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The Only Time She Was Vulnerable

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Ben doesn’t know what to feel as he watches Ringer bury the bodies of the kids she had killed. As he stands behind her, rifle in hand, he couldn’t help but wonder what in the hell Vosch had done to her. It was like they had ripped away everything he loved about her. He sees the girl who told him that every life mattered, and was smart enough to figure out the truth of 5th Wave, but he also sees a girl who had just massacred a squad of children in a matter of seconds and had lied to him, straight to his face. Sure, Ben knew she did what she had to, but he couldn’t help the feeling of betrayal that was threatening to tarnish all the goodness he saw in her.

Ben knew that after the whole incident with Walker, Cassie was probably willing to kill her, and it scared him to think that he actually understood that. Ringer had broken their trust, so how could they possibly let her live? It would be simple. A single shot in the head. She wouldn’t feel it. Wasn’t she beyond pain? She would understand right? As he drew the bolt on the gun, Ben could feel his whole body weaken. He couldn’t take the shot. He knows she could hear the gun bolt, and he felt horrible. He doesn’t want to kill her… He just needs to understand.

She reads him easily, as she always does, and she doesn’t even need to look. “I shot Teacup,” she says, her voice emotionless, more so than normal, yet somehow it sounds so much more broken at the same time. She’s turned away from him, eyes on the bodies in the ground. “I thought she was the enemy so I shot her. She had one chance and I had no choice. I let them take us Zombie. It was the only way to save her.”

Ben always knew that, despite what she wanted others to believe, Ringer looked after Cup as an older sister would. He isn’t surprised by the revelation, but it makes him feel a sinking in his stomach. He’s sure he knows the answer, yet he has to ask anyway. “Then where is she?”

“Gone.” He feels a pang in his chest at the word. Gone. Like Dumbo. Like Poundcake. Like Sissy. He hates that word. He’s tired of hearing it.

“What did they do to you Ringer?” He needs to grasp what they did, how they broke her. He needs to know because he wants to fix it. He wants whatever happened to heal, because this distant, beaten down girl is breaking his heart. She looks up from the bodies, but her gaze is still away from him. Her back is still turned, her eyes now at the stars.

“The same thing they did to Walker. The same thing they did to Constance and that priest, and the cat lady.” Her voice quivers slightly, and he begins to feel sick, angry, and sorrowful at the same time. They had made her into a weapon—a human killing machine. He doesn’t know what to tell her—it’s the one time that words fail him. There is a silent pause as she looks up at the darkening sky. Then she speaks two words that nearly kill him. “I’m pregnant.” With those two words, his world nearly crumbles.

The idea was suicide, but it was the best plan they had. They were going to go to the base to kill Vosch and get Evan back. Ringer knew that either goal had a high probability of failure, but she agreed to it anyway. She’s aware that the lives she’ll take will be more than she can count, yet she prepares to execute the plan. Maybe she could find peace with Vosch’s brutal death—though she very much suspects she’s beyond that point of happiness.

As she carries the last two dead bodies of her former Camp Haven group, Squad One Nine, a bottle of green liquid catches Ringer’s eye. A realization dawns on her, as her enhanced hearing reverberates with the heartbeat of Razor’s child in her stomach. She puts the corpses down on the garage floor and feels like she’s going to vomit as she grabs the antifreeze. She holds it to her chest, then suddenly slumps to the ground, and the tears start to fall as the hopelessness of it all threatens to engulf her. Can she really do this? Is this really what she wants? Can she really kill her own baby? She hugs her knees and the liquid closely, feeling torn apart. The decision is taken away as the 12th system senses someone’s footfalls approaching. She knows his face anywhere.

“You didn’t have a choice. And anyway, they don’t know the difference right?” Zombie says, catching sight of her. He doesn’t see the antifreeze. All he sees, all he hears, is her crying, her emotional walls eviscerated, her vulnerability exposed for once in her life. He assumes that it’s because of the kids she murdered. His look is less judgmental and more compassionate than she probably deserves.

