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Revision as of 23:15, 19 November 2019


CN: Intense emotions, discussion of rape, violence.

Dramatis Personae

Flicker?, Hive, Steve


<< {This is us.} >>


<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.) Hive is seated on the (still old, busted, but squashy-comfortable) couch in pajamas and a deep crimson shirt with the Greek letters Theta and Tau on the chest in gold. He's enjoying a late-night cup of cocoa and an episode of Schitt's Creek. His phone is in one hand; his other is petting the fluffy and softly rumbling calico cat who is draped across his lap.

Flicker and Hive's room has been quiet for a while now, to baseline as well as telepathic senses, though earlier it was very noisy to both. Steve's mind is quiescent but alert, the ragged edge of a long and stressful day bled off in pleasure and sheer physical exertion. He waits until his lover is soundly asleep before extricating himself and slipping out into the living room, blushing generously at the sight of Hive, though he knew perfectly well the man had been there all along. << Shouldn't have exiled the man from his own room for so long. >> His clothes -- the Army dress uniform laden with insignia and honors -- are not as rumpled as one might imagine, given the kind of day he's had, but he feels slightly uncomfortable in them all the same, wishing he'd brought a change of civvies. He fetches himself a glass of water from the kitchen and darts a glance at Hive. "Hey ah. Can I get you something while I'm up?" Just a beat later, he adds, quite unnecessarily, "On my feet."

"Could get you some pants, if you want." This isn't really an answer to Steve's question, but it's what Hive says first all the same. The indicative lift of his half-empty mug of cocoa is at least a little more relevant. "Got some -- wrap ones. They'll fit you. Doubt anyone's shirts will, though." He's stretching one leg out to rest on the table in front of him, fingers rubbing lightly against Cat's head. His eyes have dropped from the television screen, fixing with a steady intensity on his phone. The slight tension in his shoulders just pulls his already slouchy posture a little bit more hunched.

<< Pants? >> Steve's confusion flashes instantly to horror, and he glances down to reassure himself that he is in fact fully clothed. << Oh! He was hearing...my thoughts. >> Another wave of embarrassment and unease passes over him, which he tries and fails to quash. "Thank you, but I'll be alright. Even I don't want to go out in this kind of weather shirtless, and I suspect wrap pants might clash a bit with...this." He gestures at his uniform jacket, heavy with medals, as he sits down on the opposite end of the couch from Hive. << Bit late to be bashful now considering what he's been hearing. >> His pale blue eyes take in Hive's posture with a faint wash of guilt. "I know you're used to overhearing, but still, I'm sorry if that was...uncomfortable for you. We -- I mean Flicker and I -- don't have to keep doing that here."

"Guess it has got cold." Hive glances towards the window -- just briefly. As Steve takes a seat his shoulders start to tighten further -- it only lasts an instant. His fingers curl gently into Cat's fur, and he eases back into the couch with a soft chuff of a laugh. "I'd much rather you fuck him in bed than in the stairwell or -- the roof." His voice has slipped just a little dry. "Besides, I live in an apartment building. I can't really get away from it. If it's not you all, it's -- uh." His eyes close, cheeks puffing out. "Still two other apartments I can hear right this minute."

Seeing Hive's obvious unease, Steve almost gets right back up before deciding that would likely just make matters worse. << Perhaps my own discomfort is contagious. Surely he can't -- >> He blushes. Looks down at Cat. << -- surely you can't like hearing my running commentary. >> Hive's choice of words make him blush even harder. "I was more thinking that I could just invite him to my place, if we plan to --" << -- fuck >> This echoed with a mix of shame and dismay. << I guess that is what we do. >> Still, it jars with tenderness and solace he's found in Flicker's embrace, but a sudden wordless flood of worry pushes this aside. He frowns. "I hope this isn't too forward, but I want to do right by him and would value your insight. You and he are..." His eyes flick back up, searching Hive's face as if he could find the words that refuse to come. What surfaces instead is a memory: a scruffy young man in tattered winter gear with a rifle at his shoulder, smiling through his misery, icy fingers wrapped around Steve's as he accepts the warm tin cup. The visceral agony it brings is lost in the emptiness and wrongness of the man's absence. Steve realizes he's holding his breath and lets it out shakily. "...close."

