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Fires That Burn Within

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Claude grinned as the licks of flame caught and the fire began to leap from plant to plant across the field. Soon it would all burn and Claude was already exhilarated by the way the flames were racing towards the horizon. A few feet away, Hector laughed, totally caught up in the pleasure of seeing something burn. This was what they lived for--the fire and the passion that flared between them. Hector began to race along the edge of the field and Claude followed, wanting to stay within the reach of Hector's mutant fire-starter abilities so he could absorb them through his own skin and use them too. Flames licked off his fingers, igniting the inflammable liquid produced by his mutation--by Hector's mutation. He threw another flame for good measure, seeing it land in a patch of coca plants that had yet to start burning, and he watched as it ignited. Claude laughed as Hector hurled a firebomb towards yet another patch of the field. Soon all of it was burning and in the distance Claude could hear the panic of raised voices as the farm workers tried to beat back the flames.

Claude stopped beside Hector, both of them staring with glee across the field.

"Think that will teach them a lesson?" Claude asked.

"Oh yeah!"

Perhaps next time the local drug baron would be more careful when he started shooting up the town on the pretext of eliminating a rival gang. Maybe next time he would make sure Claude and Hector were not caught in the crossfire. It had been a lucky escape for both of them, only surviving because of the presence of a low-grade mutant who could levitate small objects. The incident was burned into Claude's mind...

***

Earlier:

"So where do we want to go next?" Hector asked and Claude smiled, closing his eyes to bring up exotic images of places he had seen on a calendar. He had never expected to see any of these places with his own eyes but with Hector right beside him, all things now seemed possible. The whole world seemed to have opened up before him since the day they met.

"Rio be Janeiro."

He knew it was quite a trek from Leticia, a township at the bottom tip of Columbia, but neither of them was in a rush to get anywhere. As long as they were together then it didn't matter if it took them a lifetime to cross South America.

"East or west?"

Originally they had talked of taking a boat east along the Amazon to Manaus and that still seemed like the best route. There was an alternative road route that would take them some distance west before it headed south and turned back on itself to cross the continent back towards Brazil.

"East," Claude replied, and Hector shrugged happily in agreement because Claude knew he had enjoyed the trip down the river from Iquitos. The hard part would be the four days spent sleeping in hammocks amid thirty to forty other tourists and locals heading for the largest city on the Amazon. The couldn't afford a private charter, at least, not without drawing too much unwanted attention. As it was, the rumors from further north were just starting to reach Leticia--of coca fields and other places burning in a trail of destruction leading to this small town. Fortunately he and Hector were not the only tourists who followed the Amazon trail, and although they had very good quality fake passports, Claude didn't want anyone to scrutinize them too closely. After all, both Columbia and Brazil had extradition treaties with the United States, and Claude had no intention of spending the rest of his life locked up in a prison cell apart from Hector.

As they walked by a small cafe that seemed to be favored by a particular group of locals, Claude heard the screech of car wheels turning the corner ahead of them. Gun barrels protruded from the open windows and Claude yelled, throwing himself on top of Hector to knock them both to the ground as several cars slammed to a halt and the guns began firing. The shooters spilled out of the cars, firing indiscriminately, and the men in the cafe opened fire in return, catching Hector and Claude in the crossfire with bullets ricocheting off the ground and wooden frames surrounding them. Claude had noticed the pull from a low-grade mutant moments earlier but had ignored it, but now he drew on the man's power, magnifying the mutant's pathetic levitation ability to grade 4 level. Within seconds, Claude had ripped sheets of metal from nearby buildings and pushed more energy back at the cars, sending one flying backwards and flipping another over. He drew a shield of metal around them, protecting Hector as best he could as they crawled away from the gang war, trying to reach better cover. The ability to levitate objects faded when the mutant was killed but, by then, he and Hector were almost out of the firing line.

A cry of pain from Hector sealed Claude's anger with the shooters, and he used the abilities he was now re-absorbing from Hector to send first one firebomb and then another towards both sides. Cars exploded and people screamed, with the innocent caught in the same inferno as the guilty but Claude didn't care. Those bastards had hurt Hector, and Hector was all that mattered in Claude's life. Eventually the firing stopped and all that was left above the crackle of burning buildings and cars was the cries of the scared, injured and dying.

Claude dropped to his knees beside Hector, drawing away the blood soaked t-shirt to reveal the nasty gash across Hector's side. At least the bullet had only grazed him but the sight of the furrowed wound filled Claude with even more anger. These drug lords had dared to hurt his lover and Claude was going to make sure they paid.

He helped Hector to his feet and half-supported him as Claude took advantage of the chaos to get them as far away as possible. He could hear the police sirens in the distance and urged Hector to move just a little faster, and he didn't let them stop until he was certain they were out of danger. He checked the wound again, feeling his anger flare at the sight.

"Let's get back to the hotel. Get our things."

Hector nodded. "The medical kit's in my bag."

Claude left Hector in the small alley that ran alongside the motel and made his way inside. He entered through the staff door at the back of the building, waiting until the desk clerk was occupied before taking the stairs three at a time to the room from on the third floor. Most of their possessions were already packed up and it took only a matter of minutes to gather up the rest from the tiny bathroom but he felt uneasy. Hector was just outside his mutant range and the lack of that contact put him on edge. The room had been paid for in advance and was good for one more night so Claude didn't bother to check out. Instead he waited until the clerk had his back turned before slipping across the small reception area to the staff door, relieved when he felt the crackle of Hector's fire-starting ability being re-absorbed into his body, altering his DNA and heating his veins.

Claude led the way to a small cafe with private booths that formed part of the ticket office for the Manaus boat; he ordered coffee and food while Hector made use of the small washroom to clean up and bandage the bullet graze. Hector returned a short time later wearing a fresh t-shirt and a tight, pain-filled smile, but his lips softened with gratitude when Claude shook out two painkillers and handed them to him. Claude watched him swallow them down with several mouthfuls of coffee, licking his lips as he watched Hector's Adam's apple bob seductively. His eyes followed a droplet of sweat that trickled down Hector's throat to pool at the base, and he resisted the urge to simply lean across and swipe at it with his tongue. Instead, he held up the tickets.

"The next boat for Manaus leaves in just over six hours, and there's room on-board."

Claude knew exactly what they were going to do in those remaining six hours. Take their revenge.

****

His thoughts returned to the present and to the burning field of coca plants that had been partially hidden beneath the canopy of the jungle to avoid being seen by the Colombian air patrols. Two drug lords had been fighting over this crop and now neither of them would have it. With his revenge taken, Claude took Hector's hand and they slowly walked away, bumping shoulders and exchanging soft kisses with only the occasional hiss of pain from Hector when he pulled a little on the bullet wound.

By the time they reached the dock in Leticia, the boat was already there. They moved into the throng of tourists and locals and boarded with them, using a glare or two to ensure they could hang their hammocks next to each other against the far end wall of the boat. With so many hammocks strung up together, there wouldn't be a whole lot of privacy in their sleeping arrangements over the next four days but Claude knew they would manage.

As the boat pulled away, the tourists lined the deck rail for one last glimpse of the small town, and one pointed towards the jungle's interior at the column of smoke rising above the trees.

"Looks like something's on fire," one of them remarked, and Claude hid his triumphant grin.

****

Raoul Estevan grimaced as he looked across the devastated crop, only turning when he heard a scuffle behind him. An older man with fear lining his face and eyes, was thrown to his knees before him and Estevan recognized the man as the farmer who owned the field that had been destroyed. No doubt the man thought Estevan was going to take out his anger at losing the crop upon him instead of those that had actually burned the field.

"Senor Estevan," the man's voice trembled.

"You saw who did this."

"Yes, senor. Two men. Americanos." He described the two men he had seen from across the field as he tried to save his precious crop.

Estevan nodded. Several hundred miles north of here, other fields of coca had burned, and the two men here fitted the description of the arsonists reported to have started those fires. He sighed heavily. Financially, the loss of a few fields was not devastating to his business for he had seen far more go up in flames courtesy of the Columbian Government working with the American DEA. In this case though it was more a matter of pride, of honor, of not appearing weak in front of the other drug lords, but he had to admit that these two Americanos intrigued him. He dismissed the farmer with a wave of his hand, not bothering to watch as the man scurried away but, instead, he turned back to gaze over the still smoldering field. He had no idea if these Americanos were mutants or normal pyro-maniacs. Either way they were definitely exhibiting psychotic behavior so would be dangerous to approach, but that was why he paid his enforcers good money to take such risks.

If these men were normal humans then he would make an example of them--hanging their garroted bodies in a public place for all to see as a lesson to anyone else who thought they could destroy that which belonged to the Estevan Family and get away with it. But if these Americanos were mutants--firestarters--then they were far more dangerous and he wanted to examine them first to find out what they could do with their thermal abilities...and then he would slaughter them and hang their corpses.

He hoped they were mutants.

"Miguel!"

"Senor Estevan." Miguel stepped forward and awaited his orders with a patience that Estevan admired. He had chosen his head enforcer well, trusting in Miguel to keep calm in any situation and do exactly as he was ordered.

"Find these men. Bring them to me. Alive."

"Yes, senor."

Miguel dipped his head slightly and left immediately, barking orders at some of the lower ranks of Estevan's men. The sound of their jeeps was quickly muffled in the rain forest as they headed out towards the nearest town, Leticia. Estevan rolled his shoulders and straightened his expensive suit jacket before walking back towards his private helicopter. Miguel had his orders and he had yet to fail Estevan. As the helicopter took off, he looked back down at the scorched ground. The fire had been contained quickly, before it could spread to other hidden fields or to the rain forest itself, and Estevan wondered how much of that was pure luck, and how much came down to the precision of the arsonists. He hoped to have an answer soon.

****

Claude sat on the deck with his back to the wall, gazing out across the passing rain forest over Hector's shoulder. He heard Hector snuffle and smiled as the man wriggled against Claude's chest, having fallen asleep some time ago. The one thing about being so close to Hector was that he barely noticed the heat of the sun bearing down on them, leaving them alone on the sunlit deck while others had fled to seek what little shade could be found on-board. The fire running through his body from Hector's mutant ability simmered just beneath the surface of his skin, and it felt so good that part of him wanted to cast aside all sense of decency and fuck Hector right here and now on the open deck. His body thrummed with the desire to feel the heat of Hector's body surrounding him, to feel the liquid fire dripping from his fingers, igniting everything around them but he held back. If they set fire to the boat then it would be a long trek along the Amazon from here to Manaus and he did not feel like walking.

Hector let out a small whimper as he moved once more, reminding Claude that he needed to clean the wound on Hector's side to ensure it did not become infected. Hector had assured him that it wouldn't be a problem, and that he had never been seriously ill in his whole life because he could turn the heat inwards and burn any bugs that didn't belong, but Claude was not willing to take that chance. Hector meant too much to him to lose over a simple injury.

As the sun passed its zenith, other passengers came back out onto the deck, eying him and the sleeping man cradled against his chest strangely but a menacing stare had them looking away fast. If any of them were homophobic assholes wanting to cause trouble then Claude was only too willing to show them the error of their ways--permanently. One guy did approach and Claude could see he was little more than a kid, probably taking a year to travel the world before going back to college.

"Is he okay?"

"He's fine."

"He looks a little...hot."

Oh yeah, Claude thought, looking back down at Hector. Definitely hot though he doubted the guy meant it the same way as Claude...except, now that he was looking carefully, he realized Hector was getting hotter in the temperature sense of the word too. Small beads of sweat were glistening on Hector's forehead, which in itself was an unusual sight on someone who could control his body temperature so accurately. Claude felt the heat begin to surge within Hector--and within himself--feeling the fire begin to burn at his fingertips. The other guy started to back away and just as the guy opened his mouth to yell out in alarm, the heat flared bright before dissipating rapidly, leaving them both back at a regular body temperature. Claude understood immediately, realizing that Hector's body had kicked in to eradicate whatever bug had tried to attack through the open wound. The sweat evaporated leaving Hector's skin warm and dry as normal, and Hector sleeping peacefully, still pillowed against Claude's chest.

