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Viewing Single Post From: V3 Epilogue: We Did It, When We Were Young
I'm a Cactus
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do you want to go to war, balakay?
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Unknown Date
Unknown Location
A Boat Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean



"You're lucky, kid. You have no idea."

Keith Jackson snorted sarcastically as Brandon Garnett finished applying the bandages on to his abdomen. Lucky? What a crock of shit. The two sat within the cabin of the large boat, Keith having removed his shirt so Garnett could tend to his fresh bullet wound. That was the name he'd given, claiming to be a friend, but he wore the same nondescript body armour as the rest of the terrorists. The eye patch didn't exactly scream 'good guy' either.

Friend or not, this guy was a veritable Judas to the terrorists and Keith wouldn't feel comfortable until they were on land again.

"That right?" He winced as Garnett patted down the adhesive on the bandage. He'd given him some sort of shot for the pain, and so while everything was dull, he was still acutely aware of how much everything hurt.

Garnett shot him a scowl and backed away from the injured senior.

"Yeah, it is. Five more minutes and you weren't getting off that island alive. The only reason I didn't take off is because I saw you two coming."

Leaning over gingerly, Keith grabbed his bloody shirt and carefully slipped it back on. The ugly wound in his shoulder from Randy Flagg's pick-axe attack had crusted over and it looked pretty nasty, so Garnett had tried to clean it out as best he could. Keith would inevitably need an extended stay in a hospital once they got back though - that much Garnett had assured him.

It was bizarre, really. The large boat had room for many, it had been used to transport a squad of the bastards to the island to deal with their little escape group, and so to see it so empty felt... like a missed opportunity. There'd been so many of them in the warehouse who'd gotten their collars off, and at this point, it felt wrong that it had just been the two of them. But they had gotten away.

"I can't believe that we're the only ones who escaped...? One of the other boats was leavin' too, I saw. D'you know who was on it?"

Keith's sudden recollection of the other boats left him hopeful. There'd been three boats when they'd gotten to the beach at first, then the shooting had started and Kallie had gone down. Once he'd gotten his mind back and him and Dodd were making their break for it, there had only been two - and one was already taking off. Surely someone else had to have escaped?

Garnett frowned and gave his head a half-shake. "Grossi told he got a few off. I think he had Maxie Dasai and Brad Kavanagh. Maybe the O'Cann kid? Oh, and Neil Sinclair. That one'll piss Danya off something fierce. He was starting to get into his craw as much as Dodd. As for the other boat, I don't know who was driving it. Grossi said he gave some girl instructions on how to drive it and where to meet us. Otherwise I don't know much. We'll find out when we get there."

Keith's eyes went wide. Thank God for small favours. That they weren't the only survivors maybe made all of the death a little easier to swallow. But he was genuinely curious about one thing.

"Which girl?"

Garnett's eyebrow raised and his one good eye narrowed.

"Does it matter?"

Keith unsteadily rose to his feet, the gesture meant to intimidate but only proving to make him remember how precarious his health was. Garnett's expression softened as Keith wobbled a bit, and held up a hand.

"Okay, okay. Izzy Cheung, I think. She was driving the third boat."

Relief flooded through Keith's body. Izzy Cheung had been someone that he'd spent a lot of time with on the island. He'd vowed to protect her, to try and see her to safety - some way, somehow. She was a good person and she'd had a couple of close calls. At one point when she'd been shot, Keith had thought he was going to watch her die, but she'd been patched up, and once they'd managed to meet back up with Dodd...

"Oh, thank God. That's amazing. Does Dodd know?"

Her and Dodd had some sort of... thing. Keith wasn't sure if they were dating, if they were fooling around, or what was going on, but they had become close. She'd mentioned to Keith at one point that Dodd had been the one person she'd been looking for. He'd been less than thrilled at the prospect of hooking up with an Adam Dodd group; Keith knew what tended to happen to people who got close to Dodd in Survival of the Fittest, but Izzy had been earnest about finding him. Hell, the odds said they were all doomed anyhow, so why not, right?

