"What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead."
-The epic of gilgamesh
Children were playing in the rain, jumping into puddles and splashing in the mud. There were sirens. He tried not to be seen.
The jacket he had stolen, the one covering his prison-issued hospital gown, was soaked, and his hair was plastered to his forehead. Even now, months later, the surgical incisions stung. Funny how things worked: he had not one but two metal plates in his head, a perfect symmetry, much like his sister and himself.
Sometimes, it was best not to think of these things.
The water crashed. At the edge of the bridge, Johan stood, teetering precariously on the opposite side of the railing. There was only a few centimeters of space enough to stand, and the metal beams were slick with rainwater, which was coming in harsh slants against his body. Johan shivered. The water crashed, craggy rocks jutting out through the dark gray surf, taunting him.
A perfect suicide.
The water crashed. With effort, Johan climbed back over the railing, then stopped to huddle beneath the overpass. A car passed, then two, tires splashing through water in perfect waves.
"Yes! Dieter, I promise!" His sister was laughing. Johan lifted his head. "I know, I know, I'll talk to you soon. Okay. Okay. Love you too. Yup. G'night."
The phone dimmed. Johan watched as she slipped off her shoulder bag, tossing it carelessly with her jacket on the couch. She will walk over to the counter where the light switch is on; she will walk past him, focused on the refrigerator and what to cook at this late hour: he could practically see her debating silently, pasta or not.
She went for the light switch. Once, twice. Flicking it, no lights turned on. Johan sat silently, watching the parade of emotion on his sister's face. Confusion, annoyance, then the residual panic he remembered so vividly during his younger days, before his sister was afraid of him. She turned sharply. The box of pasta clattered on the kitchen counter.
"Johan," she said.
Johan knew his face showed nothing. He stared at her. She was shaking.
"Johan," she said.
And then, more softly, "Nii-chan."
Then she rushed up to him, then started to cry.
Funny how it was that normal siblings hugged, as if it were the most natural and simple thing in the world.
"God, tissues," Nina said, (because mentally he reminded himself to call her that. Because his sister was everything and he did not want to make things worse than it was). "Dammit. I know I have tissues somewhere."
Johan said nothing. Nina broke away, pulling open the cabinets and frantically looking through the shelves. "If the lights weren't off, it wouldn't be so much of a problem-"
"Forgive me," Johan said. Nina turned.
"You're crying again," Nina said. Her chin wobbled. "That's funny. You're crying more than me."
She sniffed, then turned. "Did you cut the lights?" Nina asked.
"Yes," Johan said.
"Stupid habit," Nina said. She opened another cabinet. Napkins. She grabbed the package and opened the plastic wrapping, shaking. "Only a serial killer would do something like that."
She glanced up again. "Sorry," Nina said. She handed him a napkin.
Johan stared at it. The napkin was thin with a flower pattern printed on it. One flower. Two flowers. A line. Nina took his hand.
"Let me," Nina said, and she reached up, wiping the tears from his face. They were streaming. He had no idea why.
They stayed like that for a few moments, until Nina's head drooped onto his chest. It was not unpleasant and he closed his eyes to savor the sensation. His breathing was becoming erratic again. The napkin in his hand was soaked.
"How did you escape?" Nina asked. She spoke against his shirt. "It was a prison hospital. How did you get out?"
"Through the window," Johan said. He didn't bother telling her that his window had no bars, that his months lying comatose had worked to his advantage.
"I see," Nina said. She pulled back from him and smiled.
Nina found a flashlight and walked over to the closet where the circuit breaker was. She frowned, flipping the switches. "Thanks for not cutting any wires," Nina said. The lights flickered back on. Johan followed her quietly, following her into her room.
"I don't have any clothes," Nina said. She rummaged through her closet, frowning. "I heard from Dr. Tenma you dressed as a woman for a little bit. I guess if that's something you're into, you could borrow some of my things...?"
Johan looked at her. Nina shook her head, then laughed.
There was an old university t-shirt from one of Nina's male friends, he had stopped to do laundry once and left it there. She liked to sleep in it. It fit him. Nina smiled.
