Disclaimers: All belong to JMS and Marvel.
Spoilers: Major ones for SUPREME POWER #15, minor
ones for earlier points in the title.
Summary: One of the things Stan never gets used to
is the way the ground changes colors beneath his feet.
Ratings Note: Adults only.
Author's Note: There were about a dozen other stories I
wanted to write before revisiting the "Stan and Mark
after #15 place," but Betty made me think *thoughts*.
Acknowledgments: To LC, Betty, Prop, and Livia for
audiencing. Livia also steered the path of this story, though
how much she *meant* to do that is up in the air.
"You can't -- you can't *do* that."
"That -- *that*," and Stan's mama always said that you can't
sound like an idiot if you're just careful about when you
open your mouth, but... damn.
Mark isn't even looking at him, not after that quiet, calm
little "Stan, whatever can you be talking about?" expression
of a few -- he thinks it's a few, sometimes it's hard to tell --
They're on the roof of a building Richmond probably owns,
or plans to work some shady rich guy mojo to steal out
from under a White person who's probably perfectly *nice*,
and. No. *He's* on the roof. Mark is kinda hovering over it,
arms crossed behind his back as he stares out over Chicago,
Like he *doesn't* own it, yet, but that doesn't matter
because he could, and... he's right. He is.
Mark's a five hundred pound gorilla and -- it comes to him,
so sweet and perfect that it sounds like his mama said it
first. Stan clears his throat, and stands up a little straighter,
and says, "You might be the gorilla here, man, but you
don't have to *act* like one." There.
But Mark doesn't gasp, or whirl around to stare at him, or
even get ticked. He just... stands there.
And Stan's pretty sure this is one of those moments where
he's supposed to wait for the other person to say
something, but damn if Mark *can't* move as fast (or
almost) as he can, so he shouldn't *have* to, and,
"You think they're better than that. Better than gorillas."
And he does *not* like the sound of that 'they,' but.
"*Most* human beings don't toss crap at each other," he
says, "And anyway, come on, now, you're human, too. You
just got powers, like me --"
"-- a *lot* of powers, and -- what?"
Mark shifts a little on his feet -- *freaky* to look at that
happening on nothing but air and says, "I'm not human.
That's *why* I was raised in a bubble."
"Oh." Except that was kind of the *wrong* thing to say,
because 'oh' makes it sound like that information went down
smooth as a milkshake from the general back home -- Ruby
always puts extra syrup in his -- and it really, really didn't.
So he tries again. "You're... well. How do you *know*
you're not human?"
*This* time Mark looks back at him, smiling back over his
shoulder all rueful. "I found the ship they found *me* in. I
started..." He sighs, a little. "All of those things I told you
at dinner. I always used to try not to listen in on other
people's conversations -- it isn't *polite* -- but then I
started getting suspicious. I listened. And I found out."
Stan... well, he blinks a lot. Because Mark is saying... he's
saying he's an *alien*. "You mean... you're not like me?"
"There were..." Another smile, and this one is really.
It's still rueful, it's just that it's more *intense* for
"My ship was carrying viral DNA which made you like me."
Reason. "Oh," Stan says again, and can't really think of
anything else. Can't even make himself *try*, as opposed
to making himself tug on his suit a little, because suddenly
it's. A little hard to breathe.
"Should I..." The smile becomes a frown. Not fast, but slow.
One piece of Mark's face at a time shifting until he looks
worried. "Should I have told you before?"
And Stan *wants* to say "Yes!" and maybe "Dammit!" but
his mama always, *always* said that the first thing to come
to mind is usually the *worst* thing you could say, so he
doesn't say anything at all.
Just tries to think, and tries not to think about what all that
new (alien, *alien*) DNA looked like, and how he was so
sick when he was little, sick all the time, sick and full of
thoughts and feelings that didn't seem right at all, and --
"It's just... I've had time to come to terms with it. And I
hadn't really considered..."
There's a hand on Stan's shoulder. One on both, and he
knows he's technically looking right *at* Mark, it's just that
he can't... hell, he doesn't even *know* what DNA looks
like other than little twisty ladders. He'd barely *passed*
biology, so he shouldn't be stupid about this, or
"Listen. I... are you listening to me, Stan?"
And Mark's voice is low, and steady, and... not really
*demanding*. It's just that he sounds a little like Stan's
mama had that time when the weathermen said the
hurricane might blow through, and his mama was scared
he might get caught out running, and. "Yeah. I... yes."
Mark squeezes his shoulders. "The information on the
ship... it wasn't complete. Not as complete as it could be,
and I couldn't get everything before the military... it's not
important. It's just that there was something Steadman --
one of the doctors -- said about the ship, and how it
affected Ledger. The man who took Redstone?"
Blond guy, rainbows all around him, sure. He's nodding, or
he thinks it is.
"He... they think the ship sent out the viruses. That it was...
that it was to keep me from being alone, here."
And he's still... he still can't quite *focus*, as much as he
knows he ought to, but that registers. A little, anyway. "You
think we're all... that we're..."
"The family I was supposed to have. That I *would've* had
if I hadn't stayed where they put me. If I'd searched for
"*That's* why you trusted Ledger? Because he's got a piece
of wherever you're from in him?"
And Mark... smiles again. *Laughs*. "Actually, he has a
piece of the *ship* in him, but..." He shakes his head.
