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Still in the Dark; Will daylight ever come? (Private)
Topic Started: Feb 12 2011, 12:22 AM (3,194 Views)
MK Kilmarnock
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((Ivan Kuznetsov continued from from The Sound of Silence))


They had been walking all day, but the sounds of crashing waves that greeted them told them that they were almost done.

As the vast and endless ocean came into view, it seemed to close a chapter of their stay on the island. The sun was setting behind the two, indicating that this was the eastern beach of the island, opposite the one that Ivan had woken up near so many days ago. He had been on both the western and eastern edges of the island, finally letting him get a feel for how vast the island truly was. Or, that was to say, how vast it was not. The children were approaching what was the border of a mere speck in the world, something that was insignificant in the grand scheme of things. They, themselves, were insignificant even to the island.

No matter their standing, they had made it to another day, the best they could have asked for. The game had lost its meaning, even some of its horror. As long as he had his life and Tabi beside him, he was living, and would fear nothing else this island could throw to him. The collars were parts of them now rather than a symbol of their oppression and practical slavery, forced to play a sadist's sport. The cameras, ever-present in every fathomable area, had become natural. They didn't even inspire anger in the fact that they were being watched, because even that had lost its meaning now.

They just needed a good night's sleep after what had happened, that was all. For those who were counting, others had called this 'day 6'. However, when one has to watch their back constantly and nightmares lurk in the supposedly safe depths of sleep, days meld together into blocks of restless time. The sun and the moon hadn't changed a bit (though Ivan had noted that the stars had, but that was natural considering they had been whisked away to a different part of the globe), but the cycles of night and day had become more trivial. Rather than signal that it was the proper time to be awake or to sleep, they just meant that at certain times, they'd be slightly harder to spot.

As soil gave way to sand under their footsteps, the tree canopy fell away, offering a full view of the evening sky. While the sunset itself was tucked out of view, even the darkening hue of the night that was to come was strikingly beautiful. How rare it was that they even had time to appreciate such a thing. Even now, the duo had more important things to think about, like...

Where are we going to sleep?

Ivan gave the beach a quick sweep with his eyes. He couldn't see anybody else, though that hardly meant they were safe. As the waves rolled in and back out again, he began to relax... or maybe that was just sleep deprivation catching up to him. Supposedly safe or not, they couldn't just sleep out on the stretches of the beach, where they'd be exposed and sticking out like a sore thumb. Besides, it wasn't like he had brought a blanket, and he was willing to guess Tabi had not brought one either or they would've used it by now. He wanted to kick himself for not nabbing a blanket from the residence they visited, but it wasn't like they had time to get out of there.

The town... we're supposed to go back there, to grab Tabi's... reward.

A flash to his own 'reward retrieval' was welcomed to Ivan's mind by swiftly being shoved to the back of it.

"Come on, Tabi. We can rest over here." Ivan jerked his head back towards the trees. There was a spot that'd be perfect, a lucky break for them. The mansion they had passed seemed like it would be so much more comfortable, but comfort meant people. The less people the two had to be around, the better for now. They needed to keep their strength up, and couldn't afford to be accosted by another killer on the island. Especially Tabi... the poor girl needed a break, and Ivan wanted to do all he could for her. Not just to protect her and keep her safe from the killers, but to even keep her away from them and make her feel safe, if only for a bit.

The spot Ivan had found for them was a small patch of grass, one of the last before sand overtook the terrain. Rocks began to crop up all around, including on either side of the patch, offering a little bit of protection from the view of others. Finally, of course, it had a fantastic view of the ocean for what little it was worth. Out past the horizon sat the rest of the world, but that was a place they could not go. It was a place neither of them might ever see ever again, but Ivan was doing his best to convince himself that he was alright with it.

Maybe he was, but was Tabi?

"We can use our dufflebags as pillows, but we're SOL when it comes to blankets..." Ivan sighed, sitting himself down on the grass that would serve as their bed. The grass was a little dry and somewhat loud, even just a little bit gritty from the sand of the beach, but it would do just fine. At least he and Tabi got to enjoy another night, and maybe they'd actually sleep through it this time.
Edited by MK Kilmarnock, Feb 20 2011, 08:22 PM.
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((Tabi Gweneth continued from The Sound of Silence))

Tabi Gweneth was still silent, still enjoying the company that she and Ivan shared. She felt a warmth swirling inside of her, causing her to keep that gentle smile. The moment was still caught on her lips. Her hands had still not left Ivan's side.

Then, they reached the ocean. She blinked, staring at the waves as they crashed against the beach. It would have been the perfect spot to sit and watch the sunset. But it served more as a cold

A reminder of where they were. A reminder of what had happened before. They were still here on this island.

Tabi felt her hand slipping out of Ivan's. The memory was worming it's way back in. Even though she had just shared the most special moment of her life with Ivan. That didn't change what had happened. She was a killer.

The smile started to fade with each crashing wave. She closed her eyes trying to hide away the image. But the sound remained, much as the sound of Clio's voice was there, the sound of the waves were there too.

Ivan renewed Tabi's attention and turning towards him, she saw the copse of trees and the grassy patch in front of it. He said that they should rest. She looked up to him hoping to find a way to focus back to now. Back to the moment. But it left Tabi all the more confused.

