about it, seriously, which makes it even more surreal given that they’re watching Lethal Weapon.
“What do you think of this movie?” He asks.
“What? I mean, it’s… fun, I guess?”
“That’s… part of it,” ‘Star says. “I mean, it’s not fun when you look at why we have to do it. At why I had to do it. And I can see why it’s not for you. But – it can be, if you don’t think about the rest.”
Rictor can’t imagine what could be fun about it, but keeps his mouth shut.
“And – well, there was… a lifestyle, going with it. I have a code. It just… helped, you know. And it’s strange here. It feels familiar to just… go through the motions.”
Which makes complete sense, Rictor thinks.
“It sounds sensed, put like this.”
“You cannot see it, though.”
“’Star, we didn’t have a code or anything. The basic idea was pointing us at someone and have us kill them. They wanted to kill us because we had feelings and it was a malfunction.”
“Feelings also were considered as such, on Mojo,” ‘Star agrees. “Still…”
He shakes his head and pauses the movie, jumping down from the bed. “Come to the training room,” he says.
“I will show you what I mean.”
Rictor isn’t too convinced but hey, can’t hurt to try. He follows ‘Star down to the training room, which looks like a hugeass gym except shinier and with a serious lockdown system. It’s not surprising that ‘Star has access or knows the password.
“So,” ‘Star says, “you can… create earthquakes?”
“Sort of. I mean, I can do that and then, I can create seismic waves from my hands and use them to move stuff around. Or throw stuff around.”
“Interesting,” ‘Star comments. “I can do something like it, but I almost never make use of it.”
“Excuse me? Really?”
“I can… create shock waves and channel them through any blade. But it is a last resort technique.”
“So what do you… usually do?”
For the first time since they met, ‘Star actually full-on smirks.
Showing his teeth.
“Find out for yourself.”
What – Rictor doesn’t even know what he’s supposed to do, but – fine. He concentrates a moment, lifting one hand, figuring that he’ll just create a small wave to knock ‘Star over –
And the moment he lets it go, ‘Star jumps upwards and completely bypasses it before jumping backwards and landing on his two feet, a bit farther from him.
“How did you fucking do that,” Rictor blurts.
“I was created enhanced for fighting,” ‘Star smiles. “My bones are… empty, I believe.”
Like birds. Oh, fuck, he’s taller and more muscled and definitely more built than Rictor could ever hope to be, and he most probably weighs a lot less. Of course he can pull off that kinda acrobatics.
And good thing that the shockwave didn’t destroy anything – then again this place is probably built to stand more dangerous shit.
“I guess it’s not the only advantage you have.”
“No. But you will have to find out.”
For the first time in his entire life, Rictor thinks that maybe he feels a spark of… actually wanting to do this.
In the next half hour, he learns the following.
‘Star can do the acrobatics and he can use that sword of his to deflect shockwaves and he’s amazing at hand-to-hand, never mind that regardless of his size he’s faster than anyone else Rictor’s ever seen fighting in his life and he doesn’t let you breathe if he’s fighting you. He barely manages to keep up, and since they only ever taught him to use his powers and not to rely on any other skill, he doesn’t know how ‘Star doesn’t have his ass after a minute.
Maybe he’s dragging it. Or maybe not.
But what Rictor knows is that after a bit, he actually kinda wants to win, or at least to lose honorably. He doesn’t need to kill anyone and he’s not being told to, which makes all the difference, and –
Shit, he thinks as he generates a small seismic wave bound to try and make ‘Star lose his footing, this is actually… entertaining.
Fuck. He’s enjoying this, and by the time they decide it’s a tie – because by now Rictor’s figured how to not let ‘Star get any closer but he can’t exactly find a way to disarm him, either – he’s feeling completely exhilarated and for the first time in his life he’s not… actually… hating what he’s doing.
The realization almost makes him lose concentration, and good thing ‘Star declares it a tie a moment later.
“Do you see,” he asks, “why I keep on doing this?”
“I – yeah, I think I do,” Rictor replies truthfully. He does. He wouldn’t do it every day, but – but he understands.
The next day, though, is what completely fucking undoes him.
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen ‘Star and Laura talk – or better, he hasn’t seen him trying to talk to her, but he stumbles into the yard to see ‘Star doing just that. She stares up at him, he shows her a piece of the blade he was bringing to training, most probably, and – she follows him in the training room.
