A/N And, finally, here we have the last chapter. Well, it's been quite a ride, I hope you all enjoyed it while it lasted! Thanks again to everyone who reviewed, alerted, or favorited.
Disclaimer I don't own South Park or any associated characters, events, etc.
I hear Tweek's scream, but I'm too out of breath to make a sound. I inhale sharply, but am unable to draw air past the firm blockage of Craig's strong fingers wrapped around my neck. My fingers dig into the wet leaves padding the forest floor, scrambling and slipping desperately. I blink pained tears out of my eyes and manage to focus on Craig's furious face. His eyes are nearly black, and his teeth gleaming far too brightly against his dirty skin. His face isn't playful, isn't taunting—no, he's enraged, and I can tell that he doesn't intend to let me go until I'm dead. Maybe it's the lack of oxygen reaching my brain, but it seems as though the sky has gone inexplicably dark, causing my captor's pale features to stand out all the more clearly.
Not now, my brain cries vaguely. Please, please, please, not now. Just let us be happy, please, Craig… just let us be fucking happy…
"And just what do you think you're doing, McCormick?" he snarls, his voice low and raspy—and, somehow, undeniably sexy. I whine in protest, suddenly aware of how close his body is pressed to mine, how his knee is digging into my thigh, his elbow braced on my chest, his glowering face close enough to almost be touching mine. I fight to turn my head away, pushing hard into the ground and getting all measure of dirt in my hair. He releases one hand, keeping the other firmly in place, and grips my jaw, turning my head roughly towards him.
"I'll ask you one more fucking time," he spits. "What the hell are you doing?"
My mouth moves soundlessly. My head is starting to buzz without air, and I recognize faintly that I'm not going to last much longer. His grip on my throat burns like fire. I kick, but can't possibly aim, and therefore miss connecting with anything by a long shot.
Words suddenly form in my mind, eerily clear and calm.
This is how it ends. Right now. Game over. I might be able to restart, but I'll have lost this. Lost them.
I'll have lost Tweek.
I lurch up, an unwilling yell tearing itself from my lips as I somehow manage to bowl Craig backwards. I don't bother to keep him on the ground, but rather stumble to my feet immediately. The world tilts wildly around me as I finally get in a real breath of air, and I find myself limping to the side, a hand thrust out, just managing to grip a tree trunk before I collapse. I brace myself against it, taking several long, deep breaths, until my lungs no longer feel drowned in acid. Still a bit dizzy, I turn around, just in time to see Craig springing up, running forward and grabbing Tweek by the wrist.
Tweek, dammit! Why is he still here?
"Run, you idiot!" I shriek, but it's too late—Craig pulls the smaller boy to his chest, wrapping his strong arms around him and holding him there firmly.
"Get the fuck away from me!" Tweek protests, struggling, but he's no match for Craig.
I meet Craig's eyes, staring wildly. Every cell of my body is blazing with energy, with desperation. There's a horrible sort of finality to this—the three of us standing in this tiny clearing, him with Tweek, me alone.
Him with Tweek. Me alone. Did I really ever imagine it would turn out any different?
It's as if the last couple of days have been some sort of far-fetched dream, a bubble of ignorance, and now I've been rather ungracefully thrust back into reality. I can't say that reality is treating me all that well, either. I don't say anything, and neither does Craig. We both just stare at each other, ignoring Tweek's faint, muffled whimpers.
"Let him go," I say finally. Each word is horribly calm and measured, "or I swear to God I will find you and I will kill you."
"You never could," Craig hisses back. His voice is uneven, a wild sort of snarl. "You're too much of a coward for that… you could never kill anyone, even if you had a weapon, and you don't… no… no… I heard your little speech, McCormick, I heard everything you said. You think that you're some sort of hero, an angel. Is that what you are? Kenny the angel? Rather underwhelming title, I have to say… the demons were always so much more intriguing… that would be you, though, little blonde cherub, playing the fucking harp in your shitty diaper, up in the clouds…"
He's rambling, barely making even the slightest bit of sense. And his voice is getting louder, moving up and down in the deranged pattern of a madman. I spare a moment to glance towards Tweek, who's shaking, very pale but with a hard resolve glinting in his eyes. I don't have a plan, or really anything even beginning to resemble a plan. I take another deep breath, making sure that I keep air flowing through me. I don't have a weapon, or anything like one. Nothing but my fists and my words.
