Of all the fucked up things that have happened to Rictor in his short but colourful life, this one he did not see coming. Sitting on a doorstep in an alternate dimension holding a baby in his arms. A cute baby. A baby who is… Well, okay, maybe a baby. He’s Mexican, and he has a million adorable cousins, nieces and nephews, sue him. He’s thought about kids. And Richter babies are always cute. But that’s the thing. This is not just any cute baby. This baby is Shatterstar. He can pretty much guarantee that nobody, not even the goddamn Summerses with all their time travel and family bullshit, or the Lehnsherr/Maximoffs with theirs, has ever sat on a doorstep holding a baby that is, in fact, their own incredibly hot lover. It’s better than a telenovela.
Said incredibly hot lover is skulking around inside. He put on a fairly good performance of not being freaked out by any of the crazy that’s gone down in the last few days, but he’s been giving Rictor and the baby some very funny looks over the last few hours as he recharges, getting ready to teleport the three of them into the future so they can drop his baby-self off in his correct place in the timestream.
As if conjured by the thought, Shatterstar steps out of the lab. “Are you ready, Julio?” he asks, a strange look on his face.
“Of course,” Rictor says. “I was waiting for you.”
“I was ready two hours ago,” Star says, and now he’s starting to look… worried? Which is vaguely unnerving. Ordinarily he’d be crackling with energy, and bouncing around ready to leave.
“Oh!” Rictor says, surprised. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I did,” Star says. “Twice. The first time you were busy feeding the child, and the second time you ignored me entirely.”
“Huh,” Rictor says. “That’s… Wow. Okay. Let’s go. But I’d better change him before we leave.”
“The journey will take moments, Julio,” Star says more firmly. “This is not like a family roadtrip where everything that can go wrong in a comical fashion does so. At any rate he is too young to ask if we have arrived already.”
“'Are we there yet?'” Rictor corrects. “But still. It is kinda like that. If you ignore how he’s you, instead of, y’know” – he shrugs, ducking his burning face – “our kid.”
“But even if he were ‘our kid’,” Star says, missing the point entirely. “We are still teleporting rather than driving.”
“Well, forgive me if I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of dumping a poor defenceless baby into a gladiator pit to be raised by savages and tortured for their amusement.” Huh. Rictor’d kinda thought he’d gotten over that whole thing the last ten times they argued about it.
“He is not a defenceless baby,” Shatterstar insists, still in that infuriating calm voice that occasionally makes Rictor want to punch him right in his beautiful face. “He is me, and I am anything but defenceless as you well know. And the sanctity of the timestream must be upheld. You cannot keep him, no matter how much you would like to.”
It’s a good thing Rictor is holding the baby, because Star’s healing factor would be getting a workout right about now. “I don’t want to keep him!” he shouts, then looks down, horrified, at the baby. The baby seems not to care about his agitation at all, just as frustratingly placid as his adult self. “How fucked up would that be?” he continues, irritated at them both now. “You’re already your own grandfather, do you want to be your own father now too?
“That is not how it works, Julio,” Star says. “I would not be his father just because you are.”
“Of course you would,” Rictor hurls back, and now he’s hurt as well as angry, this day just keeps getting better. “Or would we be cramping your style? Would a partner and a kid be too much responsibility for you?”
Star is staring at him as if he’s finally gone mad, and to be fair, he kinda has. They’ve clearly been in Mojoworld too long. Maybe all those blows to the head he took in the arena knocked something loose. Maybe the baby has Longshot’s power of making everyone in the vicinity fall hopelessly in love with him and do his bidding. It could totally be genetic.
“Of course I would be there,” Star says, outraged, his pale skin flushing red in a way that Rictor’s seen maybe three times in their long and storied life together, but knows is a major danger sign. “I would not leave you. I would never leave you.”
“Look, it’s fine,” Rictor says, making a show of bundling the baby tighter in the closest thing they could find to a blanket in the mad scientists’ lab. “I’m sorry I lost it. This place is getting to me, let’s go.”
“I would let you keep him if I could,” Star says, a wave of sadness and uncertainty visibly washing over him and pushing out the anger. “But too much depends on it.”
