“Tell me your power,” she said.
This time he answered. “I heal.”
She laughed, loud enough that one or two students glanced over from tables across the patio. “No wonder you have a wicked sense of entitlement.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, your gift doesn’t impact anyone else. It’s reflexive. So in your mind you’re not a threat. But the rest of us are.” Serena tapped the stack of books, and Eli could make out psychology titles mingled in with the English books. “Am I close?”
Eli wasn’t sure he liked Serena very much. He wanted to tell her about his covenant, but instead he asked, “How did you know I’m an EO?”
“Everything about you,” she said, sliding her sunglasses back on, “is chock full of self-loathing. I’m not judging. I know the feeling.” Her watch gave a small beep, and she dragged herself to her feet. Even that simple motion was lovely and fluid, like water. “You know, maybe I should let you kill me. Because you’re right. Even though we come back, something stays dead. Lost. We forget something of who we were. It’s scary and wonderful and monstrous.”
She looked so sad in that moment, ringed with afternoon light, and Eli had to resist the urge to go to her. Something fluttered in him. She reminded him of Angie, or rather, how he had felt around Angie before everything had changed. Before he had changed. Ten years of staring across the chasm at the things he’d lost, and now, looking at this girl, it was like the chasm was shrinking, the gap pulling closed until his fingers could almost—almost—skim the other side. He wanted to be close to her, wanted to make her happy, wanted to reach across the rift and remember—he bit down again until he tasted blood to clear his mind. He knew the feelings weren’t his, not entirely, not naturally. There was no going back. He was the way he was for a reason. A purpose. And this girl, this monster, had a dangerous, complicated gift. It wasn’t a simple compulsion. It was an attraction. A want to please. A need to please. They were her feelings filtering through him, not his own.
“We’re all monsters,” she said, taking up her books. “But so are you.”
Eli was only half listening, but still the words began to trickle through him, and he pushed them violently away before they could settle in his mind. He got to his feet, but she was already turning away.
“You can’t kill me today,” she called back. “I’m late for class.”
* * *
ELI sat on a bench outside the psychology building, his head tipped back. It was a beautiful day, cloudy but not gray, cold but not bitter, and the breeze that tugged at his collar and wove through his hair kept him alert. His mind was clear again, now that Serena was gone, and he knew he had a problem. He needed to kill the girl without seeing her, without hearing her. If she were unconscious, he mused, then he might be able to—
“Aren’t you picturesque.” The voice was cool and warm at once. Serena clutched her books to her chest and looked down at him. “What were you thinking about?” she asked.
“Killing you,” he said. It was almost freeing, not being able to lie.
Serena shook her head slowly and sighed. “Walk me to my next class.”
“Tell me,” she said, weaving her arm through his. “At the party last night, how were you going to kill me?”
Eli watched the clouds. “Drug you and push you out the window.”
“That’s cold,” she said.
Eli shrugged. “But believable. Kids get drunk at parties. After discretion, their balance is the next thing to go. They fall. Sometimes out of windows.”
“So,” she said, leaning against him. Her hair tickled his cheek. “Do you have a cape?”
“Are you mocking me?”
“More of a mask type, then.”
“What are you getting at?” he asked as they reached her next building.
“You’re the hero…,” she said, finding his eyes, “… of your own story, anyway.” She started up the steps. “Will I see you again? Do you have me penciled in for a redo sometime this week? I just want to know, so I can bring my mace. Put up a fight at least, for realism’s sake.”
Serena was the strangest girl Eli had ever met. He told her so. She smiled, and went inside.
* * *
SERENA’S eyes brightened when she saw him again the next day.
Eli was waiting on the building steps in the late afternoon with a cup of coffee in each hand. The dusk smelled like dead leaves and far-off fires; his breath escaped in small clouds as he held one of the coffees out to her, and she took it and slipped her arm through his again.
“My hero,” she said, and Eli smiled at the inside joke. In nearly ten years he hadn’t let anyone close. Certainly not an EO. Yet here he was, walking through the twilight with one. And he liked it. He tried to remind himself that the sensation was false, projected, tried to convince himself that this was research, that he was only trying to understand her gift, and how best to eliminate her, even as her let her guide him down the steps and away from the campus.
“So you protect the innocent world from the big bad EOs,” she said as they made their way, arm in arm. “How do you find them?”
“I have a system.” As they walked, he explained to her his method. The careful narrowing down of targets based on Lyne’s three steps. The periods of observation.
“Sounds tedious,” she said.
“And then when you find them, you just kill them?” Her steps slowed. “No questions? No trial? No assessment of whether they’re a danger or a threat?”
“I used to talk to them. Not anymore.”
“What gives you the right to play judge and jury and executioner?”
“God.” He hadn’t wanted to say the word, hadn’t wanted to give this strange girl the power of knowing his beliefs, of twisting and bending them to her own.
She pursed her lips, the word hanging in the air between them, but she didn’t mock him.
“How do you kill them?” she asked eventually.
“It depends on their ability,” he said. “Default is a gun, but if there’s a concern regarding metal, or explosives, or the setup, I have to find another method. Like with you. You’re young and you’d probably be missed, which would be messy, and that therefore ruled out a crime. I needed to make it look like an accident.”
They turned onto a side street lined with small apartment buildings and houses.
“What’s the strangest way you’ve ever killed someone?”
Eli thought about it. “Bear trap.”
Serena cringed. “No details necessary.”
A few minutes passed in silence as they walked.
“How long have you been doing this?” asked Serena.
“No way,” she said, squinting at him. “How old are you?”
Eli smiled. “How old do I look?”
They reached her apartment and stopped.
“Twenty. Maybe twenty-one.”
“Well, I guess I’m technically thirty-two. But I’ve looked this way for ten years.”
“Part of that whole healing thing?”