And now go figure - all three of them had beaten those odds.

Garnett shook his head and shrugged, moving back to the controls of the boat. He'd set it on an autopilot of sorts, and was now looking over their course. He didn't say anything more. Somehow, Keith wasn't surprised. The man was probably as conflicted as Keith was. Trusting this man was the only reason he was alive right now, but the decision to betray Danya couldn't have been one he'd taken lightly.

Keith really didn't give a shit, though. He was going to live. That was all that mattered. He figured he might as well tell Dodd the good news. Taking a few uneasy steps towards the cabin door, Garnett held up his hand again and called out, Keith taking hold of the wall to steady himself.

"Hey, don't go walking around too much. We're hauling ass for the meeting point and I can't be fishing you out of the ocean if you fall in. Besides, you're pretty banged up. I've bandaged your gunshot and cleaned out your shoulder, but... I can't stress this enough. You got shot. That's not just something you walk off. I'm pretty sure you won't die right away, but I'm no medic. Don't go fucking around."

Feeling a moment of dizziness come and go, Keith nodded. The one-eyed man was right. Whatever drugs he'd shot Keith full of were doing the trick, but that he still felt really unpleasant made sense. Taking a pick-axe to the shoulder and a gunshot to the side weren't things that were supposed to make you feel good.

Opening the latch on the cabin door, Keith stepped outside, steadying himself on the sides of the door frame. His side ached with each step. Searching around, he saw Dodd, sitting near the aft of the boat, his legs hanging off the stern side, his body braced against the protective metal railings that stopped people from falling off while the boat was in motion. Keith guessed that the boy was enjoying the feeling of the wind in his hair, as it was blowing all over the face. Adam himself had his face tilted back, smiling.

Freedom.

Slowly making his way over towards Adam, Keith's legs shook with every step he took. He was getting tired. Kicking his shoes off onto the deck, he peeled his dirty socks off and threw them into the water. Grabbing the railing, he grimaced as he lowered himself down beside the red-head, letting his feet hang off the edge, feeling the water as it splashed upon them.

"Feels pretty good, huh?"

Adam Dodd had a smile on his face the likes of which Keith had never seen. Ever since the boy had moved to California, ever since he'd joined the Southridge High class, he'd been sullen, didn't talk to many people, and just generally hadn't been too pleasant of a guy to be around. Keith - like everyone, knew the back story. But going through trauma didn't excuse you from being a dick.

Of course, going through shared trauma often made you see people in a very different way, so Keith smiled back at him.

"You're goddamn right. Of course, that might just be the drugs talkin', y'know?"

Adam laughed. He did know.

"Good ol' painkillers, man. I've had my fair share of times with those. Probably good you can't buy 'em on the street, eh?" The boy's expression seemed light, as though so much weight had been removed from his shoulders. Indeed, Dodd looked gaunt and pale, heavy stubble all over his face and neck. His eyes were sunken, dark circles underneath them.

Keith would have hated to see what he looked like.

"I just talked to Garnett. He told me we're not the only ones who got away."

Adam's eyes widened in surprise. "No shit? Who else?"

"As far as I know, Maxie, Brad, Sean and Neil are on the boat with the other guy who jumped ship. He's not sure who's on the third boat, but he knows who's driving." Keith grinned. "Izzy."

Several emotions exploded all over Adam Dodd's face at once. First confusion, then surprise, followed by something that Keith saw (oddly enough) as anguish, and then finally, he smiled and burst out laughing.

"You're kidding. She got out? Oh, thank fucking God. That girl's such a badass. Just... such a damn cool girl, you know? I'm so happy... fuck, so damn happy she got out okay."

Keith agreed. "Me too, man. Spent a lot of time with that chick in the last few days."

"Yeah, about that." Adam tapped the metal bar he was leaning on. "Thanks. I know a huge part of that is because of you. Not sure I'll ever be able to repay you for that. She's really important to me-"

He was cut off by a coughing fit, and he spat a big wad of phlegm over the side of the boat. Wiping his mouth off, he chuckled weakly.

