It takes ten minutes for someone to make it weird, and it comes from the least likely source. It pisses him off almost immediately, and he spends a few seconds pretending that he's stuffing his meagre belongings into his knapsack, blissfully alone and without a now-former teammate staring at his back.
"What," Julio says flatly, as Terry hovers in the doorway, a grim spectre of unwanted concern.
"You need to be careful of his feelings."
That knot that's been hanging around in his stomach since Star invited himself him along tightens again. Julio hunches over a little, fingers twisting around the jeans in his hand. "I know, Terry."
"I'm not sure you do," she says kindly. "You wrecked him when you left, Ric."
He kind of really wants Terry to fuck off now, but she's the one he's least likely to lash out at, and he's been waiting for someone to have this terrible, awkward conversation for weeks. "I'm aware, thanks."
"He cares for you deeply, or as much as he can, being who he is."
"Terry," Julio says sharply, finally turning around. "I get it. I'm not an idiot. I get it, okay?"
She looks as him, and he knows she wants to ask, that she's dying to ask, so he tries to make it as clear as possible that even if she does ask, he's going to lie to her, like he's been lying to everyone. He's not nearly as emotionally stunted as everyone seems to think. He just doesn't want to deal with anything. There's a difference.
"Don't make this weird," he says, but it's too late, and Terry at least has the good graces to look a little bit sorry for that.
It takes fifty-six hours on a Greyhound bus to get from Raleigh to Guadalajara. Cable offers to fly them there, but Julio basically tells him to fuck off, just more politely. It's important to him that he does this himself, and Star doesn't seem to be bothered by the idea of the bus, even though Julio's never seen him sit still for longer than twenty minutes. Star spends most of the time looking out the window, quiet.
By the time they roll into Guadalajara, they're dirty and tired and hungry, but they're still friends, and that's all that matters. They probably haven't said more than a hundred words to each other in two days.
"So this is Guadalajara," Julio says when they step out of the airport and into the warm, humid air.
Star squints up at the sun. "I thought it would be hotter."
"Give it time," Julio replies with a grin, hoisting his bag higher on his shoulder. People buzz around them like flies, more than a few looking sidelong in Star's general direction, but whatever. Bringing Star along was always going to attract attention. He still said yes anyway. "You ready for this, dude?"
"Of course," Star replies. "But what's next?"
"Boring stuff," Julio says, looking around for the nearest bus stop, because that's just what this day is missing: more buses.
Star is totally useless when it comes to mundane human errands, so he just kind of hovers in the background, a silent statue, taking everything in. Julio dips into his pathetic savings account at the nearest bank then buys them two prepaid cell phones, a newspaper and a pen that says BIENVENIDOS A GUADALAJARA against the gaudiest red, white and green background he's ever laid eyes on.
"We need an apartment," Julio explains, opening the newspaper to the classifieds.
"Shelter is a good idea," Star agrees.
Which brings them to an uncomfortable conversation, but it has to be done. "Listen," Julio says, circling an extremely cheap option in the worst area of town. "About the money situation ..."
"What I have is yours," Star says, without hesitation. "Cable kept insisting I take a stipend. It was annoying."
Julio snorts. Of all the things to find annoying, Star would take being paid for his time and effort as a major insult to his character. "Well, I basically spent mine on shit I didn't need, just to spite him. Fucking stupid, I know, but I have a bit left. I figure we can, like, sell our services if we need to."
Star unzips his knapsack, which turns out to be fucking full of money and nothing else that Julio can see, not even clothes. He's reminded again that Star's a little ridiculous. "I spent none of it, despite his instance that I try to enjoy it. Money is not enjoyable to me. I will better enjoy battling your relatives."
"Yeah, about that," Julio says, bringing them to awkward conversation number two. He knows they should have talked about this crap before they left, but there just wasn't any time or privacy. "I would appreciate it if you didn't kill or maim anyone I'm related to. They're total shitbags, but they're family."
Star frowns again, like Julio's just told him he has to replace his swords with pool noodles, but he exhales sharply then nods. "Fine, but I reserve the right to maim or kill if I feel either one of us are in danger of the same. It is important to me that you continue to live, Julio," he adds softly, almost gentle.
"I'll try my best," he promises, looking away for a second, because, well. He just doesn't know what to do with Star, who was so absurdly happy when Julio walked back into his life that Julio has nightmares about it. This whole thing is probably a bad idea in the making, but it's a little too late to back out now.
They pound the pavement for the better part of the day, looking at places. Having a partner with enhanced senses turns out to be useful, because Star takes one look at a few of the places Julio's on the fence about and points out helpful shit like "bugs" and "mould" as the landlords look away guiltily. Eventually, they settle on a tiny one bedroom on the ground floor in a three storey walk up.
"You're okay with this one?" Julio asks before he signs the lease, because Star's barely said a world all afternoon, and he's not always the easiest guy to read, though Julio thinks he's getting better at it.
"It's clean," Star says with a shrug.
Julio pays first and last month in cash, then takes the two sets of keys, and they have their first apartment. The first time around, Julio paid by the week at a shitty hotel, but this is already loads better. He's ignoring the part where they have to share a room, but they have a budget now, and a two bedroom is a luxury they can't justify. Star is a guy who respects privacy. They'll be totally fine.
The landlord leaves, the door slamming behind her.
"We probably need to get beds," Julio says, watching as Star walks around the living room, fingers trailing lightly over the walls. Julio kind of wants to ask him what he's thinking, but he's been terrified of asking that question for months. "And hey, are you hungry? We could order a pizza or something."
"That's fine," Star says, lingering at the window, looking out. "The floor is also fine."
"I'm not sleeping on the floor," Julio replies, rolling his eyes, "and neither are you."
