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The knock on my door at three in the morning was a surprise. Finding my mortal enemy sitting on the doorstep with a bloody towel pressed to his forehead was an even bigger one, considering our last battle had only ended two hours ago, and I hadn’t given him the cut. 

“Hey,” he said nonchalantly, cocking his head up and smiling at me. “I know we don’t talk much, but do you have bandages? Or maybe a spare healing motivator?” 

“I - of course I’ve got a healing motivator.” I stared at him for a moment, then shook my head and reached for him. “Get in here.” Shoving him gently inside and onto the nearest sofa, I shut the door and walked into the bathroom as soon as I saw him plop down. “What’d you go and do, trip on the stairs, have someone run into you with a knife when you’re invisible? I hope you didn’t find someone new to torment, kid, I’ll have to go track them down if that’s the case -“ 

“I stumbled into the corner of the bathroom counter. That’s it.” I sent my vision through the walls and back to him as I rifled through the medicine cabinet to see him making an attempt at prying the towel off, then frowning. “I think this is stuck to my head.” 

I glanced through his hand and the cloth itself to where it touched his gash. “Yeah, you started scabbing over.” We’d still have to get it off him, though, to put a proper bandage on. Tugging my sight mentally back to me, I picked up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and added it to the load in my other hand; balancing this, I walked back out to meet the gaze of a teenage boy who wasn’t trying very hard to hide the fact that he was in pain. 

Having him challenging me these last three years had not been what I’d expected out of ruling Salt Lake City. I could still remember my bemusement when, right after the speech I’d made about how my leadership would be better than that of several High Epics whose conflicts tore the city apart, a fourteen-year-old of all people rose into the air above the crowd and said no. He’d come out of hiding at least once a month since then, usually more often, to fight me - sometimes literally appearing out of nowhere. 

He flickered once or twice now, clearly struggling to stay with his face set in concentration, fighting the pain of his new injury - not to mention the bruises he’d sustained during our battle at midnight. No, I had not ever imagined my rival would be a boy half my age. But here he was, and the slontze wasn’t doing a bad job at it either. Unfortunately. 

Dragging over a stool, I sat down and faced him. “This is going to make it bleed again,” I warned, but didn’t give him any time to brace before muttering “Towel” and snapping my fingers. It vanished from his forehead, and I knew it had reappeared on the coffee table behind me, but I was too busy pressing fresh gauze to his wound to watch it. 

His nails dug into the cushions. “It’s not bleeding as much as I thought it would. Must not have hit anything big, eh?” His teeth clenched for a moment before he continued, “Why didn’t you call the stool over?” 

“What?” I blinked at him, then at the stool I was seated on. “This?” 

“Why didn’t you do your snap-and-say-the-word thing to call it to you? You moved it by hand instead.” 

“Oh.” I leaned forward again. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not instinctual enough, I suppose. Having magical powers for six years doesn’t replace the rest of your life, or it didn’t for me, anyway. When it’s actually useful, I’ll do it, but alone in my house? Just automatic not to.” It flitted across my mind that he might try to turn this against me somehow, but I discarded the idea. There wasn't much he could do with the information.

"So." I broke the momentary silence as it pressed in, softer than the gauze I was holding. "Why'd you come to me? I'm sure you have other terrorist friends with healing motivators, and going to one of them is bound to be safer than flying up to my door."

He tried to shrug, which didn't go very well, as he was still lying down. "They're out there, but I don't know where they live. It's a security measure, so we can't just walk to each other, in case you figure out where one of us lives and try to watch us with your Epic sight to get to any others. So I don't know where they are, but everyone knows where you live." He didn't even mention hospitals; we both knew they were mine, and he'd be arrested there.

"So I was convenient," I said, stifling a smirk. My fingers twitched as I reached for the hydrogen peroxide. "And to think of everything I've done to make myself inconvenient. Door halfway up the side of a building and all."

He closed his eyes, but still called up a tired grin. "Sorry to spoil your untouchable dictator fantasy. I definitely stalled before deciding to come, if it helps. Politely waiting for the times we schedule when it comes to trying to murder each other does not a friend make, but it looks like I was right after all. You haven't slit my throat yet."

"What would be the point of patching you up if I went and stabbed you right after?"

"What's the point of it now? I thought you had a motivator."

"It works slowly." I nodded at the bracelet coiled on the table by the other supplies. "We need to make sure you don't bleed out before it has the chance to seal your cut. Unless you'd prefer me not to?"

"No, I'm in favor of that plan," he said sagely.

"Expected you would be." Only half-focused on the conversation, I secured the bandages and dropped the bracelet motivator on his chest. "Here, you slide that on while I grab some pain medicine."