"You're not human anymore. Not really. And somewhere out
there are more people like you. Like *us*, because my
people -- whoever they were --"
"*Changed* us. Just... they... Mark, don't you think --"
"That it's wrong?" Mark squeezes his shoulders again before
letting go and flying back over to the edge of the roof. "Do
you think it is?"
'Yes!' Stan thinks, but he *doesn't* say it, because it's the
first thing and probably the worst thing, and because even
when his mama didn't really have the money to pay for all
the clothes he burnt up running all over the south, he still
("I'm sorry, mama, it's just. I think it's the way I *am*.")
And it was -- it *is* -- and he wouldn't. If it's wrong, then
shouldn't he want to give it up?
Shouldn't he... he doesn't *know*.
"You don't," Mark says. "Do you."
"No," Stan says, and he thinks maybe he sounds a little like
the time his mama caught him burning up ants with a glass,
only this time he *knows* he sounds pouty. *Petulant*.
And see, Mark is *listening* to him, so he *ought* to have
something to say, something other than "it's still not right,"
because even though it *isn't* -- what if his mama gets
hurt? Or sick? What if she needs a kidney or something
and he can't help, because his body's too different now,
"You're not the same as the humans, Stan," Mark says, all
quiet and final like... like...
"That's not the point!"
"Isn't it? Stan --"
"*Yeah*, it's the point!" And he's yelling now, and he
*knows* he needs to stop, it's just that he isn't sure why,
right now. "Look, I... maybe I *do* have more in common
with the little grey guys on X-Files now than... than my
*mama*, but still! We can't just..."
"There was a man who tried to kill me. He used... he used
enough bombs that the place where the base used to be is
a crater, now."
"Anyway. He wasn't... he wasn't a mean man. Certainly not
a *bad* man. He was a soldier, and I was an unpredictable
threat. Anyway, one of the last things he said to me before
he attempted to blow both of us up is that I should never
have expected any better sort of treatment, because I
wasn't just not a soldier or citizen, I wasn't even human.
That I was *different*, and so..." Mark shrugs.
Stan stares at his back, and the way the muscles work
under the torn black suit (when *had* he changed from the
old one?), even though they probably don't have to. Not the
way human muscles, do, and. And he doesn't know.
"Anyway, there it is. I'm an alien. You -- and Ledger -- are
alien/human hybrids. This is the greatest country in the
world -- or so I've been told -- and there is no court in this
nation which wouldn't sentence us to death in a heartbeat,
on any excuse. Because even dogs -- and gorillas -- have
more *right* to exist than we do."
"It's not." ("Well, son, you have to be careful. People like
Officer Kelly are real nice, *good* folks, but sometimes
good people get scared of things they don't understand...")
And Stan can hear that little vibrating ticking noise that
means he's swallowing too fast, that means he's scared,
but. ("It's better than it used to be -- gettin' better every
day, and don't you believe no different, Stanley. But things
used to be hard for folks like us. Real hard.") *But*. "It's
not *like* that. That general -- look. I."
Mark looks at him, blank-faced and. Listening, just listening.
"That *general*, or whatever he was. He's... he wasn't
right. He was *crazy*."
"You think so?" Mark tilts his head at him, honestly curious,
and it's almost.
Well, it's almost kind of *cute*, but the laugh Stan hears
coming out of his mouth doesn't sound right at *all*. "Well,
of course he was! He took an incredibly powerful baby and
gave it to a bunch of liars and... and *jerks* to raise!"
Mark raises an eyebrow. "I think 'programming' is the
Stan waves a hand. "That's just *it*. You don't. You're not
supposed to *program* no babies, Mark! You're supposed
to raise them, and love them, and try to... to teach them
right from wrong because it's what you *believe*, not
because you want to create some kind of perfect citizen!"
Mark turns away from him again.
"I mean... you have to know that, right? You *have* to.
They gave you television to watch, and there were other
"My television consumption was strictly censored. I listened
in the other night to a couple in Spokane watching a DVD
of a Richard Pryor performance from the 1970s. Have you
ever heard of him? I didn't understand everything, but it
was very funny."
And there it is. That not-a-jitter, not-a-shake in his thighs
that always means he needs to run somewhere, only he
still kind of hurts from being thrown through that wall by
Redstone, and he doesn't really need to run anywhere. Not
really. Not. "Mark..."
"Did you know... they even chose my name to be appealing.
Anglo-Saxon, easy for most Americans to pronounce and
remember. Maybe someone else would've given me a
"Maybe they would've, Mark. That's just it, you don't know.
You don't know... man, you probably don't know *anything*
about humans, real humans. I mean, that's the whole thing
about soldiers, anyway. They get -- they get
*programmed* until they lose a lot of the things which
makes them people. *Human*. And most of them are still
pretty good people, I think, but."
"You think my experiences have been... non-representative."
And Mark doesn't say anything for a few seconds, or maybe
less. He just looks up into the sky, and closes his eyes.
"Just a moment," he says, holding up a hand. "Three miles
northwest, a woman is shaking a three year old. He'd
spilled his dinner."
"At about the same distance northeast, there's a teenager
composing a suicide note. Out loud, because the music
she's playing is loud enough for the father who raped her
not to hear her. She probably won't do it tonight. She
wants it to be perfect."
