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Food for Thought
Dramatis Personae

Dusk, Steve


"And I can try to make really, really sure that people have the space they need to decide how to interact with me -- and when I do bring people into my life, it's because they want to be here and not because they're afraid of saying no."


<PRV> VL 403 {Geekhaus} - East Village

This apartment has been undergoing a slow transformation, this fall. Its eclectic assortment of curb-shopped furniture is slowly getting swapped out, one piece at a time, for new and upgraded items. Sturdy, elegantly worked, the solid craftsmanship and intricate geometric patterning of polished mosaic-wood surfaces tell clearly of Flicker's labor -- a new low and wide coffee table in the living room, a few coordinated but not-identical chairs at the kitchen table (two of them, modular with low scooped backs, designed more with winged bodies in mind.)

It's late, though not so late that the streets of East Village are in any way quiet, on a Friday night. Though the actual residents of the apartment who are home have already turned in, their guest is still on the couch. Steve is working his way steadily through a carton of chow mein, his hair touseled and his clothing -- blue and white plaid flannel unbuttoned over a plain white t-shirt and fitted indigo blue jeans -- rumpled. There are a few empty containers on the table in front of him already beside a tub of beef and peppers, another of Kung Pao chicken, and a couple of unopened cartons. Cat is curled up beside him, napping peaceably, but Steve himself is staring with undisguised horror at the TV screen, upon which a blond woman is dismantling and devouring a human corpse in a bathtub, the sound turned down low but still quite evocative. It doesn't stop him from eating, though.

There's a thump outside on the balcony. A brief rattle, a scraaaape as the window opens. Dusk tumbles in accompanied by a cold gust of air -- he does, at least, close the window behind him in short order. His scruffy cheeks are a bit reddened with the cold, his thick dark hair a windblown mess that he's veeery haphazardly combing his fingers through into -- not quite any semblance of order. He's dressed fairly blandly; thick brown corduroys, a color-blocked sweater in varied shades of red, much-abused old Vans sneakers that he's shucking by the window, a crossbody bag slung over his chest that he is unclipping as well. Also tugging off the enormous headphones he's been wearing, tucking them into a case in the bag. His brows hitch, lips quirking with vague amusement as he looks at Steve's face, unable to actually see the television screen yet from this angle. He starts to gesture to Hive and Flicker's room, fingers pulling down in front of his face after, before he catches himself and asks instead, quietly: "They asleep?"

Steve is half-way out of his seat, but then settles back into it, blushing fiercely, pulse racing. Beside him, Cat just opens one eye briefly before closing it again, the tip of his tail twitching once. His eyes tick in the direction Dusk indicates and he nods. "Sorry, I ah...needed supper, so Hive let me stay a while." Looks down at the food laid out before him. Briefly to the screen with a wince. Back up at Dusk. "Are you hungry? I ordered more than I need..."

A soft growl rumbles in Dusk's chest, and his cheeks darken further as he busies himself, a little more intently than necessary, with closing his bag back up. Still, his smile is easy, his tone light. "I'm always hungry." He crosses into the living room, pausing with a slight hitch of brows as he looks at the television. "See you picked something good and appetizing." He drapes himself over the back of the couch, wings slowly flexing and then pulling back in behind him.

"One of those is chow fun, the rest are rice," Steve says, indicating the cartons. His eyes track aside to watch Dusk's wings, before determinedly following Dusk's gaze back to the gory spectacle of Santa Clarita Diet. "I am not sure what I'm watching, but honestly I just...couldn't figure out how to change the channel." He scruffs one hand over the back of his neck, head dipping sheepishly. "So ah, how was your evening?"

"S'aright." Dusk ducks his head slightly, tucking his wings tighter against his back when he notices the shift of Steve's gaze. "What, this?" One of his long thumbclaws gives an abortive twitch; he follows it with a nod towards the screen. "Real estate agent gets turned into a zombie. It's great, if you don't mind the guts. Do you want to know how to look through what's on?" His lips purse, twist briefly to one side. "I mean, you're here enough nights now seems like you ought to be able to pick for yourself and not just get stuck with, uh --" He flicks his fingers towards the screen. "Hive's leftovers."

