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of Playing Dead.

The City always drove Death mad, but what could he do? It wasn’t like the reassignment was his choice. He grunted in irritation as he pulled yet another box from the moving truck. He could almost hear Time’s voice in his ear, “Just hire movers this round. I promise it’s worth the cost for the sake of your own sanity.” Death eyed the grand piano still waiting for him towards the back of the U-Haul and groaned. Maybe Time was right. Just this once. Death rummaged in his pockets for his phone as he stalked up the nine-floor walkup that was his new home. He was sweating by the time he reached the meager excuse for a penthouse and pushed open the front door. “Hello? Yes, it’s's Dean,” he responded to the voice that answered the other line, “I’m having some issues with my move. Do you have any workers available, perchance? I’ll pay double.” “Yes, sir,” the receptionist replied, “What is your intersection?” “39th and Iliad.” “They can be there in about an hour, would that work?” Death grimaced, but relented. “An hour works. Will you tell them to bring a set of ropes? I have a piano....” “Oh, they’ll be glad to hear it,” she laughed. Death had to remind himself to chuckle in tandem before clicking off the phone and tossing the box he was holding onto the ground. Something inside shattered. The gaunt man resisted the urge to kick the whole thing to the other side of his apartment. “I hate it here,” he said out loud, to no one in particular. But Death spoke true—he really did hate the City. Loud, brusque, and much too dark. Where was the sun? Where were the trees? Half his time spent in the urban jungle was lounging in the Park. Back in the old days, before the skyline was completely obstructed, he would sleep in the trees and watch the sun rise over the rocky ridges of the bay. But over the past few hundred years...things had changed. A caw echoed into the apartment. Death turned his head to see Raven sitting on the fire escape, jerking her head around as if surveilling the place from the outside. “Like the new digs?” he asked as he tugged open the window, “Hopefully they’re not for long. Maybe we’ll try Vancouver next.” The air is better there, Raven hopped inside. “Remember Los Angeles? The air here is just fine.” One wrong doesn’t make the other right... I guess we will make do for now. I’ll have to deal with the pigeons again, but I’m sure they haven’t forgotten my lasting impression. Death laughed in earnest, now, “It’ll take more than just a few generations to forget your impact. I swear I saw a whole flock turning in the other direction as I crossed the street earlier.” Raven puffed up her chest and cocked her head to the side, clearly pleased with his response. The years of knowing one another hadn’t lessened the weight of his words. If anything, their friendship and trust had grown. Her words mattered to him. His to her. There was comfort in knowing that. “Come,” he extended a long, thin arm out to her, “Time is waiting.” With a small caw of assent, Raven landed deftly on his boney wrist. A dance that they had perfected over the centuries. Death tightened the ivory clasp on his cloak, stepped up on the windowsill, and threw himself into open air. The quick moment of freefall nearly raised his heart rate, but all too soon for his liking, Death twisted himself into a sliver of space that should not have existed. Raven kept her grasp firm, digging into skin and muscle and bone. A grim smile tugged at Death’s thin lips; clearly, the bird had not forgotten the Paris Incident of 1803. Don’t laugh at me, Raven huffed as they hurtled through tunnels and woods and clouded skies. Death focused on stilling his quivering cheeks. “I’m not laughing, I’m driving.” The pair alighted gently on a snow-covered boulder. Raven ruffled her feathers and tried to shake herself free. It took her a moment to extract her talons from Death’s arm, quickly taking flight as soon as she did. A demure cabin—number 13—stood in front of them, nestled in a grove of birch trees. Just past that, a quiet street with identical cabins leading the way toward town. They were all covered in Christmas lights twinkling in the setting sun. The irony wasn't lost on him. “Time has a flair for the picturesque,” Death quipped, jumping down from his icy perch. Raven didn’t answer, not even a caw. Death rolled his sunken eyes, but didn’t press her. Instead, he pulled his black velvet hood over his head and strolled toward the cabin’s back door; his footsteps left no mark in the snow. Reaching out a handful of skeletal knuckles, Death rapped three times on the wooden frame. “You’re late.” Time stood at the threshold, smoking a cigar