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All characters are trademarked and copyrighted to Marvel Comics.  They are used without permission and no money is being made on this work.

Consider this a cathartic release of real life woes ... and I do feel better.  I just wish it hadn't taken *this* to get me to a point of emotional equilibrium. :)

Rated-R for extreme and graphic self-inflicted physical violence and mature situations as well as references to non consensual sex.  This story also deals with the relationship between two men, which I hardly think needs to be mentioned but I will since I don't need any grief from anybody about my subject matter.

I'm going to attribute the *other* Mooks in this story to Kaylee since I all but plucked the boys from her Kinda Mooks timeline, or more specifically, from Any Kinda Breath.  If you haven't already, read it!  It's wonderful!  And thank you for letting me use the boys, Kaylee, I appreciate it lots. :)

Also, a zillion and a half thanks to Kael for being wonderfully supportive, endlessly encouraging and a valued wealth of knowledge and suggestions.

"*/Words/*" denotes the use of the Cadre language.

Finally, comments would be incredibly appreciated and swooned over at [email protected] ... and thank you to everyone who has written already.  You're all the reason I keep going. :)

Oops, not finally, I lied.  If you'd like to archive this and unless you already have my expressed permission to archive, please ask.  Thanks.

By Tangerine

 There is blood on my hands, he thought as he stared at them, rotating his wrist as if it would somehow change the picture.  My fingers, streaked with blood, his blood, on my fingers.  There is *blood* on my hands.


 Gaveedra Seven looked up at the mention of his stage name, tucking his hands under his arms to hide them, to keep them warm and stop them from shaking.  He was suddenly very cold, and he did not like the feeling of dread that came with the bitter chill.  This was all so horribly wrong.  "Yes, Teresa?"
 "He's out of surgery."

 On the wings of a sharp exhale, eyelids closed over silver eyes and blocked her from his view.  It hadn't been real until she said that, until she dared to make it *that* real, and Gaveedra Seven, never one to hate without reason, hated her for a brief second until it passed like words on wind.  He was better than that.  Teresa Cassidy was not to blame.  There were others who would bear that cross.

 "Shatty?  Did you hear what I said?"
 Gaveedra looked up slowly, forcing his lids to part so he could look at her.  "And he is alive?"

 Siryn nodded, her hand suspended in midair, afraid to touch him but knowing she should.  He saw that hand, the delicate fingers spread and reaching for him, and Gaveedra drew away from the soft reach, know it would cut him to shreds if it settled upon his skin.  Teresa's arm dropped like lead to her side, stung and wounded.

 "He is in a coma, Shatty.  Would you like to see him?"

 "No," Shatterstar said before he fully thought about the word, the letters falling softly unto the room and leaving it in a uncomfortable silence.  Siryn looked at him sharply, not quite believing what he had said.  Gaveedra faltered but he would not back down from it.  "I cannot see him ... like that ... again"

 Teresa's face betrayed her emotions, displaying pity and sorrow and the slightest amount of anger, but he had not expected her to understand, so still she pushed, fighting a battle he knew she would not win.  "But Shatty ..."

 "No," he repeated, trying to ignore his treacherous hands as they twitched against his ribs, stained forever red with the blood of his lover.  "You did not see it.  You ... cannot understand."  Then the hands were on his face, smelling of Julio, but the parts of him Gaveedra had never wanted to see.  "They ripped him apart.  There is blood on my hands!"

 "Which is why he needs you," Teresa said softly.  "It's all right to be scared."

 "I am not afraid," Shatterstar snapped from within the jail of his crimson fingers, eyes pressed so tightly together that he saw blinding stars of white in the darkness.  She had to go away.  Now.  He was too close to losing it.  "A warrior knows no fear."

 "But you aren't a warrior when you're with him, you're a man, the man he loves and the man who loves him in return.  I've seen you two," she confessed as if it was a secret when Shatterstar knew it wasn't.  "I've seen *your* love when I never thought such a thing could be visible, so it's all right to admit this frightens you."

 "There was so much blood," Shatterstar muttered, his hair drenched with the sanguine fluid that had flowed so freely from the beautiful body he loved so much.  The scarlet locks hung in clumps around his head, sticking against his neck and creating a foul smell that seemed to invade his every pore.  Gaveedra had been bathed in his lover's life, and he could not bring himself to wash his flesh clean.  What if this was all he had left of Julio?

 "I thought he would die."

 Teresa's face crumbled at the quiet confession, the bright green eyes clouding with unspoken grief.  "But he didn't.  Julio is a fighter, Shatty, and a stubborn bastard, but he needs you and you need to see him.  Sitting out here, shunning everyone who tries to speak to you, it'll only make this worse."

 Gaveedra shook his head.  "It is better that I avoid them."


 "It is just better," Gaveedra whispered, pressing his palms to his eyes.  This was not right.  This was not supposed to happen.  He was the stronger of the two, his body knew how to heal, but Julio had been the one hurt when it should have been Gaveedra.  It would not have hurt him so badly to be torn apart like paper.  "I need more time."

 "But this might be all the time he has, you know that and so do I," Terry whispered, trying to be blunt when it was obvious gentle and understanding hadn't worked.  Shatterstar's light eyes closed again, the head tilting to one side and the bloodstained hands dropping to hang from the chair, fingers bent to the heavens.  "Gaveedra ..."

 "I have never given you permission to use my name," he said suddenly, grey eyes piercing her skin from behind a copper shroud, "leave me.  I will deal with this alone.  I do not need you, and I do not need anyone else.  So be gone and let me be."  When she still had not moved, he added shakily but with absolute conviction, "I will hurt you if you do not go away."

 Siryn felt the tears spring to her eyes again though she screamed and fought against them, mostly because she felt helpless and it killed her to see him do this to himself.  Blame, pure and hateful blame, and he would take it all better than she ever had, but it wasn't his fault.  He didn't need to hurt himself like this, but she couldn't find the right words to convince him.  She tried but they were just not there.

 So she turned and she left him alone as he wished.

 The guilt came later, invading the darkness of the room so suddenly Gaveedra was surprised to acknowledge its presence after hours of isolation.  It was an incredible guilt the size of which Shatterstar hadn't thought could possibly exist.  It was all consuming, a vile and vicious thing that made him sick to his stomach, but he would ignore it like he ignored the terror and the sadness that fought for possession of his soul.  This was all his fault, so he deserved every feeling given to him, no matter how terrible.

 It had been a routine mission.  It had been under control, the team splitting into two smaller sections.  Domino, Sunspot, Rictor and Cannonball in one half, Cable, Shatterstar, Siryn and Warpath in the other.  Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and Shatterstar laughed now when he realised the names had been cruelly reversed.  The first team had been attacked suddenly in the midst of a commentary from Domino, and all Gaveedra heard through the com-link were the screams of his lover.

 Shatterstar had been first on the scene, outrunning even Warpath, and he saw it, the mutiny, the betrayal as Sunspot stood and did nothing as Julio was speared from four sides, his legs red with blood as it poured from his body.  Sunspot had done *nothing* but watch Julio scream.

 So Shatterstar made up his mind and grabbed his sword with crimson hands, clutching it between fingers that refused to stop shaking.  Hair aflame with his lover's blood, double-bladed swords clutched in either palm, Shatterstar stalked out of the room he had barricaded himself within and decided to take action.

 Gaveedra knew the moment Sam started following him, trailing his movements with a casual grace but never making his intentions obvious.  Shatterstar didn't care.  What he had to do would be done, and Samuel Guthrie could do nothing to stop it now.

 A meeting, Gaveedra realised as he stepped into the room, but without the leaders.  Just Teresa, James, Tabitha and Roberto, all of whom looked up when he entered, his face a porcelain mask of control, his eyes a fiery inferno of rage.  Shatterstar never stopped, never even slowed down, and plowed straight into Sunspot, knocking him and the chair to the ground.

 Within seconds, the swords had been shifted to one hand and the other grasped Roberto by the shirt, lifting him off the ground as if he had the weight of a feather.  The smaller body smacked into the wall with a sickening crunch, and Shatterstar dropped him, not giving him a second's reprieve before both swords were thrust into the wall, haloing Sunspot's head with one aside either ear.

 "If anyone moves, I will kill him," Shatterstar hissed, knowing his speed and surprise had given him an advantage, but he was outnumbered and these people were never ones to let one of their own come to harm.  "You stay back, and he's safe for now."

 "You're forgetting about my power," Sunspot said shakily, "I can ..."

 "You can do nothing!"  Shatterstar roared, kneeing Roberto in the thigh and happy when that leg gave out.  Oh, yes, that hurt, but it was nothing compared to what Shatterstar felt Sunspot deserved.  "You have a two second delay until your powers are activated.  I have only one second, and my reflexes are quicker than yours.  If you even attempt to power up, your head will be gone before you even realise what I have done."

 "Shatterstar ..."

 "Sam, I respect you immensely, but this is between him and me.  You were there, Cannonball, you saw what he did, what he let them do."  Shatterstar inwardly cursed himself when his voice cracked.  "Do you hate him so much that you would let them do that?  You have done nothing but terrorise him for months now, and he never fought back, not once.  He took everything from you because he believed you would forgive him in time when he did not need to be forgiven in the first place!"

 Sunspot did not know what to say.  "I was ..."

 "What?  Repulsed?  Sickened that we, two *fags* by your standards, dared to love each other in the open instead of cowering behind doors?  I wanted to kill you the minute you betrayed Julio's love for you, but he told me to let it go and I did.  A warrior would have taken your head, but I became a man for him!  I loved him!"

 "He's not dead," Roberto hissed in anger.

 "No, he is not simply because he is not the trash you thought him to be," Shatterstar said quietly, his face too close to Sunspot's face, and Roberto flinched and twisted his head, trying to hide his fear.  Shatterstar, because he needed to be cruel, came even nearer.  "And I disgust you even now.  We kept everything private from you.  We have told you nothing and still you want to vomit when you see us, do you not?  You think I turned him gay."

 "He wasn't like that before ..."

 "He was always like that!  But you wouldn't have seen it and he couldn't have told you, not any of you," Shatterstar said angrily, so close to Roberto's face that his teeth grazed the Brazilian's cheek.  "Mutants, all of you, freaks by your very nature, but can you even begin to understand what it is like to be shunned twice over?  Thrice over?  I cannot even touch my lover in public for fear that some bigot will hurt him!  I am not concerned about me.  I am expendable, but he ... he is a beautiful soul that you had no right to hurt!"

 "I didn't ..."

 "You did.  You hesitated instead of helping him.  It is the same thing!"  Shatterstar was frantic now and didn't care that he was within a breath of becoming hysterical.  All that mattered was he speak his mind and at least have that peace.  "Julio would have died for you!  And you would have let him die!"

 "I didn't mean for that to happen!"

 "But it did and if he does not recover from this, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth if I have to but you will pay for it.  I will find you and I will show you pain the likes of which you do not think exists.  I am trained in the ways of the Cadre.  I am and always will be a killer, a warrior, and may your God save you if Julio dies because you will die right along with him!"

 Sunspot shook at the hateful words then collapsed to the ground as Shatterstar pulled back upon his swords, sliding both into their sheaths and standing there, breathing hard.  Roberto looked up at him, a white rage in his eyes, and Shatterstar returned the look but a thousand times worse.  It was like peering into hell and knowing that was what fate had in store.

 And as quickly as he came in, Shatterstar turned and left as if nothing had ever happened.

 In was almost midnight when the smell finally became too much, and Gaveedra forced himself into the bathroom, checking to make sure it was empty.  It was, but a cold and eerie silence seemed kept within the walls, like it housed Death himself and only now had Gaveedra noticed his presence.

 He follows me, Shatterstar thought as he locked the door, waiting to steal my beloved from my arms.  But I will fight you, Grim Master, his life will not be yours today.  I know your tricks.  I have seen your face and I can be brave for him when he looks at you, for it is a hideous sight.

 Shatterstar stripped the bloodied uniform from his frozen body, dropping it on the floor and catching sight of himself in the mirror.  A harsh face stained with scarlet drops of his lover's life, hair a wild mess of angry tangles, and his eyes, Shatterstar wanted to smash his fist into the mirror, his eyes were dead things, ugly now when once they had been that *one* thing that everyone had to make them beautiful.

 Julio had always loved to touch his face, running those callused fingers over the rise of his cheeks and the fullness of his lips, and Shatterstar would take those fingers and kiss them, worship the hands that gave him purpose.  Beautiful, Julio had always whispered, so beautiful, and Gaveedra knew Julio saw with lovers' eyes and passed it off as such, but now Gaveedra could not even find a trace of the beauty that Julio saw when once they had spent hours in front of the mirror, worshipping each other and seeing how gorgeous they were together.  Julio had almost convinced him that being beautiful was not a terrible thing, so why could he see nothing of that now?  Where had it gone?

 Shatterstar felt a pain in his head, harsh and stabbing, and he turned on the shower before he broke.  He had to be strong for Julio.  This was their fight now, and if he let this ache consume him they would surely fail.

 He stepped under the spray, barely feeling the scalding heat as it burned his skin.  He would heal, it was in his genes, and he needed this pain to remind him of the struggle he faced.  Blisters formed and disappeared just as quickly, and Shatterstar didn't care.

 On the soap dish, where a toothbrush and a razor blade sat discarded, Gaveedra felt his hand reach for them, recognising them as belonging to Julio.  The more he could do in the shower, the later Julio could sleep in, that was his reasoning.  In the time it took for him to wake up, Gaveedra would often have done his morning exercises and come back to climb into bed with his lover.  He had teased Julio for being lazy.  He bitterly regretted that as he realised now it meant more time for them together.