"I want you to do right by him, too." When Hive half-opens his eyes again he still doesn't look at Steve. Just kees his half-lidded gaze tipped down into his cocoa, his toes curling against the edge of the table and his teeth slowly grinding. His breath catches a moment after Steve's -- he doesn't let it back out until a beat or so after the other man does. "You're welcome over here." That his teeth are still clenched with these words makes them, perhaps, not as reassuring as they might be intended. "I'm sorry that my --" His other hand lifts from the cat, flicking calloused fingers towards his temple. "Makes it awkward." His fingers curl harder against his mug, and he lifts it slowly for another sip. "We're -- we're more than just close. If you're going to stick around, I --" His shoulders are tightening, again. "Should explain."

"It's alright." Steve hesitates. "I keep thinking it's got to be worse for you than for me, no matter how used to it you may be." Takes a sip of his water, mentally flipping through his recollections of recent interactions with Hive before continuing. "You've just seemed incredibly uncomfortable around me ever since Flicker and I started sleeping together. I can imagine all kinds of reasons for that, but the one that worries me most is that you think this is harming him. And if so, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on it." << Maybe he's just against the whole being queer thing? >> He shakes off that last thought. Studies Hive sidelong. "I do mean to stick around," he says firmly. "Sex or no sex. And I wasn't trying to diminish the importance of your relationship -- I know 'close' probably doesn't come near covering it." His eyes dart to the closed door behind which Flicker sleeps, his voice turning gentle. "Love will not be constrained by laws, or convention, or inadequacy of language. But if you're up to explaining, I'm up to listening."

A touch of color rises to Hive's cheeks. His eyes dart up, skipping sideways toward Steve as his teeth grind again. "Shit, if you had any idea what it was like watching him fight himself on this for fucking years -- I'm glad. That he's happy. That he's happy with you. I was a very big cheerleader of --" His lips twist to the side, a little too skewed to quite be a smile. "The whole being queer thing. I love him. I want him to figure this out -- with someone who gives a damn about him. I was so fucking scared his only --" His teeth click together, jaw clenching up tight. He swallows the rest of this thought in another mouthful of cooling cocoa.

His head sinks back against the sofa, his eyes lifting to the ceiling. He sucks in a breath, lets it out shakily. "You know I read minds." His words are just a little bit more clipped. "That's not the extent of what I do. My -- my mutation lets me connect my mind to other people's a lot more -- a lot more deeply than just hearing their thoughts."

"Oh," Steve says, intelligently. << That was presumptuous of me. >> But beneath this his perplexity only grows. "I -- want to help him figure it out, if I can." His laugh is little more than a puff of breath. "Figure it out along with him, more like. I know it's not...all that he wanted, but I do love him, too." The fierce intensity of emotion these words invoke, paradoxical in their simultaneous simplicity and complexity, interfere somewhat with Steve's attempt to process Hive's admission. << 'More deeply'? What else is there to minds than thoughts? Emotions, I suppose. >> He frowns, studying Hive's body language. << Surely he can't fear that's a bridge too far, given what I already know. >> From the depths of his mind Bucky's voice answers him, << Oh yeah, definitely no reason anyone would ever be worried about making you mad. Cut a fella some slack. >> His cheeks flush faintly. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure what the implications of that might be."

Hive drains the rest of his cup, leaning forward to rest it on a vividly colorful glass coaster on the table. "It's -- it'll be easier to show you than to explain. Just --" The breath he pulls in now is slow. It's slow, too, when he drags his gaze back to Steve, half-turning -- not quite so much as to dislodge Cat from his lap -- to face the other man a little better. "I told you before that I overhear thoughts of people around me, but that -- really just scratches the surface of what my ability does. That part happens all the time, and I can't stop it, but there's a lot more to it that I can do if I do try. I don't --" He hesitates, brows drawing briefly together. "I don't know how much you know about telepathy. There are other telepaths out there who can influence minds in a lot of different ways. Change your thoughts, change your memories, make you see things that aren't there, shift your emotions, I'm -- pretty shitty at most all of that, but what I can do is link my mind to other people's. It's hard to explain what the implications of that are, entirely. When we're connected, I am them and they are me. We share -- thoughts, and experiences. Memories. Emotions. I see and feel everything they do -- and the other way around, if I let them."'

Steve presses his lips together, shakes his head, the motion short and sharp. "I don't know a whole lot for certain beyond what you told me. Tried doing some research on the Internet, but most of what I turned up seemed pretty...hyperbolic? Hysterical rumors at best, and in many cases pretty blatant fear-mongering." << But it sounds like they weren't all wrong, bigotry aside. >> His profound alarm at Hive's list does not show on his face, and in any case fades quickly with the revelation that follows. He tries and fails to imagine what being 'connected' might feel like, however vivid his ability to visualize. Finally he nods, very slowly. << He already can dig through my memories if he chose to, and probably worse. If I trust him not to do that... >> "I think you're right. That it would be easier to show me." His tone is carefully neutral, giving voice to none of his uncertainty or disquiet. "If you wouldn't mind."

