Prologue


Adam Byrons hadn't been out in quite a while. It was rare of him to partake in the offer the others extended to him; one, because he wasn't comfortable with the club scene; second, he wasn't comfortable, period, being outside of uniform. He looked around the large, two story dance floor with unease – the blitzing lights that blinked with the beat of the music, the moving bodies, all the yelling that counted as 'conversation', and the drinking. It was pretty ritzy with its large floor to ceiling windows that allowed them view of the city from the sixteenth floor. He looked out over the glittering high rise towers around them, with air craft zipping through allotted space in between holographic ads flashing to life, shimmering brilliantly with some runway model or spastic electronic display. He couldn't see the stars. Not with this light pollution.

His team - his best friends - were hammered. All of them drinking as if they had just managed to steal away with their parents' key to the liquor cabinet. He sneaked a peek at them, seeing them laughing it up and dancing to some remixed hit. They were hitting on available, interested women – bottle service was free to all military members, and they were taking full advantage of it. It was their Friday night – the civilians' Tuesday – and their end of the week was to celebrate it in festive action.

He usually stayed home. Tonight was different, though, and he sipped at his beer because it was getting warm and Ian Peters was starting to suspect that he wasn't drinking.

Ian had been his best friend since grade school, and knew every one of Adam's quirks. Including the one tonight, which made him abandon the woman he was talking to to come up to him with a raised hand.

Adam wrinkled his nose, gesturing at the bubbly groups of scantily clad women that loved attaching themselves to military members, and then the music.

"You're an old man!" Ian shouted at him. "Live it up!"

Adam considered making it through a shift 'living it up'. But he didn't feel like expressing that right now. Ian turned to shout at their roommate, Larson Edwards, who was poised to do a shot with a couple of girls that looked up from their moment to find him distracted.

"Get him one, too!" Ian shouted at Larson, who indicated his ear, trying to explain that he couldn't hear him.

Adam rolled his eyes as he sat back in the chair, looking out over the sea of moving bodies below. They had a corner booth against the plexi-glass railing that allowed them full view of the dance floor on the first floor. He could see the DJ, the holographic go-go girls, and down the dress over every girl dancing in their direction. None of it interested him.

He sipped again, wishing he were home.

But he wasn't. He was out here for a reason, and that was to prove a point.

Hours earlier on patrol in the field, he received a text on his telecom.

'I have a load waiting for you. : ) '

"Of laundry?" Larson had asked him curiously, squinting at him from behind his goggles.

"Stop looking at my stuff!" Adam had snapped at him, holding his left arm aloft but the holographic words remained. Larson tilted his helmeted head to follow the movement. So Adam snapped his keyboard shut, turning red.

"If you didn't want us to read your 'stuff', then maybe you shouldn't be receiving personal 'stuff' while we're out there. These lines are supposed to be secure!" Larson said with a pout.

"Everyone does it," Adam retorted, opening up his keypad once more and reloading his messages in screen form. It loaded slower that way, and he had a hard time typing out replies due to the size of his finger but he answered, 'I already did your laundry. It's on the couch.'

'I see. '

"I can't see you doing someone else's laundry," Ian said, peering around his other shoulder. Adam was six foot seven – Ian was just barely over six feet tall. So Ian was using the nearby bench to stand on in an effort to look at his messages. "You don't even do mine."

"Or mine," Larson piped up, propping his chin up on Adam's shoulder, standing on the same bench. He was just an inch taller than Ian was.

Adam jerked away from both of them, typing, 'Stop texting me about laundry issues while I'm at work.'

'Sorry.'

"Who is that anyway?" Larson asked, squinting at the lines of communication coming into their network. As telecommunications officer of the group, he was able to see who was receiving messages from inside and outside of the group with the use of his goggles, code moving over his eyes in a continuous surge as he ran his fingers over the holographic pad just over his own comm-pad. "I'm getting a Verizon tower from the northeast quadrant of the city, but not a phone number. I'll have to dig farther for an answer – "

"It's nobody's business!" Adam snapped at them both, reaching over to pull Larson's goggles from his face and releasing it, hearing the slap of rubber against skin. "Look, it's just Jamie fucking around with me, okay?"

"Ow! MEDIC!"

"Ugh," Ian complained, sitting back on the bench, sniper rifle at rest over his lap. "Him."

"What about my brother?" their medic, Sam Hill asked as he looked around Adam with a curious expression. Adam shoved him away, aiming for space on the other end of the sidewalk but Bridgette Neilson popped up from his left side, peering at him suspiciously.

"Why are you sweating?" she asked.

