<< This was a mistake. >> (Set after the escape.)
Somewhere between Maine and New York
The vans are crowded, but much quieter than they often are in the wake of a raid, not nearly so many injuries to tend thanks to Rosalyn's handiwork. As a result the ride has been much less chaotic than it could otherwise have been -- not much by way of misfiring powers or life threats to deal with. Hive hasn't spoken, or moved, in quite some time. The bony telepath is just tucked up against a door, his head tipped sideways against the window, his hair -- too long, unwashed and barely combed -- pulled back into a loose ponytail at the nape of his neck. His arm has been draped around Flicker, fingers trailing gently against the other man's skin where his hand rests on Flicker's arm. The enormous web of his mind has slowly dwindled, the chaff falling away to pare his connection down to only his team -- and his focus down to only the man tucked beside him.
Flicker hasn't moved in a while, either. His clothes are bloodstained but he seems quite intact, not just shed of his cracked ribs and fresh burning but his scarring, too; the arm that Hive touches is whole and freshly regrown. His eyes are closed, his head tucked against Hive's shoulder. A somewhat bloodied copy of The Book of Mormon is resting in his lap. He looks like he might be asleep, like he might have been asleep all this while, though Hive can certainly feel the bright alertness of his mind. Not, at the moment, in its usual state of hypervigilance. Just focused on this, the strong presence that both surrounds and is him.
Sitting on Flicker's other side, Jamie also hasn't exhibited many outwardly signs of life beyond -- actually just being alive. Though he wants very badly to curl up against Flicker, and though he is studiously holding that desire at bay because of Hive specifically, there's not anything like jealousy in him at the moment. Occasionally, a dull, distant surprise at its absence rattles through him, but it always falls away into an odd sense of unreal vastness inside him. Through the more familiar numbness of recent trauma, that vastness grows as the deserted road unspools past them. A sense of lurking horror attends it, the breathless and nonsensical certainty that the starry dome will squeeze in to suffocate him. He's taken to fixing his eyes on the narrow space between the seats in front of them, at the moonlight pooling there steadily now that they've gotten onto something that passes for a highway.
Where before the window seat beside Jamie had been unoccupied, suddenly there is a Matt, clad in a gray athletic tee, black tactical pants, and well-worn combat boots. This comes as no surprise to Hive or Flicker, who, joined to the rest of the team, were nominally a part of their collective decision to send Matt to where he could sit down in an actual seat for a while and rest. His weariness and his splitting headache come through loud and clear to them, as well, but no more so than before. His mind is more than making up for Flicker's missing hypervigilance, his nerves raw and jangling, but something eases in him when he lays eyes on Flicker, nevermind that they've been psychically joined the entire ride. "I come bearing gifts," he says quietly, unslinging a green nylon tote from his shoulder and showing its contents, which range from mandarin oranges to chips to jerky to protein bars, all nestled in among bottles of water. "Also taking over-under bets on how long before we pass a store that's actually open."
Hive's arm tightens around Flicker, though save for this momentary flinch he doesn't immediately acknowledge Matt's presence. His hold vaguely relaxes, his seat in the chair shifting just enough that he might rest his head up rather than against the window, tucking Flicker's head beneath his chin. << When did we last eat? >> An idle musing that drifts through each of him. "Haven't passed shit except. Fucking." His brows wrinkle. He squints out the window. "Moose."
Flicker shifts with Hive, moving easily, resettling easily, his forehead nuzzling up against the other man's neck. He clenches up much more noticeably at the sudden extra person -- or maybe the voice -- his shoulder tightening and curling in on itself before he acknowledges the accompanying message. Relaxing again, he considers -- first the food, then the need for food. The queasy anxiety that had plagued him all day. << Breakfast, >> although what his mind fills in for his breakfast is just a small fruit cup and a single slice of toast. Perhaps not the most filling of meals. "There's moose?" His first outward sign of wakefulness in a while, though his eyes still don't open, his words muffled against Hive's shoulder.