"There's a lot of fearmongering. The vast majority of psionic mutants can't actually dig through your brain or control you, but you wouldn't know that to hear people talk about it. Most of us it's like -- maybe they're just kind of intuitive or feel people's emotions strongly. It's usually much more of a headache to us than a danger to anyone else. Which isn't to say -- the strongest of us, yes. It's terrifying. But we're the outliers, by far." Hive looks down, reluctantly lifts the dozing Cat out of his lap to set him on the floor with a grumble of protest. "This is going to be uncomfortable." He winces after he says this, his head ducking. "Physically, I mean. Obviously it's also -- not -- emotionally comfortable to have me poking around in your --" He exhales sharply. "Sorry. I'll just."

This truncated sentence is followed by a sharp and heavy pressure that digs in, vicelike, at Steve's skull. Slow and crushing, it's kind of migraine-adjacent but simultaneously very noticeably an external force -- if Steve didn't know what Hive was about to do it would likely be rather disorienting that way. The sense of some invisible grip pressing down -- and then into -- his head grows stronger, intense and splitting but thankfully (or not so thankfully) soon to -- pass? No -- not pass -- but it fades, settles, mingles, mixes into the background of --

an expanded awareness. Not just the apartment around them, the warm cocoa smell from the kitchen, grumble of the cat, the chatter of the television, not even just the noises from the street outside or the muffled voices from the apartment next door but --

-- slick-red and hot, a nearly consuming hunger and sharply keen awareness of the thumping heartbeats in the adjacent room; the ravenousness is difficult to extricate from the rage that seems out of proportion with the sterile screen of code ticking quiet and neat in front of tired eyes --

-- beneath a pleasant fuzzy-heavy mental fog, an intense hyperfocus on the too-shaky shaker of salt in his hand. This is life, now. Half a year of PT for one MAYBE-edible pan of mole. Don't fuck it up don't fuck it up don't --

--and from adjacent vantage, Ryan viewed in oddly headache-inducing too-vivid technicolor and too-bright emotion, an aching grip of warm protective love (the shaking hands sharply noted) that mingles freely with a sharp sense of the ludicrous: "-- Oh my goodness", in exasperated holler-drawl, swiping the salt, "gimme that you are too high for this."--

-- not far off, a young boy -- sorry, he's a man, now! -- thoughts colored with the mist-veil distance of the dreaming world. Around them, some kind of junkyard palace -- heaps of castaway treasures spread all round. A girl bedecked in patchwork finery leads him by the hand through the tortuous passageways; at intervals she turns, a mischievous smile playing on her lips as she raises a finger to them --

-- elsewhere, the satisfying repetition of a pleasant domestic task. Soft dough worked in steady rhythm beneath her hands, her mind wandering during the familiar process to less soothing fields: the stress of where added income will come from now that winter's chill has made the park a less hospitable artistic venue --

-- the drone of Godless on the television has become kind of just a companionable background noise that gathers disparate figures together around it. None of the minds up here are really paying the show much attention. One placid stream of thoughts half attentive to his game of Plants vs. Zombies, half turning over ideas for his next session of Chimaera's street art class ("Thinking Off the Wall"). Another, simultaneously sluggish with a bone-deep exhaustion and too jittery-wired to actually sleep just yet, waiting for the benadryl-melatonin-valerian cocktail to kick in and rereading the same sentence of Rebecca Roanhoarse's Storm of Locusts over and over and over while trying desperately not to think about the young girl who had been bleeding in the back of his ambulance this evening. The last, buzzing with almost frenetic activity, keys clicking rapidly as they work rapidly through editing an article detailing the white supremacist ties of a senior policy advisor at the White House --

And on, and on -- the stress of a neighbor worrying about a potential eviction, the fierce-heat flush of two people engaged in very passionate sex and the far more lopsided let-me-take-this-time-to-go-over-my-grocery-list tedium of somewhat less engaging coitus; frustrated insomniacs tossing in bed or streaming shows they don't really care about, confusing disjointed dreams, one person's mental calculations on what it would take to move out and away from their partner, one person melting happily as their dog cuddles closer to them in bed.

