He hadn’t been there a moment before, but now he was, standing several feet behind Eli, unseen, one hand reaching slightly forward and out, as if about to rest on Eli’s shoulder.
Sydney tried to tell the man holding her hand that she had to get Dol, but her lips made no sound, and he didn’t even look at her, only dragged her through the heavy world, winding back through the curtains of plastic until they reached the place where the building gave way to the dirt lot. There was a bright light across the lot, casting shadows up against the metal bones of the high-rise, but the man pulled her in the other direction, leading her to a darkened corner in the back of the construction site. They stepped back into the world, the bubble of quiet bursting into life and sound around them. Even just the sound of breathing, of time passing, was deafening compared to the quiet of the shadows.
“You have to go back,” snapped Sydney, kneeling in the dirt.
“Can’t. Victor’s orders.”
“But you have to get Dol.”
“Sydney... it’s Sydney, right?” The man knelt in front of her. “I saw the dog, okay? I’m sorry. It was too late.”
She held his eyes, the way Serena had held hers. Calm and cold and unblinking. She knew she didn’t have her sister’s gift, her control, but even before, Serena got her way, and she was Serena’s sister, and she needed him to see.
“Go back,” she said sternly. “Go. Get. Dol.”
And it must have worked because Dominic swallowed, nodded, and vanished into nothing.
* * *
Eli emptied the gun into the air, but all signs of them were gone. He growled and ejected the magazine. It clattered to the ground as he dug in his coat for a full one.
“I watch you, and it’s like watching two people.”
He spun at the sound of the voice and found Victor leaning back against a concrete pillar.
Victor didn’t hesitate. He fired three times into Eli’s chest, mimicking the pattern of the scars on his own body, the way he had imagined he would for the last ten years.
And it felt good. He had been worried that after so much waiting and so much wanting the actuality of shooting Eli wouldn’t live up to the dream, but it did. The air buzzed around them and Eli groaned and braced himself against the chair as the pain multiplied.
“It’s why I let you stay,” said Victor. “Why I liked you. All that charm outside, all that evil inside. There was a monster under there, long before you died.”
“I’m not a monster,” growled Eli as he dug one of the bullets out of his shoulder, and dropped the bloodied metal to the floor. “I am God’s—” But Victor was already there, burying a switchblade in Eli’s chest. He punctured a lung, he could tell by the gasp. Victor’s mouth twitched, face patient but knuckles white around the blade’s grip.
“Enough,” said Victor. Behind his eyes, the dial turned up. Eli screamed. “You aren’t some avenging angel, Eli,” he said. “You’re not blessed, or divine, or burdened. You’re a science experiment.”
Victor pulled the knife out. Eli went down on one knee.
“You don’t understand,” gasped Eli. “No one understands.”
“When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.”
Eli struggled up to his knees, reaching for the makeshift table as his skin knit together.
Victor’s gaze shifted to it, taking in the row of knives. Just like that day. “How nostalgic of you.” He put a foot on the table and knocked it over, sending the weapons scattering across the concrete. The dog’s body, he noticed, was gone.
“You can’t kill me, Victor,” said Eli. “You know that.”
Victor’s smile widened as he buried his knife between Eli’s ribs.
“I know,” he said loudly. He had to speak up over the screams. “But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.”
* * *
A breath later, Dominic reappeared, half carrying half dragging a very large, very dead dog. He sank to the dirt lot beside its body, breathing heavily. Sydney hurried over, thanked him, and then asked him to get out of her way. Dominic sagged back, and watched as she ran a soothing hand over the dog’s side, brushing the wound lightly. Her palm came away dark red, and she frowned.
“I told you,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Shhh,” she said, and pressed her hands, fingers splayed, against the dog’s chest. She drew in a shaky breath as the cold flooded up her arms.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Come on, Dol.”
But nothing happened. Her heart sank. Sydney Clarke gave second chances. But the dog had already had his. She’d fixed him once, but she didn’t know if she could do it again. She pressed down harder, and felt the cold leeching something from her.