"Zombie?" Steve echoes, staring at the woman on the screen, her mouth stained red. "Well, that's certainly changed a bit." He even deeper, but his smile looks genuine enough. "I sure would appreciate a quick lesson, if you don't mind. Back in my day, they ah..." He trails off, shaking his head. "Look. I know it's been a while, but I owe you a proper apology."

"Your day? I just figured when you all wanted to get real fancy you lit the fire, make the cave paintings look like they were moving." Dusk leans his weight down on an elbow. Lets one arm hang downward, the backs of his knuckles brushing very lightly against Cat's cheek. "Hand me the remote?" His brows pull inward, and his dark eyes skip sideways to Steve. "Eh? What for?"

Steve chuckles. "Come on, now, we had some high technology, too," he protests. "We were up to full-on shadow puppets with our hands by the forties." He plucks the remote from the table and passes it to Dusk. "Oh -- I..." He frowns, too, now. "For having dealt so badly, that time you -- took me out. Seems like you've never been too comfortable around me since, which..." With a small strug. "...doesn't seem ideal, as much time as I'm spending here." The blush returns in force.

"So the thing is, navigating this isn't actually hard. It has a zillion buttons but you usually only need like. Two. To browse the television. There's one extra button you gotta push if someone's been playing games instead of watching TV, but otherwise, this button takes you to the start screen --" Dusk tips the remote in Steve's direction as he presses the home icon. "And after that you can just wiggle it wherever you want and click this big button to select." The cursor on the screen floats between numerous different streaming services as Dusk tips the remote one direction, then another. "The hard part is choosing where to go and I don't know how to narrow that down for you, all these things have like a million different shows on them. Guess you'll have to browse some. What do you like in a show?"

He's not really looking at Steve through this explanation; his wings shift behind his back, claws clicking against the floor as he sinks downward. "Probably hard to believe but I am actually very used to people turning me down." This is light; his small hook of smile fades with the following: "It's just, they usually tell me they're doing it."

"Wiggle it?" Steve's eyes dart from the screen the remote and back to the screen, clearly trying to figure out the connection between the location of the cursor and the movement of the remote. "It's ah...sort of like a joystick?" His frown is more uncertain than anything else. "Haven't seen a lot of shows, to be honest. Watched one called 'Leverage' with Hive and quite enjoyed that."

His eyes fix determinedly on the screen, little though he probably comprehends the myriad app icons. "I believe it, even if you are --" He gives a quick, sharp shake of his head, the blush only deepening. "I ought to have said as soon as I realized the misunderstanding, just didn't know how in the moment. I had -- a lot going on, but there was no call making that your problem."

"Wiggle it. Here, it's much easier to see when you're actually doing it." Dusk hands the remote back. "If you know what you want to watch you can just press this little button --" He taps at the microphone button, "and say the name of the show and it'll search for it for you. Otherwise you can just kind of click between the different options and see what's available. Leverage is fantastic, though. Honestly once you've watched that you might as well stop cuz you won't top it."

He folds his arms against the back of the couch, sucking his cheeks briefly inward. "I know you had a lot going on, man. I had no idea how much at the time, but -- like, you've had a raw deal and I don't blame you for having a hard time navigating it." There's a slight hesitation after this, his eyes slanting to study Steve a moment before he adds: "I just -- have to be careful who I hang out with, you know? If people aren't up front with me about what they want I --" His head shakes. "Just trouble I'd rather avoid."

Steve's frown turns faintly skeptical, but he accepts the remote anyway and -- wiggles it. The cursor leaps wildly across the screen and disappears into a corner. "This button?" His question seems to be rhetorical, as he presses the correct one and says "Leverage," in an overenuciated stage whisper at the remote. After a bit of ruminating, the television does in fact locate the show in question, but does not start playing it automatically.

