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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Machinations - 6. Arc 1, Chapter 6

Eric sat on the couch until Coral burst through the door. “Finally,” she said, stripping off her costume. “Rainbright chased me across half the city, and of course you weren’t there so I couldn’t use lightbending so she nearly got me. Ugh. You’d think she’d be a little less inclined to hunt me down after, you know, we saved one of her teammates.” Coral flopped down on the couch. “You all right? Did something happen?”

“I saw Enmachina’s face,” Eric said. How was he supposed to tell her this?

“Was he someone we know?” Coral asked.

“Nathan.”

Coral was silent for a moment. Then she flopped over the couch’s arm. “I’m an idiot.”

“Come on. I’m the one sleeping with him. Shouldn’t I have known?”

“Maybe if his armor was a bikini.” Coral righted herself. “I mean, seriously! N-machina? His name is Nathan! And his predecessor was Nessa! Both start with N!”

“But… I don’t think--?”

“And I knew his power was to power things. I have analysis! I keep a copy of the freaking thing! I should have known it could power anything. And what’ve we talked about? How it should be impossible for him to have a suit that lets him fly all the time? It only makes sense if you have a completely ridiculous power source and Nathan is completely ridiculous, so it makes sense!”

Eric frowned. “Okay, back up. Nessa is the previous Enmachina? Nathan’s mom Nessa?”

“Well, if Nathan is, then she has to be. There were rumors after the End Battle that Enmachina One was paralyzed based on some video clips from the aftermath. She appeared standing up in the suit once afterwards, to announce her retirement, but that could have been remote piloted. Or it could have been someone else in the suit. But she never demonstrated any other powers, so she’s probably a Mad Scientist. Science doesn’t require legs, so there’s nothing stopping her from building another suit.”

“Right,” Eric said. “And then Raph is Scope.”

Coral tilted her head. “Yeah. I could see that. Raph has powers, but I’ve never touched his bare skin. His powers are supposed to involve feeling every bit of a person’s body, so no wonder he doesn’t want to be touched.”

“Also, he’s Nathan’s black boyfriend.”

“That is also a clue, yes.” Coral tapped her fingers on the couch arm. “Wait a second. Nathan has a pacemaker.”

“Yeah. That’s why he was in such bad shape after we freed him. It broke.”

“We’ve been beating up on a disabled man?!” Coral looked horrified.

“He’s not that disabled. I can confirm he’s medically cleared for strenuous activities. And it’s not like he hasn’t started the fights a lot of the time.”

Coral made a dissatisfied hum and fell silent, except for the tapping of her fingers. “So, Nathan is Enmachina. What are we going to do about it?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Eric said, sitting back. “He’s our archnemesis. I should break up with him.”

“But you don’t want to,” Coral said.

“He’s been lying about his identity.”

“So have we,” Coral said.

“If he finds out about us, it could jeopardize everything we’ve been working for.”

“That was true regardless of whether he was a superhero. Stupid goody-two-shoes.”

Eric smiled. “You sound like you want me to stay with him.”

“Not my boyfriend, not my decision,” Coral said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Whatever you decide, I’ll support you in it.”

“But you have an opinion.”

“Of course.”

Eric sighed. “What’s your honest opinion?”

Coral took a moment to reply. “Honestly? I’d feel a lot safer if Enmachina wasn’t hanging out in our home. That being said, if you broke up with Nathan… that would unbalance things.”

“If I break up with him, we don’t have to close the relationship.”

“I know, but I’d feel bad if I was sleeping with other people and you weren’t.”

“Oh no,” Eric said. “I suppose I’d just be forced to go out and sleep with hot people.”

Coral elbowed him. “Such a sacrifice. So noble of you.”

Eric brought a hand to his chest. “For the greater good, of course.”

Coral smiled, and then folded her arms and went quiet. Eric sat back. Usually, when she went like this, it was thinking time for her. “I think,” she said slowly, “that if you decide to break up with Nathan, then you can’t do it now. A supervillain sees his face and suddenly his boyfriend breaks up with him? Even if he doesn’t trace it back to you, he might decide that Couronne threatened you in some way, meaning it could trigger a hunt on us.”

“Yeah. Makes sense.” At least he didn’t have to decide immediately.

“And regardless of what you decide, we need to cover ourselves. Make it impossible for us to be Echo and Couronne.”