“It’s okay, Star,” Rictor says, leaning over to give him a conciliatory kiss. “It’d be too weird anyway. I mean, poor Longshot basically wound up marrying his mother thanks to those pendejo scientists. No way I’m gonna let things work out so I marry my son.”
“We are not married,” Star says, entirely back to his Mr Literal persona.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Rictor sighs. “Let’s just go before I have to kill myself for real.”
“Yes, all right,” Star says, and for once he doesn’t tell Rictor not to joke about such unwelcome topics. “I forgot something.”
He goes back inside, then comes back out a moment or two later with a bulky object wrapped in some kind of oilcloth. Rictor sighs and doesn’t ask, just visualises their destination and holds on tight.
Dumping the baby in the slave pens of Mojo’s arena is every bit as wrenching as Rictor thought it would be, but they do it. One day the rebellion will be over, and all the slaves will be free, and Mojo and his fellow Spineless Ones will finally pay for everything they’ve done here over the last century, but until then, Star’s right, they can’t do anything to disrupt history. There’s nothing they could do that could make Mojoworld worse, as far as Rictor’s concerned, but anything that would stop Star from growing up and escaping and coming to Earth in search of help would be a disaster. For him personally, if not for one or even two dimensions. They still have their problems, plenty of them, but when he thinks about his teenage years he honestly doesn’t know if he’d have made it without him.
They camp out on a hillside while Star charges up again for the leap back. It’s taking longer each time, the strain of doing it so often in such a short space of time beginning to tell, and this’ll be a big one, not just back to Earth, but back a hundred years in time as well. They lie on their backs in what feels like a companionable silence until Star rolls over onto his side and says, “You don’t truly think I’d leave you, do you?”
Rictor brought this on himself, but that still doesn’t mean he wants to talk about it. He may be okay with the whole gay thing now, but he’s not a girl. He clenches his jaw and stares at the sky.
“You left me,” Star goes on, voice rising. “You left me with Cable, that vrzats’ka, back in New York, and then in Mexico, when I thought everything was perfect, you left me again.”
“You hated Mexico,” Rictor retorts, seizing on the part of that sentence that isn’t a knife in the heart. “You hated being there.”
“I loved Mexico,” Star says coldly. “I loved being with you. That was the happiest I’d ever been in my life.”
Rictor sits up. Star’s face is scarlet and his eyes are flashing dangerously.
“Do you mean that?” he asks. “Even with all the lying and sneaking around?”
“You were the one lying and sneaking around.” The hits keep coming.
Rictor sighs, and very carefully doesn’t get mad, because it’s true, even if it’s viciously unfair.
“But yes,” Star says more gently. “Even with all that.”
Wow. That’s honestly not something Rictor had ever believed. He’d been afraid every single moment of every day they were there, terrified that one of them would slip up, would look at the other a moment too long, stand a little too close, let a hand rest on a waist instead of a shoulder. The thought still chills him now, even years later, when all their friends and a fair number of their enemies know everything there is to know about them. But still not his family. Star hadn’t understood at first, but a marathon of made-for-tv specials had cleared that up and he’d never said another word about pride or honesty or warrior spirit or being who you really are.
“Come here,” he says hoarsely, pulling Star up from his sprawl so he can look him in the eye properly. “No one is leaving anyone, okay? Not ever again.”
“Okay,” Star says, and leans in to wrap his arms around Rictor’s shoulders. “Never again.”
Rictor hugs him back hard, burying his face in his neck. Star’s hair has grown out in the time they’ve been here. Nowhere near as long as it was when they first met, but it almost reaches his shoulders now. He wraps a hand in it, something he’d really missed being able to do when Star turned back up with the crew cut he never explained, and pulls him close for a proper kiss. “Let’s go home,” he whispers after.
“Yes, home,” Star agrees, but doesn’t let go.
Eventually they separate, climbing to their feet and dusting off their clothes that have definitely seen better days.
“Visualise home, Julio,” Star says, sounding almost like his old self as he tucks his bundle under his arm, then pulls out his swords and crosses them.
Rictor closes his eyes, and the familiar rush of light and sound engulfs them.
