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I'll tell you all how the story ends (it ain't about all the friends you've made)

Chapter Text

There's a case missing at the London Police's headquarters.

They've stopped looking for it, and few even remember it, though it was quite famous in its day. Oficially, it's the murder of Jonah Bouchard, his brother James and wife Delilah, and the mysterious disappearance of their two sons.

But that's only where the story starts.

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The child is skinny and shaking in his filth-muted gray t-shirt. Mother runs her long-fingered hand over his head, her impeccably varnished carmine nails clashing against the messy black of his hair. The only part of the child that doesn't look as if it has been dragged through the mud are his eyes, wide and dark and nailed to Elias' own with such intensity that Elias knows he will not move if the kid doesn't want him to.

"Mother? What is the meaning of this?" Elias asks. They love it when he's well-mannered -which is to say, they won't tolerate the slightest hint of disrespect, all of Elias' teenage rebellion pinned at the bad end of Father's cane-, and it's the best way to guarantee he'll get answers. For a family that prides itself on knowledge -Audio, Vigilio, Opperior , the words carved in the marble arch at the manor's entryway- they surely love to keep it just out of hand's reach.

"You have not been too cooperative in our efforts to train you to serve our patron, Elias," Mother says. Elias' eyes fix on her pearl necklace, as usual. He hates her eyes, the feeling that she's trying to riffle through his very thoughts in a twisted sort of lesson. "But your uncle James found this little one wandering the streets."

"You'll be pleased to know," Father's voice comes from behind him, and Elias flinches out of the way. "He seems to have much greater potential for Beholding than you. We can excuse your mediocrity no-"

"No!" Elias blurts out, and the room freezes. Mother and Father's heavy gazes fall on him, and Elias does his best to keep them out, but he can hardly hold his own against one of them during practice, and he doesn't stand a chance against both. They rack through his brain in tandem, tearing thoughts out of his brain and dropping their own inside.

Disappointment.

Please, he's just a kid!

Waste of space.

Don't hurt him like you hurt me.

Not worthy. A stain upon the family name.

Please!

Shame.

I'll do it!

Weak. Should prune the tree of rotten branches.

I'LL DO IT!!

Elias gasps for breath when the assault finally ceases, and he realizes he's dropped to the floor, his arms shaking to hold his weight. The child is still staring at him.

"Hm. Why do you feel so vehemently about it?" Mother asks. Elias doesn't have an answer, as he looks at the kid's dark eyes- he could Know his name, he's a shame of a Beholder but he could still extract a name out of a child's mind, only he doesn't want to, because he knows the feeling intimately well, and he won't put him through it.

"I just- please give me another chance, Father." Elias struggles a little, but he eventually climbs to his feet. "I will train harder, I will become as the Watcher needs of me. I swear." He tries his hardest to keep the tremor out of his voice.

"Very well. But we're keeping your new little brother. As an incentive ." Father says, and Elias can hear the smile in his voice.

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"What's your name?" Elias asks that night, after his head has stopped pounding. The kid is curled at a corner of the room, still shaking, still in his ratty clothes. Elias knows he is expected to get him to look presentable by tomorrow, but for the life of him he has no idea how to do that when the child flinches every time he takes a step towards him. "I won't hurt you- I promise."

Silence, except for the low thrum of static tickling at Elias's ears. "I'm Jon." The child mumbles. His arms are wrapped tight around his knees and his eyes are piercing even in the semi-darkness of Elias' room. "You?"

"Elias. My name is Elias," he says, relieved. He'd been afraid that Jon couldn't speak. "How- where did Uncle find you?"

" 'was in the street." Jon's posture has begun to relax, and Elias slowly sits on the floor across him.

"Why were you on the street?" Elias asks. "Where are your parents?" he wouldn't put it past Uncle James to have killed them. Even Elias can See the Eye's power all over Jon, and Uncle James has never been a patient man.

"They're gone. I live with my gran," Jon shrugs. "But she fell down, and she didn't want to wake up."

Oh dear.

"Did- did you call anyone Jon?"

"We didn't have a phone. I just waited, but she was sleeping real deep." Jon pulls at a thread in his dirty, torn pants. "I got hungry, and we didn't have any more cheese, only grown up food. So I went out."

Ok, he likes- he likes cheese. Gotta focus on the useful bits, on the bits he can use. 

"Well- well, I'm going to be your big brother now, Jon." Elias' voice is a bit shaky again, but it's alright. Mother and Father aren't here, it's just him and Jon, and- "and nothing is ever going to happen to you again, alright?"

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It's raining.

It's wet and it's cold, and Elias is trying his hardest not to think of how he can feel Jon dripping snot all over his neck as he makes his way through the woods behind his parents manor. His manor, now that they're dead probably, but with his current situation he somehow doubts he'll be sitting at any will reading anytime soon. 

It was an accident, it really was. Jon didn't- Jon doesn't even know what he did, he's only six , for God's sake. He was just trying to help . If Elias had been stronger- it hadn't even been the worst of Uncle's trainings that he'd had to endure. Just blocking his presence, or he'd get thoughts of pain implanted in, just routine , he- he hadn't even meant to scream so loud.

By the time he realized Jon had opened the door to Father's study, it was too late. Mother had looked up from her crocheting, Father had turned back from the window where he'd been overlooking the grounds, and Elias will never forget how Jon looked right then.

Jon, tiny and skinny and dressed in expensive, elegant clothes made to be as uncomfortable as possible for a child, his normally dark eyes blazing like two emerald fires, the vague outline of a halo behind his head like the beholding angels in the paintings strewn all around the manor. Jon, who opened his mouth, and let out only static, but was still heard by everyone in the room.

"Leave. Elias. Alone! "

Elias shakes his head to clear his thoughts as he runs. It's useless, the memories won't get them to a safe place. Mother's eyes bleeding out of her skull, Father's tongue melting in his mouth, Uncle tearing at his ears until he ripped them out. The panic in Elias' stomach as he crawled over and dragged Jon away.

If anything, he's discovered he's good at thinking on his feet. Trashing his and Jon's room was an inspired move, breaking glass and bedframes and bookshelves with a fury he didn't know he had in him, before packing as much clothes and food as he could in two satchels and making a break for the living room.

The candles at the library hadn't been Elias' idea, but he'd Known to light them anyways. It's a bit unnerving to know that, at least in some way, he has the Watcher's blessing. 

Now they're running, Elias has slipped on the mud thrice and they have to get to the train station before the fire dies down.

"Elias?" Jon asks in his ear.

"What?" Elias snaps. He can See the train coming to the station, they're not gonna make it, they're going to get caught. 

" 'm sorry I hurt your parents. I just wanted them to stop hurting you." Jon's voice is small and fragile like that first night so many weeks ago, and it's enough to make Elias stop.

"You didn't do it." The words leave his mouth before he can really process them. "It wasn't you, Jon. I hurt them. Beh- Beholding didn't like what they were doing either. So it gave me the power to stop them."

"But then- then why are we running?" Jon asks, and Elias can just picture his confused frown. Jon hates not understanding things.

"We're- there's bad people. Some bad people that will think we're bad for protecting ourselves. They will want to separate us, so now- now we have to hide." His mind is going a mile a minute. The train will be at the station in less than an hour, and the fire won't burn much longer in the rain. "But we're going to be okay. I'm going to keep you safe."

"I know that." Jon's arms tighten around his neck almost to the point of choking, but it's the certainty in his voice what makes Elias crumble. He crouches to the ground, twisting and shifting so Jon is in his arms instead of at his back, and- Elias doesn't know when he started crying, but he can't stop now. Like the sky above them, like a child that saw his parents die.

Elias allows himself a moment to weep, to be scared and helpless, and hide his face in Jon's rain-soaked hair, before he climbs back to his feet and moves Jon to his back again.

They have a train to catch.

Chapter Text

2

Living on the road is not so bad, Elias decides.

First off there's no Father or Mother or Uncle, which is immediately a marked improvement, just Jon and him, and the scenery changing around them. 

They've had to learn, of course. That first night on the train, Elias is so exhausted that he just curls around Jon's little bulk and allows sleep to take him, only to wake up to a very pissed off train attendant demanding to know where their parents were. 

"I- they're-" Elias stutters a little, trying to come up with something that isn't 'my baby brother killed them because they abused us, and then I burned our house', because that can only end badly for everyone involved.

"They're where?" The man grumbles, his patience shaky like the train car. "You can't just be here!" When Elias still doesn't answer, the man goes to shake his shoulder, and Elias tries to warn him, he really does, but by then Jon has already sunk his teeth down on his forearm and then it's all Elias can do to rip his little brother off of the screaming man and jump off the car. 

They roll a little after they hit the ground, Elias wrapped around Jon to protect him from the  worst of the fall.

"Jon, you can't just bite people," he says as he watches the train grow smaller and smaller in the distance, their only hope at a quick means of travel leaving them behind.

"He was being mean to you," Jon is already looking around for a shiny bug to catch his attention, and Elias is once more overtaken by a fierce rush of adoration for this little demon. 

"That's- thanks Jon," he says once he's swallowed the knot in his throat. "But- I gotta learn how to fight my own battles, don't you think?"

Jon shrugs. "I can just bite them. Or Behold them."

"No more Beholding. Not unless we're in real danger, alright? I'll let you know, I promise." Elias gets the feeling that the Watcher doesn't necessarily like the compromise he's put its strongest blessed under, but he doesn't care. If Elias can avoid it, Jon will never again be in a situation where he has to defend himself using his powers. 

Now they sleep in watches. Elias does an hour or two at a time, and Jon wakes him up before anyone comes too close. It's maybe not the best for his body, but it keeps unwanted attention away; he's a terrible Beholder, but he can still implant into people the sudden, uncontrollable conviction that there is something much more important for them to be doing somewhere else, and that approaching the dirty orphans is more hassle than it's worth. 

That's how they hitchhike and steal food, too. People are, Elias has found, surprisingly willing to avoid conflict, a single implanted thought all they need to be convinced that yes, these two have a perfectly good reason to be in their car and yes, of course they already paid for the food they're carrying out of the store, must have forgotten, haha, misplace my own head next, here, have a pack of gum for the trouble!

"You got too much grown up food," Jon says sullenly as they walk out of the convenience store, and Elias sighs.

"Jon, sandwiches are not grown up food."

"They have lettuce in them."

"Well yes, we have to eat something green once in a while." Elias rolls his eyes. "It won't kill you, quite the opposite actual-"

"That's a neat trick you just did," says a girl at the parking lot, and Elias freezes. She's only a year or so older than him, light-skinned, with dark, almond-shaped eyes and hair that looks like she cropped it herself. Her voice is coarse and loud, like she wants to be heard more than she wants to be listened to, and she's looking at him over her crossed arms on the handlebars of a shiny red motorbike. "You a Spider freak?"

"Elias, look!" Jon gasps, poking from behind his legs, his big eyes wide and green instead of their usual dark brown. "They are fire!"

"Yes, Jon, stay back." Elias moves to cover him again. 'Desolation' , his mind supplies in Father's voice. 'A crude lot, fancy themselves a cult. They go around abducting and indoctrinating their marked, looking for their Messiah'

Elias takes a look at the girl with the long fiery hair sitting sideways on the motorbike seat behind the loud one, and he Knows quite suddenly that she is the Desolation as much as Jon is the Eye. 

"Agnes Montague, and Judith Perry," Elias says their names loud and clear, hoping to scare them away with the knowledge. "Leave us alone."

"Eh, I go by Jude," the one with short hair shrugs, and Agnes chuckles behind her. "Eye freaks, then."

"Don't be mean," Agnes lightly slaps Jude's leather-covered shoulder, and hops off from the motorbike. Elias pushes Jon back, but she doesn't step closer to them. "We're not going to hurt you. We just need a favor."

"A favor." Elias arches an eyebrow. They could probably make a dash for the store again and escape through the loading dock, but Jon's walking on his own instead of on his back, and Elias doesn't trust him to be fast enough.

"Yeah. We need beer, and I want smokes, but I can't get carded at this store again," Jude shrugs. "Get 'em for us."

"And why would I ever do that?" Elias drawls in his best impression of Father though his voice cracks at the last syllable.

Jude cackles. "And why would I ever do that?" she repeats in a posh mockery of Elias' voice. Agnes laughs, and even Jon smiles a little. Elias narrows his eyes, his face growing red with embarrassment. "Avatars gotta look out for each other, you asshole."

Jon's eyes grow wide, and Elias sighs. That's a conversation they'll have to have later, because yes, they're criminals and runaways, but they still have manners .

"Tell you what." Agnes pipes up. She looks at Elias, then gives a pointed nod towards Jon. "You do this for us, and we'll give you a ride. And a place to sleep tonight. Sounds good?"

It sounds... far too good to be true, actually, and when Elias dares drawing on the Watcher a bit to peek into their thoughts, he's surprised to find they're sincere. They both want to help, Agnes out of some gentle curiosity towards them, and Jude out of a fierce sense of camaraderie towards other avatars, whether she likes them or not. 

It's terribly tempting, Elias thinks with a dubious look at Jon. Implanted thoughts or not, no one is going to sell beer and cigarettes to a sixteen years old with a kid. 

"We can watch him while you go in," Agnes offers, and Elias stiffens, alarms blaring in his head.

"Absolutely not. He's coming with- Jon can you hide?"

"I can hide," Jon nods quickly, but he's still giving Jude and her motorbike a start-struck gaze, and Elias knows his brother far too well. Jon is a good, obedient kid, but his curiosity will always get the better of him. 

"I don't- you have to come with me," Elias decides, pointing at Agnes. He sees Jude frown out the corner of his eye, and he knows he made the right choice. "I won't trust you with Jon otherwise."

"Sounds reasonable," Agnes shrugs even as Jude rolls her eyes behind her. It feels like hugging a hot water bottle, when she walks up to Elias and loops her arm through his. "Let's go shopping, mister...?"

"...Elias. Elias Bouchard."

"I'm Jon! Can I get on your bike with you? Are the spikes on your jacket real? I want to touch them, can-" Elias hears as the doors to the store close behind him, and his mouth twitches.

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Jude and Agnes stay true to their word, and Elias and Jon spend the night at one of the safehouses belonging to the cult. The adults give them strange looks, but no one says anything to them after Agnes firmly grabs their hands in hers and walks them past the door. 

"-and then I bit him, and we jumped off the train." Jon tells as he bounces on the bed after they've taken their first proper shower in three months. Elias smiles softly as he fixes them all some peanut butter sandwiches- he'd rather die than eat another one, but Jon insists they have to eat the same 'because they're brothers', while stubbornly refusing to touch anything that doesn't contain worrying amounts of peanut butter, or jam, or cheese. Elias is pretty sure he'd kill for a vegetable by now.

"Serves him right." Jude opens a window to let the smoke from her cigarette drift out into the night. She and Agnes brought their beer into their room, and though Elias scrunches his nose at the offending smell, he's glad to have some company his own age, at least for a night. "Why were you on the train, anyways?"

Elias snaps around with the peanut butter knife in hand. Jon has stopped bouncing, standing on the middle of the bed and looking at him with wide eyes.

"...Jude, I think we shouldn't ask." Agnes says quietly, before Elias speaks over her.

"I killed our parents," Elias says, a bit surprised when his voice doesn't shake at all. "They were hurting- they were planning on hurting Jon. So I killed them."

"Huh." Agnes blinks, and Elias feels a pit open at the bottom of his stomach. These are- these two are the first to be nice to him and Jon in months, and-

"We set the house on fire too," Jon hops off the bed and into Agnes' arms. Jude erupts in roaring cackles, and the knot in Elias' stomach loosens up. "And then we ran!"

"That's usually how it goes, tick." Jude reaches over to mess Jon's hair- like it needs any help with it, and Elias sighs. He just spent fifteen minutes combing the knots out. 

"You wouldn't have to run, here." Agnes says suddenly. "They'll let you stay if I ask."

"We can talk about that later." Elias grabs the plate of sandwiches and goes to sit on the floor with them. Jude pushes a beer towards him, and Elias takes it, though he winces at the taste. It's nothing like the strong wines Mother and Father used to have at dinner, and he chugs another sip out of spite. 

It's... it would be nice, to have a safe place to stay. Jon could use the stability; he still thinks this is some sort of grand adventure, but he's only a child, and the lack of rest and proper food are bound to take their toll on him.

But two servants of Beholding, living under the banner of Desolation? Will the desire to destroy burn away their thirst for knowledge? Agnes is certain they will let them stay, and she's probably right, but Elias is not naive enough to think the safety wouldn't come with a new set of chains. 

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"I think it's better if we go on our way. But I really- thank you for offering, Agnes." Elias smiles weakly. Jon refused to go to bed as long as the three of them were still awake, but of course he eventually fell asleep, and is now drooling a respectable-sized puddle on Elias's leg.

"It's alright. We know it's not for everyone." Agnes returns his smile, nudging at him with a too warm foot, and Elias wonders if this is what having friends is like.

"You gotta be careful. People... they don't like us." Jude leans against Agnes to press a kiss to her cheek, and looks at Elias solemnly. "Diego and Arthur try not to let us hear, but someone is hunting us. Avatars show up dead and nobody knows who did it."

"We'll be fine," Elias lays a hand on Jon's shoulder. "Anywhere is better than the place we left."

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They leave the Desolation safehouse early the next day, after a full night's sleep and a large breakfast.

Elias still has no clue where they're going, but the strip of paper with the two scribbled numbers on it is a comforting presence in his pocket. 

It's nice to know they're not alone.

Chapter Text

3

"Elias?" Jon asks, his big dark eyes reflecting the stars that shine through the broken roof of the abandoned barn.

"What is it?" Elias drapes their only blanket over Jon, who's shivering a little. This far from civilization with only the remnants of a burned down farmhouse a few yards away, the barn is a good place to sleep, if nothing else. Elias will gladly take the rest, but they need a place closer to people, for food and news and other commodities- Elias is fairly sure his hair will never recover from this 'adventure'.

"Can we go back home now?" Jon's voice is shy when he asks. "I think I don't want to hide anymore."

Elias' heart breaks a little. This is exhausting for him; it must be even worse for Jon, who Knows but doesn't understand that home is not something that exists anymore, outside of the two of them.

Even if they do go back, if Elias' powers were strong enough to implant a memory that never happened in everyone's mind... he's only sixteen. They'd never let him keep Jon, and the thought of  a grim-faced social worker walking away with him gets his heart racing and his breath faltering like nothing else.

