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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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Jennifer hardly even realized what was happening as Phil rushed the other boy, then went down with a bleeding wound in his side. She almost shrieked. Almost said something. Tom positioned himself for the killing blow, as Nick moved forward. For a moment, Jennifer was worried Nick wouldn’t make it in time. Worried he wouldn’t be able to stop this from ending in death.

Then, that seemed minor. Positively trivial compared to what came next. Because Nick wasn’t content simply to disarm Guthrie. Instead, he knocked the boy over, into the shadows. Jennifer swept the area with the beam from her flashlight, and then froze. The hidden boy was still there. More than that, he had a gun. Had it aimed at the combatants, like he was about to shoot, or maybe to tell them to knock it off, quit playing around. She hoped it was that. Then the boy (she still couldn’t make out who it was) just lowered the gun and walked away. Just left Nick and Tom.

And then, the noises started. One after another. Sickening smacks and cracks. Again and again. Nick was beating Guthrie's head against something hard. Each hit accompanied by a shout. Again. And again. And again.

It didn't make sense. This couldn't be right. Nick wasn't like this. He was nice. He'd killed someone, but it was by mistake. This wasn't someone acting by mistake. This wasn't self defense. It wasn't an innocent screw up. It was a killing. A killing, right in front of her eyes. Guthrie had been ready to kill Phil. Nick had killed him instead. Was that how the world worked now? Was that the reality she had to adapt to? No. No, it couldn't be. She wouldn't accept it. Couldn't deal with it. What the fuck had pushed Nick over the edge? Why had he gone mad all of a sudden?

It stopped. One final, sickening crunch. She was able to hope for a moment that Guthrie had survived somehow, that Nick had pulled back from the brink. She walked closer, shivering, though she was not cold, and flicked the flashlight's beam towards him.

It dispelled any hopes that Nick victim still lived. Not with his head looking like that. Nick was shivering, sobbing, looking for all the world like he was the one who had just been killed. He looked so sad. So pathetic. So lost. She wanted to just walk up to him, hug him and wash all the pain away, cry with him, feel with him.

And then he broke it. Shattered it into a thousand pieces.

He apologized.

A cold wind of rage blew her sympathy away.

And, for the first time in years, Jennifer's thoughts and words unified.

"You're sorry, Nick?

"You're sorry?

"You just killed a guy, and all you can say is that you're fucking sorry? Do you get it? Do you have any idea what you did? I don't think you do, do you? I bet you really don't know. That guy down there? I don't even know his fucking name, Nick. Do you? Do you know him? Do you know who he was? Do you have any idea who's crying right now? Who'll be crying tomorrow when you get celebrated over the announcements?"

It was a strange feeling. This was what she'd always been afraid of. Losing control. Letting the barrier between her mind and her mouth break. She'd thought it would feel like a release, like a great weight lifted from her. It didn't. It didn't feel like anything at all. It just was. She was dropping the smiling veneer she wore every day, the happy face that never glowered, never swore, never said a mean thing. And the scary was thing was, it didn't feel different at all.

She was shouting, screaming her words, caught up in the reverberation as they echoed throughout the tunnels, bouncing back to her again and again.

"I don't think you do. I don't think you gave a fuck, Nick. I think you were scared and angry, and you just decided, fuck it, you'd go ahead and blow off steam, or protect yourself, or whatever the fuck it is you thought you were doing. Or maybe you had some noble purpose. You know what, though? I don't give a fuck. I don't give a fuck why you did it. Doesn't change that he's dead. Doesn't change that you did it.

"You know what? I thought you were gonna go break 'em up. Gonna go stop them from killing each other. Going to be a hero. And here you turn out to just be a fucking coward. You say you're sorry? I don't buy it. You aren't sorry you killed him. You're just sorry you have to live with that guilt. Just sorry you fucked up your own comfy little situation here.

"Well, fuck you, Nick."

The icepick was in her hands, like it had materialized there. No memory of drawing it, just like every other time. Nick up against the wall, caught in the glare of her flashlight beam. She knew she was smiling.

She took a step forward, raised the icepick a bit.

Knelt, sent it spinning across the floor to bump gently against the side of the dead boy, near Nick's foot. Straightened again.

She was calm, now. Not yelling. Speaking evenly.

"Take it. I don't need this. Fuck off and play with the other killers, Nick. Just leave me that guy's bag so I can try to keep Phil from dying, since I'm a bit short on medical supplies at the moment."

She locked eyes with him for a second, her smile broader, brighter.

"Unless you're gonna kill us. I won't stop you, but I'd ask you to at least look me in the eyes when you do it."
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
Library Vee
Misty Browder drawn by Ryuki
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Spelunking · The Tunnels