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Vigilant

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3 Days Ago

 

If you had told Victor Vale that he’d be spending his spring semester break driving to Cambridge, Massachusetts with his roommate so he could kill himself, he would have laughed in your face. Driving down I-43, however, Victor wasn’t laughing, he was seething. Eli Ever was in the driver’s seat in more ways than one, and Victor couldn’t stand it. 

It had been a month since the ice bath, since Eli died under cheap fluorescents and forty pounds of ice and Victor made the mistake of bringing him back. Eli was, changed, to put it lightly. With each cut that miraculously stitched itself up, Eli grew more and more distant from Victor as well as the Eli that Victor had known. Trading the spark behind his eyes for a bonfire sounded great in theory, but Victor was coming to learn all too quickly that Eliot Cardale had hid in the shadows for a reason.

A glance in Eli’s direction and Victor found him with his elbow resting out the window, one hand lazily guiding the steering wheel, the corner of his mouth quirked up in a sly smile. Victor wondered how he could seem so serious yet so damn relaxed, but then again, some things never changed. Or maybe, Eli had always carried himself like a God. Victor considered Eli, light and wind weaving through his hair, and just about scoffed. He was practically glowing.

Eli caught his eyes, “Something on my face?”

His chin was upturned and Victor wondered if it was intentional or if Eli was just destined to always be looking down on him. Victor tapped his own cheek, “Missed a spot.” Flecks of blood still clung to Eli’s skin and car keys from the last self-inflicted cut. You’d think that after a couple weeks the novelty would wear off, but Eli was just as fascinated as he was that first night outside the bar, he just got better at hiding it.

Eli rummaged through the glove compartment, eyes still on the road, and pulled out a tissue, wiping away the last few spots of red. He flashed a smile Victor’s way.

“Better?”

“Much.”

Some faded smears of blood were still visible, but Victor hated how smug Eli got whenever he brought up anything related to his powers. Victor hated that Eli succeeded on his first try, that he had a full month to get acclimated to his powers, that he was ahead. Victor hated being left behind. And those 30 days filled with a broken record series of “not yet” and “some other time” and “I’m busy” were torture. There were a few nights where Victor couldn’t take it anymore, but every time he strayed too close to the edge, Eli smooth talked him back. Back to Lockland, back to him, back to more “it can wait” and “you’re not ready”. It was condescending as shit, and Victor promised himself that the next time he wouldn’t give in, but soon enough it was too late for a next time and Eli was pulling him into his Porsche—because of course he drove a Porsche—and they were saying goodbye to campus and hello to hours upon hours of time together in a compact, poorly ventilated luxury car.

Victor fiddled with the radio for the fourth time in the last ten minutes, his petty way of reclaiming some control from the passenger seat. Turning the dial, hearing the effect of his actions—he knew it was pathetic, that being enough to give him satisfaction, and he had Eli to blame. While hanging around a self-proclaimed God—which he was not by any stretch of the word—most people would’ve been humbled. Victor wasn’t most people. He felt, weak. That weakness gnawed at him like a hunger, and it would only subside once he was back on Eli’s level.

“If you don’t wanna listen to that country crap, just turn it off.”

Victor reached to oblige, hesitated, then turned the dial down a few notches, the strum of a guitar still faintly filling the car. Eli was too comfortable, and Victor didn’t like it.

“What do you think yours is gonna be?” Eli asked in his nonchalant way, feigning disinterest. It brought a bitter smile to Victor’s lips, knowing Eli cared but also cared enough to hide it. 

Victor rapped his fingers against his thigh, glancing out the window, anywhere that wasn’t Eli, as he responded, “Haven’t thought too much on it.” He grimaced at how blatant a lie that was, quickly following up with, “Hopefully something like hormone manipulation. It would make classes a whole lot easier.”

That earned a laugh from Eli. 

Victor hated that sound.

Victor hated the hickey that Eli didn’t bother to hide.

Victor hated his God complex.

Victor hated Eli.

 

2 Days Ago

 

Eli was cold. Not a cold that the heater could fix. He hadn’t felt any semblance of warmth since the bath. The ice had never left his veins, quite the opposite. It was spreading.

He pulled his jacket tighter around himself, one hand maneuvering the steering wheel. Even with the headlights emitting cones of light, Eli could barely make out the road ahead of him. Not two moments later, the Porsche hit a pothole that jostled the car and propelled Eli forwards, seatbelt biting into his skin. He breathed out a curse and glanced over to his friend in the passenger seat, somehow still fast asleep. 