"God. Mark --"
"The couple in Spokane -- the woman had aborted her last
three pregnancies, because her boyfriend doesn't believe
in condoms, and her mother always told her that birth
control is a sin."
"That's just... they're not --"
"I'm only picking the examples involving child-rearing, of
course. And I think that the man singing a lullaby over
there," Mark points due west. "Honestly loves his child. I
think so. He was looking at the baby a little like the way
your mother looks at you."
Stan covers his face with his hands.
"I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with
humanity. After all, they could have easily programmed me
to *be* a soldier, instead of a citizen. They could have
Mark's hands are on his shoulders again. "I don't blame
them for... for what they did to me, Stan. You have to
"You... you *should* blame them." His voice is muffled by
his hands. "It's not right. It's not --"
"Your mother taught you right from wrong. Because it's
what she believed, and what she wanted you to believe so
you could grow up to be a *good* man. Right?"
Stan nods, instead of listening to his own voice.
"They're not all like the general, and they're not all like your
mother. They have nothing in common but the configuration
of their DNA, and the fact that it's very little, relatively, like
our own. Gorillas have more in common."
Stan squeezes his eyes shut.
"Most everyone does exactly what they think is right. Very
few... people set out to be evil. That woman who's shaking
her baby is on the phone now with a friend, talking about
the cigarette burns on her arms, and how she could be so
"I think it would be... you're the best person I've ever met,"
Mark says, honest and quiet. His breath smells a little like
the coffee he'd had with his dessert. "And you think you're
human, so maybe you are. It's just that it's harder to find
people like you than you -- or your mother -- might guess."
He squeezes his eyes shut *tighter*, and -- stops. Puts his
hands down at his sides and looks Mark in the eye, clear
blue like the sky and so. "What do you want me to say to
you? Why are you telling *me* all this? Did you already
convince that Ledger guy of this... this *stuff*?"
"We've never really had the opportunity to talk, actually --"
And Mark bites his lip, and looks back over his shoulder at
the city for a moment before turning back to him again.
The kiss is... it's.
It's a *kiss*, and it's only soft until Mark steps close and
*pulls* Stan closer, and then it's hard and almost painful.
And it goes on, and on, and Stan can see Mark's eyes are
closed, and that he looks. He looks.
He's *kissing* Stan, and Stan's pretty sure he doesn't ("Aw,
now, baby, God is *love*.") do that, that this isn't --
He gasps when Mark pulls away, and he's going to say
something, even though he doesn't. He doesn't know what
he's supposed to *say* to that, not with Mark staring at
his mouth and licking his lips like Stan had tasted really...
licking his *lips*.
"You're the best person I ever met," Mark says, again, and
smiles. "And your stubble tickles."
"Do you know... I spent so long looking for someone to."
Mark looks down at his boots. "I can talk to you."
"I... well. Well, of course you can. Why couldn't you?" He'd
*kissed* him. On the *mouth*.
Mark just keeps looking down at the roof -- they're both on
it, now -- hands clenched into loose fists at his sides and.
It's not that Stan is looking, it's just that Mark's pants are
tight, and anyway --
"You make me feel like I'm not alone."
And he doesn't. He can't *possibly* be the one who's
supposed to talk about... about *any* of this stuff with
"And..." Mark looks up at him again, and there's a real
smile in his eyes.
It's just that it's kind of *hungry*.
"I'm willing to entertain the possibility that it doesn't have
anything to do with your DNA."
Stan swallows, *again*, and then Mark is touching his face,
fingertips brushing Stan's ear and palm pressed to his
And playing with his sideburns. "Your hair is *amazing*."
It probably means his life is even stranger than he'd
thought that he's standing here wondering if it's more or
less funny to have this kind of conversation with an
*alien*, as opposed to a White person. He settles for, "It's
And Mark shakes his head, tugging gently at his sideburns
and staring at the natural that's been aimed straight back
for just about as long as Stan can remember.
"I mean, it's just *hair*."
"It's soft. Just not as soft as your mouth."
Oh, God. "Mark --"
"Yes," he says, and looks at Stan, looks in his *eyes*, and.
"Weren't we... I mean we were *talking*."
The look gets more *intense* for a second or maybe an
hour, and then Mark says, "I'll tell you anything you want to
know. About me, or about... anything."
He means it. He. If Stan asks him what the president is
doing right now, Mark will tell him, and he'll be *right*.
Or maybe Mark will just fly them directly into the Lincoln
Bedroom, right through the *walls*, and then... and then
he doesn't *know*.
And Mark strokes his cheek, and uses his thumb to stroke
his *ear*, and. "You want me. I mean... you want to...
have sex with me?"
Mark nods. "I... may I..." He tilts his head, leaning in so
slow it feels like the whole world is speeding past them.
Even though Stan knows that it's probably the other way
around. That if anyone could see this, forty stories up and
*away* from the city, the *world*, they maybe wouldn't
see anything at all. Not even people, maybe, because Stan
knows he's been vibrating pretty steadily for a while, and
the fact that he can still see Mark perfectly clearly means
that he's vibrating, too, at the exact same speed.
No people, no anything. No *people*. Just.
Just a blur.
