Part I: Watchman
The first time Eli heard about the city's newest 'hero', he thought it was a joke; or at least, that he had misheard the girls on the bus and they'd been talking about some new superhero movie. He was quickly proven wrong, however, as he watched the news anchor reporting about a fire in an apartment building. The people had been rescued by a guy that — from the description that was given — sounded like a comic book character.
"And I thought things couldn't get any weirder," he muttered as he shook his head and continued wiping the counters.
It was just past the rush hour at the coffee shop he worked in and it was just him, Michael – his manager – and Matthew, one of the regulars at the shop. He was an odd fellow, showed up everyday at different times — usually right after the lunchtime rush — looking like he'd just gotten out of bed. His black hair was a mess and his blue-gray eyes were a bit red, supporting Eli's theory that Matthew had just changed his pajamas and headed to the coffee shop.
"I don't know, I mean, is it really that weird for someone to try to help out a bit, clean up some of the city's messes?" Matthew asked from his seat on a small table by the counter.
"If the guy wasn't dressed like a second rate Batman wannabe then I'd say no, it's not weird at all." If Eli was being a bit more snarky than he should be with a customer it wasn't his fault. He just got like that when confronted with a particularly ridiculous situation.
"Well, at least this guy's doing something good. Not like that guy in Seattle, you know the one with the fancy suit," Michael said, walking in from the backroom.
"The one who pepper-sprayed those people in the name of justice?" eli said and yes, Eli could have said it with a bit less snark. But then it just wouldn't be him.
"Yeah, that one," Michael agreed.
"It's still ridiculous," Eli insisted.
"But he saved those people," Matthew commented. "I mean, the firefighters couldn't get in, but he managed it and he saved someone."
"The firefighters could have gotten in if the guy hadn't rushed in first without actually taking safety precautions. He's lucky he's still alive, but he should probably leave this kind of stuff to the people who are actually supposed to take care of it."
Michael sighed and shook his head, just barely refraining from rolling his eyes.
"Don't mind Eli," he told Matthew as he refilled the man's cup. "He's just bitter about his dreams of being a superhero being shattered after he found out he was too short for the job." Matthew didn't even have to look to know that his comment had earned him a glare.
"I am not short," Eli snapped, looking indignant. "Just because you're a giant doesn't mean I'm short."
"Being six feet tall doesn't make me a giant," Matthew shot back.
It was an old argument, one they had a few times a week and one neither could ever claim to either win or lose. And yet it was still entertaining enough for Matthew to watch as he sipped his coffee.
The second time Eli heard anything about the man that was supposedly patrolling the city at night was when one of the regulars was chatting with Wendy — a part timer at the shop. Apparently, there had been a story in the news about the so called hero stopping a couple of robbers before they could get away after they'd cleaned out the cash register at a liquor store. What was really impressing people was that he'd actually given the guy that worked there medical attention before leaving. The guy claimed he saved his life, and the paramedics agreed saying he might have bled out from a stab wound had it not been for the masked man.
Everyone had been going crazy over the guy after this latest story and the media was milking it for all it was worth. Eli started to watch the news whenever he had the time, just to amuse himself with the stuff the people from the news came up with to 'embellish' the story. Lately, people had taken to calling the guy 'Vigilante'. It was completely unimaginative and decidedly cliché, but then again it was all because some reporter had decided to call him that. She'd kept with it and eventually, the name had stuck. Eli still thought it was all ridiculous.
He might have changed his mind a bit after the third time he heard anything about the man.
He'd been walking home after his shift had ended at the shop, his backpack resting heavily on his shoulder, weighed down by the books he needed for his classes. It had been a long day, with difficult lessons in school and a horde of customers that continued throughout the whole day. All Eli wanted was to get home, get something to eat and get some sleep, but he knew he still had to study if he wanted to pass any of his classes.
Just as he was considering stopping to get some take-out (because he did not feel like cooking), he was grabbed rather roughly and slammed against a grimy back alley wall. His head hit the wall, bouncing off of it and making it rather hard for him to concentrate on whatever it was that was being said to him but after a moment he was able to get the gist of it and wasn't all that pleased with what he was able to gather.
