Part IV: BANG!
"You fixed my window," Eli said setting down a hot cup of coffee in front of Matthew. He didn't even bother to pretend like he didn't know it had been Matthew.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Matthew said, because apparently, he did want to pretend he hadn't done anything. Eli just gave him an annoyed look.
"Yeah right," he said. "You're the only person creepy enough to fix someone's window in the middle of the night, you damn stalker."
"Really Eli, you wound me," Matthew said with a look of fake hurt. "And should you really talk like that here?" Matthew looked around, trying to see if anyone was listening.
It was a quiet Saturday, with Michael having a day off and Wendy taking over for him. She wasn't paying attention to them though, being too busy tending to a young man who decided to order an absurdly complicated drink. Eli would have felt sorry for Wendy if he hadn't caught her texting so many times already while he tried to work through the lunchtime rush.
On the other side of the shop there was a student working on something on his laptop with music blaring into his ears through his headphones. It was so loud Eli could hear it from where he stood. A couple sat in a corner, acting disgustingly affectionate. Eli shook his head and turned back to look at Matthew.
"I seriously doubt anyone cares," he said. "Really though, stop being a creeper." With that, Eli turned and walked off to where Wendy was attempting to not kill a customer. Matthew watched him go with a smile before he turned back to the newspaper he'd been reading.
He never really bothered to take anything Eli said to heart, mainly because he knew the redhead didn't mean it — most of the time. At least he hoped so. Eli's glares were certainly convincing enough to have Matthew reconsider that idea.
A while later, just as Matthew finished his coffee and folded up his newspaper, Eli approached him. He noticed that the young man was wearing his coat and an expression that made it look like he was seriously reconsidering something.
"Do you, uh, want to have lunch with me," Eli asked before Matthew could say anything. He couldn't help but stare in surprise at Eli. A moment later, the surprise turned to suspicion.
"Why?" Matthew asked. As much as he liked Eli, he still remembered the way he'd torn the mask off of his face all those months ago. Besides, the younger man had told Matthew all too often to get away from him (not that he listened). After all that, any sort of invitation from Eli seemed odd.
"If you don't want to then just say so," Eli said, sounding just as annoyed as he usually did when dealing with Matthew. This time, however, he also seemed a bit flustered, and Matthew didn't fail to notice the bit of pink tinging Eli's freckled cheeks. Before Matthew could comment on this — most likely in a way that would get him punched — Eli turned and walked to the door.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Matthew said, standing and hurrying after Eli. "I didn't say no," he said, catching up to the redhead.
"Too bad, it was a limited time offer," Eli said without even looking Matthew's way. "Now stop following me." He quickened his pace in an attempt to get rid of Matthew. Not that it did much good.
"What if I happen to be heading the same way and happen to want to have lunch in the same place as you?" Matthew asked innocently.
"Then I might happen to punch you in the face," Eli muttered.
"Harsh," Matthew said, trying not to look too amused. He didn't think Eli would really punch him — again. "So, why'd you ask me to have lunch with you?" he asked after a moment of silence.
"Because, clearly, I'm insane," Eli said. After all, he still talked to Matthew.
"No you're not, you're just . . . unique," Matthew said, taking a moment to find the right word. Or at least, one that wouldn't make Eli want to hurt him. The redhead just gave him a blank look.
"Oh wow, thanks. You really know how to make a guy feel special," he said with a roll of his eyes.
"Aw, don't worry Eli, I think you're very special," Matthew said with a laugh.
"I really don't see that as a good thing," Eli said, stopping in front of a place that was well known for its burgers. "Are you really going to keep following me?" he asked.
"You asked me to have lunch with you," Matthew pointed out. "I'll pay," he added when Eli looked less than convinced. It wasn't a surprise to see the redhead pause at that and consider it. If there was one thing Matthew knew Eli wouldn't say no to, it was free food. After all, he was a starving college student.
"Fine, I guess I did ask you," Eli grudgingly admitted, and led the way in.
