It was over. He'd won.
Only thirty seconds ago, Ian had been fighting for his life.
Now the thought was barely even comprehensible to him, as he sank slowly to the ground, the energy that supported him dying with it's purpose. Breath came fast and shallow as he leaned back against the concrete, looking hollowly towards a sky as clouded as his mind, as he tried desperately to piece together some meaning out of those last few moments.
Perhaps a minute ago, he could have walked away, and then nothing would ever have happened.
Colors were sharper, every tiny movement crystal clear as time remained slowed nearly to a halt, but it was all meaningless, almost dreamlike, as his mind sought an opponent who no longer existed. The clarity of moments before was dying, and it wasn't thought that pulled him slowly off the ground, almost seeming to float gently to his feet in this strange and lucid void, but need, a need that surpassed any pain, any confusion, a need that inevitably pulled his gaze to the spot where Paulo had disappeared.
Two steps. Two little steps, and hands that were suddenly shaking rested against the guardrail. He didn't want to look down, but he couldn't help himself, couldn't look away either.
Just five minutes ago, he and Paulo might never have met.
Now below him lay Paulo Abbate; a face, a name, a body lying broken on the ground. For once, thought and words alike failed him utterly, and he could only stare vacantly, unwilling to look and unable to turn away. Triumph and relief mingled with and were overwhelmed by an almost fascinated horror, and yet, the now familiar sense of numbness overruled them all.
The spell was broken with the sigh of a cool breeze, and he shivered. There was something about that cutting chill that Ian hated, something about the cold that woke up a mind that didn't want to think, that forced the sludge and fog away, and compelled him to face something he could never truly understand. It laughed, and he cried, and he couldn't hold the tears inside, not anymore.
How the heck had this happened? No, really, how? There was no sense, no reason to any of it. He'd known better, his dad had warned him so many times before. There were so many things he could have said, so many things he could have done, and now there was nothing. What did you do, when there was nothing you could change? Nothing you could ever conceivably fix? Nothing but regrets? No, really, what could you do?
Dear God have mercy, he hadn't meant to do this.
Now he was choking, trying and failing to breath as his collar pressed deep into his throat, as his ribs screamed with each racking sob that wouldn't come out, and every single part of his body was bruised and hurting.That was good. He could deal with pain, it didn't really hurt nearly so much. It helped him, forced him to stop, allowing him to regain his breath as he began looking almost clinically over his injuries. Clinical was good too, he could do clinical; detached was good.
The bruises were most obvious, especially around his ribs. Each breath was a new challenge, more pain, and that was good too. His face had taken some knocks, but it seemed he'd managed to protect it, mostly. His shirt was nicked, and there was a few tears developing, particularly across the lines of Chuck Norris jokes that seemed almost mocking in this moment. That wasn't so good.
Somewhere in there, he found himself scratching an irritation at the back of his head, and had to jerk his hand away when the irritation became agony. His hand came back sticky, red. Blood. Stinging pain. That wasn't good either.
It turned out to be a fair sized gash along the back of his head, presumably from when he'd hit the guardrail. Bandaging it was awkward, and he didn't imagine it would hold long against his hair, but leaving it open to infection was unacceptable.
What was dad going to think, back home? Mom and the others too, but dad was the one who talked with him about keeping calm, walking away, everything he'd failed to do just now. Oh, dear Lord, have mercy, he didn't mean it.
Didn't mean to jab at Paulo's pride? Didn't mean to hurt him, to seize control when in truth he was only throwing away what little he'd ever had? Didn't mean to kill the other boy, when he had to make that choice?
Enough. No, too much. Paulo had attacked him, he defended himself. He couldn't deal with this now, he had to get back to the others, to Juhan and Takeshi. He had nothing else left, nothing at all, and he needed them now. They were the only friends who hadn't abandoned him yet, and whatever fear he had of facing them couldn't begin to match that of staying here, with Paulo and his own guilt weighing on him.
His pack and Paulo's were laying tangled on the ground; apparently they'd fallen sometime during the fight, but he couldn't remember it. Couldn't remember much, really. He hated himself for it, but he ran through Paulo's bag, pulling out what was left of the other boy's rations, because his own had dwindled so much. Couldn't starve, right?
His shovel was also on the ground, and he almost left it behind. He didn't want a weapon anymore. But a memory stirred, he was back on the beach, dropping it on the cool sands to save Bella as she lay screaming on the ground, the one real difference he'd ever made on this island, and he found himself picking it up again after all. It was silly, it was pointless, but then, wasn't everything anymore?
And though it was silly, even though he reminded himself that Bella was still just as dead as any them, that his actions hadn't really mattered, the shovel seemed to offer a little more support than could ever be explained by simple physics alone.