No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
He clutched at his side, the blood seeping through his fingers betraying the burning pain burying deep into his guts. He groaned, dropping to his knees before falling forward, lacking the strength to even raise a hand to protect his face. A thought ran through his mind; he was through protecting himself. Hell, he was done with protecting anyone.
All the running was over. He knew that for certain, lying there in the dirt, the caustic tang of death filling his nostrils. He felt a vague sense of surprise at the peace sweeping over him. There was no fear, no regret and no bitterness at it all being over far too soon. He had drawn the fire deliberately. It had been a choice; one made in a snap to save his partner, but he had chosen this.
It was the right thing, an act which freed up a good man to live a full, rich life. And he knew that his cousin was a very, good man. Sure, the choices had stunk, and they made too many mistakes, but they had learned from them. Some might have said it had taken far too long, but more charitable folks would probably say that all that mattered was the fact they had learned eventually.
He would stand a much better chance on his own. They had both always known that they stood out too much as a pair, but neither of them had ever really discussed splitting up and making their own way in the world. That would have been too hard to face without support. It was too tough a subject to discuss.
But now he would be alone. They both would; but surely this was the easier road. The torment would be over soon and he knew he could never have lived with watching his friend being lowered into the dank, dark earth to lie forever cradled in the womb of the land he had loved. The vortex of emotions inside him was a foreign land; a place he rarely visited because everything was far too heightened and frightening. There was no control in that part of him. Hell, even the language seemed different when he was there. Watching another death would have made that ugly world engulf him in an agonizing, oppressive thunderhead of delirium. It would have eaten his sanity in a cannibalistic frenzy of desperation. It was right that he should go first and that the stronger partner could live on.
Where he would go?
The pain started to subside. Not just the physical wound, but the sores infecting his heart; the ones that ran too deep to acknowledge.
There was tranquillity in the enveloping darkness. It was over.