He leaned against the ships bulkhead; it felt cold to the touch, but his body was registering nothing.
What *had* he become?
He was a volunteer, sure he knew that. Bendix swore that he was to become the ultimate soldier, he just forgot to mention the 'monster' part.
Cold...everything had been so damned cold, but now, even that sensation was to be denied him.
It was the strangest thing to have a body impervious to harm, having no feeling, no soul.
No longer a man, nor even a human being, he was destined to be so much more, yet he'd become so much less.
Dammit, he'd even taken to checking his own pulse to be sure a heart still beat in is chest.
'Creature' to Bendix's Frankenstein.
The tiny window he huddled next to looked out into the timeless depths of space, vast, empty and lost. How ironic that a man can become that very same thing with the slash of a surgeon's knife.
A flurry of activity in the room caught his attention momentarily as another 'brave' volunteer was led in to recover.
Stacked like lab rats on shelves, they packed more in by the hour for the journey back to Earth to complete the 'conditioning'.
Another 'volunteer', another victim sucked in by the promise of glory and a 'better world'.
The new man sat down on a free bunk and leaned back against the wall.
He didn't mean to stare, didn't want to make eye contact. The man was just so... beautiful.
Light, innocence, goodness, sun, stars and the wonders of the universe all rolled up in one strong, masculine form.
He shouldn't have been looking--like he cared anyway?
Turning his face back to the bulkhead he closed his eyes. Maybe he could fade into the greyness of the metallic hull, fold in on himself and become less? If only the emptiness wasn't so painful.
"Hi," a voice said suddenly.
Barely flicking his eyes in its direction, he briefly took in the pale form and the flowing blonde hair.
"They tell me your designation is 'The Midnighter'?"
Angry eyes blazed behind the heavy leather mask, "What's it to you 'pretty boy'?" he snarled, wishing that this pale vision of heaven would just pass him by, leave him alone, unnoticed and discarded.
"You looked lonely."
Not sure if it was the easy way the man had read his despair or the fact that he felt himself able to help it, but he could feel the fury building in his belly.
"Well I'm not, so why don't you go fuck?" He pulled the leather jacket around himself tightly, using it as a shield against this stranger's warmth.
"It must hurt...being so angry?" Apollo spoke softly.
"What the fuck would you know about anything? Just go away, I don't need your sympathy or your help!" He curled back up into his almost foetal position.
"And I wasn't offering either of those things."
"Oh yeah, well what *were* you offering?" he sneered.
"Well I don't need 'friends' either, so take a hike."
The blonde man crouched down in front of him, his head tilted to the side like an attentive puppy. Soft blue eyes echoing nothing but concern. The tendrils of his flaxen hair softened a strong jaw and impressively masculine face.
"Is that what you think?"
Sighing angrily, he sat up and moved in close to the fair-haired man. Intimidating, staring him down, face shrouded in his leather barrier against the world.
A gentle smile broke out on Apollo's face.
"Then you need me more than I thought you did."
Anger. Blind, consuming anger enveloped his dream until he opened his eyes and met the sheer misery of reality, exponentially worse than the dream could ever be.
He didn't need to sleep anymore, but it passed the long, barren hours.
The cold was setting in again, not the physical sensation, just the bleak emptiness inside him.
Something from within was spurring him on to kill, to maim and destroy without reason or compassion. Was this to be his destiny?
The anger gnawed at him, providing the only source of need he still possessed. It whispered to him of glory and power and hollow promises of a fulfilment he knew could never exist.
Even he, the excuse for a man he'd become, knew there was no cleansing in death, just more of the same grinding emptiness.
Can a man, impervious to harm die of loneliness?
A hand gently touched his shoulder, "You okay?"
Recoiling from the touch, he pressed back into the cold steel outer hull of the ship.
"Don't touch me!" he hissed.
Apollo drew back his hand, "I'm sorry. You looked distressed, I thought maybe you might like to talk to someone?"
Throwing the young man a cold look, he shook his head, "No. I'm fine."
"You don't look fine?"
