"S'why sometimes you have friends to look for you."
<NYC> Chimaera Arts - DUMBO
This is just one of the many abandoned warehouses in DUMBO, and like many of them it has recently changed hands. Unlike most of those, however, it does not have some corporate developer's sign out front promising a transformation into luxury condominiums or a boutique shopping center or the latest concept restaurant. Instead it's marked by a piece of weathered but wildly colorful plywood propped up on a stack of broken pallets, which reads "Chimaera Art Space!" above "chimaera.org" in smaller letters.
The warehouse is moderately large and decorated with graffiti art in various styles--some of it recognizable as the work of renowned local street artists. A pair of monstrous scrap metal sculptures, perhaps still works in progress, flank the entrance. The building itself has undergone significant renovation recently, complete with wiring, plumbing, and a modular partitioning system. The grounds, too, have been cleaned up, ramshackle fences torn down and rusting detritus removed in favor of reclaimed (and brilliantly repainted) outdoor furniture ringing an impressively engineered firepit.
It's a hot day outside, and in addition to the painted ceiling fans, giant industrial fans have been set up at the warehouse's doors to create a cross breeze. Steve is carrying the last piece of the stage that is being assembled on the floor, which has been cleared of everything else for the moment. He's wearing a black t-shirt, blue jeans, and black combat boots, looking surreal performing this task solo not necessarily for the weight of the steel-framed block but its bulk. He does not seem much bothered by either, and the sweat visible on his face is likely more from the heat than exertion. He lowers the corner piece of the stage into place, then ducks down to snap the latches that hold it fast. This done, he goes into the kitchen and returns to the sitting area with a tall glass or ice water, dropping down on one side of the couch.
"-- gotta be fucking kidding me, right? After he said that to your face?" Ryan is just wandering over from the kitchen, a cup of coffee in hand and his phone tucked against his ear. He doesn't look much dressed for heavy lifting, in well tailored fitted jeans cuffed over tall chunky-heeled black and silver boots, an extremely tight silvery sleeveless shirt that looks like it might have been painted on him underneath a looser open black mesh top. He drapes himself across the couch in its entirety, one leg hooked partially over the arm of the couch -- kind of incidentally over Steve's lap -- flopped out long across the cushions. Somehow even in this long stretch of a position he seems tense, a clench in his shoulders and furrow in his brow. "Hell no, you should have walked out on the bastard. Look, I'm sorry, man. I know how much you've poured into this. No, I know. Yeah. I will. Love you. See you soon." Despite the disgruntlement in his tone, when he lowers the phone, still swiping out some rapid messages on it, his posture relaxes a good deal more than the tension he'd been holding on the phone. "Shit." He gulps at his coffee, nods over towards the stage. "You know what they're doing tonight?"
Steve turns toward Ryan's voice before the man even comes into view, then settles back into his seat, not interrupting the intense phone conversation. He seems not the least bothered by being lumped in with the furniture, just drinks his water slowly but steadily. At the question he frowns slightly. "Someone said it was 'spoken word', but that doesn't seem to narrow it down. Is something the matter?" He nods at Ryan's phone.
"That's sort of. Poetry. Poetry adjacent. Performance poetry." Ryan is still very intent on his texts, but he glances up shortly. "Oh. No. Yeah. Shit. The city is just pulling some clownery. They gave us permits for a Pride party this weekend then pulled them last minute. Jax has been putting this shit together for fucking ever, it's complete bullshit."
Steve's 'ah' is barely audible, and he glances over at the stage as though expecting Performance Poetry to just spontaneously manifest before their eyes. No such luck -- today, at any rate. He turns abruptly back to Ryan, eyes widening. "You need permits from the city just to throw a party?" He sounds outraged, but not terribly startled. "Is it because it's -- gay? Queer?" There's a hesitant interest in his words now. "I don't mean to be so obtuse. I've been reading and hearing a lot about this Pride, but still can't quite wrap my head around it."
