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Revision as of 21:07, 1 September 2019

Dramatis Personae

Flicker, Hive, Steve


"I'm glad to see you, too."


<NYC> Village Lofts 403 - East Village, <NYC> Montagues - SoHo, <NYC> Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge - Queens

  • (Steve --> Flicker): Dear Flicker,

I was very relieved to  hear you are safely returned home, and hope that this message finds you  well, or as well as you can be, considering. I regret the circumstances  under which we parted last and for my subsequent radio silence, both of  which were influenced by a pretty significant misunderstanding on my  part that I have since cleared up. That may not make you feel any less  awkward about speaking with me again, but if you're willing, I'd like to  make amends and catch up. Either way, I want to make it clear I bear  you no ill will; that I value your friendship; that I cherish the trust  you put in me, though I didn't fully understand it at the time, and  perhaps never will. But I'd like to try. My best to Hive and Dusk.

Yours truly, Steve

  • (Flicker --> Steve): Thanks for reaching out. I'm really sorry about the last time I saw you, I shouldn't have
  • (Flicker --> Steve): I value your friendship, too, I'm sorry that I ever
  • (Flicker --> Steve): I'm sorry, but I think it's better if we don't
  • (Flicker --> Steve): It's good to hear from you, I've really missed you, I wish

Flicker stares down at the phone screen. Deletes a half-formed sentence for the dozenth time. The words are starting to run together, blurry and watery when he reads the message again. The phone blinks out of his hand, landing on his nightstand with a clatter. He just curls up on his bed, stubble rasping against his pillow as he lies back down.

Flicker is left to his thoughts for a good long while. Eventually, though, the door opens. Hive sets a mug of hot chocolate down beside the phone, sits himself on the mattress. He rests a hand on Flicker's back, kneading slowly. "You really not gonna answer that?"

Flicker leans back into the touch with a very small hitch of breath. His eyes squeeze shut; the quick shake of his head against the pillow smudges off some of the salt streaks that have dried on his cheek. What he doesn't say aloud still churns in his mind -- << There's too much to explain to him >> << I'm too much >> << No right to burden anyone with all -- this -- >> Rapid and chaotic over a background of ache and longing and shame that aren't quite drowned out by the persistent and intense speculation on what the least messy way to kill himself might be.

"No right to want support from your friends after a fucking nightmare? No right to one fucking minute of people looking after you for a change?" Hive presses more firmly, fingers rubbing at the fuzzy hair at the nape of Flicker's neck. "No right to want someone to love you?"

Flicker curls in on himself. Clutches harder at his pillow. "/You/ love me," sounds almost defensive.

"Always." Hive's answer comes immediately. "Kind of why I wish you would stop pretending that's enough for you. I know I'm not supposed to say it out loud, but --" He stops kneading. Just squeezes Flicker's shoulder. "You really think your God wants you to be this fucking miserable forever, little bird?"

The shame burns fiercely brighter in Flicker's mind. At first he lets it; waits out all the knee-jerk denials that spring to his tongue. He lifts his hand, rests it gently over Hive's. "Of course not..." doesn't hold a /lot/ of confidence, an uneasy juxtaposition clanging in his thoughts. << Of course Heavenly Father wants me to be happy >> / << It's my fault I haven't found a woman to be happy /with/ >> "I just need to try harder."

Hive exhales sharply. "Let's imagine you do find someone. What kind of relationship do you think you're going to have with them if you're not honestly bringing all of you to it? If you're fighting yourself so hard that..." He shakes his head, his thumb brushing against Flicker's fingers. "I'm not saying you need to march at Pride or anything. What if you just started by saying it out loud once in a while?"

The familiar cheerful tune of "Turn It Off" starts up in Flicker's head. Despite himself he can't help a quick snort of laugh as he deliberately quashes the mental soundtrack. He turns, shifts, rests his head against the side of Hive's leg as he tries to think through where Steve might be today.

"Still at Montagues, most likely." Hive takes the cocoa off the nightstand, pressing it into Flicker's hand. "For at least another hour or so. Lucky for you, enough time to shower." His knuckles brush lightly against the stubble on Flicker's cheek. "You really need it."


It's a bright and sunny mid afternoon by the time Flicker comes through the door at Montagues. He doesn't look too much the worse for whatever might have happened in the past month -- a little bit thinner, a few new melting-wax scars on his cheek that kind of just blend into the rest that were already there. Clean-shaven, his hair shorn down to a dark fuzz, dressed in neatly pressed khakis and a grey polo shirt trimmed in green; his arm is not made out of wood but the convincing knotted and grained polished cherry patten of it could easily fool a first inspection. His teeth worry at the inside of his cheek as he hesitantly heads toward the counter, eyes flicking restlessly around the room.

