WITH VANISHING LUNGS LIKE THESE
the end of everything is the beginning of a brand new everything
the end of this universe may mark the beginning of a brand new one
so that even now when my heart feels like the most congested intersection
the world, the world, it is waiting.
i reconsider the precipice and so in an effort
to take part in reckless acts of self-definition / i jump / as i fall
as i let that beautiful blackness take me into its arms
i know that i will be safe in them / i know we, you and i, all of us
we will be safe in its embrace.
- “blank #8 / precipice,” the world is a beautiful place and i am no longer afraid to die
There’s something in the water, silver, swimming. No - sinking now, heavy like a stone thrown that the river pulls lower into itself. The water: Zenyatta likens it to a mouth, a shimmering throat tunneling down into a dark belly. Curious and frightening. But mind over matter; no lungs, no drowning.
He knows, of course, that the figure in the water is Genji. He has done this twice before, as if searching for human lungs in the river to stuff back inside of himself. But he won’t find them there, or in any other river, or in any other place he could dive into and climb back out of. Still, Zenyatta sits perched in a soft, humming hover above the grass and waits for Genji to emerge from the bright water, alive and reluctant, seething on a frequency ten thousand miles away from Zenyatta’s careful reach.
Such is the routine of things. They say that if you repeat an act twenty-seven times without break, it becomes a learned habit. Muscle memory. Interesting phrase. Grief: a learned habit, an unbroken chain memorized in Genji’s body, but surely more than twenty-seven rounds. Zenyatta suspects thousands. He suspects at this rate, it could be unending.
A breeze blows, cards its cool fingers through the trees and makes them sigh. As if summoned, Genji rises from the water, his outline stiff and unbreathing. The sun glints off his silver shoulders. He stands at the edge of the lake, his back to Zenyatta; but he’s aware of his surroundings, Zenyatta can tell, because Genji is always aware these days, jumpy like a rabbit as if waiting for blades to burst from the walls and unmake him all over again. Strange to fear the same outcome that he wants - to be at rest, to be nothing at all - but Zenyatta supposes that’s why he’s taking it into his own hands. I must do it before someone else can, he imagines Genji murmuring, contemplating a blade, or a clutch of fire, or a quiet lake. It is the only way.
Upsetting. Zenyatta stays in place, watching Genji’s shiny spine twist a little as he gives a quick tilt of his head to ease a crick in his neck that may or may not be there. Muscle memory? Quirks, quips, old habits die hard. Genji: a diehard. Genji: glinting in his sorrow, a solid glitter. He’s so full of surprises; but Zenyatta is learning the ropes of him, the cables that make him click, that certain hold of his shoulders whenever his thoughts drift to his brother.
There’s still so much human to him. Zenyatta doesn’t think that’s a bad thing, not necessarily. Perhaps it’s just a thing. How to best tell him this? How to shape the words like an embrace?
Genji turns now, faces Zenyatta with head bowed. Water drips from his body onto the grass, and Zenyatta mentally defines three new iterations of embrace just to fill the searching whirring in his head. Embrace: to hold something tenderly in one’s arms. Embrace: to hold someone tenderly in one’s arms, even if one’s arms are bloodless and carry no warmth. Embrace: to make a home between two bodies.
They have never touched. Not once within these two months of knowing one another have they touched. They have never embraced: past tense, to have held someone until all goes quiet. Distantly, amidst electric synapses and the faint revving that exists within the two of them always, Zenyatta considers the thought that this isn’t the correct way of things. This isn’t the natural order that guides them; this is an avoidance, a bashfulness that breaches into shame. It hangs heavy on the air between them, crackles and sparks and makes a mess. But how to embrace? How to hold that which runs?
Genji sits cross-legged in the grass and stares out at the falling sun. A few feet away, Zenyatta stays put, watches him carefully. “Did you enjoy your swim?”
Genji is silent. He tilts his head again, rolls it, but nothing cracks. “I was a fool,” he says, “to think she wouldn’t account for water.”
