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the greatest of these

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And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

 

I.

 

Most children do not remember the day they were born. The facts ascertain that Ryo is not like most children.

(This is not the only thing that sets him apart, but it is one of the most significant.)

On his birthday, there was no hospital but a cliffside, quiet and forgotten on the edge of the world; no doctor severing an umbilical cord but another child holding out a hand, small and soft, for him to hold.

On his birthday, there were tears, though they were not his own.

It can be argued that he had been alive before he met Akira, but how much of a life could it have been if he does not remember it?

 


On Sundays, they sing along from hymnals where the print is faded, the pages old and worn. On Sundays, they're handed bibles instead of candy, sized to fit children's palms.

Akira is rarely in tune; Akira often leans to whisper in Ryo's ear about a word he does not know.

(At the pulpit, the pastor tells them that love is patient; that love is kind.)

Quietly, so as not to draw attention to themselves, Ryo explains.

 

Everyday, he sees Akira laugh and cry in equal measure. Everyday, his life begins again.

 


 

II.

 

That all good things come to an end is a lesson he learns early.

The ocean mist delivers a woman at their door, bearing news that she is to take Ryo away the next morning. That evening, Akira climbs into his bed and curls into his side, soaking Ryo's pillow with mucus and tears.

Ryo does not ask why he is crying. Asking only makes Akira cry harder.

"You'll come back to visit, right?"

"That's up to Jenny to decide."

It's the wrong answer. Ryo closes his eyes, listening to Akira's sniffling for might be the last time in person. He offers, "it's not forever."

Not quite there, but it does the trick. "You sure?"

"We'll Skype."

For a moment, Akira is silent. Breaking it himself, he says, "would you miss me, Ryo-chan?" free of presumption and with genuine curiosity, as if he expects the answer to be 'no.'

Missing means absence first. With that in mind, Ryo replies, "of course."

Akira searches his face, and finally smiles at whatever it is he finds.

 


 

III.

 

Years pass, bringing superficial change. He goes through books like cigarettes, coasts through school like a seagull in migration. He pins fame and acclaim to his lapel for credibility rather than pride. He steps into planes and onto foreign land, acquaints himself with foreign tongues.

He grows up. On the screen of his laptop, it shows that Akira does too.

"I saw you on TV, Ryo-chan! Don't forget me when you're famous."

"I'm already famous," he says, with the same bluntness as the child with the box cutter. With the same ineffability as the child with the umbrella, Akira laughs.

 


 

IV.

 

When Ryo sleeps, he does not dream.

Dreams are merely fears and desires neglected in waking life, and in waking life he does not much have of either. Upon seeing Fikira doused in gasoline and smelling charred flesh in his sleep, Ryo decides that is no longer the case.

There are few options for recourse. Taking it to the press without proof will make him a laughingstock at best, or land him in the psych ward at worst. Taking it to his grave will mean extinction.

War is inevitable. Survival is not.

His options narrow down to a singularity.

(Perhaps there had only ever been one, all along.)

 


 

V.

 

He is not like other people.

Other children did not tell him as much as they tormented him with banal cruelties, the way only children can before propriety sinks in. Adults are no less disdainful, though it is better concealed.

In response, Ryo cloaks himself in normalcy, a benevolent wolf among the flock. He finds he has a talent for it.

 

He is not like other people, and it is an asset rather than a detriment. Blinded by neither vice nor pleasure, he sees reality for what it is, wasting and at want for nothing.

(Here, an errant memory of Akira with his face pressed against an aquarium, breath leaving foggy imprints on the glass.)

Listening in to the Makimura household is a necessity, initially to keep track of Akira, and later on, to keep track of Akira's lies. Most of it is white noise.

(Here, Noel Makimura's voice takes him back to that tiny chapel, the fragment of a verse lodging itself in his chest like a nail in a palm: love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.)

Akira's laughter is nothing new, and still it has Ryo closing his eyes, matching the sound to the plethora of smiles he has committed to memory.

 

He is not like other people, but he does not have to be. Humanity, as a concept, is fickle and arbitrary.

It is enough to know that he is human, because he has Akira.

 


 

VI.

