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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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They shook. It was the best Kimberly had felt in days. Maybe more. Fuck, when had she last had this sort of understanding with someone? Not Rhory, for all the twisted camaraderie they'd attained. Not Liz, for their mutedly respectful antagonism. Not any one of Sarah's cohort, with their quiet and caring condescension. Fuck, had it been back at school? She couldn't even remember all that well. It was hard to grasp anything but the highlights of her lost life. It was easy to recall the parties, the drama, but it was nigh impossible to remember what it was like to lie in her bed on a rainy Sunday afternoon and work on algebra homework.

Somehow, that was what she missed more.

But that wasn't important. The past was the past, and mourning it was a waste of the present. They were here to the death. It was that simple. She and Erik were a team now, partners, and that meant she had a new future to look to. It wasn't going to be happy. She was pretty sure of that already. She could imagine him dying in front of her, dying in her lap like Dutchy had.

Thing was, she could cope. She'd fucking deal. She'd done it before. She could do it again. Nothing could break her, not now. And, hey, if she died first, maybe he'd be there to hold her. Maybe she wouldn't have to die alone.

But dying alone wouldn't be so bad, in the end. Dying was dying. It was the only sure thing left. They'd all face it, players and pacifists, winners and losers.

She released her grasp on Erik's hand. No need to think of those things. No reason to get off topic. She had a partner, and she had a goal. That was all she needed, all she wanted. Let the future bring what it would. She'd take it.

So she stood. She was sunburned and stiff, and she was going to be ready to move, soon, unless Erik was tired. Having a partner meant listening to other people, not egging them on or berating them for their failings. It was going to be an interesting change of pace. She hoped she'd be up to it.

"Hey," she said. "Do you feel l—"

but she'd turned, and she'd seen a figure in the distance, and she couldn't be sure, not really, not entirely, but she was sure enough, and all of a sudden everything was wrong, and she wasn't feeling happy or satisfied or vindicated or excited but just a little sad and a little scared.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

But she could act. She could keep her fucking cool. After all these days, after all these near-death experiences, it was one of the few things she could say with certainty.

So she forced a tiny smile, and she said, almost whispered, "Well, well, well. What do we have here?"
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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Burn On · The Mountain