De novo

by Torino Koji
illustrated by quaedam

Colin Cox was, for all intents and purposes, an average college student. He woke in the mornings after nights of partying, head dull and aching, and dragged himself through his day. In classes, he paid little attention and spent more time drawing in the margins of his notebook, until he chimed back in for some bit of information he supposed might actually make it onto the midterm. He dated, though sparingly–pretty girls with long hair and high-waisted shorts, now that it was finally starting to get warm outside. He was, whether out with the people he called friends or bent over textbooks in the library, an everyman.

This was, for the most part, a very cheaply constructed persona. He strove for it, but it was a thin veneer over a past and current life that he made a special point to avoid discussing–it had lost him friends and girlfriends and scholarships alike. It made his girlfriends, who didn’t press too hard, think he was dark and mysterious; it made his friends, who hung around long enough, think he was reckless and wild. Really, all it was was a clever means by which he avoided scrutinization and pity, and ultimately terror.

At a young age, Colin learned all about hiding. His parents were the kind of parents who tried to dissuade you from hiding–there was no reason, you should be proud of being so unique and different, and anyway, they would love you no matter what, and that’s all that should matter! But the world, he learned, was not his parents. The world did not care about being unique and different, unless it was to the benefit of others; the world did not care how much pain it put someone through; the world, and the other children in it, didn’t care about suffering and sadness. And so, despite the doctors and the administrators and the agencies and the constant check-ins from case supervisors mandated by a federal court order that governed Colin and all people like him, he learned that simply being Colin–not unique or individual, and especially not strange or special–was the best for everyone involved, that keeping his head down and his voice low and his test scores mediocre was the best way to slip through the world unnoticed and unimportant.

The first time anyone knew that Colin was different was in preschool. His parents had known for ages, but that incident was what brought the government and got a tracking number assigned to his name. His caseworker, until he was fourteen, was a woman who was staunch and rude and made him cry on more than one occasion by talking over him as if he were barely even human. After that, it was an older man who was hardly any better for all his pandering attitude, telling Colin to play sports or learn an art or otherwise integrate into society like any other young adult; as if Colin hadn’t already learned to do that, at seven years old, when the other kids cornered him on the playground and pelted him with snowballs and called him a freak until he admitted to it, and often believed them.

By college–he went early, left high school with a GED at sixteen and spent a year disappeared in the world before he supposed it would be useful–Colin’s caseworker was another woman, quiet and soft spoken, who called rather than visited. He didn’t mind her so much; she spoke to him like an equal, despite being a good ten or fifteen years his senior. She sent a card for his twenty-first birthday and commiserated when his graduation was delayed due to a clerical error that might have had everything to do with spending a month and a half fucking with a professor that said something derogatory about another student. But by then, he’d mastered the art of illusion and hiding in plain sight–not the kind that involved the changing of a face, but the kind that simply meant he was a student like any other, so mundane that no one would spend a second glance. He scraped by in classes, drank with friends, fucked girls; it was quiet and simple, and that was nice.

But, at pushing twenty-three, he itched for adventure and indulgence and attempts at getting out from the eyes of people he could never prove were watching, but who he knew were there. He’d been steady with a girl for three months and even that wasn’t enough to abate the itch of needing to run and change and do something new and exciting for once in his miserable, caged life.

And that’s when Gabriel appeared.

The news played in the background, a distant drone of voices that were almost indistinguishable from each other. Colin stared at his hands wrapped around a coffee mug, listening to his girlfriend Maren prattle on about something without really hearing anything she was saying as she cooked in his kitchen. It was domestic and surreal to look up and see her flipping her long red hair over her shoulder to smile at him. After a moment of staring at her, he thought to smile back; she seemed to not notice the hesitation.

“What do you think about moving in together?”


Maren continued to smile. She was a conventional beauty to most, he supposed, enough that he had to ward off some unwanted advances when her own warding didn’t quite do the trick. He cared for her–deeply enough to stick with her, which his friends had never supposed he would do with anyone.

She snapped next to his ear, and Colin realized he’d been drifting.

“Like I was saying, it’d save us both a bunch of money. We could get a bigger place even!”

Colin looked up at the ceiling, trying to think of an excuse. “Don’t you think barely four months is a little fast to be moving in together?”

Maren laughed and punched his shoulder. He made a face, muttering an ow, but she spoke over him: “I’m saying we should live together, not get married. Loads of couples live together, you old fuddy-duddy.”

“I don’t think loads of other couples call their boyfriend a fuddy-duddy.”

She winked at him. “That’s because their boyfriend’s aren’t fuddy-duddies, durr.”

He looked down from the ceiling, and saw she wasn’t looking at him either. Instead, her eyes were turned toward the television in the other room. There was someone speaking, not as trained and practiced as the anchors, and it brought Colin back in to the events–he turned to look as well.

Standing on screen was a tall young man, perhaps Colin’s age–he had that ambiguous youthfulness of the young adult, at least–who seemed radiant. He was speaking with the street correspondent in a sweet, amenable voice, which Colin tuned in to him explaining, “The people which the government call mutants are no different than anyone else. Mutations are a perfectly natural progress in the evolution of the species, after all–but we shouldn’t be studied like animals in a zoo.”

Beside him, Maren shivered a little. “It’s awful what happens to those people.”

Colin fidgeted a bit. “You think? Like what?”

She shook her head and returned to the kitchen. “I’m in a class where we were discussing the similarities of the mutant registration committee to the Holocaust.”

“That seems pretty extreme, don’t you think? Nobody’s dying because they’re a freak.”

“But that’s just it! Even if they were, we wouldn’t know–there should be some sort of transparency about that sort of thing. And not just that you can go online and see if there are mutants living in your neighborhood. That’s just inviting disaster.”

Colin thought of he and his father washing graffiti off their garage as some of the neighbor kids watched and jeered them, unashamed of their act. He remembered his father saying that it was strength and bravery to be unafraid in the face of hatred; Colin hadn’t been unafraid, then or now, but he knew that to retaliate would be to prove them right. He looked at Maren, as she continued watching the television and shaking her head.

“Have you ever met one?” he asked. She looked away.

“Met one what?”

“A mutant.” It was a leading question, perhaps, as he started at her. But she didn’t seem to notice. She just smiled, and nodded.

“Yeah, there’s this really sweet guy in my psychology of drugs class. You should meet him sometime, he can tell you all about it.”

Colin gave a nervous sort of laugh, and Maren changed the subject, back to the discussion of living together; but, sure enough, he soon found himself invited via text to an evening out on the town which proved to introduce him to Maren’s unnamed mutant friend. When Colin arrived at the bar where they would be having dinner and drinks, Maren hadn’t arrived yet. Luckily, she’d described her friend, though in vague terms, because when Colin picked him out of the crowd, he was far more remarkable than Maren had made him sound.