 Shatterstar sunk to the floor, the water scalding his eyes with its fiery mist, but he continued to stare at the items before laying only the toothbrush next to his hip.  Smacking the razor to the tiles, he shattered the plastic covering and removed the blade from its holder.  He lifted the silver metal up before his eyes and stared at it.

 When he was younger, not the old age of twenty-one he was now, he had seen other warriors cut themselves, half because there was always so much death of loved ones after every event and half because they craved pain.  He had been fourteen when he first felt the need, when something so horrible happened to him that it had been the only way to escape the suffering his mind placed onto his wounded body.  He had been a solemn child, disliked by most of his peers because he was so focussed on the Games and so unconcerned with his own freedom.  If he could be the best then he would be alive and worshipped for his skill.  He was the greatest warrior the Games had ever seen.  He had killed thousands to rounds of unending applause, but he had never stopped feeling pain.

 That was it, Shatterstar realised with overwhelming regret, hitting his head against the chilled tiles, I have done evil and now evil is done to me.  I murdered the loved ones of my brethren, so my beloved had to be hurt.  All because of me.

 Somehow that made it better, made it easier to suffer and take upon his shoulders, made it hurt a lot less to think that it was karmic.  If he deserved this then Julio's injury at least had a purpose and it was no longer quite so senseless.  It was Gaveedra's fault, his burden to bear that had somehow been transferred to Julio, so it *was* Gaveedra who truly had to pay for it. It was not fair that Julio took away what was rightfully his.  It was not fair that Julio had to hurt so dearly.

 "My blood for yours, Beloved," Gaveedra whispered as he dragged the blade across his heart, splitting the skin and scratching the ribs hidden beneath.  Blood bubbled and rushed down his chest, pooling between his legs in the reverse manifestation of love.  Blood on the outside instead of inside where it brought so much pleasure, killing that life-giving part of him, erasing all the joys Gaveedra had so selfishly taken for himself with no thought as to what would happen to Julio.

 With his jawed clenched and teeth ground in well-deserved agony, Gaveedra carved the blade into his arm, ripping into muscle and chipping bone, exalting in the blessed pain that touched him and gasping it into his body with anguished but silent heaves of his lungs.  His fingers squeezed together as he forced more blood into his veins, his hands clinching in a tight and angry fist as the red liquid spiralled down his arm.

 Gagging as bile rose in his throat, Gaveedra thrust out his legs and braced them against the wall, toes bending into the tiles and tensing so tightly three of them broke.  His back pushed against the stall, his head moving of its own accord as it smashed against the shower, over and over again, as the blade dug deep into his skin, his belly now, marring the perfection until he was sure it was enough, that he had given enough of himself to save Julio.
 But lying there, drowning in his own blood as he wished for tears that wouldn't come, he knew it would never be enough.

 His guilt was too great.

 When Cable finally found Shatterstar, he was lying in a pool of his own blood, his limp body blocking the drain and his fingers still clenching the razor.  Those strange silver eyes were open and looking at him, blinking at sporadic intervals, completely devoid of anything human but most of all life.

 Cable tried to hide the horror he felt when he saw the pale, marred body with its skin aflame from the severe heat of the water.  He knew in the pit of his belly that he did not succeed, but he tried to form calm words anyway.  "What the hell are you doing?"

 "My blood for his.  It is a rite that I must perform," Gaveedra murmured, aware now only of the hurt as his rage had been exhausted.  There was a hot pain that seemed to be everywhere and made him sick with the knowledge of what he had done.  Shatterstar tried to sit up, but he had slashed a major artery in his arm, and he was weak from blood loss.  Another twenty minutes and he would be fine again.  Cable should never have come.  To be seen like this, to have another warrior see him like *this*, was the greatest insult.

 The water was still rushing onto him, burning his flesh, and Nathan shut it off with an angry flick of his hand.  Gaveedra lifted his head, the blade falling out of his fingers as he moved his hand in protest.  "But I am still unclean."

 "I never took you for a masochist.  I thought you respected your body too much to do that to yourself.  Looks like I was wrong."  Cable moved to lift Shatterstar, but the redheaded warrior protested with a suppressed groan, trying to kick, flail, something, but he was so tired, too utterly exhausted to even speak above a whisper.  "Like hell you're going to stop me, boy.  Of them all, you're the only one whose life I've never meddled in, but there's a time for everything."

 "You must be wearing the wrong watch," Gaveedra muttered, weakly trying to push those thick arms away when they dipped under his body and lifted him in the air as if he was nothing.  Nathan only tightened his grip, careful of the wounds and the pain they caused the young man.  "I do not need your pity."

 "Well, you have it anyway," Cable replied brusquely, grabbing a towel from the wall and draping it over the naked body, trying to hide the blatant mutilation.  Why had he not noticed this pattern before?  Cable was a telepath.  He was supposed to *know* these things.  "Shatterstar, *cutting* yourself is not an option.  I don't care what you did on Mojoworld, but I will not have one of my own doing *that* to himself."

 Gaveedra wanted to scream but found he could only whisper, "it takes the pain away."

 "That's what I'm afraid of," Nathan said, stepping into the hall and turning in the opposite direction from the Brazilian eyes that stood watching them, hidden in the shadows where they both knew he was safe.  "I realise I might not have been open about what I thought about the two of you together, but I was happy to find that Julio had finally settled down.  He wouldn't want this from you."

 "I was so lonely here," Gaveedra confessed, damning himself time and time again for being so weak that he could not control his own tongue.  The loss of blood made him delirious.  It always had.  He used to look forward to it, to that blessed release of feeling and thought, but not anymore.  Now, it was betraying, humiliating, painful.  "I had never understood the warriors who loved each other.  It seemed like such a distraction.  I had vowed to live a life of chastity.  I was to be castrated so I would not be led astray by my desires.  I had not needed it."

 Gaveedra flopped weakly in his leader's grasp, drunk on his own lack of control, and Nathan hugged the boy tighter, realising for the first time how young this seasoned warrior was.  He had only been eighteen when he joined them.  Why had they all thought Shatterstar was so old?  Why had Nathan not been able to see through the lies?

 "But then I saw him.  The first time I laid eyes on him, something in me broke," Gaveedra breathed with a gasp of air, revealing all of his hidden secrets.  "It was my control, I thought, because for the first time in my life I wanted another person in that way I had only heard about.  I couldn't tell him, I thought I never would, but I dreamed of him every night, horrible dreams sometimes, other times the most glorious in the world.  When we became friends, I discovered happiness, and I stopped hurting myself."
 Nathan dropped his head.  How utterly he had failed this boy, it made him feel guilt when guilt was always the last thing Cable felt for anyone.  He had killed in the name of liberation, but he had never felt regret.  Now, he did.

 Gaveedra watched his leader's eyes close, guessing at what he thought and knowing all too much about blame, but those words of comfort would never come to his tongue, so he kept speaking about the things he could say.  "I had not wanted to come here, Cable, and when I found out I could not return, the only reason I had to live was to fight."

 "I know," Cable muttered, not moving from his place in the hall, letting Roberto hear it all and weep for the tragedy.  If Shatterstar knew that Sunspot stood in the wings, he gave no indication.   Cable guessed that he did not but could not be sure with the thoughts of the angry warrior racing at such a speed that Nathan could barely take and decipher the thoughts into something he understood.  "And I owe Julio everything for befriending you when no one else realised how lonely you were.  I should have noticed."

 "But it was not enough," Shatterstar whispered quietly, feeling like a child when he had never felt like one even when he had been young, "he still did not love me back.  I asked him about things, these bizarre Earthen mating rituals, but he refused to speak to me until finally I must have become too annoying and he agreed."

 Gaveedra bit his lip, cutting into the skin and sucking when a drop of blood spilled out.  Cable's eyes fogged over again, but Gaveedra could not help himself anymore.  He was too weak to do anything but submit fully to the pain.

 "We were both too blind to see.  Why didn't I perceive sooner that he loved me, too?  I would have kissed him.  I would have let him take me to his room and teach me what it means to truly love a man in mind and body and soul.  I loved his mind and soul first, but I came to love his body that night, Cable.   It filled me with so much awe that it hurt to touch him because I was touching heaven."

 Gaveedra's voice dropped to a fractured whisper, "I have never seen anyone bleed as much as he did."

 "He's stable now."

 Gaveedra's eyes strayed to the ceiling, his head hanging loosely as if held by string, and he glared at the stucco finish.  It would probably hurt to throw his body against such a surface.  Perhaps throwing Cable against it would open the old man's eyes so he could truly understand what Shatterstar felt.  Only Julio had ever understood.  "But he is in a coma, is he not?"

 "Yes, but he's alive."

 "Is he?  Or does he live because the machines will not let him sleep?"  And inside, where he did not let Cable hear, his mind screamed at him for having no faith, and he wanted to die all over again for not believing in Julio.  "Without him, Cable, without him there is nothing, a void that is black and cold.  I have been there once.  I will not go back.  If he should die, so will I and take Roberto with me."

 "It's not his fault."

 "A minor point," Gaveedra confessed quietly, his fists clenching in pent up rage, that murderous part of his soul he tried so hard to control rising to the surface and ready for revenge.  "I am a killer.  I will murder him if I must but someone must be blamed.  I would kill myself twice over if I could.  I have never met a warrior above the age of twenty-five.  At eighteen, I was considered ancient.  Death is my life, Cable, and life will be my death.  I should have never dared to love him."

 Nathan shook his head sharply.  This stance was too common among people like them, the belief that all their actions invariably came back to haunt them.  Somehow, Cable had hoped Shatterstar would be beyond such stupidity, but then Cable would have bet his life that he would never see Shatterstar smile.  Things were rarely as they seemed.  The future could never be guessed.

 "Julio would have self-destructed.  There was nothing I or anyone could have done to stop that, but you *did*.  You saved him from that fate, Shatterstar."  Cable paused.  "Can I call you Gaveedra?"

 "No," Gaveedra replied, "he is dead anyway..."

 "Like hell he is!"  Cable hadn't intended to roar like that, and Shatterstar cringed away, his pale eyes growing even more blank, so Cable touched his hand to the empty face, bringing him back.  "God, will you listen to yourself, boy?  None of this is your fault.  Julio knew the risks.  It was my choice to put you on separate teams.  There was nothing you could have done.  Star, this is not Mojoworld.  Our life expectancy is not in the late teens.  Everyone you love will not die in that glorious fight for freedom.  This is Earth."

 Gaveedra frowned.  "Cable ..."

 "You had your say, now I'll have mine.  You still being here is my mistake.  I said I'd help you return, and I forgot about it.  It was an empty promise, but hell be damned if I'm going to let you wish you'd never come at all.  It would have ruined Julio's life and your own.  Goddamn it, Gaveedra, you two fit together better than any people I have ever seen.  If you believe in karma then you have to believe in destiny, too."

 "I do," Gaveedra confessed, lifting a hand to press upon his face.  If only he would allow himself to weep, but the pain of that was too strong and he couldn't take it, couldn't handle the places it would bring him.  His mutinous body shook and quivered, his eyes burned with the threat of tears, but nothing came, only anger now.  He wanted to hurt Cable.  He wanted to hurt himself.  Someone had to be hurt because his rage was eclipsing and suffocating in its immensity.  "I love him so much."

 "I know," Cable said quietly, sparing one last look at Roberto, whose face had paled to a sickly colour.  Yes, boy, you realise how ignorant you really are and then you'll have saved your life instead of condemned it.  "I want you to sleep, you have as long as you need, and then I'm coming to your room and we're going to see him."

 "All right," Gaveedra whispered, so ashamed now of his outburst.  He wanted to apologise, but Nathan put his hand upon his forehead to stop the words, shaking his head because he knew it was coming.  A warrior knew another too well, so Shatterstar bowed and gave in easily.

 The pain had made it hard to think.

 Gaveedra had forgotten about that unique smell Julio had about him, had always taken the delicious scent for granted, but now he found himself pushing his face into his pillow, hugging it as if it would somehow transform into his beloved.

 Gaveedra didn't think he would, but he fell asleep quickly, his dreams a whir of images he barely had time to look at before they were gone.  It was all Julio, his words and thoughts and hopes, their memories together, the strange foreplay and rituals they committed in public, those hot and sensuous looks, how the hands would touch a random object in the most gentle of caresses and suggest so many incredible things.  It was a bizarre but fascinating game they played when they were forbidden to even take other's hand in fear of violence and hate.

 They were too young to be this serious, Gaveedra heard his teammates whisper, they spent too much time together and rarely ever separated.  It was scary for the others to see them, to watch two people become one and know that it was a bond that if ever severed would destroy both sides completely.  Too young, too dangerous, a painfully obvious love that hurt the others to see because it was so powerful.

 Gaveedra woke a start when he thought he heard Julio's voice in his ear, the lightly accented voice, not deep and not high but somewhere in between, that was positively the most beautiful sound Shatterstar had ever heard.  Gaveedra thought his own voice was terribly awful, a deep growl with an annoyingly hard to decipher accent that came through when he was relaxed.  It had taken him a month to speak like an American.  One touch from Julio and he forgot it all.

 There was a knock on his door but he ignored it, too tired in his bones even think about moving, and he was afraid of it.  What if it was Nathan to tell him that while he busy being a coward Julio had died?  No, for that fear alone, he would not answer the call.