I could feel his glare on my back as I headed for the bathroom once again. "You had pain meds this whole time and didn't give them to me?"

"Maybe I forgot," I answered, letting out a breath of laughter. "Or maybe I was hoping you'd pass out from the pain so I could lock you up. Or maybe I just wanted to see you suffer."

"Rude," he said after a moment. "Is this because I threw you into the lake the other day?"

I scowled, remembering the fall. "Well, it wasn't...anyway, I'm giving it to you now." Returning from the bathroom, I set a bottle of pills on the coffee table, then turned into the kitchen to fill a cup with water.

I came back to discover him sitting upright and, predictably, studying the unlabeled bottle suspiciously. "What if this is poison?" He brandished it at me.

My free hand fell to my hip. "You think I'd try to poison you? Specks, kid, give me some credit. I wouldn't need to pull some elaborate trick to kill you."

"Which is why we've both consistently failed to end the other's life for -"

"Besides, when have you ever seen me kill someone not in self-defense, or defense of the city?"

His narrowed eyes switched to the glass wrapped in my fingers. "So what do you do with the people you arrest?"

"Exile them from the city. That's public knowledge." I matched his glare, plunking the water onto the table, then snapping the pills away from him and into my hand. Unscrewing the lid, I dumped four pills into my palm. "I'll swallow some too, does that work?"

We watched each other, equally wary, as we both downed two pills; I held his gaze, then exaggeratedly rolled my eyes. "See? Pain medicine."

He reluctantly leaned back on the couch, and I sat down next to him. "Why arrest people, then, if your goal is just to send them away? They can always come back."

"And we can always kick them out again. There are other places to live; so far, people have mostly moved on rather than take the risk that I'd execute them or something." I looked to the side, holding his eyes with mine. "I won't kill someone for breaking a law. Not most laws, anyway. There's a system of punishments and it works. Invocation didn't give us these powers so we could slaughter people with them."

"Not everyone has the supplies or money to get to another city, and so many are even harsher than yours," he countered, staring back unflinchingly. "And as broken as the Fractured States are, there are still predators living out there. Animals and people both."

I moved my eyes away and found myself exhaling, flicking my gaze from one corner of the glass-topped table to the next, wordless.

"Anyway." His fingers started to drum on the armrest. "You said you'd had your powers for six years. You got them when Invocation first showed up?"

"Yes, I became an Epic that very day," I admitted.

"I was near the end of the year," he said idly. "Who were you before you were Snap, then? When you were a regular woman with a regular life..." 

I snorted. "Are you asking for my history, kid? My name? Names are powerful things, I've learned that much! You want to tell me yours?"

"So you can teleport me onto the end of your swords? No thanks."

"Yeah, didn't think so." I yawned, and he caught it. Unsurprising - being awake at 3:10 in the morning will do that to you. For several minutes, a silence stretched like sweet taffy, then was sliced in half by another yawn from me. As much as I tried to combat it, tiredness was blanketing me faster than I'd like. To distract him from it, I posed another question. "What really hurt you?"

The kid blinked a few times, moving out of his leaned-back position to sit straight again. "I told you, I hit the edge of the kitchen counter."

I pursed my lips. "You said bathroom before."

A few more heartbeats ticked by; he blinked in and out of view once before again getting himself under control. 

"I wasn't joking before. If you're fighting someone new, I can go out there and bring them down." I didn't mention - and would probably never mention - that I'd already done just that to multiple newcomers who'd arrived and made the decision to kill the vigilante who challenged my rule, and would probably challenge theirs if they took over from me. It was only common sense, since they'd be coming for me next.

"It's not anyone new," he murmured around another yawn. "Or anyone I need taken care of."

"Hey." I tapped the back of his head. "Just tell me."

He dropped his head to the back of the sofa with a light huff of air. "My mom, she - she didn't take that first year so well. One of the bad Epics takes away the love of her life forever, then her son chooses to go off and risk his life too? She loves me - I think she loves me, she thinks she loves me...she's trying to protect me, stop me from going and fighting powerful people, and sometimes she gets carried away and does more than yell. It's complicated, okay, not some stereotypical 'parent drinks too much and abuses kid' setup, it's not that black and white. And once or twice I've lost it and fought back. It's complicated."

"Kid," was all I could manage.

He seemed to realize the enormity of his confession, how much he'd said. "Please don't come arrest her. Just...let me deal with it, okay?"

"I - okay." Maybe. 

He sighed and buried his face in the crook of his shoulder. I leaned my elbows on my knees, propping up my head. The seconds slipped by, each of us knowing that we should be warier, that he should leave, but neither of us moving to get up.

