Fifteen. Old enough to understand, yet still young enough to feel the dagger going through his heart.
But considering the sleepy state Miles was in, he’d have to be blunt. Painfully blunt."How was your next meeting with Knuckles after they did?"
Setting the now-forgotten mug on the table, Miles went to draw his knees up in a rather childish gesture, one unbecoming of such a mature Mobian. But it happened all the same, and going to hug his tails, Miles merely sighed softly, his eyes not leaving the grain of wood on the weathered table.
"…There was no next meeting. I don’t know how much Commander told you, but just in case, I’ll reiterate it. Our Knuckles is no more.”
Wiping at a frosty eye with the corner of his sleeve, whether from exhaustion or regret yet to be seen, Miles turned his eyes up to the hedgehog. The child within him screamed for mercy, and yet…some things had to be said.
"The emeralds…their power…corrupted him. Beyond salvageability. …Can I tell you something, Hark? I don’t think Commander would have told you this. Knuckles…the Red Monster, as many people here know him now, is the very reason our world is like this. Cold, dark, and dead. Snow clouds may be white, but they lost their novelty ages ago.
He saps the world dry of its power. He still lives, Hark. He’s still alive. As much as I thought he could be saved, all those years ago…he can’t. And that’s what hurts the most. The Red Monster wants us all dead, and he’d burn this tower down if he could. Do you understand? It…should clear up any lingering paranoia, I suppose…”
Unsecurities, shame, hurt. Commande was a mess at the moment, and even Hark could see that. He could see the pain bleeding through his brother every pore, making him wish he’d stopped the officer from leaving the room with a hug.
But, no matter how hard he’d think, no matter how hard he’d try to reach, his scrambled mind gave no response. It was currently on a set course and nothing would change that. Nothing would change the fact that Commander was hurt at the moment as Hark took in Miles words, sitting down in the chair he’d left earlier.
"He has," were his first, brief words, feeling something inside the tower stir, making the Energy of the place twist. Someone was awake, and if the situation wasn’t resolved fast…
"There is something that’s important between brothers. Trust. Knowing that you can tell your most important secrets because they will be safe. Show vulnerability to those we believe stronger while setting ourselves to be role models to the youngest. And sometimes, it is so well done that we forget, forget we aren’t invincible and left to life’s whims."
It was cryptic. It was complicated. And it would probably make no sense until Hark asked.
"How old were you when the Emeralds shattered?"
Miles moved to take a seat of his own, wrapping his tails around his waist as something for his arms to rest on while he drank his beverage. It was a strange question, coupled with an equally strange comment, but Miles had no reason not to answer, right? All in the name of truth.
"I was about fifteen, I believe. Still very young, and probably not as affected by the shift in polarity as the others were."
Taking another measured sip, he wiggled his large ears a bit to clear out the imagined sleep dust. Why was Hark asking these things? Had they talked about…the incident? Miles sure hoped not. That would make things much harder.
"Did he tell you why they broke in the first place? It was the good ol’ doc. Tried something quite idiotic, as usual, and attempted to harness their power, ultimately failing. Messed us all up, in the end.
Why do you ask?”
He wished he could have been considerate of Commander’s presence. He wished he could have been on his best behavior when Miles came in.
But the sound of that both familiar voice in such a tone. A mature one, one that had seen so many things, done so many things, but somewhere, of a child that had been forced to grow much too fast.
The gaze that would meet Miles was mixed. Sadness, compassion, a glint of understanding.
And Hark’s tone was quiet as he spoke.
"Commander, forgive me for asking, but I would like some time with Miles. Him and I only. Please."
Big request, one that would probably set alarms bells in Miles’ mind and possibly get his brother into more sour of a mood. But he had to do this. This had to be known and set right. And he would set it right if he was allowed to.
There was no sound from the taller hedgehog, other than the friction on the carpet as he moved his chair back to stand. No eye contact was made, and a silent nod could be seen as Commander left the room. Uncharacteristic of him, of course, but with how his mind was reeling? Not a chance of the usual pep and eagerness for life. In fact, it kind of made him want to give up on that altogether and hibernate for a few years.