"But I could," Star insists, weirdly, and Julio is back to thinking he can't read Star at all.
"Nobody's sleeping on the floor. We're gonna furnish this place with, like, a comfy couch, and a TV. Maybe even a kitchen table, if we're feeling wild," Julio says, with a little more vehemence than he intends. "We could be here awhile, dude. Might as well make it comfortable. It's home now."
Star looks back at him, expression serious, and asks, "can it be a large television?"
Julio rolls his eyes. "Of course, dude, come on."
Star nods, satisfied.
After pizza, they take another bus to the nearest mall, and play-act at adulthood. Julio doesn't actually have any fucking idea what he's doing, even though Star seems to believe there's a plan somewhere in this string of torturous, unending errands. They buy sheets and pillows, and Julio makes Star get some basic clothes, like jeans and underwear and a couple of plain v-neck t-shirts. A few kitchen and grocery things, because they can't actually survive on takeout, and two mattresses that can easily be rolled up.
It takes five minutes to find a taxi that's big enough to fit two grown men and all their domestic shit.
Julio ends up basically in Star's lap for most of the ride.
"Sorry," he says, trying to find a comfortable position for his arms, one leg over Star's thigh.
"It's fine," Star says, face a little pinched.
"You've been saying fine a lot, dude," Julio says. "There's a point where a word loses all meaning."
"This is not that point," Star replies with just the faintest hint of snark, and Julio's a little impressed despite himself. The Shatterstar of yesteryear would never have even attempted anything resembling that. "I don't know what you want me to say. I am ... not very comfortable with what we're doing."
"My family needs to be stopped, dude," Julio says flatly, biting down the flash of anger on his tongue. He thought Star understood.
"Not that," Star says, like Julio's an idiot. "These ... normal activities. Establishing our ... home."
"It's just for a bit," Julio assures him, feelingly weirdly panicky, "until I'm sure they can't keep selling guns and whatever other shit they've managed to get into. They better not be into fucking drugs."
Star puts his hand on Julio's wrist. "It's not a bad feeling. It's simply ... different. I just need to adjust."
Julio looks down at Star's long fingers, ignoring the heat of his palm. "It'll get easier," he promises.
"I know," Star says, and squeezes a little before pulling back, away.
That's probably for the best.
Julio is way out of his element here, too. Star just doesn't realise it yet.
That night, after the beds have been set up, Julio takes an unnecessarily long shower, trying to get the stress out. Three days later, he's still haunted by his conversation with Terry. He wishes for the millionth time since then that she hadn't said anything. He feels like a liar and a fraud and a coward, but he doesn't actually know how to start the conversation, or if they should even have it all.
Fuck. Everything was so much easier before Star started having emotions.
On the plus side, Star probably doesn't know what he's looking at. That makes it better.
Julio ducks his head under the water, letting it pour over the back of his neck. He's so keyed up even though he's exhausted. Adrenaline, probably. Resting one hand against the tiles, he presses the other against his belly. He takes a deep breath, sucking the steam into his lungs, then lets his hand drift lower.
It's the best way he knows to take the edge off. He's already hard, and he slides his fist along the length of his cock, eyes closed as the water beats down on him in a steady, hypnotic rhythm. Goosebumps lift on his skin despite the heat, and he bites his lower lip between his teeth, letting himself just feel it.
And for a second, he imagines it's Star's hand instead.
He comes with a muffled groan, stroking every last bit of orgasm out, then leans back in the shower, shoulders pressed against the tile. Just breathes, chest heaving, until he finds the strength to open his eyes. Then, like an idiot, he washes the evidence off the wall and grabs one of their fluffy new towels.
Back in the room, Star is still awake, lying in bed in only his underwear. His hair twists in a long braid around his head like a halo. Julio pads by him and sinks onto his mattress, hoping to hell he'd been quiet enough. He suspects there will be a lot of secret jerking off in his future. "Night, dude," he says.
"Good night," Star replies.
Julio wakes up, the sun slicing across his eyes, and groans weakly. He doesn't know what time it is, but it feels too damn early. Star's bed is empty, the sheets neatly made. He paws around for his cellphone. Nine o'clock, so still early but not as bad as he thought. Rolling onto his back, he lies there for a moment, staring at the ceiling. With the sharing a room thing, he never accounted for morning wood.
But then, Star's biologically similar to a human male, and might actually be human now. Maybe. Julio still doesn't fucking understand the implications, just that Star really doesn't want to talk about it. Regardless, Star probably knows and accepts the intricacies of the human body more than Julio does.
He gives himself a few minutes to settle down, then gets up, yanking on a pair of sweats.
"Morning," Julio says, scrubbing a hand through his hair. Star is upside down in the living room, balancing on his index fingers, legs crossed above him. He cracks an eye open and tracks Julio all the way to the fridge. "You hungry? I could do bacon and eggs without killing us. I'm a decent cook."
Star closes his eyes again. "Okay."
As he unpacks their new set of pots and pans, he tries to ignore the weird butterflies fluttering around in his belly. He's an asshole. There's really no two ways about it. They need to talk about it, about Star's obvious and intense feelings, about his more muted and repressed ones, but he really doesn't want to.
Emotionally, they might be on the same page, but physically, sexually, they're literally world's apart.
Star is stressed out enough about the new feelings; he doesn't need Julio's hard-on complicating things.
If he wasn't so scared shitless, he'd almost be able to claim he was the noblest guy on the planet.
"Do you want cheese in your eggs?"
"Yes," Star replies, without hesitation, like Julio's a fool for asking such an obvious question.
He probably is.
They sit on the floor with their scrambled eggs and bacon, and Julio finally unfolds the map he's been carting around since he left Mexico the last time. "So anything with an X are caches I've already taken care of. Mostly abandoned structures outside of city limits that I could take care of easily," Julio says.
