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seasons in the sun

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Even if he’s a bastard, Rictor’s gotta admit that Cable sure knows how to pick a safehouse. He doesn’t know how to furnish them for shit, there’s enough beds for the team and not much else, but he’s pretty good at picking a location.

 

This one’s somewhere nice and sunny, off the coast of some tourist destination. It’s classier than he’s used to; the kind of vacation destination for people like Berto’s dad. (Or his.)

 

They’re keeping an eye on someone involved with the Externals. They haven’t caused trouble for X-Force in a while, but it’s still a sore spot for both Sam and Berto, and Cable found someone willing to pay for recon.

 

It’s a short term gig, albeit kind of a boring one. Cable picks a couple to come along for the day and the rest of the team has fuck-all to do. Sometimes, Rictor almost thinks he misses going to school, but the thought passes quickly.

 

Shatterstar’s been following him around like a lost puppy for almost the whole time Rictor’s been on the team, but it’s not that bad most of the time. Whenever he’s not hovering around Cable, he’s hovering around Rictor.

 

He’s up on the watch-point, which is really just a balcony but Cable won’t call it that, standing between Star and Tabs. They get along right up until they don’t and it usually ends not great when it comes down to that.

 

There’s the smell of salt in the air and he really isn’t listening to what either of them are talking about. Rictor never lived by the ocean, but it feels like home. There’s something about it, he can feel it deep in his bones, like his powers.

 

Shatterstar taps him once on the shoulder before drawing back quickly.

 

He shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts, “Yeah, what?”

 

“Is that,” Shatterstar gestures towards the ocean, “Actually there? Or is it a set piece?”

 

“Are… Are you asking if the ocean’s real ?”

 

Ocean ,” Shatterstar repeats the word under his breath before getting rigid and formal again, “Yes. Is it real?”

 

“It was last time I checked,” Tabs says.

 

And then he drops the subject.

 

The conversation curves somewhere else, but Rictor can’t stop thinking about the question. Star has a habit of saying things that get concerning the more you think about them.

 

Specifically, Rictor’s stuck on the way he said ‘ocean’. It was so soft, like he was testing the word out.

 

“Let’s go down there,” Rictor’s not sure where the conversation is right now, but he doesn’t mind interrupting.

 

Tabs gives him a calculating look, “ Why ?”

 

“Cos it beats staying up here,” he shrugs, “And I don’t think Star’s ever seen the ocean before.”

 

“You haven’t seen it before either,” Tabs elbows his side.

 

“Yeah, but I knew what it was called .”

 

Shatterstar doesn’t respond to that. A lot of the time, it feels like he’s watching the conversation instead of being part of it. It doesn’t seem to bother him when people talk about him like he’s not even there.

 

“Uh, do you want to come with us?”

 

He makes a drawn out noise that’s probably something like a yes. It’s a pretty safe assumption because Shatterstar’s no-s range from walking away without comment to outright lunging at you.

 

Tabs moves back towards the safehouse, “Let’s go, I guess.”

 


 

Rictor’s used to changing in front of Tabs. They lived together for so long that it’s pretty much normal. It never even felt weird when he first moved in with X-Factor.

 

It’s different with Shatterstar there.

 

He’s weird but not that kind of weird and Tabs doesn’t really care. Rictor’s not sure if the twisted uncomfortable tightness in his chest is on her behalf or if it’s something he’s feeling.

 

It’s stupid, anyway. Star’s not looking at either of them while he’s changing. Right now, Rictor’s probably being the weird one. He’s overthinking this way too much.

 

Star has some normal clothes, but not many. Most of the time, he just wears that weird white uniform over and over. What he does have doesn’t fit right; partly because he’s tall and partly because it was just given to him out of necessity.

 

Shatterstar’s almost as pasty as the uniform itself. He looks sick, kind of, when the light hits him just right.

 

Rictor knows he’s not from Earth, but he looks like he should be. His accent is impossible to place and there are some things about him that are just weird, but he looks like he belongs here.

 

“Shatty’s gonna get sunburnt,” Tabs laughs, “I always get sunburnt and he’s worse than me.”

 

“You got sunscreen?” Rictor pulls his tank top on.

 

“I gotta hat.”

 

“I don’t think that’s gonna help.”

 

“But it’s, like, a big one.”

 

“I’m… Gonna get some sunscreen anyway…”

 

Rictor heads from the room. Someone’s gotta have sunscreen. Probably Terry because she’s also a pale redhead. She’s with Cable today, but it’s not like she’d mind if he borrowed her sunscreen.

 

He finds some in her beach bag. She spends most of the days at the beach because it’s a lot easier to fly down there than to drive. That’s the reason he’s only been to the water once with Tabs, back when Shattestar was on recon.

 

He comes back to the room to find Star with the hat on. Tabs really wasn’t kidding. The brim is wide enough that it looks comically oversized even on Star, who’s quite possibly the longest person ever.

 

Rictor tosses the sunscreen over. Shatterstar Isn't looking over this way, but he catches it anyway, like it’s not even a big deal. He’s got crazy good reflexes, it’s pretty damn impressive.

 

“You gotta put it on yourself,” Rictor glares, but it’s a friendly kind of glare, “I kinda really don’t want to get pinned to the ground because I touched you.”

 

Star wrinkles his nose, “It is a reasonable reaction.”

 

“No it’s not, dude! We’re all on the same team!”

 

“I do not know if you are on the team if I cannot see you.”

 

“Oh my god ,” Rictor runs a hand through his hair, “You’re such a hypocrite, you tap me on the shoulder all the time .”

 

Shatterstar tilts his head cooly, “I am faster than you and you choose to not retaliate.”

 

“Because you don’t do just grab people’s arms and twist when they touch you!”

 

Tabs has her arms crossed, “Are you guys done yet? Cos I’m getting tired of watching you argue.”

 

“Star still hasn’t put on sunscreen.”

 

Tabs rolls her eyes, “I’ve seen him heal from a stab wound in an hour, he’ll be fine.”

 

She’s probably right, but Rictor’s determined to make this as normal of a day as he can. Plus, Shatterstar gets whiny about little things. It’s annoying, but it’s not as scary as him going silent after getting stabbed or breaking a bone.

 

“Look,” he holds out his hand to Star, “Truce? I’ll put the sunscreen on for you if you won’t punch me and we can stop arguing and go to the fuckin’ beach.”

 

Star gives him a look, eyes narrowed and calculating, before shaking his hand.

 

“Okay,” Rictor takes the sunscreen back from him.

 

When Rictor goes to rub the sunscreen on Star’s arms, he makes a weird noise, like he’s sucking air through his teeth. Everything about him is so tense that Rictor can feel his muscles through his skin.

 

“Uh,” Rictor furrows his brows, “You okay?”

 

He doesn’t look okay, but he doesn’t say anything or shove Rictor away either.

 

If Shatterstar was anyone else, this would be the perfect time for all of Rictor’s weird and unaddressed feelings to rear their ugly head in full force. But Star’s Star and the only thing he’s thinking about right now is how much he hopes that Star won’t end up punching him.

 

The only thing about him that isn’t tense is his face. He spends a lot of the time scowling or snarling or something along those lines, but he looks pretty spaced out right now.

 

Star’s face is soft, which is surprising because he always looks so intense. It’s smooth, too. Smoother than any 17 year old’s face has any right to be and Rictor would be lying if he said he wasn’t jealous.

 

Maybe he spends a bit more time running his thumbs over Star’s cheeks than he ought to, but that’s neither here nor there.

 

When Rictor pulls back, Shatterstar wrinkles his nose, “I do not like this.”

 

“You’ll get used to it,” Rictor shoots back, wiping what’s left on his hands off on Tabs’ arms, “Let’s go.”