Miles raised two scruffy eyebrows, watching his elder leave, before turning back to Hark with a rather questioning expression.
"Something the matter, Hark? I’ve never seen him so - well, I haven’t seen him that despondent in years. Looks like he saw a ghost. Wanna tell me what’s going on between you two?"
There were only a few moments in Hark’s life where he himself knew that something was shifting. Only a few moments in which he’d participated where it felt like the world beneath him shook, and shook hard.
Now was one of those moments.
Now was one of those moments as Hark listened, listened to the few sentences Commander gave him. The Emeralds, Master and Chaos, shattering to oblivion. Chaos left in an horrific state finding the closest Chaos sponge that it could find. And if it wasn’t Shadow, if it wasn’t Commander…
He didn’t need the question to find out the reason. He didn’t need to question the distance of the twin scars along Commander’s to know whose name had nearly slipped out the day they’d last spoken and he was normal.
Being so close to the Master Emerald gave him a connection to the bounds of Chaos that even Hark hadn’t understood until recently. Being so close to the source of all Energy had made Knuckles a sponge of Chaos Energy, although controlled.
If not Shadow, then Knuckles. Then his teacher and brother to…
How had Tails taken that blow? How long had Sonic hoped, prayed for Knuckles to come to his senses? How many clashes had that brought between Shadow and the hero?
Reality versus the dream. And the dream was long dead, by now, leaving Tails, Miles, without his two brothers, the two he owed so much to, and must feel betrayed by.
The shed names, the distance between them both. That had been established probably after Commander had lost Rouge and his child to – to Knuckles.
His head lowered along with his ears. He could only imagine. He could only imagine the pain that both of them must have felt, and how easy it must have been to lock it all away.
Silently, he stood and went to the closest window before putting a hand on it as he searched for what to do. What to say. But none of his words were for Commander. Not yet, at least.
"Is Miles still awake?"
Please say yes. Please.
Commander’s stomach hadn’t dropped this far in ages. He did not raise his head, but from what the other could see, pain held heavy in that weathered face. Eyes remained closed, eyebrows knitted in regret. The secret was out.
"…He is, yes. I’ll go get him."
The only movement was from the officer, as he stood quietly to retrieve the fox, taking the near-untouched plates with him. They’d be up a while. It wasn’t long before they both returned, Commander walking in to take his former seat, and Miles trudging through the door. Slippers, bathrobe, the whole ensemble, coffee mug included. Though this time, the mug held warm milk. With a yawn, the professor adjusted his glasses, and glanced to Hark at the window.
"Caught me just in time. I was just about to go to sleep. What’s going on? Commander didn’t tell me a thing, and you of all people usually don’t show up here unless something’s happening. Not once have I seen you here for a casual visit, and not this late at night."
A sip from the mug, and blue eyes wandered to the slouched hedgehog at the table.
“‘Mander, you with us?”
Ears lowered and Hark looked like a kicked puppy for a moment, before snorting, shaking his head. No, he wouldn’t try to persuade his brother in just giving him the pelts so he could sew them together. He’d be losing precious time and wasting his breath, he knew.
Instead, he settled in his seat.
"Well, if there’s any extra, I’d like to have it to line the gloves and boots I’ll make for this," he answered, crossing his legs. "And I can supply those fruits and vegetables. I have the supplies."
Yes, instead, he’d play innocent and make sure that Commander’s people got the food they needed. He would, hopefully, readjust the balance of the nutrition intake in this place.
Hark then got to tasting the food in front of him, appreciating the taste, but the bite was too small to mean that he was done taking. In fact, the second the fork was set down, green were watching Commander without, hopefully being noticed. Delicacy, carefulness. This was going to be another heavy subject, but, if it wasn’t brought forward, he wouldn’t know. He would never know.