Jamie starts, too -- much more visibly than the others, shrinking against Flicker in brief but genuine fear. << Oh shit they found us -- >> The flare of his power is bright to Matt's senses, though it dies away without actually accomplishing anything. Whether this is a successful exercise of self-control or mere exhaustion is hard for even Jamie to tell. He only relaxes when Flicker does, and more gradually, eyeing Matt with obvious apprehension for a solid second before he glances in the bag. The wave of nausea that comes over him is swift and decisive. "No, thank you." He manages a weak smile. "I've never seen a moose." << It's just...a really big deer? >>
Matt isn't wholly surprised by Jamie's reaction, and it evokes neither sympathy nor irritation in him. Just a pre-emptive flex of his own power--out of concern that severing Flicker from Hive at the moment might be Very Bad--which completely fails to affect the other metamutant, though it turns out unnecessary, in any event. He blinks away his perplexity and alarm, studying Jamie a little closer now. "I'm sorry to have startled you." The tone of his voice hasn't changed, pleasant and soothing. << Lunch, >> is his reply, though it takes him a moment to recall the delicious gnocchi and pesto and tofu and lemonade, with a surge of cognitive dissonance that the meal took place less than twelve hours ago. He fishes an orange out of the bag and starts peeling it. "I moost not have been paying attention, but I'm sure they're out there." His gaze follows Hive's to the window as if expecting to be presented on the spot with evidence of Moose. "They're magnificent and nonsensical and bigger than you probably think." He pops an orange wedge into his mouth and offers to rest down the row.
Hive chuffs a derisive snort at Matt's reply. In all their heads, Jamie included, a brief flash of image: a panel of disapproving suit-clad individuals seated behind a table holding up scorecards: '4.0' '4.5' '3.5' "Psh. Matt probably doesn't even notice. Just blends into the goddamn scenery like the rest of us view rats." He doesn't reach for the orange; not himself, at least, but his arm does slide down off of Flicker's, resting at his hip instead. Freeing up his friend enough so that he can quietly move the other man to take the fruit, eat some of it whether he really wants to or not. Breakfast was a long time ago.
Flicker struggles upright, taking the orange and nibbling at a wedge. No less queasy than before, really, leaning heavily on Hive's own willpower to choke down the food. There are churning questions that have been forming in his mind, pushing their way up even through his haze of exhaustion and stress. Somewhere in his head there's a memory of a plump brunette in a lilac blouse and labcoat -- << they didn't even attempt to rescue you >> stirs up something painful and tangled and not immediately straightforward. << How did they find us -- >> is overlapping very heavily with << Why are they here >>, but rather than give proper voice to either of these, he curls back in closer to Hive again, pulling off another orange wedge and screwing his eyes shut tight.
Jamie noticed Matt's abortive attempt to interface with his power, but does not in the moment fully comprehend what it was, tired and overwhelmed as he is. But the fog clears from his thoughts all at once when Hive names the newcomer. He stiffens, his eyes snapping back to Matt and his power waking again -- controlled in its probing this time. "Matt Tessier?" he asks, but he already knows the answer. The flood of anger and resentment and guilt hits him first, followed rapidly by a dozen jumbled interlocking recollections of disappointed and frustrated researchers, of punishment for his inadequacy -- for not being Matt Tessier. His breathing comes faster as rage starts to win out. With his power active now, he is all too aware of Hive's telepathy, but knows he cannot hide his reactions. << They already hate me anyway. >> "Where the fuck were you when he needed you?" Low and shaky, this, his hands curled into fists at his sides.
Matt rolls his eyes dramatically. "Come now, you know you found that--" he actually pauses for effect, this time, "--a-moosing." His glee is short-lived, however, his mental threat assessment lighting up when Jamie's power reaches for his. "I am Matt Tessier." This sounds only a little stilted, though his worry is plain to those hived with him as he recalls Number One's reaction to him during the Hofstadter raid. << This is a trauma response >> is followed almost immediately by << I'm making it worse >> and then, << What if he turns on us? >> "We didn't know where you were," he struggles to keep his voice level--mostly succeeding, for now. A quick flash to the interior of a different van, to his teammates' crestfallen faces when Hive tells them Flicker isn't there. "We came as soon as we did. I'm sorry it wasn't sooner."