"Jon... do you remember what I did?" Elias asks, trying to focus on the smell of old moist hay and rotten wood to distract himself of the possibility.

"We hurt Mother and Father..." Jon frowns, and Elias shakes his head.

"No. You didn't do anything, remember?" he insists. It's imperative that Jon believes this. "Try again."

"You... you killed Mother and Father. But it was an accident, because they were hurting you and were going to hurt me!" Jon squirms and turns to look at him with indignant eyes. "They can't ground you for that, it was not your fault!"

"They don't care about that. They only care that I did a bad thing.... if we go back, they're going to take me away."

Jon's eyes widen in fear, and his tiny hand snakes from under the blanket to grab at Elias' face. "But it was not your fault!"

"That doesn't matter to them, Jon. Ask Beholding. It will tell you what they do to bad people like me." Elias sighs. This is a lie he will continue to tell Jon, as long as it keeps them safe. 

Jon's dark eyes lighten and change until they're taken by the green of the Watcher, and Elias waits. It's probably not something a child should know, but Jon has to understand the consequences. They both have to, Elias thinks, looking tiredly at the broken ceiling.

A small hand tightens on Elias' shirt, and he looks down to find Jon's eyes are back to their usual dark brown, and welling with a shiny coat of unshed tears.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore." Jon mutters, and he wipes his face on Elias' shirt. Elias sighs; what's one more stain? It's not as if he'll ever look presentable again, with his current way of living.

"It's alright. We don't have to." He leans down to plant a kiss on the top of Jon's head. "Go to sleep."

"Please don't go away," Jon whispers against his chest, and Elias wraps his arms around his small bulk.

"Never."

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"Whoaaa.... it's so big!" Jon says above his head. When Elias looks up, the child's eyes are wide, and he's taking the view in with a wonder that belies his age. Jon might have Known about the sea already, but experiencing it seems to be an entirely different thing. "Elias can we stay here?"

"For a few days, maybe," Elias nods non-committally. It's not a good idea to make promises to Jon, not with their lifestyle, but the sound of the rolling waves is already working wonders to help him relax. Maybe they can stay for a few days? Coastal towns are always bustling with activity, it feels unlikely that anyone will notice them too soon. "But you have to behave , Jon."

"Hmph." Jon lays his chin with a huff on the crown of Elias' head, and Elias sighs. It's a good day, it won't do to ruin it with senseless fighting.

It's not even- Jon's a good kid, he's just been... difficult, lately. The trip is bound to take its toll on anyone; Elias too has been tired and irritated these past few weeks, with the lack of sleep and hygiene and proper food- living off of petrol station sandwiches and instant soup is not ideal, but it's not like they have a place they can cook real meals at. 

"Come on. Let's get some food, and then we can go to the beach."

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Elias has found that it's a lot easier to implant the desire to look the other way when the demand is smaller and less important. That's why they usually steal only enough to get them through the day, or even the next meal; most people's brains are willing to ignore a missing loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, an entire cartload of groceries is an entirely different animal.

Maybe if Elias were more powerful, they could've gotten away with it. If Elias were more powerful, they wouldn't be in this situation at all, he remembers far too often.

At first it feels like any other grocery run, just go in and let Jon have a go at whatever he wants to grab while Elias picks up some real food that he'll have to beg the kid to eat. They make it as far as the point where Elias makes smalltalk with the cashier while he implants the thought that the money's already in the register, when it happens. 

There's a TV behind the counter, running the daily news, mostly for background noise. The cashier is an old woman who stands firm in her philosophy that nothing will happen in the world as long as she doesn't hear about it. She also lost the remote a week ago -it's under the counter, by the boxes of lighters and chewing gums- so the TV's stuck in that channel.

Elias gets a glimpse of all this Knowledge right before the news anchor says his name.

"-dissappearance of sixteen years old Elias Bouchard, and his adopted brother Jonathan Sims, after the brutal triple murder at their family estate." Two pictures pop up at the bottom of the screen while the man talks, and Elias feels the blood draining from his face. "Police is operating under the belief that the murderer is in possession of the minors, and urges the public to report any and all tips that might lead to-"

It's- it's okay. It's okay, the old lady's not even looking at the screen, he just- all he needs is to get his focus back, implant the thought and they can leave. Jon's staring at the TV with wide, scared eyes, but he's got enough sense to not say a word, and Elias just needs to calm down and-

"Oh shit, kid isn't that you?" a hand lands on his shoulder, and Elias flinches so hard that a few of his 'purchases' end on the floor. Behind him is a young man, twenty or so, looking at him with concern.

"It's not us," Elias blurts out, taking a sideways step to cover Jon from sight; his heart feels like it'll beat straight out of his chest, and he can't focus.

"Hey, don't- it's okay. Don't be scared," says the man, raising his hands as if trying to calm a spooked horse, and Elias hates him. Out the corner of his eye he can see the old cashier give the TV a wondering look, and then turning back to them with a gasp. "You'll be alright. We just have to call-"

"Don't call anyone, it's not us!" Elias screams, when the old woman pulls out a blocky cell phone. Everything is happening too fast , spiralling out of control and Elias' mind is stuck on a loop of 'they'll find you, they'll find you and they'll take him away and you will never see him again and he will be so scared without you' , louder and louder every time he tries to concentrate. Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit

"Are you hurt? Is your brother-" the guy crouches and reaches out to touch Jon's shoulder, and it's all Elias can do to shove him to the ground before snatching Jon's hand in his.

"JON RUN!" 

They crash past a couple walking into the store, Elias dragging Jon behind him as the smaller boy tries to keep up with his shorter legs. He can feel each and every eye fixed on them, and it occurs to him for the first time in his life that this is why people fear Beholding; he's been seen, and there is nowhere to hide where he won't be found, where he won't have Jon taken away from him.

The Watcher pulls at him, and Elias follows because he can't think of anything else to do, not when he can hear someone running after them. He doesn't notice the wisps of fog weaving here and there through the crowd, or feel the air around him cooling, until he slams into the guy.

He's around his age, but much taller than Elias, clad in well worn work clothes with a beanie shoved down over long-ish hair, looking down at them in startled puzzlement.

Elias sees the Forsaken in him then, deeply weaved into every fiber of his being, and his heart fills with a single, desperate hope as Jude's voice echoes around in his head. Avatars have to look out for each other.

" We need help ," Elias says, not quite compelling -that's Jon's set of powers-, but instinctively implanting his panic into the other's mind. "Peter Lukas, I need you."

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Peter was born at the Lonely.

He was the first -and only- Lukas child to actually survive taking his first breath in its gray expanse, the first one to be lulled to sleep by the sweet whisper of isolation, and the family had taken it as a blessing from the One Alone.

This means a lot of things for a lot of different people, but ultimately it boils down to two facts.

The first is that, no matter what it is, Peter gets what he wants. Cousin Conrad was shipped off to America to study astrophysics the moment he showed the slightest aptitude for it, even though he never really cared about science. Peter only needed to give the sea one longing look before uncle Nathaniel bought a boat and hired a crew for him to start learning the ropes. It's a little overwhelming, that his family thinks he's some sort of gift from the Lonely, but there's not much he can do about it.

The second is that, in seventeen years of life, Peter has never been free of the Forsaken's influence. He slides in and out of it like a seagull diving into the ocean before taking flight again, the chill of the fog a welcome ointment when people press too close around him. Peter lives in the Lonely like the Lonely lives in him, and to be quite honest he likes it that way, always mildly unseen in the middle of a grey crowd.

Then the teenager with the bright green eyes slams into him, and Peter doesn't think he will ever be able to think of another color in his life.

"Peter Lukas, I need you," he says, a hand balled tightly in Peter's shirt and the other white-knuckled around a skinny child's wrist. Peter looks over the guy's head, and sees three or four people coming towards them, one of them wearing a police uniform and talking into her radio. People around him are pulling out their cell phones to record whatever is about to go down, and Peter panics.

Calling the Lonely to him is as easy as breathing, the crowd around them fading as suddenly as an extinguished match, until the three of them are all that remains. The teen looks around wildly, trying to locate his persecutors, his hand still clenched in Peter's shirt.

"Are they gone?" he asks, still breathing heavily.

"No, we are," Peter corrects, still a bit shocked. The fact that this guy was even able to see him when he was halfway into his patron tells him a lot about what sort of abilities he might have. "I- who the hell are you?"

The guy doesn't answer, dropping to his knees instead to wrap his arms around the child. 

"Shi- Jon, are you alright?" he asks, his face buried in the child's messy hair. Peter averts his gaze from the display, uncomfortable.

" 'm alright. Elias, I'm cold." the kid mutters. "I don't like this place. Makes me feel weird here." Jon pulls away from Elias to rub at his chest, and Elias merely draws him in tighter.

"I know, it's- be strong, okay? We're safe here. We're just hiding from the bad people." He climbs to his feet, the boy clinging to his neck like a baby monkey, and turns to pin Peter down with his haunting eyes again. "I'm Elias. Bouchard. I- sorry. They were following us, and-"

"I gathered," Peter says dryly, still trying to decide if the harsh beating of his heart is due to the sudden, forced interaction, or just because Elias is... very handsome. "Why?"

"I- it's a long story, but thank you for helping us." Elias gives him a somewhat strained smile, and Peter looks away, embarrassed. "Can you let us out somewhere safe?"

Peter gives the two of them a long look. Their clothes appear to be good quality, but worn and dirty and only marginally patched up with clumsy stitches and mismatched thread. There's dark bags under Elias' eyes, and his face looks gaunt and exhausted, clinging to the kid in his arms like a lifeline.

Peter sighs once, long and defeated, before he lays a hand on Elias' back and starts walking him through the Lonely. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

"You're staring at him," Peter arches an eyebrow. The harsh lights of the small beachfront diner make the bags under Elias' eyes look more pronounced. There's a beauty mark under Elias' right eye, and Peter's own gaze is drawn to it like a magnet. "It's a bit weird. Is it an Eye thing?"

Elias shakes his head, still focused on his little brother like Jon destroying a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup is some sort of miracle. "I just... he's eating."

Peter won't ask, but it occurs to him that he's been staring at Elias for about as long as Elias has been staring at Jon, though he hopes his expression is not at all similar to the raw adoration in the Beholder's gaze.

"So what's your plan?" Elias' eyes snap back to him, and Peter feels his stomach do a flip. He coughs, hiding his heating face behind his drink.

"We'll just skip town, I guess," Elias sighs. "I thought we'd be good here for two or three days because of all the people, but I didn't expect our picture to be in the news."

"It'll be in the news anywhere you go," Peter frowns. "How are you going to hide?"

"I'm- I guess we'll just stick to smaller places. I'm- Beholding is not good at deceiving, we're not the Spider or the Dark. I'm already stretching what it allows me to do by implanting lies into people's heads."

Elias looks down at his own meal -a meager coffee and a biscuit, since he'd been much more focused on getting Jon to pick something-, and Peter studies the two Beholders before him.

"You could- come stay at my uncle's boat tonight," Peter blurts out before he has any time to think twice. "You'll be safe there, my family has a private dock." The Captain and the small crew hired by the Lukases rarely ever stays on the boat whenever they touch port, preferring to book rooms on land and go interact with other people, so it'll be empty too.

"I've never slept on a boat before," Jon speaks up, and Peter wonders how the hell he got tomato soup on his forehead. Kids are a mystery. 

Elias frowns, his bright green gaze turned wary as he gives Peter a searching look. "I- why?"

"I just-"

"It's because he thinks you're pretty," Jon pipes up again, and the two teenagers freeze. When Peter looks over, he sees that the kid's dark eyes have turned green like Elias', and he's staring up at him with a curious frown, before he shrugs and goes back to his sandwich, apparently uninterested.

"Uh. Huh. I thought you were an avatar of the Lonely?" Elias clears his throat and goes to sip at his coffee, and Peter's stomach does another somersault at the light blush dusted over his cheekbones.

"Well... maybe I'm just not a very good one," Peter lies.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I don't know, uncle Nat," Peter mutters into the phone. The boat rocks softly above the gentle waves, and he can hear Elias in his cabin, trying to convince Jon to sleep. "I just thought it would be fun. See the scenery, be completely alone for a while," he adds, knowing exactly how to sell the idea. "I think Forsaken would like- oh. Okay. Yeah, sure, I'll get a good one. Yes, I'll use the card. Thank you."

Uncle Nathaniel ends the call, and Peter looks over the dark, welcoming expanse of the sea, his thoughts full of confusing green eyes and tired smiles.

What the hell did he just get into?

Chapter Text

4

"it's not exactly the car I imagined you'd have," Elias says as he straps Jon down to the backseat of the minivan. Peter is giving them a ride to the next town over, where Elias hopes he can trick his way into getting two bus tickets for as far as they can go. It's not the most sophisticated plan, but it'll get them away from a place that's crawling with policemen looking for them.

Both him and Jon are once again miraculously, deliciously clean and well-rested, after they spent two more nights on Peter's boat to let the trail cool. It really is nice to be able to get a full night's sleep knowing someone other than an easily distracted six-years old is keeping watch, even if Elias has woken up twice to Peter and Jon having doughnuts for breakfast.

"Well, no." Peter shrugs by the trunk, where Elias goes to join him after finishing with Jon; he's got some stuff there, a cooler, some rolled up blankets and pillows, a large blue tarp folded by the corner. "I just purchased it yesterday. I thought it would be more comfortable for the road."

"I- no. What? You're crazy," Elias shakes his head, taking a step back. "You're not- I can't just accept a ca- I don't know how to drive!" Elias doubts his parents knew either, each one with their personal chauffeur, and though he guesses he could just Know the fundaments, he's not about to test the theory with Jon at the backseat. All of this, of course, ignoring the fact that this fucking lunatic just bought him a car .

"That's okay, I do." Peter finishes securing all the supplies at the bag, leaving a big empty space at the center, and he turns to face him. 

Elias is once again surprised by just how tall he is, even though he hunches over a little in an effort to be less noticeable. 

"Well that's- that's good and all, but I can't just take the memories from your brain and magically know how to-" actually, maybe he can. Nervous, eager to have something to do that isn't trying to understand Peter fucking Lukas, Elias reaches a tendril of Beholding  into his mind.

'I could teach you later. The real way,' is the thought at the forefront of Peter's stupid brain, as he looks down at Elias with his stupid blue eyes. 'I want to come.'

"No you don't!" Elias snaps, breaking the connection and sidestepping Peter. For fuck's sake, it took him ten minutes to strap Jon down to a psychopath's car, how is he going to unstrap him again?! 

"How are you going to get away if you get recognized again?" Peter asks, following behind Elias like a long, clingy shadow. "They know you're alive now, they're not stopping the search."

"And what are you going to do, take us into the Lonely every time?!" Elias whips around, only to find himself caged; Peter's chest at his front, the car at his back, and only marginally enough air between them to take a deep breath to calm his racing heart. "Why would you even want to come? Living on the road is- why?"

"I just- I want to help you," Peter says, looking for all in the world like someone shot his puppy. Jon's tiny voice from that night at the diner echoes around in his head - 'it's because he thinks you're pretty' -, and Elias feels his face grow hot. 

For all that he hasn't taken a step back, though, Peter hasn't tried to touch him, and Elias finds, with a slight shock, that he's not scared. That Peter would most likely let them go if he asks.

Would that be a stupid choice? His family- The Lukases, the Rayners, the Fairchilds, all of them are wealthy and connected, long lines of dedicated avatars with legacies so strong Elias' parents could only ever dream of. If Peter is as infatuated with him as Jon says- they could use the money, Elias tells himself. He does not tell himself he could use the company, or the adoring look in Peter's eyes. Those things, he pushes to the back of his mind, hoping to bury them so well even his sharp-eyed little brother won't be able to dig them out.

"...Okay. Alright, but- but I'm calling where we go to, and that's non-negotiable." Elias crosses his arms over his chest. Peter's smile is bright and delighted, and Elias adds it to the pile of things to not be unpacked.

-----------------------------------

Daisy lets out a long sigh as she walks into the small meeting room Basira has turned into their headquarters, and finds her partner hunched over a map, wielding a highlighter like a weapon.

"Did you go home last night?" she asks, thanking her foresight to pick up Basira's preferred double espresso along with her own caramel latte.

"I slept on the sofa," Basira mutters sullenly. "I still can't find them."

Daisy sits across the desk, pushing a steaming paper cup across its surface; her stomach does a little dance when the other woman's tired dark-brown eyes look up at her with what might be gratitude, before focusing back on the map.

"Basira, that report is from two weeks ago. If they were there, they're gone now."

"How would they be gone?" Basira scowls. "No one saw them at the bus station, they didn't board any boat, they didn't hitchhike out. Did they just- sprout wings and fly away?"

"Maybe they just walked," Daisy says, shrugging. "What I don't understand is why they ran. Feels weird to me."

Basira shakes her head. "They're traumatized children. That crime scene was nothing to laugh at, you know it. And unlike us, they know who the killer is, maybe even their motive, which  might very well be finishing off the job."

Daisy taps a blunt fingernail impatiently on the desk. "You know what I think about that."

"I do ," Basira scoffs, "and I still don't think it's likely.  A sixteen years old teen can't overpower two grown men and a woman. And in the unlikely case Bouchard was a berserker killing machine, getting rid of Jon would've been easier than just dragging him across the country."

"They were abusing them, Basira. You saw all the creepy eye shit in the house, you know there was something weird going on." Daisy rolls her eyes, and Basira rolls hers right back.

"And you saw Bouchard's medical records, you saw his pictures. He's a twig of a kid-"

"Mum lifts a car because her kid is trapped under," Daisy interrupts, "kid sees his creepy dad trying to pull his brother's eyeballs out, and he snaps. These things happen."

" Very rarely."

"But they do," Daisy toasts her with her latte, and Basira rolls her eyes again, smiling.

"I'll keep it in mind."

Daisy smiles back. The gesture usually puts people on edge, but Basira never seems to feel threatened, which is a relief. "You'll forget about it."

"I trust you'll keep reminding me."

-----------------------------------

"Is he out yet?" Peter whispers. Jon has the nasty habit of pretending to be asleep, just to listen to them talk. Elias assures him it's a very common trait in Beholding children, but Peter isn't so sure this isn't just another instance of Elias not recognizing his brother is a little monster.

Elias's eyes light up like a lantern for just a fraction of a second, and he nods. "Just about. Why?"

