They didn’t notice anything wrong at first, none of them. Connor had to congratulate himself; he had been so careful to act normally and apparently it was working. Well, to all except Becker but that was different. He was just so afraid that they’d turn him into some kind of scientific research project if they realised. True, it was his fault; if he weren’t so clumsy, it never would have happened…
(Two days earlier…)
The team had found the lab after taking an exploratory trip through an anomaly that had opened in a park on the outskirts of Manchester. They found themselves outside a huge building complex, no identification of what and where it was just a blank facia. There was a single steel door, once security-locked and now swinging open, and beyond that a maze of corridors and rooms. The laboratory was at the centre of the complex, filled with now-defunct machinery and sophisticated computer equipment that instantly caught Connor’s attention. Leaving Connor to look around with Becker for backup, Danny took Luke to check out the rest of the complex.
Connor set about searching the lab to see if there was anything useable. This place looked as though a hurricane had surged through; whatever had happened here, the place was wrecked. There were smashed bottles and test tubes everywhere, their contents spilled and soaked into the surfaces. Papers were strewn across the floor, desks and equipment broken. From what he could tell, the lab was about a hundred and fifty years into the future, though whose future, he wasn’t sure. Some of the research- what little Connor could make out- made reference to events that had never happened making him certain that this was a parallel world.
All of the machinery was dead- whatever power source had been used previously had been shut down when everyone left and he couldn’t find any way to get it back online. The computers, however far ahead of their time, still looked familiar enough for Connor to decide he could take out the hard-drives to decipher later on, back at the ARC.
He was just clearing a desk to work on when his hand caught one of the metal racks. Connor stared in horror as the one remaining test tube of red liquid in the rack on the desk toppled. He tried to catch it but was a second too late and the tube smashed, the contents spilling over the desk as one of the pieces of glass sliced into his fingertip…
“Connor, are you okay? I heard a crash.”
Connor just knew that he’d be in trouble for breaking something and so he edged in front of the desk and pasted a smile on his face.
“Just moving some stuff,” he replied. “Everything’s fine.”
Becker sighed. “Well, be careful. We don’t know what any of this does- hey, your finger is bleeding.” As Connor looked at it, Becker put his backpack down and dug out a first aid kit.
“Just a paper cut,” Connor said, taking the antiseptic wipe and plaster that Becker held out.
He waited until the soldier had turned his back once more to freak out, remembering the broken test tube and the sharp pieces of glass on the desk. Becker was going to think he was a total idiot. He’d demand that they all go back to the ARC immediately to check Connor out, saying it wasn’t safe, and then it would be him, Connor, who had been responsible for cutting short their trip. No, it was better if Becker didn’t know.
Getting to work dismantling the computer he brought over to the desk, he found himself distracted by his task, thinking no more of it.
The following morning, Connor stumbled out of bed when he smelled coffee and made his way to Lester’s kitchen in the hope that his boss had made him some. When he saw the mug on the table next to where Lester sat, he smiled. The man may protest about Connor being here but his actions didn’t quite match his snarky words.
Lester as he sat there, quietly filling out the Times crossword whilst eating his toast, as Connor enjoyed his coffee. The companionable silence didn’t last long, however. As soon as Lester finished his breakfast and checked his watch, he turned to Connor.
“Unless you want to walk to work, you had better get a move on,” he grumbled. “I’m leaving in five minutes.”
Connor got up to go to his room. Or at least he thought he did. One minute he was standing in the kitchen, and the next he was in his room with no memory of the journey in between. Or maybe he just wasn’t completely awake yet. He nodded to himself; that sounded more likely.
“You’re losing it,” he muttered to himself. “That’s what working at the ARC does; it’s making you crazy.”
Connor fumbled the last button on his jacket, the plaster around his finger making it awkward to grip things. It didn’t hurt any more and so, as he got into to Lester’s car, he carefully peeled the plaster off to check.
“Is something the matter?”
Connor shook his head, glancing down at his finger again. There wasn’t even a mark marring the skin. He shrugged it off, glad that it hadn’t got infected by anything in the lab, and followed Lester into the ARC.
“Connor, I need your reports from yesterday’s anomaly,” Dianne, Lester’s secretary informed him an hour later. “They were supposed to be in last night.”
With a sigh, Connor opened the programme on his laptop and started typing. He was lost in thought, tapping away at the keys absently, but when he looked he saw it at the bottom of the screen. Page 7. When the hell had he written pages 1 to 6? He could have put this morning’s temporary loss of memory down to lack of sleep but this? He’d been sitting here for two minutes; the clock on his laptop confirmed that.
“Okay, so you did write this,” he reasoned with himself. “Only you did it really fast. Really, really fast.”
