It’s not that Minato wants to die, it’s more that he doesn’t want to live. If there were a place where he could simply not exist, he would pay the price of his life and enjoy eternal slumber. Yet here he sat on a park bench, staring at the world pass him by like an observer untouched by time. He didn’t want to go to a school who taught him things he already knew, and he didn’t want to go back to a home with nothing but empty rooms.
Most people ignore him sitting on the park bench. He prefers it that way. It makes him feel one step closer to disappearing. Some days he feels the familiar pang of burning behind his eyes. He thinks it may be tears, but it was a foolish thought considering they had dried up a decade ago at the accident which left him an orphan. He no longer had grief, just a cold indifference, and that sinking feeling of the utter uselessness of waking each day and functioning.
"Hello, My name is Akinari."
Minato's head snaps to his right, an unexpected voice dragging him out of his thoughts.
"Have you ever read The Stranger, stranger?"
He's silent for a moment, taking in the absurdity that someone is actually talking to him. He recounts the books he's read and though the title is familiar he had not in fact read this particular one. Hesitantly, he replies, "No."
Akinari smiles wryly like there's a joke only he knows of. It's uncomfortable to be noticed, and he moves to leave, bothered by the presence, but when the newcomer speaks no more, he pauses. This seat was his first, why should he move? Quietly he sits, the blue of skies overhead and the creak of swings. Strangely, the companionship is unobtrusive, and surprisingly warm, like a quiet slumber beneath the covers on a winter day. When the sun only peeks over the trees, Akinari moves to leave. "I should be getting back to the dorms,"
"I'm here every Sunday," - the words slip out of his mouth before he understands what he's inviting. Akinari blinks in mild surprise, huffing, before he nods. "Then I will be too."
Sometimes they talk and sometimes they don't. Minato likes it that way, and if the coldness in his bones feels a little less chilling he doesn't say anything, but revels in the new feeling.
He doesn't know why, but on some days they hold hands, even though both of theirs are cold. Neither of them question this, even with their fingers entangled hidden beneath the hems of their coats.
Other days Akinari lets Minato sleep as he's prone to do, and says nothing when he awakens with his head against his shoulder.
"Stories," Akinari says one day, "Do you like them?"
Minato shrugs, he isn't sure he likes much of anything these days other than Akinari's company.
"I'm writing one," he says.
"For people like me. Like us."
Minato does not ask who are the people like them.
"There's this bird, and a pink alligator. People think they're strange for being friends, but they are."
When Minato says nothing he continues, "They live in a forest, and it should be lonely, but they aren't."
Minato feigns indifference, but he listens with intensity.
"Minato, I'm sorry, I'm dying."
Akinari smiles sadly, ( always smiling. why? why? why? ) , "I should have told you sooner, but I have an incurable illness."
"I was waiting for my time to die, but then I found something else. I can't tell you about it, but it gave me a purpose."
Breathless, Minato turns, finally looking at the boy who had crept into his life. Dying? What kind of sick joke was that? He finally sees the paleness in his skin, the tiredness in his eyes, only offset by the slight fire burning within them.
"I was angry before that, and you know how the story ends? The alligator consumes his friend by accident. There are no happy ends are there? Will we all die without expressing how we feel? Are there no answers?"
Minato cuts through the frantic questioning, "I think I could be happy. Happy knowing that someone like you existed."
There's an all consuming silence.
"Thank you." Akinari grabs his hand. "Thank you for listening."
Minato moves to speak. Why is he thanking him? If anything he should utter those words to the strange boy who sat beside him on a day just like any other. Thanking him for making him feel human again, like the cold of the world wasn't so harsh. It's then he notices something wrong with his friend. He's fading, translucent like a spirit, but his hands are alive, burning like the golden sun.
"Thank you so much. Please keep living." There's so much to say, so much he want's to do, but he's gone like the fading day into midnight.
Next Sunday a red hair girl named Mitsuru sits on the bench beside him. She hands him a notebook, on the cover a bird sits on a pink alligator's head. In a rush, Minato flips to the end. The ending is changed - there is no death, no sorrow, but the hollowness in his chest is filled to the brim with pain.
"He had one message, one wish -" Mitsuru says. "Give this book to the boy on the bench on Sundays. I have no idea what it is, but he talked about you often. He was ill for a very long time, but he said what little time he had was made purposeful by you."
Minato presses his face to his knees, book against his chest. He feels an awkward, unsure pat on his back.
- and he cries.