Claude looked back up at the astonished guy and grinned.

"He's definitely fine now."

The guy backed away, hooking a thumb over his shoulder but Claude could see no malice or fear in his eyes, just weird acceptance of the fact that Claude and Hector were possibly mutants. It made a change not to see someone look at him as if he was some kind of freak of nature.

"Claude?"

"Hey," Claude murmured softly as blue eyes opened to slits. "You had a temperature spike."

"Told you I'd fight off any bugs," he mumbled back before his eyes closed again, lips turned up in the crooked smile that Claude loved so much. Unable to resist this time, Claude tilted Hector's head back and kissed him, enjoying the low vibration as Hector hummed in pleasure.

"Go back to sleep."

He must have dozed as well, awakening with a start hours later as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey mister. First stop is coming up."

It was the same young guy from earlier, and Claude murmured his thanks as he noticed how low the sun was in the sky, already dipping below the canopy of the trees on the furthest bank. The price of the ticket included the cost of the hammock, meals and water but the guy at the ticket office had already warned him that the food was not particularly good. Originally, they hadn't planned on getting off the boat until they reached Manaus, but it made sense to grab a decent meal whenever the boat pulled into one of the small river towns.

"It's only stopping for two hours. We're grabbing a meal at the nearest restaurant. You're welcome to join us."

Claude shook his head, smiling to soften the refusal. The only thing he wanted was two hours alone with Hector, away from the mass of sweaty bodies filling the boat. By now Hector was sitting up unaided and frowning at the guy standing over them but Claude splayed his hand across Hector's chest possessively for a moment before stroking the firm muscle, distracting Hector. The kid took the hint and moved off, leaving Claude and Hector alone as the boat began to empty of some of its passengers.

"What's going on?" Hector asked with a hint of hardness in his otherwise soft voice.

"Just a kid looking out for us." Claude kissed Hector soundly, drawing back with a sigh. "We got two hours. Time for food and...something else."

Hector grinned crookedly, blue eyes sparkling with renewed interest. He pushed to his feet and held out a hand to Claude, pulling him up. Together they headed down the ramp and into the small town. With so little time to spare, they moved quickly, heading away from the main tourist strip to the back streets where they found a small cantina. The owner was only too eager to please and they left over an hour later with full bellies and the keys to a small hotel room out back that charged by the hour, as it usually catered for prostitutes and their clients.

Claude pushed Hector up against the door as soon as it closed behind them, stealing hard kisses as his hands roamed freely over his lover's body. He heard Hector hiss as one hand touched the wound on his side and pulled back a fraction, not wanting to cause pain, only pleasure. Hector grabbed Claude's hair in annoyance, dragging him back into another hard kiss and gasping into Claude's mouth as Claude squeezed Hector's ass possessively. He tore his mouth away from Claude, breathing hard, eyes glittering with lust and need.

"You want that?"

Claude licked his swollen lips. "You need to ask?"

Hector chuckled and shoved a hand between their close bodies, opening the fly of his jeans and using both hands to shove them and his boxers to his knees. He turned in Claude's arms and pressed his top half against the door while pushing back with his ass. Claude needed no other invitation, fumbling in his pocket for lube before shoving his own pants aside. He prepared them both quickly, shoving fingers deep into Hector to loosen him before withdrawing and lining his cock up against the prepared hole. Sinking into the inferno of Hector's body was as amazing now as it had been the first time. The heat enveloped him, racing through his blood and nerves, igniting him from the inside out as he grasped Hector's hips and thrust forward hard. Hector grunted out as he was fully impaled, lips curling back in a grimace of pleasure and pain combined as he threw back his head. Claude could feel him working his own cock in time to Claude's thrusts, and that made the possession all the sweeter, knowing he would feel the moment when Hector found release, that he would feel the clench of muscle that would tear his climax from his own body.

"Fuck! Fuck! More!"

So beautifully demanding that Claude had to obey, driving into his lover and crying out at that sweet moment when Hector spilled over his own hand and brought Claude along with him. He collapsed against the strong back, breathing hard, his hands loosening their tight grip to caress exposed skin from the softness of Hector's belly and ass to the silkiness of lightly furred thighs. They shared languid kisses over Hector's shoulder until Hector stretched out with a low moan of appreciation. Claude echoed the moan but in loss as he slipped from Hector's body.

They still had a little time left but Hector eyed the bed with disdain; Claude could understand as he doubted that the sheets were washed that regularly. He slouched back against the wall as Hector moved to the wash facilities set behind a screen in the corner of the room. A small hiss of pain from behind the screen had Claude pushing away from the wall. He took the washcloth from Hector's hand and gently wiped them both clean, taking his time to check Hector's graze.

"Here, let me," he said softly, using an antiseptic wipe to clean the wound before putting a fresh dressing over the graze. Claude sighed. "Boat leaves in fifteen. Guess we'd best head back." They kissed again. "Next time I want to fuck you on a remote beach where we can really set each other on fire."

Hector grinned as he fastened his clothing. "Or maybe I'll fuck you."

"Maybe I'll let you."

When they reached the boat they found the young guy from earlier arguing with the ticket collector who insisted that the guy's cheap ticket was unofficial and would no longer be honored now he had stepped off the boat. He was demanding extra payment for a new ticket but it was obvious that the kid was low on funds. Claude approached the ticket collector, stepping between the two men to show his and Hector's tickets.

"These tickets are unoffi--" He swallowed hard as Claude tilted his head slightly and stared at him cold and hard. "They are fine, senors. Welcome back on-board."

Claude took a couple of steps up the gang plank, one hand pressed against Hector's lower back, before feeling a tug of some undefinable emotion, recalling how the kid had done him a favor. He looked back over his shoulder at the ticket collector, offering a tight smile.

"And the kid."

"Yes. Of course, senor. His ticket is fine too."

The kid followed them up the ramp onto the boat. "Hey, thanks man. I'm running short of cash and have a plane to catch in Manaus."

Claude eyed him carefully, putting down his act of compassion to still feeling loose-limbed and satisfied after sex with Hector. "In that case, I suggest you stay on-board until you get there," he suggested before dismissing the kid and leading Hector inside the boat where their hammocks were strung up. After all that pleasurable activity and good food, both of them could use a sleep.

****

In a seedy hotel in Leticia, Miguel watched as his lieutenant dropped the hapless hotel owner to the ground, ignoring the man's pained cries. The lieutenant, a large man with more brawn than brains, rubbed the blood off his knuckles and looked across the room at Miguel before kicking the downed man hard.

"Say it one more time."

"They were here. Two Americanos who like to play with fire. They leave my room with burn marks. Sheets burnt, mattress scorched. I overhear them talk of Rio be Janeiro, of taking the boat to the airport in Manaus."

"When does it leave?"

"It is already gone this morning. By now it will have reached Amatura and be on its way to Santo Antonio."

Miguel cursed under his breath. They had wasted most of the day searching through Leticia for two Americans among all the tourists who came here for their Amazon adventure. It was small consolation but at least there were very few stops along the river with little likelihood of the Americans leaving the boat before they reached Manaus. It also helped that, unlike the Americans, Miguel could afford to hire a faster boat--or simply take the speedboats by force if the owners were unwilling to accept Estevan's money. He barked out fresh orders, radioing the rest of his team to rendezvous at the dock.

"Take me to their room."

The room was just as the hotel owner described but, most telling, was the scorch mark in the shape of a human hand. It looked very likely that at least one of the Americans was a thermal with control over fire, and if the farmer was right then the dangerous one was the dark-haired American. Estevan would be pleased when Miguel handed over the mutant.

By the time he reached the dock, several boats were already lined up, enough to hold all of his men and their equipment. They started out on the river as the sun began to set, for Miguel was determined to reach the small township of Fonte Boa ahead of the slower boat so his men could lie in wait for the Americans. Hopefully they would leave the boat to look around and grab some decent food before the boat set off for the next stop on its journey to Manaus. It would give Miguel an opportunity to safely separate them from the other passengers on the overcrowded boat, and if they never re-boarded then no one would be the wiser--or care. But mostly, Miguel wanted to avoid doing anything that would draw the attention of the Brazilian authorities.

****

Hector awoke feeling a lot better and well rested with a pleasant ache from good sex. The hammock had been surprisingly comfortable and as Claude's hammock was hung right by his side, he had still felt surrounded by the familiar musky scent of his lover even though the smell of so many others crammed onto the boat had tried to drown it out. He reached out and stroked the bewhiskered face. His own face felt rough too and he hoped they would have an opportunity to shave later as he hated beard rash--though he hated the thought of NOT touching, kissing and caressing even more. Part of him still wondered how he had managed to survive the isolation brought on by his mutant ability before Claude attacked him in the prison all those months ago. He'd had a few lovers before Claude, but had never been able to let go fully for fear of losing control of his thermal mutancy and hurting them in a moment of passion. With Claude, anger had turned swiftly to lust, except it was more than just base desires between them now. What they had found with each other was so much more than mere lust and physical gratification, and Hector wanted to keep that for as long as possible.

He must have slept through the whole night and part of the morning, witnessing the sun rising above the canopy of trees on the opposite bank when he finally opened his eyes. When he looked back at Claude, he saw green-hazel eyes watching him. A tiny smile played about the full lips as Claude reached for him, careful not to upset their balance in the hammocks. They kissed slowly, beard whiskers rasping against each other before Claude pulled back, satisfied.

"Where are we?" Hector asked.

"About an hour away from Fonte Boa."

Hector grinned because he knew Claude wouldn't be able to wait several days before wanting him again. Unfortunately, they would have to hold onto their control for a while longer unless Fonte Boa boasted a remote beach, and that was unlikely as the information he had seen had described Fonte Boa's water front as a place of mud landslides into an equally muddy river. Rolling around in mud was not high on Hector's want list even though it did hold its intrigue, just not when there was no place to clean up afterwards. There would be a hotel though, and maybe the sheets would look cleaner and the bed more inviting this time.

Hector eased out of the hammock and stretched in the tiny space available between his hammock and the cabin wall. Beyond Claude's hammock were dozens more, some filled with people murmuring quietly to each other, and others empty from where people had gone onto the deck to eat, play cards or simply watch the trees go by. He weaved between the hammocks until he reached the outside, hyper-aware of Claude only a few footsteps behind him as a constant and reassuring presence. Hector made his way to the rail and lifted his head to soak in the heat of the sun. Claude crowded up behind him, nuzzling at his throat while Hector watched a group of speedboats passing their far slower boat.

"I need a shave...and so do you." But he tilted his head up to allow Claude greater access, moaning as sharp teeth nipped at his skin. He could feel the hardness of Claude's erection pressing against his ass, could feel the tiniest of thrusts as Claude moved against him and wished they were some place private, aware of the murmurs of someone who wasn't that keen on seeing two men necking in public. He glanced over his shoulder. "And explain to me again why we're slumming it?"

Claude sighed. "Because I want us to keep a low profile."

Hector rolled his eyes, keeping his voice low. "We just burned down another drug lord's field and left a hotel room scorched in Leticia. Hardly low profile."

"Okay, okay. It's because I don't like to see you dealing drugs. Okay?" Claude leaned in and whispered in his ear. "Burning drugs? Yeah, fuck, yeah. But not dealing."

"You know any faster ways to make money?"

"No more dealing, Hector."

It wasn't an answer to his question and he wished he understood why Claude was so against drugs. At least Claude didn't hate drugs as much as he had once hated mutants or they might never have left Colombia without leaving a trail of fire across the entire country rather than just burning a few fields along the way. And what was so bad about dealing drugs to the normals anyway? The normals still had their secret genetic death squads hunting down mutants despite the recent uprising following Magneto's attempt to stop the U.S. Government forcing the so-called cure upon all mutants. A lot of the lower class mutants had crawled out of the woodwork either to take the cure or fight against it, though most still hid in the shadows, terrified of revealing what they were to their friends or family for fear of persecution and rejection. His own family had abandoned him when they realized he was a mutant--though maybe burning down the family home in revenge hadn't been the best way to deal with that rejection.

