The light hurts his eyes. Pure, uncut sun, shafting through the plane's windscreen. He remembers white wings from being carried aboard, their shadow a cool kiss across his face as they bore him, flat on his back, and staring at the sky. White, light wings, and hollow bones like a bird. His consciousness is working in fits and starts. The engine is a dissonant roar, and his surface seems to be slanting. He discovers he is kneeling, his hands curled into fists against the floor.
It pleases him, in a small numb way, that his muscles are showing willing. He can see people's knees on the seats around him, dressed in khaki. The hem of white coat. He can't lift his head any higher.
They could have put him on a seat, he thinks. Maybe they tried, and he was overcome by vertigo, or slid boneless back to the floor, and they decided he could stay there. He understands vaguely that he is quite heavy. He feels heavy, anyway, and it seems to take many hands to lift him, or to hold him down.
He can recall lying on a table, masked faces moving over him. Lamps all around that cast an eerie light and burn him from the inside. The first time they turned them on, he seizured. Tasted blood. Some blunt object was forced between his teeth. The lights went out. His lights went out. He doesn't know how long ago that was, if it was days or weeks or hours. He has no frame of reference. This has been the sum of his life so far.
The people around him are speaking, their voices raised above the drone of the engine. He can understand words, but their significance often escapes him when they're strung into sentences. He knows he has spoken before, in response to questions repeated slowly several times, but he isn't sure what he has said, or even if it was sense or gibberish. Once, on the table, he went to call out, found his lungs empty of air, realised he hadn't drawn breath for entire minutes, and started to pant with sheer panic.
There's a change in the quality of the sound around him. The engine roars with renewed vigour, and the light changes too, hits him broadside like a solid object. He lurches, or the plane does. There's fresh, cold air on his face. His eyes are streaming. The voices are closer now, and louder. Ten bucks says this one never flies, he hears, but meaning strays from the path in his mind. Sink or swim time comes next, and he's mired in imagery, thinking through treacle. Okay sunshine, are the final words, but he hasn't yet completed the thought before last, and so he doesn't struggle or even have a strong opinion when hands grab his arms, haul him up, and he is hurled, without ceremony, out of the open door.
The wind swallows him. His hands snatch at empty air. White light fills his vision and he shuts his eyes hard. He means to stay like that, to wait for death, to let it come and never see, but the fall is too long. Raw sun on his skin starts to tingle and crawl, destroying his sleep. He hates how little it matters that he doesn't breathe. He opens his eyes, and he is falling face down, the earth rushing towards him. He forces what air remains in his lungs out with a wordless yell. Entire sentences are suddenly birthed in his brain. He babbles; oh my fucking god, I'm going to die and not fucking fast enough.
He's hot and he's cold and something in the pit of his stomach is killing him. Everything's killing him, the sun and the wind are going to beat him half to death, and the earth's going to finish him. For one split second of sweet clarity, he knows it all. He has it all there on the cusp of remembering, who he is and why he's here, and he's incredulous and furious and scared out of his mind, and then the moment is caught by wind and whipped away, and he's open and empty, and the light is rushing in. He's left with nothing but an echo, a taste of himself on the tip of his tongue, and he screams again into the strangling wind. The act of protest lends him strength. There's a bubble of defiance growing in his chest; he's hot all over, his eyes are full of light, his skin's on fire, and he thinks, fuck this. Fuck this. FUCK THIS.
And he stops falling.
He's so surprised he nearly starts again. The ground looms beneath his head. The wind has stepped aside for him. He reaches a hand out in front of his face and catches a handful of air. He opens and closes his fingers. Gravity still doesn't care. Carefully, slowly, like a man trying his weight on thin ice, he swings his legs down, and his head up. Once he's the right way up, he feels a bit better. The air around him is cold, but it has lost its sting. Whatever is burning inside him trumps it.
