"Did you just -- like. Hear some kind of divine war drums beating in your head, because that -- may end badly."
Simple but comfortable, this guest room provides a quiet escape from the bustle of the rest of the Common house. In decoration it is spartan; plain pale hardwood floor, plain white walls with only a splash of light blue to break up the monotony on the trim. Large windows let in plentiful light; by one window, the queen-sized bed hangs on a wooden platform from the ceiling by thick sturdy ropes, able to be winched up against the wall if extra floor space is necessary. A small wooden desk with single desk chair and three drawers sits to the left of the bed; above it, several bookshelves have been installed on the wall. Against a different wall, a plain dresser provides storage space. Opposite the bed, a cushioned bench seat has been hung against the wall in similar fashion, sturdy ropes supporting it quite solidly.
It's late and the city is quiet, but the light in the guest room is still on. Steve is slumped at the desk, topless and wearing a pair of black sweat pants. Papers with partial or completed sketches cover every part of the desk not occupied with books or the small but growing hoard of treasures around the lamp. Some of the drawings depict people from a bygone era, but most look contemporary. Horus banking majestically, a bowler hat perched on his head. Shane astride his hoverbike, grinning like a fiend. Melinda perched on the climbing sculpture, keeping a close eye on Tola. Hive leaning heavily on a railing, a cigarette drooping between his fingers. Isra curled in a sunroom chair, wings wrapped around herself like a blanket. Jax looking up with a beatific smile on his face, hand stretched out to catch a blossom drifting through the air.
But the page under Steve's hands right now is blank save for a single dot where the tip of his pencil rests in the middle of the paper. He stares at it. /Intently./
There's a quiet hum outside, a tap, tap, tap, lightly at the window. Illuminated with the pale glow from hir heavy metallic boots and gauntlets, B has just hovered into view, enormous black eyes peering inward. There's a large toolbox-looking case in her hand, a big duffel bag slung over her shoulder. Her short sword is still sheathed at hir hip, her skinny black jeans and long bell-sleeved purple and black striped sweater both neat and clean but the leather kutte worn over top looking in need of some care with the blood /it's/ been spattered with.
Steve looks up. Blinks blearily, then hastily snags a t-shirt (it's red, with a yellow five-pointed star on the chest) from the back of his chair to pull on as he crosses the room to open the window. "Hello," he whispers, trying to peer past B into the night. "Is something wrong? Do you need backup?" He's already beginning to reach for his shield, leaning against the foot of the bed.
"Oh my gosh." B's black eyes open wider as she glides back slightly from the window, allowing some room as Steve opens it. "Are you kidding me with that? No that's perfect, did Spence --" Her metal-sheathed fingers gesture to the shirt. There's a rattling noise from her box and bag alike as she zooms closer, pushing the duffel bag through the window first before climbing through herself. "Artist's block?" Now she's looking at the blank sheet of paper Steve had been staring at. "I don't think it draws itself just by staring. Unless," a small smile curls at her lips as she wanders closer to the desk, "you're Tag or Pa."
Steve looks down at the shirt, his smile broad and guileless and not even a little embarrassed. "Oh! Yes, and did you see my other shield?" With a sweep of his hand at the pile of knick-knacks arranged around the desk lamp, among which is a beautiful glass model of Rose Quartz's shield. "I think he's trying to turn me into Steven by Hanukkah's end." He frowns, very lightly. "That will never not sound wrong..." Looking to his drawing -- or lack thereof -- he blushes. "I was just...having trouble focusing on that one, I guess. What's all that?" Gesturing at the duffle bag.
"Wrong? Do you have something against Hannukah?" There's a lightly teasing note in B's voice. She's stopped by the picture of Jax, gills fluttering open briefly. Her hand lifts, fingers hovering just in front of the drawing. "-- Oh." This is soft, just a quiet catch of breath. She looks sharply away from the picture and back down to the empty paper, instead. "-- You're really good. Who's that one going to be?" She nods towards -- the dot. Then moves away to set her toolbox down beside the duffel bag, unzipping the bag. Inside there are a mass of bones, cleaned and white, some of similar shapes and sizes bundled together with slim lengths of twine, others that are bulkier and more irregularly shaped only swathed in paper towels and left loose. Hipbones. Legbones. Ribs. Skulls. Some from birds or small animals, some larger -- perhaps deer? -- though mixed in with them are quite a number that are very definitively human.
"Not in /general/, but I got cleaned out playing dreidel earlier." Steve shrugs philosophically. "No gelt /tonight./ Maybe tomorrow night." He also looks at the blank page now, his own expression kind of blank, too. "I was trying to draw...a very good friend." Shakes his head, corrects to, "My brother." If he was in danger of slipping into melancholy, the contents of B's bag probably jarred that particular train of thought right off its rails. He frowns at the bones uncomprehendingly, jaw slightly slack and moving, though no sound emerges, though he mouthes 'what' silently.