As for the drugs, it wasn't as if he had ever pushed them on kids, only dealing to adults with more money than good sense. Also, it was not his fault that DXL had proved fatal to mutants. Sarah Stanton had designed that drug, and with him working as her distributor, they could have led the high life with wealth and fast cars--if the stupid bitch hadn't got herself addicted to her own drug. On the other hand, if she hadn't ruined the whole operation, which ended up with him almost dying from a DXL overdose and eventually ending up in prison, then he might never have met Claude.

Admittedly, he had Magneto to thank for their escape from prison but Xavier's X-Men had stripped Magneto of his powers by pumping him full of the cure. The Old Man was useless to the mutant cause now, and the Dark Phoenix was dead. In the mayhem following the attack on Alcatraz it had been so easy for him and Claude to slip away unnoticed, sneaking across the border into Mexico and from there into South America. That brought his thoughts full circle to slumming it on some overcrowded, slow boat along the Amazon when they should easily have been able to afford one of the speed boats that had passed by earlier.

Claude licked a stripe along Hector's neck before nuzzling on his ear, sending flickers of desire through him. Still, he had to admit that slumming it with Claude was a thousand times better than living like a king with anyone else. Even though they had been together only a few months, Hector couldn't remember how he had survived all those years without him, and he couldn't imagine going on without him either. Claude was everything Hector had always dreamed of having in a lover and a friend...someone who burned like him, who burned FOR him.

He hung his head and let Claude feed the fire smoldering inside him, wishing he could give free rein to the passion that consumed both of them. Maybe later though, when they were away from the press of sweaty bodies filling the boat. Instead, he watched the murky water and the passing rain forest, only looking ahead when they were in sight of the small dock.

"Come on," Claude whispered softly. "Let's go find a place quiet where we can be alone."

****

From a vantage point close to the dock, Miguel swept the boat with high-powered binoculars, stopping when he caught sight of two Americans pressed close together by the rail who fit the description of Estevan's arsonists. The slightly taller, dark-haired man had his arms wrapped around the shorter one, proving the relationship between the men went beyond platonic friendship. Estevan could use that to his advantage to make both Americans suffer. He kept them in his sight as they moved with the crowd of people leaving the boat and smiled when they turned off the path heading towards the busier side of Fonte Boa and instead headed into the quieter part of town. The reason became clear enough as he watched them fondle each other with increasing boldness, uncaring of anyone who might find their homosexual display disgusting.

Miguel sent two of his men to follow them on the other side of the road, just out of sight. The Americans stopped in front of a small cantina, glancing at each other before silently agreeing, with a nod, to go inside. Miguel realized that this could be the opportunity he needed to take the Americans by surprise. Eventually one of them would wish to use the small washroom facilities, and once they were separated Miguel would close in. He made certain his gun was loaded with a fast-acting tranquilizing dart, not wanting to risk the thermal attacking them with fire. Miguel ordered several of his men to the back of the building while he walked in through the front with all the casualness of another customer and took a seat several tables away without once looking at his intended targets. He sat down and quietly ordered off the menu, pulling out a newspaper and spreading it out on the tabletop to make himself look harmless. The darker of the two Americans flicked a glance towards him but then seemed to dismiss him when his companion began to ask about the food on the menu, pointing to one of the options.

"What is that?" The brown-haired one asked and his darker companion answered.

"Catfish."

They ordered and Miguel listened in as they talked of remote stretches of beach near Rio where they could have all the privacy they needed. Most of their words were lost as they whispered them into each other's ears but Miguel could see by the heighten flush of arousal coloring their cheeks that it was a slow, teasing foreplay that would be consummated once they had eaten. Depriving them of that intimacy would make their capture all the sweeter, watching them held far apart, able to see but not touch as each was beaten and tortured in turn before Estevan grew bored with them and had them killed. It was a little more unusual but perhaps Miguel could order one of his men to take carnal pleasure from one while the other was forced to watch. He had seen many a man break when his wife, sister, mother or daughter was defiled in such a way. He overheard them call each other by name. Perhaps it would be the same for these two men--Hector and Claude.

Miguel ate his own meal slowly, smiling inwardly when the darker-haired one called Claude finally stood up and headed out back. Two clicks on his hidden radio warned his men to keep watch on the remaining American while Miguel followed Claude into the washroom. Claude looked back at the door when Miguel entered and Miguel saw the tension in his shoulders that eased when Miguel gave the man a polite smile and then pretended to ignore him. He waited until Claude had decided he was not a threat before drawing the gun and shooting fast. The dart hit the man in the side of the neck and Miguel enjoyed the look of stunned disbelief and horror in the man's green-hazel eyes as he crashed to his knees and toppled over sideways.

The mutant firestarter was no longer a threat and Miguel grinned as he loaded another dart and walked from the washroom, gun in hand. The one called Hector looked up and then away when he realized Miguel was not the man he was expecting to see. A small frown had creased the normal man's forehead and Miguel enjoyed the way the man's eyebrows crawled up when Miguel took Claude's seat at their table.

Blue eyes swept across the room before looking back to Miguel in confusion and growing annoyance.

"I am afraid that your companion is otherwise occupied."

The blue eyes hardened. "Where is he? What have you done with him?"

"He decided to take a small nap."

Hector leaned back in his chair, hands dropping to his thighs but Miguel knew the man carried no weapon like a gun or knife. He had obviously relied upon his mutant lover to protect him and was now realizing the error of that misguided decision.

"Who are you?"

"Who I am does not matter. The only person you should concern yourself with is Raoul Estevan."

"And who is he?"

"The man whose fields you have burned. A man who wishes you to....recompense him...in pain and suffering."

The sudden twitch of his nose as he smelled fire was all the warning Miguel received before the table went up in flames. He hurtled backwards, screaming as the flames engulfed him. The table went flying and even as Miguel rolled across the floor, trying to beat out the fire burning through his clothing to the skin beneath, he saw Hector on his feet with flames dripping from his fingertips moments before he hurtled fire bombs towards the men who had rushed forward as soon as Miguel went down. Another of Miguel's men went up in a scream of agony, crashing through the window of the little cantina in a ball of flames as Hector rushed through the burning building towards the washroom. It was agonizing but Miguel raised the gun and fired, finding small satisfaction in the way the man's back bowed in a flinch as the dart struck him between the shoulder blades. Hector fell to his knees and began to crawl, still trying to reach his lover, and Miguel crawled after him, reaching the doorway moments before the room collapsed.

The remainder of his men pulled him from the burning building along with the two unconscious Americans, and he nodded painfully in satisfaction as his men carried out their orders, dragging away the Americans in two different directions. As he waited for the medics, he wondered how he could have been so mistaken over which of their quarry was the mutant firestarter.

****

Claude groaned as he came round, feeling nauseous and groggy. His limbs ached and it took a moment to realize that the reason was because he was curled up on the floor of a helicopter with his ankles and wrists tied. He could feel the heavy vibration of the engine and rotor blades and a sense of movement, and he swallowed back the nausea as he wondered where they were taking him. Claude cracked his eyes open further but he already knew Hector was not on-board for he couldn't feel the crackle of energy that Hector gave off--an energy that would dance along Claude's veins and nerves, tingling just beneath his skin. It took all his control not to start spitting and screaming at his captors, demanding Hector's whereabouts, because he knew it would give them the satisfaction of seeing his pain and would gain him nothing in return. Better for them to think he was still drugged and incapable of rational thought. Pulling his head back a little so he could see the men on the bench seat, Claude smiled grimly at the tell-tale sign of burns. They may have taken him by surprise--beyond the range of Hector's mutant abilities--but it was obvious that Hector had managed to fight back. Yet what worried Claude most was whether Hector had managed to evade their attackers or whether they had eventually overpowered him too.

Claude refused to consider a third option--that Hector was dead--because madness lay in that direction.

As far as Claude was concerned, Hector was either out there looking for him or being transported by a separate means. All Claude had to do was pretend to be normal until an opportunity arose to use his mutant ability against his captors. Fortunately, he'd had years to perfect that ruse, passing himself off as a completely human detective tracking down a killer of mutants. The fact that he had been the killer in question had been the biggest deception of all.

"I know you're awake."

The burned man kicked him and Claude curled up tighter, groaning at the sharp pain in his side. At least in the close confines of the helicopter, the man had less room to swing a harder kick. Claude had no idea how long he had been unconscious but he saw the other occupants perk up a little as they gazed through the windows, and realized the journey had to be coming to an end. The helicopter bumped a little on landing and two burly men dragged Claude from the machine by his arms. They gave him no chance to get his feet under him and Claude felt the downdraft as the helicopter lifted off and banked away immediately, leaving room as another helicopter circled in to replace it on the ground. The recognized the tingle on the very edge of his nerve endings, exciting his mutant abilities--it was Hector--and Claude jerked against his captors, knowing Hector was in the other helicopter. He bucked hard and heard one of the men curse in Spanish, but they tightened their grip and kept on dragging him away, beyond Hector's range.

At least he knew Hector was still alive, and that gave Claude a few more options for making their escape, using the element of surprise. All he had to do was wait for an opportunity to strike back at their captors. Looking up he could see a large house surrounded by beautiful grounds. The kind of place owned by a very rich man. The two men holding Claude veered off down another path away from the house, dragging him towards a smaller structure. With luck they would do the same with Hector. Inside it was not much cooler and they made no attempt to handle him with care, throwing him inside an open cell. With his hands tied behind his back and his ankles secured too, Claude could not break his fall, landing hard on the concrete floor; the cell door slammed shut behind him.

After a few minutes, Claude found the energy to move into a slightly more comfortable position, curled up on his side, but the hoped-for tingle of Hector's presence had not returned. He knew they must have taken him to another holding cell too far out of range, deliberately keeping them apart. Claude understood the theory behind this, having used similar tactics as a detective when questioning suspects. It made it easier to use one suspect against the other, making them believe the other was cooperating by throwing their partner to the wolves. It worked on the sort of low life scum that Claude had needed to deal with in the past but he knew it would not work on him or on Hector. They had something special between them, something that couldn't be broken. Hector belonged to him, and he belonged to Hector. It was as simple as that.

By the time someone came back, possibly hours later, some of Claude's muscles were screaming in agony but he ignored the physical pain when he realized he cod sense Hector once more. He focused instead upon his lover, feeling Hector right on the edge of his senses and holding onto that sensation as proof that Hector remained alive--for now. He had at least managed to maneuver himself into a seated position with his back to the wall but the enforced immobility was taking its toll. The man with the burned face entered the cell and stared hard at him from behind a fresh change of bandages. Claude sneered up at him.

"I see you've met my friend."

He saw the burned man's visible eye twitch with anger but the lips straightened into a nasty smile as he skimmed a fingertip over the bandage. "Your friend has paid dearly for this. Sadly, I can make him pay no more."

It was clear that the man had wanted to get a rise out of Claude by implying Hector was dead but Claude kept his expression emotionless. He could still feel Hector's presence but he was--frustratingly--too far away to help Claude.

"Perhaps I should describe how he screamed and begged as I tortured him before putting him down like a dog."

The man's eye gleamed as he picked up an unintentional flicker of anger from Claude's face. Although Claude knew his lover was alive, if this man had hurt Hector in any way then Claude would sear every inch of the man's flesh from his bones while he was still alive, reveling in the man's screams of agony as he begged for death. Hector was his--and no one was allowed to hurt him.

The man looked over his shoulder. "Bring him to my...office. Senor Estevan wishes to speak with him."