 

They make it out to the kitchen/war-room before Domino appears in the doorway, arms crossed. It’s ridiculously hard to pull one over on Domino, she always just seems to catch you in the nick of time, but if you ask her about anything, she usually says yes.

 

Tabs beams, her default is almost yelling, “Hey, Domino! Can we take the car?”

 

Domino’s dangling the keys between her thumb and forefinger like she already knew Tabs was gonna ask that, “Where are you going?”

 

Out ,” Tabs blows her hair out of her eyes.

 

“Condition one,” Domino goes them a dark look, “You don’t let Shatterstar drive--”

 

“You have let me fly the transport before.”

 

Ric can see Star’s hands curling to fists at his side, but he’s never actually lashed out at Cable or Domino.

 

“Nobody’s going to pull the PACRAT over and ask you for a license and passport. Which you don’t have, and can’t get, because you technically don’t exist on Earth. You’re not allowed to drive.”

 

Shatterstar looks like he’s seething, which is actually really funny since he’s still got Tabs’ stupid hat on, but he doesn’t say anything.

 

“Condition two, no one is allowed to get arrested.”

 

Tabs opens her mouth like she’s about to say something.

 

“It doesn’t matter if you can get out of a holding cell, Tabitha,” Domino’s hands are on her hips now, “No arrests, no warnings, actually, just avoid anywhere you could potentially run into a police officer.”

 

Tabs scowls, arms crossed, “ Fine. We’ll be ‘good’, or whatever.”

 

“Okay,” Domino smiles in a way that feels more like a smirk, “Have fun.”

 

She tosses the keys to Ric, which he catches for once. It’s rare to actually catch something around Domino. It looks like he’s still fucked on luck because Star’s glaring at him like he’s gonna tackle Ric for the keys.

 

“I’m driving,” Ric says, “So deal with it.”

 

Both Star and Tabs don’t look too thrilled with the arrangement, but he’s probably the most responsible out of all of them. Which isn’t saying much.

 

He stops by the safe-house door, “Got everything?”

 

Again, it’s weird that he’s the responsible one.

 

Tabs has a towel slung over her shoulder and a pair of boardshorts on that were probably his once. Shatterstar has no swimsuit and no towel, just a pair of athletic shorts that are probably too small paired with a tank top and the clunky shitkicker boots he always wears.

 

Ric shoots Tabs a look, “You didn’t get Star a towel, too?”

 

“Not my problem,” she shrugs.

 

“We’ll share, Tabs,” Rictor holds out his towel in Shatterstar’s general direction, “Star, this is your towel now.”

 

Star takes it tentatively, like he’s not sure what to do. He’s still totally blank-faced when he slings it over his shoulder to copy Tabs. Rictor still has the sunscreen, he’s been holding it in one hand since he put it on Star.

 

Ric’s got money for food, and theoretically, Tabs should too. Star doesn’t really have money, even though they’re all getting paid for their time on X-Force. Rictor’s not sure where Cable gets the money, but he’s not gonna complain.

 

“I’ll buy Star lunch, Tabs, you can starve.”

 

She rolls her eyes, “Well, fuck you too, Ricky .”

 

“Are you gonna walk Shatterstar through ordering and paying for food?”

 

Tabs winces. They were all together the last time and it ended badly. Barely being able to count in any Earth language plus knives plus a cashier who really doesn’t want to be there equals a very not fun time.

 

“Didn’t think so,” Ric says, “So I’ll deal with that and you have to buy your own food.”

 

It’s a pretty fair trade. Plus, Star seems to like him as much as he can like anyone.

 

“Okay,” Rictor unlocks the safe-house deadbolt, “Let’s get going.”

 


 

Tabs sits in the middle front seat because she’s the shortest. She’s also the only one that can read a map. Ric’s pretty good at being able to feel out routes to places, but he’s got a hunch that neither of his passengers would be too thrilled about taking a four hour scenic route.

 

So, he lets Tabs call out directions and rolls the windows down enough that he can smell the salt in the air. Sometimes, when he’s looking over at the mirrors, he can see Shatterstar with the towel resting on his lap. He’s got it curled in his hands, running it between his fingers.

 

It’s weird, but Rictor’s trying to drive, so he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

 

It’s a long way down to the beach; Cable’s safe-house is about as high above sea-level as it could get, like he’s ready for the world to flood or something. Maybe it does. He’s from the future, but he doesn’t talk about it much. What he does bring up doesn’t sound good.

 

Rictor doesn’t like him much, but sometimes, he can kind of understand.

 

It takes a solid five minutes before they hit a road that’s ever actually had a name. It’s a nice place, lots of sunlight and trees framing the roads. The rock formations of the mountains are old; even if he couldn’t feel it, he could still see it on the exposed cliff faces.

 

The road’s cut into the mountainside, veering off the path worn down by the rivers that used to be here. Maybe the mountains miss the rivers, maybe the blacktop itches like scars. He doesn’t like to think about things like that if he can help it.

 

“I told you to take the next right, dumbass,” Tabs flicks the side of his face.

 

He’s annoyed, but thankful for something to make him snap out of it.

 

“Alright, okay, I’ll turn around.”

 

“At this rate,” she huffs, “We’re never gonna make it to the beach.”

 

“Yeah we are, stop whining and navigate!”

 

“Fine, turn around here so we can go the right way.”

 

Ric loops around until they’re back on the right road. After that, it’s almost a straight shot down to the beachfront.

 

There aren’t many cars on the road; everyone else is doing normal things like school or work, and it gives him a smug sense of satisfaction to know that they’re all cooped up inside and he’s not.

 

Hopefully there won’t be many people at the beach. Shatterstar doesn’t seem to like crowds much.

 

He doesn’t have any weapons on him, which might be why he’s staring so intently at the towel, but even when he’s not armed, he’s still pretty dangerous. He’s okay, most of the time, but Rictor’s seen him get terrifying.

 

Apparently he was even worse before Ric joined the team. It’s almost scary how easy that is to imagine.

 

Ric doesn’t miss the turn for the parking lot when Tabitha tells him about it. His thoughts wander a lot, but he’s usually not completely brain-dead unless he’s thinking about the Earth. Maybe it’s part of his powers, like the Earth’s trying to bring him back home.

 

Whatever, it’s weird.

 

They have to pay to park, which is bullshit but Domino said to not do anything illegal, so Rictor sucks it up and pays the toll booth. He puts the ticket on the dashboard when they finally stop.

 

The parking lot is a bit above the beach, with a long wooden staircase going down. Somewhere between the parking lot and the staircase, gravel turns to sand. Before they can even start down to the water, Star pauses, hanging back at the top stair.

 

“What is the purpose of,” he gestures to basically everything in front of them, “ This?”

 

Ric doesn’t really know how to answer, it’s such a weird question. Everyone just kind of knows what’s the point of the beach.

 

“It’s just… Uh… It’s like, for fun,” that sounds about right, he repeats it with conviction, “Yeah, beach stuff is fun.”

 

Tabs scoffs, “You do know what that is, right ?”

 

“I was created to entertain,” Shatterstar sneers right back, teeth bared.

 

Nobody says anything. Talking to Star is like a game of chicken, trying to see who’s gonna break and follow up whatever conversation killer he just said. It’s impossible to know how to reply, but nobody wants to let him get the last word.

 

“Geez,” Tabs is wearing sunglasses, but she’s tilting her head in the way she always does when she’s rolling her eyes, “No need to get defensive.”

 

“Let’s just go have a good time,” Rictor sighs; he’s always on damage control these days.

 

If things were more normal, if they met at school or whatever, they probably wouldn’t be friends. But they are, somehow.

 

Ric elbows Tabs in the side, “Race you to the bottom.”

 

“Oh, it’s on ,” she gives him an intense look; Tabs has a competitive streak that almost rivals Star’s.

