“I’m not leaving you here alone.”
Victor stares past him to the sink, the edge still dusted with cocaine. His heart pounds with the lost opportunity. He’d been so close to death, to resurrection, to being transcendent. And Eli had ruined it the way he ruins everything; grabbing the fruit from right between Victor’s teeth.
“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Victor says. He gestures to his shirt, the sink, the phone. “I have to clean up.”
Eli doesn’t move. Just stands there, wary.
Victor’s cool eyes meet his. He can still feel the sweat clinging to his shirt, the dusty cocaine against his skin, the imprint of Eli’s palm against his chest.
“I’ve got nothing else on me,” he says. And then, a ghost of a smile. “Frisk me if you want.”
Eli gives a cough of a laugh, but then his face sobers. “This isn’t the way to do it, Vic.”
There he goes. Vic. Like he’s actually concerned.
“How do you know? Just because the ice worked doesn’t mean something else won’t—”
“I don’t mean the method. I mean alone. ” He rests a clean hand on Victor’s shoulder, jaw twitching with an emotion Victor never thought he was capable of. “You can’t do this alone. So promise me you won’t.”
There’s only one thing that Victor hates more than Eli’s perfect mask. It’s having that mask directed at him. It’s Eli lying to his face, hand on his shoulder, honey in his tone. Eli patronizing him like a lost child, like an imbecile, incapable of taking the plunge. Has Eli forgotten who brought him back from the dead? Who turned him into this living god?
It’s the two of them. It’s always been supposed to be the two of them. Where one of them goes, the other follows.
So why won’t Eli let him run?
“Then let’s do it right here,” Victor says. Eli blinks, barely masking his surprise. Victor relishes that, relishes that he can still keep Eli on his toes. EO or not. “Together.”
There’s another EpiPen inside the bathroom cabinet. Victor doesn’t reach for it just in case Eli decides to use it up again. Instead, he watches Eli scowl, that handsome celebrity face melting into something gruesome.
“No,” Eli barks.
“No?” Victor sneers and shoves him backwards. Eli only manages a single step. He’s bigger and stronger, but Victor has adrenalin and fury on his side. “ No? Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? We did it together the first time, fine. But I made you the way you are, Eli. I brought you back from the fucking dead—”
“Just not tonight—”
“Then when?” He shoves him again but Eli grabs his wrists and twists. Pain shoots across his arms but he doesn’t relent, only snarls in his friend’s face. Eli’s grip is strong, and his fingers are warm, deadly against his pulse. “Tomorrow? Next week? After finals? Gonna pencil me into your schedule when you’re not overbooked?”
“I’m only trying to protect you!” Eli exclaims. His voice ricochets through the tiny bathroom, threatening to burst Victor’s eardrums. The music from the party continues to pound but it’s muffled here, dissonant, barely audible over the thrumming of Victor’s own heart. “Why is that so hard to understand?”
“Protect me from what?” Victor bites back. “I know there are risks. But we’ve both decided to take them. I’m not some helpless sidekick. I’m not the supporting character to your fucking story, Cardale.”
Eli lunges. Victor growls, ready to dodge a punch, but Eli only shoves him against the wall and smashes their mouths in a kiss. It doesn’t feel like a kiss; there’s too much teeth. Eli’s fist is in his collar, and Victor can’t breathe with Eli’s chest pinned against his. But his mouth is desperate and bruising, hot lips against his, and when Victor gasps he tastes tongue.
The world roars with incomprehensible noise. His skin prickles with heat, but it blazes where Eli’s pressed against him—hand on his neck, chest to chest, hip to hip, mouth to mouth. He doesn’t realize he’s been kissing back until he finds his own hands in Eli’s hair, clinging so desperately he must have pulled out some strands. The edge of a towel rack is digging painfully into his side. But then bare fingers skim the hem of his t-shirt, crawling past his stomach, and he makes a noise he isn’t proud of.