For a while he simply stays there, relief and incredulity warring in his mind. He is hung from the sun. He breathes, pointedly. Then, he begins to experiment. He flaps his limbs around vaguely, rocks a bit, twists his body. He finds when he reaches his hands upwards, he rises. When he leans, he starts to turn. If he flicks his heels, he can pick up some speed; that's scary at first, and he flails until he stops again. A few more tentative tries, and he gets a little braver. At first he flies upwards, as high and as fast as he can, his first instinct to put distance between himself and the dangerous ground. It's clear minutes before he realises this makes no sense, and by that time he can see the curve of the earth.
This makes him reckless. Taking his life and his courage in his hands, he throws himself downwards and drops like a stone. He hollers in the face of gravity, kicking himself faster, playing chicken with the ground until his nerve gives out, and then he twists and soars back up into the safety of the open air. After that he plays, with the sun on his skin. He soaks himself exploring a cloud. He flies on his back and on his front in equal measures, as though trying to catch a tan.
Finally, wet through, worn out, hurting, but a good hurt, he picks a green spot, and brings himself into land. He comes down far too fast, trips over his feet as soon as they touch ground, and rolls right over three times before he can catch himself. He's too elated to care, and bounces straight upright, his face splitting in a grin. He's brushing himself off when his earpiece crackles. It's the first he knows he's even wearing one.
"... do you copy?"
"Huh?" he says aloud. He'd half forgotten where he came from.
"....ppy landings? What's your location?"
He looks around himself. Scrubby wet grass and low trees.
"Uh. Down?" He wonders if he ought to be angry. He doesn't feel angry, just awake. The time before the fall fades like a dream.
"Roger that. Stay put, we'll come get you."
"I don't know where I am." This is the longest sentence he's ever spoken. The words trip over his tongue. His accent is a faint surprise to his ears, though he can't say why.
"We've got a tracker on you. Hold your position, Apollo."
It's the first time in his recollection he's been addressed by anything resembling a name.
The light hurts his eyes. This is nothing new. He's been in bed with pain since they first woke him up, or switched him on, or whatever act defined the moment of his bloody birth. His skin still remembers the knife. It's been fifty-six hours, thirty-two minutes and seven seconds, and he can't switch off the numbers. Even unconscious, he still collects data, and wakes up to a recap.
He does not know who he is, but he has already learned to hate himself, and feeling helpless, and the reel of statistics that won't let him sink into numbness or lose time to sleep. They call him the Midnighter within his hearing. He tries the name on himself, wriggles into it like new clothes. It doesn't sound like it's even a real word, but it serves as a hook to hang himself on. His computer dislikes freeform thought. It also resents inaction. Even little projects soothe it, make his consciousness more bearable, so he passes the time counting marks on the ceiling, tasting his own teeth, listening to the rhythm of his heartbeats.
There are people around him, but his head is strapped down, and he can only see them when they lean into his line of sight. He always knows they are there, though, he can hear them; the thrum of their pulses and their pints of blood sloshing. Some of them smell like doctors. Some of them carry guns. It feels distasteful, too intimate, to be so privy to their inner lives, but he can't switch that off either. He learns to tell his frequent visitors apart by their bodily functions.
He has restraints on his wrists and ankles, and one around his chest. In a way, they are useful to him. They give him something to push against, to try himself out on. His computer is curious, and it drags him along. He flexes his muscles against his bonds, one by one, working with the patience of a predator. They are made of leather, and after some hours, they start to give.
He has never yet been left alone in the room, but the longer he lies still, the less they seem to worry about him. He gathers that they think he might not live, that the surgeon went too far. He bides his time. The clusters of folk who found him interesting at first drift away, and he's left with two; one doctor and one armed guard. Some hours, a pager beep, and a hurried conversation later, and the doctor leaves. He's alone in the room with a man with a gun. The computer likes his odds.
Midnighter tests his wrist one last time, rocks his head back and groans. It's the first sound he's made since he woke up. The air across his throat is sore. He can hear his attendant shuffle uncertainly. He smells of aspirin and oil and cigarettes. Midnighter groans again. And listens. With every shift of his attendant's weight, the likely outcome changes. Probabilities spool, numbers peak and trough, and so when the man steps into range, what follows feels more like statistical inevitability than voluntary action.