 

“Okay, three… two…”

 

Rictor runs without actually counting down to one. It’s a trick Tabs should know by now, but somehow she keeps falling for it even after all these years. He doesn’t even bother with the stairs; they’re steeper than the hill next to them and almost just as sandy.

 

Maybe he almost trips a few times on the way down, but it’s fun and he’s actually smiling this big dopey grin that’s just between him and the sunshine.

 

By the time he makes it to the bottom of the hill, he’s winded. X-Force trains hard but he’s still not too keen on running. At least he beat Tabs, who skids to a halt a couple feet behind him.

 

Standing even further in front of them is Star, which is weird because he definitely doesn’t seem like the type to see who can run down the hill to a beach the fastest. He’s not winded at all, which is totally unfair but makes sense considering who he is.

 

He’s kind of smiling, maybe, and Tabs’ hat is hanging from the cord around his neck.

 

It must’ve fallen off on the way down the hill. It’s so normal that Rictor can’t help but laugh, palms digging into his knees as he tries to catch his breath.

 

The beach isn’t entirely empty, but almost none of the people there are close to their age. Hopefully nobody will ask why they aren’t at school.

 

They get a bit closer to the water before Tabs throws down her towel. Ric’s working on straightening it out when she kicks off her flip flops and runs down to the water. It’s a good day for pretty much anything; the skies are clear and it’s already hot enough that he’s sweating, but running down the hill didn’t help.

 

Tabs is already kicking at the water, shrieking all the while. She’s as loud as she is over the top, but he’s pretty used to it.

 

She waves at him, before cupping her hands around her mouth, “You gonna come down here or are you gonna spend all day fixing the towel?!”

 

He flips her off. Then, he kicks off his own shoes, leaving them by the edge of the towel before pulling off his shirt. The water is gonna be cold as fuck, but it’ll feel good after being out in the heat for so long.

 

Ric makes it halfway down to the water before realizing that Star’s kind of hanging back by the little spot they claimed as their own.

 

“You gonna join us?” Rictor calls back.

 

Star looks somewhere between apprehensive and annoyed, and usually Ric wouldn’t push it, but he’s determined to make this a good day. So, he jogs back up a bit, close enough that they can talk without yelling across the beach.

 

“You can touch it,” Star doesn’t say it like a question, but it feels like it is one.

 

“Yeah.”

 

His eyes dart down to Tabs at the water, then back, “It is not electrified?”

 

“Uh, nope.”

 

“Or poisoned?”

 

“Also nope. It’s just water, dude.”

 

Star kind of wrinkles his nose, “I will consider it.”

 

“Oh, uh,” Rictor stammers, “Okay? We’ll just be at the water.”

 

It’s kind of killed the mood by the time he gets down to the water. Tabs is still splashing and she gets him almost right in the face with freezing cold water, somehow. He jumps back instinctively, pushing his hair out of his eyes.

 

Tabs is still laughing when she asks, “What’s with Shatty?”

 

“I dunno,” Ric steps out into the wet sand, letting the waves rise up to meet his feet, “He seemed all weird about the water.”

 

“Sounds like a him problem and not a you problem,” Tabs rolls one of her time bombs between her hands, “Anyway, watch this.”

 

She chucks it out into the water, and counts down. It goes off under the waves, sending a spout up into the air. She throws her head back laughing, not even bothering to stop when Rictor punches her in the arm.

 

“Dude, don’t draw attention to us!”

 

“There’s no one here and we’ll be gone in a week anyway,” she sticks her tongue out.

 

Tabs has some valid points, so he drops the matter. It’s nice to just feel the ocean lapping at his ankles, even if it’s cold enough that he can feel it in his shins. He’s getting way too distracted about the Star thing, he just needs to relax a bit.

 

Tabs kicks him in the shin, not hard enough to leave a bruise, “You gonna stand around all day or are you gonna have some fun?”

 

“We’ve got time, dude, let me enjoy this.”

 

“Only you would think standing in mud was fun,” she laughs, running into the waves so water kicks up around her, “Suit yourself!”

 

“It’s not mud,” he calls back, “It’s wet sand! There’s a difference!”

 

It’s not really an important difference, but no way is he letting her have the last word.

 

Star’s back up at the towels, sitting with his arms resting on his knees. The stupidly big hat is back on his head, and he doesn’t look lonely or sad or anything, but Ric thinks he’s gotta be having a bad time.

 

Maybe he could just come stand in the water. That might not be too bad.

 

He’ll give it a little bit more time before he goes to try to talk to Star.

 

Talking to Star isn’t always an easy feat, it’s more of a last ditch effort.

 

He always acts like everything he does makes perfect sense, even when it doesn’t make any sense at all. And if you ask him to elaborate, he just says it like it’s the most obvious thing and you’re stupid if you didn’t already know that. That is, if he’ll actually explain it at all.

 

Rictor gets why everyone else doesn’t like him much. He’s pretty damn infuriating, but Ric’s had enough practice with Tabs to be used to it.

 

“Come on!” Tabs yells at him, she’s waded out all the way up to her waist, “I’m getting bored!”

 

“Okay, okay already !”

 

He runs out into the water, not totally prepared for the coldness but it feels nice. There’s spray in the air from the waves, creeping ever further up the beach, and he can taste it on his lips.

 

When Ric’s close enough, he slices his hands through the surface of the seawater, forcing it up to splash Tabs. She splutters, fixing her sunglasses and slicking her hair back.

 

Then, she promptly shoves his head under the water. He’s kind of choking, but it’s mostly fun, and it’s not like Tabs has ever tried to actually kill him. It’s weird to think that he knows what that feels like, but they all do, when it really comes down to it.

 

She pulls him up out of the water, still laughing and smoothing his hair out of his eyes even when he’s hacking up seawater.

 

The fact that there’s no hard feelings isn’t enough to stop Ric from shoving her over, and maybe, just maybe, he makes the sand underneath go too unsteady for her to stand back up.

 

Sunlight dances off the water, so bright it almost hurts, but you can still see all the way down to the bottom. Rictor can see Tabs duck back under the water, and he all but knows what’s coming, but he doesn’t get out of the way.

 

She’s floating down by his feet, hair sort of bobbing in the water, sunglasses still staying on somehow. And then she grabs his ankle and pulls as hard as she can. Ric goes down hard, back smacking against the water before he’s completely submerged.

 

It’s not that hard to open his eyes under water, which already gives him an advantage. Rictor can see Tabs swimming away, hear her laughing under water. She’s not paying attention and she’s close by and it’s so easy to wrap his arms around her stomach and stand up out of the water, bringing her along for the ride.

 

“Fuck you!” She kicks at his legs, “You knocked my sunglasses off!”

 

He laughs, swinging his whole body, along with Tabs, to get enough momentum to throw her.

 

There’s a big splash, farther away from where he thought he’d be able to throw her. Maybe training daily is paying off. She pops back up, glaring at him between blowing bubbles on the surface of the water. Tabs is a few feet away, stalking towards him like the world’s most petty shark.

 

When she’s closer, she stands up, hands on her hips, “You owe me a new pair of sunglasses.”

 

“C’mon, Tabs,” Ric laughs, “You stole those ones anyway.”

 

“Yeah, and what about it?”

 

“Steal a new pair, duh.”

 

She still looks kinda pissed, but it’s really her fault for trying to wear sunglasses out into the ocean. It’s probably a good idea to give her some space, it’s better if she doesn’t blow anything up.

 

“I’m gonna see if I can get Star in the water,” Rictor says; it’s only partly an excuse to give Tabs a break.

 

She looks up to the beach, one hand held over her eyes to block the sun, “Huh, he really is just up there sulking by the towels.”

 

“Yeah, it’s almost kinda sad.”