“There’s an obvious problem with that,” Eric said.

“Right. And we also need to make sure that if you do break up with Nathan, he’s very unlikely to think that Couronne had something to do with it. So we need a pretty big alibi.” She grabbed her phone and tapped on it for a few moments. “How do you feel about Spain? Or maybe France?”

Eric considered it. An overseas trip was definitely in their budget. It wasn’t the first time they’d suddenly gone on a vacation, either. Moreover, having an excuse to spend time away from Nathan… that sounded very attractive right now. With all his feelings for Nathan and all his feelings for Enmachina crashing together, his head felt like a mess. “I take it you have a plan?” Eric asked.

Coral gave him a wicked grin. “Oh, I do.”

***

 

Eric fidgeted in the elevator. “Nervous?” Coral asked.

“Yeah, kinda,” Eric said. Not only was this the first time he was going to see Nathan since the incident, but his boyfriend also happened to be in the hospital. And then there was the whole matter of the plan and not being sure if Nathan would stay his boyfriend…

Coral held out their hand. Eric took it, squeezed it, and smiled at them. At least, no matter what happened, he’d have them on his side. He couldn’t imagine dealing with this in a monogamous relationship with Nathan.

The doors opened and they stepped out. Nathan’s room wasn’t too far away. Coral navigated them there pretty quickly. Had they worked in this hospital? Eric couldn’t remember if they’d ever mentioned it. Something to ask later, he supposed.

They rounded the corner into Nathan’s room. He was lying in bed, alone in the room, a tube in his hand, watching TV. Eric swallowed. That face was his boyfriend’s face, and also the face he’d last seen peering out of a wrecked helmet. He couldn’t speak.

“Well, you look like crap,” Coral said cheerfully, leading the way into the room.

“Thanks, you too,” Nathan said dryly. He held out a hand. “Eric. Glad you’re here.”

Eric found his voice. “Hey,” he said, stepping forward and taking Nathan’s hand. “So. You all right after…?”

“Pacemaker broke,” Nathan said. “Luckily, I was just about to get a replacement, so the new one should arrive soon. Still, hit me like a truck when it failed.”

Eric nodded. Nathan could just lie there and lie to him without even a twitch. It was… more upsetting than he thought it would be. Except he had to say something. What would he normally say? He felt like he needed acting lessons to act like himself. “And it was just one week from retirement, too,” he finally said. “So, Raph here?”

Nathan shook his head. “Had to get to work. He’s coming back later.”

“We can’t stay that long, either,” Coral said. “I have work.”

“That’s fine. Just glad you’re here.” Nathan squeezed Eric’s hand.

Eric sat down in the visitor’s chair right by him and Coral took the one on the other side. “So, um, how long are you going to be in here?” Eric asked. His voice sounded weird.

“Hopefully, the day after the implantation. Normally, it would be an outpatient procedure, but because of what happened to the last one, they want to keep me an extra day.”

Eric wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Were the doctors actually worried about the pacemaker, or was it something about the fact that he’d been captured? The conversation went silent. He searched for something to say. Oh, right. “We have some news,” he said.

“What is it?” Nathan asked. “Are you pregnant?” he said to Coral.

“No. I better not be yet.” They wrinkled their nose. “Actually, both of us have vacation time that’s about to expire. In a couple weeks, we’re headed to Europe.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Nathan said, turning to Eric. “Where in Europe?”

“Madrid,” Eric said. “At least at first. Probably going to roam around a little.”

“Why Spain?” Nathan asked.

“Because we both speak enough Spanish to get by,” Coral said. “I mean, it’s Latin American Spanish, but still Spanish. Can’t say the same for France. We also considered Hong Kong, but that’s just a little too far away.”

“Maybe we could visit Hong Kong one day,” Eric said. “My mom could come along.”

“That sounds nice,” Coral said. “As long as she’s on the opposite side of the hotel. Like, all the way on the other side.”

“We’re not that loud,” Eric said.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Coral said.

Nathan groaned. “I think we’re at the point of too much information.”

“You know way more about me than that,” Eric said.

“Well, yeah, but I don’t want to think about Coral’s sex life. They’re not a guy. Or even masculine.”

Coral huffed. “Fine, then. If I’m not enough of a guy for you, then I’ll go off to the ladies room!” They left.

