Logs:All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
|All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.|
"I suppose it's probably naive of me to consider that outrageous, not just ethically but practically."
The facade of the rowhouse has been restored to its early 20th-century glory, but inside the place is still a work in progress. The entry hall spans the first and second floors, pillars and half-finished openwork staircase still naked and skeletal. But beyond this some of the room on all three floors have been finished and even furnished, if sparsely as yet. Everything is pristine and much of what has been painted is painted in soft, nebulous pastels. The first floor guest room is expansive, a twin of the master bedroom upstairs, and like it has an outsized bathroom in which even a gargoyle of respectable stature can comfortably maneuver. The furniture is all arranged against the wall to create as much open floorspace as feasible, and to present as few obstacles to long and numerous limbs.
It's grown very late, and very quiet. Not much noise spills in from the largely deserted street outside; a very intermittent car driving by. Once in a while a dog barks. A distant siren every so often. Whether or not its occupants are actually sleeping, the house has grown quiet as well. Mostly dark, although there is now a light switched on in the kitchen. Huddled at the kitchen bar is one sallow and dangerously thin young man, kind of swimming in an oversized crimson Theta Tau sweatshirt and faded blue carpenter jeans. Leo's hands are curled around a steaming bowl of tom kha soup, his somewhat sunken eyes staring down into it without much evident appetite. His toes curl against the rung of the stool, a faint but incessant shiver in his shoulders.
A little while later, a door down the hall opens on silent hinges, then closes, ever so cautiously. Steve's socks rustle quietly on the floor as he walks, coming to an abrupt stop at the edge of the dining room where he spots Leo. Hesitates. Finally slips into the room, scuffing his feet deliberately now as he walks so as not to startle the other man. Once he's entered Leo's field of vision he gives a small wave and a very low "Hey." His clothes fit him perfectly -- just a white ribbed undershirt, indigo jeans, and white socks with heather gray toe and heel caps. After passing the bar and entering the kitchen, he sees fit to add, "Sorry to disturb you. Just need a midnight snack."
Leo does startle, despite Steve's care. Eyes opening wider, shoulders twitching and then hunching lower. His head lifts, his arm circling protectively around his bowl as he tracks Steve's path into the room. Slowly, his brows pinch together. "Oh. You're -- Captain..." He trails off with a flush of colour darkening his cheeks. His brows scrunch further. His mouth works, briefly, in silence, before he comes up uncertainly with, "Steve. You aren't disturbing me. I'm --" He nods down at his (untouched) bowl. "The same, I guess."
Steve flashes a quick smile. "Yeah, that's..." He hesitates, considering. "...me." Then, finally, "I know we've met before, but --" Tilts his head, narrows his eyes. "-- Leo?" He doesn't sound very sure. Opens the refrigerator and pulls out a white Chinese takeout carton. "How have you been?" The quick, pained flick of his eyes over Leo suggests he has his own guesses about the answer.
"Yes, you..." Leo starts to say, but just trails off, nodding when Steve identifies him. "Yes." His thumb traces lightly against the handle of his soup spoon, his own eyes slowly dropping back downward. "You all got me out of trouble once. I think it found me again anyway."
Steve opens the carton of vegetable fried rice and looks up at Leo again. "I remember. Sorry, you look ah..." He hesitates. "I'm so sorry they got you, after all." Fishes around in a drawer and comes up with a spoon, his breathing and his movements all carefully measured. "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Flicker --" His eyes dart in the direction of the hallway. "-- got you out again."
"It was -- maybe inevitable. They were very determined." Leo's eyes lift heavily, pulled also off towards the hall. "He's -- he's a good man. But he shouldn't have -- there'll be trouble. I didn't want -- this trouble for him. He's already got enough --" His finger curl tight around his spoon. "I've been trying to catch up. It's gotten worse out here than I even imagined."
Steve frowns. "Determined." Stabs his spoon into the fried rice with probably more force than necessary, although he manages not spill the food or puncture the container. "It would be unconscionable at any time, but to think of the government expending time and resources going after folks like you while everyone -- almost everyone is struggling just to survive and keep each other alive..." He leans back against the counter. "I suppose it's probably naive of me to consider that outrageous, not just ethically but practically."
Leo's thin shoulders shake. It's not entirely recognizable as a laugh until the rattling gasp of breath that follows, his lips peeled back into a thin sliver of a smile. He covers his mouth with his arm, coughs into his elbow. "Oh," he says softer, and a little more audibly after dropping his hand back to the spoon, "oh. No, there are no folks like me. Not," he admits a little more wearily, "that they aren't also wasting time tormenting people just so. But." He swirls the spoon slowly through his soup, staring down into the medley of vegetables. "I think they've been a bit afraid I would end the world. And then when it went and started ending without me they were --" His brows pull together again. His jaw sets in a harder grimace. "... mostly hoping I could help them profit off all this, I imagine."
Obviously nonplussed, Steve studies Leo a bit more closely as if the other man's too-thin face would clear up his confusion. "I'm not sure I follow," he admits, finally. "I imagine the government is terrified of a lot of mutants' abilities, but if you mean this pandemic -- how could they profit off it through you?" Then, hastily, "You don't have to explain, of course -- I know that's probably a sensitive subject to discuss with a virtual stranger, and a human to boot."
Leo's lips compress at the word human, his head bowing. He scrunches his fingers against the sleeve of his borrowed sweatshirt, the hunch of his shoulders easing as his thumb presses against the fleece. It's a quiet reply a moment later, neutral. "I make diseases."