"So you doubt me, then?" I ask. I don't know what I'm trying to achieve—just to keep Craig talking, I suppose. "Because I don't break my promises. Whatever you do now… if you take Tweek, if you hurt him… I will devote the rest of my life to hunting you down, and to making sure you're dead. And my life isn't going to end in a hurry, I can promise you that. Fuck knows if it ever will, in fact. I'm not someone you want as an enemy."
"Oh, Kenny," he scoffs, his tone mockingly patronizing. "You've got everything backwards. I'm the one that no one wants as an enemy. Every single bitch back in South Park knows that." He raises his eyebrows, grinning insanely. "And yet look at you now. You're screwed, Kenny McCormick. Completely and utterly fucked over. You know that, don't you?"
"I wouldn't be so sure about that."
"Only an idiot would say something like that, Ken." His tone is syrupy sweet, smooth and cool, but it causes my stomach to clench furiously.
"Don't you dare call me an idiot," I whisper raggedly.
He chews his bottom lip in an almost thoughtful manner, allowing his eyelids to droop down slightly. Neither of us are making a single noise now. The space between us is humming with silence, disrupted only by Tweek's harsh gasps.
"Alright," he finally agrees, his tone alarmingly amiable. "I won't call you an idiot. In fact, I won't call you anything at all. And do you know why that is?"
I risk a tiny head shake.
"Because I'm never going to call you anything again, ever. Neither of us are. You're never going to hear my voice again… and not your little fucking boyfriend's, either."
"No—" I begin, but my voice is cut off by a sudden flash of pain in my side. I cry out unwillingly, stumbling forward and folding to the ground, barely managing to catch myself with splayed hands. I look up frantically, wincing against the raging agony gripping my hip and stomach. My hazy vision is just focused enough for me to see the gun held in one of Craig's hands, his other one being wound around Tweek's chest.
"Kenny!" Tweek screams.
But Craig's already whipping around and tearing away, Tweek yelping out protests as he's dragged at an alarmingly fast pace. I grit my teeth, trying to rise and letting out an unwilling keen of pain as my legs immediately collapse underneath me. I risk a glance down, in time to see blood staining the fabric of my shirt at a terrifyingly fast rate, starting to pool on the ground. It gleams darkly and ominously in the suddenly frosty morning light. I'm no stranger to pain, but this hurts like fucking hell. The gunshot itself is bad enough, and then there's the fact that it renders me unable to move, stops me from getting where I need to be, from rescuing Tweek.
If I'm supposed to rescue people, then why does this happen? I don't know if I'm yelling the words or just thinking them, but they're deafening in my mind. Just this one time, let me keep going! Whatever it is that's constantly resurrecting me—fucking heal this! I don't need to die from this, I'm still alive now, there's no reason for me to be sent all the way back to my bed, that just isn't fair… it isn't fucking fair, you bastards!
My head is starting to spin again, in sickening waves of blurry nausea. I can't give up, though, not now. My injury is blazing with pain, but somehow I manage to stand up on one leg, leaning heavily on a tree. I clutch at the wound, seeing the blood run through my fingers as if through a gray mist. Craig must have hit a major vein with that shot—why else would it be bleeding this goddamn much? Trying desperately to ignore my lightheadedness, I manage to move from tree to tree, half-limping and half-crawling, falling over multiple times but always managing to right myself, if only just barely. At this point, it's less a question of if I'll black out—probably losing my whole fucking life—but rather when. If I can reach Craig and Tweek, then… damn. I have too much of a blood-loss headache to plan that far ahead. I just have to find them, and then perhaps there'll be some chance of me being able to save Tweek before I'm completely pulled under.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. The words pound out a steady beat in my head, the only thing I can hold onto in this topsy-turvy world that I'm navigating so haltingly. I glance behind myself at one point, distantly notice that I'm trailing blood and feel a lurch in my stomach. The nausea rocks back and forth inside me, more and more intense until I feel that I'm probably going to vomit.
No. Hang in there. Come on.
I don't so much find Tweek as trip over him, landing sprawled on the ground. The impact paralyzes me for a moment, the pain flaring up so badly that all of my senses pulsate hot and red for a full ten seconds. Then, slowly, I become aware of Tweek crying out my name, of his hands on my shoulders, lifting my head up.
"Kenny! Kenny, a-are you alright? P-please, you have to keep walking, you h-have to, he's watching, he'll be back…"
His face swims in and out of focus. I raise a hand slowly, stroke his cheek. There's a cut under his eye, I notice, dripping a thin stream of deep crimson blood. "He… hurt you," I whisper, the words barely audible even to me. Everything sounds as though I'm hearing it from underwater, faint and distorted.
