(You do not breathe. You do not shut your eyes, because you can't. You feel them burn. Feel your whole body burn.)
He'll tell you, when you ask, that it started with fire. You don't understand, but you don't push. You twist inside, make room for yourself. He is old, old as blood and fire. You feel it in your bones.
He'll tell you, when you ask, that it started with fire. He is patient. Love is patient, love is kind, love does not push against the walls.
You ask again. You do not know that it is not the first time. He answers, it started with fire.
This time you understand. He opens to you. He dives. You dive with him. You are there with him, within him. You see: flashes of vermilion, ochre, black on black, wasteland. You taste: a coat of effluvium on your tongue, acrid, rotted. You feel: a cutting wind, hate, agony without end. You smell: char, smoke, fear and despair. You hear: screams, sobs, pleas.
You shrink within yourself, curl up tight. Is this hell, you ask, already knowing.
There was a boy, he tells you, and this boy had a brother. I must find the boy.
There is light.
Not from you, you know, not from without. Not from the sky or from things you used to know: coiled wire inside glass, flame licking at wood.
You welcome the light.
It comes from him. It is clean. It sanctifies.
All this has happened, he tells you. I am tired, you answer.
He tucks you in. You rest.
Is this the boy, you ask.
This is the boy, he answers.
Why does he look this way?
The boy is broken; his bones hang loose, his skin, flayed, curls away, paper on fire. He breathes, you see it come, smoke and ashes. You see him bleed, tar pitch.
Fix him, you say.
I tried, he answers.
You see him gather up the boy. He is gentle with his bones, fits them together; delicate with his skin, smoothing it, edges together. He holds him close, drags him out. He sets a seal upon him. He is fire, he is the sun, he was scattered across the ages, unbound, and now he nurtures and mends, and you contain him.
You are his bones. You are his flesh. You are his skin.
You and he watch the boy. You see him dream. Every night, he dreams. You and he find him, dive within, seek him out, put him together again.
It's not enough.
The boy. The boy has his brother again. That is not enough, either. He does not understand. You do. Love does not always forgive. Love cannot always reach, and a touch can hold a multitude of lies.
He cannot fix that.
The brother has his own seal. Claimed by blood and marked by fire, long ago, long before birth, before time itself. You know this story. The serpent in the garden. The star who fell. The father of lies.
You have him, the he who holds you, and you hold him, but this is not enough. There is more to come, he tells you. Are you ready?
I am ready, you answer.
You learn that you are not.
You learn that he is not. Doubt creeps in. Doubt makes him fail, makes him hurt the boy. He is broken.
Shattered, like the boy.
Fractured, like his brother.
He breaks you.
You learn you are weak. You learn sacrifice.
You learn that he is weak.
You tell him you are his. You tell him to subsume you. You want nothing to do with him.
He is not merciful. He has grown hard, he is rock; you beat against the walls. He is a pit and you are lost within.
We are all lost, he tells you. He keeps nothing from you.
He knows more than he ever says. He knows these things about the boy:
he has no faith
he is afraid
he believes in only what he can touch
he dreams (his dreams are of his brother, of hell, of he to whom you are bound, but never of you)
he is always searching (he searches the sky, the trees, the wind. He looks to the stars, to the sun, seeks the oblivion of light)
he finds something, something that is not God, but it is close enough.
You listen. You watch. You uncover, you blow the dust away, you find the bones of the truth and you put them together. You are human, and he is not. This is why he will not let you rest. Love is as strong as death, and you cannot break away.
You learn to live with this. He is all there is.
You are there when he:
loses faith (in the boy, in his family, in ever going home again)
feels fear (of the brother, of his choices, of his hold on the boy)
searches for his father, doesn't find him
turns his belief to the boy (it is not the right choice, but it is the only one left to him)
has no light left within him.
You are there when he is betrayed, again, and again, by the boy. The boy cannot see the things you know. All he knows is pain, pain at his hands. The hands that once healed, now hurt; were once compassionate, now make him bleed. This is not love, you know, and you wish you could tell the boy that it is fear. Maybe he knows. You do not want the boy broken. He was never to be broken, only mended. You cannot stop this, no matter how you try.
Love never fails. Love unclenches his hands, stays his wrath.
He tells you, all this has happened. You say nothing.
You are there when the end comes.
You do not breathe. You do not shut your eyes, because you can't. You feel them burn. Feel your whole body burn. Feel it bleed.
You welcome the light, even if it blinds you.
You know the boy felt this, too, in hell. This is not that much different.
You and he are not. (And again.) Then, you and he are. (And again.)
Let me rest, you say. He does. You know not for how long.
Let me go, you tell him.
Stay, he says. There is nothing left for you.
What about the boy, you answer.
(The boy used to dream about him, about his hand on his shoulder, about light. The boy used to call his name.)
The boy is no more.
What about his brother?
(He called his brother friend.)
His brother is gone also. They have each other. They breathe now and it doesn't burn.
I only have you, he says.
He tells you it started with fire. You gave yourself to be burned.