Actually, that sounded kind of neat. If he was right, that was. He needed to find out. You’re a scientist, right? What would a scientist do, he thought; he’d have to test it. Connor started typing again, keeping his eyes on the keyboard. Nothing out of the ordinary. So type faster, he told himself. Still nothing.
Connor’s phone rang, startling him out of his thoughts and making him jump, knocking the laptop off balance from his knee and toppling toward the floor. He caught it before it hit. One handed and without any effort at all.
After that, Connor started trying little things, to see if the super-fast reflexes were a fluke. They weren’t, but it took a while for him to learn how to flip that mental switch and go from normal to whatever-it-was. He discovered that he really could type 7 pages in two minutes; it was just a bit scary watching his fingers fly over the keyboard in a blur of speed. He remembered picking up the laptop one handed- it hadn’t even felt remotely heavy. It was as though he were holding a sheet of paper. So, it made sense, he thought, that if he could do that, then he might be able to pick something heavier up.
When he picked up the desk- admittedly with both hands so as to steady it and not spill his cup of tea, which was currently on the desk- it finally hit him that something weird was going on.
Something weird but completely awesome, he thought, grinning like an idiot.
“How the hell are you doing that?”
Connor tried to discreetly set the desk back on the floor before turning, knowing that it was useless as there was no way that Becker hadn’t seen him holding it up. The urge to see how fast he could run with these new reflexes was almost overwhelming, anything to avoid having to talk to Becker. Instead he took a deep breath and met the soldier’s startled gaze.
“I don’t know,” Connor told him. “I have no idea what happened; it just did. Can you shut the door?”
Becker looked wary of him as he closed the office door and came a few steps further into the room. As Connor moved toward him the soldier edged away. It was barely noticeable, but Connor saw it. Becker was scared of him; he wasn’t sure which was worse, thinking he was an idiot or this.
This, his mind chipped in with miserably. At least before, they had the easy interaction with one another.
“Please don’t look at me like that,” he begged quietly. “This is why I didn’t want anyone to know- I didn’t want people to look at me like I’m some kind of freak. Especially not-”
Becker made a visible effort to hide the wariness from his face. “Especially not what?”
Especially not you. Of all people, why him? Becker was his best friend; Connor could settle for friendship when he would have given anything for more, but now they wouldn’t even have that. Suddenly, what had seemed cool ten minutes ago was now about to ruin any chance he may have ever had with Becker. Sometimes he thought that it wasn’t just him, that Becker was interested, but the soldier wasn’t exactly forthcoming with his emotions. Each time, just for a while, Connor let himself hope before dismissing it as his own over-active imagination.
“Nothing. Never mind.”
He sat down in his chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and head in his hands. After a moment, he felt a hand on his shoulder and glanced up to see Becker crouching next to him.
“I’m sorry. You surprised me, that’s all,” Becker told him. A smile crept across his lips. “After all, it’s not every day you walk into an office and see a guy a holding a desk up in the air, is it?”
Connor smiled, despite himself. “Good point.”
“How about we get out of this office and then you can start at the beginning?” Becker suggested.
Since it was still the middle of the morning and they couldn’t leave the ARC, Connor and Becker found themselves sitting on the roof. Wedging the fire door open so they could get back inside, they sat down.
“So, what’s going on? I did see you lift that desk before, didn’t I?” When Connor nodded, he continued. “And you didn’t seem at all surprised so I’m assuming that this has been going on for a while.”
“Since I woke up this morning,” Connor confirmed. “I think it had something to do with that lab yesterday. I’ve been working on the hard drives I bought back and I think they were working on some kind of genetic manipulation. I’m not sure what the intended outcome was- I’m still trying to get into most of the files.”
“But how would that affect you and not the rest of us?”
He had to ask, didn’t he? “You remember when I cut my finger? Well I lied to you- I broke a test tube and that’s what cut me. I didn’t want you to make us come back so I didn’t tell you. Whatever was in that test tube caused this, I think.”
For a moment, Becker was silent. When he finally spoke, he didn’t sound angry, just offended. “You should have told me. Did you think I’d be mad at you or something?”
“No,” Connor mumbled. “I thought you’d think I was I an idiot. I can’t help it; my mum used to say I was accident prone.”
Becker laughed softly. “She might have been right, but that doesn’t mean you need to lie to me. How am I meant to look after you if you keep things from me?” he asked. “If I’d known, maybe I could have helped you with all this- okay, maybe not helped, but at least you would have had someone to talk to.”
Connor felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders at the other man’s words. He looked up at Becker and saw that he genuinely meant that; he looked concerned more than anything else. Without thinking, Connor slung an arm around Becker’s shoulders in a half-hug.
The soldier looked embarrassed for a moment as Connor quickly removed his arm.
“So, what else can you do? Apart from lifting desks, I mean.”