She tried her hardest to force another smile and nodded. Rest, was something she needed. That she could not deny.

The two of them walked over to their makeshift sleeping quarters and Tabi quietly listened to Ivan's suggestions. She had brought a sleeping bag for the trip, but it was long gone, likely in the hands of whoever had searched her bag. Not that she wasn't used to it by now.

She grabbed her duffle bag and propped it against the ground. It would have to do. She let out a loud yawn, covering her face as if she could hide her sleep deprevation from Ivan.

Tabi dropped down to the firm ground and rested her head on the dufflebag. It wasn't very comfortable, even if it was the only thing that they had. She did not voice complaint however, she just lay there, soaking in her makeshift bed for the night.

The oceanside made the air cold, chilling her body. Whether it was the enviroment or her own restless thoughts; she could not say.

Ivan placed his bag down next to her and he too dropped down to the ground. Ivan was staring straight at her. He seemed to be happy, just laying there in front of her. It was calming, but terrifying.

Her body started to crumple up back into a ball. Was this right? This mixture of warmth and fear. Was this the way you were supposed to feel?

Tabi closed her eyes, she was lost in her thoughts. She had to sleep. She needed sleep.
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Tabi was afraid, and she seemed lost to herself.

It couldn't be helped, because being afraid was understandable. There was no telling what the darkness might hold for each of them, aside from a new day waiting on the other side of it. In order to get there with their lives intact, they'd need rest. Sleep was good... yeah, definitely good. The burning in his eyes attested to that with great certainty, and his eyelids kept getting heavier and heavier. If they'd be safe, just this once, maybe a little bit of a nap would be alright.

If only he hadn't needed sleep so badly, he would be content with staring at the ocean until then sun fell down behind them, covering it all in darkness. Then, when he could no longer see it, maybe he'd just listen to the waves and let them carry him off.

Just like when I woke up... I looked out there and wondered just what it might be like to be a wave. I'd come in, crash against this island once, and then I'd roll away again. I wouldn't have to care about anything.

Over-tired fingers removed and folded up his glasses, placing them inside their proper case and tucking them inside one of the corners of his dufflebag that he wouldn't be resting his head on. He turned towards the ocean one more time, and his eyes shut. The ocean air had just the right feel to it, offering the right amount of peace and protection, assuring them that they'd both be safe. It felt about right. His body tilted back and the air eased up from his lungs in a gentle, near silent breath. His head rested against the distinctive and uncomfortable cloth of the dufflebag, but it supported him all the same.

It only took a moment for his mind to be whisked away to another place.


When Ivan woke up, he woke up alone. There were no gentle motions or content breathing from the girl next to him, because there wasn't a girl next to him to start with. The waves had also left him and taken their comforting chant with them. What was once the ocean shore became a desert, a brown and disgusting mass of rotten and decaying matter betrayed by the tide. The smell was so overpowering and inescapable, or it was interpreted as such in his mind that it SHOULD have been. It should have been unbearable, causing him to collapse, and he knew it, but instead it was only a recognition rather than a stimulus.

His senses couldn't have abandoned him, since it defied all logic. But if they haven't, then they were the overwhelming minority. The trees that stood as a shroud between them and the rest of the world had cracked and withered away into a deceased thicket of gnarled and bare branches that covered nothing, sparesely placed as to allow access in and out. They were not safe.

He was not safe. Tabi was gone.

He called out her name, and the air pushed back. Even the air seemed dead, devoid of wind and freshness. He called out again, but his weak and useless throat could only force the word so far before it was eaten up by nothing. Nothing after nothing was consuming everything, turning it into more emptiness. With the absence of everything, even Ivan's heart had started to turn hollow, leaving him to stand atop the sand and rocks, the only things which had stayed to keep him company.

He pulled his foot forward, attempting to walk away from the clearly hostile beach. The sand resisted his every movement and tried to hold him back, to keep him with them as their only mutual company. He couldn't even stop to grab the dufflebag, as they held on to it as well. Everything held on to nothing, nothing swallowed everything, and he was taking the long road to nowhere in particular.

When Ivan finally escaped the sand and reached the scorched dirt and rock that formed the rest of the island, having unearthed itself from the soil, loneliness caught up with him to hang around him some more. He was always alone... that's just what he did. That was him, his life. And for the first time, he felt like something was wrong with that, how everything left him, and he was walking down that road all by himself.

He didn't want to be alone anymore.

And he wasn't alone.

Keith, Clio, Imraan... they all met with him, to give him company. It was too late to turn back to erase his wish. It was too late to even beg for forgiveness as the three descended upon him. Keith pinned Ivan to the ground as his absent face tried to look upon him. Clio's screams pierced his ears, and Imraan's bloodstained hands reached for his throat.

The smell of the blood drove into him, the only thing he could smell now. Somehow, for some reason, there was only one person the blood could belong to.

Imraan said what he would have done had either one of them killed again.

---

Ivan laid next to Tabi. Something gripped at his body, causing him to shift and struggle with something that existed only inside of him. A few tearful moans joined the chorus of waves that continued to wash over them both, but even the tears wetting his eyes would offer no escape.