The man Maren had described had, to Colin, sounded a decent amount like himself–somewhat average, someone able to pass unremarkably through life if they so chose. The man in the bar, dressed as Maren had described, was hardly unremarkable at all: he stood head and shoulders over nearly everyone else in the bar, and his skin displayed an eerie iridescence like he’d been dipped in soap water and let the refractions soak into his fair skin. However, perhaps the most remarkable part of him, as Colin approached, were the eyes: where, perhaps, he might have looked merely like someone with albinism otherwise, the combination of the oil-slick iridescence and the carmine eyes was otherworldly; and hardly assisted by the fact that the whites of his eyes were lizard-yellow.

“Hi!” Colin squeaked when he was close enough. He got a curious look in exchange, and cleared his throat. “Um, I’m Colin, I’m–”

“Maren’s boyfriend!” the man replied, smiling broadly. He held out a large hand with perfectly manicured nails. “I’m Gabriel.”

illustrated by quaedam

“Gabriel. Nice to meet you.” The other man waved at the spot across from him at the table, and Colin slid into a chair. “I didn’t mean to be early; I got done with homework and Maren said seven…”

Gabriel laughed. It was bright, hard noise that reminded Colin of someone rapping their knuckles on a wall. “Nah, Maren’s always late. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“We’ve only been together four months,” Colin admitted. Gabriel hummed at that knowledge, before he waved over a waitress who had been hovering, pretending to ignore their presence; called upon, she couldn’t avoid approaching the table, and it seemed Colin’s apparently normal appearance comforted her. Colin ordered their tapped pale ale, forking over his drivers license while Gabriel hemmed and hawed and asked her opinion on the entrees, and finally ordered a basket of french fries and a scotch straight up.

“So. So you’re in a class with Maren?” Colin winced to himself.

“Mmhm. I get to be the helpful voice of dissent when the professor forgets that we don’t all metabolize narcotics in the same way.”


“And how did you meet Maren, since you’ve only been together for four months?”

Colin fidgeted with the silverware a moment, straightening and aligning them. “We hooked up at a party and I ended up with her number in my phone. So I guess we must have hit it off.”

“Well, isn’t that romantic.” Colin looked up to find Gabriel smiling. He looked back down, but Gabriel was soon hailing their third, as Maren approached the table. Colin remained hunched over the cutlery, watching as Gabriel got up and greeted Maren. He was nearly two feet taller than she and had to stoop to her level to kiss her cheeks like a European. People around them turned and stared, and Colin looked down at the table again, ignoring the strange flutter in his chest.

Consequently of Colin’s inability to get through enough classes to graduate, he found himself dragging his feet about town with Maren as she inspected house after house and all kinds of apartments and such that they would be likely to move into. On more than one occasion, she brought Gabriel along–which Colin didn’t find disagreeable, per se, more that he didn’t know what to do with himself when the tall young mutant was around. Gabriel was a kind and bubbly sort, and his rapping laughter had an effect of making Colin’s ears burn with color. He was responsive to Maren’s attention, as opposed to Colin’s constant wandering, whilst managing to even drag Colin’s focus back from whatever far off place it had drifted to.

Still, it was odd the first time that Gabriel asked Colin to come out with him, independent of Maren’s presence. It was odd enough, even, that Colin pointed out that Maren wouldn’t be there.

“Well, yeah, that’s sort of the point,” Gabriel said, and he smiled. Colin noticed, not for the first time, that even Gabriel’s lips and gums had that eerie sheen to them. He wondered if his skin felt marble-hard or silky like the soap-water he always imagined Gabriel being made of.

“I mean,” he mumbled, and hemmed and hawed a bit. Gabriel smiled even wider.

“I promise, I don’t bite.”

Colin’s whole face felt warm with shame and embarrassment, and it made Gabriel laugh, which only proved to make Colin blush further. Gabriel cooed a little at his embarrassment and ruffled his hair–as if Colin were his junior, rather than, he had found, almost two years his senior.

“I mean. Uh. But…”

“Come on, it’s just, like, the bars or something. Or we could go to the movies. Totally platonic bro-date. No worries.” Gabriel held up his hands consolatorily, and Colin found that he could muster no reason or excuse to get him out of the situation.

They met at the movies, two days after, early enough in the afternoon that–it being the middle of the week–there was no one there. Gabriel climbed over seats and laughed a bit, settling into the very middle of the theater, as Colin followed him.

“Whole movie theater to ourselves? That’s the best way to watch the silver screen. It’s like a damn private showing.” Gabriel proceeded to go on about the actors in the movie they were about to watch, their connection to the world of the mutants, the content of the movie and its conformity to Hollywood standards of portrayal of minorities of any variety, and a number of other things that Colin found hard to follow because he was too busy watching Gabriel’s hands gesticulate, causing a blur of light to follow after each movement.

Unwittingly, his staring was so hard that Gabriel stopped talking and waited for him to focus back in on the here-and-now. When he did, he apologized and stared straight ahead at the screen.

“Do you want to ask me about it?”

“About what?” Colin knew exactly what, but he still didn’t really want to talk about it either way.

“Well, Maren said that she was hooking us up–”

“Don’t phrase it like that,” Colin said, hiding behind his hand.

“–introducing us so that you could get more familiar with mutant issues because of that piece they did on the news. So, I mean, if you wanted to ask…” He trailed off and was silent a moment, before leaning over into Colin’s space. “But somehow I get the feeling there isn’t much asking about mutant issues to do.”

Colin pushed him back out of his space and lowered the armrest between the two of them. Gabriel chuckled a little–and that, more than his laugh, was like wind and breaking glass, and it sent a shiver down Colin’s spine.

“I got registered when I was six months old, when I started showing the oil slick.” Colin congratulated himself on the correct supposition that the skin variation was, in fact, of an oily resonance. Gabriel continued to talk about how he’d been enrolled in all mutant schools throughout most of his pre-secondary life, that he had excelled in a world catered to his needs and desires, that his entrance into the non-mutant world had been gradual rather than jarring.

Colin found that he’d squeezed his hands so hard that he’d left crescents in his palms. He elbowed Gabriel to get him to stop talking.

“The previews are going to start.”

“Are you a strictly no-talking sort of moviegoer?”

I am right now, Colin thought to himself, but he just shrugged rather than saying anything. Gabriel nodded and settled back.

They lapsed into commentary on the movie after a while, because it was pretty bad, especially when the ‘mutant’ girl came on screen and Colin gave an exasperated outcry of, “Oh, come on!” that made Gabriel burst into excited laughter. They bitched about the casting, the dialogue, and the contrived romantic plot, and Colin found himself smiling and brighter than he’d felt in quite some time when they finally left the theater.