 

“Well,” Tabs gives a mock salute, “Godspeed, or whatever.”

 

“Fuck you, too,” he shoots her a half smile.

 

Once he hits dry sand, he realizes it’s really too late to back out of trying to talk Star into having fun. It’s really never easy or comfortable to try to get him to do anything. It took literal actual months and plenty of screaming matches to get him to watch a TV show for more than a couple minutes before skipping channels.

 

“Uh,” Rictor starts off, it’s better to let him know you’re there than to just start talking.

 

Star looks up, glaring over the brim of that stupid, stupid hat.

 

“You gonna come down with us?”

 

“I said I would consider it.”

 

“And you’re still ‘considering’ now? After 15 minutes?”

 

Yes,” Shatterstar snarls.

 

Ric can feel the water dripping from his hair down his back, like it’s punctuating the awkward silence between them. One of them’s gonna have to break first; it’s probably gonna be Rictor.

 

“Come on, just for a little bit?”

 

He’s not quite pleading, but it’s uncomfortably close. Star just makes a dissatisfied noise in response.

 

“It won’t hurt you,” Ric drops his voice, soft and secretive, just between the two of them, “Look at Tabs, she’s fine, I’m fine, it’s fine. It’s okay.”

 

That approach doesn’t work either; Star looks away, face set in a scowl as he picks at the skin around his nails.

 

“Fine,” Rictor throws his hands up in the air, “Get in the water or you’re a coward.”

 

The change is utterly instantaneous; Shatterstar goes rigid, teeth bared with his eyes almost wild.

 

“Do not make judgements,” he’s over-enunciating to the point that it’s impressive he can even get a word out, “About my-- About me--”

 

“You’re the one who won’t get in the water,” Ric shrugs; he’s playing a dangerous game, but fuck if it isn’t a fun one.

 

Shatterstar gets up, hands aimlessly clenching to fists, “I will get in your stupid fekting ocean.”

 

When he’s standing all the way up, Ric has to crane his neck to watch Star talk. It’s easy to forget how damn tall he is when he spends so much time hunched over and defensive. Maybe this wasn’t as good of an idea as previously thought.

 

“C’mon then, take your shoes off and get in the fucking water.

 

Rictor backs up, getting out of punching range. It’s a miracle that Star doesn’t try to hit him; instead, he starts undoing the straps on his boots, stepping out of them before taking the hat off. If there’s anything to be said about Shatterstar, it’s that he never backs down from a challenge.

 

Ric takes another step backwards, which just prompts Star to take one step forward. So he takes another step, and Star matches the movement again. It’s somewhere between a dance and daring each other to make the first move. Rictor probably won’t come out on top, but if he’s lucky, it won’t get that far.

 

They’re pretty close to the shallows, he just needs to keep Star moving.

 

Step back, wait for Star to move, step back again.

 

That’s all he’s focusing on when the waves first wash up against his feet.

 

Ric takes another step, now it’s up to his ankles and just as cold as he remembered it being.

 

Shatterstar doesn’t.

 

He stays in place, right at the line between the dry sand and the wet sand.

 

“C’mon,” Rictor taunts, “Get in the water!”

 

It’s weird, but he’s pretty sure he can see Star tense up when the seawater gets closer.

 

Maybe Ric wasn’t that far off base about him being scared; there’s not many things that can stop Star in his tracks like that.

 

Star doesn’t look scared, not that he ever actually looks scared, but he sure as hell doesn’t look okay. He’s watching the movements of the waves with a wary, calculating look on his face.

 

Rictor moves closer, shrinking the gap between them as the water pulls back, “It’s okay, really. It’s just water.”

 

“I know that.”

 

“Do you? Do you really?”

 

Yes, ” Star snarls.

 

“Okay, then just... trust me, dude.”

 

There’s a very really chance he’ll get a finger broken, but he reaches out and kind of wraps his hands around Shatterstar’s wrists. Star still has his fists clenched, but Ric’s keeping his grip loose enough that Star could pull away if he wanted to.

 

Star rolls with it, and it feels like they’re moving way too slow. Tabs is probably somewhere losing her shit at this, but Rictor kind of doesn’t care right now. He’s already standing in the water, which means it’s only a few seconds before Star will be too.

 

Ric wades back a bit further; he wasn’t expecting Star to stick with it for this long.

 

“See? It’s fine.”

 

It’s hard to tell if he’s actually convinced, but Shatterstar’s still walking out into the water, so that has to mean something .

 

Rictor stops moving once the water hits his knees. It feels weird to just be standing there, holding onto Star. Now that he’s not leading and/or harassing Star into the ocean, it just feels exposed to be doing this.

 

He lets go of Star’s wrists slowly, hands almost shaking. Shatterstar doesn’t always react well to quick movements, that’s the only reason Ric draws it out for so long.

 

Star’s hands are just where Rictor left them, like he’s still pulling Star along.

 

“So, uh, you just gonna stand there?”

 

Star still looks kind of frozen, eyes cast on the ripples around them.

 

“Okay,” Ric rubs at the back of his neck, “That’s cool, that’s fine.”

 

It’s weird, but actually kind of peaceful.

 

That is, until Shatterstar whips around. Rictor follows his line of sight to Tabs, running towards them.

 

“Holy shit, you actually did it!” She calls out, loud enough to be heard from ten feet away and over the sound of water, “You got Shatty out in the water!”

 

“Yeah, it wasn’t that hard,” Ric rolls his eyes, it’s an absolute lie but she doesn’t know that.

 

She’s still a little while away, so he turns back to Star, “You still good? Because you seemed pretty--”

 

And then Tabs hits him in the back, as hard as she can. If there’s one thing to be said of Tabitha Smith, it’s that she can bodyslam someone like a motherfucker.

 

She’s still standing, but Ric isn’t, and he’s kind of aware that he’s falling directly into Star, and then he’s underwater.

 

It takes him a little while to figure out which way is up, but he reaches out until he touches the bottom. Then he follows it along until he’s in some shallower water.

 

Rictor kneels in the sand, feeling his way around until Tabs grabs him by the hand and pulls him up. His hair’s completely covering his eyes and he can’t tell if he’s laughing or coughing, but damn if it doesn’t make his ribs hurt.

 

After pushing his hair back a few times, he rubs at his eyes until everything’s clear again.

 

Tabs is laughing, head thrown back, “You should’ve seen Shatty’s face! Holy shit, it was perfect !”

 

“Yeah, uh,” Ric shoves the last stubborn strand of hair back behind his ears, “Where is he?”

 

“Probably off somewhere plotting my death,” Tabs shrugs.

 

“No, really, he was just here, I knocked him over. He was here.

 

Star really isn’t anywhere, and maybe he’s overreacting but there’s a tight, anxious feeling in Ric’s chest.

 

“I mean, I dunno where he could’ve went. We’re at the fuckin’ beach, there’s nowhere to go,” he’s running his hands through his hair, talking faster and faster.

 

Tabs pats him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about it, you said it yourself, there’s nowhere to go.”

 

And then Rictor sees Star.

 

He’s further down the shore, in the shallower part of the water.

 

His hair’s slicked to his back, falling over his shoulders and covering his face. It’s too long to even get all the way out of the water now that it’s wet. He’s not getting up, either, he’s just kind of folded over.

 

“Oh fuck,” Tabs whispers.

 

Rictor’s not quite running but not quite walking and maybe it’s a good time to admit that he’s actually kind of concerned. The closer he gets, the easier it is to see that Star’s shaking, or something.

 

It’s not until Ric’s right next to him that he realizes Star’s heaving.

 

He’s retching up water and his fingers are digging into the sand, making impressions that just wash away each time the waves roll in. It’s kind of a desperate action, like he’s trying to hold onto anything.

 

“Shit,” Rictor whispers, crouching down by Star, “Shit, this is bad.”