When he opens his eyes again they’re not on the front steps of X-Factor. They’re not even in New York. For a moment he thinks maybe Star wasn’t strong enough to jump after all and they’re still in Mojoworld, but then he recognises the tree they’re standing under. Madre de dios.
“Julio,” Star says, dropping his package but only putting away one sword. He looks somewhat deranged prowling around the Richter family rancho, sword in hand, frightening the goats. “Where are we?”
“Where do you think?” Rictor sighs.
Star looks at him quizzically, then looks at the tree. He rubs a hand over the bark, and sure enough, weathered but there, is the JER/G7 he’d carved into so many years ago. Julio Esteban Richter. Gaveedra-Seven. Star hasn’t gone by that name, that designation, in years.
“Why did you bring us here, Julio?” he asks.
“I didn’t!” Rictor says defensively. “Or at least” – the evidence in fact suggesting that he did bring them here – “I didn’t mean to.” This is the last place he would have brought them on purpose.
“Did you not visualise home?”
“Of course I did!”
“Then why are we three miles from your parents’ hacienda in Guadalajara?”
“How the hell should I know?” Rictor snaps. He’s unnerved enough himself by the fuck-up, he doesn’t need Shatterstar looking for deeper meanings in it. “Probably because you couldn’t shut up about it right before we left.”
Star looks unconvinced, but sheathes his sword. “Very well. Let us find somewhere to wait until we can leave. I promised your uncle Luis I would kill him if I saw him again, and while I will still be pleased to do so, frankly I would prefer to go home and bathe, then put on clean underwear.”
“What?” Rictor trips over his own feet. “When the hell was that?”
Star shifts uncharacteristically tensely. “After you told me you wanted to go back to New York. Before I left for Madripoor.”
“I thought my cousin Jorge drove you to the airport.”
“He did not. Your uncle intercepted us as we were leaving.”
“And he told me I had been a very bad influence on you and he would drive me to the airport himself rather than risk exposing Jorge to me any further.”
“Well, he always was an asshole,” Rictor says, wondering what else he’d missed while he was sulking in his room like the immature, cowardly brat he was, and refusing to come out until Star was gone. “But that doesn’t seem like a killing offence.”
“No,” Star says, tight lipped.
“Oh, come on,” Rictor cajoles him. “You can tell me, I don’t mind.”
“I mean, I’d prefer you not kill him, since he’s the only uncle I have left after all that mierda with the gun running, but…”
“Fine.” Shatterstar glares at him then looks off to the horizon. “He said that crying was not manly and that I should be ashamed of myself. I, who had slain a hundred warriors before he learned to shave.”
Rictor takes a deep breath and absolutely does not laugh. Then the import of what Star just said hits him. “You were crying?”
Star shrugs sullenly. “When I hospitalised those TSA officers at JFK after seeing you off I was given to understand that crying was a more appropriate way of expressing sorrow at a parting than sword fighting. Apparently your uncle did not agree.”
“Wow.” They’d told him Star went berserk in the airport the first time he left, but he’d had no idea it was that bad. He picks up Star’s abandoned package as a peace offering. It’s surprisingly heavy for its size. He wraps his other arm around Star’s waist. “Come on. You can’t kill any of my relatives, but if Luis says anything you don’t like you can break a bone or two.”
“Very well,” Star says, his own hand finding a position on Rictor’s hip. “I accept this compromise.”
This day’s not over giving them shocks, however, because when they reach the wide double doors of the Richter hacienda, the person who opens up for them is-
Isabella Richter throws her arms around him, and he hugs her back as hard as he can. The package, forgotten, falls to the ground with a heavy thud, and behind him he can hear Star’s whispered, “Fekt.”
“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming, Julio?” Mama asks. “And you brought Gav with you. It’s good to see you again, Gaveedra,” she says solemnly, her beloved and sorely missed accent curling around the foreign vowels exactly the way it always did.
“It is good to see you too, Señora Richter,” Star says, as though he isn’t talking to a woman who’s been dead for years.
“Come in, come in,” Mama says. “I cleaned your room just in case, so you can go straight up. Luis said you wouldn’t make it in time, but I knew you would. My precious boy.”
Star visibly stiffens at the mention of Luis.
“I’m sorry, Gav,” Mama says, “I didn’t know you were coming. All the spare rooms are full.”