Steve's eyes snap back up the Leo, a spoonful of rice forgotten half-way to his mouth. "You...make diseases." It's not a question, but does sound a bit like he's trying to convince himself of the statement's reality. His pale blue eyes go very, very wide. "Oh God, you didn't --" Shakes his head quickly. "No. You said it was ending without you. But how could they possibly profit from you over this?" He sets the food back down, straightening. "Do they mean to make you a scapegoat?"
"I'm sure they will be glad for a scapegoat if I don't cooperate." Leo's voice is markedly less even on this, and he can't help another glance towards the hallway. He swallows, finally takes a -- very small mouthful of broth. Closes his eyes, breathes deep before opening them. Soft and gentle once more, "I also unmake them."
"Oh!" Steve subsides back against the counter. "Oh." His eyes drop to the bar between them, and it's a long moment before he speaks again. "That's a remarkable --" He bites back the rest of what he was about to say. Shakes his head sharply again. "If you don't mind my prying, do you 'unmake' diseases in the sense of..." Pauses, considers his words. "...making a sick person well? Or like you can -- destroy a virus in your surroundings? Or inoculate against it?"
Leo's lips twitch, small and thin and quick to subside when Steve catches himself. "Yes," he finally answers. "Yes." His shoulders are hunching again, the tremor in them slowly growing more noticeable. "I can destroy pathogens around me. Or mutate them." There's just the faintest hint of pride in his voice with the addition, "five of the flu vaccines in recent years were my work." Though the pride has melted back away soon enough. "Not that I -- had much say in making them."
Steve runs a hand through his hair. Opens his mouth, closes it again. "This -- this is madness. They could have just -- asked you. Paid you to work with the CDC. I'm sorry this happened to you, but..." He takes a step closer, but ultimately does not reach across the counter. Grips its edge with both hands, instead. "Thank you." Sincere and grave. "God knows how many lives those vaccines saved."
Leo's gaze shoots upward, his eyebrows lifting and his dark eyes suddenly brighter and wider as they fix on Steve. His lips part, then close again as he swallows. "Wh... what?"
Steve blushes, the pink tinge visible on his light skin even in the low light. "Thank you," he repeats, firmly. "You're a good man, Leo."
Leo stares at Steve in silence a moment longer before the tears that have been gathering actually start to fall. He exhales sharp and uneven, head bowing as he presses the sleeve of his sweatshirt to his eyes. "Sorry," he whispers, "I -- I don't know that I -- I've done a lot of -- People don't usually --" He scrubs hard at his face, looks resolutely downward. "It wasn't all cures, in there." This is much lower. He swallows again, hard. Draws in a hissing shaky laugh through his teeth, his sudden smile thin and strained. "-- Do want to know what I was doing when they came to get me? They raided Ion's clinic. Had a long line of patients right there waiting for --" The smile drops away as abrupt as it came. "... I'm sure some of them are dead now. God only knows how many others they spread it to."
Steve casts around the room but, not finding what he was looking for, just brings his fried rice over and sits down next to the other man, offering him a white handkerchief from his back pocket. "I don't mean to dismiss the terrible things they did to you -- or forced you to do." He pokes at his food idly. "Doesn't change my opinion, though I'm the folks who got sick, even if it was really because of /them/, aren't on your mind any less for all that." His gaze slips aside to Leo again. "You don't have to work out everything right this moment, but if there's any way -- and I'm sure Luci could find a way -- that I can use my platform to protect you from being targeted again, I'll do it."
Leo frowns at the handkerchief. Blinks. Doesn't touch it. He stirs at his soup again, lips twisting down as he looks at it. "I killed a man today." His voice is kind of soft -- kind of distant. "I'd never -- I mean, I'm sure the things I've done have been used for -- but I never, not on purpose --" Slowly, his eyes close. "I think -- I think this will get ugly. I -- wouldn't want to ruin..." He looks back up. Looks over Steve a long moment, then back away to the hall. "There are better people you could be protecting."
Steve tucks the handkerchief away without comment, returning his spoon to his (currently more dexterous) left hand. He does look at Leo at his confession, eyebrows very slightly raised. "That's...that's hard. At least it was. for me. Don't mean to say there's anything wrong if it's not, for you. Or not yet." His gaze follows Leo's. "I wish I could do that for him, or Matt, or Ryan. But this wouldn't work for just anyone in any situation, I don't think." His eyes search the countertop between them. "But you, in this moment? Maybe. Besides, by if something like this could free you to go back to helping with this plague on your own terms?" He shakes his head gently. "I'd be protecting a whole lot more folks than you."
"I didn't think about it then, but now..." Leo's shoulders have tensed again, hard. "Sorry. You don't need -- I didn't mean to -- It's been a long..." He bites down on his lip, grips his bowl tightly. Slides off the stool, wobbling unsteadily on his feet and then straightening. "Thank you. It's -- it's a kind offer. I think right now I just -- want to sleep."
Steve only nods. Reaches into a pocket to fish out a small notepad and pen. "I'm sure there's other folks you can talk to about it, but..." He jots something down in small but neat cursive. "...please consider me one of them. And if you want to take me up on any of the above, you can call or text me." He tears off the page with his name, number, and address, and slides it across the counter to Leo. "Good night." Half a beat later, he adds, "God bless you and keep you."