Yes, this is the final chapter of My Playground, book 1/3. I hope you have enjoyed the ride so far and that you will read book 2, if I decide to post it as well. It is also completed and I'm working on the third book. Anyway, here it is--the chapter to end all chapters (at least for this book, hehe).

Chapter Sixteen: Life is Fleeting

My feet felt like lead as I trudged toward ICU room fourteen. Would this be the last time I'd see Ryan alive? Would he ever wake up? Would I ever be able to hear his response when I told him I loved him? Sure, I'd kissed him but I hadn't told him those three words, those three very important words that had been bouncing around in my head for a while now. Was the last time I'd see him awake back in his room, when he'd been snuggling under the covers for a deeper sleep than any of us would have thought possible?

No. It couldn't be! I couldn't lose him. He couldn't die.

But he was human--he wasn't invincible and he could die just like everyone else, just like Mom and Ben. Everyone I loved was dying, leavng me here all alone. They just kept slipping through my fingers like sand through a sieve and I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to stop it. I didn't know how to keep Ryan here with me.

I entered his room and took in a shaky breath before I shut the door behind me and faced his bed, slowly bringing my eyes up to focus on him. A sob caught in my throat as my knees shook, nearly giving way under the sorrow eating away at me from the inside out. I took a few steps forward and I was at his side, looking down at his unbelievably pale face. An oxygen mask was over his mouth and nose and it misted up as he released rasping breaths, his body shaking with the effort as though that simple action took more energy than he had left to spare.

"Oh, Ry," I whispered, tears blurring my vision. I furiously wiped them away, not wanting my view of him distorted should this be the last time I would be able to see him alive. Why was I thinking like that? I mentally chided myself and reached out a trembling hand to grab hold of Ryan's, my fingers entwining with his. His hands were still cold, so very, very cold, and no matter how much I rubbed at it with both of mine, it wouldn't seem to warm up. "Ry, you can't do this, okay? Just...think of Richard and your parents. You...They need you." I took in a shaky breath. "I need you."

And I really did. He was my playground. I couldn't keep going without him, not after he'd been the only thing keeping me going in the first place. I couldn't lose him. He couldn't die. I wouldn't let him.

What are you going to do about it? a voice sneered through my head, causing me to flinch and sink down into the chair next to Ryan's bed.

What was I going to do? I was just a kid. I was only sixteen. Dear God, Ryan was only sixteen and he was dying. It was all my fault, too.

"Please get better, Ryan...please don't do this. We need you, okay? I'm sorry. This is all my fault, Ry...I'm so sorry, please don't die because of me. I can't lose you, okay? I can't. Please don't give up..." I had to stop because my voice wasn't working anymore, all cracked and torn because of the sobs and tears wanting to break free. I struggled to hold them back as I tightened my hold on Ryan's hand, as though if I just held on tight enough, I could keep him with me. "I...I can't lose you, man, I can't. I...I love you, Ry, don't...don't go. Please don't."

There. I'd said it, finally.

Too late though. He couldn't hear me. He was dying.

But I'd finally spoken the words, admitted them aloud.

Then came the tears, finally, slipping down my cheeks as I let loose a shaky sob, unable to hold it back any longer. Ryan was dying and I just didn't know what to do. How could I keep going without him? Without my playground? It wasn't fair!

I jerked in surprise when there was suddenly a hand on my shoulder, gripping it reassuringly. I turned and found my dad looking at me with sorrow filling his eyes. I lunged at him and he wrapped his arms around me tightly, whispering reassurances in my ear even though I couldn't believe him. How could everything be okay when Ryan was dying, when I was losing him?

Two days later and I was a mess. My brother's funeral took place early in the morning and I was shocked that so many people showed up. Jamie showed up and offered condolences for Ben's death and Ryan's impending demise. I just ignored him because it hurt too much to hear what he had to say.

It had been nearly two days since I'd last seen Ryan. I wasn't allowed back into his room anymore and from what I'd heard yesterday, he wasn't getting any better. I stopped going to the hospital because I hated just pacing in the waiting was doing no one any good and I could do that in my room, where I was surrounded by memories of Ryan, my playground, when he was perfectly fine and energetic.

Like the video games...we used to play those all night, or watch movies. We used to go to the theater...I'd first kissed him there, though it had been an accident. How could he be dying when he'd had so much life in him? It just wasn't fair!