Rictor knows it’s not his business, and so he doesn’t go there to pry.
But he has to walk in front of it in order to go get lunch, and so he passes by the door, which is made of extra-strong glass (still glass, though) and he sees them – slashing at each other, Christ. For a moment he thinks that it can’t be healthy, but ‘Star’s matching her blow for blow and he can see he’s giving her fucking advice on top of it, and she doesn’t seem to hate it, so Rictor moves on and goes to get lunch.
That evening, Laura actually says, unprompted, that training with his new best friend forever is cool.
Rictor doesn’t even try to deny. Good thing ‘Star wasn’t around to hear that.
“I was thinking,” he tells ‘Star later that evening, voicing a thought he’s had for a while, “maybe – I mean, that language you spoke when you arrived. It’s what people speak on your home planet?”
“Cadre? Yes,” ‘Star confirms. “Why?”
Rictor shrugs. He needs something to do with his day, which is not training or watching movies. You go stir-crazy after a while.
“I was thinking – if you want to speak it with someone else – I don’t know, you could teach me.”
‘Star looks at him as if he’s just grown another head.
“Unless it’s, forbidden or something –”
“No, it is not. I was just… surprised. Why would you wish to learn Cadre, though? You will not have use for it.”
Rictor shrugs. “It’s important to you. And – we’re friends, right? I mean, it’s the kind of thing friends do, sort of.”
The first time ‘Star actually smiles (and not smirks) in his direction, is… exactly right then.
Rictor’s heart skips a beat or two.
Fuck. He’s so whipped, it’s not even funny.
“Doc, if I tell you something, you won’t tell anyone else, will you?”
Doc Samson raises an eyebrow and shakes his head. “There’s something called patient confidiality. Of course I wouldn’t. What’s the problem?”
“What if you’ve made exactly one friend in your life and you think about kissing them half of the time?”
For a moment, Doc Samson says nothing. Then he merely shrugs. “Well, it’s something that’s happened to about most teenagers in existence. Crushing on a friend, I mean. If your question is about the friend in question being male, there’s a small but relevant percentage of people on this planet who’s not into the opposite sex. Or maybe who’s into both. In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I am – not really sure it’s a good thing,” Rictor sighs.
“Because he hasn’t mentioned crushing on anyone once, he openly said he doesn’t understand the point of romantic movies and he comes from a planet where romantic attachment just doesn’t exist, and if he’s my one friend then the reverse is valid?”
“You know, it shows you had to take care of a bunch of kids for a long while.”
“I’m fairly sure most sixteen-year-olds I know would just think about jumping the guy’s bones, not about those ramifications. Just someone who’s had to think about actions and their consequences for a long time would go there. Anyway, you have a fair point. But there’s nothing wrong with your feelings. And wait for him to come around. You never know.”
“Uh, did you just imply –”
“Rictor, no one would give a damn if any of you started a thing as long as we’re sure you know what you’re doing. Don’t worry about that.”
He’s not too sure of this optimism, but knowing no one would forbid it if anything happened is still a weight off his shoulders.
Thing is: his feelings won’t fuck off anytime soon.
No way it’s going to happen.
Not when any time he actually says something right in Cadre even if his accent is most probably atrocious, ‘Star looks like the happiest person on this planet and Rictor’s stomach turns itself over.
The whole thing about butterflies swarming through it if you’re in love with someone might, in fact, not be a myth after all.
Then one evening they’re watching some dumb movie in which two college kids go on a date or something – neither of them is liking it that much, but ‘Star doesn’t leave movies unfinished since he stopped with the insane channel-switching, so they’re finishing it.
“What are they doing?” ‘Star asks about halfway in.
“Uh, dating. I mean, they’re having food together and going to the movies, you don’t need to be dating to do that stuff, though.”
“… Interesting,” ‘Star comments. No one should observe two people getting diner food with this much attention.
“Not a thing where you come from?”
“… Maybe other people. Not us.”
Christ, that’s just sad.
“Listen, you wanna go into town at some point?”
“We can leave, y’know. I mean, no one does because last time we stepped foot outside here we had special op corps after us, but we could. It’s not really that far. We can just… eat some diner food and catch a movie in a theater and the likes. Just, maybe get clothes that wouldn’t stand out too much so we don’t get recognized, but that’d be it.”
‘Star seems to think about it. Then –
“Very well. I should like to try this.”