 

Shatterstar stills and Ric finds himself holding his breath. He only exhales when Star slowly tucks part of his hair back behind his ear, long curtain of red framing just the green eye. The rest of it just keeps dripping seawater, stuck to his face and his back and his shoulders.

 

He looks like he might be angry, but it’s always so hard to tell with Star.

 

“Hey, hey, are you alright?”

 

Shatterstar tilts his head slightly to the side, then lunges at Rictor.

 

It’s shallower here but there’s still enough water to cover his face and it feels like Star’s holding him under. He can’t get back up.

 

Ric keeps clawing out aimlessly until his vision starts to go black. Then, everything seems to have perfect clarity; it’s silent and dark and like none of this is happening. His lungs are burning but he knows what he needs to do.

 

Star’s light, lighter than Tabs and somehow, Rictor manages to shove him off. It’s hard to believe that Star would let Ric kick him in the chest, but it must’ve happened.

 

When he gets his head above water, all the sound comes back. Ric’s gasping for breath, hands reflexively pressed to his throat, his chest.

 

“Why would you do that?!” Tabs’ voice cracks, “Why would he do that?!”

 

Rictor’s got half a mind to ask Star the same question, as soon as it stops feeling like his lungs are gonna explode. It’s surprising that he can even stand, his legs feel like they’re made of jelly, but he manages to get up without help. Tabs hovers around him, kind of touching his shoulders; it’s a weird thing for her to do, and it’s just making everything feel more wrong.

 

Star’s a couple feet away now.

 

His hair is still drenched, reaching down past his waist.

 

It kind of looks like he’s smiling.

 

Rictor breaks away from Tabs, who still looks absolutely freaked. Star fakes out lunging forward, before darting away.

 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ric’s stalking after him; it’s a terrible idea, but he’s gonna punch Star if he can catch him.

 

Ever so often, Star stops, waiting for him to get closer before picking up the pace again.

 

“You think you can just pull shit like that?”

 

He’s yelling because it’s a better alternative than crying. Star’s scary sometimes, Ric knows that, but that was still a lot to deal with.

 

Rictor manages to catch up, which probably means Star’s letting him catch up, but he’s not thinking about that. He shoves Star. Hard, but not hard enough to knock him over, because he’s pissed but he doesn’t actually want to drown Shatterstar.

 

Ric’s pretty sure that’s what happened earlier. It’s what makes the most sense. Star didn’t know what the ocean was and didn’t trust the water and then he was curled over and coughing it up.

 

He almost feels bad, but then Star throws himself shoulder first against Rictor’s chest.

 

It feels like the wind’s been knocked out of him yet again, but he grabs onto Star as tight as he can, bringing him along for the ride.

 

They fall back into the water, and Star’s kicking out at him, but Rictor just holds on tighter. Star’s squirming all over the place; Ric still manages to stand back up while still holding onto him.

 

“I’m sorry, okay!”

 

Star’s elbow clips him in the nose and Rictor tastes blood.

 

“I,” Ric’s barely even lifting Star up off the ground, he’s just trying to get him to stop, “I didn’t mean for you to almost drown.”

 

Star’s kicking at his shins with his heels and it’s definitely gonna leave bruises, but Rictor isn’t ready to let go yet.

 

“I promise, I didn’t want that to--ow, fuckin’ ow.”

 

Star’s either biting or clawing at Rictor’s arm, it’s hard to tell when all he can focus on is trying to keep Star from trying to kill him again.

 

“I’m sorry, it was an accident, stop it.

 

Never in a million years did he think that’d work, but Star goes limp.

 

“Okay,” Rictor says, taking a moment to just breathe, finally, “Okay. Can I let go?”

 

“Yes,” Star’s practically snarling, “ Let go.

 

“You aren’t gonna freak out?”

 

No. Let go.”

 

“Okay,” Ric loosens his grip around Star’s chest.

 

Star pulls away soon after that, but he keeps his promise and doesn’t freak out. He just stands off to the side, watching Rictor out of the corner of his eye.

 

Ric brings his fingers to his upper lip; the blood there still feels fresh and he’s probably gonna have at least one black eye if not two.

 

He gives Shatterstar a dark look, “Are you still mad?”

 

“I was not mad, ” Star speaks with his teeth bared.

 

If you weren’t mad, then why the fuck did you try to drown me?

 

That’s the million dollar question, but it’s gonna be more pain than it’s worth to actually ask him that.

 

So, Rictor just waves his hand, “Whatever, let’s go find Tabs. You scared the shit out of her.”

 


 

She’s back right where Rictor left her, almost frozen in place. She seems like she’s dazed and awareness comes back slowly.

 

Rictor’s almost right on top of her when she finally blinks and grabs him by the shoulders.

 

“You’re okay!”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he kind of shrugs his shoulders.

 

“Did Shatterstar do that?” She lets go just enough to gesture to his face.

 

“Yeah, but we’re even.”

 

The look Tabs is giving him says that she really doesn’t think it’s as simple as that. It probably isn’t, but that’s a problem for another time.

 

“Wanna get ice cream?”

 

It’s as good a distraction as any, and lord knows they all could use a distraction right now.

 

Tabs frowns, “Where the fuck are we gonna find ice cream?”

 

“It’s a beach. There’s gotta be a stand somewhere. Who makes a public beach and doesn’t sell ice cream?”

 

She doesn’t look entirely convinced, so Ric continues, “We can just walk around until we find one. There’s gotta be one.”

 

He turns back to see Star kind of slinking away, back up to the towels, moving like he didn’t think they’d notice.

 

“You’re coming, too,” Ric gives him a look, hands on his hips, “We’re all going together.

 

“Alright, fine, ” Tabs huffs, crossing her arms, “Obviously you’re not gonna let this go and you just wanna act like everything’s okay, so sure , let’s get some ice cream.”

 

“That’s the spirit,” he smiles, elbowing her in a way that hopefully comes off as playful.

 

They make a stop at the towels so Ric can grab his wallet before heading down the opposite direction of the way they just came. There’s blood all over Rictor’s chest and his swim trunks from his nose, so there’s probably still some in the sand and that’s the last thing he wants Tabs to see. It’s not actually that bad, but all the water dripping from his hair and clinging to his skin just makes it look like a lot more blood than it is.

 

Shatterstar looks pretty much unscathed, but Ric wasn’t really out to hurt him even when he was pissed off. Tabs is also unscathed, which is good; she gets dragged into his bullshit way too often, and he feels kinda bad even if she says she doesn’t mind. She looked scared back there, like actually scared.

 

Tabs hides herself a lot, which is only something he knows because he hides himself almost as much as she does. She doesn’t let a lot of genuine emotions through, usually you just get a peek at them through the cracks. There’s shit she won’t talk about, or can’t, and Ric gets that. He respects that.

 

They’ve been walking for what feels like ages, but that might just be because of the awkward silence weighing all of them down. He really didn’t think this through; there’s no guarantee that anyone would be around to sell ice cream in the middle of a school day at a public beach.

 

Rictor’s about to write the whole ice cream mission off as hopeless when he finally sees something that looks like a vendor stand. When they get closer, they can see a sign on the side of it covered in pictures of various foods and treats. Maybe something’s going his way today after all.

 

“Huh,” Tabs says, “Well, what do you know? You were right.”

 

“Of course I was right. I’m always right.”

 

She rolls her eyes, “As if!”

 

Ric crosses his arms, “Yeah, then tell me when I’ve ever been wrong?”

 

“It’d be easier to list all the times you’ve been right.”

 

It helps to see Tabs closer to being back to normal, and Rictor can’t stop himself from smiling. So maybe he lets her win the argument, so what. Shatterstar might be back to normal, but the jury’s still out on what’s normal for him. He’s not trying to hurt anyone, so that’s a plus.