"Nothing! I'm hot!" Adam exclaimed, side stepping her to put his back up against the nearby border wall. He then made a face as he felt Malcolm Jensen's knee against his shoulder, the man looking down at him from the wall's edge where he was perched.

"Why are you so jumpy?" he asked skeptically.

"You guys are crowding me, and I'm getting pissed about it. Suck it."

"Sounds like someone's trying to," Bridgette commented with a snort.

"Shut up, stop talking like that about my goddamn brother!" Sam snapped at her.

"Everyone's saying it, Sam, because there's a reason for it!" Ian declared.

"You're just mad because Adam likes him better than he likes you," Sam told him. Then frowned as Ian caught himself from making a comment before dramatically whirling onto Larson, hugging him tightly as Larson patted his shoulder with comforting action.

"It's true! It's so true! I've been losing him for months over this! I don't know how to win him back!"

"This is a sensitive subject for him, you know this," Larson scolded Sam with a heavy lisp.

"Oh, shut up, I hate you both."

Adam's team slash best friends were impossibly nosey, and their opinions on Jameson Murphy were divided.

But they were right about Jamie. What they didn't know was that the relationship he had with Adam was out of convenience for both of them.

If they knew he were gay, Adam was sure the group of them would reject him quickly. In this day and age of integrated alien technology and future settlement with beings from out of space, homophobia in the military was still just as rampant as it was years ago.

After work Adam had used his personal comm to call Jamie, Ian and Larson busy administering an after-shower towel-snapping session to Sam, the younger man trying to defend himself in the locker room.

"Are you fucking stupid? Sending something like that to me in the field?" he asked low.

"I'm sorry. I just…I haven't seen you in a couple of weeks, I thought you'd be up for it," Jamie said in the same tone, probably in class or on the field himself. "I know they're going out, Sam said – "

"Forget it. I'm going out with them. You're so fucking reckless, you think it's a joke. It's like you're trying to out us both with this stupid stunt."

"I'm really sorry, okay? I just thought– "

"If I want to see you, I'll fucking call you. Don't reach out to me again. I'm going out." And with that Adam hung up, fuming.

But he wasn't sure who was angrier with; Jamie or himself.

Now tonight, he was thinking about that moment and really regretting it. He did want to see the other man. Badly. It had been a couple of weeks since he'd last seen him, last spoke with him, and it was this topic that kept him on edge. His temper had been especially short, lately, and he was trying to sort it out within himself why.

He knew he was gay ever since he first saw his PE instructor in running shorts and in eighth grade, this was a humongous thing. While all his friends were starting to notice girls in skirts, he was noticing his friends. When they all started talking about who they planned on hooking up with, he was more interested in being with them. They went to school dances and planned physical milestones with pretty girls that gave them a chance; he went to school dances and watched classmates fumble with their dates, wishing he had a chance.

As he grew older he became quieter, a little withdrawn. He worked out more, building his physical form with repressed anger, trying to quiet down his growing hunger for other men. Hating that he was different, hating that out of all of them, he had to be the one that came down with The Sickness.

It wasn't until after high school he had his first contact with another man. He answered an ad to check out housing off campus and ended up hooking up with a man that saw right through him. His friends would've said that he'd been taken advantage of but really, Adam was really just craving touch and affection from someone similar. After that, he arranged for one night stands and hook ups far away from the base; satisfying physical cravings but not really engaging into anything other than that.

Then he met Sam's half-brother Jamie, and things changed.

Jamie was just like him. Hiding in plain sight, giving no indication that he was into men, but he repressed himself with alcohol, lonely nights spent at home or out with his friends, lying about hookups with women.

Both of them clicked almost immediately. There was something about Jamie that made Adam feel like he couldn't control himself, and it made him realize too many vulnerabilities in him that he never liked to acknowledge. He was lonely, he was scared, he was angry, he was desperate, he was a mess – all these things came out when Jamie was nearby. Adam didn't know why Jamie let Adam treat him like this, but it was most likely his own sense of loneliness and desperation that kept Jamie coming back.

And tonight, more than likely, Jamie had his comm close to him, waiting for Adam to reach out to him. Adam knew it – he knew if he dialed his number Jamie would tell him to come over, and he would ignore the things that had happened and let Adam take over.

They'd known each other for less than a year, but Adam felt as if he'd known him longer than that.

He'd never had this sort of connection with any of his hook ups, before – where he wanted to learn more about them, hear from them daily, have them in his life beyond the bedroom. But it was because of this that he was angry – because he couldn't have this sort of relationship with another man, not when his entire life was the military. When all his friends were service members, and this was all he knew.