"Hope you don’t mind me changing the subject, but remember the first time we met? After your quips and through your jokes, you took me to the tower to take me home quite fast. Any reason?"
The pen snapped hard against the paper. All motion stopped, save for the bleeding of ink deep into the sketchpad.
Trepidation. Anxiety. All could be seen in the veteran’s face for a split second, and that split second should have been enough for Hark to see things he’d likely never seen in those eyes. He recovered quickly, plastered calm on his face barely holding as he quietly pushed the soiled notepad to the side, making a forced movement to align the broken writing utensil just-so on it.
"…Yes, there is a reason. I knew you’d ask about it. I knew you wouldn’t forget. You’re Hark, of course you wouldn’t forget."
Arms now rested on the table, the sheen on one of them reflecting almost sad eyes, one marked by the green scar that had never been given an explanation. Not until now.
"…Fifty some years ago, my world died. You know this. I told you about the emeralds shattering, but I never told you why. Someone that you and I both know, or at least knew, is the cause of that. Robotnik…he had planned to conquer this planet again. You know how that usually turns out, yes?"
There was a tense pause, eyes flickering again with that same uncertainty.
"…The Master shattered, along with the emeralds. That power? It had to go somewhere. Hark, I want to ask something of you. I want you to look very closely at the scar on my face, and ask yourself what could have possibly made twin marks, right alongside each other.
Ask yourself that now, and it should all become clear.”
By the time Hark came back, he gotten into more weather appropriate clothes, dark grey shirt with long sleeves and light grey pants, but no matter how hard he’d try, the cape stood out like a sore thumb and the boots he usually wore were not exactly fitting. Plus, he was missing a pair of appropriate glove to fit. He was working on it, though. And, at some point, he’d be done.
But for that, he needed Commander’s…
The looked at the taller man in surprise, blinking a few times, before sheepishly looking away, fiddling with his hands as he sat.
"Actually, I was thinking about one," he began, slightly nervous. This was exactly what he wanted to talk to Commander about in his communicator message. This was one of the many reasons even after building the communicator, he hadn’t contacted anyone.
He was trying to build the courage first.
He looked up, eyes uncertain once more.
"How does a trade sound? I know of a few bits and pieces the Superiors aren’t using aboard the ARK. Would that be enough for a few pelts?"
He’d approach the subject of the “monster” later. Because that wasn’t the first time Commander slipped, but the second. And the way Opiate had talked about it…
He was wondering what was lying beyond the doors of the Satellitus, now. And he hoped Commander trusted him enough to say.
"A trade? Sounds fair to me, ‘cause I know the people will take anything they can get. We’re always low on vegetables or fruits; what are the odds of getting some of that? As winter gets closer it’s all the workers can do to grow the bare minimum. Either way, I’d be happy to get a cloak made for you. You told me you like soft things, so….oh! Hare pelt. The mottled one would go quite well, I think."
With a hasty scribble, Commander took notes on his thought process. The slip-up continued to go unnoticed, and as punctuation was added, tufted ears perked.
"So, any ideas, or questions? Like I said, I’d be more than happy to help you fit in here if that’s what you’re going for."
The light struggle he gave when his hand was caught by Commander stopped quickly at the advice. And, when he was finally able to retrieve it, his other hand was put around his wrist in a rather feminine gesture. But if there was uncertainty in green eyes, it was slowly dying at the words. Not meant to be comforting, that he knew, but still managing to loosen the tension.
He’d imagined the worst. Commander either laughing, try to make him more manly, or even shun him for being who he was. He’d imagined himself struggling longer to satisfy what people awaited of him.
And, for the first time in a while, he was glad he was wrong.
Ears finally flopped, one of the softest smile Commander would have ever seen appeared on Hark’s face, and without a second thought, the remaining glove was taken off before being set neatly over the other one, before he stood. Stood and forced the taller hedgehog to stand before hugging him while nuzzling the chest fur childishly.
