Warning: story contains material that may disturb some people, including rape of a minor and graphic sex. Don't read it if those things bother you. Seriously. Also contains very bad language, but I'm thinking if you're okay with the graphic sex, you're probably okay with that, too.
Also contains Meddling!Sam. Heh. I like Meddling!Sam.

oh yeah, after reading X-Factor I also de-aged Ric by a year. 'Cause, man, it hasn't been long. Changing 'Touching' to go along with that.

Touching Can't Hurt


"Hey, Ric, ya got a minute?" Sam asked.

Rictor looked longingly at the playstation. "Hang on," he said, hoping it wasn't important and Sam would just forget him. "I'm beating Jimmy."

"Sure," Sam said. He sat down. He. Sat. Down. Dammit. It obviously wasn't going away.

Rictor let Jimmy win. He couldn't concentrate, not with Sam watching him like that. "What did you want?" he asked, sharper than he'd meant to.

"I was hopin' we could talk."

"Uh oh," Jimmy said. "Better 'fess up now, Ricky-boy."

Rictor glared at him. "Yeah, sure," he mumbled. Sam stood, and Rictor followed him outside.

"Nice night, huh?" Sam said, staring at the setting sun.

Rictor glanced up, then away. "Yeah. Great. What did you want?"

Sam looked down, obviously uncomfortable.

"What, Sam?" Rictor asked. "You're making me nervous here." He tried a laugh. It sounded nervous.

Sam took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "Something came up. With Shatterstar."

"Madre de Dios," Rictor groaned. "He did NOT tell you about the other night."

Sam was frowning. "Rather in a lot more detail than Ah wanted, actually," he muttered. "But--"

"Sam, it was nothing. Bad day. Just leave it alone." He could feel his face burning. He stuffed his hands under his armpits and glared at the sky.

"Right. Well. Anyway, it made me think of some stuff Tab had said. About, y'know, how you came to be with the X-Men."

Rictor just kept staring at the sky. If he stared hard enough, maybe Sam would go away.

"And all that Right stuff. And--well--Ah know you don't really talk about it. At all."

He thought about staring at Sam. Discarded the idea.


Only grudgingly did Rictor look down. It was a card. "What's that?" he asked without taking it.

"Ah got a couple'a names of people," Sam muttered. "In the area. That you could talk to."

Rictor glared at the card, the back of it filled with Sam's scrawl. "You want me to talk to a shrink? What for?"

Sam twiddled the card. "Ric--ya'll were tortured."

Leave it to Sam to be blunt and say what most people wouldn't. "I think I’m dealing just fine, thanks."

"I agree," Sam said. It sounded casual. Rictor doubted it was. That card was still hanging there, between them. "But sometimes a guy wants to talk, y'know? Get another opinion? And Ah know you don't like people to know--"

"I don’t care who knows." It was a lie, and he knew it. Apparently, so did Sam. Sam said nothing.

"Well, you can do with it whatever you want," Sam said finally. He stepped in front of Rictor, catching his eye. "But if my girlfriend did to me what you did to Shatty, Ah'd be terrified. So Ah'm worried about you." He tucked the card in Rictor's hand.

Rictor glared at it. "Stupid," he muttered. But he shoved the card in his pocket anyway.

The Thursday before…


Sam looked up, dragging his face away from Tabitha's neck. Shatterstar stood in the doorway, looking awkward, holding one sword and staring at it like it held the secrets to the world. "Shatty?" Sam said.

Shatterstar looked up. "I am sorry to interrupt. I'll return--"

But Shatterstar rarely sought him out, and considering he was in his bedroom, this was definitely a seek-out. "No, it's okay." He gave Tabitha an apologizing look. She just smiled ruefully and adjusted her shirt.

"I'll just go… get something to drink," she said, standing. Shatterstar turned to one side, letting her pass without actually entering the room.

"Shatty?" Sam asked again.

His fingers were dancing over the hilt of his sword. "I think I raped Julio."

Sam froze. Then he remembered to breathe. "Shatterstar, come in."

Reluctantly, he did, closing the door before sinking down into a chair. He looked…old. Infinitely confused. And terrified.

"Tell me what happened."

Shatterstar opened his mouth and Sam lifted one hand, suddenly remembering the one other time he'd said that. "Wait. Don't tell me everything. Tell me this: did Julio not want to have sex?"

Shatterstar shifted in his chair. "No. I believed he wanted it a great deal."

"Did he say 'no' or 'stop' or 'wait' or anythin' like that?"

"Only once. And we stopped."

Sam felt weak with sudden relief. "Okay. That's good. Did you think he wanted to stop but just wasn't saying so?"

Shatterstar tapped the point of his sword against the floor. "No."

Just as Sam had--well, hoped. Shatterstar was more confused than anything. "So, why exactly do you think you raped him?"

"I hurt him. And--maybe I did know he didn't want to… do what we were doing. I thought he would relax, though. I thought it would be okay. And he said it was okay, but it was not--"

Why couldn't they have told Dom they were doing It? She already knew, after all, and if they just told her then they could stop pretending like Sam was the only person who knew they were having sex, and then they could take these problems to her. Sam was already far into I Don't Want To Know This territory, and he had the sinking suspicion that it was about to get worse.

"Are you sure you hurt him?" Sam asked first, because sometimes Shatterstar thought he hurt people when he didn't really.

"Yes." His shoulders rolled in. "He was crying."

That gave Sam pause. "You're sure he wasn't cryin' because he was laughin'?" he asked, since that had happened once. Twice. No more than three times, he was certain.

"He was not laughing. I checked. I raped him, didn't I?" Silver eyes came up, looking at him worriedly.

"Maybe ya'll went too far," Sam said slowly, "but you didn't rape him. The person has to not want to do it, and you do it anyway, for it to be rape."

Shatterstar didn't look any happier. "You don't know," he muttered at last.

Sam took a deep breath. Here he went, diving headfirst into I Don't Want To Know This territory. "All right. Tell me."

The Wednesday night before THAT…

He had a lap full of very naked Julio. These were his favorite moments. True, things had been very confusing lately. But nighttimes he still understood. During the day Julio didn't really talk to him, and that he didn't understand. Obviously, he was doing something wrong. He just hadn't figured out what, yet. But nighttimes--then everything went back to the way it used to be.

And he had a lap full of very naked Julio.

"You have any idea what time it is, 'Star?" Julio laughed softly against his mouth.

He didn't really care what time it was. "No." He stroked his hands down Julio's thighs, one on either side of Shatterstar's hips, and felt the tremor that ran through the body above him.

"You have any idea what time I have to be up tomorrow?"

"I think you are up right now," Shatterstar said, brushing knuckles forward between them. Julio twitched, his breath caught. The bed trembled slightly. Shatterstar grinned. He'd made clever use of words--he was learning--and he'd made Julio make the bed tremble. One night he'd even managed to make Julio make the room tremble. Shaking the lamp off the nightstand hadn't been so good, but it was worth it.

"And you," Julio was saying, "wake me up in the middle of the night--"

Shatterstar grinned against the other man's mouth. "You talk too much." He licked the corner of his lips, drew back when Julio turned to kiss him. Julio, as expected, followed until Shatterstar rested against the headboard, Julio sprawled on top of his chest.