Nathan frowned. “I didn’t offend them, did I?”

“Nah. They just had a lot of coffee.” Nathan didn’t say anything back, leaving them with another silence. “So. Um.” Eric gestured to the TV. “Anything good on?”

“Is this bothering you?” Nathan asked quietly.

“The TV? No.”

“I mean, me being here. It’s bothering you, isn’t it?”

“Really? You’re in the hospital and you’re asking me if I’m okay?”

“Well, you’re acting different today. I saw the look on your face when you came in.”

That had been because of the secret superhero identity, but Eric couldn’t exactly say that. It was a useful cover, though. “Okay, yeah. I’m not exactly used to this sort of thing. Raph is a doctor, and Coral sees dead and dying people all the time. I’m just the insurance guy.”

Nathan squeezed his hand. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “The doctors say I will be, and this isn’t the first time I’ve gone through this.”

“And the last?”

“I can’t promise it’ll be the last time,” Nathan said. “I certainly hope it will be, and I will take much better care of myself. But I can’t promise it.”

The way Nathan looked at him, it was as if he expected Eric to break up with him on the spot. And maybe he could. If he told Nathan that he couldn’t handle dating someone who could die at any time, then that wouldn’t look like he was threatened into leaving him. It would solve the problem of dating Enmachina and the problem of backlash on Couronne.

A moment later, he felt awful. Breaking up with him specifically because there was something physically wrong with him? That would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Nathan might feel like he was too broken to find someone else. No, he’d have to come up with something else. Maybe just that his feelings were fading. Eric squeezed Nathan’s hand. “I hope it’ll be the last time, too. So, when you get out, will you need to take it easy for a while?”

“I’ll probably need to wait a week. After that, though…” Nathan glanced at the doorway. “What day are you leaving?”

“Evening of the 16th. We got a red-eye.”

“I think I’ll be good to go on the 15th as long I don’t jog the pacemaker too much.”

Eric reached out and stroked Nathan’s hair. It was the natural thing to do, but also somehow weird now. “I suppose we’ll need to practice some restraint?”

Nathan grinned and pressed his head into Eric’s hand. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

This… was a problem, though. Nathan was a superhero. It was natural that he wouldn’t want to secretly sleep with a supervillain. Arguably, most people wouldn’t want to sleep with a supervillain – or even a superhero, for that matter – but there was a difference between the average person and someone who made a living by arresting supervillains. On the other hand, there was no way he could tell Nathan, not without putting himself and Coral at risk. Even doing something out of the ordinary might put them at risk, really.

There was a knock at the door and Coral’s head poking around the corner. “You two got all the lovey-dovey stuff outta your systems?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Nathan said. Eric withdrew his hand.

Coral sat back down. “So, I had an idea for a surprise for Raph. Hear me out: magnetic gloves.

“That sounds like it would kill me.”

“No, just for out in public. I mean, think about it…”

Eric sat back and let the two of them bicker over whether it was a good idea. Maybe things would be okay if he ended up staying with Nathan. This didn’t have to mean the end.

In some ways, that just made things more difficult.

***

Nathan arrived at Eric’s place at the appointed date. The new pacemaker still felt a little weird under his skin after going without it for a week, but he was getting used to it far faster than the last one. And he’d done fine with his workout this morning, so he was good.

When he knocked, Coral almost immediately opened the door. “Hi,” Coral said, squeezing past him. “Bye.” Coral was around the corner before he could even see Coral’s bracelet. Well, the door was open at least, so he went inside and shut the door behind him.

Eric was sitting on the couch. Nathan sat down beside him. “Dinner and a movie tonight?” Nathan asked.

“Sounds good,” Eric said. His voice sounded weird today, same as it had in the hospital. Was he still upset about Nathan’s stay there? Hopefully, that would change after Eric’s vacation.

“Or we could just skip straight to the main event,” Nathan suggested.

“Nah, I’m pretty hungry,” Eric said, picking up the phone. “Chinese?”

“Yeah, sounds good,” Nathan said.