Two men entered as the burned man stepped aside. They reached down and grabbed Claude by his upper arms, dragging him out of the cell and along a short corridor. With every step Claude felt Hector's presence grow stronger until he could feel the energy crackling through him, but he gave no outer show of his renewed ability. He still needed the element of surprise if he was to get both of them out of there alive and as it was obvious that these men were unaware of Claude's mutant ability to soak up the mutant powers of others, he had that advantage on his side. If he was lucky then they might bring Hector into the interrogation room once they realized that the pretense of having killed Hector had not have the desired effect. They would try to use Hector as a means of getting to Claude, or they would use him as a way to control Hector. Either way, as soon as they were together, he and Hector would burn the whole place down with everyone in it. Claude ducked his head to hide his pleasure at that thought.

They released his wrists only long enough to attach him to chains dangling from the ceiling. A few turns of a wheel beside the door had him hoisted up until his toes were barely skimming the floor, putting all his weight onto his already screaming shoulder muscles. He glanced at the chains, calculating how hot they would need to be before the metal would grow soft enough to break apart the links. He knew he could do it but not swiftly enough to avoid a bullet or a knife. He needed a distraction to buy him the necessary time.

They left him to hang for at least twenty minutes before another man entered the room. This one reeked of money with his tailored suit, expensive hand-made leather shoes and silk tie. An obscenely large gold signet ring adorned the middle finger of his right hand, encrusted with a diamond, and he wore a band of gold on his left finger. A wedding ring. The man--who had to be this Senor Estevan--took out a fat cigar, the kind that could only be imported from Havana and clipped the end carefully with what looked like a solid gold cutter. Claude almost smiled at seeing these deliberate stalling techniques used against him. The idea was to increase Claude's fear and Claude decided to play along, forcing a slight tremor into his voice.

"Who are you? Why have you brought me here?"

Estevan's dark eyes flicked over him but otherwise ignored Claude as he lit his cigar and drew in the first breath, releasing it in a slow plume of aromatic smoke that curled up towards the ceiling. Claude tried not to get distracted by the plume or by the almost hypnotic glow of bright red as the man drew in another puff on the cigar. Fire and smoke. How he loved both, associating it with heat and lust and Hector.

"You have caused me great inconvenience, American."

"I'm really sorry to hear that," Claude replied insincerely.

The unexpected blow from a wooden bat made him swing around, unable to hold in a cry of pain as a rib cracked. He could see the burned man drawing back to strike again but the well-dressed man--Estevan--held up his hand.

"Tell me about your fire-starting friend."

Claude sucked in several breaths, feeling the pain slowly receded from a sharp stab to a dull ache.

"Not much to say really. He likes fires...but I guess you already knew that."

"His liking fire is of no consequence to me, just what he chose to burn."

"And there you have it wrong. He didn't choose to burn anything. You did."

Estevan raised both eyebrows but didn't seem overly surprised that Claude was pushing the blame onto him. Most likely he had already figured out why his fields had been targeted and if that was the case then he also knew what might happen if he allowed Claude and Hector to live. Claude decided not to plead for their lives, not wanting Estevan to have the satisfaction of seeing them beg before killing them anyway. He read the annoyance in Estevan's eyes, aware that the man had expected a different reaction. Perhaps he was used to people being afraid of him, or being afraid to die but Claude's only reason for living was Hector.

Estevan smiled. "Bring in the fire-starter."

"Is that wise, Senor?"

Estevan turned cold eyes on his lieutenant. "Do as I say, Miguel."

Miguel. Claude filed the name away and tried to behave as if this was not what he had wanted all along. He hung heavily from the chain, lowering his head and acting defeated. The door clanged open and Hector was forced into the room and shoved to his knees several feet away from Estevan. His wrists were bound at the front with the plastic ties that had started to replace handcuffs in some Police departments. Claude felt his breath catch in his throat for a moment as he took in his lover's appearance, seeing the bruises and dried blood around one swollen eye. They had hurt him. He caught Hector's single wide blue eye, seeing the anger and fear in it but Hector had always been the more empathic of the two of them, showing more emotion on his expressive face.

Estevan addressed himself to Hector. "If I see so much as a spark I will shoot your friend."

Instead of the desired effect, Hector's expression hardened at the threat to Claude, exactly the way Claude had anticipated. Claude knew exactly what he needed to do using Hector's mutant ability within his own body. Super-heating would take a few vital seconds but Hector would give him those when he took out the main threat to Claude: Miguel, the already burned man holding the gun aimed at Claude. It took only an effortless dip of Claude's head and flicker from his eyes to set everything in motion, reading each other as if they had been together all of their lives instead of less than a year. Balls of fire shot out from Hector's hands, burning through the plastic tie holding his wrists together and engulfing Miguel instantly. By the time the man screamed, Claude was already super-heating, with the heat softening the metal chain until it melted apart, releasing him, and he fell to one knee. By now the room was in flames and others were screaming, the sudden attack catching them off guard. The pungent stench of burning flesh filled the room, along with billowing smoke, so it took Claude a moment to realize that Estevan had escaped. Claude snarled and raced towards the door, seeing the man turning the far corner with his expensive suit smoldering. He heard Estevan shouting orders frantically and knew more guards were on their way.

"Fuck!" He screamed aloud and smashed his fist against the wall, sending flames shooting up the masonry under the intense heat of his anger, but he had something far more important to do than chase down the drug lord. He had to protect Hector and get them both out of there before more of Estevan's men arrived, for even though the fire could not hurt them, bullets could kill them...or more importantly, bullets could kill Hector.

He felt Hector rush up beside him and took a moment to reach out and touch his lover, caressing the heat-blackened skin of his face that would slough off soon enough to reveal fresh new skin beneath. Just like Hector's, Claude's clothing had disintegrated as he superheated--along with the outer layers of his skin--and he needed to remain close to Hector now or he would be unable to regenerate, dying from the burns covering a of his body. Looking beyond the door way he could see dozens of Estevan's soldiers closing in on them.

"Come on," he stated softly, voice hoarse from the anger and frustration.

Claude saw Hector shape and throw more fire towards the main buildings, wanting to bring chaos. With a triumphant snarl Claude watched as half the men raced back to save Estevan's house, teeth baring in glee as he threw a fireball that engulfed one of their remaining pursuers before the soldier could let loose a volley of gunshots at Hector.

Together they raced across the compound to where several jeeps were parked. It took only a moment to destroy all but one of those jeeps, barely taking notice of the explosions as the jeeps went up in flames. Smaller explosions rocked the compound as Hector stepped on the gas and hurtled them towards freedom. However, they had to get much further away before Claude would feel safe.

Hector seemed to be reading his mind. "We need to abandon this vehicle and grab another--and some clothes."

"I don't know," Claude quipped. "You look good without clothes." Claude wriggled what remained of his seared eyebrows, gaining a snort of laughter from Hector.

Already Claude could see the blackened skin falling away from Hector and from his own body. The last time they had allowed this depth of heat between them had been in the throes of the most amazing sex, and even though Claude felt the adrenaline flooding through him, it was not the same pleasure as he found when burning with Hector.

Ahead was a small town and Hector made for the back streets, hoping no one would see them when they abandoned Estevan's jeep and stole another car. Clothes would be harder to find unless they happened upon the right line of laundry hanging in someone's backyard. That sort of thing always seemed to happen in the movies but in reality they had more chance of finding suitable clothes by robbing a local store or breaking into someone's home. They couldn't risk either at this time, instead grabbing some sheets from a line to wrap around their naked bodies until they found something better. Claude knew it would take a day to fully regenerate their skin, and even longer before his hair started to grow out beyond the half-inch that still remained, but it was a small price to pay for having Hector by his side once more.

****

After leaving the small town they had driven hard and fast for miles, eventually abandoning the stolen car when it ran out of gas and pushing it deep into the undergrowth so it would not easily be spotted from the road. With their skin still blackened in places by the burn, Hector knew they had to avoid being seen by anyone, leaving them with a long walk across the mountains, trying to avoid the major routes.

Their first piece of good fortune came when they stumbled across a small waterfall trickling into a pool. Hector hoped that the lack of an obvious trail meant it was not some tourist spot or well-used water hole for a local farmer. What he knew for certain though was that the water was heavenly against his burned skin. Around them the water turned dark for a moment as the worst of the blackened skin washed away but the flow carried the dead skin away quickly. Grabbing a handful of moss, Hector rubbed it over the dead skin that had yet to loosen, smiling as he saw the fresh pink skin beneath. It would still take another day or so before the old skin was completely gone but at least he felt less like a burn victim now. Beside him, Claude was doing the same, scrubbing at his body to reveal silky new skin beneath. He looked odd though without the matting of dark hairs on his chest, and without the longer strands of dark hair on his head but no less beautiful in Hector's eyes. At least they had kept their eyebrows and lashes or they would have looked surreal.

They cleaned the sheets next, stretching them out over heated rocks to dry faster.

"Stay here," Claude ordered as he climbed out of the kidney-shaped pool, heading towards the rock face by the waterfall. He was gone for only a few minutes but he returned smiling. "I found someplace we can hole up for the night."

Hector followed him to a shallow cave that was really only a little more than an overhang but it was dry inside and some of the vegetation that had died over the years was dry enough to start a small fire. He smirked at the thought, as lighting fires had not been a problem since puberty, which was when his mutant ability had manifested itself. Claude gathered up the dried-out twigs into a small pile near the entrance and a quick burst of fire from Hector cleansed away anything else that could be living inside the shallow cave. Once they had cleared away the debris and shielded the entrance with vegetation, Hector spread one of the dried sheets on the ground and watched as Claude played with a tiny flame at his fingertips before letting it ignite the pile of twigs. By now it was past twilight and the light from the fire illuminated the inside of the small cave.

Hector watched the light flickering over Claude's handsome face, seeing a deeper heat fire within his eyes as Hector deliberately stretched out on the sheet before him. Hector raised a hand to him, and Claude came over instantly, dropping down beside Hector and running his hands over Hector's sensitive flesh from the new pink skin to the still burned areas. He cupped Hector's face for a moment, examining him carefully but the full burn had removed most of the bruising from Hector's face, leaving just a little swelling behind that would be gone in a matter of a day. They kissed deeply, releasing the tension and fear that had fueled them over the past day. Hector wrapped his arms around Claude and held him tight, pressing the full lengths of their bodies as close together as he could manage. He felt the hardness of Claude's cock reacting to the friction of their bodies, felt his own answering erection rub against Claude's and let himself sink into the pleasure of those tiny thrusts against each other, letting his release flow over him as Claude gasped softly against his throat and came as well.

Exhausted by the day's events, they fell asleep while still wrapped around the other. When the morning came, Hector smiled as warm lips trailed over him. They kissed deeply, slowly before pulling apart.

"G'Morning," Hector mumbled, eliciting a soft smile from Claude but his relaxed mood didn't last too long. The morning brought a different sort of problem; one that Hector knew all too well since meeting Claude.

Hector hated this part of his mutant ability. He loved the fire, loved the feel of the flames dripping from his fingertips but he hated the aftermath of an intense burn where his entire body had become a human torch. He could protect the deeper layers of his skin and even the first half an inch of hair on his head but the rest burned. However, when the blackened and burned skin sloughed away, the new skin itched like a bitch.

"Yeah, yeah. Just there! OH GOD! YES! YES!"

Anyone hearing him would think he was having the most fantastic sex ever but it was simply the relief from Claude's short nails raking over his over sensitized and itching-like-crazy skin. All the nerve endings just beneath the surface were firing in both pleasure and pain, and it really was too much when that new skin covered most of his body. Worse was the itch of new hair growth when it started to push through the skin, especially around his groin. Claude loved it though. He loved the baby-soft skin that felt like a newborn's once the blackened skin had sloughed away, and he loved seeing Hector almost totally hairless from neck to toe, and especially in particular places in between. Claude loved the soft feel of his own new skin and hairless body too...until the dark hairs began to grow back through even thicker than before. He loved seeing and touching both of them, loved pushing their hairless groins together, enthralled in a way that might have made Hector feel a little uneasy. But despite the prepubescent look of their bodies after an intense burn, Claude had no interest in children at all--or anyone else, when Hector really thought about it. Claude only had eyes for him.