Steve is chatting with a tall, slender Latina behind the counter as she finishes up a pair of cappuccinos. He's dressed in his usual barista black, with a half-apron wrapped around his waist, his blond hair neatly trimmed and smoothed with pomade, his face cleanly shaven. He turns when the door opens, eyes widening, whatever cheerful greeting had been on the tip of his tongue going unspoken. His coworker has his back, though, and chirps, "Good afternoon, welcome to Montagues!" Steve finally just says, softly, "Hey." Looks Flicker up and down, concern written in the scrunch of his brows, eyes settling for a moment on the new scars, however well they fit in. "You know, I'm off in a few minutes." He blushes fiercely. "I don't mean -- uh, sorry. What can I get for you? It's on me."

Despite the fact he came here looking for Steve, Flicker still freezes at the greeting, a dusting of pink flushing across his cheeks. "I --" His eyes have fixed on Steve's face; when he finally drags them away it's with a deeper blush. An apologetic smile to the other barista. "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry miss, hi." His smile is delayed, but warm enough. "I didn't mean to -- um --" He rubs at the back of his neck, his mechanical hand dropping to the counter. "Can I get a lemonade?"

"You're fine," the barista assures Flicker with a bright smile, her eyes flicking curiously between the two men. "And if you wanna take off a couple minutes early," she adds to Steve, "I won't tattle. Not like we're busy."

"Thanks, Magda." Steve's blush isn't fading. "I can get this order, at least." He taps a few things on the screen of the tablet, much handier with it now than he had been the time Flicker saw him at work. He pays his own register and pours a lemonade, handing it to Flicker. "Do you want to go and sit down somewhere?" he asks, turning to fill a thin, silver thermos with coffee. "It's a nice day..."

Flicker steps away from the register as Steve gets the drinks, leaning up against the pastry display. Watching the other man work, at first; then dropping his eyes to scrutinize the croissants more intently than necessary. His own blush has faded, but -- not much, when he looks up again to take the lemonade. "Yes," he answers, almost before Steve's question has quite finished. His cheeks darken further, and he adds a little clumsily. "I mean, yes. I'd -- I would like that."

Steve nods. Taps at his screen again and turns to his coworker. "Alright, I'm taking off, Magda. Have a good day."

"Be safe," Magda replies, waving.

"You, too." Steve pulls an olive drab satchel from beneath the counter and stuffs the thermos in before slinging the strap over his shoulder. "Washington Square isn't far, but tends to kind of a circus on weekends in nice weather," he says as he comes out from behind the counter to join Flicker, leading other man out the door. "Could go down to the docks? Or, if you've got a spot you like..." He shrugs. "You know the City better than I do, these days."

Flicker's shoulder tightens as they head out the door, his posture tense and gaze restless once they are on the sidewalk outside. "I know a really nice place that's quiet and not too far --" Flicker stops, his brows pulling together. "-- no, I guess that's only close the way I usually get us there." He bows his head. Takes a small sip of his lemonade. A little more uncertainly: "The docks are alright."

Steve looks up as though expecting to spot whatever place Flicker is referring to among the gleaming tops of skyscrapers towering all around. "I may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I'm up to a challenge." His eyes return to Flicker. "Or, we could go the way you usually do." He holds out his hand.

Flicker's eyes open slightly wider. He shifts his lemonade to his other hand -- when he takes Steve's, his is kind of cold and damp from the condensation on his lemonade. "It's, um --" He swallows, takes a step closer. "Easier if you put your arm around me." He takes a deep breath. Another sip of lemonade. "You might want to close your eyes."

The world lurches. Blurs, rapidly, into a somewhat dizzying shudder of images as the city drops away from them. Beneath them the buildings still gleam -- the cars streak along -- the people kind of melt into each other. There are streets -- the river -- smaller buildings -- a larger expanse of water as a stretch of ocean, at least, provides a briefly more-or-less coherent picture around them.

It's several minutes of lurching travel before they sink back towards the earth, landing -- remarkably softly -- in a spongy stretch of peat. To one side of them saltmarsh gives way to sand and then ocean, cordgrass waving in the light breeze. Sandpipers peck at the ground; a bright-billed oystercatcher is feeding a scruffy half-grown chick, a number of herons stalk the shore. To the other side, more grasses and then trees dotting the way between them and a wide expanse of pond. Flicker's hand is just a little shaky as he lets Steve go, a very mild concern in his eyes as he watches the other man's face.