And this time, when their mouths touch, Stan hears himself
making a sound, and it's so loud and strange (But maybe
not strange at all.) that he jumps in his skin, and Mark
jumps, *too*, and the thing about running down the side of
a building is that it never stops being strange.
It *feels* just like running down the road, but everything's
at the wrong kind of angle, and the last time he'd tried to
do it with his eyes closed he'd nearly missed the point
where he had to change *his* angle and wound up twisting
They healed, of course, perfect and fast like the way he
can't even *feel* the scrapes that had been on his back
under the suit until a few minutes ago, just like...
He runs, and he's heading south before he even knows he's
doing it, but what's he supposed to tell his mama?
What's he supposed to *ask*?
So he stops.
And he doesn't know where he is, but he has a *routine*
for that. East until he hits a highway, southeast until he
hits a sign.
He doesn't recognize any of the names of the towns, but
the numbers... well, he spent a long time memorizing
road maps. He's in Mississippi, and if he just heads east for
a little while longer, he'll be home again.
Which doesn't really matter, because Mark can *find* him
there, and he's... is he running from Mark? Is that what he's
Because he's not really ("I just asked a question.") scared
of Mark or anything, and it's not like he'd done anything
bad, or anything which couldn't be fixed or. What *had*
happened to everyone else in that base?
It makes him stop, vibrating next to a tree until he hears it
start to creak, and then he moves a little more until it stops
That wasn't Mark's fault. They'd tried to kill him. *They'd*
set off the bombs, because.
Because he was the same kind of alien threat *he* is, now,
and Stan frowns and stares down at his hands.
They look like his grandmother's. His mama always said it,
and there are even a few pictures. ("*I* always thought
you'd play the piano like she did. Oh, honey, you should've
heard her play.")
He *has* to tell his mama about at least some of this, at
least the parts about what his body is like, and.
And he's never kept anything from his mama, he's never
even *tried*. Because she knew everything, anyway, and
because she always knew the right thing to say.
So he stops, again, and crouches down in the little groove
he's made with his feet and tries to think about what she
She'd maybe ask if he could trust Mark, and if he was sure.
And he'd say they could go to a doctor, and then...
Then maybe his mama would frown, because. ("I used to
be so scared, Stanley, scared you'd get hurt so bad one
day you'd have to go to a hospital and they'd do some kind
of test, and then... But it's all right, now, because everyone
knows, and you've got all that money. Oh, baby, we're
And his mama says something about how he's being silly,
that they'd always known he was *different*. He's just a
little more different now, and anyway, he's a star and a
She says it -- she *would* say it, and Stan can hear her.
It's just that it sounds real quiet, is all.
Stan stays where he is, and wonders, a little, why you can
feel sunshine when you can't feel the moon. Maybe he
could, if he tried.
Maybe real humans can.
He doesn't move when he hears the wind start giving that
low hum that means Mark is coming.
"I wasn't sure if I should follow you or not."
He doesn't say anything, either.
"I... I heard you stop, though." Mark lands with a soft
sound that isn't quite a thud, inside Stan's little groove.
"You weren't... you didn't go to your home."
Stan shakes his head.
"Stan... should I apologize for kissing you? I've never.
You're only the second person I've ever kissed."
Stan bites his lip, and stares at Mark's knees. There's a tear
in the right one from the fight with Redstone, and Stan
wonders if he really would've let that man die. If it was any
better to give him to... "Was it Ledger?"
"No. I've only ever punched him."
Stan blinks, a little, and tries to regroup. "Was it someone
else..." He doesn't want to say it. He does, anyway. "Was it
someone else like us?"
"She... her name is Zarda. She has powers a lot like mine,
but I'm not.... she's very strange," Mark says, and it sounds
like he was going to say something else, first.
Stan wonders if he should push it, but he can't really
manage anything more than a nod.
"She healed me. After the bombs."
He nods, and pauses because there's this -- Mark's
touching his hair, again.
It's so normal that Stan thinks wants to laugh. It's just that
he really isn't sure it'd come out right. He stands up, again,
and looks at the outline of Mark's collarbone through his
shirt until he can make himself look the man in the eye.
He still looks like he wants to kiss Stan.
"I need. I have to go... I need more time to think about.
About everything." You said, you did. Everything, and --
And there's this weird sort of *light* behind Mark's eyes,
but it doesn't really look like the kind there is when he's
setting fire to things. It's almost scarier. But after a little
while, he nods, and smiles, and flies away from him.
Stan watches until Mark isn't even a dot, anymore. His
vision isn't much better than... than other people's. He
The run back to Chicago is just as easy as it always is,
which means he spends the whole time wondering what
Richmond's gonna say to tick him off, and also why he's
He doesn't know.
But Richmond apparently hasn't given his *staff* any new
orders about him, and the woman -- tall, Black, and
*serious* -- at the front desk nods toward the elevators.
Richmond *isn't* waiting for him when Stan steps out into
the penthouse, but the door to the den is open.
He's at the bar, with a glass of something which is
probably really expensive Scotch. Stan thinks *real* hard
about asking him if he shouldn't be drinking moonshine,
instead, or maybe something made out of wildebeest pee,
but he doesn't.
He waits, instead.
"One of us owes the other an apology, but I'll be damned if
I know which," Richmond says, and takes a sip.
