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will not be here for long," Shatterstar says, quietly. "But I heard you were here…"

Julio looks up at him. They were never as different in height as James and Terry – no one really could be – but that distance is shorter than he remembers now. 'Star is different, too – he's lost the showy sword, the bright clothes, the ridiculously long and wavy hair. He looks… streamlined. And maybe a bit more comfortable, for which Julio completely and unashamedly envies him.

Shatterstar narrows his eyes, and Julio realises, late to the game as usual, that he's looking for a response. Julio swallows. "Yeah, I'm with X-Factor now. Playing detective for Madrox."

"And how has that been?"

Okay. Sometimes worse than others. Would've been all right if he still had his fucking powers. Julio looks down at the worn pavement beneath his feet and tries to keep his tone nonchalant. "It's not the worst gig I've ever had. Terry's there, and Rahne, and Madrox isn't always a douchebag."

"So you're all right now?"

Looking up, Julio finds Shatterstar eyeing him almost suspiciously. Madrox had said something, back on the rooftop, about seeing Julio on TV. Obviously he hadn't been the only one to see that. That Shatterstar saw isn't really surprising, except that he was all over the world these days, and when would he have time to sit and watch the small-time news? "I'm okay," Julio says anyway. It might just be the biggest lie of his life.

'Star knows it, too, but he doesn't say anything. He does look worried, and he hasn't got the right face for looking worried – or at least, that's what Julio tries telling him. Used to try telling him. This isn't how things are supposed to go. "'Star," Julio says, "let's go somewhere else."

--

This is New York City. A big sprawling metropolis of things to do and people to do them with, food to eat, alcohol to drink, anonymous places where even the biggest names in Hollywood could go and not be recognised. But 'Star has a cheap hotel room, and they go there instead. 'Star sits on the chair and Julio sprawls across the bed and they say a whole lot of nothing. The sun goes down, reflecting off the mirror on the useless hotel dresser and blinding Julio in the last moment before it disappears completely. He blinks the spots out of his eye, and when he can see again it's already getting tough to see Shatterstar's face.

Julio keeps staring anyway. After a while his vision goes grainy and everything gets blurry, lights and darks but all close enough to black to mean the same thing. He doesn't bother with trying to find a light switch. He doesn't look anywhere else at all. Eventually he shuts his eyes.

"You know," Shatterstar says, sometime between one sentence Julio can't remember and the next conversation topic, "on my home world, the best fighters are made to compete with handicaps, or to use weapons they're not used to – or no weapons at all."

"That supposed to make me feel better or something?" Julio laughs at that, and tries not to sound too bitter about it. "There's not getting anything past you anymore."

"I know nothing else that could make you want to die," 'Star says, and the worst part is that he doesn't sound pitying or disappointed or angry or condemning. He doesn't even sound upset. Just like he knows everything there is to know about it, and expected this outcome. Then again – of all people, Shatterstar probably would know best.

Even so, Julio can't bring himself to say it, admit that he's the kind of person he used to pity the most. They laughed at saps, back in the day, for never getting the chance to know the meaning of power. He shakes his head, which would be enough of an answer if there were any light left to see by. The streetlight filtering in through the window didn't do much, when he had his eyes open. "I'm not going to die," he adds, which is a stupid promise in his line of work – especially as he is now.

A pause. "I don't want you to." Fabric rustles, surprisingly loud in the sort-of silence of the hotel. Shatterstar must have shifted in his seat. The moment seems familiar – like the time Julio first left X-Force, angry at Cable and confused, to go back to Mexico. He hadn't intended to make a habit of leaving 'Star behind – but that seems to have happened anyway.

"Lo siento," he says, and means it.

The bed sags as 'Star sits down next to Julio, unexpectedly. Julio should've heard that coming – even without his connection to the earth and structures around him, even Shatterstar makes noise. Some noise, anyway. A few moments pass, and when 'Star doesn't say anything, Julio relaxes again, letting an arm fall against his friend's side. From below, the faint sounds of the city make it through the not-quite-soundproof walls.

It's not really that weird when 'Star leans over and carefully kisses him, once, on the mouth. It is enough of a surprise to snap Julio's eyes open and freeze him in place for a moment. 'Star hovers a few inches away, and apparently Julio's night vision has gotten better, because he can actually see him and the hopeful look on his face. He doesn't look real, like a ghost or a vision or something. Julio wants to kiss him again.

They never did, before. They could have – there were moments and opportunities and all kinds of lost chances when they definitely could have. There were rushed and desperate confessions they never followed up on, standard we-don't-mention-this-later moments, a few times when they nearly died and said more than they should've. They never agreed to keep apart, but nothing else ever happened between them. And then X-Corporation wanted Rictor, and 'Star went off to 'find himself', and that was that.

Julio sits up and wraps a hand around the back of Shatterstar's head and brings their mouths together again, and he's not careful at all. They kiss open-mouthed and needy, and 'Star makes a noise that could be a moan or could be a hum or could be a name, swallowed before he can say it right.

They break apart, stare at each other, breathing heavily.

"I still have to leave tomorrow," Shatterstar says, after a moment.

"That's what you said," Julio replies. "But can you come back?"

"I can come back." 'Star pauses, barely an inch away, like he's looking for something on Julio's face. "Don't go anywhere."

Julio shuts his eyes again. "No worries, amigo." Then, quieter – maybe even too quiet for 'Star to hear – he adds, "Where the hell could I go?"