Sometimes, Rictor really hated his life.
He swore as their latest client picked up a nearby car and threw it at him, lunging behind a parked bus to avoid the suddenly airborne vehicle. The car hit the bus with a loud crash, and a few seconds later shattered glass rained down on him, a sharp shard cutting his cheek.
"Okay, that's it," Rictor muttered, shaking his head. "Next time, I'm doing the background check on the client to make sure they're legit, not Madrox. This is the third time in as many months we've ended up being attacked by someone who hired us."
She'd told them her name was Barbara Gordon, which even Madrox had recognized as an obvious alias. Yet he'd still taken the case without even hesitating. Common sense apparently wasn't something Jamie Madrox had in abundance.
There was a grunt as Layla threw herself beside him, ducking a flying dumpster. She smiled at him as the container hit the ground a few feet away, trash flying in every direction. "In Jamie's defense, our client wasn't irradiated until after she hired us, so there's no way he could have known she'd decide we were in the way after she suddenly developed superhuman powers."
Rictor stared at her. "You know, sometimes I wonder if you're really a mind reader and just don't want to tell us."
Layla shrugged, still smiling enigmatically at him. Then she reached out and ran her finger lightly over his face; it was bloody when she pulled it away. "You're bleeding, by the way."
He shot her a dirty look. "Thank you," he grumbled, reaching up to touch the cut on his face. "You're very helpful, Layla."
"I try." She quirked an eyebrow as he turned away from her. "You might want to bandage that when you get a chance. It's an infection waiting to happen, especially when you consider all the bacteria in the water."
Rictor froze. There was something in her voice that he couldn't quite define, but he definitely didn't trust it. He didn't turn his head back toward her, but he had a feeling that she could tell he was frowning anyway. "Is there any particular reason you're telling me that?" he asked suspiciously.
Layla laughed. "Don't get too close to her."
"What the hell does that mean?" Rictor asked, spinning around.
She was already gone, dashing toward the semi-collapsed building where Madrox was holed up with Monet, Darwin, and a bunch of dupes, apparently still trying to dig out Terry. The car their client had thrown through the wall ten minutes earlier, causing its collapse in the first place, was still balanced haphazardly between the second and third floors as it swayed in the wind.
Rolling his eyes, Rictor turned his attention back toward the fight itself. Guido, Longshot, and Shatterstar were taking turns trying to attack Barbara, or whatever the hell her name really was, mostly unsuccessfully. None of them could get close enough to attack her head-on without getting something heavy, and typically car or bus shaped, thrown at them.
He flinched as Longshot suddenly went flying backwards, crashing loudly into the wall of a nearby building. The other man crumpled to the ground, not moving. Shatterstar was at his side before Rictor could even blink, kneeling beside him for a moment before angrily turning back toward their client.
"Okay," Rictor muttered, pulling his handgun out of the waistband of his jeans. "Enough is enough."
Rictor quickly ran his eyes over the scene. He'd give almost anything for real life to be like the movies; if it was, there would be something nearby that he could shoot that would either explode or fall on Probably-Not-Really-Named-Barbara's head. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be the case.
Kneecaps it was, then. Or, at least, somewhere in that general area. He'd learned from past experience that they weren't as easy a target as Hollywood made them out to be.
He took a few deep breaths, trying to even out his breathing as he carefully aimed the gun. Her attention was focused on 'Star and Guido, not him. One, two, three, and--
His gun went flying out of his hand, bouncing harmlessly off the ground a good eight or nine feet away. Rictor's eyes widened. "What the hell?"
Probably-Not-Barbara was looking straight at him, her eyes glowing slightly. It looked like she hadn't just developed super strength. She could apparently move things with her mind now too. Perfect.
The next thing Rictor knew, he was flying. And then he was falling. Straight toward the probably frigid Hudson River in mid-December.
A wave of frustration ran through him. I'm going to kill Layla.
For a moment, he felt almost weightless. The wind rushed past his face as he fell back toward the water, and he could hear 'Star and Guido yelling his name somewhere behind him.
His mind flashed back to that night he'd almost jumped, when Madrox's dupe had shoved him off the ledge. A distant part of his brain wondered if it would have felt the same way if Monet hadn't caught him, if he'd just kept falling and falling with the ground getting closer with every passing second. Would it have felt the same if he had simply jumped as soon as he had gotten up there? If he hadn't just stood there, deliberating, until Madrox and the others had time to arrive?
Would it have--
Then he hit the water, and his thoughts came to a screeching halt.