"Probably owe you one for taking a bullet for me, too. Got a gullet-full of sand down my throat too, thanks very much. By my count, you're up two to one on me. I'll have to return the favour someday." He looked back out at the ocean speeding by. "Someday."

Keith took the moment to look out at the ocean himself. He could barely see any land masses in the distance. He hadn't gotten a look at the island as the boat had made its escape - both him and Dodd had lay, splayed out on the deck and unable to see it. Once Garnett had been totally assured that nobody had been following them by land or by air, he'd stopped the boat to treat their wounds as best he could.

Pinching his brow, Keith shook away the wave of dizziness that hit him. Even seated, pumped full of painkillers, his body was demanding more professional care. Hopefully this boat had enough gas to get to where they were going. Wherever that was.

"So... what's next?"

Adam turned to glance at Keith, and shrugged.

"Dunno. I've never done it this way before."

Made sense. The last time Adam Dodd had walked away from a Survival of the Fittest, it had been with thirteen bodies on his resume and a tete-a-tete with the big cheese himself. Keith had never asked him anything about Survival of the Fittest - frankly, he hadn't cared. He'd barely exchanged two words with the redhead during his time at Southridge. Their lockers had been in the same quad at school, but Keith... had generally just avoided him. Out of sight, out of mind.

"Guess so, huh. That time... you... you killed thirteen people to get out?"

Adam's shoulders sagged slightly and he nodded.

"Twelve, but yeah. Basically. A lot."

The words came out a lot weaker from Keith's mouth than he would have liked, but he wasn't usually one for introspection and the question wasn't so much for Adam, it was for himself.

"How didja... how'd you deal with all that?"

The smile Adam gave Keith was sad, but kind. He got it.

"Shittily. I could tell you each one of their names, their faces. I put it all up here." He tapped his temple twice, his arm then falling weakly to his side. "Most were self-defense, so people got that. You get some shit, but when half the people you meet are trying to shoot you, most people will understand that shooting first isn't an option, it's an instinct."

Keith frowned. "Most of 'em?"

"Yeah. Three weren't." Adam sighed and coughed again, spitting over the side of the boat once more. "Marcus fell into a coma and I put him down. Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do. Probably wasn't. Amanda looked at me like I was a monster when I made that decision... but fuck, man. It seemed humane. Couldn't just... leave him there."

Adam looked up at the sky for a moment, and brushed some hair away from his forehead. Keith could see the scarring on what was left of Adam's ear quite well as the wind blew his hair all over.

"With Jack, like... fuck, it was him or me. At that point I would have done anything to make sure it was him. So I figured I'd challenge him to a duel - he was big in to honour and respect and shit like that. It was easy, at that point. Turn at three or four and blow the fucker away. Funny thing was, he figured I'd be the same way and beat me to it. But I walked down a hill by accident and he missed. I didn't."

Keith nodded. They'd been the last two. That much, he knew. Everyone knew that about Dodd. He also knew where he was going next.

"Cody..."

Adam trailed off. He stared into the distance for what was a very long moment. His voice picked up again, weaker than before, his words slurring a tad.

"That fucker was a monster. Between him and Jacob Starr... they took all of my friends away. Every. Single. One. And like, fine. I get it. You want to survive, so play their game. I get it, man."

Adam met Keith's gaze, eyes haunted.

"But why stoop to that level? Why rape someone before you kill them? Unless you're an evil fuckin' monster. Going after them was basically what kept me going after everyone died. So when I killed Cody, it was..." He stopped, swallowing hard. "... it was like every bad feeling I'd ever had went into making him pay. Felt like I had to become a monster to beat one."

Scratching his eye, Adam sighed.

"That was the only one that really fucked with me afterwards. Did I feel bad? Sure I did. But I did what I had to do. With Cody, though? That really scared the hell out of me. When I killed him, it felt like I became a completely different person, and I was terrified that I'd never get back to who I was." He paused, looking Keith up and down. "You have some blood on your hands, don't you?"