Midnighter dislocates his right wrist wrenching it free, pops it back in with a short sharp shake, and catches the man by the throat in one motion. He yanks the man towards him, too close for him to lift his gun between them, lets his fingers settle into his pressure points, and starts to squeeze. His grip is a vice; it surprises even him. The skin starts to give. The man's eyes bulge, and then they roll; his face starts to grey and his lips turn blue. Midnighter's computer takes notes with a clinical interest.
When the man is limp, Midnighter hurls him as hard as he can away from himself, and quickly unbuckles his remaining straps with his free hand. He yanks needles from his arm and sensors from his skin. When he swings himself upright, the rush of blood and new data makes him dizzy for a moment. His first few steps wobble, but he sets his jaw and wills himself steady. There are other beds in the room, all empty, but a couple look recently used, with rumpled sheets and spots of blood on the linen. Alarms are blaring before he even reaches the door, but he gains momentum with every step, his newly enhanced muscles kicking into gear.
He finds himself in a corridor, extending in both directions as far as he can see. The softest of fresh breezes touches his skin, and he takes himself that way. He passes more doors like the one he came through. Some cover empty rooms, but behind others, he can sense humanity; blood and bile and stinking breath. There's a butcher's shop smell to the whole building, underneath a layer of antiseptic. Sometimes, there's something else too; a tingle of strange electricity, the tang of sulphur, an eerie light that spills under the door. He's very aware, as he moves, that he's naked. His computer doesn't care; clothes won't stop bullets, after all, but it bothers him, and he clutches at the thought and keeps it for later.
He doesn't get far. He knew that he wouldn't. It's some small comfort at least to learn that knowing the odds doesn't stop him from acting. The men who come for him wear khaki and masks, and dark goggles over their eyes. It makes them harder for his computer to read, but only minutely. The very poise of their muscles is an open book to him. The guns are a big clue too. He draws himself into a crouch. His mouth cracks in a snarl. They're going to shoot him seventy-two times.
Guns crack and bullets batter him like rain. He loses consciousness before he's finished counting, but when he wakes, sixteen hours, four minutes and eighteen seconds later, his computer confirms the total. The pain is fire in his belly, but even so, he would have gladly taken an extra or two just to have it be wrong.
He's strapped on his back again, and he's in a different room. His new restraints are metal, and much tighter, strangling his wrists, in fact. Only his tenacious circulation saves his hands from being completely numb. Gun oil and blood still hang heavy in his nose. There are ten other heartbeats in the room, and he can tell from the bored note of their breathing that they're all in there to watch him.
He murders each one carefully in his mind to pass the time.
Apollo shows off a bit. He knows he does, but he still can't help it. He pushes the limits of his powers, hanging himself upside down in the air for the sake of it, running and jumping in bored moments. He becomes incorrigible in high places. He's learning through trial and error and dare just exactly what he's capable of, and finding footholds in his new identity. He doesn't like to think he could just be anyone.
He does crash quite a lot, if he's honest, and he flies into things, but he is getting better, and anyway, it hardly matters, since he can't seem to be hurt. The ground and he are now thoroughly acquainted. He winds himself sometimes when his charge is running low, but that's the worst that ever happens, and on some unexamined level, he even likes that. It reminds him of the part of him that's missing. The man he was who could be bruised.
He's a junkie for the sun, always thinking of his next fix. Bendix moderates his doses, keeps him ticking over, but he won't let him have sunshine on tap. He says Apollo might overload. This feels like it could easily be true; his power burns inside him, is bigger than him sometimes, but the prospect holds more curiosity than fear. He asks questions sometimes until Bendix snaps, and then he's quiet, obedient, but unabashed. When he feels conflicted, he follows the path of least resistance. It troubles him sometimes, how easy it is for him to let things go, he wonders if there's something more, but such thoughts skate over the surface of his mind and are quickly gone. The light flows into his empty spaces.
His new team mates are objects of intense fascination. Apollo loves attention, whether he's giving or receiving it. He finds his feet and learns social cues fast, but what he takes from his lessons changes every day, and plenty doesn't seem to stick. Sometimes, when he's tired, their colours jar him. Other times, they're bleached into dullness by the perfect bright whiteness that burns in his mind. Only the Midnighter, lurking at the other end of the spectrum, provides any respite. Apollo looks at him sometimes just to cool his eyes down. He finds Midnighter looks back at him too, but he never questions why. Curiosity seems to him the most natural of emotions.