In their mind it is both very sharp and very background, a commonplace drone they are all too used to filtering out --

-- with the exception of one. Immediately identifiable to them -- deeply innately part of them -- but held apart. There's a fierce swell of protectiveness, love, warm deep care; a boundary that Hive has drawn to section off this part of themselves where he currently lies sleeping (fitfully) in the next room. The partitioning isn't total -- they can still feel a lingering soreness, a restless unease born of the disquieting dreams that have begun since Steve left.

A group of young adults all dressed in white garments, standing in a circle around an altar in front of a large white curtain. "If any of you have unkind feelings toward any member of this circle, you are invited to withdraw so that the Spirit of the Lord may be unrestrained," an older man outside the circle is saying. A muscular tattooed man with short-cropped dark hair grins at Flicker from across the circle -- their throat starts to close in reflexive panic. Maybe they meant to only take a step back, but instead teleport toward the veil. A thick hand reaches through the curtain and Ansel is there, too, his grip rough as he pulls them through --

Steve sucks in a sharp breath at the pressure in his head. Lifts a hand to rub at his temple, then aborts the motion half-way. Doesn't drop his hand, too engrossed with his sudden immersion in them. The ambient thoughts of those nearby are at once endlessly fascinating and utterly commonplace, but they see no contradiction in this shared perspective.

Once they pull their attention away from the ambient thoughts, they take mental stock of themselves, like a man (three men?) patting down his pockets to recall what he'd put in each. Strains at once toward Flicker, eager to soothe away the nightmare, then almost instantly pulls back as they remember why they've partitioned him off like that. Remembers, too, who Ansel is and what he did with a rage that isn't as fresh and all-consuming as he might have expected on his own.

Their love for Flicker is also changed -- more, perhaps, in facets if not in degree. When he thinks of the desperate passion with which they entwined not so long ago, he's momentarily horrified. That wasn't for them, it was -- oh, wait, he wasn't them at the time. Not like this. The stutter-stop flow of their thoughts is disorienting, but not very distressing. A part of them isn't used to this, so of course they are awkward.

<< {This is us.} >> In mental space, Hive's voice -- their voice -- isn't his usual gruff mumble, isn't smoker's-raspy, doesn't carry its displaced mongrel accent. In his own mind, in his native Thai, his words are quiet and steady and clear. << {You're still you, of course. And he is still him. But we're also --} >> There are no words to finish this -- only a strong swell of feeling. Connection, deep and intimate. One soul spanning three bodies.

Steve's reflex to reach towards Flicker is picked back up, gently. Continued where it had first been aborted, a slow stretch of mental limbs that Hive takes care to let Steve feel in the process -- reaching out, wrapping warm and enveloping around Flicker. (Somewhere in a white-draped temple, Steve -- in a semblance of full Captain America drag, though his shield and helmet and uniform are all in shades of pure white -- has made an appearance. The solid punch he lands on Ansel's jaw sends the man flying back, toppling over to disappear from view.) A gentler calm slowly displaces some of the panicky anxiety, Flicker's restiveness quieting.

<< {This is us.} >> It's still soft. Hive pulls his knees up toward his chest, his arm curling around his shins. In the closely entangled space between them, Hive takes no care to mask the panicky anxiety he yet feels about this exchange -- one they have with vanishingly few people. << {He loves you. If you're going to be in our life, we --} >> A hesitation, here. Hive's arm tightens further, and he continues out loud. Steve's own pulse speeds in time with the heavier hammer of Hive's heart. "He's not just my friend, he's a part of my -- everything. I thought you should know."

Steve doesn't actually answer, at first, but that, at least, is not awkward. They're still re-ordering their thoughts to accommodate him even as he reorders his to accommodate them -- to accommodate the very idea of them. He shifts inwardly, feeling with curious yet unaccustomed senses along the lines of mental movement that Hive used to send him into Flicker's dream, though he does not try to replicate it.

<< This is us. >> When he agrees at last it's in his own voice, though not the one that they are used to hearing, even in his thoughts. It's a small voice, yet strong -- it will shout to be heard if it must, but knows when not to -- with a thick Brooklyn accent. << This is -- we're alright. We're remarkable. I understand...not everything, but enough, I think. >> But then, at once worried and wistful, << Will I still understand once I am -- no longer us? >>

<< {You'll remember. You might not -- know this deeply just what it means. But you'll remember, and you'll understand. As far as singular people can.} >> Hive's fingers scrunch into the soft flannel of his pajama pants. Grip hard at his shin. Within them, that hard knot of anxiety twists deeper. << {And you'll feel differently, when you aren't us.} >> Steve can clearly feel the hard press of fingers digging at leg, the deliberately slow breaths that do very little to quell the shakiness trying to well up beneath.