This was what Connor’s experiments this morning had been for. So far he’d found that his speed and strength had been increased, though to what extent, he was still testing. And increased healing abilities, he told Becker, remembering the cut on his finger and how it had vanished overnight.
“Maybe it’s like that cheerleader in Heroes and I can just regenerate if I get hurt,” he mused. “I’ve been too afraid to test it in case I don’t heal like I’m expecting. And it might still hurt.”
Becker reached over and gave a hard pinch to Connor’s upper arm, making Connor yelp.
“It still hurts,” he confirmed, mentally adding a cross next to ‘impervious to pain’.
“I wonder if I can fly…”
“Don’t even think about it!” Becker grabbed his arm as though imagining that Connor was about to jump off the roof to test that theory.
Connor saw the worried look in Becker’s eyes and the smart remark on the tip of his tongue died away.
“I’m not going to do anything stupid,” he promised.
Becker nodded in acknowledgement but his hand stayed on Connor’s arm. Connor didn’t object.
“I’ve been researching and I’ve still got loads of things to try- like x-ray vision, shooting heat-rays from my eyes, super-sensitive hearing, mind reading, controlling weather-”
Becker frowned. “Researching?” Connor refused to meet his eyes, making Becker even more curious. “Where exactly have you been researching this?”
“Maybe it wasn’t traditional research, but it’s not like I can check a book out of the library entitled ‘what to do with your new superpowers’, is it?” Becker was still watching him expectantly and he sighed. “Alright; I was reading X-Men comics. But they still had some of the same kinds of abilities as I do!”
He pulled out the list he’d been working on that morning; of all the things he wanted to try out, the ones which would be the coolest powers to have were at the top of the list. Becker either crossed or ticked them as they tested each one. So far, there were more crosses than ticks.
Teleportation and being able to sprout wings and/or claws had been Connor’s top two but both were negative. He did, however, find a couple of useful talents a little further down the list.
Number four had him staring at Becker, eyes wide and cheeks red, until the other man asked him what was wrong.
“Um, you can put a tick next to x-ray vision,” he said, not meeting Becker’s eyes.
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought it was even possible.”
Connor knew he’d have to prove it. “You’re wearing a black g-string-”
Becker’s face turned a deep shade of red. Now that he wasn’t the only one who was embarrassed, it seemed a whole lot funnier to Connor.
“What? I had nothing else to look through up here,” he protested.
If he was being honest, he could probably have found something but he hadn’t looked too hard. And it had been a really nice view…
He was glad when the anomaly detector sounded. Getting to his feet, he dusted off the back of his jeans.
“Where are you going?”
Connor frowned. “Anomaly.” He saw the confusion on Becker’s face. “The alarm just went off- Oh. I guess this means we can tick super-sensitive hearing off the list too. You really don’t hear that?”
By the time they reached the anomaly, just a couple of miles away, it had already closed, leaving no trace of creatures behind. Reluctant to simply go back, Danny argued that since they only had about another half an hour left to work anyway, and they were already out of the ARC, they might as well take their time. Head for the pub, maybe. It was a lovely day, Connor thought, and they had their phones on them in case they were needed. There was no way that Becker would agree, though. Which was why Becker surprised him when he leaned close and said quietly,
“Not a bad idea, but how about we ditch Quinn and the lads first?”
Connor just stared at him. Becker, straight-laced Captain, was actually condoning skiving? And drinking on duty?
“Okay, what have you done with the real Becker?”
The soldier didn’t answer, just ducked into the nearest side street, tugging Connor in as well before Danny or the other soldiers noticed. He was smiling as they made their way back to a pub they had passed a few minutes ago. Once they each had a pint and were seated on a low wall in the beer garden, enjoying the sunshine, Connor called Danny’s mobile to let him know not to wait for them.
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Connor announced. “I reckon I need a superhero costume.” His eyes lit up. “I could have a cape as well, just like Superman!”
Becker choked on his pint as he laughed. “Superman? Supergeek, maybe,” he teased.
“Hey! Shut up, Action Man,” Connor retorted, though he wasn’t as offended as he made out, knowing that Becker was only joking. “Geeks are cool.”
A few hours later it became clear that whatever ‘improvements’ had happened to Connor, his tolerance for alcohol wasn’t one of them. Two and a half pints and he was beyond tipsy. Luckily, he wasn’t the only one.
“Y’know, you owe me,” Becker mumbled.
Connor blinked at him. “Huh?”
“It’s only fair.”
Becker put his drink down and waved a finger accusingly. “You used your superpowers on me.” A wicked glint appeared in his eye as he added, “C’mon; I showed you mine.”
As Connor worked out what he was talking about, he stared for a long moment, unable to believe what he’d just heard. The nervous laugh escaped him but he reined it back as he saw the offended look on the other man’s face.
“No! Not like that! I just didn’t expect to ever hear you say that,” Connor insisted. “Might’a hoped, maybe…”
Becker frowned. “Why wouldn’t you expect it?”
