“Look,” the hero hissed across their starters. “This was clearly a misunderstanding on both of our parts. Let’s just go our separate ways and pretend this never happened. No one needs to get hurt.”
The villain topped up the hero’s red wine in response.
The hero’s fingers flexed restlessly on the table. They glanced around at the restaurant, the innocent families and lovers and servers who had no idea the danger they were in.
The villain plucked up one of the tiny delicacies on their plate and offered it up to the hero between two fingers, eyebrow rising. “They’re delicious. Try one.”
“You can’t be serious. Is this a new form of torture? Did you know?”
“Who you were? No.” The villain popped the smoked salmon crostini into their mouth. “But it’s rude to run out on dinner and I won’t pretend I’m not…curious.”
“It’s rude to threaten an entire restaurant full of people,” the hero muttered.
“It’s rude to cause a scene,” the villain said. “You’re trying to make this one. You can leave when we’re done - or is it that you are simply too much of a grunt to hold a civil conversation for one hour of your life?”
“Maybe I just don’t want to get to know you.”
“Why?” The villain met their gaze. “Scared I’m not the monster you think I am? That you’ll have to admit that the person you spend so much of your time trying to ruin is just a person like you? With friends? And an apparently pitiful dating life.”
The hero snorted at that, despite themselves, even as their stomach gave an uneasy roll. Because, well, yes. They didn’t want to know if their nemesis had a fluffy white cat or siblings or a love for smoked salmon crostinis. It didn’t make what they had to do any easier if they were just people.
The hero dropped their gaze to their own food and took a bite, trying to force their shoulders to untense. They’d been excited for this date. They’d felt their stomach flutter a little before the bastard opened their mouth and ruined everything with that familiar voice and unfamiliar lovely smile. Ugh.
Still, it felt like a betrayal to even consider getting on. Like that meant they were somehow fine with what the villain did if they weren’t arguing every step of the way. And it was…difficult. Their scars prickled just knowing the person who gave them was sitting across from them.
They’d been on dates before and the scars always raised questions, or a second glance, or pity, or something.
They eyed the long-sleeved jumper and jeans that the villain was wearing, almost every possible inch of skin covered. They caught the raised white line across the back of the villain’s hand anyway where they had once got a shot in. Swallowed.
The villain’s gaze followed their stare and their hand twitched back.
“Sorry,” the hero blurted, before they could stop themselves. “I - god. I always hate the staring, you know.”
“I haven’t done this in a really long time,” the villain said. “I’m not - this isn’t what I normally do.”
“Well, yeah, I know all about what you normally do.”
The villain laughed at that, before reaching for the wine glass. “And you? What do you normally do when you’re not dressed in that fantastic outfit of yours? Did you make it yourself?”
“You know I’m not going to answer that question.”
The villain grinned. “So you did make it yourself,” as if that was the question the hero couldn’t answer rather than what they did. Though secret identity seemed a somewhat moot point now that they knew each other’s faces.
The villain’s grin faded at the exact same time that any urge to laugh the hero had came to a crashing halt. They stared at each other.
“You’re going to look, aren’t you?” the hero asked. “You have a name, my face…”
“So do you. Are you saying you’re not going to use this against me?”
Of course they would. That was why the secret had been so important - how could either of them not use this, when so much was at stake?
The hero downed their wine, hand shaking. Because if the villain could happily blow up a restaurant full of strangers to get to them, what were they going to do with information on their friends and family? “I can’t eat,” they confessed. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“I won’t do anything to them,” the villain said. “If you keep your mouth shut about who I am. If you don’t look.”
The hero blew out a breath and nodded. There wasn’t any option. “If you hurt them, I’ll tell everyone.”
So where did that leave them?
With a crisp white tablecloth, a goddamn flower in a glass vase jar, and half a set of starters. With the villain giving them a dark, entirely too considering look across the table.
“You can’t kidnap me,” the hero said, taking a guess. “Too many people can see us. People know we met up, you’d be the first suspect if something bad happened to me.”
The villain’s eyes narrowed but some of that considering darkness vanished as they apparently accepted the point.
The hero’s shoulders sagged in relief. They poured some more wine - it was a horrible idea to get drunk, but the villain seemed to have the same one because they needed some buffer here.
“I am curious,” the villain said softly. “I would like to see you.”
The hero choked. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, come on.” The villain’s stare was a little hungry again as they looked the hero up and down. “I want to see my handiwork.” They shot another smirk. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“No,” the hero spluttered. But they were thinking about it now. They looked the villain up and down, because it wasn’t like they’d ever get the chance to do so again now, was it? It could give them a clue, something, some advantage.
“Next you’re going to suggest a one night stand.”
“You said it not me,” the villain returned, nabbing another crostino. “Though if you were thinking about it, I would point out that it doesn’t have to mean anything. Also no awkward questions of who the hell did that to you.”
“I really have no desire to have that much intimate knowledge about you.”
“Liar,” the villain said. “You’re goddamn ruthless. You’re just worried you might actually enjoy yourself with me.”
How had they got onto this conversation? Why were they thinking about it now? It was a bad idea. It was a Bad Idea so bad it needed capitals for emphasis.
“I don’t think that’s a concern.”
“I saw the way you looked at me when you first walked in.”
“And then you opened your mouth,” the hero replied, with a sweet smile. “Hence the complete lack of concern.”
“Oh, come on. You know what I mean!” And oh come, they were not going to feel bad about this. Even if they both seemed to be in the same wretched boat as far as the dating pool went. “Maybe you’d get more dates if you didn’t wear that stupid mask so much.”
“Maybe you’d get laid if you weren’t constantly trying to get in my way. I mean, I’m flattered by the attention, but you clearly need to focus on your own needs some more, hero.”
They glared at each other for a beat. Somehow, they ended up laughing.
This was absurd. This was absolutely ridiculous. Practically obscene.
“You done with those crostino’s?” the hero asked, reaching out to steal one. “Because the sooner we’re done eating and get the bill, the better.”
The villain pushed the plate towards them.
They were, in fact, delicious.