"It's just -- I thought it was important. Because -- I can't turn it off, you know? What I hear. And when I'm connected to someone, I hear people through them, too. So there's a chance that even if I'm not physically there, if he is, I might still be hearing. We aren't -- we enjoy each other's company, but we aren't always together, just --" The flutter of protectiveness here is sudden and strong enough to catch at their breath. It comes with a brief shiver of a memory, seen only vaguely but felt with a keen intensity: Flicker, hair still shorn off short and dressed in his Sunday best, frozen just outside the apartment in a paralyzing grip of panic, the ordinary sounds of the city flooding his senses with a constant klaxon of alarm, a tight constricted shortage of air in his chest. "-- especially lately, it's been helpful. Having that support, when things are stressful."

Slowly, the ambient noise of so many minds pressed in around them starts fading. The warm familiar presence sleeping in a corner of their mind does, too. It's careful and cautious as Hive untethers Steve from their mind -- though even all the care he takes does not prevent a heavy throb of headache left in its wake. Hive's shoulders tighten as he pulls back, his eyes lowering to fix on his knees.

Steve's fingers dig unconsciously into his own leg, too. He pulls toward Hive's shakiness, clumsy as he is in the subtleties of psionic contact, longing to soothe that anxiety even if they know it is beyond his ability. << I'm sorry. We want him to have that support. >> He actually turns to look at Hive, seeing the man's misery through incongruously familiar eyes now. << You, too. It is important. We -- I'll try my best to be worthy of your trust. >>

He tries to brace for being unhived, tries not to cling to Flicker's presence, little though this hinders Hive. The headache he can cope with easily, but not the disorientation, the cognitive dissonance, or the yawning void of loneliness -- the last really just his baseline of many months, brought into sudden focus by its brief absence. His mind cannot reconcile how he felt about the experience just a moment ago (safe, curious, matter-of-fact) from how he feels about it now (fearful, confused, overwhelmed). His eyes squeeze shut, his breathing grows shallow, and his pulse races. Somewhere out of the blooming panic comes the impulse to flee.

<< Stop! >> Bucky's voice, again. << Fella bares his soul to you like that, you don't just skedaddle and leave him to wonder if you're going to sell 'im out -- >> "I won't," Steve blurts. More quietly, opening his eyes again and glancing at Hive sidelong, "I won't betray you." His breaths come slow and even now, if only by force. "Sorry I'm taking this so badly." Though even as he says so, his mind is adjusting to the abrupt addition of the new, alien perspective from his memory of the last few minutes. It's another long moment before he manages, "How will I know when he's...you? Will you tell me?" << Surely he would have plenty of motivation to remove himself if we're... >> His cheeks flush as he makes a valiant but futile effort not to think about Flicker beneath him, the quickening of his pulse not from desire but anxiety.

Hive lets out an unsteady breath; his lips twitch slightly, but don't quite make it all the way into a smile. "You haven't called the cops and you're not straight-up trying to kill me, so you're taking it better than some people. I know it's a lot. I wouldn't expect you to just -- be okay with it. I just know how much you mean to him, and." He shakes his head, lifting a hand to scrub his fingers through his hair, fingertips tracing against the side of his skull. "We'll let you know. We don't -- I don't -- have any intention of invading your privacy like that. Being there for him doesn't mean -- It's not like that, I don't want to... I've made sure to give you two space since --" His mouth snaps shut again, colour draining from his face as his head drops, chin pressing to his knees. Both his arms wrap tight and hard around his legs, his toes curling down against the worn and fraying couch cushion.

Even through the chaos of his recently upended worldview, Steve pauses to stare at Hive, aghast. << But anyone who's been him -- them, of their own free will would at least know it's not...harmful. It's just -- >> His thoughts reach for a concept he has no words for, but the memory of that profoundly intimate connection feels very different from only his own, singular perspective -- perplexing and alien. << That's not any kind of excuse. >> His seething anger at the nebulous 'some people' eases along with his anxiety at Hive's reassurance. "Thank you. It's not that I think you'd want to invade my privacy, but...maybe it doesn't feel like that, when you're...also him." A quiet doubt lingers at the back of his mind. << Of course I can't really know but...it's not as big of a risk as he's taking on me. >> He frowns, watching Hive curl up into himself. Conquers the impulse to reach for him. Says, instead, very softly, "I'm sure I'll never understand how hard this was for you, and of course I have a lot more thinking to do, but I promise -- and you can tell if it's the truth -- I will not hurt you."

