Querl hated to share. He was never taught how, never really had a reason to share. Being raised by cold and unfeeling robots, your earliest memory the realization that your entire value lies in an IQuA test score, rather sets you up to be cold and unfeeling yourself. Realizing that you're not right, that you've turned out to be every bit the disappointment that every other Dox before you had been… well, it wasn't hard to not share when there was no one who wanted to share a space with you.
Even at the Time Institute, Querl remembered, he’d had entire wings to himself, and sometimes weeks would pass without him so much as laying eyes on a single soul. It wasn't anything that Querl did that made him unapproachable, it was who he was. On Colu, he was too emotional, too interested in actually performing experiments, of moving beyond the mental gymnastics of contemplation and actually testing his hypotheses. It was unnatural, the others would whisper. How like a Dox, they would sometimes add.
The rest of the universe seemed to think Querl was too closed off, too sheltered, too insular, too absorbed in his work, too boring. They couldn't see how slow the world felt when he wasn't solving problems, inventing, hypothesizing, doing something, anything to keep his mind busy. It took him mere moments to process information that took minutes, even hours for others. Of course he operated on a different plane, of course he didn't make sense to them - he wasn't like them. Wasn't like anyone but his ancestors before him. It’s why he'd never needed to share at the Time Institute. He was too fast, too unpredictable, too quick to test things that people decried as dangerous or reckless. They couldn't understand how Querl could have already fully considered the ramifications of his decision in a fraction of the time it took for them to decide whether or not to allow him to perform his experiments. He quickly learned it was easier, faster, more convenient to ask forgiveness rather than permission. It made him something of a loose canon, nobody wanted to work in a lab that was most certainly going to undergo a catastrophic explosion of some sort before week’s end. And so, he'd once again had the space all to himself, no need to share, the occasional slap on the wrist when an experiment didn't pan out the way Querl had hoped it would.
That's why Querl had been (rightfully, or so he thought) pissed when RJ Brande sent him off to join a ragtag team of high-minded, overly ambitious do-gooders he would eventually learn to call friends. He’d learned to fight alongside them to rid the universe of some of its greatest threats, and made a few mistakes along the way. Querl could readily admit that being brilliant did not erase one’s flaws, and he was no exception. Despite his shortcomings, Querl learned to help, learned to fight, learned to be a hero.
The one thing he had apparently not learned was how to share, a fact that was only now coming to light as he stood in the doorway of his lab, a lab he had heretofore considered a “private” lab. But now, there was some… person, an individual wearing his lab coat and goggles, back turned, using Querl’s equipment. Was he even using it properly? Would he remember where to return the tools? How badly had this stranger rearranged and reorganized his lab? (It wasn't his lab, it was the Legion's lab, but weren't the two terms basically synonymous? No one had ever shown interest in his lab before-!)
Querl cleared his throat, and the young man spun around guiltily. His brown eyes, ringed by thick, dark lashes, widened in recognition as he pushed soft waves of brown hair away from his eyes. “Grife,” he said almost breathlessly, “It really is you!”
Querl found himself looking closely too. “Lyle Norg?” he exclaimed then, surprised, still miffed at having his privacy violated.
“Q!” Lyle exclaimed. “Or do you go by B now?”
“I go by Brainiac Five,” Querl answered with a hint of annoyance.
“I heard some people call you Brainy, can I call you that?” Norg was grinning in a half-teasing way that meant he was probably serious but would play it off as a joke were Querl to unequivocally refuse.
With a sigh, Querl admitted, “I do answer to Brainy.”
Norg nodded. “You've got some interesting things going on down here,” he told Querl approvingly, “What's this weird floaty stuff you made?” he hefted a small piece of a strange substance Querl had inadvertently created earlier.
Querl glanced at the material in question. “It’s an alloy that seems to have a pliable anti-gravity field,” he said slowly, “It's a by-product of an earlier project I was working on. I hadn't had time to properly dispose of it is all.” You don't need to clean my messes or touch my equipment, Querl thought, but did not vocalize, feeling something akin to anxiety.
Norg shrugged, tossing the alloy back onto the bench, though it didn't actually land on the table, but rather hovered a few inches above the surface of the lab table. Querl found himself wincing at the gesture nonetheless.
“It's been so long, Brainy,” Norg said, almost sadly. “Why did you leave the Time Institute?”
My Patron insisted, Querl thought sourly. “I can make a difference here,” he answered haltingly, like he didn't quite believe his own words. He could make a difference anywhere, with a mind like his. The Legion’s labs were insufficient to his needs, but he’d always made it work...until now. Querl wasn't good at sharing. He didn't like this. Why was Norg here? And why did it have to be him, of all people, to steal his lab right out from under him? “Why are you here, Norg?”
