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In the Absence

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In the absence of a vision there are nightmares
And in the absence of compassion there is cancer
     - Bruce Cockburn, "Night Train"

*****

She thinks, sometimes, that they set a bad example for the kids.  Not
in combat, obviously.  Every single one of them is going to survive
whatever they get thrown into because she and Nate've put in the hours
with them.  But about sex, definitely.  If only because, on a
fundamental level, kids learn about sex from their parents.  Even if
you skip the birds-and-the-bees talk (and frankly she's never been
sure what exactly insects had to do with it, except in an extremely
creepy James Joyce way), the little bastards watch you.  And pick up
on those messy little things like how you treat your partner, and how
far you let things go in public, and whether, really, you think sex is
healthy or dirty.

Having her and Nate as role models is going to set the kids back by
years.  She hates the "den-mother" thing, but she's well aware that
she's only one bad dream away from being 'momma' while somebody sobs
their heart out on her shoulder.

Tabitha, tonight.  She was up patrolling at two and heard her crying.  
Didn't even hesitate, just walked in and sat on the foot of the bed
and braced herself for the inevitable body hitting hers.  Rocked her
until she stopped crying and went back to sleep.  A long time.  During
which she got to think about the kind of example they set.  Whether
Tab would be happier if Sam weren't so completely Nathan's.  

What does one learned from Dom and Nate about sex?

One learns that sex is dirty, and complicated, and dangerous.  That
anyone who loves you will eventually tie you up in knots, or die.  
That the proper way to deal with your partner is to fight loudly,
bicker constantly, and sleep apart most of the time.  It doesn't help
that she and Nate tend to argue publically and make up telepathically.  
Maybe it's time for her to wander off for a while, or to send the kids
to Scott-and-Jean for happy-family therapy.

Tabitha does, eventually, go back to sleep, curled around Domino but
not tightly enough to keep her from getting loose.  In the morning,
she's going to have to drag Tab into the office and explain some
things to her about not making yourself miserable.

This shouldn't have to be an 'American Beauty' moment, but it probably
will be.  Look closer.  Nate and Dom have been driving each other
crazy for -- fuck it, is it really? -- twenty years because even they
(occasionally) have mercy.  And maybe more because they have very few
illusions.  So fight with Sam and make up with him or break up, and
either way stop expecting him to repair the universe for you.

Cynical thoughts, even for her.  She's tired -- exhausted, if she's
honest -- and her angry-at-the-universe thought process is mostly a
product of that.  She's tempted not to go back to bed at all, instead
maybe find Nate and kick him until he shoves over enough to make room
for her.  Listen to his heart beat and his overactive brain mutter at
the back of her mind.

So.  Upstairs, downstairs, in her pajamas and socks, checking on all
the kids.  Caliban's rolled up in a very tight ball, but he seems to
be happy, at least.  One huge eye flicks open and blinks at her, then
closes again, and an equally enormous hand pats her awkwardly on the
shoulder before he drifts off.  Jimmy's quiet enough for her to let
him be, and Theresa looks to have been enjoying herself earlier this
evening.  A bunch of candles have burned down, and there's something
suspiciously plastic-looking lurking in the shadows.  'Berto fell
asleep with the lights on and something that might have been produced
by Larry Flynt open in his lap.

She doesn't always check on Shatty.  He's awake far too often, and his
reflexes are nearly a match for hers.  The first time he landed on
her, he didn't immediately let her up.  Stared at her through silver
eyes and waited for her to explain herself.  Smart boy, the cynicism
monster mutters at the back of her mind.  He's the only one who's ever
asked why she comes to everyone's door in the middle of the night.  

More often lately, she lays a hand on his door and tries to decide
whether he's in trouble or not.  She'd let it go, except that she's a
little too aware of how young he is, and how easily he slides into
misery.  Doesn't like to be hugged, but sometimes he needs to talk,
and as long as she sits still he'll use her as a sounding board and
eventually work out the problem to his own satisfaction.  She
remembers him laying a big hand on her shoulder once, afterwards, and
looking like he was trying to decide what came next.  How vastly
relieved he looked when she offered him a soldier's hand-clasp.

But he isn't, in any case, there.  Nor in the bathroom, when she
checks, not, apparently, out.  She didn't think he would be; the world
is a confusing place for Shatterstar, and he doesn't usually turn
himself loose in it without a good reason.  The gym's empty, and the
lights are off.

