CN: existential crisis, Nazi/concentration camp mention, emotional and physical intimacy
"Can't stop just because it's the end of the world."
<NYC> Harlem & Lower East Side
Just after 19:00, a text shows up on Flicker's recently abandoned phone:
Wondering what you're up to with your evening off, and hoping that it will involve getting some rest. I would be glad to bring you both food and company if you feel up to it, but we can just chat remotely if you'd prefer. Either way, I pray this finds you well.
I remain your devoted friend, Steve
About an hour later, another:
Then, immediately after the news about Riker's Island hit mainstream media outlets:
Twenty minutes later:
Shortly after this, not by text but a rustling-soft whisper that echoes in many overlapping voices in Steve's mind -- at once alien and immediately recognizable as Hive. << He's not at the office. >> An address impresses itself into Steve's awareness. Somewhere in the Lower East Side.
The telepathic voice freezes Steve in his tracks just outside the Red Star in East Harlem. << That is going to take getting used to. >> His brows knit slightly, a vaguely quizzical cloud forming in his mind but never resolving into a specific question. << Alright, I'll go there. >> Then, as he turns to step past the 'SORRY TAKEOUT ONLY' sign by the front door, he thinks, << You need supper, too? >>
At first there's no concrete reply, just a wash of something soft and heavy and, mingled as it is with so many simultaneous mindfeels, hard to exactly place. Still, if it is not quite grief it is at least a close neighbor. << I'm not there. >>
Steve's response to this is likewise complex and ambiguous, if only for the rapidity of his thoughts. << But if Hive is speaking on his behalf -- they don't have to be in the same place for that -- he told you, he didn't want to risk exposing Hive -- he's used to being there for Flicker... >> The torrent of analysis quiets. << I'll take good care of him, too, >> comes firm and deliberate.
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.
Steve arrives at the address Hive indicated, the food in his takeout bag still warm enough to steam faintly in the chill air. He hesitates on the sidewalk, casting about in his mind for any sense of Hive's presence, feeling exceptional foolish for doing so. Then he strides right up to the door and knocks.
Isra steps out of her bedroom onto the second story balcony overlooking the entryway. She still wears winter colors, her skin a pearlescent ice blue, darker on the dorsal sides and dusted with subtle drifts of fine silver speckling, her horns and talons are bright polished chrome, and the membranes of her wings a deep night black dotted with myriad stars. Her tail sways behind her, slow and rhythmic, her pointed ears rotate toward the door, but her expression is placid and unconcerned as she gathers the hem of her white himation and hops over the railing, her wings snapping partially open to slow her descent.
She lands neatly and winches her wings back in, only giving the peephole a cursory glance before unlocking the door and pulling it open. "Good evening, Captain Rogers," she said evenly, an eerie bass echo doubling her rich alto, "I presume you are here to see Flicker?" Despite the uplift in her intonation, she does not wait for him to reply before stepping back to welcome him in with a sweep of one starry wing. "Please forgive the mess. I put the renovations on hold some time ago."
Steve's brows gather as he tilts his head to listen to Isra's descent and landing inside, but he still looks unprepared for the tall, winged silhouette that frames the door when it opens. He starts to drop into a combat stance but rapidly corrects out of it. "Oh! Yes I -- he -- yes." Steve blushes faintly as he steps inside, hefting the takeout bad. "I'm so sorry to intrude, Miss..." His cheeks flush deeper. "I'm afraid I don't actually know your surname, Miss. I ah, didn't know exactly where I was going and didn't bring you any supper, but I did get a /lot/ of it, if you like Chinese..."
Unperturbed by Steve's reaction, Isra merely closes and locks the door behind her latest visitor. "My surname is al-Jazari, but you may call me Isra." There might be twinkle of amusement in her cat-green eyes, but her expression is as placid as ever. "I have already eaten, thank you, but in any event it is no trouble. Flicker is very dear to me, and you to him." She stalks down the hall and waves for him to follow with the spar of one wing, a gesture so reminiscent of Dusk it seems one of them must have learned it from the other. "That would be cause enough for me to inconvenience myself, but as you can see I have plenty of space and it is no inconvenience in any event."
She stops at a door and inclines her head to indicate it. "He's staying here. There are plates and such in the kitchen at the end of this hall, if you like--and additional food and drink, as well. I have some small experience with wrangling...uncommon appetites." Her tail swishes sharply, once. "I'll be upstairs, but if you do have need of me it may be easier just to text. Good night to you, Captain Rogers." And with this she turns, wings flourishing slightly with momentum, to return upstairs.