“Am I returning you to your girlfriend now?” Gabriel said as they slipped out into the warm evening that awaited them outside the cinema. Colin looked at his phone and hummed, before looking up at Gabriel.

“Wanna get something to eat?”

Gabriel smiled, and led the way.

Two weeks into summer, Gabriel lay on the roof of the house Maren and Colin had moved into, and Colin sat in the tree that overhung it, watching him glow.

“Is that part of it?” His voice was soft and noncommittal, and he half-hoped that Gabriel couldn’t hear him.

“Sure is,” Gabriel said after a quiet bit, his eyes closed. “Phototropism.”

Colin laughed in the shade. “Is that why you’re so huge? You’re secretly a seven-foot-tall ten-year-old?”

“Well, that’d be a bit creepy, considering the looks you keep giving me.”

Colin flushed and was too slow turning away, as Gabriel opened his eyes to assure that he was properly embarrassed. Gabriel let out his tapping laughter, and Colin felt his face heat more as he curled around himself a bit to hide his embarrassment.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell Maren.”

“Tell her what? C’mon, dude.”

Gabriel hummed, rolling over onto his stomach and lowering where his pants settled on his hips a bit to better sun the extent of his back. Colin was quiet a while, finally bringing his gaze back to Gabriel as he remained quiet as well. He wondered if the tall young man had fallen asleep on his roof, before Gabriel suddenly inquired toward the roof tiles, “Are you ever going to tell her, though?”

“Tell her what?”

“About being a mutant.”

Colin froze. He knew he didn’t have anything particular to fear, least of all from another mutant, but the subject was sensitive and he’d never quite learned how to broach it with other people. Laughing nervously, he said, “I think I’d have an easier time breaking up with her than telling her anything like that, if. If that were even a thing that were true.”

Gabriel turned toward him without getting off his stomach and opened his eerie red-and-yellow lizard eyes. “Did you know that mutants give off a different set of pheromones than non-mutants?”

“Oh shut up, you can’t smell pheromones, you fucker.”

“You’re right, but your eyes just changed color.”

Colin clamped his eyes shut, making a conscious effort to convert his eyes from whatever color they might have been back to their regular old standard brown. Behind his eyelids, colors swam in enraged swirls as he squinted his eyes further and further closed, until tears squeezed out.

He jolted when sudden, warm arms wrapped around him without a sound. Gabriel smelled of sweat and petrichor and roofing tar. Up close, his skin glimmered like crystal.

“Sorry,” Gabriel murmured. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Get off me,” Colin grumbled, and put his hands against Gabriel’s chest to push him back. It was ineffective, as Gabriel hardly loosened his comforting grip. “…Dude. Seriously.”

“Nope. We’re gonna hug it out.” Gabriel tightened his grip.

“No we’re not. I don’t want to hug it out. Gabriel…” The grip continued to tighten, and Colin could see where his fingers, lingering on Gabriel’s chest, were beginning to take on an iridescent glimmer. “Gabriel, seriously. Get off me.”

Slowly, Gabriel slid back, not out of the shade–which he illuminated slightly now with the incandescence of his skin–but far enough back that Colin could feel like he could safely breathe.

“What’s it like, to be you?” Gabriel wondered, tilting his head to the side, not unlike a curious cat. Colin looked to the side to avoid his gaze.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about, I can’t figure you out. Even a lot of other closet-cases like you, I can read them pretty well. They tend to open up to me, you know? Being around an open mutant tends to do them good. But you–”

“Look,” Colin said, and he was brusque enough that Gabriel actually leaned back a little ways. “I don’t want to talk about this. So stop trying to get me to open up about my being a freak of nature, because I’m not going to tell you my sad sack-of-shit history just so you can get your kicks in thinking you’ve saved me, or whatever.”

Gabriel was silent a moment, sitting there half in the light. “You’re not a freak.”

“Yes, I am.” It was said with the sort of bland finality that had shut down psychologists and caseworkers, and it worked just as well on Gabriel as it had on them. Colin shifted his weight, began climbing down the tree, and abandoned Gabriel to contemplate or imagine a history behind those words.

Colin was drunk.

It was a relatively difficult thing for him to manage. Part of his mutation afforded him an elevated metabolism and healing response, and so the exact chemical properties and exchanges were not quite the same as they were for the average student. But he was dedicated to getting drunk–had fished out an old fake identification and made himself look precisely like the man in the image, down to errant freckles that he never normally had–so he had thrown caution into the wind and was purposefully ignoring the fact that Maren had been texting him for the past two hours.

He slid up to the bar and smiled at the bartender, who looked close to cutting him off.

“I think you’ve had enough, son. I’m amazed you’ve had as much as you have.”

“Nah,” Colin drawled. “Nah, I’m fine. One more whiskey sour.”

From behind him, he heard a definitive, “No,” but refused to turn around. This transaction was between himself and the bartender.

A crystalline hand lay down a twenty on the bar. Gabriel, from over Colin’s shoulder, said, “For you troubles.” Colin still refused to turn, but Gabriel had a hand on his wrist and was already pulling him away.

“I didn’t close my tab.”

“You can close it when you’re sober.” Gabriel sounded grumpy, which Colin thought to be very silly, because Gabriel didn’t seem like the kind of guy who got grumpy, let alone let that impart into his speech. Colin pouted a little.

“Did Maren send you?”

“No, you texted me an hour ago.” Colin didn’t remember that. He supposed it was possible, though not particularly probable. “Any reason you’re being… whoever it is you are right now?”

Colin tried to not look offended. “I’m being me,” he said, very little bite available given how much he’d had to drink. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

People turned when Gabriel hemmed Colin in against a wall to growl at him. “Don’t you put words into my mouth about what I want, okay? You don’t get to decide that.”

Colin was quiet. His concentration was broken, just for a moment, and he began to recede into his regular self–the bone-aching transformation and faint tingling all throughout his body. Gabriel didn’t let up his stance hemming Colin in against the wall.

Into the heavy silence, Colin mumbled an indistinct, “What do you want?” But Gabriel didn’t respond. Instead, he grabbed Colin’s wrist again and began to tug him along in the direction of his car. “Look, I can get home myself.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Yeah, but I’ll walk it off.”

Gabriel gave him an exasperated look. “I’m not an idiot, Colin–”

“No, seriously,” Colin insisted. “I was going to anyway. I always do. I’ve only blacked out once, and that was after I drank a bottle and a half of gin when I was sixteen.”

Gabriel stopped, his back to Colin, before turning. His red eyes were soft and confused. “Why would you do that?”

Colin straightened his own spine, trying to make himself taller. Standing next to Gabriel, it was hardly effectual. “Because I wanted to see if I could.” Gabriel’s look said he took that with a grain of salt. Colin shrank down a little, and in a quiet, honest voice, he said, “Because I wanted to kill myself.”