Midnighter is his teacher too. Body language is Apollo's best skill after flying, but Midnighter is hard to read. His face is almost always covered, and he never moves unless he has to. He stashes his hands in his pockets like guns. Apollo watches for the tiny cues in his shoulders and jaw, the flare of his nostrils, the flick of his eyes. It's the first land-based project he works hard at. Midnighter never invites companionship, but he tolerates Apollo more and more as Apollo becomes attuned to his boundaries. He even starts to seek Apollo out in little ways, falling into step with him when the team gathers, ending up beside him in line-ups more often than mere chance. Apollo finds him easy, undemanding company once he understands his rules, though his presence sometimes plucks at an ache inside him.
With his sunlight rationed, Apollo often feels twitchy and anaemic, has uphill battles with his concentration, but it's some weeks before he hits his wall. Bendix drills them daily, as a team and on their own, running them through simulations which might remain the same for days, or change with every reset. Sometimes, he'll watch them work wordless for hours; sometimes, they can't go three minutes without a shouted interruption. Apollo has tried to learn his moods too, but he finds he can't predict them. He counts Bendix now as a force of nature, and takes him about as personally.
One morning, Apollo hasn't yet seen the sun. He's spent the night, as always, in his windowless room, lying just above his bed in a state that's not quite sleeping. Bendix, impatience in his step and tone, has called them to work early. They train in a hanger that is part of the complex, an airy space, but still enclosed. Apollo has a bit of a morning head on, but he thinks he can push on through.
He flies where he's told, and he's doing just fine, until he tries a sunburst up near the ceiling. This is one of his favourite moves when it works; an explosion of light with himself at the centre. He feels, as always, a flood of elation, but the flood keeps on surging, and empties him out. Breaking his routine, ignoring Bendix's shout, he takes himself down to ground level. The blood in his head is pounding. Light is leaking out of him. He hits the floor before he even knows he's falling. His vision pools into grey.
When it clears, some time seems to have passed. He's still on the ground, and his team surrounds him, their faces blurred together in a collage of interest, concern and derision. Midnighter stands a little back from the others. In the absence of shadows, he has found the greying edges of Apollo's vision in which to lurk. Apollo tries to stand, but gravity has its foot on his back. He collapses again with an audible groan, and prepares to dedicate his remaining energy to dying.
Raised voices, footsteps, a creaking and scraping happen over his head. When he next becomes aware of the world, there's a crack of light on his horizon. The huge hanger doors have been opened, and whiteness spills through them. He draws strength from having it in his sights. He picks himself up slowly, stomach rolling, and limps towards the glare.
Bendix might have told his team mates not to touch him, or maybe they consider his weakness indecent. Either way, they part to let him through, and the distance they allow him feels like a stigma.
Nobody moves to help him, but Midnighter is the last to look away.
Apollo's flight is erratic. He scrambles through the air. Midnighter grits his teeth against the turbulence, and hunches his shoulders into the rain, grimly aware that Apollo could kill him right now just by shrugging his shoulders. He's already nearly lost him three times accelerating too fast, and leaning into corners. They've settled now on a compromise, a pace that will get them somewhere, anywhere, away, but where the g-force isn't stronger than Midnighter's arms. He closes his eyes against a cloud.
The air at this height is clean, but the smell of smoke and burning flesh lingers in their clothes, and in Apollo's hair, inches from Midnighter's nose. He can't stop the replay in his brain; he sees bodies sinking into flame, their flesh melting away, hears the crackle and the screaming, over and over. He wishes he could find refuge in the numbness of shock, but his computer is immune. It hates being a passenger, and assaults him with adrenaline; he's trapped on Apollo's back with his blood pounding, and nothing to do except think and cling.