Rictor gasped at the sudden cold, his body acting on instinct rather than self-preservation. Foul-tasting water immediately filled his mouth and he gagged as he tried to orient himself enough to push back up toward the surface.
God, it was fucking freezing. He couldn't tell up from down in the dirty water, and his shoes and clothes were weighing him down. How deep had he gone when he'd hit the water? It couldn't be that far down. He hadn't been falling that fast.
His lungs were starting to ache, the water he'd swallowed when he had hit the river making it difficult to hold his breath any longer. There was a sudden pressure on his chest, as if someone had just wrapped their arms around him, and Rictor saw a vague shadow moving in front of him. The water was too murky for him to see anything clearly.
The next thing he knew, someone was pulling him upward. Or, at least, what he assumed was up.
The moment his head cleared the surface, Rictor started gasping for air. His breaths were cut short by a coughing fit, water pouring out of his mouth as he tried to clear his airways. He half-heartedly tried to tread water, giving up after only a few seconds when it became clear that whoever had pulled him to the surface was keeping him afloat.
It took almost a minute for him to realize that someone was talking to him.
"--amn it, Julio, answer me!"
"'Star?" Rictor mumbled, turning his head slightly so he could see his rescuer's face.
Shatterstar didn't even try to hide his relief. "Are you okay?" he asked worriedly.
"I'm fine," Rictor said, still coughing up water between words. "What about Barbara? Did you stop her?"
Shatterstar frowned a bit. "You know, I highly doubt her name was actually Barbara."
Rictor rolled his eyes. Or, at least, he tried to roll his eyes. He wasn't quite sure how well he succeeded, considering most of his body was going numb from the cold. "You know who I mean."
Shatterstar hesitated another moment. "Layla seemed to have things under control when I threw myself in after you."
"Layla?" Rictor repeated, staring at him. "Of course she did."
Looking back, Rictor wasn't quite certain how they made it back to shore. One minute he was gasping for air, clinging to Shatterstar as he held him up in the water. The next, they were climbing out of the river, Guido pulling Rictor onto dry land as if he weighed absolutely nothing. Longshot was standing behind him, a somewhat dazed look on his face that was a fairly normal side effect of being thrown into walls.
Guido let Shatterstar pull himself up out of the water.
"Are you okay?" Guido asked, the expression on his face one that Rictor would almost call concerned.
Rictor held up a finger, too busy coughing up what felt like half the river to answer. Once he had cleared his lungs at least a little, he slowly pushed himself to his feet; Shatterstar was there almost instantly, helping him up.
"I just took a swim in the Hudson," Rictor said, grimacing as he looked at Guido. "I'll be lucky if I don't die from some unknown disease by tomorrow."
Guido shrugged, his mouth twisted into the hint of a grin. "Well, you're the one who wants to be a mutant again. That water might be enough to do it."
"Not funny, Guido," Rictor said, reaching out to grab Shatterstar's arm to keep him from doing anything stupid. A pang of something that he couldn't quite define shot through his heart, but he quickly brushed it aside. "Seriously."
Guido's grin had already disappeared. "Sorry, Ric," he mumbled, the expression on his face one of genuine regret. "That one sounded better in my head than out loud."
Rictor's mind flashed back to that night on the ledge again, the way the wind had rushed past him as he'd fallen. He couldn't help but think that he wasn't the only one remembering that night, judging by the look on Guido's face. Or maybe Guido was thinking about the time with Val and the cops. Or maybe it was--
Rictor jerked, startled, when Shatterstar suddenly wrapped his arms around Rictor's shoulders, half hugging him. Cold water dripping from his sleeve down Rictor's back. "You're cold," 'Star said with a frown.
Rictor hadn't even realized that he was shivering.
"Yeah, well, that's what happens to most of us when we go swimming in the middle of December," Madrox said, walking up. He grimaced, a troubled look on his face. "Are you okay, Rictor?" He paused, glancing behind Rictor. "You too, Longshot. Still alive?"
Rictor glanced behind him. Longshot was still wearing the same dazed look as before, and he was leaning a little against Guido.
Longshot tilted his head. "Is the world spinning or is it just me?"
"Well, that answers that question," Madrox muttered. He glanced at Rictor. "What about you?"
Trying not to let his teeth start chattering, Rictor nodded. "I'm cold and wet, but other than that I'm fine. How's Terry?"
"I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but I'll live," Terry said with a sigh, walking up behind Madrox.
There was a small cut on her forehead, blood tricking down the side of her face, and she was walking with the slow, careful movement of someone who knew she was going to be covered in bruises by the next morning. She was leaning slightly against Monet, and Darwin was following close behind them with a anxious look on his face that he wasn't hiding very well.