"There are plenty of people who find our existence harmful. Just being around someone like me --" Hive shakes his head again, short and jerky. "Law's pretty much always agreed with them. Attack a telepath, basically guaranteed that a self-defense plea will succeed, if you even get charged." His eyes are fixed ahead, his breath hitching unsteadily. His shoulders twitch in a visible flinch at Steve's last words, and though he bites down hard at his lip it doesn't quite stop the short gasp that slips out; not quite a word, just a quick ragged, "-- oh --"

He hasn't moved. Hasn't blinked, though now there's slow streaks of tears trickling down his cheeks. "I'm sorry -- I'm so sorry. I didn't -- I didn't want that. I didn't want it, it just. Happened so fast. We weren't expecting -- I didn't know what to do. He'd been hurting so much -- I thought he was just going to dinner, I'm sorry, I didn't --" His words are quieter, choppy and broken. "-- I didn't want it."

Steve opens his mouth. Closes it. Shakes his head. "I know this doesn't make you any safer -- but those people are wrong." He's starting to consider just what he might do that would actually make people safer, but the thought dissolves swiftly in the face of his alarm and perplexity at Hive's tears. << Wait, did I say something untoward... >> But that, too, fades as he listens, his heart sinking and a cold dread rising. His eyes go wide-wide, his body frightfully still, and his hand tightens on the arm of the couch until the aged wood underneath groans and cracks in protest. << That was -- both of them -- why didn't they disconnect -- or at least tell me -- >> "Oh, shit." << -- I didn't want it, either -- didn't know -- but it happened -- >> A wave of guilt and shame crashes over him, soon followed by rage. << -- what right did he have to -- that's why he's been acting so odd -- I should go -- >>

He pushes himself to his feet abruptly, his breathing too fast again, his cheeks bright red. Starts to head for the door, but turns as if to say something else to Hive, though no words are coming to his mind between the over-intense chaos and simultaneous muted distance of his thoughts. When he moves it's almost too fast for the human eye to follow, and all that's really comprehensible in his thoughts is the string of calculations -- just how much he has to pull the punch already in motion to avert serious injury to Hive (it's A Lot) -- behind the jab aimed at the other man's face. He backs away, fist unclenching, hand dropping to his side. << Oh God, what have I done -- >> "I'm sorry," he whispers. << What the hell, Rogers, you just gave your word! >> His anger isn't gone, but is certainly eclipsed by the guilt now. Then misery. "I am so sorry. I --" He looks down. Grits his teeth. Bites back a half-formed excuse.

Hive closes his eyes, though the steady trickle of tears does not stop. "I'm sorry," comes again, in a shaky whisper. "I -- I don't -- think this is the right time to get into why --" He swallows, head lifting just enough to scrub his cheek hard against his shoulder. Even with his eyes still closed his shoulders tense up split second before the impact. His breath hisses out sharply at the blow; he rocks back against the couch, head snapping to the side.

For a moment he's silent, just coiling further into himself where he sits. When he does open his eyes again they're red, but dry, pupils blown wide. He lifts a hand, touches fingertips lightly to his jaw; the dappled red there will certainly be an ugly bruise later. His eyes track away from Steve -- skip for a moment to his closed bedroom door. Then back to Steve. "I'm -- sorry." It's stiffer, now. Short and clipped, his breathing faster and shorter, too. He is slow as he pushes himself back along the couch -- edging to the farther corner from Steve before he uncurls to carefully get to his feet. His shoulders hunch as he shuffles toward the kitchen, rooting in the freezer for a bag of frozen peas that he wraps in a dishtowel. "... There's still some cocoa." With the sort-of ice pack pressed to his jaw his words are slipping back into more of his usual mumble. "I -- uh. Do you. Want some."