“Not a fool,” Zenyatta counters lightly. “In times of crisis, hope can speak louder than rationality.”
“Hope,” Genji repeats on a bitter laugh. “That’s a funny word to use.”
“I did not want to call it something else.”
“Desperation?” Genji asks, his voice soft and small.
“You use words in interesting contexts.” Zenyatta approaches him now until they sit side by side, one in the grass, one floating. “Usually negative, the definition always denoting shame.”
Genji says nothing. He plucks up grass in his fist, observes it, then lets the wind blow it away.
“And you are right,” Zenyatta says. “Those who made you what you are, they took many details into account to keep you alive. Water will not grant you absolution.”
For a moment, he expects Genji to ask what would, what escape he could open inside of himself, but he doesn’t. Instead, he asks, “Do you think badly of me?”
“No.” The answer comes easy; muscle memory, but quicker. “I do not.”
Genji rustles his hand slowly through the grass. He doesn’t pluck it up this time. “Well, I…” A pause. “That’s good.” Another pause, heavy. “It would be easy to think that way. Of me.”
Zenyatta clasps his hands in his lap. To press one’s palms together softens the mind, keeps you steady and centered. He considers taking Genji’s hands and molding them into the same position, to help him know softness for himself, but there’s a barrier between them that isn’t ready to come down just yet. He will wait. He will speak an embrace into existence. “Let us talk of kindly things,” he says. “What is one beautiful sight you have seen today?”
Genji looks up at him, a bright slit of green hiding his eyes. “I don’t think I was paying enough attention.”
“Think on it.” Zenyatta looks out onto the lake. “We see countless wonders daily. Some of them slip by us in an instant, but we notice them, and nevertheless they leave their marks on us. Surely you have been marked by something beautiful today, for you are a participant in the universe as much as any other.”
Another one of those huffing laughs, devoid of joy. Why laugh if there is no joy? Upsetting. “Maybe I used to be,” Genji says. “Before.”
“You are not a past tense object, Genji.”
Genji goes back to plucking up grass. “I feel like one.”
Zenyatta hums in thought. The water shivers in the wind, long silver ribbons trembling at the finest movement. “I cannot argue with your feelings, of course, as they are a part of you. All I ask is for you to quietly muse on the question.” He holds up a finger. “Ah, a quick amendment. You do not have to be quiet. Feel free to think aloud as though I were not here.”
That pulls a little sigh from Genji, the sound of it tired but relieved. Success; internal processes buzz warmly as Zenyatta files away that knowledge for future sorrows, future lakes. “Thank you,” Genji says. “I thought this would be like our first meditation all over again.”
“Nothing so torturous,” Zenyatta says, fond.
Genji sinks his hands into the grass, roots his fingers into its cool green and doesn’t pull. He mumbles quietly under his breath, and Zenyatta can hear him, but he tunes him out; he will keep his promise of going scarce, of letting Genji fill the space with his own untethered thoughts and no need of shyness. After a while of disconnected murmuring, Zenyatta’s attention is called back when Genji asks, “None of the things I’m thinking would be very impressive to you.”
“That is because you are not here to impress me,” Zenyatta says, simple and succinct.
“Easy for you to say.” But there’s a lightness in Genji’s tone now, more like the uncensored self that shines beneath the veneer of regret that follows him everywhere. “Alright. A beautiful thing. Today I saw two sparrows.”
“Both at once?”
“That is meaningful indeed.”
“I remember wishing they were together.”
“Perhaps they must be apart for the time being.”
Genji gives a noncommittal shrug. There’s a little shift as he moves closer, but it’s so minute, so subtle that anyone else could have missed it. But Zenyatta doesn’t. He never does. “In the market today,” Genji says, “I saw a boy steal an apple from a cart and give it to another boy. They were twins, so at first glance, it looked as though he were gifting a mirror image of himself.”
“Curious and kind.”
