“Ryan.” She says, and tries to push him off. She expects him to be weak, like he had been for the last few days, but he’s stronger than her now, and she feels as though she’s trying to make a wall move.
She shakes her head when she knows what that means, and wants pretends that it’s just a dream, except she can’t because it’s real, it’s real, it’s real. She thrashes, tries to surprise him and buck him off, but he’s ready for her, grabbing her wrists and pushing them into the dirt. For a long moment, he stares at her.
She knows that she needs another tactic if she’s going to have any chance of living, so she breathes in deeply and tries her best to be strong. “Ryan, please get off me.” She says calmly, and she’s proud of herself because she’s anything but calm right now.
She sees the flicker in his eyes, and at first she thinks that it’s just the reflection of the light, but he changes, his eyes unfocused for a few moments and Gwen thinks that he might not be gone fully yet. It’s enough time for her to take the opportunity to shimmy out from underneath him.
“Ryan.” She says, slowly getting to her feet. “Talk to me.” He doesn’t say a word, just stares at her again, and she stares back. She sees the conflict in his eyes, and it’s reassuring to know that Ryan might not be completely lost to the disease.
She doesn’t know why he’s infected again, why the cure didn’t do the job, but she ignores it for now. That’s a problem for another time.
“Ryan, where’d you get the knife from?” She says, recalling from her lessons from Austin that calling out a person’s name when they’re in shock sometimes help them ground themselves. She hopes that it’ll work the same way for this situation.
Ryan stays quiet, but his eyes changed for only a moment and they suddenly look pained.
And his eyes change again, and they’re the right colour, the colour of rainclouds, but his face in contorted in pain. “Gwen.” He says, and shakes his head. He stumbles to his feet, fingers twitching around the hilt of the knife. “Gwen.”
And Gwen wants to run over to him and hold him, but before she can, his eyes are back to the way they were before, and the knife is secure in his hand, fingers wrapped expertly around it. He takes long strides towards her, backing her into a tree. He smirks, and it’s all teeth, threatening, and a look that doesn’t belong on his face. He’s going to kill her, she realises now, he’s going to kill her, and he’s going to kill her.
The monster wearing her best friend’s face is going to kill her.
Tears well up in her eyes, but she forces herself not to cry. She doesn’t want to spend her last moments crying, she determined that her last breaths won’t be wasted on sobbing piteously.
“Ryan.” She whispers when his hand is bringing up the knife painfully slow, he’s teasing her. She hopes, and she hopes and hopes that he’ll fight back through to being her Ryan and drop the knife, let her live. But he doesn’t.
It’s for the best. Gwen thinks. She wouldn’t want to live in a world without Ryan anyway, at least not after everything they had been through together. The thought of facing the rest of the end of the world without him feels hollow.
She blinks, and a single tear falls from her eye. The knife is at chest level now, close to her skin. A tiny little bit of his strength, only a matter of seconds, and that would be in her chest, ending her life in a matter of mere seconds. She wonders if those few seconds will be absolute agony, or if the shock will simply make it feel like she was okay.
But the knife drops to the ground rather than in her chest, and she watches as Ryan’s eyes flicker, from the colour of the moon and the colour of rainclouds and back again, but the rainclouds win out for a moment, and Ryan drops to the floor away from her with a cry.
She feels dizzying relief at being alive when she knows she was only a hair’s breadth away from being dead, and she slides to the ground, and lets the tears fall for a few seconds. She breathes for just a moment, her chest stuttering, and she’s alive. She gets ready to get to her feet, to run.
And then she hears movement, and she sees Ryan getting closer, swiping up the knife from the floor, and her breath catches. Because of her relief, of her stupidity of being so slow to compose herself, Ryan had flicked back to the monster, and now he would kill her. She should’ve been quicker, should’ve ran the moment she had the chance.
She closes her eyes, and she accepts that fact that she is going to die now, after the false hope of being able to live. She knows Ryan is stronger than her, and despite the panic that’s screaming at her to just run - because she knows she will never get far, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be her greatest idea to turn her back to someone who had a knife, she breathes in what she thinks in her last breath, and she waits.
Except the knife never goes anywhere near her, and her eyes snap open when she hears a soft cry of pain.
Ryan’s cry of pain.
The man is on the ground, curled up on his side, and his hands are wrapped around his middle, but Gwen sees it, sees the hilt of the knife.
And she realises that Ryan just stabbed himself.
“Ryan.” She sobbed clumsily getting to her feet and running to him, only to fall to his side. She fights him, pulls his arms away from the wound and tries to get a good look at it, but she knows, she knows and she knows. It’s a fatal hit, probably would’ve pierced something vital. He’s losing blood too fast, and he’s fading away before her eyes.
His eyes are on her face, the right colour, and there’s blood on his lips and on his chin, and she knows that she can’t save him.
She can’t save him.
She can’t save him.
It echoes in her mind like a taunt, makes her feel nauseous and useless. She wishes she would have just run when she had been given the chance, and she absolutely hates herself for not fleeing. If she had, Ryan probably wouldn’t be in this position right now. It was because of her that he had stabbed himself.
“I’m so sorry.” She says, and her hands were coated in his blood. They shake when she touches his face with the gentlest of touches. He reaches up, but his arms are weak and trembling, making the task seem so much harder than it is. He gently wipes away her tears, and it’s enough to make her cry even more.
“Don’t be.” He whispers, and his voice is cracked, and weak. He drops his arm back to his side, but he doesn’t break eye contact with her.
His breath is stuttering now, and she knows he’s not going to live for much longer, but she swallowed back the sobs, forcing herself to be strong. For Ryan.
She sits with him, gently stroking his face that was now smeared with his own blood and it’s a terrible sight, that she hates, but she doesn’t bother trying to clean it. There’s no way that she would manage to get it off without the assistance of water, and she wasn’t leaving his side in search of it.
She doesn’t know how long she sits there with him when his breath suddenly just stops.
When he fails to breathe again, she feels herself completely shatter, and she sobs, ugly and loud, that racks her entire body, and she feels like she can’t breathe, like when he had stopped breathing, she had too.
“Ryan.” She calls out one last time, but he doesn’t answer.
He doesn’t answer.