 But the door opened, and Shatterstar clutched Julio's pillow tighter, burying his face into the plush softness.  It wasn't fair.  None of this was fair.  Gaveedra curled upon himself, bending his knees so tightly to his chest that for a moment he couldn't breathe.  What would he need breath for if his lover was dead?

 "Um, hi."

 Not a voice he recognised, so Gaveedra looked up, his brow furrowed at the familiar face.  The X-Man Iceman, what was he doing here?  Surely they wouldn't have sent a stranger to break the news.  That seemed cruel.  They must really hate him.

 "You've been sleeping for a few hours now.  You're probably hungry, so I brought you some food.  I hope you don't mind, but I talked Cable into letting you sleep as long as you needed to.  He just doesn't understand," Iceman said quietly, a tray held in one hand and offered to Gaveedra.  "You probably don't feel like eating, but you should."

 Gaveedra shrugged and took the meal, setting it before him as he crossed his legs and tucked his feet behind his knees.  Iceman's eyes were on him, staring, and Gaveedra glanced down to see the cuts, almost healed into ugly scars now.  Protectively, the red hair rushed to cover his body and his arms shifted to link across his chest.

 "Hard, isn't it?"  Iceman sat on the edge of the bed, not waiting to be invited, knowing he wouldn't be.  "You have the people who think they understand, but who don't really because it's different from them.  They don't regret nearly as much we do."

 Gaveedra looked at him.  "I don't understand, Iceman."

 "Call me Bobby, and to make a long story short, the love of my life is battling lung cancer and all I can do is sit around and watch him fight.  I can't do anything more for him than just being there, but I'll be damned if I do anything less."

 Gaveedra crooked his head inquisitively as his fingers picked at the food, not eating but pretending he might.  "Him?"

 Bobby smiled and nodded, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck.  "Wow, I'm flattered that at least one person didn't think it was any type of news to pay much attention to.  Yeah, me and Remy, Gambit, if you can believe it, head over heels in love despite sometimes shaky and downright negative reactions from others.  You guys, on the other hand, were the talk of dinner when we heard."

 "I do not know why," Gaveedra muttered quietly. "We did nothing special."

 "I know that, you know that, but to them we're different, always will be," Bobby replied lightly, falling into the mentor role almost too easily, but Remy had all but told him to come and be a support for the young warrior.  Bobby suspected that Remy's concern for Shatterstar was only a secondary reason for asking him to go, guessing that the real reason lay in the fact that Remy sensed Bobby needed a break, time away to get his strength back or something else to worry about, and Bobby was indeed worried and feeling oddly strong.

 "I was twenty-six when I was finally able to admit I was gay.  I was flabbergasted that Julio, at *eighteen*, could say those three words.  It was very brave of the both of you, not only to come out but to not hide your love."

 "I suppose."

 Iceman smiled gently.  "It was, so now you have to be even braver.  Cable wants you to come to the infirmary.  Hank, the Beast, and I flew in on the blackbird about fifteen minutes after you guys landed, so you have my best friend in the entire world here to make sure nothing happens to Julio.  He's in good hands."

 And my hands, Shatterstar thought as they stood, my hands are still covered in blood.

 When Shatterstar had first seen Julio stabbed not once but four times, he hadn't rushed blindly into battle for revenge.  Instead, he trusted the others to fight the war as he rushed to his lover, catching him before he could crash to the ground and drive the spears in further.

 Julio had been weightless in his arms, bent at an awkward angle as strange moans escaped his lips and his hands pushed tightly to his ruptured stomach.  Gaveedra had not been able to lie Julio down, so he could only hold him lightly, pressing to stop the blood where he could but realising there were too many wounds and not enough hands.

 "*/... beloved? .../*"

 "*/Here, Julio, where I should be./*"  The language of the Cadre, Julio had been attempting to learn it for months but had refused to speak it up until now despite the vows he was almost fluent.  It sounded glorious now as it spilled from his lips on a tide of blood.  "*/You will be all right./*"

 Julio laughed weakly, choking as the crimson fluid rushed into his throat. "*/... liar .../*"

 Shatterstar pressed his fingers to Julio's cheek, tilting the head so he could breathe better and not suffocate himself.  Julio winced and tried to resist, wanting to see those silver eyes, but Gaveedra couldn't bare to see Julio gag.  "*/You will be.  I swear it./*"

 "*/... if only ... you could promise .... such a thing .../*"  Julio turned his head back and lifted his arm, brushing his hand weakly over the ends that lovely hair he loved to touch, regretting that his blood took away from the beauty, but the blood was everywhere.  His pants were soaked with it, his lover was drenched in it, and the world itself had suddenly become a cruel shade of red.  It was such a cruel world.  "*/... gaveedra ... do not let yourself be alone ... you deserve more than that .../*"

 Gaveedra reeled back and felt his hold on his lover slip, his arms so unable to hold the mutilated body as tight as it needed to be held.  Was that a goodbye?  "*/Julio, please, do not speak anymore.  You will make it worse./*"

 "*/... worse? ... i cannot feel my body ... beloved ... and all i can smell is my blood ... i can taste it on my lips ... speaking to the man i love will not change any of that .../*"

 Julio gasped an agonising breath, choking and shuddering with pain as it rose in his veins like fire, and his hand grabbed for Gaveedra, his nails digging into the flesh of his lover and hurting them both.  Gaveedra stared with tormented eyes, knowing not what to do or any way to help.  How was it that he could only watch with mute horror and do nothing at all?

 "*/...if i am to die ... i want to know it was in your arms ... it was there i discovered happiness ..../*"

 "*/Please, do not speak,/*" Shatterstar begged with a breaking voice, aware that Cable was screaming at him and even more aware he was deaf save for the sound of his lover's voice.  The world had stopped so utterly that it was all silent save for the painful sounds his lover made as his body fought to live.  "*/If you die, Beloved, I die with you.  So you must not die./*"

 Julio's hand jerked on Gaveedra's arm, blazing a trail down his skin until it settled on the fingers, holding them as tightly as he could, which felt like nothing more than the gentlest caress to Shatterstar's touch.  "*/... damn you ... gaveedra ... exploiting my only weakness ... then if i live ... beloved ... you live with me .../*"

 Shatterstar nodded, holding that precious hand in his and trying to will life to stay with them both.  "*/Forever.  You have my promise./*"

 Julio's eyes fluttered shut, the lips still moving with words struggling to be said amidst the sombre cloud of hurt.  "*/... and you ... mine ... forever .../*"

 Then Cable had taken Julio from Gaveedra, pulling their hands apart until their fingers stroked their last goodbye.  Cable was using his telekinesis to keep Rictor together though his body still leaked its precious life's blood, the injuries so dire Shatterstar saw the grief in his leader's eyes already and turned his head away.  The wounds were just too severe, Cable understood, and Julio would die within minutes if nothing was done, so they rushed back to their base in a super-sonic jet, fighting to put the puzzle back together and telling Shatterstar to stay in the cockpit when he should have been at Julio's side.

 And Julio screamed.

 And screamed.
 And screamed.

 Gaveedra pressed his hands to his ears and wished he really was deaf.

 "Shatty, I'm going to explain this to you simply, okay?"  Domino spoke quietly but calmly, waiting for Gaveedra to nod.  He did.  "Okay.  Julio lost a lot of blood and the spears those bastards used punctured his liver but missed most of the other organs.  We got lucky there, but Julio's heart stopped in surgery.  It took a lot of time to get him back.  That's why he's in a coma."

 Gaveedra had watched a lot of television in his lifetime, and he had watched enough ER and Chicago Hope to easily follow what she was saying, but it fell like a weight on his heart.  His blasphemous hands were shaking again, and as she talked, he put them under his arms, nodding at every fifth word but barely able to listen.

 "He looks bad, but that doesn't mean a damned thing, all right?"

 "Okay," Gaveedra whispered and let Domino open the door to the infirmary, following her into the dimly lit room.  His silver eyes swept across the floor to the bed then up the clean line of white sheet to the naked body cradled by the array of exotic machinery.  It was as if half his mass had leaked out of him.  Julio looked so tiny.

 "Can I ... hold his hand?"  Gaveedra asked quietly, and Domino nodded, pushing a chair beside the bed and watching as Shatterstar all but fell into it.  Cautiously, the warrior reached out and took the cold fingers, pressing his lips the back of the pale hand and keeping them there.

 Domino left the room.

 "You are wet," Julio muttered with a languid smile, melting into the body that pressed so tightly against his own, and Gaveedra laughed deeply in his lover's ear, his strong arms wrapped around the slender waist.  "What time is it?"

 "Nearly noon," Gaveedra said, lying his leg over Julio's hip and reaching one hand around the small man to stroke his chest and touch his heart.  Julio's body was not like his own, it was smaller with less mass and less muscle, but it felt so much better, soft and beautiful beneath his fingers.  "Are you hungry?"

 "Only for you, mi Amor."  Julio smirked and manoeuvred himself out of Gaveedra's grasp, settling his legs on either side of the strong body and resting his hands on his lover's chest.  He leaned down and nipped at the exposed neck, growling ferociously, hungry for so much more than mere food.

 Gaveedra grinned and wrestled Julio back to their original position, tightening the vice of his legs and pressing his lips the back of Julio's neck through the thick mane of wavy hair.  Julio smelled of a dry but flowery musk, a delicious scent that Shatterstar could always smell even when Julio left a room.  "You know I love you?"

 "If I do not then I am an idiot," Julio said quietly, turning on his back and tucking a rampant strand of red hair back into Gaveedra's meticulously woven braid.  "But I know, mi Amor, and I know that I love you just as much."  Julio grinned suddenly, mischievously, and Gaveedra waited patiently to learn whatever plot had just come to his beloved's head.  "Let's stay in bed all day."

 Gaveedra laughed, wearing his best scandalised look even though it seemed like the best idea he had heard in a long time, at least since last night when Julio insisted that a sensual bubble bath would be a fun way to pass the time.  "We cannot!"

 Julio smirked and kissed those suspicious lips, long and deep, until they were both short of breath.  "It's our day off, isn't it?  We can do whatever we like, and I want to stay right here and make love to you until you're too exhausted to move.  Think, mi Amor, hours upon hours of hands and mouths and bodies."  Julio slid his hand down the rippled surface of Gaveedra's taut belly then stroked the heat between his lover's legs, begging as only Julio could.  "Stay here with me?"

 Gaveedra nodded and kissed the plane of Julio's chest, curling and winding his body around Julio's slender frame.  For a minute, he simply listened to the beat of his lover's heart, letting the noises sweep over and through him.  It was such a beautiful sound.

 They were rudely interrupted by a loud beep.

 "God," Julio moaned, "always and without fail on the one day we have free."

 Gaveedra smiled at his lover's complaining and reached over Julio's body for his communicator badge, making sure to rub against all the perfect places and laughing when Julio moaned loudly in appreciation.  "Yes, Cable?"

 "Minor disturbance, mutant related, we're getting the team together and going to check it out."  Cable coughed slightly.  "I want you both dressed and down here pronto, all right?  And," another cough, "sorry for the interruption.  Over."

 The lovers kissed and went to battle.

 Carefully, Shatterstar brushed Julio's hair, spreading it out upon the mattress as the comb worked out the knots.  It was a menial task, mindless, but Gaveedra focussed all of his thoughts and energy on making sure the hair lay perfectly, a dark brown darkened further from blood that had not been washed away.

 Doctor McCoy had been against even this simply gesture of love, but Domino had fought for Shatterstar's right to tend to his lover.  No words of thanks had come to his mouth, so unused to the act of receiving that he did not know the proper words to speak anyway, but Gaveedra was eternally indebted to Domino for her actions.

 With a damp cloth and wet fingers, Gaveedra worked the water through Julio's wavy hair, careful not to tug or pull in the slightest way.  A few strands at a time, dry and crusty blood was stripped from the hair as he painstakingly worked.  So beautiful, Gaveedra thought as he ran his fingers along the line where hair met forehead, so unbelievably beautiful and mine, mine to love and worship as such a beautiful heart deserves.

 "Julio," Gaveedra breathed as he bathed the dark tresses, "I love you.  Please, Beloved, do not leave me yet.  I hear them talking when they think I do not.  They think you will die, but I know you better than that.  You are not that weak."

 No, Julio was the strongest man Gaveedra had ever met, obnoxiously cocky at times but always so full of life.  Gaveedra smiled sadly, brushing his fingers along the edge of parted lips beneath translucent white tape, barely sweeping across the skin in fear that Julio would shatter if touched too hard.  So full of life still, fighting as valiantly as any warrior to hold onto life.

 "Julio, I know you love me so you must come back to me."

 Gaveedra put the comb to his lover's hair again, so careful, so afraid that he would do more harm than good.  He had not left the room for almost twelve hours, and he would not leave the room again until Julio walked out with him.  Together as one for all time, is that not what Gaveedra had promised?

 "You have my eternal devotion, Julio.  I will love no other."

 But there was another part to that promise, one he had not been able to utter then of out fear and could only barely whisper now.  It had been the important part, the words that sealed them together more than the promises Gaveedra pledged that night could.  "And if you should die, my love, then I will die with you.  I pledged myself to you.  My life is in your hands."

 Shatterstar bowed his head against the bed, letting his face skim over the field of soft hair, his fingers still gently haloing Julio's face.  Did Julio realise just what Gaveedra had entrusted to him?  It more than just mere love.  It was so much more than just *that.*

 "The minute I gave myself to you, I became yours.  For life, Julio, I am yours, so please do not leave me, not when I have given you so much, not when you will take my soul with you if you go.  Please, Julio, do not leave me.  Please."