"And this large red circle?" Star asks, putting a finger on an area he circled five times.
"Headquarters, or one of them anyway. It's too close to a bunch of residential buildings. It's not safe," Julio replies with a shrug. Star looks at him pensively, eyes wide and thoughtful, and Julio sighs. "I could try, but ... listen, when my powers first manifested, I levelled three blocks. People were hurt."
"I'm not judging you," Star says, "but I believe your powers could work as a demolition tool."
"With practice, maybe, but I'm not fucking around with people's lives as I try to figure it out."
"I agree," Star says, nodding decisively. "What are these words written in the top right hand corner?"
"Passwords to my cousin Omar's email accounts. He's always been an idiot when it comes to making up secure ones." Julio rolls his eyes, because seriously, some predictable combination of your mother's name and the year of your birth is the shittiest, most obvious password in the world. "The moron's in jail, so there's nothing recent, but he never deleted anything. I also downloaded his list of contacts."
"Impressive," Star says, dead serious, and Julio ignores how stupidly pleased he feels. "And this area with all the question marks?"
"I'm about ninety-nine percent sure they're storing guns there. It's surrounded by abandoned buildings, so that's not a worry, but they always had too many people around for me to pull off anything alone."
"Then it is a good thing I am here," Star replies solemnly, staring at the map like he's memorising it, and he probably is, knowing him. Julio has no idea how his brain works, just that it gives him a boner when Star starts, like, fixing spaceships and picking up random languages. "I am going to enjoy this, Julio."
Julio grins and doesn't say anything, because if he tries, he's going to blurt out something embarrassing.
There's time enough for that shit later.
They squeeze in a few more normal things – buying Star his ridiculously huge television, waiting for the cable guy while they both try to learn how to hack, finding a perfectly ugly and comfortable couch while out for the ingredients for his mother's tamales – before they check out the possible gun cache.
"Remember," Julio says, "no maiming or killing."
Star rolls his eyes in such a perfect mockery of Julio's own bad habit that he feels almost proud. And annoyed, because if that's even half of what he looks like, no wonder Cable was always calling him obstinate. "I promise not to maim or kill your relatives," Star says, pained, "unless they deserve it."
"Okay, sorry," Julio relents, because they had agreed to that, too. "I don't actually like doing this."
"I know," Star says. "Necessary things are not always pleasant."
"So wise," Julio replies, with a sardonic grin, and Star looks pained again. "Okay, enough chitchat. You take the back, and I'll take the front. Quick headcount and recognisance on the layout, that's all, Star."
Star exhales sharply. "Very well. This time."
And everything goes fine for about fifteen minutes, before his cousins Mario and Tomas find him lurking in the shadows, coming up so fast he only notices them after they've hit him in the back of the head so hard he blacks out. When he comes to, Star is breaking Tomas' leg at the knee with cold precision.
"You never said I couldn't break anything," Star says, without turning around.
"No, I never did," Julio agrees gamely, before throwing up all over an already unconscious Mario.
So their first attempt doesn't go precisely as planned, but they've confirmed exactly what they set out to confirm, and Julio figures they've got about twelve hours before his family manages to move whatever they're storing out. Star keeps looking at him in clear disagreement with Julio's decision to continue, but whatever. The cat is out of the bag now that he's back, and they can't risk this stuff being moved.
"You're most likely concussed," Star says, for the sixth time, like that's going to change Julio's mind.
"I'm not some delicate flower. I don't need you mother-henning me, dude. Seriously," Julio replies, testily, trying to focus enough to find a fault line that won't bring down the entire neighbourhood.
"I don't even know what that means," Star snaps. They really do bring out the best in each other.
"You can't just give up every time I get hurt," Julio replies, touching his fingers to the ground. He can feel something. It's really fucking deep, but it's there, calling out to him in the faintest of whispers.
"You don't have a healing factor. You're reckless with your health."
"Not your business," Julio reminds him. "If I say I'm good to go, you have to accept that, Star."
Star looks murderous, and Julio honestly can't understand why a guy who has stabbed himself on multiple occasions is accusing someone else of being reckless with his own fucking body. They don't have time to fight right now, but later, Julio is going to have to lay down a few basic ground rules.
"I could bring this city down around our feet, Star," Julio says, quiet and weary. "I could kill everyone."
"I don't think you're weak," Star protests, clearly offended.
"Then help me do this, okay? And then I'll go to a clinic or whatever. I'll even let you come with me."
"Fine," Star grits out, still angry, but whatever. "What do you need me to do?"
"I need you to get everyone out of that building so I can bring it down. Think you can do that?"
"It would be my pleasure," Star says, and stalks off to break some things.
It's tense for a few days. Julio does have a minor concussion, like Star thought, and he lets Star hover around him like a weirdo, so maybe he'll back the fuck off once Julio's fully recovered. He's mostly fine, though. Really. A headache and a bit of dizziness, but nothing that stops him from trying to break into the email accounts of his less incarcerated cousins and other miscellaneous family members.
"I apologise," Star says, on the third day. It doesn't sound forced, so Julio defaults to sincere even if Star sounds wooden. He's no good at apologising either, which is why he tries not to do it very often. "You're right. You're a formidable soldier, and if you believe you can finish an assignment, you can."
"Thank you. I accept your apology," Julio says, nudging Star in the thigh with his toe, going for playful instead of creepy but honestly not sure which one he manages to pull off. "I'm sorry for being pissy with you. This is a shitty situation, and I shouldn't take it out on you. It's okay if we fight, dude."
Star makes a face, one that Julio can't quite decipher. "I don't like it."
"Me neither, but it just means we're comfortable with each other. This isn't like my fights with Cable."
"I don't miss it," Star says suddenly. "X-Force. I thought I would, but I don't think I do."
