"You alright, there?" (cw: brief mention of suicide)
<NYC> AirBnB - Red Hook
This is a one-room apartment crammed into the back of a labyrinthine red brick building, but its owner has furnished it with care, making the most of the limited light and space. The decorations and the books suggest an adventurous young professional with a fondness for history, art, and fashion, but there are surprisingly few specifically personal items on their shelves. The living room/kitchen is one continuous space, almost a third of which is consumed by an old but comfortable sectional sofa bracketing a coffee table and a flatscreen tv. The kitchen is tiny but well-organized, and bordered with a generous counter lined with stools that serves in place of a dining table. The bedroom is done up in soft earth tones, most up by the bed and a drafting table beneath the single window.
It's late afternoon, the sun growing redder as it sinks toward New Jersey across the bay. The day has been glorious, warm enough to feel like summer come early, but with enough of a breeze to keep the heat from stifling. The windows of Steve's tiny apartment are thrown wide open to let in the air, which smells of salt water and diesel, though not strongly enough to overwhelm the savory smells of cooking. Steve himself is busy at the stove, flipping a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches in a large skillet and occasionally stirring a pot of tomato soup. In addition to a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans, he's wearing a black apron with the word 'NO WHISK/NO REWARD' on the chest in bold white letters beside a simple graphic of a whisk.
The rapping that comes at the door is quick, a brisk shave-and-a-haircut. Outside Steve's apartment, Flicker looks much as he always does. Crisply pressed khakis, grey polo striped with green at cuffs and collar, hair combed neat. His arm is a deep ocean blue today, glinting and gleaming like sunlight on a froth of waves.
Steve extinguishes the fire under the skillet and crosses to the door in two long strides, pulling it open. "Hey! Come in, please," he says, stepping back to make way for his guest. "Can I get you something to drink? I've got lemonade, Coke, tea, coffee, and beer."
"Hey." Flicker's expression crumples into a smile. Small, quick, a kind of relief in it -- for the half second it's visible before he disappears. Reappears behind Steve. His eyes dart around the small apartment -- he's over by the couch -- no, the TV -- no, the kitchen counter -- a moment later, fingers dropping to trace against one of the stools. "I don't know what I was expecting, but this doesn't feel like -- you."
"It's not me," Steve agrees with a crooked smile, closing the door and returning to the kitchenette. "It's Mister Kevin Davis, the person I'm subletting it from. He's spending a semester in Prague for graduate studies." He transfers the grilled cheeses to two plates. "Tomato soup?" he asks as he ladles soup into one bowl and sets it on his plate beside the sandwiches.
"Prague. That sounds --" Flicker's vanished again. Reappeared beside a bookshelf, his fingertips trailing against the spines. He takes one off the shelf apparently at random -- he's not really looking at it /until/ he looks down at the cover. Opens it to leaf through the glossy pictures inside. "I don't know what that sounds, actually. Except for mission I haven't really -- done much --" He frowns, shakes his head. Flits back into the kitchen, still holding the book (/Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period/) against his chest. "... travelling. Probably not you either?" he guesses, brows lifting. "Not --" His cheeks flush. "... not some way that /counts/."
"I take it you mean the evangelzing kind of mission and not --" The expression that flashes across Steve's face is quick, sorrowful. "-- the fighting kind?" His eyes try in vain to follow Flicker across the room. "Oh, and there's tomato in the sandwiches. Homegrown and fresh, but you prefer it without, I can make more." He hesitates a moment and fills a second bowl with soup, setting it in the plate with the sandwiches and handing them over with a spoon and an actual paper napkin. "Yeah, it was just the war, for me. Saw a lot of new places, met a lot of new folks, but..." He looks down at his own plate. "Don't think I'd really count it as /traveling/, no." Pulling a pitcher from the refrigerator, he pours two glasses of mint lemonade, and slides one over to Flicker, as well. "You alright, there?"
"Teaching the Gospel, yes. I was in Thailand, but -- I don't think it's like just -- visiting, you know? Just getting to --" Flicker shakes his head. "I mean, it's certainly not like -- /war/. But I just. Do you ever think it would be nice to --" He looks down with a slight crease of brow when he finds the food in front of him, blinking with some puzzlement before looking up to Steve. "Oh -- oh. Thank you. No. That's -- tomato is. That sounds really good, thanks, you didn't need to --" The red in his cheeks deepens. "Thank you. I'm sorry, this was stupid, I shouldn't have just invited myself over like -- you didn't have to go through the trouble of --" His eyes have fixed on the bowl of soup, mechanical fingers clenching hard at the book still in his hand.
Steve regards Flicker steadily across the counter. "It was no trouble. I needed a snack, anyway." He puts the pitcher away and comes around the counter to sit beside Flicker. "Glad to spend some time with you before you ah...disappeared into your rotation. Haven't seen you at Chimaera all week..." His brows furrow slightly as he trails off. Bows his head over clasped hands and murmurs a quiet prayer over his food. Then turns to look at his friend again. "You seem like you're having a pretty rough time. Do you want to...talk about it?"