Of course I'd get mugged, he thought. How else could this craptastic day end?
He was actually already resigned to losing what little money he had in his wallet. All Eli was hoping for was that he wouldn't be hurt by the time it was all over so he could drag himself back to hisapartment to wallow in self-pity. Unfortunately, it didn't look like the two jerks were satisfied with what was in Eli's wallet and to compensate, they seemed to be about to do some serious damage to his face.
And that was when the so called Vigilante made his appearance and Eli had to admit, he was pretty impressed with the movie-like dropkick he gave one of the guys. He bet the guy holding him would have been impressed too if he hadn't been seconds away from getting a fist to his face. It was actually embarrassing how easily the guy put the two muggers down for the count when Eli had barely been able to resist them. Granted, he had been pretty dazed from having his head smashed against a brick wall. He was surprised he didn't appear to have a concussion, considering he was able to follow the vigilante's movements pretty easily as he used zip ties to make sure the muggers wouldn't get away before the cops got there and then used what looked like a disposable phone to actually call said cops.
Eli was still pretty dazed once the vigilante turned his attention back to him, but he was lucid enough to think of how ironic it was for him to be saved by the guy he'd been complaining about for weeks. If Michael could see him now he'd probably laugh and say the not completely uncalled for 'I-told-you-so' that he took so much delight in using on Eli.
"Are you alright?" and boy, the guy's voice was pretty deep. It made Eli feel a bit ashamed of his own voice, especially when he practically squeaked out a "Yes," and let the vigilante pull him to his feet.
The guy was pretty tall, probably taller than Michael and that guy was pretty huge. He wasn't built like some of the usual comic book heroes though, he was leaner, looking bulkier than he actually was because of the clothes he wore. Even though they looked pretty well fitting, Eli could tell there were some serious layers beneath the dark fabric. He supposed it was only to be expected though, after all, the guy walked into burning buildings and fought robbers armed with guns and knives and who knew what else.
He would have said something about the mask he wore over his eyes being a bit cliché, but he didn't think it was such a bright idea to anger the man who had just beaten up two muggers with less effort than it took Eli to complete one of those stupidly complicated coffee drinks that pretentious jerks liked to order at the shop. Besides, he was distracted as the guy actually began checking him for injuries, eventually running his gloved hand through his mess of red curls only to retrieve it slightly stained with blood.
"Looks like you took a nasty blow there," he muttered. "You sure you're okay?"
Eli tied to nod, but winced and stopped, answering with another simple "Yes," instead (and at least this time it wasn't said in a squeaky tone). It looked like the guy was about to say something else, but then there was the sound of sirens and a moment later he was gone. It was some serious Batman-ish stuff, and Eli thought maybe he knew how Commissioner Gordon felt. The whole disappearing act was seriously irritating.
If there was one good thing to come out of the whole ordeal it was that Eli got a couple of days off to deal with the concussion he'd gotten as a result of the mugging (Could he really call it a mugging if they hadn't actually taken his money?). Michael, as was to be expected, had done the whole 'I told you so' routine when Eli had told him what had happened. To be fair, though, he had expressed his concern for him before laughing and telling him how wrong he'd been.
Of course, with good things came some seriously crappy stuff — as was to be expected when it came to Eli. After the whole Vigilante run-in, he'd gained a sort of stalker and it would have been more unnerving if it hadn't turned out to be so convenient.
"You really need to stop getting into so much trouble," Vigilante said as he zip tied some drunken jerk who'd thought it'd be funny to push Eli around.
"It's not like I actually go looking for trouble," Eli snapped, because he'd gotten comfortable enough around the guy after realizing that he wouldn't kill him for arguing his point.
"Then at least stop wandering around at night through dark streets," Vigilante shot back, not missing a beat.
"I had a night class and it's not my fault the city refuses to fix those damn streetlights," Eli huffed, crossing his arms. Vigilante seemed more amused than frustrated.