At first that seemed strange because Claude was a good looking man; some might even call him beautiful. Hector had seen plenty of men and women set their sights on Claude, flirting with him both discretely and blatantly whether they realized Claude was already taken or not--and yet still Claude only had eyes for him. In those early days Hector was convinced Claude was simply ignoring these overtures from others but he discovered pretty quickly that Claude did not see the world through normal eyes. His mutant ability had scarred him from the inside, making him see only ugliness about himself until the day they met and burned together.

Perhaps it was the symbolism that had kick-started Claude's psychological healing--burning away his old skin and becoming new again. Or maybe it was just the intensity of that first coupling, with the fire raging around them, fueled by both of them to temperatures that neither could have achieved alone.

The scraping fingernails moved lower, dragging across his ass cheeks in light strokes that slowly altered to the massage of fingertips. He moaned in appreciation as agile thumbs gently pulled his cheeks apart with each stroke, gasping when he felt the wetness of a tongue stripe across his hole. The skin there was so new and sensitive with no hairs to catch and pull. As that tongue played with him, Hector decided that maybe there was an upside to a burn after all as the sensitivity of his new skin was incredible.

"So hot like this," Claude whispered. "So fucking hot."

He knew Claude would fuck him soon for neither of them had the patience for long, drawn out foreplay. Hector angled his hips to give Claude better access, whimpering as the tongue tip pushed into him in tiny thrusts before being replaced by a wetted finger. Spit was not an ideal lubricant but penetrative sex was something they enjoyed at every opportunity--even rough--so preparation took no time at all. Hector gasped in pleasure when the fingers were replaced with the blunt head of Claude's hard, spit-covered cock.

"Always so tight after a burn. So good," Claude crooned softly, always the more talkative of the two during sex.

Hector wasn't exactly sure why their bodies became tauter after an intense burn but they both loved sinking into the tight heat. Claude gave several deep but lazy thrusts before pulling out. His hands turned Hector over eagerly, pushing back Hector's knees almost to his chest, wanting to expose all of Hector's completely hairless groin and ass before pushing back in.

"So fucking beautiful," Claude moaned, thrusting harder and deeper; his eyes drank in all of Hector greedily, almost unbalancing them when he moved a supporting hand so he could rub his palm over Hector's smooth and hairless body from neck to groin, sending fresh licks of a different sort of heat as the soft palm rubbed over sensitive nipples. Eventually he was unable to resist the silkiness of the skin at the base of Hector's cock. He came hard inside of Hector, breath catching on an aborted shout.

As his cock slipped from Hector's body, Hector turned the tables, rolling them over until he was on top and sinking hard and fast into Claude's already loose body. It took far fewer thrusts before Hector's body melted in pure pleasure and he was coming too.

Neither of them had the energy to move afterwards despite the spent semen seeping from their bodies, easing the soreness of being taken almost dry, but even the hurt felt good. It proved they were still alive and still together. Instead they slumped beside each other, exchanging lazy, sloppy kisses on whatever part of the other was in reach as they slowly drifted towards another restful and restorative sleep.

It was mid-morning by the time they woke again and after cleaning up in the pool, they sat down on the sun-warmed rocks, wrapped in a sheet and made their first tentative plans. Hector spoke first.

"I know these people. I worked with them when dealing cocaine and then DXL. Estevan isn't the kind of man who likes being beaten. He'll set a large bounty on our heads so we need to get as far away as possible. Probably out of South America altogether."

For once their uniqueness was not their mutant ability but the fact that they were non-Hispanics in Columbia, with their white skin and his blue eyes standing out against the coloring of the local population. Hector figured they had a day or two at most before someone recognized their likeness in the photos and decided to cash in on whatever reward Estevan was offering. It meant that once they reached a town or village they had to move fast.

Their problems always came down to money and the means of obtaining it without drawing attention to themselves. When the chances came, Claude preferred to use the ability of some unsuspecting mutant to their advantage.

Hector fondly recalled distracting a low-level, molecular in Mexico City, whose pathetic party-trick was made more powerful by Claude's mutant ability. It allowed Claude to pass his hand through the solid concrete and metal at the back of an ATM to grab bundles of cash with no one the wiser, least of all the mutant who thought he was negotiating the price of Hector's ass for a few hours entertainment. Of course, Claude had almost blown it when he saw the mutant reach out to touch the goods he thought he was buying. Fortunately, the mutant never actually laid a hand on Hector's ass and Hector was able to hold Claude back while the terrified mutant ran.

That money had paid for the last set of fake documents and the flight into Panama. And that incident had proved that Claude considered Hector to be his...and his alone.

After leaving the more densely populated cities, the opportunities for using their mutant abilities had grown smaller. The chances of running into a mutant in a small village were not so great, let alone one that would offer them an easy way of renewing their finances. His own fire-starting ability had proved almost useless and, much to Claude's dismay, they had relied mostly on Hector selling drugs to tourists as neither would allow the other to prostitute himself.

Hector had made enough to cover all the essentials, such as food, a room for the night, clothes and toiletries, as well as boat tickets. But a few small drug deals was not going to help them much now.

Once more they needed to get enough to buy one-way tickets to another continent, and it wasn't just the tickets. They had lost all of their possessions when they were captured by Estevan's men, including the fake passports and documentation obtained in Mexico City. They would need to replace those documents, which meant finding and paying off another good forger--or they had to get enough cash to bribe officials to look the other way. Neither of those options would come cheap.

"We'd get further if we stole drugs from one cartel and sold them on to another. Make a fast profit and get out there."

"No drugs."

"Claude--"

Claude held up a hand. "No. No drugs."

"Then what do you suggest?"

"We're not trying to fit in. We don't need to keep a low profile because we'll not planning on sticking around afterwards. We just get the money and get out."

Hector smiled because he knew exactly what they could do. "We find out where the local cartel are doing business. We set a fire and while everyone's distracted trying to put it out, we take their money and run."

Claude grinned in agreement. All they had to do now was steal some clothes and some transport to get them to the nearest town.

****

Getting clothes and food was the first requirement and the simplest way turned out to be stealing from a small farm they came across while making their way towards the closest town. Claude kept a look-out but couldn't help his attention wandering to where Hector was pulling on pants that were a little too short in the leg but otherwise fitted his stockier frame fine. His own body was slightly thinner, and though he was taller than Hector by a few inches, most of that height was taken up in the length of his torso rather than in his legs. The pants were still too short and they were baggier about his narrower hips, requiring a belt to stay up, but it was still ten times better than wearing only a sheet wrapped around him. They found a couple of battered hats and, more importantly, some old pairs of sandals, so at least their feet would thank them later.

The kitchen had supplied them with freshly prepared arapas--cornbread--as well as cheese and eggs, which they bundled into a small sack. They didn't wait around to cook and eat them at the kitchen table, wary of the farmer returning at any time.

According to a signpost on a local road, the closest town was seven miles away, which would take them a few hours to reach. With luck they would arrive just around dusk, giving them the opportunity to check around without calling too much attention to themselves.

Once they had moved a fair distance away from the farm, Claude found a place hidden from the road. A flat rock made the perfect grill as Hector used his thermal ability to cooked the arapas--filled with the scrambled egg and cheese. After almost a day without food, and the exhaustion from expending so much energy during their escape, the arapas tasted like heaven.

With full bellies and renewed energy, they walked towards the town, keeping back from the road to avoid being seen. Once more, Claude was grateful that Hector's mutant ability was thermal, for while he stayed within range, Claude felt all the benefits of someone who didn't feel the heat of the sun beating down upon them. He regulated his internal heat to compensate but was still grateful that Hector had filled some empty liter bottles with fresh water from the farmer's well. If they had been normal people then it probably wouldn't have been safe drinking water straight from the well but they only had to raise their temperature slightly to burn up any nasty bugs in the water.

When they reached the outskirts of the town, Claude drew them to a halt and pulled Hector beneath the cover of some trees. The sun was lower in the sky but it was still bright enough to make them stand out in their paler skin and in ill-fitting clothes that had seen better days.

"We'll wait here until dusk."

Claude sank to the ground, leaning back against one of the trees, and Hector settled against him, his back to Claude's chest. He took a sip from the water bottle before handing it back to Claude. There wasn't much left but they didn't need it now they had reached the town. Claude knew that it wouldn't be easy to find their target once they got into the town but both of them knew what they were looking for, even though they came from different sides of the spectrum. Hector had been a drugs dealer, and Claude had worked narcotics before moving to homicide.

Claude nuzzled at Hector's throat before whispering to him. "So where should we go once we have the money...and the documents?"

Hector sighed in pleasure. "Australia."

"Australia?"

"Or New Zealand."

Claude thought about it for a moment, weighing up what he knew about those two countries on the other side of the world. "Yeah. Okay. I've always wanted to see Ayers Rock."

"Or maybe Hawaii."

Claude frowned and let that sink in for a moment before asking, "I thought we were gonna avoid the States."

"Fake passports, low profile. Lots of sun, sea and endless stretches of sandy beach." Claude could tell Hector was warming up to his own idea by the way he wriggled to try to face him. His eyes were bright with excitement. "And volcanoes."

Claude smiled softly. "Yeah. And volcanoes."

All he truly wanted from this life was the chance to be with Hector without other people--normals or mutants--making their demands on them. The problem was whether Hector would be content with a life surrounded by others, as the likelihood of them finding--let alone owning--a secluded property overlooking a deserted beach was pretty low. Real estate in Hawaii was at a high premium, and so was the cost of fake documents good enough to pass an official inspection. Unless they managed to gain a substantial amount of money without raising any suspicions, they would be forced to either rent a cheap apartment in the middle of a heavily populated area or move around from one cockroach-ridden hotel to another. Both options would make it far harder for them to live beneath the radar of the local authorities.

People tended to notice fires.

Australia gave them a better chance of finding that seclusion at a price they could afford. Hell, even the islands in the Caribbean gave them better odds, but Claude found himself warming to the idea of going to Hawaii. If there was even the smallest chance that they could find paradise there together then it was worth taking the risk.

"I like the sound of Hawaii."

Claude pressed a small kiss against Hector's temple and looked at the slowly darkening skyline. It was time to move, and if they did manage to relieve the local drug cartel of enough of their cash then perhaps he and Hector would find what they were looking for on the Colombian coastline, in Buenaventura.

"Time to go."

Hector grinned and pushed to his feet, reaching out to offer his hand to Claude. Claude took it, letting Hector pull him to his feet but he deliberately overcompensated and pulled Hector back against him, kissing him hard.

"Let's go get our money."

With the lengthening shadows concealing them, they made their way into the back streets of the small town, using mostly Hector's knowledge of how the drug industry operated to find a likely starting place.

"There," Hector whispered, pointing out a rat-faced man with deeply inset eyes. "Watch him."

Claude watched carefully, smiling when the man checked around before pushing a packet into the hands of a customer as he took their money with his other hand. Keeping in the shadows, they watched him deal with a dozen more customers, mostly hookers and other low-lifes, most likely turning tricks or stealing from others to pay for their habit.

Seeing Hector so cold and focused thrilled him, reminding him that this was a man who cared very little about others but who had formed a--hopefully-unbreakable attachment to him. He knew it because they had taken cover only feet away from the Dark Phoenix during the mutant battle at Alcatraz, and he had absorbed all of her abilities--though in a slightly less powerful form--including her mind-reading. All of Hector's thoughts had swirled around him; all of them focused not on his survival alone but on their joint survival, preferring annihilation at her terrifying hands to a life without Claude. That he felt the same way in return was almost too impossible to believe but Claude had known from that first moment they clashed in the prison that they were meant to be together. They were meant for each other.

