Disclaimer: Captain Scarlet does not belong to me, it belongs to Gerry Anderson and Supermarionation and a whole other bunch of swell companies.
Warning: Mature theme. Slash. Not for the little kiddies.
Summary: Adam struggles to deal with his feelings for Paul, who is struggling just as hard with the truth that he will never, ever, die. Slash.
Dedicated: To Tiniago, who loves her puppetsex, oh yes she does, precious.
It is a modest creed, and yet
Pleasant if one considers it,
To own that death itself must be,
Like all the rest, a mockery.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
Adam Svenson lowers his head against the wall, hands braced on the slippery tiles as water cascades over his aching body. The water is hot to the point of scalding, turning his skin a flushed pink and helping him only concentrate on the pain for a while. Gasping, he lets the water run over his tense muscles and too-new bruises. He's pushed his body to the limit, chasing Turner down what seemed like an infinite number of Chicago alleyways, Paul slightly ahead, not even breaking a sweat while he sweated and cursed and ran as fast as he could.
Only to be led into a trap, too. They should have suspected it, should have known Turner wouldn't be so careless, but it had been so easy to believe that they were so close to capturing the renegade Mysteron. So close to being able to find out the full spectrum of secrets from the Martian.
It had been about eight men Turner had led them their merry dance towards, and while their target slipped away into the darkness, Paul and he had only managed an escape because the alley was too tall. He'd taken a few baseball bat hits to the back, a knife wound or two, whereas Paul, nimbler, received only bruises, and they'd already healed by the time they'd thundered back through the alleys, lost themselves in a crowded mall and been picked up by Destiny and Melody Angel to be taken back to base.
They'd debriefed Colonel White on their failed mission, and seen the disappointment blaze like wildfire in his steely grey eyes. That look of disappointment hurt worse than any negative reports filed. A court martial itself would sting less than one of White's glances.
"And ain't that the truth," Adam murmurs out loud, a self-ironical smirk on his face as he lets the hot water thunder over his abused and tired body.
"Talking to yourself, eh, Svenson?"
"Well, y'know, it's the only way I can decent conversation," Adam quips, keeping his hands against the cold wall. He can feel Paul step into the shower rather then see him, by the shush sound of clothes dropping to the floor, the squirrrk of the recalcitrant tap to the left, the rhythmical patter of feet in the splashing water. Adam doesn't look, he's rather scared of what he'll see.
There's an almost companiable silence, which feels a little awkward. Paul knows Adam is feeling inadequate for not being as fast as he, even though it is ridiculous. No one thinks less of Adam for not being as fast as Paul, in fact, Adam is more highly regarded seeing as he does not have the same freakish ability to regenerate, or not be able to have a photo taken of him.
"Isn't this water a little hot?" Paul asks, conversationally, his muscles screaming abuse at him from the too-hot cascade.
"I hadn't noticed," Adam lies. He knows Paul does not really feel heat all that much now, and the sudden thought that Paul is looking at him, at his pink skin, as he is splayed naked in the shower, bent over, threatens to have a response that Adam can't stand.
At the risk of alienating his friend, his only friend at the moment to tell the truth, Seymour tries his best to be a friend but he's too young, too green to the Spectrum, he doesn't understand the politics of the place yet, Adam jerks the shower off, and without looking at Paul or saying another word, strides off, his naked back to Paul, picking up the towel and throwing it around himself. He moves as quick as he can, bolting himself into an individual cubicle, knowing Paul will know something is up, but not caring.
And he lowers his head against the wall, and jerks something else off, too, the towel falling to the floor.
He tries to keep quiet, honest he does, but his breathing becomes too harsh and a sharper exhalation draws Paul's attention.
"Adam, are you all right in there?"
Squeezing his eyes shut, feeling every bit and piece the traitor, Adam doesn't stop moving his hand, doesn't stop touching.
"I'm fine," he says, the words falling light from his mouth, an obvious lie to all that know him and Paul knows him well. "Bit of a headache," he adds, lying.
"Want me to get you an aspirin?" Paul asks, and of course he's being kind and caring as Paul always is, and Adam feels so much worse for what he's doing, but he nods yes anyway and then realises Paul can't see the action.
"Please," he says, his despair spilling into a clenched fist, and he doesn't dare fall to the ground until Paul's footsteps recede into the distance. Sickened with himself, Adam cleans himself up, slipping into his civilian clothes, and then running to a sink to scrub his face hard with cold water. His eyes and cheeks are red by the time he's finished, and Paul slips in with a new box of aspirin and a towel still around his waist.