"It's a brutal game. Especially in times of chocolate shortage. -- I need your help." B is looking down at the bones and not up at Steven, busily opening the toolbox now as well. It unfolds into a number of tiers -- some of the compartments /have/ tools; needle files, sandpaper, a small jeweler's saw. Many, though, have more bones, smaller and more delicate than the ones in the bag. In the largest bottom compartment there are a few small boxes nestled tightly together. "I mean, you know about Catholic stuff, right?"
Steve kneels beside B, peering into the many compartments of the toolbox and darting occasional glances at the identifiably human bones in the duffle bag. "I like to think so. I was an altar boy for years. Even considered the priesthood, though I wasn't called to it. But..." He smiles again, crookedly. "...that was all Vatican I, you know. Even in a two-thousand-year-old religion, I'm out of date. Why?"
"Huh. Pa, too. Though he /clearly/ didn't go all -- priesty." B flexes her fingers for a moment before pulling her hands out of the heavy metal gauntlets; though it looks like there is a mechanism to /open/ them, she just tugs her hands out of the very slender wrist openings. "That's fine, anyway. I'm not looking for theological help. Just, um," a faint blush darkens her cheeks as she gestures towards Steve's desk. "artistic? With our house all, you know, gone, Pa's missing all his -- everything. But I think he'd really /like/ having a nativity set around before Christmas gets here. I just -- don't actually know what they're supposed to -- be like, exactly. I searched? Online? But there are /so/ /many/. And some have cartoon characters and some have robots and some have Yoda and I don't, uh, know which pieces are the actually important ones. Probably," she decides after a moment, "not the robots."
"I think he would have made a better priest than me." Steve's smile evens out again, sincere. "That's a really thoughtful gift, I'll help however I can. Not surprised the Internet gave you too /much/ information -- I've been having that problem a lot, but I thought it was just me. Being ancient." He settles into a more comfortable position, sitting back on one of his feet and propping one arm up on a knee. "For any nativity scene, you need at least Jesus in the manger, Mary, and Joseph. Most also have some farm animals -- a donkey and an ox are most common -- shepherds, with or without their sheep, and one or two angels. Sometimes people add the Magi, too, the three kings who brought Jesus gifts from afar." He's eying the bones appraisingly now, though he still frowns at a thick, heavy human femur. "And traditionally they're all...people-looking people, not cartoons or robots. Except for the animals," he adds quickly, "they look like animals, not people. Also not robots." With a glance back at the desk. "I can sketch one for you, would that help?"
"Really?" The lilt of B's voice sounds surprised, her brows lifting in curiosity as she tips a glance back at Steve. "/Pa/? I just -- that's. Not an opinion I hear all that often. From other Catholics." She plucks one of the smaller boxes out of the toolkit, claws tapping against it. "The Internet has just about everything on it people could possibly think of recording." Her smile tips upward, small and closed-lipped and wry. "It's a blessing and a curse."
B's eyes travel towards the duffel bag, too, head tilting slightly to the side as Steve looks at the bones inside. She pries open the top of the small box she holds -- inside there is a small figurine composed of slender interlocking bones. A skeletal figure, long claw-fingered hands clasped as if in prayer and a halo-circlet of a slim disc of polished bone tucked behind its head. With the sharp snaggletoothed skull of a mouse and taloned batlike wingbones mantled behind it, it -- probably is not /most/ people's idea of Angelic. Hir smile is a little shy as she holds the box towards Steve. "I started on it before I realized I had no idea all the other pieces a set would need to have. I think a sketch would -- definitely help."
"Well. That he'd be a better priest than /me/ isn't necessarily saying a whole lot on its own!" Steve looks down, shakes his head. "But he's faithful, compassionate, humble, patient, and good at teaching. Just because someone would make a good priest, though? Doesn't mean they'll be called to it." His eyes grow /very/ wide when B shows him the angel. "That's amazingly crafted. If macabre. Honestly, I think most people's ideas of angelic probably hasn't got a /whole/ lot to do with actual angels, either." He rises and fetches the blank page with the dot, a pencil, and a hardbacked sketchbook to use as a clipboard. He sits back down next to the duffel bag and glances occasionally at the bones and at B's solitary angel while he sketches. His holy family and adoring visitors are also kind of bony, though more like human skeletons than B's example. "I'm not as familiar with all these animal bones, but you get the idea."
