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Different and Beautiful

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Shatterstar was enjoying a rare night alone with the television when the others came home in some combination of raucous laughter (Guido), measured commentary (Theresa), ridiculous interjections (Longshot) and furious silence (Julio). He had no idea where everyone else was, since several members of X-Factor were still outstanding, but he assumed, as usual, the case had veered quickly into disaster.

Julio came into and out of his view so briefly that initially he didn't even notice anything was wrong, but the sound of his stomping up the stairs seemed ... different somehow, in a way he couldn't quite pinpoint, except he knew it was nothing good. Julio usually at least greeted him after returning home.

"Did something happen?" He asked, glancing towards the staircase.

Guido started laughing again, even as Theresa hushed him, but it was Longshot who leaned over and said, quite seriously (which in and of itself was concerning), "well, we had a little trouble while investigating the case. Rictor took the worst of it, but he's fine. He's just a little ... different right now."

There was that word again. Shatterstar frowned deeply.

"He really is fine, Shatty," Theresa assured him, then elbowed Guido in the ribs. "Guido, hush."

"Yeah," Guido finally said, "it ain't like he's missing anything you'd consider a deal-breaker."

As Theresa laid into Guido for being a tactless idiot, Shatterstar excused himself. Longshot shrugged at him with that what can you do nonchalance Shatterstar had started mimicking. The more time they spent together, the more they took on each other's mannerisms, and he found that deeply unnerving.

Shatterstar went to his and Julio's room and opened the door, closing it quietly behind him. Julio lay sprawled on the bed, dressed in one of Shatterstar's sweaters and the pair of running shorts Shatterstar had worn that morning. Again, at first glance, he looked like himself, but upon closer examination ...

"Why is your body biologically female?"

"Mutant," Julio replied, his voice muffled by the arm he had thrown over his face.

"Were you harmed?"

"No," Julio muttered, exhaling sharply. "Not in the way you mean, anyway. Physically, I'm fine, but ... as if my body hasn't felt weird enough since I lost my powers. Fuck." Shaking his head, Julio sighed again then scowled deeply. "And, of course, fucking Guido's been calling me Julia since it happened."

"He always calls you names," Shatterstar pointed out.

"And he always manages to hit every insecurity I have with pinpoint precision. It's amazing really."

"He does have that gift," Shatterstar agreed, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and Julio lowered his arm for the first time, eyes fixed on the ceiling. He was clearly different, the profile of his face softer, no hint of stubble on his jaw, but his mannerisms remained unchanged, and his scowl was exactly the same.

"You're not going to laugh?" Julio asked, glancing at him briefly, and Shatterstar shook his head.

"I know, more than anyone, how much you struggled to accept yourself." Shatterstar remembered how conflicted Julio had been, how hard he had tried to be straight, to be what he thought society wanted him to be. It was still somewhat of a work in progress, but he had noticed a difference. "It's not funny."

"No, it isn't," Julio agreed. "I was finally feeling good about all of that, at least, but now. Fuck."

Shatterstar let him simmer silently for a while, using his presence to soothe him in the way he knew it often could, and eventually Julio sat up and settled beside him, bare legs crossed at the ankles. He was significantly smaller, Shatterstar noted, shorter than even Rahne, which likely irritated him, knowing Julio as he did, and his figure was shapely and compact. The sweater he wore obscured everything else.

"It's not permanent," Julio told him, after a while. "I should switch back in a few days, according to Terry. Which is the only reason I am not completely freaking the fuck out about this, for the record."

"How does she know?"

"She did that voice thing she does, convinced the asshole to tell her everything. But still. Fuck."

"You are otherwise okay? From a mental and emotional perspective, I mean."

"Yeah, fine," Julio assured him, kicking his heels against the mattress. "It's a little different, I guess, and I thought my boobs would be bigger, but I'm more annoyed than anything else, and I definitely still feel exactly like me, like, inside, if that makes sense. I just seriously can't handle Guido's jokes right now."

"I will ask Longshot to keep him distracted."

Julio smiled, a little crookedly, but it still counted in Shatterstar's opinion. "Thanks."

"May I asked why you are wearing my clothes?" Shatterstar asked, and Julio made a face.

"None of mine fit, and I thought wearing my boyfriend's clothes would make me feel better."

Shatterstar smiled. "And did it?"

"A little, yeah," Julio admitted, scratching a sheepish hand through his hair. "I don't know why it does, but it kind of calms me down. And I've always liked this sweater, so, you know." Julio shrugged, exhaling sharply. "And it's not like I haven't done this before. You just haven't caught me doing it."

"That's an extremely attractive thought," Shatterstar told him. "I would like to see it more often."

"Yeah, okay, maybe," Julio said, brushing the top of Shatterstar's pinky finger with his own.

"Is it okay if I touch you?" Shatterstar asked, because he hadn't been sure, but Julio nodded.

Shatterstar slid an arm across his back, squeezing him lightly, and Julio looked up at him, face to face, for the first time. Shatterstar's heart flip-flopped strangely in his chest, as if it was being compressed. There was something familiar in his face, something he had seen before, and it took him a moment to place it. When he did, it almost took his breath away, and he stared at him a little longer, just to be sure.

"What?" Julio asked finally.

"I need to show you something," he said, reluctantly pulling away.

Shatterstar got up and went over to the dresser, pulled open the drawer and located the box Julio kept at the back, buried behind their underwear. It was full of their important things. For Shatterstar, that meant his passport, a forged birth certificate and the first watch he had ever owned. It was broken beyond repair, but it had been a gift from Julio, who had given it to him after spending the afternoon teaching him to read time, with a casual, "here, amigo, you need this more than I do." It was his very first gift.

Julio, on the other hand, had a lifetime of items. A real birth certificate, browned around the edges, multiple passports with a variety of stamps, treasured but painful pictures of his family, handwritten notes from his long-dead grandmother, and an envelope with Shatterstar's name on it that Julio had told him never to open. It had been left for him, shortly after Julio lost his powers, still sealed tight.

Shatterstar had known immediately what that letter was, and even now, his heart hurt to see it.

But that wasn't what he was looking for. He knew exactly what he sought and found it quickly in the stack of photographs Julio never looked at. He thumbed through the pile before locating the right one, then closed the box and slid the drawer back in. Through it all, Julio watched him, solemn and quiet.

"This is who you look like," Shatterstar said. "The resemblance is uncanny, Julio."

He held out the photo, and Julio took it between his fingers, the frown on his face softening. "Yeah?"

"Yes," Shatterstar told him softly. "You look exactly like your biological mother."

Over Julio's shoulder, Shatterstar looked at the image of the mother he would never meet. Julio didn't remember her at all, as he had been very young when she had died. In the photograph, she was smiling brightly, with a very chubby Julio sitting in her arms, a toothless grin splitting his face and one small fist twisted in the pale fabric of her blouse. She had long, dark hair that curled in the same way Julio's did, especially when humid, and from her expression, it was clear that she delighted in her infant son.

"Thanks, Star," Julio said softly, laying his head on Shatterstar's shoulder.

"You're welcome, Julio," he replied with a smile, pressing a kiss to his temple. "She was beautiful."

"She was," Julio agreed, smiling at the picture, happy, and he was beautiful, too.