He did indeed. Keith felt an odd feeling, like a claustrophobia closing in around him. He assumed it was just the odd pharmaceutical cocktail Garnett had given him, so he ignored the feeling and just nodded, holding up two fingers.

"Yeah... thought I heard your name. You murder 'em, or did they come at you?"

The darkness was pushing through and Keith could barely squeak the words out.

"They came at me. It was self-defense... I think."

The last two words slipped out, betraying Keith's uncertainty. Adam took note of them immediately. "You think?"

It was getting harder and harder to focus, so the thoughts just tumbled out of Keith's mouth.

"One guy pickaxed me, y'know? So I shot him. But the other guy... he didn't... he just had an Uzi in his hands, and... it wasn't... it happened so fast."

Adam's eyebrow raised at Keith's use of "pickaxed" as a verb.

"That sounds an awful lot like self-defense to me. You got fuckin' 'pickaxed', what're you supposed to do? Tell you what, man. Y'know what helps? Therapy. A lot of it. You'll have nightmares. Probably PTSD. But... there are people out there who are pretty good at helping you get through that. I was in therapy til the day these fuckers kidnapped us."

Keith blinked, his breathing heavier now. He tried to calm himself down. It only half worked.

"Really?"

Dodd looked out at the ocean again and sighed. "Yessir. You're a pretty good dude, Keith. Killing someone's fucking you up that much... if you weren't, it wouldn't. Got another three to add to the list this time around, myself. Fifteen people. Twenty if you add those terrorist fucks."

The blonde senior could only stare at the boy sitting beside him, the information barely computing within his damaged mind. Twenty people - basically either a soldier or a spree killer. The line was too fine for Keith to know.

"It's not supposed to be easy, man. It should never be easy. When it is, you've gotta... take a look in the mirror, y'know?"

Keith did. He wasn't sure what his family would think when he got home. If he got home. Would his sisters shy away from him? Would his father have written an editorial vilifying his murderer son? All of the thoughts clustered in his head. The closed-off feeling was disorienting now, Keith wasn't sure which way they were going and he wasn't sure he'd be able to balance were he to stand. There was his mouth moving, again.

"I just wanna go home."

Adam smiled at that thought, seemingly oblivious to Keith's inner distress. He coughed again, spitting once more over the side of the boat. "Fuckin' sand." Narrowing his eyes, he looked out at the sea once more, eyes scanning the horizon.

"Home... yeah, that sure would be nice, eh? Family's waiting for you back in Cali?"

Keith managed a curt nod. His focus was now on keeping himself from slumping backwards on the deck. It felt like the ship was spinning, circling a giant drain.

"Nice. Mine's all... up in Canada. True north, strong and free, and all that. I can't wait to see them. Give my mom a big ol' hug. Go shoot some pool with my bro. Rough-house around the damned French doors with the other."

Grabbing the bar with both hands, Keith shut his eyes, trying to stop the spinning. He was barely able to contribute to the conversation. "French... doors?"

Adam laughed. He sounded almost drunk, his voice becoming hoarse.

"We always had this set of French doors in the hallway of our house... and Oliver and I would wrestle around, tackle each other, I'd pick him up, fling him around... y'know. Sibling shit. My mom was paranoid that we'd smash 'em. We started doing it just to mess with her after a bit. Directly in front of those doors every time."

The spinning was subsiding a bit, and Keith forced his eyes open. They were blurry, but his sense of equilibrium was starting to come back to him.

"Would you... what'll you say to 'em when ya get back?"

Adam snorted, and put his head against the railing for a moment. When he lifted it, he had tears in his eyes, but he still remained grinning.

"I'd tell my dad that he was right. Moving to California was such a mistake. I should've stayed home. He never wanted me to go. He was so right, Keith. I should've stayed home with my family; with my dad. I miss him so much. He was always my hero, y'know? Strongest fuckin' guy I ever met."