"You just -- seem more like the type." B's cheeks darken faintly again. "How do you know, anyway? What you're -- called. To do." Her nose wrinkles slightly, head turning to look over at Steve's shield. "Did you just -- like. Hear some kind of divine war drums beating in your head, because that -- may end badly." She settles down on her belly on the floor when Steve starts to sketch, plucking out new bones to start arranging them -- for now just on the floor -- into vaguely humanoid configurations. "I don't quite have enough people-bones to make this, you know, human-er. Besides, I'm pretty sure if I did /that/ in the courtyard all life-sized and everything it'd -- /really/ freak people out." Though a small smile has reappeared on her face at the thought.
"Me?" Steve's eyebrows lift up high. "Lots of folks around the neighborhood thought I was 'the type', but for all the wrong reasons. Because I was weak and small and didn't have a dad. Obviously won't ever be able to support a wife, much less children, so -- priest, right?" He chuckles, adding some details to his skeletal magi, which have the skulls of a bird, a mouse, and a bat respectively, copied from B's collection. "It's not a /sound/, you have to listen...with your heart? That's not..." He frowns again. "I think Jax would be better at explaining this. Anyway I wasn't /called/ to war. I went because I believed it was right and necessary to fight back. That you can't let bullies have their way, or they'll just keep pushing, and pushing." His pencil pauses, the tip hover over the page trembling for a moment. "I may have a more nuanced view about the specifics of war since I've actually been through it, but fundamentally I still feel the same way." He blinks rapidly, looks up from his sketch. His smile is just a little forced. "It'd be in theme with the way the courtyard looks right now, probably not so great for everyone's nerves. This scale..." Nodding at B's work in progress. "...is good."
"Huh." B looks up, gaze lingering for a long time on Steve's rather impressive physique. "Huh." Hir lips twitch up slightly. "That was definitely not my line of thinking. -- Do you /want/ a wife? And children? Is that a calling, too? I mean if yours wasn't fighting, then what..." She looks over at Steve's sketches for a moment, then back down at hir own work. Claws rattle against bone as she carefully selects pieces. Hir expression slips back into solemnity as Steve talks. "Yeah." Now she sounds softer. "They'll just keep pushing. At some point you /have/ to --" Her head shakes quickly. Her ankles cross over each other, the sound clunky and heavy as hir metal boots shift. "Thanks." She's getting back to arranging her tiny Mary skeleton, now. "For helping."
"Yes, marriage is a vocation -- a calling. Want? Sure, but before the war, I never considered it all that seriously. Never met a girl interested in me." He shrugs, but a smile gradually spreads across his face as he outlines a second angel, this one more birdlike. "After I joined up with SSR, I did meet a girl.../and/ a boy. But we were at war. Who knows if anything would have come of it." His head shakes again, his smile turning wistful. "That's probably more than you wanted to know. But I think I /am/ called to fight. Just...not in the Army." Then, leaning toward B conspiratorially, "I was a terrible soldier, actually." He adds a few final strokes and hands the sketch over. "You're welcome. I've never seen sculpting quite like this. Where /did/ you get the...people-bones, anyway?"
B looks up again, a little wider-eyed at this statement. "Wait, really? You?" Hir gills flutter briefly, a quick smile on her face that soon dies. "No. I want to know." Her gills press flat again when Steve leans closer, eyes still fixed on him. "All the news stories said you were the best soldier. And the radio program. And the musical." There's another small darkening of her cheeks. "... I looked them up."
"Did you know my Pa is vegan? Like no animal -- nothing. Real serious about animal liberation." She looks back down to her work, one fingertip brushing lightly down a slim bone in front of her. "It just seemed wasteful before. All the animals my brother and I kill -- I mean, we can't /not/. But doing something worthwhile with --" She shakes her head, sitting up and taking the sketch from Steve. Her eyes skim over towards a human skull nestled into her bag. "Did you know nearly a million people died the /first/ time the plague hit? Just in New York alone. They always clean up the streets, here, but in the water --" Her head shakes. "Everything around us is a graveyard."
"Hah! No, it's propaganda. Colonel Phillips gave me the latitude to lead the commandos how I chose only in part because we were effective. But I also just never followed orders very well." Steve opens the sketchbook in his hands now and starts drawing a circle, lightly, near the center of the page. Then he stops. Looks up at B, eyes wide with bewilderment. "Wait, did you say /musical/?"
He blinks and shakes his head. "I don't know why some things thing keeps surprising me and others just...don't. But yes, I know he's vegan. I've been helping him cook a lot, so the subject came up. It's...food for thought." His brows wrinkle slightly. "That was unintentional." Pale blue eyes stray to the skull B is looking at. "I guess that should have been obvious. I read about the first outbreak, and people keep saying how much worse it was but...it's hard to imagine." He's added two concentric bands inside his circle, the innermost one inscribed with a five-pointed star. "Creating something beautiful to make sense of the senseless. Also something that's been coming up a lot."