"What is it with you? Why won't you take no for an answer? I don't want your understanding, I just want to be left alone."
"What do you mean 'why'? Because I say so."
Apollo knelt down on the floor beside the bunk and simply watched for a moment.
"Why are you so bitter? You were a volunteer like the rest of us. What happened to you?"
"None of your damned business!"
"No, it isn't. But, I'd like to know."
He was temporarily lost for words. What was it with this big idiot? Why couldn't he just shrug and walk away like all the others?
"What does it matter?" he asked, turning his head to look out of the window.
"It matters because you're obviously in pain. We volunteered for this to be part of a team, to make a better world.."
"That's so much bullshit!"
"Because that's not what Bendix is looking for," he hissed, glancing around to see who was listening, "He's crazy. He wants to rule the universe, the man's insane and he's made us his puppets!"
"You're wrong," Apollo shook his head, "We're just going to be a 'special' team."
"Of robots doing as we're told, playing by *his* rules. I *know* this!"
Sitting back, Apollo frowned, "How do you know this?"
"Because I was awake all through my 'treatment'."
"That's not possible."
"Yes it is. I saw and heard and *felt* everything. He was so drunk on power that he made *mistakes* and you're looking at one, 'pretty boy'!"
"That kind of horror would send a man insane," the blonde man gasped, his face paling at the thought.
"Yeah, welcome to *my* world."
"Well, if what you say is the truth, what can *we* do about it?"
He glared for a moment but said nothing. Apollo hadn't dismissed his ideas as nonsense, yet with his conditioning, he shouldn't be able to question Bendix's authority.
"There *is* no 'we'," he said finally.
He didn't want to go in that direction; didn't want to 'make friends'.
The younger man smiled widely, "Too late Midnighter... I like you!"
"I like you."
"Well I don't like you!" he grumbled, wishing that he didn't have a strange stirring in his belly, yet blessing the fact that he could feel *something*.
"Tough. I admit you're a bit of a miserable bastard, but I definitely like you."
Apollo stood up and smiled. "When they give us free run of the ship, away from prying ears, you can tell me more about your theory. Until then, if you need to talk you know where I am."
"Over my dead body."
He watched the blonde man walk away and for the first time in an eternity... he felt himself almost smile
Something prodded him as he lay on the bunk. Angrily his eyes flew open and in the blink of an eye, the man standing over him was on his back, flat on the floor being strangled.
Suddenly strong arms gripped his wrists.
"Midnighter, it's me--Apollo--stop!" Apollo implored.
As the red haze that permanently clouded his brain these days cleared, he looked down into the reddening face of a dying guard.
"Let him up, come on, it's okay... it's okay, he was just trying to wake you." Apollo gently peeled the leather-clad fingers from the man's throat, allowing him to fall away choking. Still holding on, Apollo gripped the hands tightly.
"Just relax, it's okay now," the blonde man's voice was calm and soothing, sweeping the anger and fear away with surprising ease. "Are you all right?"
As his head cleared, he found himself looking into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen and feeling the touch of hands against his own. Despite the leather barrier, the sensation burned through him.
"Yes, I'm fine," he growled at last, reluctantly pulling his hands free.
The guard had by now stumbled away, cursing the darkly dressed man and swearing furiously.
"Sit down and take it easy a minute," Apollo gestured to the bunk, "They want us all to go to the center for tests and training, but they can wait."
Sitting down, Midnighter rested his head in his hands, "I was somewhere else..." he tried to explain.
"I know, he's a dumb son-of-a-bitch, he shouldn't have done that." Apollo placed his hand on the other man's shoulder, "Just relax."
As his senses returned, he pulled away from the bigger man, "I.."
Apollo smiled, "It's okay, you're welcome."
"You take a lot on yourself, 'pretty boy'. I could have hurt you."
Apollo folded his arms and merely looked on in amusement, "Nah, I think there's a pussycat behind that roar."
The grin spread across Apollo's face, "So, you think I'm 'pretty' huh?" he teased.
