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Life on Mars

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Adam was practicing his Les Miserables make-up when Neil came in.

"Go away," said Adam automatically.

"As if," said Neil, and kicked the door shut behind him before he sat on the bed. He swung his legs a little. "Whatcha doing?"

"What does it look like?"

"Like you're rehearsing for Halloween six months early," said Neil. "As usual."

Adam rolled his eyes and turned back to the mirror. He was trying to achieve a sort of sunken, starving, noble look around the eyes, but it kept coming out like –

"You look like if Mom' s hairdresser had the plague," Neil piped up.

Like that. Adam scowled and grabbed a baby wipe. "Whatever."

"I'm bored," Neil complained. "You wanna do something?"

"With you?" said Adam, and arched his eyebrow. He'd been practicing that too. He was getting pretty good at it, he thought, except you couldn't really see his eyebrows which kind of ruined the effect. He grabbed his eyebrow pencil and started filling them in. "Unlikely. You're supposed to be practicing the piano anyway, Mom said."

"Your mom said," said Neil, which didn't even make any sense, and then suddenly there was a man standing in the room.

"Aah!" Neil shouted, and scrambled backwards on the bed. Adam dropped his pencil and whirled around and stared – he didn't know what to do, there was just a man in his room, and he totally wasn't there before and the door was closed and Adam opened his mouth to yell for Dad –

"It's okay!" said the man, holding his hands out, palms out, knees bent a little so he seemed less tall. "It's okay, I'm not gonna hurt you!"

"That's what they all say!" said Neil, and scrambled even further back, grabbing Adam's pillow and holding it in front of him.

"All who say?" said the man.

"Men who creep into kids' bedrooms, I bet!" said Neil, staring with giant eyes. "Adam, do something!"

Adam opened his mouth to yell for Dad again, but the man turned around and came over and crouched down, and Adam – Adam didn't even know what to say, because it kind of looked like...like...

"You know," said the man thoughtfully. "You're a lot cuter than I remember."

"Oh my god," said Neil, and threw the pillow down and leaped off the bed and came charging at the man with one of Adam's shoes in his hand, and started hitting him with it yelling, "Don't touch him, aaah!"

"Neil, oh my God," said the man, and took the shoe and picked Neil up and dumped him on the bed and held his hand over his mouth, which Adam should probably have been really disturbed by but it was kind of funny to watch Neil's eyes darting around and his feet kicking at nothing in the air.

"I'm not going to hurt either of you and I'm not a freaking pedo," said the man. "You're not even little kids!"

"Pedo counts 'til you're eighteen," Adam blurted.

The man looked at him. "Who says?"

Adam shrugged. "Health class."

The man smirked. "Health class says a lot of shit you're gonna figure out is bull, kid." Then he pulled Neil to sit up and kind of dusted him off, patting his curls back into place.

"Who are you?" Neil demanded. "How do you know my name?"

"You're not gonna believe me," said the man. "So I'll just show you."

He beckoned to Adam to come and sit down on the other side of him. Adam did, because he didn't want to look like a wuss in front of Neil. The man took Adam's hand and set it down on Adam's own knee, and then set his own next to it. "Look familiar?"

Adam looked down. The man had sparkly nail polish on, which looked really badass and made Adam so jealous it wasn't funny, and his hands were pretty big, with long fingers, and – oh.

"Adam," Neil whispered. "You have the same freckles."

Adam looked up at the man's face, and what he thought he might have seen before was so clear now, in the color of his eyes and the shape of his nose and the precise placement of the freckles on his lips.

"Oh my God," said Adam. "When do I get to look like that?"

Because it was him, Adam was pretty sure of that now, but it was a totally different him, older and so so so much cooler, with black hair (and black eyebrows!) and no braces and no huge zits and pierced ears and cool clothes and skinny, oh man, and a tattoo on the inside of his wrist.

"Not for a while," the man – Adam – Other Adam? Old Adam. Whatever – said ruefully, bumping Adam's elbow with his own. "But you'll get there."

"Wait a minute," said Neil, hopping up and folding his arms. "How are you even here? I mean if you're Future Adam then where's your time-travel portal?"

"No portal," Future Adam said, spreading his hands. "I don't really know how this works, it's my first time. My only time, actually."

"Then how did you get here?" Neil demanded.

"I met someone else who can do it," Future Adam said. "He showed me how."

Neil stabbed a finger at him. "What the hell are you even doing, crossing your own timeline like this? I mean wouldn't you remember this if it happened to you? Do you remember it in the future? Did this always happen? Otherwise you're changing your whole, like, direction and stuff!"

"That's what you said in the future, too," said Future Adam, nodding. "But my friend says it doesn't work like that. I mean, we both exist, right? Separately? Like, my past already happened? He did try to explain it to me – I think it involves trousers somehow? But it wasn't really clear."

"On Star Trek," Neil began heatedly, but Future Adam cut him off.

"Can you give us a few minutes?"

"Uh, no," said Neil. "I'm not leaving my brother alone with you, Stranger Danger."

"I'm not a stranger!" said Future Adam, clearly offended. "I'm your brother!"

"He's my brother," said Neil, stabbing his finger at Adam this time.

"Neil!" Mom yelled up the stairs then. "This piano isn’t going to play itself!"

"You better go," said Future Adam smugly. "You'll be in trouble."

