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Hero for Hire: Chapter 5

by Sonder


A/N: I decided that at this point, Eli would definitely know Atlas' fate by now. So I'll just out and say it: Atlas is in critical condition at a local hospital. No visitors allowed. Eli has called the hospital, the police department, and the Program many times, but hasn't gotten much information. I will add these details into the next draft, as I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time. :P

Eli froze. He stared wide-eyed at Sebastián for a moment, then recovered, his instincts kicking in.

"What?" he scoffed. "I don't know what you mean. It's me, dude."

Seb raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'll try not to feel too insulted. You really think I'm that dumb?"

Panic shot through Eli's head. How much did he know? "I... don't know what you're talking about." Damn it. Normally he was good at lying, but this had him blindsided.

Seb's expression didn't change, and he fumbled in his pocket before pulling out his phone. He tapped at the screen before holding it in front of Eli's face.

It was a news article. The headline read: SUPERVILLAIN PYRO IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER POWERS BETRAY HIM

Eli scanned the article, which was mostly just a biased version of what he already knew. He looked up, swallowed. "What are you trying to say, man?"

Sebastián cocked his head, waited.

Eli raised his hands. "I get it. The news about Atlas is awful, and I wish that I knew what happened, and all we can do is pray at this point--"

"Eli."

"--and god, to think that he's been Pyro all this time is just wild--"

Seb's tone turned sharp. "Eli."

Eli flinched, the lies freezing in his mouth, bitter and insincere. Sarcasm had started to seep through in his defensive position, and suddenly he felt like absolute garbage.

Seb's eyes were hard and unwavering, and he set his mouth in a thin line before speaking again.

"I know that you're a part-time villain, Eli. Just like him." He sighed, fiddling with his bracelet. "I've suspected for a long time now. All the late nights, the burns, the bruises, the secrecy... and news stories that matched your timing. But I just thought I should mind my own business."

He clenched his jaw, guilt flashed over his face.

"But Atlas almost died last night, and he may die anyway, and maybe if I'd said something..."

Seb struggled to keep his emotions under control, clenching his jaw.

Finally, he put a bony hand on Eli's shoulder. Eli squinted at him, unsure of where this was going.

"I need to know what you're doing now, dude. I can't--" A ragged breath. "I can't lose both of you. You're my best friend, man."

His hand weighed heavy on Eli's shoulder, and Eli stared at the ground, thoughts moving as if through molasses.

Seb knew. He knew.

But he wasn't angry, and maybe he didn't know Eli's full identity, not yet. He was just worried. Maybe there was hope that Seb wouldn't expose him.

The silence stretched between them, and soon, Sebastián let his hand drop to his side. A familiar sense of shame opened up in Eli's gut, gaping and rotten as an infected wound. He picked at his cuticles.

"Will you call the police?" His voice was small, and he grimaced at the weakness in it.

Sebastián was silent for a moment, and when Eli glanced up, his eyes were filled with hurt.

"Of... course not. I'm not-- That's not what I meant." Seb rubbed a hand over his face and let out an exasperated breath. "I'm not trying to out you. I'm worried. I just wish that I knew what you and Atlas were... had been up to so that I could have helped keep you safe."

Eli coughed. "What could you do? You're not part of it. Your knowing this doesn't help. If anything, it makes both of our lives harder." He immediately regretted the bitterness in his tone.

Seb tilted his head, as if this thought hadn't occurred to him. "Does it?"

"I mean. Yeah." Eli took a shuddering breath and readjusted his hoodie, trying to control the adrenaline pumping through his veins. "Look. I'm not supposed to tell you, or anyone...anything. The options right now are pretty much that a) you either call the police, or b) I have to move away to protect my identity and you, from anyone who might want to kill me." He gave a weak smile. "This is all hypothetical, of course."

"Well," Sebastián said, after a moment's pause. A breeze ruffled his dark hair. "Let's say you didn't tell me anything. Let's say I just figured it out on my own, which I did, and, hypothetically, I decide to help you anyway."

Eli leaned back against the tree trunk, tried to ground himself in the sensation of bark pressed against his skin. "You'd do that?" He ran a hand through his hair. "You don't even know what I can do. What I have to do."

"Hypothetically."

"Right, all hypothetical."

Sebastián shifted his weight for a moment, then sat down in the grass. He gazed up at Eli, who was grateful that he could stop craning his neck to maintain the conversation.

"I think that you're Rift. Whenever you head out and come back with bruises, there's usually a story on Zenith and how she's fighting a guy in the black and white suit. Is that you?"

Eli hesitated, then gave the barest nod. If he didn't actually say anything, it didn't count as telling him, right?

"So, if you're Rift, then that means that you have superpowers. Like Atlas has..." Seb's mouth quirked, but he didn't correct himself. "...Pyrokinetics."

Eli nodded again, discomfort writhing in his chest. He'd wondered for a long time if it would be a relief for someone to find out, to discuss his lifestyle with him, but now all he could do was worry about if West found out that Seb knew, and that Eli had allowed it.