One of them. Right. "I'm sorry that I opened your stitches,"
he says, because his mama --
Richmond grunts, and it's probably supposed to be a laugh.
"I deserved it. Look, I. I spent a long time just pissed at
you this evening, and then I thought about it. I didn't just
insult you, I insulted your upbringing. Your *mother*. And
I apologize for that."
Stan bites the inside of his cheek hard, and stares at the
wood of the bar so he maybe won't *need* to beat on
Richmond until he feels better. It's dark and gleaming and
probably worth more than what his mother used to earn in
a year. "I'm not. I'm not here to talk about that."
"No? Then -- is something going on with our business
You could *say* that. And... God. Why *is* he here? What
could this rich *asshole* possibly *tell* him?
"What happened?" Richmond asks, and he actually has the
nerve to sound... sound *gentle*.
Stan closes his eyes for a second.
"God fucking dammit, what the hell did that freak do?"
"He didn't -- he didn't do anything. Look, I just have some
questions, all right?"
"Look at me."
He does, after a moment Richmond probably didn't even
notice. And then he just stands there, and gets stared at
like he maybe committed some crime and if Richmond just
stares at him long enough he'll pee his pants and confess.
If he had, he maybe *would*. Richmond nods, eventually.
"What are the questions?"
"*Why* don't you trust him?"
Another one of those grunts which aren't laughs by any
definition *Stan* knows, and Richmond smirks at his glass
before answering. "Son, the only people I *trusted* died
when you were still in diapers --"
"I'm not your son."
Richmond rears back a little, and then raises an eyebrow.
"No, you're not. And you're also not asking what you really
*want* to ask, so why don't you cut the shit and spit it
There's a part of him that wants to crow a little -- he'd
gotten to offend *Richmond* -- but that *isn't* what he's
here for. So. "Fine. What if. What if he isn't human? Does it
make a difference?"
"Shit, we *know* he's not human. Just like *you're* not
human. You may be mutants or you may be something else
entirely. The government's likely got whole files on the
both of you, but I doubt *they* know much more than
anyone else, at this point." Richmond smirks at his glass
again before toasting Stan with it. "After all, most mutants
wind up with shriveled legs or an extra nipple.
*Superpowers* are a little new to everyone. Mr. Stewart."
"Right. Fine. Thanks for your time --"
"The *question* is this -- what do *you* know that I
He can be at the door before the man blinks. He doesn't
know where the other exits are, or if the damned picture
windows even open, but if he can figure out how to get out
of the elevator, then he can run down the shaft and get the
hell *out*. He stops at the door, anyway. "He's an alien."
"Is that right. And he just *told* you this?"
It shouldn't feel like a betrayal. At least not... not a
*personal* one. Stan nods, and thinks about leaning on the
door to the elevator, and thinks about what his handprint
would look like on the gleaming surface, and bites the
inside of his cheek so hard it *bleeds* and --
"I don't suppose you know where the *rest* of... its
*people* are from?"
This grunt doesn't sound like not-laughter so much as it
sounds like the coldest kind of satisfaction in the world.
"Now *that's* an interesting research question, don't you
"I suppose. Look, Richmond --"
"One second. You're telling me you came to me because
you -- *you* -- freaked out? Just because *Mark* is an
He wonders if Mark ever set fire to things with his eyes just
because he was too ticked off.
"Where does *that* fit in your philosophies, Mr. Stewart?"
Richmond's smart, and rich, and *Nighthawk* is... *useful*.
He does good in the world, and there are a lot of good
people in this world who owe him their lives. Black people.
And just because he thinks even his mama would slap the
man if she heard half the things that come out of his mouth
doesn't mean --
Stan clenches his hands into fists and *moves*. Around and
around and *around* the apartment until the drapes are
rippling and the pretty pictures -- by *Black* artists -- are
crooked on the walls. Until he's got a *hold* on himself
When he stops in front of Richmond, the man has one
eyebrow raised and butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. And
it doesn't matter.
"We're the only ones, Richmond."
The eyebrow goes up a little farther. "The only *what*?"
"The only people -- *real* people -- who Mark deals with.
*Fuck* being *Black* -- we're." He'd almost, almost said
'you,' and he almost, almost doesn't know why it's
important. He wishes he didn't. "We're the only *people*
he deals with. The only ones who aren't government or
whoever the hell is paying his bills."
"*Was* paying his bills, according to my sources, but what's
He's counting on us to give him a reason not to tell
humanity to fuck off. We're the only chance he has to... to.
Stan shakes his head. "Just *think* about it, all right?
Sometime when you catch a break from being a full-time,
mean-ass, narrow-minded sonofabitch."
"I'll give --"
But he's gone. Because it turns out to be pretty easy to get
out of the elevator, all things considered.
He runs, and it doesn't take too long to get the anger out
of his system, this time. He stops a robbery in some little
town in Missouri and pulls a police officer out of the way
of a hail of bullets in Oklahoma City and Las Vegas is so
bright it's almost scary.
He never spends much time there.
He runs, and the moon moves in the sky, and the Pacific is
warm and huge and *loud* under his feet, and it's not a
surprise when he looks up again to find Mark flying above
He turns around and heads back, and calls his mama collect
from a pay phone outside of Los Angeles so she won't
Little Latino kids who are up much too late point and yell
things at him in Spanish, and he waves and gives
autographs. He can't see Mark anymore, he's too high for
that, but he can feel him.