Paul notices Adam noticing his strange attire, and smiles smoothly, like a cat. A lot of Paul's grace is almost feline, Adam isn't the only one to think so, and he wonders if maybe the Mysterons, the Martians, are descended from cats, or if cats are alien. He doesn't want to think so. He had a cat growing up, tabby and white, Pandora, Pan, come on sweetheart, there's some chicken here for you and it's real good, she used to sleep on his chest, purring so loud it almost hurt.
"You should have seen their faces at the kiosk," Paul says, patting Adam on the shoulder, companiable.
Adam would have liked to see it, and stifles the laugh that bubbles up from the mental image, which quickly is suppressed as a swell of desire for the man standing so unselfconsciously before him chokes it down for him. He realises Paul is standing there, still, his chest and legs almost shining with water droplets, and he forces himself to look at Paul's face. "Thanks," he says, taking the proffered box of tablets, "you're a lifesaver."
Paul grins, relaxes, the concern on his face washing away. "You're right," he calls as he walks away to his own cubicle to get dressed, and Adam watches him go. "A lemon flavoured one. Wait for me, yeah?" And Paul's voice is so casual, that Adam knows he can't know the effects his words have on him, he couldn't, no one would torture someone that way if they knew, right?
He hears the shifting sounds in Paul's cubicle, and presses two of the tablets out of the packaging. Pretends to gulp them down with water from the sink, but instead breaks them in two, lets them fall down the plughole. Slllrrrrp, and they're gone. Watching the water spin down the plughole calms him a little, and Adam forces himself to stay on track. He and Paul are friends, and Paul is still insecure about the whole alien thing, and needs a friend badly.
It's hard to remember that when Paul opens the door, and is dressed in black pants that should be outlawed for looking so good on anyone and a light blue turtleneck that somehow makes Paul's eyes luminescent, and Adam manages a wan smile, unworried that it'll look fake because he's been using that fake smile on and off for the last year.
"Want some dinner?" Adam makes the question sound normal, a question between friends. "My treat. Somewhere landside."
Paul looks surprised at the suggestion. Normally they'd eat in the commissary before going landside, to maybe catch a movie if Paul fancied a new one, or to try out a new club and lose each other because Adam didn't want to see Paul in a place that oozed sexuality out of the walls, or to go to one of the others' apartments and talk for hours, or just to go their own separate ways.
"What's the occasion?" Paul sounds as if he's joking.
"Nothing, really, it's just-" Adam wants to say the words, what he means, but it's stuck in his throat. He looks away, embarrassed, as they head out down the corridor to the main tunnel that will take them to the elevators and down.
"Today unsettled you that much, huh?" And there, there are the words, the words that make Adam feel so much better, that maybe masturbating to the thought of your best friend showering could be attributed to a lousy day at work and realising your own incompetence, not to your own innate evilness.
"Y-yeah. I guess so." Those words are easier to say, accompanied with a sheepish look. Paul understands, and a flicker of a ghost of something on his face lets Adam know it unsettled Paul too, and that maybe unsettle is too light a verb.
"Right. You go order takeout at the comms station, meet me back here in ten minutes."
Adam starts at the expression on Paul's face, which causes him just to look more and more like the cat (again!) that most definitely got all the cream, and probably a few chicken carcasses at the same time.
And Adam's heart stops as Paul puts one finger on his lips, suddenly gentle. There's an easiness about the gesture on Paul's part, a grace that Adam will never know, but will forever worship from afar, and oh, how reluctantly from afar.
"You'll see." Paul turns, runs the other way up the corridor. Adam, bewildered, watches him go. He touches a finger to his lips, where Paul touched him, as if they will feel different, but they don't, but he does. He stops and stares, and when Paul runs back, looking at him so confused, Adam stares back, just as confused, and there's an awkward silence as Adam moves his stare to the ground.
A minute passes.
Adam looks at Paul. Paul looks at Adam, then bursts out laughing.
"Have you been stood there all that time?" Paul demands, his laughter ringing out and echoing in the largely deserted hallway. He's holding his sides and Adam is in shock, how long has he been standing there?
He flushes, awkward, suddenly more awkward than before, and toes the ground. "I, uh, I'll just go get the food. Wait here."