“I’m uh, going by Invisible Kid, now,” Norg said hesitantly, tinkering with something at the lab bench. Something dropped to the floor with a clatter. Querl winced. Norg bent to pick it up. “Sorry,” he apologized, then turned to Querl, a concerned look on his face. “Hey, you alright? You aren't saying much.”
How was Querl supposed to answer that rationally when his whole body was screaming for Norg to get out? He couldn't focus like this. He would use his other lab. It wasn't as big, but it would suffice, for the moment, and it was blessedly free of intruders. “Welcome to the Legion,” Querl said stiffly, glancing at Norg’s communicator ring.
Lyle smiled, his grin shining like the sun breaking through the clouds. “Thanks,” he said happily.
If Norg’s expression was the sun, Querl’s was the storm clouds. “I need to go check on a project,” he said haltingly, almost awkwardly, gracelessly excusing himself and fleeing the lab - the lab that was rightfully his, Brande had promised him top of the line facilities and he'd barely followed through in the first place and now there was someone else in his lab, and not just any someone else, it was sprocking Norg.
Querl wasn't sure when he’d started seeing the human as a rival - perhaps it was when his research proposal managed to win funding that Querl felt rightfully belonged to his project. It may have been when the young man’s research developed into new, revolutionary technology that was quickly adopted into common practice, winning him accolades, speaking engagements, awards… Perhaps it was the uncomfortable knowledge that Norg had become the face of the Time Institute because, unlike Querl, he was brilliant and personable, passionate and engaging, interesting, attractive, and a genius. Not like Querl, though. He was a real genius, a prodigy. It was a shock to the denizens of Earth when Norg's IQuA score came back with an 11, a near-perfect score. They were proud of him, the universe rallied around the idea of a budding genius, the idea that anyone could be brilliant.
Everyone expected Querl to be a genius, because he was Coluan, and not just Coluan, but a Dox. His intellect was no surprise, it didn't make him special in any way to receive a perfect 12 on his IQuA, it was just an expectation he was fortunate enough to meet. One of the few expectations he'd ever managed to meet. It stung, somehow, to realize that because he was expected to be smart, no one would ever think of his work as an accomplishment, but rather a given. And so, though Querl churned out invention after invention, new theories, new technology, and groundbreaking research decades, possibly centuries ahead of its time, his name was nonetheless relegated to a footnote in the annals of history while Norg took the spotlight.
Querl found his way to the lab purely by instinct, his mind a whirl of frustration and dismay. He didn't like this, though he couldn't explain why. The Legion is mine, Querl thought desperately, It's the one place I have left to try and make a name for myself. Will you overshadow me here as well? Norg always made him feel so small. A scowl crossed Querl’s features then, a sort of bitter stubbornness rooting itself in his bones. Sprock Norg, or Invisible Kid, hah! As if Querl wasn't really the invisible one, his entire identity rooted in that of his ancestors, his accomplishments dismissed, his very perception of self desperately tied to his intellect, gradually realizing that his mind, like everything else in his life up to this point, would inevitably fail him.
Sprock Norg. The lab was his.
When Lyle stepped into the lab the next morning, Querl was already hard at work, supplies spread across the benches, formulae scribbled on the screens around the room, on the omnicoms, essentially any flat surface. The whole room had an atmosphere of ‘pointedly occupied’ that almost brought a fond, nostalgic smile to his face. Except he thought that Querl was older now, more mature. Lyle knew he’d certainly matured from his time as a scrappy thirteen-year-old with something to prove. Somehow, it felt like Querl hadn't, that he was still desperate to prove...something, though Lyle wasn't sure what, exactly.
As he glanced around the lab, looking for an open spot - or at least a less-occupied-looking area - Lyle didn't miss that Querl had taken the opportunity to “correct” a few of the things he'd been working on yesterday, mistakes slashed through in bright red with phrases like ‘mind-numbingly linear thinking’, ‘asinine in the extreme’, ‘what the sprock even is this nassery’ written boldly across them in Querl’s blocky interlac.
“Morning, Brainy,” Lyle said, trying to sound more cheerful than he felt after seeing the way Querl had reamed the work he'd been doing. “Thanks for the feedback,” he added mildly.
Querl made a small noise, though one could hardly count it as words. It barely qualified as a grunt.
Lyle gathered up the files he’d been working on and sat down.
“Not there,” Querl said sharply, not bothering to look up, “that's too close to the velonimite infusion, it's unstable.”
Lyle scooted over a bit.