Steve does as Flicker suggests, his arm curling around the smaller man's shoulders, strong and sure. He seems slightly more reluctant to close his eyes, but does so anyway -- at first. Even without looking, Flicker could probably tell when Steve made the poor life choice of opening his eyes again, hardly 30 seconds into the journey. He sucks in a sharp breath, pulling himself tighter against Flicker's side, hard enough to hurt for the split second before he forces himself to relax again. His continues squeezing his eyes tightly shut even after they've stop moving, and only opens them when Flicker lets him go. For all that, he only sways a little, his face just a touch pale as he gazes around in wonder. "Wow," he says at last. "This is -- where are we, the Rockaways? It's beautiful."

"Queens. It's a wildlife refuge in Jamaica Bay." Flicker relaxes after Steve speaks, venturing a very tentative -- and short lived -- smile. "I used to come here a lot and watch the birds. There's --" His eyes are drifting away, fixing out on the leggy shorebirds stalking the sands. "A lot of birds. There are other places in the city that are good to find them but this is -- the variety around here is unlike most of the other spots. Last time I was here I saw a family of avocets, they don't usually come this --" He's been getting more animated as he talks, but cuts himself off with a sudden flush and an apologetic dip of head. "-- Sorry, I, um." After this, though, he falters. Studies the shore with a small wrinkle of his brows, taking a longer drink.

Steve's eyes widen further, and he gives an impressed nod. "SoHo to Jamaica Bay in -- that couldn't have been more than five minutes." He follows Flicker's gaze, studying the birds with somewhat more casual interest. "I'm gonna be honest, I wouldn't know an avocet if it flew in my face, but I'm happy to learn about birds if that's what you want to talk about. C'mon." He waves his companion toward a sun-bleached twist of sturdy driftwood and takes a seat on it. "I know those are plovers." He gestures at a group of small gray-and-white birds picking their way along the shoreline. "...or maybe sandpipers?" He chuckles, scruffing fingers over the fade at the back of his head. "I'm not really clear on the distinction."

"I move fast." Flicker follows Steve toward the driftwood, cupping his drink carefully as he sits beside him. "Oh --" Something in his expression eases, and he follows the path of Steve's gesture, peering out toward the birds. "Those are semipalmated plovers. Except that one right at the edge --" He points with one wood-grained finger, "with the darker legs and no ring around its neck? That's a semipalmated sandpiper. Plovers usually have shorter bills -- the sandpipers, it's usually longer and thinner. Also you can watch how they move and feed -- the plovers kind of dart. Start and stop and start. Sandpipers are a little steadier. And they tend to peck the sand a lot more when they're looking for food, the plovers have bigger eyes, see -- they spot their food more often or dig it up with their feet first before stabbing at it." He looks down at the grass poking up from the sand around their feet. "It probably wouldn't be pleasant if an avocet flew in your face, their bills are really pointy. I don't usually see them this far east, though. They used to come up to breed in the mud flats out by Salt Lake."

Steve digs the thermos out of his bag and takes a swig. Studies the birds as Flicker speaks, nodding periodically. "That's a lot of semipalmation. Are there...fully palmated plovers and sandpipers?" He thumbs the little switch that locks the lid of his thermos back and forth. Steals a sidelong glance at Flicker. "I could probably hold my own, pointy bill or no." Small twitch of a smile. "Do you have a favorite? Bird, that is."

"Oh -- um --" Flicker's brows lift, and his fingers flex out wide. "I'm not sure," he says slowly, "but I don't think so. They're wading birds -- it's more common that they aren't palmated at all." He holds his hand up in indication. "Semipalmated refers to their feet -- they both have partial webbing between the toes. There are lots of fully palmated birds -- seabirds, water fowl -- but that's not as useful for shorebirds." His brow wrinkles slightly. "All the plovers or sandpipers I know of that do have webbing only have partial webbing -- I'm not sure why those two got it in their name."

His lips twitch, faintly. "Avocets are only about this tall --" He holds his hands a bit more than a foot apart. "I'm not sure you'd earn many points for beating up a one pound bird." He looks back down at the grass, shifting slightly where he sits. "My favorite? Oh. It's --" His teeth dig at his lip; he rubs his hand against the back of his neck. "-- The northern flicker. There's probably some around here. Over in the trees."