"Thank you," was the first thing that came to mind, along with something else. "And, please, don’t envy me. I’m sure, a hundred percent certain that, if given enough time, you’ll find what you’re looking for. It’s going to take patience, and, sometimes, you feel like you just don’t have it. But I can guarantee that you’ll find it. You’re already halfway there, aren’t you? You have a son, now. And, whoever gets you, they’ll be one lucky person, I can tell you that."
After which Hark fell into silence, letting go of his brother to sit back down before giving a shiver and trying to snuggle into his cape. Yeah, after the heat of the adrenaline passed, you did get cold, didn’t you?
Might as well.
With a smile, he spoke once more, “I’ll be right back. Ever since I’ve adjusted to normal temperature, my body fights to keep it. I won’t be long and I will be back. Just give me a moment.”
And he disappeared, only sign that he would be back being the gloves left behind.
As the cue was given, Commander did rise, and the hug was gladly returned, even so far as giving a pat to the back. The nuzzle into his chest fur did not go unnoticed, and it was enough to elicit a soft purr. Cheesy? Maybe. But Hark was loved, and it was reciprocated. Where had this sweetheart of a brother been all his life?
"Already halfway there, huh? Yeah, I guess you could say that. I love my boy, I really do. But right now? I’m just not ready for that sort of commitment that it takes to have a significant other. I’m already up to my neck in keeping tensions cooled because of— well, nevermind. Point is that I’m just too busy, and I can barely look after the little trigger-happy mongrel. But the thought is very much appreciated. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to…get into the dating scene, I suppose.
What a weird thought.”
He merely nodded when Hark went to teleport away, glancing at the dainty gloves. Perhaps…perhaps there was a better way to keep the guy warm. When Hark did return, Commander had retaken his seat, having pulled a small sketchpad out from his shirt pocket, taking notes. His eyes traveled back up to the hedgehog, eager glint in the red irises.
"How do you feel about fur clothing? More specifically, how does a new cape sound?”
For all the guys that are depressive out there. All the people who think they can’t live another day in this world. Just remember to keep on fighting- that here is always someone out there who cares for you. Just remember to live life at its fullest and give yourself realistic goals. You’re way stronger than you think! I think everyone is able to do great things.
While you’re stuck in a tunnel without being able to see the end, enjoy the road until you see the light!
Without sad moments there wouldn’t be happy moments. If you feel down, remember to smile and brighter days will come your way. There is help out there! All you need is look for it. Everyone can lay out a hand, your friends, family and even your community! Reach out- don’t stop believing in yourself.
Then, and only then, did Hark felt like he could talk. Like he could finally say exactly what was going on and why he felt insanely jealous of the person before him as the envy drained, finally shared with one who probably understood better than anyone what could happen in a military organization and what it meant to be turned into a soldier.
Yet, just as he opened his mouth, Commander’s reply made itself fully known, causing him to look up in surprise.
His big brother… was envious of him? Was envious of what he had? Of the people he knew? How?
… Oh. His future husband, his future child, everything that Commander had lost Hark was gaining with what seemed like little to no effort. Everything that the war had taken from him was reappearing in his life in a way that probably reopened old scars. And the fresh blood only ignited feelings of jealousy, envy, possibly hatred.
The tension would remain a little while longer as Hark struggled to find a decent answer to Commander’s words, folding himself again, but uncertainty marking his every move.
"You make it sound like I have the dream life and that nothing will stop me at any moment from achieving my dreams. Here I am, hiding everything from everyone, and you consider me enviable."
The chuckle was weak, brittle. Just like the gaze that met Commander. The same gaze he’d given to Chad once, and had then forcibly locked away once more. But if he was going to put all his cards on the table, he was going to be honest. Speak his heart.
"Yes, I am getting married, yes, I’m going to have a child one day, but while I’m doing all of this for my own, I would never cast you aside. It is why I want you to preside my wedding, it is why, once the child is born, I will invite you to meet them. I know it will never equal the joy of having your own, but I want you to be a part of this. If anything, I would even like you to be one of the godfathers, the other being Feather.