"Really though, this is what, the fourth time I've saved you?" the man said after a moment of thought. "I should start charging you," he added with a smirk.
"You can't charge me! What kind of third rate hero charges the people they save?" Eli said indignantly.
"You think I'm a hero? I'm touched." Eli would have been more surprised at hearing the usually ominous looking man joking around if he weren't so used to it already. "Don't worry though, I won't charge you any money," Vigilante went on, and then he got a grin that Eli did not like.
"I know, how about a kiss to thank your favorite hero," he said, leaning closer to Eli.
"Wha-, you can't, no!" Eli spluttered, face as red as his hair and hazel colored eyes wide. The other man just laughed, earning a glare from Eli.
"It was just a suggestion," he said, grin still firmly in place.
"What the hell kind of suggestion was that? Do you ask all the people you help out to kiss you? That's sexual harassment!" Eli said, hoping he wasn't blushing anymore, but knowing he probably was.
"No, but what can I say, I have a thing for redheads," Vigilante shrugged.
Eli scowled, ready to continue arguing when he heard the unmistakable sound of sirens approaching. He glanced over in the direction the sound was coming from and then back at where Vigilante stood, expecting the man to be gone only to get the shock of his life when the man leaned forward and pressed his lips onto Eli's. The kiss was short and simple and by the time Eli was done having a minor heart attack Vigilante was gone.
He didn't see the man for a while after that and maybe it was a good thing. He was angry enough about the violation to his personal space to attempt something stupid, like try to punch the guy. Unfortunately, he had to limit himself to scoffing at the man's so-called heroic acts. Sometimes Vigilante went off the grid for a while and when he was feeling particularly spiteful, he'd tell Michael he was probably in some ditch.
"Harsh," the other man would say, an eyebrow arched at his co-worker. "You'd think you'd have nicer things to say about the guy that saves your bacon on a regular basis."
"I would if the guy wasn't a Jerk," Eli muttered.
"He doesn't sound that bad," and that comment had come from Matthew, who was sitting in his usual spot, looking as shabby as always.
"That's because you haven't talked to him. He's surprisingly irritating," Eli said plainly.
"Well I'm glad he's helped you," Matthew went on. "I wouldn't want to lose my favorite barista."
"You could always go somewhere else," Eli pointed out, setting a plate of cookies on Matthew's table.
"But you make the best coffee," he said with a laugh, and Eli rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. He stopped smiling as soon as he heard the words the man muttered a moment later.
Eli told himself that he shouldn't be so freaked out, after all, plenty of people had a thing for redheads. It was just that not many of them would say that in regards to him.
He'd tried to brush off Matthew's comment, especially since he was probably not meant to have heard it. The man had said it pretty quietly after all, and if the shop had been full he would have missed it. Of course, if he hadn't heard that exact same phrase from a so-called hero just days earlier, he would have brushed it off in a second. But he had heard it from the Vigilante, and he couldn't just brush it off.
In the days following the incident at the shop, Eli had found himself observing Matthew a lot more closely. He'd never noticed how fit the man was beneath the sweaters and hoodies he usually wore or how sharp his eyes were, even when it looked like he was just relaxing with a cup of coffee. Another thing he'd apparently missed about his regular customer was how tall he was because he was pretty sure he was taller than Michael.
"How tall are you?" he'd asked one day, as Matthew stood on the other side of the counter, ready to order his drink. He'd looked taken aback for a moment before smiling in a way that didn't make his eyes look any less keen.
"Why do you want to know?" he'd asked, and Eli was almost sure he was suspicious about Eli himself.
"Just wondering, I don't get to meet many giants apart from Michael," he answered easily, and apparently the jab was enough to dissuade any suspicions because he chuckled and told Eli that he was 6'3. Definitely taller than Michael. Matthew took his coffee to go that day.
