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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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((So, we're suddenly a DZ and we really need to get moving, so I'm gonna go ahead and skip and get stuff rolling, too. Apologies.))

Oh. Oh no, he didn't. He could not actually be that stupid. No way.

And yet, the guy had really done it. He'd just identified himself as Rob Jenkins. Aaron hadn't paid great attention to the announcements, but he had a pretty good memory. He could certainly call to mind names he had heard before, and Rob Jenkins was one of them. If he was still here, still alive, that meant...

A killer. They were talking with a murderer. A murderer who was insulting him. Who was questioning his ability to lead. Who was trying to break the group up. Trying to scatter them, to pick them off one at a time. He was telling Aaron to leave. Was saying Aaron had no control over him. Was complaining that Aaron was using his weapon too much, while doing the same himself. It was way, way too easy. So simple to shut this moron down, to dismantle his position entirely. There was something wrong, though. Something twisted, bad. Why was he being so calm? So insulting? He had to have an angle. There was something here Aaron was missing.

Aileen was trying to defuse things. Trying to justify Aaron's behavior. Like it needed justification. Like he needed any reason to defend himself against a murderer. Aileen just didn't get it. Didn't understand. From his safe spot behind the tree, Aaron began to speak.

"Aileen, don't waste your breath. That guy's a killer. Rob Jenkins, first day. He's trying to split us and pick us off. Rob, you say I have no control over you? What do you call a gun? What do—"

As he spoke, Aaron was looking around. Watching his back. Something was wrong. There was some other angle here. Some reason for this hostility. Rob had admitted he wanted no part in the escape plan, yet he was here, not leaving, facing down a superior group. And, as Aaron turned, as he saw the figure behind him, it all made sense.


Oh. Oh, so that was what they were playing at, was it? It was a trap. It was a perfectly calculated trap. The one person who had hated Aaron more than anyone else, the one person who had had it out for him before all of this, before they'd even left school, before there'd been any reason. Insane, murderous, evil, vindictive Jacquard Broughten.

Well, she'd messed up. Tipped her hand early, like always. And now, he would make her pay.

"Well. A team, is it? Two murderers for the price of one? Tell me, Jacquard, how's the leg? That the only reason you only have one kill to your name so far?"

Was she answering him? Didn't matter. Aaron's focus was narrowed. He was pinned, between Jacquard and Rob. Two killers. He was still alive. That meant Jacquard didn't have a gun. That meant Rob was the primary threat. A dozen possibilities for dealing with the situation spun through his head, but he rejected most of them out of hand. The only two that made sense were to take Jacquard as a hostage and make Rob let him go, or to kill Rob. And, since Rob was a killer, he might not care about his ally being snatched.

Too much to plan. Too much to consider. More possibilities sprang up, more ideas, more hopes, more openings for his teammates, and finally, Aaron just couldn't take any more of it. He was not getting into a standoff here. Was not risking his, no, everyone's lives on these two psychopaths. They had to escape. Sometimes, sacrifices had to be made. In this case, for the group's protection, Aaron realized he could take a little publicity hit on the next announcements.

"Fuck you, Jacquard," he said, his voice rising. "Fuck all of you, all you players. You think that's the way off? I could have helped you. I could have saved you. And you repay me with this? You think that I—"

And, with a grin, Aaron spun around the tree mid-sentence, paused half a beat to point his pistol at Rob's chest, squeezed the trigger twice, ducked back into cover, and took off running, perpendicular to the killers, keeping low and fast, minimizing his target area.

It would probably have been best to shout back for his allies, but right now, he didn't care. They'd catch up. They'd catch up, and if they didn't, well, they'd keep Jacquard busy. After all, what was important was that the majority of their class escaped. It didn't have to be these specific people.

((Aaron Hughes continued in Could Have Been Worse))
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open · The Woods: Inland