"As for my envy, I… I’ve always struggled. I’ve always wanted to be myself, but, at the same time, the idea of conforming was… tempting. I tried to forget about it, I really did, but – but when I started becoming myself, becoming who I think I am, I – I met a wall. I was plagued by fear, plagued by doubt, and with the addition of the Chaos Emeralds trying to take over me and turn me into a vessel because of those doubts… My mind went to the easiest solution. You."
The pointed finger only held up for a few seconds, and Hark folded. Continued to speak, but folded onto the chair, hugging his knees.
"You’re a male. The epitome of it, actually. Strong build, sharp gaze, raucous laughter. Any woman or man laying eyes on you know you are, and that you’re proud of being one. Hell, I’m pretty sure wearing heels doesn’t faze you because of that confidence."
He then let them go, reaching for a glove to take it off before lying it on the table, showing the long, healthy nails on his hand.
"And I hold nothing of that. The gloves I wear are more for hiding than actual necessity. There are things I can do that I feel so comfortable with and you would just look at it and say that it’s something a female would do. I make dolls, love fashion, and, as I’m sure it has become obvious now, I love soft things. In fact, the softer it is, the more I’m likely to either touch it or become actually attached to the object for a while. "
He lifted his hand to put it back in his glove.
"You are everything I wanted to be, still partially want to be, Commander. How can I not be jealous?"
The nostalgic smile stayed. Hark was really going through with this, wasn’t he? At the invitation to the wedding, there was only the smallest flicker of pain, overshadowed by genuine amounts of ‘yes’. As Hark went on, it only became clearer. What Hark wanted to be…There was a jolt when Hark went to replace the glove, Commander’s own hand going to take the delicate wrist.
"Whoa, hold up just a second there, champ. Lemme see those."
And deftly scrutinizing the nails themselves, Commander donned a strange grin, his confident eyes meeting Hark’s nervous ones once more.
"You know what I think? You could use a good cuticle softening. One cup of warm milk and a few drops of honey, soak it for three minutes, and they’ll fix up like a dream. Something my wife used to do. And you know what else?"
He let go of the hand, sitting back and folding his own calloused hands - might be time to buff the metal one soon… - and through it, his smile never wavered.
"I think it’s absolutely awesome that you take care of yourself like that. Hark, I don’t know what to say to you to boost your confidence, but I can tell you this: You are just fine the way you are. You make dolls? Wonderful. I still have the one you made me. You like fashion? Great! I know who to call when this old jacket finally needs replacing. And you love soft things? There’s not a person I know who doesn’t. You know, Hark? You don’t have to be one or the other.
Girl, guy, robot, anything in between. Doesn’t matter, because you are who you are, and nobody can change that but you. We all have our own likes and dislikes, mistakes, regrets, victories…and in each of those, I can guarantee you it doesn’t matter what we wear, what our hobbies are….”
And in a way that proved this was Gerald’s son, not just a carbon copy, Commander’s index finger went to press into Hark’s chest.
"…Because what matters is what’s in here, champ. Macho man or not, I think you’re pretty great just the way you are. And I’ll never mock you for any of that. Wouldn’t be me if I did.”
Again, he knew. He knew that those people were nothing more than those who had insecurities himself. He’d proven it by trying to lower Commander to his level. He’d tried to drag someone who didn’t hold to pride, but had the confidence to stand on his own.
He flinched as the snake made its return, ready to hit Commander with a vicious strike that would be no good for either of them.
He couldn’t trust his mouth or his mind. Only his heart would be of use in this, and it was quivering beneath the layers of envy and pride.
No gaze would meet Commander and the look of gratefulness would be missed, Hark too busy fighting against his own demons to look anywhere else but at his pants that crumpled under his hands.
So he did something that Commander would surely feel. Making use of the link between them, he grasped at it and let the envy seep through. Not in a way that would affect his brother, but in a way that would say, would tell what was going on in the shorter one’s mind. The one that, even though had lived so long, still couldn’t understand the simplest of things, it felt.