 

The creation of Devilman launches them into a forward momentum, headfirst into a world neither of them understand completely — not even Ryo, for all the science he wields. Despite this, Akira listens. Listens a little too well.

Fight the demons, said the camera Ryo held in his hand, and so Akira put on a show, dousing himself in putrid gold.

Drown your sorrows, said the wad of cash Ryo tossed in Akira's direction, and so Akira attempted, drunk on lust and forgetting.

(Akira has always been a creature too pure and trusting, and it had never been in Ryo's intentions to lead him to the slaughter.)

Had Ryo a predisposition towards grief, he could better understand. But grief is a byproduct of loss, and Ryo does not have anything he could lose that cannot be easily replaced.

Still, something as trite as 'take care' hangs off the tip of his tongue when he drops Akira home. Silence almost triumphs, until the image of Akira lying prone and weakened in that warehouse flickers in his mind, a glitch in his logic.

He cuts the noose.

Those two words give Akira pause, one foot on the pavement and the other still in the car. He glances over his shoulder as he steps out, lopsided smile missing.

"Thanks, Ryo," he replies, and lets the lock click unceremoniously into place. Ryo drives away as soon as it does, and decidedly does not watch Akira's back disappear into the darkness.

It stands to reason that a lamb would not be the same after it has been laid on the butcher's block. The problem is that while Akira has changed, Ryo has not.

And he has not an inkling of what to do with that.

 


 

VII.

 

Rationality battles what he previously believed when he sees the footage.

Perhaps it had been naive of him to assume that revealing the truth about demons would ensure only truths between them both. Had it not it exhausted Akira to keep their secret, like it had exhausted Ryo?

From the satellite feed of Tokyo's rooftops, Moyuru Koda basks in the sun, standing whole and alive like he should not be, if Akira had done as he should.

It is not the first time Akira has lied to him — though like all the other times, it is always to spare someone else — but it ought to be the last. This has everything to do with succeeding against the demons, and nothing with Akira's deception.

(He does not realize it would be the start of the lies, instead of the end of them.

Betrayal, he has read, often comes in threes.)

 


 

VIII.

 

In the midst of enlightenment, he thinks not of a fog being lifted, nor of shadows being swallowed by light. He is told of his grand design, set in motion even before humanity's first ancestors crawled on land; he is shown who he is and who he has always been, yet his thoughts narrow down to a moment any other ageless creature would deem insignificant.

He thinks, simply and fondly, of a child sitting on the floor, clumsy fingers slotting pieces into an incomplete puzzle, and the grin that ensues when he gets it right.

Even here, he thinks of Akira — the last piece he needs, without which the larger picture would make little sense.

(This is because Akira is his champion, not his downfall, not at all.)

 


 

IX.

 

Most angels perform in accordance to their purpose. The facts ascertain that Satan is not like most angels.

On the day he was cast out, he experienced loss unparalleled. Glory left him like blood from an open vein, and he had mourned it like a dog would the guidance of a chain.

In time, abandonment would taste like freedom.

In time, grief would give way to anger.

In time, existence without His presence would come close to painless.

But not yet.

 


On the day Akira turns his back on him, Ryo can only watch him walk away. One foot in front of the other, each step taking him further from Ryo until the line of his shoulders vanishes into the horizon.

Perhaps this is Akira's belated revenge for when Ryo left him behind.

Perhaps this can be fixed, if only Ryo would give chase.

Perhaps—

(The lamb is wary and embittered, fleece stained with red.)

 


On the day of the final battle, Ryo — no, Satan — smiles in observance of the burning earth.

Love, says the bible in his ruined apartment, never, ever fails.

 


 

X.

 

There is no such thing as love.

Love, unconditional and everlasting, is what God said He felt for his creation, but love did not save Satan from a fall. Love did not keep him from wandering the universe alone; love provided no solace for what he had lost.

(And love, he learns later, has no particular say in whether a kitten lives or dies.)

There is no such thing as love, but there is a boy called Akira Fudo, and Satan — no, Ryo — finally understands. On the remnants of a cliffside, quiet and forgotten on the edge of the world, he finds the resolve to tell Akira so.

"You can see the stars clearly," he begins.