"You look halfway normal," Nina said. Johan cocked his head.
Because she had no men's pants (for which she apologized, though Johan didn't mind), Johan found himself sitting on her couch, barefoot and wearing the old t-shirt with a towel wrapped around his waist. Nina threw his things into the laundry, the jacket and pants he stole and the hospital gown. Once again her emotions were plain on her face: she was vacillating between wanting to laugh or break down and cry. If she were any other person, Johan would know what to say. Would know what to do to manipulate them to feel how he'd want them to feel, which in this case would be to feel anything but sad. But this was his sister, and so Johan was ill-equipped to the task. It would be like trying to manipulate himself.
He picked at the towel. Faded pink. The letters on his t-shirt were starting to peel.
"Are your feet cold?" Nina said. She poked her head back into the livingroom. Johan shook his head. "Oh my god, what am I saying? Let me get you a blanket."
"I am fine," Johan said, but his sister disappeared into the laundry room again, this time dragging an old comforter and tossing it on the couch. "It folds out into a bed," Nina said. "I know you probably can't stay here, but...but if you need a place, I really don't mind."
"Thank you," Johan said. The pile of napkins were all used and dirty. His hands, which were folded on his lap, clenched. He watched a tear drip, then another, the wet spots fading into the fabric. He could not control himself, and for that he felt ashamed.
"Johan," Nina said. Her face was sad. She sat next to him, then leaned her forehead against his shoulder.
"Dr. Tenma found out our names," Nina said. "I asked him not to tell me. Dr. Gillen says that stuff should stay in the past, and honestly I'm fine with that."
A pause. And then, "Dieter kept joking she wanted to name us 'Hansel' and 'Gretel. Can you imagine? Either our mother would be clueless, or have a really morbid sense of humor."
"He told me our names."
"Who?" Nina said.
"Dr. Tenma," Johan said. He looked at his hands. "But I was only half-conscious when he spoke. I cannot remember."
She looked up. Johan shook his head. She settled against him, drawing up her knees to her chin and shifting her weight against his shoulder.
"It's been a long time, hasn't it?" Nina said. "Almost a year since that night in Ruhenheim. I never thought I could forgive you for killing my parents. All the people you had others kill. But you're my brother," Nina said, and he saw her face darken. "Dr. Gillen said you were trying to kill yourself. It was the only way you knew how.
But sometimes, I really hate you for it. I really, really hate you for it."
Tears welled up again. She was still leaning against his chest. One tear dripped. He felt it soak through the fabric of his shirt.
"The Fortners were my parents," Nina said. "They were my family. They were everything to me. I was happy," Nina said. And then, "But you're my family, too."
Johan said nothing. His sister was a warm weight against his chest, and he liked how she leaned her cheek against his shoulder. It made him sad.
She was asleep. Johan watched as Nina breathed, the rise and fall of her belly with each passing breath. Her hand was still resting on top of his, and after a moment Johan closed his eyes.
"Promise me you won't kill anybody."
Johan's eyes cracked open. Nina was shifting her weight against his chest, moving her arms around him in a more comfortable position. "Promise."
"I cannot promise that," Johan said.
"Why?" Nina said.
Johan looked at his hands, one hand resting on his lap, the other covered by Nina's. Her hand was smaller than his. Four tapered fingers and one long thumb, covering his. Her nails were trimmed into perfect moons. "They will be coming here soon," Johan said.
"You mean the police?" Nina said.
"Yes," Johan said.
He stood up. The towel around his waist was crumpled. The laundry was done. Wordlessly he went to the laundry room and placed the wet clothes into the dryer.
"They will not think to look here," Johan said. "I killed your parents. There is no reason for them to think I could find shelter with you. But soon they will want to warn you of my escape."
He closed the dryer door, then turned the knob on high.
"I left my shoes and a hospital blanket by an overpass bridge," Johan said. "They will probably try looking for my body, first."
The dryer rolled. Nina stared.
"You...you did that to throw them off the trail, right?"