Ivan was afraid, and he was lost within himself.
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Tabi was floating. At least, she thought that she was floating. Wind was rushing through her hair and was creeping in between her blouse and skirt. It was an odd sensation, floating. There was no movement, just stasis.

A gaze downward showed that she was thousands of miles up. There was an island above her. An island that seemed familiar, and yet at such a distance, it remained foreign. The sea surrounding it was a clear crystal blue, serving as an aura of peace around this mass of land.

Tabi wished to float down to it, but found herself unable to do so. She was still suspended, her body held back by invisible strings. Her head gazed upwards, but she found no puppeteer. She was alone.

"Where am I?" she wondered aloud. There was no response, only an incessant echo repeating her question.

Her head drooped back to the island. There was a mountain in the middle, surrounded by a carpet of greens, browns and yellows, all meshing to form the quilt that lay bellow her. The sea was rippling; feint little ripples yielding splashes of white.

"What is this place?"

The echoing grew louder now, repeating itself until falling into silence. She stood there in silence, her ears deaf to all sound that could ring below her. She was alone.

Then, a tickle formed inside her ear. It was a whisper. An unintelligible whisper that grew into two, then three, soon a chorus of whispers repeating over and over. As they echoed, she discovered what it was the voices were saying. They were calling to her, each and every one of them. All the voices said the same thing.

"Taaaaabbbbbbbiiiiiiii, Taaaaabbbbbbiiiiii."

"Who...who are you?"

A crash answered her and her neck began to burn. A white hot pain tightened around her, causing her to gasp for breath. Something was forming in the shape of the burning sensation. It was a cool metal, constricting her ever tighter, but the burning remained. Her hands wanted to touch, to allay the fire, but she was still held back.

"Tabitha..." called a man's voice.

"Tabitha..." chimed in a woman's.

The emotionless voices were familiar to her. She wanted to call out her names, but the collar would not let her. They were the voices of home; the voices of her mother and father.

"We know what it was that you did Tabitha."

The world around her was darkening into shades of grey. Her eyes dared not look down below to see what had happened to the mystery island. There was a rumbling sound above her. A storm was brewing.

A pair of mysterious arms wrapped themselves around her body, embracing her in a tight hug. Fingers wormed there ways into the holes in her blouse, it was the touch of a woman. Their nails bit into her skin, pinching her. The girl gasped in pain as they did not yield.

A rough pair of tanned hands also gripped onto hers. They pulled at her, urging her forwards. Her rigid body was compelled to move with these disembodied arms. She tried to resist, but with every pull back, her neck pulsed with a fresh round of fire.

"You have done something terrible Tabitha. You have hurt us so much."

Tabi's arms were wrenched down and her body went with it. SHe was now facing the island. The colour remained, but now, something had changed. There were splotches. Faint little splotches of red, on this carpet. The sea too, was no longer as clear as it once was. Pink hues were seeping into it, warping the aura surrounding the island into an ocean of red.

"I-I-I" she wheezed in between choked breaths. Tears were starting to form, dropping down from her eyes and plummeting to the ground, thousands of miles below her.

"I...didn't mean...to do it...it was..."

The fingers dug out of her skin. The embrace of the mystery arms retracted. The hands that held hers, loosened their grip.



"You have hurt us so much Tabitha."



"No...no..."







"Goodbye."





The hands released and Tabi began to fall.

She tried to scream. She tried to make sound. But when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. Wordless cries for her parents to stop her fall yielded no reply.

The air was whipping her with a furious gale. It was tugging at her clothing, trying to remove it from her person. It was blowing through her hair as if it were mere ribbons.

The ground was getting closer. She knew what this place was now. She knew what she was falling to. This was the island. This was the place she had killed. This was the place she had pulled the trigger. This god forsaken island.

There was a patch of brown earth below her. It was inching closer and closer with every mile. She couldn't turn away now. She was stuck, forced to examine every detail of where she would be landing.

It was marshy ground, nothing but pools of water and brown earth. The occasional tree could be scene at a distance, but as she fell closer, the foliage was removed from her view.

This was it, wasn't it? This is where she would lay. This is where she would be lost forever, as soon as her head touched the ground, she was doomed. There would be no Tabitha Gweneth anymore. Her parents wouldn't worry about their murderous daughter. It would just be a memory...

The ground was mere seconds away now, Tabi closed her eyes, as if it could brace her for the impact.

She hit the ground. But there was no pain. No hard ground Instead, she found herself diving through damp earth. Her senses were gone, all she could feel was the wet goo that had now enveloped her. She did not open her mouth to breathe, there was no need. She continued to sink, slower now, but still maintaining momentum that propelled her ever downwards.

Still, Tabi expected a bottom, something that would finally slow her movement for good, but she did not stall. Her eyes opened and instantly, she had regretted it. She saw nothing, and instead was welcomed with a stinging pain in her eyes as earth blinded her. She quickly squeezed them tight again, hoping to stow the pain further.

For an eternity she sunk. Left with nothing but that uneasy feeling of wet earth, mixed in with that fiery surge in her neck and eyes. There was still no sound.