Somewhere behind the indicated door, a shower is running. It has been running for a very long time.
Steve nods, following after his host. "Well, thank you for your hospitality, Isra. You have a lovely home, even if the finishing touches are still in progress." He gives a polite nod. "Goodnight. Oh, and -- call me Steve." He does go to the kitchen and returns to the guest room with plates and cutlery, not bothering to knock before slipping inside. After he's done marveling at the sheer size of the room he lays the takeout containers on a sideboard beside an electric crock pot of soup, sets the small table that those younger than he would probably call a 'breakfast nook', and settles himself a bit awkwardly in a plush armchair by the gas fireplace to restlessly scroll Twitter.
It's still some time before the shower cuts off; a bit longer yet before Flicker emerges from the enormous bathroom, skin scrubbed pink and clean, hair damp; the lingering dark impressions around his eyes have not faded but dimmed to reddened lines. He has put on a fresh pair of khakis, is smoothing his white garments carefully into place as he emerges. His eyes widen, a flush of pink touching his cheeks as his eyes light on Steve. For a moment he freezes in place, his fingertips tracing lightly against one of the small stitched markers in his shirt.
Just a moment. Then he blinks, pulls on a short-sleeved grey polo, is across the room in a blink. Says nothing. Just takes Steve's hand, squeezes it hard.
Steve looks up when the door opens and smiles, slow and perhaps a touch uncertain at Flicker's reaction. He rises when Flicker appears beside him. Squeezes his hand back, careful but firm. Opens his mouth to speak, but then just folds the smaller man into his arms, pressing a cleanshaven cheek to damp hair.
Flicker sinks down into Steve's embrace with a long exhale. His eyes close, his head tucking up against the other man's neck as he folds himself into Steve's lap gratefully. A small tremor runs through his shoulders, then quiets. His pulse is racing, and the slow measure of his breaths are very deliberate. It's a while before he speaks, kind of wry: "-- You have those days where you really wish you could get drunk?"
Steve's arms tighten around Flicker as he inexpertly syncs his own steady breathing to the smaller man's. Tension slowly ebbs from his solid frame -- very slowly. "I sure do," he admits. "Today has been one of them." Then, a bit hesitantly. "I'm guessing it's been for you, too?"
"It's been long." Flicker's fingers trace lightly along Steve's forearm. Back up against his biceps. Down once more. "It's been..." His lips press together; he swallows, head giving a very small shake against Steve's collarbone. Then, abruptly, he's sitting up, blinking, the next shake of his head harder. "No, sorry, it's fine, it's -- fine. Just a little tired. It'll be fine. I'll get some sleep and tomorrow will be --" His jaw clenches tight. "Do you ever wish you just stayed in that iceberg?"
Steve's arm squeezes tightly enough to hurt, but only for an instant. He catches himself and relaxes again, by degrees. "I'm sorry," he murmurs into Flicker's hair. "We can talk about it. But we don't have to." It's a long wait before he replies, "Sometimes." He swallows. "Try not to."
Flicker's breath hitches, muscles tensing hard at that squeeze. He relaxes when Steve does. Slower. The rhythm of his breathing has grown a little more rapid. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't --" His right side hitches, an abortive motion without his arm attached to properly complete the shrug. "It just feels hard sometimes. You work and you fight and then some catastrophe happens and it's like. All the opportunity right there to turn things around, to look at it and think wow, this was really not working, let's do something better from here and instead people just can't wait to -- to exploit it. To jump on the chance to do more -- more --" His jaw tightens again. "Like let's just use this to hurt all the people we already hated."
"You should if you want to." Steve smooths a his hand along Flicker's side, thumb rubbing slow circles as he goes. "I want you to, anyway." He nods minutely, the motion probably easier felt than seen. "It's always hard, but things like this..." He considers for a moment before continuing. "Back before the war --" He breaks off, biting his lower lip thoughtfully. "For years, Nazis marched on American streets unchecked no matter how much we screamed about it. Then finally most Americans wake to the danger and what do we do? Turn around and build our own camps and imprison our own people for being born a certain race." His breathing speeds, too, and he struggles to match it to Flicker's again. "Crises bring out the noblest impulses in a lot of folks. But when those in power insist on playing to the basest ones, it can make everything feel pretty pointless." His head shakes, and he gathers Flicker closer again. "It's not. It never is. But it is hard, yeah."