As was usual for the place, it was crowded, with plenty of people happily chatting as they enjoyed their food. It was a bright place, adorned with loads of signs and pictures that fit the 'roadstop' theme they had going. The counter was lined with stools that were all occupied and a couple of cheery looking waiters and waitresses wandered about, taking food to the small round tables and spacey booths. It was a warm place, not overly bright, and decidedly cozy. Definitely one of Eli's favorite places to have lunch.
Him and Matthew claimed a booth and were greeted by a pretty young waitress. Her nametag read 'Sally' and she smiled at them and handed them their menus after the usual greeting. Eli tried not to stare as she walked away, long, dark hair swaying in the high ponytail she wore it in.
"Really? I buy you lunch and you stare at the waitress, how rude," Matthew said, regaining Eli's attention. There was a playful tone to his words, but his eyes didn't quite match it.
"I wasn't staring," Eli muttered, feeling something like embarrassment. And then he remembered that this was Matthew, his stalker, he was talking to. "Not that it's any of your business if I do," he added, crossing his arms and leaning back in his seat.
"Sure it is. I wouldn't want you to get snatched away by a pretty waitress," Matthew said all too casually, his eyes focused on the menu he was looking through.
"You say that like you have a chance," Eli pointed out. "By the way, you don't even know if I like guys. Just because you sexually harass me on a regular basis doesn't mean I enjoy it," he added. Matthew just snorted and put down his menu.
"You had a boyfriend last year, you broke up because he switched schools and moved away," Matthew said, elbows resting on the table as he leaned forward. "You know, I'd never abandon you like that," he said with a grin.
Whatever reply Eli had, refused to come out of his mouth. He could feel his face burning — whether from embarrassment or pure rage, Eli couldn't tell — and was just about to force himself to form a coherent answer when their waitress returned. Seeing Matthew order so casually just pissed him off more, for reasons Eli couldn't quite understand. Now in a less than happy mood, Eli ordered his food and went back to glaring at the man sitting across from him as Sally walked away.
"You are the creepiest damn stalker in the world," he said with a scowl once they were alone again. "How do you even know that?"
"Michael told me," Matthew admitted. "You were in a bad mood at work, so I asked him about it. He didn't mean to say it was your boyfriend that made you mad, so please don't kill him. I'd really hate to have to arrest you," he joked.
"Oh my God, I hate you two," Eli said, letting his head fall onto the table with a groan. He did his best to ignore Matthew, who sounded like he was trying — and failing — to not laugh. Their food was ready just a short time later and Eli welcomed the distraction it brought.
Not that the bit of peace and silence the food provided lasted very long.
"So, you never told me why you decided to ask me to have lunch with you," Matthew said, swallowing a bite of his burger.
Eli had hoped the man wouldn't mention that again, but apparently, that had been too much to ask for. In all honesty, he wasn't all that sure why he had asked Matthew to accompany him to lunch. He'd wanted to do something nice for the guy — after all, he'd fixed his window, however creepy that was — so he thought he'd buy him lunch. Coffee wasn't really enough to sustain anyone and Eli rarely ever say Matthew actually eat anything. He figured it would be his good deed for the day.
Of course, he had overlooked Matthew's 'talent' for pissing him off in record time. Usually it was thanks to a highly inappropriate or embarrassing comment.
"Because you can't live off of coffee," Eli said, going for the simplest answer. There was no chance of him actually telling Matthew he'd been trying to be nice.
"So you were trying to be nice to me." Of course, Matthew didn't need to be told, much to Eli's chagrin. He decided to just ignore Matthew for the time being and focus on his delicious — though decidedly unhealthy — bacon cheeseburger. It was a real shame that he didn't get to enjoy it as fully as he would have liked.
Both Eli and Matthew walked out of the restaurant a while later, the redhead not quite happy with how things had turned out. Aside from having gotten irritated at Matthew — something that seemed to be a normal reaction — he'd ended up being the one treated to a meal. He didn't want to complain because it was free food, but still, it wasn't how he'd wanted things to turn out.
"Well, that was fun," Matthew said with a cheery tone. He certainly looked a lot better after having a decent meal. "Didn't think you'd be the one asking me out on a date, but I can't complain."
Eli nearly tripped when he heard that. Then he nearly punched Matthew again.