By the time two weeks had passed since Eli had last seen vigilante, he was feeling pretty paranoid. He was also, however, feeling pretty sure that he knew who the supposed Vigilante was and was ready to confront him, if only to get back at him for the kiss he'd stolen from him. The problem was, the guy was nowhere to be seen, which kind of took away any paranoid ideas about the guy stalking him. He was walking home after a late class one night, thinking about what was keeping the guy from showing up again, when he saw a small group of guys loitering outside a convenience store, and then he knew what was going on.
Vigilante had always shown up to save him — always — even though Eli had no idea how the guy knew he needed help. He still suspected he was being stalked, but it wasn't like he could prove it. The guy was irritatingly stealthy. But now that he thought about it, he hadn't been mugged, picked on or nearly run over since he'd last seen Vigilante which gave him an idea. Maybe, the reason he didn't see him was becausehe didn't need him. Maybe if he were in danger, Vigilante would show up.
It was, as he would later come to realize, an astoundingly stupid idea.
There were so many things that could go wrong with the plan that was forming in his head that it was a wonder he'd actually gone through with it. At the moment, however, it was the only thing he could think of that would make the guy show up. And so — in what would always be Eli's worst idea ever — he crossed the street and made sure to stare at the guys standing in the parking lot as he walked by. He was starting to think that they'd just ignore him and that maybe he'd misjudged them and they were actually stand up citizens out for an evening walk, when he spotted one of the guys that had tried to mug him back when he'd first ran into Vigilante. It was only a moment later that he was hurrying down the street with a whole gang following him and he was starting to question his plan because there was no one else around.
Of course he'd be somewhere else when I actually decide to get into trouble, Eli thought grimly.
He was just about to make a run for it, hoping to make it to the next block where it was usually more crowded before the guys caught him when he felt a hand settle on his shoulder, spinning him around to face the guy that had gotten a face-full of Vigilante's boot the last time he'd seen him. In the moments that followed, Eli wasn't aware of about half the things that went on. One moment he was being jostled around and shoved against a wall (at least this time his head didn't bounce off of it), and the next he was watching as some dark figure dropped down from the freaking roof of the building behind him and onto one of the guys in front of him.
The events that followed were so quick that Eli could just barely register fists flying around and noses being smashed as he tried to stay out of the way. He was actually pretty surprised when Vigilante turned to him after what had been about five minutes of brawling, not the least bit out of breath and having just successfully knocked out five guys, two of which had knives.
"You alright?" he asked as soon as he looked at Eli. For his part, Eli could only nod.
"Did you just jump down from the roof?" he asked incredulously and even beneath the mask, he could tell Vigilante was rolling his eyes.
"It's not even two stories and I landed on someone," he said, pulling Eli closer to look him over. He seemed satisfied after being sure that Eli wasn't hurt. "I can't believe you got in trouble again," he sighed. "You were doing so well too, nearly a month without getting nearly killed."
Eli couldn't help but glare, even if it was his fault this time.
"And I can't believe you were actually around. What, do you actually follow me around, waiting for me to get into trouble?"
"Only on slow nights," the other man joked. "So, are you going to pay me this time too?" he teased, and if it weren't for the next part of his plan, Eli would have punched him.
"Fine," he said, feeling his cheeks flushing.
Vigilante looked taken aback, probably having expected Eli to put up a fight, but after a moment he grinned and began to lean closer to Eli. He was just an inch away when Eli reached up and tore his mask off of him, making the other man jump back with a curse.
"Son of a bitch!" he swore, a hand flying up to his face. "What the hell, Eli!? That hurt!" he complained.
"I knew it!" Eli said triumphantly. "I knew it was you!" Because only Matthew could be tall and strong enough to do the things Vigilante did just like only Matthew would know his name and — apparently — have a thing for redheads. He didn't get to enjoy his victory for too long though, because a moment later he was being pulled aside to some dark corner between the back of an apartment building and a barbershop and Matthew was glaring at him.
"Mask, now," he said, hand extended in front of him and Eli didn't even argue, just placed the mask on his hand and watched him stuff it in a pocket and pull up the hood of his top. He looked pretty intimidating with his face shadowed and a frown on his face and Eli had to wonder about the wisdom of his plan.