“I thought so too.” Genji’s head is tilting the barest bit, a softly searching angle that wants something to lean against. Zenyatta lowers himself closer to the ground, suspended just a few inches from the grass and from Genji. “And I counted twenty-four blue things in two hours…”
Zenyatta expects him to say more, but Genji falls stiff and silent. The wind blows between them and speaks its balmy whisper, then vanishes.
“When we were young,” Genji says, haltingly, “my brother would have fits of panic where he couldn’t breathe. He was afraid of something I couldn’t see. I told him, ‘Brother, you should count all the blues in the room, and I will count all the greens.’ And that would always bring him back to earth, and he would breathe again.”
There’s a brushing now, faint as Genji’s shoulder grazes against Zenyatta’s knee. Coordinates light up; this contact, it is understood.
“But I’ve been counting all of his blues for him lately,” Genji says quietly. “Ever since he…”
Nothing more is said, but Zenyatta knows the context and the words fall into the right slots in his mind all on their own. Hanzo hangs like an ether in the air, a poltergeist brought to half-life with Genji’s words. Necromancy: the practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future. But Hanzo lives. Genji lives. Two brothers, two birds, unceasing blood, beating hearts. How soft the bodies of humans are made, yet so resilient. And the future flows on and on like water.
Genji rests his temple on Zenyatta’s leg now. The contact is bashful, as if it shouldn’t be there. But it should. “If this is strange,” he says, “please tell me.”
Zenyatta lets his hands fall out of their meditative clasp. “New, yes. But not strange.” His chest hums, and he’s suddenly aware of having a body, warm, something being made contact with. “And strange doesn’t necessarily mean unwelcomed.”
Genji gives a small nod. Slowly he lifts a hand to deactivate the neon visor over his eyes, and it clicks open with a clean metallic sound. When he speaks, his voice is clearer, unobstructed. “I saw you summon six arms today during your meditation this morning. That was…another beautiful thing.”
A lightness; a sensation of spinning. “Then I will try to summon eight next time.”
Genji laughs and lifts his head so Zenyatta can see his bare face. It’s astonishingly candid, the display of mottled scars, the bloodshot eyes, the still-earnest lilt of his reconstructed mouth.
“A smile!” Zenyatta announces, delighted. “I will reach for the heavens and summon ten arms now.”
Genji stays in place, chin tipped up, his smile now touched with a shake around its edges as his eyes well with tears; but he drops his head before Zenyatta sees them fall, and through the sensitive circuits of his left knee, he senses them drip there. They will not damage him, those tears, just as the lake cannot, and the rivers cannot, and all the seas and all the rains cannot. It would be safe to say, Zenyatta thinks, that we are beings made impervious to water. Yet it falls from you now, from your eyes and onto me, and I am to learn your heart through water, the water that makes you; and perhaps, Genji, I am not the only teacher between us.
“You’re too kind to me,” Genji says, muffled from the bow of his head against Zenyatta’s knee. His shoulders tremble as he cries, and the calculation is so swift and simple as Zenyatta’s hand drifts to settle on his back. The plating covering his shoulder blades has been warmed by the sun. “I don’t know how to keep…letting you be kind to me.”
“Preferably with as little resistance as possible,” Zenyatta jokes, gentle. “I would like to think I am very good at this.”
Genji gives a loud sniff. “You are.”
The warm plating of Genji’s upper back is pleasant to Zenyatta’s palm. He will keep his hand here, so long as Genji lets him. Ten more faces of embrace float through his conscience like sweet smoke. After a silence, he says, “Despite the debate over omnics having free will, it is my will to be kind to you. And it comes freely.”
Genji’s breath hitches. Like something eroding, he curls into himself and leans hard against the side of Zenyatta’s folded leg, as if to say I thank you, or stay, or both, or everything all at once.
Yes. They will stay like this, touching. The lake, once shaken into a panic from Genji’s plunge, returns to stillness.