"Do you really believe everything the news tells you?"
<NYC> Lower East Side
Historically characterized by crime and immigrant families crammed into cramped tenement buildings, the Lower East Side is often identified with its working-class roots. Today, it plays host to many of New York's mutant poor, although even here they are still often forced into hiding.
It's hot out, but not so humid for a late August afternoon. The quitting-time rush started early and continued unabated, but at least three reasonably well-dressed young people on this street are not in a hurry to get anywhere. They lingered at the corner for a time, watching the street over the edges of their phones, talking quietly amongst themselves. One man, tall, skinny, and exceptionally blond, spots their mark first, and alerts his companions. All three start moving as one, staying on the other side of the street. The shortest of the three, with long curly brown hair, keeps her phone trained on the man they are watching.
Jax is not very hard to spot, vividly coloured from his peacock-dyed hair to his lime-green and purple sandals, bright green and black mesh UFO capris and a cap-sleeved fishnet shirt over purple tank worn as well. Huge mirrored sunglasses on his eyes, a FreakAngels messenger bag slung across his chest. He is wheeling a bicycle -- nominally silver though it is so heavily adorned with stickers and reflective decals and tiny painted monsters that it doesn't retain much of its original colour -- his other hand occupied with his own cellphone. He stops short halfway up the block, brows furrowing as he looks up with a small discomfited look. Shifting uncomfortably. His head ducks abruptly as he notices the trio and their phone, shoulders tightening.
Matt, walking out from the Common House with a thermos in hand, is wearing a red t-shirt with Calvin and Hobbes riding the Millennium Falcon and dark gray zip-off pants. He waves to Jax with a bright smile as he approaches the main gate, then comes up short, frowning. His eyes follows the line of Jax's sight, and his brows wrinkle more deeply. His own phone appears in his hand; he only glances down at it twice, then swipes out a short message. This done, he continues out onto the sidewalk.
Hive is much harder to spot. Mostly because he's not actually out here -- which doesn't stop him from observing anyway. An unobtrustive mental ripple fluttering out against the others' minds. Tracing over surface thoughts silently before more noticeable prying fingers nudge quietly at Jax's mind and Matt's in turn. Poke poke.
The three strangers stop when Jax does, conferring quietly. The shorter of the two men, black hair buzzed but longer in front, thinks himself the leader. "We should confront him. Politely, of course." << Maybe he'll lose his temper. >> The tall one nods, keeping his reservations to himself: << He's dangerous, we shouldn't rattle him too much. >> The woman shrugs. "Fine. You ask the questions, I'll film." << It's a start, anyway. >>
The shift of Hive's inner attention draws another disembodied presence, quiet and formless like a current beneath the surface of the sea. << I've passed through that one, >> the direction from which Minder's thought comes indicates leader. << Blogger. Not violent, but very persistent. >>
Jax has paused in the middle of the sidewalk, a faint curl of dark shadow twining around him. He glances over to offer a small uncertain smile to Matt, speeding up faster to walk a little more hastily with his bike towards Matt and the gate to the Commons. His own mind recoils reflexively, tightening up with a sharp unhappy prickle at the poking, its already bright landscape flaring brighter. << Not /today/ not now, >> he is thinking, << Just -- go. >>
Matt briefly considers intercepting the three so that Jax can get past, but the other man's body language gives him pause and he goes to meet him instead. << They might stay away if I'm with him, >> the thought is as much his own rationalizing as appealing to Hive for advice. "Hey," he says quietly, turning and falling into step beside Jax, opposite his bike, not wanting to linger outside.
<< Jax doesn't need them, >> whispers back softly to Minder. << Not today. >> This comes with a mental image; a TARDIS-blue cargo van pulling away from the street outside the Commons.
From Jax, Hive's mind withdraws entirely. A vague sense of denial answers Matt. << Think they have a mind to be a hassle. >>
There's a sudden flutter from overhead. A draft stirred up by the heavy flap of truly enormous wings -- in flight, the full expanse of Dusk's wings is much more /noticeable/ than after he lands and they snap back in behind him with a crack. They're painted up today in stormy shades of grey and black, blue-white lightning tearing down their membrane in places. He's in cargo shorts and tan workboots (unlaced), no shirt, phone held in one hand. He straightens after he's landed, shoulders rolling lazily as his wings flare out wide again -- blocking Jax from the camera view. Eyebrows hiking upward as a very fangy smile flashes to Matt.
Undeterred, the dark-haired man forges on ahead. The woman filming follows two steps behind him, but the tall blond hangs back, staring at Dusk agape. "Good afternoon, Mr. Holland, Mr. Holloway," says the leader, stepping around Dusk. His is much more afraid of Dusk than of Jax, but he isn't about to back down from either on a public street. "May I have a word with you?"
