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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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Nick's reaction was not what Jennifer had expected. She was prepared for dismissal. Anger. Even, though it scared her greatly, violence. She was not counting on a strange mix of kindness and patronization, on a pep talk from this boy who had just bashed another student's skull in. She was not counting on Nick comparing her to himself.

Just like that, everything broke. She found herself looking back on what she had just said, what she had just done, with a sort of horror and disbelief. She had lost it. She had lost herself. In that one instant, she had let herself get swept up in the drama, the excitement, the danger, the insanity, the sheer difference of it all. She had forsaken her own awkwardness in favor of an ill-fitting faux-heroism, a martyr's confidence.

She wanted to apologize herself. Wanted to take back her words. To mend things. Smooth them over. Repair everything. But it was too late. No way back now. No way to undo the mistakes of the past. Something she and Nick had both learned. As he slowly moved, slowly picked up his bags, slowly took up the icepick, she knew it was too late. It wasn't Guthrie who had destroyed their moment of peace. It wasn't Phil, or Nick, or the boy with the gun, or even Jennifer herself. It was the situation. It was the tension, the group dynamic, everything put together. The circumstances they were in put each of them far beyond conventional blame. Nick couldn't be held responsible for overreacting. Guthrie couldn't be held responsible for attacking. They were just scared.

Did that mean she was off the hook for her outburst, then?


No, it couldn't. Because she had better control than that. Always had. Always had needed to. To abandon that for convenience, to prove a point, was a weakness, not a slip up. She had to be stronger than that. Surely her anger had done more than hurt Nick. Surely it had hurt her family, her friends, tarnished their memories of her, left them wondering whether they had ever truly known her. And, in the end, had they?

Yes. Yes, because even though her kindness, her politeness, was often a mask, a lid keeping her anger from boiling over, it was still her, still a part of her being.

Nick was gone. Jennifer stood for a time, alone with her thoughts. With the thoughts of the last words he'd said. Something in them had been wrong. Off. If he was announced twice, once alone... No. No, he couldn't be thinking of... Shove it aside. Force it under.

"Be safe," she whispered, far too late for him to hear.

And then, it was time to turn her focus to the most pressing issue. Phil was still bleeding. She had been ignoring him, fucking letting him bleed to death on the ground while she pondered her own emotional issues. Pretty messed up priorities, come to think of it. Quickly, she moved to Guthrie's bag, rooted around for the first aid kit. She didn't have a clue as to what she was doing. She'd never helped someone wounded before, except Nick, and he had been much better off. This would be far more difficult.

She had to focus. First priority was stopping the bleeding, right?

Then, Phil spoke. Asked for help. And at that, all other thoughts vanished. Jennifer pulled a bandage out, looked for something to prevent infection, and got to work, doing her best to keep Phil out of pain, to keep him safe.

"Um, it's, uh, Jennifer, Phil," she said. "Just... just, um, hang on, okay? I'm trying to, um, help you."

She would keep Phil alive. It was the least she could do.
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