Eli closed his eyes, rolled his head from side to side. “I … I don’t know … I’m fine … I think.”
Fine? Victor had cracked his ribs, broken at least half by the feel of it, and Eli felt fine? Victor had felt like death. Worse than. Like every fiber of his being had been plucked or torqued or twisted or cramped. Then again, Victor hadn’t died, right? Not the way he was certain Eli had. He’d sat and watched, made sure Eliot Cardale was nothing but a corpsicle. Maybe it was shock. Or the three shots of epinephrine. That’s what it had to be. But even with shock and a nowhere near healthy dose of adrenaline … fine?
“Fine?” he asked aloud.
“Can you…” Victor wasn’t sure how to finish the question. If their absurd theory had worked and Eli had somehow acquired an ability by simply dying and coming back, would he even know it? Eli seemed to know the question’s end.
“I mean, I’m not starting fires with my mind, or making earthquakes or whatever. But I’m not dead.” There was, Victor could hear, a faint waver of relief in his voice.
As the two sat in a pile of damp blankets on the water-streaked bathroom floor, the whole experiment seemed idiotic. How could they have risked so much? Eli took another long, low breath, and got to his feet. Victor rushed to catch his arm, but Eli shook him off.
“I said I’m fine.” He left the bathroom, eyes carefully avoiding the tub, and vanished into his room in search of clothes. Victor plunged his hand down through the icy water one last time and pulled the plug. By the time he’d cleaned up, Eli had reappeared in the hall, fully dressed. Victor found him examining himself in a wall mirror, frowning faintly.
Eli’s balance faltered, and he put a hand on the wall to steady himself.
“I think I need…,” he started.
Victor assumed the line would end with “a doctor” but instead Eli met his eyes in the mirror, and smiled—not his best—and said, “A drink.”
Victor managed to pull his own mouth into something like a smile, then, too.
“That I can do.”
* * *
ELI insisted on going out.
Victor thought they could just as easily get wasted in the comfort of their apartment, but since Eli had experienced the more recent of their two traumas and seemed rather intent on being in public, perhaps wanting to live it up, Victor indulged him. Now the two were on the far side of drunk—or at least, Victor was; Eli seemed remarkably lucid considering the sheer quantity of alcohol he’d consumed—swaying and sauntering down the road that ran so conveniently from the local bar back to their apartment building, eliminating the need for a vehicle.
Despite a festive air, both had done their best to avoid the subject of what had happened, and how lucky Eli—and really both of them—had been. Neither seemed eager to talk about it, and in the absence of any ExtraOrdinary symptoms—other than feeling extraordinarily lucky—neither had reason to gloat as much as thank their stars. Which they did freely, tipping imaginary but brimming glasses skyward as they stumbled home. They poured invisible liquor on the concrete as a gift to earth or God or fate or whatever force had let them have their fun and live to know it had been nothing more than that.
Victor felt warm despite the flurries of snow, alive, and even welcomed the last dregs of pain from his own unpleasant proximity to death. Eli beamed dazedly at the night sky, and then he stepped off the sidewalk. Or tried to. But his heel caught the edge, and he stumbled, landing on his hands and knees among a patch of dirty snow, and tire tracks, and broken glass. He hissed, recoiled, and Victor saw blood, a smear of red against the dingy, snow-dusted street. Eli proceeded to sit on the lip of the curb, tilting his palm toward the nearest streetlamp to get a better look at the gash there, glittering with the remains of someone’s abandoned beer bottle.
“Ouch,” said Victor, leaning over him to examine the cut and nearly losing his balance. He caught himself on the streetlamp as Eli cursed softly and pulled the largest shard out.
“Think I’ll need stitches?”
He held his bloody hand up for Victor to inspect, as if the latter’s vision and judgment were any better than his own right now. Victor squinted, and was about to reply with as much authority as he could muster, when something happened.
The cut on Eli’s palm began to close.
The world, which had been swaying in Victor’s vision, came to an abrupt stop. Stray flakes hung in the air, and their breath hovered in clouds over their lips. There was no movement except that of Eli’s flesh healing.
And Eli must have felt it, because he lowered his hand into his lap, and the two gazed down as the gash that had run from pinkie to thumb knitted itself back together. In moments, the bleeding had stopped—the blood already lost now drying on his skin—and the wound was nothing more than a wrinkle, a faint scar, and then not even that.
The cut was just … gone.
Hours passed in blinks as the two let it sink in, what that meant, what they had done. It was extraordinary.
It was ExtraOrdinary.
Eli rubbed his thumb over the fresh skin of his palm, but Victor was the first to speak, and when he did, it was with an eloquence and composure perfectly befitting the situation.
* * *
VICTOR stared up at the place where the lip of their apartment building’s roof met the cloudy night. Every time he closed his eyes he felt like he was falling over, getting closer and closer to the brick, so he tried to keep them open, focusing on that strange seam overhead.
“Are you coming?” asked Eli.
He was holding the door open, practically bouncing in his eagerness to get inside and find something else that could physically wound him. Zeal burned in his eyes. And while Victor didn’t exactly blame him, he had no desire to sit around and watch Eli stab himself all night. He’d watched him try all the way home, leaving a dotted red trail in the snow from the blood that escaped before the wounds could heal. He’d seen the ability. Eli was an EO, in the (regenerating) flesh. Victor had felt something when Eli had come back to life seemingly EO-free: relief. With Eli’s new abilities being thrust into his wavering line of vision all the way home, Victor’s relief had dissolved into a ripple of panic. He would be relegated to sidekick, note-taker, the brick wall to bounce ideas off of.
“Vic, you coming or not?”
Curiosity and jealousy ate at Victor in equal parts, and the only way he knew to stifle both, to quell the urge to wound Eli himself—or at least to try—was to walk away.
He shook his head, then stopped abruptly when the world continued swinging side to side.
“Go on,” he said, mustering a smile that came nowhere near his eyes. “Go play with some sharp objects. I need to take a walk.” He descended the stairs, and nearly fell twice in three steps.
“Are you fit to walk, Vale?”
Victor waved him on inside. “I’m not driving. Just going to get some air.”
And with that, he took off into the dark, with two goals on his mind.
The first was simple: to put as much distance as he could between himself and Eli before he did something he’d regret.
The second was trickier, and his body hurt to even think of it, but he had no choice.
He had to plan his next attempt at death.