Terry suddenly frowned. "It looks like I'm not the only one who's bleeding."
Rictor tentatively reached up to touch the cut on his face from earlier, grimacing when he saw blood on his hand when he pulled it away. "I don't even want to think about how infected this cut is, do I?"
"Probably not," Shatterstar said, finally moving his arm from around Rictor's neck. "Are you sure--"
"For the last time, I'm fine!" Rictor said, his voice a little louder than he had planned. He'd finally lost his battle against keeping his teeth from chattering, and he suspected the others could hear the sound even standing several feet away.
"Your lips are turning blue," Layla said, suddenly walking past him. She didn't even glance at him as she said it.
Rictor closed his eyes for a moment. "Where were you?" he asked, reluctantly re-opening them.
She smiled primly at him. "Taking care of Ms. Easton," she said matter-of-factly.
He felt a little better at not having any idea what she was talking about when Madrox, Guido, and Monet all chimed in with "who?" at the same time he did.
"Did you actually think her name was Barbara Gordon?" Layla asked, flicking Madrox on the arm. She rolled her eyes, and for just a second she looked like the kid Rictor remembered her as being. "Do you not read comics?"
Madrox let out a long-suffering sigh but didn't say anything.
Rictor's shivers grew more intense, and he pulled his arms in closer to his chest. Shatterstar wrapped an arm around him, pulling Rictor closer. It didn't help much with the shivering, considering 'Star was just as cold and wet as he was, but it still made Rictor feel a little better. It was the thought that counted.
Layla smiled, turning her attention from Madrox to him. "I picked up your gun, by the way," she said. "I'll give it back to you once I'm sure your hands aren't shaking so much you'll accidentally shoot someone."
"Who says anything about it being an accident?" Rictor muttered.
"Hey, hey, nobody's shooting anyone, accidentally or on purpose," Madrox said, holding up his hands. He shot Layla a look that Rictor couldn't quite read. "I don't want to know what you did or who she was. All I want to know is whether or not she's going to send anyone else flying."
Layla simply shrugged, earning her an irritated glare from Madrox. Then she turned toward Rictor and raised her eyebrows again. "Your lips really are turning blue, by the way. I'm not making that part up."
"You could have warned me," Rictor said, glaring at her. Now that they had started, his teeth wouldn't stop chattering.
Layla tilted her head, her mouth twitching a bit though she was at least trying not to smile. "What? I told you not to get too close to her."
Madrox groaned. "Layla, stop antagonizing him," he said. "Shatterstar, put the sword up."
Rictor blinked in surprise, turning his body slightly so he could see 'Star. His hair was still dripping, so wet it was almost plastered to his head, and there was a sheepish look on his face as he unwrapped his arm from around Rictor in order to slide one of his swords back up his other sleeve.
Madrox continued on as if nothing had happened. "Terry, do you think you'll need stitches?"
She gingerly touched the cut on her face, feeling it. Then she shook her head. "No, I'm fine."
"Rictor?" he asked.
Rictor shook his head as well.
"Okay then," Madrox said, clapping his hands together. "Let's head home then." He paused for a second. "Someone make sure Longshot doesn't fall flat on his face. He's tilting again."
"Dibs on the shower," Rictor said, not even glancing at the others as he stumbled toward the stairs the moment he was inside. Shatterstar had an arm wrapped around him again, steadying him. At least his teeth had stopped chattering.
He could almost feel the others exchanging looks behind him.
"You just took a dive into the Hudson River when it was thirty degrees outside," Terry said. "I doubt anyone's going to fight you for it."
"Except maybe your boyfriend," Guido muttered.
Layla laughed. "Oh, I'm sure they know how to share."
Someone made a strangled sound that might have been a laugh. Or a groan. It was too hard to tell without knowing who it was.
Rictor didn't even have the energy to turn and glare at everyone. Instead, he simply let 'Star lead him into the bathroom and shut the door behind them, ignoring the others as if they weren't there.
"You were in the water too," Rictor grumbled, his shivering increasing as he slowly started peeling off his wet clothes. "It's completely not fair that you aren't freezing."
Shatterstar looked at him and raised an eyebrow, but he didn't say anything. He simply reached over and turned on the water in the shower, steam rising from it almost instantly. Then he started pulling his own wet clothes off, dropping them on the floor beside Rictor's.
"Not fair," Rictor repeated. He rubbed his now bare arms, trying to get some feeling back into them. Goosebumps rose on his skin, and his shivers increased.
