Jason knew he was dying. The knowledge didn’t bother him much. His life, in review, had been rough. Death. Lots of it.
It was just his turn.
No big deal.
He wondered what the moment would feel like, when it should come. Floating free, perhaps. Or wrenching.
Closed his eyes. Hadn’t been aware they were open. Closed them and told his body to relax. It was like giving a pep talk to a friend before a mission. No big deal. Just relax. Let it go. Un-clench your fists, your jaw. The tension won’t help you. Tension was the enemy, not the guys with guns.
Laughed. Laughed at himself. Was he really laughing? Well, his body wasn’t laughing. Did it matter if his body wasn’t laughing?
Didn’t care. Didn’t matter.
Freeing, that’s what the feeling was. Warmth and release creeping outward from his spine. He’d just go, he supposed. No point fighting it.
A hand. Not his hand. On his hand. A hand on his head. Brought him straight back. Pause the release, just hold it. What is this, now?
Silent crying, but shaking sobs.
Could be shaking laughter, maybe. Didn’t seem apropos.
Open those eyes again.
Natalie, brushing his hair back from his face. “Natalie.” He had said it, his body participating this time. Coughed. Oh, it hurt. The pain was back. He clenched his fist, gripping at her fingers. “I–”
She shushed him, brushing back the hair. She did that when he needed to sleep. She patted his cheek. She wasn’t shaking. He couldn’t see if there were tears.
He couldn’t leave her.
Fought the release.
“No, sweetheart,” she told him, her voice raw like a winter morning. “It’s okay. You go.”
“Can’t.” He was panting, he could hear it.
She put a hand over his mouth. Her mouth looked strange. He loved her. He was tied to her. He would stay here, for her. Hang on, he ordered his body. Make it work.
Can’t, said his body.
Her hand went back to his hair, stroking him to sleep. She leaned down and kissed him. “You’re fine. I’m fine. I know. It’s okay.” She was untying the knots, letting the yarn slip through her fingers. “I love you.”
“Love…” he mumbled. Was that love making his hand wet? Her fingers were slippery. He let them go.
Natalie brought her forehead to his and felt him relax. She looked him in the face, managed a smile. Go in peace, my love, she told him. Not with her mouth. Her lips were done. Go.
Natalie watched him leave, staring in his face. Her protector, her lover, her friend. He had to go.
She had let him go.
She would never forgive herself.
She put her head on his cheek, and she cried.