"Hurt me? Jesus Christ, Kenny, y-you… you need to hold on, okay? You need to hang in there for me! You promised, remember?" Tears are streaming down his face, his eyelids puffy and red, but his irises themselves still that gorgeous, cool green. It's soothing. Calming. "You promised that you'd stay and protect me, no matter what! You can't stop now, okay? It's just your side, not even your head or chest. Just a tiny little bullet wound. You can recover, you stupid idiot, it's not even that bad! Just… we have to get out of the forest, okay? You have to get out. I can take care of myself, but you need to run… I'll meet you back at the cabin, alright?"
"R-run?" I cough in disbelief, fighting to raise my eyebrows. "How the fuck am I supposed to… to…"
"Don't try to talk," he urges, his voice thick through a screen of tears. His long, slim fingers brush my hair out of my eyes, and I struggle to drag in another breath. "You're fine… you'll survive if we can just stop the blood…"
"Craig," I object as he begins to look around, as though expecting to find a pile of bandages just sitting nearby. "Craig is still… still out there… he's… where…?" I can't even keep track of my own thoughts anymore. They're scattering, flowing freely through my mind, disconnected and not holding together even the faintest semblance of logic.
"He left me here, Kenny, he… he was looking for y-you… I think he wanted to… to finish the job… we both heard you screaming, knew you weren't dead… so he went off, and you were quiet a little later, I thought you had—I thought he had…" He dissolves into sobs, hand obsessively running over my forehead again and again. "God, Ken, p-please don't leave now… come on, you've made it this far… please…"
"S'fine," I mumble, though we both know it's anything but. I'm starting to get a grip on things again, but I know it's not going to last long. This is my body's final effort, and I'd bet on it lasting five minutes at a maximum before it completely gives in. I'm not going to make it unless we get to a hospital or something of the like in the next couple of minutes. That's not going to happen.
"Tweek…" My voice is gaining the faintest amount of strength, and I reach up through the fog that seems to be surrounding me, vaguely run my fingers through his hair. "Tweek… listen… you need to run. I… I'm not going to be… dead… not really… he knows we're at the cabin…"
"I'm not running!" he wails in response. "I'm not leaving you, you idiot! Not now…! Not now." His voice cracks, but I ignore it, plow on determinedly.
"No, listen. Take the Corvair. Get somewhere—far away, just not back to South Park. As far as possible. Fuck, go to Canada, if you need to."
"I'm not going to listen to you! That's not going to happen! You're going to make it!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" For an instant, my voice sounds almost normal. "Don't be ridiculous," I repeat, softer this time. "We both know that I'm going to die in minutes. No one can lose this much blood and survive. Don't cry, you idiot, you need to focus here. We can still both get out of this safe."
"S-safe? You're—you're fucking dying!"
"And that's hardly a new thing, is it?" I remind him. My hand is starting to shake uncontrollably, and I let it fall to his shoulder, grip it far too tightly to be comfortable. I can't quite feel the tips of my fingers anymore, but I can see them clenched firmly onto his shirt, veins straining. "I told you that I can't die, not really. I'm going to wake up in bed. And what I need you to do is send me an email… tell me where you are. I can get there. Steal money, take a bus or something." A bitter, metallic taste is beginning to creep into my mouth, and I turn my head, spit onto the ground. Red-tinged saliva pools on the dirt, and I look away disgustedly, just managing to lock eyes with Tweek again.
"But…" He begins shakily.
I jerk my head back and forth a couple of times. "No buts. This is the only way that we can do this, okay? We can keep running. As long as it takes. But you need to leave now. Right now, before he gets back. You need to run to the car and drive the hell away from here. As fast as you can. Do that for me, please…" My voice is beginning to weaken again, and I know that I've already reached the second half of my last reserves.
I'm not scared, though. This is a plan, a solid plan. I'll be able to remember this all when I wake up. We can do this, get out of this, if only Tweek will give up his heroic act and fucking cooperate. He needs to understand… needs to understand that this is our only chance.
I hear the footsteps and know immediately that it's too late. I have half a mind to just let it go now, stop holding on, since there's really no hope left anyways. But I keep holding on to Tweek's shoulder, trying to communicate in that desperate gesture that, for him, there's still time. That I can probably distract Craig, at least as long as is necessary for him to run to the car and get the fuck out of here.
Go, Tweek. Please, run. For both of us.
