She sits with him for hours, and by the time the others find her, she no longer crying. She just feels empty. Hollow.
“Oh shit.” Someone breathes, but she doesn’t care who. They don’t matter right now. No one matters right now. The only person who mattered was dead.
“Do you think she did it?” She hears one of the girls whisper to someone else, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care who they are, or what they think and if they thought she did it.
“Gwen.” Riley knelt down next to her, and tries to touch her shoulder. She flinches away from him, something mixed between a growl and a whimper breaking free from her mouth.
“No,” she whispered, “The cure should have fixed him.”
She sees Riley shake his head, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care what he thinks. He can say whatever he wants, and it won’t matter.
Riley reached for Ryan, and she grabbed his wrist, pushing it away. “Don’t.” She said in a tone promised a merciless death. “Don’t touch him.”
And Kel was next to her, and she realised how much she actually liked the man. She found herself leaning into his chest and fighting back tears. His arms wrapped around her, strong and reassuring, like Ryan’s had been, but she finds little comfort in it.
Ryan should be the one hugging her. She pushed Kel away, and wiped at her face. “Find water.” She says softly, because she wants to get Ryan’s blood off of his face, she needs to get it off of his face. Kel nods and grabbed Isabelle by the arm and pulled himself to his feet, and takes her off in search of water.
Everything felt insignificant to her at that moment; she couldn’t even find it in her to be relieved when she saw Ariana. She was heavily bruised and covered in blood, swaying on her feet and leaning too much on Isiah, but she was alive and that was all that mattered.
She turned back to Ryan, and she started to stroke his face again, taking in his features and felt all too aware of the fact that she would never see his smile or his eyes looking at her in that fond way again, and felt herself tremble with restrained sobs. She wanted to stop crying, but the tears just kept coming like a torrent of flooding rain, because the boy with the hair the colour of wet sand and eyes the colour of rainclouds would never take another breath, would never talk again, would never laugh. He’d never get to go back to the camp, and he wouldn’t go with them to find his best friend.
She would have to tell Zeke about how she had gone with his best friend of so many years in a desperate to find the city and had infected him. She would have to tell him that Ryan had died and that she was still alive, and that it was her fault.
It was her fault. Her fault. Her fault.
She turned her head to the side and retched.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered to Ryan, but he was silent.
Silent. No whisper of breath or a laugh, no recognition that she had spoken to him.
“I’m sorry.” She whispered again, and waited for him to reply.
But he didn’t.
When Kel and Isabelle bring back the water, she struggles to find the strength to thank them. She took the water and dipped her hand in it, running it gently over Ryan’s face. The blood is dry though, and had caked to his skin, and she hated when her nails accidentally dug into his flesh when she attempts to scrub it off.
She expected him to make a sound, to acknowledge his pain, but he doesn’t so much as twitch, and she hated it.
She hated it
“Gwen.” Kel said quietly, sitting down next to her, and she glanced at him for a half a second before she moved her gaze back to Ryan. “He’s gone Gwen.”
“Don’t.” She said, and her voice cracked the slightest bit and shook, but she ignored it. That didn’t matter to her.
“Gwen-” He said before cutting himself off and shook his head. “I know it hurts, but we need to move.”
The City would find them if they’d stay here, she knew that, but she couldn’t find it in her to move, couldn’t conjure the energy to do anything besides sit with Ryan. He’d wake up. He had to.
“Go. We’ll catch up.”
“We’re not leaving you.” He told her, he grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. His eyes were like the colour of pale honey, but she didn’t tell him that. He wouldn’t know what the colour of honey was. He wasn’t infected. He was healthy.
He laced their fingers together, and stood up. She was like a doll, not fighting against him when he forces her to stand, but she didn’t try to make it easy for him either.
“I know it’s hard. We all know how hard it is, and I wish that it didn’t have to be this way, but we need to go.”
She didn’t say a word, just shook her head. She started to sink back to her knees, but Kel wouldn’t let her, he just grabs her by the arm and holds her up. “Be strong.” He tells her, like it’s going to help, like it’ll bring Ryan back, and she hated him, hated him for saying it, because she’s sick of being strong.
“I don’t want to.” She tells him, and closes her eyes, rubbing at them. She wasn’t crying anymore, but they ache. It was when she’s opened her eyes when she’s dropping her hands back down to her sides that she noticed the blood caking them.
Ryan’s blood caking them.
She felt sick, and breathing seems so much harder. She stared at her hands, shook her head and scrubbed at them. Some of the blood flaked off, but not all of it. She scrubbed harder like one would when washing a pan that food cooked to the surface, her nails dug in to her flesh, and she hated that it wouldn’t come off, no matter how much she tried. It built up underneath her fingernails, but it didn’t seem to have come off her skin at all.
She wasn’t even aware of Kel until he had taken one of her hands in his own and dipped it in the water, gently washing away the blood. She stared at the water, watched as the blood flakes off in it like old paint and stains the water red, and absently she wondered if this is what Jared had seen in the river before he had died.
She felt her eyes straying back to Ryan’s face as Kel took her other hand, and did the same process of washing away the taint, but she didn’t feel like she was clean, she could still feel Ryan’s blood staining her skin.
She bites her lip, and stared down at her hands. She didn’t see any blood, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not there, that it’s not staining her soul.
“Come on.” Kel pulled her back to her feet and gently pushed at her shoulder, forcing her to walk. “We need to leave.”
“We can’t just leave him here.” Either Isabelle or Ariana whispered.
“I’ll deal with him, the rest of you go on and we’ll catch up.” Riley says, turns to Isiah. “Help me.”
She didn’t want to leave Ryan behind. The idea felt like it’d be easier for her to cut off her own arm with a plastic spoon, and she almost fought against Kel, but he caught her arms and stared into her eyes.
“Go.” Kel said quietly, but it was a demand more than anything. “You don’t need to see this.” He shoved at her, forces her to either walk or fall, but the temptation to fall was strong, so she stops. He looked frustrated, tired, and stressed at this point, and looked far too close to snapping. Come to think of it, they’d all looked this way for a few days, and she felt bad. She knew it was her fault that they were this way, and she didn’t want to add to it, but she just couldn’t leave Ryan.
He didn’t force her to go away on her own, and instead came with her. He had helped her, had stood by her, and now it was her time to stand by him. She started to run back towards him, but Kel’s arms wrapped around her waist and lift her off the ground.
“No!” She cries, and she didn’t feel detached anymore. She just felt like there was a hole in her heart, a Ryan shaped heart that kept on ripping wider and wider every moment. She needed him, needed him to stick her back together, and she struggled against Kel. She fought to get to Ryan, but the man was strong and refused to relent against her desperate attempts.
She twisted, and tried to slip out of his grip, but he wouldn’t let her. She struggled harder, thrashing and slammed her elbow into his chest. The hit was enough for his breathing to catch for a moment, and his grip to loosen the slightest bit, and she broke away from him and ran towards Ryan.
Except she’s grabbed again, and before she could even think about fighting, a quick blow to her head sent her spiralling into unconsciousness.