"Of course," Shatterstar said, something at the corner of his mouth that might have been a smile. He took Rictor by the arm, gently pushing him toward the shower. "Though I suspect you'll feel much better once you're warmer."
Rictor started to protest. Before he could say anything, though, Shatterstar had pushed him into the shower. The hot water felt amazing, and Rictor just closed his eyes for a moment to enjoy the feeling of being warm.
He barely even noticed as Shatterstar slipped in behind him, at least until he felt 'Star place his hands on his neck and start massaging it. The sound Rictor made was something between a groan and a sigh. "It's still not fair," he muttered half-heartedly.
Rictor's breath hitched as Shatterstar's hands slipped downward, stopping their massage of his neck and instead working on his lower back. "That's cheating."
"Are you feeling better?" Shatterstar asked, leaning closer. He pressed a kiss to the side of Rictor's neck.
Rictor closed his eyes, letting out a pleased sound. Shatterstar's hand moved down a little more, and he kissed Rictor's neck again. His hair brushed lightly against Rictor's cheek.
Smiling, Rictor rested his hand on Shatterstar's thigh, rubbing lightly against it. 'Star made a quiet sound, almost a whimper, as Rictor moved his hand to the inner thigh and started upward.
"You're not the only ones who want to get cleaned up, you know!" Guido shouted from the other side of the bathroom door. "No sex in the shower when there's a line to get in!"
Rictor's eyes shot open, and he stumbled. Shatterstar let out a curse, grabbing at him, and the next thing Rictor knew there was a loud crash and the two of them were sprawled on top of each other on the floor of the tub.
Guido went silent.
"Thank you, Guido!" Rictor yelled, grimacing a bit as he tried to get off of 'Star without accidentally kicking him anywhere sensitive. "Really, thanks a lot!"
Shatterstar grumbled a few choice words in Cadre as he climbed to his feet, accidentally elbowing Rictor in the stomach during the process. "Thank you is not what I want to say to him."
"I know, I know," Rictor said, turning off the shower. He grabbed two towels that were hanging just outside it, tossing one at Shatterstar. "Terry doesn't like it when we start yelling 'fuck you' at each other, remember?"
Still grumbling, Shatterstar wrapped the towel around his waist and started toward the door. He stopped long enough to grab his swords, leaving his wet clothing on the floor where he'd dropped it. Rictor quickly wrapped the other towel around him, just in time for 'Star to throw open the door, glare at Guido, and go storming past him.
Rictor stopped in the doorway, giving Guido a half-shrug. He frowned a bit when he got a good look at him. The front of Guido's clothes were wet, probably from where he'd pulled Rictor out of the water, and - while he wasn't actually shivering - Guido definitely looked like he was cold.
"There is another bathroom downstairs," Rictor pointed out.
Guido stared at him, raising an eyebrow slightly.
Rictor grimaced somewhat. "The girls claimed it for themselves?" he guessed.
"If the two of you want to have sex, you have a bedroom for that," Guido grumbled, uncrossing his arms. He pointed in the general direction of their room. "It's soundproofed and everything."
That would be a "yes" then.
Rictor blushed slightly, despite himself. "Fuck you, Guido."
When Rictor woke up, the other side of the bed was empty and felt cool to the touch. He wasn't surprised. Shatterstar usually woke up before him in order to exercise some before everyone else was up and about. That was one aspect of Cable's training that Rictor had let lapse a bit over the years; he still got up earlier than most people, but he at least had a few limits.
Rictor threw on jeans and a sweatshirt, running his fingers through his hair as he plodded out into the hallway in his bare feet. It was just late enough that Shatterstar had probably already finished his first round of morning training, which meant he was most likely down in the kitchen trying to decide whether or not to punish the others for the night before by setting the stove on fire in an attempt to cook.
As amusing as it probably would be, the local fire department probably wouldn't appreciate it. They had been pretty adamant after the last five times that maybe it would be for the best if Shatterstar wasn't allowed to try cooking anything by himself. Ever.
Shaking his head, Rictor stretched a bit as he headed down the stairs. The cut on his face hurt a bit, but other than that he felt surprisingly well considering he had been expecting to wake up with either pneumonia or the black death. A little soreness was nothing in the grand scheme of things.
"Hey, 'Star, are you in--" Rictor stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, blinking in surprise.
Shatterstar was sitting at the table, eating a piece of toast. A quick glance at the toaster showed minimal damage to it. That wasn't the surprising part, though.
"What the hell are you wearing?" Rictor asked, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh.