He doesn't really see Mark again until they're in the desert,
and then he hears him first. Wind that doesn't match the
wind running through the canyon beneath Stan's dangling
"Should I leave you alone, Stan?"
One of the things Stan never gets used to is the way the
ground changes colors beneath his feet as he moves to
different parts of the country. It makes sense -- there are
different minerals and things in the dirt, and different
kinds of plants degrade into different kinds of... whatever.
It's just that the ground seems so solid and normal when
you stay in one general area.
It still *is*, but... different. And Mark is watching him, and
waiting for an answer.
"Did you hear that conversation?"
"Yes," he says. "Did you get what you needed?"
Stan laughs, a little, and stops. It's just normal for someone
to smile when you laugh, as long as you're not laughing at
anything *wrong*. But it feels different when Mark does it.
Mark's mouth had been soft, too. "I didn't ask before telling
Richmond, and I'm sorry."
Mark smiles at him again. "If I wanted to keep it a secret, I
wouldn't have told anyone."
"I don't want to keep secrets from you," he says, and the
part of the smile that's in his eyes changes.
Stan looks down into the canyon, and feels his face heat up
like he's running full out in the desert in the *day*.
After a little while, Mark shifts beside him, and Stan
watches as his hand slides into view until it's just above
his left knee. On it.
His heart is beating much too fast, even for him, and he
knows Mark can hear it.
"*Did* you get what you needed?"
"Are you asking me if Richmond convinced me that humans
aren't worth my time?"
Mark squeezes his thigh. "No. I'm not."
Stan nods. "I don't know what I needed. And I don't know if
I got it."
"All right." And Mark's hand moves up, a little, and stops.
And he laughs.
"What. What is it?"
"I got to see a lot of John Hughes movies when I was
growing up. For whatever reason, the government thought
they were safe. While I'm pretty sure they weren't all that
realistic, I'm also pretty sure what they'd say about... about
this. I'm being *pushy*."
Stan blinks, and blinks a few more times, and he couldn't
stop this laugh from coming out if he tried.
When he can ease up a little, Mark is smiling at him.
And his hand is still on Stan's thigh.
He thinks about it for a bit, and then he covers it with his
own, and Mark smiles wider.
"You... you're really attracted to me."
"I think you're beautiful."
He has no idea what he's supposed to say to that. So he
just nods, and swallows, and squeezes Mark's hand.
"What... what *did* they teach you about sex?"
"My biology classes weren't very different than yours, I
don't think. In retrospect, they taught me a lot about where
humans were especially... vulnerable, but. They started
teaching me that early."
Stan frowns. "Were they... were they trying to turn you into
some kind of assassin?"
Mark looks away, but not for long. "No, that was... someone
"I think they wanted to make sure I didn't hurt anyone by
As opposed to on purpose. Is every thing he thinks now
going to turn into a scary question he doesn't want the
"I can feel your warmth through the suit. It doesn't feel
*hot*, but I think... I think I wouldn't, with humans."
"Probably not." He squeezes Mark's hand again. "They
changed the laws in my district, and we didn't get to have
sex ed. in my high school. My mama got some of the
parents together, and it... well, it was really embarrassing.
At least you're allowed to snicker when a *teacher*
"I can't imagine," Mark says, and it sounds like he's thinking
of something entirely different.
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure no one in my class did more than
kiss for a *while* after that."
It's funny how you can *feel* someone listening to you,
"I know I didn't."
Mark presses in with his fingers. Just a little. "And after that
Mark has a little dirt under his fingernails, probably from
earlier. He probably does, too. "Some of us still didn't."
"Did you want to?"
The laugh almost chokes him, this time. "Of course I did. I
just. Well, I'd have to tell whoever it was, and I just. Only
my mama knew."
"But other people know now."
He wonders if Mark heard what those prostitutes were
saying to him. Or -- he heard. He hears everything. Stan
wonders if he *listened*. And. "You really want to know
*why* I haven't just... with *groupies*?" ("I swear, baby,
some women don't have the sense God gave them.")
Mark chuckles softly. "I think I understand. It's just... when
the woman healed me, and touched me, and spoke to me
like I was..." Stan can hear Mark swallow. "I'm not even
sure if I *like* her, but I'd been alone for so long, and no
one had ever touched me. Certainly not like that, and I..."
"You couldn't help yourself?"
"That sounds..." Mark laughs again. "That sounds exactly
right. She's very attractive."
Stan nods. "And that's why you're here, instead of wherever
she is? You're not sure how you feel about her?"
"That's part of it, certainly, but..." This time, when Mark
moves his hand, he doesn't so much stop as just let it rest
higher on Stan's thigh. "You don't know how hard it was
not to follow you right away when you ran from me."
"The. The first time?"
Mark is looking at his mouth again when he nods. "And
"Did you like it when I kissed you? I don't... Zarda didn't
kiss me many times."
And... he doesn't know. He. "I... I was surprised."