Gabriel’s grip tightened for a moment as he continued to look at Colin and as Colin braved to look back. After a painful moment, Colin said, “I’m better now. Really. I’m okay.”

“No you’re not,” Gabriel objected. “You think you’re a freak.”

Colin recoiled a little at that, extracted his hand from Gabriel’s grip, when suddenly, there were warm, dry lips on his cheek. A ripple of warmth rushed through him, and without thinking he jerked and turned toward the kiss–Gabriel was not fast enough to pull back, and their lips touched for a moment, before they both jumped apart.

They futzed and fidgeted for a moment each, trying ineffectually to gloss over the incident, before Colin burst out, “Can I stay at your place? Maren gets pissed when I drink.”

Gabriel looked uncertain for a moment, before he nodded, reaching for Colin’s wrist again. Instead, Colin offered the whole hand. Somehow, this was less frightening than people knowing his mutations; somehow, this was almost a comfort, now that the haze of drunkenness was starting to break.

The drive to Gabriel’s apartment was quiet. He lived in an old brownstone with no elevator, on the fourth story. They walked up in silence, brushing knuckles, and when they stepped in, Colin spent his time quietly inspecting the living space while Gabriel bustled into the kitchen to get him a glass of water, and then began setting up the couch.

“You can have the bed,” he said. Colin looked around a bit, his lips still tingling with warmth.

“I sleep better with company.” Gabriel shifted, staring at the pillow and blankets on the couch. Colin sucked in a breath, fidgeting as well. “Should I go?”

“No!” Gabriel whipped around, hit his head on a hanging lamp, and swore. Colin snorted with laughter and turned away to compose himself as Gabriel grumbled. Finally, Gabriel sat down. “Look. Colin…”

“My relationship with Maren is a farce, and you and I both know that.”

“But you’re in a relationship.”

“I’m also drunk enough for the next fifteen minutes to not give a shit.”

Gabriel looked torn. Colin stared at him, and approached him, settling onto his knees. Gabriel didn’t resist him, but seemed reluctant to react just yet; it did little to inspire any confidence in Colin, new to the sensation of comfort and warmth in his belly, but he ignored the nerves and powered on. He rested his hands on Gabriel’s shoulders, feeling the heat rise from him, and laughed a little to try and ease his nerves.

“Do you just sunbathe all day long?”

“Pretty much,” Gabriel murmured. His hands resettled to Colin’s hips, and drew him more comfortably down onto his lap. “Are you going to freak out in the morning?”

Colin contemplated it a moment, shook his head, and settled onto Gabriel with his whole weight. Gabriel nodded, rubbing his thumbs under Colin’s shirt.

“You have to tell her.”

“Tell her what?” Colin asked, shaking his head.


Colin shook, nodded just a little, though he was unsure if he would be able to follow through. In the moment, though, he wanted to believe that he was capable of telling her, for the benefit of the warmth and tremor in his belly.

Gabriel’s lips were sweet and warm. He wasn’t particularly forceful about the kiss; it was soft and chaste almost, exploratory, waiting for Colin to react to it–which took him a while. When he did, though, it was with a gusto he hadn’t felt in some time, in all his encounters with pretty girls, in his standing relationship with Maren. His hands were shaking and flighty, and Gabriel laughed softly at his gross enthusiasm, touching his hands and moving along with him.

“You’re not going to burn me, are you?”

“I don’t think so?” Gabriel laughed again, seemed for once to be out of his element. Colin shivered a little, shifting around and– “Careful, there, you’re getting pretty friendly…”

“What–oh.” Colin blushed, looking down between their bodies at their laps. He laughed a little, and Gabriel as well. “It’s a lot easier to tell than with a girl.”

“Yeah,” Gabriel said, smiling. “It is.”

“Do you…” Colin cleared his throat a little and ran his fingers, Gabriel’s hands on top of them, down his chest and toward his hips.

Gabriel stopped him.

“Not tonight.”

Colin froze on top of him, staring at their hands, watching the slow glisten growing across his own. Slowly, he nodded, and Gabriel did as well.

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

Maren sat across from Colin at a cafe. Her nails were painted and her hair was up. Colin could not, for the life of him, find words to tell her what he had promised Gabriel he would tell her. But she seemed to have an idea of it at any rate.

“You and Gabriel have been spending a lot of time together,” she said.

“Yeah. He saved me from the bar.”

She hummed. Colin fidgeted a moment as he watched her, ran his fingers through his hair. She didn’t look up from her coffee. “Did you fuck him?”

Colin jolted at that. “What? No!” She looked up, and seemed genuinely surprised. His face fell at that. “Did you think I would?”

They fell into awkward, uncomfortable silence, neither one looking at the other, before Colin said, “No, I didn’t fuck him. He didn’t want to do anything that I might regret–or before I told you.”

“Well, I’m glad you did,” Maren said, and looked up to Colin fidgeting. “What?”

“I think he was worried less about the, uh. The sex talk. Between us.”

Maren was quiet, then folded her arms over her chest a little. “Really, what was he worried about then?” It seemed odd that she would be bent out of shape about something other than that Colin might have cheated on her, but he didn’t think about it too hard.

Instead, he pulled out some creased papers from his jacket pocket, and plopped them down between them. She hesitated as he leaned back away from them, but reached out and picked them up, unfolding them. Colin had them memorized, from years of having to bring them out–any time he moved or wanted to leave the country on a school break, or even just to get into school or open a bank account. In the last few years, he’d brought them out less and less, but they were straightforward and honest, and he could use them as a cheap excuse not to verbalize his history.

“Wow.” Maren put them down between them. She inhaled slowly and folded them back up. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I’m a freak.”

She stared at him a moment, then reached across the table and touched his hands. “You’re not. You’re not a freak. All right? You’re one of the sweetest guys I know. So what if you can do fancy doo-da things with your skin, or whatever.”

“It’s not the skin, Maren,” he mumbled, and she continued to shake her head. His face fell a little bit.

“Look,” she said, “you’re a great guy, one of the sweetest ones I know, like I said. If you’re a mutant, then who cares?”

“I can really hurt people,” Colin protested. Maren looked at him and then smiled.

“I doubt that.” It was hardly comforting. Colin took the papers and tucked them back into his jacket, dropping his hands into his lap. Maren watched him a second and then sighed, grabbing her beanie and pulling it down over her ears as she stood up.

Passing him, she rested a hand on his shoulder. It lingered a moment, then slid off, and without looking, Colin knew that she was gone.

It rained as Colin’s birthday approached. Maren and he had not discussed the exchange in the coffee shop since it had happened, but continued to cohabitate mostly out of respect for the terms of their lease. Her new boyfriend was a macho type, burly and aggressive, who seemed to take some joy in that he thought he was emasculating Colin when he came over, and the two of them would have sex, loudly, until all hours of the night. It wasn’t the most emasculating thing Colin had ever experienced, though he found that, just as when he’d been the one fucking Maren, the noises she made did little to incite any particular arousal in him. It kept their friendship, such as it remained, refreshed and uncomplicated.