and lazily blowing rings into the living room. Death nodded once, though he knew he was not late, and stepped inside. It was clear at first glance that someone old lived here. The couch was covered in a green and brown plaid corduroy material that bore stains of wild nights past. A large buck head was mounted on the far wall above a fireplace that had recently been lit; its smoldering coals reflected in Death’s black, all-seeing irises. He breathed a sigh of relief. He always hated it when they were young. “Smoking kills, you know,” Death turned to face fair-haired Time. His stocky brother smirked. “I have a feeling I’ll be alright. Shall we?” Time gestured to the two rocking chairs that stood by a large window beside the door and Death nodded again. Just before they sat down, Time licked his pointer and middle fingers and swiped them across the top of the back door’s frame. Death slammed it shut; so hard that the cabin shook. Time chuckled dryly. “Are you dealing this time, or am I?” Death took his time unclasping his cloak and draping it over the back of his chair. He smoothed out his ratty Shins t-shirt and sat down. “I have the nice cards. Promise you won’t bend them?” “I swear,” Time’s smile didn’t reach his amber eyes. “Hmm. I’ll deal.” Time snapped his thick fingers and a flimsy dinner tray popped itself open in front of them. Death reached into the front pocket of his jeans and whipped out the brand new deck of cards that he and Raven had spent hours picking out. It was the gold illustrations that had caught his heart in the end. "Maybe a chance for good luck," he’d said to Raven, then. They were about to see if that would hold true, now. Three cards on the table, first, flipped face-down. Five cards to each player. Cups and wands and swords and pentacles began to fly from one hand to another. Quickly, as if they were in a hurry to meet a deadline. It was a game that only the two brothers knew how to play and only the two brothers could handle. Death frowned. Time coughed. Neither of them spoke for several frozen moments. The sun had set in the meantime, and snow began to fall outside of the window. The handsome brother’s cigar grew cold and ashen, forgotten, on the sill. Time was scratching his neck again. A nervous tic developed in childhood that never had the chance to grow away. His Brioni suit lay flat against his chest, collar bones protruding from underneath the collar of his unbuttoned shirt. Death had to stop himself from scoffing at the outfit choice. Vanity was a virtue that grounded Time’s moral pillars. “Deal again,” the muscled man said in a voice that sounded like sand shifting in a storm. With a flick of his wrist, Death tossed another five cards back on the table. He tilted his head and finally allowed himself to smile at his brother. He had him. They both knew it. Time reached his ring-covered fingers to pick up the cards, giving them a peek before slamming them back down on the tiny plastic tabletop. Death made a mental note to never play their game on a dinner tray ever again. They could break the whole house by accident, let alone this flimsy excuse for a hard surface. “He’s mine, then,” Death breathed in relief, shuffling his cards back into the deck, “And I say he gets a few more years. He still has his granddaughter’s wedding to attend, see his first great- grandchild take her first steps.” “How do you know it will be a girl?” Death granted his brother another small, ghostly smile, “I just do.” Ever the sore loser, Time grunted, tossed his hand back at Death, and stood. He ran his wide hands through his blonde coif, smoothing it back down, before adjusting his suit and walking through the living room and over to the bedroom. Death followed him to the bedside. A man—wrinkled and harrowed by Life—lay on his side, neither breathing nor dead. Time reached into his suit’s front pocket and took out a pinch of fine, black powder. Kneeling, he blew the sand into the man’s face, allowing it to make its way into nostrils, mouth, throat, down to the lungs. “You’re on a winning streak, D,” Time chuckled, a sound without warmth, and brushed off his hands, “But it won’t last long. Greg here is living on borrowed minutes.” “Borrowed years,” Death reminded Time firmly before shuffling his cards and putting them back into their deck. “And what are years to us?” Death blinked once, not wanting to start an argument. Instead, he strode back to the rocking chairs and pulled his long cloak over his hunched shoulders. His brother grabbed his forgotten cigar from the window sill and brushed away the ash. Then, Time reached up to cup the back of Death’s neck and pulled his brother’s forehead down to touch his own. They both closed their