Ah, naked Julio. Life really didn't get much better. He held the man's hips for just a moment, flexing his fingers into that smooth flesh. Then he ran his hands up his back, soothing and arousing. Teeth nibbled on Julio's ear, biting down once and earning a near-squeak. Then he slid his hands down the body before him, over his ass, between his legs. He felt Julio not quite thrust against him, just a little push and a groan. Julio was doing amazing things to his neck and he'd really had no idea nipples could be so sensitive. Julio was doing amazing things to those, too.

Shatterstar swallowed hard. He rubbed the skin on the man's balls, got a groan into his throat, then slid one hand up, higher, up the cleft of Julio's ass. He dragged fingers over his hole, rubbed, felt a squirm and a thrust, and left a hand there while the other one kept traveling up. "Julio," he said, rubbing the hard tendons at the back of a slender neck. His breath caught as Julio's hand snuck between them, gripping Shatterstar just right and pulling.


"I would like…" he'd only ever suggested it once. Julio hadn't wanted to. "Time," he said. "Maybe later. Okay?"

It was later. It was much later, and Shatterstar hadn't brought it up again, but he'd seen it on movies and everyone always looked like they were having such fun

He rubbed again at Julio's ass, feeling the skin around his hole tighten.

Julio sat up. "Oh."

Shatterstar sat up, too, which shifted Julio back. He almost lost his balance, but Shatterstar wrapped one hand around his spine and held. Pulled Julio a little bit closer. Enough to kiss. "If you don't want--" Shatterstar started. He wanted, but he could wait. He'd learned patience, if nothing else, on Mojoworld. He knew things sometimes set Julio off. Things that were okay one day were suddenly taboo the next.

"We could try--" Julio said at the same time. They both stopped, eyeing the other. Shatterstar said nothing, not wanting to push and still uncertain how much he could suggest before it became pushing.

"We could try," Julio started again, slowly. "I guess."

Which meant they probably wouldn't get as far as Shatterstar wanted, but that was okay. He could deal with that. Even a little bit farther was farther than where they were now.

Except Julio was rigid, and Shatterstar had done enough research to know it wouldn't be comfortable, much less enjoyable, unless the man relaxed. So he went back to kissing.

"I'd like to try," he said, licking a line up Julio's neck. He rubbed both hands over the man's back, hard enough to massage the muscles and push Julio up and into his chest.

There was a long shuddering sigh from Julio, and the tension began to leave.

"I would like to be inside you," Shatterstar murmured against skin. He felt Julio shiver. Words had power. He'd learned that right away. "I'd like to feel you…"

Julio made one of those not-quite-whimpering noises. Shatterstar licked a nipple, then sucked on it.

Julio's breath came out in a long shudder. Shatterstar rubbed again at Julio's ass, felt the flinch and then the very purposeful relaxing. Julio ducked his head, kissing Shatterstar's neck. "This is vaguely embarrassing," he muttered before sucking.

Shatterstar's eyes closed for a moment. Julio tongued his skin, then sucked harder. His hand rubbed the top of Shatterstar's cock, and Shatterstar bit down on his lip to keep from groaning. He swallowed hard. He was supposed to be looking for something that might--ah. Hand lotion. "Why?" His voice was throaty. It was deep anyway, but deeper now. Fingers made circles just there, and he felt himself twitch. Teeth nibbled at his ear. God, he wanted to thrust--more, he wanted in. "Why is it embarrassing?" he asked again.

"I don't know," Julio muttered.

Shatterstar smiled, breathing into Julio's ear. The man trembled. He pulled Julio's hand away from his groin. Much more of that, and things would be over for the night anyway. "I think," he said slowly, lowering his voice so it hummed against Julio's skin, "that you are very sexy." He slid a hand up Julio's chest, flicking at nipples again, then down, following the very faint line of body hair past his navel. Julio was hard against him. Good.

Julio laughed quietly. His voice caught when Shatterstar touched, and he closed his eyes. Shatterstar wasn't certain if the laughter was a good thing or not. He didn't think most people laughed when you called them sexy, but he wasn't sure.

"You make me want you very much," Shatterstar murmured, rubbing hand lotion across his fingers, his other hand shifting to stroke the inside of Julio's thigh. Julio was squirming. "I especially liked," Shatterstar said, fingering all the sensitive skin there, "when you were working with Sam, and you arched back and caught his hand so he could fly away with you. It made me think of how you look when you arch back for me."

Julio's head whipped up, staring at him. "I'm never going to be able to train again," he said softly.

Shatterstar grinned, fairly certain that Julio was only kidding. He trailed his thumb along the underside of Julio's cock, wiping off the mock-horror and replacing it with closed eyes and another groan. His other hand, fingers slick with lotion now, slid down Julio's body, rubbing over and circling his hole. He could feel the man's hands fisting and relaxing in his hair, and his breathing was ragged. Shatterstar kept a hand between them, stroking and petting.

"Is this all right?" Shatterstar asked, wanting to just make sure. He so often didn't understand what was going on. He didn't want to mess this up.

Julio nodded against his shoulder. Groaned again when Shatterstar rubbed a thumb over his cock.

Shatterstar licked the shell of the ear near his mouth, rubbing harder at the circle of muscle around Julio's ass. He pushed, felt muscle resist for a moment before his finger slid in.

He felt Julio stiffen immediately. Shatterstar waited, the hand that was between them now shifting back, rubbing Julio's spine, following the lines of muscle up his back. "Relax," he whispered into an ear. "It's all right. I won't hurt you. I would never hurt you, Julio. It's all right. You are so beautiful…"

"Okay," Julio said after a minute. "It's okay."

It didn't seem okay. Shatterstar rubbed the skin around his finger, other hand still sliding up and down Julio's back, as if he could rub away the stress. He could feel the constant tremble in the body spread in his lap. His fingers were big. Maybe they were too big.

"It's okay," Julio said again.

Maybe he was reading the wrong things. Maybe it was okay. Julio trembled when things were really good, too. If Julio said it was… Shatterstar pushed a little bit more, sliding his finger farther in, feeling skin stretch around his first knuckle, pushing farther until he was an inch? Two? inside. Not far, he hoped. But Julio was so tight--

The bed trembled. Shatterstar froze. Julio wasn't moving, anymore. The squirming was gone, replaced by an utter stillness. His face was buried in Shatterstar's shoulder, hands tangled in Shatterstar's hair. "Julio?" He rubbed the man's back again, not knowing what to do. "Julio? Is it okay?"

"S--stop--" Julio said.

Shatterstar pulled his hands away, pulling his finger out carefully, sweeping both palms up and over the man's back. "All right. I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

"Shh. It's all right." The words were choked.

The bed was still trembling.


The man shook his head.

Shatterstar slid a hand down nearly black hair. "Julio, please look at me?" His shoulder was wet.

Julio shook his head again.

"I didn't meant to hurt you--"

"Didn't," Julio said. "S'okay."

But he was crying. Shatterstar could feel it now, as much as the other man was trying to hide it. His breathing was unsteady, and Shatterstar's shoulder was wet.

"Julio, I’m sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you--"

Julio just shook his head again. "Not you. S'okay."

Shatterstar wrapped his hands in Julio's hair and scooted them both down on the bed, until they could lay flat, Julio on top of him. Julio was still crying. "I didn't mean to," Shatterstar said again, feeling helpless and unhappy.

Julio kept crying. Nearly silently. Almost motionlessly. If Shatterstar hadn't been holding him, he might not have noticed. "I'm sorry," he said again, both arms wrapped tightly around the long body.