"Yeah," said Adam. "Go away, Neil."

Neil fumed visibly for a second. "Well, I guess we know you never become less of a huge jerk," he snapped, and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

"What about him?" said Adam hopefully. "Does he ever get less annoying?"

"No," said Future Adam, smiling. "But you'll be glad of it. He's on your side."

Adam really doubted that.

"Let me help you with this," Future Adam said, and got them both sat down in front of the vanity again. "Les Mis, right?"

"Right," said Adam, and let Future Adam tilt his chin up and stroke foundation over his cheekbones with the sponge. "So – I really look like you in the future, huh?"

"You already do look like me," Future Adam said, smiling. "I mean I'm thinner, yeah, and the skin – well, you'll never be compared to porcelain, I'm afraid, but it gets better."

"And you have your braces off," Adam point out.

Future Adam laughed and picked up the powder. "Right," he said, and winked. "But the rest of it's just razzle dazzle. We have the same face underneath."

"You have black eyebrows."

"They're dyed," said Future Adam. "And they're a pain in the ass."

"They look awesome, though," said Adam fervently.

Future Adam gave him a big, bright, white, braceless smile. "I know."

"And what about," Adam began, and then his courage failed him and he couldn't quite find the words. He screwed his eyes up for a second – if Future Adam was him, then he must know, unless it really was a phase, but it really didn't feel like one. He opened his eyes to find Future Adam watching him expectantly. Adam cleared his throat and tried again. "What about, um."

"Boys?" said Future Adam, and chuckled when Adam nodded, blushing. "Oh yeah," he said, loading a brush up with eyeshadow. "Lots of boys."

"Really?" Adam squeaked, and they both laughed this time.

Future Adam used the tip of his finger to blend something in around Adam's eye. "Did Mom talk to you yet?" he wanted to know.

"No," said Adam warily.

"She's gonna try," said Future Adam, tilting Adam's face up into the light and examining it critically. "You should let her, okay? It won't be bad, I promise."

Adam swallowed, his mouth gone suddenly dry. "Okay."

Future Adam hummed as he worked, uncapping a mascara and encouraging Adam to look up to the ceiling. They could hear the strains of Neil's piano practice floating up the stairs.

Adam said, "You seem so happy."

"I am!" said Future Adam. He put the mascara down and sighed, a little frown creasing his forehead. "There's so much I can't tell you. I promised Neil – my Neil – that I wouldn't give too much away. He's worried I'm going to negate the space-time continuum."

"Then why d'you come back?" Adam asked.

"Because," said Future Adam, and took Adam's hands. He looked into Adam's face. "I remember how badly you felt about everything right now, and I wanted to tell you..." he trailed off, thinking, then started again. "I want to tell you that it happens. Okay? It all happens. It really does."

"When?" said Adam plaintively.

"Not yet," he said, and let go of Adam's hands.

"Can't you like, fast forward me?"

Future Adam shook his head, and went back to working on Adam's face. "No can do, sorry."

"But this sucks," Adam protested.

"I know," said Future Adam. "But dude, seriously – you'd miss, like, so many of the best parts."

Adam huffed and made big eyes, but Future Adam was not to be swayed. Ugh. "What is the point of a future me if I can't even tell myself when I finally get to kiss a boy," said Adam grumpily. "Seriously."

"The point is to make you look awesome," said Future Adam, and turned Adam around to face himself in the mirror.

"Oh wow," said Adam, touching his face. Now that was what he'd been going for. Totally sunken and noble. "Rad."

"Yeah," said Future Adam happily, and then checked his watch. "Shit, I have to go in a few seconds."

"No," Adam protested. "I hardly got to ask you anything yet!"

"I know, I'm sorry," said Future Adam. "But just remember what I told you, okay? What did I tell you?"

"It happens," Adam repeated glumly. "If you say so, man."

"I do," said Future Adam firmly, and then he started to flicker, sort of, in and out of sight. Right before he disappeared he called, "Catch!" and something came sailing through the air towards Adam.

He caught it and looked down on it – it was a bottle of nail polish, dark and glittery, the kind Future Adam had been wearing on his nails. "Thanks," said Adam, looking up – but his future self was gone.

Later that evening, Adam sat on his bed and carefully painted his nails with the sparkly polish. He was holding them up in front of him to dry, admiring the way they glinted in the lamplight, when there was a soft knock at the door and Neil poked his head in.

"You're supposed to wait for me to say okay," said Adam, but jerked his chin to let Neil know to come in.

Neil came and sat on the bed next to him. He didn't say anything for a while, just watched Adam's hands. Adam tensed, waiting for Neil to be an asshole about it, but he just said quietly, "You look really different in the future."

"I know," said Adam wistfully. "I can't wait."

Neil rubbed his nose. "I don't know. You didn't look like you."

Adam looked at him. Neil was watching his own knees studiously. Adam said, "I was still me."

"How do you know?" said Neil. "You were all old and different."

"And you were still a giant pain in the ass," Adam said. Neil frowned, confused. Adam said, "He told me his Neil gave him so much shit about coming back here to see me."

Neil thought about that. "Okay," he said after a while. "Your nails look pretty good I guess."

"Thanks," Adam said.

"Whatever," said Neil, but he stayed there with Adam, just sitting on his bed watching his nails dry, until Mom yelled up the stairs that he had to go to bed.