The one time Apollo talks about it instead of talking round it, he doesn't have much to say. Only that he doesn't really remember. That he was mostly unconscious. Midnighter finds himself in the disquieting position of doubting his partner's words. It's not a place he's ever been before.
Truth or not, it doesn't escape his attention that neither of those brief statements is quite as short as it could have been. The really and the mostly make Midnighter flex his fingers, itching again for a kill. Once was not enough for the bastard, though he hadn't made it quick. He is glad he was allowed to do it – cold kills are not for hot-blooded Apollo, and if ever there was a man who deserved to die cold, it was that one.
That Apollo says anything at all is throwing Midnighter a bone – or possibly, a sop to shut him up. It is not unspeakable between them, but mostly they only talk about talking about it. Like the time Midnighter, rooting desperately for fixes, suggests therapy. Says Apollo would totally get therapy. Especially group. He'd be the star pupil. Midnighter is aware he's being ridiculous, but it's easier that way.
"I don't think it quite works like that," Apollo says. "They don't grade you. Maybe in black ops."
"In black ops, they fix you," Midnighter says.
"Like Bendix fixed us both. Wiped clean without a scar." Midnighter raises an eyebrow. Apollo taps his temple.
"Up here, I mean."
This could be truth, or a lie, or wishful thinking.
So much in their lives is different now, it's like change comes calling every day. A few short months ago, they were retired with only each other, watching bad TV and spending half the day fucking. Now they live on a ship which straddles realities, and outside their private quarters, it's half party, half refugee camp. Children from Tajikistan play games invented in Mozambique all down the corridors. Languages bleed into one another. Baby Jenny is sung cradle songs by rock stars, and by women who have watched their children fade to nothing, and buried them in the sand.
They are public figures, sprawled across the gossip pages as often as the news. They battle atrocities and injustice on such a scale that Midnighter sometimes longs to smash the teeth of a good old fashioned mugger. With all this going on, Apollo could slip between the cracks, and go unnoticed. He does such a good impression of fine.
Midnighter wonders if he's ever made Apollo feel quite so helpless in the face of his pain; hates himself if he has, berates himself with the fervour of one who knows he will sin again. He tries to ask him once, in the safe light of their living room, the TV warm in the background, and blocking out thought.
"You want the monopoly on brooding now?" Apollo says.
Apollo chucks him one of his brilliant grins, the one which says, no chance, mister.
"You get all the good stuff," he says. "The coat, the best one-liners."
Apollo rolls his eyes. Midnighter has never been that demonstrative, but he's been laying it on lately to make up for his inability to punch Apollo's demons all to hell. Having caught him in a grinning mood, he wants to fix things now, find a key that will let him in.
"What can I do?" he asks. Apollo pauses before suggesting;
"Laundry? Walk the baby?"
"Nobody loves a smart ass," Midnighter tells him.
"You do," Apollo replies placidly, and turns back to the TV.
Midnighter is nonplussed, and goes out to stalk. He watches some Indonesian kids play soccer on the flight deck for a while, and grinds his teeth, knowing he's been brushed off with such tremendous skill that he doesn't even have a loophole to get mad about it.
Apollo takes himself places Midnighter can't follow; that's the real difference. There are times when he's not quite there. In bed, he lies with his eyes closed, and Midnighter only knows he isn't asleep because sleeping is never that still. He reaches for him, but his muscles are closed like doors. It is as though he's pretending no one's there – not Midnighter, not himself, not anyone, and that the void the Carrier is tacking through could just bleed in through the window and swallow up his head. Sometimes he drifts from that place into real sleep, and his breathing stutters, and it's never long before he kicks himself awake again.
When this happens, Midnighter fights to hold him, kisses his hair, whispers, "Shh, shh, drama queen," until he stills, but there's never catharsis. They can talk around it in the cold light of day, when the memory has been folded up and packed into a box, but when it's right upon him, Apollo is miles away.
There are only three things Midnighter trusts himself to do well, and those are get mad, kill, and love Apollo. When none of these prove effective, he feels robbed of all his talents.
He is torn too, between feeling robbed of Apollo when he goes out to chase the sun for hours, and the knowledge that the complete absence of natural light on the Carrier is telling on him. Apollo has never slept so much before. He is different from their time in exile, when they spent all day above the cloud cover, and his charge kept him up through the night. Different even from their brief retirement, when at least their apartment had windows to let in slants of sunshine.
