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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
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((I'm assuming I can skip the unconscious dude.))

Game up. It was over. He'd lost. The only way to win was not to play, something at which he had failed spectacularly.

Once again, you're an absolute failure.

No mental rebuttal. That biting thought was absolutely correct. It was failure on a truly epic scale. Most men lived and died, in fact, without having even the opportunity to fail as utterly as Nick had. Yet he had to collect himself. Bottle away the pain for later. That was the one thing he never failed at.

Breathe... relax... slow down... That last one was directed at his heart. Could you do that? Worth a shot, at least...

Time to stop crying. To master himself. To keep Jennifer off the path he'd careened onto. She couldn't become angry, he couldn't let her. Yelling, cursing, thinking vile thoughts, they all etched slowly away at the foundations of sanity. It was anger who drove people mad, that was clear to him. And he couldn't let Jennifer be angry. For his sake, for her sake, and for the sake of everyone on the island.

"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."

That sentence hurt. Slashed across his heart, struck a keening resonance that bit into his soul. An intangible combination of truth, guilt, and contempt conveyed her feelings more effectively than anything else she could've said. He looked down at his freshly-bandaged arm. At bandages she'd taken from her stock out of the goodness of her heart. The icepick at his foot gave a faint tinkling as slowly he heaved himself off the ground to turn and address Jennifer's feet.

"You're smiling," he said simply. "I know what it means. Don't think that way, you're worth more than that."

She probably wanted him to yell back. That's why she'd invited him to strike her, to escalate the situation, to feel the surging anger all the better. He couldn't rise to it.

"And I won't look you in the eyes, because I looked..."

There was no way he could finish that sentence. He waved vaguely instead at the battered corpse.

"...And I saw myself in them."

Seen himself, and Alex, and Maxwell. Were they really all that different? He would be naive to think otherwise. It was unlikely that either of them had killed two people, after all. Every villain thinks he's the hero.

"If you hear my name tomorrow - well, twice tomorrow, on the announcements, and I'm by myself - there's no other name the second time, you know, then I've kill - well, someone deserved it."

He had to stop again. Breathe... relax... slow down... It had flitted across his mind, of course, like an annoying sort of fly, but he'd never listened before. This was the first time he'd even acknowledged it aloud. He hoped she got what he meant, because he wouldn't say it straight. Couldn't say it straight. But if he couldn't even say it aloud, could he ever muster the courage?

A man can dream.

It was a long, long walk to his bag, a journey Nick didn't know how he could even handle. He scooped up his flashlight, but he didn't turn it on. Finding the ledge with his shin, fumbling around in the dark to put everything together, it just seemed wrong to do it any other way. Trudging back was less difficult, but for one fleeting moment he had the insane urge just to run back, find any exit other than one he'd have to pass Jennifer to get to.

He made it, somehow, over to Tom's body. The icepick was lying nearby, and also the boy's bag. Picking up the pick, he had another wild urge, stronger than the last one, to go running back to Jennifer, take her in his arms, cry into her shoulder and tell her everything he'd ever thought, until she'd look at him with sympathy instead of anger...

He could've run back that instant. But he held his ground. He didn't deserve to look her in the eye, he didn't deserve even to be near her. That was why he was leaving, after all. There was only one thing he could do, and it was a total gamble if she'd react with acceptance or more anger. But there was nothing else left.

The cave twisted as he walked away, breaking the line of sight between them. Probably the glow of his flashlight would betray some sort of action to the girl just around the corner. That didn't matter, though, just as long as she couldn't actually see what he was about to do. The familiar cone of light burst forth, highlighting the bag marked B055 and glinting off the steel of his stolen weapon. Undoing the zipper as quietly as he could, he retrieved a pen from his pocket and a notebook from his bag. He flipped to a page marked with two columns - Died and Killed By. They were both blank. He'd try listening to the announcements tomorrow, if he could handle it. But that lay off in a future he might not have. Back in the moment, he flipped a few leaves to reveal a totally unmarked page and began to write. The process was short, and before long he was finished.

And now to place it. There was nothing, unfortunately, that he could stab the icepick into. Instead, he took two sizable rocks and pushed them closely together. Into the tightest spot he could find, he jammed the icepick (carefully, as not to damage the point) with the torn-out note he'd written speared on it. She'd come from the other direction, so surely she'd be going out this way - and if she did, her flashlight beam would fall upon it sitting right in the middle of the path. For good or for ill, that was the only question.

That done, he shouldered his pack and his sword and journeyed out into the blinding sunshine.

((Nick Reid continued in Thanatos))



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