Eli had never been a deep sleeper. His nerves never seemed to slow enough for unconsciousness to take over—that is, until recently. 

With a sigh, Eli watched the steady rise and fall of Victor’s chest, flickers of moonlight giving his face a soft glow. He looked so, human. So flawed but so alive, but not for long. Eli let out another breath and directed his attention back to the road. They were a few days, a week at most, out from MIT. Eli was the one who proposed it, mainly because all of Victor’s plans were too rushed, too unpredictable—his fear and his rage made sure of that. Eli had a clear head and a clearer vision of what had to be done. He was going to kill his closest friend. 

Eli’s contact was some classmate’s brother’s friend from MIT, a convoluted connection that would be harder to trace back to him in the case that something goes wrong. A few phone calls and under the counter exchanges secured Eli early access to a drug that sounded perfect for making EOs: a powerful hallucinogen that, in theory, can activate different lobes of the brain to simulate the trauma felt near death. It wasn’t hard to guess what the drug was intended for in the first place, but Eli didn’t care. Of course, the developer didn’t need to know what Eli was using it for. No, Eli wasn’t going to introduce him to Victor. He was going to do this on his own terms.

He pulled over to the side of the road and took a long look at Victor. 

Eli imagined sinking the syringe into his skin, likely not even producing a flinch from Victor. 

Eli imagined Victor’s face contorting as the drug begins to pump through his veins, laboring his breath and making his knees buckle. 

Eli imagined the sudden escalation, Victor trying to run, trying to claw his brains out just to stop the pain. 

Eli imagined holding him down, keeping him lucid, forcing him to push through despite the agony on his face and hoarseness in his voice. 

Eli imagined Victor begging, pleading for everything to stop even if that meant his own heart‒‒

Eli’s hands were slick with sweat. With a quick breath, he wiped his palms on his jeans and placed them back on the steering wheel, taking a few moments to pull himself together and back onto the road.

He had to go through with this. It was going to happen with or without him, that he was sure of. Victor Vale was an unstoppable force, and it was Eli’s duty to point him in the right direction.

 

1 Day Ago

 

“Do you sleep ?” 

This was becoming a trend. For the past month, it was hard to tell each morning if Eli was just waking up, or if he had never gone to sleep. Victor supposed that the regeneration could fix whatever hell Eli’s body was going through, but the recklessness wasn’t exactly comforting. Not when Eli thought he had Victor’s life in his hands.

“Of course I do. Don’t tell me you’re worried?”

Victor scoffed, the question wasn’t worthy of a response. 

“Trust me, Vic.”

That was the last thing he wanted to do, but it was the only thing he could. 

A couple minutes passed, a comfortable silence filling the car. Most people would feel the need to fill it with humming, small talk, pointless questions and pointless answers. Victor had to hand it to Eli, he had a sense of direction and the ability to just exist with him. It was probably what kept them from killing each other sooner.

The fuel indicator blinked impatiently on the dashboard, signalling Eli to pull over to the nearest gas station. It was some cheap off-brand joint that seemed out of place in the sun. Eli put the car in park and hopped out, keeping the door propped open as he asked, “Want any snacks?”

“I’ll pass. Knock yourself out, though.” Victor had lost his appetite around nine exits ago. The mix of anticipation, envy, and anger wasn’t one that sat well with him. 

“Suit yourself.” Eli slipped from Victor’s peripheries, and the clunk of rubber on metal rebounded throughout the car. Victor suddenly became aware of the tightness in his throat and the gnawing in his chest. He needed a break from Eli.

Victor made his way out of the car and headed towards the station. 

“Change your mind?”

Victor spoke over his shoulder, “Bathroom. I’ll only be a minute.”

He picked up his pace, careful not to step in the puddles of what he hoped was water, and pushed his way into the store. The gentle chime of the store’s bell along with the blast of air conditioning and hum of elevator music greeted Victor. It was one of those rare cases where the interior was more pleasant than the exterior. If everyone wore their worst qualities on the outside, if they had nothing left to hide, Victor doubted he would have any interest in Eli at all. 

