I hate God's War. It's terrible. But the idea of the cyborgs getting psionic power upgrades fascinates me and has far too much potential to waste on such a bad story. So, I took it and this is the result.
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The medbay was quiet without the other cyborgs hovering in the background. The only noise was the tone of 008’s monitors on the other end of the room. Gilmore listened for any change in the steady beat as he finished repairing 002’s leg. The only sign that 002 wasn’t sleeping through the repairs was how tightly his arms were crossed across his chest.
“What they did to the Cyborgmen, that’s what they were trying to do to D3 and D10, right?”
The question was almost matter of fact; Gilmore kept his eyes trained on his hands, frozen while clearing liquid out of the joint hinge, and took a deep breath. “Yes.” He forced himself to start working again, setting the joint back into place. “I had thought that that line of experiments was abandoned after… after it failed with those two. I suppose it was moved to a different lab.”
002 made a small noise, and Gilmore pretended not to notice when 002’s hands tightened on his arms. Instead he replaced the sliced hydraulic tubes and tried to ignore the memories lurking.
This was likely why the two of them didn’t talk much, Gilmore thought, setting the last connector and starting to reseal the knee. Despite everything, the rest of the cyborgs were still learning the extent of what Black Ghost was willing to do, and by extension what Gilmore was culpable for; 002 had lost any illusions on that front long ago.
“I don’t really remember everything that happened back then.”
Gilmore let the implications of that sink in as he finished working. “Trauma, most likely,” he said, glancing up at 002 and feeling a bit of guilty relief that his eyes were hidden behind his bangs. “It’s possible that you blanked out some events to protect yourself. Though I remember several concussions that likely didn’t help any.” That got a short laugh, and Gilmore smiled for a moment before the gravity of the conversation set back in. “No mind alterants were used on you. Given how long it took for you to learn to fly, no one wanted to risk anything that could cause any setbacks.”
Slowly, 002’s hands relaxed, and he tilted his head until he could peer out from under his bangs. “More setbacks than running headfirst into trees?”
“We could only control so many variables.” Gilmore stood up, his back twinging in protest at straightening after so long hunched over. “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep? I can get a sedative.”
“Nah, I’ll be fine.” 002 didn’t look fine, still pale and tired, but that stubborn light was back in his eyes.
“All right.” Absurdly, Gilmore felt the impulse to ruffle 002’s hair; he settled for laying his hand on 002’ shoulder. “Good night, 002.”
“I hate you.”
Pyunma hid his smile, easy to do with water weighing Jet’s hair down over his face. “Uh huh.”
“I fucking hate you. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”
“Just come here.”
If anything, Jet’s look darkened even further. But he still sloshed through the water until he and Pyunma were chest to chest. Pyunma just wrapped his arms around Jet’s waist, tucked under his wings. “Ready?” He waited for Jet’s terse nod before letting both of them fall backwards.
Jet jerked as soon as they were underwater, his wings flaring in panic. Pyunma tightened his hold, gently stroking what skin he could reach. “I’ll keep you up. Just focus on moving.”
The words must have been understandable even through the water because Jet blinked at him through the waving mass of his hair. He was still for a moment before he spread his wings, the red of his feathers even brighter against the iridescent blue of Pyunma’s scales, and slowly, carefully, figured out how to swim again.
“I told you,” Jet said. His smugness at being right was almost drowned out by how nonplussed he was.
“I thought you were kidding.” Pyunma put down the bag of groceries he was holding and stepped over the still-packed boxes in the living room to study the writing on the wall.
The literal writing on the wall. It dripped red and thick down the off-white wall, a scene straight out of a horror movie. Except it was a bright ‘Hello’ scrawled in what Pyunma could tell, now that he was closer to it, was strawberry jam.
They’d been gone all of ten minutes, taking a break of settling into their new apartment to pick up groceries at the bodega two blocks down. More than time for someone to break in, but that someone would’ve been stupid to ignore the TV, unconnected to anything, or the mp3 player sitting on the kitchen counter. And Jet really had told him.
“You had to find a haunted apartment, didn’t you.”