Finally, there was an end to the falling, but instead of solid ground. There was air. There was this feeling of open space. There was sound. She could hear herself breathing. It was as if she had simply come out the other side of the earth. And now here she was. She was alone again.

She was afraid to open her eyes. She still felt the mud clinging too her body. She was afraid that she would see nothing and only allow more pain to seep through.

And yet, she opened them. Her vision was hazy, smeared with streaks of brown, and yet she could still see. She was still in a swamp. That much she could tell, it was as if she had sprouted out from the ground, becoming part of the foliage. But now, she could move.

With her first action of freedom, she rubbed her eyes, desperately trying to clear away the excess. Desperately trying to grant herself the vision she desired. The effect was minimal, and yet...



There was a figure, in the distance.




Tabi got up to a standing position. And began to walk towards it. It was a figure that seemed familiar to her. It had blond hair.


She did not walk anymore, instead running towards this figure. With each step, the earth that clung to her fell away. So when that she finally came to him, she was her normal self again. Untarnished. Clean.




"I...Ivan?"


The figure turned around to face her. And Tabi was comforted to see the smiling face. The green tinted glasses, the shining blue eyes. He was here. She was no longer alone.

"Ivan!" she exclaimed, "I'm just so hap-"

Ivan leaned in and kissed her. He clutched onto her and held her tight and held the kiss. It grew increasingly more passionate as they kissed. Soon, Ivan, tounge wandered in. All the while Tabi returned these displays of affection, gently closing her eyes.





There was a bang...





Ivan's embrace slipped, sliding gently down her body. Tabi opened her eyes and saw a bullet hole in his temple. There was no blood. Only smoke.

Tabi covered her mouth and collapsed. She gingerly brought her hand to touch where the bullet had gone in, and the moment she did; Ivan disappeared leaving only a cloud of smoke.

There was a laugh, an androgynous laugh that echoed throughout the swamp. The burning sensation in her neck returned, sending her reeling into the now solid ground. She screeched in pain, trying to claw at the choker. It would not yield to her desperate pulls, instead growing tighter once more. She writhed in pain, yelling at the top of her lungs, but still no amount of noise, could drown out the laughter.

She lay on her back, staring at the overcast sky. Her breathing was hoarse and shaky, struggling to find air to suck in. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and this time, no amount of effort would stop them from flowing.



The laughter, continued to grow louder and louder, until it finally stopped...




The puff of smoke appeared above her. It slowly formed into a humanoid shape. It was a tall man, with tanned skin. He physically towered over her. A scowl was on his face.

"I told you that if I heard you on those announcements that I would be back. Didn't I, Tabi Gweneth?"

She said nothing, and only replied with a squeak.

The man was holding a shotgun in his hands and had it pointed at her.

"And it wasn't just any kill was it, Tabi Gweneth? Was it?"

The figure plumed into a puff of a smoke that drifted to her left side. She turned her head to see a man with various cuts on his face and body. He had greasy black hair and a large hooked nose. His dull eyes were serious, with no trace of emotion in them. In fact, the boy's face betrayed no emotion.

"It was Clio Gabriella. The infamous Clio Gabriella. She had killed six people. I haven't even killed six yet. You really made a name for yourself."

He lifted up a large sword and placed it on her neck. Tabi froze, not wanting to move and be struck by it now.

"And now, you got the best kill on the island like that buddy of yours. Imagine that. You're famous now. The whole island knows of the person who did her in. It's an astonishing feat."

The man faded away back to the puff of smoke and slithered its way over to Tabi's chest. It puffed up once more, only now it was a woman that sat on her. A woman who looked every bit alive as she did. But there was something wrong. Her chest was covered in a splash of red, and there was a hole there. Her pale arms crossed, and hung under her breasts. When Tabi looked up to her face, she tried to crawl away in horror, but the figure, kept her planted to the ground. Her face, was stuck in a rigid half smile and her eyes...her brown and green eyes; were locked in a frozen expression of terror.

"Hey there Tabi." the figure said, "Dont be alarmed. I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I want to congratulate you. No, really! You beat me fair and square."

She leaned in, boring her gaze into Tabi's.

"I'm just here to tell you that you shouldn't worry." the girl whispered, "You see. Now the first kill is done and you know what? It's not that bad really. You'll get used to it. Soon you'll be murdering left and right, and it's all going to be okay. Trust me, give it a few days. And you'll be.

Just.

Like.




Me..."

The figure reeled back and laughed. Only it was no laugh that Tabi heard. It was the sound of her shrieking in pain. Each and every cry, was but a laugh to this figure.

She puffed into smoke and disappeared.




And Tabi was left alone once more...


-------------------


Tabi rose to the ground with a shot, and the wave of dizziness hit her. She hit the ground again and rolled down a grassy incline before her body hit soft sand. Her body was drenched in a thick layer of sweat that clung onto the grains of sand as she lay there.

Her breathing was rapid and short. Inhaling and exhaling over and over, hoping to find enough that would linger in her lungs. Stray hair drooped across her face in long strands.

She saw the ocean. The ocean that reminded her of where she was right now. This was the real world. This was no longer her mind. As terrifying as it was that she was still on an island full of killers, this brought comfort to her.