"Musical. Maybe if we're lucky they'll bring it back now that you're -- you know." B gestures towards Steve. "Not frozen." A sudden bright smile flashes across her face. "Maybe Luci can play you. You're both --" Another flutter of webbed fingers towards Steve, gills opening and closing quickly as her hand curls in a small squeeze at -- empty air. "... blond." She looks back down, a very faint curl at the corner of her mouth. "Some of them are people I know. I'm sure a lot of people would think that's pretty --" She quiets, one shoulder lifting. "There's just so much death. It's not like art changes any of that, but --"
"Was it any good?" The slight wrinkle to Steve's brows suggests doubt, but he /sounds/ hopeful, anyway. "You know, I starred in a wildly popular stage show. And I can sing! But if you mean Lucien, I certainly can't compete." His smile is just a touch mischievous. "He's a much more classically handsome blond." He outlines a small, scrawny man holding the shield. "I think it'd be worse if you /didn't/ know them -- because that would mean their families might have never gotten closure." His eyes look a little far off as he adds details to the man behind the shield: limp, messy hair, threadbare clothes, one filthy hand curled in a fist and held up high. "Knowing they're almost certainly dead, but hoping beyond hope." He stops sketching, stares down at the man on the page who resembles him not a little. "No, but art heals."
The prominent ridge of B's brow lifts, her eyes widening in just a touch of incredulity. "I mean -- yeah, Luci's pretty gorgeous, but, uh --" Hir hand turns upward, a hint of surprise in her tone. "Have /you/ taken a look in the mirror recently? Because --" Now both hands just spread, claws pointed out towards Steve's face. After a moment her mouth curls up in amusement. "You sing? Hey, maybe once this is all over if /you/ need a job you could go. Play yourself." Her eyes dip back down, settling on the picture in curiosity. For a moment her lips purse, but though there's another flutter of gills, it is only followed by quiet.
"I know what I /look/ like," Steve's reply sounds just a /touch/ defensive. "I just don't find me as attractive as some other people seem to." Now he blushes, hard. "Not professionally. I sing barbershop. Or did, anyway, the rest of the guys in my quartet are dead." His head dips slightly. "Besides, it seems a little narcissistic." The pencil shades in a bruise on the man's cheek. "I don't want to be a hero, especially not the kind Uncle Sam made me out to be, but I just can't seem to get away from the role."
B shrugs a shoulder, looking back down at her work. "Does that bother you?" There's a faint press of her lips as she glances over again towards the picture Steve is drawing, pushing out a small breath as he starts to shade in the bruise. "You chose it, though. Right? You /did/ want --" Hir gills open up again, voice trailing off through another rapid flutter. "It's not like this life just /happened/ to you. You /could/ have stayed him," she waves a small bone in hir hand towards the paper, "but you didn't."
"I don't mean the procedure, which I did choose -- that just made me big and strong. No." Steve shakes his head. "Captain America was created with scripts and glitz and song and dance." With shading added, the man on the page looks tiny and filthy in contrast to the gleaming shield he carries. "I chose to accept the USO gig, too, because the brass said it was the only way I could help. But I didn't understand how insidious propaganda can be, and I certainly didn't know the character would go on without me. Apparently there was a comic? In the '50s. Commie-bustin' Cap." He laughs with genuine amusement, but the strokes of his pencil as he adds an armband to his bygone self are sharp and dark. "/I'm/ still him, though." With a jerky nod of his chin at the drawing.
"Commie-busting." In combination with the small shake of B's shoulders, the small quirk of smile -- this time the ripple of hir gills is decidedly laughter. She looks over towards the pictures on his desk, the collected trinkets. "And look at you now." She sets her bones down, sitting up on her heels and resting her hands on her knees. "I don't know. /He/ sounds a whole lot more naive." She shakes her head, eyes turning back to the window. "So now that you know better than to trust the /government/, what kind of hero are you going to be?"
"I still /feel/ kind of naive," Steve admits, looking down at the sketch. "But you're right, he saw things more simply...and I don't miss that." He shrugs. "Don't miss the asthma, either." Setting the sketchbook down, he leans back against the side of his desk. Looks up at shadows thrown by the desk lamp on the ceiling. Finally, he smiles again, if faintly. "Probably the kind who gets thrown in jail."
B chuckles at this, hir smile wider than Steve's. She looks towards the desk, lingering on the drawing of Jax. "Well. At least you'll be in good company."