It must be the fear and fury and adrenalin. The shock at being pulled from the edge. The idea that he was going to die, and he was going to leave his rebirth in Eli’s hands. The indignation at being left behind again, at being denied one more time, at only being second-best. At hating Eli more than he’s ever hated him before. At admiring him for the snake behind the skin. At wanting to peel back the beast and prodding it awake.
The smug realization that Eli is here, his attention drowning in Victor.
Eli’s teeth graze his bottom lip, his chin. Victor bares his neck and licks his lips. This isn’t him, he thinks. This is just his body moving on autopilot, his muscles choreographing a dance he’s always known. He grips the meat of Eli’s shoulders, hard enough to bruise, and considers where to bite, where to leave a mark. It will heal, of course it will, and Eli will fucking pretend that this never happened, but for one moment he’ll have claimed—
The music blares louder and louder. A sad song, slow and mellow, accompanied by a longing croon. A door slams open and then shut. Giggles, groans, footsteps. And then two bodies whirlwind into the bathroom, so fast and hard that they’re a blur.
Someone shouts. Victor isn’t sure if it’s him or Eli or all of them.
“Sorry, sorry!” the girl giggles. “Didn’t know this room was taken!”
They’re gone in a blink. The bathroom is deathly still, like none of that ever happened. Eli and him jump apart, but it’s a mean feat considering the smallness of the space. Eli looks hunted, his pupils dark and dilated, more animal than human. He runs a hand through model-messy hair and steps away, away, but he can’t hide the ripeness of his lips. Red and swollen, guilty.
Victor is suddenly aware of the tightness in his jeans. He tugs down his shirt, swallows thickly, wills it away with mental images of dissected animals and chemical equations. Smugly, he notes that Eli’s got the same problem but no, don’t think about that. He glances back up to meet shuttered eyes.
For a horrifying moment, neither one moves. Neither one breathes. The party music won’t stop fucking blaring.
“I,” Eli croaks, lost for words for once in his life. But Victor can’t relish it because he can see him shutting down, can see the walls going back up behind those eyes. So he approaches Eli, even when his friend stiffens up with distaste.
“Don’t push me aside,” Victor hisses in his face. He lifts his chin, sticks their noses together. The bathroom door is still open but he doesn’t care who else walks in. How can he care when Eli is looking at him like that? Mouth wide open, eyes pitch black as an abyss. Cheeks vibrant with blood and life. “If you don’t want me doing this alone then we’re doing this together. Tomorrow.”
Eli swallows thickly. Frowns. Victor grips his arm, hard enough to bruise. But Eli doesn’t wince, of course he doesn’t.
Instead, he just spits. “Fine.”
Victor lets him go. Meets his stare for a little longer, a threat coiled between them.
“Let’s just,” Eli pauses, “go home.”
And then, before he can wait for Victor, he spins on his heel and leaves the bathroom. The room is cool without him now—cool and much too wide. The bedroom door slams shut to the beat of the song.
Victor turns to the mirror and catches his reflection: gaunt and crazed. His hair is undeniably a lost cause. There’s still some stupid cocaine on his shirt. A shirt that’s become grossly wrinkled, thanks to Eli’s wandering hands. He might have lost some dignity buying all that coke tonight, but he’s not going to lose all of it.
He cleans himself up in the sink. Puts his phone back together. Doesn’t think about Eli fleeing the party, hiding his too-red mouth.
The steel is cold and unyielding beneath his spine. Victor looks up at a bare ceiling and wonders if this is going to be the last thing he’ll ever see before he dies.
No. He won’t die. Not forever.
Eli tightens the cuffs around his limbs and then heads towards the controls, his jaw tight.
“Say a prayer,” he says.
Victor laughs. Eli knows he doesn’t believe in God. So he turns his head, even though it hurts, and stares at Eli through his lashes.
“To never dying,” Victor says. “To being remembered forever.”
Eli pauses, his face a blank slate. And then he blinks. Something creeps towards the surface. Darkness and light fighting for a place at the table. Excitement and fear. Unshakable belief.
He nods. Eli sees him and nods.
“To being remembered,” Eli says. He turns the dial.
And then the pain arrives, louder and louder until it reaches a crescendo, and Victor screams.