 Gaveedra awoke to the sun shining brightly into his eyes, and he lifted his palms to shade them, blinking at what he saw from the edge of his sight.  His first thought was of the fact that this wasn't his room.  His second thought was of Julio as he turned slowly to see the dark-haired man sleeping soundly beneath a mountain of blankets, his hair tangled and twisted about his head on the grey pillow.

 Gaveedra smiled and bit his lip, settling back to the bed and staring at the wall.  His fingers curled in the bed sheets as he tried to make sense of everything, of this vast and unending *happiness* that seemed to swell so uncontrollably in his chest.  Had it really happened?  Had the only thing he had ever wanted in his life actually and truly happened?

 Julio shifted beside him, his breathing changing slightly, and Gaveedra closed his eyes to listen to the sounds, the gasps and the murmurs escaping beautiful lips that last night had kissed him with such overwhelming love.  Gaveedra shivered slightly as chills of memory raced down the curved length of his spine. Those wondrous kisses, Gaveedra could still taste Julio in his mouth.

 Julio turned again, settling onto his stomach and lost completely beneath the sheets.  His palm rested against the flat of Gaveedra's back, his fingers touching lightly against the warrior's flesh.  Shatterstar nearly jumped out of his skin when the hand pressed against his spine, decisively awake and aware of who it was touching.

 Gaveedra turn to look at Julio, watching with baited breath as the ginger eyes opened and settled on his face.  Julio blinked once in mild surprise then lifted his hand to brush against Gaveedra's cheek, softly like wind, gently if he too believed it to be a dream.

 "No regrets?"  Julio asked quietly, his fear too obvious beneath the shadow of his dark brows, the eyes so unable to hide even the slightest nuance of emotion.

 "None," Gaveedra replied, smiling as the thumb touched his lower lip to feel the word, nail scratching across his teeth.  Why had he feared touch so much?  Why had he tried to deny the simple pleasures even the lightest caress could ignite?  Julio's hands belonged no other place than on Gaveedra's body.

 Julio tugged at the sheets until they fluttered to the ground, his other hand never leaving Shatterstar's face.  Gaveedra looked at Rictor with slight surprise, and his fair skin, darkened from a well-earned tan, flushed a light red.

 "I just want to see you in the sunlight," Julio murmured, smiling slightly as Gaveedra blushed deeper, looking sheepish and shy.  Julio laughed.  "What?  Am I not allowed to admire my lover?  You are so beautiful."

 "No, I am not," Gaveedra replied with a whisper, his body stirring with excitement as Julio looked at him, taking in every swell of muscle and shift of skin.  The eyes seemed to burn their path along Shatterstar's flesh, so torturously slow in their quest of discovery.

 "You are," Julio insisted quietly, one tentatively hand reaching to stroke the valley between rib and hip, memorising the indent of the long body.  Slowly, he lowered his mouth to kiss that piece of flesh, pressed tight to the muscles beneath.  "So unbelievably beautiful."

 Gaveedra shrugged.  "If you say so."

 Not wanting to focus on himself any longer, Gaveedra took the moment to sweep the blankets completely off the bed so he could behold Julio.  Shatterstar had always avoided showering with the others, sensing that it would not be appreciated since he had only ever found a male body appealing, so he had never been able to see the objection of his affection until last night.  Now, in the shining brightness of a new morning, it was all he imagined and more, a body so completely unlike his own they were obviously meant to fit together.

 Julio grinned and took his lover's hand, pressing it to his own slender chest as his other hand rested on Gaveedra's heart, feeling the pulse of life beneath the skin.  They stayed linked in that chain for many long minutes before they rushed together and wrapped their bodies together with loving arms, hugging with a passion they could barely contain.


 The smaller body pressed so deliciously tight against Gaveedra's chest pulled back slightly and the eyes lifted with a calm sort of elegant grace, brushing across Gaveedra's brow before settling on his silver eyes, the lips curling into a very seductive, very wanton smile.  "Hmm?"

 "I do love you," Gaveedra said as if it needed repeating, needing to make sure it was clear.  Sexuality was such a source of confusion for him, relating to another person even worse, so he had to be unquestionably understood and had to understand completely in return.

 "And I love you," Julio replied, leaning up for a kiss, merely brushing his lips along Gaveedra's mouth, exchanging the joy of life with every breath they shared.  "Please don't ever doubt that.  Promise me?"

 Gaveedra nodded, pressing a kiss to the line of Julio's jaw, his fingers touched to the other side of the darkly tanned cheeks.  "I promise, Julio, I will never doubt."

 Gaveedra looked at the clock, his fingers tracing soft and idle patterns on Julio's face.  Seventeen hours and holding since he had first sat in this chair, twenty-four hours since Julio had been injured, eleven months and three days since they had first made love, two years and two months since Gaveedra had fallen in love with Julio, twenty-one years and five months since Gaveedra was first put into his birthing tube for the only purpose of being here now to love this amazing man.

 It was all about time.

 Gaveedra saw the blood on his fingers seconds before that horrible screeching sound started in his ears, one beat wrong then it all shot to hell.  Julio's body lurched violently and tore the stitching that laced his abdomen, the chest heaving as the throat gagged on the blood that rushed into his mouth, unable to flow outward because of the breathing tube.

 "Flatline!"  Cable roared from the other room and within seconds Gaveedra had been shoved out of the way.  It had been so calm one second and now he stood in hell, pressed into a corner and watching helplessly as the blood started flowing again, so much of that crimson fluid pooling on the ground, just like that first day, just like every memory that had haunted Gaveedra since.

 So they had raced Julio off to surgery again, just like that, no warning, no time to even realise what had happened, and Gaveedra stood there, pressed where wall met wall.  The silver eyes, forever ruined by the red that painted his world, stared at the scarlet puddle on the floor, but he did not move.  He stood, shaking and not sure he would ever stop, hands pressed to his mouth and reeking of his lover, in shock.

 Blood.  Why must there always be so much blood?

 And suddenly, the smell was too much to bear, and Shatterstar found himself on his knees, vomiting on the floor, gagging until he could not breathe and clutching his stomach because it hurt so horribly.  The acid on his tongue upset him again, and he retched painfully, trying to force up food he had not eaten.

 Then there were hands on him that lifted him to his feet, supporting him when his legs proved too weak to support his body and bringing him to the bathroom, hands sweeping into hair to keep it from his face as he vomited again.

 "He is going to die," Shatterstar whispered, choking on his words as he retched.

 "He's not dead yet," Iceman said firmly, filling a cup with water and holding it to Shatterstar's lips until the shaky hand lifted and took it from him.  "You aren't allowed to give up on him, not now, not when he's come so far already."

 "He's right, Shatty."  Siryn had her hands buried in his hair as she twisted the long red mane into a lose knot.  Once the ponytail was secure, she cautiously moved her hands to rub his back the way Tom had always done for her when she had been sick.  "I know you're more stubborn than this."

 Fearful of touch, Gaveedra moved away from her and laid his head against the wall, gasping for air.  His eyes were pressed so tightly together that the world seemed to blink out of existence.  It was just him now, one solitary man in a world of nothing.  He didn't need anyone, he didn't need ... love ... he didn't need ... Julio ...

 He caught himself thinking that and something in him broke, something that was important and so strong that it held him all together, so when it snapped and separated, Gaveedra felt something in him that he never had before.  Anguish.  A sadness so deep that his eyes burned with it and felt tears in his gaze, hot pains of steam that blurred his sight and caused him so much ache.  They would have been so happy together ...

 Shatterstar gasped an agonising breath, pressing his hands so tightly to his face that he couldn't breathe, didn't want to breathe, couldn't forgive himself for doubting when he had promised Julio he wouldn't.  */Forgive me, Beloved, I know not what I say!/*

 Siryn snapped to look at him, clutching his shoulder and shaking firmly.  "No, Shatty, English, okay?  Talk to us!"

 But Shatterstar shook his head, hitting her away from him, shaking and frantic with such a white hot rage in him that he was frightened of what he would do to himself for having no faith.  What a coward he was, what a betrayer of everything Julio had trusted to him!

 Siryn backed away from Shatterstar seconds before he moved to attack her, and Iceman grabbed her by the waist, all but throwing her out of the bathroom.  Gaveedra punched his fist into the mirror, grabbing the shards of broken glasses and squeezing his fists around them.
 Iceman only watched, horrified.

 */Julio, Julio, you said you loved me!  Please, Beloved, please do not leave me in this wretched place alone!  I am so afraid to die.  I was never a warrior but a coward who sacrificed everything so I would live!  I had no honour!  I had no pride!  I am a coward!/*

 Gaveedra's fists went through the wall, fingers cut to bone, hands a whirl of pain, but it wasn't enough, it would never be enough.  His soul was dying inside his body, drowning in a crimson tide of blood, his and Julio's mixed as one, and he couldn't save it.  Shatterstar had been damned so completely that nothing could save him now.

 And Gaveedra Seven screamed.

 And screamed.

 And screamed.

 Julio was talking about something, words that Gaveedra, in his shock, wasn't hearing spilling from the moving lips.  The dark eyes shut in the middle of the conversation, and Shatterstar couldn't help but stare at the gorgeous face as it repeated the words.

 "I'm ..."

 For all Julio's attempts to be the man among men, he was still oddly pretty for a male, something that Julio always hid behind bitter looks and angry sneers.  It wasn't until Julio began to relax in Shatterstar's presence that Gaveedra noticed how fine and soft Rictor's features really were.  Before that moment of awareness, Julio had just been ruggedly handsome.

 "I'm ..."

 Time slowed to nothing, creeping and crawling along as Julio stumbled over words, and Gaveedra was drawn to those lips.  They moved, opening and closing, with an elegance that should have died with Julio's fumbling, but even speaking as he was, Shatterstar was drawn to them and the words they spilled.

 "I'm ..."

 Gaveedra had dreamt of kissing that mouth for months, every night the same haunting dream where he woke up from it covered in sweat and with a strange burning between his legs.  When Gaveedra had first acknowledged his attraction to the mysterious young Mexican, his body had been dormant, but as the time passed and his feelings grew more and more out of control, strange things had started happening to him.  Sitting on that couch, watching Julio's face and knowing the eyes were closed so Julio could not see his openly desirous stare, Shatterstar felt that sweet pain again but worse than ever before.

 High on the sensations and not quite understanding what he was doing when he leaned forward but knowing it would change everything, he, carefully and awkwardly, pressed his lips to silence the talking mouth.  Julio froze at the touch, sitting perfectly still as Gaveedra forgot how to distinguish his dreams from the cold reality, and Shatterstar knew with a sinking feeling that he had gone too far.

 Julio did not even open his eyes.

 Gaveedra could not bear to be seen, not after doing *that*, not after months and months of pretending that he felt nothing at all.  Instead, seeing that mouth open slightly to say the terrible words Gaveedra had always prayed would never be said, Shatterstar sprung to his feet, pressed his hands to his face and ran as fast as he could up the darkened stairwell.

 "Shatty?"  Teresa asked with barely hidden worry as he all but plowed her down, forgetting how huge and tall and terrible he was compared to human females.  Julio had been such a perfect fit ... "Are you all right?"

 "Fine," he muttered, his fingers curved into his face as he hid from her.  "I am fine."

 "You look ..."

 "I have to go now," he whispered, turning abruptly and rounding the corner slowly before breaking into a run, taking the stairs three at a time until he was finally at his door and in that place he could hide and pretend he had not just destroyed his world.

 Why?  It was the only question he could ask himself.  Why had he not just been happy with what he had?  He was Julio's *best* friend, they were pals, chums ... completely meant for each other, why could Julio not see that?

 "He does not want you," Shatterstar said spitefully to himself as he passed that horrible mirror he glared at every morning, staring at his perfect face and the star tattoo that only added to an already harsh and angry appearance.  "Why does he not want me?"

 The answers in the mirror were not forthcoming and Gaveedra sat on the end of his bed, burying his face in his hands.  It was so lonely now, such a lonely existence he was forced to lead.  There was no audience anymore, no adulation of the masses, no applause or flash bulbs of cameras or chants of his name.  There was only an increasing silence and a fading memory of the glory that had once been his.

 With a defeated sigh, Gaveedra stripped his body of its clothing and crawled under the blankets, trying to ignore the ache in his belly.  That was the final betrayal, he thought, even his body did not seen to understand that they had just been rejected.

 "Stop it," he muttered, arms crossed over his chest as he laid on his side, knees curled to his torso, "stop it, you traitorous thing!"

 But as always, it never listened to him.  Never.  At the thought of Julio, of that guarded smile and reluctant laugh, of those eyes that wanted to be happy but never quite achieved it, of that lithe and dark body, Gaveedra's well-tuned living *weapon* turned to mush.

 "Stop, stop, stop!"

 But it never stopped.  His feelings never went away, though he pleaded and begged with himself, with that rational part of his mind that always seemed to escape when it came to Julio.  And now .... now he had willing cursed himself, stripped his world of all meaning and lost the only person he had ever really, truly *loved* with all that he was.

 And guilty as sin and as close to crying as he had ever been, he touched himself to take away the terrible pain of knowing he would forever be alone.


 Heavy, leaden eyelids flickered at the mention of his name, and he blinked to focus the face.  Cable.  Gaveedra fought down the sickness in his belly.  This was it, then, this was the end.  Once those dreaded words were said everything would be true and there would be no going back.

 "Shatterstar ..."

