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Being a degenerate is okay these days
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Fuck.

He'd had the situation in hand. Brendan didn't look dangerous, but Jae had made that mistake before. He was keeping Brendan at a distance. He started going over his mental checklist and everything was in order: nineteen bolts for the crossbow, the one already loaded in and the eighteen he'd pilfered from Samuel's bag. Decent cover, and Brendan lacked a range weapon unless he decided to try his hand at javelin throwing with that broomstick. Jae was in control here.

And then Asha stumbled in, raised hands and nervous smile aimed right at Jae. It was hard to tell from where he was seated, but he thought her eyes looked red and puffy, like she'd been crying. Just because he hadn't lost anyone yet didn't mean that other people he cared about hadn't.

Dorothy appeared just a moment later, all but using Asha as a human shield. Jae didn't know Dorothy so much as know about her, but Brendan apparently did. The four of them formed an odd overlapping shape; Jae versus Brendan, Jae and Asha, Dorothy and Asha, Dorothy and Brendan. He could nearly see the crisscrossing lines in his head pulling them all together, like points on a map connected with string.

Jae's eyes darted from Brendan to the girls and back again. Brendan didn't look dangerous. He looked like he always had, so pathetically normal that it looped back around to being surreal here. No thousand-yard stare like Alvaro had just before he snapped.

But Brendan was closer to Asha, almost close enough to reach with the makeshift spear, and neither she nor Dorothy were armed that Jae could see.

He couldn't afford to make the same mistake twice. Not when it was more than just his own life on the line.

"Brendan," he said slowly, "back away from them. Keep your hands where I can see them." His fingers twitched, but he didn't let them rest on the trigger just yet. If Brendan so much as looked at Asha the wrong way, though... well, that nice little prize that had been left for him at the radio tower just might go uncollected.

He glanced back at Asha, trying to split his focus between her and Brendan. He was glad to see her, nerves and sad face and all. Out of everyone he knew and liked, Asha was probably the best person to run into after the announcement that had just played. He didn't know how Hazel would react to him anymore, Henry would probably keep trying to pretend everything was okay even though it obviously wasn't, and Nadia would probably judge him, rightfully or not.

None of them knew what he had been through. They hadn't been there, in the dark.

"You're fine," Jae said to Asha. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Devil's Choir · Crematorium Chapel