Hive's head thumps back against the window, his eyes fixed out of it once more and his teeth grinding. He gathers Flicker closer in against him, hand curling tighter against his friend's side. His voice is low when he speaks, teeth still clenched. "When he needed us. Sorry, did you mean in Hofstadter when we tried to get you out and you fucking killed him? Or in Lassiter, where we came after him but -- oh, right, you fucked him up there, too, so they shot him and moved you all to the ass end of." << Wherever the fuck we are. >>
Flicker's head shakes, and at first he leans (hungrily) (instinctively) into Hive's touch. Something twists inside him, heavy and sick. His fingers clench at the remaining orange wedges, juice leaking through them. Whatever sharp and unhappy feeling was surfacing he promptly shoves back down -- in its place only a dull numbness as he sits upright, staring down at his hands. << Can we not, >> he wants to say, or, << Please stop. >> Instead he squeezes the fruit further into pulp. Watches juice dribble onto his scrubs. "You should eat."
Even having known the answer, Jamie is unexpectedly shaken by Matt's confirmation and even more so by his apology. He had expected -- something else, anyway. << But what makes him so much better than me? >> He doesn't look at Hive and does not answer his (admittedly, probably rhetorical) question, but his shoulders hunch in tight. When Flicker sits up, though, he turns to gaze up at him, and guilt overtakes his anger, nearly but not completely drowning out his love for the man. He looks away, jaw works furiously as he tries to blink back tears. << This was a mistake. (Stop. Just stop! They can hear...) I don't belong out here. >> But what he finally says, his voice hoarse and abrupt, is "I'm sorry." He takes a jerky strip from the bag, his movements slow and perfunctory, and tries to unwrap it with shaking hands.
Matt sucks in a deep breath, fighting down his own fury, now. << He did what? >> He doesn't go digging for an answer in Hive's consciousness, though he certainly wants to. Flicker's half-thought-out plea eases the process of setting aside his anger, and all the while a part of his mind is calmly observing Jamie's power at work. He fishes a ziploc bag from one of the pockets on his pants and disposes of Flicker's mashed orange, stuffing a wet wipe in its place along with a subtle encouragement to use it. "I'm not better than you," (<< Gods help me. >>) he tells Jamie at last, as gently as he can manage, "I was lucky." He wants to say more, but thinks better of it and just starts peeling another orange.
Guilt, anger, love; the mix of emotions rolling off of Jamie just stirs a heightened spike of fury and disgust from Hive. << Was a fucking mistake. >> is not a conscious thought so much as a sharp irritable idea that snaps in them. Matt may not dig for it, but the desire is completed all the same. A patchy, broken snippet of memory of Flicker's disastrous would-be rescue at Lassiter -- trying to leave the cellblock, the arresting grip of Jamie's powers that slams them to the floor, the terrified reach for Hive as the guards close in -- surfaces in their mind in a sharp agonized pang. Hive's eyes stay locked steadily out the window, teeth grinding as he stares into the dark of the surrounding trees.
Flicker doubtless feels everything that the others feel, calm and fury and pain alike. He isn't joining in this exchange, though. He's just staring down at the bloodstained book that sits in his lap, barely twitching when Matt takes his ruined orange. His fingers do slowly clench around the wet wipe. Relax. Clench again. Relax. Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a quiet familiar melody playing, wordless and incongruously cheerful. His eyes drag upward. He reaches for Jamie's jerky, peels the wrapper back with a jarring sense of dissonance as he grips it. Hands it back. Opens his book in silence, eyes not really focusing on the page at all though he fixates on it intently.
Jamie glances sideways at Matt, tears finally breaking free and sliding down his cheeks in silence. << Lucky. They're going to want him back even more, now. >> Though he regrets thinking it as soon as he does, he gives no outward sign. He lets Flicker open the jerky for him and accepts it back with a muttered "thank you". Chews on the thing mechanically, staring at the moonlight on the floor again.