"Here it comes."

Hector's words broke Claude's drifting thoughts and he frowned, trying to see what Hector saw in the dirty scene in the alleyway beyond. It was just another ordinary looking drug addict, shuffling along towards the petty dealer but Claude saw the deference in the rat-faced dealer's stance, watching as he handed over the evening's earnings. Being careful not to be seen, they followed the scruffy man through several more exchanges until he reached a squalid looking cafe.

"We're here," Hector breathed excitedly.

"This is it?" Claude could see the scruffy man taking a seat and accepting a coffee, shaking his head in confusion when the man left the coffee shop twenty minutes later, shuffling away in a different direction. "We going to follow him?"

"Told you. It's here. Probably in the back room or cellar."

"Okay. So what do we do now?"

"We wait. Let them bring in the rest of the night's earnings...and then we hit them just before dawn."

They spent the remainder of the night pressed up against each other in the shadows of the building opposite, watching the number of people who sat down for a drink and left a little later with lighter steps. The scruffy man came back twice more and Hector had already estimated what his take would have been. It wasn't a huge amount as it wasn't a particularly large town. An American city like New York would have raked in twenty times the amount but they had little choice beyond robbing a bank, and that would bring the authorities on their trail, making it twice as hard to escape the country.

"What's the plan?" Hector asked, and Claude smiled, having already thought it through.

"Simplest plan is the best. You start a fire in the front, herd them towards the back. They'll bag the cash...and I'll relieve them of their heavy burden when they come out the fire door into the alley." He grinned again. "But first, we need to shop around for a fast getaway."

Hector's crooked smile showed he liked the plan, especially as it would keep Claude within the range of his mutant ability. They found what they needed two streets away, and Claude felt a stab of regret for the car's owner but it wasn't like he planned to destroy it. Just borrow it for a while. With dawn only an hour away, Claude pulled Hector to him and kissed him hard and dirty.

"Car will be waiting out in the alley so make sure you don't firebomb it on your way out."

They peeled off in different directions with Claude in the car heading for the alley and Hector on foot heading for the coffee shop. Claude parked the car in the shadows at the entrance of the alley, on the opposite side to the coffee shop. He waited until he saw Hector, smiling at the way Hector shuffled towards the door like one of the many runners bringing in the drug money. A quick tilt of his head in Claude's direction proved he had spotted the car.

"Game on," Claude whispered, climbing out of the car and taking up position alongside the wall, close to the fire exit. When the door banged open ten minutes later, it was accompanied by a plume of acrid smoke and an empty-handed, coughing man. Claude let him go, along with several others who scattered in different directions, completely missing him where he was standing pressed up against the quickly heating wall. The red glow of fire was illuminating the alleyway now and Claude felt the adrenaline rush as glass exploded under the intense heat. Hector was so close now, driving the drug dealers towards Claude, and Claude could feel the increasing tingle of heat beneath his skin, dripping from his fingertips. The only thing better than this was sex with Hector.

Another man ran out, struggling with a heavy case and Claude threw a small ball of fire at his unprotected back, watching dispassionately as the man screamed, dropping the heavy case and ripping at his burning coat. A second man followed with another case, and he went down too. The next man out was Hector, excitement gleaming in his eyes as they raced to snatch up both cases and run for the car. Seconds later, they were peeling out of the alley, heading out of town with a plan to dump the car and steal another as soon as possible.

They headed east towards the Colombian coast, and Hector whooped as the sun rose ahead of them.

Claude pulled over to the side of the mountain road an hour later, eagerly opening both cases to find one stuffed with bills ranging in value from one thousand to twenty thousand pesos. All small denominations used to buy single packets of cocaine. They would count it later but there had to be enough to cover most of their needs. The other case was full of drugs and Claude could see Hector's jaw tighten as he considered the possibilities. Claude laid a hand softly on his forearm.

"No drugs."

Hector squeezed his eyes closed and Claude could bet Hector knew exactly how much the drugs would fetch on the open market. They were probably worth more than five times the content of the cash suitcase but Claude wanted no part of them.

As a detective, he had seen too many lives ruined by drugs. He'd had to stand on too many doorsteps, watching the devastation cross the face of a mother or father when they learned their precious child was dead; overdosed on drugs or killed during some drug deal gone bad, or sometimes just an innocent bystander caught between battling drug gangs. He'd watched his own mother's face crumple in grief when she learned of the death of Claude's only sibling--an older sister. And yet none of that had truly bothered him until he met Hector. Now, he could hardly bear the thought of Hector becoming another drug-related casualty--and yet he knew it was his glee at pissing off the Colombian drug lords by burning their fields had caused their current predicament and put Hector into danger.

It was his fault that he and Hector were running for their lives.

Hector looked hard at Claude, as if hoping Claude would change his mind, and nodded tightly when he realized Claude's mind was set. Claude stood back as Hector took the suitcase full of drugs to the edge of the road before returning to Claude's side. The fire shot from Hector's fingers, engulfing the open suitcase, and they both watched as the cocaine burned.

"No drugs," Hector echoed softly, and Claude wrapped his arms around Hector's waist, holding him close. He could feel the frustration in Hector's tense frame. One day Claude would tell him why he hated drugs so much.

 

"Let's go," Claude breathed softly into Hector's ear before stepping back.

"Oh! By the way. I grabbed these on the way through." Hector pulled several squashed packages and some cornbread out of his coat pocket, and Claude laughed as he took some of the greasy packets, tearing hungrily into both the cornbread and the beef empanadas.

****

Estevan slammed his fist down hard on the mahogany desk.

"It has to be them!" He glared up at his new lieutenant; mouth a tight line of anger as he contemplated the loss of his main dealer and all the drugs and cash that had disappeared. "Bring me their heads."

The lieutenant nodded and backed away, leaving Estevan alone in his office. He should have killed the two Americanos while he had the chance and not wasted his time on idle curiosity, wanting to examine them first. His father had warned him never to play with fire, and he had been burned so very badly already, and now again by this latest attack on his cartel. His operation was being investigated after traces of cocaine were found in the unburned sections of the building, and several of his key men were dead, and all because he believed only one of the Americans had the mutant thermal abilities. He glanced down at the floor where his last advisor looked up with a stunned expression--with a bullet hole drilled through his forehead. He did not pay his men to make unfounded assumptions. He paid them for facts, and this one had insisted that the chance of two mutants working together, with both of them possessing the same ability, was virtually impossible.

Estevan smacked his hand against the intercom. "Someone remove this piece of garbage."

His hand stroked along the bandage covering the reddened skin that stretched from his left eye down the side of his neck. He had been one of the lucky ones, suffering only minor burns as the dark-haired one lit up like a human torch. One of his men had been incinerated on the spot while others were severely burned by the intensity of heat given off by the man. They would not survive. And the other mutant had never faltered, sending Miguel up in flames for the second time, but this time his former lieutenant could not be saved. The carnage had not ended there, and Estevan's people were still trying to clear the debris from what remained of the compound. Even the main house was in ruins, with flames spreading quickly through the building, destroying everything in their path, forcing him to abandon the estate and the people in it. And now this--a fire sweeping through his operation's building in a nearby town.

It had to be them.

He opened the map and traced the route they must have taken, trying to determine where they would go next. They were heading east, towards the ocean rather than further inland towards the international airport at Bogota. He knew there were several smaller airfields scattered along the coastal plain, having used many of them for his drug smuggling into Mexico, and from there into the United States. But the coastline was also dotted with small fishing villages, and for the right price, a poor fisherman might agree to carry two men up the coast into Panama or even as far as Mexico.

His door opened and he waited as two of his men dragged away his dead advisor.

He slammed his fist against the desk again.

He wanted these two men dead.

****

They took it in turns driving through the day and into the night while the other slept, wanting to put as much distance as possible between them and the town. Hector was aware that every passing minute put them in greater danger of discovery, especially if the Police knew the car was stolen. Only a lack of opportunity had prevented them from dumping this car and stealing another but Hector knew they were running on borrowed time and had to change cars soon. The first light of dawn streaked across the sky as he drove towards the top of the final mountain lying between them and the Pacific Ocean.

Exhausted from the long drive, Hector pulled over into a parking area at the side of the road. He had just started the descent from the mountains towards the coast, and he took a moment to enjoy the view of the coastal plain spread out before him. Nudging Claude, he smiled as Claude tried to stretch within the confines of the car. Claude reached for him and Hector allowed Claude to draw him into a sweet kiss before he pulled back and indicated towards the magnificent view ahead, pleased by Claude's breathless gasp. In the far distance Hector could just make out the city of Buenaventura sprawling towards the ocean. If the old map they had found in the glove box was right then there was a small passenger airport just south of Buenaventura. He felt Claude's warm hand spread across his knee and turned to face him.

Hector sighed. "You know they'll be watching for us at the airport."

Claude nodded. "Yeah, which is why we're going to head to the coast instead. Buenaventura is Colombia's major port on the Pacific. It's also one of the most dangerous places on the planet so we'll have to keep our eyes open. But I figured we could find out which container ships are heading out to sea, and smuggle ourselves on-board one heading for Honolulu."

"He'll be watching the port too."

"We'll figure it out when we get there."

Hector drew in a breath and let it out slowly, nodding his agreement. It wasn't ideal but he couldn't think of a better plan, and with such a high population area, there was always a chance that they'd come across a mutant with abilities that Claude could use in their favor. It would take a few more hours to follow the I40 into Buenaventura but Hector knew they definitely had to dump this car before then and grab some supplies.

"Want me to take a turn at the wheel?"

Hector was about to agree, but then he spotted the sign for a truck rest area just ahead.

"I've got an idea."

He started up the car and pulled back into the traffic for a couple of hundred yards before taking a side turn just before the truck rest area. Hector followed the narrow track until the car was no longer visible from the road, hidden within the denser trees. Claude remained silent beside him, understanding his intentions, and when he finally pulled to a stop, Claude was first out. By wordless agreement, they removed the money from the case and stuffed the bills into a musty rucksack that they had found in the trunk. Anything that wouldn't fit was bundled into their pockets. Half a dozen steps from the car, Hector paused and turned back, grabbing the two bed sheets. Claude eyed him strangely but then shrugged. They walked back towards the truck stop together where more than a dozen container trucks had parked.

Although he would never pass for a Colombian close-up, they agreed that Claude was best suited to go into the store attached to the truck stop cafe to pick up supplies. If they did stowaway on-board a cargo ship then it could take up to a week before the ship reached the next port. They couldn't take the gamble of coming out of hiding in case the ship's captain decided to call in the authorities, which meant they had to take enough food and fresh water to see them through the voyage ahead.

Claude returned quickly, laden down with bottles and food. While he kept a look-out, Hector checked the paperwork in each cab in turn, checking the manifest to see where the cargo was intended for export.

"Yes!"

He climbed down quickly from the eighth container truck and grinned hard at Claude. "We have a winner!"

"The port?"

"Even better. Hawaii. These three trucks all contain textiles bound for Honolulu. The ship's already in port and leaves in seven hours so these guys are already cutting it close for clearance."

Claude nodded as that could work to their advantage; he trailed his hand along the container. "So how do we get in?"

Hector grinned and moved to the far side of the container, scanning across it carefully. "Give me a leg up."

Hector waited until Claude was steady on his feet before pulling himself up on top of the container. Lying flat on the top, he leaned over the side and grabbed the rucksack full of money, the sheets and the supplies as Claude handed up them up to him. Afterwards, he focused his attention on the container, channeling the heat through a single fingertip to trace the outline of part of the container's logo close to the edge seam. Claude joined him moments later and immediately saw what he was doing; he began cutting from the other side of the logo.

"Not as fast as an acetylene torch but lighter to carry," Hector stated.