Steve just stands there, as though rooted in place, this thoughts racing. << He could have /died/ what was I /thinking/ -- >> His eyes follow Hive as he gets up, evaluating how he's walking. << -- /wasn't/ thinking. I /can't/ do that -- >> Distantly considers whether he should check for a concussion. << -- never mind telepathy, /I'm/ a menace to society if I go around -- >> The question catches him off-guard, and his mouth hangs open for a moment. "Cocoa," he repeats, eyes darting to the stove. Back to Hive. It's a long beat before he says, "Yes. Please." There's the slightest uplift to his tone here, as if he's not quite sure. He finally moves, carefully staying within Hive's line of sight, leaning against the wall just outside of the kitchen area. "You been ah. Avoiding me. That's -- understandable. If you'd rather...continue that, I..." He frowns down at the floor. "Be tough for Flicker, though."

Hive flicks on the gas under a saucepan still on one burner. Leans heavily against the counter, eyes downcast and watching the pot. "Yeah." He sounds gruff. "Part of me would like to go back to that, it's been..." His shoulders tighten, his shudder visible, and the look he darts towards Steve is quick and wary as he cuts himself off. "But then part of me -- I've wanted to get to know you. I have. Flicker loves you and I -- god." His laugh is soft, tremulous. "Feels so fucking inadequate to say I love him. And it's been tough for him. We haven't had any gorram clue how to handle this. We haven't -- haven't. Handled this."

Steve folds his arms across his chest, left hand gripping his right elbow and right hand tucked against his side, shoulders hunched inward. << Didn't even consider how that might have been for him. He -- they -- were Flicker, too, but...goodness, but this is complicated. >> He hazards a look up at Hive, his brows still furrowed. "I have, too -- wanted to know you better. I didn't truly understand what you were to Flicker before." Pauses, considering. "Probably still don't now. Probably never will. But even if you were -- merely best friends or blood brothers or what-have-you...that would have been enough reason for me." His grip tightens, fingers dimpling the stiff cloth of his uniform. "I...I'm not sure you could really. Handle it. Without me -- at least not if I'm still around." His lips press into a thin, unhappy line, anger roiling up in him again, though tightly controlled this time. "I was...fairly involved. Though obviously I can't fault you for not wanting to tell me before." He juts his chin in the direction of Hive's face, remorse bringing some color back into his own, which had gone rather pale in the interim.

"It's complicated," Hive agrees miserably. He lifts a hand to the handle of the saucepan, swirls the cocoa gently. "And I'm sorry. I didn't -- know how. Flicker and I, we'd never -- we had no real map for how to handle -- sorry," he catches himself, knuckles pressing now to his lips, his own face paler. "I'm not trying to make excuses. I just. Fuck."

Steve breathes out, slow and unsteady. "/I/ wouldn't have known how to handle it, either. I certainly don't /now/." << Don't even known how to /think/ about this. >> He lifts one hand, dragging knuckles across his chin with a faint rasp of stubble. "I just meant it seemed like..." << /Why/ did he stay -- >> His head shakes, the motion quick and jerky. "Even if I had no idea, /could/ have no idea, I -- hurt you, too." He winces. Looks down again. "Long before I /hit/ you. And pretending it hadn't happened for my sake seems like a recipe to letting that wound fester."

"You mind grabbing that mug?" Hive nods to the living room, his mug sitting out on the coffee table where he'd left it. He's getting a clean one out of the cabinet -- the first one he reaches for, black with bold white text that reads 'I CAN KILL YOU WITH MY BRAIN' -- he eyes for a moment and then replaces on the shelf to instead pick out a mug from behind it. Also black, also bold white text, though this says 'SOCIAL JUSTICE DUNGEON MASTER' and beneath it, smaller in cursive, 'writing a better world'. He picks up a whisk from the drying rack, stirring quickly at the heating cocoa.

"What we did was fucked up." His voice is soft, still, but steadier, now. "I haven't known how to think about it. It's not an excuse, please believe that. We'd never been in a situation like that before. And when Flicker got out of the lab -- he didn't eat, he didn't sleep, he didn't go anywhere alone, I was so fucking scared he'd --" He shakes his head hard. "Just having dinner with friends was such a big step, I didn't think it'd -- end up --" The gesture he makes with the whisk is vague. "And even when he kissed you I was so unsure. I thought I should go -- but it was intense and overwhelming and the things it was bringing up for him were -- a lot and I didn't know how he'd react if -- I thought I could just stay long enough for him to get a little more steady, you know? By the time I realized we weren't just kissing, it..." His fingers have curled into a death grip on the whisk, his eyes wide and his other hand lowered, mashing hard at the peas instead of holding them against his darkening jaw.