Thursday again, in Sam's room.

"Wait--" Sam said.

"I have made you angry because I raped Julio."

Sam looked up. Shatterstar managed to make the sentence matter-of-fact and gloomy at the same time. "No," he said patiently. "Why did you think Ah was angry?"

"You're red."

Sam sighed. "Ah'm red because Ah'm blushin'."

Shatterstar frowned. "Oh."

"Now, he actually said 'not you'?"

Shatterstar shrugged. "Yes. Why are you blushing?"

Sam sighed. WHY couldn't they have just told Domino? "Because I really don't want to hear things like how Rictor feels and what he tastes like."

"You should taste him. He tastes good."

"So Ah gather," Sam said blandly. "But back to the point. He *said* 'not you'?"

Shatterstar nodded.


"Is that important?"

Sam eyed him. "Ah ain't sure. But, Shatty? Ya'll didn't rape Rictor."

Shatterstar looked hopeful. "I didn't?"

"No. If he'd asked you to stop, that'd be rape. He didn't. Or, if you'd asked him if he wanted to stop and he said yes, but you didn't stop. That might be rape."

Shatterstar looked horrified. "But that would be wrong."

Sam wondered sometimes, where Shatterstar got his ideas of things. "Yes," Sam said. "That's why people don't like rape."

"Oh." Shatterstar thought about that.

"As for the rest of it," Sam said, before Shatterstar could ask him something uncomfortable, "let me think about it. Maybe you should talk to Rictor?"

"He won't talk to me," Shatterstar mumbled. "He is upset."

Sam nodded. Probably embarrassed, too, knowing Ric. "All right. Well, do what you can. Ah think Ah'm gonna go find Tabitha."

"Yes, of course," Shatterstar said, standing and hurrying to the door. "Sam--thank you."

Sam smiled. "Anytime. But, maybe without the stuff about the nipples next time?"

Friday, again, but late at night.

Julio woke. Then he bolted for the bathroom.

He vomited up what was left of his dinner, then sat back, shaking, on the bathroom floor. The doorway darkened, and a moment later Shatterstar was kneeling beside him.


Fucking pervert!

He flinched. Shatterstar froze.

Rictor kept his eyes closed, body folded in on itself. He couldn't deal with this. He couldn't cope with this right now. Not now. He'd been doing good at forgetting, damn it.

Something shifted next to him, and he cracked an eye. Shatterstar sat cross-legged, watching him.

Shatterstar. Everything had been fine until Shatterstar started with the touching and the petting and--and--the stupid sex. He had been able to forget it all until then.

"Julio? Are you all right? Are you sick?" A hand lifted, knuckles to him, going for his face.

Damn it

Rictor flinched again.

"I just--" the hand dropped. "Do you have a fever?"

A fever. He was checking for a fever. In the dark, Rictor couldn't see the star tattoo. He couldn't see the red of Shatterstar's hair, or the silver eyes. Just a shape. Big. Shatterstar had always been big.


He was shaking again. Why did Shatterstar have to be so damn big? "Turn on the light." His voice was hoarse, but then, he'd just thrown up.

Shatterstar moved. The light snapped on, too bright, throwing everything into relief, making him squint.

"Julio, I'm worried about you."

He tried to force the memories back. Back, dammit. They kept surfacing anyway.

We could be good for each other.

--now it's going to hurt. Do you know why it's going to hurt? I'll tell you.

God damn pervert! Keep your fucking hands off him!

Nothing had happened. Nothing had happened.


He flinched again. "I just need some time alone." Cold tile. Cold wall. Nothing like a body. Nothing pressing in.

"Are you sure--"

"Shatterstar. Please, just--go."

The body moved. Julio opened one eye. Shatterstar was gone.

He let his head fall back. "Fuck."

Saturday morning, 7 am

Sam didn't really like mornings. But he was the team leader (at least when Cable wasn't around, which was surprisingly often) and if he didn't get up, no one did. So he was up at seven, staggering around after a late night and hoping someone had remembered to set the automatic coffee maker.

No one had. Grumbling, he poured ground beans into a filter and shoved it in to the holder. He filled the pot with water, poured it into the machine, and hit the button.

Then he glared. It made his teammates move faster. Maybe it would make--

He looked up at a faint explosion. Television? Sam wandered toward the den. Yes--he could see flickering lights. He leaned against the doorway. "Shatty?"

The red head turned to look at him. "Hello," he said only, then went back to staring at the television.

"Shatty--"he looked for Rictor. Didn't see him. "How come you're up?"

"Julio is sick."

Sam looked around. Still no Rictor. "Why aren't you with him?"

"He wishes to be alone."

There was pain in that very stiff way he sat.

"Oh," Sam said. "Right." He wondered, if they just locked Rictor and Shatterstar in a room for a week, if they would get their acts together. He thought about talking. Shatterstar was engrossed in the home shopping network. Better to just leave him alone.

Sam turned walked down corridors until he came to the rooms, then headed straight for Rictor's. He knocked once, then entered.

Rictor was sprawled across the bed, staring at the clock. He jumped, though, sitting up when Sam just walked in. "Shatterstar says you're sick," he said.

Julio glared. His face was red. His eyes were puffy. "Just had a bad dream," Rictor snapped. "Shatterstar's overreacting."

Sam nodded slowly. "Uh huh."

"You know how he is. How he can be. He doesn't understand everything."

"So you told him to get out?" He knew he was pressing buttons. He couldn't seem to help himself.

"Fuck off, Sam."

The throwing-them-into-a-room plan was looking better and better. Instead, Sam walked farther inside and closed the door.

Rictor was looking at him like he'd just announced he was the next sacrifice to the virgin god.

"Tell me what's goin' on."

"It's none of your business."

Sam breathed deeply. "Then tell Shatterstar."

"It's none of his business, either!" Julio snapped.

"Then call one o' those numbers I gave you. Shit, Ric. Something's wrong." He gestured at Rictor's face. "Ah know Ah, for one, have never seen you cry."

Rictor turned red--well, redder--and rubbed at his eyes with an arm. It was an oddly young gesture. But then, Ric was the youngest of them. Sam had to count back. He was pretty sure Ric was eighteen… Shit. He hoped Ric was eighteen, because he knew Shatterstar was at least twenty-two and how did you explain to an alien about statutory rape? He wondered if this was how Domino and Cable felt. Suddenly old, and wondering if they were doing the right thing. Kids. All of them.

Slowly, he walked to the bed and sat down. "Tell me what's wrong?"

Rictor shook his head.

"Is it about …um…" He took a stab in the dark. "Shatterstar?"

Rictor snorted. "Please."

"About something that happened--before?" He left 'before' unspecified.

"Fuck off, Sam. Go away."

"No." At least this was the Rictor he was used to dealing with. Angry and explosive.

"Get out!" Rictor stood, pointing at the door. The ground was trembling.

Sam stood, slowly. He hadn't felt the ground shake like this, unless Rictor was doing it on purpose, in well over a year. Maybe more. Maybe since they were at the school. Ric had been--what? Fifteen, Sam thought.

"What is wrong?" Sam asked quietly.

"Nothing!" A book shook off the computer. "Get out!"

Everyone needed a friend to talk to. Other than Shatterstar, Sam didn't think Rictor had one. "Ric, Ah'm worried."

"Go fucking worry about someone else!"