"Come with me," Peter gives him a half smile, before climbing out of the car and heading towards the trunk. It's a mess of clothes and packaged food and other gear, but he manages to fish out a thick blanket from under a box of Jon's cereal. Peter sighs as he runs his eyes over the supplies, all come from his family's funds. It's- alright, so maybe Elias only tolerates him for the money, but there's still a part of Peter that couldn't care less, because at least he gets to be here with him. Is that a Lonely thing to feel?

Elias' muted steps on the grass announce him, and Peter turns to face him. There's no moon tonight -perfect- but his eyes are still giving off a faint green glow, hypnotizing as ever. 

"What are you doing?" Elias asks in that voice that belies an amused smile, the kind Peter catches glimpses of when he gets them the best room at hotels when they get to a new town, and Elias calls him a spoiled brat.

"It's just- something I used to do on the boat" Peter marches around to the side of the minivan, the blanket and two pillows under his arm. 

They've parked by the side of the road, away from any service stops without any light in sight, and Peter spreads the blanket over the grassy ground, before sitting down and looking up at Elias. 

"Stargazing? Really?" Elias rolls his eyes, but the glow of his eyes betrays the blush on his cheeks.

"You ever done it before?"

"Of course I've looked at the sky before, Peter, you hardly invented the concept." Elias lays down on the blanket with a huff, like the stars personally offended him.

"It's not the same," Peter chuckles, and if he leans over Elias just right, maybe the stars won't see him, and the sight will be his and his alone- Elias' light blond hair fanned behind his head over the pillow, the flush across his face and the dark spot on his cheekbone, his eyes becoming sweeter and human as they lose the ethereal glow of the Beholder. 

"Well?" Elias looks expectantly up at him, and Peter's breath catches in his chest.

"I- what?" he asks, his pulse beating like the wings of a frantic bird. 

"Are you going to just stare at me?" Elias deadpans, and Peter doesn't miss the darkening of his blush. "I thought we were stargazing."

"Yes, I- sorry." Peter lays down next to Elias as carefully as he can manage, leaving between them a few inches of space. 

"Do you know them?" Elias asks after a tense few seconds. 

Peter shrugs. "Some. They're good for navigating... you?"

"All of them," Elias says, and Peter looks sideways at him to find the glow has come back to his eyes.

"That's just cheating," Peter smiles. Elias' thin lips curl into a mirroring gesture.

"You feed yours, I'll feed mine." Elias' gaze moves from a constellation to the next, no doubt Knowing details and facts about each. "This is good for you too, isn't it? Insignificant under their uncaring stare, not a soul for miles, no one who knows or cares whether we live or die?"

"I don't feel lonely here, Elias." Peter says simply, and Elias falls silent as quickly as if his tongue had been snipped.

They lay there in silence for what feels like hours, their breathing and the rustle of the grass below their bodies blending against the sounds of the countryside at night. The night grows colder around them, but none of them make a move to return to the car.

"Why did you come with us, Peter?" Elias asks long after it first occurred to Peter that perhaps his companion might have fallen asleep. 

Peter mulls the question over, hyper aware of Elias' hand an inch from his on the blanket. Does he himself know the answer? Is there even one?

"I never- I don't usually want to... to do things," he starts. "I think it's part of the Lonely. I just- I exist, and I'm alone, and that's all it needs from me. And I'm- it keeps me happy too. I don't need anything else. But when I saw you and Jon, I just... I wanted to do it. I thought of the road, and going wherever we wanted, and I- it felt like freedom."

"Freedom from what?"

Peter's lips curl into a smile. "Elias, are you feeding on me?" he asks, teasingly.

"You'd know if I was," Elias answers, a distinct hint of humor to his voice. "So? What is an heir to the Lonely running from?"

"I'm not running from anything." Peter shrugs. "My family's nice enough, but it feels like they're always looking at our patron when they look at me. It's just nice to be Peter for a while, not just... another Forsaken."

"Must be terrible," Elias drawls out, the sarcasm so thick Peter can almost taste it. 

"What are you running from?" Peter asks. 

He's not stupid, by any means. He's seen the news reports when they go to town. A full family of Beholders dead, and two young ones on the run. It matches an awful lot with the whispers Peter's heard uncle Nathaniel exchange with his mother, about avatars going missing and showing up dead one day, and if anyone's going to know the answer to just who is it that's hunting their kind, Elias is probably going to be it.

"...I can't-"

"Elias?" Jon's shrill, panicked voice coming from the car shatters the moment like thin ice, and Elias jumps to his feet in a second flat. "Where-"

"I'm here, Jon!" he calls out, already heading towards the car. "I'm here, don't be- why are you awake?" the door slides open silently and Jon's there in his pajamas, small and skinny and trembling like a leaf. 

"Bad dream." Jon clings to Elias' neck as soon as the teen bends over, legs wrapped around his torso and face poking over his shoulder. "You weren't here," he adds accusingly.

Peter sighs, before he starts gathering the pillows and blanket. It's probably time one of them gets some sleep too, preferably himself if they want to keep moving tomorrow. 

"We were just- Peter and I were just talking." Elias hurries to explain, probably unaware of Jon's eyes narrowing at Peter. "But I was here, okay? Why don't we go inside and you tell me about your dream?"

"I don't want him to listen," Jon huffs when Peter comes closer. Elias turns them around to give him an apologetic look. 

"That's alright, Peter has to sleep anyways. But we can look at the stars, see who Knows more names?" Elias suggests, and Peter offers the blanket again. He nods. Peter goes to wrap it around his shoulders, meeting Jon's unamused glare again.

"I don't know Elias. I think Jon's got you beaten on this one," he tries in an attempt to appease whatever it is that has sparked the kid's animosity towards him, but Jon merely jerks his face to the side.

"Of course he does, he's my little Archivist," Elias says; Peter can almost see the soft expression on his face. Then he turns, and Peter is almost blindsided; he's always had a poor imagination, but Elias' face is an avalanche where he was picturing snowflakes. "Good night, Peter."

"Good- yeah. See you tomorrow." 

Elias seems for a brief, terrifying moment like he's going to say something else, but then Jon's squirming in his arms, and he gives Peter another landslide of a smile, before heading back to the spot they were laying at and leaving Peter antsy and confused and somehow supposed to sleep after that.

Chapter Text

5

The house looks terrible, but that's part of the reason why it should be safe.

Only three runaways -or rather, two runaways and their unwitting investor, Elias thinks guiltily- would think to stop at this dilapidated pigsty in the middle of nowhere, just to escape another night of sleeping on stiff car seats.

"Elias, look!" Jon shrieks in excitement, rolling a small log to reveal thousands of silvery white squirming worms underneath. Elias winces. "Aren't they cool?"

"Very- don't touch anything, Jon."

"I'll purchase a tent at the next city," Peter pats his shoulder. "If we drive all night, we should be able to make it, if you don't want to stay here."

"You're not driving the whole night on two hours of sleep, you're going to kill us." Elias rolls his eyes. 

His driving lessons have come to a screeching halt ever since Jon decided for some reason that if Peter and Elias are having a conversation, then he should be included, which can be a bit distracting when trying to figure out the damned car, especially when Peter's method of teaching him is to cover Elias' hand with his own to show him the different positions of the gear shift.

"With enough coffee, maybe." Peter shrugs, but his words break into a long yawn, and Elias rolls his eyes. 

"Help me get the door open, come on," Elias orders as he turns towards the house. The doorknob is covered in a thick greenish slime, and Elias' eyelid twitches. "...Do you think you can kick it down?"

"Actually-" the door swings open, revealing a very nonplussed girl, maybe a few years older than Jon, barefoot and clad in a red sundress. "It's very rude to just invade people's homes, so I'd be very grateful if you didn't ."

A silver worm squirms out of her ear, and Elias realizes right then and there that the dark spots all over her uncovered skin are not freckles or moles. It's more than considerate on his part, he thinks, to step aside to avoid puking directly on her. 

"That's very rude," says the girl, her voice clearly unimpressed. 

"Sorry-" Elias heaves. "I'm sorry, just-"

"Nah man, don't apologise. She's nasty." Elias looks up at the new voice and finds a boy his age watching him with frankly disturbing interest; he's got messy brown hair stuck with sweat to his forehead, and his nose drips a steady stream of near-liquid mucus down his chin. To say he does nothing to assuage Elias' nausea would be... an understatement. "See, Jane? You're nasty."

"That's rich, coming from you ." The girl approaches them and offers Elias a worm-eaten handkerchief that he decidedly doesn't take. "Wow. Okay, nice." 

"I'm- thank you, but I'm alright." She rolls her eyes, and Elias sighs, pinching the fabric between two fingers and dabbing as lightly as he can at his face. Let no one say Elias Bouchard has no manners. "I apologise. I didn't... we didn't expect to find other avatars here. We were just looking for a place to spend the night."

The guy gives a long, wet-sounding sniffle, and rubs at his nose with the palm of his hand. "We don't get visits often, you can stay. I mean, you all could, but the other two disappeared."

"What?!" Elias whips around, but there's no sign of Peter or Jon by the car or the worm-covered log. "P- Jon? Where-"

An ice-cold hand lands on his shoulder, and his anxiety evaporates almost instantly. Sure enough, Peter and a squirming Jon fade back into view by his side amidst a whirl of fog.

"Sorry. I thought it would be better to get Jon somewhere safe," Peter says with a shrug as Jon kicks himself free of his grip and climbs onto Elias's back. "While you dealt with these two."

"Dealt with us!" The girl snorts, a few worms squirming out of the holes around her mouth. "Heard that?"

"One on two, go figure." The guy nods, a thick drizzle of dandruff dropping from his hair with the movement. "What are you, a hunter?"

Elias purses his lips. He could Know about them like he did with Jude and Agnes and Peter, but frankly, he's not sure he can stomach what he finds. "Eye," he says, voice hoarse as he gives them both a look. So different, but still... "Corruption?"

"Yep. I'm Jane, and that's my stepbrother John," the girl points. "He's an asshole."

"Hey! My name is Jon too!" Jon leans forward over Elias' shoulders, grinning. "You're nasty."

"Jon!"

"I am, thanks!" John grins; his gums are bleeding, and at least one of his front teeth is rotten black at the root. "Sweet kid. Has he had chickenpox yet?"

"Stay away from my brother," Elias growls. He might not have Jon's raw power, but- he presses the memories of his parents and uncle's mangled corpses into Jane and John's brains, and delights in their flinching. Now... his patron doesn't lie, but Elias does, and he does it well; it's easy to hide the truth when you're the only one who knows it and you control what you show others. "I don't want to have to start anything." 

"Huh. Never knew the Eye could kill like that." John shrugs. He drapes an arm over Jane's shoulder, brushing away some of her worms. "You staying or not? No need for things to get ugly."

Elias can feel Peter's gaze burning on the side of his face; Peter will keep driving if Elias says no, but... Peter deserves a good night's rest too, even if it means Elias has to spend that same night stomping worms. Besides, they'll probably be safe. It's not ideal and Elias hates it, but Peter can take them into the Lonely if they need a quick escape. 

"We'll take your hospitality for the night, thank you," Elias says carefully, before another detail sparks into his mind. These two they can probably manage, but... "I trust you're offering because your parents will not object?"

"Oh, my mum melted," John shrugs. "And Jane's dad is a termite mound." Jane nods proudly, and Elias sighs. 

This is going to be a long night.

--------------------

Jane and John are super fun, Jon thinks as he watches their new friends during dinner. Whatever John grabs turns green and stinky before he bites into it, and Jane doesn't actually eat herself, but her worms are going crazy on one of Jon's string cheese balls.

"So you live here alone?" Peter asks, and Jon looks up from feeding a crumble of his sandwich to a worm, his eyes narrowing.

"I mean, my parents are still around," Jane shrugs, "they're just-"

"A puddle of pathogen and a termite mound, we heard." Elias pushes his plate away, and then some more when Jane's worms head towards it. "I didn't know there were Corruption families."

"Well, it wasn't like... a thing they were trying to do?" John dips a finger into Elias' discarded noodles, and a layer of fuzzy mold starts growing on top. Jon leans over to watch it more closely, wondering if Jane's worms will eat it anyways. "It just happened. Other avatars don't mix much with our kind."

"Jon, help me take the trash out?" Jane asks Jon, and he startles. People never ask him things, they usually focus on Elias, because he's the oldest. He puffs his chest out, proud at being addressed by the older girl. 

He waits until Elias nods to hop off his chair and start gathering the empty packages. Elias' moldy noodles still have a lot of worms on them, so Jon leaves it on the table so they can finish eating. 

Jane helps him with the largest packages and plates, and they walk out to the front door together, where Jane just drops the trash on the ground. Jon chuckles, and lets his own cargo spill too. Jane turns to him with a smile, and a worm squirms between her lips. "Why are you traveling?"

"We're hiding from the bad people who want us," he says. Jane and her brother are like them, so it's probably safe to tell them. "Only they don't want Peter. He's just here because he wants to," he rolls his eyes.

Jane chuckles. "You don't like him?"

Jon huffs. "Not anymore. He just wants to talk to my brother all the time."

"I noticed," Jane giggles again. "It's pretty dumb, isn't it?"

"Adults are dumb," Jon crosses his arms over his chest. Jane is only ten, so she's not an adult, she understands for sure. 

"They really are," Jane nods solemnly. "Do you want to see my dad? His termites get really active at night."

"Yes!"

--------------------

"Elias?" Peter asks later that night, and Elias looks up from where he's bundling up an already sleeping Jon. He really hopes the children of the Corruption are honest in their promise not to try to infect them, but he's really too tired to think up of any precautions other than spreading all their blankets and the sleeping bags over the mattress before laying Jon down. 

"What is it?" Elias moves to sit cross-legged next to Peter's prone form on the second bed. "You should sleep."

"What did you show them?" Peter asks, tearing his thoughtful gaze from the wall.

Elias stiffens. "What?"

"Earlier today. You scared them. When you said you didn't want to have to start anything." Peter's blue eyes are piercing on his, and Elias squirms, uncomfortable. "John said he didn't know the Eye could kill like that." 

Elias exhales slowly, trying to calm his racing heart. Peter knows they're running, yes, but he's never asked what from. He's... too kind almost, but Elias knew his luck was bound to run dry at some point. 

"I... don't think you want to know."

Peter sits up, and just as it seems to have become the norm between them, comes to a stop just shy of touching him. "Are you scared I'll tell anyone?"

Elias shakes his head after a moment's consideration. "I don't regret what I did," he says simply. Or rather, what Jon did.

"Then?"

He really is a bad Beholder, Elias thinks as he breaks his gaze from Peter's. He knows better than anyone how open eyes can be.

"You probably won't want to come with us after I tell you," he says with as casual a shrug as he can manage. "I won't blame you, if that's the case."

"Maybe I should decide that myself?" Peter leans down to enter Elias' field of vision again, and Elias scoffs. He's worse than Jon. "You can trust me."

The worst part is Elias knows he sort of does already.

"Don't- I warned you," Elias shifts on the bed. He brings his knees up to his chest and wraps an arm around them, before calling the Eye. 

It's even easier to press the memories into Peter's brain than it was earlier with Jane and John. Peter's mind is always an open book to him, and Elias is infuriatingly acquainted with the unnerving devotion that's always at the forefront of his thoughts. It was nice while it lasted, he thinks as he sees Peter flinch and stiffen, his eyebrows raised and his mouth slack in surprise.

"I- y- did you..." his voice trails off, like he doesn't dare voice the question.

Elias doesn't quite hide his face between his crossed arms on his knees, but he's... he's pretty damn close. 

"They were going to hurt Jon," it's even more bitter, that the only thing he can offer as explanation is another lie. "I wasn't going to let that happen."

"No... no, I guess you weren't." Peter's voice is still faint, and Elias sighs. At least him leaving isn't a surprise; Peter is not Jude, who thrives on destruction, or Agnes, who understands how easily one can step over a line and hurt the ones you love. Peter is constant and gentle, so determined to throw his life away for a pair of hungry orphans, and he could never stay with someone who he believes committed those-

Elias nearly jumps out of his skin, when a large hand wraps around his softly. Peter is still not looking at him, but the pressure around his hand doesn't falter. 

"Peter?"

"Guess- we're going to have to make sure nobody else tries to hurt Jon, huh?" Peter mumbles. "Just... you weren't exactly subtle, Elias."

"I... no." Elias pushes out breathlessly. His eyes are prickling, and he's most decidedly not going to look at Peter until that's fixed. "I guess I wasn't. I'll- I might get better."

Peter's lips twitch. "Please don't."

Elias snorts, and all of a sudden it's all he can do to stop himself from breaking down in relieved cackles, slapping at Peter's shoulders with his free hand to keep him quiet too, because if Jon wakes up now there's no way they're getting him back to sleep.

They'll be alright. Just... they'll figure it out as they go, whatever this is. 

Chapter Text

6

 

It's a bit jarring to be a teenager with a crush while on the run from the police, Elias thinks as he watches the scenery rush by the window. He's resting his hand by the cup holder, and Peter's occasionally brushes against it. 

 

Elias' lips twitch with every graze, because there really is no reason for Peter to move that much towards the gear shift, when they're going at a fixed speed, but he doesn't say anything, and at some point he even brushes against Peter's hand himself, when he moves to turn the radio on. 

 

"-lice  have now opened an anonymous tip line for anyone who might have information about the Bouchard murders-" Elias' breathing catches, and he turns the knob sharply until a random song he's never heard comes out of the speakers instead.

 

"We'll just- I'll do the shopping from now on." Peter suggests after a tense silence. "You can stay at the car with Jon."

 

"Forever?" Elias feels his lips curl into a bitter smile, even as his heart skips a beat at the offer.

 

"For as long as it takes, I gue-"

 

"People are already calling," Jon pipes in from the backseat. Elias sighs. Of course they would. People go crazy when they have the chance to be anonymous, but there's got to be some people in that bag of mixed nuts that has actually seen them, and that's... not good.

 

"Jon, do you Know if anyone's seen me, or the car?" Peter asks carefully.

 

Jon of course, says nothing. Elias sighs, and looks back over the seat to find him stubbornly dragging a green crayon over a a wolf's fur on his coloring book.

 

"Jon. Peter is asking you a question." The crayon drags a bit more forcefully, screeching nerve-wreckingly as it glides across the page. "Jon."

 

"A lady saw us drive away," Jon huffs angrily, "but she doesn't know the car numbers."