The same could not be said for his relationship, such as it could be called, with Gabriel. Even after he’d informed Gabriel that he’d told Maren of his true nature, and that she had taken it quite well, he seemed hesitant to approach any sort of physicality. So, as Colin was wont to do, he gave up. He languished in the space of singleness, and refused to let himself be dragged out of it by even the most stubborn of roommate disapproval. He figured it was better this way. He focused a bit more on his studies, he didn’t bother with his flirtations, and overall, he began to think that perhaps he would be able to graduate and escape into the world after all.

But with all this rain and dreariness came a certain inability to tolerate things, and Colin found himself, three days before his birthday, in a tidal wave of bodies protesting further injustice and oppression to mutants. He wasn’t, he supposed, supporting the rally–rather, he’d been on his way to class, and had stumbled across it, and was listening, his jacket half off his shoulders and his umbrella forgotten somewhere else. He could pick his own voice out of the roar of the crowd, but everything felt very vague and hazy and blurred by the rain. He could hear protesters protesting them as well–campus groups that had not known of this undercurrent of minority in their already splintered ranks. Colin looked around and could see freshman through graduate students, professors, faculty members, administrators, on all sides of the debate, hurling their opinions into the rain.

Suddenly, there were hands on him, and though he lashed out, he couldn’t do anything about it. He fought back, screamed, dug in his heels in protest, but he was dragged on. There were others, as well, the crowd being scattered by policemen wielding billy clubs and mace and sound grenades. Something dazzled Colin, and when he came back to full awareness, he was sitting in a cell with four other young men in various states of dishevelment and contempt.

Gabriel stood on the other side of the bars, signing paperwork and chatting with the police officer. Finally, the door was opened, and Colin was one of three people let out by a single stroke of Gabriel’s pen. He stared up at him a moment, before embracing him without compunction.

“Hey, c’mon now,” Gabriel mumbled, but ran his fingers into Colin’s hair. The other two had already hurried away, mumbling thanks to Gabriel. Colin burrowed in against his shirt. “Come on, I’m gonna take you home.”

“No,” Colin retorted, petulant but firm. Gabriel sighed. After a moment, Colin pulled back and wiped at his face. “I’ve never been arrested before.”

“Happens to the best of us,” Gabriel said cryptically, and took Colin’s hard to guide him out of the police station.

It was still raining when they stepped out onto the street. Gabriel pulled an umbrella out and held Colin close so they both fit under it–but the height at which he had to hold it up to cover himself made it pretty ineffectual as a means of protection for Colin. So he hung in close, tucked against Gabriel’s side, as they walked to Gabriel’s car, drove back to his apartment, and climbed the stairs without a single word the whole time.

Inside, Colin began to strip off his soaked shoes and clothing, for once unashamed of doing so. As he bent over to pull his jeans off, he was aware of Gabriel sliding up behind him, and so he straightened out. Gabriel ran warm, dry hands over his shoulders and arms, wrapping him up in a strong embrace.

“What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” Colin said. “I’m tired, Gabriel. I’ve been Colin Cox since I was in elementary school. I didn’t have your fancy all-mutant school or your nice little introduction to how people treat people like us, Gabe.”


“And it’s stupid,” Colin said, starting to shake as he stared at the far wall. Gabriel’s arms tightened. “It’s stupid that I have to have the goddamn government involved in my life–that I’d have to have paid good money and spent more time in bureaucracy to marry someone like Maren then I have in going through school because there’s so much bullshit what if involved in existing.”

“I know.”

Colin wasn’t really listening to Gabriel. There’d been a bottle uncorked inside of him, years of frustration and rage unleashed in one rainy afternoon. He broke free of Gabriel’s arms and started to pace.

“I fucking hate this! I hate feeling like I can’t talk to people–like if I say the wrong thing, I’ll end up with people coming at me with fucking billy clubs to keep me acting like a good boy.” He looked at Gabriel. “That guy that was on the news, the one that Maren and I were watching before she introduced us–he was right. They do look at us like fucking animals–not zoo animals, fuck, like fucking circus animals. We’re fucking tigers and lions and stupid little fucking dressed-up monkeys that dance for them and it’s–”

Gabriel was in his face, holding his shoulders, and Colin wrenched himself back, but Gabriel persisted, wrangling him in and holding him despite Colin’s letting out his rage and despair in sobbing and inarticulate screams now. They sank together to the floor as Colin shook, clinging to Gabriel’s shoulders desperately, feeling the ebb and flow of Gabriel’s warmth and some cosmic energy between them that just fed into Colin’s upset and bled back into Gabriel until he was shaking and had to disentangle them.

Colin slowly composed himself, wiping at his eyes. When he looked at his hands, they were radiant and irridescent.

“I’m sorry.”

“What the hell was that?” Gabriel’s voice was shaking and nervous and exhausted in the quiet half-light of his apartment.

Colin laughed through the end of the tears, a gross, wet noise as he looked around for something to wipe his nose on. “I’m a Sink.”

Gabriel was quiet, staring at him. “That’s why you can change your face. Because you–”

“It’s all energy. Psychic, physical, whatever. I used to shut off whole blocks when I was upset.” He rubbed his arms, feeling the static dissipate from his flesh. “I’ve gotten it mostly under control now.”

“If that’s under control, then holy shit,” Gabriel muttered, and Colin looked up at him.

“I told you I was a freak.”

The Saturday two weeks after Colin’s birthday, Gabriel took the weekend off–sick, he told his job, though his cough was fake as hell–and Colin packed a pair of trunks he hadn’t worn in three years, and they loaded into Colin’s car to head eastward to the coast. Gabriel futzed with the radio a while, before pulling out his phone and streaming his music collection. Colin drove, fidgety and quiet, for some time, before asking, “How long are we staying?”

Gabriel shrugged a bit, and laughed as he closed his eyes and leaned out the window.


“Well, that’s a surprise,” Colin mumbled, and when he noticed Gabriel lean up to look at him, he cleared his throat. “You’re the one that’s been all, Oh, let’s go integration and equality and stuff.”

“Equality isn’t the same as integration,” Gabriel reprimanded. Colin drove on. “Besides, running away forever to be with you wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Oh, not so bad.”

“I mean,” Gabriel continued as if Colin hadn’t spoken, “if you were interested.”

Colin was quiet at that, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. “I didn’t think you were.”

“What made you think that?”

“Well, the fact that you dropped off the face of the planet after I told you Maren and I broke up.” Gabriel made a vague, non committal noise at that. “Anyway, you know what I do now, so I don’t know if that’s even, like, a viable option. What with my sucking all the juice out of you and whatever.”