“Because I never thought- I mean, you’re always flirting with Sarah!”
He laughed. “I think you have that sentence backwards. I can assure you that the flirting is one way.”
Becker rolled his eyes. “Do I really have to spell it out for you?” he complained, though he sounded amused.
“And you’re not going to sober up and realise what you said and get mad at me, are you?” Connor persisted. No matter how long he’d wanted just this- well, this with a little less talking- he couldn’t quite chase the doubts away.
Becker took Connor’s glass off him and set it down before hauling him close enough to kiss him.
“Would I be going too fast if I suggest we move this back to my house?” Becker asked a few moments later, finishing the rest of his beer quickly.
Connor shook his head. “Let’s go.”
The following afternoon, Connor hurried along in pursuit of the dinosaur as it stomped its way through the streets. It shouldered its way past the parked cars, setting off car alarms and knocking over a litter bin. Abby had shot it with a tranquiliser but it had barely slowed down. She was trying to reload the tranq gun as she and the soldiers tried to get out of its way. They scattered as it moved toward them. They circled around to get behind it and out of its path but it noticed and turned on them.
Danny came around the corner then in one of the ARC vehicles. They had been trying to herd it back to the anomaly with the cars but Abby needed to be on foot to get a clear shot. The car just pissed it off though, and it lashed out with its tail as they got closer. It struck the vehicle flipping it onto its roof with the ease of a toy, trapping Becker and Danny inside as it lowered its head to head butt the car. Danny was in the drivers seat and so able to crawl out through the broken window but Becker was still stuck. The creature went in for another assault on the upturned vehicle.
“Abby, get it away from the car!” he called, setting off at a run.
“I don’t know! Think of something.”
Abby eyed the dinosaur, and then the car. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m getting Becker.”
As he ran for the car in a blur of speed that made Abby unsure of what she’d seen, she had no choice but to find some way to get the creature away. Dev had already gone to help Danny get to a safe distance, Mark hanging back to help her. If she had been hoping for him to have a plan, she was disappointed as he watched, ready to follow her lead. No ideas came to mind and so it was back to the time-old method of waving their arms and yelling at it until it chased them.
The car door had been buckled by the creature’s attack, jamming it closed. The roof was now crushed inward, a result of the dinosaur stepping on the underside of car in its effort to destroy it, meaning that there wasn’t much room for movement inside.
“Are you okay?”
Becker nodded as Connor got a firm grip on the door frame and pulled. He came away with the entire door in his hands and he flung it aside carelessly. It flew like a Frisbee, landing on one of the few undamaged cars parked in the street, setting off yet another car alarm. Reaching in, Connor helped him to get out of the wreck, being so extremely careful with hands that had just torn a metal door off.
Once he was on the pavement and Connor was sure he wasn’t hurt, he heaved a sigh of relief.
“You better go help Abby,” Becker told him, as Dev came back to check on him. He could see Danny leaning against the wall a little further down the street, determinedly staying on his feet despite the slightly dazed look in his eyes.
Dev was watching Connor suspiciously, his gaze flicking to the car door now wedged in someone’s windscreen. Connor’s heart sank; he knew it would be like this. Dev watched him now like he some kind of sideshow attraction.
“Conn.” He felt someone touch his arm and looked at Becker. “It’ll be fine; we’ll deal with this. Right now, Abby and Mark could probably use some help.”
Connor nodded decisively as Becker cupped a hand to his cheek and moved him close enough for a brief kiss. He had to smile then at the look on Danny and Dev’s faces. Quite which they were the most shocked about, he wasn’t sure- the fact that he’d just ripped a door off a car or that the Captain had just kissed him in the middle of the street.
Dev and Danny looked even more surprised when Connor shot away in the direction that the dinosaur had been led; one second he was there, the next he was gone.
“How did he do that?”
Becker just smiled. “Accident. It’s turned him into Superman.”
“If I hadn’t just witnessed it…” Danny shook his head in disbelief. Then grinned. “Not the only thing I witnessed,” he continued. “You and Connor, eh?”
“I’m right?” He had been expecting Becker to argue or deny it or something. “That little display before wasn’t just trying to distract us from Connor’s car-wrecking skills?”
Becker shook his head. “No. Is this going to be a problem?”
“Not as long as you’re good to him,” Danny replied. “The kid may be a pain in the arse at times, but I kind of like him.” They set off toward the other car, slowly, Becker looking a little paler than usual after hitting his head on the inside of the car as it rolled. When the soldier stumbled, Danny put an arm around him, under his arms, to support him. “Just so you don’t get the wrong idea,” he teased as they walked, “this doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you too.”
Becker sighed loudly. It could be worse, he thought; Danny could have a major problem with him and Connor. He had a feeling that the teasing would go on for a while, though.