Steve's gaze flicks back to the living room, and with a nod of assent the rest of him follows. When he returns to the kitchen he hesitates. Sets the mug down within the other man's reach and retreats to where he'd stood before. His jaw tightens, but he conquers the impulse to interrupt Hive. << I believe it. Not sure what I /would/ accept as an excuse. >> He crosses his arms over his chest again, hugging himself and trying hard not to recall the kiss, or what followed. The memory comes anyway, vivid and intense: Flicker's hand on his cheek, the press of his lips, the eagerness with which he met the kiss, his own desperate need -- << Stop, for Heaven's sake /stop/ thinking about it. >> He glances at Hive, concern warring with shame warring with anger. "You -- you were trying to make sure he was alright, and we..." << I should have slowed down. I should have /thought/ about what we were doing. >> He swallows. "...dragged you along."

Hive's breath catches; he doesn't quite double over, but his posture is noticeably more hunched above the stove, weaving unsteadily where he stands. A flush spreads up to disrupt the sickly pallor in his cheeks, and he nods jerkily. "You had no way of knowing. We should have stopped, we should have said -- it was just so sudden, and so much, and the first time that he'd ever even had -- that we'd ever been." His eyes screw up hard; he sucks a sharp breath inward. Lets it out just as quick when he opens his eyes again. He switches off the stove, pours the rest of the cocoa carefully into the two mugs and leaves the saucepan in the sink. "I'm so sorry. I wanted to talk to you, to -- figure out how to -- work through this, but I didn't. I couldn't even be near you without remembering -- without feeling --" His teeth clench -- start to grind -- then immediately unclench with a visible wince. He picks up the mugs, though he's slow and a little tentative about approaching Steve to cautiously offer one out.

Steve says nothing for a moment, keeping his eyes slightly averted, though he unconsciously draws that breath in time with Hive. << Could /I/ have stopped, in his place? >> There's a vague, wordless sense in him that the question is nonsensical, but his very recent experience of /being/ Hive makes it terrifyingly possible to imagine. "I couldn't feel what he was feeling. The way you would have. But if it was even half as intense for him -- for /you/, as it was for me..." His head shakes once. "I -- I don't know. What's done is done. As for /telling/ me..." He scrubs one hand over his face. "Even if that weren't hard enough on its own, you couldn't have done it without showing me all the rest. Who you are, and what you do."

Steve keeps his right hand wrapped firmly against his side, as though nursing an injury, and accepts the mug with his left hand. "Thank you." Only when Hive is clear of him does he wrap both hands around the mug, lifting it for an incautious sip, not caring that it scalds his tongue. Despite his emotional and physical exhaustion, despite nerves strained to the breaking point, the pleasant, spiced flavor of the cocoa startles and pleases him immensely. << Gosh, and here I'd been feeling /sorry/ for Flicker for missing out on coffee. >> After a moment, and another appreciative sip, he licks his lips and continues, "You can probably tell, maybe better than I can right now, it's going to take me some time to figure out any of this." Then, softer, "You also know he's worth it, to both of us. So, if forgiveness matters to you -- I forgive you."

A faint sob hitches in Hive's throat, small and choked, in time with his tiny nod of acknowledgment. He's quiet after -- bows his head over his drink, takes several slow breaths. Eventually straightens, steadier, and swipes the package of frozen peas up again. Skirting close to the counter, he slips around past Steve and out to the living room. "He doesn't miss out all the time." Though he attempts a smile, it doesn't entirely finish settling onto his face; still, there's a quiet warmth in his words. "You know how much of that shit I drink." He's settling down in the corner of the couch again. Picking up the remote to tell Netflix that no, he doesn't want to continue watching Schitt's Creek -- flicking over to Amazon to find Leverage instead. "What do you do when your brain is too loud and you need to settle it down for a while?" He gestures toward the screen with the remote, tugging a fleecey exploding-tardis blanket over his shoulders as he curls up more comfortably, cocoa resting on a knee. "This show has this crack Robin Hood grifter vigilante heist team who goes around trying to correct injustice and I feel like at this point of the night that's about my speed."

Steve keeps his hands firmly clasped around the mug as Hive passes him. Doesn't move at once, but finally does follow him, hesitant, back into the living room. Studies the screen thoughtfully. "Read or sketch or pray if I can. If not, walk or run or --" << -- fight... >> He circles to the far side of the couch and takes the seat he'd been in before, casting a sheepish sidelong glance at the still-darkening bruise on Hive's jaw. "But grifter vigilante...heist...team? Sounds interesting." His shoulders ease just a little as he settles back against the couch. "Anyway, I've always kept a special place in my heart for Robin Hood."