Sam nodded once. "Ah'm pulling you off the team." He started for the door.

"What? You can't do that! I'm--"

"Scarin' me." Sam stopped, and looked pointedly at the room. Everything was shaking. A drawer rolled out. "Ah can't trust you like this. Not with peoples' lives. Get your head together."

"Fuck you!" Rictor snarled, arm whipping like he'd thrown something. The bookshelf was suddenly cleared, snapped and hanging off the wall, everything on it on the floor. "You have no right--"

"I have every right. Until you talk to someone, until you figure out your shit, you're off the team." Sam had raised his blast field, carefully, quietly, afraid something would topple onto him.

"Fuck you!"

Sam nodded once, turned, and left. The hall was shaking, too. Heads were poking out of their rooms.

The locked-in-a-room idea was getting better and better.

Saturday, later

"Ah think Ah fucked up," Sam said.

Domino closed the trunk of her car and stared at him over the roof. "Oh?"

"Now what?" Cable asked. Then he closed his eyes and started swearing.

Domino frowned, and Sam knew, in that moment, that Cable had just told her everything. "Actually," she said, "I think that's a pretty good reason to kick someone off a team. Assuming you did it because he's not controlling his powers, and he's freaking out about something, rather than doing it because you were pissed that he's acting like an ass."

"Right. The first one. Two," Sam said.

"I like the lock-them-in-a-room plan…" Cable said.

Domino snorted. "Yeah. Well. Hey--don't we have a cellblock?"

"Uh, guys?" Sam said. "That was just a joke."

Saturday, even later than before.

"You're locking me in a cell because I can't control my powers."

"We figure you've got enough self-preservation not to bring the place down around your ears," Domino said. "And we gave you a phone."

"So, what?" Rictor snapped. "I can call the police? Hello, I'm a mutant wanted for all sorts of crimes, and my team has just locked me--"

"No. So you can call a shrink if you feel like it. Card's there." Domino pointed.

"And why is Shatterstar here, exactly?" Rictor asked, glaring at Shatterstar.

"So you don't break out. His job is to keep you there."

Rictor looked at Shatterstar, who looked innocently back. He knew it wasn't an act. He wished it were, because then he could hit the man. "You know," Rictor said, "if you let me get us out, you'll be free too."

"I'm happy here," Shatterstar said. "There are pillows and a comfortable bed, and books and clean clothes. And you."

"I can't believe we're actually doing this," Jimmy said.

Rictor glared at him. The whole team had turned out for the big event. "I hate you all."

"Right. Have fun," Domino said, and ushered everyone out of the lockdown area. The door shut behind her.

Rictor closed his eyes. At least it wasn't dark. Or earthen. "Tell me you didn't know about this."

"I did not know about this," Shatterstar said. "Not until fifteen minutes ago."

"I don't need this."

"I know."

His eyes opened. "So help me get out."


"Right. Just stand there, and I'll get out--" A large hand wrapped around his wrist, pulling it away from the door.

"Shatterstar! What are you doing? Let go!" Rictor yanked. The larger man didn't budge.

"I don't know what is wrong with you," Shatterstar said, "and I don't know if this is a good way to fix it. But I don’t know how else to help you. So I'll keep you here."

Rictor stared. "You must be kidding."

Shatterstar shook his head.

"I can take this place apart without pointing, you know."

"I know. Please don't. Stay here. With me."

Rictor swallowed. He tugged, and his wrist came free. "This is messed up, 'Star."

"Everything has been messed up since the beginning," Shatterstar pointed out.

Rictor grunted and sat down on the bed. There were mounds of pillows on it. Theresa's idea, he guessed. "Shit."

Sunday morning, about 2 am

Julio lurched up. Ran around the little screen they'd put around the toilet and sink, and threw up.

Shatterstar moved the screen, sitting down behind him. "What's wrong?"

Julio shook his head. Too tired to think up an excuse. Too tired to tell the truth.

"Sam said you might have nightmares because of the Right. He said you were tortured. But I think it is something I did."

Julio laughed humorlessly. "I was tortured." He tensed, suddenly expecting--something.

Shatterstar sat behind him, pulling him against his chest. "You were? It must have been frightening."

Julio relaxed. There was no condemnation in the tone. No syrupy pity. No horror. He closed his eyes. "It was."

"Is that why you do not talk about it?"

Julio nodded. He saw red hair lying on the floor, and picked it up, running the lock between his fingers. Silky.

"This is a place where we're supposed to talk, though. Would it be better for you if you did?"

Now that was a sticky question. "Maybe. But I don't want to." His voice was quiet.

"But if it would be better--"

"But I don't want to," Julio said, louder. He sat up, away, but was pulled back and down again by stronger arms.

"Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to, in order to be able to do things we do want to."

Julio's head was spinning. It took him a while to figure out that sentence. Longer than it should have. He kept running it over and over in his mind.

"But if it is not the torture that you are upset about, it must be me. Is it me?"

Too tired to think up an excuse. Too tired to tell the truth. He closed his eyes. "Not really."

"I…I did not mean to hurt you when I put my finger--"

"Stop." Please, before they got any farther than that.

"But I didn't--"

"Shatterstar. You didn't hurt me."

"You were crying."

He ducked his head, watching his fingers run the hair over and over and over. "It just reminded me of something bad."


Julio gritted his teeth. "Something. Bad."

"What, though?"

"I don’t want to talk about it. It's stupid, anyway."

"Obviously not, if it bothers you this much."

It was hard to argue with that matter-of-fact voice. The tone that said, "I may be alien, and I may not understand what's going on half the time, but even I can tell this."

"I don't want to talk about it!" Julio snapped, struggling until Shatterstar let him go and he could stand. He walked to the front of their cell, leaning his forehead against the bars.

"I would love you, no matter what happened," Shatterstar said softly. Julio hadn't realized he'd gotten that close. "Even if you don't tell me, and you always hate me."

"I don't hate you."

"I hurt you."

"You didn't--Jesus, 'Star. It's not because of you. I'm just fucked up."

He felt a body against his, a hair's breath away, hands sweeping his hair over his shoulder. Shatterstar kissed him, in that overly sensitive spot just at the nape of his neck. "I would like to know why you are upset." Nipped him. "Please." Tongue brush across his skin. "And when I know, I will kiss the hurt away."

Julio laughed. He wished it could happen. "It's just stupid. Nothing happened."

"Tell me about the nothing that happened."

Julio closed his eyes. "I can't. I don't know how."

"Tell me where it started."

Mexico. Three years before.

Julio sat up as the door opened. A man he'd seen only once before came down, carrying a black leather bag. The door closed behind him.

"Julio," he said, sitting on the cot. The thin mattress dipped. The man opened his case, pulling out a stethoscope. "I know you must be hurting. Take off your shirt. Let me see."

Julio did so, carefully. He was bruised and battered, his ribs swollen. His skin was either yellow or purple or green. Even in the light from the television, the only light in the room, he could see that.

The doctor tsked, listening to his heart, his breathing. "If you didn't fight--"

"I didn't fight," Julio pointed out miserably. He almost never fought anymore. It made it worse. They beat him until his powers worked, and no more. If he fought, they beat him out of anger.

The doctor was silent for a moment. "Yes," he said finally. "I know." He put the stethoscope away. "Turn around."