Mark nods again. "Will you tell me what kind of kisses you
Billie Jean Washington hated Michael Jackson music as a
matter of principle and kissed him every recess when they
were eight. Her braces cut Stan's mouth lip once, and
when she tasted blood she ran away and never kissed him
again. Susannah Williams only kissed him because Carl
Jackson was watching and she wanted to make him
jealous. Charlene Weathers tasted like Doritos and said
Stan kissed like he wanted to be running away. And that
was it, and --
"I think about... Zarda made me shiver. I'd never done that
before. I'd like to make you shiver, too."
"I've shivered before. The winter --"
"Will you run again if I kiss you?"
Will you chase me? "I... no."
And Mark sighs and Stan feels it on his face and he's not
sure how they got that close, *when* they got that close,
but they did, and this time Mark kisses him with his eyes
*Watching* him, focused on him and trying to see... if he
runs? What direction he'll go if he does? Or if.
If he likes it.
And somehow, closing his eyes makes Mark moan, and for a
moment Stan wants to open and close them again to see if
he'll *do* it again, and Mark's hands are on his face, both
of them, until one is sort of crushing at Stan's hair and
when Mark licks Stan's mouth he opens it and that makes
Mark moan, too.
And it's -- it's *slow*, slower than they have to go, he
knows it, and it's kind of gentle, and Stan licks Mark's tongue
the way Carla had licked his that one time and Mark's hands
kind of *jerk* on his head and Mark pulls away --
"Sorry, I --"
"I'm sorry --" And Mark stops and smiles hugely, and he
looks just like someone who'd never had the government
try to kill him. "Why are *you* sorry?"
"You... you didn't stop because I... with my tongue?"
Mark's gaze darts back down to his mouth. "No," he says.
"Do that. Please do that again," he says, and kisses him
again, *hard* for a second before it goes back to soft and
slow, and Stan licks Mark's tongue and this time Mark's
hands don't jerk so much as *tighten*.
So he does it again, and again, and --
And Mark *sucks* his tongue, and Stan thinks "I'm making
out with an alien in the New Mexico desert," and it kind of
makes him jump a little in his skin, but Mark just holds on
tighter and keeps...
It's not one solid pull. It's kind of... it's kind of a *pulsing*
thing. Rhythmic sucking, like maybe how someone would...
He's pretty sure the sound he makes is the same kind of
moan Mark made, and Mark doesn't stop kissing him until
Stan pushes on his chest.
And then he just stares at Stan while he pants.
"You liked me sucking you."
Stan feels his dick *twitch* in his briefs and has to work not
to *grab* it and squeeze. "I... yeah."
"I liked doing it," Mark says, and moves the hand on Stan's
cheek down to his shoulder and pushes, a little, until Stan
shifts. They're mostly facing each other now, and -- he
can't *not* cover himself with the hand not on Mark's
Even though it just makes Mark stare.
"Did I make you hard?"
Stan swallows, and Mark's expression is almost *scary* for
a second before it goes back to the hunger which Stan
thought was scary a couple of hours ago. Years ago.
"Because I..." And Mark lets go of Stan's shoulder and
covers the hand Stan has on his chest and *pushes* on it
And Mark's pants are just as tight as they were on the
roof, and Stan's pretty sure they're *thinner* than his suit,
"Stan," Mark says, and squeezes his hand until Stan
squeezes him, and the sound Mark makes this time is
choked and low and Stan wonders how fast his heart has to
beat before it explodes like he's an overworked horse.
"Tell me I can touch you, too. I --"
"Yes," he says, even though it's only the first thing that
comes to mind, and then Mark is cupping him with the hand
that *had* been in Stan's hair, pushing Stan's thighs apart a
little with his fingers and *cupping* him. "*Damn*, I. I..."
Mark squeezes his hand and lets go of him and *groans*
when Stan squeezes him through his pants again --
"Harder. Please. Stan..."
And then they're squeezing each other, and Stan can just
about focus enough to do it in the same rhythm Mark is,
but then Mark *looks* at him, and he looks like he can't
decide whether to keep going or just tackle him, and Stan
squeezes *too* hard --
"Oh, Stan, *yes* --"
And he watches Mark gasp and he watches Mark throw his
head back and he listens to himself make this high-pitched
*noise*, because he's coming in his briefs and Mark is kind
of *pushing* against his hand, and then Mark feels even
*hotter* through his pants and Stan knows he just came,
And he thinks he's maybe supposed to move his hand, or at
least start breathing normally again, but all he can do is
Even when Mark looks at him again.
"You didn't shiver," he says.
"Maybe you... maybe you just missed it."
And Mark *grins* at him. "I would've felt it," he says, and
it's not a tackle, but Stan *is* on his back, on the ground
and about three inches from falling down into the canyon.
Except that he wouldn't make it even a foot before Mark
Though it's possible he'd be doing it *just* so he wouldn't
have to stop kissing. Stan doesn't think he could blame
And Mark isn't really *on* him, not as much as he could be.
He's holding most of his own weight with... whatever lets
him fly, just hovering and touching him, one hand on Stan's
shoulder and the other on his hair again --
"I love your hair, Stan."
"It's just --" *Hair*, he was going to say, but Mark's tongue
is in his mouth, and when *he* tries sucking it, Mark rests
more weight on him, on his *groin*.
Pushing and -- and his briefs are *wet*, but Mark's must
There's a not-quite-normal barking sound somewhere to the
south that Stan knows is a coyote and Mark isn't moaning
so much as making this low, almost-constant humming
sound in his mouth.