Ringer doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t understand now he can still possibly believe in her. “Oh, Zombie,” she says, shaking her head. How can he excuse the death and destruction she had wrought? To kill or not was most certainly a choice, and she had killed them all.

“It isn’t too late, Ringer. We can call it off. Sullivan can’t do this without you.” Ringer knows that she can’t. She doesn’t have the skill of killing that Vosch gifted. She isn’t some enhanced lab rat gone loose. Cassie Sullivan’s not like Ringer at all.

“She’d have nothing to do if you hadn’t stepped in front of Walker like that,” she snaps at him, feeling irritated. She really hadn’t wanted to shoot him in the leg, but his stubbornness left her no other choice.

“Maybe I wouldn’t have if you had trusted me with the truth.”

“The truth.”

“The important word here is trusted.” That’s what she was afraid of.

“I trust you Zombie,” she says, but even she knows that the half truth is very transparent. She had taken it upon herself alone to handle the situation.

“Funny way of showing it.” Ringer feels guilt spread in her heart, through her veins. She couldn’t argue with him, because he was right. She wants him to trust her, but how can she expect that of him when he can’t expect the same?

“I know you won’t tell,” she says, as she lets her legs fall straight. The antifreeze drops into her lap, and for a second it strikes her what she’s about to do—something truly unforgivable. But then, she knows it’s the right thing to do, and she wants Ben to keep her soon-to-end pregnancy a secret. She wants for there to be trust between them again. “A capful should be enough. The 12th system—it’ll protect me…” The words escape from Ringer’s lips quietly, barely audible to Zombie. He does, however, hear her well enough, and her intentions with the antifreeze are clear to him. He snatches the jug from her hold.

“Goddamnit, Ringer, you didn’t already drink this, did you?” he says, holding the bottle away from her. As he holds the antifreeze, she feels her blood boil. How dare he act as if he gets to determine what she does with her body? It was a stupid idea to show him. She should’ve just drank it and had it over with.

“Give that back, Zombie,” she snarls, only partially aware of how juvenile she must sound. He exhales in relief, knowing that she hadn’t yet done the irreversible.

“You told me what happened but you didn’t tell me how.” He’s got be kidding. She could see the jealousy, insecurity, and curiosity mingled in his gaze, but it really pissed her off that he was really going to ask her this.

“Well. You know. The usual way,” Ringer says, with a sarcastic twirl of the hand. She can’t help it, she just desperately wants to hurt him. She’s always been that way with people—cold without reason, except with Zombie she wanted to take it back. Every venomous quip. “His name was Razor.” She hesitates. “No, his name was Alex.”

“The recruit who shot Teacup.”

“For me. So I could escape.”

“The one who helped Vosch set you up.”


“And then Vosch kind of set you two up.” Ringer can feel her temper rising.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She’s glaring daggers at him now. If she had heat vision, he’d be a puddle of goo right about now.

“Vosch left him with you that night. He might have known that Razor had… that leaving the two of you alone might lead to…” For a second, his reasoning makes sense, but she knows that Vosch wouldn’t do that. He’s nothing more than a heartless tormentor.

“That’s crazy Zombie. If Vosch thought that for a second, he wouldn’t have left Alex to guard me.”

“How come?” Zombie says. She feels her heart hammer against her ribcage, but the words slip out of her mouth.

“Because love is the most dangerous weapon in the world. It’s more unstable than uranium.” She regrets it right after she tells him. She can see Zombie’s expression—defeated and full of guilt-lined jealousy for a dead man. Just like the sarcasm, Ringer wants to take it back, but she won’t, because that’s not her.

“Love.” His voice is plain, empty. Devoid of emotion. He looks crestfallen. She does her best to convey to him that she doesn’t care (even though she really does).