Adam wiped the tears away from his face, and coughed again, a few more times, this time leaning over the edge and spitting out a huge loogy. Keith barely noticed, he was still trying to get everything to come back in to focus. Thinking about his family helped. Keith had lived such a mundane, average life before all of this. Sports, video games - hell, he probably had a hundred messages from his Warcraft guild demanding to know where he was by now.

It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Everything did. Rugby games. Those intense tennis matches with his younger sister. Getting to tour the 49ers locker room on his dad's press pass. Losing his virginity. Helping plan prom. Prepping Melissa for the fight. Sitting bored in geography class. Laying on his bed at home, trying to sort through college applications. Hitting the gym. Eating dinner. Being eighteen.

Keith couldn't even fathom how any of those memories actually involved him. It was surreal, and he felt almost outside of himself. Rubbing his temples, the claustrophobia eased, and he lifted his head to look at Dodd as the boy chuckled beside him. It was an ugly sound.

"Hawley once told me he just wanted to prove that he was a good person." Adam spoke slowly, his voice hoarse, eyes squinting at Keith. "That's all... all I ever wanted to do. Be a good person. Be a good man. Help my friends... people who needed it. Be someone my dad would be proud of."

The tears had returned, and Adam smiled at Keith. The sorrow was gone though, his face serene, relaxed.

"I tried... and y'know what? I think I did okay. I think he'd be okay with how I did."

He smiled, and nodded weakly at Keith.

"I think I can live with that."

Wiping the tears away, Adam rested his head on the bars on the deck of the ship, and focused his eyes on the far away, invisible shoreline. His shoulders sagged a bit, and he didn't say anything more.

As his mind came back into focus, Keith couldn't help thinking that it was a decent aspiration. Adam Dodd had been through hell - twice. Keith couldn't measure up to that, he'd only gone through one hell, but if trying to get through it as a good person was a feasible goal... it was as good a way to try and get through this as any. Dodd had been sullen, withdrawn, obviously damaged by his experiences in Survival of the Fittest. He'd moved away from his family. There had to be some reason for that.

It was then and there that Keith decided - no, he vowed that he would not become like that. He would not let his trauma define him. He would not think himself invincible. Life was for living, and he'd been lucky enough to have been gifted a second chance at it. If he needed therapy, then fine. Whatever it took, he'd do it. His mind hadn't managed to fully decompress yet, but if what he was starting to realize might have been an anxiety attack was any indication, this was likely to be the start of a very long battle with his own mind.

Keith Jackson wasn't afraid of a fight, though.

Physically weak but feeling mentally empowered, Keith sighed and glanced at Adam, still looking out over the sea. The weather wasn't cool, but the wind (he hoped) was giving him a bit of a chill. Taking a deep breath and finding some of his strength again, he stretched his legs, hearing his knees pop as he did.

"Damn straight, Dodd. You're not as much of an asshole as I figured you for. Guess you're okay in my book." Keith smiled at the redhead, who did not meet his gaze.

Gingerly pulling his legs up from the side of the boat, Keith pulled himself to his feet, grabbing the bars at the side for support. As he did, he looked down at Adam, still staring out at the water.

"I think it's time to head inside, man. Gettin' chilly out here. Maybe get Garnett to tell us where the fuck we're goin'?"

Adam did not move, did not speak.

"Dodd?"

Nothing.

Confused, Keith peered over the side of the railing to see what Adam was looking at, but was met with an awful feeling, an awful sight. Adam had been coughing since they'd gotten on the boat, and on his right side, where he'd been coughing, the side of the boat was stained bright red with blood.

Adam's right hand was at his side, and now slumped limply on the deck. His hand was smeared with streaks of dull red. Keith's eyes went wide, and he unconsciously started to shake. Adam hadn't had sand in his throat. He hadn't been coughing out phlegm at all. Keith felt that darkness beginning to envelop him once more.

Slowly leaning out over the railing, he looked at Adam's eyes, peering out into the sea.

They were empty, but he was smiling.
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