Glaring at the younger man, Midnighter growled. Why wasn't the big dumb bastard *intimidated* like everyone else?
With a final snarl of protest, he walked away towards the center, trying to figure out what it was that was so damned disturbing about the big idiot that made him want to kill him and kiss him at the same time.
Like a lead weight had been dropped into his belly, he suddenly realized what the feeling was.
He thought he'd forgotten what fear tasted like, but the sudden blinding realization that he was feeling physically attracted to this man was so terrifying it almost crippled him.
When Apollo caught up to him and began to walk beside him, Midnighter had to stop his hands trembling. This was not an option, he wasn't a man any more, just a machine. Bendix had removed all such mortal drives to produce a better soldier.
Surely emotional attachment to other beings was a weakness that could be exploited by enemies?
"Hey," Apollo whispered, "We get released from containment tomorrow, free run of the ship. Want to hang out with me?"
"Great, I knew you'd be up for the idea!"
He hated those tests more than anything else he had to do and it was when he felt most like a freak.
Ironically, that was when Apollo was at his best, shining like a beacon as he pushed his body to the limit.
Sure, he'd been watching... just to see how the guys progress was going, okay?
He frowned and sat down heavily on the bench, trying to wipe away the images of that huge, muscular form gliding through the air like some ethereal spirit.
"You ever planning to smile?" Suddenly Apollo was there, sitting beside him.
"Whoa, macho man, huh?" the blonde man teased.
"Did I invite you to sit here?"
"Then go away."
Apollo settled back against the wall, stretching his long legs, "I don't think so. If I sit here I get to annoy you. At least that way, you get to show *some* emotion." He leaned slightly closer and whispered, "Anyway, I think you like me...deep down."
"You're delusional," Midnighter deliberately didn't look at Apollo, it was hard enough trying to cope with the touch of the man's leg brushing against his own.
"Probably, but I still think you're getting kind of fond of me," Apollo smirked.
"Why would you think something like that?"
"You don't insult me quite as often!"
"So if I tell you now that I think you're a big, dumb bastard, you'll leave me alone?"
"No, I know you mean it in a 'loving' way."
"Shit!" Midnighter shook his head wearily, but something within him was *enjoying* this banter, this emotional exercise for a mind devoid of pleasant thoughts. "You're a real pain in the ass."
Shooting him a mischievous grin, Apollo laughed lightly, "Now there's a nice thought."
"Fuck, are you making a pass at me?" He gasped.
"Hell no, big tough macho guy like you wouldn't be up for kissing another guy, now would you?"
He knew he should be 'angry', should at least bluster and growl and make it clear to this man that he wasn't interested. But he was and suddenly his head was filled with visions of this man's lips, he could almost imagine the taste...
"As I figured. See you later you miserable bastard," Apollo smiled and slapped his knee before wandering away towards their sleeping bay.
He needed time alone to think about the ideas tumbling through his mind right now and somehow, that huge idiot had been smart enough and shrewd enough to know that.
Another day of pushing his abilities and Midnighter was feeling the strain. He couldn't control the images in his head. The way he knew what was going to happen in the simulations before they actually happened. The technicians had explained that he'd learn to organize the images, put them together in his mind, giving him an edge over his opponent, but it all seemed too weird and confusing right now.
They'd also explained that once his body was accustomed to his implants, he'd get the sensations back too. He'd be 'better', stronger, more 'complete' in every way.
A crock of shit if he'd ever heard it.
But one image that he didn't mind replaying a thousand times was the one that had haunted his dreams last night. The one where Apollo pushes him against the wall in a hard kiss, pressing against him. Where he holds on to those big, muscular arms as they crush his body close. Where he can taste heaven on the bigger man's lips...
"Hey, I said are you ready?" the guard thumped heavily at his shoulder.
"Don't touch me," he snarled, pulling away.
"Come on, I don't have all day," the man grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, but Midnighter was way ahead and the guard crashed to the ground. As he prepared to deliver the death blow, someone grabbed him once again.
"NO, Midnighter, stop...please."
