A Distant Utopia
by Shrift

Getting Apollo out hadn't been easy. Once he'd stopped puking his guts up, Apollo had just gone blank behind his eyes, and it had been like hauling a big, pretty doll -- a fucking heavy doll -- while the stench of charred meat and bone and hair lingered in their noses.

Smelled like death. Like betrayal.

The Midnighter had been a soldier for a long time, and for a lot of that time, he'd been one of the elite. Black Ops, Special Forces -- the kind of soldiers sent in to clean up somebody else's shitstorm of wrong. He'd lost his lunch the first time out, too, and it hadn't just been the smell coming off the baker's dozen of mangled little girls that had done it.

He'd been just a baby himself, barely twenty-two and full of fire, hope and faith. Eventually that had changed; confronting atrocity after atrocity had leached that reactionary horror from him, took away the voice in his head and heart that had said, "This is not right." The truth of it was that he'd been a cold, hard man years before Henry Bendix got his hands on him, and it had taken long-term, close-quarters exposure to someone like Apollo to make him think about things again, as opposed to just reacting, turning on his brain long enough to follow orders, and shutting it down as soon as he was done.

Apollo had ideas about fairness, about responsibility, and he had shone when discussing them; he'd shone so brightly that Midnighter hadn't been able to ignore his words, even if he had secretly believed that Apollo was naive and a fool. He'd needed to believe that for his own sanity, and for Apollo's safety, because Apollo had more hope, faith, and goodness in his pinkie finger than most people would ever possess, and he'd somehow expected their fetishes to work when they were clear of that thing that had slaughtered the rest of their teammates like an old pro in a level one training scenario.

"Apollo to Transfer Bay Zero, requesting extraction. Apollo to Transfer Bay Zero, do you read me? Hello? Apollo requesting extraction."

Midnighter had ripped the fetish from Apollo's hand, crushing it like the useless hunk of metal it was. "Listen to me!" he'd shouted. "We have to get out of here!"

"But --"

Deadly serious, Midnighter had pulled Apollo close, close enough to communicate that he meant every last word. "We failed, Apollo. There's no going back."

Bendix had hung them out to dry. The knowledge, the certainty of it, had spread like oil in his guts. Why bother rescuing them when Bendix could just start again from scratch?

"Oh, god," Apollo had said when he realized what Midnighter already knew. He sat down hard and covered his face with his hands, tears already slipping down his cheeks. "What do we do?"

Midnighter had crouched in front of him. "We'll run. We'll hide. We'll fuck the bastard like he just fucked us."

Apollo had looked at him searchingly. Stalker's blood spatter marked his face and ash clung to his skin. Midnighter remembered how lost Apollo had looked then, and it had clawed at his chest like shrapnel.

"We'll make things better," Midnighter had said, grasping for something that would make Apollo move, because the alternative wasn't something he had been willing to contemplate. "We'll make this a finer world to live in. But we have to go now."

For a moment, Midnighter had thought that he'd have to leave the base and brave the desert by himself. And for the first time in years, he hadn't wanted to go alone.

But then Apollo had climbed to his feet, halo shining dimly and a grim set to his mouth. "I'm ready when you are."


The first time they had intervened, it hadn't been much: purse snatcher in an alley, just a pathetic little coward with greasy hair and a stained Hootie & The Blowfish concert T-shirt.

Not much, but it had felt right. It had clicked inside, like slotting home the last piece of a freshly cleaned weapon, and from the shine on Apollo's face, he had felt it, too. After they had returned the money to the frazzled woman inexplicably wearing flannel, they retreated to a nearby roof.

They'd been in hiding for weeks, ever since Midnighter had picked the locks on a computer lab door and they'd hacked their way into enough Stormwatch files to know they were neck-deep in shit. They didn't exist. They weren't in the system -- not in any system. With the rest of the team dead, it stood to reason that only Bendix knew who they were now, but he was enough; it made them wanted fugitives running from one terrifying son of a bitch. Midnighter didn't know what exactly the Weatherman had intended for their team after retrieving the bio-reactor, but whatever it was, it probably would have made his twenty-two-year-old mind flinch, and flinch hard, like choosing between the lesser of two particularly shitty evils.

Kind of made a guy want to do good just to fuck with Bendix's plans.

It was raining the night that they made the decision. Midnighter remembered the cold trickle of it down the back of his neck, and the way it made Apollo's eyelashes stick together in pale spikes. In fact, it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees Celsius, the corner of Fifth and Main, and on the roof of an Uno's pizza joint.