Julio twisted on the bed. He flinched at the fingers on his back, though the man was obviously trying to be careful. Gentle hands, something cold and wet--antiseptic, Julio guessed--sliding over the broken skin and red welts crisscrossing his spine. Rodriguez' stupid new whip. The man said it did less internal damage. It hurt worse than any punch, though.

"Here, lay down," the doctor said.

Julio did, on his stomach, his head cradled on his arms. "Can't you convince them to let me go?" he whispered. Doctors were supposed to be good. You were supposed to trust them.

"Julio, if it wasn't for a good cause, you know I would. But you're just one casualty to save hundreds of lives. Be proud of that."

He closed his eyes and said nothing more. Liquid smoothed over the fire in his back, numbing it. Then hands. Down his sides, up his spine, carefully. Back down over his ribs. Soothing. But…

Julio opened one eye and watched what he could of the doctor. What was he doing? Surely something doctor-y. Doctors were like gods. You did what they said and didn't argue. Sometimes they did things that people didn't like, but it was always for something good.

"Julio," the man murmured, hands around his waist. "I could make this much easier for you, you know. All of it. I could make the pain go away…"

His hands slid lower, over the denim covering Julio's butt and between--

Julio yelped and twisted away, lunging to his feet and pressing himself back against the wall. He couldn’t get farther. The man was sitting on the chain that kept him hooked to the bed.

"Oh, come on, now," the doctor said, standing. "You're old enough to know about men and women. You're--what? Thirteen?"

"Fifteen," Julio snapped. He'd just had a birthday.

The doctor's eyes ran down his body and back up. Julio looked at his shirt longingly, laying on the cot, out of reach. "They're not feeding you well then, are they?" the man said.

Julio started to edge away, now that the chain was free. The doctor stepped on it.

"You're plenty old enough to have sexual urges of your own," he said, suddenly close. "We could be good for each other."

The man's hand brushed his face.

Julio flinched and spat, "They may not feed me, but at least they don't touch me, freakin' pervert." His voice trembled with fear, but he hoped the doctor didn’t notice.

The man's face twisted. "Pervert, am I? I would have let you use your mouth, mutant. I could have even made it good for you. Now I'll just take you--"

His hand closed in Julio's hair. Julio screamed, kicked, felt weight pin him to the wall. The world shook.

"Damn it!" the doctor shouted, staggering. He backhanded Julio.

Julio landed hard on his stomach, sprawled half across the bed. A hand landed on his jeans, another in his hair, yanking him painfully the rest of the way onto the cot. "I'm willing to bet," the man breathed in his ear, "that your power won't bury you under this building. I've never yet seen a mutant killed by their own abilities."

"Get off!" Julio shouted, jamming his elbow back, hoping he'd hit something tender. It glanced off the man's--arm? Shoulder? He couldn't tell.

"You threatened my life with that little earthquake just now," the doctor hissed. "You insult me and threaten me--I could have made this good for you, Julio."

One arm was pinned under his body. The other he flailed with, until the doctor caught it and yanked it up and out. It was the arm with the chain. Julio twisted and fought, but the man was practically sitting on him. The doctor wrapped the chain several times around one of the posts on the cot, pulling his arm up at such an angle that Julio couldn’t move it enough to get it free.

The weight lifted off his body; enough to breathe, but not enough to free his other arm.

"HELP!" Julio screamed.

"Stupid mutant," the doctor snarled. "This room is soundproof."

"HELP!" he screamed again, anyway. There was a hand on his back, leaning on him, holding him down, while the other snuck under his body. He tried to kick, ended up with the doctor sitting on his legs. He twisted. The man grunted, bore down more heavily on his body, as if afraid he might get his arm free.

There was a steady shaking through the room now, but it hadn't gotten any bigger.

"Do you shake inside, too?" the doctor growled. His hand was working under Julio, knuckles and fingers digging into his stomach. "I'm going to find out. This could have been good, but now it's going to hurt. Do you know why it's going to hurt? I'll *tell* you."

His pants came loose, and the man shifted, yanking them down. Julio screamed again, again tried to twist free. A knee landed where the hand had been on his back, and the hand buried itself in his hair, shoving his face into the pillow. He couldn't breathe. He fought, heard hair rip away from his skull, managed to turn enough to gasp. The man was having problems with his jeans. Thank god.

"It's going to hurt," the doctor grunted, "because I'm going to take you up your little ass and let me just tell you, bodies aren't meant to work that way. Things up your ass? Hurts. Always."

He felt air on his butt. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.

"Someone help me!" he screamed again, terror making his voice hoarse.

A hand on him. Spreading him, no matter how much he tightened his muscles. Something probing at him there and pushing and too big and oh, fuck, it did hurt--

"And that's just a finger, kid. A cock is much, much bigger. It's going to stretch and tear you until you bleed and you could have avoided this, remember that--"

The door opened.

"What the hell is going on?" Rodriguez's voice.

"HELP!" Julio screamed again, thrashing anew.

"Get off him!"

The weight was gone, like that.

"God damn pervert! Keep your fucking hands off him!"

Julio scrambled up, sliding along the sheet, pushing away from the doctor, curling into a ball, his pants still around his thighs and yanking them up, sobbing and can't breathe and he wanted to be sick--

"Okay, it's okay, he's gone." The other man's voice. The man that always fed him; the tall, bony one Julio only knew as Skinny. The cot dipped, and Julio flinched, crying into his arm, still tied around the post but starting to come loose. Hands on him, but not petting, not bad, wrapping around him and pulling him closer.

"He's gone. It's over. It's okay, I promise. We won't let him near you again, okay? Not again. He won't touch you."

Julio buried his face in Skinny's shirt, the voice that told him he was too old to cry silent for once. So he cried. Skinny wrapped him up in his lap, folding him in, rocking back and forth.

"It's okay now. I'm sorry, kid. It's done. Kid, did he--I mean--Rodriguez, do you know…?"

"The doc's pants were still done up. I don't think it got too far."

Julio could feel the chest under him rise and fall heavily. "I want to go home," he sobbed. "Please, I want to go home."

"I know, kid, but it'll be okay now."

Julio grabbed at the front of his jeans, realizing suddenly they were still undone. He fumbled with the button, his hands shaking.

"All right, it's okay, relax," Skinny said, pushing his fingers away and doing it himself. "There, see? Safe and sound."

Julio twisted, looking for his shirt. He saw it, grabbed it and yanked it over his head. Skinny helped him sort out the arms. Julio pulled it over his torso, tugging it down farther and farther, sniffling and ignoring the tears still falling down his cheeks. Then he pulled himself out of Skinny's lap, sitting on his pillow, curled up. "I want to go home."

"You can't go home, kid," Skinny said softly. "But it's okay. I mean, you made the house shake so we came to check on you and stopped it. Now we know. It's okay. It--it hasn’t happened…before?"

Julio shook his head, face buried in his arms.

Skinny sounded relieved. "Oh, well, then, see, it's okay. It won't happen again. It'll be fine. It was just--it was just touching. Touching can't hurt you, okay? You'll be okay."

Sunday morning, early.

"See? Stupid. Nothing happened." His face was wet. In the dark, it didn’t matter so much. Not as long as he was quiet.

Shatterstar was still behind him, stroking his arms. Up and down and up again. Over and over. "It sounds…frightening."

Julio shrugged, holding onto the bars of the cell as if they were only thing keeping him upright. "Sure. But nothing really happened. Lots of things are scary."

