Fire and water. Black and white. Johnny and Eric were a study in contrasts, as different from each other as could be.

Johnny was shy and generally reticent. Eric was outgoing and loved to talk. Johnny had a GED and a few years of business school. Eric had a PhD. Johnny made his living by the sweat of his brow. Eric pushed a pen and tapped away at keyboards. Johnny read the Metro section and the comics. He scanned the Board of Health notices to chuckle over which restaurants were closed that week for rat turd violations. Eric read the international section and studied the federal gossip. Johnny loved Roseanne, Eric NPR. For Johnny, food was function, to be eaten as quickly as possible in silence. For Eric, food was love, a celebration of human relations at every meal. Where Johnny saw the ugliest possible tie in the world, Eric saw beauty. Johnny loved color and high design; Eric continued to labor with the brick and board constructions that had dominated his sense of style since college. Johnny loved tools and knives and gadgets and rocks and stones in his pockets. Eric loved books and frying pans and everything in order. Johnny did the repairs; Eric did the paperwork. Johnny stood in awe and terror of authority; Eric would run his mouth, to his own eternal peril, if stopped by a policeman on the road. For Johnny, a doctor's prescriptions and dictums were law, for Eric they were the beginnings of a negotiation.

People marveled that they got along, much less built a life together. But they did build a life together and by the end had built a single identity they shared. For one thing, there was that energy from the very moment they'd met. It might have softened with time, but it was always there. They didn't need anything else and didn't want encumbrances. If the bond of emotion that held them together died, so be it, they thought. They'd separate. And given that both were very determined men, they fought to keep it alive throughout all the very hard spots.

It wasn't just the physical attraction that had later mellowed into love. They knew above all else that they could count on each other. If they gave their word, each could trust the other. They shared a skepticism about life in general and turned to each other's care as the years went by. They were devoted and loyal to each other beyond all else. Slights to one were insults to the other. They protected each other fiercely from the stings of the world and as best they could from the inevitable decay of life.

More than from the slings and arrows of the world, they worked to protect each other from the hurt and silence within. Each saw in each other a mirror of his own isolation. Both seemed destined to live with a core of vulnerability, and each saw himself as the other's protector. They'd finally bought the farm for their refuge, far away from the town and all its entanglements. They'd even begun to lay in their moats of iris.

As time went by, their shared identity was no longer merely psychological. They began to resemble each other physically. When they moved to the farm, new neighbors asked if they were related. No, no, Eric would say, just partners. Johnny, always vigilant, would kick him in the shins and say yes, cousins. No sense in making trouble, he'd say later in private.

At the hospital, after Johnny had been treated as best as could be and there was no more hope, the nurses became quieter, more gentle, as they waited for the day of discharge. Johnny was to be sent home under hospice care.

One nurse seemed to take special interest. As they waited for the day of discharge, Eric and Tona, Johnny's sister, were taking turns sitting with Johnny through the night. One night, when Eric was there, the nurse came in to see if either Johnny or Eric needed anything. She looked long and hard at the two - Johnny lying sunken and wasted, Eric sitting exhausted in a chair. And then, in a very soft voice, perhaps as much to comfort herself as to comfort them, she said, "You favor," she said. "You favor so. Are you brothers?"