Alfred could feel the infection, roaring through his blood, searing every vein, spreading and spreading and spreading from the ugly, rotting wound on his arm. He managed to raise his head off the makeshift pillow of Ivan's crumpled up jacket to look at the older man, but Ivan was stubbornly avoiding his gaze.
"You gotta do it, big guy," he rasped, hating how weak his voice had grown in the past few hours. The infection spread terrifying fast. He had seen it in action before, taking a healthy person and rotting them away until they were caught in a horrible place between dead and alive, but to have that drama acted out within his own body was a special kind of hell.
"You will be fine," Ivan snapped, voice steely. "We will get you back to camp once you have rested, and amputate that arm-"
"With what, exactly? A rusty butter knife? Your teeth? We ain't exactly got anything even halfway resembling surgical equipment-"
"We will make do, we always have-"
"Goddammit, Ivan, it wouldn't matter if we were next door to a fully functioning hospital at this point," Alfred growled, trying to summon up some anger to fight back the paralyzing fear that thrummed through his chest. "You know I'm too far gone. You know it. The scavenger bit me three hours ago. We've seen people turn in less than that."
"Older people. Weaker people. You can still…" Ivan trailed off weakly, and then finally turned to Alfred, eyes blazing. "Why are you so stupid? Why didn't you shoot that thing before it could get close enough to bite you?"
"I tried, Jesus! I tried but-" …but it had been a young one. Maybe eleven or twelve, judging by the size of it. The scavengers weren't human anymore, but it was hard sometimes to not look at them and see what they once were before the virus, and that moment of hesitation was all it took. Ivan managed to take it down with a neat shot to the head right after it lunged at Alfred, but it was too late; the little mouth had already clamped down on his forearm, teeth sinking to the bone, virus pouring into his bloodstream.
"Ivan," he tried again after a moment of frigid silence. "Vanya," he pleaded when the other turned his back and refused to answer, "you have to do it. Okay? There's no other way."
Ivan's back was like a silent, immovable mountain from Alfred's view on the ground.
"It'll be real quick, alright?" Alfred continued, fighting to keep his voice calm and soothing. "Just a quick shot through my temple. I probably won't feel a thing. I know you've got enough spare bullets. It'll only take one. It…it'll be over so fast." He stopped, swallowed dryly. "You have to do it, Vanya," he began again, unable to keep the tremor from his voice. "I can't do it myself. It's gotta be you. I'm…I'm so sorry, big guy. But it's gotta be you."
The mountain of Ivan's back trembled silently.
"L-look, you'll be okay," Alfred babbled. "You were getting by fine on your own before we hooked up, right? And…and now you can keep all the food and supplies you find for yourself instead of splitting them with me, so they'll all get you twice as far-"
Ivan interrupted him with a terrible, wretched sob. Alfred froze and stared wordlessly at his heaving shoulders. He had never seen Ivan cry, not once in the six months they had known each other since the virus came and the world ended. It was almost enough to drain the rest of Alfred's bravado right then and there.
"I'm sorry, Vanya," he whispered, closing his eyes tightly to blot out the world. "I'm so sorry to do this to you. But please, you have to do it. Don't…don't let me turn into a monster. Please."
There was no answer, no sound but Ivan's hitching breaths and choked off sobs for several long moments. And then, at long last, Alfred felt the cool metal of Ivan's gun rest against his temple. His eyes flicked open and up, over to Ivan's tear streaked face. Alfred had seen a lot of tragedy in the broken world, but he didn't think he had ever seen anyone look as broken as Ivan did in that moment.
The barrel of the gun bounced slightly against Alfred's skin, betraying Ivan's shaking hands.
"Just do it," Alfred breathed, trying to hold on to his courage for just a few more moments. "Just pull the trigger real quick. Like pulling off a band aid, right? Come on. Do it for me."
Ivan shut his eyes, pushing a few more tears over the edge of his eyelids and rolling down his cheeks. He sucked in a few quaking breaths and finally blurted out, "I love you."
Alfred's breath caught in his chest, and a smile began to spread across his face. It was late, tragically late, the words that had been building over the past few months of companionship finally spilling over, but Alfred would take whatever he could get, even this one final happiness on earth.
His mouth moved, beginning to form, 'I love you too,' but there was no more time. He didn't even have a chance to draw another breath as Ivan's finger finally pulled the trigger.