The others were already at the second car when they arrived, Abby asking endless questions of an increasingly flustered-looking Connor. When Connor noticed them, he moved away from Abby and came to meet them. He saw Danny’s arm around Becker, holding him up, and grinned.
“Hey, Danny, get your own soldier; that one’s mine.”
Danny laughed, passing Becker over to Connor. “Where’s the beastie?”
“Gone,” Abby announced excitedly. “You should have seen it! The tranq finally kicked in and it passed out in the middle of the road. Connor hauled it back through the anomaly.”
“But it must have weighed a few tonnes at least!”
Connor nodded. “Probably.”
The drive back to the ARC was uneasy. They had all seen Connor’s new gifts but he had no idea of what they were going to tell Lester or any of the others. He had known that it would come out sooner of later, but the not knowing was the worst part.
“Connor? I wanted to say thank you,” Becker said quietly. They were sitting together in the back of the car, squashed in beside Mark, Abby sitting on his lap. The other car wasn’t driveable and had been transported back on a truck so they all squeezed into this one.
“If you hadn’t used your strength to get me out of that car, your secret would still be safe.”
Connor grasped his hand and smiled. “You’re worth going public for.”
“Jeez,” they heard Danny mutter from the front passenger seat. “Pass the sick-bucket.”
That earned him a slap from Abby, making him turn and glare as he rubbed at the injured spot on the back of his head.
“Well quit picking on them,” she told him. “It’s sweet.”
Now Becker glared; soldiers were not ‘sweet’.
“You didn’t have to hit me,” Danny grumbled.
Abby reached over to do it again but Mark’s arms tightened around her waist to restrain her, preventing her from reaching him.
“’Like a bunch of bloody children,” he muttered.
Connor sat in Lester’s office, shuffling, his foot tapping nervously. Becker sat beside him, the soldier moving slightly closer once he saw Connor’s worried look. Behind his desk, Lester leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled. He had called them in here not ten minutes after they returned from the anomaly site; who had snitched, they weren’t sure. Or about what.
“I’m sorry, Lester.” Connor wasn’t entirely sure what he was apologising for at this point but he saw it as a pre-emptive strike.
Lester moved, leaning forward with his elbows on his desk. He consulted the page in front of him.
“You destroyed a vehicle.”
“With all due respect, Sir,” Becker said. “Quinn was driving.”
“And how do you explain Mr Temple’s part in its demise?” Lester asked. “When unexplainable things happen, especially in this line of work, I need to know about them. Tell me, Connor, were you ever planning on enlightening me as to this… whatever it is?”
Connor shook his head, shuffling closer to Becker. Lester noticed.
“Which brings me to the pair of you. I don’t care what the pair of you get up to behind closed doors,” he said. “But I do not expect you to make a display of yourselves in public-” He saw the surprise on their faces. “You have Abigail to thank for that; you may wish to remind her to check and see who else is listening before she discusses these matters with Sarah.”
He turned back to Connor. “Now, Connor, start at the beginning.”
Connor told him everything, from the lab and accident to the skills he had acquired. Throughout his story, Lester sat in silence, listening. It was unnerving.
“And I didn’t tell you, or anyone except Becker- well, I didn’t tell Becker, he kind of saw me pick the desk up so that doesn’t count- because I knew you’d be angry and you’d all treat me differently. Please, Lester; I don’t want to be treated like some laboratory experiment while you try and figure out what happened.”
Lester’s expression softened slightly. “Connor, you should have said something.”
“I know.” Connor bit his lower lip nervously, casting nervous glances at Becker and then back to Lester. “What about us? I mean, me and Becker. Please don’t make us stop seeing each other; we won’t allow it to interfere with our jobs, honest.”
“I’ve spoken to my men; I thought it best to do so before the rumours began,” Becker added hastily. “They don’t have a problem with it. Nor do Quinn or Abby, and I doubt that Sarah will.”
Lester sighed. “Officially, I can’t forbid this,” he said. “I do expect you to remain professional, however. If I hear of any instance of inappropriate behaviour-”
“There won’t be,” Connor insisted, relieved when Lester dismissed them. As Becker left, Connor hesitated for a moment.
That evening, Becker watched anxiously for Connor. He had called five minutes earlier, telling Becker to go out to the garden and wait. Suddenly, a noise behind Becker made him turn, just in time to see Connor make a rather uncoordinated landing.
“I can fly! Isn’t that just the best?” Connor was bouncing on the balls of his feet like an over-excited kid.
“It feels so amazing to be in the air, with nothing holding you up.” Connor continued, not even hearing him. “I wonder if I could take you with me. I should be able to; Superman took Lois Lane flying, didn’t he?”
“Connor?” he asked once the other man finally stopped talking. “What the bloody hell are you wearing?”
