1965-08-04 - Your Past Doesn't Define You
Summary: After another nightmare wakes Vitale up, Elmo encourages him to eat while Vitale encourages him to have more confidence in himself.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
elmo vitale 


This dream sets on Vitale suddenly, dragging him under like an anchor line. He's in a park at a huge family picnic. His family: there are his nieces, giggling and enjoying the gorgeous day, in matching lovely white skirts with black embroidery; there's his mother, allowing herself some respite from the presure of being his father's wife. Delicious homemade food covers the picnic tables strewn under huge trees breaing sprays of white-petaled flowers bursting with yellow stamens like tiny fireworks celebrating mid-summer. The gentle breeze cools an otherwise warm day. It's beautiful, until someone screams. He turns to look and see who's screaming, but he can't bring them into view. Everyone is yelling and panicking and scattering, and his hands are covered with blood. Something jolts him, and—

He's wandering on a desolate salt flat dotted with skeletal trees under a sky colored by a recent sundown, rusty orange fading to beige into a watery blue that's surrendering to night. He's naked, and bleeding heavily from a huge gash across his chest. A chunk of black stone, dripping blood, hangs from a heavy chain around his neck. His body aches and his mind is empty; he's been walking for some time.

Presently he sees something not a tree on the horizon. A sheep? No—a ram, with great heavy horns curling back from it's forehead to its chin. Once he's close enough he can see its eyes are completely black. Beyond it there are other things on the salt flat: bodies. Dozens of them. A gust of hot, dry wind stirs the fabric of the outfits on two which are huddled together, revealing white fabric with black embroidery, streaked with blood. The wind comes faster, sending salt into his eyes and blinding him, and he wakes.

The dream had started out gentle enough, nothing to cause panic but soon enough, everything blew up in blood and smoke. Bodies everywhere, Vitale awakes with tears streaming from his eyes, which had likely caused the burning his eyes. He sits up fast, way too fast for someone as anemic as he is and nearly passes right back out. He breathes too quick, trying to catch his breath as he frantically looks at his hands for signs of blood, finding none there. "Ma…" he whispers, voice a little hoarse. "Caterina… 'Sandra…" The names might mean nothing to anyone else in the room with him, nonsense bubbling out of Vitale in a panic, but the anguish that leaves Vitale's chest is real. He hugs his knees to his chest, buries his face there and struggles to catch his breath, tries to still the tears.

It's evening, and the garage is quiet. Elmo's not in bed with Vitale. A minute later, though, he opens the door to Vitale's room and looks in. "Hey. You're up." He comes in and sits down on the bed. "You okay?"

Vitale wants to be upset that Elmo wasn't in bed with him but he knows it wasn't logical that Elmo stay by his side for all 15 hours he likely just slept. He sighs, a little shakily when Elmo asks if he's okay and lifts his head up, wiping at red rimmed eyes. He nods. "Just another one of those damn nightmares. The price of being nice, I guess." He says, voice a little hoarse from crying. "My ma was there, and my neices. Giuseppe's kids. Gyp, he's awful, his daughters? Sweeter than cannolis."

Elmo puts his arm around Vitale, offering comfort and contact. "You have nieces? I didn't know." Let's talk about anything except those nightmares. "I gotta check your leg, okay? Then I'm gonna feed you. Made my ma's soup. It's good for what ails ya." Spiritual or physical ailments, the cure is Jewish chicken soup.

"Yeah, just Giuseppe's kids. He's the only one of us besides my sister that's gotten married so far. Licinia, she's a stubborn woman. She told her husband she don't want no damn kids just yet and she'll have them when she feels like it and so far, he seems to be letting her live her own way. Irishmen, I guess, far more romantic in a marriage than us brutish Italians." He teases, pulling the covers off so that Elmo can look at his leg. "We think Gio might be a little curly like me but they don't /yet/ suspect me of it, imagine that. And Sal, he doesn't have a wife yet."

The wound in Vitale's leg seems to have faded slightly but the thread was still needed there. It just didn't look as angry as the day before and no infection has set in at least but it doesn't look /good/ either. "Your Ma's soup? I didn't know you could cook, Sparks. Will you teach me some of your Ma's cooking? I got JP helpin' me learn how to cook cajun."