 */No/*," he said softly, shaking his head and damning those horrible tears that crept upon him again.  He could only fight so long before they reduced him to nothing, a child who not only had to die but deserved that fate as well.  "*/Please, Cable, do not .../*"

 "He's alive," Cable said calmly.  "Against all odds, Julio is still alive."

 Gaveedra gasped in a painful gasp of air, his hands clamped to his mouth to silence the betraying noises, and his eyes shut for a moment as he fought to convince himself this wasn't a dream.  *Alive.*  But how could ... was it possible their love was stronger than even Death himself?  "*/Will he ...?/*"

 "We still don't know, but he's doing okay right now.  And Gaveedra, English, okay?"


 Cable looked up sharply, his eyes flaring with momentary anger.  "Yes.  English."

 "Fine," he said with the humiliating traces of his dialect still on his lips, embarrassed because he was forgetting where he was and kept slipping into his native tongue.  If Cable noticed the suddenly heavy accent, he said nothing.  "Have I been asleep?"

 Cable nodded and relaxed slightly.  "Yes.  Almost eight hours."

 "I did not dream," Gaveedra said quietly, sitting up and immediately moving to touch his hair, to hide behind it and mask his face from his leader's empty stare.  "I always dream.  I keep thinking I have made this all up, that this is just my worst nightmare."  Gaveedra swallowed loudly, frowning at the horrid taste in his mouth.  He faintly recalled vomiting all over the medlab floor and flushed at the memory, embarrassed that he had, even if it had been a new and learning experience.  Cable offered him a glass of water.  "Thank you."

 Cable nodded and leaned back against the wall.  "No problem."

 Gaveedra hugged his knees to his chest.  He always felt safer like this, protected somehow from everything that could harm him.  In the games, at night when the more crazy vertebrates tried to do terrible things to the beautiful ones, he slept huddled in a corner, always ready to kill if anyone dared to use his body.  Even now, when he was afraid, he resorted to making himself as small as possible and hoping he would just fade away.

 "Shatterstar, we're going to talk right now, and I do mean both of us."  Cable sat down on the other end of the couch, crossing one leg over his leg as he reclined slightly.  "Your hands are almost healed, they're going to be sore and useless for another couple hours, but you have to stop hurting yourself.  It is not helping."

 Shatterstar stared at his bandaged fingers, remembering how the white bone had peeked out from beneath strips of marred and bloody flesh.  Squeezing the tips of his hands to his palms, he winced at the sharp sting of pain that resulted.

 "Promise me you'll stop injuring yourself," Cable said quietly.

 "I cannot promise you if I am unsure that I can keep my word," Gaveedra whispered quietly, tucking his hands under his arms and shivering slightly in the chill of the dark room.  Despite the lack of light, he could see the anger cross Cable's harsh face and felt the rage well in himself again.  "Would you rather I lie to you?"

 "Shatterstar, listen to me ..."

 "*/No!  You listen to me!  You may do what you like with the rest of them but when it comes to me, I want you to back away.  You have never tried to help me before, and I do not wish for your help now or in the future.  What I do is my choice, my decision./*"

 "I won't have you massacring yourself because you're so fucking afraid of pain!"

 Shakily, Gaveedra stood up on weak legs and leaned against the wall for support.  He had intended to fight his way out of this confrontation, but the sudden case of vertigo made it impossible to stand let alone rage war against his leader.  He could, however, use words as his weapon.

 "*/How dare you try to tell me how to live my life?  Unlike the rest of them, I am here because I choose to be here, not because I cannot cope with being hated by the world.  Trust me, Cable, when I say that being hated is no stranger to me./*"

  "Shatterstar," Cable tried again, standing now, sandwiched between the chesterfield and the angry warrior.  "Internalising your grief is not going to help me.  Trust me, kid, I've been there, done that and have the scars to prove it. You think I don't know what you plan to do if Julio dies?"

 Gaveedra shook with rage, his bones all but grinding with his outrage as his fingers pressed into the wall, providing the platform for his exploding ire.  "*/You have no right to try and guess what is in my mind!  To try and assume you know anything about me!  I have told you nothing and you, Cable, have never bothered to ask.  Do not presume to understand anything about me because I can tell you that you are most likely wrong!/*"

 "Cable," Nathan looked up to see Iceman standing in the doorway holding two steaming mugs, "back off, okay?"

 "Who are you to ... ?"

 "Someone who understands better than you can," Bobby replied quietly, wearily as if it hurt to speak.  Cable eyed the smaller man and nodded, stalking out the room and barely acknowledging when Shatterstar fell to a heap on the floor, his elegant body bent at strange angles and his arms crossed over the back of his head.  Iceman put both cups of hot chocolate on the table and sat down.  "Hey, you thirsty?"

 "Do not speak to me," Gaveedra muttered from within the jungle of his arms.  "I do not want you here."

 Iceman sighed deeply and brought a mug to his mouth, sipping slowly before responding to the stubborn proclamation.  "I can understand that, but Shatterstar, I also know a little about repressing emotion.  I do it daily.  I have to sit around and pretend that it doesn't bother me that the man I love with all that I am has cancer.  I wake up at night, terrified that he's going to die then feeling awful for thinking it in the first place.  You don't talk about it; it doesn't exist.  But it's here and it's real.  We don't have to speak about it.  I just don't think you should be alone."

 "I want it all to go away," Gaveedra whispered softly, fingers twitching in the web of his russet hair, always trying to grasp hold of things he could not touch.  "This is too cruel to be true.  He is so young.  We both are."

 Iceman nodded gently, nursing his drink against his lips.  "I still think this is all a dream.  You hear about things like this, on the news, it's all over the media, but then it happens so close and you can't believe it.  You always think it's the big things that are going to get you, but then it turns out to be something so helpless as cancer or the FOH."

 Gaveedra raised his head from the floor, peering at Bobby curiously from behind a shroud of copper.  "Humans did this to Julio?"

 "The Friends of Humanity did it; they're not human.  Most people wouldn't have lured a team of teenagers into the middle with the only intention of taking down one or two of the mutants before they were overcome.  Domino has made sure that," Iceman thought about the nice way to say it, "the parties involved will never again dare to raise a hand against mutants."

 Gaveedra frowned.  "I wish that ..."

 Bobby shook his head gently, stopping the terrible thought from being uttered.  "No, you don't.  If Julio woke up and found out that you tried to avenge him, especially in blood, I don't think he'd be pleased.  Domino took care of it.  All you need to do now is take care of yourself and let Julio do the rest.  Now, are you thirsty?"

 Gaveedra sat up and nodded solemnly, moving to the table and pulling the cup to his lips, looking at Iceman and seeing the same sense of immense grief, of that helplessness that seemed overwhelming at times, of those memories of the good times that sprung to mind at the worst moments and drew smiles where they were not welcome.

 "You okay for the time being?"

 "I did not mean ... to scream ..." Gaveedra muttered awkwardly, every bit of detail from the scene in the bathroom coming back to him slowly but surely, a constant drip of memory into his brain.  "I do not know what came over me.  I am ... not ..." Gaveedra fought with himself, never knowing what to say, always terrified of saying too much.  "I am at war with myself."

 "No one blames you for that.  We just want to make sure you don't hurt yourself anymore.  All the pain in the world will not make the senselessness of this situation seem right.  There is no reason why this happened to Julio, but it did, so now you cope and you survive and you believe.  It's no more complicated than that," Iceman said with an exhausted smile, trying to be strong and brave but understanding all too well the misery of the truth.

 Shatterstar nodded and rubbed his wounded fingers, aware of the waning pain and the emptiness it always seemed to leave behind, but he could be valiant and not fear that desolation so much.  "Am I allowed to return to his side?"

 "Shatterstar, this is no other place we expect you to be."

 "Hey, mind if I join you?"

 Shatterstar looked up from the television then glanced behind him, wondering idly to whom Rictor was speaking.  It couldn't possibly be him.  Tabitha had decided just that morning that communication between X-Force and the aloof Mojoworlder was impossible.

 "I'm talking to you, Star," Julio said with a cocky grin, one hand perched on his hip to accentuate the infuriating smirk.  No, Shatterstar realised, he was clutching his body too tightly for it to be comfortable.  Was he in pain?  "Can I sit down?"

 "If you like," Shatterstar replied awkwardly, trying not to even look at the Mexican in the fear he would betray the dangerous thoughts in his head.  Instead, he focussed his gaze on the television, staring as if it was the most wonderful thing in world, watching the screen but full well knowing the real possessor of that title sat next to him.

 Rictor collapsed on the couch and grimaced painfully, huffing out a breath of forced air through tightly clenched teeth.  The dark eyes looked up to see the silver ones watching him wordlessly, and Rictor smirked slightly.  "Pulled a couple muscles in my back, that's why I'm not out with the others, much as I love the clubs and the ladies."

 "I see," Shatterstar said slowly, stopping the continual flick of channels and settling on the Discovery channel, images of exotically warm climates plastering the television screen with bursts of vibrant colour.  It would be mind-numbing for Gaveedra to watch only one show but few could tolerate the thirty-second stops on stations and he was pretty sure Rictor was not one of them.

 "Why didn't you go out, amigo?"

 Shatterstar stopped himself from looking around again and forced an answer to leave his lips, however vague and useless his response was.  Rictor would have to take what he could get from Shatterstar, who admitted willingly to his lack of conversational skills.  "No reason."

 "You don't ever go out," Julio continued, unfazed by Shatterstar's reluctant and brief replies.  "Don't you ever worry that you're missing out on something?  I mean, you can't be that much older than me, but you don't have ... I mean ... shit, no offense, but you ..."

 "Do not have any friends," Shatterstar supplied quietly, "I know.  It does not matter to me.  Such things are nothing to worry about.  I am a warrior.  That is who I am.  My blades are my only concern.  I do not have time for such frivolous endeavours.  I am not like that."

 Julio frowned, shaking his head.  "But you're missing so much!  You're still young.  If you don't play it up now, you'll miss the fun.  Someday, amigo, we're going to be old men.  Do you really want to regret never having had a point in your life that was all about you?"

 Shatterstar looked at Julio.  "But I have already lived a life.  I have others priorities now."

 "Like television?"  Julio lifted his hands in surrender when he saw the spark of anger pass over Shatterstar's face, looking honestly regretful of the harsh comment.  "Sorry, out of line.  We just don't know anything about you.  You don't have any friends.  Any attempts we make to reach out, you stop.  I don't know, amigo, it seems to me like you want to be lonely."

 "I do not want it," Shatterstar replied with exasperation, "it is simply the way it is."

 "Are you shy?"  Julio asked suddenly, grinning that cocky grin that infuriated everyone so much, but Shatterstar hardly noticed it.  All he perceived was the intense bronze gaze that seemed locked onto his face, far more serious than the mouth, and there was something about it that greatly unsettled Gaveedra.  "Is that why you don't talk?"

 Shatterstar didn't answer him, merely rolled his eyes and tried his hardest not to respond to the ardent look Julio refused to soften.  So that did it, Gaveedra decided, now Julio would become bored with him and go away and everything would be just fine and dandy again.

 "Mierda," Julio muttered, cracking his back then wincing at the shoots of pain that set fire to his body.  Rictor shuffled on the couch, slinking into a slight recline and draping one leg over the back of the couch.  "What are we watching?"

 "Eco-Challenge," Shatterstar replied, aware of how close that leg was to his head, of how close that amazing body was to his own, of those terrifying feelings Julio seemed to stir so easily in Gaveedra's heart.  Why would Rictor not just go away?  "I can switch it."

 "No, no, love it, stay there," Julio muttered, one absent hand brushing the hair out of his eyes, and Shatterstar turned away, directing his gaze at the clock.  The others would be home in four hours, perhaps he could last until then and not fall apart completely.  "You know, it's all right if you're shy.  Once you get to know us, we're not that bad."

 "I am not shy," Gaveedra replied softly, "I just do not feel comfortable among the others."

 "Then be comfortable around me," Julio said with a look that Shatterstar couldn't even begin to decipher, complex meanings buried in those shadowy caverns.  "It's not right that you don't have anybody.  Hell, they all don't like me that much anyway, I could use new company."

 Shatterstar immediately grew suspicious, not quite understanding, and even if he did understand, not quite believing.  "Why are you doing this?"

 "Don't ask me," Julio replied with a light-hearted grin, "it's just a feeling I have."

 And so the friendship started.

 "Julio, I regret to inform you I have run out of things to say," Gaveedra said quietly, sitting at the feet of his lover as he massaged the left row of toes between his fingers.  "Which I suppose is to be expected.  You always said I did not speak enough."

 Gaveedra paused.

 "But I spoke to you," he whispered, his eyes drifting over Julio's still body, naked beneath thin sheets, so much smaller than it should be under the jungle of tubes and wires.  Casting his glance back to the wonderful feet, Gaveedra frowned slightly.  "Perhaps that is not exactly true.  There are things I must tell you but not right now, things I should have said right at the beginning when we first decided to become lovers, maybe even as soon as we became friends.  I was just afraid of your reaction.  I apologise for my fear.  I only hope that you will understand why I did not tell you before."

 Gaveedra held the foot tightly in his grip, pressing his cheek to the soft instep and holding it there, so desperate for touch, so desperate just to hold his lover and not be afraid that he would break.  It was just a matter time before Shatterstar shattered, too.

 Gaveedra squeezed more scentless lotion from the bottle onto his hands and cupped his palms together to warm the salve.  With a gentle movement, he lathered the sole of Julio's foot with the cream, using his fingers to spread the balm evenly.  A brush of his thumb and Gaveedra began to work the flesh, slicking up the flesh as his hand massaged the lovely appendage.