"Ah." Steve holds out one of his own hands, then looks past it at the shorebirds. "Maybe whoever named them just really liked the word." His laugh is a soft puff of breath. "I've lost a couple of fights to seagulls in my time -- though, granted, that was before I ah...looked like this." He gestures indicates -- all of himself. "Oh!" At Flicker's answer his eyebrows lift up ever so slightly. "Do you like them because of your name, or are you named that because of the bird?" He tilts his head slightly to one side. "Or is it just -- total coincidence?"

"Seagulls are vicious. There's no shame in that." Flicker manages a small smile, there. "I'm, um. I'm named for them. I mean, not really, not -- not legally, but. Back in high school when we all had -- had actual free time, I used to go birding a lot with Jax. He said it suited me, that they were. Were --" His cheeks are flushing again, furiously red, and he turns the lemonade cup slowly in his hands. "Have you seen a flicker? They don't really look like much, they're just sort of small and brown and kind of plain. Until you see them move, they have these bright flashes of color under the wings, it's -- striking." His shoulder has tensed again, his eyes fixed steadily down. "They're easy to overlook, but he always thought they were. Really beautiful either way. It just -- stuck. Sorry," he finishes with a blink, a swallow, a shake of his head, "that was a longer answer than you needed, I just."

Steve turns partly to face Flicker, though his eyes dart periodically now to the treeline beyond. His smile, when it comes, is slow and warm. "I've never seen one -- or, if I have, I didn't know what name to put to it -- but it does sound fitting. Maybe you can point one out to me sometime." He takes a sip of his coffee. "Wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know. I'm --" His breath comes out slightly unsteady. "I'm really glad to see you again."

"If we see one, I will." Flicker's eyes dart up toward Steve. "You are?" This comes up quick, startled. He exhales shakily. "I didn't mean that like -- I just. The last time I saw you, I --" Scrubbing at his scarred cheek does nothing to mitigate its redness. "I'm really sorry. For dropping that on you. I was in a really bad place, and I shouldn't have just -- it was a lot to just --" His next blink is harder, his eyes lifting toward the bright blue sky. "I'm glad to see you, too."

"I am." Steve nods, studying the cap of his thermos intently. "I was afraid you wouldn't want to see me, after how I handled..." He sets his jaw. "I didn't realize you were ah -- I thought that you were already --" His head shakes, the motion jerky with frustration. "It's not important what I thought. You didn't do anything wrong, and I wish I'd been there for you. More fully than I was. Especially since --" He runs a hand over his face. "I'm -- queer."

"Thought I was already what?" Flicker's brows rumple -- though just as soon after they shoot back up. "Wait, you?"

Steve bites his lower lip. "I thought that you were, too." Winces, shakes his head. "Well, no. I thought that you were...out." He's blushing again. "But yeah, I'm -- bisexual. It's ah..." His eyes are fixed on a scallop shell, half-buried in the sand. "Not something I've thought through...as much as I probably should have. Still, I have some idea how difficult that must have been. For you to tell me."

"I had no idea. I mean, I guess I hoped that -- not that I thought you'd -- I mean even if I had known I still didn't -- I just wanted --" Flicker scrubs at his cheeks, taking a deep breath after his tumble of words. "You're the first person I ever told." His voice is softer. "Hive knew, obviously, but we never. I never."

Steve blinks. Looks up at Flicker, pale blue eyes wide and guileless. "Never," he echoes, not questioning. "That must be all the more difficult, when you're around so many queers who are -- out." He gulps down more coffee. "Proud, even."

"Never. It's just not... it's never been..." Flicker's plastic cup starts to dent where he squeezes it hard. He takes a breath, relaxes his grip. "I love my friends, it's just -- not how my life was supposed to go, right? Find a nice LDS girl, raise kids with her. Everyone is really clear how I ought to --" His next breath is less steady. He takes a long swig of lemonade, rattles the ice in the half-full cup. "What about you? Had you -- have you -- I mean, you're Catholic, right?"

Steve's eyes linger on Flicker, steady and thoughtful. "I'm guessing your life's gone a lot of ways that it wasn't supposed to." His eyes drop to the thermos in his hands, but he nods. "Yeah, though not a very good one, I guess. Growing up, well, I wasn't anyone's idea of what a man should be. Didn't seem very likely I'd ever -- find a nice Catholic girl, raise kids with her. Almost went into the priesthood, but instead I went to war, and kind of. Fell into a relationship. With a fella. We didn't -- I mean --" A quick shake of his head. "I don't know what would have happened if we'd come out the other end of the war together, but." He takes a deep breath, blinks rapidly. "He died before I woke up."