Elmo checks in the old-country way, leaning way over to sniff and peer at the wound. A method he and Vitale are both familiar with from their families. "Seems to be doing all right." He touches Vitale's forehead. "You don't got a fever. Think you're gonna live, V." And laughs at 'curly'. "Curly? That how you say 'queer as hell' in Italian? I don't really cook, not like how you mean. Chicken soup's the easiest thing, though, even I can do it. Lots of Jewish food is real simple. So it'll be easy to teach you. Kugel, latkes, brisket, knishes are a little more technical but still pretty simple."

"Oh damn, that sucks for you. I'm sorry, Sparks, guess I'm going to be annoyin' you for a few more decades." Vitale teases, smiling when Elmo checks him in every way. So thorough. He really was a team mom. "Yeah well, it's a little better than the words my father would use. I don't know if Gio is queer 'as hell', I think he might be like you and I, he doesn't like any one more than the other." He explains. He scoots himself to the end of the bed and reaches out for Elmo's shoulder for help. "I can't mark off women forever, how else am I gonna have a son I can name after you? They don't let queers adopt. Well, I mean, they might if you hold a gun to their head and say your name is De Angelis but I would rather make mine the old fashioned way. You ever been with a girl, Elmo? Heaven, that is."

He listens to the list of dishes that Elmo lists off as he finally puts weight on his leg with a little hiss. "I would like that."

Elmo grabs Vitale around the waist, supporting him, and half guides, half drags him out to the communal living space. He's blushing. "Nah. Ain't never been with a girl. Kissed one, once. We were both drunk. I didn't wanna take advantage of her. Kept my hands above the belt." He sits Vitale down, careful. "Hang on, gonna get you some soup." There's a huge stockpot on the stove, which smells amazing, rich with chicken fat and herbs.

"Never? Hell, Elmo, girls love everything you're selling. You're cute, you're shy, you're handsome, got gorgeous callouses like every hard working man oughta. You ain't some big, tall, rough lookin' fuck, neither so she doesn't have to be afraid of you. You should have had a thousand girls by now. Bet there's plenty who have given you the eye and you missed it." Vitale insists, keeping as much of his weight as he can on his good leg.

In the kitchen, the smells make Vitale's stomach audibly growl as he sits down, panting slightly. "Oh… it smells so /good/ in here, Sparks, I really do believe now that you could probably heal anything with soup that smells that great."

Elmo blushes harder, muttering to himself as he gets out bowls. "V, you're mistakin' me for JP." He ladles soup and brings it over. Carrots, celery, chicken meat, broth that tastes deeply of bone. Little fronds of dill. And white spheres the size of a baseball in each bowl. "Matzoh balls," he explains, setting the food down in front of Vitale with a spoon. "Cut 'em in half so they cool off."

"There ain't nothin' little or shy about Jean-Pierre, Elmo, you know that. JP could have every man and woman in the country, that's true, but you're definitely a lot of girls' type. They like the shy ones, the sweet ones, the shorter ones that don't look like they can throw her down so hard on the bed they crack it. You look like the kinda guy that makes sweet love and has a fireplace and probably smells like apples. You're plenty cute, Sparks. Handsome as hell but /cute/ in the way sweet girls like, soft girls." Vitale insists, outraged by Elmo's reaction. "Of course you're cute. You're so damn cute."

Vitale listens to instruction, cutting the ball in half with his spoon but he's still on the war path here. "You could walk into a club and I bet half the girls in there are looking at you, not JP."

"Apples," Elmo says, then cracks up, laughing into his hand. "Apples. Where do you come up with this stuff?" He sits in one of the other folding chairs and carves a divot off the matzoh ball. "C'mon, don't tease me. I'm invisible next to JP. I love him, but I know that. Eat your soup." At least Vitale isn't weeping, isn't babbling about nightmares. Teasing Elmo is far better than that, and he's happy to encourage it.

"Well, I was gonna say and cim-cin-cinan-synony- but /as you can tell/ I can't make my damn Italian tongue say it." Vitale says, laughing at himself, he brandishes his spoon at Elmo. "That isn't true. You're not invisible. JP is a different kind of hot than you, that's all and you walk into a bar with your head down. Eyes up, next time and you'll see, there's plenty of pretty mutants lookin' your way. You're /gorgeous/, Sparks. In your own way."