"I've got no problem being up front about what I want," he says, waggling the remote experimentally again while staring at the splash screen for the show, "when I know what I want. I'm learning sometimes that isn't so straightforward, and -- sometimes I just have to talk about it anyway." He gives a small shrug. Finally looks back at Dusk. "If you'd like to know, I'll tell you. Certainly I'll do my level best to be clearer going forward, but I understand if you'd still rather keep me at arm's length." His eyes dart to Hive and Flicker's room door. "...To the extant that's possible, anyway."

"Yup, that one. Then if it's what you wanted, point the cursor at it and press the big button." Dusk lifts one hand, resting his chin against his palm and watching the screen. "If I'd like to know -- what, now?" His eyebrows hike up, and he shoots a brief look towards Flicker's bedroom door as well. "I mean, I think you've made it kind of clear what it is you want."

Steve makes a couple of abortive attempts to steady the cursor on the title of the show, shaking his head with something like mild incredulity at his failure. Perhaps he has finally maxed out his capacity for embarrassment here. "To him? Sure." Though his brows gather again, thoughtful. "But that has nothing to do with -- why I turned you down, or why I didn't turn you down -- oh heck." He looks up at the ceiling, and seems to have some blushing left in him, after all. "Look. I know I'm...outdated. I realize now it may have come off that way, but I'm not bothered by how you look, and that's God's honest truth."

Dusk doesn't immediately answer this. His eyes fix on the erratic twitch and bounce of the cursor on the screen. His fingertip brushes in a small circular motion where it rests on his cheek, tracing against the scruff of his beard. "Most humans are," he says at length, slow and musing, "but I'm used to that. I just -- I can't afford to --" His cheeks puff out. He exhales slow, his eyes skating away to the window. Pushes himself up a moment later, wingbones pressing against the back of the couch as his arms drop. "I mean it's fine, man, you don't owe me an explanation. I am glad." One of his wings sweeps out slightly as he wanders back toward the kitchen, indicating not just Steve but the closed bedroom door behind him. "If you're figuring your shit out."

Steve considers this for a moment, setting down the remote in favor of polishing off the rest of his noodles. "'Not bothered' feels pretty inadequate. Kind of oversimplistic, too, but...what can't you afford to do? If you don't mind telling me." He sets down the empty carton, his eyes following Dusk, the direction he points. "I didn't think I owed you an explanation." He looks back at the food on the table, but does not reach for more of it just yet. "I wanted to give you one because I -- I'd like to be your friend. Or at the least not make you quite so uncomfortable while I'm around."

"Mmm. What fits better than 'not bothered', then?" Dusk opens the fridge, grabs a glass jar full of thick red liquid to uncap it and stick it in the microwave. He rests against the cabinets while he waits for it to heat, rubbing a hand against his cheek and studying the ceiling rather than Steve. "I can't afford to be second-guessing my friends' choices around me. I get that sometimes you aren't sure what you want, or communication is hard, or you have a fuckton of emotional baggage that you're not ready to sort through yet, and that's -- fine? It's not like. A failing on anyone else's part. Just not something I want to risk in the people I'm around."

Steve frowns, still looking at the cartons of Chinese food. "I'm not bothered by the fact that you've got wings or fangs, but I haven't got a lot of experience interacting with folks that -- with mutants who -- with physical mutants. I don't know what's polite and what's not, or whether my curiosity is just another kind of hurt for someone who's got to deal with that every day." The blush creeps back into his cheeks. "Truth is, I think you're very attractive, and I wanted very badly to be ready to go on a date with you. But I wasn't." He's silent for a moment, his gaze darting to the microwave. "Anyhow, I think I'm able to communicate things clearer now -- even if sometimes all I can tell you is I've no earthly clue what's going on -- and I've got help sorting through the baggage. Though..." He winces. "Well. I've got a whole carload of them. And I'm certainly not about to insist you take any risks on my account."