It was a bitch never being able to claim that something had slipped his mind, but occasionally there were unforeseen benefits.

"Are we really going to do this?" Apollo asked.

It was dangerous, and would be as long as Bendix was alive, and Midnighter said as much.

Apollo bumped his shoulder. "Is that a yes or a no?"

Midnighter finally said that he was happy as long as he got to hit things.

Apollo just smiled at him as if he knew a secret.


Late one evening Apollo woke while Midnighter was watching the stars. They were between cities that night, even though Apollo could fly them anywhere on the globe in a matter of moments. The air was sultry with summer, and the stone behind them still felt sun-warm through his coat. Overhead, the stars were brighter than anything, unchanging, and they made him feel...

They made him feel. Like something couldn't be monstrous while it still looked to the stars.

He didn't say this. Perhaps it showed on his unmasked face, because Apollo yawned and then accused him of being a closet romantic.

Still looking up, Midnighter told him he never had any use for closets.

Apollo beamed that fucking beautiful, mile-wide smile of his, the one that could make a nun's knees tremble, and said, "I was hoping you'd say that."

He could calculate a million different outcomes to a single confrontation in a fraction of a second, but when Apollo kissed him, it came as a surprise. Black Ops had trained that kind of awareness out of him. When he wasn't beating something senseless, he was sleeping. Or eating. Or fucking. Affection didn't enter into it.

Working at Stormwatch hadn't changed things much. Bendix didn't leave room for modesty, and even before they figured out what kind of psychopath he was, no one wanted to be the first to break the 'no fraternization' rule.

Nobody said anything about looking, though, and Midnighter had spent a lot of quality time admiring Apollo's ass.

"I can't believe you didn't know," Apollo said later, lying on his side with his head propped on his hand. His hair was getting long. Midnighter reached out and brushed free a few green blades of grass.

Apollo's heat warmed him along one side of his body, and it made him think about polarity. "You weren't exactly scribbling 'Mr. The Midnighter' on your classified file folders."

Apollo snorted. "Bastard."

"I didn't know," Midnighter said quietly. "They didn't need that part of me."

Apollo kissed his neck and rested his hand over Midnighter's primary heart. "You'll get it back."

Midnighter covered Apollo's hand with his own. "Your timing is for shit."

Drowsily, Apollo said, "Love you, too."


He believed in lust at first sight, the right combination of aesthetically pleasing visual input and pheromones hitting the sex drive like a ton of bricks.

Lust was easy. It caused a predictable sort of chaos, and it was easy enough to detect, requiring a simple thermal scan. Lust could be recognized, compensated for, and understood on a basic level.

Love, though -- that was a foreign concept, one with more permutations than he cared to acknowledge. If he thought about it at all, he would have called it a misinterpreted chemical spike, and blamed it on people being spoon-fed media bullshit from infancy.

But then he met Apollo.

It's been five years, and Midnighter thinks his tactical computers are still struggling to compensate for that.

How do you quantify a need you don't even know you have until someone comes along and fills it? A need you would otherwise disdain as sentimental and weak? As beneath you?


Most people don't wear their pasts on their skin like a roadmap of disaster. Midnighter does, although his scars are by design rather than calamity.

It doesn't mean people stare any less. It does mean that Midnighter can punch in their skulls for looking, except he doesn't do that anymore.

Apollo and The Midnighter are retired.

They live in a walk-up six blocks north of the diner Midnighter is sitting in. The next-door neighbor bangs on the wall when they're having sex; it makes Apollo smile, and Midnighter purposely hasn't fixed the squeaking headboard because nobody constructs beds with majestic-class superhumans in mind, and they'll only break it again, anyway.

They own a set of dishes with eight place settings. They receive junk mail addressed to Andrew Johansen and Michael O'Shea. They have an answering machine featuring Apollo's cheerful recorded voice, which Midnighter never checks because he doesn't actually care if anyone wants to reach him. Not since their identities were erased.

Even Big & Tall department stores don't carry jeans in Apollo's size. They don't need to eat, but they do need to buy groceries to keep up appearances. This is the level of stress they're dealing with now. It's a nice change of pace. It's been eleven weeks, and every time he wakes up to see the ceiling fan spinning idly above their bed as opposed to a stained warehouse roof, it takes him a few moments to accept that it's real.

Someone clears his throat.

"You have beautiful eyes," the waiter says when Midnighter looks up from his newspaper.

Midnighter grunts in response. Apollo is the one who attracts admirers, like flies to a corpse. Midnighter's costume and fists used to keep people at a distance, and now it's his sparkling personality that acts as a deterrent. Normally.