“That’s fine, Mama,” Rictor says, torn between reluctance to leave and desperation to get away. “We can’t stay.”
“Can’t stay?” Mama demands. “Can’t stay? Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not driving all the way back to Guadalajara. To stay in a hotel.” She spits the word like it’s poison in her mouth. “Ana Gutierrez would never let me hear the end of it.”
“Eh…” Rictor looks to Star for help, but Star is smiling like a fool.
“Of course we will stay,” he says, picking up the infernal bundle. “I will be happy to share with Julio.”
Rictor stares at him in horror.
“Are you sure?” Mama asks dubiously. “You’re not boys anymore.”
“I am quite certain,” Star says. “Come, Julio.”
Rictor follows him, unable to shake the certainty that somewhere, in this dimension or the one they just left, someone is laughing at him.
When they get upstairs to the suite reserved for the son and heir, sure enough, Rictor’s old room is exactly as he left it when he went back to New York. Which, now that he thinks about, can’t be quite as long ago as he was originally thinking. It’s been almost eight years for him, but if Mama is here… it’s very clear he screwed up the timing as well as the place. Think of home indeed.
Star opens the large oak wardrobe and stashes his bundle behind Rictor’s embarrassingly large collection of boots. Most of them, he notes, have really high heels. What a pendejo he’d been back then. He’d felt every single one of the six inches in height Star has on him. These days he barely notices, except for how he has to stand on his toes when they kiss standing up. It’s no hardship though, Star’s strength such that a single hand on the small of his back will support him, no matter how long they indulge.
He closes the heavy door to the hallway and bolts it, then goes to lie down on the bed. It still has the same quilt on it his abuela made him when he was a boy. Star is inspecting the room for hidden threats, sword in hand as he checks the bathroom, as though there’s every likelihood assassins could be hiding in the old marble tub. Finally he glances out the window into the central courtyard.
“Your cousins appear to be setting up for a large feast,” he observes. “When do you think we are?”
“I don’t know.” Rictor fists his eyes blearily. “God, I’m tired.”
“It must be at least six years ago,” Star goes on. “If your…” He trails off and looks back out the window.
“If my mother’s still alive,” Rictor says. There’s no use being a pussy about it. “Yeah.”
There’s a sudden hammering on the door.
“Who is it?” he calls out.
“Who do you think, Julio?” a female voice calls back. “Let me in.”
He opens the door, and a whirlwind in silk robe and curlers throws herself at him. “I’m so glad you could come,” she says. “Papa said you wouldn’t but Tía Isabella promised you would.”
“Of course. Who else? Don’t tell me all your time in el norte has scrambled your brains.”
“Of course not,” he says, pushing her back and holding her at arm’s length so he can get a good look at her. The last time he saw her she was a gangly teenager with long braids and freckles who drove him crazy by clumsily flirting with Star, who was, of course, entirely oblivious to the whole thing. She’s grown into a beautiful young woman, and he realises, with a rush of combined embarrassment and grief, that they’ve arrived just in time for her wedding. He’d been in Utopia at the time, and had returned home to a formal invitation on heavy cardstock, and a dozen phone messages from his mother, each less hopeful than the one before, until the final one, the last time he’d ever heard his mother’s voice, telling him he was a disappointment and a bad son. He’d sworn then to make it up to her, but he’d been mid-apocalypse again six months later, when she died of a sudden stroke. He’d missed her funeral too, and after that there was no going back, even if he’d wanted to.
“Oh, my God,” Marta says, suddenly. “Is that Gaveedra?” She steps back, pulling her robe more tightly around herself, and raising a forlorn hand to her hair before realising there’s no hope for it. “Hi, Gav.”
“Hello, Marta,” Shatterstar says quietly, stepping back into the room from the bathroom doorway. “You look very beautiful.”
Marta blushes like she’s sixteen all over again. “You guys turned out okay yourselves. But what are you wearing?” She runs a sceptical eye over Rictor. “And when was the last time you had a bath? And where are your bags? Where are your clothes?”
“Um…” Rictor doesn’t like where this is going. “The airline lost our bags?”