Adam turns, red-faced, and trots to the comms, hearing Paul's laughter follow him until he reached the busier area of the Spectrum base. He keys in the number to the Chinese takeaway service, and slots in his Ident card, ordering Paul's favourites without even thinking about it, and the screen chirps cheerfully, announcing the number of dollars deleted from his account. He waits for a minute and the hatch pops open. He takes the cartons out, balanced easily on a cardboard tray with chopsticks and prawn crackers cushioning the different containers, and walks back to the hallway.
Paul is now leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest, a fresh smile crossing his face. "Follow me," he says, "if you can stand leaving this area of the base." And he's grinning, and there's nothing cat-like in that grin, it's pure honesty.
Adam knows he's going to be teased about this for months, but doesn't care, as he follows Paul to this mysterious place Paul knows. Staying there really wasn't an option, anyway, as Adam would follow Paul anywhere, given the chance.
So totally whipped, Svenson. He needs a friend. He needs. You. (Oh, I wish, I wish so much.) Only. As. A. Friend.
He just wishes the words didn't knot up his stomach so much, is all.
"Here, I'll take the food," Paul says, and takes it from him swiftly. A hand clamps over his eyes and he almost trips, but stays still. That's Paul hand, Adam realises, and lets the warmth of it wash over him. He flushes when he realises Paul is still talking. "...if you can reach out your right hand- yeah, a bit to the right - the palmist is there..."
Adam laughs, doing as he's told, while fighting the shiver from Paul's breath, so close to him, and he knows Paul can feel his genuine-this-time smile at the use of their word for the palm reading device - it's a palm reader, so it's a palmist - they went into a palmist's tent at a carnival once, as a laugh, and the gypsy woman told them they made a pretty couple, and Paul had blushed real hard and Adam had stuttered out that they weren't, they were just work colleagues, and the woman had gone oh, right like she hadn't believed them. Adam thinks, maybe that's when it started to go wrong so bad, when he realised maybe his crush on Paul was too noticeable.
He feels a rush of wind when the door opens, and Paul is trying to guide him with his voice, telling him to step forwards carefully, only be careful of the rise. Adam follows Paul's directions, knowing even if the guy was leading him off the edge of a cliff, or off the roof of the base, that he'd follow the directions anyway. He trusts Paul implicitly, and tells him so, which earns him another of those genuine laughs.
Paul pulls his hand away and Adam grimaces, his eyes still screwed shut.
"You can look now," Paul says, interpreting Adam's grimace as trepidation, and Adam looks. And gasps.
His roof of the base thought was closer than he'd thought. A slight shimmer told of the force field in place so that the lighter atmosphere wouldn't cause someone dizziness, and the wind whipped through it so it was obviously one that let wind through.
The sun is setting across the clouds, sparkling orange and yellows across a pink and purple mottled sky. Adam has almost never seen anything so beautiful. He hears Paul moving to his right, but doesn't look away, knowing something just as beautiful is there. He watches the dying beams stretching across the sky, a prettier light show than could ever be manufactured.
"It'll be light still for an hour, then I've got a solar lamp here," Paul says, tapping on an object, and wordless, Adam looks down at him. "You've never been out here before, have you?"
And Adam shakes his head, even though he's been there once on a tour of the base, and Paul knows because he was on that tour too, because he knows that Paul means he's never been out here to relax or when the sky was like that, ethereal and sculptured.
Then Adam starts, because Paul has laid blankets out and is stretched out on one, the food to his right and a blanket to the right of that. Adam gets the hint, and stretches out his aching body on the other blanket, propping himself up on one arms to look across at Paul.
"Thanks," Adam says, and Paul looks confused, as if to say, what for? "For- for this-" Adam gestures and Paul understands.
"Anytime, Adam," Paul says, and Adam wishes so ferverently that no one else could ever speak his name, as no one else could say it like that. Paul was opening the cartons now and Adam busies himself with splitting out the chopsticks and handing a pair over to his friend. Their hands brush, and Adam freezes for a second, but shakes himself out of it and hopes Paul didn't notice. "You want to talk about today?"
Suddenly Paul is still, as if scared of what Adam will say.
"Oh, that." Adam distracts himself with a chicken noodle, flipping them out and chewing on it thoughtfully, trying to think of what he could say. "I just- Traps aren't my favourite things in the whole world, and I-" His throat tightens. He can feel the noodle in his stomach, heavy, and his mouth is dry. "I guess I was scared," he admits, finally. "I was scared we wouldn't make it."