"Don't think there's a blanket answer for that. Some kinds of questions I'm happy to answer -- some days -- from some people. Probably those aren't the same questions that, I dunno, Shane would answer, or Isra, or Horus --" One of Dusk's wings hitches up briefly. "There are times I'm glad to talk about shit that people respectfully, genuinely, want to know. Other times I honestly would rather humans never talked to me at all. And there's a whole lot of in-between times, too." He opens the microwave after it beeps. Takes out the jar inside with a small hiss, quickly sets it back down on the counter, hand fluttering in the air to cool his fingers down. He grabs a mug from the cabinet -- "I can kill you with my brain", it says on its side -- and pours out the jar of blood into that instead, leaving the jar in the sink and crossing back into the living room.

"And it's fine, I don't, uh, require that people have all their shit together before we hang out, that's not..." His lips press together thinly. He settles himself on the arm of the couch, wings hanging down over its side. "You say it doesn't bother you what I look like, but for a lot of people it does, you know? And not just cuz they're bigots. It's just --" He stares down into his mug. Shrugs one wing again. "It's rare I meet a person who I couldn't snap in half with one hand. People don't need to feel any kind of way about mutants to be very -- aware of that. I have to be, too." His eyes lift back to Steve, his trailing, "You know?" more weighted than a simple verbal punctuation.

Steve doesn't seem to pay much mind to the contents of Dusk's mug until he gets closer to it. His brows wrinkle faintly, more confused than troubled, though he doens't comment on it. "That -- seems perfectly sensible. I guess there's probably little harm asking if it's alright to ask something, though I'd not put it past me to fit my entire foot in my mouth anyway." He finally picks up another carton of rice and scoops some beef and peppers into it. Doesn't actually start eating it, though. Looks up at Dusk. "I do know," he agrees, quietly. "Not fully, and not in the same ways, but -- even someone who doesn't know my true strength can look at me and..." He frowns. Curls both hands around the carton. "Most people do know, though, that I am even stronger than I look, which has to enter into their consideration when --" Stops short. His "Oh" is kind of faint.

"Right." Dusk's head bows as Steve cuts himself off. His eyes lower to the mug in his hands; he lifts it for a long slow swallow, a faint shiver rippling through his wings as he drinks. "So I figure I have options, right? I could just say fuck it, I know I don't intend to hurt people and they need to deal with their own preconceptions when they're talking to me. I could stop interacting with most people at all in case I overstep and people just go along with shit they don't want because they're terrified of what I might do otherwise. Or --" He lifts his eyes back to Steve, here. "I could recognize I live in a world where a lot of people have very reasonable cause to be afraid of a lot of men's intentions, a world where a lot of people have been hurt by men they thought wouldn't hurt them. And I can try to make really, really sure that people have the space they need to decide how to interact with me -- and when I do bring people into my life, it's because they want to be here and not because they're afraid of saying no."

Steve nods solemnly, and it's a long moment for he replies. "I've thought about that -- quite a bit, since the procedure. Not so much before, though perhaps I should have...and probably still not near as thoroughly as I ought." His eyes dart to Flicker and Hive's door, his expression faintly troubled. "And I certainly hadn't considered the ways it might apply, similarly or differently, to you." Rotates the carton slowly and meditatively in his hands. "For what it's worth, I was never afraid of you like that -- and it wasn't all arrogance, or ignorance, or plain recklessness." The corner of his mouth twitches, not quite a smile. "Though there was some of that. I'd figured you were strong -- you'd have to be, in order to fly -- but not that you might also be able to...teleport, or read my mind, or what have you. And, of course, I had no idea how strong you are. All that aside, I doubt Matt would have let me out that door without a warning if he had concerns for my safety." He inclines his head with a very Tessier upturn of his palm. "But...you didn't know I was a supersoldier from the '40s without two clues about mutants to rub together." He studies the mug in Dusk's hands again. Finally, he ventures, "Say, ah...what are you drinking?"

"I'm glad you weren't," Dusk answers, quiet and sincere. "I just --" A smile quirks, small and crooked on his face. "I'm not a masochist either, you know? I *do* try to do what I can to make sure I'm giving people space, communicating clearly, respecting people's boundaries --" His wing lifts in a small shrug. "But there were years I was just anxious about that all the fucking time. I don't have time for that shit anymore. I just -- keep friends around who communicate clearly with *me*, too. That doesn't have to mean having your shit together -- but it *does* have to mean being up front with me when you don't, that's all. I'm more than happy to step back, to wait, to help work through what people need together, but, honestly, I have enough baggage of my own. But if you're good to meet me halfway here --" His next smile is warmer. Fangier. "Flicker's got good judgement, I probably have time for new friends."

