The sky was an eerie, alien green, with dark clouds beginning to form overhead. The temperature was -4˚C and it was beginning to rain, a light drizzle that didn't impair visibility.
Locus catalogued this information then pushed it to the back of his mind. He had work to do.
The planet was small and insignificant, one with more numbers than letters in its name. All that mattered was that some people had found something valuable to mine on it, that some other people had decided that they would much rather be the ones doing the mining instead, and that a third group of people had been hired to ensure that things went their way. The story was familiar, and so were the faces. People like him, who should have been stopped a long time ago. Locus still had a few contacts who didn't care about what he was doing these days and were willing to cough up information given enough incentive. He still had enough money saved up from old jobs, and so did Felix. It was good to know that some part of Felix was being used to make things right, even though he knew it didn't work that way, and that Felix would probably hate him for it.
"We're in sight of the outpost," the scout was saying over the radio. Locus knew his voice. He'd worked with the man before. Ramirez, if he remembered correctly. "They haven't spotted us. They have no defenses, only a couple guards, and I doubt most of them can even hold a gun. We'll make short work of them. You guys ready to bring the reinforcements?"
"Sure, man, just give us the time and place and we'll be there."
"Tomorrow, 0300 standard time. I'll send you the coordinates. And make sure you read your charts right. We don't a repeat of last time, do we?"
"Hey, that was an accident!"
"Yeah, whatever. Look — just remember, it's planet HK 4938 c."
"Wait, don't you mean HK 4938 d?"
"What? No, I read that right. It's HK 4938 c, as in Charlie."
"Really? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I've got HK 4938 d written here."
"Right, well, have fun landing on a fucking gas giant, I guess. Why don't you call me later and tell me how that goes?"
"Fuck off, man, you don't have to be a dick about it."
Meaningless chatter. Locus kept the connection but tuned it out. A sweep of the landscape through the scope of his sniper rifle revealed nothing but dull grey hills covered in jagged rock formations. Good place to stay out of sight, but it cut both ways. Still, his radar showed no signs of activity around him, the proximity alarm hadn't been triggered, and the reinforcements wouldn't come in at least a day. Things would be quiet for the time being. It meant more time to prepare.
More time to think.
He removed his helmet and the cold, metallic air of the planet hit him all at once. It was a stupid, unprofessional thing to do, something that Felix might have done, but he needed the reminder, sometimes. That there was something beneath the armor. For so long he'd refused to acknowledge, refused to take it off unless he was alone, not even when Felix—
The rain was beginning to pick up. It ran in chilly rivulets down his neck.
He kept a list of things he knew these days, as points of reference — something he could trust to ground him when the world felt off-balance and he was sure of nothing else. He ran through them in his head as he sat down and counted his bullets.
I am a monster. This one was easy. He knew what he was, after all this time, and he clung to that knowledge as an anchor. He was a monster. He'd murdered innocent people and he'd chosen to do it.
He didn't love me. He'd known this even back then. Whatever had driven Felix to pull him close, to take him apart the way he had, it hadn't been love.
I'm glad that he's gone. Another easy one. He enjoyed the quiet now, and his head felt clearer. He was better off without him. He knew that.
I miss him. He'd thought about this one for a long time, and he still wasn't sure. But he didn't have a word for the hole in side whenever he turned to look at a man who wasn't there, like taking a step and finding nothing beneath his feet, so this would have to do.
I need to make things right.
Locus gripped of his sword tight as it lit up with a soft whooshing noise. Another reminder. Something else to live up to. The glow tinged the rocks around it a faint, flickering blue, and droplets of rain hissed as they vaporized on contact with the blade. He turned it around and around in his hand, feeling the way it balanced in his palm, the way his fingers wrapped around the handle.
The distant light of the alien sun was beginning to fade. Night would be coming soon.
The first few months after the war were lost in a dull gray fog. There was an empty apartment, a string of unanswered phone calls, and his memories. And then one day there was Felix, leaning against his doorway with a smile that cut through the haze.
"Hey, Locus," he'd said.
No. He hadn't called him that. He'd called him a different name then, one that didn't fit anymore.
"How are you doing?" Felix said.
Locus had never liked Felix. Felix always talked a little too loudly, communicated exclusively in a constant stream of irreverent comments, and took a perverse delight in antagonizing people in general and Locus in particular. He called everyone dismissive nicknames, laughed at their troubles, always knew which way to twist his words like a knife in someone's gut. But none of that mattered when the rest of their squad lay blown apart among the charred craters of the alien lasers, when the air smelled of smoke and blood and burned flesh and the only hope of rescue was light years away.
It had taken seventy-six hours for reinforcements to come.
"Aren't you glad to see me?" Felix said, and Locus didn't answer.