After what could have been a minute or an hour, I whispered tiredly, "If that's how it is...why do you fight me?"

"Hm?" He didn't lift his head.

"You don't have to. I'm not chasing you down. I don't go around murdering at random. Why did you start this?"

"Oh." We were both quiet, our muted breaths keeping us on the brink of soundless. Finally: "Because you shouldn't have to live in fear. No matter how rare that fear is or what's causing it...you just shouldn't have to."

"You can't quench everything that makes anyone frightened," I said softly. "I'd argue that you shouldn't."

"I can stop some," he whispered. "And I disagree."

I said nothing, leaning onto the side of the armrest and closing my eyes. I had no more coherent thoughts before the sleeping pills took me.

***

Pulling the quilt closer, I wedged my face into the crack between the furniture's arm and back. A rogue feeling that I'd slept later than normal persisted. I struggled halfway upright and hazily tried to rub my eyes, but warm metal pressing into my wrists blocked the movement; I rolled over and blinked at them, waking up further, then looked at the empty couch. The empty house, I discovered when I threw my Epic sight around.

He was gone, and he'd handcuffed me to boot.

Resisting the strong urge to lay back down and hope it all went away, I snapped my fingers irritably and grumbled, "Handcuffs." They didn't budge. Groaning, I snapped again, knowing it would be the same result - not a twitch.

He had named them something, which meant he had the authority to name them, which meant he knew a metalworker or matter manipulator. How long had that been going on? Did he have more like this? And how had he countered the pills? Groaning again, I yanked the quilt - which he must have thoughtfully taken from the hall closet and draped over my sleeping form - over my head.

He'd been injured, in my house, and still gotten away. This specking boy... 

Well, I’d just have to better prepare for this possibility in the future. 

I’m really proud of this! Any and all feedback is hoarded and appreciated. (Especially if it’s about the reveal. I’m concerned I might have been accidentally offensive, despite my efforts.) I hope you enjoy. 

Edited by AonEne
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Posted (edited)

58 minutes ago, AonEne said:
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The knock on my door at three in the morning was a surprise. Finding my mortal enemy sitting on the doorstep with a bloody towel pressed to his forehead was an even bigger one, considering our last battle had only ended two hours ago, and I hadn’t given him the cut. 

“Hey,” he said nonchalantly, cocking his head up and smiling at me. “I know we don’t talk much, but do you have bandages? Or maybe a spare healing motivator?” 

“I - of course I’ve got a healing motivator.” I stared at him for a moment, then shook my head and reached for him. “Get in here.” Shoving him gently inside and onto the nearest sofa, I shut the door and walked into the bathroom as soon as I saw him plop down. “What’d you go and do, trip on the stairs, have someone run into you with a knife when you’re invisible? I hope you didn’t find someone new to torment, kid, I’ll have to go track them down if that’s the case -“ 

“I stumbled into the corner of the bathroom counter. That’s it.” I sent my vision through the walls and back to him as I rifled through the medicine cabinet to see him making an attempt at prying the towel off, then frowning. “I think this is stuck to my head.” 

I glanced through his hand and the cloth itself to where it touched his gash. “Yeah, you started scabbing over.” We’d still have to get it off him, though, to put a proper bandage on. Tugging my sight mentally back to me, I picked up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and added it to the load in my other hand; balancing this, I walked back out to meet the gaze of a teenage boy who wasn’t trying very hard to hide the fact that he was in pain. 

Having him challenging me these last three years had not been what I’d expected out of ruling Salt Lake City. I could still remember my bemusement when, right after the speech I’d made about how my leadership would be better than that of several High Epics whose conflicts tore the city apart, a fourteen-year-old of all people rose into the air above the crowd and said no. He’d come out of hiding at least once a month since then, usually more often, to fight me - sometimes literally appearing out of nowhere. 

He flickered once or twice now, clearly struggling to stay with his face set in concentration, fighting the pain of his new injury - not to mention the bruises he’d sustained during our battle at midnight. No, I had not ever imagined my rival would be a boy half my age. But here he was, and the slontze wasn’t doing a bad job at it either. Unfortunately. 

Dragging over a stool, I sat down and faced him. “This is going to make it bleed again,” I warned, but didn’t give him any time to brace before muttering “Towel” and snapping my fingers. It vanished from his forehead, and I knew it had reappeared on the coffee table behind me, but I was too busy pressing fresh gauze to his wound to watch it. 

His nails dug into the cushions. “It’s not bleeding as much as I thought it would. Must not have hit anything big, eh?” His teeth clenched for a moment before he continued, “Why didn’t you call the stool over?” 

“What?” I blinked at him, then at the stool I was seated on. “This?” 