eyes before breaking apart and pulling open the back door. The winter night bit at their heels, but the two brothers paid the cold no mind. Soon the not-yet-dead-not-yet-living man would wake, would try to remember who it was that had come knocking on his deathbed. And they would not be there to remind him. Death closed the wooden door and swiped his lanky fingers across the threshold. Another one safe, yet. Another one who wouldn’t know what Death had done for him. Raven cawed from somewhere overhead. Do you think you have forgotten something? “Never, twin to my soul,” Death reached out just as she dove down toward the pair of dark figures. She ignored his waiting hand and instead hopped up to his shoulder. “Don’t you look a fine picture together?” Time scoffed sarcastically. “When will you tire of his melancholy, Raven?” When you finally understand what loving someone entails, Time. Death hid a smirk behind his velvet hood as his brother glared at Raven. Time’s smooth, tanned skin seemed to glow red from within as they walked, passing twinkling lights strung around trees and houses. It was the closest thing Time’s body could get to a blush. “I have to let the movers in,” Death croaked, trying to ease the tension. Time straightened. “You took my advice.” “Against my better judgement,” Death’s smile was real, “It’ll cost a pretty penny, but at least my back will get a break instead of breaking.” “You’re getting old, little brother.” “You would know.” The two brought their foreheads together again; older brother leaning up toward the younger. Time, in his fancy suit, perfectly coifed hair, and a body built like that one particular marble statue. Death in a black cloak, t-shirt, and jeans that barely hung over his scarred body that had been hollowed by stress and duty. Their differences had never escaped him. Death always guessed, since he had come second, that he’d been cobbled together as an after-thought. Not that their mother would ever admit to that. Raven was impatient to go. Until we meet again, ancient one. “Well-met, pretty girl. See you next week,” Time untangled himself from Death’s embrace and bowed his head to the large bird. He cocked his head to the side, imitating her, and winked. Within moments, his limbs, torso, and head faded into dust to be swept along by the winter’s wind. Death wrinkled his nose. “I hate it when he does that.” Raven’s caw sounded like a cough and she shook out her feathers again. Death took that as agreement and patted the claws that sat gripping his shoulder. With a resigned sigh, he began to run. The cloak billowed out behind him, growing ever-longer and blending into the snow-covered ground behind him as if it was his shadow. Faster, faster, faster. Death pumped his legs until he felt the wind become solid underneath his boot-clad feet. Bending his knees, he shot up into the sky, clearing the river ahead of them. A crow of exhilaration from Raven was all he needed to hear before he knew to twist into thin space once more. I am the opposite of a canary in a mine, Raven had told him when they had met, You need me. The memory never left him because she had been right. Death took his aim before dropping back down into the City and catching himself on a streetlight. Making sure no one would see, he gripped the post with his boney hands, swung around once, and let himself fall 30 feet to the sidewalk. For a moment, he resented the fact that he never got hurt. You’ve gotten good at this, Raven nipped his ear playfully before spreading her wings and flying nine floors up towards an open window across the street. Death shrugged off his hood and brushed his long, black hair behind his ears. After a moment of thought, he unclasped the cloak entirely and draped it over his arm. No use having the new neighbors think he’s strange right away. That would come soon enough. He reminded himself to pull his lips into a smile and strolled after Raven and around the corner. “Sorry, boys!” Death let out a chuckle that sounded almost like a real laugh. “I’m still new here. Got lost on the way to get this key made.” He flashed them a single keyring. A crew of movers sat on the sidewalk beside the locked truck he’d left hours prior. “How the hell you get lost on streets that are a grid? You owe us for the wait,” one of them grumbled as he stood up. Death shot them a look of admitted guilt as he unlatched the trunk and let the door roll up. The rest of the group piled inside and began sifting through boxes, clearly avoiding the piano. Death could almost hear Raven’s caw-laugh at the thought of that. He smirked. “Of course, man, of course. My bad! I guess I just lost track of time.”

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