"But you know I-" Paul starts to speak, and then shuts up, looking away at the sun, mortification flooding his cheeks. Adam knows that Paul hates it, being different.
"I know you can fall a thousand feet and survive," Adam says. "But what if one day, you fall a thousand and ten, and-" He looks out at the sunset too. "We've seen you do the impossible, but you might have a limit, and I get so-" And he knows he has to admit it. "-frightened."
Paul's eyes are wide when he finally turns to look at him, and Adam just looks back.
"I thought-" Paul's voice is small. "I never thought," he corrects himself, "that you think that. Everyone thinks I'm a freak."
Paul looks almost as if he could be blown away, and Adam is so unsettled at Paul looking so vulnerable that he blurts without thinking. "No one thinks that!"
Paul's smile is bitter. "You don't think that, which - Adam, it's a relief, it's- It means more than you know. And-" Paul looks away again, gaze resting on some invisible point on the horizon, a faraway kingdom of fairies and kings and happily-ever-afters.
Adam opens his mouth as if to contest the point, and lets out a long, low breath instead. Pushing Paul never leads to much on the best of days.
But Paul lets it out anyway, as if he is grateful for Adam not pushing.
"I get scared for you, too. You aren't- You're not indestructible, and I led you straight damn into that trap, even knowing what Turner's capable of." As if embarrassed, Paul looks sheepishly at Adam, before burying himself in a carton of beef teriyaki.
Adam is bolstered somehow by the admission that took a lot out of Paul to make. "I led myself," he says, laughing, meeting Paul's eyes above the cardboard and foil containers. "We both fooled ourselves. Sometimes it's nice to think a happy ending will be so easy, but even though it's not, fighting for a happy ending is half the fun."
Paul nods. "We make a funny pair," he says, abruptly. "Both frightened of the other's well-being. Although," he adds, "you have less need for worry."
"I do?" Adam shakes his head, annoyed. "You, who thinks the entire world thinks you're a freak, when you're not, you're the most human person I've ever met." He shuts up, as if he's said too much, as if in his passionate words something slipped out that shouldn't have.
"And you, you beat yourself up for not being all powerful, for being human," Paul says, "although some of the smiles you've been sending my way have been altogether too fake for my own liking."
Adam's face freezes again, and his chopsticks fall from his fingers into the pot he's holding. "What do you mean?" he asks, although his heart is racing, his stomach is creasing again, and the pretty tableau before them seems to fade considerably.
"For the past few months. The whole year, to be candidly honest." Paul's voice was almost stern, now. "I know they're fake, they don't reach your cheeks like the genuine ones you give me do." Paul reaches over the food, traces a finger down Adam's cheek, and his eyes flutter shut under the ghosting touch. "I thought you were repulsed by what I'd been made. I didn't know this was the reason you were uncomfortable around me."
Bewildered, Adam opens his eyes, and swallows so hard when Paul elegantly stands up, only to move to stand above Adam. The dying sunlight spreads like a halo behind Paul, and Adam can only watch as he straddles Adam's legs, kneeling, both his hands rising up to take Adam's face.
"You think I wouldn't notice that you got hard from seeing me in the shower?"
And Paul's voice is like sex, and Adam can only look straight at Paul's oh too blue eyes and suppress the whimper that threatens to spill into the silence.
"That you touched yourself thinking about me? That it wasn't the first time?"
"I-" Adam begins, but can't get the words out. Paul, this strangely sexually confident Paul, smiles his cat-cream smile, his cat-cream-and-chicken-bones smile.
"That's what I thought," Paul says, and kisses him.
And it's not all Adam fantasized. It's real, and he can't believe it. He can't open his eyes because he knows it'll all disappear in a flurry of stars and broken glass, like all his dreams.
His palms are flat on the ground, pointing backwards, and Paul is holding his face like it's a precious object. He feels Paul's tongue on his lips, and he's so surprised he opens his mouth to gasp, and the gasp doesn't get loose, as Paul takes advantage and takes the kisses to another level, hot, open mouthed, wet. And Adam's palms are aching from propping himself up, and Paul's arousal is hard to miss pressed into his own, but he doesn't protest. Paul's kisses are a salve, a potion, a magic medicine, to soothe his aching heart and body. Paul presses, he arches, they shimmer in the dying sunlight, and a sunburst burns Adam's vision, lighting him from the inside out. Sated, they lie, intertwined, and Adam doesn't quite know where he ends, or if he ends at all now. Paul is stroking his face, his hair, worshipping him in the night sky, twinkling down at them.