Like most things from that time, the details were fuzzy, distant. But he remembered Felix's voice, and Felix's grin, and Felix's fingers as he pressed a container of takeout into Locus' hands. He must have gone out to get it — hadn't he? — because Locus didn't have anything in his fridge.
"Why are you doing this?" he managed to ask.
"Oh, call it force of habit. I guess I just got used to us looking after each other. Didn't you?"
Locus didn't answer that, either. Felix talked more — about himself, mostly, about his new work as a mercenary. About how he understood, of course he understood, he couldn't go back either, and wasn't it easier when they had orders to follow, when all they had to do was kill whatever was in their way? Locus didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to listen.
"I need your help," Felix said. "That's what we used to do, wasn't it? Help each other?"
He wasn't sure what happened next. He certainly hadn't invited Felix to stay the night, but Felix must have invited himself — of course he had, wasn't it how it always worked? — because he was there when Locus woke up sweating and panting, his heart pounding in his ears.
"So," said Felix, casually, almost as if they were back at camp killing the hours between one battle and the next. "What's up?"
"Do you remember that alien?" Locus found himself asking. "The one that snuck into our camp?"
"That thing?" Felix laughed, a light, cruel chuckle that sent a pang through Locus' chest. "Yeah. Remember how it squealed when we shot it?"
It had been scared. That was what Locus remembered. He could feel his heart racing in his chest, and he didn't know why. "Did we do the right thing?" he asked.
He felt Felix go still beside him — an almost imperceptible shift. "We did what we had to, Locus," he said, quietly. "We followed orders."
Locus let out a soft, slow breath. "Right."
"Hey. Locus," Felix whispered, and then there was a hand on Locus' shoulder, warm and steady, and it had been so long that he couldn't focus on anything else. "It's all right. You followed orders. You're not the one who made the choice."
Locus nodded, because he didn't know what else to do.
And so they sat there in the dark, with only the soft sound of their breathing to break the silence, their shoulders and knees touching. The back of Felix's hand was warm and solid against his thigh, a warmth that settled uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach. When had he forgotten what it was like to touch someone without meaning to hurt them? Had it been before or after those three days when all they'd had was each other, stealing what little rest they could in foxholes and barricaded rooms, their bodies pressed together until every breath, every twitch resonated between them?
This is what his relationship with Felix would become: a series of quiet escalations and soft, distracting touches. Looking back on that night, he wasn't quite sure how it had come to this — "Come on, you just need to relax a little," Felix said, and then there was Felix's weight pressing down on him, Felix's hands on his chest, Felix's mouth against his. He wasn't sure when exactly he chose to do this, decided this was what he wanted, only that he had, and he was clutching Felix's shoulders to bring their bodies together, their breathing slow and rhythmic. Felix was quiet, and wasn't it strange that this was the one thing that struck him as incongruous? There were none of his usual theatrics in this. Just clear, focused intensity. His breath was warm and his teeth sharp and—
Felix snarled as he dug his fingers into Locus' skin, leaving trails of blood in his wake. Locus grabbed at his hair and pulled hard, but Felix just shivered in something that might have been pleasure. He pressed his tongue against Locus' lips and pushed in, just a flicker before Locus could bite down.
"What exactly do you think you're doing, Locus?"
Locus grabbed Felix's shoulders and pulled him down, gripping hard enough to bruise, and Felix followed the motion to dart forward and crush his mouth against Locus' once more, and no, this was all wrong, wasn't it? Locus shouldn't have his helmet off, he'd never—
"No, seriously, tell me," Felix growled against his mouth. "I'd really like to hear it."
Locus grasped Felix by the throat. The motion was easy. Familiar. He pushed upwards, not squeezing, not yet, and Felix only laughed — a dark, feral sound. Was he scared, beneath the bloody grin and shining eyes? His breath came in fast, irregular gasps and his fingers trembled against Locus' chest, and wasn't it how it always had been? Felix didn't know how to touch people without hurting them, and neither did Locus, and maybe that was the only reason they needed this. Was it supposed to be like this? Locus couldn't remember. There were rules. There needed to be. But Felix had never cared about that, had he?
"Oh, that's all you can say?" Felix's teeth were red with blood. "You think you can just leave me like this? After all I've done for you?"
"You've done nothing for me."
"Bullshit. Do you remember what you were like when I found you again? 'Cause trust me, I do. How long do you think it would have taken for you to put a bullet in your head? I gave you everything. I gave you your purpose. You're a weapon, Locus. You've always been a weapon. What else are you good for?"
"Felix—" Locus began, but Felix pushed him down, sliding a knee between his legs, and he found himself choking on the name.
"You really thought you could just kill me and run away?" Felix's voice echoed through him, settled in his lungs and his stomach and his guts. This wasn't the way it had gone. It wasn't what Felix had said. Was it? "You really think you can make things right? Well, you can't. You're nothing without me, Locus. I'm the only one who understands, remember? You just needed to listen to me. We could have been perfect if only you—"
Locus pulled him forward into a rough, painful kiss, because there was only one thing he knew how to do, how to want. Felix's teeth were sharp, and he dug his fingers into Locus' ribs like claws, leaving deep, bloody gouges.