Star sounds vaguely panicky, like he's just confessed a terrible secret, and if that's the worst thing he's been keeping from Julio, Star's still a vastly more honest person than he is. Julio sits up, putting his laptop aside, and leans in Star's direction. "Dude," Julio says, "you're allowed to have your own life."
"Not this life," Star replies, something so raw in his voice that it makes Julio almost want to hug him, but Star isn't a guy who particularly likes being touched. Julio's seen how fast he runs from it. It's part of the reason Julio's so scared to do anything. "Nobody ever taught me how to live like this."
"I'm teaching you now," Julio says gently, and risks a hand on his arm.
Star nods, eyes focussed on Julio's hand, and Julio gives him a squeeze and the kindest smile he has.
It's not much, but Star relaxes and almost actually smiles back, though it looks more like a grimace.
They really need to work on that.
Julio gets into his cousin Ricardo's email and text messages through incredibly dubious means, but still shows off his handiwork to Star, who is suitably impressed.
"It's important to diversify," Star says sagely, like he's not full of bullshit half the time, but Star has been pushing him hard to actually bear down and focus on learning a skill other than what his powers can offer him. It's just his dumbass cousin's hotmail address, but Julio supposes it's a start.
Julio reads a few emails. The thing is, nobody ever comes out and says anything about anything, but he was raised in the family business by the man who started the whole thing. He knows the code they use, and there is some information in there amongst a hell of a lot of incredibly angry comments about him.
"They really hate me," Julio says, embarrassed at how surprised he sounds.
Star turns away from the TV, where he's been watching badly dubbed episodes of the original Beverly Hills 90210 for hours. "Their opinions do not matter. Whatever they're saying, I know they're wrong."
"What type of guy turns his back on family?" Julio asks, rhetorically, but Star's pretty awful at rhetoric.
"A good man," Star says simply.
That night, Julio wakes up screaming. He used to do that shit all the time. He has hours of embarrassing memories tucked away in the parts of his brain he ignores. They all involve Hank McCoy holding him in the aftermath, blue fur comforting instead of suffocating, his voice a soothing steady murmur. The night terrors happened so often he used to have to wear a power inhibitor at night.
This time, he wakes up with Star's hands wrapped around his wrists.
"I'm okay," he chokes out, trying to pull back, but Star doesn't let him go immediately. "Sorry."
"I will release you once you are calm. Breath with me, Julio," Star instructs, his voice so forceful that Julio feels he has to match his laboured breathing to Star's steady inhales and exhales. He focusses his eyes on the long line of Star's neck, the bob of his Adam's apple every time he swallows. "That's good."
Julio nods. "You can let go now."
Star does, but not before rubbing his thumbs gently over skin that's probably going to bruise in a few hours. Freed, Julio scrubs his hands over his face, and swears low and light under his breath. The sheets are soaked through, and Star isn't moving from the mattress, just keeping a respectable distance.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Star asks.
He doesn't, but maybe he should. "I think I was dreaming. About my family. They were killing you, and I couldn't stop them, and fuck. I knew this was dangerous. I didn't think I'd shake the city down in my sleep. We should have got a place in buttfuck nowhere, if I knew I was going to lose it like this."
"Your sleep was fitful for ten minutes before I had to intervene. I am a very light sleeper, Julio."
Julio laughs roughly. "And if you're not here? If you're, I don't know, out for the night. With someone."
"In what reality would that happen? You know how inexperienced I am with ... those things."
"We were supposed to work on that," Julio says. "I promised I would help, and then ... I'm sorry."
Star does that weird almost smiling thing again, and Julio's heart clenches a little. "It's okay. Do you think you can go back to sleep? It's very early, even by my standards. We are safe together, Julio."
"Strength in numbers," Julio agrees, managing a weak smile. "Yeah, I can sleep. Thanks, man."
Star nods and touches his fingers gently to Julio's cheek, the lightest of touches, barely anything, but it takes everything bit of self control he has not to react, to remain frozen in place. Most of him listens.
In the light of morning, he feels like a fool, but if you can't embarrass yourself in front of your best friend, who can you? It's not like he got so drunk he shit his pants, though knowing his luck that's probably in the terrible future. He vows never to drink again, even though it's only ten, and he's sober.
Julio takes a piss then ducks into the shower, not letting his hand go anywhere near his face.
He puts his hand on his cock instead.
It's easy to imagine someone behind him, pressing against him, covering him. He's taller than he thought he would be, based on genetics, but a guy like Star would tower over him, cock fitting snug against the small of his back. It's that image that really gets him, and he strokes himself faster, water sluicing down his back, between his legs, over all the empty, aching spots. He comes fast, after that.
He thinks, after, and probably for the first time, about actually coming out to Star.
Maybe. He'll think on it a bit longer.
"I made you breakfast," Star says when Julio wanders out into the living space, scrubbing a towel over his wet hair. And he's totally serious, because there's a steaming plate of scrambled eggs and bacon sitting on the counter. "I cannot guarantee quality. You don't have to eat it. In fact, I would understand."
"You can't fuck up scrambled eggs, dude," Julio assures him, and scoops a large mouthful in just to prove his point. It's not surprising that they're good – it's Star, he does everything perfectly as long as it doesn't involve social interactions – but it is surprising that he added hot sauce. "This is delicious."
"You like things spicy," Star says, by way of explanation. Julio usually has a hard time convincing Star to even add salt to the blandest of dishes, so it's amazing he's willing to add something so flavourful to a dish they're actually sharing. "And I burned the first attempt, so we need more eggs. I apologise."
"Thank you," Julio says, with enough emphasis that even Star gets what Julio's trying to say.
Star nods, and starts to work on his own plate.