“Why didn’t you do your snap-and-say-the-word thing to call it to you? You moved it by hand instead.” 

“Oh.” I leaned forward again. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not instinctual enough, I suppose. Having magical powers for six years doesn’t replace the rest of your life, or it didn’t for me, anyway. When it’s actually useful, I’ll do it, but alone in my house? Just automatic not to.” It flitted across my mind that he might try to turn this against me somehow, but I discarded the idea. There wasn't much he could do with the information.

"So." I broke the momentary silence as it pressed in, softer than the gauze I was holding. "Why'd you come to me? I'm sure you have other terrorist friends with healing motivators, and going to one of them is bound to be safer than flying up to my door."

He tried to shrug, which didn't go very well, as he was still lying down. "They're out there, but I don't know where they live. It's a security measure, so we can't just walk to each other, in case you figure out where one of us lives and try to watch us with your Epic sight to get to any others. So I don't know where they are, but everyone knows where you live." He didn't even mention hospitals; we both knew they were mine, and he'd be arrested there.

"So I was convenient," I said, stifling a smirk. My fingers twitched as I reached for the hydrogen peroxide. "And to think of everything I've done to make myself inconvenient. Door halfway up the side of a building and all."

He closed his eyes, but still called up a tired grin. "Sorry to spoil your untouchable dictator fantasy. I definitely stalled before deciding to come, if it helps. Politely waiting for the times we schedule when it comes to trying to murder each other does not a friend make, but it looks like I was right after all. You haven't slit my throat yet."

"What would be the point of patching you up if I went and stabbed you right after?"

"What's the point of it now? I thought you had a motivator."

"It works slowly." I nodded at the bracelet coiled on the table by the other supplies. "We need to make sure you don't bleed out before it has the chance to seal your cut. Unless you'd prefer me not to?"

"No, I'm in favor of that plan," he said sagely.

"Expected you would be." Only half-focused on the conversation, I secured the bandages and dropped the bracelet motivator on his chest. "Here, you slide that on while I grab some pain medicine."

I could feel his glare on my back as I headed for the bathroom once again. "You had pain meds this whole time and didn't give them to me?"

"Maybe I forgot," I answered, letting out a breath of laughter. "Or maybe I was hoping you'd pass out from the pain so I could lock you up. Or maybe I just wanted to see you suffer."

"Rude," he said after a moment. "Is this because I threw you into the lake the other day?"

I scowled, remembering the fall. "Well, it wasn't...anyway, I'm giving it to you now." Returning from the bathroom, I set a bottle of pills on the coffee table, then turned into the kitchen to fill a cup with water.

I came back to discover him sitting upright and, predictably, studying the unlabeled bottle suspiciously. "What if this is poison?" He brandished it at me.

My free hand fell to my hip. "You think I'd try to poison you? Specks, kid, give me somecredit. I wouldn't need to pull some elaborate trick to kill you."

"Which is why we've both consistently failed to end the other's life for -"

"Besides, when have you ever seen me kill someone not in self-defense, or defense of the city?"

His narrowed eyes switched to the glass wrapped in my fingers. "So what do you do with the people you arrest?"

"Exile them from the city. That's public knowledge." I matched his glare, plunking the water onto the table, then snapping the pills away from him and into my hand. Unscrewing the lid, I dumped four pills into my palm. "I'll swallow some too, does that work?"

We watched each other, equally wary, as we both downed two pills; I held his gaze, then exaggeratedly rolled my eyes. "See? Pain medicine."

He reluctantly leaned back on the couch, and I sat down next to him. "Why arrest people, then, if your goal is just to send them away? They can always come back."

"And we can always kick them out again. There are other places to live; so far, people have mostly moved on rather than take the risk that I'd execute them or something." I looked to the side, holding his eyes with mine. "I won't kill someone for breaking a law. Not most laws, anyway. There's a system of punishments and it works. Invocation didn't give us these powers so we could slaughter people with them."

"Not everyone has the supplies or money to get to another city, and so many are even harsher than yours," he countered, staring back unflinchingly. "And as broken as the Fractured States are, there are still predators living out there. Animals and people both."

I moved my eyes away and found myself exhaling, flicking my gaze from one corner of the glass-topped table to the next, wordless.

"Anyway." His fingers started to drum on the armrest. "You said you'd had your powers for six years. You got them when Invocation first showed up?"

"Yes, I became an Epic that very day," I admitted.

"I was near the end of the year," he said idly. "Who were you before you were Snap, then? When you were a regular woman with a regular life..." 

I snorted. "Are you asking for my history, kid? My name? Names are powerful things, I've learned that much! You want to tell me yours?"