The vibrations tickle, a little, and he matches them
reflexively to make it stop, and --
And Mark *grinds* against him, and he has about a
heartbeat to realize that Mark is hard again before he is,
"*Stan*," Mark says, in the time Stan needs for *breathing*,
and then Mark is kissing him again, messy and wet, licking
his tongue and the roof of his mouth and his lips, and
Stan's heart seizes a little when Mark rolls them, but it's
*away* from the edge and he's.
He's on top, and Mark won't *let* him brace his weight on
the ground, as opposed to on him.
He doesn't need Stan to. He barely needs to *breathe*, if
he does at all, and Stan isn't sure if what he's feeling is any
different than what anyone would feel the first time they.
Oh, God, he says, or maybe thinks, and pushes a little with
his hips at Mark's own --
"Please, please yes --"
And he does it more, and faster, and faster, and Mark
matches him for a while, but then he just spreads his legs
and closes his eyes and whispers things Stan can't quite
hear, can't quite *understand*, because he's... he's
*shoving* against Mark now, he's...
He can feel Mark's *dick*, right against his own, sliding up
against his own just as if they weren't both fully dressed,
And the only reason he's not naked right now is because
Mark's holding on to him too tight --
"Don't stop, don't --"
"I just want --"
And then Mark squeezes him with his thighs, *holds* him
with his thighs, and Stan hears himself moaning and thinks
'later, later I can,' and pushes his face against the fabric
of Mark's high collar that isn't high enough that he can't feel
skin, can't smell sweat, and if he was wearing anything else
it'd be on fire right now, instead of just warm.
And Mark might enjoy that just as much.
He can't hurt him. He can't.
He's not *alone*, he thinks, and he thinks he might *get* it
now, but the only thing that comes out of his mouth is a
whimper and he's thrusting so hard and fast now that
there's dust all around them and they're *moving*.
And it doesn't matter that he isn't sure if Mark can focus
enough to keep them from falling if he knocks them
(*fucks* them) over the edge; he can't *stop*.
"You feel... oh, Stan, you feel so good --"
Good all over, in his skin and where his lips are touching
Mark's throat and the hammering pulse he can feel beneath
and in the way he can feel how long Mark is, how thick
and *hard* he is, the way he's almost *mapping* it with
his thrusts, and he closes his eyes against the dust and
Mark reaches down to squeeze his *ass* and he's going
to come in his pants again.
"I want -- I want you to fuck me. Just like this."
He's coming in his pants again --
"Don't *stop* --"
And it hurts and there's nothing like a rhythm, nothing like
anything but the way he's going to have bruises from Mark's
fingers, bruises on his *ass*, and there's a *lurch*, and
they *are* falling, but Mark just flies them up.
And *up*, and the air is *cold* up here and Stan tries to
adjust his hold on Mark and shivers --
"Oh, *yes*," Mark says, jerking so hard against Stan that
the only reason he doesn't fall is that Mark's holding on
Stan pants. And keeps panting, long after he's sure he
should be breathing normally again. He can't seem... it
doesn't feel like he's getting enough *air*.
"Oh... *oh*," and Mark flies them back down, and sets Stan
on his feet -- well away from the edge -- and holds him
upright when Stan's knees try to buckle.
"I -- thank you," he gasps, when he has a little more air.
"Sorry... about that."
He thinks it would actually be scarier if Mark had perfect
control. He isn't sure if he should say that or not, though,
so he just shakes his head and keeps breathing. "It's
okay," he says, after a minute.
"Your heart is still beating very fast --"
Stan laughs. "Well, I did just have sex," he says, and it
almost comes out in a normal tone of voice. He'd just had
"Yes, we did."
And Mark's voice is a little... so Stan stands up straight and
looks at him and Mark is... His expression is a lot like the
one Susannah Williams had had whenever she passed a
mirror while wearing Carl Jackson's varsity jacket. Only
The expression shifts and softens a bit, and then Mark's
hands are on his face, brushing at the dust before just
holding there. The kiss is slow, and hard, and goes on for a
long time before Mark pulls back and says, "Yes?"
It takes a while to remember what Mark is responding to.
"Nothing. You just... you looked... I don't know."
*This* expression is simply curious. "Are you afraid of me?"
"Sometimes," Stan says, and he can almost *see* his mama
shaking her head at him, because he *used* to know how
to keep his mouth shut.
But Mark only nods. "I used to think the only thing I wanted
was for someone to not be afraid of me."
Stan winces, because... because he has no *idea* what
that's like, not really, but he thinks he can maybe
It's everything that was in his mama's eyes back in the days
when she couldn't stop warning him to be *careful*. And
now he knows a lot more about what *she* was afraid of.
"You... changed your mind?"
Mark strokes the outer curve of Stan's ear, flicking his
earring up and down and up again. "I think there's
something to be said for having people who are afraid of
me, but don't... for having people who are afraid, but still.
Give me a chance."
Stan tries a smile, and it almost feels right on his face.
"My mama said to *always* give people a chance."
Mark smiles at him, and kind of *moves* against him.
Just... rubbing Stan with his body.
He wonders if his mama would really be surprised, if he
told her what the government had done to Mark. And
everything they'd *tried* to do.
He wonders when he'll start being more afraid of...
them than he is of Mark.
He wonders if he already is.