Victor walked through the aisles, stretching his legs and looking for nothing in particular. It felt nice to be the one choosing his own path for the first time in what felt like months, no matter how insignificant a trip to a convenience store was. Past bags and bags of junk, a magazine near check-out caught Victor’s eye. It was some vacuous publication, but it would be enough to keep him busy. Besides, he was used to blacking out self-help books full of even more shit than this. He slid the magazine and a bill to the cashier, collected his change, gave a disinterested ‘thanks’, and emerged to see Eli back in the driver’s seat. Victor slipped back into the passenger seat, propping open the magazine.

“Don’t tell me you actually read Vogue ?”

Victor pulled a sharpie from his back pocket, uncapping it with his teeth as he flipped a page, “If I ever do, you have permission to put me out of my misery.”

Recognition flashed across Eli’s face as he rolled down the windows in anticipation of the stench. “Should’ve brought nose plugs,” he remarked, a slight smile in his tone.

“You’ll live.”

Eli kept his gaze on Victor, then he shook his head and laughed as he took the wheel.

“Not without food‒where are we headed?”

Victor listed off some fast food options, Eli picked his favorite. Victor just wanted to minimize the time off the road, because the quicker they arrived, the quicker he could carve his own path. He was so fucking tired of being Eli’s sidekick. 

Victor focused in on his magazine, scanning the articles for anything viable. He took the ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ mantra to heart, in this case he just played both parts. The topics ranged but the headlines stayed the same, some bold eye-catching font that the editors hoped would distract from the fact that nothing was being said. Victor picked a story about some starlet’s new perfume line because the author gave him quite a variety of words to work with. The headline was the first thing to go. Despite Eli’s efforts to get the AC working, it wasn’t long before the Porsche stunk of permanent marker. A couple of minutes later and Victor had worked his way through the entire article.

 

Upcoming --------------------------- success ------- only

-------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------- so -----------------

far from -------------------------------------------- here.

 

It wasn’t much, but it was an improvement. It kept Victor’s mind off of Eli anyways. Victor spent the rest of the day making his way through the magazine and eating whatever junk Eli ordered for them, only noticing nightfall when it interfered with his ability to read. Eventually, he admitted defeat and rolled up the magazine, which did nothing to diffuse the fumes. Victor was actually quite curious as to how long Eli could hold out without making some comment or some move to cover his nose, and his answer came quickly. As the Porsche’s LED display blinked from 12:06 to 12:07, Eli careened down a side road, parking the car a couple meters into an open field guarded by elms. 

“Fresh air before we both get brain damage?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Eli left the key in the ignition as the pair piled out of the car, the stars and headlights casting an uneven glow over the grass. Victor watched Eli stretch, his figure outlined in moonlight. 

“Didn’t think you got sore anymore,” Victor commented, amusement in his tone.

Eli shrugged and stumbled back a step, catching himself on the hood of the car. Victor raised an eyebrow, realized Eli couldn’t see it, then asked, “Dizzy?”

“I don’t know how the hell you can tolerate that,” Eli half laughed, half scoffed. 

It brought a smile to Victor’s face, knowing there was still something he was better at than Eli. He leaned against the car next to Eli, putting his hands behind himself on the warm, humming metal to prop himself up. 

“It takes practice.”

Eli tilted his chin up to the sky, closed his eyes, and let out a breath. “You’re really something, Vic.”

“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” Victor was incredulous, to say the least. 

“Supposed to be whatever you make of it, but yeah,” Eli’s words slurred together ever so slightly‒unnoticeable to anyone who hasn’t spent years with him‒and Victor realized the fumes must have taken a toll on him. It was almost, endearing in a way. Humanizing. And frankly, that’s all Eli was. Even with the car’s interior lights backlighting him, the starlight bouncing off his hair, the moon tinting him silver, this was as close as he could get to ethereal.

A few minutes passed, the chatter of crickets, rustling of leaves, and creaking of trees filling the air. Victor could make out shadows flickering against trunks, the hint of a horizon separating Earth from the seamless galaxy above, stray leaves swirling above the canopy forming ink stains on the waning moon. He felt so small. A smallness that powers wouldn’t be able to fix.

“Are you scared?”

Victor had almost forgotten Eli was beside him. It didn’t help that the voice hardly sounded like it belonged to him. He wasn’t mocking him, he wasn’t fucking with him, he was just asking. It still sounded calculated, sure, but not in a way that Victor had heard before. 

“Of?”

“What happens when we get there, of dying.” 