Her legs bunched up and her body curled inwards. She hugged herself tightly, gently caressing the exposed skin where the bullet had hit. Tabi's breathing began to regain control. She used the waves as a guide that would help her keep that gentle rhythm. Her eyes did not blink, they kept focused on the sea in front of her. She did not want to look at anything else. Not now. Not yet.

It took Tabi many minutes to regain herself, but when she did, she did not let go of herself. It had been a dream right? None of that had actually happned.

And yet, the pain inside of her lingered. Had it been there all along? The more Tabi thought about it the more it rang true. Ever since...ever since the day in the town, the pain was there.

And her parents. They were hurt weren't they? They were afraid of their precious daughter now. She had done such an evil thing and now...They would surely abandon her. Wouldn't they?

Then it turned to Ivan and all thinking stopped. Her body unfurled and she sat up. Ivan. He had to be alright. Right?

It was then that she heard the sobs. She heard the moans. It was Ivan!

Tabi turned around and saw him laying on the ground before her. He was fidgeting and shaking uncontrollably. He was still asleep and still physically alright, but something was wrong.

The girl scrambled up to where he was sleeping.

"Ivan!" she called.


There was no response, only sobs.


Tabi tried shaking his shoulder, "Ivan!"



There was still no response.



Tabi went over his chest and clutched his convulsing arms. She shook him again harder this time. She had to stop this dream, whatever it was.




"Ivan wake up!"
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Ivan's eyes shot open to a cold world and an aching body, chased only by the last echoes of the world he had left behind. The pain in both worlds was very real, but at least the screams had not been. Nor were the people atop him, ripping him apart and shouting insults, damning him to hell. Instead, there was only one person over him, and they were vigorously shaking him.

He struggled weakly with his sleep-atrophied arms with the assailant, releasing a throaty whimper and a few slurred syllables which held no meaning to them. Was he still being killed? Who was doing this? It was only when the voice finally registered that his body would finally give in, his eyes coming into focus.

Tabi was there, looking down at him and shouting something. Was it his name she was calling, over and over? The rest of himself would have to pull together and fully bring him back to reality in order to grasp just what was happening. Sequentially, a few things became clear the more he woke up. While in pain, most of it was just body aches from sleeping on the bare ground and the wound on his arm, though it had some good time to heal. The past world was a dream and, if the cold sweat was anything to attest to, this was real.

Tabi was alive, he was alive. Nobody had killed her, nobody was killing him anymore, and they were still alone so far as he could tell. Again, all just a bad dream, and they were okay!

But if they were okay, then why was Tabi waking him up? What woke her up? Ivan blinked and looked past her at the sky. Strictly night by this point, and the moon was high up in the sky as the only thing lighting them, so morning had not come. He looked back to her, and something struck him as wrong. She looked... terrible, like something had frightened her severely.

Taking a quick breath to even out some of the terrible pressure in his lungs, Ivan spoke to her and tried not to give away his own fear at what he had just experienced.

"Tabi... what's wrong?"
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Tabi felt the moisture lingering in her eyes. Her arms still tightly locked onto Ivan's own. He had finally stirred from his fitful slumber. Her lips quivered when he stared up at her. His eyes were beady dots, staring up as if he had just seen some dreadful aberration in his sleep. Sweat was beading down his face and pooling where her hands were now, mixing in with her own. His breath was shaky, forming an awkward cadence with the wavering gasps of her own.

He had asked her what was wrong, and Tabi found herself choking back a nervous laugh. Her mouth flexed upward into a slack-jawed smile. Ivan was trying to put on a brave face for her. She felt the tears finally slipping out of her eyes and falling onto him. In the short time that she had known him, he had always hid it away. He was being brave for the both of them. It wasn't an active attempt to do so. It was just something he had done.

But now, he couldn't hide it. Tabi knew it all.

She leaned towards him. Sniffing in the mucus running from her nose.

"I-Ivan..."

And collapsed into his chest, sobbing. She started to pound gently on his chest with her left arm. She had no idea what he was going through now, but if it was anything like hers. Then she understood his want to be brave.


But...


"Y-you...don-"

Tabi stopped tapping his chest and merely rested on his body. She stretched out her right arm and dug in under his neck, pulling him closer to her. No more words would escape her lips. As if her own body had forbidden her from doing so. She only lay there, holding him tightly too him. Her sobs starting to fade to mere whimpers. They were alone, but they were together. Only the ocean, was with them.

They didn't have to be brave. They were here now. There was no need to be brave anymore...
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As much as he tried to keep it together, there was a lot going on right now. So many things had been tossed onto his plate at once, and he had only been awake for less than a minute, so how could he be expected to deal with something like this? Tabi continued to weep on him, but the cause wasn't exactly what he expected upon waking up. She seemed scared, shaken, but not exactly terrified... and not urgent.

They were alone.

He had listened and searched for anything that might shake this truth, but it remained steadfast; only the roar of the ocean and the light of the moon, up so high overhead, offered any company. In securing his surroundings, Ivan became more aware of his more immediate ones... that was to say, he was now more focused on the girl who was lying directly on top of him.

