Erwin Smith was bone tired. It probably hadn’t helped that he and Levi had spent the last night arguing until he’d finally dropped into bed at eleven-thirty, trying to ignore the rigid set of Levi’s back, turned to him across the vast ocean of the mattress between them.
Levi had been upset because it was the third time in as many weeks that Erwin had reneged on previously agreed-upon engagements with Levi due to school. Well, Erwin had huffed to himself as he stared at the tense set of Levi’s shoulders, milky skin gleaming in the moonlight. Levi certainly had known what he was getting into when he’d agreed to date Erwin two and a half years ago. He’d been well aware of the fact that Erwin was a medical student, had known that he’d be busy with classes like physiology and anatomy and drug interactions. He’d damn well been aware of the commitment medical school demanded.
But it was guilt that kept Erwin up until the small hours of the morning. Lately, he and Levi had seemed to be drifting apart, a wedge forcing itself between the two of them, built up of anger (Levi) and an ever-increasing sense of guilt (Erwin), combined with stress and an inherent loneliness that failed to go away even when he woke up with Levi’s head tucked into the crook of his neck.
He hadn’t had time to eat breakfast that morning, and hunger burned a hole in the pit of his stomach, tempered only by the sharp clinical smell of formaldehyde that always seemed to hang like a miasma over the morgue. The metal tables arranged in orderly rows around the room all held oval masses covered by grey blankets, surrounded by two or three students swaddled in mint-green scrubs, features highlighted by the harsh white lights that shone down from the ceiling.
It was a quarter past seven, fifteen minutes past the time the anatomy professor was supposed to show up, and Erwin was starting to consider just heading home, waking Levi up with a kiss and the dark scent of French roast, when the vacuum door to the morgue sucked open and the professor burst in, his tie askew.
No apology, no explanation for why he was late, just a brusque introduction to the day’s lesson. “Today, we will be examining the skeletal organization of the torso, with special emphasis on the rib cage and sternum and how these bones coordinate to provide shelter for vital organs. I recommend you make incisions along the transpyloric plane and the torso’s oblique fissures, as stated in your manual. All the necessary instruments can be located in the carts by your operating tables. You may begin.”
Erwin sighed heavily, turning to the instrument tray while his lab partner prepared the body. His lab partner was a dark-haired man who more often than not came to class unshaven, his cuffs unbuttoned, dark bags under his eyes, and though Erwin felt like the walking dead three-fourths of the time, his lab partner certainly could have contended for a position on AMC’s television show.
When he turned back to the operating table, his fingers went slack at the sight in front of him, the scalpel slipping from his hand and pinging off the linoleum tilvs. He felt dizzy, trying to fight down the rising taste of bile in the back of his throat, trying to ignore the ringing that had suddenly stated up in his ears.
The man on the operating table in front of him, lying pale, still, dead, was Levi.
“Erwin. Erwin.” His lab partner was staring at him, a look of concern on his face. “You okay?”
He blinked, shook his head, and when he looked back towards the operating table, he found that the body belonged to a stranger, dark hair, pale skin, high cheekbones. But not Levi. Definitely not Levi, who currently graced his iPhone lock screen with his sleeping face.
“Yeah,” he said, leaning down to pick up the scalpel. “I’m fine.”
He said that, but he didn’t look at the body’s face as he made the first incision.