Gabriel was quiet a moment, before he smiled. “I’ll let you suck some juice outta me.”

Colin flushed and Gabriel laughed as he stuck his head out the window. The rest of the drive was mostly calm, spent playfully arguing over music and the best course to the coast; when they arrived, Gabriel switched his phone over to his map, reading out directions to their hotel. It was a modest beachfront place, more bed and breakfast than hotel, and Gabriel leapt out of the car like an excited puppy when they parked, stretching his long legs and dragging Colin along to check in.

The room they were given had a clear view of the beach, a single king bed, a large bathroom with a sunken tub as well as a stall shower, and a small kitchenette with mini-fridge, microwave, and place settings for two. Gabriel threw open the sheer curtains to let the warm light into the room, then collapsed back on the bed to take it in. Colin arranged their bags beside the desk across from the kitchenette, then climbed onto the bed as well. Almost immediately, Gabriel curled and wrapped around him; Colin allowed it, soft and quiet, petting Gabriel’s hair.

Lying in the sunlight a while, Colin could feel Gabriel’s skin warming. He ran an arm down Gabriel’s arm, relishing in the warmth, ignoring the slight sheen his fingers acquired along the way.

“Why did you want me to tell Maren?”

Gabriel was quiet, and Colin wondered if he’d fallen asleep in the warm sunlight. Finally, he said, “I’ve been on all the sides of that relationship–having someone go behind my back, going behind someone’s back, having someone decide I wasn’t worth the breakup. It’s hard.”

“So you wanted to make sure I was worth it?”

Gabriel opened his eyes and peered at Colin. “I wanted to make sure I was. Not to you, necessarily. To myself.”

It was oddly sweet, in a backwards logic sort of way. Colin laughed a little and leaned his forehead against Gabriel’s. Gabriel continued, “I don’t know what you’ll do to me. I’ve never met a Sink as powerful as you, before–the only one I met could barely flicker another person. You…”

“I’m a freak.”

Gabriel rolled Colin over and climbed on top of him, towering and intense.

“You’re not! None of us are!” Colin looked away from him, but Gabriel invaded his line of sight again. “You said it yourself: they treat us like animals. They’ve made you think you’re a freak. But you’re not.”

When Gabriel’s lips touched Colin’s, they were soft and dry and warm. Colin sighed and wrapped his arms around Gabriel as Gabriel boxed him in. The bed creaked beneath them as they kissed, moving closer together, and Colin let out a sigh, tangling his fingers up into Gabriel’s hair and giving a firm squeeze.

Gabriel shifted above him, bringing more weight down, and Colin let out a choked, surprised noise at the feel of his erection. Gabriel laughed a little.

“Not used to that. Fuck. That’s sensitive.”

Gabriel chuckled and moved his biting kisses across Colin’s neck as he squirmed, then pulled back to relieve Colin of his shirt. He smiled, running his well-kept nails over Colin’s skin as Colin raised up into the touch, his face and ears and neck flushing with embarrassment as much as arousal.

“Are you into the kinky shit, Colin?”

“Dunno,” Colin admitted. “The kinkiest I’ve ever gotten is spanking a couple of my girlfriends.” Gabriel dragged his nails a little more heavily, and Colin hissed. “Ah. Uh. Okay, if that’s what’s included in kinky…”

“Fair enough.”

Nails were replaced with teeth again, which was considerably more pleasant. Colin shivered and clutched at Gabriel’s shirt, tugging at it to remove it. Gabriel was already fidgeting with Colin’s fly, cautious if bold, until Colin raised his hips obligingly. His jeans and boxers came down in one fell swoop, and he shivered beneath Gabriel.

“I’ve never done it where anyone can see me,” Colin admitted.

Gabriel leered at him, reaching down to give Colin a patient squeezing tug. Colin’s mouth dropped open at the touch.

“First time for everything, huh?”

For a while, that was all: Gabriel’s almost casual, languid strokes and Colin’s awkward fumbling to get Gabriel naked as well. Shyly, as he finally managed to figure out how to do the fly, he looked up at Gabriel.

“You’re not, like…big all over, are you?”

Gabriel looked at him, lifting an eyebrow at the question. With a soft smile, he grabbed Colin’s hand and put it over his crotch, letting him feel out the shape through the soft, worn cotton of his boxer-briefs. Colin felt his breath hitch in his chest as he investigated the bulge, his eyes fixed on where his fingers cupped and squeezed. Gabriel smiled, his eyes half-lidded and pupils dilated, as he moved aside and arched his back, peeling off his underwear to reveal his erection. It was slim, just as soap-slicked as the rest of his skin, longer than Colin’s, and hard enough that it bounced and twitched a bit when released from Gabriel’s boxer briefs. Colin stared at it a moment before licking his lips and reaching out to cup and squeeze as he had a moment before. Gabriel smiled and reached out for him.

“We don’t have to do anything, you know.” Gabriel was quiet a moment after he said that, then looked contemplative. “I don’t think we can, actually, I wasn’t expecting–”

“I have condoms,” Colin blurted. Gabriel sighed and pulled him in, kissing him deeply.

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

The dawning came to Colin slowly, and he buried his face in Gabriel’s neck to hide his embarrassment over that as well. Gabriel cooed at him, rubbing his back, and pulled Colin over him.

“It’s all right,” Gabriel said, “We can do other things.”

“Like what?”

Gabriel laughed a little and rubbed Colin’s hips, rotating him back onto the bed. “What, never gotten a blowjob before?”

Colin blustered and swore and flailed a little. “Of course I have–”

“Good,” Gabriel chirped, and grinned, ducking down between Colin’s legs and effectively shutting him up before he could protest further. Whatever he’d been about to say dissolved into a shuttering, soft moan, which he swallowed up into his chest after only a moment. Gabriel had no such compunction to stay quiet. He slurped at Colin, moaned as he bobbed his head, and smiled around him as best he could. Colin shook, ran his fingers into Gabriel’s hair, and let him have his way, content to simply close his eyes and feel the hot-wet sensation of his mouth and the warm-fuzz of energy flow between them.

The next time he looked, Gabriel was radiant, soft and pale all over, and so warm to the touch that Colin could barely stand to keep his hands near him for longer than a moment. Still, his fingers lingered in Gabriel’s hair, and he could feel the warmth radiating into him as well as he huffed and bent over Gabriel, mumbling obscenely to the back of his neck as Gabriel continued to suck and bob his head.

Colin’s orgasm was quiet, intense, and momentarily blinding. He shivered as he collapsed back, staring at the ceiling for a moment, before giving a dazed, “Wow.”

Gabriel sat up with a chuckle. “Wanna try?”