Flicker's laugh is quick -- almost startled. "Right. Rotation, that's -- soon, that's probably going to pretty much. Eat my whole life." He quiets. Sets the book on the counter while Steve prays, his own head bowing as well. "Yeah, I just -- I'm sorry," he says again shortly after. "I mean, I am, but I didn't -- didn't come here to dump my problems on you, I just. Just wanted --" He looks away, gnawing at the inside of his cheek. "I don't know what I wanted. I." He swallows. Curls his arms against his chest, draws in a slow breath. "I know things have been. Pretty much nonstop crazy lately but I --"
His fingers curl tighter at the crook of his arm, and he finally takes a seat -- hesitantly -- on a stool beside Steve. "I've been really glad to get to know you, Steve. I mean -- mean that I've really liked..." His eyes have fixed on his soup again. It takes an visible effort for him to drag them up, look Steve back in the eyes. The crimson stubbornly refuses to recede from his cheeks. "You've been like this. Bright spot in the middle of so much ugly and I. Wanted you to know that I've really -- liked --" He falters, here. Starts to look away -- arrests this impulse with a blink, a deep breath. When he finishes it's quieter, and though his voice is steady and clear everything in the tension of his posture where he is only-just-barely remaining on his stool suggests he might be a hair's breadth from vibrating himself straight out of the apartment. "... you."
"Not exactly dumping if I've asked." Steve gives him a small, encouraging smile before starting in on a grilled cheese. After about the fourth time Flicker breaks off, he puts his sandwich down -- mostly finished already! -- takes a sip of lemonade, and studies the other man, his expression somewhere between curiosity and confusion. This does not ease when Flicker /finishes/ speaking, either. "You've really liked me...what?" Though, almost as soon as the words are out of his mouth, his eyes go wide. "Oh, you mean -- you. Like me." Frowning again now, unsure, but his voice is gentle. "As in -- in the sense of -- /attraction/?" He's, perhaps surprisingly, /not/ blushing.
Flicker doesn't seat himself any more comfortably on his stool. Still on edge, still nearly vibrating off of it, one foot on the ground and one foot hooked against a lower rung. His mouth opens, but then just closes once more firmly as he nods, quick and jerky.
Steve opens /his/ mouth and closes it without speaking. "Oh." It's hard to gauge his tone, here. "I ah...sorry." He scrubs one hand along his jawline. "I really appreciate you -- I really appreciate you, in general. And I take it as high praise, in more than one way." He draws a deep breath, his expression flitting through several permutations of distress. "I just -- I don't think /I'm/ quite ready to...consider anything like that.
Flicker lets out his breath, shakily. His eyes finally do pull away from Steve again, fixing on the ceiling. Blinking, several times in quick succession. "No, that's, I'm --" Far less steady than it was before, his voice briefly hitches. Leveling back out after a deliberate breath, a hard swallow. He settles himself firmly on his stool, turning towards his food to -- pick, twitchily, at a golden-brown curl of crisped cheese on the edge of his sandwich. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have. I mean, I didn't -- mean -- I wasn't trying to --" His short puff of laugh is, also, a little shaky. "Heck, /I'm/ not ready to consider anything like -- that. I just. I'd never actually told -- anyone that --" The picking grows more rapid, tiny crumbs of cheese accumulating on the edge of his plate. "I'm not trying to ask you out. I just, I thought, in case..." His shoulder tightens inward. "I wanted to be sure you knew."
Steve finally does start blushing. "Oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed -- I mean, you didn't /say/ you were. Asking --" He runs his hand through his hair. "Not that there would be anything wrong with -- it's not as if it /hurts/ me. I just --" He shakes his head sharply, as if that would clear away all the half-formed thoughts he's struggling to speak. It seems to work. His eyes fix on Flicker again. "In case of what?"
"It's not -- that I wouldn't /want/ to -- to ask, I mean, if things were different --" Flicker keeps his eyes fixed steadily downward. A little too wide, a little too bright. "Maybe. I don't know, if things were different I probably /wouldn't/, I've never even -- I'm not even sure I should be here telling you /this/, I just. Just wanted." He's starting to shred the sandwich now, too. With a little more difficulty at its corner, the gooey melted cheese not /crumbling/ quite as easily as the crisped edges. Stretching. Muddling into a messy tangle. "Just don't know what might happen, you know? Things /aren't/ different, they've been. Dangerous and terrible, and if -- if. I mean. With how things are, you just. Never know."
Steve nods, and is quiet for a moment, his expression unreadable. Dips the remaining edge of his mostly-eaten sandwich into the soup and polishes it off. "All those murders. The attempts on Ryan's life. The way the news talks about mutants, and worse, the way we -- humans just...look the other way." His jaw tightens, and he very deliberately lets go of the glass he was about to lift for a drink. "I can't even imagine the kind of stress that has to cause, day in and day out. I'm sorry."