"I told him not to touch me! I am *not* a lab animal," he snarled into Apollo's face.
"I know. But this won't help, let him go, please?"
Suddenly there were a half a dozen other guards surrounding the men, one aimed his weapon at Midnighters head. Another pulled back as if to strike him.
Apollo wheeled around to face them, "Whoa there!"
"Get out of the way, Apollo. He's out of control!"
"No, he's just angry. Cool it, guys."
"Get out of the way, Apollo!"
The normally placid face of the big man became harder, his eyes blazed and he locked his gaze on one man, "Hey, you want him, you come through me. How much pain do you think you can take before you lose consciousness?"
"That's *enough*. Everyone back off," A woman's voice pierced the testosterone haze.
Apollo turned back to face Midnighter, "Put him down, please." He asked softly.
Tossing the guard aside, Midnighter stepped back, "Do *not* touch me," he demanded, "You *ask* when you want me to do something."
The supervising technician, a stern looking young woman intervened quickly, "Jefferson, attend to the recruits in bay seventeen. My apologies Midnighter, he was out of line. But, we must work on that temper," her face broke into a soft smile.
"I do not like to be touched," he insisted again, then noted that Apollo still held him close, one large arm across his chest and a hand clutching his shoulder.
The young woman's eyes flicked across Apollo then back again. "It will be noted. Now maybe you and Apollo would care to take a break? Take a walk, relax a little?"
Midnighter pulled out of Apollo's arm angrily, "He's not my keeper!" he stormed and rushed away.
He'd shown weakness, made it clear to everyone that Apollo could 'control' him.
Anger blazed through him as he strode out along the narrow corridors of the ship. He was a fool, a weak and pathetic fool and everyone was probably having a damned good laugh at him right now.
Why couldn't that bastard Apollo have just let him be?
He should have held onto the pain and distrust, the misery and loneliness, he understood *them*. Now he'd become a sad specimen not man or machine, mind clouded by outdated notions of 'love' and 'need'.
Damn him to *hell*.
"Midnighter, wait!" Apollo called as he ran to catch up.
"Just stop for a minute."
"Leave me alone!"
"Will you just *wait*?"
Apollo came to a halt in front of him and rubbed his face wearily. He'd expended a lot of energy in the tests and with the stress of the situation and he needed to power up, *bad*, "I'm sorry if you thought I interfered, I just didn't want to see you get hurt."
"Why should you care?"
"Because I like you and whether you like it or not, I'm you *friend*."
Midnighter turned away and snorted derisively, "Sure.."
"What is *wrong* with you? Why can't you see that someone just wants to help? Are you *really* so fucked up that you don't see a much needed hand of friendship when it's offered?"
"Who says *I* need *you*?"
"That so?" Midnighter was suddenly in Apollo's face. His brown eyes shone with fury. He was pushing back, seeking to hurt, *needing* to punish this man for making him *want* again.
The younger man glared, "Yes! You got a problem with that?"
"Yeah. I don't need *anyone* to fight my battles for me, 'kid'."
"Who *you* calling kid?"
The air between the two men crackled with tension and sexual energy as Midnighter suddenly shoved Apollo back against the wall and pressed his lips to the other man's angrily.
A low moan echoed through the metal corridor as Apollo pulled Midnighter close, a hand slipping behind his neck, forcing their faces even tighter together.
Midnighter had grasped at the younger man's hips and was pushing into him hotly, needing to feel the solid reality of another body close after so long.
Apollo winced as Midnighter bit down on his lip, thrusting his hips at the same time, almost driving the blonde man through the bulkhead.
"I think I'm...shit.." Apollo mumbled and groaned.
Midnighter suddenly leaned heavily against him, burying his face in Apollo's neck, placing soft kisses along his throat.
"You just creamed your costume," he stated.
Leaning back, the older man looked into tired blue eyes, he was... smiling.
"At least it made you smile," Apollo joked, his face flushing slightly.
"I think you'd better go get yourself cleaned up, pretty boy."