Commander expected some sort of response, but by no means did he expect the force of the gale that hit him right in the heart. Envy. He’d forgotten Hark could do that, and it showed as he gritted his teeth against the feeling. It was a sick emotion, one that twisted people…and then it made sense.
Hark was envious of him. Of his confidence. Of…the security he displayed with himself. With a heavy pause, Commander’s ears lowered thoughtfully. Had Hark been harboring these things this whole time? One soft sigh, and Commander tapped Hark’s leg with his own under the table to catch his gaze.
"…Hey, you. I get it now. At least, I think I get it. I’m…sorry you feel these things, but understand that it’s…well, understandable. But you wanna know something? You’re not the only one that gets eaten up by envy sometimes."
A thick swallow permeating the tense room, Commander started up again with a slightly meeker tone of voice - uncharacteristic of him, sure, but a change that he felt was needed.
"…I have envied you, too, Hark. It seems the feeling’s mutual. You envy who I am, and…I envy what you have. Not physical, tangible objects, no…but rather people. Things you have that I have lost. And that’s unfair to you, so I kept my mouth shut about it. But you were kind enough to be honest with me, so you deserve nothing less…from me.”
It was like plucking thorny weeds from a garden. Painful, but necessary.
Points. Points that hit Hark like daggers. Boy, finite patience, pushing his luck.
The wall had been built. And while it made his anxiety, his insecurities disappear…
It had also brought the envy out. The poison that circulated through his veins was showing, and he was no better than when Feather had told him he was free and that he wanted that freedom.
Despicable. Pathetic. Had Commander not stopped him in his tracks, he would have destroyed them both, he was sure.
Hark fell into silence, sitting down once more and refusing to give in again. He didn’t hate Commander, he had no reason to. The one he hated…
The one he hated was himself, because he’d let envy get the best of him.
… Seemed to be a recurring with the officer as of late, hadn’t it? Insecurity, tears, fears. And the taller hedgehog always being there when he was needed. Always reacting to Hark’s weakest moments, and leaving him no escape other than telling the truth, no matter how painful it was.
Another thing he didn’t like. Another thing he wasn’t sure that it was right to do even though he’d been told time and again that it was okay.
Eyes disappearing behind the cloth once more. Hark shared. Without a word, he shared a past that he wish he didn’t have to share, but was realizing he had to. The one with the military. The one where he’d refused many promotions, but trained soldiers still. The one where he’d watched people just like him being laughed at, and all he could do was hide.
By the time it was done, Hark gave an uncomfortable shuffle, knowing for a fact that Commander wasn’t dumb. He’d make the associations himself.
Steeled eyes watched as the arrogant, if temporarily, Hark sit down in his chair to sigh. Defeat? Maybe. Had the pride worn off? With a baritone sigh of his own, Commander softened his expression and did something he didn’t do quite enough, it seemed: Listened.
Hark told of things he’d heard of, but only from others. Hiding in the shadows. Refusing ranks. And worst of all, watching as those just like you, ‘softer’ people, were beaten down upon by those with too big of a man card. And the shuffle did not go unnoticed, though Commander kept his eyes respectfully lowered, taking the information in. What was he to say? …Keep it simple, stupid.
Raising his eyes in a rather kind fashion, a sympathetic smile warmed over his face, before he spoke to the distraught hedgehog.
"So, if I’m getting this right, you’re afraid to be…you? Something about it scares you. Something about it terrifies you so much, that it drives you away from the most innate of things. And yet…Hark, I don’t normally get this cheesy, but if I am to be honest…"
A quiet chuckle before he closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"I think you’re just fine the way you are. Hark, listen closely. You don’t have to be someone you’re not. Everything I am, everything you see, is as honest as I can make it. Because there’s a lesson I learned a long time ago, and I’ll tell it to you now: Those who are willing to judge you based on who you are, those people? They ain’t your friends. Associate with those who are going to accept and love you the way you are, not with those who set standards like that.