 

"The plates," Elias corrects gently, but Jon's frown only grows deeper.

 

"I know they're called plates but that's a stupid name. Nobody eats on them."

 

"I mean, he's not wrong." Peter gives Elias an amused smile, and Elias snorts. Out the corner of his eye, he sees Jon stick out his tongue at Peter, and he sighs. They're going to have to address that at some point, but Elias can't for the life of him think of how he's going to do that; he's sixteen, how is he supposed to parent a child? It's- "Hey, don't make that face." 

 

"I'm afraid it's the only one I've got," Elias huffs, but when Peter lays his hand palm up on top of the gear stick, he lays his own down on it. It's... soothing. How easily their fingers slot together, and how Peter's hand -usually so cold-  warms up immediately in his. Sometimes it's enough to distract Elias of the circumstances that brought him here, this new thing that none of them have a name for, because none will address it directly.

 

"They can't touch you, any of you; not while I'm here. I won't let them." Peter squeezes his hand. Elias could look into his mind to find out if he's lying, but it would be a little like looking up to confirm the sky's still blue. "We should be fine as long as they don't have the 'car numbers', shouldn't we?"

 

Elias snorts, and he's suddenly assaulted by the thought that he never saw Mother or Father laugh together, unless it was at him. He squeezes Peter's hand back, for a moment as thrilled by the rush of his heart as he is by the thought that the only people he can trust in this world are in this car with him. 

 

"Yes," he says, reaching over to turn the music a bit louder. "We'll be fine."

 

----

 

"We do have double rooms available." The front desk attendant hits a few keys on her computer. "Two nights?"

 

Peter nods. "Please. If we need extra nights-?"

 

"Just phone us the night before, and we'll arrange something," the woman clicks a few more keys, before looking up at him with a kind smile. "Will you be paying with cash?"

 

"Card, please." Peter extends the shiny piece of plastic towards her. 

 

"For sure. I'll just need a piece of ID, please."

 

By his side, Elias inclines his head and lowers his sunglasses with a finger, just enough so that a bright green eye peeks over the edge and under the brim of his cap. He gives Peter's foot a nudge with his own, and when Peter looks back at the receptionist, her gaze is the slightest bit glassy.

 

"I believe I already gave you my ID? You gave it back to me." He frowns. "Weren't you done with it?"

 

"O- oh! You're completely right, I'm sorry Mr. Lukas," the woman smiles sheepishly, unaware of Elias' tampering, or the fact that Peter has yet to give her his name. "Let me just run your card, and I'll get you your key cards, alright?"

 

He hears Elias give a relieved exhale, before he retires back to the car to retrieve Jon. 

 

"We'll meet you by the lifts," Elias whispers in Peter's ear, and he nods in response. 

 

Just a few more months until he's eighteen, and then they won't need Elias to confuse people when they try to rent a room, so that will be safer. They've thought about forging a fake ID for Peter, but it still carries the risk of someone noticing the trick, and that would only get them more attention. Best to wait until the real thing, after all, who cares if Peter Lukas comes and goes renting hotel rooms around the country? Nobody knows he's with the nation's current most wanted.

 

-

 

"You went out?" Peter arches an eyebrow as he comes out of the shower and finds Elias closing the door to the room behind him. Elias stills on his spot, his back to Peter. "Elias?"

 

Elias' shoulders relax after a moment, and when he turns to face Peter he sees he's got Jon's blanket draped across his forearm. 

 

"Jon forgot it in the van, and you know he won't sleep without... it." As he speaks, Elias' eyes move down from Peter's face, and Peter feels a pleased warmth spread across his cheeks as Elias clears his throat. "I- put on a shirt."

 

"Are you sure?" he asks, and that's enough to have Elias' cheeks dust with a light flush as well. 

 

" Very sure, stupid." Elias slaps his bare shoulder as he passes him. "Jon? I have your blanket."

 

"But I don't want to sleep yet," Jon whines from the bed by the window. 

 

"Well, I didn't want to go all the way down to the parking lot to get your blanket, we both have to make sacrifices." Elias sits behind the child, who turns to look at him with wide, pleading eyes.

 

"But there's a show about lions on the TV..." Jon mutters. Peter takes a look at the TV, which is not on. Eye kids are super weird. Elias shoots him an apologetic look over Jon's head, and Peter resigns himself to watching a documentary about African wildlife before he has any chance to be alone with Elias.

 

----

 

"I was thinking about the coast again," Elias says as he runs a finger down the map. "Stay there a few days, then go north."

 

"Still angry you didn't get your beach holiday?" Peter asks, his eyes fixed on a mole laid with artistic precision on the point where Elias' neck joins his shoulder, the juncture exposed by the neckline of the loose t-shirt Elias usually sleeps in.

 

"Actually, I was thinking you might be missing the sea," Elias says slowly, almost carefully, and he turns to face Peter. His too-green eyes hone in on him like searchlights, and Peter's mouth goes dry. "Thought you might like to see it again."

 

"I- that would be nice." Peter swallows. With Elias facing him there's almost no room between them, and he feels the Lonely in him protest the slightest bit at the proximity, before he pushes back on it. He doesn't want to be lonely, when he's with Elias. Peter takes a look at Jon's bulk below the sheets on the other bed.

 

"He's asleep." Elias's voice is almost a whisper, his eyes still heavy on Peter's face in a way that has nothing to do with his patron, and his hand grazing Peter's softly enough that it might have been an accident.

 

"I... okay." Peter nods. 

 

"Okay." Elias nods back, and Peter is terrifyingly aware of the distance closing between them, like their chests are two magnets that just won't be kept apart. 

 

"Elias..." Peter whispers like a prayer, right before the blessing comes.

 

Peter freezes almost immediately, the Lonely trying to pull him back into its protective embrace because he's never done this before, never been this close to a person, much less had their lips on him and- he should close his eyes right? Elias closed his and he probably knows what he's doing-

 

Elias pulls back, his thin eyebrows furrowed in the slightest frown. "Peter?"

 

"I'm- sorry, it's just-" it's just that all he can think about is Elias, the soft pressure of his lips against his, Elias' scent all around him, his poison-green eyes that Peter knows now will be the death of him. "I would- I've never- can we try that again?"

 

Elias' frown dissolves, and Peter's chest feels too tight to contain all the unknowns he's feeling. It's almost impossible to stay still, to wait for Elias to lean up again, and rest a hand against the back of his neck.

 

"I think we could give it another sho-"

 

BANG BANG BANG

 

Three loud knocks come from the door, startling them away from each other, and Jon begins to stir. 

 

"Wh- who's there?" Peter calls out, still a bit dazed.

 

"We're with the Leicester Police Department, please open the door." The voice says in a tone that makes it very clear it's not asking. 

 

"I- why?" Peter, stalling for time. Elias has shot from the bed and is gathering all their belongings as quietly as he can.

 

"Elias?" Jon asks, confused and sleepy, and the police knocks again.

 

The silence that follows Jon's voice is deafening , and Peter can see Elias, much like his own mind, has frozen completely.

 

"Stand away from the door!" someone shouts outside, before something heavy and hard collides against the wood, and everything is set in motion again. 

 

"Grab him!" Elias yells, shooting past him to throw the window open. 

 

Peter goes to get Jon, but the child recoils from him and Peter can see the fear in his big, dark eyes. There's only so many ways Peter can keep them safe, and Jon is smart enough to know what's coming.

 

"I don't want to go in!" Jon screams, and the words lash against Peter like a whip. He's aware no one feels the Lonely quite like he does, but it's never been his intention to hurt Jon with it. He grabs the struggling child's wrist, pulling him towards him. He makes sure to grab the blanket as well- maybe Jon will find some comfort in it. "Elias, please!"

 

Another, heavier bang against the door and the sound of wood beginning to crack.  Elias has yanked the curtain pole off and thrown the fabric over the window.

 

"Elias-" Peter goes towards him. Jon's elbow catches him in the eye, and he drops him on instinct.

 

"Jon!" Elias orders, his eyes wide and frantic, but Jon wedges himself under the bed. "Jon, they're going to take us away! There's no time-"

 

"I don't want to!" Jon screams again, his eyes starting to go an alarming shade of green. 

 

"Jon, come here !" Elias screams, a high static pitch raising along with his voice. Jon's tiny frame shakes straight like a shock of electricity ran through him. He's crying when he crawls out from under the bed, trying to resist whatever pull Elias put on him.

 

Peter grabs Elias' hand, and throws himself over the bed to get a hand on Jon just as the door breaks down. 

 

-----

 

The Lonely doesn't feel so terrible this time around, Elias thinks as he sees the room around them go gray as if someone had siphoned all the color out. 

 

Maybe it's because he knows Peter is here, maybe because he has bigger things to focus on, as he crawls over the bed to Jon's hunched form.

 

"Jon? Jon I'm here, come-"

 

"No," Jon flinches away from his hand, and Elias feels it like a blow to the chest. "I don't like it here."

 

"I- I know, but Jon look ," Elias asks, begs , and Jon lifts his tear-covered face from his knees. All around them, the police agents are making a mess of the room, crawling under beds, opening closets, gesturing at the open window that Elias fashioned as a decoy. "We're safe here. We're safe with Peter, aren't we?" 

 

He grabs Jon in his arms just as Peter comes to sit by them; the bruise on his eye is starting to darken and swell.

 

"You are," he nods. "I know you don't like it, Jon, I'm sorry, but it won't hurt you. It will never hurt you, I won't let it."

 

Jon flinches away from Peter's voice, burying his face in Elia's chest, and Elias sees Peter's face fall.

 

"Let's... let's just get out of here," Elias sighs.

 

----

 

"I don't understand," Peter mumbles later, as they speed away. "How did they know where we were?"

 

Elias exhales slowly, and Peter looks away from the road for a moment, just as another police car drives past them. Jon is balled up on his lap, exhausted from a mix of the Lonely, of crying, of being woken up, with a hand tightly fisted in Elias' loose shirt.

 

"I don't know," Elias whispers. His face is still pale, and he clings to Jon like the child could disappear at any moment. "I- maybe they have someone like us."

 

"Someone-"

 

"With the Hunt, or... or the Watcher, even." Elias scowls. "The Web."

 

Peter chews over this possibility as they drive in silence.

 

"Why would another avatar hunt us?" It makes no sense. It's an unwritten rule, avatars help each other.

 

"Maybe..." Elias starts slowly, like the idea is only half-formed in his mind. "Maybe they think I'm the one killing us. Which isn't that far from the truth, really," he adds with a dry bark of laughter only barely on this side of hysterical. 

 

"You're not, though. That was different."  Peter could see it, however. Avatars have been dying for months, in suspicious circumstances, and suddenly there's not only a survivor but a suspect as well. "It doesn't matter. What are we going to do? We- I don't want to take Jon into the Lonely again."

 

One of Elias' hand disentangles from Jon's hair, and goes to lay over Peter's. It's only then that Peter remembers he was just having his first kiss when the police broke down their door, and it's an odd thing to focus on, but he's only a teenager, he can be excused, right?

 

"He doesn't hate you," Elias whispers. "It's just- he doesn't understand."

 

"I don't want to hurt him any more than he already is." Peter sighs, and Elias' grip on his hand tightens.

 

"We just... we need to be more careful, so it doesn't happen again."

 

"How are we going to hide if they have a Beholder or a Hunter?" Peter arches an eyebrow.

 

Now it's Elias who sighs, and it sounds both tired and exasperated. Peter looks at him curiously.

 

"We're going to need some darkness."

Chapter Text

7

Peter doesn't know much about Elias' past, and it's something he's starting to come to terms to. Still, as he takes the exit Elias gestures to, a single question keeps circling in his mind.

"How come you're so sure the Rayners will give us asylum?" 

Elias sighs, looking out the window with that weird, distant expression he's had since he gave Peter the directions to the Rayner estate.

"They are.... friendly. With my parents."

Peter winces. He's nowhere near as smart as Elias, but there's a glaring flaw in that plan.

"Your parents. The ones you killed?"

"It's... I'm not going to see-" Elias squirms a bit more on his seat, gazes at Peter for merely a second. "I used to date their son."

Peter doesn't exactly stop the car, or drive it onto the curve. But he's very close to it, turning to look at Elias with eyes like saucers. "You dated the Dark's Messiah ?!"

"Maxwell and I are friends." Elias, much to Peter's dismay, averts his gaze. "Keep your eyes on the road, please."

And he does, but the news are still pulling at his attention. It's- of course Elias has no doubt they will be well received. It's also now very obvious why Elias wanted to go specifically to him. 

Messiahs are the most powerful amongst the touched, the physical incarnation of the powers. Only one exists for each at every given time, and their abilities far surpass the power of regular avatars. Peter bites at his bottom lip. He's never met a Messiah before. 

Not officially, he thinks with a glance at little Jon through the rearview mirror.

But if Elias is right... Whatever Rayner does for them should be enough to hide them, if the police really have a Hunter or a Beholder looking for them. 

"We're coming closer." Elias gestures ahead, and Peter notices exactly what he means. 

The sun is still shining down on the Rayner estate, it just… doesn't seem to reach it, somehow. Almost like a too-dark cloud has been permanently nailed above the large manor built in dark wood and tinted glass.

Peter gives Elias a quick look, just as the car crosses the invisible line into the dark domain, and for a moment he has the odd, fleeting thought that his eyes look a different shade in the dark.

"I can't see!" Jon complains immediately, and Elias sighs.

"You can see, Jon, just... not with your other eyes. Don't try to force it."

"I don't like it."

"That makes two of us, Jon," Peter mutters under his breath.

----------------------------------

"Well, well, well, isn't Beholding merciful on me today." Maxwell Rayner looks, sounds and is an absolute prick, Peter decides as the man -just another teen, really, Peter's age at most - grabs Elias' hand and brings it up to kiss his knuckles. "The time apart has only made you more handsome, Elias."

"You and your flattery, Max." Elias rolls his eyes, but he's smiling, Peter notices with a pang of anxiety to his stomach. And really? Who even does that anymore? Nobody, that's who. How was Peter supposed to know Elias liked that? He was raised to be alone! It's not his fault that- who does that ?! "This is my little brother, remember I told you about him?"

"In a letter, yes. Didn't expect him to be so... small." The guy arches an eyebrow. "Nice to meet you, Jonathan."

"I don't like your house." Jon very pointedly glares back at him, and Peter silently cheers for the devil he knows. "I can't see anything."

"But I can certainly feel you trying." Rayner shrugs over Elias' embarrassed apology, before turning his gaze -his eyes are almost black, like twin voids behind his curtain of dark hair, under the black, wide-brimmed hat- 

"Uh- this is my- this is Peter," Elias mutters. Peter feels his stomach give a jolt at the aborted introduction, watching it disappear behind the horizon like a ship he never boarded. 

"A pleasure," Rayner says in the end, extending his hand for a shake. "Maxwell Caliban Donahue Rayner the Eighth, at your service." 

"Peter Lukas. The first." Peter grunts, gripping his hand tightly and letting go immediately after. The pompous asshole raises an eyebrow, before turning back to Elias 

"You keep interesting company these days, Elias dear."

"I'll explain, I promise." Elias sighs. "Could we stay here? Just a day or two. We've been... the road is not exactly comfortable."

Rayner's thin lips twitch. "Do you even have to ask? When have I ever been able to deny you anything?"

And just like that, all the tension saps from Elias' posture, and he smirks as he takes Rayner's offered arm. "It never hurts to make sure the old influences are still effective."

Rayner laughs. "I always did say you ought to have been Web. I'll get you some rooms."

The two of them start down a corridor, clearly expecting them to follow.

Peter gives Jon a look, and has the fleeting thought that he hopes he doesn't look as sulky as the spoiled six years old. 

"Just a couple days, shrimp." Peter grunts, giving Jon the lightest push to start following behind their host.

"There's not even eight of him, he's just stupid," Jon grumbles as he walls, and Peter snorts. At least he's not alone in his dislike.

----------------------------------

"This is almost like our room back home." Jon rolls around the king-size mattress like a skinny armadillo, and Elias watches him with an amused smile. 

The Rayner manor does have a lot of eye motifs, he guesses, even if they are closed. He always did find comfort in the thought that his parents couldn't watch him here. 

"You look happy," Elias observes, reaching over to tickle at Jon's exposed ribs where his shirt is riding up his belly. Jon shrieks with laughter, and Elias throws himself back barely in time to avoid the flying elbows and knees.

"Peter isn't here," Jon shrugs with a smile. He tries a cartwheel, and ends up sprawled on his back, as befitting of someone with the reflexes and agility of a baby deer. He looks back at Elias, smiling behind a curtain of messy hair. "I like it better like this."

Elias sighs. This is... as good a time as any, he guesses. He slides on the bed, laying down on his belly to be at eye level with Jon, and pushes some of his hair away. It's getting a bit too long, he thinks almost detachedly; another proof that life moves on, on the run or not.

"Are you angry at Peter for the Lonely?" he asks, tapping at Jon's nose with his pointer finger. Jon's brow furrows, and he averts his eyes. "Because if that's it... you should really be angry at me too, Jon. He's only done it to keep you safe because-" because Peter is sweet and good and Elias is lucky to have been spotted that day at the convenience store, lucky to have run into him. "He doesn't mean to scare you."

"Hm." Jon purses his lips, and twists on the bed to face away from him. Elias frowns. "Jon? Is this about something else? If Peter-"

"He's always with you," comes Jon's sullen, angry voice, and Elias shuts up immediately. Jon is never one to talk about what he's feeling, preferring to project the emotions directly into Elias' mind. Lately, those emotions have been.... testy, to say the least. "He always wants to be talking to you and holding your hand and stuff. You're my brother, not his."

Oh. Oh .

In his defense, Elias really tries to hold it back, but the laughter breaks through his lips despite his best efforts. Jon turns to give him a betrayed look, and Elias sits up, and pulls him against his chest in a hug; the child's pointy elbows and knees dig against him as Jon tries to squirm away, but Elias holds fast.

"Let me go!" Jon tries to bite at him, but Elias merely holds him tighter so he can't move enough to get a grip. "You're just gonna- you just wanna be with him now! You should let the bad people pick me up!"

"Never." Elias mumbles against Jon's shoulder, as the kid's enraged shrieking turns to something shakier, wetter. " Never , Jon, you hear me?" he squeezes a little, when Jon's sobbing becomes louder, then pulls him away.