 

Rictor still doesn’t know what Star meant when he said that he wasn’t mad. He was smiling like a creepy fucker after he held Ric under the water, but that doesn’t help make anything clearer. When it comes to Star, it’s probably better not to ask.

 

The guy running the stand doesn’t look like he’s too happy to be there, but Ric probably wouldn’t be either. All the X-Force stuff is stressful sometimes, but he can’t imagine having to work at a normal job for the rest of his fucking life.

 

He goes kind of wide-eyed when Rictor steps up to order. Maybe he should’ve washed his face off first, but it’s too late now.

 

“Uhh, can I get a,” Ric ducks around to look at the poster on the side of the stand, “Cookies and cream bar, and, Tabs, what do you want?

 

She makes a big show out of deliberating. She likes to be the center of attention, if she’s the one deciding she should be the center of attention. After hmmm -ing and oh, what if I… no- ing for a couple of minutes, she finally makes up her mind.

 

“Gimme three ice cream sandwiches,” she shrugs, “Can’t beat a classic.”

 

Star’s just kind of watching off to the side. It wasn’t something Rictor noticed before, but Tabs put herself between the two of them. She was standing in the middle the whole walk over, too. It’s like she’s trying to keep Star away, even though things seem to be okay.

 

“And a vanilla soft serve,” Ric adds, because it sure doesn’t seem like Star’s gonna order for himself.

 

The guy rings them up and Rictor ends up paying for everyone, even though he knows Tabs has to have some money on her. Whatever, he’ll get her back one day. He gave up trying to count how much she owes him years ago.

 

Tabs gets the ice cream sandwiches first. She tucks two of them into the crook of her arm, like she’s trying to hold a baby, and unwraps the third one. There’s no way the other ones aren’t gonna start melting almost immediately, but that’s her problem.

 

The guy hands Rictor his ice cream bar next, but he doesn’t unwrap it yet. Instead, he waits for the vendor to finish making the cone for Star. Ric grabs it because he really doesn’t trust Star around strangers, not after all the other times shit’s gone wrong.

 

It’s not until they’re already headed back towards their own little spot that Ric passes the cone off to Star. Star takes it from him, but he does it like he isn’t sure he can trust it. He’s eyeing the ice cream cone with an intense glare that would be hilarious if Ric’s nose didn’t hurt so much.

 

Then, Rictor finally unwraps his own bar. The cookies on the outside are already starting to slide off it and it’s probably minutes away from being too melted to eat, which fucking sucks. It’s soft enough that he can just kind of squish it against the roof of his mouth with his tongue and let it melt like that.

 

Tabs is working her way through ice cream sandwich number two already. Shatterstar hasn’t touched the ice cream at all. It’s melting over the edges, kind of running down his fingers, and it’s probably not gonna last much longer either.

 

Ric doesn’t say anything until they get back to the towels. Tabs sits down and Star just kind of stays hovering nearby looking frustrated like he always does.

 

“You can eat that, you know,” Rictor shoots him a look, maybe he shouldn’t be antagonizing Shatterstar but who cares about that.

 

Star glares at the slowly collapsing ice cream cone for a few seconds more, then bites right into it.

 

Tabs sits up from where she was lying on the ground, mouth half full with the last of ice cream sandwich number three, “What the fuck?”

 

Star does this weird kind of full body twitch, somehow managing to not drop the ice cream in the process. Then, he straightens up like nothing happened at all.

 

“It is cold .”

 

“Yeah, ‘ it’s cold’ ,” Tabs laughs so hard she snorts, “No fuckin’ shit!”

 

Shatterstar gives the ice cream another wary look, then bites into it again. He does a better job of keeping his cool this time around, but Rictor can still definitely see him recoil.

 

He wrinkles his nose, “Still cold.”

 

“That’s,” Rictor can’t stop himself from laughing, “That’s the point! It’s called ice cream for a reason, dude.”

 

“Why is it cold?”

 

Rictor throws his hands up in the air, “Man, I don’t know! Because people want something cold? Because it’d taste like shit if it was hot? It doesn’t really matter why.”

 

Star bites the last of the swirl off without comment.

 

“You’re a fuckin’ animal!” Tabs laughs, “Nobody bites ice cream!”

 

Ric can see the murder glare creeping into Star’s eyes and he’s half afraid that he’ll have to intervene. The odds aren’t in his favor if he has to get in between the two of them.

 

“I am not an animal ,” Star’s voice is low, kind of guttural and severe, kind of catching on ‘animal’.

 

“Figure of speech, dumbass,” Tabs rolls her eyes, “Duh.”

 

“I am not an animal. I should bleed you, should gut, should--” Star trails off, shifting forwards like he’s on the defensive, free hand curled to a fist, “For the disrespect.

 

Rictor steps right in the middle of the space from where Tabs is sitting to where Star is standing. He’s had enough attempted murder for one day.

 

“Okay, okay, time out.”

 

It might just be his ears playing tricks on him, but it sounds like Star is growling.

 

He turns to face Tabs, “Tabs, apologize.”

 

“There’s nothin’ to apologize for,” she huffs.

 

“Do it anyway,” Rictor cautions, then he turns to Star, “Shatterstar, there’s not gonna be any bleeding or gutting or anything else today.”

 

“There could not be any,” Star sneers, “You did not allow me to bring the blades.”

 

“We both know you can bleed and gut and etcetera without them. Which is, frankly, pretty fuckin’ scary and is not something you should do, ever ,” Rictor says, “But I’m getting off track. Tabs, apologize.”

 

“Okay, fine, sure,” she huffs yet again, “I guess I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to compromise your honor or whatever.”

 

That’s probably good enough. Star doesn’t seem to hold grudges, even if he’s angry a surprising amount of the time. He doesn’t have the murder glare in his eyes anymore, so that’s a good sign. Ric turns back to Star, rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck like he always does when he’s trying to force himself to say something.

 

“Do you wanna go back down to the water?”

 

Star looks like he’s actually considering it, kind of worrying at his lip, “My hair is still wet.”

 

Rictor gives him an annoyed look, “That’s not an answer.”

 

“It will take much time to dry. I will stay here. Away from the water .”

 

“Suit yourself,” Ric shrugs before gesturing to Tabs, “Let’s go.”

 

She’s not happy about what just happened; Rictor knew she’d be pissed when he asked her to apologize. She’s got no tact and no idea when to suck it up and say you’re sorry, even if you really aren’t.

 

“Stupid fuckin’ Star-Face,” she mutters, “Can’t take a stupid fuckin’ joke.”

 

Ric can’t help but laugh, “Dude, we literally all know that Star can’t take jokes. Either he misses them completely or they piss him the fuck off. You were playing with fire from the get-go!”

 

“Whatever, he’s still fuckin’ stupid and he’s got no sense of humor and I don’t know why you always drag him along ‘cos he sure doesn’t want to be here,” Tabs is shouting by the end of the sentence; hopefully Star can’t hear them, but Ric’s not sure if he’d care anyway.

 

At least it’s better if she’s mad at him than if she’s mad at Star. Star doesn’t seem to know the limits, or when he’s crossed a line, or where the line even was in the first place. It can’t be easy to always be like that, and sometimes Ric almost feels sorry for him. It always comes up in the quiet moments, when they’re not arguing or ticking each other off.

 

Star seems a lot more normal when they’re watching TV together. He seems a lot less angry or stressed out or whatever it is that Star’s always feeling. It’s those times where Rictor remembers that Star’s about the same age as him or Tabs.

 

They’re friends, kind of.

 

“I drag him along ‘cos he’s my friend,” he retorts.

 

Tabs rolls her eyes, “Yeah, right. You two? Friends? No way.”

 

“Do you think I’d be spending this much time with Star if I didn’t like him?”

