Chapter 12:



Leigh was one step short. It shouldn’t be a problem. Gritting her teeth to smile was the best way to go. The dark kitchen air sank its fingers at her neck. Her back straightened. Ryan was fine. She watched the deep blue flame of the stove, begging for the touch of meat. Leigh stepped back. That one step turned into a giant leap.

He was patient back then.

Now, she couldn’t even let her eyes crawl towards Ryan’s exhausted face sinking deeper into the couch. He looked much worse than a baby, and her, this kind of mother, did nothing else.

Leigh thought that the climb was over. She clutched her chest and looked through the window. The peak was but another ledge, leading to another climb churned by a looming inward spiral of stormy clouds.

Leigh bit her lip. Her eyes wandered once more. Her chest hollowed. Her fingers quivered at the itch of wanting to do something. But everything was heavy and the room seemed wider.

Leigh hugged herself into a ball. Nothing. She could’ve held his back so that he wouldn’t fall. The guy brought himself a chair but didn’t use it, though. She could tell him that everything was going to be alright, to smile, but that would be too obvious.

Being a burden was not the greatest feeling one could bear. His melting face, his worried gaze begging for her to leave her alone, was enough. The feeling of his chest pressing against her back now seemed like it happened a decade ago.

Maybe there’s something. Someone would be bound to wish for their loved ones to recover, right? Maybe there’s someone out there that could fix everything.

Leigh thinned her lips, breathed through her nose, and chuckled.

Three times.

Maybe more.

She should’ve died three times. It was Ryan’s desperation that saved her. Joshua did too. Her body felt thicker, stronger, but it won’t matter if she got shredded by light, got ripped apart by chainsaws, drowned in peanut butter, got skewered like a fish, got crushed to death, and become the literal girl on fire.

Leigh clicked her tongue and got on her feet. She combed her sweaty hair to the back of her head, pulled the gun from her back, took three steps, and pointed it at Ryan. She hated the fact that even at this moment, her smile was helpless.

She nudged his leg.

He groaned and fell back to sleep.

She cleared her throat. Screaming like a heavy-metal vocalist became a thought, but finally, Ryan opened his eyes, slowly.

“You know…” Ryan yawned, rubbing his belly. “I know you said that you wanted to take the first watch, but if you have the extra energy to point a gun at me, then use it to bash your head against the wall to sleep. The signal on our phones should’ve fired long ago. And since we didn’t have our phones anymore, we might as well be chilling off the grid.”

Leigh tilted her head. “I’m going to kill you.”


She stepped back and adjusted her aim. “I’ll do it.”

“There are a lot of things you could do other than kill me,” he scratched his cheek. “but if you think this solves the problem, then sure. I don’t mind dying right now.”

Leigh’s arms quivered. “I’m...”

“I know,” Ryan lowered his head and looked at her. “I’m sorry, too.”


“There’s nothing wrong with being saved, but you don’t know what you want, either.”


“Then what do you want to happen?” Ryan sighed. “Do you want me to beg for my life, right here, right now?”

“I didn’t want to be weak.”

“And killing me was the first thing that came into your mind,” Ryan scoffed but his gaze snapped back to that cold but worried glare. “You know… if I had another arm, I would be clapping right now. You don’t have to always sacrifice something. Just protect me by all means. Save me. You’re the only one who could—”

“But I’m…” Leigh lowered her gun. “But you can’t just...”

“Wake up, princess. Hear yourself speak.”

Ryan heaved onto his feet and shadowed Leigh with a tired but pure smile. His breath was short, raspy. His lips were dry. His eyes were dark, strained, a bit sad, but they seemed bright. Especially when he rubbed his right hand at his pants before offering it to her. He gave it a second thought before he placed it over Leigh’s shoulder.

“You always had a choice to do what you want. Be selfish. I am the smartest, the strongest, basically the greatest man in the universe right beside Batman… You could believe me when I said that you were cool once.” Ryan grimaced at the pain from his left side. “You were really cool.”

Leigh faced the floor. “Well... that’s fuckin’ dumb.”

“The point is,” Ryan firmed his grip. “you get to be selfish. I can do all things not because I’m the greatest man in the universe but because I’m selfish. To you… A or B doesn’t matter as long as you get to blame them whenever something goes south. That’s like tier 3 of being a fucking pussy.”

“Then what do you want me to—”

Ryan curved the corner of his lips for a reassuring half-smile. “Do what you want.” Ryan patted her head. “I won’t be on the side that blames you.”

Ryan breathed and pushed Leigh onto the couch. For a moment, her cheeks burned, and what she looked like mattered. But Ryan already walked away before she could say anything else.

It was an utter defeat that made her want to crawl into her own grave. It would’ve been fine if Ryan laughed. But no, he still seemed distant. Leigh covered her face and peeked through her fingers to watch Ryan get comfortable at the corner of the room. Maybe that’s what she needed. Not to be pushed down by a dude like some kind of drama, or something. But words… probably.

At least, her chest didn’t feel empty and cold anymore. There was something. And it made her smile. She wondered what she looked like. She patted her head to remember what Ryan did, and that gave her the courage to face him once more with a scared yet firmed gleam.

“Fine,” Leigh raised her fist towards him. “I’ll do it. I’m the smartest, the greatest, after all. I’ll do it. I can do it. I’ll figure out a way to save everyone, to win.”

“Please don’t kill me, now that your character arc is over.”


Leigh picked a pillow from the side of the couch and tossed it to Ryan. It didn’t reach him. Ryan had to crawl and muffle some groans here and there before he could get it and get back in his place like an abused goblin.

Hope drowned her chest. The thought it brought was embarrassing. Leigh crossed her arms. She pouted, in deep thought, and poised herself to speak. Then, she waited. Nothing.

“So…” Leigh lowered her head, losing the courage to look back at him. “I’ll… I’ll do it…”

“Please, the last thing I want to see is you giving me a striptease—”


“My coin would rightfully find its way in the trembling bony hands of a beggar, which then would say...” Ryan narrowed his eyes and perked his lips for a weaker British accent. “‘Thank you, sir.’ Before looking at me all hopeful, smiling with their tight cheeks and sunken eyes...”

“Can you not?” Leigh turned and tossed her body into the couch with her back facing Ryan. “Would you be happy… if I was able to save Joshua as well? I wanted to save… everyone… I don’t want anyone to get hurt anymore… but I have to win… Kill them all… But I don’t want you to get hurt, too… I’m confused… scared. Can I… be this selfish?”

“I’m very hard to beat, so you better give it your all.”

“And if things don’t work out… then… will you come… save me?”

“Of course,” Ryan smiled. “I’m the Cabbage Man, after all.”