Victor couldn’t tell from Eli’s tone if it was a question or a statement. He paused. Was he scared? Victor never gave the act of almost dying much thought. It felt like some preordained event that was going to happen regardless, unquestionable since the moment Eli went through it himself. That was stupid, wasn’t it? Something he’d call out Eli for thinking. But here he was, knee-deep in quicksand and halfway to Cambridge. 

It was going to hurt. Eli made sure to remind him of that any time it was brought up, and Victor would always dismiss his comment because the bastard obviously wanted to keep all the glory for himself. Looking at Eli now, concerned, almost vulnerable, Victor wasn’t sure what to think. 

He wanted to choose his words carefully, to exude confidence he didn’t have, but it was something about the way Eli asked, something about Eli. He could never say no to him.

 “I’m fucking terrified.”

Victor silently cursed to himself. Even in the cover of night, he could tell Eli looked just as surprised at the openness as he was himself. 

And in a mix of exhaustion, sharpie-induced dizziness, and the most sincerity he had ever heard from him, Eli replied softly, “Me too.”

Victor’s mind quieted. 

He tipped back his head and gazed up at the infinite sea of stars in a new light.

 

Today

 

God was testing him.

Eli’s mind was racing, because for the first time since he sat in a pool of his own blood, he felt uncertainty gripping him. The closer they got to their destination, the more the weight of the situation set in for Eli. It was no longer hypothetical, it was going to happen.

There was no stopping Victor, that was for sure. He was stubborn to a fault, and it was clear he would take this, quite literally, to his death bed. If left to his own devices, who knows what danger he could cause, not only to others, but to himself? Eli knew he had to do something. He had already decided to go down the path of helping rather than stopping Victor, but that decision was getting more and more questionable as they approached the border between New York and Massachusetts.

Eli watched Victor from the corner of his eye. His legs were crossed, and he was still buried in that practically unreadable magazine. It made him wonder if it was more of a coping mechanism or a time passer, but it didn’t matter either way. Today was out of Victor’s hands.

“Shouldn’t be far from here. We’ll be there before night.”

Victor glanced up from the line he was blacking out, the sharpie coming to a stop with a squeak. “You certainly sound excited.”

Eli’s nose scrunched involuntarily as he spoke, “Sorry I’m not celebrating your impending doom.”

Victor laughed a little which should’ve eased the tension but did nothing to loosen Eli’s white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. 

“My impending doom? What are we, bad villains from cheap movies?”

There was nervousness in his laugh, definitely fear, but no regret. Eli envied that. He sighed, “Well, something like that.”

Victor frowned and capped his marker. 

“Don’t go getting second thoughts when we’re already this close.”

Eli’s rosary, normally tucked beneath his shirt, was on full display and bouncing with each pothole. Eli went on, voice slightly wavering, “Are you sure this is what He intended?”

That earned a glare from Victor. “ He has nothing to do with this, Eli. Don’t forget who saved you.”

There it was again. That damn defiance that was inseparable from Victor. He knew better than to argue with him, it’d only be a waste of breath, so he turned his attention back to the road. No matter what happens today, by the end of it, there’ll be no going back.

Eli drove with caution. He drove down side streets and he took detours and hoped Victor wouldn’t notice. It was stupid, really, trying to delay the inevitable. Regardless, he wanted to make this last. Whatever you could call this, that is. It wasn’t peace, it wasn’t calm, it was just what was known, and who could blame him for that? He was all too stiff and all too tense as he extended the drive beyond what he had promised, knowing full well that it was only a matter of time before Victor asked what was taking so long.

He found himself wishing the highway was longer, and then, an idea slithered its way through Eli’s mind. It was selfish. It was, insane. It would take some form of divine intervention, surely. But then, it wouldn’t be his fault. Slowly, the darkness in his mind faded away, leaving the path ahead crystal clear. This was what he wanted. For Victor, for both of them.

He drove the next few minutes in a determined calm. As road signs zoomed past in blurs of yellow and white, Eli reckoned that certainty was the best stress relief that couldn’t be bottled. He gave himself time to change his mind, but he knew his decision would be final the second it entered his mind. 

He took his eyes off the road and looked over to Victor, the closest thing he had to a friend.

“Do you trust me, Victor?”

“Yeah, why?” Neither of them believed it, but Eli wasn’t stopping.