Her touch, the weight of her body and of her grip, her muttered words against his chest, and even her breathing dominated his senses and pushed all other things outward. Even his common sense seemed to shut down; for a moment or two, Ivan could not will himself to do anything but watch as Tabi laid over him and silently conveyed more pain than either one of them had suffered up to this point. And that was likely what she was doing: suffering. It was Tabi's turn, to suffer internally for the 'crime' that she had committed. The crime of saving Ivan's life.

His mind continued to falter, his rationale unable to form any sort of planned thought or movement. In this absense of lucidity, his instincts took over. Somebody he cared about was hurting, and he needed to fix it. His arms embraced her, holding the crying girl close against his chest. One hand had set itself reassuringly between her shoulders, fingertips flexing occasionally to lightly tug and shift clothing as well as skin. His other hand moved a bit lower, working around one spot on the middle of her back. Every so often, both arms gave a tight squeeze, possibly to continue to reassure her and show her that he cared, the revelation that had blown even him away so short ago.

Or maybe it was to shield himself from the rest of this island and find solace solely within Tabi, resting against him so... because no matter how much he may have tried to hide it, he was every bit as terrified as her. They were each afraid; Tabi probably had a nightmare like he did if nobody else was truly around to threaten them. If she did become the victim of her own dreams... well, Ivan certainly knew how that felt. But now, they were together, and neither of them would have to survive alone.

Ivan leaned in with Tabi's pull, lightly brushing his lips against the top of her head. Scared or not, he found the strength within himself to smile. The smile wasn't hiding anything, including his anxiety, sorrows or fears, but it wasn't supposed to. There was a good deal of happiness and comfort to him as well.

"I'm alright... we're alright. Just had a terrible dream, that's all..."

He had no idea it wasn't just himself he was speaking for.
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Ivan's shirt was damp, whether it was because of Tabi's tears, or the sweat from her face, she did not know. What she did know, is that it was comforting. It clung to her face, cushioning her, providing sanctuary for her.

The tears dried up, but her face remained damp. She did not move, she only breathed in and out in short harried bursts. Her body rose and fell in candance with Ivan's chest.

Hands reached around and gently placed themselves in between her shoulders and on the flat of her back. The fingers had wedged themselves into the aches in her body, never completely easing it, but serving as a remedy. Tabi felt the embrace pulsing ever once in a while and it made her calm. Her breathing finally returned to normal.

Ivan's body had lifted up to her head. He buried it in her hair and Tabi felt his lips touching her head. Tabi felt a slim smile rise up on her face.

"Mmmm" she hummed, staring into his chest.

"I'm alright... we're alright. Just had a terrible dream, that's all..."

Tabi blinked. A dream...he had a dream...

He wasn't the only one...

"Y-you...you too...huh..."

Tabi shifted her head and turned to face the ocean. It was high tide, the water had crawled up to the beach until there was only two feet of sand that rested between them. The ocean was gentle this night, betraying the feelings inside of her, and who knew what feelings inside of Ivan.

But it seemed they shared the same feeling. The same fear. They were togeather.

Tabi turned back to Ivan and stared into him. She said nothing. She just watched Ivan with unblinking eyes, waiting for him to say more, if there was more to say.
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They had lost the warm glow of the sun which had fallen away behind them both, away into the west while the ocean rolled knowingly. It would be several long hours before it would once more be visited by a morning rising over the horizon, but the light generously offered to it by the moon and the stars would do just fine to illuminate it. Ivan had looked at the sun rise and fall many times, including on this island, and he once had a very good view of the ocean from the beach when he woke up on that fateful day. Something about this view felt different, moreso than each unique view he had of it before.

He had seen a lot of things that could be described as 'breathtaking', both in the good and bad senses of the word. The sky could provide a lot of each of these when viewed from a lonely island in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes it could be happy and sad at once. Each morning was a reminder that he hadn't been killed overnight, but the day approaching could very well be his last. Each evening was another day he had survived, but it could be the last time he would ever see the sun. Day had a way of making him feel warm yet exposed, while night kept him safely hidden, but cold and lonely.

When Tabi looked out at the rolling waves and the blanket of stars that encompassed them all, Ivan looked at it with her. He looked at it along with her even, his gaze shifting from the water to the watching moon, and finally back to her. Even if this island was meant to be something terrible and festering in their hearts, and even if they were all meant to die here, he couldn't help but find it all to be so beautiful at this very moment. As the true power of the moment set in and the corners of his lips tilted upwards in a small smile, he found the strength to give her another tight hug.

Tabi looked back to him, and he searched himself for something to say, as he had often before. Just like nearly every time before, the perfect words seemed to elude him. What could he say to comfort them both that wasn't a lie? What was beautiful could still be cold and cruel, and tomorrow would be just another day of more near-death and senselessness.

In spite of all this, he still found something.

"It's... i-it's beautiful, isn't it?" He sputtered as he mumbled those words, pulling Tabi close to him once more. His body made a few false motions, as though he should kiss her, or maybe stroke her hair, or nibble on her neck, or something, but nothing really felt right. Had he run out of something to say, or could he simply not say the last thing that sat at the front of his mind, and couldn't move?

You're beautiful, too...