Felix's weight was suffocating, his breath so warm it burned Locus' skin. He bit Felix's neck until he tasted blood, salty and coppery on his tongue.
"—fucking listened to me!"
It was still raining when Locus woke up, panting raggedly into his helmet.
He held his head in his hands and listened to the pounding of the water against his armor.
"Jesus Christ, what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"Quiet," Locus said, and moved the glowing blade of his sword a little closer to Ramirez's neck. "I won't ask again. Why are you doing this?"
"Uh, because someone's paying me a shitload of money to?"
"And you don't intend to stop."
"What? No, of course not! I swear to god, Locus, I always knew you were off your rocker, but what the hell's gotten into—"
That was all he needed to hear. Ramirez's body hit the floor with a dull thud, and Locus finally stopped to catch his breath. The sounds of battle had almost completely died out by now, and all that was left was the smell of smoke and blood in the air and the corpses strewn across the floor, unmoving. Both miners and mercenaries, but there were more of the latter than of the former, which meant it had been a victory. It had to be, because he didn't know any other way to do this.
"Uh, great," someone was saying. "So who's gonna clean this up? Because I'm pretty sure the janitor got his head blown off."
"Shut the fuck up, Murray."
Locus had once watched Felix slit a man's throat from behind. He didn't know why he still remembered the way his blood had splattered across the ground, vivid red against the concrete, but he did, and now looking at the scene before him it was all he could think of. There were miners all around him. Some were huddled in the corner, rocking and muttering to themselves. Others mulled about, occasionally kicking a dead body or picking up a weapon to inspect it. Many were looking at him — or was it his armor they were seeing? He could feel the weight of their gazes prickling on his skin. Maybe they feared him. They usually did.
"So. Uh. Who the hell are you?" one of them asked, and Locus stiffened. He took a deep breath. Then another one. He wasn't supposed to be the one doing the talking. He clenched his hand into a fist and waited for a familiar voice to cut in.
His work was done. He needed to leave.
"Listen, stranger," the miner continued as she followed him out, trying to match his long steps. "I don't care why you're here. The miner's outpost of HK 4938 c owes you."
"Wait, wasn't that with a d?" the one called Murray asked.
"If there's anything we can..."
"No," Locus said through gritted teeth.
"Look—" the miner began to say, and then everything stopped, because there was a hand pressing down on his shoulder and he couldn't breathe, he couldn't—
"Jesus Christ!" he heard someone shout, but it was distant, unfocused.
The miner had fallen to her knees, clutching her hand. Three broken fingers, judging by the angle. People were looking at him. Staring.
He should apologize, he thought as he stood there, his heart pounding in his ears. Help her.
He should feel remorse for this, but when he tried to reach for it there was nothing there.
In the end he slipped into the shadows, activating his invisibility unit as soon as he was out of sight. No one stopped him. It didn't matter. He'd grown used to the uneasy stares of those around him — people feared him, and he used their fear as his cloak. But Felix had feared him, too, the one person he needed more than anything else.
Which had come first — Felix needing him, or Felix fearing him? Had Felix been trying to control the one thing that scared him the most? Or had it been the thought of needing someone else that had terrified him so much?
Felix had feared him, and Felix had been a monster. So what did that make him?
He knew the answer. He knew he couldn't change it. What he didn't know was what to do about it. Maybe someone did. Maybe he should track down Agent Washington and — and then what? Beg for his acceptance? He didn't deserve it and wouldn't beg even if he did. Tell him he'd been right? Washington already knew. Ask him what to do? He knew what he'd say, and he didn't need to hear it. He'd had enough of someone else's voice echoing in his head.
It was pouring when he stepped outside, and the wind was so strong now the rain was almost horizontal. He swayed a little when the impact hit him, but the weight of his armor was enough to keep him steady. The sky above was a dark, looming gray, illuminated at times by flashes of lightning, and the rain washed against him and formed a cloud of droplets that negated any advantage from his camouflage. But the outpost was quiet from the outside — if not for the scorch marks around the main entrance and a few mercenary bodies lying on the ground, it might have seemed that nothing was out of the ordinary.
Locus began to walk away and tried not to listen to Felix's laughter in his ear.
He dreamed about Felix again that night, on the edge of that platform. He pushed Locus down, straddled him, held a knife to his throat with shaking hands, but when he leaned down to kiss him, it was almost gentle.
"Why?" Locus asked, quietly.
Blood ran down the side of Felix's face. It was dark and sticky, and there was something desperate in the way he laughed. "Would you have stayed with me if I hadn't?"
Locus didn't have an answer for that.