It still took several tense minutes before a ragged disk of metal fell only a short distance into the container, coming to a rest on top of the boxes of textiles stacked inside. It left a hole that was large enough for a man to squeeze through. The metal cooled rapidly and Claude insisted on going first, squeezing inside. The sound of laughing voices drifted from the direction of the truck-stop cafe. Hector shoved their rucksack and their bags of supplies through the hole before ducking inside head first, hoping no one had spotted him. They would have to take a gamble on sealing the hole while the truck was moving, and hope that the driver behind didn't see any tell tale sparks or smoke. Claude was lying flat on top of the boxes filling the container, with only a two foot head clearance but he wriggled onto his back and held the disk in place while Hector began to seal the edges, melting the metal to turn it back into one solid sheet.

They were plunged into darkness but that was easily remedied with a flick of his fingers acting like a lighter, being extra careful not to let any sparks ignite the boxes stacked below them. Beside him Claude grinned in reassurance and they wriggled back onto their stomachs so they could make their way towards the center of the container. By now, Hector could feel the truck picking up speed as it reached the main route into Buenaventura.

A series of small holes burned through the container ensured they had light and fresh air. They flopped back exhausted, lying side-by-side on top of the boxes of textiles. They had at least nine hours to kill before the container was loaded onto the ship and the ship sailed and reached international waters. Hector hoped neither of them needed toilet facilities before they could leave the container or it could get rather ripe inside.

He felt Claude's hand brush against his but, for once, sex was the last thing on his mind. Exhausted, he drifted off to sleep with Claude's comforting presence right beside him, and their fingers entwined.

They awoke hours later to the deep thud of the port crane clamping onto the container, followed by a weird sense of motion as the container was lifted off the back of the truck and carried across to the ship. Hector swore under his breath as he had intended to be awake when they reached the port, just in case the authorities scanned the container and discovered their presence. It appeared that luck had been on their side though. The container came to a halt with barely more than a bump. The crane clamp retracted and Hector felt the thud of several more container being placed alongside. Light from the holes they had burned into the container's left side and roof were extinguished and Hector felt Claude scrabble at him in panic. He flicked his fingers to produce enough of a flame so he could see Claude's face.

Claude's eyes were wide and filled with fear, and Hector had never considered that Claude might be a little claustrophobic. "What if we're trapped? Buried inside a pile of containers standing five or six deep?"

"Not gonna happen. Those drivers were cutting it close. We were probably in one of the last containers to get loaded."

The panic receded a little, probably because the crane had fallen silent, no longer moving back and forth along the dock. It had probably finished loading all the containers onto the ship.

"Anyway," Hector continued. "Even if we were, that just means we have to burn our way through a few more containers to get out of here."

Claude snorted and relaxed against Hector, nudging him with his shoulder. "Yeah."

They lay quietly for a while with only the small flicker of flame from Hector's fingers to push the shadows away. Eventually Claude broke the silence.

"I don't mind closed-in spaces, not really, but I still don't want to spend the whole trip inside this box."

Hector turned over onto his stomach, and his hand pushed under the shabby clothing to rub over Claude's still strangely hairless chest, toying with a nipple until it stood aching and proud. He missed the feel of the silky, dark chest hairs.

"I can think of things to pass the time."

Hector could hear the lust in Claude's voice as he arched into his hand, moaning in pleasure at the increased contact.

"No fire though," Hector murmured as he reached back, pushing aside the rough cotton so he could touch even more of Claude. Their lips met, mouths opening as tongues entwined lazily, for once preferring to take their time as the cargo ship left Colombia far behind, heading into the open sea.

****

"Senor Estevan!" Estevan looked up as Herez stepped inside his office. "A man fitting the description of one of the Americans was seen buying several days worth of supplies in the store at a truck stop, fours hours outside of Buenaventura."

"When?"

"Three days ago."

That was the day after the Americans attacked his drug factory, destroying his property, stealing his money and drugs, and killing his men in the process. He knew they would not have risked being seen unless they truly needed the supplies, which meant they had headed for the coast rather than airport, intending to find a boat--or a ship.

"Get my helicopter ready. I want to talk to the manager at this truck stop."

The flight took hardly any time and no one remarked when the helicopter set down in the middle of the parking lot. The manager was waiting for him when he arrived, looking terrified as he stood between two of Estevan's men. Estevan showed him two of the better shots from his security cameras.

"You have seen this man? Or this man?"

"No. I do not know these men, Senor."

Estevan nodded because the only person who had claimed to see one of them was the owner of the store next to the truck stop cafe. Neither of the Americans would have shown their faces unless they had no choice.

"Senor Estevan. It is as you suspected. I have found the stolen car not far from here. They must have stolen another--"

"No. There have been no reports of car theft from this area." Estevan's connections within the Police department had given him that much information on the flight over. "They took alternative transport." He eyed the area carefully, watching thoughtfully as a truck pulled into a parking space just a short distance from the cafe. He smiled. "They stowed away in a truck."

He turned back to the cafe manager. "What trucks were here that day, heading for the port?"

****

On the fifth day, Claude sat on top of a container with his knees pulled up, soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the fresh breeze coming off the ocean while staring into the distance over the side of the ship. Before him all he could see to the horizon was the blue of the Pacific Ocean but he knew from the itinerary in the container truck that the ship was due to reach Honolulu on the afternoon tide, about four hours away. They had burned a hole through the right side of the container and discovered it was open to the sky. The containers piled one layer higher behind and to the side of him provided perfect shelter and cover, hiding him from the view of anyone standing on the ship's bridge to the rear of the ship, as well as from being spotted by any of the crew on the forward deck watch tower.

Yet what made it perfect was the man lying shirtless on the folded sheets beside him, fast asleep, with the remains of their picnic lunch scattered between them. He was glad Hector had insisted on holding onto the sheets they had originally used to cover themselves, even though they were no longer so pristine and white. They had made their journey far more comfortable as they lazed around in the sun each day.

He thought back to his former life, moving from one grimy, pollution-riddled city to another, looking for mutants to kill. Hunting down mutants had consumed his every waking moment, taking him into the seedier side of life where the only beauty was the flickering of neon lights reflected back from the puddles and wet brick after it had rained. He had been a loner, alienating any partner chosen to work with him until they requested a transfer. It hadn't helped his career but he hadn't wanted to climb any higher in the ranks. The rank of detective had given him exactly the sort of access and freedom to work that he had needed, and until he made that mistake in Gotham, no one had ever suspected him of also being a mutant--and a killer.

He knew from the cat calls in prison that other men thought him good looking but none had dared to act on it, and not even the guards had moved too close to Hector for fear of what he could do to them. It occurred to Claude that they were both lucky that Magneto had sprung them from prison that day for he suspected that he and Hector would have been given the so-called mutant cure against their will. At least, it would have been against his will from the moment he burned with Hector and discovered that being a mutant didn't have to mean shame and disgust.

He looked down at Hector. No one would ever call him beautiful in the classical sense, with his receding hairline and crooked mouth, but there was something about him nonetheless--something about the way he looked and moved and thought, about the excitement in his eyes when they destroyed things together and the pure lust and need when they fucked. Hector was the missing half of him. The part that--together--made him feel whole after a lifetime of feeling broken inside.

A tiny speck in the distance caught his eye and he squinted as he tried to make out what it could be. He frowned when he realized it was a large helicopter, and it was heading straight for the ship. Claude shoved Hector hard, quickly pushing everything back through the hole burned into their new container home. Hector moved quickly, slipping back inside and Claude followed him, quickly lifting the disc of metal back into place. The helicopter whooshed overhead only moments later and then began to hover. The vibration of its rotor reverberated through the container and Claude looked to Hector, seeing his concern reflected back in the dim light made from the smaller holes they had burned through the new container's top.

The rear cabin of the helicopter was large enough to hold at least ten men.

"Could be US Customs or Coast Guard," Hector stated, and that made some sense, as they had to be close to the Hawaiian Islands by now. But there was one other possibility.

"Or Estevan," Claude added. Aware that Estevan probably had several large helicopters alongside the ones he kept for personal use. They were useful in drug smuggling operations, able to fly under the radar and not require a landing strip.

Hector's mouth tightened into a thin, unhappy line. The plan had been to wait until they were within sight of land and then slip over the side, using the emergency life raft that Claude had spotted on the forward deck from their elevated position. The arrival of this helicopter may have changed everything depending on its reason for coming to the ship, and judging by the size of it, it could carry at least a dozen men including the pilot. Eventually, Claude heard the helicopter pulling away but he felt frustration eating away at him as he wished he could see what was going on outside. The long silence that followed made Claude even more nervous.

The retort of weapon's fire was followed instantly by the thud of bullets hitting metal. They both sprawled flat against the stack of boxes as bullets penetrated the thick side of the container, with one narrowly missing Claude's head.

"Fuck!"

It was too much of a coincidence. A voice on a bullhorn reached them.

"Americans! I know you are hiding here. If you come out now, I promise my men will kill you quickly."

Claude recognized the voice. It was Estevan. Somehow the drug lord had figured out how they had managed to escape from Colombia, and had tracked them down. He looked to Hector in dismay, as he doubted Estevan would let them get close enough to attack with fire. An American voice joined Estevan's.

"There's no point trying to fight your way out," an American voice called out. "You've got nowhere to run this time."

As the owner of the new voice drew closer, Claude felt the tingle of another mutant against his senses and he concentrated on the sensation, feeling it seep deep into his flesh and bones, altering his DNA. Hector frowned in confusion when Claude started to grin.

"Estevan's got himself a mutant to fight fire...with water."

The downturn of Hector's lips began to straighten upwards into a crooked smile. Once more Estevan had underestimated Claude, and this time Claude planned to make him pay for his threats against Hector. He knew Estevan was the kind of man who would want a showdown between the mutants, and Claude could already tell that the elemental water mutant was at least a level three, possibly edging on a four, but that he was still no match for Claude using his ability against him. After all, fighting--and killing--other mutants was something Claude had done extremely well until he was caught and imprisoned. As he crawled towards the hole in the container, Claude felt another tingling sensation and realized that Estevan had brought along more than one mutant. This second one was a level three at best, and as Claude moved his hand back and forth, watching it start to blur with the ever-increasing speed, he knew the mutant's ability was rapid movement. Claude grinned even harder for now he had both this one's speed and the other's water abilities to use as weapons, and he could still call on Hector's thermal ability when he needed it.

He leaned in and kissed Hector. "Wait here for a few minutes. Then come out but stay low. I'm going to reduce the odds against us."

Claude was thrilled by the speed at which he could move across the containers that stretched from one side of the ship to the other, taking barely a second to reach and kill the first of Estevan's normal humans. The man's neck snapped and Claude grabbed his falling gun and turned the automatic weapon on another normal just as the shock set in. Estevan's men began to panic, shooting in all directions, so Claude made sure he paused for a fraction of a second in strategic places, hearing the cries of the normals killed in the crossfire.

"Stop shooting! Stop shooting!" One of them cried and Claude guessed that this had to be Estevan's replacement for the lieutenant Hector had killed back at the compound.

The speed mutant raced after him but Claude was faster, channeling the mutant's skill into a level 4's ability. Another normal died, his face showing surprise as he reached up to a severed throat, unaware that he was already dead until his hands found the gaping wound.

Towards the stern, Estevan was shouting in fear, cowering on the bridge as the remainder of his men started shooting indiscriminately once more, taking down more of their own side in friendly fire. The water elemental attacked suddenly, hitting Claude head on in the hope of washing him straight off the side of the ship but instead only stopping him in his tracks for a split second--long enough for the speed mutant to catch up. Claude grinned at the mutant's fatal mistake. In the mayhem, they had forgotten Hector, and Claude had timed it all to perfection, bringing both of them within Hector's influence. A ball of fire consumed them both but Claude was already channeling Hector's thermal ability, protecting his own skin from the heat of the flames and pushing away fast while he still had the speed mutant's skill, leaving the mutant to burn alone.