“That's the micro-tarsec flux dampening system,” Querl spoke again, “It can't have any vibrations in the vicinity or I'll need to start the whole experiment all over again.”
Lyle tried to sit in five other places, only for Querl to coldly inform him each time that the area was off-limits for some reason or another. Finally, Invisible Kid decided he’d had enough. “Is there anywhere for me to sit?” he demanded irritably.
Querl coldly responded, “No.”
Lyle couldn't believe what he was hearing. “There's nowhere?” he said disbelievingly, “in this whole lab?”
Querl whirled around, his eyes burning into Lyle’s like twin stars. “No.” Get out, was not spoken, but implied.
Lyle felt a bit like he'd been punched in the gut. He'd been warmly welcomed to the team by everyone. Everyone, that is, except his former colleague? It wasn't fair, Lyle thought bitterly. He and Querl had always had a bit of a rocky relationship, but he’d written it off as misplaced aggression for their respective terrible childhoods. Lyle was seventeen now, Querl sixteen. He had hoped that they would be able to move on to something more… friendly, at least. Especially considering Lyle’s feelings hadn't faded over time.
Something about the green-skinned blonde - his drive, his passion, his quiet diligence, his awkward attempts at socializing… as a pre-teen, Lyle had found himself growing strangely fond of the Coluan. He wouldn't call it love, barely even a crush, but as he’d raked his eyes down the Coluan’s lithe, sinuous body yesterday, Lyle had felt a stirring of attraction, different from his childhood crush, but no less potent. Mentally, Brainy may not have aged, but physically…
Unconsciously, Lyle wetted his lips, thinking of those slim, not-quite-broad shoulders, his slender waist and delicate hands… He shook his head abruptly. It was useless to fantasize when the Coluan apparently couldn't even stand the idea of being in the same room with him. But Lyle was stubborn. Rather than leave, he plunked himself down in the middle of the floor, spreading his work out to look at it pensively. Sprocking grife, Brainy was right. He had made a few dumb mistakes in his work yesterday, and Querl had picked them out in no time flat. Lyle knew if he looked over Querl’s work it would take him hours to even follow along, much less critique the process. He knew the fact that he could follow the Coluan’s process at all was something of a miracle, but the speed and precision with which the younger man worked was still leaps and bounds ahead of Lyle’s own skill.
He fingered the strange metallic alloy from yesterday contemplatively. Brainy had considered it a useless substance, but Lyle was taken with it. He wondered if it might behoove him to run a few tests on the strange substance. After all, it might come in handy.
Querl stiffened when Lyle walked across the room and began dividing out samples of the material. Lyle was trying his best to be unobtrusive, but… it seemed like any movement at all was sufficiently obtrusive to irritate Brainy. He decided he couldn't spend his entire Legion career walking on eggshells around the moody Coluan, so Querl would just need to learn to put up with him. Lyle could be stubborn too.
Querl could feel his patience rapidly evaporating as Lyle continued to move around the lab. Querl was usually able to lose himself in his work, all twelve thought-tracks processing in tandem, sharing ideas and solving dilemmas as they arose. Instead, at any given time, at least one of his thought-tracks was preoccupied with tracking Lyle as the dark-haired human moved around the lab, taking samples, scratching down notes, humming interestedly, wrinkling his nose when something didn't make sense to him. There was an intensity in his eyes that Querl couldn't seem to ignore, and the young human was poring over the details of Querl's experiment that had produced the unusual alloy. Before he’d quite realized it, he wasn't even looking at his work anymore, his gaze instead trailing down the human’s thin shoulders, slumped tiredly, taking in the curve of his back as he sat cross-legged on the floor, chin perched on one hand, the other dragging across a omnicom.
Lyle looked up then, catching Querl staring. “What?” he demanded irritably. “Something the matter?” his eyes snapped with an inner fire. For a moment, the Coluan was lost in those deep, warm brown eyes. Lyle’s forehead crinkled a little as he glared at Querl. The human bit his lip then, ducking his head to hide a spreading flush. He was still not good at confrontation, whereas Querl cared very little for others’ opinions of him and thus had little problem with being pushy or even confrontational should the need arise.
Lyle cleared his throat awkwardly, running a hand through his hair, rubbing at the back of his scalp. His eyes flitted between the omnicom and Querl’s face several times, his mouth dropping open ever-so-slightly.
Querl didn't quite understand the sensation that rolled his stomach then, couldn't account for the heating of his cheeks. He knew, colloquially speaking, that he was blushing, that he was hyper aware of Lyle in a way he was not aware of any other Legionnaire. He also had no idea what to do with this information.