“But what are you going to wear?” she wails, the preoccupation of every bride upon her. “The ceremony is at four.”
“Do not worry,” Star says firmly, stepping forward to detach her painfully clenching hands from Rictor’s arm. “But you are correct, we are both sorely in need of a bath. If you would leave us please.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course,” she flutters, unsure, as always, whether Star is being rude or to the point. He does it so well, and it makes Rictor want to laugh, which is pretty much exactly what he needs right now.
Marta returns to her preparations, and Rictor re-bolts the door behind her. He and Star strip off their filthy clothes, caked with the stains and dirt of Mojoworld, and head into the bathroom together. It’s warm enough, midday summer sun streaming in through the high window, that standing there naked while the tub fills is perfectly comfortable. It gets a little more so when Star steps up behind him and wraps his arms around him, pulling him back firmly against his own body.
Rictor leans into him, letting him take his weight, and turns his head to find Star’s mouth. They kiss, gently at first, then more hungrily. Star wraps around him tighter, his full length plastered to Rictor’s back, dick hardening where it rubs against the top of his ass.
“You want to take this back to the bed?” he asks.
“No,” Star says, and bites his neck. “I always liked this room.”
They lost their mutual virginity in this room. Both doors securely fastened, the outer one to the hallway not enough to calm his anxious heart, the inner one between bathroom and bedroom wedged shut with a chair, the windows closed and the shutters firmly latched. Star had clumsily gone down on him while he sat on the edge of the bathtub, hands clenching on the marble. There’s still a crack in the mosaic floor where he lost control of his powers when he came in Star’s mouth. It had felt, at the time, like both the best and worst thing that had ever happened to him.
The best, because seriously, Shatterstar was the hottest thing Rictor had ever seen, and his mouth was wide, and wet, and hot, and he’d had no finesse, no skill to speak of, but dios had he had enthusiasm, choking and sucking, and gasping between swallows how much he loved Rictor in all three of their shared languages. The worst, because it was the final proof, in a way that sidelong glances and furtive late night fumblings hadn’t been, that he really was everything he’d been raised to despise, everything the bullies at school had called him. He’d used his hand to return the favour, still too ashamed to repay Star in kind.
He’s clearly not the only one reminiscing about it, because Star manhandles him till he’s sitting on the edge of the tub once more, exactly where he was all those years ago. Ignoring Rictor’s token protestations that maybe this should wait until after their bath, he goes to his knees gracefully, takes Rictor into his mouth with the ease of long practice. There’s no hesitation now, no clumsiness, no choking. A few quick licks followed by a hard suck at the head, and Star is swallowing deeply, taking him into his throat. Rictor doesn’t kid himself that he’s the only man Star’s ever done this to – it was deeply obvious that first night back in upstate New York, after Cortex, that he’d learned a lot in the years they’d been apart, and even now he comes home sometimes with new tricks he wants to show off – but Rictor was the first, and one day, if things work out the way he hopes, he’ll be the last.
He comes with a choked off cry, and slides bonelessly off the edge of the tub into Star’s lap. Star reaches up past his shoulder to turn off the water, then leans in to kiss him hungrily. Rictor hugs him hard, then reaches down between them to where Star’s dick is leaving sticky trails on his belly. It only takes a couple of firm pulls to bring him off; it’s been a while, what with all the gladiatorial combat and cloning and mind-wiping and time travel.
Star bites his jaw as he comes, and maybe it’s being back in this room, the scene of so many illicit, fear-tinged rendezvous, but for a second he opens his mouth to hiss, don’t leave a mark. In the next he thinks, ah, fuck it, I’m twenty-six years old, I’ve tried to kill myself twice, been tortured by extremists, lost my powers, saved the world a dozen times, finally got back together with the love of my life after multiple false starts and stupid mistakes, and leans into Shatterstar’s teeth.
When they finally emerge from the lukewarm bath, scrupulously clean for the first time in months, scrubbed and shaved and shampooed to within an inch of their lives, Shatterstar flops naked onto the bed, barely pausing to yank off the heirloom quilt. He lies there like some sort of odalisque, unconsciously enticing, and truthfully Rictor wants nothing more than to join him. He can hear the band practising outside though, and knows he’d better sort out something for them both to wear, or face the wrath of an enraged Bridezilla. He pulls on an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt out of the dresser, and heads downstairs.