He'd been tempted to stay on the ground, fight the retrieval squad when it came, and let Apollo fly. Let them each do what they were built for. The urge was part instinct and part altruism; Midnighter's own odds weren't great whether he fought or flew, and he felt he had to salvage something as a finger up to Bendix. Apollo could lap the earth in minutes flying alone. Midnighter might have done it too, but he had to half-drag Apollo, vomiting, from the complex, shake him from his shock, and all but hurl him skywards. Right now, having Midnighter in tow is improving Apollo's chances – as long as they can outfly the night.
They burst above the cover, and the sky opens up, shot through with stars. The earth is gone. The moon is huge. Apollo hangs still for a moment, suspended in the silver light. Midnighter fills his lungs up with cold, dark air. Beneath them is a field of clouds.
Apollo flies them towards the light of the moon, taking them higher, his fists clenched before him. The clouds are soon lost to the dark beneath them, and they're alone with the heavens. Apollo is hot, and then he's warm, and then he's cooler, and then the air around them starts to bite, and Midnighter buries the exposed part of his face in Apollo's shoulder. He calculates from his rate of cooling how long they have to fly. Ice is starting to form across the leather on his back. He shrugs his shoulders and it splinters, and shafts of it spiral away.
As time passes, Apollo starts to sink, and soon the clouds are back beneath them, and then they're among them, and then they're below the rain. The lights of civilisation spool out across the ground. Apollo keeps flying. Midnighter finds his hands are clenched on Apollo's behalf, wishing him strength, willing him forwards. The damp gets under his coat and into his bones. They outpace the towns and fly for the mountains.
In the end, their landing site comes to them; there's a mountain in their eye line, and Apollo brings them down. He loses his footing as soon as they touch down, and falls hard before Midnighter can take his weight off his back. He stays down, breathing hard, while Midnighter scrambles off him, and casts around them. It feels dangerous just being on the ground, but at least the nearest lights look miles away, and there's nothing more that they can do in the dark. Or that Apollo can do, anyway. Midnighter can't help knowing that he could run himself; scramble on through the dark alone, now they're clear of the crime scene. Apollo might even find the spark to save himself tomorrow when the sun comes up.
Midnighter shakes his head to dislodge the numbers. It's about more than the odds. Bendix was a monster, a liar, and their team was a sham, but this is a real life. A way to know themselves, and not just the roles that they were built to play. If they can keep themselves safe – but he can't even think if without getting an answer. It doesn't matter. If they can't look out for each other like a pair of human beings, then they might as well both die alone.
Rain is beating down on both of them. Apollo has dragged himself to his knees. His nose is bloody from the fall. Midnighter helps Apollo to his feet and pulls him stumbling to an overhang in the rocks. It's only a small space, but the best they can do, and Midnighter crams them both in and covers them up with his coat. With the stillness, rebel thoughts come crowding in. When he closes his eyes, fire dances against his eyelids. He is grateful, for a moment, that he isn't warm.
Next to him, Apollo brings his hand to his nose, and then spends a little too long staring when it comes away bloody. Midnighter's seen his expression before, on other faces, though he can't say where. It brings to mind burned wastelands, abandoned children, ruined homes. He puts his hands over Apollo's to break his gaze. Apollo leans his head back on the rock, and they look at each other's faces for long time, though there's nothing much to find there. Midnighter feels blank from the skin outwards, and Apollo's eyes could be any colour in the dark.
Midnighter pulls off his glove to wipe Apollo's face. The warm blood on his fingers makes the act feel more intimate than he had intended, but nothing about that feels wrong. Midnighter wipes his hand clean and, because something in the angle of Apollo's jaw invites it, touches him again. Apollo's skin is cold. Midnighter doesn't have a lot of heat to share, but he suddenly feels it would make the world right if he could only make Apollo warm. They press together, their hands finding each other, their bodies a surprising fit. Midnighter tastes blood on Apollo's lips. If there was a deal to be made, this seals it; makes them both feel real. All their touches could be lethal. Midnighter doesn't fight the numbers, he just lets them roll, and gets a little power kick out of being tender, against all odds.
They move against each other as much as space will allow, stopping often to rest, or to kiss, or to lean their heads against each other, and, as the night passes, sink finally into stillness. Apollo seems to doze, while Midnighter lies crooked in the curve of his body and watches the moon. For a while, they had a bit of warmth between them, but the doubt and the cold begins to creep back in.
