"A lot of things are different, now."
Shawangunk Mountains, NY
In fall -- the peak of climbing season, here -- this campsite will be crowded. It's early enough and remote enough that tonight, after a solid few hours on the cliffs, Flicker and Steve have plenty of space to themselves. Away from the city there are actual /stars/ overhead, bright and glittering. The paella that was cooked up on their campfire earlier was not /gourmet/, but had a decent amount of flavor to it for a camping meal. Flicker is scraping through the last of his bowl, currently. Seated on a log upwind of the fire, he's dressed in shorts, a green and black quick-dry tee, green and black hiking boots. The arm that he'd been wearing earlier -- again different than any Steve had previously seen, silver and black with a cagelike sleeve and a specialized swiveling head that vaguely resembles the claw-end of a hammer, in place of a hand -- not so great for /eating/ but excellent for hooking into crevices in the rock -- has been removed and set aside. He hasn't yet switched it out with any other, though he did perfectly fine helping pitch camp and start their fire and cook dinner without a replacement. Right now he's quiet. Slowly nibbling at the remains of his meal. Head tipped back towards the stars overhead.
Sitting beside Flicker, Steve has long since finished /his/ meal and is now poking idly at the fire with a stick, staring at the hypnotic motion of the flames. He's wearing a white A-shirt and olive drab cargo pants, the deep bruises along his arms, neck, and face already well into the yellow-purple stages of healing. "Thank you." Even though he speaks the words softly, and even though the wilderness is not, in fact, /quiet/, the words leap out into sharp focus against a backdrop with so little in the way of human voice for the past little while. Steve blushes. "For bringing me out here, I mean. It's wonderful, but don't think it'd have ever occurred to me, left to my own devices."
Flicker tips his head back down. "Yeah." He looks down at his bowl. Up at the fire, his smile a little crooked. "I mean, I think I was about to drive Hive totally mad if I didn't take a break before exams started so --" He glances sideways at Steve, a slight flush rising to his cheeks. "Thanks for coming out with me." He scrapes his bowl clean, sucking sauce off his spoon. "We used to do this a lot, but lately --" His shrug is small. "This is nice."
Steve chuckles. "Is that why Hive didn't come along this time? Or was he needed -- to manage Ryan's security detail?" He pushes one of the flaming logs with his stick and it resettles, a burst of tiny embers spiraling up into the sky on the updraft. "You'll have the whole summer off from school, though? After exams?" He smiles hopefully. "Could do a lot more of this."
"Oh, I think he was pretty happy to have me out of his head for a while." Flicker's eyes track up along with the dancing embers. The breath he exhales is soft. "Off?" A quick smile crosses his face. He sets his bowl aside, stretches his legs out in front of him. "For a week. Then I start my first rotation. But -- hopefully. Can figure out how to make time for --" His hand sweeps out to the trees around them. "It's not that far." He drops his hand to his lap, looking back to the fire. "But there's lot's of other people who love the outdoors, even if I..." Briefly, he trails off. His fingers press harder against his leg. A moment later, with a quicker smile: "You should see Dusk on the rocks."
Steve gives a small, incredulous shake of his head. "I can't imagine --" Frowns slightly. Blinks. "Well. Having /Manhattan/ in his head can't be a walk in the park, either, but I suppose you must have uh...disproportionate representation." His free hand makes a sort of vague circular gesture in the air that ends in tapping his temple with an index finger. "Up there." He darts a curious glance at Flicker. "'Rotation?' At a hospital." It's framed as a guess, but there isn't much uncertainty in his intonation. "Dusk -- yeah, he's very..." His eyes skip back to the fire, which he pokes at with renewed interest. Chews on his lower lip. "...athletic."
"Yeah. In a hospital. I'm starting with ob-gyn." Flicker's brow creases briefly. His head tilts back, eyes fixing up on the stars again. With a small quick smile: "Athletic. Is that what all those bruises say?" There's a light amusement in his voice. He vanishes briefly from his seat, his blur of motion difficult to track in the smoky obscurity on the far side of the fire. He's back in short order with his water bottle, though. Sitting, pincering it between his knees to uncap it. "I take up a lot of mental real estate for him, that's true. But the city in general is -- a lot. For any telepath, I'd guess. But especially if you don't have any -- off switch."
Steve's eyebrows raise up slightly, but he nods. "I wish you the best of luck with...well, I suppose it's the beginning of your medical career, in a way? Even if you are not /quite/ a doctor, yet." He looks down at one of the more impressive bruises on his forearm. Chuckles self-consciously. "Among other things. I knew he was strong, but had no real concept /how/ strong." His brows furrow. "Still don't, I guess. Wouldn't be surprised if he was still holding back more than just claws and --" Deeper frown. "-- /teeth./ Just like I didn't know Hive's range or Jax's..." That small shake of his head again, but tighter, jerkier. "It was a good fight, just -- /different./ A lot of things are different, now. I should stop trying to downplay that." For all that, he didn't seem much perturbed by Flicker's brief vanishing this time.