Shatterstar looked up and gave him an affronted look, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "It is a sweater," he said, frowning. "Surely you've seen one before."
"That's not a sweater," Rictor said, still smirking a bit. "That's a-- I'm not sure what that is, to be honest. Who gave that monstrosity to you, Guido?"
Shatterstar looked down at his sweater. It was at least three sizes too large for him, and it was a garish mustard-yellow color with green stripes running across it. It was probably warm, Rictor had to admit, but that was about the only thing it had going for it.
Without saying anything else, Shatterstar pulled it off over his head, dropping it on the table beside him. His bare chest looked even paler than usual, and for the first time Rictor noticed that he looked tired.
Rictor tilted his head. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Of course I'm okay," Shatterstar said, affronted. "Why wouldn't I be okay?"
Then he sneezed so hard that Rictor was honestly surprised that he managed to stay in his chair.
Rictor stared at him.
Sniffling, Shatterstar met his gaze. The expression on his face could only be described as petulant.
"You're the one with the healing ability," Rictor said, frowning. "I'm just your everyday human. So why is it that you're sick and I'm not?"
Shatterstar shrugged half-heartedly, crossing his arms in front of his chest. It looked like he was shivering slightly.
"I'm not sick," Shatterstar said. Then he sneezed again.
"Uh-huh," Rictor said, eyeing him. "Of course you're not. You're just choosing to sneeze for the fun of it."
Shatterstar nodded. "Exactly."
Rictor rolled his eyes. Then he walked over and grabbed the sweater that Shatterstar had put aside, handing it back to him. "Go on, put the monstrosity back on if you're cold. It'll keep you warm. I'll give it that much."
"I'm fine," Shatterstar said. He made no move to take the sweater.
"Oh, for the love of God." Rictor glared at him. "Will you stop? Just put the damn sweater on, if you--"
Layla walked into the kitchen, and he stopped short.
She raised an eyebrow at them. "Oh, don't stop fighting on my account," she said, smiling. She dropped a bundle of cloth on the table in front of Shatterstar, grabbed a piece of toast from the plate sitting in front of him, and walked back out the door without saying another word.
"I hate when she does that," Rictor said after a few seconds.
Shatterstar tilted his head. "I find it intriguing."
Rictor paused. "No, 'Star."
Shatterstar turned toward him, a puzzled look on his face.
"No," Rictor repeated. "We're not having a threesome with Layla, not ever, so don't even think about it."
"The thought hadn't crossed my mind," Shatterstar said. It was such an obvious lie that Rictor didn't even bother calling him on it.
Rictor rolled his eyes, reaching down to grab the bundle that Layla had dropped on the table. When he saw what it was, he couldn't help but laugh.
Shatterstar started to open his mouth, presumably to ask what was so funny. He was cut off by another sneeze.
"Here," Rictor said, shoving the cloth into Shatterstar's hands. "Put this on."
"What is it?" Shatterstar asked. Then he paused. "It's-- a sweater? Layla left a sweater?"
Rictor nodded. "It looks like it," he said.
"But--" Shatterstar glanced behind him at the sweater resting on the chair.
"That," Rictor said, pointing to the yellow and green sweater, "isn't a sweater; it's a circus tent. This, at least, looks like it will fit you. Now put it on before you die of pneumonia."
Shatterstar started to argue; before he could even get a word out, he sneezed again. Almost sheepishly, he pulled the sweater on over his head.
Rictor couldn't help but stare. It was a plain black sweater, just tight enough that it pulled a bit across Shatterstar's chest. 'Star reached up and poked at the turtleneck a bit, apparently not quite certain what to do with it.
Rictor had to admit, it looked good on him.
"You're welcome, Rictor!" Layla yelled from somewhere outside the kitchen.
Rictor closed his eyes. Uno, dos, tres . . .
"Are you quite certain we can't--"
"Neither of us is sleeping with Layla," Rictor said, opening his eyes. "I'm drawing the line at that."
Shatterstar sniffled a bit, obviously trying to fight back another sneeze. Then he quietly went back to eating his toast.
Rictor stared at him for a minute, just watching him eat. Then he walked over and sat down in the chair next to him, dragging it a few inches closer to Shatterstar as he did.
"Did I ever thank you for jumping in after me last night?" Rictor asked quietly.
Shatterstar tilted his head. "Is that not why you let me practice that new technique I learned from the internet last night?"
"Sex doesn't count," Rictor said, shaking his head. "I mean, did I actually say 'thank you' at some point?"
Smiling, Shatterstar leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. "You just did."