Johan looked at her.
"No," Johan said. He lowered his eyes.
"I only changed my mind."
"Johan," Nina said.
Neither one spoke for the longest time.
"You must have shaved your legs," Nina said.
"When you were running around dressed up like me. You must have shaved your legs," Nina said, and suddenly she began to laugh. Johan smiled.
"Of course," Johan said, and he sat next to her. Nina shook her head.
"Inspector Lunge told us everything he found out," Nina said. "They said you ran a black market bank when you were fifteen. That by twenty you controlled over half of all the illegal markets."
"Yes," Johan said. "It helped me pass the time."
"What?" Nina looked up.
"Everything was empty. Without purpose. Those years I drifted. Aimlessly, aimlessly. Rudderless, without hope for shore.
It helped me pass the time," Johan said.
"Funny," Nina said. "Dr. Gillen suspected the same thing. He said you didn't get purpose until you decided to kill yourself. All those people," Nina said, and Johan was quiet.
"Sometimes, I just picture you with this big bucket of paint, climbing silos and painting those weird picture book messages, and...and it's terrible, but it makes me laugh. Because you're so..." she spread her hands. "Elegant, I guess. I can't imagine you climbing anywhere, or painting anything.
And the handwriting was bad," Nina said.
And then, "You really were kind of crazy, weren't you?" Nina said.
"How did you find out about the serial killers?" Nina said. "Actually wait, that's a stupid question. You ran the black markets. Of course you'd know the serial killers."
A pause. And then, "How did you find out all that stuff about the non-criminals? Like normal people?
Actually wait, you ran the black markets.That's another stupid question," Nina said.
"How the hell did a fifteen year-old manage to run the black markets?" Nina asked.
"Charm and unending wit," Johan said.
"Figures," Nina said.
"The couple on the Czech border," Nina said. "The ones who fed us after we escaped. You shot them, didn't you?"
"Yes," Johan said.
"Why?" Nina said.
"Because they were going to call the police," Johan said.
"And all those people who took care of us? The Lieberts? Everyone?"
"If they knew what we were, they would send us back."
"How can you be sure?" Nina said.
Johan said nothing. His sister looked at him.
His sister looked at him, and her eyes were wide and pleading.
His sister looked at him, and to him she seemed afraid.
"You killed the Lieberts because Franz Bonaparta found us," Nina said. "You thought they were going to take us back.
You asked me to shoot you," Nina said.
Johan stared at his hands.
"You'll tell me before you leave, right?" Nina said.
"Yes," Johan said.
There was a warmth behind his eyes, and he felt disgusted by it.
The dryer buzzed. Nina stood up, then pulled out the clothes.
"Ne, Johan," Nina said. "Nii-chan."
Johan looked at her. He had finished dressing. She clasped her hands in front.
"Remember when we were little, we shared the same bed?" Nina asked. She looked up at him. She looked very sad.
"Will you stay with me tonight?" Nina said.
Johan nodded. He followed her to the bedroom.
All at once, they were ten years old again. Nina lay on her side and Johan lay beside her. Two halves of a single person, all alone.
"Remember," Nina said. "Mama said we slept like spoons. Do you remember, Johan?"
"Yes," Johan said. His arm around her waist gripped her tighter.
It was cold in Czechoslovakia and they used to sleep like this all the time. And even when it wasn't cold, his sister would crawl into the bed beside hers, nudging her head against the space of his chest. The nightmares would come and she would be afraid, but Johan was always there to comfort her, because unlike humans, monsters knew no fear.
"Nii-chan," Nina said, and she started to cry. "Nii-chan I'm scared."
"Do not be," Johan said. He held her tighter.
Early morning. Johan woke to see the watery light streaming through the slats in the blinds. His sister was sleeping, curled up against his chest.
"I am leaving," Johan said, and his sister stirred. He promised her he would tell her. And so he bent over and kissed her hair, then murmured, "I am leaving," until his sister cracked open her eyes.
When she was awake, he was gone. The curtains lifted. A cool breeze shifted the morning air.