They continue to wreck his family's well laid plans, interrupting a few important shipments around Guadalajara. Julio gets called every name in the book, though traitor seems to be the most popular one, and he learns to numb himself to the abuse. Most of it isn't true, which helps, but the stuff that is kind of hurts. They don't know he's gay. They can't, because he hasn't told anyone, but fuck, it really hurts.
This is the reason he doesn't want to say anything. This is the fucking reason he's suffocating in life.
He settles on beating the living shit out of his cousin Santiago.
Star, weirdly, picks up on the fact that those slurs in particular bother him.
"Why do they keep saying that?" Star asks, after, wrapping Julio's bruised knuckles with an ice pack.
"I don't know," Julio replies, keeping his head bowed, his hair curling protectively in front of his eyes. "Probably because they're ignorant shitheads? If the worst thing someone's doing in life is sucking some consensual dick, well, I'm not going to judge him. I am going to fucking judge gun dealers."
Star nods, like the answer is good enough, and it would be a perfect time to come out to Star, but Julio doesn't. Because that would be easy and brave and a million other things he's not right now. He's just some guy who got his feelings hurt by his shitty family, with bloody knuckles and a badly bruised ego.
He should come out to Star then, and doesn't.
Julio wakes up one night when it's still dark, so thirsty he can't actually go back to sleep. He gets up reluctantly, glances once at Star's empty mattress, then stumbles into the kitchen. Star looks over at him, the only light coming from the television, making the lines of Star's face look harsher than usual.
"Is everything okay?" Star asks.
"Yeah, just thirsty," Julio replies, filling a glass with ice cubes then adding water. He considers going back to bed right away, but the lure of the comfy couch is too much to ignore. Star scoots over a little, so Julio can take his usual position, sideways with legs up, back against the armrest. It's comfortable.
"Dylan and Brenda just broke up," Star explains. "Again."
Julio smiles into his glass. "Yeah, I remember. You are literally the last guy on this train, dude."
"There's a lot of TV to catch up on," Star agrees, pointedly ignoring his amusement.
The television is easy to zone out, white noise that he barely hears anyway because Star has enhanced hearing and was obviously trying not to wake him. Star is engrossed, but he always is. Julio has no idea what he sees when he's watching this stuff, just that he loves it and it's somehow valuable to him.
For the most part, he actually tries not to look at Star too closely. He is, literally, the most attractive person Julio has ever met, and at the beginning, when their friendship was new, he worked really fucking hard to not acknowledge that. But right now, in the semi-darkness, it feels okay to look at him.
And fuck, he's hot. Like, at one point, Julio thought Star had actually made him gay, because Jesus, who wouldn't be? But that's stupid, and Julio's come to accept he's attracted to other guys, too.
But Star, his face, it's almost criminal.
Two things happen in quick succession.
Julio gets jumped by two of his uncles and two random guys he has never seen before. He's a thirty minute walk away from the apartment, and they don't seem very prepared, like his sudden presence in the computer store to buy an external hard drive is a completely unexpected but very welcome gift.
His hard drive gets smashed to pieces, but they don't manage to sneak up on him, and by the time Star saunters up, he's chased off all four of them with only minimal damage to the surrounding pavement.
"Assholes," Julio says, picking up the remains of his hard drive. "I am not fucking made of money."
Then, a day later, they're crashing another shipment party, and Star gets shot three times. Star doesn't kill anyone in retaliation, but the maiming rule comes into effect, and his Uncle Pedro is probably out of the family business on account of losing his dominant hand. Star is deeply, deeply apologetic.
"I tried not to," he mumbles, sweating, arm dark with blood.
"Don't be an idiot," Julio says dismissively as they sit in the bathroom while Julio attempts to remove the one bullet that didn't go straight through. It is surprisingly difficult to grab such a small, slippery thing with a pair of eyebrow tweezers. "Fuck, I hate guns, and fuck you for not going to the hospital."
Star looks up at him, weary. "You're doing fine."
"Yeah, until you get fucking gangrene from unsanitary conditions."
The corner of Star's mouth quirks slightly, and his eyes crinkle just a little bit at the corners. Holy shit smile, Julio thinks stupidly, like he's just witnessed a fucking unicorn galloping down the street.
"That's not how healing factors work," Star says, like Julio's a bit dimwitted, and Julio's so off-balance from the smile that he actually agrees with that current assessment. "But if you could be quicker."
"Fuck, don't rush me," Julio grumbles, biting his lower lip. "This isn't my idea of fun either."
In the end, he manages to get the bullet out and bandages Star's shoulder up with about a mile of gauze. Star spends the rest of the evening on the couch, dozing between the commercials in his teen dramas, as Julio back ups all his intel onto his replacement hard drive, Star's foot pressed against his thigh.
Then they've been in Guadalajara for a month, and Julio honestly has no idea where the time's gone.
"I have something fun for you to do," Julio says, tapping Star on the head with the mail.
"The last time you said that I cleaned the bathroom," Star replies, rightfully suspicious, and Julio grins.
"No, you're just going to pay the cable bill using my cheque book."
It's such a small thing, but if there's life after X-Force and being a superhero, then Star does need to know this stuff. Who knows what the future holds. By the end of this, Julio doesn't even know if they'll be able to stay together, with his family gunning for them, but he doesn't want to think that far ahead. For now, he'll enjoy watching Star write in that precise, careful way he has. It kind of turns him on.
Julio shakes his head. Clearly, he's going nuts from spending his every waking hour with Star.
"After that, you can even mail it," Julio adds casually, climbing onto the couch and dragging his computer onto his lap. "And maybe pick up some groceries? Do you think you can handle that alone?"
Star actually thinks about it for a moment then nods. "You'll provide a list?"
"Already written," Julio says. He'd been planning to actually, like, get dressed and leave the apartment at some point today, maybe, if his pants attacked his legs or something. "It's stuck to the fridge."
