The both of you rush to seek refuge just inside the warehouse doors, hiding behind the wall, breathing hard, choking on the sweltering night air. Sirens sound a few blocks south. You can hear them racing north and shrieking. The squad cars grow closer, throwing purple lights through the alley. And beside you, his bloodless face cast in blues and reds, Zsasz readies his knife.
Panic wells up in you as the sirens loom, beating in your eardrums and vibrating your teeth—then comes the crash of unexpected relief when the screech dims to a low wail and continues north.
You let a sob squeeze from your throat. “Shit. Oh, shit. Victor.” You reach for him, needing that physical reassurance that the two of you are still alive and still together, but you can’t find his hand. He has his knife pressed to the flesh over his liver, eyes focused and shining. “What’re you doing?”
“Killed that cop,” he grunts. “Need to make the mark.”
You seize him by the wrist before he can cut. “You don’t need to do that, Victor, please.”
“Why did I kill him?” He fixes you with a hard glare. The blues of his irises are vicious against the broken blood vessels. He’s mad with exhaustion.
You fall silent, a cold fist of dread plunging into your stomach as you think back over the evening. The police officer would have shot you if Zsasz hadn’t attacked him, of that you’re certain. You can still see that handgun leveled at your heart each time you blink. The radio reported that you were identified as Zsasz’s accomplice, that you were armed. You aren’t either of those things.
You’ve apparently taken too long to reply. Zsasz raises his voice. “Why did I kill him?”
“To save me,” you say. “You…killed him to save me.”
He nods, pleased with your answer. “This mark is important. Even more so than all the others.”
Slowly, you release his wrist.
He straightens the knife against his skin again and you gave a sharp, scared inhale. He groans in irritation. “Sorry,” you say, your voice cracking with raw nerves. “It’s just…I’ve never seen you do this before.”
His eyes soften a little. Reaching for you, he leads your hand to the knife’s hilt and closes your fingers around the warm, worn wood. “Help me. Then it won’t be so bad.”
You search his face and find only earnest intentions in that solemn stare. He guides you towards his flesh, gently, patiently. His hands on yours are steady to accommodate your trembling.
“Right here,” he says, helping you to touch the knife’s point to the skin below his ribs. You don’t even get the chance to prepare yourself before he pulls you closer and you feel the solidity of him yield to the metal. His breath hitches and for one rapturous second his entire frame shudders.
You watch as dark red blood pools around the inserted blade and runs down his side, staining the waistband of his slacks. He starts to direct your hand, intent on lengthening the cut, but you hold fast. “That’s enough,” you manage to tell him, tears of alarm stinging your eyes, but he tightens his grip on you and forces the knife further along his skin. The wound is pouring blood now. You’ve never seen so much blood at once and the sight of it is repulsive and thrilling and horrifying all at once. “Victor, please…”
His lip curls back in a snarl of pain. Or maybe it’s pleasure. With him, you can never be sure. “I need to remember this one,” he says. He wrenches the knife inward and compels you to cut him deeper. His face is only inches from yours, his pupils blown from the adrenaline. On the back of your tongue you can taste the heady metallic scent of his blood and the salt tang of his sweat.
He closes the distance between the two of you. His breathing is labored and rough, his face ashen. You feel the raised scars on his forehead rub across your brow. Your noses touch. He could kiss you if he wanted to. He could do anything if he wanted to.
He kept you alive because he wanted to.
Tears you can no longer suppress drip down your cheeks and suddenly you’re thanking him. Over and over the words spill from your mouth, desperate and reverent, a joyous chorus sung just for him, for your savior alone, a man decorated by death, a murderer who spares your life time and time again.
He eases the knife from himself, his work completed. When he lets go completely the blade rattles from your grasp and falls to the floor. His warm, red hands cup your jaw and he smiles, and for a brief moment you swear you can see some kindness hidden there in that ferocious grin, kindness meant for no one else to witness.