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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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Nick had pulled out the big guns. Called her by her first name. Maybe she'd see him as a person again and not a murderer, see herself as a regular highschooler, realize that they were classmates and that classmates didn't bicker and argue over who had killed who. That she, in essence, was contemplating murder. He didn't know what she was really thinking, just as his own mind remained locked against a betrayal of intention that would get him killed.

Whatever had done it, she ended their standoff suddenly by lowering her weapon. Relief washed over him, and the nagging flame of doubt died off completely. He'd done it again, survived another standoff. The whole thing had taken, what, a couple minutes? In less time than it took to walk all the way across the fair, he'd been attacked, fought back, pleaded for his life, gained it in kind. But then, just at the moment of victory, right when Nick thought that maybe he'd finally managed to keep something under control, she did the worst thing possible.

She started crying.

It's a painful thing, trying to keep one's face impassive when a million years of human nature want to twist it into a pretzel. Brow twitching, nose running, jaw knotted, teeth fit to shatter under the power of his quivering bite. Eyes clouding up - that was the worst part. He wouldn't cry. He never cried. Not if he wasn't alone. He never let anyone know how he felt if he didn't want to. That was the only certainty in the world, his hidden strength, the very last thing in the world he could count on. He didn't smile. He didn't frown. But a hundred sparking tells lit his face like Christmas.

He cleared his throat. Swallowed. Pondered his next move.

...clean job...
...nothing left for her...
...so small and vulnerable...
...doing her a favor...

He turned around to look at Marty. What used to be Marty. Not Marty. Just a thing now. A broken doll lying in a pool of blood still warm and spreading. So peaceful and yet so profane. A dead classmate - a killer. Frozen in time - halted in a murderous charge. Clutching one last link to the world in its unmoving hand - a dagger of some sort. Nick bent smoothly down and took the cold metal in his hand. Pulling it free, he found himself starting suddenly when a dead finger brushed against his. It was silly, really, jumping like that. He was no stranger to corpses now, but he much preferred to touch them while they were still alive...

He turned back to Chase, stepping towards her. Haltingly at first, and then more quickly. Still a half-dozen paces away, he halted.

Run now.

Go for it!


He took half a stuttering step, and then no more. He couldn't do it. Not without - not good reason. He had good reason. He had plenty of reason. It would be the biggest favor he could ever pay. Quick, painl-not needlessly painful. Just a quick stab, and she'd have no more reason to cry. She wouldn't be scared and lost and lonely any more, no more standing there crying in front of him just like Jennifer had.


He wondered what she was doing, how she was faring, what she'd think of the next morning's announcement. Would she be angry? Accepting? Forgiving? Caring? Lov- Would she even talk to him again? She was an angel, he'd said so himself in that awkward little note with the misplaced comma. She'd diagnosed, correctly, that the last time they'd met he was suffering a terminal case of just needing a freaking hug, and now things were just getting worse.

Nick sighed softly. There he was. He was "player." A "villain," maybe. People were trying to kill him, and he was killing back. Five so far. Five. Most people in prison for life had done less than him. And he was staring at the thousandth person who'd wanted to do him in, just thinking about a hug. Failure seemed to be the only option, but he'd gone in far too deep. There was no recourse now, really. There was murder in his future. Just... just not right now.

She had to die. She was going to die. There was no way around that, because he couldn't figure out what Liz had done and he couldn't replicate it now with Danya watching, and if he wasn't going to make it off that way he was going to tear through the competition until he was the only one left. Which meant that she was standing in the way of his winning. Which meant that if he didn't kill her now, someone else would. Someone far more bloody-minded and far less competent. She ran through his mind pursued by a pack of wolves. Ripping, tearing, gnawing while she was screaming and screaming...

He shouldered his pack, slipped the jutte into his pocket, and began to walk away.

"Anna, um, if-should we meet again, I, I think I guess I'll owe you one."

Will I ever.

((Nick Reid continued in Bait and Switch))



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Later, Buddy · The Fun Fair