Time passed, and when the lease ended with Maren, Colin moved out and into a small apartment that was quiet and relatively inexpensive. With growing regularity, following the move, Gabriel’s visits became fewer and further between. When he was there, he was attentive and affectionate, as he’d always been, bright and full of energy, and Colin found himself energized and enthusiastic and passionate whenever they were together. But the times when he was gone, then, were that much harder.

So, to fill the spaces when Gabriel wasn’t there, he watched more and more awful television, which became more and more news shows, which was how, whilst eating ice cream and staring vacantly at the television screen, Colin was introduced to the side of Gabriel he had never been privy to before.

It was a protest in front of the capitol building, this time. Hundreds of thousands of registered mutants, some who were publicly cutting their tracking devices out of their arms on television, were roiling like ants against the breakers of the police. And in the back of all this madness, scaling walls, were people trying to get into the capitol building through other means; the police, distracted by the riotous crowd, didn’t seem to notice at all. But the cameras were turned on them, succinct and biased commentary on the dangers of mutants and the pros and cons of letting them live their lives in peace and quiet without the interjection of the government playing over the image of four young people scaling a building and unfurling a banner that was almost soviet in nature–two silhouetted busts, eyes trained upward in their stretch for freedom, and the words REGENERATIONEM DE NOVO underneath them in a handwritten scrawl that Colin knew well.

With the spoon in his mouth, he reached over to fumble for his phone, never taking his eyes off the screen. Gabriel answered to the noise of the crowd.

“Where are you?”

Gabriel didn’t seem to hear him, or just wasn’t really answering.

“Are you at a riot at the capitol?”

“It’s not a riot,” Gabriel protested. Colin swore under his breath.

“Why are you at a riot in the capitol?”

“It’s not a fucking riot, Colin. Why aren’t you here?”

Colin swore again and turned off the television so he wouldn’t have the strange roaring echo of the crowd from both ends.

“Don’t you get it, Colin? This is everything that you were saying you wanted–this is progress, and change, and not being scared of being you!” Colin shook his head despite that Gabriel couldn’t see him. “This is the natural order of things–the oppressed taking back their power!”

Behind Gabriel’s voice, Colin could hear people chanting, though he couldn’t make out most of it–it was just a roaring, swelling, captivating mess of noise, but Colin was detached from it, listening like it was a trainwreck that he couldn’t look away from.

There was a rush of noise, distinct sirens, and the noise of Gabriel swearing before the line went dead. Colin stared at his phone and then scrambled for the remote control for his television to switch it back on and find out what was happening.

The newscasters were discussing whatever the scene was, but there was no footage. Colin fidgeted and tensed, holding the remote control tightly. “Come on…come on, just go back to the street crew…”

His phone was ringing behind him, and a brief look at it proved that it wasn’t Gabriel, so Colin ignored it.

“Come on!” There was an energy crackle that followed his vehement plea, then the power flickered off. Below his flat, he heard another tenant swear in surprise, but Colin was already scrambling into action.

Colin sat across from Gabriel in a cafe. Gabriel was dingy and dim compared to his normal glowing self. His bruising from the riot, under the soap-slick sheen on his skin, was dark and harrowing. For once, he looked real and human–though Colin realized, now, that that was something he should never compare Gabriel to being.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Colin asked, staring down into his coffee to avoid a confrontation.

“I thought you knew. Maren introduced us after you guys saw an interview with one of my friends–I figured you both knew.”

“Does she?”

“Does it matter?” There was a haughty, dismissive tone to Gabriel’s voice that made Colin cringe a little.

“They’re just as bad–” Colin started, and Gabriel snorted.

“How do you figure? There’s no separate but equal, Colin. That shit never works. Whatever way the government has of monitoring us, that’s how they make us the other.”

“We are the other,” Colin said, rubbing his forehead. “And whether or not there’s some…some mutant overthrow of the government, we’re always going to be the other–look at us, Gabriel! You’re a giant who glows like a florescent! I turn off whole apartment buildings when I get too emotional! There’s no–”

Gabriel was laughing, and Colin swore under his breath, shaking his head.

“We’re better than them, Colin, don’t you see?”

“No,” Colin said, and looked up at Gabriel. “No, we’re not better than them. There’s nothing about us that makes us better, or worse.” He could see Gabriel getting ready for a rebuttal, and he spoke over it, more bold than he’d felt since he was a child and scared of losing who he was. “You’re the one making everyone into a them and an us–not all of us got to do the private seclusion away from the real world, Gabe. Some of us had to get in there with our hands and learn that people don’t like you and you’re never going to be liked, that making a difference isn’t fucking around with exclusion but trying to be part of a system that tries to get you down.”

He pushed his coffee away and crossed his arms at Gabriel, who peered across the table back at him.

“I’m closer to being a functioning mutant in society than you are, and I hate myself.”

“Colin,” Gabriel murmured and looked long-suffering and tired. Colin looked away from him–because really, all he wanted was for Gabriel to not look like that.

“The best I can do,” he said, “is live the life they don’t want me to live: happy, healthy, and successful. Because if I succeed in their system, than everything they’ve ever said about me is wrong.”

“It’s more than that,” Gabriel protested, but Colin only shook his head.

Colin was laying on his bed, listening to the dulcet tones of a French-Canadian singer and watching the rain slide down the window, the first time that Gabriel came over since they’d disagreed in the coffee shop. Colin was reluctant to get out of bed when he heard the knock on his door; his hesitation hardly dissipated when he peered through his peephole and saw Gabriel there, crouching in the hall.

Cautiously he opened the door and leaned in the doorway. Gabriel was soaked through, glimmering slightly; he gave a quiet, nervous smile.


“Hey,” Colin said, fidgeting a little. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, can I come in?”

Colin looked to the side and chewed on his lip, before opening the door a little. “I’ll get you a towel.”

He left Gabriel there to shut the door, heading to his little bathroom to grab some towels to line his couch and wrap Gabriel up in.

“Sorry, I don’t have any dry clothes that would fit you.”

“That’s fine,” Gabriel said. “Is it all right if I take the wet ones off?”

Colin’s throat went dry, and he nodded without really being conscious of it. He stood there, frozen a moment, as Gabriel began to strip, before he cleared his throat. “I’ll make some tea.”

Behind him, he heard Gabriel chuckle. There was the wet shifting squelch of clothes on the floor, and Colin’s face warmed up as he heard fewer and fewer of those squelches, until there was only quiet breathing and the drone of the rain on the windows.

“You’ve made it nice,” Gabriel said. Colin turned away from the stove to where Gabriel was still sitting, having festooned the towels around him in an attempt to cover everything; it did the job, but Colin knew the image underneath, and his face warmed further.

“Yeah, you know. Unpacking here and there. Didn’t have much to start with.”

A towel slid off Gabriel’s shoulder as he looked around. It shouldn’t have been scandalous. Colin had seen all this before, there was nothing surprising to look at here, but he was thrilled, quiet and shivering, from tip to core.