Connor grinned and turned around slowly. “Do you like it? I told you I needed a costume, like a proper superhero.”
The other man stood before him in skin tight silver and black Lycra, with a black cape from his shoulders to his feet, fluttering lightly in the breeze. Over his eyes, he wore a black mask.
“Do I even want to know where you got that from?” Becker asked, bemused.
“Sarah made it for me.”
Becker sighed; he was going to have a chat with Sarah about not encouraging Connor.
“Come inside,” he said, holding the door open. He could see his neighbour’s curtains twitching; by tomorrow morning, they would be the talk of the neighbourhood. They were all used so seeing Connor here as they’d been friends for long enough, but dressed as he was now? That would certainly get them gossiping.
Connor’s grin widened and he flung his arms around Becker and kissed him. The soldier put up with it for a moment, reluctant to pull away, but then his self-consciousness flooded back. He wasn’t entirely ready to find out what their reaction would be to his and Connor’s altered relationship would be.
There it was, the curtain on his neighbour’s house moved again.
“Can we go in, please?”
This time, Connor followed him into the house, closing the door behind him. Becker slid his arms around Connor, returning the kiss from earlier. He decided that he could get used to the lycra- it allowed him to feel every inch of Connor’s body pressed against him.
“So, how exactly do you get out of that costume?” he asked, leading Connor toward his bedroom.
When they reached the bed, Connor gave Becker a mischievous look. “Sure you don’t want me to keep it on?”
Becker laughed. “Maybe some other time. Right now, I want you naked.”
By the time Becker had removed his boots, Connor was sprawled on the bed on his back, exactly as Becker had requested; as naked as the day he was born.
“I think I like this super-speed,” he said. “Now I get to watch you.”
Connor watched as Becker stripped slowly, admiring the way that the soldier’s muscles flexed as he moved. He had watched previously, as discreetly as he could, as the man changed or went shirtless in the hot weather but he had never been allowed to look before. Now he had permission and he was taking full advantage of it.
Becker dropped the last piece of clothing to the floor and Connor crooked his index finger to beckon him to the bed. He saw the flicker of hesitation in Becker’s eyes but it was gone in a moment as Connor pulled him close.
The previous night they had both been too uncertain in their altered relationship to really take the time to enjoy themselves. They had kissed and touched and slept curled up together, still mostly dressed. Now the initial ‘are we doing the right thing’ feeling had faded, leaving them with a lot of time to catch up on.
The following morning, Sarah and Abby were gossiping near to the anomaly detector when Becker and Connor came in. The pair were talking quietly as they walked, until Becker glanced up and noticed Sarah.
“Dr Page, may I have a word with you?”
Sarah sighed, knowing she wouldn’t make it to the exit before he reached her. Beside her, Abby watched curiously.
“Why are you encouraging Connor? The costume,” he clarified, seeing her frown. “He’s still wearing the damn thing under his clothes, just in case he has to rescue someone. He thinks he’s superman.”
Abby’s laughter escaped, even though the hand over her mouth. Sarah was trying her best to keep a straight face as well, and losing.
Connor appeared beside him, looking offended at Becker’s criticism of his costume.
“Hey, I like the suit; it’s comfy,” he protested.
“So, you know what he’s wearing under his clothes?” Abby asked. “Had a fun night, did you?”
“Oh yeah-” Connor stopped as Becker nudged him pointedly, his cheeks turning pink as the women grinned at them both.
The sirens sounded then, and the teasing was postponed. As they climbed into the cars, Becker turned to Connor.
“Promise me you aren’t going to start playing superhero.”
“But-” Connor sighed loudly. “Fine. I’ll try, but if I can help someone, then I can’t just stand by. I will be careful, though.”
It was the best he was going to get and so Becker reluctantly accepted the answer.
Connor didn’t try hard enough, he realised three hours later as he watched his boyfriend, complete with super-suit and a black mask over his eyes, whisk the young woman out of the road, just before the bus would have hit her. Of course, she never would have been in the road if she hadn’t been running away from the Raptor that was currently being loaded, tranquilised, into the back of a van.
The woman was just thanking him for the fifth time whilst trying to slip him her phone number when Connor noticed him and made his getaway.
“We have to go,” Becker told him. With a glance at the assembling crowd, he added, “Quickly.”
The story broke in the newspapers four days later. By that time, Connor had saved a further two people and earned himself an internet following of adoring teenage girls. Connor had found the site one day whilst googling himself, the superhero version of him anyway, and had come across their little fanclub.
The newspapers featured stories about a man going around dressed in a costume, rescuing people. The articles ranged from ‘he’s a total nut’ to ‘he’s a real life superhero’- those ones, Connor had saved.