"Cinnamon? Synonym?" Elmo guesses, grinning. "Can anybody smell like a synonym, I don't think that's a thing." He sighs, slumps on one elbow, and covers his red face. "V, you're too much. I can't do that! I just…I just can't, that's way beyond me. I just learned how to talk to guys, girls are different. I was kinda thinkin' about asking this one girl out dancing," he adds, "then she touched me. In front of Jay. And she told Jay to quit picking on me. Oh my God. I almost arc flashed. Eat your damn soup!"

"The first one, jerk, and you know it." Vitale says, taking a spoonful of the soup finally, blowing it and swallowing it with an unholy sound. It had been quite a while since Vitale had eaten, for Vitale standards that is. His eyes roll back a little theatrically and then he smiles over at Elmo as he tries to explain that he doesn't know how to talk to girls. "And she told Jay to quit picking on you?" Vitale's eyebrows raised up and he points at Elmo with the spoon again. "That definitely means she likes you, whatever the hell you were doing, you did right, see? I told you girls think you're adorable. Probably just made you even cuter when you blushed like that, I'm sure you did too. You just talk to girls like you talk to guys, it isn't /hard/. Just say pretty instead of hot. Beautiful instead of handsome. You get the picture. Ask her out."

Elmo peeks out of his hand, and looks satisfied at that expression from Vitale. Mission accomplished. Then, back into the hand. "…Did it mean that? She said I rescued her. Which, I guess I did kinda, her car broke down in the M.T. and I fixed it. Battery wasn't holdin' charge, I just put one of mine in." The kind of repair, in other words, he does without thinking a dozen times a day. "We were just playin' pool. I was winning. I didn't mean to win, it just happened. Oy gevalt, the look Jay gave me after she told him to leave me alone. I can't believe how these things happen to me," he groans.

"Yeah, girls only touch on you when they like you, El." Vitale says with a little shake of his head but the smile hasn't faded yet. "Oh, and you rescued her too? You already got her feelin' like a princess. Yeah, she is definitely into you. Was Jay upset? If he wasn't, then you got no excuse in not askin' her on a date because she'll say yes, for sure she will."

Elmo spoons up soup while he thinks about it. He doesn't have an immediate answer. The matzoh ball disappears while he considers what actually went down. "I don't think he was upset. He looked more like he wanted to drag me to bed, to be real honest." Then he has to get up and fuss around the kitchen because that was intensely embarrassing to say. "I would wanna ask him first, and JP. And I'd have to tell her about them, and …oy, no, I want to die just thinkin' about it."

"Why you gotta go and stress yourself the hell out over all of it? Maybe you don't, maybe she just wants to be with you one night, maybe she just wants to be friends that take each other to bed every now and then. Maybe you go on a date and she don't want to go on another one. A date is just that, Sparks. It's a date. It don't mean you gotta marry her tomorrow. It's a date, it's not serious until you decide it's serious, if it gets serious, then you gotta tell everybody about everyone. Until it's serious, it doesn't matter." Vitale encourages. "JP isn't going to give a damn, because he's probably sleepin' with most of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And Jay, he'll probably be proud of you. Stop overthinkin' all of it, Sparks. Ask her on a date."

"Well, I dunno if he would give a damn or not," Elmo grumbles, banging around the kitchen exactly like a disgruntled housewife. "That's why I gotta ask him. Don't dare guess." He returns to flump down in the folding chair. "Look, I'll …I'll try. But you gotta eat as much soup as you can hold. Deal?"

"It doesn't /matter/ unless you want to be in a relationship with her, Sparks. That's what I'm saying. A date, it ain't hurting anyone, why not give it a whirl?" Vitale is smiling behind Elmo's back as he bangs around in the kitchen. "Listen to me, encouraging you to get out there." He shakes his head at the absurdity of it. "Okay, I'll eat this whole bowl and at least half another if you promise me you'll ask her on a date."

Elmo makes a hilarious 'rrrrrrg' sound of frustration. "Okay. Okay! I'll ask her. She'll probably say no anyway. You can't be right about all that." Because…Vitale just can't be right, or Elmo will have to accept a new view of himself as a handsome guy that girls are interested in. Unacceptable. He points at Vitale's soup bowl and hikes his eyebrows sternly. "Eat."

