Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter as if from an extinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophesy! O Wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
- from "Ode to the West Wind" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I've always wondered why he gets that terrible look in his eyes every time I smile. I can feel him crumbling under my stare, falling apart each time I reach for him, flinching as my hand comes to rest on his shoulder. And I don't know why. I just don't understand.
The autumn sun sinks lower in the sky, painting the world around us in flaming hues and thick, smoky shadows. The reflection dances down the cobblestone street, across the windows of the cathedral, up the spires of town hall. Consuming everything in its path. But around us the air freezes: a perfect contradiction of fire and ice. Just like his golden eyes. Just like the lightless veil draped over his smile.
"Winter's coming soon," I struggle to find my voice, begging my mind for something to break the awkward silence. But the sentences I muster come out strained and confused; I nearly choke on the lump resting deep in the back of my throat. Winter's coming, and I should be grateful. After all, this may be the last time I see a fresh blanket of snow or smell the rich aroma of pine needles wafting through the house. I try to stay optimistic for Edward, but it's so difficult. Because my joy seems to make him so very unhappy.
"Yeah." He shrugs, quickening his pace slightly. I watch his head slump forward; my fingers scream out for his touch, but I know I have to hold back. I can't do anything to help him now. How can I reach someone who always pushes me away? "Another winter spent away from home."
A knife rips into my chest, the blade plunging like ice down into the farthest corner of my heart. "I'm sorry," I whisper, just like I have so many times in the past. The words fall away into the wind, smashed against the stone walls that rise up around us.
I'll never forget the first time I met Edward. The sun shone so brightly that afternoon, spilling out across my worktable like a golden carpet. As if the day itself predicted an important visitor even before he peeked his blond head through the door. He stared at me, and I met him with a smile, my stomach plummeting in my chest as I noticed the tears licking at his lashes and the slight tremble racing across his lips. I tried not to ask too many questions, instead pulling up a chair, shoving page after page of notes into his hands.
But my eyes refused to leave his face; I was drawn in. Enraptured by the thick turmoil of pain and beauty staining his delicate features. He wore his fear in his eyes, and I buried mine in the depths of my throat. We were opposites, inverses. We fit together.
But sometimes even a perfect fit can be torn apart by an outside force. Life isn't inert. I, of all people, should know that.
We've been friends for almost two years, and I don't understand any more about him now than I did that first day in the dusty laboratory. The sun still disappears into his stare, absorbed by a vacuum of empty words and distant sighs. My shoulders still feel heavy when we walk together. My hands still fall uselessly to my sides. But that does not stop me from watching him, from trying to make him smile. From trying to enjoy my last few seconds beside him before the fetters of time pull me away into the unknown.
I told him once that I wanted to leave something behind in this world, something to let everyone know I existed. But now I'm not so sure if it isn't Edward's acknowledgment I'm looking for. To see him smile at me, just once, and to know he's seeing my face in front of him rather than glimpses into his other life: that's all I'm brave enough to ask of him.
But we continue to walk together in silence: two fleeting shadows swallowed up by the night. Each of us returning to our empty rooms. Into the loneliness I have come to accept as my life. It's not in my power to stop his booted feet from pounding against the sidewalk or to hold back the earth as it rushes out behind us. But I can try. I can try like I have every day since I met him.
"It must be hard," I sigh, mustering a conversational tone, trying to ignore the way my heart clenches unnaturally every time I draw a breath. "Knowing your brother's alive, but still feeling like you'll never be able to get back home. My family all died in the war, but even sometimes I think that if I just get back to our house, they'll be there waiting for me."
"So you believe me?" He pauses, turning to face me for the first time this evening. Noting the deep circles running across his cheeks, I try not to cringe, clenching my hands into fists as my arms twitching involuntarily. I need to touch him, but I force myself to remain still. I'm not the one he wants to hold.
My head sinks onto my shoulders; my neck strains as I wrench my gaze to his stormy eyes. "No one would go through so much pain for something that isn't real, right?"