The birth certificate proclaimed that Vincente Esposito was born to Francesco Esposito and Gracia Caro Palomo February 2nd, 1942. It wasn’t hard to figure out whose it was – aside from the birthday, Jet’s current legal name was Vincent – but Pyunma couldn’t think of any reason Jet would hand him a copy of his original birth certificate out of the blue. The flyer scowled at him, waiting for some sort of reaction.
“So what’s this for?”
Jet ducked his head a little, his scowl deepening. “It’s stupid.”
There was a note of uncertainty in his voice, mostly hidden under the irritation, that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know him well; Pyunma’d heard that note too often to miss it. “It can’t be that stupid if you bothered to hunt it down. How’d you get the hospital to give you a copy?”
“Said it was my grandfather’s.” Jet relaxed slightly and shrugged. “I don't know, I guess I want someone to know. And you won’t make a big deal out of it.”
Translating that from Jet-speak turned it into a pretty big declaration of trust. Pyunma accepted it with a nod. “Alright. Tell me.”
“Dinner is served,” Jet announced, already digging through the bag as he walked into the kitchen. “What do you want to start with?”
“Egg drop soup?” Pyunma hazarded; he’d been dragging his things into the bedroom when Jet placed the order, so the contents of the delivery bag were a mystery. All the same, Jet passed over a container of soup with a grin before unloading everything else onto the floor in front of the couch. “We’re going to need to get a table at some point.”
“We need a bed first.” The matter of fact statement was delivered with a light leer before fading into something a little more serious. “The air mattress isn’t bad, but my friend’s gonna want it back eventually.”
“You could’ve gotten a bed.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just…” Jet glanced away, fiddling with his chopsticks. “It’s ours, right?”
Which… yeah, Pyunma knew where Jet was coming from. When he was accepted to Columbia, moving in with Jet rather than living in the dorms had seemed like an obvious idea. The time in between was too swept up in the details of moving between continents for the idea to settle too much, but now, sitting in the nearly empty living room, the fact that it really was theirs was settling in. No more only seeing each other at Prof. Gilmore’s or in flying visits between countries.
Pyunma put the soup to the side and pushed himself up. “How comfortable is the air mattress?”
Jet made a garbled noise around the eggroll in his mouth before hurriedly swallowing. “It’s pretty good. Tired from the trip?”
“Nah. Just figured we don’t have to wait until we go furniture shopping to break in our place, and we never have much luck with couches.”
Storm clouds gathered in the sky, a promise of relief to the humidity that had soaked the city over the past few days. The heavy air was still a relief when Pyunma stepped out of the crowded restaurant. Especially when he saw Jet slouched against the wall a little ways from the door, smoking and staring into space.
Jet’s answering grin was bright and infectious. “Like hell.”
Pyunma laughed, his own smile wide enough to hurt a little, and went to pull Jet into a kiss. It wasn’t a very good kiss, given that neither of them could stop grinning through it, but Jet still made a pleased sound when Pyunma didn’t let go afterwards.
“Seriously, anything wrong?”
“Nah.” Jet flicked ash off his cigarette, glancing over Pyunma’s head back towards the door. “I just needed a break from in there.”
“I hear you.” He reached up and snagged the cigarette, dodging Jet’s halfhearted swipe to take a long drag. Somehow, the party going on inside made things seem far more real than the small ceremony they’d had the night before. Considering how he’d spent a long time not expecting to survive the fighting – before or after Black Ghost – sneaking out of his own wedding reception to have a quiet smoke with his husband never would have crossed his mind.
And he was not going to get tired of saying that, his husband.
Judging by the look on Jet’s face, soft and happy and a little amazed, he was thinking something similar. “We really did it.”
Light glinted off their rings as Pyunma linked their hands, holding tight. “Yeah, we really did.”
Jet woke up with a start, blinking up at Prof. Gilmore and Pyunma’s concerned faces hovering above him. He took a minute to unscramble the mess of sensor afterimages in his head before he said, “The new sensors are pretty strong.”
Tension eased from Gilmore’s shoulders at the statement, and he patted Jet’s shoulder. “We can adjust the sensitivity until you get used to them. Come down to the lab when you’re feeling steady again.”
As Gilmore clambered to his feet, Jet looked up at Pyunma. “Why am I in your lap?”
“You fainted. Straight into my arms.” The tease has a sympathetic edge to it; Pyunma’s own sensor upgrades had gone haywire before. “If you wanted my attention you didn’t have to go to such extremes.”