"Alright, ma, damn." He starts to eat but after a couple spoonfuls, he looks up at Elmo through his lashes, knowingly, a little like he might be reading Elmo's mind. "I am right about it though, all of it. You are handsome and you're a good guy, girls do like you because they like that. They know a good man when they see one and you're as good as they get, pal."

"I'm not a good guy," Elmo says, suddenly quiet and serious. "I run a chop shop and I'm an ex-con with a rap sheet for assault. Good guys don't do that stuff. Good guys stay outta trouble and go to shul and get married to a nice Jewish girl and have some borin' job at a department store or somethin'. They don't join vigilante teams." He's studying the table surface as he talks, rubbing a thumb over some little bump in the finish.

Vitale smacks his hand down on the table, more to get Elmo's attention than actually being angry. "If you don't quit talking smack about my best friend, I'm going to have to kick /your/ ass. So what, you got a bad past? My daddy's a murderer, I've helped /torture/ people since I was 14 and for whatever reason you still think I'm a good enough guy to hang around. So you punched someone who needed it, that makes them the bad guy, not you. So you kiss boys and you fix cars under the table and you steal shit, so does JP and no one here thinks he's a bad guy. You're sweeter than sugar, you care so damn deeply about everyone you get to know. You help where you can, you slept in the same bed with me even though I've been crying and screaming all night. You care about mutants, you care about queers, you care about makin' shit right. You're a good guy, Elmo Izthak Rosencrantz, whether you fuckin' like it or not, you're a goddamn wonderful, amazing guy and I'll tell you it 'til my teeth fall out."

Elmo jumps, startled. Vitale gets his attention all right—his eyes are big and there's a crackle of static. "Jesus, V!" He puts his hand on his chest like Vitale's scared him into a heart attack. "I ain't ever told you why I did time, have I?" He waves it off, shaking his head. "Don't matter. All that ain't your fault, you know. You didn't pick your pop. He made you do that stuff. It's different."

"No, you haven't told me but I'm betting you hit someone who goddamn deserved it. I'll put money on it. Why did you do time?" Vitale frowns. "Listen, I could have stopped before now, I could have told him no. I could have run away but I didn't. You ain't a bad guy, here, Elmo, I am. You're so fucking good and I hate hearing you tell me otherwise because it's a damn lie."

Elmo winces. "Kinda? I didn't hit him. I shocked him. So bad he had a seizure. Still has 'em, far as I know. That was in high school. He was hasslin' a friend of mine and—I kinda snapped, V, I saw red and next thing he was on the floor convulsing and wettin' himself. Punchin' him woulda been better by a long way. For him. Not for me. So that's why I was sent to juvie. Then last summer I shocked a cop who scared me while I was lookin' for parts in a dumpster. He banged on it and yelled at me and I popped him a good one. Then I was a real genius and resisted arrest." He makes a little tossing motion over his shoulder —feh! "Dumb as hell. Only reason I'm not still in is I'm short and on a good day I can pass for a nice Jewish boy. Judge told me I was wastin' my potential." Realizing he's rambling on, he stops and heaves a sigh. "Okay. That's why."

Vitale listens, lets Elmo say his piece. If he's shocked, it doesn't show on his face. "You know Jay's little brother, Jebediah right? He did something similar and nearly got the whole damn family killed, but he didn't mean to hurt anyone that bad, neither did you, like you just said. You were a kid, Sparks, you didn't have a hang of it yet, so you went too hard but if he was harassing your friend, then he probably deserved it. You can't let that haunt you forever, and hell, Sparks, of course you ran away from the cop, you are a mutant, you were scared. You know what they do to us out here." Vitale says, gentler now. "None of that makes you a bad guy. Hell, if anything, you've learned from your mistakes, you're not some supervillain going around shocking everybody for the fun of it. You aren't using it to put people out for good. Hell, even when we're in a battle with a bunch of racist assholes, you don't try to kill them, I can tell you're holding back. I threw a knife at someone's chest because they looked at Sev, remember? You're a /good/ guy, your past doesn't define you now."

Elmo snorts. "Yeah. I remember that." He glances up, fondly. "You're real wild about Sev. I always thought it was romantic. C'mon, finish your soup. Then I'm putting you back to bed."

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