"Oww!" Fermet had cut the tip of Czeslaw's finger, clipping his nail too close. A drop of blood stretched away from his hand, propelled by the force of gravity, before moving backwards up into his body, recalled by the power of his peculiar immortality. Fermet apologized, but kept on smiling. Czeslaw could've sworn he did that on purpose sometimes. Fermet had an undeniable attraction to the sight of blood.
Czeslaw remember one particularly indelible instance mixing Fermet's fascination with gore and horror. 'The Horse Cart Incident' he'd dubbed it in his mind. They'd been in Boston at the time, utilizing a variety of conveniently located university libraries for research. Czeslaw was kept busy running errands, obscuring the exact nature of Fermet's study from his eyes- it wasn't long before he realized it had been a deliberate dodge. They had met up again as the sun began to fall over the trees at the close of a hot, busy day.
"Did you find a lot of information?" Czeslaw meant to ask as they strolled along, but he only got as far as, "Did you find," before an ear-splitting screech rent the air. He winced with the instinctive knowledge that what he was hearing was a person in excruciating pain.
Fermet grabbed his hand and yanked him temporarily off his feet and into a run. "Let's go see what's happening."
Once again, Czeslaw found himself pulled by the treacherous forces of people and events stronger than he. It went against his inclinations to push through the gathering crowd to gaze upon the spooked horse, the blood-spattered cart, the horrified driver, the crushed, bloody, broken, dying man. Left to his own devices, he would never have come within seeing distance of the accident. He would have turned and walked the other way.
But Fermet was his guardian- he had been ever since his grandfather had died- and Fermet called the shots. After an instant of shock, gaping at the mangled, gasping man run over in the street, Czeslaw covered his eyes, turning his face in against Fermet's side. Fermet hugged Czeslaw close, wrapping his arm around his shoulders, but he kept his gaze steady on the ever-expanding pool of blood. "If that had been you, I wonder what would be happening within your body right now..." he said, clinically, curiously.
Just because, unlike that unfortunate man, Czeslaw wouldn't be dying didn't mean he wanted to imagine it. What terrible pain one must feel as one's bones and organs were crushed by a wheel and the entire weight of the contents of the cart it supported. "Can we go?" the boy whimpered. He was beginning to feel rather ill.
"Just a moment longer," Fermet murmured, staring harder, thoughtful, before finally deciding to turn and break away. Czeslaw's knees were weak. He swayed on his feet, face pale and sweat-dotted. "Do you need me to carry you?" Fermet inquired.
"No, I can make it on my own," Czeslaw insisted, but his body did not agree with his resolve and he sunk pathetically to the ground. Fermet's look contained a certain degree of a silent, "I told you so," as he scooped up his charge and carried him back to their home.
Czeslaw had no appetite and went to sleep early that night. He awoke briefly as Fermet snuggled in beside him, as if startled by a premonition or a troubling dream. But no. It was only Fermet, his luxurious tumble of hair spilling over the pillow to brush against Czeslaw's cheek. His eyes were already closed, though he couldn't have fallen asleep so instantly, could he? Czeslaw's eyes appraised his guardian in the dark, letting the flicker of his eyelids and the gentle movement of his chest be the only motions he displayed (just in case- just in case what?).
This was stupid. Why get so worked up over one freak death in Boston's streets? After an article in the newspaper, he would never hear about it again. Life was just fickle. Some people could live virtually forever. Most could die unexpectedly any day. What was he supposed to do about it? A few years after drinking the elixir on the Advena Avis he was still just a kid.
Czeslaw took a deep breath. He would put it all behind him. In the morning, the terror would, like most nightmares, have commenced fading away.
The morning brought with it a new terror. As most frightening things are wont to, it started out innocuously enough. Fermet was making porridge for breakfast, but instead of immediately ladling out two bowls, he carried the pot straight and steaming toward the table. There was no trivet to put it on. "Czeslaw, I've been thinking..."
"How is one to determine the bounds of this suppose immortality without testing it? The fastest man in a race is determined by the participants running the race, not just saying who's the fastest. What sort of things an immortal can endure and not only survive, but heal as if nothing has happened... Well, for the purposes of science, someone needs to endure them."
Czeslaw considered this. It did make logical sense. As usual, Fermet put together a good argument. "Well, in that case, what are we going to do?"
"For our first experiment, put your hand on this pot." Czeslaw hesitated, but Fermet's expression showed he was completely serious. "The pain will only be temporary," he urged, "Go on- while it's still hot."
If he said so... Czeslaw breathed in deep to steel himself and forced himself to touch his fingertips to the burning metal. "Ah!" he gasped at the heat. Seconds felt like minutes while this pain ate away at him. He began to recoil. Suddenly, one of Fermet's hands shifted position, slamming down over his, pushing his palm flat against the pot. "Aaaah!" he screamed, fighting furiously to pull away.
Fermet released him. After Czeslaw recovered enough from the pain and shock to move, he rushed to the icebox, seeking what solace he could by touching the block of ice within. His stomach heaved, his vision swam. Would he retch? Pass out? Both?
Fermet didn't alter his course to show much concern for his young charge. He scooped out two bowls of porridge, one for each of them, then hung the pot back over the fire before coming over to Czeslaw's side. "How's your hand looking?"
Exhausted by the ordeal, his heavy breathing headed slowly back to normal, Czeslaw responded by turning over the injured hand, exposing his chapped and tortured palm. Steady and sure, before their eyes, his skin was reknitting, filling out layer by layer until it returned to normal.
Fermet whistled. "Well, that's a start." He patted Czeslaw's head, keeping his clever fingers on his hair, avoiding his sweat-stained brow. "Would youlike some raisins on your porridge?"
How could he even think about eating after that? "I don't want anything. I've lost my appetite." He stopped staring at his palm as the pain receded into a dull thrum. It wasn't even like he would have died and it was horrifying. "Maybe after I... I rest, I'll have some water."
"Certainly," Fermet answered agreeably.
"I can tell it was hard for you to participate in our experiment this morning," Fermet said. He was cooking up a variety of vegetables along with some bits of chicken to make a stew. Despite the echoing repercussions of that morning's incident, it had unfolded as a fairly ordinary day. The experiment had gone poorly, Czeslaw thought. They would have to rethink their approach. If a runner was injured, he didn't just continue on to run another race.
"Most of the time when a person is going to be severely injured, they don't know it's going to happen in advance. They longer one has to think about it, the harder it is go through with it."
"That sounds right," Czeslaw agreed. He finished setting the table and stepped back to survey his handiwork.
"Are you done with that? Could you come lend me a hand with these?" Fermet gestured to a half-dozen carrots he was cutting up to add to the stew.
"Um, sure. What do you want me to do?"
"Just hold this steady." Fermet took his head and arranged his fingers on the cutting board around the carrot.
"Maybe if you dried them off better, they wouldn't roll around as much," Czeslaw mused.
Slam. The knife severed two fingers, spattering blood across the cutting board, counter, knife, and Fermet's shirt. If the neighbors inquired about Czeslaw's scream, Fermet would explain it away as a little cooking accident. While Czeslaw shrieked, Fermet watched as that beautiful, ruby red, enchanted blood flowed backward from where it spattered to where it was meant to pump. Czeslaw's fingers even re-attached.
It was finally too much. Fermet caught the boy as he fell into a faint. Such obliging blood for Fermet's not-entirely-clinical interests. Without ever killing its vessel, he could spill it again and again.