Seb shifted uncomfortably, like he was about to ask something very personal. Odd, Eli thought, considering this whole conversation had been about exposing personal information.

"I'm sorry that I don't know this, but. What can Rift do?"

Eli tried not to feel indignant at this blow to his ego. Rift wasn't very well known, and hardly successful. The Zenith persona was pretty famous, but they fought better villains than him on a regular basis. If anything, they were doing him a favor.

It was too late now, he decided. Might as well jump into the deep end.

"Intangibility. Phasing. Invisibility." He listed them in a flat voice, resentment seeping into every word. "It takes a lot of energy and it hurts a lot."

Seb blinked. He tore grass from the earth and shredded it in his hands. "Oh. I didn't realize it would hurt. Were you born with it?"

Eli sighed, and sank to the ground, his eyes fluttering closed. He was so tired.

"No."

"No?"

Eli hesitated, unwilling to elaborate further. "Nope."

Sebastián tilted his head. "Huh. And did you pick to be a villain? Did Zenith choose to be a hero?"

Eli laughed bitterly. "No. The Program chooses." He counted on his fingers. "You do the training, you fill out the info sheets, you endure the evaluations. They assign you a position, a power, a suit, and a name. But none of it belongs to you."

Seb blinked, then scattered the shredded grass into the wind. "That sucks."

"Yeah. But it pays well."

Seb flashed a dark smile. "That's all that matters in this world."

Eli was about to make a retort when his Program watch emitted a sharp beep. He glanced at it. A short message from West scrolled across the screen.

Where are you? Your tracker is off campus.

Shit. Lay low, West had said. And where was he? Exposing his secrets in a public park.

Panic lanced through him.

"I have to go."

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Sun Aug 26, 2018 12:54 pm
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Carlito wrote a review...



And hello again!!

100% feel that authors note cause we're all there at some point :) So where can you incorporate that information? You didn't ask and you probably already have ideas, but I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in anyway :p There are two places that come to me where it could work. When Eli wakes up, as he's trying to message West, he could have the morning news playing in the background and he could see the story. Or, when he's in the park and Sebastian comes up and asks about Atlas and who Eli is, he could have a newspaper or something with him that has the story on the front page.

I think it's super super interesting that their own roommate doesn't know about their villainy. The lengths they must go to keep that a secret from him! And why is it so important to keep it a secret? (I have guesses...) How did Eli and Atlas find out about villainy in the first place if it's not common knowledge?

I liked that Sebastian confronted him about it because it really would only be a matter of time before he realized something was up and he started to get suspicious about his roommates. Eli trying to pretend like nah I don't know anything about that but then ultimately caving felt realistic given what we know about the world already. Eli has to still be on the verge of totally freaking out given everything that's happened in the last 24 hours and with Sebastian now trying to get involved I totally get why he wouldn't be able to keep it all in anymore. I also really like that Sebastian wanted to help. He's obviously a good friend and I'm sure this is his way to process what just happened on his end as well because I'm sure he's also on the verge of totally freaking out.

Eli's comment that they don't choose whether or not they become a hero or a villain really intrigued me. I assumed they choose - like the program says we're looking for more villains and even if it's not exactly what he wanted to do he signed up because it was better than nothing. I can't wait to learn more about that process and how they decide and why they decide the way they do. I have a feeling there's a big conspiracy theory or a big reason why it is this way and it has to do with Atlas's warnings, but time will tell! And then the panic at the end about not being where West told him to be also struck me as interesting. What is he afraid West is going to do to him?

As always let me know if you have any questions or if you'd like feedback about something I didn't mention! See you in the next chapter! :D




Sonder says...


Thank you so much for the review! I really appreciate it! :D



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Tue Aug 14, 2018 4:11 am
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Lauren2010 wrote a review...



OMG I adore your author's note xD very daring and brilliant approach to first drafting.


The headline read: SUPERVILLAIN PYRO IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER POWERS BETRAY HIM

Ooooooh, so Eli didn't tell him in his grief. He just figured it out on his own. I'm not sure why I made that assumption, but that's perhaps something to consider in revision.

How close are Eli, Atlas, and Seb? Have they been living together long? I ask because it seems to me that Eli is not great at keeping secrets and would be pretty likely to spill the beans or be found out by one particularly observant friend.

"I think that you're Rift. Whenever you head out and come back with bruises, there's usually a story on Zenith and how she's fighting a guy in the black and white suit. Is that you?"

Seems like an awfully convenient guess? How many villains are operating out there? Is it a big stretch to pick one and guess? Or are there so many working every night that Eli could have been any of them?

Otherwise, I think that we're losing some of the impact of Eli finally being able to be free and honest with someone outside the Program. We're only in chapter five and have hardly seen Eli interact with anyone outside the Program at all, let alone long enough to show how sneaking around and being secretive is weighing on him. I think there are some interesting things you can do there, since we do have the cultural knowledge of this sort of thing and can come in with some assumptions about how this sort of life SHOULD feel. But I also get the sense that you want us to feel some of Eli's relief. So you might want to consider what the purpose of that moment is for the story and for Eli's character development.