He waited for Shatterstar to agree. "I might be wrong," Shatterstar said, slowly, "but I think lots of things happened. I think you were hurt. And scared. And I know you say television isn't a good mirror to reality, but on television this makes people very upset. You were very young, and he was someone you were supposed to trust."

Shit. If Shatterstar was going to say things like that, he wasn't going to be able to hold himself together. Shatterstar was supposed to be tough-as-nails, able to survive anything. He wasn't supposed to say things like that. Julio shrugged the man's hands off, and walked away. He needed space. He took deep breaths, trying to stay calm. Nothing had happened.

Shatterstar followed. He came up behind Julio, wrapping his arms around his chest and pulling him in.

Julio stiffened, struggling to get free. "Let go."

"No. I think, if it had been me, I would have felt very bad. Hurt. And frightened. And maybe a little sick."

Julio felt his chest shudder. "Get real," he said, trying to breathe, trying to keep from screaming. He wanted to scream.

The floor was trembling.

"You're practically an iron man," Julio continued. "Nothing scares you. You would have handed that creep his head, not screamed like a girl and let him--let him--"

"You did not 'let him' do anything."

"I should have been able to at least knee him." If he had just fought harder…

"Julio--" there was frustration there. "He was bigger than you. Much bigger, and--"

"Probably only as big as I am now. Not huge. I should have--should have done something. Fought. Screamed louder. Been able to control my powers, after all those months, enough--or maybe I should have told the doctor to go away, that I didn't need the help. If I'd just done that--I could have fought him, damn it, but I just let him--"

Shatterstar was growling. It was never a good thing when Shatterstar growled. The arm around him tightened, then released suddenly. A hand at his back pushed him away.

Julio staggered, hit the wall, turned. He stared. Shatterstar was stalking toward him. He didn't look like he was playing.

"'Star?" Julio said, uncertainly.

"Like the doctor, I am a bigger man. Like the doctor, I am someone you are supposed to trust."

Julio started inching away. "Yeah, man, but that's because--" he yelped when Shatterstar lunged. He moved too late; a hand tangled in his hair, yanking his head back, exposing his jugular. Shatterstar's body--much larger, and harder and just plain bigger than most people--pinned him to the wall.

Shatterstar. It was Shatterstar. It would be all right. Shatterstar wouldn't hurt him. He heard himself whimper anyway, eyes tightly closed.

"Fight me."

Julio took a shaking breath. "No."

Shatterstar yanked his head back farther and breathed on him. "Fight me."

Suddenly vulnerable, and this was not the person he knew. "Estupido--" Rictor moved, hands coming up to--but the wall at his back and the body so close meant he didn't have enough room to effectively punch, or jab. He couldn't get his hands up to poke at the eyes, suddenly a gunmetal gray, and there was no room to get a leg between them to knee the bastard. He squirmed, struggling. There was a leg between his, forcing its way in. "Let--go--"

"The squirming feels good."

The room began to shake. "Shatterstar--"

"You cannot fight me. Not to win. Not like this," Shatterstar growled. "What about like this?"

Rictor was yanked off his feet and found himself sprawled on the bed, pillows flying. Shatterstar was on top of him, one hand on his wrist, the other in his hair, a knee in his back. "Can you fight me like this? Fight me!" Shatterstar yelled.

"Sonofabitch--" Rictor lurched. Weight smashed down on him, keeping him in place, and he reached around with his free arm, looking for the man's hip, for a pressure point--

His hair was loose, suddenly, as Shatterstar's other hand snaked out and grabbed his wrist, bringing it up with a painful twist to make him stop resisting. Shatterstar put both of Rictor's wrists in one hand, crushing them into the bed while Rictor pulled, twisted, but hands heavy with muscle from wielding swords just tightened, grinding his bones together until he stopped.

Just like before. It was just like before, but this was Shatterstar, Gaveedra Seven, sometimes crazy alien who didn't know right from wrong half the time and oh god Rictor couldn't get free and Shatterstar didn't always know right from wrong.

He couldn't breathe. The knee in his spine--Shatterstar was too heavy. He gasped. The weight let up, just a little.

Not like before, because now he could fight, damn it. He writhed, twisting and--there--nearly kicked Shatterstar in the head.


Shatterstar wrenched away, then dropped his body onto Rictor's legs, yanking his arms up with them until Shatterstar was settled, weight carefully split between his shins; one on Rictor's back, and the other on his thighs. He wasn't holding Rictor's hair anymore, but it didn't seem to matter because Rictor couldn't move anyway.

"Fight me." His free hand strayed across Julio's back.

Julio closed his eyes and willed himself to relax. He could always make the earth shake and bury the bastard. It wasn't like before. It wasn't. "This isn't funny. Let go."

"No. Fight me."

"I already did!" Julio shouted. "You made your point! Let go!"

"What was my point?" The hand was at his hip. Fuck.

"I could still bring the place down around your fucking head!" Julio snarled.

"Not then, you couldn't. Not now, either. Not with me right here. Your powers would protect you. And with me so close I wouldn't be hit, either."

The hand reached his ass and rubbed against the sweatpants he'd worn to bed, a thumb digging into the cleft between his legs. Julio flinched. He couldn't stop it. Not now. Not then.

"Fight me."

He closed his eyes, shaking, and nearly cried. Not again. Please not again. "I…I can't. 'Star, please--"

The hands gentled, weight rocked off his body, and Shatterstar was gathering him up, ignoring the fact that he was pulling away. "You could not have fought him, Julio."

He was crying. He was fucking crying. "I hate you."

Shatterstar held his head against his chest, one big hand able to span his entire skull. "I'm sorry. I would never hurt you. You know I would never hurt you."

The shaking vanished from the room. Suddenly, though, Julio thought it had all been sucked inside him. "Oh, fuck."

Shatterstar gathered him up, like a child, Julio thought, and held him tightly. Hard enough to bruise. Julio didn't object. "Let me go," he said suddenly.


"I might be sick." His stomach was shaking hard enough to twist.

"I will clean it up."

"Fuck--fuck--" It hurt. Half-hysterical and crying and the shaking hurt.

"It's all right. Let it go. Let the tremors go. Let your muscles relax. I'll hold you up. Move with them until they're gone."

He closed his eyes and did what Shatterstar said, trusting the other man to keep him upright, to hold his head so it didn't flop. He wondered if this was what a seizure felt like. He wondered if he was having a seizure. He shook and let Shatterstar hold onto him and let himself cry.

The tremors did stop. He could feel them inside, but they weren't tearing his body apart anymore. He felt… calm. Numb.

"Better?" Shatterstar murmured, stroking his hair and leaving gentle kisses on the top of his head.

"Yeah." He shuddered. His muscles hurt. His back hurt, where Shatterstar had knelt on him. He felt the man shift, and realized he was being laid down. He tensed, then relaxed. "You're a freakin' shithead."

Shatterstar smiled grimly. "I know. I apologize."

"Don't do it again."

"It worked."

Julio's head hit a pillow. He started to sit up. His muscles gave out. "Madre de Dios," he hissed softly.

"It's all right. Let me take care of you."

Oddly mother hennish, was his muscular, assholian, warrior-lover. Julio closed his eyes. He didn't want that to happen ever again. "There's something else." His voice broke.

He felt Shatterstar stop moving. Waiting.

Julio opened his eyes. "Don't--jump on me again. Okay?"