"You like him." Jon says. It's not a question, and Elias knows he's true. Even if his little brother wasn't the most powerful Beholder alive, Elias is fairly aware of his own feelings on the matter, terrifying as they are. "You're going to forget about me."

"Hey. Look at me, Jon." Elias tilts Jon's chin upwards. He's not crying like that day in the woods, but his face looks more... desolated.  Almost resigned, like he's accepted this terrible truth he's made up in his head, and Elias is once again convinced that he will live on the run for the rest of his life if it's what it takes to protect this child that's so afraid of being abandoned. "It's different, alright? Peter- there is no one more important than you in my life, Jon, do you understand that?"

Jon's big, dark eyes slide off of Elias' face, and Elias sighs. 

"I wouldn't lie to you, Jon." Elias squeezes at his brother's shoulders. "Whatever happens with- no one is going to take your place, alright? And that's not what Peter wants, either. He just... he wants to help us. And- and I really like having him around. But if you don't want him, we'll- it's fine."

Just like that, Jon's eyes widen and snap to him, and Elias is deeply relieved to see the surprised fear in their depths. "You're gonna make him leave?"

"If that's what you want," Elias nods; he probably would, if it was Jon's comfort against his infatuation, but it's easier to say now that he knows he won't have to. "Would you like that?"

Jon's mouth gapes like a fish out of water, as he realizes the size of the choice he's being offered. Elias merely waits, trying his best to hold back a smile. Jon is a good child, he's just young and jealous; he certainly liked Peter well enough before Elias started showing interest in him.

"I... he can stay." Jon crosses his arms over his chest, looking stubbornly aside. "But you can't be gross, okay?"

And well, there go all of Elias' efforts to not grin. "Can we hold hands?" he asks, and Jon  groans.

"Fine. But just that."

Elias stretches a hand towards him. "I think we have a deal, little Archivist."

Jon smiles at the nickname; he always does. "No kissing, though!" he warns, his hand small and thin-boned in Elias' grip as they shake on it.

"I wouldn't dare . Now go wash your face, you look like a slime factory," Elias says, face mock-stern enough to make Jon laugh. "I'll go talk to Maxwell. Can you stay here and read for a while?"

"Anything I want?" Jon's wide eyes go straight to the fully stoked bookshelf at the far-end of the room. 

"Go wild. Just stay here, alright?"

Jon is already halfway to the bookshelf, and Elias shakes his head fondly before heading for the door.

----------------------------------

Logically, Peter knows Rayner didn't give him a separate room to piss him off. It's not like Elias introduced them as a thing- hell, it's not like they are a thing, so it just made sense to give Peter his own room. Right? 

Still, it doesn't mean he can't go check on them. Whatever might or might not be happening with Elias, they're a team in this situation.

Peter slips into the Lonely between one breath and the next, and closes the door to the room behind him before heading towards where he saw Rayner take Elias and Jon earlier. It's entirely coincidental, that he looks out a window and sees Elias and Rayner sitting on a stone bench outside.

It's much less coincidental, that Peter finds himself following them into the gardens. He's just looking out for Elias, alright? Messiahs are dangerous, and Elias seems to forget that with this guy.

The gardens are immaculately kept with beds of night-blooming flowers turned to Rayner like sunflowers towards the sun. Their petals get covered in a faint sheen of frost, after Peter walks by them.

"-rried, Elias. With what's been happening... avatars are getting killed left and right, and all of a sudden your parents show up dead, and you're missing. Agnes Montague calls me to say you stayed at her compound and left the day after, the police are looking for you.... You could've at least given me a call to say you were alive." Rayner frowns. His entire body's leaning towards Elias, but he makes no move to touch him. Peter wonders if he's expecting Elias will come instead. "Did you see who it was? Who's killing-"

"Max, it was me," Elias blurts out, and Peter looks up when all the stars above them blink out like snuffed candles.

"...What do you mean it was you?" Rayner asks carefully. Peter can see the darkness gathering around him and Elias, and he tenses, ready to reach out and pull Elias into the Lonely with him. He can be angry with him, it doesn't matter, as long as he's alive. "Elias. What do you mean? Someone has been killing avatars for months , think of what you're impl-"

"Not that, you idiot!" Elias snaps. "I- my parents. I-" he takes a deep breath; Peter's surprised to see he's shaking, until Rayner lays a careful hand on his shoulder. "I killed them."

It feels like an eternity, before Rayner eases up on his powers and lets the stars shine through again. "Can't say I didn't see it coming," he says simply. "Did they hurt you?"

Elias lets out a dry cackle, and leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "The usual. But I- they found Jon, Max." Elias buries his face in the palm of a hand. "I couldn't- I wasn't going to let the same happen to him."

Rayner arches an eyebrow. "Isn't he the Eye's-"

"He is, but that's- that's nothing , alright?" Elias interrupts, looking back at him with the fierce scowl Peter has seen uncountable times already, the scowl that means this is about Jon, and you are going to back down or else . "He's a child. And if I had been better, then they wouldn't-"

"Hey. Hey, let's- Jonah and Delilah were messed up, and James was repulsive." Rayner slides down the bench, closer to Elias' side. "Let's not put the blame on you."

"For murdering my parents ?" Elias' voice cracks, and that’s when Rayner pulls him into a hug, wrapping his arms around him with his long, black hair curtaining before Elias’ face when he rests his chin atop Elias’ head.

They stay like that for a while, and Peter feels a quiet, detached pang of disappointment at the thought that they fit well against each other. The Lonely cradles him softly, feeding on the feeling until Peter is numb to it, and Elias has stopped shaking.

"Is that why you're running?" Rayner asks as he carefully lets go of him.

"They'll take him away, Max. I can't let that happen, I'm all he has, and... and he's all I have." Elias sighs, his shoulders slumped in a tense line. 

"As always, notoriously blind for a Beholder." Rayner smirks. "I'll let Agnes know you're alright, but do try to give her a call yourself, will you?"

Elias slaps Rayner's shoulder softly. "Allies are not friends. And I... I needed a friend."

"Well, you got one right here." Rayner shrugs. "What do you need? I won't say the Church can just... make a murder charge go away, but-"

"It's alright. We- I think they have a way to find us. I need something that will hide us from them."

Rayner watches him contemplatively for a moment. "Your brother is not going to like it," he says in the end.

"I don't care. If it keeps him safe, I literally don't care, Max. Do you have something?"

"I might? I've never done this before, let's..." Rayner looks around for a moment, until he seems to find what he's looking for. He stands from the bench and walks right past Peter, going to pick up three of the small white rocks framing one of the flowerbeds. Darkness curls around him for a moment, conscious of Peter's Lonely like two old friends passing each other on the street, before it dissipates again.

When he goes back to the bench and hands them to Elias, the smooth, round rocks are obsidian black, and seem to swallow the light around them like three miniature black holes on Elias' palm.

"Will these hide us?"

"I really don't know." Rayner has the decency to look ashamed. "But I intend them to. Most of the time that's how it works."

Elias smiles, and the tension seems to slip off of his spine. "I can't thank you enough, Max."

Rayner lays an arm across his shoulders again, and gives him a little shake, smiling. "You know me. Anything for those pretty blue eyes."

----------------------------------

The rocks work, Elias is relieved to find. 

When Peter or Jon have theirs in their pockets, Elias can't See them, no matter how hard he tries. Jon says he can, once they drive out of the Rayner estate's limits, but that was to be expected, with his level of power, though he still says Peter and Elias look 'blurry' to him. 

All in all, Elias finds that he feels completely relaxed, for the first time in months. 

"Where to, now?" he asks, smiling. They can go anywhere now, they're safe . "Do you still want to go back to the coast?" he turns to face Peter, and his smile freezes.

Peter's eyes are on the road, his hands firmly on the wheel and he looks... grey, for a lack of a better term. Not angry, or sad, just... there.

"...Peter?" Elias asks, and the feeling of dread only intensifies when Peter slows down and brings the car to a halt by the side of the road. "What's-"

"I've been thinking," Peter says. His voice is soft and quiet, like that night at the hotel before they kissed. "If you- no one would be able to find you there."

Elias frowns. "There... where?"

"At- you know, there. If you- I wouldn't be angry. If you think it's best for you and Jon to stay." Peter's voice sounds like a goodbye, and Elias arches an eyebrow, confused. Peter has never been the best at expressing himself, but Elias can usually- oh.

Slowly, Elias reaches into the pocket of Peter's flannel, and drops the round, black stone in the cup holder. Peter doesn't move at all, and Elias takes that as permission to See.

The thoughts come in flashes, and Elias gets a bit dizzy just from the sheer amount of things Peter is feeling at the same time. Peter wants them to stay at the Rayner estate. Peter wants them to come with him. Peter wants them to be safe . Peter is afraid that the stones won't be enough, that he'll have to pull them into the Lonely again, that Jon will be hurt. Peter is incredibly angry that he can't get his mind off of Maxwell kissing Elias' cheek goodbye, and Elias remembers just then that they're just teens, and feeling is literally the only thing they can do.

"Peter?"

"Hm."

Elias wants to say something that will take at least some of the worries off of Peter's shoulders, he really does. Instead, he finds that he's ridiculously, hopelessly endeared that Peter's biggest concern is not his absurd jealousy, but his and Jon's safety.

'I would like to see the coast with you,' he drops gently in Peter's mind, and delights on the way Peter's sun-kissed skin flushes.

"Elias-" Peter starts, his voice catching in his throat.

"There's no real way to know, is there?" Elias merely shrugs, dropping the stone back into his pocket before switching the radio on. "We should really get going."

He lays his hand on Peter's where it's resting on the gear shift, and chuckles at Jon's annoyed groan from the backseat.

They're free.

Chapter Text

8

"I don't understand." Basira scowls. "It's like they just disappeared."

"They're being more careful, that's for sure," Daisy agrees, because it's easier than accepting the teenager and his brother have seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth. 

A month ago they had tips, they had sightings, they had the description of a car and another young man. They had their closest run-in yet, at that hotel room in Leicester.

"We heard the boy, the small one," had said one of the officers at the scene, her knuckles still white with tension even hours after the fact. "He was calling for the other one, and he sounded so scared..."

And really, that's what Daisy doesn't get.

Surely a kid as smart as Elias Bouchard is proving to be, able to give them the slip every time they close in on him for the past five months, knows what he's doing looks suspicious as shit. It's not hard to Google about people getting acquitted on self-defense grounds, he's got to know he has a solid case, and that hauling his little brother around the country while hiding from the police is only going to complicate matters for them. She's already seen a couple magazines frame the case as an older sibling going mad with jealousy and kidnapping his competition to finish the job.

"Any news on Lukas?" Basira asks, and Daisy sighs. Right. That was exactly why she wasn't keen on coming back to the office.

"The family's sticking to the story. They have never had any contact with the Bouchards, there's only one Peter, he's a minor and he's at sea, as he has been for the past six months," Daisy recites with the same emotionless cadence used by the Lukas family's spokesperson. What family even has a spokesperson?

"Very nice. How did they explain the credit card that paid for the hotel room and has been paying for stuff everywhere there's been a sighting?" Basira arches an eyebrow, her voice so dry it could suck moisture out of the air. 

"Cloning. They wanted us to know they already reported it to the bank, in case we were worried."

"How nice of them to keep us informed."

Daisy snorts, -her partner's dry humor is her favorite thing about working with her- but eventually shakes her head with a sigh. "We won't get anything else out of them. They gave enough money to keep throwing lawyers at us for years. Unless we have proof that the other kid is Peter Lukas, we should forget about them."

"Well we better forget about the whole case, unless we get new leads. At this rate, we're getting moved to this Leiner case."

"Ugh. Don't even suggest it."

The Leitner case is a fucking mess. Over fifteen people murdered, all missing a carefully removed piece of skin, none with previous links to each other, the only hint left behind a single card of homemade paper with no fingerprints -they've tested every one extensively- brandished 'For the library of Jurgen Leitner', a name that has, of course, brought up absolutely no hits. 

Daisy knows the taskforce is always begging for more resources, that they're spread thin looking at every connection of every single victim. She's seen the crime scene pictures, each worse than the last, and even done some research on her own free time, and she doesn't envy them one bit. Serial killers are nasty, and this particular one is clearly one of the smart ones, which makes him even more dangerous.

The thought somehow brings her back to Jon and Elias. Their parents' deaths were cleared of any connection to the Leitner case quickly enough since no skin was missing from either of the bodies, but Daisy can only think of how they still are a teenager and a kid on the run, with a serial killer on the loose.

"We'll find them," Daisy blurts out so suddenly her voice comes out in dry growl. 

Basira looks back at her with a raised eyebrow. "How come you're so sure?"

"A hunch. We just... we need a new trail."


Eugene is dead.

The words keep repeating in Arthur's mind as he limps his way through the house, his leg bleeding profusely where the man stabbed him when he made a break for it.

All around him, the house keeps changing, the corridors connecting in ways they shouldn't, and Diego won't pick up the fucking-

"Molina!" Arthur yells into the receiver as soon as the call connects. He's finally at the front door, he might still have a chance of survival, but he needs to make sure. 

"Move her, you have to take her away! Eugene is dead and-" he pushes the front door open, and is faced with the sight of Eugene's body bleeding on the carpet from the hole the lunatic carved into his back. "No. No, no- Molina get her out-"

"Arthur Nolan," a voice says by the side of the door, and Arthur feels his knees go weak before he collapses to the ground, every ounce of strength sapped out of his body. The phone slips from his grip, and the stranger crushes it under a shoe wrapped in plastic, cutting off Diego's shouted questions. "You were hard to find."

"You have the wrong person," Arthur says, turning on the floor. The man looming over him looks entirely unremarkable, as he walks over to him. He's wearing cheap clothes, and his hands are covered in latex gloves where they hold a book with a pitch-black cover. Arthur can see the pages gradually get softer and flimsier as he flips them past, and his stomach churns when he notices the last one is still bleeding. "It's not-"

"Are you sure?" The man puts the book down, and he thrusts his hand into his pocket, to pull out a second one. This one is bound in gold and green, and as Arthur watches, the eye in the cover open, half lidded and with the pupil pointing straight at him. "My book seems to think you're lying, good man."

Arthur feels his stomach drop, as he connects the dots. The books, they- this one is the Watcher, and the one with the skin pages- "Do you have ours too?" he asks, his voice still weak with the End's influence. 

"I do, actually!" the man smiles pleasantly. "Read a few pages before coming here just in case. Being prepared really pays off, you know?"

That... that would explain how he survived Eugene's flames, even when enveloped by them. "What do you want? Wh- who are you?"

"Hm... I think you know what I want, mister Nolan." Out of the man's pocket comes a knife, long and with a wicked edge, Eugene's blood still dripping down its length. "As for who I am... That really is none of your business."

"Why?!" Arthur asks, a bit frantically. Maybe- if he keeps the man talking, maybe he'll regain his strength, and he- 

The knife sinks into his hand -and the wood below- with a wet squelching sound, and Arthur screams in agony.

"Because you're monsters, mister Nolan. What other reason would I need?" The man sets to pulling another knife from his impossibly deep pocket, and a small rectangle of cardstock he places on Arthur's chest. 

Arthur grabs it with a shaky hand, and brings it up to his tear-blurry eyes. 'For the library of Jurgen Leitner', it reads. He turns to the man -Leitner- again, only to find him readjusting his grip on the weapon.

"We haven't done anything to you!" Arthur yells.

The knife sinks into his eye, and is pulled back just as quickly with a wet pop. Arthur Nolan goes limp, his mouth still open in his last accusing scream. 

Jurgen Leitner watches the creature for a couple seconds, with a curiosity bordering on clinical, before removing the knife from his hand.

He turns the body around, and begins to work on the new page.


"Elias-" Peter whispers, and Elias looks up from his book. His stomach flips over itself when he sees Peter's amused smile, biting slightly at his bottom lip as if trying to hold the laughter back in. 

"What?" Elias asks, his own lips curving into a smile. It's easy to be happy when Peter is. Because Peter is, maybe. 

Peter squeezes on their joined hands where they rest on the towel, next to the three Dark stones, and he tilts his chin forward. "Look at him," he whispers.

Elias frowns in confusion, following Peter's gaze. The beach is mostly empty -it's the main reason they chose it-, only another couple nestled behind a rocky formation on the far end, as eager to ignore them as they are to be ignored. There's really not much to watch, a small plastic bucket and shovel, a half-built sand castle and- Elias smiles, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth when laugh threatens to spill out.

Jon is crouched next to the sand castle he abandoned when he realized Knowing every single detail about sand sculpting doesn't necessarily mean being able to do it. He's hugging his knees, his shoulders hunched so high and his chin tucked so low Elias can see every knob of his spine, and he's squinting ahead, his eyes burning green with power as he engages on an intense staring contest with the sea. 

Peter is starting to crack up next to him, so Elias bumps their shoulders together, before he calls out.

"Jon? Do you want to go in?"

Jon flinches like a scared cat, collapsing the shoddy wall of his disastrous sandcastle. "Go in?" he asks, very clearly trying to not sound nervous.

"You know-" Elias smiles. "For a swim. Peter and I are watching, so it's fine."

'He's going to call your bluff,' Peter thinks amusedly, and Elias is once again surprised at how easily he's able to pick it up, his mind so tuned to Peter's it's almost like the thoughts were pushed at him.

"If he does more than dip a toe in, I'll do whatever you want." Elias smirks, implanting a sense of anticipation and thrill into Peter's mind.

"Anything?" Peter's whisper is hoarse and hurried, and Elias laughs before he turns to Jon, who still looks like he's having the hardest debate of his life. 

"No," Jon says sullenly. Elias extends a tendril of beholding towards him. Jon's thoughts flash like colors before his eyes, he's embarrassed, he's angry, he's nervous and most of all he really, really wants to go in. "I can't swim."

"How sad..." Elias turns to Peter, his lips pursed in a pout. "Looks like you won't get to find out."

"Well, why didn't you say anything sooner, Jon?" Peter shoots to his feet like lightning, so abruptly Jon flinches straight through the only remaining wall of his sandcastle. "Let's get to learning!"

Jon's eyes go the size of saucers, and he turns to Elias with a flash of 'no- yes- scary- too deep- come?'

Elias shrugs calmly, far more concerned with the way Peter's muscles ripple under his skin as he shrugs off his shirt. 

'SCARY.' The demand reaches him again, and Elias arches an eyebrow.