“Mind if I use your shower?”

“No, not at all. If you need more towels, they’re in the closet next to the bathroom.”

Gabriel nodded and stood up, and he didn’t even attempt to maintain that dignity of the towels wrapped around him. Colin looked away and fidgeted with the tea kettle a moment, before all better judgement left him and he headed after Gabriel, straight into the bathroom where Gabriel paused to turn and look at him.

“I’m sorry,” Colin said, but it was breathy and without context, followed by his lunge at Gabriel, smashing their mouths together in a clash of lips and desperation.

Gabriel stumbled but kept up with the sudden attack, wrapping his arms around Colin and hoisting him onto the tips of his toes, kissing him back.

“Wait.” Colin pulled back a little, looking at him concernedly. Gabriel smiled and turned around, turning off the shower. “How big’s your bed?”

Colin laughed a little and pulled Gabriel back to him, kissing as he pulled at his own clothes and walked backward through the bathroom door and toward the small bedroom beside it. Gabriel took advantage of the stumbling and fumbling to push Colin against the wall and grind against him, kissing and nibbling at his neck, rubbing his hips as Colin panted and swore against his ear and hair.

Their eventual collapse into bed was followed by a bout of fidgeting wrestling, both scrambling for purchase and dominance and a good hold on the other. Colin found a good keyhole in gripping Gabriel’s erection, squeezing and tugging until Gabriel was a shuddering mess, and then releasing him to rub his thigh or hip, until Gabriel was fed up with this behavior and pinned him to the bed.

“Do you wanna–?”

“Bedside table.” Gabriel arched a brow at Colin, and Colin blushed. “What?”

“I didn’t even finish my question. Maybe I wanted to know if you wanted some tea.”

Colin rolled his eyes and scraped his nails down Gabriel’s arms. “Maybe I want you to fuck me.”

Gabriel reached over to the bedside table, rooting around in the drawer until he unearthed lube and a sleeve of condoms. He slapped them down beside them, to return to kissing Colin, gently arranging him into a position that would be comfortable–pillow under his hips, legs hoisted into the crook of Gabriel’s arms. Colin was flushed and panting, embarrassment getting swallowed up in arousal, as he watched Gabriel crack open the bottle of lube and warm a considerable amount of it with his breath before bringing a finger down to open Colin up.

Colin sighed and closed his eyes and relaxed. Gabriel hummed. “You’re better at this than I was expecting.”

“I… may have been practicing?”

Gabriel purred, and his mouth was suddenly right next to Colin’s, brushing a bit. “Have you now? Been getting fresh, thinking about it?”

“Maybe a litt–ah. Yeah, right there.” Gabriel moved his finger in circuits over the spot as Colin melted into the bed. He groaned when Gabriel introduced a second slick finger. “Shit, you don’t need to go to town on it. I’ve got this on lockdown.”

“Oh, on lockdown, huh?” Gabriel ground against Colin’s thigh where it met his ass, and Colin bit his lip. “You just want this in you?” Colin was quiet a moment, before snorting. Gabriel joined in with the laughter after a beat, nuzzling at Colin’s throat. “Sorry, that was real bad.”

“Yeah it was.”

“But, seriously…” Gabriel teased with a third finger, slowly pushed it in, and seemed attentive to Colin’s slow, deep groan as he moved them.

Around a lump in his throat, Colin said, “Yeah, seriously.” He heard Gabriel shuffle and rustle, getting a condom off the sleeve and tearing into it. Colin reached down to help roll it on, giving Gabriel a squeeze and stroke. Again, the lube came uncapped, and Colin opened his eyes when Gabriel removed his fingers to slick himself up; he swallowed and fidgeted a bit, hit with the realization that he was about to have that inside him.

Gabriel paused. “We cool?”

Colin looked up, and he was warm and buzzing and felt more safe than he had ever before. He nodded and leaned back on his elbows, flushing as Gabriel smiled and readjusted his legs. Both of them gave slow, quiet noises as Gabriel pushed in, Colin reaching out to cling to Gabriel’s forearms at the feeling of pressure and fullness.

Once seated, Gabriel paused to catch his breath. Colin rubbed at his arms, letting him pause–and definitely appreciating it as well–as he tried to stay relaxed and not anticipate the first move.

He was in luck, then, because the first move was sudden and jarring, a thrust in followed by a slow drag back out. Colin shuddered around a gasp, arching up a bit, and he clung to Gabriel’s forearms, moaning as Gabriel settled into a vigorous rhythm. Together, they kept that up a while, until Gabriel slowed a bit, giving a soft chuckle.

“What? What’s wrong?” Colin asked.

“Nothing,” Gabriel said, and kissed him. He started in again as they kissed, slower and deeper than before, stroking Colin now. Colin groaned and squirmed, panting against Gabriel’s mouth as he moved back against the thrusts.

Gabriel was vocal throughout, a soft, trembling stream of encouragement and adulation, as Colin squirmed and panted and gripped at him.

Colin opened his eyes to see Gabriel staring at him in wonder, and he flushed under a no doubt unusual color or expression flickering across his face. His eyes slid away from Gabriel’s, looking at his hands gripping into the other’s shoulders, where the fingertips were all that soap-film color but the rest was a more pronounced array of the colors that reflected out of that soap-film–a constant, flickering watercolor of reds and blues and yellows, dancing up and down his arms from where he gripped Gabriel, who was beginning to glow more brightly.

“Shit,” Gabriel murmured, and Colin smiled, closing his eyes again as he dragged Gabriel down toward him to kiss him and hold him close and tight. “Shit.” He jerked and gripped onto Colin, who gasped at the sudden onslaught of contact and warm energy, shaking a little as it overwhelmed him.

He focused back in, after a moment, to Gabriel pulling out of him to collapse at his side. Colin curled in, tucking himself under Gabriel’s chin.

Colin Cox was, for all intents and purposes, a person of no particular consequence when it came right down to it. He woke in the mornings to find coffee in his kitchen, occasionally accompanied by food. At work, he futzed around a bit more than necessary, but engaged in what he needed to and was the pride of his company. He dated, though quietly–it was no one else’s business that he was in a relationship and had been for over a year now. He was, whether out in the world or curled up at home, an everyman.

So when Colin stood at Maren’s wedding–to the macho guy that had fucked her against walls in a pitiful attempt to make Colin jealous–he looked out at the crowd of her friends, picking out the people who didn’t quite match in with the average, everyday faces of Maren’s or her new husband’s families, and the very obviously different faces, like Gabriel’s, and he knew, in that moment, that he had succeeded in his want for a quiet, normal life, despite a childhood spent fearing that the world would never be kind to him. He was, in that moment, the hero of his own story, and that, he supposed, was more reward than he ever could have asked.



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