Rictor doesn’t know if it’s a very good or very bad idea, but he can’t go back now, can he?
When he sees that what the people in charge at the wardrobe thought fit to give ‘Star tight fitting jeans and a black tank top with a jeans jacket, he decides it was a very bad idea. Or well, his nether regions don’t agree, but how is he supposed to have some basic dignity in front of – never mind. They hate him. They so hate him.
Never mind that if ‘Star manages to spend three hour in between a bunch of people without anyone hitting on him, in that get-up, it’s going to be a miracle.
Anyway, it’s too late to back out.
They take the bus – ‘Star wanted to walk but Rictor dissuaded him. He might manage without a sweat, but Rictor wouldn’t bet on himself. The town is small indeed and there’s not much to see around, and when they walk into the only diner, everyone seems to be staring at ‘Star’s hair. He put it in a long ponytail and it looks red-gold in the afternoon sun, and Rictor can’t believe that he’s going to spend the first time he’s out with a friend feeling sexually frustrated to hell and back.
They get hamburgers, fries and Coke.
“This is very unhealthy,” ‘Star declares, “but the taste is agreeable.”
“Got it right and got it right,” Rictor confirms. “Then again, as long as you don’t get it every day, ‘s fine. And you can afford it.”
“Well, you also have enough money to pay for it.”
Rictor snorts. “No, I meant that with all the exercise you have going on, you can eat whatever without getting out of shape.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose so. You are in excellent shape, though.”
Rictor almost spits his Coke. “Not as much as you, but thank you.”
‘Star needs to stop. He probably didn’t mean it in any sense other than the literal, but –
Never mind. He’s not gonna think about it any further. He’s not.
They go see some dumb action flick and thankfully it’s just the two of them inside the cinema, because ‘Star spends his time explaining how the fighting makes no sense whatsoever and they end up trying to keep count of the dead people, and it’s actually fun in ways nothing else has quite been to Rictor his entire damned life.
By the time they stumble out of the cinema Rictor’s agreeing with ‘Star about the cheesiness of the last ten minutes and they’re heading for the bus stop when a group of teenage girls passes them by.
As Rictor could have absolutely predicted, one of them whistles loudly after glancing at ‘Star, one of her friends whispers something at her, and then she leaves the group and kind of – stops right in front of them.
“Hey, handsome,” she drawls.
“… Hello, yourself?” ‘Star replies, and – ah, shit, he’s obviously not getting that she’s flirting.
“We were wondering, have you been here for long? One would remember a hot guy like you ‘round these parts.”
Any other time, seeing ‘Star kind of literally freaking out over the question might have been a little funny, but it’s obvious he has no idea of what to reply or even what she’s aiming at, and she’s pretty much up in his personal space with the other two right behind her.
Rictor grabs ‘Star’s arm and moves him slightly out of the way.
“We’re staying at, uh, at a group home next town over,” Rictor tells them. “Excuse him, his parents were from Europe and he still didn’t speak the language too well when they died. And we’re about to miss the bus, but we’ll come around some other time.”
He doesn’t even wait for a reply and stalks away – thankfully ‘Star follows at once, and when they’re far enough, Rictor leaves his arm be. He felt the tension leaving the man’s muscles at once.
“What – what was that?” ‘Star asks. “I mean, I am sure I should know, but –”
“Amigo, they were hitting on you.”
“What – Rictor, none of them was throwing punches at me, what –”
“No, no, you remember that movie about the high school guy who got paid to go out with the girl who wouldn’t date anyone?”
“… The one where they hated ten things about each other? Yes, and?”
“When he was, like, courting her. That’s hitting on people. The one you meant was hitting people, period.”
‘Star looks completely flabbergasted. “They were… doing that… with me?”
Rictor shrugs. “’Star, I don’t know the last time you looked into a mirror –”
“Right. Well, you ain’t hard on the eyes and honestly, you think there are people like you everywhere? I mean, with your looks.”
“So it is because I am… attractive?”
“Well, that’d be one of the main reasons people hit on you if they don’t know you from before.”
Rictor wants to die just having this bloody conversation.
‘Star nods and says nothing. The road is dark and the bus isn’t coming for ten minutes, but Rictor honestly doesn’t mind that they aren’t talking. He can do with comfortable silence, he can –
“This is… strange.”
