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count it on your hand, loner

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Ethan can’t count the number of times he dies only to be reborn once more, chasing after a love who cannot remember him even if Ethan does. He cannot count it, on one hand, two, or twenty, the number of times he dies – young and brash, adventurous – and is reborn anew. No, he supposes that that is a number only God Himself can tell Ethan, and it seems He has abandoned him.

Not that he particularly blames the all-creator above – he knows he is a handful, and perhaps that is why God doesn’t let him pass on into the afterlife: even He has no desire to deal with someone like him.

He cannot count the number of times he dies, but he can count the number of times his love has been returned on one hand.

The world doesn’t end with him – if anything, Ethan is sure that him reincarnating perhaps is a thing that happens to everyone else. At the very least, it happens to Cain – even if he can never remember a time in which he tells Ethan his name. Perhaps once, in his many lives, but the memories blur and fog and the only thing he recalls is whether or not Cain rejects him.

He never knows when Cain dies. He only knows that he always dies in front of him, just as he is now, and Cain’s expression is forever unreadable.

“Please tell me you love me back.” Ethan says to the wind and it drags his words away, throws them someplace far where Cain will never find them. He grabs at the bleeding wound on his stomach, shot from behind and barely grazing Cain, and he breathes out another confession. “Please tell me you remember me.”

‘Love’ is nebulous – endless, yet with a limit. Overflowing, yet quick to dry up. Ethan wonders if it is truly love that propels him forward, if it truly is Cain’s approval he covets, and if he will ever give up.

He spends a lot of time on someone whose moods swing in extremes – violent and murderous one moment, then scared and affectionate the next. On the verge of a mental breakdown, about to have some sort of breakthrough, only to then slam his hands around Ethan’s throat and shut up all his words.

But he loves him.

Or so Ethan hopes.

He chases Cain to the ends of the Earth – sometimes they are strangers out at war in the middle of space, sometimes they are strangers living in countries on opposite ends of the world, or they are strangers who work in the same city but never talk beyond clipped, curt conversations. Being out at war with Cain is better than to be out in the world – they are always inexplicably bound together when it comes to the military.

Cain will always chase someone away, and Ethan will always slot next to him. Almost all the time, they are together by force – handcuffed together by officials, rules, and a divinity that Ethan fails to understand.

Except, except it is only in one war that Cain smiles at him sweetly, lovingly – it is only in one war where Cain is almost someone else, where he cups Ethan’s cheeks and kisses him to tell him he loves him. It is only in one war.

Ethan dies soon after in the line of duty, right next to Cain.

Being able to remember how you die is terrible. Being able to remember that you have died hundreds of times, maybe even more, is even worse. It gets to the point that the typical Cain – unsympathetic, fetid – will almost always try and punish him for all the nightmares he has of himself dying. But it isn’t as if Ethan is doing this willingly.

The brain has a great way of fucking over anyone who has even an ounce of sadness in them, and it seems that Cain can’t wrap his head around that at all.

Yet, Ethan loves him.

One time, he decides not to trail after Cain. He lets himself fall behind, slips out from the overwhelming shadow of the one he loves, and watches the world around him move on. He looks over his shoulder for a man in the door and finds none, listens intently for a voice calling out his name and hears his own heartbeat, and traces invisible bruises and scars on his own skin.

He lives to be in his twenties. Thirties. Forties.

Ethan dies in his early fifties. Cain isn’t around to see it.