“You’re face is extreme,” he muttered, snuggling back into Pyunma’s lap and closing his eyes.
“Not gonna get up?”
Jet had very long fingers.
Joe really should’ve been paying more attention to what Jet was actually saying, but his attention wandered with every gesture the flier made. And given that Jet talked with his hands as much as his voice, Joe’s attention was firmly on those fingers. Finally, he set his beer down – and maybe he’d had one too many at this point, that he was having this much trouble concentrating – and grabbed Jet’s hand, carefully sliding his thumbs over Jet’s knuckles. And now that he had that hand, it only made sense to press a kiss to Jet’s fingertips.
It took him another moment to realize Jet wasn’t talking anymore.
The rain was sudden, a few minutes of distant thunder the only warning before a sudden torrent unleashed and 002 said, “Hey, stop the car.”
004 glanced over; the other cyborg had sat up from his sullen slouch in the passenger seat and was staring out the window. “Something wrong?”
“I just want to get out now.”
He could understand that; they’d all been spending a lot of time outside since they’d escaped, but still… “We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and you want to stop and feel the rain?”
002 finally turned to glare at him. “It makes me feel normal, okay?”
It took a moment, but 004 did remember. Back during the tests, 002 had always complained that the rain muffled his sensors and made it harder to fly. But if they weren’t fighting for their lives right then…
He pulled over.
Laundry day in the Gilmore household could be interesting, given that the various adventures they had were not easy on their clothes. Francoise was thankful that her turn had fallen on one of the less interesting weeks; the most she had to do was gather up the stray clothes that inevitably ended up strewn around.
Her circuit through the house – surprisingly short, resulting in a shirt from the lab and a pair of pantyhose that were most definitely not hers in the bathroom – ended in the den, where Junior sat reading a book. She dropped a kiss on his temple and reached for the sweatshirt piled in the throw blankets next to him.
Junior caught her hand just before she grabbed the cloth. At her surprised look, he raised a finger to his lips and tilted his head down.
Now that she was giving it more than a glance, Francoise could see the fall of red hair coming from the hood and the hand loosely grasping Junior’s shirt and the whole thing resolved into Jet taking a nap in the hoodie he’d stolen from Junior ages ago. The hoodie he only wore when he was having a particularly bad day.
“Did he say what’s wrong?” Francoise asked in a whisper, carefully pushing the hood back to brush her hand over Jet’s forehead. He shifted at the touch, the edge of strain in his face smoothing out.
“Nightmares, I think,” Junior murmured back, and Francoise nodded. They all had them, and they had their own ways of coping. There were certainly worse ways to get through the day.
With one last brush over Jet’s hair, Francoise hefted the laundry basket and smiled at Junior. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” She started humming as she left the room, the soft sound drifting in her wake.
“I could give you a massage?”
Albert stared at the younger cyborg, baffled. “I’m pretty sure won’t work.”
“No, seriously.” Jet flopped onto the couch next to Albert. “Just let me…”
The touch to his temples was surprisingly soft, brushing his hair out of the way before pressing circles over his skin. Albert let his eyes slide shut and he leaned into the touch. So he didn’t see Jet lean in to steal a kiss.
Jet froze, ears straining to pick out any movement in the trees around him. Even after all this time, the sounds of fighting in the forest was still less natural to him than a back alley brawl; the relative quiet around him told him nothing about what was going on.
Until a crack sounded from the bushes a few meters away.
He spun, bringing is gun to bear and cursing his inability to use his accelerator right then, but he could already see the muzzle of a rifle aiming straight at him and—
A body slammed into his, sending him sprawling across the forest floor. Joe crouched over him, already firing at the shooter. He stopped after a few shots and peered into the underbrush. “I think he’s gone. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good.” Jet sat up and glanced over at the blue paint dripping down the tree that had been behind him – Pyunma’s paint color, no wonder he hadn’t heard him coming – and grinned. “My hero.”
Joe grinned back and leaned down to bump his helmet’s face plate against Jet’s in lieu of a kiss. “I almost lost you. You’d better stick close to me.”
Movement over Joe’s shoulder caught Jet’s eye; he whipped his gun up and fired before he quite processed it, and cursing echoed through the trees as his shot hit true. “Maybe you’d better stick close to me.”