Squeezing her a little with her arms to keep her supported, Ivan rolled onto his left side, working with Tabi to ease her back on the beach. He could have sat up and continued looking at the ocean, but he was left with little to do when she continued looking at him. He stared back, feeling the heat on his cheeks. Something about all of this made him feel like he was naked and unable to hide anything. He felt the same way about her... as though their eyes meeting allowed neither one of them to hold out on the other.

"Tabi, there's something... I really have to ask..." Ivan said, nearly at a whisper. He needed to know, even if she wouldn't like having to hear it.

"Are you going to pick up... your weapon?"
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"It's... i-it's beautiful, isn't it?"

Tabi smiled and nodded gently. It was a beautiful ocean in front of them, it was beautiful resting in his arms. They were close and it was more calming then anything she could think of right now.

She inhaled and let out a faint sigh. It was so perfect this moment. Her body pressed against his chest. The sound of his heart mixing with the symphony that was the ocean. The wisps of breath puffing out of her own mouth. It left her at ease.

She closed her eyes and let out a small pure of content.


"Tabi, there's something... I really have to ask..."


Her eyes lifted and she stretched her head back to look up to his face.

"Mmm?"

His eyes were clouded in thought, as if there was something that he wished to keep secret was about to be let out. Her face faltered and she waited for him to speak again.


"Are you going to pick up... your weapon?"


Tabi stared back at him, her lips curling downwards. Her gaze drooped back down to look away at him. She stared at the hand on Ivan's chest. The hand had begun to ball back up into a fist. She said nothing, taking it upon herself to stare at her nails.

She knew of what Ivan spoke of. He was asking about that weapon. The weapon that the voice on the loudspeaker claimed to be just for her. As a reward.

A reward for turning into a murderer...

Tabi lifted herself off of him, breaking free from his embrace. She sat up to face the ocean, her feet dangling on the edge of the grassy plateau . Her arms rested onto her knees and began to shake.

The moment between Ivan and Tabi was gone. The moment had been there only moments ago. And like a house of cards, the moment fell away into the night.

Why? Why were they taken here? Why were they placed on this island to die? Why did she pull the trigger? Why wasn't she strong enough? Why was she rewarded for killing someone?

She found no answers to this. None that she liked. Clio's voice was still ringing inside. It was true wasn't it? She was going to be like her now. A killer on TV. She'd already killed her. So that already made her one didn't it?

Thoughts of her dreams brought her back to her family. Her parents probably thought of that already? If they hadn't seen it yet? They probably knew by now. Survival of the Fittest was a phenomenon back home. If they hadn't seen it, somebody probably said something by now...

Danya wanted her to take the weapon didn't she? He wanted her to kill more. That's why she was 'rewarded' by him.

Tabi's hands scrunched tightly into fists. Her nails dug into the skin, but the pain meant nothing to her. Her lips clenched shut and she gulped back the rawness that was building within.

She had found the answer to Ivan's question.

Tabi shook her head from side to side. It was slow at first, fear of what would happen if she refused slowing her movements. But the more she shook, the faster it became. To hell with Danya's 'gifts'! She wouldn't do it. She couldn't kill another again. There was no way that she would be able to do it again.

"No...no...no...no I'm not doing it," the girl thought aloud, "Never."

Tabi stopped shaking her head and returned her gaze to the ocean. Her breaths became deeper and longer as she unfurled her balled fists. Her hands were stinging with the marks from her nails but it was of little concern of hers right now. They planted themselves onto her knees and rested there.

Though the weight of the weapon had lifted itself off of her, her thoughts still swam inside of her mind. She was still a murderer. No amount of talking would convince her otherwise.

With a loud sigh, Tabi leaned backwards and into the soft grass behind her. She closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of the ocean. Wishing that it would be the tonic that would blast her thoughts out of her.

She opened her eyes, and for a moment, she had been taken aback by what she had seen. Up above her were thousands upon thousands of tiny dots spread throughout the dark canvas above her. It was something she had never seen before in her life. She had seen stars in the skies back home, but never in this number.

Her eyes blankly gazed at the mosaic and her jaws slacked at the sight. She did not blink, for fear of missing some new development. For a moment at least; Tabi Gweneth's mind was distracted once more.
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An uneasiness fell over Ivan as he watched Tabi pull away. Lost was the perfect sense of security that they shared when she laid atop him. Only when she was gone did the full impact of the closeness they had strike him, and Ivan instantly wished for it back. To actively seek such contact was definitely out-of-line for him, or at least it would have been a week ago. Now he felt like a new person, for better or for worse. The old him wouldn't have worried if he had just upset Tabi and fucked up royally.

Tabi hadn't let out all the pain inside her, which she made clear through just how tense she was. Unfortunately, this was only natural if she was feeling the same exact pain he himself had felt. Ivan looked away as though he were trying to preserve her dignity, or perhaps it was because he couldn't bear to look at her when she was suffering so much. Neither of them should've been forced to kill in order to live, but they were, and they had given in. They had done what the terrorists wanted, and apparently in the most entertaining way possible. Why else would they have been rewarded?

