The only one who cares

I fall beside you, exhausted. My clothes are torn, my skin bruised. My breath burns ragged, tearing my chest, and my blood pumps so loud it feels like hammer blows behind my eyes. The pain hasn't hit yet, but I can tell I have broken ribs. I can't be sure but I think most of the blood on me is my own

I put my hand on yours. “What are you doing?” you demand, but make no attempt to draw away. You sound as worn down as I feel.

“What are we doing?”, I ask.

“We're trying to kill each other.”

“Trying and failing.”

I hear you groan, and when I turn to look, heedless to how my neck cries when I do, I see you on your side, facing me. Your nose is bleeding and your right eye is rapidly swelling shut. You lay your other hand on top of mine and squeeze. “I really do want you dead”, you say.

“I love you too”, I say. It's only when I see the shock on your face that I realise I mean it.

You start to laugh, but it turns into a cough. Drops of blood sputter out, some landing on my face. You draw a wheezing breath. “Gods, this is pathetic. We're pathetic.” Then, after a moment: “It'll never work.”

“I still want to try.”

“Remember last time? I cut you open and left you for dead.”

I trace the scar with my free hand. “Hard to forget.”

“I felt sad, then. I thought I'd really gotten you, that I had won —” and I felt sad. Sad because—” your voice breaks. “Fuck — because it seemed like you're the one person who truly cares about me. Cares enough to always be there.”

“To stop you.”

“Well, yes. But still. And I thought I'd lost you.”

We lie in silence for some time. I'm starting to feel the pain from my broken ribs, now. There's two of them, and I feel a broken-off shard of bone has lodged itself in my left lung.

“I do care, you know. About you. I can be there for you, if you'll let me.”

I expect mockery, some kind of a teasing remark, like always. Instead I'm surprised to realise there are tears in your eyes. You're crying.

“Can you move?”, you ask.

“A bit.”

“There's a knife in my left boot. Either kill me, or kiss me. Those are the only options.”

My vision blurs from the effort of turning on my stomach, but I manage it. I crawl on top of you, hoist my leg over yours, slide a hand down your leg, feeling for the knife. You're still holding my other hand in yours. Now you disentangle your top hand and wearily, very slowly, raise it to my face. Your eyes gleam wet as you look into mine and smile. I draw the knife, feel its heft in my hand—

—then toss it to the side. It clatters as it skips over the stone floor.

I lean down, painful as it is, and press my lips to yours. The metallic twang of the blood in your mouth is the sweetest thing I've ever tasted.

“You should go”, you whisper after we eventually pull apart. “They'll come looking for us, soon, and I don't want them to find you.”

“You'll be fine?”

“I've had worse. Just go.”

“So, you want to — I don't know — meet up sometime?” I say, suddenly nervous; afraid against reason this is all just a trick somehow. “Not try to kill each other? Like a date?”

You start to laugh again, but it turns into a grimace. “Yes. Fuck. Yes.” You push at me. “Go on now. Run.”

I grit my teeth, get up, and hobble away, as best I can. I look back, once. I see bloody footprints leading back to where you are, and you, still laying there. You're smiling.

I want to go back, but I hear cries from far away in the tunnels, your people coming for you, and pick up the pace.