 

Tabs seems to be too stubborn to answer. They’re both standing down by the water, halfway daring the other to try to have something that feels like fun again. It was only a few hours ago, but it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that.

 

Rictor kicks up water at her, splashing her legs.

 

“What’s wrong with you?!” She throws her arms up, voice almost cracking, “Shatty tries to drown you and you just act like it’s all fine? You get mad at me for acting like it’s not fine? You think we can just go splash around like everything’s perfectly normal? What the fuck, Ric?”

 

“Tabs…”

 

“I don’t wanna be here,” Tabs cuts him off, “Star doesn’t wanna be here, can we just go already?”

 

Ric sighs, nudging at the waves with his feet, “Let’s walk as far as we can until you’re less pissed off then head back and go home.”

 

Tabs buries her face in her hands, screaming into her palms, “There you go again!

 

“I just don’t wanna try to drive and also stop you and Star from fighting,” he offers, and it’s half true, it wouldn’t be easy to try to mediate, but he also thinks Star might need space.

 

“It’s always about Star, isn’t it?! Star this and Star that and Star, Star, Star! I was your friend first, don’t forget that.”

 

She sounds hurt and maybe this has been building up for a long time and he’s been too dumb to see it. At least he’s smart enough to not point out that he can have more than one friend and that it’s not totally clear to him if Star even counts as a friend.

 

Instead, he puts a hand on her shoulder, “Do you wanna start walking?”

 

“Whatever,” she huffs; it kind of sounds like her voice is thick, like she’s trying not to cry.

 


 

They head down the beach, all the way past the stand where they got the ice cream, before they head back.

 

Tabs doesn’t say anything, which is weird because she’s absolutely a self-described motor-mouth. It’s something they have in common; they both seem to get twitchy when there’s a gap in the conversation.

 

The only thing breaking the silence between them is the sound of the waves and the occasional pops of Tabs’ time-bombs. Silence is weird and Rictor knows she’s got things she doesn’t like to talk about, so she talks about anything else. They’re both metaphorically trying to outrun something.

 

When they get close to where all their stuff is, Ric can see that Star’s moved from holding onto his knees and moping to laying down and moping. The hat’s covering his face, like he’s Indiana Jones or some shit.

 

Tabs runs up the beach and Rictor almost holds her back because knowing her, she’s gonna do something stupid. But, he’s tired and he’s not having a great day and whatever dumb shit she does is her own problem.

 

Ric continues making his way up the beach, watching her slip on her flip flops and then kick Star as hard as she can in the shin.

 

“Wake up, dumbass!”

 

Shatterstar doesn’t react outside of curling his legs in closer like he’s trying to avoid getting kicked again. Rictor knows damn well that he hasn’t suddenly learned how to be a normal person, which makes the fact that Tabs isn’t currently pinned to the ground pretty fucking concerning.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” She kicks him again, less force behind it now that Ric’s standing next to her, “You spent all day making everything miserable and now you finally get to go home. So get up!”

 

“Dude,” Ric puts a hand on her shoulder, stopping her, “I think something’s actually wrong.”

 

“Yeah, and how do you know that?

 

“Star didn’t punch you or scratch you or grab your ankle and pull hard enough that you fell over when you kicked him.”

 

She thinks for a moment, “Yeah… That is weird.”

 

Rictor kind of kneels down in the sand near the towel; it feels like he’s going against every warning sign in his body getting within punching distance when it comes to Star, but he’s actually kind of worried.

 

“Hey, uh, hey Star?”

 

He makes this low whining noise, half muffled by the hat over his face, so Ric slides the hat off of him.

 

“You okay?”

 

Star digs the heel of his palms into his eyes, “Something is wrong.”

 

Well, that’s about as clear as mud. Definitely not vague and not much of an answer at all. He’s right, though. His breathing is fast, mouth kind of open like he’s panting. He doesn’t look good, at all.

 

“Well,” Ric runs a hand through his hair, “We’re heading home, so it should be fine.”

 

Star pushes himself up until he’s sitting and there’s a moment where it looks like his eyes glaze over.

 

“Hey, Earth to Star-face? You in there?” Tabs sort of glares at him.

 

Star blinks, just once, and it’s like he’s been turned back on.

 

“What is happening?

 

Shatterstar’s voice kind of catches on the last word, teeth bared even after he’s fallen silent. Rictor can kind of see something through the gaps, through whatever’s cracked inside of Star right now. There’s something underneath all the snarling and the anger and the violence. He sounds scared.

 

“You’re fine,” Ric says, “You just got too much sun.”

 

“I do not understand ,” Star still sounds pained.

 

“It’s okay, it’ll be better once we get back to the safe house.”

 

Star nods, pushing himself up to his feet. He sways, kind of unsteady, and then lists forwards like he’s going to collapse. Ric catches him, steadies him; he still doesn’t even react to  being touched, which is really, really weird.

 

“Tabs, can you get the towels?” He glares over Star’s shoulder at her, letting her know it’s not really much of a choice.

 

“God,” she huffs, “Fine. Looks like Shatty still found a way to ruin everything.”

 

There’s heat radiating off of Star’s skin in a way that really can’t mean anything good. Rictor can feel it seeping into his palms from where they’re pressed against Star’s shoulders.

 

Star’s eyes are half lidded, “This is all wrong.”

 

“Don’t be a dick,” Ric shoots back at Tabs, “And you’re okay, Star, you’ve got your freaky healing shit and you’re probably just overheated.”

 

Star lets out a low whine, eyes closed.

 

“This is normal, it’s okay,” Rictor’s trying to reassure himself as much as he’s trying to help Star, “We’ll go up to the truck and you can lie down in the back.”

 

Shatterstar sucks in his breath, like he’s preparing to face down the enemy on one of their missions. He breaks away, kind of uncertain, still close to Ric. The first step forward is shaky, and he gets that blank look again.

 

“I cannot move right,” Star says, “I am trying . Something is wrong.”

 

“Hey, hey, don’t panic. You’re good, I’m here and it’s not that far up to the truck.”

 

Star reaches out for him, another fucking weird thing to add to the list of why today is the weirdest day ever. He pulls himself closer, kind of resting against Rictor.

 

“I think something’s really wrong with Shatterstar,” Tabs says, both towels slung over her shoulder; it’s the most concerned she’s ever been about Star.

 

“No shit,” Rictor spits back, “You get all the towels n’shit and I’ll make sure Star gets up to the truck.”

 

She rolls her eyes, but she actually does it instead of complaining. When he tries to help Star, he’s met with a dark glare and Shatterstar pulling away from him. Rictor follows back, enough space for Star to calm down but not so much space that he might faceplant on the ground if he starts falling over again.

 

When they’re closer to the truck, Ric sprints ahead, grabbing the door for the back seat. Star kind of flops into the back, curling up along the back seats. Tabs puts all the beach stuff in the middle front seat between them, arms crossed and an annoyed look carved into the stone of her face.

 

“Look, Tabs, I’ll make it up to you one day.”

 

She doesn’t answer, so he turns the key in the ignition. They can talk later, on her terms instead of when they’re stuck in a car with the person they’re fighting about in the back seat.

 


 

The ride back to the safe house is probably the longest car ride Rictor’s ever had. The entire space was coated with a kind of awkward and uncomfortable feeling, digging its way under his skin.

 

After he parks and Tabs grabs the rest of the beach stuff, they both manage to keep pace with Shatterstar, which can’t be a good thing. He’s like the fastest person on the team and it’s like he always wants to be first in the room.

 

Ric lets the front door slam on the way in to the safe house. Domino will definitely notice that and if he’s lucky, she’ll leave it at that and not make him explain how today went.

 

“How was the beach?”

 

Of course Domino just happens to yell the question he doesn’t want to hear at all from whatever she’s doing in the tech room of the safe house.