He pressed on the gas and within seconds the speedometer was twitching between 90 and 100, and by the time Victor could register what was happening, Eli’s hands were off the wheel and clasped around his rosary, and then it was a screech of tires and a crash of metal and then a deafening silence.

Chapter Text

Adrenaline. It pumped through every inch of Victor’s being and all he could think about was his thesis.

His sympathetic nervous system spasmed, cortisol raced through his bloodstream, and his chaotic network of veins couldn’t supply nearly enough blood to his pounding heart. 

They were careening at an impossible speed, the Porsche edging towards the highway’s guardrail slowly enough for it to seem like the car was mocking him.

This wasn’t the plan.

Victor wanted to kill Eli. Victor wanted to see Angie’s smile, to have the highest marks, to have control, to take back everything Eli stole from him.

Eli would not take his life.

Metal hit metal with a piercing screech and a flurry of sparks. The impact jerked Victor forward like a ragdoll, choked by the seat belt digging into his neck. There was a sudden weightlessness, and Victor only caught a glimpse of the world turned on its head before the car toppled over the side of the road.

Victor wanted to scream but his lips wouldn’t part. His hand was numb from its death grip on the car’s handle, as though the more force he exerted the more control he had.

Eli would not leave him powerless.

His skull hit metal, sending waves of pain reverberating throughout him. The car spiraled, jolting and twisting Victor around like clothes in a washing machine until he heard a sickening crack. It tooks seconds to register, then Victor couldn’t remember a time before the agony. Tears stung at his eyes and a darkness gnawed at his vision, offering him an escape.
He grit his teeth, forced himself to be present, to have control.

Eli drenched in blood was the last image he saw.

 

~~~

 

Eli gulped down breaths. There was a ringing in his ear and the distant sound of traffic, but compared to the prior havoc, the silence was deafening. A metallic stench clogged his nose.

Victor.

Eli opened his eyes. He craned his neck, his nerves screaming in protest, and tensed at the sight of him. Victor was slumped forward, suspended in place by his seatbelt. A piece of shrapnel was lodged in his thigh, a darkness seeping into the fabric of his jeans. He wasn’t moving.

It was only when reaching out to Victor and seeing the rivulets of blood down his own arm that Eli became acutely aware of the condition his body was in. Everything ached. His leg was pinned to the seat by the warped car door that had taken the brunt of the impact. Tracing the paths of blood looking for cuts, he found his skin had already stitched itself up, but it did nothing to quell the phantom pain that made his mind swim and his heart hammer.

Straining his arm, he placed a finger under Victor’s nose. He froze. 

Victor wasn’t breathing. 

Well, this was the plan, wasn’t it?

Then, the unmistakable scent of gasoline.

Eli jolted into action, turning off the ignition and unfastening his seat belt with hands much steadier than he felt. He tried the handle and sucked in a breath when it didn’t budge, damaged from the crash. Again, with more force, nothing. Then again, throwing the weight of his body against the door, multiplying his aches tenfold. Eli didn’t know the definition of claustrophobia until those still, panicked seconds that followed.

He tugged at his pinned leg, hoping to dislodge it and praying that Victor’s door would give him better luck. And then the sun through the windshield became brighter, more piercing, and the metal burned with a familiarity that made Eli struggle to take in breaths and keep down the bile. The chapel. Pastor Cardale. Years of being tied to that cross. The leather of the car seat was suffocating. 

Eli went on autopilot. The pain, the panic, everything became background noise. Like muffled echoes heard underwater. He had to get out. So when he yanked and yanked with an empty desperation at his leg, which finally came loose leaving a deep gash and crimson trail in its wake, he was numb. When he crawled over Victor, shoving open the door and touching the ground, he didn’t breathe out relief. When he pulled Victor from the car, medical training telling him to avoid aggravating any injuries, all he could feel was a visceral sense of duty. 

Then a tidal wave of senses came roaring back as an invisible force had Eli skidding across the ground, gravel digging streaks into his legs, heat rippling through the air, smoke thick on his tongue, arms aching under Victor’s weight. The Porsche was consumed in hellfire, coughing up ashes. 

Ten seconds. That’s all it would’ve taken for Victor to be dead, and for Eli to be roasting in a sinner’s agony. The blood stained rosary rose and fell with Eli’s slowing breaths. The flames crackled against the backdrop of broad daylight, and Eli felt something seep into him. The same calm he experienced watching his father’s blood and soul drain from his body. It was faith that took over then, and faith that had taken over now.

And in that moment of peace, cradling Victor’s lifeless body, Eli knew he had made the right choice. 

 