It also made the news the following week, after a student had managed to capture some video footage of him flying on her mobile phone. Up until that point, it had just been an amusing side story in the papers, something light-hearted to balance out the bad news. With actual video footage, however, the city’s first superhero went from human interest story to headliner.
Connor was still checking the blogs excitedly, enjoying his new-found fame. The fangirls were a little on the obsessive side, Becker thought, though Connor still insisted that they were harmless. It did, however, provide Becker with endless hours of fun teasing Connor about it. Just like the old Connor, he still seemed completely baffled by women, especially if they showed any interest in him. Even more so when the messages and discussions on the blog became increasingly personal in nature.
“Um, Becker, you’re not going to like this…”
“What?” It was the same tone Connor used when he broke something and was afraid he’d get told off. That worried Becker.
Connor pointed to the screen, where his obsessive little fangirls had managed to find a new picture for their website.
Becker remembered the incident: they had been on their way back from the pub and Connor had dived into action mode when he saw a woman being mugged in a dark side street. He’d had a bit to drink- not enough to inhibit his skills, just his judgement afterwards- as had Becker.
The photo showed masked-Connor groping Becker’s arse as Becker backed him into a doorway, still in costume, kissing as though there were no tomorrow.
The reactions in the comments were mixed, from endless squeeing and copious amounts of exclamation marks to the shock that not only was their hero a) taken but also b) gay. It seemed that the squeeing had won out in the end, though, and now they seemed to have a new mission.
To find out who their hero’s boyfriend was.
“How did they get that picture?” Becker wondered. “They must be following you or having people tip them off when you do something in that ridiculous costume.”
Connor grinned. “Oh wow, I’ve got stalkers.”
“Connor, that’s not a good thing.”
“I guess not. They seem to like you, though.”
Despite his earlier protests about invasion of privacy, Becker smiled at that. “Do they?”
“Yep. Look here- vampgrrl243 thinks you’re hot,” Connor told him, pointing to the comments. “And so does twilightlover and sassylassy; she says she’d like to- Oh.” He paused and Becker could almost see the cogs turning in that brain of his until eventually, he blushed. “Is that even possible?”
Becker leaned over his shoulder to read the comment and burst out laughing. It was times like this when he was reminded just how naïve Connor was about some things. Connor leaned his head back to look at Becker, wanting to know what he was laughing at, and Becker kissed his forehead affectionately.
“Nothing, Conn. You might want to avoid them finding out where you live though,” he added as an afterthought.
Connor just grinned. “Lucky they don’t know who I really am then, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad now that Sarah made me my super-suit?”
Becker sighed. “But they can find out who I am,” he reminded. “And please bear in mind that the ARC project is supposed to be secret. If they start poking about or following me or you then Lester will be pissed.”
“Maybe I could talk to them,” Connor suggested. “I can ask them to leave you alone.”
Becker couldn’t resist giving him a hug; Connor really believed that he could just ask nicely and they’d back off. The papers, the TV reporters, his fanclub- they wouldn’t just stop.
“But it’s worth a try, right?” Connor persisted as Becker tried to explain it to him.
It didn’t work. Every time someone saw Connor in his costume, doing something heroic, the reporters were there within minutes. It was getting to the point where he had to hide when he saw them or make a quick escape. The only time he was free was when he was just plain Connor Temple.
Then the reporter turned up on Becker’s doorstep early one morning. He was from the Sun newspaper and had followed a hunch, which led him to Becker’s door. As soon as Becker opened it, the man barged his way inside before Becker could stop him.
“Knew it was you; I saw that picture of you and our Hero,” the man told him. “Now before you tell me to get lost, you should know that so far, I’m the only one who knows where you live. You piss me off, and I print it in tomorrow’s edition, Hilary.”
Now the guy was pushing his luck. Six o’clock in the sodding morning was bad enough, and now he had the asshole smirking at him. Becker found himself wondering for the millionth time what had possessed his mother to give him that Christian name. Didn’t she realise it would haunt him for the rest of his damn life? He was tempted to simply throw the reporter out of the door but he knew that the man could go through with his threat and that would be so much worse. Besides, Lester would be angry when he got a call from the police saying that the captain of his military contingent had been arrested for assault. Instead, to give himself time to calm down before he hit the man, he went and got himself a shirt. If he had to put up with this man, he would at least do it in more than just a pair of hastily-donned jeans.
“Becker? Who is it?”
Connor. Of course, he had to choose that moment to shout, didn’t he? He’d been hoping to get rid of the guy before Connor made his presence known. The reporter’s smile grew wider and he got a voice recorder out.
“So is that who I think it is?”
“I saw the photo; you two looked pretty cosy,” he said. “So if it’s not him, I guess that means you’re screwing around behind his back?”
Becker scowled at him. “How dare you come in here and accuse me-” He broke off, unwilling to start that argument; it would just give this prat an excuse to stay longer. “Get the fuck out of my house.”