She wonders if she should wake Nathan up and inform him that one of
their children is missing.  Snorts at the image of him waiting by the
door for Shatty to come in, like a father from a 50s movie.  Brown
slippers at all.  Possibly something large and Askani in the way of
weaponry slung across his lap.

Doesn't ultimately get to make that decision because she bumps against
Rictor's door in the meantime and gets an eyeful when it swings open.

She's seen them together before, of course, but not like this.  In
combat, and out clubbing, and sprawled on the couch in front of the TV
so tangled up that only their difference in skin tone tells them
apart.  She doesn't think they were lovers, then.  If they were, and
Nathan didn't tell her, she'll take his skin off.  But the brush of
Julio's hand across Shatterstar's cheekbone looks a lot like something
quite new, and still a little scary.  Maybe like he expected to get
his hand bitten off.

Not at all like he expected it to get kissed.  Nor his fingers sucked,
very gently, while silver eyes stare at him.  Shatty's hands own hands
are a little hesitant, the way they always are when he does something
he knows how to do intellectually but hasn't actually tried before.  
The curse of tube-fed learning, she supposes.  This is different than
stripping and re-building a car engine, too; all the more so because
Shatty can't read people for shit, and he has to know he runs the risk
of losing several fingers or possibly his front teeth if he's wrong.

There's a long moment during which she thinks she's going to have to
separate them.  Working out sexual tension is healthy, but the level
of violence these two can generate could level the house.  

"Star . . ."

Softly, "Please, Julio.  When have I ever asked you for anything?"

"Are we counting the time you made me sit through fourteen hours of
James Bond movies on TNT?"

"It was educational."

"I *really* don't wanna know how . . ."

Whatever Shatterstar says back, she doesn't hear it.  His lips are
deep in the mess of Rictor's hair, nosing it out of the way.  
Somewhere in the midst of that movement, there's a kiss, and Ric leans
into it, exposing his neck in a way that all his instincts must be
screaming against.  She wonders if Shatty would offer him the same
level of trust back.

The next kiss is a little steadier, and it's settle in much safer
territory.  As long as they're mouth-to-mouth, neither one of them has
the advantage, or maybe Rictor does since he's knee-crawled forward to
straddle Shatty's thighs.  Sits on him, kisses downward with both
hands in that mess of red hair, both of them bare-chested in the dark.

More quietly, in Spanish and lip-to-lip, "You don't tell *nobody*
about this."

And Shatty only nods, and if he's a little hurt, she doesn't expect
that Ric can see it in the dark.  Happy again almost instantly when
the kiss gets deeper and Ric's hands go roving over the big body
against his.  Rubbing groin to groin, still in sweats but Ric shimmies
his hips like he could get out of them by will alone.  Accepts it
completely when Shatty strips him and cradles his ass, strokes him
from shoulder blade to knee in one long caress.

Absolutely willing when Shatterstar leans forward, easing Ric onto his
back and coming to rest nearly on top of him.  Kneeling up just a
little for control, and resting his weight on his hands while Ric
holds his face and hips.  Long, pale legs around the man on top of
him.  Ankles locked at the small of that fair-skinned back.

In a world of human probability, one of them would have seen her by
now.  Even in the dark of hallway and bedroom, they're trained for
this.  She should get out now.  They might work something out of this
if Ric doesn't panic, and spotting her won't help them.  Ric can do
this; there isn't anything unwilling in him.  Even now he's moving
like a petted cat, naked and rubbing himself against the body over
him.  Arching at every one of Shatty's careful touches.  Whimpering
with Shatty's tongue down his throat.

In the instant she steps back, Shatterstar raises his head to her,
then disguises the movement by kissing Rictor at the junction of neck
and shoulder.  Reaches between them and grips Julio at least, and
possibly himself as well.  Gives her only the faintest direct glance,
and that only to tell her to *get out*.

She goes.  Doesn't close the door because the noise'll be obvious, and
Shatterstar can get it later in the night if he's worried about the
lack of privacy.  She's gone a dozen steps down the hall by the time
the Spanish, "Mother of God, Star, yes!" drifts down to her.  More
words in Cadre that she doesn't understand.  Loud breathing that
softens as she moves farther away.

She's worried about what they may have taught these two.  Sam and Tab
are a mess, and they had something like lives outside.  These two are
in more danger.  Julio's made of glass sometimes, and his and Shatty's
combined ages don't make forty.  For the moment, she can't think of
anything to do for them but leave them alone in the dark.  Kick Nate
if he tries to interfere.  

Maybe explain to Ric, very quietly, that he's allowed to do this.  And
lock him up with Shatty until he gets it right.