Apollo opens his eyes when the sun touches them, and sighs like he's hefting a load. He untangles himself from Midnighter and pulls himself out of their crevice to bask. The dawn casts them both in a different light. Midnighter wonders if they've burdened each other with closeness. If it might be the death of them, exposing their weak underbellies to the world.
Well, done is done, he tells himself. For now. They have not spoken all night, and this morning, Apollo seems to only have eyes for the sun. His pose on the rocks is slumped, and Midnighter recognises the weight of shock upon him. The tang of smoke is still touching his skin. Midnighter longs to act, to hold him, to kiss him, to slap him, to bark a command, or shake him to his senses, but he's suddenly unsure of both his place and his welcome.
He stays, pressed against the rocks, and keeps the shadows with him.
Despite himself, Apollo starts to feel stronger, and he's angry that he cannot control even this. He's not a man, he's just a mirror for the sun. Its strength is his strength, its moods are his moods. His connections to eating, sleeping, shitting, pissing humanity have all been cut. He could fly away, he thinks, just fly, fall into the orbit of the earth, or strike out for the voiceless stars. That he has no name will become of no consequence.
"Apollo," Midnighter says behind him, and obedient, he turns. Midnighter is still sitting under the overhang of rock, huddled in his coat, though he can't really be cold. His mask and his gloves are still shed on the ground. He seems only to want Apollo's attention; he says nothing else when their eyes meet.
"What are we going to do?" Apollo asks at length. He hears the catch in his own voice, and hates it. Midnighter must see him now, in the light of the day, and think him risible.
"Bendix will find us," Midnighter says.
"We should move," Apollo agrees, though the thought of fleeing again makes him tired to his core, since he can't see an end to it.
"No," Midnighter says. "I mean, yes, we should move soon. But he's still going to find us. It's always going to end like that."
"Then maybe we should just stay put." Apollo thinks of tumbling through the air again, something he's never really dwelt on since he learned to fly. How the worst thing was the fall, knowing what was coming. Midnighter shakes his head hard. It seems to shake something loose in him. He stands, moves next to Apollo, and sits down beside him. Apollo notes how he picks his distance; close enough to not be unfriendly, but there's a definite space between them.
"I know how you're feeling," Midnighter says, in a tone which makes Apollo doubt it. "But we can't do nothing. I can't do nothing."
His use of the singular stings a little. "Are you always right?" Apollo asks him. Midnighter stares down the mountain side, works his jaw, before he answers;
"I'm not." He puts a faint stress on the I'm. Apollo guesses his meaning.
"The computer, I mean," he persists.
"There are... variables that change sometimes. It's never wrong based on what it knows."
"But things could change?"
"They could," Midnighter says, but not like he means it.
"So, we should move."
They nod together, and fall into silence. It's the sun which has moved before they speak again.
"I'm sorry," Apollo says, at length. Midnighter looks at him from under lowered brows.
"Condolences, or a confession?" he asks.
"Either," Apollo says. "Neither." He smiles ruefully under Midnighter's gaze. It makes him feel a little better, so he smiles more. Midnighter watches his mouth closely as though he could lip read some meaning which escapes him.
"I'm sorry about your head," Apollo says. He feels clear-headed now, unencumbered, like the first time he woke up was a false start. So much was right in front of his eyes, and he never saw it. He wants to blame Bendix, but that's a habit he has to get into. "I'm sorry this was done to you, and to me, and to everyone. I'm sorry they're all dead. I'm sorry if I fucked up. I'm sorry that I flaked."
"You got us out," Midnighter says. "I couldn't have escaped on my own."
He knows that too, Apollo realises. He knows it to decimal places. He's lived it all, a thousand times. A thousand deaths, a thousand lives. Unsure of his reception, but needing to know, he reaches and rests his hand on Midnighter's knee. Midnighter looks at it for a moment before placing his own on top. Apollo splays his fingers and lets Midnighter settle his own in between. Midnighter's hands are rough, and Apollo likes that they feel older, better-used, than just their time with Bendix. It's the touch of a time before.
