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it's the end of the world as we know it

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Rayla wakes up to the sight of Runaan leaning over her, silent.

The silence in and of itself is not alarming. Runaan has always been sparing with words. The proximity is decidedly less normal. Runaan is very much a “personal-space” type of guy. Fearing a scolding, Rayla takes a frantic moment to catalogue all her potential transgressions. Doors? No, no, she’d definitely locked and barred them last night. Weapons? She’d sharpened and cleaned them yesterday afternoon, in full view of him. So that isn’t it.

So what is it?

Deciding to test his mood, she cautiously extracts herself from her tangle of blankets and gets out of bed. He doesn’t even straighten, just turns his head while slightly bent over so that his eyes track her movements. They are shinier than usual today. The reflection of the morning light off their icy irises, combined with the slight glow that always seems to outline his snow-white hair, makes him look like a ghost. Rayla suppresses a shiver.

“Ooookay Runaan. You just stay there and stay creepy. I’ll start on breakfast.”

She all but dashes from the room to their tiny kitchen, desperate to escape Runaan’s strange mood. Her eyes catch on a framed photo perched on the table. In it, Ethari’s gentle face beams into the camera, sunlight setting his bronze skin alight.

Ahh, that must be it. Precisely two months ago, Ethari died. This was before the disease had really kicked off and pretty much decimated the world, so they had time for a funeral. Rayla remembers the gaping emptiness she felt that day, the grief that clamped itself on her throat. She’d loved Ethari like a father. Still, she knows the loss could never be as bad for her as it is for Runaan. Ethari had been her dad, but he was Runaan’s whole world.

In the days after, when more and more people started dying--worse still, turning into those things--Runaan descended into full preparation-mode. Together they gathered supplies and turned their dingy little house into a veritable fortress. When it came to her in particular, Runaan seemed possessed by a supernatural urgency. Before the disease, he’d already trained her thoroughly in swordfighting, and growing up in their wild homeland had afforded her a decent arsenal of survival skills, but in those grim months he drilled her relentlessly in more obscure topics--herbology, toxicology, emergency first-aid. Through it all, he was as strong and stalwart as ever, but the shadow of his grief still lingered. It was impenetrable darkness in their little space.

Night’s come again, Rayla thinks sadly. She is so caught up in her thoughts that she does not notice Runaan standing in the doorway until she hears a whistling breath. She whirls around, alarmed--Runaan doesn’t breathe loud enough for others to hear. Doesn’t wheeze.

He’s staring at her again. Still not speaking. Well, if he’s gonna be weird, she’s gonna be weird right back, she decides, meeting his blank gaze with her own. Now that she’s paying closer attention, she can see the slight sheen of sweat on his forehead. That’s really weird. Runaan never breaks a sweat running, let alone standing in their perpetually cold house. The odd shine in his eyes she’d noticed earlier too merits scrutiny. It’s really more of a clouded gloss, and there is a yellowish tinge to the whites.

For a moment, she is far away, gripping Ethari’s hand as he thrashes about in the hospital bed. Runaan looks a little bit now like Ethari did then. Runaan looks sick.

She realizes it right as Runaan lunges for her. It’s only a decade of training that allows her to overcome her shock and dodge. Raising her leg, she aims a vicious kick at his chest. He stumbles back from the force, granting her a few precious seconds to put some distance between them. Still facing him, she scrambles away, pressing herself into the farthest corner in the kitchen. It’s a stupid move, but she doesn’t have the sense to think right now. Her mind is a haze of screaming panic. This can’t be happening this can’t be happening this can’t be happening--

“Jesus fuck, Runaan!” she screeches as he lurches towards her again. Some distant part of her mind registers how goddamn lucky she is he’s sick. If he were attacking her at full capacity and she was acting like this, she would have been dead already.

They dance around the table for a while, his movements sluggish, hers clumsy with panic. She could end this right now, grab a kitchen knife and run him through, but it’s as though the rational part of her brain has shut down. All she can think about is Runaan, that he’s sick--he wasn’t supposed to get sick.

“Runaan, please! Snap out of it! You can fight this, I know you can--” She cuts off, throat too tight to speak. To her horror, tears slip from her eyes, coating her cheeks and soaring off the edge of her jaw. Her vision blurs slightly. Normally, crying would be humiliating. Right now it can be downright fatal.

Pull yourself together, Rayla. She will not die today. She reaches deep inside herself, to that yawning well of ice and rock that allowed her to weather her youth. Touching it, letting its cool stability wash over her, dry her tears, she takes a steadying breath. She will not die today.

A few sidesteps to the left bring her close enough to touch the knife block. Unfortunately, she’s a lot closer to Runaan now too, a fact made very clear to her when he snarls, revealing purulent sores all around his tongue. Oh, Runaan. In a smooth motion that belies the tremor in her hands, she draws the bread knife out of its hold. She lets instinct guide her movements as she draws her arm back and adjusts her grip.

Runaan snarls again and leans forward to rush her. Slick as oil, she slides under his reaching arms, momentum drawing her to him so that her elbow is aligned with his center.

“I’m sorry.”

She plunges the knife into his chest.