"Well, well, well, looks like someone beat me here," Craig murmurs, sounding almost surprised. "Should I congratulate you, McCormick? I suppose I underestimated you… most people could hardly manage a single step after being shot in that particular muscle…"
"…Lots of people underestimate me," I manage, glaring dazedly up at him. I can't see his eyes or face, just a vague, blurry figure, tall and lithe. I think he's still holding the gun, but it's impossible to tell for sure. "I'm used to pain… I've learned how to overcome it…"
"Overcome pain, perhaps. Overcome death… not so much. I daresay it follows you everywhere…" Craig kneels down, reaches out, and I just barely feel his cold fingers tracing the two-day bruise from where he punched me before Tweek's hand snaps out, slapping at Craig's wrist.
The dark-haired boy withdraws quickly, turning to look at Tweek. I let my head fall back with a heavy sigh, staring up into the weaving branches above me, the foggy sky barely visible behind them.
"Ooh, touchy, are we?" Craig coos. "I wouldn't have done that, if I were you… it's not good to get on my bad side…"
"Fuck you," Tweek spits with an admirable measure of venom in his tone.
"Oh, I know you'd like to, but don't you think we have more important things to attend to at the moment?" Craig drawls.
The sentence doesn't make any sense to my hazy mind, and I don't try to attach meaning to it. My hand is still on Tweek's shoulder—or, at least, I assume it is; I can't really feel it anymore. Can't feel much anything but a horrible, heavy pounding in my head. I'm just starting to sink into that pounding, be consumed by it, when I remember where I am, that I can't afford to relax yet. I shake my head slightly, a tiny motion that sends a heavy, rolling ache through my skull. I blink heavily and realize that more time must have passed than it felt like, because somehow Tweek and Craig are both on their feet, yelling words at each other that I can't quite understand. Both yelling…? That doesn't seem to make much sense… Tweek… is he defending himself…? I want so desperately to let it all go, just fade away, but I can't, not now.
The word is a half-formed whisper, so faint that I can't even hear it myself over that horrible drumming in my ears, only feel my lips moving, framing it. Still, Tweek must have heard, because he looks over at me, apparently distraught. I meet his eyes one final time.
Please. Please. Please.
Each footfall is like a thunder crack, like the slow-motion bass pattern of a rap song, hitting my eardrums fiercely. My side is hurting worse than ever, and I know I've reached the peak of the crescendo, the final few moments during which I can retain my senses and my life, before it's all sucked away as if by a fucking vacuum.
Craig is still here.
I recognize this fact vaguely, attempt to deny it and give up in a second. I don't want him to be here while I die, don't want him to see me giving in, being weak. It would be better if I were alone… then again, I suppose that this way I know he's not after Tweek. Tweek will get a chance to run, to get the Corvair, to escape… that'll be good. Very good.
I take a breath, feel it run through every bit of my body, causing me to shiver oddly. I blink, trying to clear my bleary eyes, but they only end up more fogged than before. The raging heat is everywhere, consuming me, so that I'm surprised that I'm not a flaming mess.
Dammit, Craig, why did you have to shoot me?
"Because I wanted him for myself."
I'm confused for a moment, wondering if I'm imagining his voice. But it seems real enough, and I manage to turn my head just far enough to see him sitting on a tree stump nearby, head in his hands, pale fingers wound up in his dark hair. I must have spoken aloud accidentally.
"Wha…?" I mumble, my lips and teeth slipping about in confusion. Everything's getting heavy and numb, making it hard to articulate anything clearly.
"He was supposed to be mine, you fucking bitch… but I gave him a choice…" He looks up, but I can't see his eyes, just his face, a slightly lighter shadow against the inky backdrop of his hair. "I… I asked him to come with me. I asked him, Kenny." He sounds so… normal. Maybe it's just my current state distorting things, but…
"Because that's what you did. Remember, I was listening the whole time. You didn't push him to be with you… you did the opposite… you told him not to be with you… I could never do that… I tried, though. I tried to tell him… and do you know what he did?"
"He turned me down." His voice is hollow, and I suddenly realize that he isn't free from the grip of that awful government experiment, not at all. This isn't the Craig I'm used to. It's some… rawer form of him, childish, almost, exposed and vulnerable. He's broken. So broken. "I thought we had so much… he doesn't even care about you… does he? He's not supposed to… but he turned me down…"
His words wander through my mind, disjointed.
Not… turned… down…
My breath starts to hitch up. My body is getting desperate. "I bet you're angry at… me, then," I gasp. "So… why don't you kill me? It'll be nice, won't it? You know I'm f-fucking screwed as it is…" My teeth are beginning to chatter. Ice starts to grow inside of me, chilling me from the inside out. "Just… end it, why don't you? D-deliver the f-final blow… you'll… like it…"
"I can't," he protests, his voice almost soft. "I can't… I can't kill someone who… who he loves… I just can't…"
"Weak," I snarl, spitting blood onto the ground. My surroundings take a particularly heavy swerve. The pain is fading now, at an alarmingly fast rate, leaving me in a cocoon of fuzzy numbness. "You're… nothing… without him."
