Shatterstar cannot sleep.
He is prone to bouts of insomnia. He has a theory that it may have something to do with the way his genetic structure was engineered. He was created to appeal to an audience looking for something thrilling to watch; the ones who created him wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice eight hours of airtime as he rested peacefully. So he is capable of merely dozing for 45 minutes and then being as battle-ready as ever.
None of those genetic-engineers would have ever considered the possibility that he might someday like to spend an entire night sleeping comfortably in Julio’s arms.
But that is not a desire to be fulfilled tonight, and he worries that his restlessness might disturb his lover’s own slumber. So he rises and settles himself in the chair beside the bed, drawing back the curtains so that the lights from the street can illuminate Julio’s face.
He is beautiful when he sleeps.
He is beautiful in waking too, of course. The quirk of his mouth as he smiles, the affection in the sidelong looks he shoots at Shatterstar, the muscles that shift and bunch under his skin: there is exquisite beauty in all these things. But there is something unique about him when he is at rest - still and quiet and serene - that Shatterstar finds intoxicating. He could get lost in Julio’s sleeping face; he could burrow inside of him and never want to emerge.
Without meaning to, he has begun leaning closer. He doesn’t realise that he is nearly mouth-to-mouth with Julio until the other man snuffles a bit in his sleep and turns over; their noses nearly collide. Startled, he sits back. He doesn’t want to wake Julio up, doesn’t want to hurry the morning. Because in the morning, everything will change.
Perhaps it is not biology keeping him awake. Perhaps it is nerves.
Again his will, he finds himself remembering another sleepless night when Julio’s beauty had rendered him helpless. It had been years ago, half a world away.
Shatterstar recalls every detail. They’d eaten dinner at a small local restaurant with tables on the sidewalk: pozole soup, a seafood dish called siete mares, flan to share, plenty of good sipping tequila; Shatterstar had ordered everything Julio recommended. At one point a mariachi band had tried to serenade them but Julio had told them they were locals, so they’d gone away. Shatterstar had liked that - being ‘local’, having a place he belonged. The tequila had gotten to him after a while; he’d been dreamy and distracted, hadn’t noticed the bit of kahlua sauce trickling down his chin. Julio had laughed and wiped his face for him with a napkin, tapping him affectionately on the cheek. Shatterstar had smiled at him as their eyes met.
Then the mood had changed suddenly and Julio had withdrawn, calling for the check. Back in their room, he had been oddly silent, insisting nothing was wrong through the bathroom door while he changed his clothes and then seeming to fall asleep the second his head hit the pillow.
Shatterstar had paced around the room, knowing something was upsetting his friend, but having no idea what. And knowing that he had to touch Julio, right away, or he would surely die.
He had only just brushed his fingers over Julio’s face - prickly stubble and such soft lips - when a hand had shot out, closing over his wrist. He’d looked into Julio’s tear-filled eyes and heard the most horrible three words in the world for the first time.
’Star, I can’t.
He hadn’t known the words were in him to say until they left his mouth. But don’t you love me?
And again, a refusal. I just can’t.
He’d left the next day. He hadn’t wanted to, but Julio had insisted. He’d taken Shatterstar’s bag from their closet, put all the money they’d had in the front pocket and left, swearing not to return until Shatterstar was gone. Shatterstar had protested vehemently and then sat on the bed until nightfall, hoping Julio would simply get tired and return. But it was a dangerous neighborhood and he had been terrified of the thought of his friend being out all night alone on account of him. So he’d done the only thing he could think to do.
And that had started one of the darkest and loneliest periods in his already highly dark and lonely life. He had gone from not being able to believe that Julio was really gone to not believing he would ever see him again. If anyone had told him, back then, that he would someday have Julio back in his life - as his acknowledged and happy lover, no less - he would have been strained not to attack them for reopening the near-fatal wound.
And if they had suggested that he might do something to drive Julio away again...
Shatterstar strides to the window and perches on the sill, staring down at the myriad taillights retreating into the distance. Those cars are full of people with likes and dislikes, passions and secrets, each with a beauty all their own. There are many who might appeal to him and probably some that he could love, but he cannot imagine any who could ever replace Julio in his heart.
He found true love long before he knew what it was. And now that he does know, it is his own nature that compels him to risk that love over and over again.
If this were a plot twist on a television show, he would laugh at the inanity of it.
He is not sure if he dozes off or if the endless stream of cars lulls him into a state of meditation, but eventually Julio’s voice startles him back to the moment. “‘Star? What’re you doing all the way over there?” He pulls back the comforter and opens his arms. “Get over here.”
Shatterstar cannot resist, nor does he want to. He settles across Julio’s torso, resting his head into the hollow between his pectoral muscles. Julio’s hand comes up to stroke his hair and even if he hadn’t known that the happiness he felt was so fragile he still would want to savor every moment of it.
Julio’s voice is sweetly fuzzy with sleep and Shatterstar is tempted to deny it, to spare him worry. But they have vowed to always be honest with each other, so he has no choice but to confess. “I was just thinking about Mexico.”
He can feel the sudden tension take hold in Julio’s whole body. “Wish you wouldn’t.”
Shatterstar cranes his neck to see his face. “Why did you do it?” He does not need to say what; even though they have studiously avoided talking about that night and its aftermath, there is nothing else he could mean.
“You really want to do this?” Shatterstar does not, but he needs to know the answer so he nods. Julio groans. “I was scared.”
“Scared?” Unexpected shame floods through him. Had Julio awoken that night thinking his friend had meant to violate him? “Scared of what?”
“You. Me. The whole ‘us’ thing. What can I say, ‘Star? I knew there was no going back after you.”
This is all going so much worse than Shatterstar had even thought to fear. “And you didn’t want that?”
Julio laughs softly. “Lesson in humanity number four billion and six, ‘Star. We can want things and still be scared of them too. ‘Course, that was nothing compared to what I felt when I realized you were really gone.” His arms grow tighter; his grip is almost painful around Shatterstar’s body now but he has no desire to be anywhere else. “When I thought that I might never see you again... Madre de Dios, I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared, not even going up against Magneto. Drunk myself into a stupor for a couple of weeks then spent a couple more tearing the whole damn country apart trying to find you.”
Shatterstar had been long gone by then; he’d fled to Madripoor and tried his own version of drowning his sorrows via the spurting blood of various mercenaries. It’s sobering to think that if he had just waited a little longer, they might have had so much more time together.
Julio goes on. “I guess some good came out of it, though. I mean, it made me decide to never be that damn stupid ever again. I promised myself so many times that if I ever got you back, I’d never let you go again. I’m sorry it took that much to get me there - God, ‘Star, I’m so sorry - but … where are you going?”
Shatterstar cannot wait another second. He wriggles out of Julio’s grasp with a shiver of regret for the sacrificed contact and heads for the wardrobe. He hears Julio’s choked protest as he pulls out his jacket, but he only needs a moment to retrieve the little parcel from the inside pocket and then he is back on the bed, kneeling by Julio’s side and kissing him with all the frustration and joy and love that this man has ever made him feel.
“‘Star!” Julio chuckles with confusion and relief. “Not that I’m complaining, but what’s with you tonight?”
“Not what, but who.” Shatterstar feels like laughing himself. “You are with me and I hope you always will be.” He opens the box, revealing the ring which has weighed so much on his mind in the hours since he bought it and, finally without fear, says the words out loud. “Julio, I love you so very much. Will you marry me?”