"So you can teleport me onto the end of your swords? No thanks."

"Yeah, didn't think so." I yawned, and he caught it. Unsurprising - being awake at 3:10 in the morning will do that to you. For several minutes, a silence stretched like sweet taffy, then was sliced in half by another yawn from me. As much as I tried to combat it, tiredness was blanketing me faster than I'd like. To distract him from it, I posed another question. "What really hurt you?"

The kid blinked a few times, moving out of his leaned-back position to sit straight again. "I told you, I hit the edge of the kitchen counter."

I pursed my lips. "You said bathroom before."

A few more heartbeats ticked by; he blinked in and out of view once before again getting himself under control. 

"I wasn't joking before. If you're fighting someone new, I can go out there and bring them down." I didn't mention - and would probably never mention - that I'd already done just that to multiple newcomers who'd arrived and made the decision to kill the vigilante who challenged my rule, and would probably challenge theirs if they took over from me. It was only common sense, since they'd be coming for me next.

"It's not anyone new," he murmured around another yawn. "Or anyone I need taken care of."

"Hey." I tapped the back of his head. "Just tell me."

He dropped his head to the back of the sofa with a light huff of air. "My mom, she - she didn't take that first year so well. One of the bad Epics takes away the love of her life forever, then her son chooses to go off and risk his life too? She loves me - I think she loves me, she thinks she loves me...she's trying to protect me, stop me from going and fighting powerful people, and sometimes she gets carried away and does more than yell. It's complicated, okay, not some stereotypical 'parent drinks too much and abuses kid' setup, it's not that black and white. And once or twice I've lost it and fought back. It's complicated."

"Kid," was all I could manage.

He seemed to realize the enormity of his confession, how much he'd said. "Please don't come arrest her. Just...let me deal with it, okay?"

"I - okay." Maybe. 

He sighed and buried his face in the crook of his shoulder. I leaned my elbows on my knees, propping up my head. The seconds slipped by, each of us knowing that we should be warier, that he should leave, but neither of us moving to get up.

After what could have been a minute or an hour, I whispered tiredly, "If that's how it is...why do you fight me?"

"Hm?" He didn't lift his head.

"You don't have to. I'm not chasing you down. I don't go around murdering at random. Why did you start this?"

"Oh." We were both quiet, our muted breaths keeping us on the brink of soundless. Finally: "Because you shouldn't have to live in fear. No matter how rare that fear is or what's causing it...you just shouldn't have to."

"You can't quench everything that makes anyone frightened," I said softly. "I'd argue that you shouldn't."

"I can stop some," he whispered. "And I disagree."

I said nothing, leaning onto the side of the armrest and closing my eyes. I had no more coherent thoughts before the sleeping pills took me.

***

Pulling the quilt closer, I wedged my face into the crack between the furniture's arm and back. A rogue feeling that I'd slept later than normal persisted. I struggled halfway upright and hazily tried to rub my eyes, but warm metal pressing into my wrists blocked the movement; I rolled over and blinked at them, waking up further, then looked at the empty couch. The empty house, I discovered when I threw my Epic sight around.

He was gone, and he'd handcuffed me to boot.

Resisting the strong urge to lay back down and hope it all went away, I snapped my fingers irritably and grumbled, "Handcuffs." They didn't budge. Groaning, I snapped again, knowing it would be the same result - not a twitch.

He had named them something, which meant he had the authority to name them, which meant he knew a metalworker or matter manipulator. How long had that been going on? Did he have more like this? And how had he countered the pills? Groaning again, I yanked the quilt - which he must have thoughtfully taken from the hall closet and draped over my sleeping form - over my head.

He'd been injured, in my house, and still gotten away. This specking boy... 

Well, I’d just have to better prepare for this possibility in the future. 

I’m really proud of this! Any and all feedback is hoarded and appreciated. (Especially if it’s about the reveal. I’m concerned I might have been accidentally offensive, despite my efforts.) I hope you enjoy. 

Hello! This is a really good story. You wrote the dynamic between the main character and the vigilante really well, and I liked how the background between them was explained organically through the dialogue. I’ve just got a few small comments :)

Spoiler

Shoving him gently inside and onto the nearest sofa, I shut the door and walked into the bathroom as soon as I saw him plop down.”

This bolded part seems redundant. She’s already gently placed him on the sofa (unless you mean that he lies down, in which case I’d change the word plop).

“Politely waiting for the times we schedule when it comes to trying to murder each other does not a friend make,”

I like this sentence, but I think this part of it is a little long and gets a little confusing. I’d shorten or simplify this.

We were both quiet, our muted breaths keeping us on the brink of soundless.”

I think soundlessness is the correct word here.