Midnighter hardly permits himself to notice that Apollo's sex drive has flatlined. He simply trusts it will return one day, like the changing of the seasons. It's not even that he misses so much as the closeness – and the attention. The dirty little notes, with illustrations, pinned to the refrigerator. Apollo, his head always in the clouds, exhorting Midnighter to come join him up there for a high altitude fuck. He would take them out to the horizon, ride the sunshine like the tide, steal their breath in free fall, and when Midnighter, spent and dizzy, would holler "Where are we?" in his ear, Apollo would shout back at him that skies don't have countries.
Part of it is surely down to new parenthood, too. They have help coming out their asses, what with the rest of the team, with Christine and Jackson, with a ship full of families both broken and whole, but if Jenny raises hell when the Carrier's asleep, the buck stops with them.
"She's just like Jenny Sparks," Apollo says once, in the second hour of a crying storm. He holds her to his chest and paces, barefoot in old jeans and a faded shirt Midnighter recognises as his own. "The foul mouth, the tenacity, the rants that just go on and on. I think she wants to know what the hell we're doing going to bed when there are perfectly good dictatorships in South America crying out to be overthrown."
If Apollo wasn't his own diffuse light source in the darkened room, he could just be a normal guy right now, anybody's dad, bouncing a squawling baby and looking faintly strained. They'd told Stormwatch they wanted their lives back, and look what they'd been given instead. Despite everything, Midnighter catches himself smiling for no apparent reason at odd hours of the day.
He is not sure any more he even wants to know who he was before, in case it casts a shadow. His recollections flicker like old film, and their landscape is grim, if they are real at all, and not the bleak imaginings of cells growing in a petri dish.
He recalls a image, from early in their exile. Apollo, waist deep in a river, steam rising off him as he washes a week's worth of dust and sweat and blood from his skin. He straightens up abruptly, throws a look over at Midnighter to check he has his full attention, and announces he is tired of being a soldier. He is growing his hair.
As an act of rebellion, it is small, but perfectly defiant. Midnighter thinks that Bendix chained Apollo to the sun in order to control him, but he missed the point. Apollo takes his freedom where he finds it, and his power too. It hardly matters from here if he's a person with a name, or if he was built from scratch, and his genial nature is a side effect of sunstroke. He owns it now, and Bendix did not deserve to have his gifts accepted with such grace.
At the time, Midnighter articulated nothing of this, and simply teased Apollo when his hair got long enough to start to curl.
"Can we talk?" Midnighter asks. He gored a guy with a jackhammer until his legs stopped twitching for this man; if he could lay it like a trophy at his feet now, he'd do it, but it's all he has. He just wants this to be over.
When Apollo looks at him, there's a faint touch of fire behind his eyes.
"I was talking, just a minute ago."
"Not like this," Midnighter says weakly. Jenny has stilled, and is hiccuping into sleep. She is a barrier between them, and Apollo is silent until he has put her down.
"I don't know what you're looking for," he says when he straightens up.
Midnighter feels clumsy and intrusive. Doesn't trust himself to answer without raising his voice. Apollo holds his eyes for a moment more, and then says he is going flying. He doesn't seem angry, just finished, but Midnighter can't relax, and walks the room until Jenny wakes with the morning.
Apollo comes back not long after, hot and bright from the touch of the sun. The Carrier is surging through a landscape of fractured glass. Apollo says he is sorry, and that he didn't mean to snap, but Midnighter needs to learn to drop it sometimes, and it's fine, they're fine, it's all fine, but please. They hug, and Apollo cards his hand through Midnighter's hair and kisses him on the forehead.
Midnighter kind of wants to shake him. He is not built for problems that can't be solved bluntly.
Instead, he twists at a wayward lock of Apollo's hair. Tells himself he can be more than Bendix made him to be, too.
"Catch good air?" he asks, by way of sorry.
"Australasia was pretty today."
In his mind, Midnighter discovers eloquence. He has his answer all mapped out. There is nothing that guy did to you that could break you in my eyes. You can burn with the force of Hiroshima, you can stare straight into the sun, you can shed your skin when you need to, when you see it's time for a sea change; do it now. He won't stop hurting you till you end it.
Out loud he says, "We should fly together more. For fun, I mean. I miss living dangerously."
"Really? I always thought you were humouring me."
"I had some doubts you knew the difference between flying and falling."
Apollo, arms around his waist, gives him a squeeze.
"I figured that one out," he says. "Flying is up."
"Maybe write that on your hand," Midnighter suggests.
Apollo laughs, and Midnighter presses his head into the hollow of his neck, lives there for a minute. He smells of air so clean it's only found at altitude, and his hair is damp from diving through the clouds.