"Nazis in the streets, racist concentration camps -- doesn't seem like much has changed." Flicker presses closer to Steve for a moment. His breathing is accelerating in time with the other man's -- a second later he's gone, blinked across the room. On his feet, kind of pacing -- of a sort, not really walking so much as flitting in erratic short-hops from one side of the room to the other. "Hard. But you keep doing it. Right? Right. Can't stop just because it's the end of the world." His jerky-circuitous path halts -- dumps him on the edge of the bed, his shadowed eyes bigger and his voice smaller, fingers plucking twitchily at the comforter. "Can you?
Steve blinks, but doesn't seem otherwise much alarmed by Flicker's abrupt absence. He just watches the other man pace, at first. Then rises and goes makes his much slower way over. Sits down on the enormous bed beside him. "You can." He addresses this more to the covers than to Flicker. "If I'd survived the war and come home with Howard -- maybe I would have." Then, with a breathy chuckle. "Probably not, though. Anyway, that's a harder choice for some folks to make than others, for a whole host of reasons. But even if you won't stop -- or can't -- I think trying to fight every battle is a pretty surefire way to lose all of them." He pauses, stretching out a hand for Flicker's, though he doesn't outright take it. "And you've been fighting...a lot."
"You? Stop fighting?" Flicker's brows furrow, the side-eye glance he gives to Steve highly skeptical. His fingers stop plucking at the bedspread. Complete Steve's half-motion, reaching to take the other man's hand, though not for long before he's on his feet again. "But how do you know if you've -- if you've been fighting. For the right things? How do you..." He shakes his head. Lifts his hand, scuffing it through his still-damp hair and leaving a tousled mess in its wake. "What if they're right about us?" He's back on the bed in short order, his hand dropping to squeeze hard at his knee. His eyes fix blankly on a spot on the floor. "I think I -- may have done something terrible."
"Yeah, it seems pretty unlikely to me, too." Steve is quiet a moment, considering the question. "I don't think there's one easy way to know. You talk to people, you listen to people, you read and think and pray. And maybe sometimes you take a leap of faith, and accept you might be wrong." He frowns now. "Who's right about -- who?" He curls an arm around Flicker and squeezes his shoulder gently. His next words come even gentler, "What did you do that you think might be terrible?"
"Everyone. Us. Mutants. We are dangerous, there are things we do that --" Flicker shakes his head, his weight sagging in against Steve's. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, it's just. It's just been a -- been a long day, I think -- I think I just. Just need to." His breaths are starting to come quicker again; he's on his feet once more in the next moment. "Just need to go. Get back --" The look that crosses his face is quick and complicated. He shakes his head, rubs his knuckles against his eye. "Thank you. For -- um." He glances toward the untouched food. Wraps his arm across his chest, fingers gripping hard at his ribs.
Steve stares unblinkingly at Flicker. "Well. Yes, of course you're dangerous. So am I. Just about anyone can be dangerous, in the right circumstances, but I don't think that makes the bigots right about what ought to be done about it." He stands and places both hands on Flicker's shoulders, looking down at him, brows furrowed with concern. "Hey, I don't know what this is about, and I'm likely to make a fool out of myself if I keep trying to talk as if I do. But I don't think it's a good idea for you to go back to the hospital now." He struggles for a moment, his jaw working soundlessly. "You're exhausted. You need food and rest. If you want me to go, I will, but I'd rather not." His fingers dig in harder for a moment. "Let me take care of you. For a little while? Please."
"I won't go back to the hospital, I just." Flicker swallows, swaying slightly under Steve's touch. Leaning into it, blinking hard. "I thought I said. It's about the world ending. I always thought it would be kind of -- flashier. And I didn't think that I'd --" He stops when Steve's hands squeeze harder at him, his breath catching. His arm curls back around Steve's waist, fingers gripping hard against the other man's shirt. "Don't go."
Steve's brows furrow deeper now, perplexed. "You said, but..." Shakes his head. "...that's not --" His breath catches in tandem with Flicker's, his eyes going a little wide. "I won't," he promises, his arms wrapping around the smaller man's shoulder and waist, clutching him tighter than usual. "I won't." The words are surer this time, as he leans in to kiss Flicker, his heart racing hard enough to feel where they're pressed together.
Flicker does not answer this. Just presses his mouth back to Steve's, hard and immediate. His fingers dig harder in against Steve's back. In the next heartbeat they are back on the bed, still pressed tightly together as Flicker breaks off just long enough to whisper a fervent, "-- Please."