Of course, it's totally delicious to bring an average civilian into the superhero fold. It borders on trope but in all the best ways. It's a great tool to use to create conflict and danger and I'm loving how devoted Seb already is to diving in and helping Eli. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Thanks so much for sharing, and keep writing!

--Lauren




Sonder says...


Thanks for the review! You bring up so many good points. <3



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Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:17 pm
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Mea wrote a review...



Hey Sonder! Back as always for another review.

Aw, Seb. He's sweet. Why do I already have a feeling something horrible is going to happen to him eventually? Also, I'm glad for the clarification on Atlas' condition. :) So his fate remains to be seen....

If I'm honest, this chapter wasn't my favorite. I feel like a lot of the conversation between Seb and Eli just didn't work as well as it could, and wound up being a little too long of standing there talking because of how much they danced around the point.

The humor and sarcasm didn't quite sit right for me either - I usually think the whole "hypothetically" type of conversation is hilarious, but it just felt superfluous here - and I think I know why. A lot of the tension in this chapter revolves around the fact that Seb now knows about Eli's secret identity, when he's really, really not supposed to know. But as a reader... I don't feel that, because I know he's a pretty chill person who'll keep the secret. Eli says that he might have to move away to protect both himself and Seb from what Seb now knows and from the people who might want to kill Eli, but emotionally I'm just raising an eyebrow here. Have people actually had to do this before? Who would want to kill Eli enough to track him when he's off the job? Don't most of the people in this little game know that both the villains and heroes are hired?

The net effect is that I feels like he's overreacting a little, and so it undercuts the rest of the chapter. I think if this felt like more of a serious concern to me, all of it, including the humor and the length of the conversation, would work better for me.

I did really like the part of the conversation where Seb asks about his powers and Eli isn't really willing to explain, because it shows both his exhaustion and his bitterness so well.

Eli flinched, the lies freezing in his mouth, bitter and insincere. Sarcasm had started to seep through in his defensive position, and suddenly he felt like absolute garbage.

This was my other favorite part, though I hadn't really noticed the sarcasm at that point, just because it shows us how some of his coping mechanisms and the way he's adapted to living this life aren't actually very good and are leaving him a worse person.

So there are definitely still a few great parts in here even if this chapter wasn't your strongest yet, because overall this is all still really good. I still really want to hear West's explanation for all of this and really just want Eli to confront him already. xD

I think I'll leave it at that, so see you in the next chapter!




Sonder says...


Hey Mea! Thank you so much for the review, as usual.

Yeeeaaaaah I agree with you on a lot of those points. I can see that he's probably overreacting, and honestly, I think I exaggerated it too much for the drama of it. I'm finding it difficult to maintain tension and discover who these characters are at the same time and... basically everything is a struggle right now, lol. But these are super helpful comments. Thank you so much. <3 I'm seriously going to turn to these in the Revision stage because dang, I will need it.

Thanks again! You rock!



Mea says...


<3 You're welcome as always. :) Glad this was genuinely helpful!



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Wed Aug 08, 2018 7:32 pm
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BlueAfrica wrote a review...



I feel SO HYPOCRITICAL EVEN SAYING THIS but this chapter feels a little dialogue heavy. Which I 100% get because how else??? are you supposed to??? give both a character and the readers information at the same time??? and it's information they need??? I mean seriously how.

Buuuuuuuut it still felt that way. I'm thinking maybe Seb just uhhh doesn't get this much information at once before Eli's watch interrupts? the Program has been mentioned (to us), as has West, although not the way either of them work. My thought is maybe you can summarize some of this information, like uhhh idk because obviously I'm actually 100% horrible at this but uhhhh well I guess the only spot that actually comes to mind right now is Eli's powers, because //we// already know about them. So like I like the part where Seb's like "So uhhh...what can you actually do?" because it's a bit of humor because of the blow to Eli's ego, but maybe instead of explaining Eli could just, you know, do it.

I'm also thinking the explanation of exactly how the Program works can wait until later. You could include some of it here and have more of it come out later as Eli thinks about it/experiences it - for the reader, I mean. I guess what I'm thinking is, Seb doesn't have to know specifically how all of this works, right? Or does he? Because if he doesn't have to, then we can probably skip some of this for now. So like we can find out that Eli's powers aren't something he was born with, but we don't need the mechanism behind them for now (frankly I'd rather be introduced to that later when he takes his pill for the week). I think we can find out the part where Eli's like "the Program owns all of it" because that ends up being a big plot point later on not that I know that of course because you haven't written that far yet

Uh so yep that's pretty much my only suggestion for this chapter why is it so much easier to figure out with yours than mine I was so happy that Seb's like "nah man you're my best buddy" instead of, like...freaking out or going to the police or, well, I don't even really know what his other options were in this scenario, but I'm glad he's here as a friend instead. ALSO POOR BABY feeling guilty because he didn't know and if only he did he could've maybe done something??? MY SON. I'm just like acquiring more children as I read, apparently.




Sonder says...


THANK YOU FOR THE REVIEW <3 I'll definitely keep those notes in mind.




Make sure you marry someone who laughs at the same things you do.
— Holden Caulfield