His eyes drop to the mug in his hands. A faint tinge of red creeps into his cheeks. "This?" He lifts the mug. Almost sips at it again, but then lowers it to his knee. "Uh. Blood? Sorry, I could put it in a thermos or something if it. Bothers you."

Steve tucks into his food again, polishing off half the carton even while Dusk speaks. Washes it down with a gulp of his Coke and nods again. "That sounds like a reasonable way to go about things -- I'm only sorry that you had such a difficult road to it." He answers Dusk's smile with one just as broad and warm, if less fangy. "That he does, and I'm good for it." He's about to take another bite of his food, but lowers the chopsticks slowly. "Oh! No, it doesn't -- bother me." He blushes fiercely. "Just wasn't expecting -- since most people can't -- what kind of --" He scrubs his face with one hand. "Sorry. Do you ah...feel up to answering some questions about. Your diet? From me? Now?"

Dusk just quirks his eyebrows upward. Does take a sip of his drink, this time. Tips the mug just slightly in Steve's direction. "Shoot."

Steve bites his lower lip. "Do you -- subsist on blood?" His eyes flick to the Chinese food on the table. Back to Dusk's mug. "Seems like it'd take an awful lot to keep a man alive." Then, much more hesitantly. "Where do you get it from? There don't seem to be that many butcher shops around, at least compared to my day."

A soft growl rumbles briefly in Dusk's chest. When he does answer it's slow, measured. "I don't, but -- only because it does take an awful lot to keep a man alive." The sharp claws atop his wings twitch; his dark eyes fix on the mug in his hands. "I get enough that I don't die. In between sometimes I'll eat food to take my mind off the --" He shakes his head quickly. Lifts the mug quickly -- but sips at it slow. "Uh -- this is -- Flicker's, actually." His cheeks have darkened again.

Steve attends Dusk's answers with relative cool until he gets to the last bit. "Flicker's," he repeats, blinking. "Most people...can only give blood once every -- month? Two months?" His lips press together thinly. "Right, you -- get enough that you don't die. And only human --" He squeezes his eyes shut. "-- people blood will do?"

"Two months is the official restriction. Most people can do it a little bit sooner and be fine. But -- yeah. Not that frequently, and in an ideal world," Dusk sounds a little bit wry, here, "I'd eat every day. In this one, uh --" He rubs at the back of his neck, one of his eyes screwing up. "A few times a week, if I'm lucky. I supplement it with cow blood but it isn't --" His lips press together. "Be kind of like if you tried living off soda. It's calories, but it's not -- nutrition. I do like food. The taste of it. But I don't get any type of sustenance off of it. Eat it socially, sometimes. Sometimes just --" The quiet growl returns, just a soft rumble that thrums low underneath his words as his shoulders coil fractionally tighter inwards. "To kind of feel full for a while, take the, uh. Edge off."

Steve doesn't look horrified, exactly, but his pale blue eyes are very, very wide. "That sounds -- incredibly difficult." He seems to ease a bit at his own words. Considers the remainder of his own supper, but the focus of his gaze seems farther off. His head shakes, quick, attention returning to Dusk. "I do appreciate you explaining that, and I hope it wasn't too intrusive. You are welcome to some Chinese food, whether for the taste or the -- edge." The pause here is only slightly awkward. "Either way, you ah...wanna watch some Leverage?"

"It --" The quick hook of Dusk's smile is reflexive, but as he looks up at Steve it fades into something less glib; whatever automatic levity had been springing to his lips dies there, replaced only with a quiet: "Yeah." He swallows, wraps his wings tight around himself. Very slowly sinks down from the arm of the couch to settle into the corner of the cushions instead, his mug cradled protectively against his chest. His smile returns in a slow unfurling, his eyes flitting sideways to Steve. "-- You think you can manage turning it on?"