Lyle ducked his head again, turning his attention back to the omnicom before innocently commenting, eyes still locked on the screen, “What If we used this alloy as a substitute for the anti-grav belts and jet packs?”
Querl blinked. “Pardon?” He couldn't have heard that correctly.
Lyle looked up then. “It seems to have psychokinetic properties, and given the proper technology and functional access routes…” he shrugged weakly. “Thoughts?”
Querl considered the idea. “It has...merit,” he managed finally, not liking to admit that the human had once again come out on top when it came to creativity. Querl knew he could be short-sighted, that his intense focus had the unfortunate drawback of blinding him to potential alternatives. Again, Lyle was throwing Querl’s failure in his face, all with a hesitant, hopeful smile that felt more like a slap in the face than an attempt to diffuse the tension between them.
He knew that wasn't the intent, he wasn't so emotionally stunted that he actually thought Lyle was mocking him. But it felt that way, and so it was with great effort that Querl forced aside his wounded pride, walking across the lab and crouching next to Lyle, picking his way around the scattered omnicoms and other various bits of equipment. He leaned in a bit closer, trying to get a clear view of the data on Lyle’s omnicom, accidentally bumping the other’s shoulder with his own. The human made a small sound, not quite pain, but not exactly pleased. Querl could have apologized, but he was still feeling vindictive and so he chose not to, though he did glance at Lyle to make sure he hadn't actually injured him. The human was blushing furiously. He seemed otherwise unharmed. As Querl could see no reason for the flush dusting the young man’s cheeks, he brushed the detail aside, considering it statistically irrelevant, though it bore mentioning that he found he rather liked the way Lyle’s cheeks pinked, especially when he hummed lowly, commenting in a dry tone, “It looks promising.” Querl glanced at Lyle then, enjoying how the human seemed to struggle to meet his gaze. “Have you considered the conversion method?”
“Physical contact is the best bet for activating psychokinetic properties in otherwise inert substances,” Lyle suggested, his warm eyes gazing at Querl from beneath thick, dark lashes.
“I agree,” Querl said lowly, observing the way his voice sent a shiver down Lyle’s spine with some enjoyment. “Embed it in the suit?”
Lyle frowned a little. “I feel like flexibility might end up being an issue.”
Brainy considered this, a look of smug satisfaction settling across his features as an idea took hold. “Why not combine it with the communicator ring?” he asked. “All Legionnaires are already required to wear one, and the internal circuitry would only require minor adjustments to accommodate the alloy.”
Lyle twisted the ring on his hand thoughtfully. “Do you think the surface area will be sufficient for what we have in mind?”
Something in Brainiac Five thrummed excitedly at the phrase “we”. This was a joint project, wasn't it? Not another chance for Querl to prove himself, or worse, lose to Norg yet again. This was a joining of ideas, cooperation… sharing.
Querl glanced suddenly at Lyle. “I’m sure if a problem comes up, between the two of us, we’ll be able to solve it.”
Lyle ducked his head, blushing furiously. “Yeah?” he managed weakly, his voice cracking a little. “That's, uh, great.”
Querl stood then, leaving Lyle on the floor staring up at him dizzily. “For now, I think we’d better move this - our project - to one of the benches,” he said. “We wouldn't want to leave the room a mess.”
“No, just blow it up later,” Lyle smirked as he also stood, groaning and stretching his back out. Querl did nothing to hide his enjoyment as he ran his eyes along the curve of Lyle’s spine.
Lyle glanced at him, a sly smile crawling across his features. “Like what you see?” he purred.
Querl raised one eyebrow. He might appreciate a nice view, but he wasn't one to be fast and loose with his compliments. “Adequate,” he answered dryly, bending over to gather an armload of omnicoms, feeling the other’s gaze on him as he did so. He straightened slowly, turning to look at Norg and raising his brow again. “If you're quite done, Invisible Kid,” he said, noting with some satisfaction the way Norg’s eyes widened at the use of his codename, “I believe we have work to attend to.”
Lyle gathered up the remaining omnicoms, glancing at Querl. “Lead the way, Brainy.”
Querl decided his nano-symniotic conversion complex could wait a day or two, clearing the area to make room for his - and Invisible Kid’s - project. He glanced at Lyle, who was practically glowing with pride.
“I can't believe you liked my idea,” he breathed, depositing the remaining data. He pulled out one of the lab stools, glancing at Brainy.
Querl took this as his cue to take a stool as well, the two of them sliding onto their respective seats, once again bumping shoulders. This time it was Querl’s breath that hitched, as he had a surprising revelation. He didn't mind sharing space with Lyle. In fact, he thought, as the other’s fingers gently brushed his, reaching for an omnicom, he rather thought he liked it.