Minutes later, maybe hours, and Paul speaks, still touching Adam like he's scared he's going to blow away, maybe, and now Adam knows it isn't a dream he's not going to let that happen.
"It hurts," Paul says, and for a minute Adam thinks he means what just happened, and feels ashamed until Paul adds, "dying. It hurts."
"I'd imagine so," Adam says, smiling even though Paul is lying partially on his broken and bruised skin, because it doesn't hurt, no, it doesn't hurt anymore.
"Not physically, I mean, although yes, it does, but-" Paul shakes his head slightly, and drops a kiss onto Adam's forehead, then his cheek, then on his lips, and pulls away with a regretful look. "It hurts when I think I won't ever be able to see you again. I-- I'm hurting you!" And Paul pulls back when Adam winces involuntarily.
"No, no," Adam breathes, yanking Paul forcefully back, his hand curling protectively around him. This post-release Paul is almost a different Paul to the Paul before. It is a tentative Paul. Adam reaches for the words to heal the fear. "You're healing me." He moves his head closer. "You make me whole," he whispers against Paul's lips.
"I-" Paul tries to speak, but Adam holds him still.
I love you, he mouths into the kiss, and by the way Paul is suddenly relaxed Adam knows he understands. Me too, Paul's eyes speak back. His mouth is occupied and will remain so for hours, if Adam gets his way. He shuts his eyes, surrenders himself, and just feels. And oh hours later, and they've somehow made it back to Paul's quarters in the base, and they're tangled and sore in sheets and blankets, and Adam wakes up to see Paul watching him.
He almost understands. "I'm not going to leave you," Adam says. He puts his hand on Paul's bare chest, where his heart beats underneath.
Anguish is in a tangible form on Paul's face, and Adam kisses it away. "You will. One day. Mysterons can live forever."
"Then I'll live forever, here," Adam says, keeping his fingers pressed on Paul's chest. Paul still looks upset. "Don't predict me gone until I am," he says, stern. "Let me love you, Paul, for as long as I can. If you- I was breaking. That's why my smiles were fake, that I hated that I touched myself and couldn't have you. Not having you almost broke me."
Paul shakes his head, bewildered. "I didn't know." His face tightens. "I'm scared of tomorrows, that one day I'll wake up and I'll break because you're gone-"
"-then I'd better give you something to remember me by," Adam says, half-teasing, dropping feather-light kisses on Paul's strong jaw line, down his throat, and then is startled when Paul pushes him forcibly away.
"I can't-" Paul whispers. "I can't do this. I can't fall in love with you, and if you- if you stay here, I will-" And Adam knows he's lying, because Paul is already in love with him, else nothing makes sense. "I was weak, and gave into my feelings, but it won't happen again. Please go away and leave me alone."
Adam is angry, he doesn't understand. Paul's face turns into a mask. "You love me," Adam accuses, as Paul shoves him off the bed. He starts to pull his abandoned clothes on, wanting to cry, forcing his own face to be dressed in stone, too. "And you'll come talk to me when you've realised this is a mistake. We're meant to-" Adam trails off, and he turns, and takes Paul's chin, and kisses him so tenderly that when Paul kisses back, and his face is wet with Paul's tears, that he almost thinks that maybe Paul has changed his mind.
"Go," Paul says, stern. "I won't let myself love you. And you deserve someone who loves you like you deserve."
The words sting, like acid, like the bruises which are hurting so much again, and the bound up knife wounds. "I deserve you. I love you, Paul. I'm not going to give up on that as easily as you think I will." And Adam sweeps up his socks and shoes with the last scrap of dignity that he can muster, and sweeps out of the door. He looks back even though he knows he shouldn't, to see Paul in a devastated heap on the bed. His resolve almost breaks, but he knows Paul needs time to see his own mistake. Adam walks out, head held high even as he pads barefoot through the base to his own room.
And later, when he passes Paul at the comms station and they're both in uniform and Paul is printing out a Transfer Request form, and Paul has no trace of humanity left in his eyes, Adam says, "Afternoon, Scarlet," and tries to pretend his heart hasn't broken into a thousand different pieces.