"You need permits from the city to do anything, if it's big. I mean, don't get me wrong, people do shit all the time without permits, and if we're having a protest then fuck it but if you want to have a party that doesn't risk getting shut down by the cops --" Ryan shrugs a shoulder. "You need permits if you want to make a certain amount of noise, you need permits if you want to set up toilets, you need permits if you want them to send medics, there's all kinds of shit you need permits for if you want to have a dance party in the park with thousands of people. And we got it but now we -- un got it, I guess." He takes a sip of his coffee, his eyes closing as he lowers the mug to his chest. "Nah, not because of the gay thing. The city is having queer stuff all over, this week, the mayor is loud and clear about how supportive she is about this Stonewall anniversary. But there's a million different events in connection with it and this one was mutant pride. There's never been a mutant pride event in connection with official New York Pride and Jax worked hard as fuck to get it included this year but --" His shoulder lifts, falls, his vague grunt sort of noncommittal. "I'm not surprised they pulled this crap but it was a dick move to wait till the last minute."
"Alright, I was not thinking of a party that big, to be fair." Steve drains his glass and sets it down. "Neighborhoods handled street festivals and celebrations like that individually, in my day. Usually got left alone unless it got big enough to draw attention from cops who aren't from the neighborhood. Not --" he adds hastily, "-- that we had Pride parties back then. In any case, I'm sorry, that sounds incredibly frustrating." Here he frowns. "What was the city's rationale for revoking the permit, if they'd already granted it to begin with? Other than bigotry."
"Oh, that's nothing, there'll be hundreds of thousands of people at the /main/ Pride parade Sunday afternoon. And the anti Pride Queer Liberation march is still supposed to have tens of thousands. We've been helping organize that, too. The mutant party was a pretty small one." Ryan's head shakes, his eyes opening again. "S'alright. I mean, it's not alright, it's only bigotry. They said they'd had complaints. I'm sure they had plenty of complaints about gay pride too but that doesn't stop it. Jax is gonna be really upset. I should get him dinner." His smile is a little wry. "Now that my schedule's cleared up. I was supposed to be rehearsing this afternoon. Singing at the show that -- I guess isn't happening Sunday anymore."
"Hundreds of thousands," Steve echoes, his eyes wide with awe. "That's hard for me to imagine. Even a march with tens of thousands of queer people is hard to imagine. Or just a thousand. I guess soon I won't have to imagine it." He looks around the warehouse thoughtfully, then back at Ryan, even more thoughtfully. "I have a suspicion Jax may still find some way to make some kind of mutant Pride party happen, but -- and this is not a criticism -- you seem kind of relieved."
"Yeah? You planning on going?" Ryan pulls himself slightly up, cupping his coffee as he props himself in an elbow. Squints at Steve. His brows raise. Then lower again, his lips twitching briefly to the side before he takes a long quick gulp of coffee. "Yeah," he agrees -- a little wistfully. "Jax is unstoppable when he puts his mind to something." There's a delay, small but noticeable, before he summons his bright smile back up. "I'm sure he'll work out something. I'm sure it'll fucking rock. Maybe," he offers cheerfully, "he'll find an even bigger and brighter mutant star to headline the thing. I'm sure someone out there just hasn't come out yet."
"Planning seems like too strong a word, but I'm interested..." Steve trails off, looks down, and gives a self-conscious chuckle. "It's not just curiosity. I'm also bisexual." His tone is casual, but there's are deep reserves of anxiety and uncertainty beneath the words. "Queer? Still feels odd that seems to -- mostly? -- not be derogatory anymore." He looks at Ryan sidelong. "You know, somehow I think he'd still want you, no matter how many stars come out, no matter how much bigger and brighter." Then, more gently. "But he'd also respect your wishes if you didn't want to perform for that event."
Ryan's brows lift again, but he just bobs his head. "Still kind of derogatory," he cautions, laughing. "But I mean, what term for us wasn't at some point? People are going to be bigots no matter what. Sometimes you take the things they want to hurt you with and wear them like armor. Do you know what kind of thing you'd like to check out? There's a lot of options. Dance parties and movies and concerts and --" He gestures towards the stage, "spoken word and burlesque and cabarets and protests and sex parties and political rallies and the main parade and basically decision overload." He flops back, head resting against the arm of the couch. "And... I'm sure he would. He's been my biggest supporter since day one." His eyes fix up on the ceiling. "Having a mutant pride event would mean a lot to a lot of people. Me playing there would mean a lot to him."