Pyunma shifted uncomfortably, his mind cycling too fast to sleep despite his body’s exhaustion. The silence of the medbay pressed against his chest and left no distraction from – he pulled the trigger, how could he pull the trigger – from his thoughts.
“I can hear you thinking from over here.”
And who’d have thought he’d ever be happy to hear 002 start complaining? “So sorry for keeping you up.”
“My leg’s doing that. Tell me about him.”
002 sighed, and there was a rustle of sheets. When Pyunma looked over, the younger cyborg was sitting up, looking pale and pained. He only sounded grouchy, though, when he said, “Neither of us is getting any sleep, so tell me about him.”
Pyunma pushed himself up slowly, feeling pain twinge through his own body as he moved. “You want to hear about the person who shot you?”
“Your friend didn’t shoot me.”
Considering everything that had happened over the past few days, the amount of conviction in 002’s voice was almost absurd. But it was enough to push Pyunma’s mind past the Cyborgman to better memories.
“Mamado and I grew up together.”
Jet stared at Joe in disbelief, uncertain of what he was looking at exactly. Joe shifted uncomfortably under the look, holding the cupcake up almost as a shield. “I know last week wasn’t good, but,” he sped up, seeing Jet’s face darken at the mention of the disaster that was his birthday, “I still thought—happy unbirthday?”
He held his breath for a long moment as Jet just stood there, eyes hidden behind his bangs. Suddenly, finally, the tension left his shoulders and he muttered, “Since when did you read Through the Looking Glass?”
He still took the cupcake.
Pyunma batted Jet’s hand away from his stomach. “Stop that.”
“Nah.” Jet stretched – and Pyunma might have watched him a little too intently, letting languid movement replace months of stillness in his memory – and resettled with his hand on Pyunma’s chest, fingers tracing the scales there.
“I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be the clingy one right now.”
That earned a tired snort and a leg thrown across his thighs. “‘m not clingy.”
“Uh huh.” He pressed his face into Jet’s hair, hiding his smile as Jet grumbled. “If you want to get some sleep, I’m not going anywhere.”
The fingers on his chest froze for a split second before Jet curled his arm over Pyunma’s chest and held tight. “Damn right.”
Pyunma nudged the bedroom door open with his foot, his hands taken up with the mugs he was carrying. “Hot chocolate’s ready.”
Jet didn’t move from his sprawl on the bed. Pyunma might’ve assumed that he hadn’t heard it, given the headphones he was wearing, if he hadn’t known how good Jet’s hearing was. He set the mugs on the bedside table and leaned over to run his fingers through Jet’s bangs. It was enough to pull Jet’s attention to him, eyes dark and face pinched. “Want to talk about it?”
Jet scoffed, but tugged Pyunma down to sit. He curled his arms around the other cyborg’s waist and pressed his face against his hip.
What little amusement Pyunma had felt evaporated at the move. Stroking over Jet’s hair served the double purpose of soothing his boyfriend and pushing off the headphones; the sound of guitars spilled out until he managed to find the mp3 player. “Hey. Talk to me.”
“Nothing to talk about,” Jet muttered. “Just want the storm to end.”
Pyunma glanced up at the window, already knowing the shade was shut against the storm going on outside. “I thought you liked snow.”
“I like snow,” Jet grumbled, pressing closer to Pyunma’s hip. After a moment, he added, his voice a little softer, “I don’t like blizzards.”
Pyunma kept petting his hair, remembering the feel of snow against his neck when they were coming back from getting groceries. “At least we got in before the worst hit, right?”
Jet’s arms tightened. “Not everyone does.”
“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
Pyunma had heard that old saying about looking into the abyss, but he’d never quite considered applying it to a situation like this. Probably not a fair thought, but when he’d tried to understand 002, he’d underestimated just how much 002 returned the favor; he’d also underestimated how horrible 002’s ideas could be.
“You’re going to get shot,” he told the flier as they climbed into the torpedo tube.
002 just barked a laugh and said, “They’re not going away, and you want to get out there and do something as much as I do.”
And he was right, the anxious itch in the back of his mind easing as 002 contacted the bridge; Pyunma didn’t have to admit it out loud, though, so he just smiled as he tightened his grip around 002’s hips and said, “You’re just a horrible influence.”