"The priesthood?" Flicker's eyes sweep up over Steve. "Guess your life also went a lot of places you didn't -- plan." He falls briefly silent, nodding slowly. "I'm so sorry. I can't imagine -- that's. A lot. On top of everything else you had to adjust to." He bites down briefly at his lip. "What was he like?"

Steve laughs, but there's not much mirth in it. "It sure did." He pops the cap on his thermos again, but does not drink from it. "He was...brilliant and irreverent. And kind of a..." He trails off, presses his lips together. "I didn't really get to know him. Not the way I wanted." Closes the thermos. "I tried to pretend it never happened, but --" His shoulders hitch up. "-- the heart's got its own ideas. It's not the same situation, obviously, but I don't want you to have to do that on my account." He looks Flicker squarely in the eyes. "I'm glad you told me."

"That's a big part of you to pretend just never happened." Flicker's breath comes out sharply; he runs his hand over his head. "Not that I can really talk. It just always seemed like -- I'm attracted to some women, it's not like I have to --" This time, the flustered wave of his hand encompasses all of Steve. He blushes, looks down at his other hand. But then back up at Steve, meeting his gaze steadily. "I still kind of wish I'd done it under better circumstances. But then again --" One side of his mouth pulls slightly up. "I probably never would have had the courage if I hadn't thought I was about to die."

Steve nods soberly. "It's not the best approach, but he -- as far as I can tell, he stayed closeted all his life, and considering my fame..." He gives a small shrug. "But -- yeah, I have had the same thought. I'm sure that if I went to my pastor about this like a good Catholic boy should, he'd tell me to ignore being attracted to men at all. To me that seems even more drastic than pretending I've never been in a relationship. Less likely to work, too." He tilts his head at Flicker, thoughtful. "Better circumstances aren't easy to come by, but if it makes you feel any better, I'd have been just as awkward regardless." His blush had never faded completely, and deepens again now. "I wish I could have helped keep you from harm. Still do, even if I haven't got any idea how."

"Drastic," Flicker echoes slowly, his eyes drifting back out towards a tricolored heron slowly stalking through the marshgrass. "But -- given the option of a life that..." His shoulders hunch inward, fingers drumming against his cup. "It always felt like just giving up on a normal life was the drastic choice but. Lately I'm not so sure anymore." When he looks back to Steve it's a little wide-eyed, a little startled. "Keeping me from --" He flushes, rubbing again at the back of his neck. "I've been doing this a decade now, I know what I'm getting into. And it's not like -- you fought a whole war, you deserve a break."

"More and more," Steve says slowly, "I think that having the expectation of some particular kind of life as 'normal' doesn't do anyone favors. Maybe...sometimes a drastic choice can be the right one." His blush creeps up to his ears and down his neck. "Oh, gosh, I didn't mean -- that you need me to protect you, and it's not like other people haven't got your back, but -- a decade?" He just stares at Flicker for a moment, aghast. "Well, you've been at war far longer than I. Deserved or not, I've had my break. I want to fight, and I will -- God knows there are fights enough out there -- but...you can count on my support. If you want it."

"Around that long, I think?" Flicker's brow wrinkles in thought. "I was just about sixteen when Jax got us out, so --" His brows hike up in surprise. "War? I'm not at war, I've just --" He stops short, brows creasing deeper. His mechanical fingers curl stiffly against his leg, and he lets out a long slow breath. "... Oh."

"Sixteen." Steve's eyes go even wider, his jaw setting tight. "I can't really know what it's been like, but... Fighting against organized forces that systematically seek to enslave and destroy your people. Sounds a lot like war." He opens his mouth again, then closes it. Stretches out his arm instead, reaching for Flicker hesitantly. Starts to pull back. "Do you -- may I --?"

"I hadn't -- really thought about it. Like that. It's just -- been how life is for so long that --" Flicker swallows hard. His shoulder tightens as Steve reaches for him, another flush of deep red flooding his cheeks. Despite the reflexive tension, there's an almost palpable relief in his simple answering, "Please."

Steve curls his arms around Flicker's shoulders and pulls the smaller man against his side, almost gingerly. But then he breathes out a slow breath, and his grip tigtens even as some measure of tension eases from his frame.

Slow and uncertain, Flicker shifts closer to Steve. Tucks himself against the other man's side. When he finally does exhale it's a long and tremulous breath. His cheek presses to Steve's shoulder, his eyes closing as he turns just enough to wrap his arm back around his friend, holding on tight.