I buried my head into my pillow and wanted to cry. I had no more tears left in me, though, after crying myself to sleep two nights in a row. I had no way to express my sorrow.

If I was this upset just watching Ryan die, how would I react when he actually died? It hurt to think like that because I wanted nothing more than for him to be okay, but I knew that it was a definite possibility that he was going to just slip away and escape me. What would I do when I got the news of his death? What if I soon had to attend his funeral?

Oh God, I couldn't do it....

I felt sick just thinking about it.

I heard the phone ringing but I ignored it because the caller ID said it was the hospital. I was too scared to answer. What if it was my dad, giving me the news of Ryan's death? What if Ryan had died while I had just been in my room, wanting to cry but not being able to do so?

God, I couldn't lose him. Life without Ryan was a life that wasn't worth living, of that much I was sure.

The phone rang again. The hospital. No, I couldn't answer it. I glared at my ceiling and tried to think of happier times, when Ryan was here with me and we were talking or watching movies or playing video games. It hadn't been so long ago, either. I couldn't lose Ryan....

The phone again. The hospital once more. I took a shaky breath and finally answered.

"H-Hello?" I whispered, dread consuming me.

"Alex, there you are," my dad said. "Why weren't you answering?"

I shrugged even though I knew he couldn't see me.

"I'm going to be coming to get you in a few minutes, okay? They're going to let you see Ryan again."

Fear clawed at me and mixed the dread and rising panic already gripping my heart.

"Why?" I asked softly. "Is he okay?"

"I'll talk to you when I get there," he told me, and then hang up.

I shakily hung up as well and paced in my room. Why were they letting me see Ryan again? Was he getting ready to die?

Feeling sick once more, I raced down the hall and toward the bathroom, where I heaved out the contents of my stomach into the toilet violently.

Dad was quiet at first when I got into the car. Then he faced me. "I have some news on Ryan."

I swallowed thickly, my stomach churning again. I hoped I wasn't about to get sick in Dad's car. "Yeah?"

"He's waking up."

His news shocked me. Had I just heard him right? Ryan was waking up?! "Really?" I asked, barely able to let myself believe it.

He smiled. "Yeah. His fever's gone down and he's showing more brain activity. They think he might wake up soon."

"So he...he's not dying?"

Please, please, please...

"This gives him a fighting chance. He still has a major infection but if he's careful and they watch him, they should be able to bring it down if he's really waking up. This is good news, Alex!"

I smiled slowly.

Ryan was waking up.

Maybe I wouldn't have to lose him.

We were half way to the hospital when my dad's cell rang. He answered and then frowned, handing it to me. I was confused...who would be calling me on my dad's phone?

"Hello?" I mumbled.

"Alex?" It was Bailey.

"How did you get my dad's number?" I asked, suspicious.

"It was in the phone book," she said. "I just wanted to's Ryan? I heard he wasn't doing too good." I could hear the concern in her voice.

It made me sick. I found myself scowling. "They think he's waking up," I told her, "so he's doing better."

Thank God for that.

I couldn't lose him.

"Thank God," she sighed. "I was so worried. When do you think I'll be able to see him?"

She wanted to see him? Why couldn't she just stay away? She hadn't been the one constantly worrying about Ryan dying, I had. She needed to leave Ryan alone.

"I don't know," I muttered.

"Oh, me, okay?"

"Sure," I said.

I wouldn't.

We hang up and I handed the phone back to Dad.

I entered Ryan's room slowly, feeling shaky, my legs barely working as I shut the door behind me and made my way toward his bed. I took in a precarious breath and stood looking at him, reaching out a hand to stroke the back of his before I gripped it.

"Ry? Can you hear me?" I whispered. "I really need you to wake up, okay? Please just get better."

Just as I had expected, there was no response. I sighed and sat in the chair next to his bed.

"You have to stop scaring me like this," I murmured to him, watching his slack face, his gorgeous face, his eyelids closed and keeping his wonderous chocolate eyes from me. "I can't keep doing this, Ry. Please wake up." I tightened my grip on his hand.

I talked to him then.

I told him stories of our time together thus far. I reminded him of the paintball game and I quietly confessed that I had enjoyed that accidental kiss in the movie theater. I admitted to kissing him in my bed, even though I'd originally denied doing it. I told him how I couldn't live without him.

I talked for about two hours, surprised that no one had come in to bother me or kick me out. I figured his parents were taking a break now that he was getting better. Maybe my dad had forced them to go home for a while and get some much needed rest.