“I – when she pressed up to me. I was bothered. I mean. Does it happen that one feels… hot all over? Uncomfortably?”
… Why does he have to be the one having this conversation?
“Well, yes. I mean, it’s… uh, physical attraction. It’s because she was right there. It happens if you have someone that close to you. Never happened before?”
“No. Not until tonight.”
“Uh, is – I mean, maybe your biology is different?”
“No. I was bio-engineered to fully simulate physical human interaction. But we did not have… the emotional requirements to elicit a response, I think. What should I have done?”
“… Er, turned her down if you didn’t like her and flirt back if you did?”
“That’s – that’s cool. You know, it’s all social stuff. If we could learn that, so can you.” Rictor is honestly relieved to see the bus coming from the end of the road.
‘Star nods as he takes out the ticket they had purchased earlier. They climb in and sit at the end, good thing that it’s almost empty.
“I think I would have turned her down,” ‘Star tells him a few minutes later.
“I – did not really like it. And she was… I mean, should I have found her aesthetically appealing?”
“Well, if people flirt back they usually do, but it’s not necessary.” Says the guy who has never flirted with anyone, period. “You don’t have to find people aesthetically appealing either. I mean… amigo, you just have to like them.”
“Your human interactions are very complicated.”
“Don’t you tell me,” Rictor agrees.
Later that evening, to his own shame, he jerks off under the covers, and it’s no mystery who he’s thinking about.
He honestly hopes that it’s the last time they touch their topic or he’s not going to handle it as well as he has this one time.
“You like him.”
Rictor almost spits his damned Coke all over again. Why do people have to talk to him about this kind of stuff when he’s eating?
“Laura, the hell?”
“You like him,” she says again. “’Star.”
“… We’re friends?”
She sends him a look that just about says you’re a complete idiot. “Everyone except him has noticed.”
He feels like banging his head against the table. Multiple times.
“Laura, even if I did –”
“No one minds.”
“What the hell do you talk about when I’m not there?”
“Making bets about when you two are getting together.”
Rictor groans and lets his head fall against the table. At this point he might forego dignity.
“Don’t worry, no one is telling him first.”
“… Because you’re considerate friends?”
“No, because everyone thinks seeing you pine is hilarious.”
Rictor doesn’t even try to come back with a retort because she’s laughing as she says it and given what she went through not even three months ago, it’s probably a good thing. If it’s at his expense, fine. He’ll deal.
That is, until one evening they’re watching some old western (‘Star seems to actually like westerns opposite watching things just for the sake of it) and ‘Star clears his throat.
“I went to talk to… that doctor you, too, talk to.”
“Wait, what? Samson?”
“Indeed. I do not think I needed constant counseling, but there was something I thought I should discuss with… do you call them professionals?”
“Yes. And – did that help?”
“I think so,” ‘Star says, slowly. “It was… partly about those girls a few weeks ago.”
Good thing he didn’t come to me with it, Rictor thinks, and then feels guilty for having done so, but there’s only so much talking about sexual attraction you can have with a guy you’re attracted to.
“Did it help?”
“I merely wanted to know if it was normal that I was uncomfortable with them but that I did not think I would be uncomfortable with… someone else.”
Shit. So he does have feelings for someone else. Well, he’ll just be a supportive friend and swallow his disappointment.
“And what did he say?”
‘Star shrugs. “That since I come from someplace where emotions are banned it was fine if I took it slow since I might not know what is going on.”
“Well, that’d be sound advice,” Rictor agrees.
“But he also said that I should not… repress them.”
“All – all right. And?”
‘Star shrugs minutely. “With those girls it felt uncomfortable. All of it. But I imagine they wanted to do… what all those couples do in the movies, or am I wrong?”
“That’s… sort of the point, yes.”
“I told him that I was thinking… there was someone I would like to do those things with.” He pauses and Rictor doesn’t even dare speaking lest he says something he’d regret. “He said there was nothing wrong with that and if I felt sure about it at least moderately, I should pursue it.”
“And, uh, you’re sure and you’d want help with the girl in question?”
“I am sure, yes,” ‘Star agrees, “and thank you but I don’t want any help. I can do it on my own. Also, it is not a girl I was thinking about.”
And at that, Rictor stops dead in his tracks.
Not a girl.
Given that there are some girls older than fourteen around here but no guys except for him –
He feels like he’s going to faint.
