The long and bloody dance ended at that gas station at one in the morning.
Anton found Jonas filling his car with shaking hands, dirty clothes, and a week’s worth of stubble turning into a beard. Not that Anton looked any better. He lingered by the ice machine, savoring his last moments with the man.
This had almost ended already over a dozen times, but the summer night air was ripe with finality. Anton took a deep breath of the gasoline, his own anticipation making him shaky. He briefly considered walking away— letting the dance continue.
Jonas wasn’t like anyone else that he had ever met. He was strong, smart, quick. Anton could work all day to outmaneuver him and still be bested. His opponent always knew how to surprise him.
But a dance can’t be lengthened by not dancing.
Anton loved the dance, even though he didn’t remember why it began. He reached into his coat pocket and slipped his handgun free. The cold weight was a promise, a chain. He pointed it at Jonas’s back.
The man by the gas pump was no less beautiful or dangerous in the white fluorescence of the street. It would be a shame to shoot him in the back. Especially when there was no point. Anton knew for a fact that Jonas’s gun had been shattered under the wheels of a semi-truck during their last encounter. With thirty meters between them, it wouldn’t matter whether or not Jonas was facing him.
Anton swallowed and ran a hand through his hair. He was smiling already as he shouted, “Hello there, Jonas! Taking a road trip?”
Jonas dropped the nozzle, spilling a puddle of watery gasoline over the concrete which slowed to a dripping. The sweet, euphoric smell of gas flooded the air. He smiled back at Anton, warm and cocky. “And here I was, worried you had finally lost me.”
“You’ll have to try harder than a 7-Eleven,” Anton replied. “Especially when you’re unarmed.”
Jonas’s sleeve, which had been covering his raised left hand, slipped downward, revealing a silvery revolver. “Are you sure?”
Anton was so surprised by the sight that he didn’t even pull his trigger when Jonas leveled the weapon at him. There were always surprises like this, in their dance. It was what made Jonas so impressive to Anton.
Cars roared past the station. Crickets sang in the forest beyond the concrete. The fluorescents buzzed and spluttered above them. Their smiles were unaffected by the guns in their hands. As if they were the least important detail.
“You can feel it, can’t you,” Jonas said, “this is it.”
“This is it,” Anton echoed. “This is where you die.”
Jonas’s eyes told him that he very much believed the opposite to be true. “Whatever you say.” He pulled the trigger.
The bullet missed Anton and shattered the glass of the ice machine. Anton jumped at the sound and fired. His shot went wide and struck the gas pump, releasing a shower of sparks. There was only the shortest moment of regret before the whole world erupted into a fireball.
The shockwave blasted Anton from his feet and into the storefront of the 7-Eleven. Glass rained around him as he hit the cold tile inside. Blood flowed heavily from a cut above his right eye. But all the pain and noise was secondary. Jonas was all he could think about.
He got to his feet, not noticing the clerk at the phone dialing for the police. The gun was still in his hand, but holding it was more reflex than intention. Jonas. Glass shards dug into his leather jacket, his hands, his face. Jonas.
Anton robotically pulled open the door to the store. The fire had consumed both pumps and Jonas’s car. There was no sight of him. Inexplicable panic filled Anton’s chest. “Jonas!”
The flames crackled and spat smoke into the sky. The stars— what few of them he could see— disappeared beyond the smoke. The air tasted foul, dirty.
He was alone there, beside the fire. The dance was over.
And then, a figure emerged from a break in the inferno. Jonas’s hair was singed and his clothes were blackened with soot. But he was alive, through some miracle.
Anton laughed and spread out his arms in a faux hug.
Jonas grinned back through bloody teeth. He spat on the ground. “You’re terrible at this.”
The warm glow of the fire enveloped them both. It reminded him of sitting by the fireplace during winter. Orange and honest, not like the emotionless fluorescents. This was much better.
He raised the gun and pulled the trigger. It was only then that he realized how warped and dented the carbon fiber frame was. The handgun exploded in his hand. The explosion scorched his fingers raw and bloody. He screamed.
In the next moment, Jonas was there. He kicked Anton’s feet out from underneath him and sent him face down onto the pavement. Anton rolled out of the way before Jonas could bring his foot down on his back. He balled his unbroken fist and punched Jonas in the jaw. He felt Jonas’s stubble graze his knuckles as gentle as a kiss.
Jonas reeled back, and Anton unholstered a knife from his boot. He leapt forward, the steel flashing in his hand, aiming for Jonas’s gut. Those five inches of steel would’ve ended everything.
But Jonas always had a surprise. He brought his hand down on Anton’s wrist and twisted. Bones cracked. The knife fell from his fingers and into Jonas’s.
Anton smiled as Jonas turned the knife on him and drove the blade into his chest. It slid neatly between his ribs, into his heart. A perfect fit.
Jonas caught him and lowered him to the ground. There was no triumph in his eyes. “In another life,” he whispered.
It was so cold, even though it was summer, even beside the fire. But when he reached for Jonas’s hands, they were warm to the touch.
“I’ll get you next time,” Anton said.
“I can’t wait.”