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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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Under any other circumstances, Aaron would have completely lost it to Jacquard's barbs. He was smart and self-aware enough to realize he was being goaded, but armed and angry enough not to care. Normally, he'd have screamed her down, threatened her, made her eat her words. Maybe even popped her. If he was going to be announced a killer, it might as well be for taking out two second-rate murderers instead of just one. Or, better than that... oh yes. Yes, that would be perfect. But he spent a half second too long planning, and someone else stepped up to the plate, and for once, Aaron didn't mind a bit.

Aileen laid into Jacquard. Just let her have it. Milo said something, but it didn't matter, so Aaron ignored it. Then, icing on the cake, the new girl started in on Jacquard too. It was everything he'd hoped for back at school, everything that had been building for so long, all the poetic justice the crippled girl so richly deserved. Under any other circumstances, Aaron would have melted down. Now, though, he felt energized, felt like he had a bit of a buzz going. He wasn't going to shout. He wasn't going to be goaded again. He was going to win.

"Stalemate, Jaquard. Maybe next time one of us will prove something."

Words from school. Words from the past. A silly saying, a witty comeback to a string of biting remarks. Now, in retrospect, prophetic.

And so, he spoke. He spoke evenly, confident that no one would interrupt him, ready to blow them off completely if they did. No one else had a gun. No one else was close enough to do anything to him before he could react. The stage was all his.

"Yeah, Jacquard, sounds like you've got my number alright. I'm the leader. And yeah, I've offered to get them out of here. Will we succeed? I don't know. I think we will. I think we'll come out of this one ahead, pull one over on Danya.

"But hey, what if you're right? What if I'm just deluding these people? Say I'm just keeping them around me for kicks or something, keeping them safe to feed my own ego. I mean, clearly I couldn't possibly be doing this because it's the right thing, could I? Clearly I couldn't have good intentions. Clearly I couldn't be trying my damnedest to keep everyone alive and safe from psychopaths and killers like you. Yeah, keeping a group alive since day one, keeping them safe even as people abandon us and die like dogs, keeping them safe even as we're ambushed, even as one of our own sacrifices himself to allow us to escape, to allow us to take a shot at the guy who put us here, that's all clearly immoral and wrong. Better to look to you for an example. Better to go butcher some girl, right? Surely there's nothing wrong with that.

"Let's talk about that girl you killed, Jacquard. Let's talk about how you got her. You can't run too fast, so it had to be a sneak attack. You have no ranged weapon, so you must've got in close. Did you lie to her, Jacquard? Did you maybe try to cash in on what smarts you have, offer her a way out like you say I'm doing? Is that where this theory comes from? Or did you not even give her that chance? Did you slit her throat in her sleep?

"See, Jacquard, there's one little thing you didn't quite take into consideration here, and that's that you're a killer trying to frame as a bad guy someone who's pulled his friends out of the fire more times that you can probably count. And, more than that, you're forgetting that this guy, he happens to be armed. Some people assume there isn't any law here, Jacquard. They probably think the only rules left are the ones we make. Me, though? Along with escaping, I'm trying to bring a spot of civility to this mess. And the way I see it, right now, you're a criminal and I'm the closest damn thing to a cop we've got left. So you wanna debate? By all means stick around, but we're not going to be playing election, we're not going to be playing like we're two politicians trying to slander each other's character.

"We're going to be playing court, because you're a murderer, and I have a gun. We're going to be finding out exactly what went on, in painstaking detail, and then we're going to see that justice is served.

"Alternately, you could fuck off and we'll pretend you never caught up with us again. Sound fair?"

Aaron hoped it sounded intimidating. He hoped it would make her consider things. He hoped she'd really understand just how badly she'd messed up, hoped she'd fume, hoped she'd see that finally, finally things were right again, finally she'd been undone, finally all that she'd built, all that influence she'd exerted over him back at the gazebo on campus, had been turned right back around and rammed down her throat.

But, more than anything else, Aaron hoped Jacquard decided to see if he was bluffing or not.

He flexed his fingers, ready to go for the gun if she tried anything.
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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