"I guess so."
I fight the urge to scream as he turns his back; my hands reach for him, grasping him, tightening around his uneven shoulders before he can resume his solemn march into the night. I give in to myself, my weakness spilling out from my trembling fingers like a flood of icy rain capturing a single moment in time, freezing it until the sun shines again.
"Edward." I go hoarse, chewing on my tongue, trying to hold back the cough crawling up between my lips. There are so many things I want to ask of him. Please don't leave me. I feel the words dripping from my tongue, but they never quite reach the air before I pull them back inside, tucking them away for only my own mind to remember. It's better this way. It's better for him.
"I hope you can go back someday." It's the last thing I want to say, and yet, they're the first words that don't get stuck in my throat. "I really want to see you happy sometime soon, if it's possible."
That's it. My last dying wish. I've been too afraid to admit it all along, but as soon as it's out, it feels as natural as laughter after a particularly funny joke, or tears in light of some immense tragedy. It hangs in the air like the sunset before fading back into the heavens like a prayer. All I want is to finally make him happy. To give him something to remember me by, to give him a reason to be thankful for all the hours I've spent by his side. If I can do that, I can finally say good-bye.
My hands trace indefinite patterns across his back, moving with the hunger of long-suppressed emotions, memorizing each bump in his spine like a scientist would memorize a book of secret notes before tossing it into the flames. This might be my last time, I keep reminding myself. Every second could be my last.
He lifts his head and turns back to me; his hair falls in golden rivulets around his face, whipped up from time to time by the chilling breeze. Just like fire against his icy skin, or the sun trailing one last glimmer of light down the street before vanishing under the curve of the horizon. Never burning up, but still a constant reminder of time's insubstantiality. Each moment that passes will fall away forever. Each second can never be reclaimed. A brief moment of his warmth will soon die away into the shadows of the dingy prison he calls a bedroom.
"Thank you," he whispers. "It will be possible someday, if I keep trying."
That's all it takes for me to push forward; I'm willing to take the chance. For just a second, I want to have something, anything, to hold on to. I want to die knowing that I might be missed. I seal the distance between us, meeting his chaffed lips with my own mouth, swallowing up his frown into a desperate kiss. Pulling him to my chest, I struggle to keep my footing, closing my eyes as I attempt to ignore the salty saline running down his face.
But he doesn't push me away this time, instead capturing my tongue between clumsy teeth, pressing one hand against my waist as he deepens the contact. His fingers are cold and rigid, but that doesn't matter anymore. Now I know that sometimes even winter's coldest night can be beautiful.
It ends too soon, and he pulls away; the wind brushes my moistened lips, tingling and burning, reminding me of all I have lost. I've kissed him good-bye, and now he will depart, never able to face me again. The promise of his absence is already emblazoned on his swollen eyes and heavy, disgusted frown, and I have no voice to call him back as I watch him fade into the dusk.
This is our fate, I suppose. Two forces torn apart by the winds of time. Corroded by my own hastiness and many failed attempts to win his heart. We are the sun and the moon, only existing separately, meeting for a few moments each day before fading back into our own rotations.
Standing in the empty street, I watch the shadows swell and consume my world, clutching my chest as an onslaught of pain rips at my lungs. I'm coughing, painting the sidewalk with the darkness of my own demise, watching it splatter at my feet. Soon I'll never see the sun again.
Hunching over, I fight to catch my breath, holding back the sobs that threaten to throw my body to the earth. The winter breeze claws at my shoulders with bony fingers, sliding up under my loosened shirt and making me go completely numb. But that's OK.
To never feel again. That is my dying wish. Because if I can ignore my own pain, I can keep smiling. I can keep working to help Edward, to return him to the world he loves so much before I disappear completely. That is my dying wish.
The night grows colder and colder, but I suddenly find it easier to withhold my complaints. Cold nights are somehow more bearable than cold days: nothing is worse than being mocked by the bright sun. Nothing is worse than believing the world should be warm, but then finding nothing but darkness.