"To be honest, I didn't know too much about the ah...argot. I didn't really -- realize, until I went to war." There's relief in Steve's voice, a faint and unfamiliar sense of belonging. He eyebrows rise up at Ryan's list. And up and up. "That's even more options than I'd heard about!" But then, almost immediately after this. "Protests, you said?" Intrigued, excited, a defiant anger never far from the surface. "You were going to sing, right?" His eyes flick down to Ryan's hands, the stutter of the movement suggesting he tried and failed to master the reflex. "I recognize this might be pretty complicated, but -- do you want to?"
"Maybe the Queer Liberation events are for you." The hook of Ryan's smile is bright. "How about I'll get you a rundown of what's what." He pulls slowly at his coffee, the mug shaky in his hands. He opens his mouth, breath hitching on the verge of an answer that doesn't quite come. Instead his smile fades, gradually. "It is. Pretty complicated."
"I'd like that." Steve nods, earnest. "Not that I've ever let not knowing what's what stop me leaping before I look." He bows his head slightly. "I realize it's not always the best choice." Troubled, here, but he sets it aside. Looks at Ryan again. "Would you like to talk about it?"
"Nah, not always. S'why sometimes you have friends to look for you." Ryan has been studying Steve, thoughtful, but turns his gaze back to the ceiling. Then his phone, tapping at it restlessly. "Pssh. Me not being able to fiddle is not nearly as interesting as the smorgasbord of gay life that you probably didn't --" He looks back at Steve. "I don't want to make assumptions about the forties, maybe you did have entire drag nun cabarets and a whole specifically gay sci-fi character themed circus show and gay -- drinks and coloring books? Dog yoga on a yacht? Some of these are very specific."
"Yeah, that's...yeah." Steve agrees softly, the grief in his voice perhaps detectable even to a non-empath. But here he raises his eyebrows. "I wouldn't have asked if I weren't interested, and I didn't think it was necessarily just a matter of you not being able to fiddle." Once Ryan has said it, his self-consciousness fades. "I haven't experienced any of those, but the forties might have, for all I know." He pauses, scrubbing at his five o-clock shadow. "Probably not the dog yoga, though who knows. You don't have to talk about it.
Ryan takes another gulp from his coffee, his eyes squeezing tighter as he sets it back on his chest. There's an odd humming that's just started up, high-pitched and difficult to localize. His hand has squeezed tighter, too, the mug still unsteady in his grip. "Just." He echoes this word with a quick wry smile. The humming whines a little higher. "Yeah, no, there's a lot, but I just --"
There's a sudden series of small TINKS -- against his chest the mug he's been holding cracks, crackles, crumples into several smaller pieces. He sits up with a hiss -- judging by his expression and the disgruntled-but-not-alarmed speed of his movement, more annoyance than pain; the coffee thankfully not fresh enough to be a danger to anything except his very shiny shirt. "Ngh." He scoops the broken pieces of mug into his hands. "... things have just been a little. Much. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't --" He shakes his head, looking down at the shattered ceramic in his hands with a frown.
Steve blushes faintly, then looks to the mug where Ryan grips it tight. It's hard to say whether the glance is connected to the hum, but when the mug actually cracks he jumps, his leg thumping painfully into Ryan's. As startled as he is, the immediately evident (and harmless) source of the TINKS reduces him to further blushing. "Sorry. Oh, um, let me...here." He slides off the couch and disappearing into the kitchen and returning rapidly with a wet rag and a dry one, both cut from what feels like an old soft t-shirt. "I can take the broken pieces." He offers quietly, sitting down -- so carefully! -- on the edge of the table beside his friend, elbows braced on his knees. "I didn't mean to downplay it. Really kind of the opposite." There is grief in those words, too, but more intense is a kind of fervent compassion. "Was there some particular thing you weren't -- aren't?-- prepared for?"
