The sunset paints the steppe with fire. We watch the wind-blown waves in the sea of grass for a long time before either of us moves or speaks.
“I should have told you,” I utter at last. “I dreaded your reaction. A part of me knew you would not approve. But I did not think you would be… shocked. Is it so hard to believe?”
Death’s jaw moves, like he’s opening his mouth and closing it again, unsure if he should reply. I wish he would take his mask off for me once more… but I know he may never do it again.
“It’s hard to believe because you two have nothing in common.”
“That’s not true. You don’t know him.”
“He doesn’t want me to know him.”
“Befriending Strife requires effort; I’ll concede to that. But he’s worth it.”
Death snorts. “Of course, you’d say that.”
“You’re not yourself, brother. Otherwise I wouldn’t have to remind you that my… bond… with Strife is only new to you. We have been… together… for more than five hundred years now. Whatever novelty might’ve muddled my reason in our first days has long worn off. And besides, our… love… did not replace our friendship. When I praise him, I do it out of the same loyalty, respect and admiration I have for you.”
He hangs his head, then shakes it. “You’re right. It’s not shocking. It shouldn’t be. I said it already: there are only four of us left. And I would’ve been far more surprised if I found you with Fury.” He pauses. “Not many remain to choose from.”
The chasm gapes, widening to fit all that cannot be said. To claim I have never considered it myself would be a lie. In many ways, Death would be a more fitting partner for me than Strife. But heart doesn’t heed reason, and mine has made its choice long ago.
“One could seek the company of other immortals,” I mutter under my breath.
“One could, if one was interested.”
For a while, we’re silent again.
“Did you truly suspect him of using magics to seduce me?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking. Now that my head is cooler—no. Not really. But it is within his power. You know that, right?” He glances at me. “It is how he gained the trust of his victims before he betrayed and murdered them for whoever could afford his services.”
“I care no more for his past deeds than I care for yours, brother.” I hear the tension creep back into my voice and struggle to loosen my jaw. “But I know of this. He told me of Shalome just before I found you in the White City.”
“And yet,” he laughs, “you would put your life in his hands without a second thought, just like you put it in mine.”
“As you said: there are only four of us left. It is madness to distrust each other.”
“You would trust even Fury, though she hates you?”
His tone is one of sympathy, not condescension, but I must answer anyhow. “I’d rather die a fool than live an eternity alone.”
Death nods slowly. “You were part of that vision,” he says, so quietly that at first, I’m unsure it isn’t just my imagination. “I thought I recognized you when we first met but I wasn’t sure until you…”
Died, whispers the chasm.
“Something inside me, something essential, threatened to perish with you. I thought…” He heaves a heavy sigh. “It matters not.”
I take a breath to say something—offer some consolation, no matter how weak—but the ache in my chest snatches it from me.
Death looks at my hand, clutching at my heart. “Let me see.”
My arm drops to my side, as I find no strength to object. Once more, he puts his palm over my breast, and whispers something to the wind, his eyes slivers of amber light. “The wound is clean,” he says. He touches my forehead with the back of his hand. “No fever either. Though it’s hard to tell with you.”
I feel my lips curl. “Just plain heartache, then.”
He laughs gently and pats my shoulder, then walks away. Despair manifests, rising from the ground in a flurry of phantom skulls, and lets out a mournful cry as Death mounts him in one smooth jump.
“So long, brother.”
“Until we meet again.”
The void portal opens; and closes behind him with a whoosh.
A minute passes. Two.
I hope it won’t be another five hundred years. I already miss his laughter.