He took a deep breath as Apollo sped away back to the sleeping bay. He wasn't sure if that hadn't been a huge mistake, but still it had happened.
Adjusting his pants with discomfort, he figured he'd give Apollo time to change and get back to the center before he crept back himself and surreptitiously changed his clothes.
Hell, it wouldn't do to let the big lug know just *how* much in control he had become, just yet, would it?
"You're going to have to work as a team," the supervisor spoke as she paced up and down, eyeing the 'recruits'.
Midnighter still stood a distance from the others, cold and broody, wrapped in his own bad mood.
He knew that Apollo had been trying to remain neutral and not make it obvious about what had happened for their own safety, though making out in the corridor hadn't been exactly discreet in itself.
He clutched the leather jacket around himself tightly and stared down at the floor. Maybe if he didn't even look up, he wouldn't find himself looking at Apollo? But something about the sheer heat that the blonde man emitted made him 'noticeable' even when his eyes were averted.
They hadn't spoken about what happened, both just nodding and getting on with their training. He was sure that Apollo was annoyed or upset or something.
Why wouldn't he be?
How can you be attracted to someone you've never seen? Swathed in leather and scarred more deeply than any surgeon's knife can cut.
It was a mistake, a moment of anger caught up and disguised as passion. But the feeling was beyond anything he could remember feeling before...ever. Maybe his body was merely so starved of sensation that it just seemed that way?
As the group broke up into teams to prepare for another simulated 'mission', Midnighter turned around and walked almost head first into Apollo's chest.
"Will you be my partner?" Apollo asked.
"Find someone else."
"I don't want anyone else, I want *you*."
Stifling the irritation in his voice best he could, Apollo crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, "Because I trust you to watch my back in a fight, okay?"
Not expecting that answer, Midnighter looked up in surprise, to find smiling blue eyes.
"And I like you," the big man smiled.
"Hmm," Looking away, he pushed past with what could only be described as embarrassment.
Apollo took a few hurried steps and caught up with Midnighter as he headed for the training platform.
"You hate me to say that, don't you?"
"That I like you."
"I just hate you to talk to me."
"No you don't, you think I'm okay."
"Are we going to fight or 'chat'?"
"You mean there's a difference?" Apollo grinned.
If he hadn't known better, he'd swear that the blonde man was enjoying this, the taunting and harassment. "Why don't you just get that flashy ass in gear and get on with it?" he grumbled, once again shoving the bigger man out of the way.
"Come on now, be 'nice'."
"That *is* 'nice'."
"Wow, foreplay with you must be a *blast*," Apollo laughed and skipped ahead, suddenly leaving the ground, his body shimmering with the golden halo that enveloped him as his abilities took over.
"Smart ass bastard," Midnighter snorted as he watched the blonde man rise into the air, but in the pit of his stomach, a fluttering sensation was stirring.
Watching Apollo was like experiencing a god in the flesh. His cool silver body suit shimmered, almost animated as it clung to his heavy musculature. As he soared heavenward, effortlessly swooping over the heads of the other trainees, Midnighter took a moment to marvel at the wonder of it all.
Almost translucent now, bathed in the suns heat, Apollo shot down the simulated weapons with ease. Nothing that the technicians threw at him had any effect, he was poetry in motion and unstoppable.
<Yeah,> Midnighter thought with a small grin, <'unstoppable' just about sums him up.> Yet he couldn't help but watch as spellbound and breathless as everyone else as the big man slowly descended and settled on the metal platform to riotous applause.
Watching as a young woman rushed over and kissed him on the cheek, Midnighter clamped down on the green eyed beast unfurling in his chest. It was actually *hurting* to see anyone else touch him.
Angry at himself he turned and walked away. He needed to gather his thoughts. He was too distracted to be of any use to anyone like this.
In his heart he knew that if he became a liability to Stormwatch, Bendix would destroy him like a diseased dog to protect his little plan.
In two days they'd be on Earth and there would be no more 'training', no more 'pretending'. He'd be a killing machine and an expendable one at that. If he didn't perform, then it was over and here he was getting heartsick over some big, blonde pretty boy with a nice smile and an impressive ass.