"Those are terrible, but that's just every day," Flicker dismisses this with a shake of his head, a sucking of cheeks against teeth. "If some rando Nazi gets /me/, I deserve to get got." He's frowning, now, as his slow deconstruction of his grilled cheese encounters a tomato. Squishes it, pulp and seeds oozing from the torn side of the sandwich but stubbornly not /tearing/ with the rest. His fingers flick sharp and restless against the plate like he's just noticing the cheese and tomato juice on them for the first time. "But the government's a little harder to. Dodge. And the things they do to us --" His shudder is visible. The fingers of his mechanical arm twitch against the counter's edge.
"The government?" Steve echoes with an odd intonation that isn't /quite/ surprise or alarm. He does sit up straighter, though. "Is the government -- I'm aware that it is...fascist." It sounds like there should be more to that sentence, but his brows furrow again. "I'm sure there's plenty more I don't know, but..." His gaze drops to Flicker's hand. "Did they -- hurt you?" His voice is low, level. "Are they after you?"
The mechanical fingers twitch again, scraping against the countertop. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have -- this was silly, I just really wanted. I --" Flicker swallows, curling his watery blue fingers slowly inward. "It's. Complicated. They have these labs. Do these experiments on us, I -- I was in for a while, and I just. They're always /after/ us, I don't want to end up... end up..." His eyes close, head shaking slowly. "I'm sorry," he says, softer, "I've been such a mess lately. I shouldn't -- it'll be done soon. I mean maybe I'll actually get some --" He hesitates, sucking his cheeks inward. "-- sleep and not. Keep. Stressing out all my. Friends."
Steve frowns deeper. Reaches for Flicker's shoulder. Hesitates. Pulls back. "It's not silly. You're not doing anything wrong. Those labs you're talking about? /That's/ horrible and unacceptable, and I'm sorry that happened to you, to -- your people. That it's still happening, and --" His jaw clenches, his words clipped and tight. "I understand if you don't want to say, but --" He draws a deep breath and lets it out, and when he resumes he sounds much calmer. "-- do you know what department is responsible for this?"
Flicker's eyes widen when Steve starts to reach for him -- he inhales soft and a little ragged when the other man pulls back. His eyes are fixed on his plate once more, forefinger tracing slow aimless patterns in the tomato juice that's leaked from his torn sandwich. "I don't know. I think they're military. Maybe just contractors. It doesn't really matter. Most people seem to think we're. A problem to be. Exterminated, they'd probably be glad to hear about." His shoulder twitches jerkily up. "Mutant torture camps."
Steve's shoulders stiffen. He swallows, looks away. "Then most people are wrong," he says, low and steady. "Is there a name -- or codename -- for the program? I just --" He seems to cut himself with a particular /will/ this time, rather than just fail to find words. Turns back to Flicker. "I'm sorry, that's not. Helpful." His next words come out gentle but halting, unfamiliar, "Are you -- do you feel...safe? Right now?
"Yeah. Well. I wish more of them agreed with you." Flicker blinks down at his plate. Once. Twice. Finally looks back up at Steve, his eyes wider and brows lifting. His shoulders start to shake, hand coming up to cover his mouth -- to stifle a laugh that spills over anyway, breathless and gasping where he half-hunches over the counter.
Steve sits up a little straighter and reaches for Flicker /again/. He does make contact this time, a steadying hand as if he expects Flicker to topple over. His expression is plainly alarmed for a moment before dissolving into confusion. "I didn't mean -- in /general/," he amends after Flicker's laughter has died down, sounding flustered but determined. "Just. I mean. At the moment, in terms of -- whether you might be thinking about hurting yourself."
It takes a longer than it should, really, for Flicker's laughing to taper off, only getting harder and more edged when Steve's hand reaches him. He does, kind of, collapse, slumping the rest of the way forward against the counter, head buried in the crook of his arm. His face is flushed and breaths uneven when he does straighten up. "Sorry." The word is breathless, almost gasped in on the fraying ends of his laughter. "Sorry, sorry, I shouldn't. I'm -- fine, I'm not..." He rubs the heel of his hand against his eyes, sliding off the stool and taking a reluctant step back. "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. I'm not -- going to --" His eyes turn toward the ceiling, briefly. "Thank you for listening to me. I should. Go."
Steve...still looks deeply nonplussed. Then blushes fiercely, gaze dropping to the countertop. "Ah. Sorry, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions." He twists around to look at Flicker. "Thank /you/ for trusting me. Take care and ah, godspeed." Then, a beat later, awkwardly, "On your rotation."
Flicker's smile is brief. Very small. "Thanks. You're a good man, Steve." He starts to lift a hand toward Steve's shoulder -- pulls it back sharply with a duck of his head. Another fierce blush. In the next moment he's gone, a shivering blur disappearing off toward the windows and beyond.