“Yes, love. Can I have that back now?” she just wants to get it over with.


“I can take it from you.” She's considering it. He’s giving her no other option.

“I know you could.” Zombie stares back at her, fearlessly. Despite their predicament, she admires that. She looks him dead in the eye, and she knows what this is about.

“You want to know if I loved him,” Ringer says. “You want to ask me that.” She doesn’t know if she should be irritated or flattered by him.

“It’s none of my business,” Zombie replies—his tone tells her the opposite.

“I don’t love anyone, Zombie,” she says, scared of how she says it so neutrally, so calmly, as if she were stating a mere fact.

“Well that’s okay, you’re still young.” Ringer feels the damned anger bubbling up again. Why does he always have to act like the arrogant ass that he is? He has that stupid grin plastered on his face. For a half second she wants to wipe that smile off with her lips—then she realizes what he’s doing. Her irritation returns as quickly as it left.

“Stop that. Stop trying to make me smile. It’s cruel.” She knows that’s what Zombie was trying to do. She was getting fed up, but once again, she sees the look on his face. The smile is gone, and instead he seems heartbroken. She feels angst sink in, but she ignores it. Zombie needed to grow up. They aren't some high schoolers flirting in class; they’re the small, remaining fragments of humanity left, and he was focused on getting her to smile? She gives her temper voice. “You’re a prick. I’ve always thought so.” She takes the bottle from him and pours the liquid into the cap. She ignores his red eyes. She doesn’t want to look at them. She’s afraid of what she’ll feel if she meets his gaze.

“This is what they’ve done, Zombie. This is the world they’ve made, where giving life is crueler than taking it.” The luminescent green substance in the cap ripples like a poison sea as she brings it closer to her mouth. “I am being kind. I am being wise.” But she knows she’s lying to herself. Her hand shakes as she is about to swallow the antifreeze, the liquid dripping down her hand as the cap tilts. She lets Zombie take her hand and put the lid aside.

Before she knows it, what remains of the liquid is out of her hand, and Zombie is holding her. She feels her vision go blurry as sob after soul shattering sob breaks through. She can feel her stone cold facade broken as she presses her face into his neck. “I feel so lost, Zombie,” she says into him, as the world fades away. There is nothing left in that moment but her and him.

“I’ll always be there to find you.” His hands tangle in her hair before cupping her face. “And my name’s not Zombie. It’s Ben, Marika.” He says her name like a forbidden enchantment, his voice hushed, as if he’s afraid to scare away their stolen moment. She shivers at his voice. “It’s a beautiful name you know.”

“Marika’s gone,” she says. “They took her with her father and the plague. I’m Ringer. I’m a killer. I’m not some damned innocent girl anymore. I am what this world made me.” She feels hollow. Marika was her first kill.

“Marika is still in there,” Ben says, his breath cool between her bangs. “You might be lost, but I believe in you. I always have. That day I saw you in the yard at Camp Haven a lifetime ago, I knew that there was someone beautiful there. Scary—but beautiful. I don’t know where any of us would be without you.” He laughs a bit, but this time it’s genuine, so much so that it almost coaxes an hysterical grin out of her. She nestles her face deeper into the crook of his neck, and the 12th system sweeps over, soaking in his emotions. Fear, desperation, wonderment, infatuation bordering on complete and utter obsession—all directed towards her. It’s so overwhelmingly pouring out of him that she feels the raw emotion alone could drown her in an infinite sea.

“I don’t understand you, Ben Parish,” she says, eyes closed against his skin. “Why me? I’m always distant, I always push myself away from people, I’ve betrayed you all, and, you specifically, I’ve shot twice. I’ve treated you and everyone else in my life like shit. Why are you so crazy over me? Why not Sullivan? She seems more your type—certainly more tolerable than me.”

