Chapter 198

                Dinner was going well, despite the initial moment of awkwardness. Eliza was steering clear of anything with alcohol, she needed her wits for a myriad of reasons tonight. She and Vince had gotten back into light conversation, catching up on the small stuff about work and school. It would all be fine, so long as they didn’t look at that damn picture on the wall. Too many memories came with that sort of image, the kind that she couldn’t afford to indulge in, especially since Vince had fallen in love with someone else.

                Still, every now and then she would glance at him, marveling at the utter absence of scars or burns on his face. There was a time that she’d never imagined he’d be able to look like this again.

*             *             *

                If she’d been asked why Eliza was helping the stranger who’d been set on arresting her, she would have claimed it was a simply matter of balancing a debt. No matter how she looked at it, he’d saved her life, and that wasn’t the sort of obligation she wanted to carry around with her. But, in truth, Eliza was perhaps not quite so far gone into the mindset of ruthless survival as she might pretend to be. Whoever this guy was, he was the sort to throw himself into danger to keep a stranger, a thief, safe. It didn’t feel right to let him die alone in the woods.

                Finding the shack had been easy, dragging the guy she knew only as Tights there took more effort. Most of the burns were along his back, though his limbs and parts of his face had taken a beating as well. Keeping him on his stomach, she rigged up a makeshift stretcher by replicating her clothes and then shredding them for materials. It was hard work, but they couldn’t risk hanging around the site of the explosion. Whoever had made that moonshine-still was going to come back, and if they were the type to not risk leaving witnesses then she and Tights couldn’t risk being found.

                After she’d gotten Tights into the shed, she went back and made some fake trails while obscuring the real one. It wasn’t her strongest skill set, however she only needed to buy enough time to get help. Once Tights was in an ambulance she could disappear once more, guilt free. She took her time though; it wouldn’t do to be discovered before they were ready, so it was over an hour later when she made it back to the shed.

                To her surprise, Tights was awake. He’d halfway propped himself against a wall and was staring at the door. It was hard to say if he was standing watch or working up the strength to crawl outside, but his face lit up when she walked in. The expression was sincere and unexpected in a way she’d never anticipated, and something in Eliza’s chest grew tight for a shadow of a moment.

                “Well well, looks like you’re doing okay, Tights.” She kept her voice low and shut the door firmly behind her. Given the amount of dust and neglect in this shed it obviously hadn’t been in use for some while, however she didn’t want to risk bringing unnecessary attention down on their heads. “Don’t worry, I’m about to head back to town and call you an ambulance. By tonight you’ll be getting treatment.”

                “No.” His voice was raspy, he must have inhaled smoke or heat during the explosion and fallout, but it still came out with more force than she’d have thought a man in his condition capable of. “I can’t go to a hospital.”

                She looked him over skeptically. Had the fire burned off all his nerve endings or something? He had to realize how bad of shape he was in. “Look, I don’t know what your story is and I’m not really in the mood to find out. But you have to go to the hospital, that fire fucked you all the way up. You need treatment, and the sooner the better.”

                Tights shook his head, a painful motion that was hard to watch. “You don’t understand, I can’t go to a hospital. I’m a Powered, and my ability… you saw it for yourself. It’s not just fire either. I draw in electricity almost as often. If I had an incident in a hospital I could black the whole place out, even if they have backup generators. I’d kill everyone there who was on life support and put countless others at risk.”

                “That’s a noble sentiment and all, but you look like someone dropped most of you onto a grill. I’m genuinely amazed you’re this coherent.”

                “It’s not the first time my power has gotten me hurt. I have practice dealing with pain.” Despite the brave words, she could see him push down a shudder. Coping with pain wasn’t the same as erasing it, and this had to be taking a hell of a toll on the guy.

                “Then what’s the game plan here? If you were hoping I’ve got some healing mojo then let me shoot that idea out of the sky right now. You’re in deep shit here Tights, and if hospitals are off the table then I don’t know what to do for you.”

                He didn’t say anything immediately; instead he just stared at her. No, not at her, past her. The guy was lost in thought or memories, drifting about somewhere in his own mind. Finally, he spoke again, although that unexpected force had vanished from his voice. In its place was the kind of tired that sounded like it went all the way down to the bone. “I don’t think there is a plan. I’m just going to rest for a while and see how I feel when I wake up.” His eyelids were fluttering as he spoke; she guessed he had a few minutes of consciousness left in him, tops.

                “The smart money would be on worse,” she said.

                “Probably. But I don’t know what else to do. I only know I can’t drag innocent people down with me. Promise me you won’t take me to a hospital. Please.”

                This guy couldn’t be for real, right? He had to know how bad these burns were, to understand that without treatment he wouldn’t be long for this world. Who chose death over potentially causing trouble for others? The same kind of guy who ran down strangers he saw picking a pocket, apparently. It was tempting to tell him to fuck off, to go get the ambulance anyway. But… he’d saved her life. Dragging him through the woods didn’t make up for that kind of debt. If this was how he wanted things to go, then she owed that much to him.

                “Fine. I swear: no hospitals. I’m not promising to be here when you wake up though.”

                “That’s okay. I appreciate you doing this much… what was your name?”

                “Thief is fine, and I’ll keep calling you Tights. No offense, but given the situation I think I’d rather not get too personal.” It was the smart play, keeping some distance between herself and this brave yet clearly insane stranger. Unfortunately, some part of her was already wondering if she’d gone too far to be truly detached.

                Tights gave a small nod, but no other response. His eyes simply slid closed as sleep overtook him once more. At least he was still breathing, that was something. Quietly, Eliza slipped out the shed door and did a quick walk of the perimeter.

                If there was ever a time to ditch out, this was it. From here she’d only be more involved, and when the inevitable happened it would hurt all the worse. Tights had made his decision, she didn’t need to stick around and watch things play out. It wasn’t as though she could do much for him anyway. She should just go, run away from this city, this shed, this boy, and never look back. All she had to do was walk away and try to never think about that smile on his face just before the explosion. He’d known what was happening, and his biggest concern had been trying to make her feel okay. Really, what kind of utter nutjob did things like that in the first place?

                “God damnit,” Eliza muttered under her breath, turning away from the shed, back toward town. If she hurried, she could hopefully steal some medical supplies before nightfall.