Minder dives into the image, swims through the context of it, then resurfaces to skip across the surface of nearby minds to the intrepid pro-human blogger. They vanish from Hive's perception altogether for a moment (certainly no longer a surprise to the other telepath) then returns. << He knows. He was hoping to intercept Zedner. Might still try. >>
Jax does not answer the man. He stays on the far side of Dusk's huge wings, grip tight on the handles of his bicycle. "... it's just Jax." It's not really said /to/ the man, not really said to anyone, reflexive and matched in mental space by a habitual anxious flare that vanishes as soon as it is there. He steps just a little faster as he hastens past the trio and onto the grounds of the Commons, lips pressed tightly together as he passes through the gates and onto the grounds.
Matt's answering smile to Dusk is a little faint, a little rueful. He drops back when the reach the gate and watches Jax go. Then he leans on Dusk heavily, biting his lower lip. "Please," he says over the curve of one massive wing, "just let him be."
<< No. >> Hive's voice is a painful sharp whipcrack of a thing, slamming painfully into the trio's minds. Just that, heavy and hard and then vanishing. To Minder: << They're too late. Micah left while Jax was at work. >> His voice doesn't carry a lot of emotion with this information. Quiet, thoughtful.
Dusk doesn't make himself /easy/ to get around. The wings are /quite/ large and he is quite a bit faster than most humans, shifting easily to the side to block the other man's path until Jax is in the gate. He steps back after this, leaning against the stone pillar beside the entryway to the Commons. "Pretty obvious he's not looking to talk."
The leader does not make a second attempt to circumvent Dusk, and indeed takes a step back. His polite, tight-lipped smile vanishes at Hive's denial. His eyes go wide, skidding left and right as if expecting to *see* the source of the alien thought. "You ca-can't just go around violating people's minds," he says, suppressing the panic in his mind, "it's against both the law and common decency."
Minder settles back into Hive's network, rearranging themselves for comfort. << He's been organizing. >> That thought is mild, unfocused, overlaid on connections to other minds. << He means to be trouble. >>
Matt just sighs, standing by Dusk still, though a couple of steps back. "Why are you doing this?" he asks, not unkindly. "Do you really believe everything the news tells you?"
<< Untrue. >> Hive's mental voice is still a bludgeon, heavy and headache-inducing. << There aren't laws against talking to people. The laws don't know how to handle telepaths, yet. >> Something bristles up, spiky and irritable in answer to Minder. << Everyone means to be trouble. Maybe we should start being more. >>
"Yes, and harassing people on the street who just want to get home," Dusk's voice is bland, one thumbclaw twitching to indicate the woman with her phone camera, "is clearly /decent/."
"That's something else the law needs to get on, then," says the leader, with only slightly more conviction than before. "We're just citizen journalists, and if Mr. Holland doesn't want to talk to us, he doesn't have to." He glances back at the woman. "The footage is for everyone's safety." The blond has, in the meantime, scuttled away. << I'm done. How can we win against something like that? >>
<< I can hardly think of anything that would terrify people like him more. It may backfire. >> Minder does not seem particularly put off by that idea, though. << But it is perhaps better than waiting to react, again and again. >>
"His name is Jax," Matt corrects, gently, "and you really need to work on an approach to citizen journalism that looks less like stalking." He scrubs the side of his clean-shaven cheek. "Now please, people live here. Let them get on with their lives, alright?"
<< You can't. >> For all its painful hammering, Hive's actual /voice/ sounds mild. << But I wasn't aware we were fighting. Did you come to our home looking for a fight? That hardly seems -- decent. >>
Dusk's wing curls out lazily, draping around Matt's shoulders. "You considered arranging an interview rather than stalking people at their homes? Where their small children are?" His /voice/ is calm, but underneath it, low and soft, a small growl is starting to rumble.
The man blanches when Dusk begins to growl. "We're not looking for a fight, and we're not stalking anyone. Just wanted to talk." << Those are their true colors, then. Answering civil inquiries with veiled threats. >> He glances back at his remaining companion, who, while also nervous, is keeping herself together. "Good night, then," he blurts and, turning, taps his camera person. They depart precipitously, hunched over their phones and leaning toward each other.
Minder stretches their awareness out after the fleeing "journalists". << His name is Thomas Witwer. >> Dry, almost amused. << They're trying to put together who you are. >>
Matt lets out a long breath and slumps into the wing as if the air were holding him up all along. "I hope they stay gone." He pops the lid of the thermos and takes a long drink, then offers it to Dusk. "I'm really supposed to be getting home for supper, can you check on Jax?"
<< So you call waiting in a group uninvited outside the private home of a man who has been repeatedly subject to death threats -- not stalking. >> Hive's bludgeoning voice does not sound amused. << Unlike psionic contact, there /are/ laws about that. >> His voice is just dry and tired when he answers Minder. << Let them. It /isn't/ a crime. >>
Dusk's wing squeezes close around Matt once more, then pulls back. "Mmm." There's disquiet in his mind, eyes fixed on the fleeing people until they have left. "Yeah." The growl hasn't left his voice. "Stay safe, yeah?"
"Me? Yeah, I'll be safe." Matt straightens up, reluctantly. "Hope they don't come back. And..." << Hope Jax can get some sleep tonight. >> He taps his forehead to Dusk's shoulder and pulls away, heading home with shoulders slumped around his tea.