Just as he had anticipated, the water mutant thought Claude was no longer the threat and attacked Hector, temporarily dousing the flames coming from Hector's hands, with the torrent of water sweeping Hector off his feet. Close enough to draw in the water mutant's ability, Claude intercepted the power jet of water with one of his own, holding the mutant in a stalemate while Hector gained his feet, steam pouring off him as he increased the heat of his body to vaporize the water that had soaked into him. Slowly, Claude closed the distance between the three of them until he could switch from water to fire. Superheated steam formed a deadly cloud between the water mutant and the two level 4 thermals and, forced to protect himself from the coordinated attack, the water mutant backed towards the edge of the last container, his clothes beginning to char as the flames penetrated his shield of water. At the last moment he threw himself backwards, falling more than a hundred feet to the ocean below.

Silence descended until the crack of a gun shot split the air, followed by a cry of pain from Hector. Claude shoved Hector behind one of the containers, swearing viciously as he saw the blood spilling from the bullet crease along Hector's outer arm. He ripped the hem off his ragged t-shirt and wrapped it around the wound, the anger building to fury as he looked back up and saw Estevan by the bridge rail, holding the gun. As Claude started to move away, determined to finish this once and for all, Hector grabbed Claude's fire-blistered arm with his good hand.

"I want him too," he snarled, and Claude nodded tightly.

Together they advanced from cover to cover, slowly making their way along the deck to the containers just beneath the bridge. As he drew closer, Claude could hear Estevan on the radio demanding a pick-up, and Claude could hear the distant thump of the helicopter returning as ordered. He grinned because Estevan was not going to leave this ship alive. Claude indicated to Hector to go around to the other side, intending to trap Estevan between them, having already calculated that Hector would stay in range of Claude's senses. They stepped onto the bridge from opposite entrances and stopped when they saw a frightened uniformed man held in front of Estevan, with a gun pressed to his temple. He wasn't the captain, as Claude could see the captain's body sprawled out on the floor behind Estevan, with a bullet drilled neatly through his forehead.

"Step any closer and I will kill him too." Estevan's fear-filled eyes flicked between Claude and Hector.

"And you think I care?" asked Claude, smiling nastily as the flames dripped from his fingers in eager anticipation. His whole body was thrumming with energy and adrenaline now; his whole mind focused on the man who had hurt his lover for the very last time. If Estevan so much as twitched that gun barrel in Hector's direction then Claude didn't care who burned alongside Estevan.

Estevan's eyes hardened when he realized it wasn't a bluff, and that Claude really didn't care whether his hostage lived or died. In rage, he turned the gun on Claude. The bullet went wide as Estevan's head turned into a ball of flame from a precise hit from Hector, the hostage falling onto his knees and crawling away when Estevan screamed in agony and let go of the man. Claude watched dispassionately, trailing behind as Estevan ran from the bridge, across the containers to the rear of the ship before heading over the edge and falling into the ocean far below. By the time Claude reached the edge, with Hector beside him, he could see no sign of Estevan--not even a ripple from where his body had entered the water.

"Who-who are you?"

Claude turned to find the former hostage holding a gun on them. He raised his hands in a placating gesture, aware that he would look strange with part of his face still blistered and peeling from the fire.

"We have no quarrel with you. We just wanted to get away from him." He indicated towards the water, where he had last seen Estevan.

"Claude!"

The helicopter had reached the ship, and Claude watched as the uniformed man was hit multiple times by bullets strafing the containers from above. Hector hurled a fireball upwards and the helicopter banked sharply to avoid being hit, dislodging the man firing on them so he was hanging half-in and half-out of the main cabin. His gun fell from his hands as he grabbed for a handhold, bouncing off the containers. Another fireball struck the tail rotor, and the helicopter began to spin out of control, bringing it back within range. Together, Claude and Hector attacked, and yelled in triumph as the helicopter exploded over the ocean with bits of fuselage hurtling in all directions. Claude pulled Hector down low as part of a rotor blade sliced into the metal wall of a container, just above their heads. The main bulk of the fuselage dropped like a brick into the ocean, sinking immediately.

Silence.

They spent the next hour checking out every compartment below deck and eventually found the rest of the ship's crew dead, killed by Estevan's men.

"What do you want to do?" Hector asked.

"We sink the ship."

"Why? If we take the life raft as planned, then the US Coast Guard will think the ship was attacked by pirates, or it was a mutiny attempt by some of the crew that went wrong."

"If they bring in forensics then they might figure out we were on-board. The plan before was to sneak off the ship without anyone knowing we were ever here." He shook his head. "We can't leave evidence behind."

Hector nodded, and then grinned. "Never sunk a ship before."

"Every day with you is a whole new experience," Claude replied with a straight face before cracking a smile and dragging Hector forward to kiss him soundly. "By the way, did you have to set me on fire too? Now I need new clothes...again."

Checking through the officer and crew quarters, they found far better clothing than the Colombian items they had stolen days before, and they changed quickly before searching through all the drawers for anything of value. Emptying the captain's safe gained them the largest haul of all when they found a bag filled with uncut diamonds, probably from the mines in Brazil. They climbed back up to their container and retrieved the money because they would need real cash while they fenced the diamonds, resealing the hole so it looked as if no one had ever been there. After putting everything they needed into the life raft, Hector disabled the emergency homing beacon.

"We don't want anyone rescuing us!"

Less than an hour later, they looked back from a distance as the ship sank beneath the waves, leaving them alone on the wide ocean.

"Hawaii is that way." Hector pointed towards the west, and they started paddling, knowing they should reach the first of the Hawaiian Islands by nightfall.

****

When the container ship failed to reach Honolulu, the US Coast Guard sent helicopters and boats out looking for her, but by then Hector and Claude had paddled to a deserted volcanic beach close to Kapoho on Big Island. The American dollars they had found in the crew quarters paid for their transport to Hilo, and by the time they had settled into a relatively clean and comfortable hotel room, the news of the sinking had reached the local channels.

Sipping a cold beer from the room's mini-fridge, Hector watched the news report with interest, listening to all the speculation but it was clear that no one knew anything. The ship had simply vanished beneath the waves and the Navy had been called in to see if they could locate the wreckage. He felt a pang of regret when photographs of some of the crew were displayed, including one of the man that Estevan had tried to use as a hostage but there was nothing they could have done to save him.

"Hey."

Claude slid into the seat next to Hector, smiling when Hector pushed an ice-cold beer in front of him. Claude indicated towards the television.

"Anything I should know?"

"No."

"Good."

Hector glanced sideways. "I do have a lead on someone who can fence the diamonds for us."

Claude grinned. "Even better." He reached over and took the glass from Hector's hand, setting it down on the coffee table next to his own. "I'm clean for what feels like the first time in weeks. My hair's clean, and my teeth have been brushed. I'm wearing new clothes in the right sizes..." His voice dropped as he swung his leg over until he was straddling Hector. "And all I want to do now is get naked and dirty with you."

"Oh, please...don't let me stop you," Hector murmured, arching up into the first of many dirty kisses as Claude pulled at Hector's equally clean and new t-shirt, dragging it over his head and casting it aside, followed by his own. The first hairs were starting to re-grow on Hector's chest and Claude was enthralled by them, bending down to play with the tiny hairs before swiping his tongue over one of Hector's nipples. The pleasure shot straight to Hector's groin and he shifted, suddenly uncomfortable beneath Claude's weight as his cock perked up in interest, straining against the zipper of his new cargo pants.

He gasped into the next dirty kiss, dragging his mouth away as heat scored across his flesh, trailed from Claude's fingers. "Let's not burn down the hotel," he whispered raggedly even as his own fingers traced a path of fire over Claude's back that set Claude moaning against his shoulder.

Claude pushed up quickly, taking a step back that sent the beers falling but neither of them cared. Hector watched as Claude stripped off the rest of his clothes, too mesmerized at first to even start on his own, and managing to get his cargo pants only partially down his legs before Claude was straddling him again.

He wriggled under Claude's weight. "Let me just..."

"No. Just like this."

Claude rose up a little and then sank down onto Hector, lips parted and eyes fluttering closed in pleasure. Hector slid in easy, his own pleasure spiking when he realized Claude had prepared himself in advance, wanting this. He felt the tight heat of Claude's body around his cock.

"Oh fuck!" The feel of Claude fucking himself on Hector was still amazing no matter how many times it happened.

"Yeah," Claude breathed, fingers digging into Hector's skin as they moved together, bringing each other to that perfect moment of release.

****

A week later, Hector paid in cash for a small stretch of beach with fine, white sand in a remote and exclusive part of Oahu. It gave them the full seclusion that they both needed and craved, and yet it was not so far from the bustle of Honolulu should they want to mingle with others for a day or night. The house was not particularly large but it was spacious and modern with a balcony attached to the main bedroom, overlooking the ocean. The ground floor was mostly an open plan, with one functional area segueing into the next by cleverly placed furniture, and with large windows letting the sun light flood the room.

A maid service had already been contracted to come in and clean once a week, and all their groceries could be ordered over the Internet or phone. Anything else they needed could be picked up in Honolulu. It was perfect for the two of them, and they still had enough left over to ensure a long and comfortable existence.

As the real estate agent walked away with a big smile, most likely pleased with the bonus she would gain from sealing this deal, Hector turned to Claude and smiled. They had come a long way since they first met in an overcrowded prison close to Gotham. They had been a part of the first Mutant uprising at Alcatraz, witnessing the Dark Phoenix lay waste to everything within sight as she unleashed her powers. They had burned their way through Mexico, stealing enough money to catch a flight into Panama before heading deep into Colombia, Brazil and the rain forest. They had evaded the authorities in every country they crossed, surviving on Claude's ability to turn the abilities of lesser mutants into powerful ways of stealing what they needed--money and food. But mostly, even though Claude hated it because of the misery it brought to everyone who touched drugs, they had lived off of Hector's drug dealing skills.

Still, sometimes they'd had barely enough to pay for a room or a meal. Sometimes they'd had to leave quickly before someone noticed the fire damage left behind from when they got too intense with each other, and sometimes they deliberately burned as payback. Yet despite the occasional hardship, Hector would not change a single moment of their journey, recalling the long, lazy days on-board the tiny boat sailing down the Amazon, and the equally lazy days on the container ship as they sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Although Estevan had cut short both of those voyages with violence, Hector refused to focus on those moments of pain and fear--remembering instead the ecstasy of burning and revenge.

Together they moved across the main room and opened the French doors leading out onto the patio. The beach started at the end of the garden and Hector pulled off his sandals so he could walk barefoot across the fine sand, feeling it sink between his toes. It was very late in the afternoon with the sun low on the horizon, about to set, and he could feel a warm breeze coming off of the ocean as they walked down to the water's edge together.

The entire cove was theirs, bounded by thick vegetation of trees and shrubs, and with a high, wire mesh fence bordering their land from the public highway. No one had permission to enter the cove, and the undercurrent ensured no one tried to reach it from the ocean, leaving it empty and secluded, exactly the way they wanted.

Hector stopped at the water's edge and let the cool water ebb and flow over his toes.

"It's not a beach in Rio," Claude stated as he wrapped his arms around Hector from behind. "But it's still paradise."

Hector grinned and turned in Claude's arms, seeing the sparks of passion already smoldering in Claude's hazel eyes. Casting him a mischievous grin, Hector pulled away and moved further back; he began to strip, dropping his clothing into a neat pile far from the water's edge. Claude eyed him curiously at first and then with ravenous desire as Hector let the heat build within him, feeling the licks of fire erupt across his skin as Claude watched avidly. He grinned as Claude tore out of his clothing too slowly, too caught up in lust to avoid burning through material. He reached for Claude as soon as he was naked, flames dancing from his fingertips to ignite Claude too as they shared a heat-searing kiss before falling to the fine sand, wrapped in each other. The sand beneath them melted in the intense heat as they burned together.

When they returned to the house an hour later, the melted sand cooled, leaving the moon reflecting off an irregular sheet of smooth glass, left as a monument to the fires that burned within them.

END