"Not quite a doctor, no. But it'll be my first time --" Flicker shifts on his segment of log. Frowns down at his bottle before taking a quick gulp. "Practicing. Medicine." He looks over at Steve, his brows lifting. "You were /sparring/, right? Not trying to kill each other? He was probably holding back." His fingers drum lightly against the side of the water bottle. "Different from what? War? I'd hope so."
Steve's eyes fix for a moment on Flicker, appraising. "Is it not -- really?" His tone is neutral and earnest, without skepticism. "Oh, yes, of course." He goes back to staring at the fire. Opens his mouth. Closes it again. It's a few long seconds before he speaks again. "I'd never really sparred with anyone who stood much chance of seriously hurting me, unarmed, even if they tried. Or who I could hit with even a fraction of my strength without risk of seriously hurting /them./" He turns his free hand outward, palm up -- a noncommittal gestural punctuation he's possibly picked up from one of the Tessiers. "/Since/ the procedure, I mean."
"No, it will be," Flicker replies swiftly. "I've just been getting -- a lot of trouble at church over --" He shakes his head, hand waving in dismissal. He half-turns, facing Steve on the uneven seating, now. His smile comes ore easily. "So you've never had a chance before to just --" His hand gestures -- up, down, toward all of Steve. "I don't know. Enjoy being you! It /is/ kind of a new world now. Not to knock your scientists or anything. I'm sure they did great. But God did a pretty excellent job with a lot of us, too. I probably know a /lot/ of people who could give you a pretty decent boxing match."
Steve's eyebrows raise up. "I'm sorry you've been having a hard time. Medicine has often been at odds with religion, and I didn't expect that would just -- go away in a few decades' time." He blinks, perhaps surprised by Flicker's reaction. "/Enjoy/?" he echoes quietly, as if trying the word on for size. "I -- hadn't really thought of it that way. It's always felt like a -- responsibility? A complicated one. Not that I /didn't/ -- enjoyed being healthier or..." His lips press together tight. "...of service in a way I couldn't be before. But our scientists -- our politicians and generals, really -- were trying to create a /weapon/." He looks down at his own hand. Curls it into a fist. "/Did/ create a weapon. I trust God's intentions a lot better, as ineffable as those may be."
"I guess that depends on your religion. My church might kick me out after this rotation. But then," Flicker's smile is a little thin, "it wouldn't be the first time." His leg bounces restlessly, jostling the bottle that's still held in the crook of his knee. "Yeah. Enjoy. They might have been training you for a purpose, but /you/ --" He shakes his head. "/You/ aren't a weapon. Fighting is necessary." His jaw briefly tenses. "And it's good to know how to use what we've been given. But it's good to /enjoy/ what God's given us, too, isn't it? Out here hiking or sparring with a friend or --" He looks away, up toward the stars, drawing in a slow breath. "He didn't make you for their reasons."
"I'm Roman Catholic. Still trying to catch up on changes in the liturgy -- apparently I'm allowed to believe in evolution, now?" Steve shrugs helplessly. "You think your church might kick you out for -- practicing /medicine/?" He's clearly struggling to keep his incredulity out of his voice, here. But something in his posture eases at Flicker's words. "Yeah, you're right," he says softly. "I just hadn't really sorted out how to even /think/ about all this." His fist relaxes, fingers splaying out in the firelight. "Much less how to -- find joy in it." His hand drops into his lap and he follows Flicker's gaze up. "Though I guess I've managed to stumble into it anyway, here and there."
"For what? No." Flicker's eyes widen. "Or -- well, yes." There's a sudden deep flush in his cheeks. "Abortion is a part of obstetrics so I guess -- yes." His restless bouncing has halted, for a moment, but starts up again after this. His eyes return to Steve, his smile softer. "I don't imagine war leaves a lot of time for thinking it all through. But I hope you can find more." His blush deepens. "Joy. Not war. Maybe actually seek it out, now and then."
Steve's eyes widen now. "Oh! I see." He lapses into a frown. "I don't know your church, or the people making decisions about this, but I really hope they can find a way to help you balance the responsibilities of a Christian and a healer. Instead of just...kicking you out." He looks down, too. Actually meets Flicker's eyes. "Sometimes seems like fighting's the only thing I'm much good at finding. Glad I found you, too."
The rapid bounce of Flicker's leg stills. His breath briefly hitches, his teeth biting down at his lip. It's a long beat before he looks away from Steve, watching the crackling fire instead. His fingers lift, rubbing slowly against the waxy-scarred side of his face before dropping to wrap tightly around his water bottle. "I'm glad of it, too."