'Safe. Peter. Trust. Fun.' Communicating with Jon is different from implanting and pulling thoughts from Peter's mind. Less words and more emotions, their minds so open to each other that it's difficult to know who's feeling what at any given point. 

In this case at least, the frankly embarrassing amount of comfort that the thought of Peter summons in Elias' mind seems to be enough to calm Jon down, and he slowly grabs the teen's hand and lets himself be led to the edge.

Jon screeches with laughter when the water laps at his feet, and Peter swings him up to sit at his hip with a cackle of his own. Elias watches them with a soft smile on his face, as Peter walks in until the water is up to his waist.

Jon screams some more when he's thrown -less than arm's length away, and Peter's hand firmly clenched around his wrist- into the sea, and Peter crouches down to be at eye level. Elias brushes against Jon's mind again, curious.

"-know how submarines float, don't you?" Peter asks.

"They have air chambers," Jon replies immediately, and it really is something, to be connected to the messiah of the Eye when he's using his powers; Elias can practically hear the information rushing past his mind, and Jon's brain whirring like a supercomputer. 

"Well, you do too." Elias feels Peter's fingers tap against Jon's chest, and the touch leaves behind a lingering warmth in his own. "Don't move, take a deep breath, and see what happens."

Jon squints again, in suspicion this time, before complying. His eyes go wide when he floats closer to the surface, and it's endearing, Elias thinks, that this child has the Knowledge of everything on Earth, but can still be amazed at experiencing things. 

"I'm a submarine?!"

"A skinny, bite-y submarine full of cheese, but yes," Peter laughs, and Elias retreats from Jon's mind, from their moment. He doesn't think he can take any more of it anyways, his chest too full, his smile too wide.

Elias wraps himself in the discarded shirt and lays down on the towel, enjoying the warmth of the sand seeping through the fabric, and the scent of Peter wrapping around him like a blanket, because Peter really does mean safety, and it should be scarier than it is, but Elias is starting to get used to loving without having it turned against him. Starting to realize maybe Peter is as bad an avatar of the Lonely as he is for the Beholding; it feels a bit poetic, that the two of them finally found in each other someone who thinks they're enough.

He dozes off to the sounds of laughter and waves, and wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later, when two sets of ice-cold hands are pressed to his stomach, and the only things in his mind are 'I'm going to kill them' and 'I love them', repeating in quick succession as he grabs a fistful of sand to defend himself.

 

Chapter Text

9

This city’s sort of boring, Jon decides.

It’s not by the sea, there’s no cool woods or things to explore, just… a city. They stopped here because Peter’s money isn’t working anymore, and Peter wants to visit a bank. Jon could tell them exactly what’s wrong with it, but none of them have thought to ask him, so he doesn’t volunteer the information.

As it stands, they’re just sitting at a bench outside a museum, waiting for Peter to come back. Elias is tying Jon’s hair into a messy bun, thinking about how they need to get him a haircut soon, and Jon keeps himself busy by Seeing the exhibits inside and projecting his favorites into Elias’ mind. Maxwell’s stupid rock makes it a bit blurry still, but Jon is getting better at looking past it. 

He can even see Peter coming down the street, his mind swirling with what feels worry and sadness and that only grows deeper when his eyes land on them, and Jon groans. Museum time is over, obviously. 

“I’m- it’s just blocked,” Peter says, dropping heavily next to Elias with a sigh. “Apparently my family reported it as stolen or cloned and-” his voice breaks a little.

“Peter, it’s just money.” Elias squeezes his shoulder, giving him a pained smile. Jon can feel the worry starting to bubble up in Elias’ mind, because that means they’ll have to go back to shoplifting, and that means Elias will have to step in and possibly be recognized.

“Is that not why you have me around?” Peter lets out a dry cackle and Elias flinches back, before laying a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“It’s not,” he says softly, leaning over to try and catch Peter’s gaze. “You know it’s not, don’t-”

Jon rolls his eyes and stops listening. Their adult stuff is boring.This entire city is boring, but there has to be something to do, Jon decides. He just has to find it.


“It’s not,” Elias says softly by his side, and Peter averts his gaze. “You know it’s not, don’t you?”

Elias' thin fingers run through the hair peeking out from the beanie at Peter's nape, but he can't bring himself to relax. He really should have insisted Elias and Jon stayed at Rayner's, where they would be safe.

“I don’t know anything, Elias.” Peter says sullenly. “That’s your area. I just… pay for things and traumatize your brother.”

“Peter, stop. Please.”

“I’m just… I’m sorry. I know-”

“I think you don’t know at all.” Elias says, his voice firm now, and Peter looks up from his sneakers to find Elias’ sharp green eyes narrowed at him. “You- Peter, I want you here. Not your money, not the car, not the Lonely, I want you .”

“Why, though?” Peter sighs again. “I’m -”

“You’re not just a credit card or a hideout, I thought you knew that by now.” Elias stands from the bench and comes to crouch between Peter’s knees, holding his face in his hands so he can’t look away again. “I thought that was clear.”

“I- Elias, I just want to keep you and Jon safe. I just-”

“We'll find another way.” Elias’ eyes are almost too intense this up close, and Peter has a moment to wish he was aligned with the Eye, because he’s sure Elias is trying to say something he can’t bring himself to voice and Peter can’t for the life of him figure out what it is.

“I don’t-”

 “Beholding’s sake, you’re so stupid !” Elias snaps, before he surges forward to catch Peter’s lips in a kiss.

They’ve done this a few times already, but never so suddenly, and never in public. Peter is panicking a little, what if people are staring at them? What if people think they look ridiculous, and- 

Elias slips his tongue into his mouth, and Peter forgets about pretty much everything else for a while, until Elias pulls back slowly, parting their lips with a little wet 'pop'.

“I thought-” Peter starts when they separate, stopping to clear his throat. “I thought we weren’t ‘allowed’ to kiss.” Jon would usually have complained by now, so Peter guesses he must really have looked pathetic.

Elias smiles. “He’s a big boy, he can forgive us one kiss, can’t you, Jon?” he turns to face his brother, and Peter is suddenly assaulted with a wave of Elias' fear, so raw and unexpected it leaves him gasping.

Jon is not there.

He’s not by the bench, by the museum’s entrance, Peter can’t see him anywhere, actually. He springs to his feet, pulling Elias up with him, but even with the added height, Jon is nowhere to be seen, not his messy hair or his blue t-shirt, or-

“I- the ribbon,” Elias says, his voice as shaky as his frame, as a leaf in the wind. “I put a yellow ribbon in his hair. Look for-”

“Elias, calm down.” Peter holds on to his arms, trying to steady his swaying form. “Try to- can you See him?”

Elias’ face whips to his, relief washing over it so suddenly that Peter just knows he’d forgotten about his powers. He closes his eyes then, holding to Peter’s hips for stability as he searches for Jon’s consciousness-

“I- I can’t.” Elias’ eyes snap open again, his face paling. “I can- Peter, I can’t See- oh.”

“Oh?” Peter scowls. Is Jon able to block other Beholders from finding him? It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, knowing what Messiahs can do, but it makes no sense that the child would ward himself against Elias, of all people. “Elias, what-”

“The- the stones. The Darkness-” Elias pulls out the smooth circular rock from his pocket, and crams it into Peter’s hand before closing his eyes again, his brow furrowing with the effort to See. He shakes his head, slowly at first, then almost frantically, his eyes flying open. “I can’t reach him. I- the stones are too powerful, I-”

“Hey!” A voice calls out from behind them, and the two of them whip around. One of the security guards from the museum is descending the stairs, her radio pulled to her mouth. “Aren’t you the Bouchard kid?” she asks, and Peter feels his blood run cold.

He crams the Dark stone back into Elias' pocket, but the woman's eyes don't slide over them like they did just a moment ago. Apparently once you've been seen, you've been seen. 

"Where's your brother, kid?" the woman asks as she comes closer. People have started looking their way; Peter can feel the Lonely aching to curl around him and protect him from the stares, but he can't go in, not now. 

"I- I don't know-" Elias' eyes are wide and panicked, looking all over like he's expecting Jon to just pop out of thin air.

"Elias-" Peter tries, taking a step back from the coming woman and pulling Elias with him. "We have to go. We... I have to move us."

"I'm not leaving without Jon. He can't find us there, I'm not-"

"He's not 'finding' you anywhere, you're staying here." The woman eyes them suspiciously. "Don't move, the folks inside already called the police."

"N- you don't get it, he's- Jon's lost!" Elias snaps. "He's lost, he- I just looked away for a minute, I'm-"

"Elias, we'll find him, he'll be fine." He has to calm Elias down, they're truly and well surrounded now, at least two dozen people crowded around them like the circus came to town and they're the main attraction.

"Peter he's lost !" Elias yells again, and the whispers around them intensify. 

"Is that the kid from TV? The one with the murders?"

"Where is the small one?"

"What did he do to him?"

"Did someone call the police yet?!"

"Elias, Jon can find us wherever we go, but we need to go now ." Peter urges, inching away from the woman.

"Again, not going anywhere." The guard warns, her eyes still narrowed in suspicion. "We'll get the police here, and we'll find your brother-"

"No! They can't- no." Elias shakes his head. "They'll take him away, they- we're just wasting time, I need to find him!"

He makes a break for it, and Peter sees it all like time has slowed to a crawl.

Elias trying to dart through the space between two onlookers. At least three people stretching a hand to grab him, just as the guard pulls out her baton and launches after him.

Peter screams.


" Stop !" Peter's voice behind him is frantic, leaving behind a weird static like rushing wind. It's all Elias can do to focus on it as he barely manages to get his hands under himself when he topples to the ground, suddenly free of the grabbing hands holding him back.

They're done. They're- Jon's lost, they're surrounded, all these people have seen them. Elias lets his forehead drop to the hot asphalt below, waiting for the guard or one of the spectators to yank him upright and into a waiting cop's arms.

It never happens.

After a couple more seconds, Elias turns around to look up at the crowd that- that isn't there anymore. The entire street is empty, except for-

Peter is standing there, a hand covered in a thin layer of freeze stretched towards Elias, his eyes almost shimmering with silver light. The tips of his fingers have started to go transparent, and streams of fog escape his parted lips as he breathes heavily.

Elias notices quite suddenly that he's not in the Lonely, but the street is still deserted, and delicate wisps of fog curl around the edges of buildings.

"Peter?" Elias asks, his voice barely higher than a whisper. "W- where are they?"

"I sent them away. I- they're all gone." Peter lowers his arm slowly, his eyes still glowing that worrying grey light.

"You sent thirty-two people into the Lonely?" he asks, the Eye volunteering the exact number almost as if it too is impressed.

"I can bring them back, I just- I needed to get them away from you." Peter takes a step towards him, and Elias does his best to not crawl away, as it begins to dawn on him just who he's been travelling around with.

"You can bring-" a slight bark of hysterical laughter escapes Elias' lips. He'd thought Peter was just another underpowered avatar, like... like himself. He's so stupid . "It's you, isn't it? You're- you're the- why didn't you tell me ?"

Peter's outstretched hand flinches. Elias has a moment to consider the absurdity of the Messiah of the Lonely flinching away from him .

"I'm- I didn't- it didn't feel important?" Peter mutters. "I'm just... I liked being just Peter." With careful movements -it occurs to Elias then that Peter thinks he's afraid of him-, Peter takes his Dark stone out of his pocket, and throws it at him in a slow arc. 

Oh

He dives into Peter's mind effortlessly, as always, but everything feels different , and Elias wonders if it's just his own perception of Peter that's changing how he interprets what he Sees. He feels Peter's control of his entity, the Lonely curling under his fingers like a well-trained pet, ready to open up again and devour anyone else Peter deems a threat, ready to provide a safe pocket for Peter -and whoever he chooses to bring in- to hide and escape through. 

He Sees a boat, a big old house, the memory of dozens of people referring to him as 'their blessing', 'their chosen', 'their Messiah', but not Peter, never Peter. He feels the fear biting deep into Peter's core, the terrifying thought that he might not be 'Peter' to Elias either, not anymore.

"D-didn't I tell you?" Elias retreats into his own mind, trying to push away the voice that sounds like his father, asking him if maybe he didn't know Peter was this powerful all along, if maybe this wasn't just another instance of Elias taking advantage of people much more capable than himself, like Maxwell, like Agnes, like Jon. "You're very dumb."

"I- what?" Peter blinks.

Elias grabs on to Peter's still outstretched hand, pulling himself up to his feet before throwing his arms around Peter's torso in a hug. 

"Peter." Elias mutters like a prayer into his chest, and he hears Peter give off a choked sob before his arms come to wrap around him in turn.

This is real. What he feels is real, it has to be. That's what matters, isn't it? That he loves Peter, that Elias would fight as much to defend him as he'd fight for Jon. 

Jon .

"Shit. Shit, Peter, we have to find Jon, it's-"

"Are you done being gross?" There's a tug on Elias' shirt after Jon's voice. "Can we go already? This city's boring."

Elias stiffens, and his eyes must be screaming murder , because Peter squeezes his arms around him softly. "You can give him a piece of your mind in the car. Please? I need to let them out now, before the Lonely eats them."

"I'm- let's just go." Elias grits his teeth. He can't tell if he's relieved or enraged at Jon's nonchalant, slightly confused face. Probably a bit of both, with a healthy sprinkle of an urge to break down in tears. "Where were you?" he asks as they move down the street and towards the parked van, almost biting off the end of the question.

Jon shrugs. "You and Peter were being gross, so I went to the park. There was a seesaw."

Elias takes in a deep, calming breath, as Peter breaks down laughing next to them.


"-nd I don't ever want this to happen again, Jon. I don't know how you could have possibly forgotten we're not just on a field trip, we're hiding . You know that, you know what will happen if we're caught," Elias is still saying when they cross the city limits and hit the highway. "Seriously Jon, what were you thinking ?"

Jon's curled into a ball at the backseat, sullen and pouting as the lecture shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

Peter, for his part, feels reenergized.

Having the Lonely vomit all the people he sent in was a relief, his domain blessedly empty again feels like a weigh taken off his shoulders, and he's starting to come to terms with the fact that Elias won't leave him behind because he's the Messiah, that he doesn't even care that much?

He's still just Peter , and it's the most addictive feeling he's ever experienced.

"-f you want to go to the park, you tell us, you don't just leave . Do you know what happens to children who just go off on the street on their own, Jon?"

"Uncle James picks them up." Jon says quietly, and Elias almost bites his tongue when his mouth clicks shut. Slowly, Elias drops his Dark stone into the cup holder, and holds his hand for Jon to give him his to do the same.

The silence in the van grows thicker and heavier, and Peter knows they're... talking is probably not the right word, but they must be communicating somehow, because Elias' expression shifts and twitches almost imperceptibly, and when he looks into the rearview mirror he can see the green of Jon's glowing eyes reflecting eerily off of the glasses of the child peeking out from the trunk.

Peter shakes his head a little, before looking back to the road. He's not about to get involved in the brothers' business, especially if it's complicated enough that they feel the need to discuss it in their minds and-

There's a second child in the car.

Chapter Text

10

“Jon-” Elias starts, then stops to take a deep breath and pinch the bridge of his nose. Jon merely gives him a questioning look from where he and the other kid are sitting on the open trunk. “Jon, who is this?"

The kid is holding a paper tissue up to his eyebrow, where he bumped his head against the door handle when Peter made a turn sharp enough to send him flying over the divide between trunk and backseats, surprisingly unalarmed at the injury or the little hint of blood welling from it.

“He’s Martin.” Jon shrugs, like that explains anything. “We met at the park. Martin, this is my brother.” He adds, turning to the child and gesturing towards Elias.

“Hi,” the kid greets, lifting a chubby hand to give him a wave. “I’m Martin Blackwood, it’s very nice to meet you.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake, of course he has to be well-mannered.

Elias gives him another once-over. The kid’s bright red hair is messy, and his t-shirt looks a size or two too small, like he outgrew it a few months ago but no one took notice of it. His nose and cheeks are covered in a splatter of freckles, and a pair of large round glasses rest on top of his little round nose, miraculously unscathed by the fall.

The kind of kid that’s going to look amazing in a missing child poster, that will have people looking for him, just to get the ‘sweet little angel’ back home where he belongs. Wonderful. Great. This is not going to bite them in the ass at all, this-

Peter’s hand comes to rest at the small of his back, and Elias shakes his head at his quizzical stare. It’s already taking all he’s got to keep his thoughts from projecting into his connection with Jon; if he tries to speak again right now, he’s going to scream.

“Jon, why is Martin here?” Peter asks, his voice gentle and only the slightest bit strained, no doubt in consideration of his fragile truce with Jon. “Why didn’t he stay at the park with his parents?”

“His mum wasn’t there.” Jon rolls his eyes, like this is obvious. “And I like him, so I told him to come with us.”

“Jon, you can’t drag people away from their homes just because you like them!” Elias knows his patience is perhaps a bit too lenient when it comes to his little brother; but this might just be where he meets his limit, because now they’ll have to go back into a city they only barely escaped from, just to drop this ticking time bomb.

Jon’s eyes flash green for a second as he gives Elias the most unimpressed stare he’s been on the receiving end of -and that says a lot, considering Elias’ upbringing- just as a single name is pressed into his brain, bypassing the barrier of Maxwell’s stone out of sheer frustration, it seems.

“That’s completely different,” Elias snaps even as he feels his face heat up, pushing the single, dry ‘Peter’ out of his mind. “Martin is just a kid. Jon, you- we just kidnapped a child-”

“A second child, if you really think about it.” Peter pipes in, and Elias has to take another long, deep breath and a look at the heavens to try and regain some semblance of composure.

“Yes, I had forgotten I technically kidnapped my own brother. Thank you, Peter.”

“Hey, I’m just saying.”

“Will you hear me screaming if you drop me into the Lonely?”

“Elias, I wouldn’t throw you-”

“No, I need to scream.”

----------------------------------------

“It’s not,” Elias leans down to look at Peter where he’s all hunched over on the bench. “You know it’s not, don’t-”

Jon rolls his eyes and stops listening. Sure, he likes Peter again now, but their adult stuff is boring, and a little bit gross. If he keeps one of his eyes on them, he’ll be able to come back before they even notice he’s gone, he decides before he starts walking away.

The park is just around the corner, just a patch of grass with a few scattered trees and benches, a seesaw and a merry-go-round that some kids are spinning in. Jon watches them for a few minutes, wondering if they’ll let him play with them. They’re a bit older than him, but so was Jane and she liked playing with him just fine.