It appears Mama has been way ahead of him, however, for neatly hanging on the bannister of the staircase are two pristine black suits, complete with stiff white shirts and cummerbunds. The larger of the two smells ever so faintly of mothballs, and was probably, he realises with a pang, his father’s. He shakes off the memory and heads back into his bedroom. Shatterstar bounds to his feet, reinvigorated by the prospect of indulging his inner showman.
They take longer getting dressed than they probably should, elbowing each other out of prime position in front of the full length mirror, taking turns to straighten each other’s collars and cuffs, wrap and tie the burgundy cummerbunds, presumably the colour of the bridal party’s dresses. He draws a line at the tie tucked into the breast pocket, however, tossing it onto the dresser and leaving his top two buttons undone. Star looks at him quizzically, then does the same. With their hair scraped back into neat little ponytails they look like something out of GQ, and he’s seized with a burning desire to rumple Star up again, but that will have to wait. He’s been given one last chance to spend time with his mother, and he wants to make the most of it.
Naturally, they run into his uncle on the landing.
“Tío Luis,” he says respectfully, extending his hand. Luis Richter looks at it suspiciously for a moment before deigning to shake it, then casts a jaundiced eye over his nephew, head to toe.
“Julio,” he says at last. “I wasn’t expecting you. And I see you brought your güero with you.”
Shatterstar bristles beside him, but Rictor just smiles, showing all his teeth. “I did,” he agrees.
Luis gives Star the once over too, but there’s no fault to be found. “At least you’ve cut your hair,” he blusters at last. “If it weren’t for that tattoo you’d almost look respectable.”
Rictor seizes Star’s wrist before he can demonstrate with extreme prejudice that a slave brand is nothing so frivolous as a tattoo, and not to be mocked. “We’re going to sit with Mama a while before the ceremony, Tío.”
Somewhat mollified by this display of filial piety, Luis relents. “That’s good, Julio,” he says. “She hasn’t been so well lately.”
Rictor nods, and he can feel Star relaxing beside him. Whatever his faults, Luis has taken good care of his sister-in-law since her husband’s murder, and they both know it.
By the time everyone’s ready to begin the procession to the church, Rictor has been stuffed full of sweetmeats and petted and cossetted and generally indulged. To be fair to his mother, she doesn’t know he’s twenty-six now, but eighteen year old him would have been chafing under the attention. Eighteen year old him can go fuck himself, he didn’t know how lucky he’d had it.
He’d wondered, for one long awkward moment as she looked into his face searchingly, if she couldn’t tell her only son was much older than the last time she saw him. But she’d just patted his cheek and said sadly, “You look so tired, Julio. And sad. Are things so terrible, up north?”
While he stammered around a reassurance that all was well she turned to Shatterstar. “And you, Gaveedra,” she said sternly. “Don’t you take care of him?”
Star looked her in the eye unflinchingly, and said, “I do my best, Señora Richter.”
And Mama had looked at him equally unflinchingly, something the greatest warriors of two dimensions did not find easy, and said simply, “Do better.”
Star nodded, the equivalent of a blood oath, and Mama smiled. “Good boy. I’ve told you before to call me Mama.”
That set them both coughing, and looking around nervously, but Mama just poured more tea and piled their plates high once more.
Now Star is lying on the couch in a sugar induced coma, and Rictor is pacing nervously trying to decide how much of an exhibition he wants to make of himself tonight. The last thing he wants is to start a fight at his cousin’s wedding, but at the same time the days when he would have made Star sit at the opposite end of the table and refused to make eye contact with him are long gone.
His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of running feet and a high pitched shriek of, “Julio. Julio!”
He turns to the doorway where one of his youngest cousins pulls to a sudden halt inches away from one of Mama’s favourite vases. “No running in the house, Roberto,” he says mock sternly, but he can’t help the grin that’s fighting its way out.
“Sorry, Julio,” Roberto says, chastened, “but it’s time. Bring your friend and let’s go.”