~~~

 

Victor felt like absolute shit. But at least he felt. 

A blinding light on a beige ceiling and a throbbing pressure in his thigh. He breathed in and instantly regretted it, feeling a sharp pain against his lung. Broken ribs. He needed to sit up, assess the situation, see what the hell was happening with his leg‒

“Oh, thank God, Vic.”

Right. 

As he opened his mouth to spit out that God had nothing to do with this, that Eli didn’t get to have the glory to himself anymore, that Victor’s days of being one step behind were over ‒that damn rib pressed into his lung, earning a fit of coughs that only aggravated the pain. Eli came, rushed, into frame, and magenta spots bloomed across his figure as Victor adjusted to the dark. Even through blurry vision, even though he was blocking the light, Victor could swear Eli’s eyes were shining.  

“How do you feel?” There was a hushed fervor in his tone, as though Eli was holding back the floodgates with trembling hands, and God, did Victor want to see him overwhelmed. Victor’s mouth twitched into a wry smile, recalling how it felt to be on the other side of this exchange, scared to death that Eli had died. He let the question linger, let the anticipation twist in Eli.

“Alive.”

Eli stared, smiled, laughed . Not one of his perfect politician chuckles that he’d sprinkle into conversations to make something as banal as the weather seem humorous, but a genuine, unplanned, raspy noise. One that reached his eyes. One that had Victor thinking if all it took to get Eli like this was Victor getting hurt, he’d have been jumping off buildings months ago.  

And then Victor was back on Earth with sputtering breaths and tremors of heat that couldn’t compare to the pain of what two years of Eli had done to him. And fuck was it hot in here.

“I’ll get some ice.”

As Eli disappeared from his peripheries, Victor realized he must’ve been thinking out loud. He wondered what the hell else Eli heard, and decided that he didn’t care. Eli was the one who’d risked Victor’s life on a whim, as if he had the right. An uncontrolled environment and a guarantee of getting off scot-free because of his powers and his acting. Victor was beginning to wonder if the drug was even real. If Eli had anything else he was keeping from him. 

An attempt at propping himself up had Victor’s vision going white, arms shuddering and almost giving out beneath him. Deep breaths only made things worse. Victor forced himself to take small, slow breaths despite every instinct yelling at him to take in oxygen and the suffocating panic threatening to boil over. It was worth it, what little control he gained over the situation. 

An unremarkable hotel room. Drapes pulled tight, fluorescents struggling to light the room’s corners. Victor’s gaze gravitated towards his leg and he went dizzy at the sight of the metal scrap buried in his thigh. Tightly wound gauze, thick with blood, held the intrusion in place. Too tight. Eli’s doing. 

Deal with the shrapnel. Check for other injuries. Rest until your ribs are healed. Discover your power. You earned it.

But nothing goes to plan. One touch of the metal sent electricity up his body, and Victor could only imagine the fireworks show of an MRI he’d be having. Reading about something in a textbook was, evidently, no preparation for reality. He couldn’t risk trying to fix it alone and bleeding out, that was clear. An all too familiar jealousy came back to Victor like a bitter taste in his mouth and he found himself wishing for Eli’s power.

And speak of the devil, a jostling door handle was the fanfare that preceded Eli’s entrance. Getting his first real look at him, Victor’s skin prickled at the deep red stains visible on Eli’s shirt. He wondered whose they were, and what kind of hotel would let him get a room looking like he came straight from a murder. 

Eli, reading his mind, spoke with a shrug in his voice, “It’s mine. You would’ve been dead for real by now if it wasn’t.” 

His actions betrayed his tone, his whole body leaning toward Victor, eyes flicking to the slightest source of motion. Victor saw a zeal in his features that didn’t sit right. He’d caught glimpses of it from door frames before Eli could sense his presence, from sideways glances in the dorm. Here, Victor could overdose on it. 

Victor bit back the scalding remarks on the tip of his tongue for curiosity’s sake, meeting Eli’s attentiveness with his own. He was all too used to being patient. A shadow passed over Eli’s face, something slipped, a dangerous grin. The ice bucket clinked in Eli’s hand but it was the farthest thing from both of their minds. 

“So? Do you feel any different?” 

It was clear Eli wasn’t asking about his health.