Right as he’s about to open his mouth to ask to join in, he feels a flash of Knowledge and takes a step to the left to avoid the girl that comes flying out of the merry-go-round and crashes against the ground. She sits up almost immediately, patting dirt off of her shorts and t-shirt, shaking her head so it stops spinning like she was just a second ago.

“Ouch! I said I wasn't ready!” she yells at the other kids, who are already digging their heels in the dirt to bring the merry-go-round to a stop.

“Poop, Sally are you alright?” A boy hops down, swaying a little as he takes a few steps towards them.

“I think so. My mom will be angry though, look at my clothes!”

“You’re bleeding.” Jon says simply, because he Knows the girl hasn’t yet noticed the large gash that a stray rock carved along her calf.

“What? I-” the girl freezes. Jon lifts his hands to his ears just as she twists her leg and gets a glimpse at the bright red of blood dripping down her leg. 

The girl screams like a police siren, and the kids at the merry-go-round disperse like a flock of birds just as a woman rushes towards them, her gaze sliding right off of Jon because of the dumb stone. 

“Oh dear- Sally, I told you to not play so rough!” the woman exclaims. She looks like the girl, and her face is pale and terrified as she lifts her up in her arms, fussing over her as she screams even louder. “Shh, you’ll be alright dear, let’s get you home, we need to clean that up before it gets any more dirt in it.” 

Jon rolls his eyes. It’s just a little blood, her leg isn’t even broken, and now everyone is gone. He guesses he could go on the merry-go-round by himself for a while, or he could try and see if he can walk from one end of the seesaw to the other without falling?

Maybe- oh.

A flash of red catches his eye, and Jon turns to see the only other occupant of the playground.

The child is sitting alone, swinging softly back and forth as he… talks to the swingset’s structure? Jon scowls. Well, this at least has to be more interesting than Elias and Peter being gross, he decides as he starts to walk towards him.

----------------------------------------

“And then she discovers she can move things with her mind when she’s angry. She was magic all along and she didn’t know it!” Martin smiles. The spider doesn’t say anything, of course, but he imagines it does, imagines that it’s terribly interested in what Martin has to say. It feels nice to have someone listen, even if he’s making it up. 

He hates the playground, but it’s better than being at home right now. Mum is angry because the check didn’t come again this month- Martin doesn’t know what a check is or where it’s meant to come from, but it’s what he heard her scream into the phone before he sneaked out through the backdoor. It’s always better not to be around mum when she’s angry, because Martin gets the feeling that he only makes her angrier when he is.

It was only after he arrived here that he realized he forgot his book, so he’s trying to pass the time by telling the spider about it.

“She uses it on the headmistress. She’s being mean to Matilda and her friends, so Matilda tips over a glass of water with a-” Martin has to stop then, when laughter bubbles from his mouth. “A newt! So it falls on the Trunchbull’s head, and she’s so scared of it- she thinks it’s a snake!” 

“Newts look nothing like snakes, though,” says a new voice, and Martin flinches with surprise. “Newts have legs.”

Martin plants a leg on the ground to stop swinging, before he looks up to see the newcomer.

The first thing that catches his attention about the new boy is his hair. Martin’s mum never likes it when Martin’s hair starts growing too long, she says it’s too much of a hassle, and cuts it off as soon as it starts getting long enough to tuck it behind Martin’s ears. She wasn’t very good at it at the beginning, but she’s gotten better, Martin thinks. He almost never gets teased about it at school anymore.

This boy’s mum must not know how to use the kitchen scissors, or maybe she has a lot more time than Martin’s mum, because the boy has long, dark brown hair tied in a small bun at the back of his head with a bright yellow ribbon that makes Martin think of sunflowers.

“Uhm… I don’t know? I have never seen a newt. Or a snake.” Martin says shyly.

“Oh! It’s alright, I’ll show you.” The boy closes his big black eyes -can people have black eyes, or are they really, really dark brown?-, and Martin gasps when he opens them again a second later. They’re bright green now, the same color he imagines Trevor the frog to be, and- “No, they don’t look like frogs either. Just wait, alright? Look.”

And suddenly, Martin knows what a newt looks like. And a snake. And a frog. It’s like… it’s almost like he’s dreaming about them, because he’s seeing them in his mind, but he’s awake, so that can’t be right?

“I- how did you do that?” Martin asks, eyes wide and hands tight around the swing’s chains.

“It’s just my powers.” The boy shrugs, already hunched over looking at the spider Martin was talking to. “Does she talk back? I don’t know if Jane’s worms can speak. Hi spider, I’m Jon.”

Martin blinks.

The boy is just there, waiting for the spider to say ‘hi’ back like he didn’t just tell Martin he did magic.

“It’s not magic.” The boy -Jon, his name is Jon, Martin corrects himself- rolls his eyes “It’s just my powers, I’m the Eye. Is she angry at me?”

“I don’t- spiders don’t talk.” Martin says, and Jon’s eyes flash again.

“Some do. But not this one, it looks like.” Jon shrugs, before going to sit at the swing next to him. “What’s your name?”

“I’m- I’m Martin.” Martin’s eyes won’t go any wider, he thinks. Some spiders talk? What eye? Why does Jon have powers?

“Hm… I’ve had them forever.” Jon rests his cheek against the chain to look at Martin, his eyes flashing between brown and green like a traffic light. It makes Martin remember the book he read once at the school library, about a boy that was raised by wolves. The boy has a friend that’s a snake, and she can hypnotize animals with her eyes before she eats them. “My brother too. And Peter. You just have them, I guess. There’s no reason.”

“...Oh.” Martin mutters. Of course. One has to be born special, and he... “I don’t think I have powers.”

“You don’t.” Jon shrugs again. “But it’s alright, I like you anyways.” 

“I- you do?” Martin scowls, searching Jon’s face for any hint that he’s joking. 

“Yep. You’re nice. And I like your hair, it looks like Agnes’. You could be Desolation, I guess, but we’d have to ask her.”

“D-desolation?”

“They have fire powers. I think Agnes would like you, you should come meet her.”

“I- that sounds a bit scary.” And exciting. If this Agnes is Jon’s friend, she probably won’t hurt him, right? Jon said he likes him, so he’d be safe.

“Nah, she’s really nice. She’s super powerful too, you’ll see. She’ll like you too.” 

Martin’s heart is beating a hole through his chest now, and he feels like he can’t breathe even though he is. He… he’s thought about this a lot. About receiving his letter to go study magic, or a special summer camp where he discovers he’s different; a lost relative that comes to find him and tells him there’s been a mistake, and he’s special, he’s always been. About not being afraid.

“Do you really think she’d like me?”

“Well, duh.” Jon rolls his eyes, and even though he’s using the same words as the bullies at school, Martin doesn't feel like he’s being made fun of, and he even smiles a little. “We should get on the car though, Peter just did something and when he does that we usually have to run right after because the bad people are coming.”

“I- the bad people?” Martin asks, climbing off his swing as Jon does the same. 

“They’re looking for us.” Jon shrugs. “But it’s alright. I’ll keep you safe. Let’s go!” he adds, tugging at Martin’s hand urgently.

Martin gives the swing a last look, as well as the spider that seems to be waiting to see what he’ll do.

Mum probably won't be mad right? She's always saying she needs a holiday from him. Now she can do all the things she wants to do, and- and then she can pick Martin up when it's time, right?

He imagines the spider blinks her little eyes at him.

Martin gives her a little wave, before letting Jon pull him away.

----------------------------------------

"So you really wanted to come?" Peter arches an eyebrow.

"Yessir" Martin nods with a smile, and he takes the tissue away from his brow to inspect it. The cut on his forehead -Peter feels a pang of guilt- is no longer bleeding, thankfully. "I want to go on an adventure."

It shouldn't give Peter as much relief as it does, because they're still in a pickle and if anything, this means the kid will put up a fight when they try to give him back. Still, it's nice to know Jon's not just going around kidnapping other children like some miniature Pied Piper. 

"He's done screaming." Jon says sullenly. "He's so unfair! Why do you get to come with us and it's alright, but Martin can't?"

Peter coughs to hide his chuckle. It's a bit funny, this tiny Messiah that Knows everything but still needs to understand it through a child's lens.

"It's different, Jon," he says, keeping his voice neutral. It won't do to make Jon think he's making fun of him. "I'm old enough to decide where I go, and my family isn't looking for me."

"Well, Martin's mum isn't looking for him either!" Jon throws his arms around Martin, completely missing the way the child flinched at the declaration. 

"I- she isn't?" Peter frowns.

"She'll... she'll start looking later, sir. I sometimes go out for a long time, because I don't want to bother her." Martin gives a pained smile, and Peter has the sudden, worrying thought that this might not be the first time Martin has had to lie about this.

Jon rolls his eyes. "She went to the park already." Martin flinches again, a little softer this time. 

There's loneliness coming out of the child in wafts, the heavy mist of unwanted isolation drifting towards Peter like a dog greeting its master, and Peter sighs.

Why would anyone not want Martin? He seems a perfectly polite, agreeable child... Or maybe Peter's perspective is just skewed because he's spent a bit too much time with Elias' little brother.

The thought is unfamiliar to him -what is Peter if not wanted, a blessing from the Lonely born in the heart of the Lukas family?- but he's not so blind as to deny what Jon suggests and the child's behavior confirms.

"Jon?"

"Hm." Jon narrows his eyes, tightening his grip around his new friend. 

"I'm going to talk to your brother. You have to promise you'll stay here, alright? Let's show your brother you know how to follow rules."

Jon rolls his eyes. "I know how to follow rules," he says like he didn't just wander off by himself in a strange city not three hours ago. 

"That's good. If you didn't follow rules, then Elias might think Martin doesn't know how to follow rules either. And we can't have someone like that in our team, can we?" 

Jon's eyes go wide, and he nods frantically, almost shaking Martin in his arms. "We'll be good, go!"

Peter waits until he's moved to the Lonely to smirk. Winning a battle of wits with a six years old probably isn't the biggest accomplishment, but when that child is as smart as Jon it brings on a whole other level of satisfaction. 

"Are you feeling better?" Peter asks when Elias' forehead bumps against his collarbone, wrapping his arms around the slighter boy's shoulders.

"We're screwed, Peter. That kid's going to be in all the news programs by this evening. How are we-"

"Actually... I don't think he will." 

"What?"

"I- Elias, I think he should come with us."

"What?!" Elias snaps. "What are you- did Jon get in your head?" 

Peter feels a familiar pressure against his mind, and he lets it in with the smug satisfaction that comes with realizing Rayner's rocks don't work here. Messiah of the Dark or not, the stones are just an extension of him, and this is Peter's realm. 

'Could you stop being ridiculous for a second?' Elias' thoughts are both exasperated and flustered, and Peter squeezes him a bit tighter before he focuses on the issue at hand. 

Elias ruffles through his thoughts carefully, through Martin's story and Jon's declarations. Through Peter's eyes, he sees the lonely curling around the child, the pang of sadness -but not surprise- at the confirmation that his mother has realized he's missing, but is not looking for him. 

The bond is two-ways, and Peter feels something... weird, coming off of Elias. Like sadness, like pain.

'Elias-'

"Are you sure?" Elias interrupts him before he can even think the question, retreating from his mind abruptly. "Peter, it's-"

"Are we really going to take him back to a place where he's not wanted?" Peter asks. He doesn't even know why he's invested in the child, he might be alone, but he's not one of the Lonely's own. Still, the thought of dropping him off and seeing his little disappointed face in the rearview mirror makes his stomach curl with guilt "Jon likes him."

"I- he's not a pet, Peter, he's a kid." Elias snarls, but his eyes are doubtful.

"And he should be with someone who takes care of him."

"Peter, we're- I'm sixteen you can't possibly-"

"We take care of Jon well enough." Peter jerks his head to the side. "Just... Elias, if we give him back, we're just letting it go on. We're as bad as his parents."

Elias doesn't say anything to that, and when Peter looks back at him, he finds his face has gone pale. Peter frowns, confused. 

"Are you-"

"Just- take us out." Elias sighs, stretching a hand to tangle his fingers with Peter's. "Let's- we need to move."

Peter arches a questioning eyebrow as he pulls them back out of the Lonely, but Elias merely sidesteps him on his way to the copilot's seat.

"Jon?" Peter whispers once the door opens and slams shut again. "Is Elias alright?"

The child, much to Peter's surprise, doesn't try to meet his eyes. 

"Bad people." Is all he says, shrugging. The image of a house aflame is pressed into Peter's mind, and he shakes his head to clear it. "Can Martin stay?"

Elias hasn't look back, facing the road instead, and Peter sighs.

"Wear your seatbelts, both of you," he says before starting towards the driver's seat even more puzzled than before.

Chapter Text

11

“Don’t, p- sir, please don’t do this!” The woman’s voice is heavy with pleading, and Hezekiah can taste the acrid terror in her tears where they splash against the dry dirt that slowly but surely climbs up her legs. 

“Tut-tut, dear. It’s already done. Better to keep your wits about you, choose a nice, comfortable pose now that you still can.”

Please! ” she screams, bringing her hands up to try and reach him, for what he doesn’t know.

Hezekiah rolls his eyes. “Ugh, if you must. But I have made so many ‘crying and reaching’ already, I was hoping you’d pick something more original.” He flicks his finger, and the dirt starts to swallow her faster, almost up to her  thighs and hips. Her calves and feet are buried already, her ankle twisted at an unnatural ankle after a nasty trip with a sudden pothole.

One should really keep an eye out for those things, when running from an avatar of the Buried.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks. She seems to have given up on reaching for him, focusing instead on trying to claw at the dirt packing itself around her waist. Hezekiah tastes the blood seeping into the earth from her cracked fingernails; iron has ever been his favorite taste.

“Hm… I was just out for a walk. Bad luck on your part, really.” He wasn’t even looking for a victim tonight, he just buried a father and his son two days ago. What’s that they say about killers? He’s on a streak.

“Help me! Sir, help! ” the woman screams, her voice breaking as she reaches for Hezekiah.

“Have you lost it?” He rolls his eyes, flicking his finger again to bury her up to her chin. “Your screeching is starting to bore me.” 

Her eyes widen in terror when the dirt closes over her lips, when it starts to reach up her nose. Hezekiah crouches to give her a little pat on the head.

“There we go. All snug and tight, just-” 

The knife slides in at the base of his neck, and a little twist severs his spine. The monster falls prone to one side, still twitching a little with the last of the death rattles. 

Jurgen Leitner wipes his blade on the fabric of his pants, before he takes the monster’s place, crouched before the buried woman. These are the worst ones -not that there are any good-, the ones that prey on humans..

He digs a few inches of space under her nose, just until he can feel the swell of her lips, before he retreats. “Pull yourself out. It’s normal dirt again.” And he goes to turn the corpse over.

There’s a muffled scream behind him when he takes knife to skin again, but he pays it no mind. He carves out his next page and drops his calling card, before shooting the woman another look. She’s passed out, still up to her chin in dirt.

It’s shameful, really. He once knew a woman that would’ve dug herself out. One that wouldn’t have needed to be rescued.

Leitner shakes his head in disappointment, and starts walking away.

---------------------------------------

"They found two more Leitners." Daisy says as she closes the office door behind her. 

Regardless of the words said, her voice is like a soothing balm over Basira's overworked mind.

"Bad ones?" she asks. Daisy places a steaming paper cup on her desk, and Basira falls in love a little more. 

"They're all bad." Daisy shrugs, coming to sit at her usual spot. Her brow is furrowed in thought, a nerve twitching in her jaw. "Decapitated, and stabbed through the eye. Skin peeled off, both of them."

"Yikes," Basira mumbles as she wedges her finger under the coffee cup's lid to lift it. What else is there to say, about two men whose lives were cut short so horribly?

"I'm- I'm thinking of asking to be reassigned to that case." The lid flies off, and hot coffee splashes over the rim of the cup. Basira curses as she jumps off her chair. "Fuck- are you okay? Your hand-"

"I'm fine." Basira wipes her hand on her trousers, shaking off drops of coffee. "Why?"

"I- what?"

Basira scoffs. "Why would you ask to be put on the Leitner taskforce?"

"...Oh." Daisy sits again slowly, her gaze on the cooling puddles of coffee over a picture of Elias and Jon. "I- listen... I want to find these kids, you know I do."

"But?" Basira chooses to stay on her feet, her stomach still too much of a mess. They've been partners for years, they work together like a well-oiled machine, and Daisy complements her perfectly. Without her, Basira's not sure- they have to be on the same team.

"But there's a serial killer out there, Basira." Daisy sighs. "Leitner doesn't have a profile, he just kills. Two kids hiding from the police on their own- those sound like easy targets even for someone half as experienced as this bastard."

"There's really no reason why Leitner would go after them, Daisy."

"There's really no reason why he would go for any of his previous victims either." Daisy rolls her eyes. "You think they're running from whoever killed their parents and uncle, but I'm more worried about who they might run into ."

"Well yes, that's why we have to find them." Basira scowls. It's-

"But we can't, can we? They keep slipping between our fingers, and I keep hoping that'll be enough along with a bit of luck to keep them away from him, but the more I think about it, the more I think that the best way to keep them safe is to catch Leitner." Daisy's breathing heavily by the time she finishes her tirade. "We can chase them all over the country once we're sure there's not a lunatic on the loose, murdering people for fun."

"I can't find them without you," Basira blurts out. 

"What?" Daisy frowns. "Basira, you're a great detective. Elias is just slippery, but you'll-"

"No, I- there was another sighting." She hasn't been able to make heads or tails of it but it has to be enough. "Just yesterday. In Derry. Over thirty people saw them."

Daisy's eyes -warm brown usually, but Basira thinks they look almost golden under the lights of the office- look at her for a moment, indecipherable. 

"Basira-"

"Just... give it a month. One more month." Basira's voice is just this side of begging. "if we haven't found a trace of them then... then you join the Leitner team."

"...Fine." Daisy sighs, and comes to sit back at the desk. "But just one more. I'm- I have nightmares, Basira. That we find them too late."

"We won't. I promise, we won't. He's not going to touch them."

---------------------------------------

'Come home when you've come to your senses. We will discuss what you've done .'

The single text from uncle Nathaniel in his phone weighs like a stone on his stomach. He's not naive enough to think this discussion will end in any way that doesn't involve him at sea and Elias in police custody. Messiah or not, uncle Nathaniel is the head of the family, and Peter lied to him. 

