I gasped first, a sound so loud it hurt my chest. My outburst scorched the inside of my throat as though it were lava, rather than a sound of distress.3181

"No!" I cried out as the others froze, turning their heads to look at me in startled dismay. "No- no!"4182

I jerked away from the gun at my head, ducking out from under it, scooting away from Damian- away from all of them- on my hands and knees. My gun dropped from my hand to the floor, and I flinched and gave a short shriek, certain that it would go off. I almost expected to feel the sharp pain of a bullet entering my flesh, almost expected to begin to die.5183

But I didn't. The gun remained dormant on the ground, and it was only me who made any sound.6184

"No- no, no, no…"7185

"What- Willow, what are you doing, what's wrong?" Calder stumbled, and Liza added in a more urgent but no less worried tone, "Willow, it's okay. It'll be over soon, just come back. You won't even feel the pain."8186

"No, I can't, I can't!" I whimpered, my voice loud, high-pitched, as I backed up by the stairs, my eyes darting to look at each of them with fear and shame both. "I can't do this! I can't!"9187

"Yes you can, Will," Liza said, softly but very intensely, her eyes boring into mine. She had not made a move toward me- in fact, none of them had. They were all still sitting motionless in their circle, the circle that I had broken. It was as if my words had literally frozen them, rendered them physically and emotionally unable to move, to do anything to stop my retreat.10188

Calder appeared confused, worried, his eyes going between me and Liza, as though anxious to see which of us would win an imaginary battle- a battle that perhaps was not so imaginary after all. Damian was frowning, visibly upset, and I thought I could see the doubt in his eyes creeping over the rest of his expression, much more strongly than before. Lily looked panicked, her eyes flickering about to each of us, her hands still tightly gripping the gun she had been given. And Liza… Liza's eyes were fixed on me, and she was so still it scared me further. There was so much going on in her eyes, even as her expression remained neutral. Anger and shock, worry and determination, frustration and fear…11189

Still it stunned me to see just how much fear shone in her eyes, even more clearly than all the other emotions. I wondered if it was only through her extreme control that she was not shaking as badly as I was. Could extreme terror render one motionless as well as trembling?12190

Of course it could… for that was exactly what I had done all these weeks that we'd plotted our deaths. I had stayed motionless, stayed quiet, never daring to speak or disagree. Never daring, until now, when it was already so late.13191

"You can do this, Willow," Liza repeated, her eyes boring into mine so hard I wanted to look away, deflect her gaze. Did she not realize what emotion showed in her eyes- did she not see that I knew her desperate terror, that it was seeing this that made me see that what we were doing was wrong?14192

No, she didn't see. She didn't know I knew- and maybe she didn't know herself.15193

"You can do this. Come back, Willow. It's okay. Everything will be okay, everything will be better."16194

But it might not be. What if it wasn't? What if this only made everything worse? What if Liza's seemingly simple plan only doomed us and all we loved to even greater unhappiness, even greater pain?17195

I didn't want to risk that. I couldn't.18196

"No," I rasped again, and I looked down toward Liza's neck and collar bone, unable to bear the way she looked at me. "No, it won't, Liza. Nothing can do that. Nothing- nothing can be that simple. E-everything… everything has consequences. I… I can't do this. I can't. I can't kill you… and- and… I don't want to die."19197

The room fell into a silence then that seemed almost suffocating as they stared at me, clearly unable to believe my words. As no one spoke, none of them moved, none of them made a sound, I was very aware of how loudly my ragged breaths sounded, nearly echoing among their silence. My body continued to shiver uncontrollably, my posture tensed, as my head throbbed, my heart sped still faster. It was hard to keep my breathing under any semblance of normality, for each breath felt sharp, as though it were tearing up the insides of my throat. I felt close to tears, an enormous pressure building up in my chest and throat, but my eyes remained hot and dry.20198

When I finally dared to glance again at Liza's face, the expression made my heart twist. She looked at me with the terror and disbelieving pain of someone whose life had been destroyed… 21199

When she caught me looking at her, she drew her shoulders back abruptly, sucking in her breath. I could see her attempting to rearrange her features, bring them back into a semblance of the usual blasé Liza we saw.22200