Shatterstar smiled, but it looked pained. "It was all I could think of…"

Julio closed his eyes. "No, nevermind." He couldn't say this now. He couldn't--

Shatterstar was growling.

Julio's eyes snapped open.

"Tell me."

He opened his mouth to say 'I don't want to' and remembered how well that had worked the last time. He closed his mouth with a click. "Can it wait?"

"I think that if it waits, you will make it keep waiting forever. Tell me now."

Fuck. He shouldn't have said anything. He tried to sit up again. Whimpered and couldn't get higher than a few inches off the bed. Shatterstar put a hand on his chest and pushed.

"Trust me," the man said.

"After--?" Shatterstar had scared the shit out of him.

Shatterstar winced. "I'm sorry. But yes. I caused this weakness. Let me take care of you."

He hadn't done it entirely himself, Julio thought about saying. He didn't. Instead, he talked about anything else. If Shatterstar forgot that Julio had said there was something else-- "I don't see why you'd want to take care of me. I can--"

"Tell me what happened."

So much for that idea. "It was probably nothing." It had to be nothing. "All this talking about things is only going to make my nightmares worse."

"We will deal with that later. Tell me."

Fuck. "'Star…"

The large body bent over him, kissing. "Tell me."

Mexico, three years before.

"Take these."

He eyed the pills. "What for?"

"Dammit, kid, just take them!"

Julio flinched. He scooped the two pills--bigger than the sedatives they'd given him to muffle his powers before--out of Skinny's hand and swallowed them with a glass of water.

Skinny looked anxious. Skinny never looked anxious. "What's going on?" Julio asked.

"Nothing. It's just--well, we're not sure about the dosage, so, y'know, you might feel a little dopey. Just go with it, okay kid?"

Julio nodded slowly, watching Skinny with growing anxiety. "What else is going on?"

Skinny looked at him for a moment. Then he sat. The cot dipped. "It's my sister. She's real sick, right? Like, been in the hospital for weeks, now. The doctors say she's got to have this surgery, or she'll be dead in a few days, but we can't afford the surgery. I mean, my family ain't rich. We can't afford it, y'know?"

He sat, silent. Julio sat as well, uncertain what to say. A long while passed. He could feel his head getting heavier, or maybe lighter. His body felt thick. Like maybe he couldn't lift his arm if he tried. Or maybe his mind wasn't in his body anymore, and so couldn't affect it. "i think the dosage is too high," he said slowly, very carefully. His voice seemed thready to his own ears.

"Yeah," Skinny said softly. "You'll be feeling it by now."

Julio looked at him. There were tears in the other man's eyes. "hey," Julio said, "it'll be okay. your sister will be fine." His head eased over to one side. It was too much effort to set it straight again.

"I know. It's--fuck, kid, I'm sorry, okay? I'm so sorry. But he said--she'll get the surgery--and it's only once. And you probably won't even notice it, you'll be so fucking high. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, okay? I just--I didn't know what else--fuck!" Skinny stood.

The cot moved, and Julio nearly fell off it. Alarm was dinging somewhere in his brain, but his brain was way down there with his body.

Skinny stood, holding the tray that lunch had been on. "It'll be okay. It's only once."

"oh." Julio fell sideways, staring at the sink. "then that's okay."

The door opened. It closed. Footsteps, like down a long corridor.

The voice was monstrous, and Julio could only barely make out the words.


He closed one eye slowly, trying to bring the very large shape into focus. Man. It was a man. So much bigger than him. With muscles, he guessed, because the man picked him up and turned him onto his back, laying his legs out straight. Then there were hands, under his shirt, rucking it up and then off over his head.

"don't…" Julio managed. That fear was louder now, but he was still too far away from his body to do anything. The floor wasn’t trembling. Not even vibrating.

Hands on his waistband. Tugging his pants down. Hands on his skin, a figure looming large over him. Lips on his skin. Skin on his skin. On his face. On his body. Moving him. Shifting.

Nothing made sense. There was pain, but new pain or old pain he couldn't tell. Touching. Lots and lots of touching. Everywhere. Noises, too, that came to him slowly. Gasps and groans and curses that were also just more groans. Lips on his lips and a tongue against his tongue. Those, he could recognize. He moved his head with effort, but something stopped him. Too much in his mouth, and he couldn't coordinate well enough to swallow and breathe and shift so he could breathe. Then it was gone, and back, and after a while, just gone. What Julio thought might be a long time, with nothing. Then lips returned, everywhere. His body was not his own. He couldn't tell where they were kissing. A vague sense that he didn't like any of this. He was bruised already. Everything hurt. He wanted to cry, but that was too much effort. Hands in places that made him uncomfortable and made him hurt and made him want to be sick. But that was too much effort, too.

Then the body--so very big--was gone. Julio didn't know when that had happened. Just him, laying naked on the cot, one leg crooked up and leaning against the wall, his arms spread, his other leg hanging off the side. Leaving him very…exposed.

His mind came back to him, slowly. Over the course of hours.

He knew he was cold and wet, first. Then everything came crashing in. Slowly, hurting all over, he curled onto his side and into a little ball.

Oh, God. He'd been laying there, open and vulnerable and--and he didn't know what had happened. He knew. He knew there had been a man. The doctor. It must have been the doctor. And he knew touching and licking and ow. Not being able to breathe. A tongue in his mouth. A tongue on his skin. Hands on him, all over. Probing. He remembered thumbs digging into his hips, probing. A break. A period of time where there was no touching. Then--more.

But he couldn't remember--he had to remember it.

Something wet. Julio looked down, and almost threw up. White and thick and dried on his chest. On his face, he realized. His legs. Smeared. Some of it was still wet.

He rolled over, gagging, threw up on the floor. His body was still slow and thick. He knew he was crying.

The door opened, and he curled tighter. His clothes. Where were--?

"It's okay. It's over now. Done. See? You did something good. My sister will live now and--oh, hey, I'll just clean that up, it's okay…"

"what did he do?" Julio managed.

"What did--you don't know? He--he slept with you."

"no--but--" he had to know. He didn't want to know. "--how? what? i hurt…"

"Oh. Oh, well. I don't know." A shovel chopped into the earth floor under Julio's eyes, picking up the ground that had been vomited on and carrying it away. "Is there blood?" Skinny asked when he came back. "Because, y'know, if he--well, there would probably be blood…"

Julio closed his eyes. "there was already blood. from my back."

"Oh. Well, it's probably better that you don't know. Right? I mean, if you don't remember it, you can just pretend like it didn't happen…"

Oh god, he hurt.

"Let's just get you cleaned up…"

He let Skinny wash his face, his neck, his chest. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to know what was there. Skinny sat him up, and washed his back.

"Not too bad," he said, as if Julio had rolled in wet grass, and they were cleaning off mud. "Probably just from the sheets…"

Down his thighs. He flinched and pulled away, and Skinny let him take the rag.

"You can just…finish up, then," Skinny said. He left.

Julio laid back down, curled up, and cried.

Sunday morning, 2 am

He wasn't quite crying. There were tears, but his breathing was normal. It was just eyes watering if your breathing was normal.

"So I don't really think anything happened. I mean, obviously he was groping me and got himself off, but--but I don't think--" he couldn't think. He had kept his life together for three years by not thinking.

Shatterstar was just watching him. Not condemning. Not disgusted. He would have stopped talking, he would have lied--"and then I fought off the drugs and woke up!"--if there had been disgust.