His answer is instantaneous. “Because I love you, Marika.” She feels more tears stinging at her eyes. Damn it. “And it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me; it’s okay too if you don’t love me back. I just needed to say it. That entire time you were gone, I hoped you were safe. You’d fill my dreams with regret and fear. More than anyone ever has. These past months, you’ve become the most important person in my life. A lot of me changed after the Arrival, but you’re probably the only good difference.”

For a while, they’re both silent. They’re both enthralled in their thoughts, wrapped in each other’s warmth. Marika contemplates what Ben had told her, and it’s a confusing mess to her. She had intimate feelings for Razor, but it was more out of desperation for anyone to keep her sane as the 12th system put her through hell. Now, she feels something different, as Ben holds her. Something more calm and irrefutable. “I love you, too.” Her voice is just as quiet as his. The only sound she can hear is his heart pounding, their beats synchronized in harmony.

Ben feels like electricity is spreading through his body when she turns to kiss him. At first, it’s not not a sensual kiss, and he’s glad it’s not. She isn’t that kind of girl. Instead, as their lips are interlocked, Ben feels a surge of passion pulsing from her mouth into his. It’s as if they’ve bonded in some deeper level that he couldn’t even begin to fathom. Then, before he knows it, she’s on top of him and their kissing intensifies. Then Marika’s finger tugs at a belt loop on his pants.

“Are you sure?” he asks, pulling away from the kiss. He doesn’t want to force her into this—not if she isn’t ready. Her dark eyes lock with his, and what he sees in them are love, lust, desire, and imploration.

“This is what I want Ben,” Marika says, voice shaky, yet certain. “After tomorrow, we might not have a world. One or both of us may not even be alive. All I know is that we both need this.” With that, they kiss again, and begin to undo each other’s pants.

Ben wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The garage floor was one of the least romantic places he’d ever done it (he’d done it in several weird places before), and both of their bodies were exhausted, tired from all the trauma of the days past. He couldn’t care less about any of it. He’d had sex with more girls than he could count before her, something the new him was less than proud of, but Marika was the only one he had ever made love to. He’d never before felt the passion burning in his heart as he and Marika gave into one another. They tried to be as quiet and fast as possible, her hands on his back, ecstasy in her eyes. Their kisses were frantic and charged with intimacy. As they were both on the edge, his arms around her tightened. “Marika,” he gasped, and then it was over, both of their bodies shaking from the intensity of what they had shared. It was finished in a blur.

For a minute, they both indulge in the moment, holding each other’s half naked bodies close together. Ben wishes that they had more time. He wishes that he could have a night with her, and that he could just wake up next to her, bathed in sunlight. He closes in eyes, absorbing her body heat, inhaling her natural scent. He could live forever in this moment, with this angel. Then she stands up and puts her clothes back on. In an instance, their five minutes of bliss are gone.

Ben gets up too, hauling his pants up swiftly. He doesn’t know what to say to her. This could be their final moment together, alive and feeling. His throat burns, his eyes sting. He can’t imagine losing her, but here she is, willing to enter the belly of the beast with Cassie. He couldn’t stop her if he wanted to—she was his Ringer. If anyone could pull this off, it would be her. She always came out on top.

“Please make it back to me.” The words are futile, the echo of his plea ringing in his head. He knows going to the base is a death sentence, but for the meantime he wants to deny it.

She looks at him solemnly, smoothing her silky tresses, and shakes her head. “You know I can’t guarantee that. You know the power that words have.” She sounds like she’s already lost the fight.

“Then please… just promise you’ll try your best?” Ben can feel himself going delirious already. “I don’t want to lose you. Not now, not after all we’ve been through…” There is silence for a few seconds, then she kisses him again—this time tenderly and wordlessly. No answer, just her soft lips against his mouth, her fingers intertwined with his. Then she pulls away, and they go to meet with Cassie. As he walks towards the future, and she walks to her almost undeniable death mission, the ghost of her warmth haunts him. The last kiss wasn’t a promise… it felt more like a goodbye.