Rictor ruffles the boy’s hair, prompting another shriek, this time of dismay. “You’re lucky I’m not pinching your cheek, kid,” he says, feinting towards one of those appealing dimples. Roberto ducks masterfully and escapes into the hallway. Rictor shakes his head at his own ridiculousness, but a tiny part of him stuck in a groove can’t help thinking, Richter babies are always cute.
When he looks over at the couch Shatterstar is sitting up and smiling at him. “What?” he demands.
Star doesn’t respond, instead getting up and crossing the room towards him. He casts one quick look at the doorway, something Rictor will always regret having taught him to do, then pulls him into a quick embrace. “I love you, Julio,” he whispers before letting go.
It’s cool inside the heavy stone church, and the smell of incense is strong. It could almost be any Sunday from his childhood, except that Star is sitting beside him in the pew. They’re in the second row with Jorge, and Alejandro, and Roberto, and a couple more adorable young cousins he can’t immediately place. Mama is in the front row with Tío Luis and Tía Carmela and the oldest of the cousins. He isn’t even offended at being relegated to sit with the young ones, as he would have been once, because Star is hard up against him in the crowded pew, their fingers brushing unseen in the cramped space between them.
Marta is every inch the radiant bride, and Luis looks more human than he has in years when he hands her over to her groom and goes to sit down, beaming with pride. The young man in question is a handsome enough fellow, but his hands are shaking when he goes to put the ring on Marta’s finger, and it’s clear who’ll be wearing the pants in that relationship. The best man and the maid of honour wrap the lazo around the happy couple’s shoulders and the tías all start to sniffle. Rictor will deny to his dying day that he’s tearing up himself, he’s just really, really happy to be here.
Then Star leans into him and whispers, “Would you like to get married one day, Julio?” and he just about bites his own tongue off.
“What the hell are you talking about?” he hisses back through clenched teeth.
Star shrugs. “Northstar got married last year. We could do it if you wanted.”
He pulls his fingers out of Star’s and folds his hands in his lap. “I’m not going to marry you while you’re still seeking out new experiences,” he says angrily. Living with him is one thing, they’re living in sin anyway, but he’s not going to make a mockery of a sacrament. The bell rings then for the elevation of the Host, and he gets up to take communion, despite the fact he hasn’t been to confession in years. The wafer is dry on his tongue, the wine sickly sweet, but his mother smiles at him when he walks back to his seat. Star is smiling too, but his eyes are sad.
He walks back to the house with Jorge and Alejandro, catching up on all their news. Jorge is thinking about getting engaged himself, which should put all Luis’ worry about bad influences to rest, and Alejandro is just about to graduate from the University of Guadalajara, the first in their extended family. Luis and Carmela are walking immediately behind the bride and groom, practically incandescent with happiness, and Rictor feels sickeningly, soul destroyingly, jealous of them all. He looks around for Shatterstar, the one person likely to be more miserable and out of place than him.
Star has Roberto perched on his shoulders, shrieking with laughter, and two of the littlest ones in his arms, one cradled on each hip. The girls are chattering away nineteen to the dozen in their soft, high voices, and Star is answering them seriously as though he understands every word they’re saying. It reminds Rictor how good he was with Rahne’s son, poor sweet, simple Tier; how good he always is with cases that involve children. Everything he said back on Mojoworld, I would let you keep him if I could, and, of course I would be there. He’d be a good father, Rictor’s thought that before; there’d probably be inappropriate television programmes watched together, and almost certainly exposure to edged weapons while still toddling, but the child would never wonder if it was loved.
When they get back to the house they’re seated together at the high table with the closest family. It feels good, and there’s a strange sort of irony in the fact that it means more to him now, when he’s ready to throw propriety to the winds, than it would have back when he was frantically trying to be what they all wanted him to be. He’s come to terms with more than just his sexuality these last few years. He never should have written his whole family off for the actions of a few members, but, equally, he shouldn’t have been so hung up on what each and every one of them would think of him either. This is his absolute last chance to share important parts of himself with his mother. Star looks at him uncertainly for a moment when they’re shown to their seats, but Rictor reaches out quickly and grabs his hand. It doesn’t go unnoticed by those closest to them; Luis frowns, Marta looks confused, and Mama… Mama smiles at him. Star tries to pull both their hands under the table, but Rictor won’t let him.