He's suddenly on his feet, standing over me, yelling. Yelling too loudly, so that it tears at my mind, rips through it like a flaming whip, scoring marks of throbbing hurt all over the blurry well of my thoughts.
"Me? Me? I'm nothing? You would never understand, would you? What it's like to love someone? You can pretend all you like, and you do, pretend, oh, you pretend!" His voice is doing that thing again, moving up and down in a mad, unpredictable pattern that makes my head and heart throb simultaneously. "But you… you're the one who could never understand love!"
"At least I took care of him," I breathe. "At least I protected him."
"But it's not all that easy, you fucking pussy! It's not that fucking simple! It's not all about protection! It's about need! It's about needing to get to him no matter what stands in your way, about knocking down those goddamn walls and reaching him, always reaching him because you need him—that's the thing, McCormick! You aren't supposed to say that you're in love because he needs you! That's never the cause. It's because you need him! And you don't need him, do you?"
"And… you… do?"
"You said it yourself, bitch. I'm nothing without him. Is that it? Am I really nothing without that skinny, pathetic, amazing, wonderful, perfect excuse for a boy?"
"Sure looks like it to me," I manage to grunt.
"Well, take a fucking look at yourself. Look at you, bleeding on the ground, pale as fuck and all bruised up from where I hit you. You are nothing but a fucking lowlife whose parents abuse you. You're poor as shit. You have three, sometimes four 'friends' who never include you in anything, who are never grateful for a thing you do. You're a fucking slut who sells his body so that he can feed his skinny, ugly-ass little sister. You have a family who abuses and hates youand you don't even have the excuse of good grades. You, Kenny McCormick—be glad that you're dying, be grateful to me, because it's you. You. Are. Nothing."
He's gone. Not slowly, not gradually, just all of a sudden I'm not staring at him, but rather at the gray sky. It undulates before me, tauntingly. I'm done. I'm ready to let go. I can only hope that Craig was running away, and not towards Tweek—not to mention that Tweek himself reached the car okay. If so, he should be a couple of miles away by now. No need to respect the speed limit. Looks like Chuck's never going to get his car back… shame.
Come on. It shouldn't take this long. Do your work, fucking Grim Reaper.
I recognize the stage I'm in now. First there was the initial pain, the wooziness, the all-consuming agony, the cold, and now this. The final note in the symphony. The numbness, the sleepiness… it's deeper than sleepiness, though. Sleepiness is when your eyes grow heavy, when your body is warm and content and you're ready to let your thoughts spiral away into the galaxies of a dream world, only to be collected again in the morning, neat as always.
But this—this is true tiredness. True exhaustion. Closing my eyes would take effort. Hell, breathing takes effort. In fact, I'm gasping with each inhalation, and I feel it tearing at my lungs, but at the same time, I'm oddly separate from it. It's like I'm existing in third person.
Kenny is hurt. Kenny is in pain. Kenny is dying.
Simple sentences, like those in a children's book. They're all I can process anymore. Don't care, don't mind. Means that it's getting closer. Finally.
It's almost mocking, how I only realize my horrible mistake at the last moment.
I'm never going to see Tweek again.
Because they never remember me. The next morning, the next day… I'm forgotten, every single time. Tweek won't remember that I'm dead. And seeing how many events were linked to my death, he probably won't even be able to recall that I ever helped him. It'll be back to the beginning, back to me being just another face at school. He won't associate my name with himself any more than he will Kyle Broflovski's.
He's going to forget. So is Craig, even Chuck. All of them. I'll be a ghost, one who guided their steps but won't ever be recalled. Tweek will keep running, hopefully. Or maybe Craig will catch up with him, take him back to the start. Either way, I can be sure that they won't ever return to South Park.
They won't ever return to me.
Tweek, I'm sorry. I fucked up so badly.
His voice is there, suddenly. I don't know if I'm imagining it or if it really is him, if he was really stupid enough not to leave when I said. All I'm sure about is that it's the last thing I'm going to hear in this lifetime—the last I'm going to hear of him in any lifetime. It carries me away, wraps around me and lifts me gently from everything as my vision settles to a comfortably blinding white and the sensation of being tied to my body disappears fully.
"Kenny! Where are you?"