 

“Terrible,” Shatterstar growls, stalking off to wherever he hides whenever he’s pissed off or hurt.

 

“Why do you think I didn’t chaperone you guys?” Domino laughs, then goes back to whatever she was doing.

 

Rictor continues back to the common room, Tabs kind of hovers behind him like she wants to say something. She’s still standing by him when he drops into one of the armchairs.

 

“Do you think Shatterstar’s okay?” She finally speaks up, eyes wide like she’s actually concerned, “I mean, Cable will kill us if he dies.”

 

“I think he’ll be alright,” Ric says, but there’s no way to know for sure.

 

Shatterstar’s a freaky person and he seems really human but he’s still kind of an alien. Maybe he’s the kind of alien that can’t handle heat stroke. It doesn’t seem likely because he’s got his whole healing factor thing going for him, but the possibility still makes Rictor’s stomach twist.

 

It’d be his fault. He’s the one who insisted on bringing Star along. Well fuck.

 

“We’ve seen Star get shot before,” Rictor continues, half trying to convince himself, “And he always gets better.”

 

“But that was weird.”

 

“Star’s always weird, you said that yourself.”

 

“You know what I mean, Rictor.”

 

He knows exactly what she means but he really doesn’t need Tabs being the personification of all the things he’s dreading right now.

 

“It’s your problem, anyway. I didn’t even want him to come along. So you’re the one who has to, like, fix this shit.”

 

Tabs is deflecting, like she doesn’t want him to know she can actually get worried. She turns on her heels, marching off towards the showers. Ric knows it’s all for show but he’s kind of worried that they might actually stop being friends over Shatterstar.

 

After she’s gone, he groans and drags his hands across his face before remembering that Star almost broke his nose. Rictor’s a dick sometimes, but he’s a pretty good friend. And being a good friend means he has to go find where Star crawled off to.

 

The safe house isn’t that big, which is what’s so super weird about this. He doesn’t think Star would go back outside and he knows that Star’s weirdly good at hiding.

 

Rictor really does feel bad, he almost forgot that Star isn’t just another kid. He’s scary but sometimes he’s just normal enough that it’s easy to forget he used to kill people. It was like, his job or something.

 

And he’s an alien! It feels terrible to admit it, even to himself, but Ric’s worried that it’s like what cats do. He just keeps feeling guiltier and guiltier, thinking about Shatterstar hiding somewhere to die.

 

Star probably isn’t really going to die, but Ric’s heard a lot about Doug. He’s heard about other kids, too.

 


 

Ric doesn’t find Star. It’s not that he’s not looking, like all the times he’s tried to find Tabs’ Gameboy when he’s really the one who took it. He just can’t find Shatterstar.

 

He doesn’t eat dinner, either. He’s got a reputation for being a cool, laid back dude, but the truth is, he’s worried a lot. Ric thinks maybe everyone else is worried, too. How couldn’t they be?

 

Ric slinks off to bed without talking to anyone. It’s stupid but he’s scared they’ll know what he did to Star. He knows he didn’t personally give Star heat stroke, or whatever alien thing his body is doing. It doesn’t make him feel less guilty, though.

 

He stays in the shower until his hair and skin stop smelling like salt water. Rictor couldn’t sleep like that, it would just keep reminding him over and over that he’s the one who dragged Star to the beach and he’s the one who couldn’t even find Star afterwards.

 

There’s water in his ears, so every single time he lays down and closes his eyes, it feels like he’s floating.

 

Then the floating feeling just gets him thinking about Shatterstar trying to drown him and smiling the whole time.

 

Then thinking about Shatterstar just gets him feeling guilty all over again.

 

Ric doesn’t think it’s just about the heat stroke thing. He feels like that a lot when it comes to Star. At first, he thought maybe it was because he was just pretending to be Star’s friend, but at this point, it has to be something else.

 

He’s a little bit overheated, too. He can’t get comfortable and even on top of the blankets, he feels sweaty and gross and absolutely terrible.

 


 

There’s no way Rictor didn’t fall asleep because he blinks and when he opens his eyes, he doesn’t hear anyone else on the team talking or moving around.

 

His throat is drier than dry, so he heads for the kitchen to go chug some water.

 

It’d be great if he could take a walk to clear his head, but Cable puts the safehouse on lockdown after 10pm. Pacing around the place just doesn’t feel the same. There’s so much metal and concrete that the Earth feels far away from him.

 

He can’t turn any of the lights on or everyone will know he’s awake. Ric’s used to moving around at night without waking anyone up.

 

It’s all going according to plan until he almost trips in the middle of the kitchen. Cable’s strict as hell but he doesn’t really care about keeping things neat.

 

Fuck ,” Ric whispers.

 

He catches himself before he actually falls over and somehow doesn’t make a lot of noise and wake everyone up. Then, something grabs him.

 

Rictor yelps and immediately covers his mouth with his hands, like that’ll undo the noise. He tries to jerk away but in the process, he realizes it’s Star .

 

Star’s lying on the kitchen floor, on his belly, and his hand is wrapped around Ric’s ankle so tight he can feel fingernails digging into his skin. Shatterstar rolls over slightly, looking up at him with those weird eyes. They almost glow in the dark and it’s strange.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“What did you do to me?” Star sounds kind of quiet for once, but each word sounds strained.

 

“I wanted you to have fun, you’re always alone. You don’t have any friends and you act like you like not having friends but nobody likes being alone.”

 

Shatterstar makes this noise in the back of his throat, like he’s growling.

 

“I thought you could be normal but apparently not!” Ric shouldn’t be getting angry, but that’s seems to be the thing he’s best at, “I wanted this to be fun! I wanted us to be normal kids for once! I wanted us to be friends! But you tried to drown me!”

 

“You are not my friend ,” Star hisses, “You do not like me. You are acting and you are bad at it.”

 

“What the fuck does that mean?”

 

Shatterstar snarls, actually literally bares his teeth, “I try to play your stupid fekting confusing games. No one has told me the rules.”

 

Ric’s already stuck in place so it’s stupid to say that he freezes, but he does. His heart drops, too. Star was smiling when he tried to drown him.

 

“I am copying but it is not ever right. You always get mad at me and now I am broken.”

 

“You’re not broken ,” Ric tries to sit down as best as he can while Star’s holding his ankle, “It’s called heat stroke. You aren’t used to the sun, you got overheated.”

 

“The body does not overheat.”

 

It’s a weird way to phrase it. It kinda makes Rictor’s skin crawl.

 

“Yeah? Then why are you lying on the floor?”

 

“It is… Cold,” Star speaks through gritted teeth.

 

“You’re gonna be okay. This is normal. It sucks, I get it, but it’s normal.”

 

“Should have healed already,” Shatterstar says, “The healing factor is gone.”

 

“It’s not gone, dude. It’s, like, learning. So it’ll know what to do next time.”

 

“There will not be a next time. I am not going to a ‘ beach’ ever again.”

 

“Okay,” Ric laughs, “No more beaches.”

 

“No more games.”

 

“I can’t promise that, but I’ll try to tell you the rules.”

 

Star hums like he’s considering it, then rolls back onto his belly.

 

“You gonna spend the whole night there?”

 

Shatterstar doesn’t answer, he just lets go of Ric’s leg.

 

“Do you want me to stay?”

 

“No.”

 

His voice is muffled by the floor and all his hair and it’d be funny if Star was anyone else.

 

Ric stands up, slowly, “Are we friends? I mean, do you wanna be friends?”

 

Star kind of hums, “I did not try to ‘drown’ you.”

 

It’s not actually an answer, but Ric gets the idea, “And I didn’t try to kill you with heat stroke.”

 

“So we are even,” Star says.

 

Ric’s pretty sure ‘even’ means friends.