My dad was persuasive sometimes.

I squeezed his hand again as I sighed and glared at the ground, not sure what else to say.

Then I felt it.

A light squeeze back on my hand.

I shot a look at Ryan's face and noticed his facial muscles twitching.

"Ry?" I whispered, standing quickly so I could lean over him. "Ryan, wake up, c'mon, you can do it."

His eyes fluttered open. The chocolate color was a little dimmer than usual but it was finally there. I had been denied the sight of his eyes for so long, tormented by the thought that I would never see them again except in my memory or in the few pictures I had of him which didn't do him nearly enough justice. Tears stung my eyes.

Finally, I was able to produce tears again.

"Ryan. God, you're awake."

His gaze settled on me. He looked vaguely confused, his brows creasing as he unconsciously tightened his hold on my hand. "Alex?" he murmured sleepily.

Tears spilled down my cheeks. His voice was a heavenly music to my ears. I'd thought I'd never hear it again.

"What happened?" he asked, blinking at me sluggishly.

"Your fever," I told him, wiping at my eyes with my free hand, "it got really high. You had an infection in your leg and I swear, if you ever scare me like that again, I'll kill you myself."

A faint smile appeared on his face. "Don't cry."

"I'm not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are too."

I grinned. "I love you, Ryan."

He paused. I froze.

"I really do," I murmured.

I leaned down and pressed my lips to his. It wasn't a quick kiss, either. No, it was a long one that deepened when he kissed me back. I slid a hand up to cup his face gently as my eyes closed. We pulled apart for air and then I lightly kissed him again before pulling back.

"You really scared me," I told him. "Please don't do that again. I thought you...."

"I'm fine," he told me. "I told you I was."

The tears were back because he had told me as much, before we'd gone to sleep in his bed and all the panic had ensued.

"I really do love you...." I whispered. "And I guess it's okay if you don't love me too."

He frowned. "Alex..."

"It's all right, I'm just so God damn happy you're okay."

"But...I..." He hesitated. "I think I might love you too."

I froze. "What?" I gasped, looking at him with wide eyes.

He shrugged. "I dunno, I is fleeting, Alex. And I guess we should voice our feelings and act on them. I...I like Bailey," he admitted, causing me to look away. "I really do. But she's...she's nothing compared to you."

I smiled faintly. "You mean it?"

"Yeah," he said, giving a small nod. "I like her just fine but she doesn't...she doesn't make me feel like I do when I'm with you. Kissing her isn't anything like kissing you and...I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out."

Tears were stinging my eyes once more. I gently leaned toward him and kissed him again. He cupped my face this time and brought me a little closer as he deepened the kiss himself. I lightly swiped my tongue along his lips and he finally allowed me entrance. I swirled my tongue with his and felt giddy inside.

I'd waited so long to do this, sure that it would only happen in my dreams. But now it was real.

Ryan loved me too.

I could die happy now.

And Bailey could kiss my ass. I had Ryan and she didn't. Somehow, I'd won Ryan's heart and he already had a death grip over mine. Kissing Ryan was like my own personal slice of heaven, just for me.

"I love you," I whispered again, huskily, as I ran my fingers through his wild hair.

God, it was so soft....

"Love you too," he murmured in return, just before we kissed again.

I finally had Ryan for myself. My safe place.

My playground.

THE END!!!!!!!!!

I really, really, REALLY hope you enjoyed the story! Yes, yes, a happy ending! Of all three of the books to this trilogy, this one is my favorite. I wrote this entire thing in the span of two weeks, during Spring Break. It flowed so easily and I just loved it. Originally it was just supposed to be a short story, something for me to do when I was bored, but I quickly fell in love with it. Then when it was over, I couldn't just leave the characters--I had to make a second book, but I was less happy with the outcome. Somehow, the second book became slightly darker than this one. But I guess that's okay. Book 2 is also told in Ryan's POV, which was a change that kind of took me off-guard. Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm just happy I finally got it all posted! haha. If you guys really want book 2 to be posted, please just let me know. Otherwise I will probably leave it here for the happy ending, hehe. This book was fun to write and I'm glad I could share it with you all.

Oh and if you want to know the original inspiration for this story, it came to me because I was listening to the song "My Playground" by Madonna (from the movie 'A League of Their Own'). I always loved that song and it just kept nagging at me so I finally started this story. Thanks for reading!