He considered. While the pain had been occupying his mind, he didn’t have time to speculate about powers. Focusing, he couldn’t help but feel something, or rather the absence of something. Spite, vitriol, he had those in droves. But Victor kept coming back to that look in Eli’s eyes. A look Victor knew was reserved for his theories, his projects. He didn’t know whether to laugh or to vomit. Eli was looking at him like a scientific discovery. Or a gift from God. Probably both. Victor didn’t know when the desire to have a place in Eli’s spotlight turned into a lust for something more destructive. Maybe when finally receiving Eli’s full attention had only left him unsatisfied. But when the distant urge to reopen those scars on Eli’s back made itself known, made itself undeniably tangible, it clicked.

He’d lost his restraint.

 

~~~

 

“Not like I’m shooting lasers from my eyes.” Victor responded after moments of thought. He gave Eli a sheepish smile that didn’t suit him, but he could handle the pretenses for now. Just the fact that he was breathing was confirmation enough‒Victor had changed. He was alive. Shades paler and looking like hell, but alive. Eli didn’t use the word miracle lightly, but he struggled to find a better term. His attention snapped to a twitch in Victor’s fingers and Eli realized he’d been staring. 

“I know this isn’t exactly a hospital,” Eli began, pulling a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the mini-bar, “and this isn’t exactly anesthetic.”

Victor coughed up a laugh. “Can’t have bloodwork coming back from an EO.”

It sounded like Victor was testing out the word, amusement hanging in the air after the syllables faded. Eli offered the bottle and Victor’s fingers grazed his, firmly wrapped the neck. Victor, Eli realized, hadn’t taken his eyes off of him since he entered the room.

“This feels awfully nostalgic,” Victor spoke evenly.

“A toast to new beginnings, then?” Eli suggested, heading across the room to gather up the rest of the medical supplies that $30 could buy from a hotel lobby.  

“Since when were you the sentimental type?”

“I’m not.”

Victor hummed in response, all too calm considering the day’s events, but Eli didn’t bother questioning it. For a simple reason, too. Eli couldn’t remember a point in his life where he wasn’t alone. 

Whether by virtue of moving from foster home to foster home or out of an inability to be satisfied by talking with people his age, Eli felt utterly like an island. That is, until Victor. Victor, whose eyes bore through him, who was immune to dazzling smiles, who looked at Eli’s imperfections and must’ve seen something he liked. He never felt this comfortable around Angie. It only felt right to be sharing this moment, this extraordinary power, with the person who expected nothing from him. A train of thought that was, admittedly, sentimental.

Eli cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose you have any major injuries I missed.”

“Nothing that won’t heal.” Victor was already many swigs into the whiskey and it showed. His features weren’t as tight with pain and Eli found himself unconsciously relaxing. Alcohol and cheap hotels. This could be the new normal. Had to be. A car crash without victims, plates tied to Eliot Cardale, traffic cams and facial recognition pinning Victor Vale as his passenger. Lockland, normalcy, everything was out of the question and Eli was more than happy to throw whatever life he used to have away for this gift. Angie would understand, he hoped. As for Victor, Eli presumed he’d be on the same wavelength.

“Need something to bite down on?”

“I died. I can handle a little piece of metal.”

Eli scoffed. Victor was stubborn as always with an appreciated bluntness. 

He knelt by the bed, as if to pray, and cut away more fabric of Victor’s jeans, gauging his sensitivity. If Victor was in pain, it didn’t show. Eli paused.

“Remember when you said we could be heroes?” 

A sharp inhale. It took seconds for Eli to recognize it as his own but the realization that something was gone was instantaneous. That something was draining from him like melted ice from the bathtub. For the first time in what felt like eons, Eli felt undeniably human.

The room was an oven, or a desert, or the sun, because Eli felt heat and life and fear and the overwhelming primal urge to run, all with an intensity that could only be described as divine. 

Run from Victor, with his eyes unhinged. Who reached for the shrapnel and yanked with an inaudible scream. Whose bloodied skin began to impossibly knit itself together.

Neither of them dared move. Eli couldn’t do anything but stare and wonder if this was how it felt for Victor to watch him have all the glory, to be powerless.

When Victor’s pants began to die down, he turned his attention to Eli. 

His lips twisted into a grin that reminded him of smoke and crosses.

In that moment, Eli knew that was not Victor.

It was something vicious .