A twist of the wheel, spinning, spanning the room with sound. The ticking, the clattering, little gears moaning invisible, and the bullet is lodged, silver lead grain single and menacing.

How much you wanna bet?

How much you wanna die?

In this lovely roulette of death. And that is the only thing to fear. Just death.

You tremble and shudder, eyes flickering like a wasted taper, the candle puffing and smoking in some greasy air. The beautiful oil dust chokes you, strangles you, and you can't breathe, you're oppressed, watching the man in the mirror as he glares at death. Death, the menacing foe, death ingrained in the silver lead bullet.

You never wanted this to happen.

He means so much to you, even now—but it's too late, he's accepted. Death is not so frightening, you think, we all die, we all die when we don't want to. It is a discomfort, nothing more.

But your hands are fisted, you fists are clenched. You don't want it see it, as he doesn't stop, unblinking, looking straight forward with that stoic ferocity you know so well, the fueled look he has always carried.

I don't want this to happen.

But too late, the bullet is fired, the puff of smoke, as he is shot between the eyes, those eyes that pierce the soul.

You scream, you cry, and realize that he is unharmed, and you weep and think that God is with you, at least for tonight.

Then the barrel turns to you.

Oh God, you gasp, as the man in the mirror twitches and blinks, moving—as the trigger is squeezed and fire powder hits your face, and you wonder how many rounds are left, slivers of moonlight in the stinted stillness.

You call his name.

The man in the mirror blinks again, as his face is dusted, the bullet leers unseen. More smoke, more dust, you want to scream, but somehow you can't, your throat is clogged, there's wax and cement there, and there is nothing more awful at the moment, when it hurts, it hurts in your chest, a small compacted spasm twisting for release, waiting to explode. You think you will combust in a burst of flames, as his face moves again, the barrel points at you, and you see a flash of silver.

Better you than him. Better that he lives. He is better, so much more valuable.

You wait for it. Silver lead, rubbing your skull as it drill its way into your brain, and, shamefully—so shamefully, something he would never do—you close your eyes, imagining the sharp prick of death, of a game in which the greatest fear is loss of pride.

Instead, you hear a thump. A loud, harsh thump. You feel a warm mass, something alive. It pulses.

Your heart quickens, and you dare to unclose your eyes, and for a moment you can't comprehend, can't comprehend the dribbling blood as the man in the mirror collapses on top of you, and here, you realize that something has happened, something so irreversible that you gasp and scream, swallowing shrieks with your ears.

It's wrong. Something is wrong. You scream, again and again, as the man in the mirror falls into your arms, as your heart explodes and you ribs fall apart, the marrow burning white-hot; something is wrong, and you know that death has come, death has greeted you and snubbed you, because you are not worth it. The strength of the man in the mirror, the man fallen upon you, has diminished, is dying in the mass of pale-flushed skin and wasted sinew. And still you scream, holding him tight in your arms.

But he meets your gaze. You're sobbing.

I don't deserve it.

And now...now he is going. Death sneers at you, you clutching the dying man in the mirror who locks you into his eyes.

You're worth it, is the gasp, the strong gasp that starts to waver, and he clutches your hand, the flesh big and cooling. And don't ever forget that... He sighs, and never stops staring.

The light is gone in an instant.

...

Happy birthday, Cheri.