He was terrified of being outed.

Terrified of losing his friends.

Terrified of losing respect from his family.

He looked at his comm, swiping over the window to look for that one number. He looked through his texts to see if Jamie had texted him after that. Of course he respected Adam's wishes. He would wait until Adam reached out to him.

Seeing that Ian and the others were occupied, he sent the first text.

'I'm sorry.'

Not even a moment later was the response, 'I'm still here.'

"I'm going home," Adam told Ian as he rose from his chair, setting his nearly full beer down on the table. "You have cab fare?"

"We just got here! Look, one more dance, one more drink!" Ian protested, looking at him incredulously.

"This isn't doing it for me."

"Let's get some tacos!" Ian said, looking at his comm, and then giving an outraged wail. "It hasn't even been two hours!"

"Later," Adam said again, walking off while his best friend looked after him with an irritated gesture.

: :

Jameson Murphy wasn't sure what he was doing when it came to Adam Byrons. When they first met, it was definitely excitement and lust that made all his decisions for him – the younger man was tall, built like a Mack truck and knew how to convey his interest in a way that Jamie would not be mistaking it for anything else. He was of some European descent – with thick dark hair, strong features, a trio of beauty marks on his cheek and jawline, and intense, dark, hooded eyes that didn't seem to miss a thing.

When they first hooked up, Jamie had not expected to be handled the way he was – he'd never considered himself a man that made others want him in such a forceful fashion, but Adam made him feel like he'd been starved for years and only Jamie could satisfy him.

He hadn't expected feelings to happen the way they did, but when they hit, they seemed to hit Adam, too. The moment the man realized he had feelings for Jamie, he seemed to back off like his hands had been burnt. Weekend hookups became maybe monthlies, and Adam rarely returned his calls or texts. Jamie found himself disappointed, sad, and that was when he knew he had to back off.

Feelings were dangerous for men in their position.

He looked at his comm – cellphones had come to this; banded screens on the wrist that extended nearly three inches wide, with a detachable earpiece that automatically molded and tensed in the ear for conversation. The comm held their bank information, so all they had to do was touch screen to screen to pay for things; wallets were obsolete. Taking pictures was a hold and release of the comm, holding the screen in their fingers to capture a scene and examine the holographics it produced, scrolling through filters and options on what to do with it while the graphics were on display.

He found Adam's number and considered sending a text just to say 'hi', but he remembered the last time he did so, Adam didn't talk to him for two weeks.

There were other men out there who were more available, Jamie told himself, frowning out at the med campus in front of him, at the students entering and leaving the buildings around him. The hot summer made the air too thick and muggy. The skies were full of air traffic – civilian planes, law enforcement, private company drones, medical helicopters – and he shielded his eyes to look upward at the tangle of a summer storm attempting to enter the city from the northwest. It would be heavy with foul tasting rain and intense lightening, and he hoped to be home by then.

The military med campus was his only safe zone from impending loneliness at home. He knew once he was there, he'd pop open a beer and not stop until he either passed out or Ken found him, dragging him off to some stupid adventure that wouldn't have him back home until five minutes before he had to report to duty. Ken Powers and his identical twin, Paul, were a force of nature that no one could ignore. If the Texas dustbowl-born brothers weren't fighting each other over something inanely stupid, they were looking for a fight with someone else. Jamie didn't know why they even bothered with him at all. He was so opposite their personalities that it didn't make sense.

He turned off his comm and heaved a sigh, watching the storm inch in closer to the parasitic city that never slept. New Park was a virus that popped up years ago on the west coast, and never seemed to stop growing. It was the first city to openly accept aliens visiting Earth after First Contact in 2032, and it was the first city to open up space travel after alien integration. It was the only city on the North American continent to allow superhumans and aliens to live together, and that was where he came in.

New Park City had its own armed forces that policed aliens and superhumans alike – named after decorated generals that devised the possibilities of humans keeping these beings under control, the Duncan-Jones Military Force recruited young and promised exciting possibilities for those dazzled by the concept of being a 'hero'. With alien integrated weaponry, armor and policing tactic, these men and women made sure the streets were safe for all of New Park's occupants; battling angry aliens on a rampage, or pulling down a superhuman in the middle of some spectacular tantrum. When the Normal police force couldn't handle a situation, DJ was called in, and teams of armed men and women took to the streets or air to bring peace.

Jamie's role was that of a medic – his team, along with Ken and Paul, were considered a little 'rough'. The personalities combined in that small force was enough to inspire other DJ teams to cringe a little, and it was a little intimidating just how reputation proceeded them. It was because of this attitude that he had to be very careful with whom he found interest in. If Ken or Paul found out he was messing around with a man, Jamie was pretty sure it would be a terrible ending for him.

