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Out of Time

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The news hasn’t sunk in yet. He knew it would take time. Neither of them had thought it would be this soon, but here it is: The Timer, The Bomb- whichever metaphor he keeps using- has truly been set in motion.

Ethan had expected for him to cry at the very least, maybe even hug him, but so far his brother has stayed motionless at the other end of the sofa. He has tried to study Cal’s expression but it was like he was in an entranced stupor. It’s not as if he blames him exactly, but he was expecting something else, something with a smidgen of emotion.

Finally, after another minute of silence, his brother turns to him. Ethan sees the tears form and reaches inside his jacket, finally able to quell the tremble in his fingers.

“I don’t understand,” says Cal.

Ethan hands him a tissue.

“It’s not supposed to be understood,” he says quietly. “It just is.”

“I thought… I thought, maybe we had more…”

“Time?” Ethan sighs. “Yeah. It’s funny, at first I… I thought I could control it. Stop it. For a little while, at least.”

“Not just you.”

The words pain him. He should’ve known. Cal was the type of person who believes in making things happen through sheer willpower. Most of the time Ethan found it funny. Now he mourns its uselessness.

“Ten years.”

“What?”

“Ten years to live. Twenty if I’m lucky. It’s not enough,” he laments, uncaring of how bitter he sounds. “I can’t have a family.”

“You can share mine.”

Ethan clenches his jaw. “It’s not the same.”

How could it be? It was more than anything he had ever wanted. He's imagined it, like everyone does, having a life, a lover, watching his child grow. It was something that could never be replaced, that unconditional love that you only share for your family. He has imagined holding that little body to his, so gentle and tender, and whispering into their little ear about how much their silly daddy loved them. Then he’d watch their little body grow and feel unadulterated pride as they took their first steps, their first kiss, their first love…

Only, it could never happen.

And at that moment, almost like a sudden realisation, Ethan turns to his brother. “I’m going to die, Cal.”

His brother breaks, back curling as he shakes with sobs. Ethan watches.

There’s guilt, of course. He knew Cal would be open with his emotions, painfully so, but it felt wrong when he himself felt little in comparison. For his own words to cause this was more painful than the actual news.

“It’s going to be alright,” he says, pulling Cal closer to him.

After a moment, through the sniffles he hears, “I’m supposed to say that to you.”

Ethan smiles. “You’re an idiot.”

There’s a little laugh, soft and choked, but it’s there. It’s what they both need.

Satisfied, Ethan lets go of his brother and shifts away from him. They sit there for minutes. No talking or looking at each other, just soaking everything in. He wishes he could know what’s going through his older brother’s head, but is equally afraid to find out. What he does know, however, is that they need clarity.

“You have to get used to it, Caleb,” says Ethan. “I’m going to die.”

Cal frowns. “But n-not for-”

“-I know what you’re like,” his brother tuts. “Denial, Caleb. It’s something we’re both guilty of… but not now. Not for this. I need you to face this with me.”

“Of course.”

Cal’s eyes are wide and sincere but Ethan doesn’t believe him. Not after everything.

“Ethan, I promise.”

But he knows.

Promises are too easily broken.