A Short Story
He is rotting. You know it and you can't bear it. Night duty, as always, is boring compared to the daytime. Every few hours a bullet or two has to be fired, maybe an arrow shot towards one of the nasty creatures. But other than that, nothing happens.
You have to change his bandages nearly every hour. The bite on his arm that will never heal seeps blood and fluid constantly, making a thick layer of bandages look like a tissue. Every time you change the bandage, your fingers brush his skin. It is hot. Infected, with a virus that you have no antibiotic for.
Every time you have to undo the tight knot that keeps the blood flow (mostly) staunched, he looks at you and smiles. His face is near-constantly smeared with blood, usually his own, and his smile is apologetic. He's sorry. He's always been sorry for your mistakes. The light is still in his eyes, though it's dim. Though your hands are constantly on your rifle, ready to shoot any undead creature that dares to get close to the camp, occasionally you reach over and link your fingers with his. He looks at you whenever you do so, almost confused that you would bother with holding his hand, and then squeezes your hand and smiles. Sometimes he rests his head on your shoulder and you feel the faint fever, the fever that never leaves. Sometimes his arm presses against yours and he hisses in pain, causing you to jerk away from him.
Sometimes, also, you can pretend that he didn't get bitten. You can pretend it wasn't your fault. When you look at him, you can hear his voice crying your name as you ran away from the zombies instead of helping him.
He doesn't hold it over you, though, and that makes you want to cry.
Right now, you're changing his bandages, and you can smell the flesh putrefying. It's already eaten straight to the bone, and soon enough will eat through the bone as well. He makes jokes about it, saying that once that happens you'll have to help him do everything, and though you laugh it brings tears to your eyes.
He used to cry when you changed his bandages but now he doesn't even watch. He stares out from behind the makeshift barricade of wood and scrap metal that you sit behind during night duty, looking towards the open wilderness that melds into forest some miles away. You say his name quietly.
He turns his head towards you. "What is it?"
You swallow hard. "Patrick, I'm- I'm sorry."
He rolls his eyes and smiles at you, endearing. "I can't believe you're still apologizing for that. It's been two months."
You feel your next words catch in your throat, and you close your mouth. You silently wrap the bandage tight around his arm, tying the knot at the top as usual and gently running your fingers along your handiwork. Your mind drifts back to the meeting that morning, the group meeting that Patrick wasn't a part of- he was excluded for a reason. Your throat tightens again and, though you fight them, there are tears in your eyes.
He reaches over and brushes his thumb under one of your eyes, smiling at you when your eyes come up to meet his. "It'll be okay."
You take a deep breath through your nose. You weren't supposed to tell, Kyle told you not to tell, but here you are opening your mouth anyway. There are words coming out, words you don't exactly comprehend until they're hanging in the empty silence between you and him. "They're leaving you."
He stares at you for several long seconds and tears burn in your eyes once more, and then he looks away from you and sighs wistfully. "I should have figured. I'm a liability. No good keeping some dude around who's just gonna turn crazy and kill everyone, right?"
You open your mouth to say something, to tell him what you planned, but he holds his hand up. "Before you even say it, no. You're not staying." Patrick says, firm.
You feel your brow furrow in anger and you lean towards him, angry words spilling out of your mouth (along with some spit). "I wasn't there for you then, how would I be able to live with myself if I wasn't here for you now?"
He says nothing, so you continue. "It's my fault you're dying and it's my fault the troupe is leaving you behind and it's all my fault..." You trail off, tears choking off your words. "For god's sake, Patrick, if someone else had been with you in the horde they wouldn't have let you get overrun and this wouldn't have happened and you'd be coming with us..." Your words end in a whisper, pained. You can't speak anymore.
He closes his eyes, then after a few long seconds opens them and looks at you, gaze steady and firm. "If it had been anyone else, they would have left me in the horde instead of coming back. I don't care if I would have never gotten bit, I would rather have to deal with rotting from the inside out than being eaten alive." His gaze softens and new tears run down your face. "Don't beat yourself up over it anymore. Or I'll beat you up for real."
You laugh softly and he turns his body towards you. Your eyes look over his stained and ripped clothes, peripheral catching the sight of the bandage that's already soaked with putrid blood. After a few moments, he lifts his arms in a motion you know all too well. You comply, settling yourself between his legs and resting your body against his. He puts his arms around you and nuzzles the top of your head and you bury your face in his chest despite the smell of his dirty shirt."It'll be okay." He says softly into your hair. and you choke on your breaths. "It'll be okay."
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