“You mean –”
“Estaba pensando en ti,” ‘Star interrupts, and – wait a fucking moment, wait a fucking moment –
“… Since when you speak Spanish?” Rictor blurts, realizing it was the worst possible reply to that statement.
‘Star shrugs, looking kind of sheepish. “Since – I may have been watching a few… telenovelas? You are learning Cadre, it seemed fair that I should learn Spanish. I may have wanted it to be a surprise, though.”
Madre de Dios. He’s so going to faint.
Never mind that the asshole was learning Spanish to surprise him.
He just said –
He doesn’t even know when he has moved his hand on top of ‘Star’s, but a moment later he’s done it and he has a feeling his heartbeat was slower while he was running to cross the Canadian border.
There are a lot of things he could do right now. There are a lot of things he should discuss right now.
Thing is, he thinks he’s really tired of discussing and he’s really, really ready to do the things fucking normal sixteen-year-olds do on those thrice-darned movies.
So he clears his throat, gathers his force of will, looks at ‘Star in the eyes and –
“Siento lo mismo,” he blurts out, figuring that it should make things clear, and he can see that ‘Star got it at once because his lips part in surprise (as if he hadn’t imagined this reply), and it’s obvious that he hadn’t been expecting it, and –
Fuck this noise. Rictor brings a hand behind ‘Star’s head, feeling that silky hair beneath his fingers and doesn’t it feel good to touch it after months of wondering if it’d be as soft at it looks like, and leans downwards, and –
Fuck, he’s going to ask this English because he needs to be sure.
“Are – is this what you want?” He asks, their mouths so close they could touch if he moved forward just a tiny bit.
“Yes,” ‘Star replies, and he sounds so sure –
Well, they’ll take it slow, but for now –
Rictor leans down and closes the distance between them.
He’s very, very much aware that it’s their first kiss. For the both of them. ‘Star’s lips are soft and warm under his own, and he decides he needs a better angle, and so he moves without breaking the contact and straddles ‘Star’s thighs before moving his other hand to ‘Star’s cheek and angling their faces better.
It’s good. It’s slow, it’s tentative, it’s obvious that the two of them have some ideas of where they should put their tongue thanks to movies but not because they actually practiced it in real life, but it’s still like nothing he’s ever experienced before, and from the way ‘Star’s hands grip at his hips under his t-shirt, he has a feeling ‘Star feels the exact same.
He only moves away when he feels like he has to breathe and when he looks down at ‘Star he’s sporting such a sweet smile on his face, Rictor thinks he might burst for how good he’s feeling right now.
“I guess that for a first it could’ve been worse,” Rictor says, unable to keep the giddiness from his voice.
“You mean… there is room for improvement?”
“Oh, I have a feeling there is. Because if that’s what you want, I’ve been wanting that, too, since about that time you fell out of the sky.”
“That long. So, what do you say? We can stop at that. Actually, maybe we should take things slow, so –”
“I would like more improvement then,” ‘Star says, and his voice is low but sure and Rictor’s done waiting, he’s done being extra responsible and is still giddy with excitement at the prospect of even taking it slow, because it means they’re in some kinda relationship and that it’s with someone who understands him more than superficially and he’s not responsible for and –
He thinks he knows what this is about for him. He has a feeling ‘Star might need extra time in figuring it out.
But it’s all right. They have all the time in the world, don’t they? So, he leans down for their second kiss.
Their second kiss, it turns out, is better than the first, and the third is better than the second, and then you end up half on top of the person you were kissing and everything is a blur except for maybe more kissing.
That’s all right, Rictor decides. They have time for the rest, and meanwhile they’re going to enjoy the shit out of this like the hormonal teenagers they’re supposed to be and that they couldn’t afford to behave as until now.
Then he’s going to tell ‘Star to please learn Spanish from better sources than telenovelas, Rictor first and foremost, but – he will. He will, but not just now.
For now, he thinks making out is a good option. ‘Star obviously agrees with his plans, and he given that he hadn’t even dared imagine how any first time kissing a guy would be (he hadn’t dared imagining it at all), it’s going beyond his wildest expectations.
He tells ‘Star that as they lean back and catch their breath.
“Good,” ‘Star replies, still grinning, “because I do not disappoint, if I do something.”
Rictor laughs, he has to, and he can’t help saying, “You sure as hell don’t,” before he leans in for the fourth kiss.
Yeah, on that, he has absolutely no doubts.