He looked at his comm again, then out at the city with a frown. It had been two weeks since he'd last seen Adam, and Jamie was fairly aware that reaching out to him was risky, but he was feeling lonely. Sam had told him earlier that they had plans on going out after their shift, and Adam wasn't the type to go out. Jamie thought that this was a perfect opportunity for an invite. With tension etched in his features, he sent the first text.

When he received Adam's reply, he winced as he apologized.

He looked over the campus again, exhaling heavily. At least he had given the offer, so he hoped Adam called or texted him later to confirm whether or not he was going to show up.

When he'd first met Adam, he'd been intimidated at first. Adam's team was a rival of Jamie's. Ian Peters was a highly recognized sniper with a vocal opinion that stretched boundaries; he was popular and respected for his work. Ken and Paul were recognized 'terrorists' that were highly vocal and problematic, getting the job done their way or else, and when these two forces clashed, both teams felt the hit.

It was just after a street battle between Underworld forces when their teams collided, and when it was over with, Jamie was dragging Ken away from Jensen, while Paul howled about a beating from Neilson. Nathanial and Jefferson were engaged in some combat with Peters and Byrons, and it wasn't until Byrons picked up a freaking car and hit them both that everyone backed off. Their uniforms provided all Normal human beings with intensive exo-skeletons that gave them considerable protection against superhumans and aliens, but it also equipped them with strength fitting to their normal range. So for Byrons to be able to pick up a car from the street and swing it like a goddamn bat was saying something.

Not that Ken or Paul were impressed any – that made them even more eager to jump back into battle.

Only their leads had been able to stop the fight, reprimanding every single one of them for the battle, and the only good thing about that moment was when Sam introduced his brother to Adam and Edwards, the others continuing the argument just beyond their hearing range. When he'd shaken Adam's hand upon companionable greeting, Jamie had been surprised to feel sparks. Adam was, too. That was when they really looked at each other.

After that was chance after chance until feelings came into it.

Jamie wasn't sure what he felt about Adam. He was sure that being disappointed and sad with how things were going meant something, but he told himself that he couldn't expect anything more than that.

He liked the feeling he had when Adam was around. Adam made him feel liked and welcomed, and he was quiet and he listened to Jamie whenever Jamie spoke, but Jamie wasn't sure what he gave Adam because Adam didn't say too much. He was very guarded and cautious.

Later, when Adam called to bitch him out for the text, Jamie hung up feeling ashamed and guilty for his actions. Adam was right – Jamie was being risky. He knew that Adam was out in the field, and with how nosey his friends were, it was Jamie's fault for risking it.

He went out with Ken and Paul later just to get out from the house and keep from overthinking things. When Adam texted him, he quickly slipped away from them, texting Ken in that Sam had come to his house. Ken wasn't much of a fan of Jamie's younger half brother – their father once involved with their mothers and abandoning them both – and let him go without much of an effort. At the house, Jamie waited for Adam to show up and once he did, it was like he hadn't been gone that long. The intensity of their lust hadn't left either of them.

: :

There was a lot about Jamie that Adam liked. His physical form was one of them – Jamie's short, dirty blond hair - more brown than blond - his expressive blue eyes, his smaller, muscled body with ridiculously strong hands. He liked the smell of him, the feel of him, and the taste of him. He was surprised by how much he liked him – he hadn't expected to feel so much for someone like him.

Jamie liked the way Adam touched him, the way he looked him in the eyes when they kissed, when they started having sex that allowed them to really look at each other when doing it. He liked the way Adam treated him – not like a fragile thing, like how everyone thought he was because he had a kind heart, but like a goddamn man that could handle some pain. He liked the way Adam kissed him gently afterward, as if apologizing for the roughness.

One of the things Adam liked most about the other man was his smile. Jamie had a snaggletooth on the left side, and ever since Adam had noticed it, he couldn't really look away from it. He liked that flaw, and he liked tasting and feeling it with his own tongue when he had the chance. He liked when Jamie ran his fingers through his chest hair, and he liked that the man wasn't afraid to show him affection, even when Adam had felt he'd treated him wrong.

This was dangerous, Adam knew, feeling panic edging up around the comfort he'd previously felt.

It's not enough, Jamie felt, reaching over to snuggle up against him, and reacting with a sigh as Adam quickly got up from the bed to put on his clothes.

After that Jamie was alone again, and he stared up at the ceiling with a frustrated expression while Adam headed home, glaring at the sidewalk, wishing he could stay.