The dog still lay dead and stiff as the planks in the construction lot.
She shivered and knew it shouldn’t be this hard as she reached not with her hands but something else, as if she could find a spark of heat within and take hold. She reached past the fur and skin and stiffness as her hands hurt and her lungs tightened and still she kept reaching.
And then she felt it, and took hold, and between one moment and the next, the dog’s body softened, slackened. Its limbs twitched and its chest rose once, paused, fell, and a moment later rose again, before the beast stretched, and sat up.
Dominic scrambled to his feet. “Dios mío,” he whispered, crossing himself.
Sydney sat, gasping for breath, and rested her head against Dol’s muzzle. “Good dog.”
* * *
Victor smiled. He was having a fabulous time killing Eli. Every time he thought his friend had given up, he pulled himself back together, and gave Victor the chance to try again. He wished it could go on awhile longer, but at least he was quite certain, as Eli’s body buckled in pain, that he had his full attention. Eli gasped, and staggered to his feet, nearly slipping on the blood.
The floor was slick with it. Most of it was Eli’s, Victor knew. But not all.
Blood ran down one of Victor’s arms and over his stomach, both shallow cuts made by a wicked-looking kitchen knife Eli had managed to recover from the floor the last time Victor shot him. The guns were both empty now, and the two men stood bleeding, across from one another, each armed—Eli with a serrated knife, and Victor with a switchblade.
“This is a waste,” said Eli, adjusting his grip. “You can’t win.”
Victor took a deep breath, wincing faintly. He’d had to turn his own threshold down because he couldn’t afford to bleed out, not yet, and certainly not without noticing. He could hear the distant sirens of the cop cars. They were running out of time. He lunged for Eli, and managed to skim his shirt before Eli knocked the blow away and drove his own blade down into Victor’s leg. He hissed as his knee buckled beneath him.
“What was your plan?” chided Eli, reaching out, not for Victor, but for the chair, for something coiled on it, something Victor hadn’t noticed until Eli’s hands took hold of it. “You hear the cops coming? They’re all on my side here. No one’s coming to save you.”
“That’s the idea,” coughed Victor as his eyes focused on the thing in Eli’s hand. Metal wire. Razor sharp.
“You and your ideas,” hissed Eli. “Well, I’ve been planning, too.”
Victor tried to find his feet, but he was too slow. Eli looped the wire in the air, and brought it down around Victor’s wrist, the one with the knife, pulling hard. The wire dug in, slicing through skin and drawing blood, forcing Victor to drop the blade, which clattered to the concrete. Eli caught his free hand in a crushing grip, and wound the wire around that one, too. Victor pulled back, but the cord only bit deeper into his skin.
The wire, he noticed then, was threaded through the chair itself, which Eli must have fastened to the ground because it never moved, not during the fight, and not now when Eli yanked his end of the cord and the slack drew in, forcing Victor’s hands toward the bars of the chair back. Blood ran down his wrists, too fast. His head was beginning to spin. He could hear the sirens now, loud and clear, and thought that he could even see the red and blue of the police lights through the plastic curtains. Color danced before his eyes.
He smiled grimly, and shut off the last of the pain.
“You’ll never kill me, Eli,” he goaded.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Victor. And this time,” he said, cinching the wire, “I’m going to watch the life bleed out of your eyes.”
* * *
Mitch watched Serena’s body burn, and tried not to listen to the sounds of gunfire coming from inside the high-rise. He had to trust Victor. Victor always had a plan. But where was he? And where was Dominic?
He refocused on the body and the task at hand until red and blue lights began to flash beyond the wood walls, colors cast up against the darkened building. That wasn’t good. The cops weren’t in the yard yet, but it was only a matter of minutes before they swarmed the place. Mitch couldn’t risk the broken gate of the front entrance so he rounded the building toward the gap in the walls, only to find Sydney leaning over a half-dead Dol, and Dominic standing over both, praying silently.