"Thanks." Ryan trades the broken cup for the rags. He presses the wet one against his chest, soaking out as much of the coffee as he can manage before he scrubs at it gently. "I mean, dying was a little bit intense. In some ways --" His eyes are fixed steadily on his shirt as he dabs at it. "Easier than keeping on after, though. We'd talked through how to deal with so much shit. Record label drops me, fine. Venues don't want to book me anymore, no problem. Droves of hate mail, I can deal. Getting shot at? Getting shot? I've been through worse. But this --" He trades the wet rag for the dry one, holding it against the large damp -- still slightly stained, though lighter, now -- patch on his chest.
"I got people killed. They hadn't planned on that." Ryan's voice is quieter, his fingers clenching hard into the rag. "And for what, a goddamn fashion show? They're dead, and I'm --" He lowers the cloth, looking down at his hands. "Supposed to get back up there and draw a huge goddamn target on a new set of friends?"
Steve nests the ceramic shards into the largest in tact piece and cups it in his hand as he watches Ryan dab at the spilled coffee. He listens, acknowledging each of the dangers his friend lists with a single stoic nod. Doesn't immediately speak, after, and when he does his voice is even gentler than before.
"It's an awful thing that happened. I can't know what that's like, no matter how many friends I've lost -- they were soldiers." His gaze drops to the floor for a moment, then returns to Ryan. "You don't need me telling you there's no easy answer. Do you think your friends -- or your community -- will be safer, in the long run, if your voice isn't out there?" He frowns slightly. "Sorry, I didn't mean that in the literal sense of, uh..." He hefts the remains of the shattered mug. "Or, maybe more to the point -- do you feel you have to get back up there?"
"My friends? For sure." Ryan exhales sharply, dropping his hands down into the lap, still wringing at the rag he holds. "The number of threats I get every week -- even off the stage there are people constantly saying they're going to come blow my fucking apartment building up, shoot up the places I hang out." He waves the rag generically around the warehouse. "Probably going to move soon, honestly, put people less at risk if I'm not -- living right there with so many people who --" He shakes his head, his foot bouncing restlessly against the ground.
"The community, though. That question's --" He rolls his head back against the couch, shrugs his shoulder almost carelessly. "If I don't get back up there, who will? There's no one else out there. And if I don't, just makes it more likely there'll be nobody else. Blow up the first fucking freak to come out and I go right back into hiding? What will that do to the ten others watching and thinking maybe this is their time, too. All it says is we're easy to silence." His grin is quick, but behind it his teeth are clenched. "Like if everyone had just rolled over for the pigs at Stonewall, doubt there'd be thousands getting ready to march this week. This doesn't honestly have shit to do with me, but yeah. I have to."
Steve nods again, rearranging the fragments of the mug in the palm of his hand. "Yeah, it'd be a powerful gesture from a powerful symbol," he agrees. "And that may not have anything to do with you personally, but you're still the one who has to carry the risks, the guilt, the wounds -- physical and spiritual." His brows tug together faintly. "Sorry, I guess these days you'd say mental? Or psychological?" Gives his head a quick shake. "Regardless, you have carry those -- and you are a man, not a gesture or a symbol. I'm not trying to tell you how or when to get back out there -- and I'll lend you whatever support you're willing to accept getting there -- but there's no shame in taking time to heal."
This time Ryan's smile is a little quicker -- but no less wry. "Guess you'd know a little something about that, wouldn't you." He closes his eyes, squeezing them tight as in contrast his clenched jaw relaxes, his shoulders ease. "But we're kind of both. Just gotta figure out how to be both without one or the other falling the fuck apart." He sits up, a tense frenetic energy animating the air around him when he looks back to Steve. "Man, I'm going to show you so much gay on Sunday, you have no idea."
Steve's laugh is bright and abrupt and seems to catch him at least a bit by surprise. "Have to be /together/ before you can fall apart, but I take your point." Ryan's energy is literally contagious, and Steve sits up straighter smile widening. "What, 'hundreds of thousands' wasn't enough of an idea?" Then, eyes widening, smile sliding crooked. "I'm going to eat those words, aren't I?"