Grabbing the man by the back of his collar and had him almost to the door when Connor stumbled down the stairs, half asleep.
When he saw the stranger, he froze.
“Well, well, if it isn’t our Hero,” the reporter smirked, wriggling free of Becker’s grasp and ducking under his arm to get back inside.
“I don’t know who you think he is-” Becker began, but the reporter stopped him.
“Don’t patronise me,” he said. He held up a printed copy of the photo of Becker and Connor from the fan site. “I can see it’s him, even without the stupid mask. Did you really think that would fool anyone?”
“Fooled you for long enough, idiot.”
Becker rolled his eyes at Connor upon hearing the muttered remark at the same time as the reporter uttered a triumphant “ah-ha!”
He clicked off the voice recorder and removed the tiny disk, secreting it away in his pocket and making a dash for the door before either man could react. They both ran out after him but he was already in his car, the engine started.
“I’ll be in touch!” he yelled from the window as he sped away down the street.
Becker looked to Connor. “Well? You can still catch him.”
Connor shook his head. “That’s the problem; I can’t. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t feel right. I can’t quite explain it. When I tried to run after him just now I couldn’t run, not like I could.” He looked miserably at Becker. “I think my powers are gone.”
Becker could see how distressed he was by this thought and tried to reassure him, but Connor just shook his head.
“They’re gone,” he insisted. “I can’t see through anything or move fast or even hear Mrs Patterson across the street talking to her cat.”
“That’s what you were doing the other day when you were staring out of the window?” Becker asked, amused.
He nodded, a faint smile creeping across his lips. “She tells Snowball all kinds of things that she’s seen and heard around the street,” he explained. “I think that cat knows more about your neighbours than you do.”
From the amount of time the woman spent spying out of her window, Becker thought, it was likely.
“So what now?”
Connor shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe that stuff is only temporary, or maybe I needed a bigger dose to make it permanent. If I can ever get into those files on the hard drive I can find out.” He hugged his arms around himself, realising that they were still standing outside at six in the morning.
“Cold?” Becker ushered him back inside, locking the door behind them. “Come on, back to bed.”
Burrowing back down under the covers to get warm, Connor cuddled in against his boyfriend’s body.
“Becker, what if my powers never come back? Will you still love me if I’m just normal boring Connor?”
The minute the words left his mouth he realised what he’d said. “Not that I mean that… Oh hell. I-”
“Connor, stop.” The other man fell silent, looking nervous. Becker smiled. “Of course I will.”
For a moment, Connor didn’t react. Then he realised what Becker had said.
“Yes. I love you.”
The beaming delight on Connor’s face could have lit the room. “Good, because I, um, you know.” He took a deep breath. “I love you too.”
Becker pulled him into his arms and kissed him. “So, how about I prove to you that being just a regular human will be just as good?”
“I like the sound of that.”
After ignoring the reporter’s calls for the next two days, Becker saw the story in the Sun on the third morning. ‘The man behind the mask’, the headline read, following with a picture of Connor. He tried to hide the paper but Connor found it.
There was only one way he could think of to get rid of the reporter and the story, and that was to prove him wrong. Lester reluctantly agreed to help, calling a few of his contacts in the media. He hadn’t looked especially happy about it but with the secrecy of the ARC at stake, he agreed it was the quickest way to stop the press nosing about in their affairs.
The only way that Connor could convince them that he wasn’t the man in the superhero costume was to show them that he had no powers. Easy now, he thought, as he really didn’t. It took some doing but eventually, Lester’s carefully selected journalists went away from the interview convinced. The thought that they had a chance to drag the Sun’s name through the mud for accusing an innocent man helped a little too, Connor saw.
As Connor’s life got quieter again, he put all of his efforts into the hard drives they had brought back from the lab where this had all started. He had finally managed to get into them and convert the files into something readable.
“Becker, guess what?” he said excitedly as the solder wandered into his office to say hello. “I think we can recreate the formula! It’s all on here, look; all the research, everything. We could make more; I could get my powers back.”
Becker shook his head. “No.”
“I mean it,” Becker told him firmly. “If you want to tell them about the research, then fine, but not just so you can go back to being the hero.”
“You didn’t like it?”
“Are you forgetting the chaos it caused, the loss of privacy?” he asked. “Besides, I’m rather fond of you like this. Normal.”
Connor smiled. “Okay, if it’ll make you happy then no more superpowers. It was cool but, if I have to make a choice, I pick you.”
Making sure that Lester wasn’t lurking around, ready to tell them off for fraternising on work’s time, he backed Connor to the desk and leaned in for a kiss. Accidental or not, Connor’s alteration had been just the kick start they had both needed. They were happy, and Becker didn’t want anything to disrupt that.
“Maybe I could keep the costume, though…”
Becker laughed. “Deal.”