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Agni was on fire. He could not remember a time before the burning, before the flames consumed every cell only for them to emerge again, phoenixes who could never escape the womb. He was not the same person he was months ago, weeks ago, minutes ago. Cells grew, cells died, cells grew again. Yet Agni remained.

He stood alone, snow swirling around him, tiny flakes of ice pummeling him, dying in his flames, suffering the same fate that everything that touched him suffered. He felt nothing, but he knew a drop was frozen on his cheek, knew it as sure as he knew that the body he held was never coming back.

Togata had told him something one night, in one of their brief moments of seriousness, and it returned to him now. Agni had been unable to think then, because the pain was especially bad, threatening to consume the right half of his face, and sleep was out of the question. He could not help the screams. Togata had come down to watch, Neneto hovering behind them, a camera eye peeking from the shadows.

“Why?” Agni had croaked out, if only to get Togata going on one of their film rants. He had heard about the necessities of the training arc, how essential it was to get every trial and tribulation on film, so the audience could see the pain and struggle before the final fight, for the buildup. But he didn’t mind hearing it again.

Instead, Togata had sat down on a piece of junk, some random old wooden object, and watched him. Neneto stayed by the door, the camera still held up to her eye.

“Do you miss sleeping?” Togata had asked.

Agni had just shrugged.

“I’ll bet you miss having a wet dream.” Togata pulled out a cigarette, tapped a finger on the case pensively. “Can you even have one? I’ll bet it burns your cock. Talk about fiery passion.”

Agni had not laughed, never really did at Togata’s crudeness. But it had helped take his mind off of the searing pain, even for just a second.

“Hey,” Togata had said, flicking open the lighter, “ever heard of Theseus’s ship?” They hadn’t waited for him to respond. Neneto’s eyes were just as fixed on Togata as Agni’s was. “Course you haven’t.” The cigarette took hold of the flame, and the fire danced atop the tip. Agni wondered if his flames looked as beautiful in the dark.

There was a brief silence, as Togata took a drag on the cigarette, and even the pain had stilled for a second, as if it was waiting for Togata’s words. Togata exhaled a plume of smoke.

“Well, it was mentioned in Wandavision, crazy show by the way, mainstream and offbeat simultaneously, not bad at all, but it’s a thought experiment, from the days where people cared about fucking philosophy.”

“Philos-?”

“Philosophy, dumbass. People are so stupid nowadays. It had to do with a boat. Do you two even know what a boat is?”

Neneto had blinked at being addressed. She shook her head.

“Hey, keep the camera still,” said Togata. “Now’s not the time for blur.”

Agni said, “What’s a boat?”

Togata shook their head slowly. “If you’d seen the Titanic, you’d know." Some ash crumbled off of the cigarette. "Whatever. So the thought experiment goes like this: If I own a, a,” they glanced around the room, which was depressingly empty, given Agni’s tendency to light things aflame, “a camera, but then I give the camera to Neneto and she breaks the lens,” Togata had fixed Neneto with a look and she had gulped, “And Neneto replaces the camera’s lens, is it still my camera?”

“Uh,” said Agni. His right eye was killing him.

“Yes,” said Neneto, her soft voice echoing in the room. “It’s still your camera.”

Togata looked pleased. “Ok, but then say you break the flash? And then you replace that. Is it still mine?”

“I think so,” said Neneto.

“I’m confused,” said Agni.

Togata ignored him. “Then you break the screen and the handle, because you’re a clumsy fuck. What then?”

“It’s still your camera,” said Neneto. "I think."

“Even if your dumbass broke the entire thing and all of it was a replacement? Then is it still my camera?” Togata's eyes glittered, Agni's flame reflected in their dark eyes.

“Um,” said Neneto. She shifted in the doorway, looking at the wall as if it held an answer.

“Wait,” said Agni. “What’s wrong with your camera?”

“No,” said Neneto. “It’s not your camera, if all the original parts are gone.”

“Well then,” said Togata, “What are your thoughts on Fire Man here?”

“What do you mean?” asked Neneto.

“Every second, his cells are dying. Every second, they are being reborn. So is flaming cock an original copy? Or is he being erased and renewed before our eyes?”

Neneto’s gaze flicked back and forth from Togata to Agni. “Huh,” she said.

“I’m Agni,” said Agni.

“No shit,” said Togata.

“I don’t think I change,” said Agni.

“Well, let’s hope that changes. No one likes a stagnant character.” Togata’s cigarette was almost at its end.

“Ok,” said Agni.

“Now scream a little,” said Togata.

“What?”

“For the camera.”

Agni sighed. The pain had lessened barely, relegating hell to a background noise. He complied, giving his best impression of a man being burned alive.

Togata frowned. “For a man in constant pain, you’re not doing a great job of showing it.” They clapped their hands, the sharp noise shattering the quietness, and both Agni and Neneto jumped.

“Sorry,” Agni had said. He screamed a bit louder, the roughness in his throat incomparable to the roughness of the endless flames licking the side of his face. Togata had given him a thumbs up.

That night had been a good night, relatively. Why was he remembering this now?

He stood alone now, in the frozen tundra, his flames the only light in the snowy darkness. A body in his hands, dark as the night, burned and charred and slowly turning into bones. The ship of Theseus. Agni wondered if he was the same as he was yesterday, as he was an hour ago. His cells died, his cells regenerated, and yet he remained Agni. Or so he thought.

But this, this pain, this death, this one Agni did not think he could come back from. Was this Agni the same as he was before stepping on the ice?

He wanted to end it all, he did. But then he felt the weight in his hands and he heard that cursed word again, that word uttered by everyone he had ever loved, everyone who he had killed, that damn word remained the same always. Agni wished it would change.

Live.

How could he live?

He stood on the frozen tundra, Togata in his arms, and he wished he were born anew, a camera recreated, a movie star, a hero. He knew he was none of those things. He watched the icy wasteland, and it was quiet.

The snow whirled around, and even Agni’s flame could not stop it.