"Where did it hurt?" Shatterstar asked.

A question he'd asked himself so many times, he didn't want to think about it anymore. "All over. I'd been beaten, 'Star. I hurt all over."

Shatterstar nodded.

"I mean, there were new bruises. Those ones were obvious, after a day. But--but not any more blood. At least, not that I saw." He hadn't looked. Not until two days had passed.


He could deal with bruises. He'd had his share of bruises. "Handprints."

Shatterstar was still watching him with that intensity he gave to a fight. Silver eyes. "Where?"

Julio hesitated. "On my hips," he said finally.

Very carefully, Shatterstar moved his hands to Julio's hips, settling them along the bone. He looked up at Julio, eyebrows raised.

"Yeah." He could remember the thumbprints especially. In front. Where he could see them whenever he had to pull down his pants. Every time he went to the bathroom.

Shatterstar was moving, thinking. He looked up suddenly. "Do you want to know?"

Anything would be better than not.

If he knew, he wouldn't be able to pretend that he'd just been touched.

"No. Yes. I--I don't know."

Shatterstar watched him.

"Do you know?" he asked, watching those silver eyes.

"No. I suspect. But no, I don't know."

Stupid question. Shatterstar wasn't a mind-reader. He couldn't have cut through the drug haze any better than Julio, who'd been there.

But he suspected. Julio had spent a lot of time trying to convince himself it had only been touching. Gross, but he could handle it. He just couldn't believe it.

"What do you suspect?" His voice was quiet.

Shatterstar looked at him for a long time. Then he shifted, one hand on each of Julio's legs, pushing them apart.

Julio struggled for half a second. Shatterstar stopped, looking at him. Waiting. Julio was shaking, and that hurt, but he nodded once, and Shatterstar pushed his legs apart and settled between them. Julio tensed, then took a deep breath and relaxed. It was Shatterstar.

Then he realized what Shatterstar was doing. Hands on his hips. Fingers settled hard against those bones. Thumbs pressing in and down, as if Shatterstar might pull him closer. Julio's legs spread. One crooked up, against the wall. And Shatterstar sitting there, between them, facing him and if he'd been so inclined he could just pull or maybe push and his dick would be--

"I'm actually going to be sick this time."

Shatterstar lunged up, grabbing him and hauling him over the side of the bed. He couldn't hold it in, and threw up on the floor.

"It's all right," Shatterstar said, smoothing his hair back, holding his body because he still couldn't hold himself up.

He thought he should feel worse. He suspected that sometime soon, he would. Right now, he was still too exhausted.

"Sorry," he croaked.

Shatterstar patted him on the head and got him a glass of water--they even had a little fridge--before cleaning up the mess.

Same place as before, Julio thought. This time, there was no shovel. No babbling man telling him that it was no big deal, it was over, he'd saved a girl's life and that made it okay.

"Does it make it okay since I saved a girl's life?" he asked.

Shatterstar looked at him. "Do you mean was it all right for that skinny man to barter your body for his sister? To allow someone to rape you? No."

Well. There went that idea. He was oddly relieved.

Shatterstar crouched, his arms crossed on the bed beside Julio's face, his chin resting on them.

"Yeah?" Julio asked.

"I would like you to do something for me."

He swallowed. "What?"

A card flipped up from the crook of Shatterstar's elbow, held between two fingers. A suspiciously familiar card.


Shatterstar acted like he hadn't spoken. "This third one deals with male rape victims. Sam explained them all to me," he said briefly.


"Sam also explained the difference between 'rape' and 'going too far.' And the difference between men being raped and women being raped, though that seems mostly the same. There are often different psychological problems to work through."


"There are more often the same ones, too, but this person, this third one, deals with male rape."


"I think you were raped, and if you disagree with me, I'll just ask Sam. I think he would agree."


"Yes he would."

"I mean," Julio muttered, "I am not going to call a shrink."

Shatterstar's head was still resting on his arms. "Please."

"No. Look, homme, I think you have just as many issues to work through as I do, and you don't see me pushing you to go talk to a shrink. 'Star, man, you were a slave. That can't be good."

"True. Would it make you feel better if I went and I talked to this 'shrink' about being a slave?"

Julio opened his mouth, a scathing reply on his tongue, when he realized Shatterstar was serious. "You'd do that?"

"Of course."

He stared. And realized that it would make him feel better. Less alone. Less of a freak. Much less vulnerable. "Only if we go together. So, you'd have to say stuff in front of me."

"All right."

Just like that. All right. Shit. "I can't say stuff in front of you! What if you don't like something?"

"Then I will say stuff in front of you, and then leave so you may say stuff without worrying about me."

He stared, slack-jawed. "I…" He took the card. Looked at the third number. Dr. Lorenz. "Will you stay while I talk?"

Shatterstar smiled slightly. "I would be honored."

Julio looked at him. He wasn't kidding. "'Star?"

"Yes, Julio?"

"I--" feel sick. Feel filthy. Am disgusting. Was touched. Need to burn away my skin. "--Need a shower."

"Would a bath do?"

Julio nodded. Shatterstar pulled keys out of the fridge, reached around, and unlocked the cell door. Julio snorted. He started to sit up, only to realize his muscles were still weak. Shatterstar picked him up. He thought about saying something--it wasn't in the least manly--but decided it was too much effort. His whole body felt numb. His mind wasn't thinking any more. He relaxed and let Shatterstar carrying him up the stairs, back to his bedroom. He sat on the toilet in the bathroom he shared with Sam, and watched Shatterstar fill the tub. Then the man stripped, stripped Julio, and set them both in. Water splashed over the edge.

"Sam's going to be annoyed," Julio said. And just like that, it hit him. He'd been touched by that man. He'd been used by him. He'd been drugged and forced and--and--

He was shaking again.

Shatterstar wrapped his legs around Julio's legs, wrapped his arms around Julio's chest, and held him until it went away.


"Ah can't believe that worked."

"It's amazing, what people will do when they're not given a choice." Domino slapped his shoulder. "Good idea. Actually, we almost did the same thing to you and Tab at one point…"

Sam looked at her in horror. His eyes narrowed. "You ever do that to me, and Ah'll blast a hole through the damn roof."

"Yeah. Tab wouldn't go along with it either. That's why we didn't. But with Shatty on our side…"

Sam was suddenly glad he wasn't dating an alien who saw nothing wrong with locking people up until they figured their heads out.

"Is Julio still pretending like they aren't a couple?" Domino asked.

Sam snorted. "Yeah. But at least he's talking to Shatterstar again. For a while it was gettin' bad."

"I know."

Sam still didn't think it was good enough. But better. Small steps.

"And when they went to the 'movies' the other day…?"

"The shrink."

"But Julio's nightmares are getting worse."

Sam stared.

"Nate says," Domino added.

Sam just shook his head. "That's normal."

"His shrink talked to you?"

"'Course not. I asked Jean."

Domino laughed. "That's why you're team leader. Remind me never to cross swords with you."

Sam grinned. "Thanks."

"Or just remind me to make sure Shatterstar always agrees with me. I can't decide who did more work, you or him."

Sam shrugged. He thought it was probably Shatty, but far be it from him to refuse credit.

"Well," Domino said, standing. "Let me know when they start acting gay around everyone else."

"Have ya seen their hair?" Sam said. "Ah think that should'a been the first clue."

Domino slapped him upside the head.



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