I am okay with you, Hark. Don’t think for one second that I’m going to kick you out of my office on the basis that you can’t stand the spotlight. You’re my brother, Hark, if only by law of multiverse, and honestly? I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
With one final wink, he tapped his metal arm with a look that said nothing but thank you.
Emerald green hardened before Hark got up with a sigh. Waste of time. Complete and utter waste of time. If the only thing that Commander was going to do was compare them both and say that thinking wasn’t his thing, then he was just wasting his time.
Just he’d nearly lost it by refusing promotions one after the other.
"Why would I listen when the only thing you care for is yourself?" he said with little emotion before daring. Daring to slam his hands onto the table and looking at Commander with a snarl.
"Oh, and before you start spilling nonsense, I do hate you. If I were angry at you, I’d have already punched you, Commander. You and I know that I have less restraints than that. I hate you, pure and simple.”
And he rose to full height.
"So how about you turn your so called priorities around and take care of your world and son first?"
[“Why would I listen when the only thing you care for is yourself?”]
And there was the response Hark was waiting for. Eyes snapped open. A flicker, if anything, of spite. Of loathing. It soon quelled, with one very measured breath.
"…You test me, boy. My patience is finite. Very, very finite. I called you here because I wanted to talk with you, not have you spew insults directly to my face. Also? You didn’t give me a reason. I’d be more obliged to believe you hated me if you actually gave me a legitimate reason.
And about my priorities?”
Now Commander sighed, squaring his shoulders in a manner that suggested it was quite forced indeed.
"Even a pillar needs a second wind sometimes. Is it really so selfish of me, Hark, to try and help a brother out? Is it? Ask yourself that, before you cut that deep.
I told you I wouldn’t be mad at you, and I’m keeping to that. So stop pushing your luck.”
Great. Commander had only seen the surface, had never seen the depths of the ocean. Hark looked like a good man, didn’t mean he felt like one. Didn’t mean he even felt like a man.
"…Does ‘prove that right’ ring a bell to you?"
And Commander was pushing his luck. Really pushing it.
Eyes rose to look at the taller hedgehog, but the head didn’t move.
"I’m afraid you’re wrong, Commander. I don’t like it. I don’t like sharing for reasons that I’m sure if you use your mind a little, you’ll guess easily. As for proving it right, my younger self was foolish and didn’t understand why I was doing what I am doing. You’re answering the wrong call, brother."
The last word was nearly spat out, as if it was venom clinging to his mouth and he couldn’t get rid of it.
Lying and cheating. Again. When would he stop?
Neither did Commander move, head tilted in that almost childish fashion as his own eyes met jaded ones. Finally some eye contact - it was a start! Maybe not the best one as Hark spat out a toxic blow, however, but it did not faze him.
"Use my mind a little? Pah, that’s Miles’ job. And you know?"
Eyes closed as a heartfelt giggle rose from his throat. Not a mocking one in the slightest, no, but a nostalgic one.
"I’ll tell you something. You’re acting like me. That is, before I was softened up by the one I was proud to call my wife. Don’t act like you hate me, Hark, because you don’t. I’m telling you right now, you don’t hate me. Angry with me? Yeah, that’s fine, even though I have no idea what the hell I did this time. But I suppose that’s alright - you’ve got every right to be angry. Anger is just something that happens. A little too often for my liking, actually.”
He had set his slice of bread aside now, and in a casual motion, rested his elbows on the table to look Hark in the eye, as earnestly as he possibly could. There was no malice in those eyes, just pure, honest concern.
"Hark, I want you to listen to me. I mean, really listen. Whatever is bothering you to the point of practically spitting in my face, is obviously something that needs to be dealt with. So I’m going to ask you to do me a favor, and tell me what it is that I’m doing that’s irritating you this much, so I can fix it. I won’t be mad at you…
…I just want to help.”