"I can try," Star says, serious. "Leave your cell phone on."
"You'll be fine," Julio assures him, trying not to smile, and the look Star gives him is a little hilarious.
Julio doesn't actually crack up until after Star leaves, though, and is absurdly proud of himself.
They've been living in each other's pockets for the better part of a month, so Julio almost doesn't know what to do with himself. He likes Star. He loves him in a way he's never loved anyone, this weird sort of love that is both incredibly sexual and incredibly not. But everyone needs a little space sometimes.
He doesn't do much, gets a little distracted online, which leads to porn, because it always leads to porn. He has his favourite sites, and he has the good sense not to shove hand down his pants or anything, just watches as two gorgeous guys negotiate mutual blow jobs, likes how into it they are, how the one guy's mouth looks on the other guy's cock, how his fingers dip and tease between his partner's spread legs.
He doesn't know how long Star's been standing there, but he's definitely behind him when the video ends.
Star looks ... shocked, maybe, like this is the last he expected to see today. Julio honestly has no idea if Star's ever even seen two people having sex, or if he's only read about it in some textbook. He found out about sex from a skin rag he and Omar found in a random, dusty box in his father's garage.
"It took less time than I expected," Star explains, fists clenched at his sides.
"I'm so sorry, dude," Julio says, even though he's not quite sure what he's actually apologising for.
"It's my fault," Star insists then adds, "I already knew, Julio. It's okay. Please don't be embarrassed."
Closing the laptop with a loud snap, Julio groans. "God, how fucking obvious am I?"
"Not at all," Star says, gently, like he knows just how close Julio is to losing it. "I just know you well."
"You're not supposed to pick up on these things."
And then Star does something outright crazy and puts his hand on Julio's shoulder and squeezes. And then, just to completely destroy Julio's defences, Star smiles as bright and warm as the sun. Julio wonders if maybe it's him who's falling behind, if maybe he and Star aren't as far apart as he thinks.
Julio might be even worse at this every day living stuff than Star is.
It becomes increasingly obvious that the family business has spread outside of Guadalajara. They have limited mobility, relying mostly on public transit, and they definitely don't have enough money for a car, not if they want to eat and pay the rent for the next few months. Julio has a solution; he doesn't like it.
"When my father died, he had a truck. It's technically mine," Julio says as he and Star sit around the giant map on the floor, updating everything they've manage to accomplish so far. It's pretty impressive. It's also pretty terrifying just how big the operation is. "It's old as shit, and it might not even run."
"I can fix anything," Star says encouragingly.
That night, they take the bus out to his mom's place. The house where he grew up, that he doesn't even consider home anymore. When he knocks on the door, he has a moment of panic that his mom won't even open it wide enough to spit in his face, but she does open it. She doesn't move to embrace him.
"Hi, Momma," he says. "I need Poppa's truck."
She looks at him like he's broken her heart again, and he tries to act like it doesn't bother him. He wants to think the dark hides most of his feelings, which feel like they're spilling out. It takes her a few seconds to even notice Star standing behind his shoulder, wearing a hat to cover the flame of his hair.
"Who's this?" She asks.
"My name is Shatterstar, Mrs. Richter," Star says politely in perfect Spanish, not offering his hand, though Julio thinks he might for one horrible second. "I'm a friend of your son. It is nice to meet you."
"It's in the garage," she says after a moment, a sigh brushing her words. "You know where the key is."
Julio nods, turning around even before the door slams shut. Star follows him into the backyard, to the run-down garage and the key hidden under the bird statue. The truck is in bad shape. Four flat tires, a broken rear window, and when Star tries to start it, it sputters pathetically then dies with a gurgle.
"I can fix it," Star assures him. "Can you handle the tires?"
"I think I can manage them," Julio replies, rolling his eyes, and goes to find a tire pump.
Star, true to his word, fixes the truck, and the tires hold air for at least an hour or two, which is more than Julio expected. They patch the broken glass with some duct tape, so it isn't the classiest look, but it'll work for the time being. It's almost three in the morning by the time they're done. Just as they're about to leave, Julio's mother appears in the doorway with three large tupperware containers.
"Be careful," she says, handing them over, and Julio takes them and the kiss she presses to his cheek. "You grew up without me noticing, Julio. I may not support your actions, but you're a good man."
"Thank you, Momma," he says, voice rough. "I'll be fine. I've got this guy watching my back."
"I will not let any harm come to him," Star assures her.
She kisses Star, too, for whatever reason, and he lets her, even though the look on his face is hilarious.
Julio doesn't quite wave as they leave, but he lifts a hand and she matches it, and it feels like enough.
Julio accidentally gets into the online banking account of his uncle Esteban, his father's favourite brother and Julio's namesake. He has mostly been poking around to see if he can do it, and then suddenly he's in, and there's a fuck of a lot of money, and holy shit, he could be arrested for this.
"You're very smart," Star says, when Julio turns the laptop towards him. "I don't know why you're so surprised."
And Star has a point, because maybe he shouldn't be surprised. As a kid, he used to get teased for being a bookworm, face always in a book, but the pressure to be who his father wanted him to be eventually pushed all of that away. It was a shitty thing to do to a kid, and it fucked him up pretty bad.
"We should go out to celebrate," Star says suddenly.
"Dude, what, why," Julio replies, flustered, because it isn't that big of a deal, really, just kind of cool.
"We used to go," Star reminds him, and Julio thinks he must be referring to those disastrous attempts at clubs and dancing, women and alcohol. He'd had fun; Star never had. "I think I would be okay with it."
"Are you sure?" Julio asks in disbelief.
"We can try," Star replies, and it almost sounds like a question.