"I wondered where you went?" Apollo's voice was suddenly behind him, "Watching the stars?"
"Thinking. What do you want?"
"They just made me team leader."
"Good for you, you deserve it," he replied more honestly than he thought he could.
"I told them that I want you in my team. No Midnighter, no Apollo."
"Like I told you, I trust you to watch my ass," Apollo moved up close behind, "Not that you don't do that anyway!" he laughed and clapped his hand on Midnighters shoulder, "Come on, time to eat."
He let Apollo walk away without turning around, but this time it wasn't anger seething in his belly, but a smirk that just wouldn't wipe off his face.
Maybe the guy knew him better than he thought?
Only twelve more hours to Earth and Stormwatch HQ.
Midnighter sat on his bunk watching the spinning blue orb come closer, but there was no joy at being home, because he knew that everything had to change when they got there.
No more fooling around with simulations, just real bad guys trying to kill them; trying to kill Apollo. That thought was like a knife in his belly, but he knew this was their destiny, their role in life now and there were *no* happy endings.
He 'felt' Apollo walk into the room, the wash of warmth was tangible even across the bay. He didn't look around, he wasn't sure he was ready for the conversation that he knew was coming, not sure he'd ever be.
"I thought I'd find you skulking in here while everyone's celebrating in the meeting hall."
"Getting home, I guess. They're just getting to know each other."
"I don't want to get to know them," Midnighter scowled.
Apollo stopped in front of the bunk and smiled, "Yeah, well that might work on them but it's wasted on me."
"The 'bad attitude' and the 'I don't need friends' shit you deliver to keep everyone at arms length."
"I don't want to hear this, Apollo..."
"No, I know. But you're going to anyway," Apollo sat down on the bunk and took a breath, "You know I like you. You know how *much* I like you, yet you still do your best to push me away."
Midnighter gritted his teeth; he was trapped and scared. He didn't want to discuss his 'feelings' or even admit to anyone that he had them. Yet here sat the object of his lust and confusion, pushing him into a corner and forcing him to face them.
"It wouldn't work," he mumbled. He was praying that Apollo would just say 'Okay' and walk away, but he knew better.
"Why not? I know we can't carry on an 'open' relationship at Stormwatch, they don't agree with partners working together. But, that doesn't mean we couldn't be close in private?"
"You don't *know* me, Apollo!"
"And you don't 'know' me, but we can learn!"
"No, I mean," Midnighter was almost visibly cringing, "You have no idea what's beneath this mask, these clothes..."
Apollo let out an almost relieved laugh, "Is *that* what's been bothering you? That I don't know what you look like under those clothes? That I might not be able to love the 'man beneath the mask'?"
"What if you couldn't?" his voice was almost a whisper.
Apollo reached out and touched the older man's face gently, "I think you're more concerned about the possibility that I could. It's harder to share a wounded soul than to lock it away and pretend it doesn't exist."
"I.." Midnighter so badly wanted to put these feelings into words.
It was becoming an almost empathic response, but Apollo returned an understanding smile. He closed the space between them and touched Midnighters lips softly. No urgency this time and no desperate fight for dominance, just a soft, sweet kiss.
"Take a chance on me? You never know, you might get to like me," the blonde man said softly.
"Hmm, well," Midnighter almost smiled, "I already like you I guess."
The words were almost inaudible but they caused Apollo's face to open up into a wide smile.
"You do, huh?"
"Don't get cocky, kid, these things are subject to change."
"Nah, you're committed now, you said you like me."
"'Committed', yeah, maybe I should be for getting hooked up with you."
Midnighter grumbled and glanced around the still empty room. Apollo was beaming into his face, his warmth had wrapped around them both like a protective shield and for the first time, he felt like there might be a future worth living for.
Slipping his hand across Apollo's huge, muscular thigh, he allowed himself the gentlest of smiles, "Okay, you win this time. Now, just shut up pretty boy," he growled almost playfully, "And kiss me again."