"What? I didn't, that wasn't — I'd never go out with you, you creep!" Eli said, face flushed with what he liked to think was anger and only anger. Matthew just grinned. Of course he would.
"No need to be shy, you already know I like you," he said with a calm tone.
"I'm not being shy! And how the hell do you like me? You don't even know me!" At least, Eli thought Matthew didn't know him. They talked, of course, but that was mostly random chatter about things while Matthew drank coffee.
"You realize I've been going to the coffee shop for over a year," Matthew said, an eyebrow quirked. "That's plenty of time to get to know you Eli. Plus, Michael tells me all sorts of things when you're not around," he said, adding the last part mostly to mess with Eli.
"You're lying," Eli said, even though he wasn't too sure of that. After all, this was Michael they were talking about. "Either way, I seriously doubt he told you anything to make you like me." That was said mostly to reassure himself that Matthew was insane.
"I don't need to know everything about you to like you, Eli," Matthew said, his tone holding something like exasperation mixed with amusement. "The way you treat people, the way you treat me, how hard you work to achieve your goals in life; those are the things that matter and those are the things that no one can just tell me about. I like knowing things about you because I like you, but I feel that way because of who you are," he explained.
Eli stood there, staring at Matthew, and trying to think up of a response.
"I treat you like crap!" That was the first thing he could come up with. It got a laugh out of Matthew, a real laugh that made the corners of his eyes crease and his body shake. To Eli's alarm, it wasn't as annoying as he'd expected it to be.
"Yeah well, it's not that bad," Matthew admitted with a shrug. "Just be nice to me every once in a while and we'll call it even." Eli would have loved to tell him there was no way that would happen, but he knew better. "Or, you know, you can just give me a ki —"
"Say it and I'll hit you," Eli cut him off, noting the strange looks a couple of people walking by sent their way. Matthew snorted out a laugh that he'd tried to hold back.
"You're such a prude," Matthew teased, getting a glare from Eli.
"That's it, I'm leaving," Eli said, turning and hurrying away from Matthew. The faint sound of laughter that seemed to follow him as he walked away did nothing to improve his mood.
Another thing that didn't help were the news that constantly reminded him of the person he most definitely didn't want to see at the time. It was the early evening and Eli was finally back home after the lunch from hell, as he liked to call it. He chose to spend his night like he usually did; in front of the television with a pile of schoolwork to get through. It wasn't the most fun choice, but it helped ease his workload for the rest of the week.
The evening news started, and Eli really wasn't surprised to see who they were reporting on first. As soon as the word 'Vigilante' was uttered by the chipper reporter that stared almost blankly at him through the screen, Eli changed the channel. Sad as it was, he preferred to watch a game show that made little sense to him than hear about Matthew's latest exploits.
With a sigh, he leaned back onto his couch, glaring at the books laying at his side as if they were the cause of all his problems. Granted, they were the cause of about half his problems while Matthew claimed the other half.
Eli studied for as long as he could manage to keep his attention on the words displayed on his computer screen, but every sentence he typed took more effort than it possibly should and his mind couldn't focus on his work. Thoughts of irritating masked men with warm smiles and a taste for trouble kept floating around in his head. It was with just a bit of surprise — and much denial — that Eli realized why that was.
He cared for Matthew. At least enough to not want the man to actually end up in a ditch somewhere. It certainly explained why he never really wanted to watch him on the news anymore. Not since the last time he'd been injured at least. Of course, at the time, he'd thought it was just because the very mention of Matthew annoyed him. Now though, he wasn't so sure.
Bored with all the school work he'd been doing for the last few hours, Eli decided to give himself a break. He switched the channel, trying to find something that would distract him enough. Thinking of Matthew wasn't a pastime he enjoyed. Even so, he couldn't help but stop at the mention of the man's alter ego.
The news reporter looked straight at the camera, her face and tone denoting the serious nature of the story she was covering. Eli heard the news with something like denial and a sense of shock mixed in with something he couldn't quite recognize. It was an unpleasant feeling that seemed to settle in his chest, squeezing it painfully. The words the woman on the screen had just spoken played over in his head.
Vigilante — no, Matthew — had been shot.