 "I have always loved your feet, I do think I told you that," Shatterstar said suddenly, admiring the perfect line of toes.  "Perhaps it is because you are the only other male who seems to cut his toenails on a regular basis."  Shatterstar smiled to himself.  "See?  I am not so grim anymore.  I can be funny if I need to be.  I ... well, I suppose that is something else we must talk about when you wake up.  I need to tell you how happy you have made me."

 Gaveedra shrugged and pulled his crossed legs tighter to his body, letting his eyes close as he focussed on the sensation of his hands on Julio's feet, his thumb massaging its way through the arrangement of toes.  Sleek and slippery, two of their most favoured sensations.  The brush of body against body, a fine film of sweat only increasing the delicious friction, mouth and tongues sliding and grinding against each other, one perfect placing fitting completely into the other.  Sleek and slippery, they were good words to describe pleasure, too.

 "It is funny," Gaveedra confessed quietly, "I did not realise until this very moment how much we spoke, how much we laughed and talked with each other, how much I took it all for granted.  I did not miss your constant chattering until it was gone."

 The red hair dropped before pale eyes, pooling in its master's lap and hiding him beneath its gentle wings.

 "Please, Julio, talk to me again."

 "Bonjour, Cher," Gambit said with a tired but happy smile, his face slightly distorted by the view screen as Iceman sat in the chair at the console.  Gaveedra suspected that rugged and weary face hid more than it let on, but it gave so much, too.  "Y'having a good time there?"

 "Remy ..."

 "Sorry, tasteless, I know," Gambit replied with a half-grin, touching a finger to his temples and tucking errant strands of thick, dark hair behind his ear.  His expression softened into gentle concern.  "Y'okay, Cher?"

 Bobby shrugged lightly, scratching his stubbly chin for several seconds before answering, moistening his dry lips with a pointed tongue.  Shatterstar saw that Iceman moved like a man in pain, exhausted in body and hurting in his soul.  "Yeah, I'm fine.  How are you?"

 "Just peachy," Gambit said with a quiet laugh, his face tender and full of apparent love.  Shatterstar thought momentarily that he should leave the room, to go back into the shadows and leave Iceman alone with his lover, yet his feet simply would not move.  "When y'coming home, Bobby?"

 "I don't know.  Soon.  Maybe."  Bobby paused, clearing his throat and running his hand through his dusty blond hair.  He moved in his seat as if he could not get comfortable.  "Remy?  I'm watching him go through this, and I can't help but think about ... you know.  I just ..."

 "I'm gonna be fine, thought we both agreed on that," Remy said quietly, those red-on-black eyes looking heartbreakingly tender when Shatterstar had not thought it was possible with such demonic looking things.  "Henri's been telling me all about the kid, how y'been helping him, and I'm proud o' your strength, Bobby.  Y'be strong for me, too, ‘kay?"

 Bobby nodded and whispered an almost silent, "Okay."  The Iceman shifted in his chair again but his eyes never strayed from the view-screen.  There was a moment of profound trust and affection that passed between them, something so electric and beautiful that even Shatterstar, as dense and blind as he could be, saw it.  "I miss you."

 "I miss you too, mon amour."  Remy smiled and kissed his fingers, pressing them to the glass of the monitor to meet the fingers that pushed in return, miles apart but closer than ever, so in love that Gaveedra's heart hurt to see it.  "Je t'aime, Bobby."

 "I love you, too."

 Gaveedra despised late at night the most.  It was when everything was so silent and still and utterly devoid of life.  Doctor McCoy rarely slept, but Shatterstar refused to speak to him, all but forbid to have the presence of a doctor remind him of what was painfully obvious lying so small and broken before him, his beautiful Julio, the light of his soul, the man of his dreams.

 The anger Gaveedra had in him was all but gone, faded into the great nothing that had come to envelop and swallow up his life.  It was just as well, he supposed, the anger had made him do terrible, appalling things that he didn't *regret* doing to himself, just regretted getting caught at doing.  The difference between those things was vital.  The urge was still there, dull and lifeless, but cutting himself, especially when he was fully capable of healing, still seemed like a *good* idea.  Well, not good, Gaveedra conceded, just something that took the edge off.

 Didn't Teresa used to say that about her drinking?  Gaveedra blinked.  So what if she did?  Shatterstar could control himself, could control how far he went because he was trained in such things, the giving and taking of pain and every place in between.

 "Fekt," Gaveedra muttered, combing a stiff hand through his hair, shaking his head to loosen his neck muscles.  Too much to think about, too little time to do it in.  He was trying to remain optimistic, trying to not slice his body to bits whenever he realised just how severely Julio was wounded, trying to accept the fact that Julio might ... that he ... might ...


 Gaveedra shifted in the chair, wishing he would just fall asleep and wake up to find everything back to the way it was meant to be.  A beautiful morning, a languid yawn and opening his eyes to see Julio wrapped in the blankets, happily leaving Gaveedra naked and none too willing to return the sheets even when it got cold.  Cold, Gaveedra chuckled to himself, those cold and icy feet touching him in exciting places when he had assumed Julio was deep asleep, rousing them both into such a fervour that they would wake up in the middle of the night just to make love.  It was a game they played to pass the time, to get as much as they could out of each other and make it all seem accidental.  The truth was, they were addicted to each other.  They *loved* each other.

 "Julio," Gaveedra muttered, lying his head gently aside the bandaged body, his finger running softly over the swell of slender hip beneath thin sheets, so painstakingly careful not to ruffle or jar anything.  "My love, I miss you."

 Gaveedra squeezed his eyes together and tried to ignore the turmoil in his mind, the misery and the memories, how they twisted into one foul creature and invaded his brain, unwanted and feared.  "There are so many terrible things in my head, Julio.  You kept me sane, Beloved."

 Gaveedra clenched his other fist to his breast, pressing against his own heart and taking solace in the methodical beats that returned his touch.  Moving that same hand gently over his lover's chest he felt that Julio's heart pulsed in the same manner.  They were both still alive.

 "Beloved," Gaveedra whispered, watching the push of his lover's ribs lift and lower his fingers, watching the rise and fall of life, hoping so much, loving even more.  "Julio, you kept me human."

 Shatterstar came out of the arena drenched in blood, his clothing long since stripped from his body and hanging in tatters around his waist, allowing him only the slightest level of modesty.  The Keepers immediately put him into his bonds, clasping the collar around his neck and tying his wrists together.  So that was it, he realised, he had lasted one week in the Central Arena, the place where the true Gladiators fought and nothing like the arenas he had grown up in.  It had been one long week of death, so many of his own people felled by his swords simply because Gaveedra's need to live was stronger than theirs.  It had not been like this in the smaller circuses.  Death was not as glamourous or exciting there as it was within these red-splattered walls, but only a small part of his admitted to that.  The rest was scared and sickened by the realisation that he *liked* the applause and wanted to let it deafen him completely.

 "*/Slave, be proud.  Yours was the highest ranked match this week.  The Spineless Ones are very pleased,/*" one of the Keepers whispered in his ear, a yellow hand trailing a burning path down the length of Gaveedra's spine.  "*/You are very lovely, Slave./*"

 Shatterstar merely stared straight ahead, eyes focussed on nothing because they was nothing to see.  If he did not respond, the Keeper would give up and move onto the next pretty one.  They would reduce his food and lower their protection of him, but at least he would not be forced into anything he did not want.

 Gaveedra Seven was fourteen years old.

 "*/All those hits on the head make you stupid,/*" the Keeper finally said in disgust and walked away, moving to a handsome young blond boy.  Gaveedra turned his eyes on them, watching how the beautiful thing responded to the gentle touches.  That is why they boy would be dead by next week, Shatterstar realised, he still had something alive in him.

 The line started moving, and Gaveedra walked behind the old warrior in front of him, watching how this *man*, at least twenty, moved slowly and awkwardly, not like a real warrior, not with strength and finesse.  Shatterstar tried not to watch the horrible movements, realising that if he kept fighting as he was, so horribly desperate to live, that he would be that man in six years, old and useless and one step from death.  It was a wonder that he fought at all and did not give up like so many of the other warriors.  He never understood why he wanted so badly to live when all it brought him was pain and misery.

 The walk back to the holding pens was a long one, descending far below the Arena complex and into the pits of hell.  The smell was horrendous, acidic and foul, the scent of rotten blood and forgotten waste.  It smelled of the dead.

 Gaveedra hardly noticed it anymore.

 Once they arrived at the Pens, they were forced into the showers and bathed with soap and scalding water, burning all the dirt and grim and blood away so they looked lovely and perfect again.  The bathing was followed by an inspection of the bodies.  If any slave was faulty or wounded and not healing, they were taken away and never seen again.  The others were returned to the pens to wait for the next day when they would fight again and get the ratings the Spineless Ones desired so greatly.

 Shatterstar passed the test easily, his body already perfect despite several bruises taken during the battles.  The Keeper who checked him touched far more intimately than was required but he did not respond it.  He never did.  It had been happening for years, since he was eight years old and freshly emerged from the Source.  The unwelcomed touches and lingering caresses on private parts only increased his hate, which is what he needed to fuel his desire to fight.  Without the hate, there was only an emptiness that spurred nothing but self-pity.

 Back in the Pens, Gaveedra walked calmly to the corner he had claimed as his own, sinking to the ground and pulling his knees to his chest.  He would sleep for as long as he could until the Keepers returned to pick the Slaves to fight in the morning.  Shatterstar was always picked.  They put too much money on him to let him have a day of peace.

 "*/Hey, Pretty,/*" one of the slaves said quietly.  Radioblade, Shatterstar knew of him and hated him already.  He was one of the oldest slaves and the one who had immediately set out to destroy Gaveedra the moment the lanky redhead appeared years before he was expected.  Until Gaveedra, Radioblade had been the youngest warrior in the Central Arena at sixteen.  "*/Hey, _Pretty_, don't pretend you can't hear me./*"

 Shatterstar never moved his glance from the wall, focussing his eyes so wholly on the bleak wall that he saw nothing else.  Everything went away eventually.  People, thoughts, emotions, they were all short-lived.

 "*/Think you're too good to pay your dues, Pretty?  You four-fingered freak!/*" Shatterstar barely responded when the callused hand twisted in his russet hair and yanked him upward, nearly tearing the scalp from his head.  "*/You think you can stay here for free and be safe?  A pretty thing like you?/*"

 Slowly, Shatterstar's strange silver eyes rose to meet the angry blue ones that stared back, hoping that whatever fear he had was not painted on his face.  Gaveedra did not even wince when the callused hand of Radioblade slid over his cheek then harshly slapped him, throwing Shatterstar back into the corner with a furious hiss from clenched teeth.

 Shatterstar looked up to see three more men emerge from the shadows, huge creatures, hideous monsters that were all destined for death eventually.  Four against one, Shatterstar accepted somewhere in his head that he had already lost.  He was tall but thin, too young to have filled out completely though he was bulking up rapidly, strong but ultimately alone, too beautiful to escape the desires of the angry.

 There were three types of warriors.  The first kind, the strong ones, who were aloof and protected from the reality of the Pens, sleeping and fighting, safe because they were killers, damned because they were empty, praised for the same reason.  There were the whores, the gorgeous ones who realised they weren't fighters and proceeded to sell their bodies to whomever would take them, usually the Keepers but sometimes the disgusting Spineless Ones, in exchange for protection, for a warm bed and good food and purchased life.  Once the warrior became a whore, they could never return to the Pens or risk the wraith of the last group.  The last group was the worst, vile monsters who knew nothing of honour or fear.  They knew only hate and lust, seeing a pretty young body and wanting it, wanting to take it and to hurt it and to make sure they could conquer such a priceless jewel.  They travelled in packs; they were mindless as individuals.

 Shatterstar realised he was dealing with the last breed now, the ugly ones who hated him because he was everything they would never be.  He also knew what they did to the younger, newer Slaves late at night, had heard their cries and the whimpers and the moans when he had wanted nothing more than to sleep and be deaf to it all.

 He promised that first night he heard it that *it* would never happen to him.

 But he was outnumbered four to one.

 Radioblade grabbed Shatterstar and pulled him out of the corner, into the centre of the bodies, but Gaveedra pulled back, falling as angry hands grabbed his legs.  With a loud smack, he hit the concrete floor and was immediately suffocated by flesh, the four bodies fighting to control his struggling body.

 *This* would never happen to him. *Never*.

 "*/Don't fight, Pretty, it won't hurt,/*" Radioblade whispered with a cruel laugh, "*/and if it does, it's your own fault.  There is always a price to pay for being beautiful down here.  You killed my other Pet, so now you take his place.  If you are beautiful, so am I./*"

 And he would kill Radioblade in time, Shatterstar vowed as he shut his eyes and pressed his teeth together so tightly his jaw cracked, hoping and praying it did not last long.  He struggled still, would until the bitter end, because *this* was not supposed to happen to him.

 But it was and it hurt, the pain so horrible he was sick with it, but he stayed silent, refusing to open his eyes, refusing to ever think of it as anything but a dream ever again.  Radioblade was touching Gaveedra's face with his mouth, tongue pressing in disgusting ways upon his skin.  Gaveedra took some solace in the knowledge he would never do such things to another body, would never let himself feel something so weakening and horrid as desire.