They eat and drink their fill; birria, chilayo, menudo, rice and beans and tortillas, and of course polvorones, washed down with gallons of sangria and the very best local tequila. Eventually the band strikes up a waltz and Marta and her husband get up for the first dance, followed by Luis and Carmela, then Jorge and Alejandro and their girlfriends. Rictor pulls his mother to her feet, and though she puts up a token protest he can tell she’s delighted. They take a full circuit of the dancefloor, then he leans in to whisper in her ear. “Mama,” he says, heart beating so hard it feels like it could burst out of his chest. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
She pulls back far enough to look him fully in the face. “Oh, my sweet, sweet boy,” she says. “There’s nothing you have to tell me.”
He feels himself frown at her.
“But anything you want to tell me,” she goes on, “you can.”
He nods at her, and smiles. “Mama,” he begins again, “Star… Gaveedra, I mean, he does take good care of me. But I take care of him too, you know?”
Mama nods sagely.
“We love each other, you know?”
She nods again. “I do know, Julio. I’ve always known, since you first brought him down here.”
“And it’s okay?” he asks.
“All I want is for to you be happy, cielito,” she confirms. “Now go get your querido and let me sit down and rest my bones.”
He pulls her close to him again, hugging her tightly and breathing in her perfume. “I love you, Mama.”
“I love you too, Julio.”
There’s no two ways about it, everyone in the courtyard freezes in their tracks for a moment, dance steps faltering, food forgotten, conversation paused mid-sentence, when he pulls Shatterstar to his feet and leads him out onto the dancefloor. Star, to his credit, doesn’t hesitate, and when Rictor puts a hand to the small of his back he places his own on Rictor’s shoulder and lets him lead. He’s a quick study, as Rictor knew he would be; they’ve watched Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom and countless other dance films together. The novelty passes quickly, and soon the crowd returns to their own pursuits, though Luis continues to look hot under the collar.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so loco, Star,” he says once they’ve found their rhythm. “This whole thing’s been stressful, you know?”
“I understand, Julio,” Star says. “Believe it or not, it has not been easy for me either.”
“No, I know that,” he agrees. “The thing is, you’re right. I would like to get married someday. But not until you’re ready to settle down. That’s important to me, you know?”
“Yes, I know,” Star murmurs. “I’m sorry it took me so long to realise how much.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter,” Star insists. “But, Julio. I know you’re worried about my need for new experiences, but surely marriage would be a huge new experience. A grand adventure.”
Rictor misses his footing and stumbles, but Star is there to catch him and hold him up.
“And children even more so,” he goes on. “They learn new things every moment of every day. It would be an undertaking of constant variety.”
“Um…” Rictor stares at him. He seems totally sincere. “Cable was a massive tool, I know, but he did give you the birds and the bees talk, right? You get how that works?”
“Yes, Julio,” Star sighs, as though he’s the long-suffering one here. “I was conceived naturally, but you recall that I was carried to term in a gestation chamber, yes? And that Longshot was created entirely inside a laboratory?”
“I remember how screwed up your family is, yeah.”
“Your own is no better,” Star insists. “Just bigger. Nonetheless, I propose we combine our genes. It is for this reason I brought a gestation chamber back from Mojoworld with us.”
“What?” They’ve ceased any pretence of dancing now, and are simply holding each other, oblivious to the rest of the world.
“It is in your wardrobe with your boots.” Of course it is.
“I’ll think about it,” he says, but that is a total lie. He doesn’t need to think about it at all. Richter babies are always cute. Shatterstar was adorable as an infant. Their babies would be beautiful. And smart. And, between Star’s swordsmanship and Longshot’s throwing knives, probably absolute menaces with any kind of blade. Hell, between him and Dazzler there’s a good chance they’ll inherit the X-gene as well. Mojo’s greatest scientists couldn’t have done better if they’d tried.
“Visualise home, Julio,” Star says, when they’re ready to jump.
“Where’s that?” Rictor asks, genuinely baffled. “We can’t go back to X-Factor.”
Star shrugs. “Wherever you want. Choose a place, and take us there. As long as we go together.”
“All right,” Rictor says. And they jump.