Going back home is not an option. Maybe it will never be again.

His eyes drift towards the fiery red of Martin's hair in the rearview mirror, and he sighs.

The kid is... quiet. 

After the whirlwind of energy and questions and answers that is Jon, Peter finds it both relieving and just a bit uncanny. 

It's been a week since they left Derry, and  Martin hasn't said a single thing about his mother or his home. He sits in silence unless he's addressed, listening with a smile to Jon's rambling at him about everything and anything.

Sometimes he climbs into the trunk and fixes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the two of them, wiping everything clean with a wet napkin and putting it back on its place before returning to the backseat. It's... there's something about it all that Peter doesn't like, but he can't quite put his finger on it, and they have much bigger problems than Martin's oddly good behavior. 

They ran out of cash at the last rest stop, because Peter didn't have the foresight to withdraw any more than what they'd need for an emergency, and now they're running out of food too.

"Can I come out?" Martin asks when they stop outside the Tesco's. Jon has already sprinted away with Elias in hot pursuit. 

"Uh. Sure? Just stay close," Peter replies a bit nervously, and Martin nods. 

Just as he moves forward, a tiny hand comes to grab a fistful of his flannel, and disappears just as fast when Peter falters in his step.

"Sorry, I won't be in the way." Martin apologizes, looking up at him with nervous hazel eyes. Peter remembers quite abruptly that this is a human child, suddenly travelling with two adults he doesn't know, just six years old and away from home. 

"No, that's- uh- that's alright. I don't want you to get lost." That's probably the right thing to say, right? The child nods enthusiastically, and Peter gives a relieved sigh before they walk into the store.

"I grabbed some clothes for him." Elias says once they find each other. Peter looks into the cart and sees two packs of cotton t-shirts, a pack of underwear, and two pairs of trousers. "He can't keep wearing Jon's. These are his size, at least."

"I told him you liked sweaters, but Elias says they're too expensive," Jon says, shrugging. Peter winces, but Martin merely shakes his head.

"T-shirts are good, I like them too. Thank you, sir." 

"Don't- just Elias is good." Elias sighs. He looks... very tired. Peter knows he hasn't been sleeping, keeping an eye out for any news about their new kidnapee. "We need food, come on."

"What do you like to eat?" Peter asks as they follow into the grocery section. Elias is already shoving stuff into the cart; a large jar of peanut butter, canned beans, loaves of bread. Stuff that Peter knows Elias hates , but that will at least fill them up. 

"Um... I like peaches?" Martin jumps a little when Jon bumps against his side and grabs his free hand.

"Real peaches though." The little twig says. "Not the canned ones. He thinks those are too sweet."

"They are." Martin sticks out his tongue with a giggle, and Peter smiles.

"Well, why don't you two go and get some peaches then? You know the rules, just... Jon, don't talk to anyone and Martin, try to not let anyone see-"

"Don't." Elias interrupts, dropping two packs of dried milk in the cart with a look of distaste. "Fruit is expensive and it doesn't last."

Peter sighs. "Elias, we can't survive off of dried food and peanut butter for the rest of our lives. We need real food."

"We can't afford more food, Peter." Elias' eyes are cold, but Peter knows him well enough now to recognize the desperation lurking behind them. "I've told you, I can't convince a cashier that we already paid for two full carts of groceries."

"We can just make more stops. Grab a few things at each place and-"

"The more places we stop at, the easier it will be for someone to realize we have a missing child with us, Peter!" Elias snaps, his knuckles whitening around the edge of the cart. Out the corner of his eye he sees Martin flinch behind Jon, as the little beholder frowns up at them. "I'm not going to risk my brother or us for some peaches ."

"Elias-" Peter tries, just to be interrupted again.

"Don't 'Elias' me! This is nothing new, alright? This is how we lived before you, and I can go back to that, I don't care ." Elias lets out a slightly hysterical cackle. "But I need you to realize that this is how we live now ."

"Well I'm sorry, alright?" Peter scowls. "I'm sorry I'm out of money, I'm sorry I'm another mouth to feed but Elias, I'm just trying to help !"

"We- we live in a car , Peter. We can't have eggs and bacon and a tall glass of orange juice for breakfast every morning, I care about keeping us alive , and now I gotta take care of another child, so if you really want to help, maybe consider waking the hell up, and realizing the situation we're actually in!" Elias is breathing heavily by the time he finishes his rant, and his hands are trembling a little where they're clenched on the edge of the cart.

"I'm- I'm sorry." A tiny voice rises in the tense silence, and the two of them snap to look at Martin. The child flinches when their gazes land on him, and Jon's eyes flash a dangerous green. "I don't need peaches. I'm alright. I- I like the peanut butter and the beans, they're good."

"This is not about the peaches, Martin. It's about Elias being stubborn and refusing to let others help." Peter bites out.

"Oh, I can't believe you." Elias snarls. "A six years old child is more grounded than you, how does that feel?"

"Do you really have to be an ass about this?"

"Well, I'm sorry if this is not what you signed up for! I never lied to you, Peter, this is what you wanted to get involved in, and if you don't like it, then-"

" Stop !" Jon's angry voice leaves behind a thick, metallic-tasting static, and Elias' mouth snaps shut. "You're making Martin feel bad!"

Peter turns around again, and the view rains down on him like a pail of ice-cold water. 

Martin is breathing shallowly, back pressed tight against a shelf; his eyes are shut tightly, and his arms are wrapped around his knees.

"Martin." Elias hisses. There's a couple at the end of the aisle that are giving Martin dubious, concerned looks. "Martin I need you to calm down. Now ."

"Yeah, that will work." Peter rolls his eyes, and Elias whips back at him. 

"Would you shut up ? Martin, people are looking at you. Stop."

"I'm sorry," Martin whispers, almost too low to be heard. His breathing becomes a bit heavier. "I don't-"

"Hey buddy?" one of the women at the end of the aisle calls out. "Are you alright? Where are your parents?"

Oh. Oh, fuck . They can't see the rest of them, Peter realizes, just a lone child having a breakdown.

"Martin!" Elias snaps again, then groans and crouches in front of the child. When he speaks next, his voice is a lot less harsh, but still clipped with anxiety. "If you don't calm down , they're going to take you. They're going to call the police and-"

"No, I'll- I can be good!" Martin shrieks, his  eyes flying open. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to make things difficult, I-"

"Buddy?" The two women start down the aisle with careful steps, and an old man pokes his head around the corner, no doubt alerted by Martin's scream. 

"I can be good, please, I can-"

"I know you can but I need you to stop crying !"

Martin flinches away from Elias at the outburst, only to flinch again as one of the women reaches for him. He jumps to his feet and retreats towards Jon, but a shop guard is coming down the aisle now, and Elias whips his little brother up in his arms. He covers  Jon’s mouth with a hand, his eyes wide like a cornered animal, as he presses himself to the shelf.

Peter remembers quite abruptly that the stones will only keep them hidden as long as people don't already know they're there, and there's not enough darkness in the world to hide you from someone who's bumped into you.

"Kid, are you lost?" The guard asks, and he reaches a hand to grab him by the shoulder. 

Martin steps back, shaking his head with wide, scared eyes, and Peter throws himself forward.

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Everything is very cold suddenly. 

It's a bit like the days when the heater doesn't work, except everything is very quiet. Back home when the heater doesn't work, mum calls it names and then the neighbors stomp on the ceiling and call her names. 

It... it definitely wasn't quiet at the store.

Martin is not so smart, but he's not dumb either. He knows Elias doesn't like him, and he just made it worse. His mum hates it when he cries, he shouldn't have done it, and he ruined everything. Now they're going to send him back, and Martin's adventure will be over.

They- they're going to take Jon away and-

"Martin?" says a voice above his head. "Uh- you- it's alright now. You can open your eyes."

Martin hadn't even noticed his eyes were closed, but it makes sense because he can't see anything. 

The store looks... different.

Everything is grey, including things that shouldn't be. The bright packages on the shelf, the floor, the ceiling... even Jon and Elias and the two women and men that were in the aisle with them look grey, and their mouths are moving, but Martin can't hear a thing. There's fog everywhere, like when he wakes up too early and looks out the window, and the sun hasn't come out yet.

"I... what happened?" Martin asks, and his heart beats faster in his chest. Did- did he do this? What if Jon was wrong, and he does have powers?  It would- Jon is never wrong, he knows everything, but maybe-

"I bought us somewhere else." The voice says again, and Martin turns around to see Peter kneeling on the floor by his side. His hair is still yellow, his eyes are still blue, and he looks very nervous, which is probably not good. "We're- it's safe here. If you need to cry a bit more, that's- you can do it here."

"...Oh." Martin's heart hurts a little, but it goes back to normal. "Is this your power then?"

Peter smiles. "One of them. This place is called the Lonely. It's- it's mine."

"Hm." Martin stretches a hand, and watches as the fog curls around his fingers. "They don't know we're here?"

"Jon does," Peter says. When Martin looks up again, Jon's eyes -they don't have any color just like anything else, but they look light, so Martin guesses he's using his powers now- are glued to him. 

Martin waves at him, a bit embarrassed. Jon's eyes widen, and he turns to whisper in Elias' ear.

"Listen, I know you probably don't like this place, but we're safe here, okay? They can't reach us."

The people in the aisle are still looking around, but just like Peter said, they can't see them.

Martin kicks at the fog. It curls around his leg, and it feels like... like a blanket that makes you cold instead of hot? Martin chuckles. It's a silly idea, but it would be nice during summer. 

"It's quiet here," he says. Peter frowns a little, and Martin hurries to add. "I like that it's quiet!"

"Huh. I... I do too." Peter nods slowly. "Are you alright?"

Martin bites at his lip. Mum has told him not to do that because his lips get dry and cracky, but it always makes him feel a little better.

"I'm sorry I cried. I didn't want to make Elias mad either," he mumbles, and then winces. Mum says mumbling is rude. "Will he be mad if we go out?"

Peter sighs. "I think Elias was just scared. He's... he's trying very hard to keep Jon safe, you know?" 

Martin feels something weird and cold settle in his stomach. "I'm- I didn't want to put Jon in danger! I'm sorry, I- I didn't-"

"Hey, hey!" Peter's eyes widen in shock. He reaches for Martin, but stops a little before touching him. "You didn't, okay? You just got a little... it was too much, wasn't it? I know it was a bit too much for me."

"...For you too?" Martin frowns. Peter is an adult... he didn't know adults could get nervous like him. 

"Yeah. I don't like it when people are loud, I get you." He says. "Would- do you want us to stay here for a bit?"

"Can we?" Martin tilts his head.

"Sure! This place is mine. You can- we can stay for as long as you want."

It's- adults don't usually ask him what he wants to do. It feels... weird. But good. 

"I'm- I would like that." He nods, finally. Peter nods back. 

"Then it's settled. Let's just-" he leans over Martin to gesture at Jon, who's still looking at them with eyes the size of saucers. 

He makes a shooing gesture with his hand, and then points at the entrance of the store. Jon turns to whisper in Elias' ear again, and Elias nods once in their direction. 

The people are mostly gone from the aisle, only the man in uniform is still crouching to look at the lower shelves, and Elias pushes the cart around him, disappearing with Jon around a corner. 

"How about we go back to the car?" Peter asks, climbing to his feet.

"They'll meet us there?" Martin asks. He reaches for Peter's shirt again, but he grabs his hand instead.

"Yeah. Actually, let's see if we can beat them there, how's that sound?" Peter smiles again, and Martin giggles.

---------------------------------------

"I can't believe you went into the Lonely!" Jon says again, very loudly. "And you weren't even scared!"

Martin feels his face heat up. "I'm- I was with Peter," he says, but Jon's still looking at him with wide eyes, like Martin did something amazing. 

"Still, Martin you're so brave!" Jon turns towards the front of the car. "Isn't it true he's super brave Elias?"

Martin flinches a little, and it takes a few moments for Elias to answer.

"Yes, Jon. Very brave." He still sounds not too happy, and Martin bites at his lip again. 

"Like the Matilda girl in your book," Jon says very seriously. Then, just a second later. "I'm hungry. Wanna make sandwiches?"

"Jon, Martin is not your maid," Peter says. Jon turns to him with a frown.

"I know he's not." He sticks his tongue out at him, and Martin chuckles when he sees Peter stick his right back in the rearview mirror. "But his sandwiches are the best!"

"It's okay." Martin smiles. "I wanted a sandwich too."

He climbs over the backseat and into the trunk, mindful not to step over the new groceries. 

Tucked next to the peanut butter are a soft blue sweater, and two big, ripe peaches.

Chapter Text

"Shhhh," a low voice whispers in Peter's dreams, before someone tugs lightly at his hair.

"Wh-"

"Shh," Elias repeats, closer this time. Peter squirms a little at the brush of hot, wet air against his ear. "They're sleeping."

"O- okay?" Peter whispers back. A quick look at the rearview mirror confirms Elias' words, as it shows Jon and Martin curled around each other under Jon's wolf blanket. It also shows Elias' mischievous little smile, his mouth an inch from Peter's ear, and Peter feels something stir in his stomach. "Elias, what-"

"Come outside." And that's all he gets, before Elias is climbing out of the car as quietly as he can.

Peter knows he's not particularly well-versed in stealth, so he draws on the Lonely enough that his clanking around will be at least somewhat disguised. He leaves the door ajar to avoid the click of the lock, and goes around the front of the car to Elias' side.

"Elias, what-" he doesn't get much more out, before Elias is leaning heavily on his chest, pulling him down for a kiss.

"It's your birthday today, isn't it?" He whispers into Peter's ear, too distracting by far again, especially considering he's plastered to his front like a wet blanket.

"I- uh- h-" Peter clears his throat, trying to extricate himself -or at least his hip- from Elias' touch, because he's a teenager, some things are happening, and he'd much rather not embarrass himself. "How did you know?"

Elias' eyes flash green in the dark, and Peter feels his face heat up. Yeah, of course. Ok, so not embarrassing himself is off the table already. Wonderful.

"I got you a gift." Elias stretches up to drape his arms behind Peter's neck, and Peter's brain pretty much shuts down because he's not imagining this, right? This is what Elias is- he's literally climbing all over him, and dragging him away from the car and behind a tree.

"You didn't- I mean, it wasn't necessary-" Peter blurts out, before Elias pushes him against the tree. "I'm- what are you doing?!' his voice breaks a little, when Elias goes down on his knees.

"Uh... Getting your gift? Sit down," Elias arches an eyebrow up at him. Only then does Peter notice the paper bag Elias is rummaging into, and he squints a little until he recognizes the shape of a six-pack.

Oh.

Booze.

...Of course.

Stupid, of course Elias wasn't going to suck him off in the woods, what was he thinking?!

"You do realize you left the stone at the car, don't you?" Elias snorts, and Peter freezes midway to sitting down.

"...Fuck."

"I won't lie, I'm flattered." Elias shrugs, smiling, and hands him a can that Peter immediately takes a gulp of.

The beer is lukewarm after however long it spent hidden away from the children in the trunk, and it tastes cheap, more similar to what he shared with the crew of his uncle's ship than the artisanal brews they drank at parties in the manor.

Elias shuffles next to him, taking a sip for himself. "I'm- yes, I guess it isn't as great as it could've been. I should've gotten a cooler too, I suppose. I'm sorry," he adds, his voice a lot more subdued than Peter's heard it in a while, and definitely a long call from the sultry, amused tone he was using before. "I just thought it would be a nice change from all the apple juice."

Oh, shit.

"Uhm. I- I guess I'm just going to keep putting my foot in my mouth, huh?" Peter takes another long gulp of his drink. "They used to throw a party at the manor for every one of my birthdays. I had to sit with my grandpa Mordechai and my uncle Nathaniel, and be quiet for five hours. I was never allowed to play with my cousins, and I usually ended up going into the Lonely instead. I think they liked that."

"That sounds-"

"Awful." Peter nods. "I hated it. They stopped doing it when I turned fifteen and wanted to go out to the sea. It just wasn't convenient, even though Nathaniel tried to arrange it so that I'd be close to Moreland House around those dates."

"Was it better then?"

"A little. The crew was hired by my uncle, and I was never really part of it, you know? They'd let me drink with them and stuff, but I don't think I ever even told them when one of our get togethers happened to be on my birthday." Another long sip of the lukewarm cheap beer.

"...Oh. I'm- uh- I really should've asked first. I guess I assumed you'd like to celebrate your-"

"I do." Peter interrupts after another sip, because this beer is terrible but amazing at getting you drunk, and maybe this way his tongue will not trip over itself like it always does around Elias. "I do want to, with you. I- what I'm saying is that this is good. I- I don't want to remember the manor anymore, or the ship. I want to remember this. You."

There, it's out. A bit scrambled, maybe, but it's the best he can manage when Elias looks almost ethereal in the shade of the trees by moonlight, and his lips are slightly parted and shiny from the beer.

"That's- that's good," Elias blurts out, and Peter thinks that for the first time since he met him, he sounds at a loss for words. "I'm not, stop- you can't just say those things and expect me to be okay."

"Stop reading my mind, sir," Peter smiles. If Elias doesn't stop, he might just find out how handsome Peter thinks he is, and how just sitting here with him in the woods is the best birthday he's ever had, because this is theirs and theirs alone, and the only thing that could make it better would be a kiss or tw-

"Stop!" Elias drops his beer on the ground, before launching himself at Peter in a tackle that is only mildly successful, but that topples them over anyways. "You're ridiculous."

Peter thinks he wouldn't be acting so ridiculous if Elias wasn't looking so breathtaking, and Elias shakes his head with a huff of laughter.

"Will you stop if I kiss you?" He asks, and Peter thinks that he just might.

He then thinks, or rather discovers, that the mix of cheap beer and Elias might be his new favorite taste.

He fits perfectly in his arms, when he brings them up to pull him closer and- yep, there's- welcome back, boner.

"We should take care of that, shouldn't we?" Elias whispers against his lips.

"Not- not if you don't want to," Peter says immediately. "I'm- don't take me wrong, I want to, but don't feel like you have to because-"

Elias kisses him again, rolling his hips in a long, slow movement that grinds them together.

"Let's- let's see what happens." Elias looks up at him, and Peter thinks that he's by far the loveliest thing he's seen, with his blush spreading across his cheekbones and the sheepish smile on his thin lips.

The thought of course only lasts for a second, before someone takes it into their hands to stop him from thinking such ridiculous things.