"So, you gonna leave me hangin’?"
Commander had no idea how much Hark actually wanted to do just that. Leave his brother in the middle of an empty hallway and make him look like a complete idiot. Give him a taste of how he’d felt all those times those laughs had rung into dorm or other similar areas.
But it was heartless. No, it wasn’t just heartless. It was thoughtless, fueled by envy and anger. It would send Commander chasing after him and make the point stand out even more.
He needed help.
Avoiding all contact with Commander, he stepped through the warp ring and took the closest seat, folded over on himself and head bent a little forward to avoid eye contact. He knew how it worked. At least partially. Commander would try to get him to talk, talk about the latest message that his younger self had sent.
Something that he never wanted to talk about with his older brother.
"You’ve forgotten, Commander, that I’m not someone who talks about myself. For obvious reasons. But if you wish to have a crack at it, go ahead."
So the faster the taller one realized that he wouldn’t crack, the faster he could leave. Hark was banking on it. The minute Commander gave up, he was out.
The officer gladly stepped aside so Hark could enter the warmer room, the smells of a freshly cooked meal just as welcoming as the plush carpet. It was no lounge, but it certainly carried the feel of a hotel dining room. The ring closed with a friendly trill, Commander catching it out of habit and sliding it over his wrist - as his trademark jacket was nowhere to be seen, instead replaced by a cozy linen shirt. Taking a seat across from the withdrawn hedgehog, he reached over to take a slice of the seasoned bread, biting a chunk out of it as he adjusted himself.
"Sure, I’ll take a crack at it. Can’t make a fantastic omelette without whisking a few eggs, right?"
There was a chuckle, a wink, and Commander attempted to meet Hark’s gaze, craning his neck to do so. Voice low, he swallowed the chunk of bread he was chewing on before questioning the poor fellow.
"So hey, you in there? You don’t have to take off the hood; I’m just making sure that you’re still with me. So I’ll start with this: We all like to talk about ourselves. You know that? Everyone. What we like, what we don’t like, what we hate with an undying passion…all that stuff. It’s in our nature. And honestly? I don’t know what you mean by ‘for obvious reasons’. I think you’re pretty great, and it’s a shame that I don’t think you quite see it.”
A tentative pause.
"…Does ‘prove that right’ ring a bell to you?"
There was a huge backstep at Commander’s arrival, and flinch at the words. Casual, comfortable, loud even. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the idea of food currently, either. In fact, he hated it. He hated the fact that Commander had cooked for him, was concerned for him and was now brushing it off without a thought.
And he hated the fact that Commander was actually so comfortable that he didn’t have to worry. That no one, save for his son, could manage to shake him enough to potentially scare him.
Yes, he was envious. He could feel the so-called sin crawling under his skin and eating him alive.
"I’m not here for dinner, Commander. You called for my presence because you wanted to discuss something and here I am. What is it?"
He could also feel the wall trying to form. Protection. If he was seen…
If he was seen, he would be done for.
Commander saw the flinch, saw more than the flinch, so respectfully, he toned his voice down a touch, raising his hands innocently. Gosh, Hark was bitter, wasn’t he? All the more reason to get him to talk.
"Alright, alright. You got me. Here I am trying to put some meat on your bones - I swear to Miles, you don’t look like you eat enough. …I’m kidding. But anyway, come on in! My foot would probably be asleep right now if there were nerves in it. Less exposed, too - so c’mon, get out of the hallway."
A reassuring smile, and Commander moved a few inches to the left, exposing the warm and homely dining hall. No bigger than a large bedroom, the table and chairs adorning the room accentuated the rich burgundy paint on the walls. Cozy, if anything.
"And you’re not here for me, Hark. You’re here for you. I want to talk to you, boy. Things’ve been so…chaotic, for lack of a better word. I want to talk about you and how you’re doing. And again, I know you’re not here for dinner - you don’t have to eat what I made. It’s just there if you need some food in you.
So, you gonna leave me hangin’?”