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?
“Jason. Jason, don’t you dare.”
Arianna. Only Arianna.
“Don’t you even think it, do you hear me? Back this instant with you.”
Jason would’ve grinned if his body hadn’t suddenly been on fire with pain. Pain was good, wasn’t it? Pain meant you were alive. That’s what Ari said.
“Come on, Jason,” her voice was cracking. Ariannas don’t crack. That’s not meant to happen. “Look at me.”
Wrench open the eyes. Green eyes staring right back, trying to glare. He could see that in the lines around her mouth. She was in oddly sharp focus. But the glare was melting off her face with tears.
“Ari…” he crackled it out. Everything about him crackled. The bones, the joints, the tendons. Crackled and broke.
“Exactly. Don’t think you’re bailing on me now, Thompson.” He tried another smile. It didn’t work either. Apparently his smiles were out of service. She kissed him, roughly. “Don’t you go.”
“Wouldn’t.” He managed that much. Added a sigh, “Dare.”
Arianna offered him a too-bright smile. The one she used when he had screwed up and she didn’t want him to know; when she wanted him to believe she was okay.
He didn’t believe it.
But he was slipping. Slipping out with the pain.
She wouldn’t like that.
“Please.” She was begging. Please don’t beg, Ari. I’m trying. “Don’t go. I love you; you can’t go.”
Jason stared back at her, eyes blue and wide and pain. Arianna bit back a sob, ordered herself to hold it together. Hold it together. You can’t change everything. “You can’t.” She rubbed his face with a hand, chaffing it. “Stay.”
He wasn’t staying. She knew. She knew she knew sheknewsheknewsheknew.
“Love you,” he coughed out.
He was in so much pain.
She was in so much pain.
Make it end.
Let it end, she told herself.
“I know.” She kissed his cheek again. “If you’d stayed, I was going to buy you a cake. If you go, I’ll eat it myself.” Babbling. What was she talking about? But he managed a slight smile. “I’ll get old and fat while you’re gone. I’m not coming for you; you’ll have to wait.”
Jason’s head tilted down. Probably a nod.
“Go, then,” she ordered him roughly, kissing him once more. “Just remember that you owe me. A big one.” He was slipping away. Was that really what she meant to say? “I love you.” She cried it. She screamed it. It came out calm.
And she became rage.