"Yes, you do," she said quickly, "you know you want this, Willow. You know you do- I know you do. You're just afraid. You just have to get it over with, stop thinking about it so much-"23201

"No," I interrupted, and my voice cracked. This was the first time I had ever interrupted Liza- the first time I had ever wanted to.24202

"No, I-I don't, Liza. I-I never did."25203

Liza sat so still, so utterly motionless, that I would have almost sworn she had stopped breathing, stopped blinking. She would have looked like a mannequin, a mere representation of a human rather than an actual girl, had it not been for the desperate fear shining in her eyes so clearly. How could I never have seen it- was this really the first time she had shown her true feelings so obviously? Was she feeling more strongly now- or was she simply no longer able to shield from us what she felt?26204

Then her face seemed to slacken slightly, her shoulders sinking. But I could see how tightly she gripped her gun in her hands, so hard that her knuckles were white.27205

"You have to," Liza said, and her voice was as weak as I had ever heard, nearly a whisper. "I- you have to, Willow. I need you to. I need all of you to-"28206

She glanced around at the others, as if asking for their agreement, their support. But they just looked back at her, unmoving, and I could see the confusion, the doubts and second thoughts, the worries rising to greater proportions in their expressions. Well, in Calder's and Damian's, at least. Maybe we could talk her out of this- maybe we could find another way. Maybe-29207

"Guys," Liza whispered, and I heard the choking in her voice, "guys, I need you. Come on- I need you to do this with me."30208

I had words formed in my mind to say to her… I had had them for some time, nearly as long as I had known of Liza's plan. But it was not me who said them to her; surprisingly, it was Calder.31209

"W-why?" he said quietly, the bewilderment evident in his voice as well as his face. "Liza- why- why do you want us to die- really? We- I thought- why do you want us to die? Did- you never even, you didn't tell us, d-did you? I think- I don't think you ever even said. You always- you said why we should. How bad our lives are. But why do YOU want to? Why do you want to do this? Is- isn't it fair to at least tell us why?"32210

His voice grew softer, even less assured towards the end of his little speech, and he bit his lip, looking at Liza with all the guilt of someone who dread to see what his words had done to her. I think he half expected her to attack him, whether physically or verbally.33211

But Liza didn't even meet his eyes. She was shaking so badly I was almost afraid she would lose her balance, even in her seated position. Her dark complexion had gone nearly as washed out as my pale skin, and her face wrinkled as if she were fighting tears.34212

"I can't," she choked, and her words were nearly unintelligible. "I- I need you. I… I can't do this alone, you don't understand."35213

"L-Liza," I said shakily, and Damian echoed, "Liza, wait, listen…"36214

But she had the gun in her hap up in her hands now; she was crying, the sobs heaving her back and shoulders violently as she thrust the gun at Calder.37215

"Calder- Calder, you have to do this, you have to kill me!" she sobbed, and the gun wobbled unsteadily in her hands. "You have to- just kill me, you have to, Willow won't do it, so you have to…"38216

Calder just stared at her, his eyes widening in alarm as she tried to hand it off to him. Damian called her name repetitively, his voice growing shrill as she refused to respond. Finally she gave up, and sobbing harshly, brought the gun up to her temple with shaking hands…39217

"Liza!" Calder cried, and Damian and I were calling her too. Lily just sat there, her eyes reflecting a helpless terror. But out of the four of us, it was only Calder who made a move to stop Liza.40218

He scooted closer to her hurriedly, wrapping his hands around hers as he tried to pull the gun from her hand. But Liza wouldn't let him. Her grip on the gun tightened, panicked, as he pulled her hands down. As he pulled she was still holding the gun, still gripping it…41219

The gunshot seemed to me the loudest noise I had ever heard…42220

It seemed to echo and expand, lasting for all eternity. Sometimes I think I still hear it now, still see Calder slumping back like a marionette whose strings had been cut. I still see the horrible hole between his eyes, the carnage that was the back of his head, spilling out before our eyes. I see the way his body shook, the slow sheen of lifelessness spreading over his eyes, so terribly slowly.43221