 "*/It's all right to cry, Pretty, they all do./*"

 Shatterstar would never cry and give anyone the satisfaction of having broken him, of having taken his strength so utterly from him that he was pathetic and fractured enough to shed tears because his fate had been terrible.  He was stronger than that.  He was better than that.  He was a warrior.  It was all he had; it was all he would ever have.

 So he did not cry as they tried to destroy him and dreamt instead of their deaths.

 Gaveedra awoke with a jump into the night, clutching his chest as his breath came in ragged bursts, his heart beating furiously against his ribs as he fought for control.  He felt cold and sick, aware of how badly he shook.  With a quiet whimper, he pulled the blanket from the floor and wrapped himself in its warmth.

 "Forget the past," Gaveedra muttered, pulling on loose threads from the afghan with his teeth, shivering in the cold and trying to ignore the sweat that covered his body.  "You do not have the strength to deal with it now."

 He did not have the strength to deal with anything, it seemed.

 "Are you okay?  I heard you cry out," Jimmy asked from the door, his huge frame blocking the harsh light from the hall, and Shatterstar nodded mutely, which had the adverse effect of pulling Warpath into the room.  "Star, man, do you need to talk?"

 "No."  But no really meant yes.

 Warpath sat down beside Gaveedra, looking extremely concerned and not his usual happy-go-lucky-Jimmy expression, which Shatterstar realised he vastly preferred.  The large mutant looked at Julio for a few minutes before clearing his throat.  "All right, I'm not any good at this, but I'll try and channel Terry for a few minutes.  You look like shit, man."

 "I feel like shit," Gaveedra replied, huddled in the blanket as he continued to chew on the edges of the comforter, random pieces of copper hair obscuring his view as he stared at Julio, loving him so much it hurt.  "It is nothing.  Really."

 "Star, you're no good at lying, and I'm not swift enough to say something clever and pretend I don't notice that something's really wrong, well, besides the obvious thing wrong, but you've been coping for over a week with that," Jimmy mumbled, adjusting the watch on his wrist.  "Could you just, I don't know, talk to me?"

 There were several minutes when neither man said anything, eyes locked and not shying from the intense looks and raw emotions.

 "I am just thinking about my past," Gaveedra confessed finally, turning his gaze back to watch the gentle rise and fall of Julio's chest as if it was the most beautiful dance in the world. "I was thinking of how much I want to forget it.  It had been coming back to me since Julio's injury, pieces of it, things that I thought were gone for good."

 "Bad things?"  Jimmy asked.

 "Very bad things."  Gaveedra shifted on the chair, resting his chin on his knees as his finger pulled at the cuffs of his hospital pants, occasionally dipping to adjust his socks.  It was so cold in the room.  "It is nothing I cannot handle."

 "I said the same thing," Jimmy replied quietly, "when my friends and family were slaughtered."

 Gaveedra looked at Jimmy, seeing the eyes and trusting them when he knew he shouldn't.  Gaveedra was a private man, an enigma no one knew anything about, and he had intended to keep it that way, but his head was beginning to hurt with all the secrets.  "I used to be a slave on Mojoworld."

 Jimmy didn't look surprised.  "Yeah, I heard something like that."

 Gaveedra nodded, his eyes moving back to Julio, watching and waiting, waiting for those dark eyes to open and make everything all right again.  "I killed for sport.  I ... have so much blood on my hands still.  I was ten years old when I slew my first opponent.  I keep remembering things that have happened when I sleep.  There is a thing I left behind there, a terrible thing that happened to me and that I wished never to think of again."

 "What sort of thing?"  Gaveedra looked at him again, brows furrowed and doubt etched across his face, so close to saying nothing more.  "Hey, I asked, right?  I want to know whatever you have to say.  I mean, no pressure, but ... you do look like shit, so it has to be important."

 "You humans call it rape," Gaveedra said mildly, "but in the Pens, it was a way of asserting authority over people who threatened your survival.  I preferred to kill, it was painless and I am not a cruel man."  Gaveedra shrugged.  "I did not even think about it until now."

 It took a second or two for Jimmy to realise just what exactly Shatterstar had said, going over and over it in his head until he was absolutely sure he had heard it correctly.  Calmly and without betraying horror at the nonchalance with which Shatterstar said it, Jimmy spoke.  "You mean ... shit, Star, this isn't the type of stuff you bury."

 "I knew you would not understand," Gaveedra muttered, withdrawing into his protective shell, but Jimmy grabbed his arm, dragging him back into the real world.  The redhead sighed deeply and looked at his teammate with weary eyes.  "What?"

 "Don't bury this.  It'll fuck you up in the head."

 Gaveedra wretched his arm away.  Why did no one ever understand?  There were not enough words in existence to bridge the gap between him and the rest of humanity.  "I said it was common on my world.  We were not allowed to mix with the females, and some of the males, some of them still had an instinct to breed.  I healed by morning, and they paid for it."

 But Jimmy seemed almost frantic, refusing to accept the calm explanation, refusing to see anything but the cold, hard facts.  "Shatterstar, things like this don't just go away.  I've seen ..."

 "Then you go away," Shatterstar snapped suddenly, gesturing strongly in the general direction of the door. *This* was the last thing he needed.  "Go away and leave me alone.  I am too tired to fight with you now.  Think what you will of me, just go away.  Please, just go."

 "Star, man, I ..."

 "Please," the redhead repeated, the blanket drawn over his head now, body shaking and so horribly cold.  It was so dark and awful here without Julio to make it better, to lighten everything up and give him a reason for living.  Gaveedra could no longer pretend he was empty inside because it was obviously a lie.  "Please."

 And Warpath stood up and left the room.

 There came a point in Gaveedra Seven's life when suddenly everything made sense.  His life had been one, long uphill battle, and he fought valiantly but by his late teens, he was worn out and old.  It made sense to him when he considered the fact he had outlived all of his tube-mates.  Every single one of them, the boys he had trained and learned with, had all been massacred in the Games, all save for him, the gladiator known as Shatterstar.

 His battle name had come from the Star birthmark that covered his left eye, a mark on his skin that had forever cast him as different.  Before his emergence from the Source, the Gaveedra line had been long dead, and it was whispered among the Gladiators that Shatterstar was directly descended from Longshot.  Gaveedra had never agreed one way or the other.  It made no difference to him where he came from just that he was there.

 Gaveedra Seven's mutancy had been another curse he had not needed.  If he used it in the Games, he was automatically disqualified.  Disqualification was the same thing as losing; it was the same thing as being sentenced to death.  His hands had been wrong from the very beginning, four-fingered instead of three so the swords he fought with never fit his hand and he had to work harder to learn how to fight.  When hair had begun to grow on his face and body, the other Gladiators had been repulsed by the idea, the trait having long since been weeded from the vertebrate line, and he had spent hours plucking out each hair, one by one, so he would be just like everyone else.  When he was finally, however accidental, banished on earth, he was both relieved and horrified.  It would have been a new start for him.

 Things had never been more the same.  He had no knowledge of how to make friends so he didn't.  He spoke differently, unable to become comfortable with contractions and slang, and he couldn't even understand the simple concept of downtime.  He trained twelve hours a day, slept eight and watched television for the last four.  Television had been the only comfort and reminder of home.  It had become his only friend.

 Until Julio.

 The minute their eyes had first met, something came alive in Gaveedra Seven that scared him.  It was a dangerous feeling, one that could not be controlled and threatened certain doom, a disgusting and horrifying feeling that was terrifying in its enormity.  It was nothing Gaveedra recognised, just that in this brash and unpleasant man there was a like soul, someone who was just as misplaced in the world.

 In time, that dangerous feeling developed into something that Shatterstar had dared to call love.  He tried to find and wanted another word for it.  He had read book upon book, researching the subject and his emotions to death until he was finally convinced that something so bizarre and mysterious and terrible had indeed happened.  Of course, it had a name all unto itself.  Unrequited love.

 For the first few months it had been all right.  The feeling was almost dormant, only igniting whenever he saw Julio, and he avoided him easily.  But another odd thing happened between them: friendship.  Not only was Julio beautiful and smart, but they had actual things in common, similar opinions, similar likes and dislikes.  It had been the end.  Shatterstar had been betrayed completely by his own mind and body, but it was almost welcome.  Almost.

 Much to his chagrin, Julio had dragged Shatterstar to a club, insisting that it would be fun and they would have a wonderful time.  Shatterstar preferred their nights of movie watching, when Julio would introduce him to amusingly stupid films where men wore chainsaws on their hands.  The music in the club had been loud, too much like his homeworld, but there had been a girl with a dumber name than his, a distracting little nitwit who had dared to touch him.  Hands in places where they shouldn't have been, but it had been that exact moment that Julio looked at him, sparing Shatterstar a second glance that spoke volumes.  Gaveedra saw jealously in those dark eyes; Julio covered it up with bravado.

 Gaveedra decided then and there that he would do his best to seduce his friend and convince him what Shatterstar already knew, that they were meant to be together forever.  It was simple, not complicated at all, and he knew that in the end, they would both be happy.

 And if Julio decided that Shatterstar was wrong, then Gaveedra would throw himself on his sword and end his miserable existence.  It was his last attempt at living.  If he failed again, he refused to go on.

 It would be either the beginning or end; his fate lay in the hands of the man he loved.

 It was late at night when Shatterstar realised he was very, very hungry.  Kissing Julio lightly between his dark eyebrows, Gaveedra unwillingly left the room in search of food.  He realised he had eaten only sporadically in two weeks, a secondary concern in the entire matter so forgotten completely save for Iceman's attempts, and Gaveedra was utterly fatigued with hunger, so he crept quietly through the halls, using the wall as support because he was so dizzy.

 "You're a bunch of cruel bastards!  I can't believe you're doing this!"

 Gaveedra paused mid-step, his breath caught in his throat as his stomach automatically filled with dread.  His brain didn't quite under yet but his instincts were aflame, reminding him to set his foot down quietly and dare not to even breathe.

 "Bobby, he is brain dead.  It is cruel to keep him living."

 Gaveedra tipped his head.  Cruel to keep ... *who* living?

 "Says you, Hank!  You said it yourself.  It's not one hundred percent!  But that's not even my issue!  My gripe is that fact that you aren't giving that kid a say in what happens to his lover!  I swear, Hank, if you ever try to pull this with me and Remy, I'll never talk to you again!"

 Julio.  Gaveedra closed his eyes tightly.  This was all a terrible dream.  He had to wake up now before it became the most awful nightmare he could imagine.  He had to wake up before it killed them both.

 "Bobby, you have to understand the differences between his situation and yours.  Remy has chosen to fight his own battle, and he has a chance of healing.  Julio's brain is no longer functioning.  Neither Nathan nor I can find any indication that he will ever recover.  I hardly mean to be cruel, but as a doctor I cannot condone letting Julio live if there is no chance he will recuperate.  Bobby, he is just a boy."

 No chance.  Gaveedra pressed his hands to his mouth and tried not to scream his horror, biting his teeth into his skin to stifle his cries.  No chance.  It was not fair!  None of this was fair!  No chance?  They had hardly even had a chance to love let alone live.  No chance.  None.

 "Then tell Shatterstar that!  Tell him and let him know instead of barging in, doing it and thinking about that kid after the fact."  Iceman looked up and saw the splash of orange in the black of the hallway, eyes meeting eyes before Gaveedra turned away.  "And dare I even bring up Emma Frost, Hank?"

 Shatterstar was already down the hall when he heard mention of the White Queen and he understood what Iceman had just done in his own way, giving Gaveedra a fact that could at least aid in the fight, but the greatest weapon would be Julio.

 "Julio," he whispered frantically as he touched the sleeping face, careful of the breathing tube.  Gaveedra took several deep breaths to calm himself.  Julio needed gentleness not hysterical shrieks in the dark.  "Did you ever think that we would work so well as one?  I love you so much, Beloved.  I need you to know that.  It has been two weeks now, and I have sat patiently by your side for each one of those days, but Julio, I have to ask you to wake up now."

 Gaveedra took a frozen hand in his and held it tightly to warm the skin.  Had it only been fourteen days ago that this hand had touched him and loved him like Julio's hands could do?  It seemed like longer, too long, too unbearably long.  They were like ice now.  Almost dead ...

 "Julio, Beloved, they are going to remove your breathing tube.  Do you understand what that means?"  Gaveedra lay his forehead against Julio's face, nestled in the line of his lover's brow and desperate for the contact.  "They think that your mind is badly damaged, that there is little chance you will recover, but I do not believe them.  I think you are just hiding, somewhere deep in your head where you think you are safe."  Gaveedra spoke directly into his lover's ear and using a hand to rub the sleeping face, thumb stroking cheek, fingers brushing hair.  "Beloved, that place is in my arms with me."

 Gaveedra pressed his lips to Julio's temple and held them there, a symbol of his love, of his unending faith in that glorious love.  "I have never asked you for anything, Julio.  I gave you my heart willingly and it was you who chose to accept it.  I would have carried on if you had said no because I had no right to ask for your affection in the first place.  I gave all that I could to you, and of your own free will, you gave everything back, but I must ask you now to give me this first, to give me your life and trust me that I will protect it forever."  Gaveedra trailed his mouth to the slender neck, burying his face in the warm flesh.  "I know you are in there.  I know you are listening to me right now.  Julio, I promise you, there is nothing to fear.  Come back."