They didn’t say much after that, at least not until halfway through the movie. “Hey, so I got a weird question,” Eric said. “Coral and I were talking the other day and joking that one of the people they met was a supervillain. So we started wondering about the ethics of that sort of thing. Is it wrong to sleep with someone without telling them that you’re a supervillain?” Eric shrugged. “Or a superhero, since they also have the double life thing going on. Or just anything really big that you’re hiding. I mean, if they wouldn’t sleep with you if they knew, then is it really ethical to sleep with them while keeping that a secret?”

“Huh,” Nathan said. “I never really thought about it.” In fact, that was pretty uncomfortable to think about. Technically speaking, he was lying to Eric. It wasn’t exactly by choice – and given that a supervillain had seen his face, he really needed to think about revealing it – but he’d still decided to get into the relationship knowing he’d have to lie. What if Eric objected to Nathan’s powers, or the dishonesty? Then again, Eric had never expressed anything about superpowers. “I guess, in the case of superheroes or villains, that depends on how you feel about people with powers.”

“Does it?” Eric asked with a shrug. “I mean, even if they’re okay with it, you’re still lying to them about something pretty big.”

That was a good point. Nathan shrugged. “I mean, if they’re not okay with it, then would you want to sleep with them anyway?” If he found out that Eric had problems with superpowers, that would be a major turnoff. It would definitely hurt, but he wouldn’t be jumping to reassure him.

“Yeah, but you don’t always know if someone will turn out to have issues with you. And sometimes, even just asking if they have issues with something will make them wonder, which could be dangerous depending on what it is or who they’re talking to.”

Nathan frowned. “By that logic, people with powers would never be able to date unless they thoroughly vetted everyone beforehand, or they felt like taking their health into their own hands. That hardly seems fair.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Eric said, leaning back. “Some might say that the demands for total transparency are just a way of control. By complaining that someone didn’t tell them, they can make themselves out to be the victims.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far. I mean, honesty is important. But someone’s safety is more important than everything else.” That was pretty much the only reason he still hadn’t told Eric. True, it probably would have been better if he hadn’t gotten involved with Eric in the first place, but they’d started out as friends. Things just happened from there.

“True. But then there are cases where they didn’t know and then later find out.” Eric shrugged. “Is it lying if they realized they had powers after getting in the relationship? Most people would say no, but a bigot might be equally upset whether they knew or not. Even a normal person might be upset. But that’s not lying, or even dishonesty.”

Angelica’s wife, Mary, would probably disagree. But then, Mary was a very disagreeable person in general. “Well, yeah. Ideally, it would be better if you disclosed stuff ahead of time, but that’s not always possible. And in the case of a superhero, that could put people at risk of violence. Honestly, that’s true for everyone with powers. And another thing,” he said, as the thought occurred to him, “there are lots of things people might have problems with. Like, if you don’t want to sleep with a smoker. Does someone have to disclose everything that people might object to?”

“If someone doesn’t want to sleep with a smoker, then they should probably ask whether the person smokes before sleeping with them.”

“Exactly!” Nathan said. “Why is someone with powers blamed if they don’t tell someone about their powers? The other person didn’t ask. If they outright lied when asked, that’s another matter, but not telling because they didn’t know it was important to the other person isn’t necessarily wrong. Especially when telling is a risk.” He shrugged. “So I guess I don’t really blame someone for not telling their partner until they’re sure or they feel safe.”

Eric nodded. “So if someone doesn’t feel safe telling you something, then you wouldn’t be upset with them for sleeping with you without telling you?”

“Yeah, I guess. As long as it isn’t something that could hurt me, like an STD.” Nathan paused. This could be bad, but he had to ask. “What about you?”

“I think we agree on that, actually.” That was a relief. If he had to tell Eric, then he didn’t want to implode the relationship.

After that, they settled down, finishing the movie and the food, and then headed off to the bedroom. Nathan took off his shirt and got on the bed while Eric pulled out the handcuffs. Without a word, Nathan put his arms up and Eric snapped the cuffs around his wrists and around the bedpost. He tried, experimentally, to get free, but he couldn’t.

It was freeing, in a way. He didn’t have to do anything. In fact, he couldn’t. After the whole Convert debacle, that was something he desperately needed. No worries about Convert, who was going to prison. Nothing about Couronne, who hadn’t made a move since rescuing him. No obligations, no duties, just him and someone he trusted to take care of him.

Not even a worry about why Eric was asking about powers.

Copyright © 2021 Flamboyant Chatoyant; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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