They order a pizza, and spend an hour showering, shaving and getting ready. Julio gets a little weird about picking a place, because he's out now and he'd like to go somewhere he's comfortable, but Star looks at him like he's a moron when he casually tries and fails to coolly suggest they go to a gay club.
"Obviously, Julio," Star replies, as if he's the biggest dumbass on the planet, and then they leave.
Star's wardrobe is basic, but he's still the hottest guy in the club. Jeans that are a little too tight around the ass and thighs, belt cinched low on his hips, and a plain white v-neck short-sleeved t-shirt that stretches thin across his shoulders. It's the naked hollow of his throat that really pulls the look together.
Star's put his hair in a simple knot at the back of his head, the kind you'd associate with a sexy librarian, but he pulls it off a little too well. Everyone hits on him, but it doesn't really matter. Star remains cool and aloof, almost haughty, even as the night pushes on, and people get drunker and more insistent.
"This can't be fun for you," Julio shouts over the music, ordering another drink. "We can go."
"I'm used to it," Star replies in the most humble way someone can actually utter that sentence.
Star doesn't dance, exactly, just kind of stands there and sways to the music, and Julio doesn't dance with anybody, even though there are a few guys who are clearly interested. As he gets drunker, he dances closer to Star. It's like playing with fire: fun, but you have to be very careful not to get burned.
He takes a break and heads to the bathroom, running his hands under the cool water and splashing his face. After a few minutes, Star comes in and uses the one lockable toilet, and when he comes out to wash his hands, Julio cups some water in his palm and pours it over the back of Star's neck. He shivers.
"Thank you for this," Julio says, meeting Star's eyes in the mirror.
"It's the least I could do," Star replies, tilting his head slightly, smiling in a brand new way.
For one insane second, Julio thinks they might actually kiss, his heart is so beating so hard in his chest, but then two guys come bumbling in through the door, kissing playfully and laughing like hyenas. The moment flutters away, but it was there, for a second. Julio is sure of it, and he thinks Star knew it, too.
The next morning, Julio intercepts an email from his cousin Ramon about a huge shipment being picked up at a high-end club in Oaxaca. He shows it to Star, who nods, and they think nothing of it as they pack up the truck and begin the ten hour drive. Julio does most of the driving as Star polishes his swords in the passenger seat. It's supposed to be routine, but it quickly turns into an absolute nightmare.
Julio hates Arcade.
Like amateurs, they walk into a set up, and then Julio spends hours in a room surrounded by nitro-glycerin, watching Domino, of all fucking people, cut various opponents down. Watches as Star gets thoroughly and soundly beaten by her, watches as she breaks his right arm and kicks him unconscious. Has to be fucking rescued, like some fucking damsel in distress. It's fucking humiliating.
He's not in a good mood when Domino comes up to him. "You okay, kid?" She asks, no nonsense.
"Peachy," he replies, looking over to Star, who looks absolutely wrecked even though he's trying not to.
"I'm sorry about that," she says, tilting her head in Star's direction. "I think I just hurt his pride a little."
Julio's pretty sure it's a little more complicated than that, but he kind of just wants to get the hell out of there, so he doesn't say anything to change her mind. "We should get going," he says, "long drive."
"You're okay for money?"
"Fuck, yes, we're fine," Julio says, with more vehemence than needed. "Thanks, but we're fine."
"See around you then," Domino says easily, and walks off.
Julio climbs into the front seat of the truck and glances over at Star, who's staring straight ahead, carefully nursing his arm. He makes a quick decision to find a motel and rest for the night. Star doesn't look good, and Julio doesn't feel like driving for ten hours in a truck held together by duct tape.
The room smells weird, and there's a king-sized bed, but the sheets are clean. He pours a glass of water and makes Star take the pain killers he fishes out of his duffel bag. Julio broke his pinky once, and he remembers the unrelenting ache. He can't imagine an untreated broken arm, even with a healing factor.
"You should take a shower," Julio says gently, when Star just kind of stands there in the middle of the room, arm cradled against his chest. "You have a shit tonne of blood in your hair, dude. It's gross."
Star looks at him, and his face clearly says, "fuck you," even if he doesn't say it out loud. It's a reaction, though, which is better than the blank, almost stunned, look he's been wearing since he woke up.
"I'll help," Julio says, looking at Star's arm pointedly, and Star sighs deeply.
He turns the water on, setting the temperature relatively high, like Star likes it. Julio helps him get out of his uniform, hissing out a sharp apology when he bumps Star's broken arm trying to get his chest armour over his head. Then, staring at the wall behind Star's back, he tugs down his pants, leaving him standing there, practically naked, in only his jock. His body is battered with bruises, but still beautiful.
"Can I?" He asks, gesturing at Star's hair, and Star nods, bending his neck.
Julio carefully removes the elastic, trying not to pull on Star's head, strands of hair catching on his knuckles. The right half of his hair is stiff and tacky, but there's nothing fresh, no obvious injury.
When he's done, he steps back to give Star privacy, but Star grabs his wrist with his good hand.
"Wash my hair, please," Star says, with such desperate need that Julio can only nod numbly.
Julio's never washed someone else's hair before. His shirt soaks through almost immediately, so he removes it and tosses it beside Star's abandoned uniform, trying to ignore how little clothing they're wearing between them. He isn't sure what's happening, but it feels like it's important, meaningful.
With a guiding hand, he urges Star's head beneath the spray, tilting it so the water hits the bloodiest parts of his hair, combing his fingers through the strands. Once Star's hair is thoroughly wetted, he fills his palm with a dollop of motel shampoo and rubs it through Star's hair into a sweet smelling lather.
It's the most sensual thing he's ever done with another person. He's hard, painfully so, but so is Star.
"I failed you," Star says, in the saddest voice Julio's ever heard, as he rinses the soap from Star's hair.