I remember the complete horror in Damian's eyes, the way they bulged, how high-pitched his voice was as he cried over and over, "Oh god, oh no, god, no, no, no…". I remember how Lily's face went blank, wiped devoid of any emotion as she sat woodenly. I remember the sickening blend of horror, disbelief, and grief that seemed to strike me all at once, a pain as sharp and brutal as a knife twisting in my heart. I couldn't move, couldn't think, could do nothing but stare. I was too shocked to scarcely breathe.44222

But even in my state of mind I couldn't help but be aware of Liza, the devastated anguish that twisted her features so grotesquely as she doubled over, her dark hair covering most of her face. She began to scream without words, crying so violently I thought she would break apart literally, or at least vomit.45223

"Oh no, oh my god… oh fuck, no! I did this, oh god, I killed him, oh shit! Kill me, somebody kill me! Somebody, please… please, kill me, please, oh my god, I have to, I have to fucking die, I have to, oh god…"46224

She was screaming, repeating this over and over until her words were babbles to my ears. She lay her forehead on the floor, rocking back and forth as she cried.47225

I don't know how much time passed before any of us noticed that Lily was moving, making her way beside Liza. It felt like centuries, but for all I know it was only a few seconds. She touched Liza's head gently, and there was no emotion in her expression or her tone when she spoke. Her words were quiet, dull, but somehow I managed to hear and understand them.48226

"Liza… I will if you will."49227

Everything from that point on seemed to happen so slowly, almost unhumanly so, and yet so quickly. Liza looking up at Lily, the tears and snot streaking her face as comprehension dawned in her gaze… seeing Lily's gun in her hand, and Liza's, dropped by her side… seeing her picking it up, pointing it at Lily's head as Lily pointed hers at Liza's…50228

Damian was screaming something, his eyes bulging, but he didn't move. Neither of us moved as we heard two more shots go off, two shots that seemed only one.51229

Time seemed nothing to me, formless and without constraints as it stretched on forever, and yet for no period at all. I could hear myself beginning to breathe so fast I was light-headed, and I felt disconnected from myself, an observer from somewhere outside my body. This was not me. This could not be me… not me…52230

Damian was crying, staring at the people before us who had been our friends, who had once been people rather than bodies. He made no sound, but tears streamed steadily down his cheeks.53231

I don't know how long we sat there, saying nothing, until I noticed that Damian was slowly picking up his gun. It took every ounce of concentration I possessed to make myself come back into myself enough to say one word, even one spoken as flatly as I said it.54232

"Don't."55233

Damian lifted his gaze to meet mine, exhaling in a shuddery sigh as he swiped at his nose with his sleeve. He did not put the gun down.56234

"I have to, Willow. Wh-what else can we do now? What- what the hell can we do?"57235

That's the last thing I remember beyond a weird weightless feeling that was more sickening than liberating before I collapsed… apparently, that is what it feels like to faint. And when I woke, I found myself in the hospital, along with Damian. Apparently he had been so stunned by my fainting he had dropped the gun, which had gone off and shot him in the shoulder. I guess the pain and my unconscious state convinced him that maybe he wasn't so sure he wanted to die, because he had called the ambulance to get us before passing out himself. Or so Dr. Averill has told me.58236

So that's how I got here… that's how both of us got here.59237

88888888888888888

"Willow?"60238

I could faintly hear Dr. Averill calling my name, still trying to get me to respond.61239

"Willow, we- I- only want to help you. If you don't talk about it, nothing can ever work to make you feel better."62240

But I didn't know if that was true. Sure, I hadn't talked about Liza's plans… but it wasn't until I spoke up that everything blew up in my face.63241

She couldn't help me. No one could help me, for no one could now give Liza help. Liza was dead, and without her, Calder and Lily, I was not so sure I was glad to be alive. How could I be, when Liza hadn't been? What was better about my life, better about me, that I should want to live when she hadn't? Nothing. Maybe she was right after all. Maybe I had only been too afraid to see it.242

Our circle has come to an end, its seamless continuity broken, cracked apart into fragments. It makes me wonder, was it ever truly as smooth and flowing as I had once considered it- were we ever truly a circle at all? Or were we just a line, a segment, which eventually has to come to a stopping place?243

The end