This specking boy...”

I think changing ‘this’ to ‘that’ would work better, as she’s reflecting back on him.

Regarding the reveal about how the boy got his cut, I didn’t find it offensive at all. I do think that his explanation could have been dragged for a bit longer - maybe with some actions showing his nervousness as he explains, or him explaining a little bit, and stopping, then the main character getting him to continue. The explanation itself is well written (as is most of your story :)) but I think right now it’s sort of said all at once in one large paragraph, and I think it could be implemented more naturally in the conversation.

Other than that, I couldn’t find much else to critique. It’s really well written, so good job! ^_^

Edited by I think I am here.
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Ene, please read Worm, you'll love it 

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15 minutes ago, R J said:

Ene, please read Worm, you'll love it 

I think I read the first chapter once? I think? 

Thanks, Itiah! 

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Posted (edited)

27 minutes ago, AonEne said:

I think I read the first chapter once? I think?

You'll absolutely love it if you even vaguely like the Reckoners (and it too has an avalanche ending) 

Edited by R J
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Posted (edited)

9 hours ago, AonEne said:
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The knock on my door at three in the morning was a surprise. Finding my mortal enemy sitting on the doorstep with a bloody towel pressed to his forehead was an even bigger one, considering our last battle had only ended two hours ago, and I hadn’t given him the cut. 

“Hey,” he said nonchalantly, cocking his head up and smiling at me. “I know we don’t talk much, but do you have bandages? Or maybe a spare healing motivator?” 

“I - of course I’ve got a healing motivator.” I stared at him for a moment, then shook my head and reached for him. “Get in here.” Shoving him gently inside and onto the nearest sofa, I shut the door and walked into the bathroom as soon as I saw him plop down. “What’d you go and do, trip on the stairs, have someone run into you with a knife when you’re invisible? I hope you didn’t find someone new to torment, kid, I’ll have to go track them down if that’s the case -“ 

“I stumbled into the corner of the bathroom counter. That’s it.” I sent my vision through the walls and back to him as I rifled through the medicine cabinet to see him making an attempt at prying the towel off, then frowning. “I think this is stuck to my head.” 

I glanced through his hand and the cloth itself to where it touched his gash. “Yeah, you started scabbing over.” We’d still have to get it off him, though, to put a proper bandage on. Tugging my sight mentally back to me, I picked up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and added it to the load in my other hand; balancing this, I walked back out to meet the gaze of a teenage boy who wasn’t trying very hard to hide the fact that he was in pain. 

Having him challenging me these last three years had not been what I’d expected out of ruling Salt Lake City. I could still remember my bemusement when, right after the speech I’d made about how my leadership would be better than that of several High Epics whose conflicts tore the city apart, a fourteen-year-old of all people rose into the air above the crowd and said no. He’d come out of hiding at least once a month since then, usually more often, to fight me - sometimes literally appearing out of nowhere. 

He flickered once or twice now, clearly struggling to stay with his face set in concentration, fighting the pain of his new injury - not to mention the bruises he’d sustained during our battle at midnight. No, I had not ever imagined my rival would be a boy half my age. But here he was, and the slontze wasn’t doing a bad job at it either. Unfortunately. 

Dragging over a stool, I sat down and faced him. “This is going to make it bleed again,” I warned, but didn’t give him any time to brace before muttering “Towel” and snapping my fingers. It vanished from his forehead, and I knew it had reappeared on the coffee table behind me, but I was too busy pressing fresh gauze to his wound to watch it. 

His nails dug into the cushions. “It’s not bleeding as much as I thought it would. Must not have hit anything big, eh?” His teeth clenched for a moment before he continued, “Why didn’t you call the stool over?” 

“What?” I blinked at him, then at the stool I was seated on. “This?” 

“Why didn’t you do your snap-and-say-the-word thing to call it to you? You moved it by hand instead.” 

“Oh.” I leaned forward again. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not instinctual enough, I suppose. Having magical powers for six years doesn’t replace the rest of your life, or it didn’t for me, anyway. When it’s actually useful, I’ll do it, but alone in my house? Just automatic not to.” It flitted across my mind that he might try to turn this against me somehow, but I discarded the idea. There wasn't much he could do with the information.

"So." I broke the momentary silence as it pressed in, softer than the gauze I was holding. "Why'd you come to me? I'm sure you have other terrorist friends with healing motivators, and going to one of them is bound to be safer than flying up to my door."

He tried to shrug, which didn't go very well, as he was still lying down. "They're out there, but I don't know where they live. It's a security measure, so we can't just walk to each other, in case you figure out where one of us lives and try to watch us with your Epic sight to get to any others. So I don't know where they are, but everyone knows where you live." He didn't even mention hospitals; we both knew they were mine, and he'd be arrested there.