"You didn't," Julio insists. "I wouldn't have wanted you to kill a friend for me. That's guilt I don't need."
"Why am I even here," Star says, "if I allow myself to be taken unaware, to be defeated to easily."
"You are not here for that. You're here because I want you here. It's that simple, Star."
Star turns around, and Julio almost steps back, because he's not sure he wants Star to see him this raw, this needy. The shower isn't big to begin with, so there's no place to go if he wants to run, but maybe it's time to stop running so hard. He hadn't lied to Terry. He always knew exactly where this was going.
"Stop me if you need to," Julio whispers, and leans up to kiss him.
Star kisses him back.
They don't sleep together that night. Star has a broken arm, and Julio's not some sort of selfish shithead, but they kiss for a very long time in the shower, mouths open and desperate, and if Star isn't a confident kisser at the beginning, by the time they pull apart, panting, he's pretty much an expert.
So Julio braids Star's hair then guides him to the bed. He's never seen Star this exhausted, fighting to keep his eyes open, and whatever else happens between them can wait until morning. In the most awkward display of coordination Julio's ever seen from Star, Star manages to get the jock off and slips beneath the covers, totally naked. Julio peels off his own pants, then quickly follows Star into bed.
He doesn't think he's that tired, but he falls sleep almost immediately.
Julio wakes up sprawled over Star, one leg hooked protectively over Star's thigh, with his head on Star's shoulder and an arm draped casually across his chest. It's almost unbearably hot, which he should have expected, but it's the most comfortable he's ever been. Star's eyes are open, watching him.
"How's your arm?" Julio asks.
"Fully healed," Star replies, spreading his fingers then flexing his hand, just in case there's any doubt.
Julio has no idea where to go from here, but he has to piss pretty badly, and he's really fucking hard, which is a terrible combination. Making up his mind, he rolls away from Star and sits up in bed. Star makes a sound of protest, his fingers touching the small of Julio's back. "Gotta piss," he explains.
"Yes, I already went," Star replies, like Julio's a fucking genius.
He pisses only with extreme concentration then rinses his mouth with water, desperately wishing he had toothpaste. In the mirror, his hair is a wild mess, sticking out in every direction, and he futily tries to flatten it before given up and walking back out into the main room. Star watches him from the bed.
"So," Julio says, trying to ignore the fact he's totally naked and erect in front of somebody for the first time in his life. It helps that the sheet over Star isn't hiding a damn thing, the thick line of his cock visible through the thin cotton. He wants to get his hand, his mouth, on it so badly he's almost shaking.
"So," Star repeats.
Julio has no idea how you tell a guy you want to suck his cock, so he just climbs back onto the bed, sliding over Star's lap in a motion he hopes is at least a little sexy. Star's hands come around his hips, thumbs dipping into the hollows, and Julio leans down to kiss him, deeply and wetly, totally desperate.
He grinds down on Star's lap, and Star groans into his mouth, like he's never felt anything better.
They kiss for an eon, Julio's hands buried in Star's hair, Star's fingers clutching at his back. On the precipice of coming on Star's lap, just like that, Julio pulls back and tries to catch his breath. Star's eyes are wide and blue, and Julio kisses him again, dropping a hand to tug at the sheet beneath him.
Star helpfully lifts his hips, almost sending Julio flying off the bed with his strength.
"Sorry," Star says, smiling.
"I want to blow you," Julio blurts out, absolutely undone by that smile, every fucking time.
Star nods, leaning back, legs spread, and Julio kneels down between them, running his hands up Star's thighs. His cock is hard and ready, arcing long against his belly, and Julio curls his fingers around it, testing its heat and weight. Against the mattress, Star squirms a bit, his abs tightening at the touch.
"Better than masturbation," Star confesses.
Julio groans, a deep rumble in his throat. "Fuck, dude, really? You do this to yourself?"
"Thinking of you," Star adds, the fucking asshole, and Julio almost comes right there, from just that.
But he's waited too long for this, and his mouth is practically watering with anticipation. He jacks Star a few times, as retaliation for almost blowing his mind, then bends down to press his mouth to Star's belly, licking at his skin, kissing at him, before dropping lower, breathing hard on the head of his cock.
Then he just goes for it, sucking Star into his mouth, tasting him for the first time. Star arches on the bed, legs widening, and his fingers twist into Julio's hair, firm but careful not to pull. With his hand, Julio continues to stroke Star's cock as his tongue works on him, testing to see how much he can take into mouth. Gags a little, once, but continues enthusiastically, even when Star starts patting at his head.
He swallows when Star comes, sucking him until Star can't take it anymore. Until he's breathless.
Until they both are.
And then, once Star comes back down, Star pulls him back into his lap and slides his hand around Julio's cock. He strokes until Julio's at the edge, then dips his other hand between Julio's legs and presses a thumb behind his balls, rubbing in circles, hitting a spot that brings sparks behind Julio's eyes.
Julio arches in his lap, lifting his hips, knees spread wide. He has no idea where Star learned this stuff, how or when he decided it was important, but Julio appreciates his brain as much as his clever hands. He moans a little, wanting more, wanting to come, and Star's hands speed up with perfect coordination.
When he comes, it's on Star's chest, striping his flushed skin with glistening white.
Julio folds his body into Star's arms, not quite clinging, but embarrassingly close.
"I liked that," Star says, smiling into his shoulder. "Why did you make me wait so long?"
"Why did I make you wait so long? Dude, really?" Julio replies, pulling back to see Star is almost laughing, merriment dancing warmly in his eyes. That's the next thing they need to work on, Julio thinks. He suspects Star laughing at things could actually be the most awesome thing in the world.
But there's time enough for everything, and Julio's in it for the long haul, wherever life takes them.