"Last night," Midnighter says. A statement, not an unfinished question.
"I'm not sorry about that." It really is the sun. An hour ago, he couldn't have said that.
"We might get each other killed," Midnighter says.
Apollo finds, now, that he would far rather Midnighter got him killed than any other alternative. It's a better death than Bendix has to offer, and a warmer end than flying to the stars. It scares him a little now, how ready he was to leave him. Even full of sun, he is small under the sky. He is impaled by wanting. He has no callouses on his psyche yet to protect him from this kind of thing.
"I don't want to be alone," he says. It sounds so pathetic, and it's not even complimentary, really, just a desperate grasp at a nearby warm body, but it's an offering of honesty. That's all he has.
Midnighter smiles thinly. "Maybe you weren't built for it."
"And you were?" Apollo gives back, nettled. The temper is new thing, too. It must be the sun again.
"I was born for it," Midnighter says.
"Bullshit," Apollo says, too fired up to consider the wisdom of picking a fight. "You were right there with me last night."
Midnighter removes his hand. "You did flake," he says. It's a cheap shot, designed to push Apollo away. He won't have it.
"If I hadn't stopped for you last night, I'd be following the sun right now - "
"No, you wouldn't," Midnighter cut in. "You'd be dead."
Apollo has nothing to say to that, but he can't resist flicking an eyebrow as a retort. Midnighter shrugs.
"It's not my fault I know these things. If you'd rather chase the sun, then chase it."
Apollo stands. His abruptness takes his muscles by surprise. He stands on one foot to stretch, then stands on the other. Midnighter, despite his dismissal, is watching him. He can't seem to tear his eyes away. Apollo, feeling his power, can't help drawing out his stretches a little longer than he has to. Suddenly he doesn't believe a word of Midnighter's short temper. He raises his arms to the sky.
"I was wondering why Bendix put me in charge," he says. "But I can see now that he didn't. I had as much power as he let me, and nothing more. What do you think that says about me?"
It's half a real question that has chased him through the darkness, half ploy to make Midnighter engage. Apollo is suddenly very certain he can win a war of words. He wonders if Midnighter already knows it.
"I don't know it says anything about you," Midnighter says, after a grudging moment.
"I wonder how he made his choices. About us, I mean. Why you got the computer, and I caught the sun. Was it something about us? Or just a crazy whim? Could it have been the other way around?"
They look at each other for a moment, imagining their places changed.
"Honest to God," Apollo says. "I think I'd make a crappy Midnighter."
"Yeah, I think you would too." There's an edge of contempt in his tone, and Apollo's confidence is punctured. He sighs, and looks up at the sun again. It's still there.
"I'm sorry," he says. Condolences, this time, for something that they nearly had. Midnighter stands.
"That might have been a compliment," he says gruffly. "You're not like me."
"No, I'm not," Apollo agrees. "But that might be a compliment too."
Midnighter is looking at him sideways, squinting. It occurs to Apollo that he's giving off light. He dials himself down. Midnighter's scrubby blond hair is messy from his mask. Apollo thinks of it under his fingers, Midnighter leaning into his hands, half-formed moans in his throat.
"It would be safest to fly in the dark," Midnighter says. "But I don't think holing up in the day is an option. Not unless we can find you a sunlounger to hide on. Can you charge up while you fly?"
"Like crazy, as long as I get the sun. Above the clouds is best."
Midnighter nods. "If we keep high, and if we keep moving, we might have a shot."
"At not dying?"
"And all that good stuff," Midnighter says. He grins, unexpectedly. Apollo can't help returning grins any more than he once could help breathing. Midnighter collects his discarded mask and gloves and pulls them on. He cuts a different figure to Apollo now. He can see the shape of his face beneath the leather. Apollo holds out his hands, and Midnighter takes them, puts a foot on Apollo's foot, and steps carefully off the earth.
The mountains fall away beneath them. The morning sky is wide and warm. At their cruising height, white light fills the horizon. Midnighter hides his eyes in Apollo's neck, and Apollo stares into the sun.