 Gaveedra bowed his head, listening to them talk in the hallway and how they had received word from Julio's family that they were free to do what they felt best.  But what about him?  What about what Gaveedra wanted and what he knew Julio wanted as well?  His family had abandoned Rictor just as he had turned his back on them.  Gaveedra was Julio's family now, the two of them forever like the fates had planned.  Born a century apart, living lives that held nothing in common, brought together by the hand of destiny, they had overcome everything to find that one true love so many people never saw.  They had seen it, the bright colours, the overwhelming rush of happiness, the delicious pain that pushed their hearts to the brink of an explosion.  Gaveedra saw it still.  If only Julio would just open his eyes ...

 "Julio, please," Gaveedra breathed desperately, pressing Julio's frozen hand to his own wildly beating heart, holding it against something Julio could feel and understand without question.  "Please, I will do anything if you will come back to me just do not let them do this to you.  I know you are still in there.  I would have felt your soul slip away if it had.  If you come back, you will never have to be alone.  I will leave this lifestyle behind and we can move away and live together like couples do.  I do not need my swords anymore."

 The doorknob jiggled, the voices still loud and clear outside the room but drawing closer with every agonising breath.  Gaveedra's voice cracked, his accent so thick even he could hardly understand it, but he pushed on, pleading and begging like he never would again.  There had to be something that Julio needed to hear, a word, a phrase, a promise, something that would convince him to open those striking dark eyes and smile again.  "If there is something about me that you do not like, I will change it.  If you have realised that you are not gay at all, there are things that can be done.  My body can be altered so it would not disgust you so much and we would not have to hide anymore.  Anything that you want, Julio, anything that you need from me is yours.  I will give my soul to you if that is what you want.  It lives in you now anyway, protected from the things that haunt me, cradled in your love.  I am not a warrior anymore.  I am a man and I love you.  Please, Julio, I will be yours forever and never ask for another thing again, but do not leave me.  That is all I will ever ask of you."
 Gaveedra lifted his head to see them in the room now, hell bent on making sure that they destroyed two lives.  Why couldn't they just have faith in Julio like he did?  It had only been two weeks.  That was not sufficient time to let him heal.  Julio was going to live through this; he had given Gaveedra his promise.

 "Shatterstar," Domino said quietly, laying her fingers on the shaking shoulder, trying to steady him and pull him away all at once.  "You have to let him go."

 "No," Gaveedra said with a shake of his head, tightly holding onto the fingers of his lover and paying no mind to the fact that he was crushing them.  Julio had to wake up.  Now.  "I will not.  You have no right to do this."

 Domino tried to tug him back, but Gaveedra pulled forward, always fighting, such a fighter.   "He's brain dead, Shatterstar, every test that's been done has told us that.  You can't expect us to keep him alive.  You have to let his body do what it needs to do.  This is wrong."

 Gaveedra shook his head at her blasphemous comments, his hair brushing over Julio's face and tickling the skin.  Julio both loved and hated being buried in the russet hair.  "The tests are wrong.  I know he is still alive.  He would not have left me."

 Domino let go of the solemn warrior, looking to Nathan and betraying her failure.  "Gaveedra, there comes a time in life where you have to give up and admit defeat.  We tried, but his body was too badly hurt and his mind went with it.  These things happen.  Life is not fair."

 "It is fair to us," Gaveedra said, his voice shaky and deep, fingers buried in Julio's silken hair, trying to hold onto something so horribly slippery he seemed to be losing his grasp.  He could not do this without Julio.  There was nothing left without Julio.  "It is fair to us!"

 Nathan stepped in, arms crossed over his chest and his face a blank board without expression.  "His family gave us consent."

 Gaveedra let out a grunt of exasperation, thinking them fools because they did not seem to understand what he *knew*.  "I am his family.  I have pledged my life to him.  I am the one he would want to make a decision on his life.  I say no."

 "I am prepared to make sure you don't interfere," Cable warned from his perch in the doorway.  Doctor McCoy was behind him and Iceman hovered even further in the distance, his face a mask of hidden fury.  At least Shatterstar knew he did not stand alone.  "It isn't fair that we force life into his body if his mind is gone.  He wouldn't have wanted this."

 Shatterstar gave Cable such a look of raw emotion and consuming rage that the telepathic leader stepped back, those silver eyes so filled with so much fury that they both sensed danger.  Gaveedra pushed onward, not caring where he was going.  If he had to kill them all, it did not matter.  Shatterstar did not care about anything but Julio, his lover, his life, his best *friend*.

 Gaveedra turned his attention back to the bed, speaking to them but looking only at Julio. "His mind is right where it belongs, in his head.  The tests are wrong and you are wrong.  Julio would never let *you* in willingly.  He hated you and now so do I.  You are so eager to abandon him yet you left the White Queen alive for months!  Why is it that you are so quick to condemn Julio when you let her vacant body rot for months?  I believe this is discrimination."

 Iceman smirked and tightened his arms over his chest, catching those angry eyes and nodding gently, seeing how close Gaveedra was to breaking and hoping he had just a little strength left to fight.  That was a good card to play.  Hurt them before they hurt you.  In the end, it might not matter, but comments like those could never be forgotten.

 "God, don't be a fool, boy!"  Cable shouted, pounding his fist against the door jamb and fighting every instinct he had to come into the room and beat sense into the russet-haired warrior.   "This isn't because he's gay."

 "Then I demand that he be given the same amount of time the White Queen was given for recovery," Shatterstar replied, not sparing even a glance in the accused's direction.  "Julio merely needs more time to let his body heal then he will wake up and we will be together.  If any of you try to stop me, I will kill you.  You seem not to realise that Julio is the only reason I have for living."

 Domino tried again, steering Gaveedra into a stand by stealing his chair from under him and turning him to face her, to see the grief she felt in her heart, too.  He merely shook his head, refusing to look, refusing to see her truth.  He had his own reality even if she felt it was wrong, even if the entire world stood against him.  He *knew* the truth.  It had to be the truth.  It had to be ...

 Domino pulled at him.  "Shatterstar ..."

 "No!  Julio is still there!  You are not allowed to take him from me!  You are ... not ..."  Shatterstar stepped back and tripped over the chair, crashing to the floor.  He damned himself and them all in one breath, hating each one with a rage so hot it burned white,  hating himself because he had blinded himself with tears.  The ultimate betrayal of body then, he thought bitterly, a little death amidst the larger ones.  How dare it?  How dare they?

 Hunched forward, he was supported by one arm as he kneeled.  The other hand pressed to his head, covering his eyes from their view.  They didn't need to see the tears.  No one needed to see the weakness as he petitioned for deliverance.  "Please, do not do this, I beg you, for my life as well as his, do not give up on him so quickly."

 "Shatterstar ..."  Nathan tried again, daring to touch the warrior's sacred body, and quick as lightening, Shatterstar was on him, fists immediately going for the telepath's head to disorient him, to take him unaware, to *hurt* him.  Just as quickly, Domino pulled Gaveedra off Cable, and he turned on her as well, hitting her so hard her nose shattered on impact.  Damn them, he would kill them all or die trying.  But damn them all the same.

 Nathan grabbed Shatterstar's arms and yanked them rudely up and over his head, the metallic hand circling the warrior's waist as he kicked and writhed in his leader's grasp.  "Damn it, McCoy, we agreed on the results!  I won't let anyone reduce Julio to this joke!"

 Already Nathan had carried Gaveedra halfway out of the room, wishing there had been another way, that there had been more answers, that it didn't have to end this way, but truth was truth and there was nothing anyone could do now.

 Gaveedra pushed at the arms around his waist, trying to pull his body free, but he was so weak from hunger and so empty from grief, not a warrior anymore, not even a man.  Just ... nothing.  This is how it would be, he realised, this is how it would be without Julio.  Nothing. They would both be so lonely.  "No!  No!  Please!  At least let me be with him!  Please!"

 Nathan stopped but kept his arms tightly around the raging body, so Shatterstar could do nothing as the tubes were removed, could scarcely even breath the vice around his body was so tight, but Gaveedra screamed in his native tongue, empty words leaving his mouth as he begged until he had no more pride, begging and pleading but still not crying, not completely though the tears burned at his eyes like acid.

 Then it was done and Nathan let go, allowing Gaveedra's tired body to crash to the ground, and Shatterstar lay there unmoving, deeply in shock and able only to hug his arms around his body.  He sat on the cold floor next to the bed and realised he was broken completely when he had thought the accomplishment was impossible.  Was he allowed to cry now?  Would his body finally let him weep?

 The sound of silence was deafening, no soft whir of machines, no methodical beep-beep-beep of a pulse on a screen, just an eerie, *dead* silence where before there had at least been a mask of life, however false or pretend.  Gaveedra pressed his hands to his ears, unable to take it, to bear it, to be strong enough to accept the terrible silence for what it really meant.  Empty.  Nothing.  Dead.

 Shatterstar closed his eyes, trying to stop himself from reacting in front of them, but he couldn't and a painful sob escaped his lips.  It cracked open his chest and laid his heart out for all to see, and it hurt him.  The pain was incredible.  Tears squeezing from behind armoured eyelids, Gaveedra wept openly and hard, his body shaking as he squeezed his fingers into his head, horrible cries racking his body with grief.  So this is what it felt like to cry, so this is the pain *it* caused, and he hated it, hated it so much he sobbed harder and abhorred the fact that *this* could happen to him.  The stoic warrior, the human male, he was neither now but an empty shell, a sculpture that resembled life but held no soul.

 "Leave me," he demanded through the tears, his voice strange and alien to him. "Leave me!"

 "Shatterstar, don't ..."

 "Now!"  He screamed with a voice he rarely chose to use, a shriek that was almost painful to hear.  Since his mutant power worked on sound, the range of his voice was incredible, and the others drew back at the wail, ignoring the sting it caused in their ears .  "This is something I must face alone!  You cannot stop what you have started!"

 And when he never thought they would, Cable and Iceman and Domino understood his grief and turned their backs on him as he wished, giving up or maybe trusting him too much.  It didn't matter anymore.  Nothing mattered anymore.  It would never matter again; Gaveedra would make sure of that point.  Never again.

 One hand crept into his loose shirt and withdrew a knife from the holster beneath his arm.  He held it close to his body, hiding it beneath the flaps of fabric, and if anyone tried to stop him, they would be dead before they even got to him.  He knew death, had tasted its blood and understood it intimately.  Them or him, death was the same either way.

 But the knife would not move.  Deep down, Gaveedra realised he really didn't want to die, that he did fear it after all and that he wanted nothing more than to live *happily*, but the option of living without Julio was unacceptable.  With a sob, he pushed the blade into his chest, but his hand was unsteady and he missed his heart.  So he tried again, stabbing blindly in hope that he would die and follow wherever his soul had gone.

 A hand descended on top of his head, softly settling in his hair and so much like a fall save for the slightest shifting pressure.  Gaveedra lifted his eyes, not quite believing, so overwhelmed with grief that he didn't trust himself to have felt the fingers push.  His love could not bring Julio back from the dead; he was a fool to have thought it could.  But if he could not bring life to love, he would deliver it to death instead.  Julio and he were meant to be together, in life and in death.
 "... stop ..."

 Stop?  Gaveedra paused midway through stabbing himself again and dropped the knife as he struggled to his feet, launching himself at the bed and framing Julio's head with his forearms.  At first, he doubted he had really heard the word but as the dark eyes flickered open to settle on his gaze, the distinct puff of breath hit his face.

 A smile, uneven and weak, but a smile.  "... hi ..."

 "Hi," Gaveedra replied quietly, smiling gently as his fingers bent to brush the hair from Julio's face, so exhausted he could barely stand but willing to remain forever on his feet if it meant this was the truth.  "Am I dead?"

 "... am I? ..."

 Gaveedra touched his hand to that gorgeous face, feeling how solid and tight the bone was beneath the skin.  "You do not feel dead, but I have just stabbed myself in the heart, so I think I must be dead, so if you are here too, we must both be dead."

 "... i think ... that you are ... bleeding all over my chest ..."

 "Am I?"  Julio nodded with a painful smile, wishing he could laugh, and Gaveedra understood what he felt and laughed for him.  "Hmm.  I suppose I am.  That must mean I am alive, which by default means you are alive, too."
 Julio exhaled a warm, deep breath.  "... good ..."

 Gaveedra nodded earnestly, aware that he wept openly now and didn't seem to care anymore.  He cried when he was sad so he was allowed to cry when he was happy, too.  They were tears of beautiful joy.  He did not fear them.  "You came back to me."

 Julio gasped.  "... did you ever doubt?  ..."

 Shaking his head, Gaveedra laid his lips on the rise of cheek, speaking into the warm flesh.  "Never, Julio, never."

 "... good ... because you promised me ... that you would live with me ... forever ... mi amor ..." Julio caught those silver eyes.  "... i climbed out of hell for you ..."

 Gaveedra pressed his eyes together, finding courage.  "I was so afraid."

 "... so was i ... but i am here now ..."

 And behind the glass, Cable, Domino and Beast could only watch amazed at the tender exchange, a miracle, they understood, or perhaps the result of one's undying faith in the other to carry the weight of their incredible love on his shoulders.  Of them all, only Iceman was smiling.  If Julio could come back from death, Remy could beat it, too.  It gave him *hope.*

 Julio closed his eyes.  "... i am tired ... "

 "Then sleep, Beloved, I will be here when you wake up," Gaveedra said, cradling that remarkable face in his hands and kissing the pale forehead gently, letting the warmth of his breath heat the frigid skin.  "Thank you, Julio, for returning to me."

 "... thank you ... for giving me a reason to ..."

If anyone is wondering, Alegria means 'joy' in Portuguese.  What?  You didn't think I'd write anything this sad without a major hint as to the outcome, did you? ;)


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