"Like whiskey," the idiot insists, fiddling with his order pad. He's a twink, green hair spiked to high heaven, and pierced in nineteen different places on his body. Midnighter can see the metal when he scans; it shows up as dark spots on a background of red organic mass. He also can tell that the woman in the next booth over isn't a woman, the guy sitting at the counter has had his left leg broken in three places, and that the fry cook has lung cancer.

Midnighter glares, and calculates how long it would take him to turn the waiter inside out. Four seconds tops, and that's only if he paces himself.

The twink doesn't seem to get the picture, but at least he remembers his job. "So can I get you anything?"

"Coffee," he says. When the kid moves off to pester the other customers, Apollo slides into the booth across from him. He's wearing track pants and a T-shirt that barely fits across his chest. "How long have you been lurking?"

"Not long," Apollo says, smiling down at the menu.

Midnighter arches an eyebrow. "Really."

"You're the one with the enhanced senses," Apollo says, flipping the menu over to look at the day's specials. "You tell me."

"True." Midnighter glances at the kitchen. "Four minutes fifty-three seconds. And don't order the catfish."

"Do I want to know?"

Midnighter shakes his head. "It'll ruin your appetite."

Technically, he thinks, Henry Bendix already did that to them, but Apollo doesn't have much patience for splitting hairs.

The waiter returns with Midnighter's coffee and a bowl of fancy creamer. The cup rattles on the saucer as he sets it down on the table, and then the kid looks at Apollo like he's some loathsome species of parasite. The attitude only ups the wattage of Apollo's smile as he orders.

"And for you, sir?"

"Bacon cheeseburger." Midnighter says this while looking at the menu, even though he technically doesn't need to because he stores everything he sees. Sometimes during his brooding silences, he's actually doing crossword puzzles he'd saved in his memory implants somewhere along the way. Even he doesn't think about maiming people all the time. But maybe he should.

"How would you like that cooked?" Head-tilt, hip out, eyelashes working, and Christ, the kid's practically humping his leg.

"Well done." Midnighter waits for the kid to go away again before he turns to Apollo and says, "I hate this place."

"I know," Apollo says. Underneath the table, he brackets Midnighter's feet with his own.

"You're a sadistic son of a bitch," Midnighter tells him.

Apollo's eyes sparkle and snap with converted sunlight. "You love it."

If asked, most would say that Apollo is the idealist, and Midnighter the pragmatist.

People are more complicated than that. Midnighter's just the one who's vocal about liking to break shit.

When they get home, Apollo fucks him slowly, a maddening kind of slow that makes him need to move, growl, insist. He needs to, but he won't, because Apollo loves it like this, slow and sweaty, Apollo's eyes closed and rapture making his face glow. Eventually Midnighter will strangle on his own need, and the son of a bitch loves to hear him beg.

It does it for him. It does it for Apollo in a big way, because as soon as Midnighter begs, it's a blur of skin slipping on skin, a big dick in his ass, and Apollo's sweet mouth on his lips and neck.

Back when they still made temporary homes in abandoned doorways, back when they smelled of wet cardboard and their own filth, he had spent every night running the numbers over and over while Apollo slept, and every time, they ended up on the wrong side of the results. Longevity only made it worse, and after five years, their continued freedom was becoming a statistical outlier.

The Midnighter knows exactly how unlikely it is that they would get to have this.


They don't know it, but they only have six months to live like normal people do.

When it ends, it will be a normal Tuesday morning. Midnighter will be reading yesterday's newspaper at the kitchen table. Apollo will be cooking scrambled eggs while humming a TV show theme song that Midnighter will refuse to identify. The lights will flicker and dim just as a knock falls on the apartment door.

Jenny Sparks will be standing outside with a proposition in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.

"Why are you only offering this to me?" Apollo will ask. They'll be sitting at the kitchen table, the eggs half-cooked and growing cold on the stove. Congealing. Apollo will still be in his pajamas.

"Because that sad bastard," Jenny will say, stabbing her cigarette in his direction, loosened ashes swirling lazily through the air, "will follow you wherever you go, sonny."

The Midnighter will bare his teeth at her. He will not deny it.

Jenny will laugh. "And I do mean everywhere, Apollo."

Apollo will look at him pleadingly, hair still tousled from sleep. His beauty will be remarkable.

Midnighter will already know his answer. "Your timing is still for shit, you know."

Apollo's smile will, as always, get him right where he lives.


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