I never imagined Thanatos’s wings would be hanging over my apartment complex.
It was the middle of October, two days before my eighteenth birthday, and the street was heavy with the scent of camellias and exhaust fumes. I shot out the door as soon as the bus ground to a halt and, breath hitched in my throat, I flew up the spiralling stairs. I was quick. Too quick. The climb made me dizzy and the resounding quiet, anxious.
He had always loved the limpid sound of silence.
But the preceding chaos excited him even more.
I loathed to give him satisfaction, though. Three subtle twists of the key and I opened the door to my home. Something was off right away. Nothing seemed out of place.
The coffee machine blinked the same red it began blinking a couple nights ago. My futon was the same mess I left when I set for school this morning. I toed off my shoes, but slipped on the first step I took on the hardwood floor. It was wet. I couldn’t believe it. Ryu mopped.
He didn’t answer. He hardly would.
Ryu first nose-dived into my life late spring. He’d run away from home, claiming his parents were overbearing to the point of abuse. No questions asked, I offered to let him crash at my place until he got a proper job.
“What jobs even are there for a failure like me?”
“You always pick up after me.”
“I don’t look welcoming.”
He did, though. Like a hearth in harsh winter.
I liked him a lot, though had little reason to. He wasn’t much taller than I was, had a face as interesting as cardboard and the attention span of an alarm clock. He was needy until he got what he wanted, whereupon he’d never look at me until he needed me again. And when he finally did, his expression would carry an absence. One I ached to fill.
Reluctantly, he’d let me cosy at his chest, secretly abstaining from rebuffing me. I knew because he felt cold, stiff and still to the touch.
I peeled back the curtains, letting dusk swamp the room. Twilight poured unfettered across the cloudless sky with reflections you often see in oil stains. The balcony door was ajar, letting the evening breeze in. And outside, perched on the edge, stood Ryu.
I swallowed a sigh.
Thanatos’s arrow struck mercilessly around me. It started with my mother, whose heartbeat ceased just as mine picked up. My father’s turned to shrapnel seven years later, on the dot. He left me a chicken-scribbled note, of which the last sentence is still etched on my mind.
I died because I love you.
I stepped out, bare feet sticking to the cold tiles. The air was crisp, as it often was on the ninth floor. The wind perilously picked up and yet, strangely, I wasn’t shaking as hard as I thought I would. My chin kissed the metal railing.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you, Shishi.”
His words carried a familiar hollowness, and a newfound vibrancy at the same time.
Thanatos’s touch often made people mad, like they’d just been given a shot of nitrogen. The call of the void, I’d call it. Ryu didn’t have that. His poise was refreshing as he adjusted his balance.
Ryu’s eyes bore into me.
“I don’t want you to save me.”
“I – wasn’t planning to?”
“But you can’t let me go either.”
“That can’t be helped now, can it?”
I hated the resignation in my voice. It was habit. An exercise I repeated countless times, hoping I’d grow to believe it. It didn’t work.
Not when the dog I saved from that dumpster ran away.
Not when my neighbour tried pinning me against the wall when I stopped by to bring him cookies.
Not when I helped Hikari with her homework and, in return, she confessed to my crush in my stead.
Why would it work now?
A tear lacerated my cheek. “You’re his now, aren’t you?”
“Always have been. You knew it though. Known it since we first met.”
“You still took me in. Still took care of me.”
“And you knew why too. Known it since we first met.”
He smiled. That coy, boyish smile he’d always flash whenever I rolled my eyes at him. When he’d put a dirty plate in the sink, making the porcelain tower fall. When he threw his sweaty shorts at me, mistaking me for the laundry basket. When he didn’t shy away when I tried to kiss him and when next morning found us sleeping under the same blanket.
God, he looked so fresh that day, despite his tousled hair and sunken eyes. The scent of his love was antiseptic.
I turned my gaze away from him, sheltered it somewhere far in the boulders climbing up the mountain.
“Were you born like this?”
“We all are, Shishi.”
“No, not all. Most people don’t wait this long, but you… why?”
“Obviously, because I love you.”
“Why should I trust that?”
Ryu inched closer to me. I watched his toes grip the railing, clenched like talons. For only a second, before they relaxed.
“What started between us isn’t over. If anything, it truly begins today and now. Today, I will both die and live, but I need your help. I need you to do what only you have the strength to do.”
“How do you know I have it?”
“Because you love me too.”
Eros’s power is a dagger of infinity, which can kill death itself.
Thanatos’s is the edge of doom, where all love loves to lie.
One’s wings are plumed honey, the other’s molten lead.
One soars to exalted heights, the other plummets to cursed depths.
I’ve long though them opposite, disjunct. But as I look at Ryu and see in him the sum of all the mistakes I’ve made, I realise that they are not at odds. They can’t possibly be.
With mounting anxiety, I slotted behind Ryu and took a deep breath. When I exhaled, I pushed him off and imagined him smiling as he fell towards the heavens.
I couldn’t believe it still.
He really loved me.