"So I was convenient," I said, stifling a smirk. My fingers twitched as I reached for the hydrogen peroxide. "And to think of everything I've done to make myself inconvenient. Door halfway up the side of a building and all."

He closed his eyes, but still called up a tired grin. "Sorry to spoil your untouchable dictator fantasy. I definitely stalled before deciding to come, if it helps. Politely waiting for the times we schedule when it comes to trying to murder each other does not a friend make, but it looks like I was right after all. You haven't slit my throat yet."

"What would be the point of patching you up if I went and stabbed you right after?"

"What's the point of it now? I thought you had a motivator."

"It works slowly." I nodded at the bracelet coiled on the table by the other supplies. "We need to make sure you don't bleed out before it has the chance to seal your cut. Unless you'd prefer me not to?"

"No, I'm in favor of that plan," he said sagely.

"Expected you would be." Only half-focused on the conversation, I secured the bandages and dropped the bracelet motivator on his chest. "Here, you slide that on while I grab some pain medicine."

I could feel his glare on my back as I headed for the bathroom once again. "You had pain meds this whole time and didn't give them to me?"

"Maybe I forgot," I answered, letting out a breath of laughter. "Or maybe I was hoping you'd pass out from the pain so I could lock you up. Or maybe I just wanted to see you suffer."

"Rude," he said after a moment. "Is this because I threw you into the lake the other day?"

I scowled, remembering the fall. "Well, it wasn't...anyway, I'm giving it to you now." Returning from the bathroom, I set a bottle of pills on the coffee table, then turned into the kitchen to fill a cup with water.

I came back to discover him sitting upright and, predictably, studying the unlabeled bottle suspiciously. "What if this is poison?" He brandished it at me.

My free hand fell to my hip. "You think I'd try to poison you? Specks, kid, give me some credit. I wouldn't need to pull some elaborate trick to kill you."

"Which is why we've both consistently failed to end the other's life for -"

"Besides, when have you ever seen me kill someone not in self-defense, or defense of the city?"

His narrowed eyes switched to the glass wrapped in my fingers. "So what do you do with the people you arrest?"

"Exile them from the city. That's public knowledge." I matched his glare, plunking the water onto the table, then snapping the pills away from him and into my hand. Unscrewing the lid, I dumped four pills into my palm. "I'll swallow some too, does that work?"

We watched each other, equally wary, as we both downed two pills; I held his gaze, then exaggeratedly rolled my eyes. "See? Pain medicine."

He reluctantly leaned back on the couch, and I sat down next to him. "Why arrest people, then, if your goal is just to send them away? They can always come back."

"And we can always kick them out again. There are other places to live; so far, people have mostly moved on rather than take the risk that I'd execute them or something." I looked to the side, holding his eyes with mine. "I won't kill someone for breaking a law. Not most laws, anyway. There's a system of punishments and it works. Invocation didn't give us these powers so we could slaughter people with them."

"Not everyone has the supplies or money to get to another city, and so many are even harsher than yours," he countered, staring back unflinchingly. "And as broken as the Fractured States are, there are still predators living out there. Animals and people both."

I moved my eyes away and found myself exhaling, flicking my gaze from one corner of the glass-topped table to the next, wordless.

"Anyway." His fingers started to drum on the armrest. "You said you'd had your powers for six years. You got them when Invocation first showed up?"

"Yes, I became an Epic that very day," I admitted.

"I was near the end of the year," he said idly. "Who were you before you were Snap, then? When you were a regular woman with a regular life..." 

I snorted. "Are you asking for my history, kid? My name? Names are powerful things, I've learned that much! You want to tell me yours?"

"So you can teleport me onto the end of your swords? No thanks."

"Yeah, didn't think so." I yawned, and he caught it. Unsurprising - being awake at 3:10 in the morning will do that to you. For several minutes, a silence stretched like sweet taffy, then was sliced in half by another yawn from me. As much as I tried to combat it, tiredness was blanketing me faster than I'd like. To distract him from it, I posed another question. "What really hurt you?"

The kid blinked a few times, moving out of his leaned-back position to sit straight again. "I told you, I hit the edge of the kitchen counter."

I pursed my lips. "You said bathroom before."

A few more heartbeats ticked by; he blinked in and out of view once before again getting himself under control. 

"I wasn't joking before. If you're fighting someone new, I can go out there and bring them down." I didn't mention - and would probably never mention - that I'd already done just that to multiple newcomers who'd arrived and made the decision to kill the vigilante who challenged my rule, and would probably challenge theirs if they took over from me. It was only common sense, since they'd be coming for me next.

"It's not anyone new," he murmured around another yawn. "Or anyone I need taken care of."

"Hey." I tapped the back of his head. "Just tell me."

He dropped his head to the back of the sofa with a light huff of air. "My mom, she - she didn't take that first year so well. One of the bad Epics takes away the love of her life forever, then her son chooses to go off and risk his life too? She loves me - I think she loves me, she thinks she loves me...she's trying to protect me, stop me from going and fighting powerful people, and sometimes she gets carried away and does more than yell. It's complicated, okay, not some stereotypical 'parent drinks too much and abuses kid' setup, it's not that black and white. And once or twice I've lost it and fought back. It's complicated."

"Kid," was all I could manage.

He seemed to realize the enormity of his confession, how much he'd said. "Please don't come arrest her. Just...let me deal with it, okay?"

"I - okay." Maybe. 

He sighed and buried his face in the crook of his shoulder. I leaned my elbows on my knees, propping up my head. The seconds slipped by, each of us knowing that we should be warier, that he should leave, but neither of us moving to get up.

After what could have been a minute or an hour, I whispered tiredly, "If that's how it is...why do you fight me?"

"Hm?" He didn't lift his head.

"You don't have to. I'm not chasing you down. I don't go around murdering at random. Why did you start this?"

"Oh." We were both quiet, our muted breaths keeping us on the brink of soundless. Finally: "Because you shouldn't have to live in fear. No matter how rare that fear is or what's causing it...you just shouldn't have to."

"You can't quench everything that makes anyone frightened," I said softly. "I'd argue that you shouldn't."

"I can stop some," he whispered. "And I disagree."

I said nothing, leaning onto the side of the armrest and closing my eyes. I had no more coherent thoughts before the sleeping pills took me.

***

Pulling the quilt closer, I wedged my face into the crack between the furniture's arm and back. A rogue feeling that I'd slept later than normal persisted. I struggled halfway upright and hazily tried to rub my eyes, but warm metal pressing into my wrists blocked the movement; I rolled over and blinked at them, waking up further, then looked at the empty couch. The empty house, I discovered when I threw my Epic sight around.

He was gone, and he'd handcuffed me to boot.

Resisting the strong urge to lay back down and hope it all went away, I snapped my fingers irritably and grumbled, "Handcuffs." They didn't budge. Groaning, I snapped again, knowing it would be the same result - not a twitch.

He had named them something, which meant he had the authority to name them, which meant he knew a metalworker or matter manipulator. How long had that been going on? Did he have more like this? And how had he countered the pills? Groaning again, I yanked the quilt - which he must have thoughtfully taken from the hall closet and draped over my sleeping form - over my head.

He'd been injured, in my house, and still gotten away. This specking boy... 

Well, I’d just have to better prepare for this possibility in the future. 

I’m really proud of this! Any and all feedback is hoarded and appreciated. (Especially if it’s about the reveal. I’m concerned I might have been accidentally offensive, despite my efforts.) I hope you enjoy. 

These probably aren't going to be in order, sorry.

Spoiler

I didn't mention - and would probably never mention - that I'd already done just that to multiple newcomers who'd arrived and made the decision to kill the vigilante who challenged my rule, and would probably challenge theirs if they took over from me. - Try cutting this sentence in two. It's a little run-on.

He dropped his head to the back of the sofa with a light huff of air. "My mom, she - she didn't take that first year so well. One of the bad Epics takes away the love of her life forever, then her son chooses to go off and risk his life too? She loves me - I think she loves me, she thinks she loves me...she's trying to protect me, stop me from going and fighting powerful people, and sometimes she gets carried away and does more than yell. It's complicated, okay, not some stereotypical 'parent drinks too much and abuses kid' setup, it's not that black and white. And once or twice I've lost it and fought back. It's complicated." - Like Itiah said, consider breaking this up. The dialogue itself gives across the feel I think you're going for, but some more motion and spacing could emphasize it even more.

To distract him from it, I posed another question. "What really hurt you?" - Out of everything about the reveal, this start felt the most forced. I think it roots down to the way you transition into it. It feels somewhat sudden, which might be intentional, but including one mention of not believing his excuse earlier on might help.

"Yes, I became an Epic that very day," I admitted. - It's hard to get a line like this not to feel weird. Repeating some language from the boy's question may help.

The story was done very nicely. ^_^

*provides validation* 

Edited by Silva
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Even as someone who's only read Steelheart, and wasn't fond enough of it to finish the series- take this as coming from that perspective- this is rusting excellent Ene. I love seeing kinda love-hate enemies like that, and this captures that very well.

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Thank you all for the feedback! 

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