And if they had done what the terrorists wanted, did that make them bad people? Simple killers? Maybe Ivan was all of those things, but he didn't want Tabi to feel the same way. He had jumped the gun and murdered somebody out of fear for himself. Looking back, had the situation played out differently, Ivan might have even used Tabi as a shield against Keith like he did against Clio. He was in it for himself from the beginning, in order to live as long as he could for his brother. When did that change? Somewhere along the sliding scale of time, one state changed into another, but there couldn't have been any specific point where his morals just 'snapped' from one to the other and, if it was there, then he couldn't find it. Despite the power of this question, Ivan never asked himself why he had changed. The answer to that was obvious.

"No...no...no...no I'm not doing it... never."

The break of silence told Ivan to look at Tabi, and he obeyed. At first, her statement of defiance confused him to a point where he didn't know what to say or do. Then, even while she wasn't looking at him, a slight grin crept across his lips and held there for a second or two. Let's see what you say to that, assholes..., he thought, feeling a strange sort of pride. In away, Tabi had just shown another example of just how she could be stronger than him, and possibly anybody else on this island. If only she could completely be absolved of the guilt she must be feeling.

Ivan's mood dipped a little when the girl beside him sighed and laid back down. He felt a bit dirty for thinking it, but he was hoping that maybe they could end up cuddling again like they had been. Instead, they would end the night the same way they began it, sleeping with a space between them, never touching and in awkward silence. He stared at the ocean for a moment in regret, then looked back to Tabi, expecting to see her asleep. Instead, she seemed to be looking at something above them, her eyes transfixed. When he looked... he fell into a state similar to hers. The sky had now darkened sufficiently enough to where the stars emerged, peppering the night sky with an incalculable brilliance.

Ivan laid back as Tabi had done, folding his hands over his stomach so they could have something to hold on to. Before he knew it, a memory had come to him, with nothing to hold it back.

"You know... sometimes my little brother and I would watch the stars. We had this telescope that he bought with his own money from selling rabbits... it's a long story. But together, we'd pull the rickety thing out and set it up in our backyard, point it up at the sky and see just what we could find. You'd think there wouldn't be a lot to find up there... just a bunch of stars."

Ivan chuckled a little bit as he remembered just how impatient Louis could be sometimes.

"Still, we spent hours and hours looking up there, finding all the constellations, all that fun stuff. It's... it's kind of funny. Way out here, the stars are much clearer than they ever were around Bayview. This sky's a little different, I can tell, and the positions are off, but... I think at the end of the day, it's all the same sky."

Ivan put his hands behind his head to further support himself as he squinted up at the sky. Without his glasses the stars may have been a bit fuzzy, but still recognizable. He felt like he was in his own backyard again, but looking at the stars with Tabi instead. He wondered what she thought of all of this, and hoped that talk of home didn't make her uncomfortable. There wasn't much else left to talk about that could bring him happiness.
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Tabi's eyes darted across the speckled black canvas. She wasn't very knowledgable when it came to constellations. She knew about The Big and Little Dipper and there was Orion's Belt, at least she thought that was what it was called. Now though, it would be imposible to gleam them from any of the other stars that were staring before her. They were so far away, and yet they seemed like they were just within her reach.

Tabi's breath was still, whisps of warm air floating into the night sky. Her left arm gently reached up to the stars, but she couldn't pull them closer. They were just so far away. Just like she was now. Home was miles away.

Home...

Her arm drooped back from it's lofty height down to her chest. She placed it right under her bussom and her index finger instantly dove for the hole in her blouse. She gasped as she it massaged the area. Her skin was smooth, free of the biting wound that had been expected. Her shoulders sunk deeper into the prickly bed beneath her.

As her finger continued to brush the area, her eyes began to sink down, obscuring the stars into a white haze.

"You know... sometimes my little brother and I would watch the stars.

She turned her head to the left and saw Ivan staring up at the same sky that she was looking at. She had forgotten that he was there, right beside her. So he had a brother, somehow, it made all the sense in the world to her. They just never talked about that before.

"You'd think there wouldn't be a lot to find up there... just a bunch of stars."

He laughed at his joke, something that had caught her by surprise. She couldn't recall a moment when he had even cracked a smile, but here he was gleefully looking at the stars. Tabi's gaze returned up to the blanket above them. She wondered what he was staring at right now. Was there something she just couldn't see out in that map of dots?

"Still, we spent hours and hours looking up there, finding all the constellations, all that fun stuff. It's... it's kind of funny. Way out here, the stars are much clearer than they ever were around Bayview. This sky's a little different, I can tell, and the positions are off, but... I think at the end of the day, it's all the same sky."

Tabi's face curled up into an artificial smile. She wanted to understand what he had said, but her mind was drawing a blank. Instead, her thoughts lingered somewhere else.

Ivan had his brother and who knew how many other family members. How had they felt? When Ivan...killed Keith? She knew the reasons why they had happened. It had been an accident. He didn't want to kill him. Tabi heard him cry, saw him crying in his sleep. Did they?

Her smile started to twist back down into a slight frown. Her lips had started to quiver again. To remedy this, she tried to cover it with the top oh her mouth.

Did her family see when Tabi's hands had slipped? Did they see what had happened afte?. Had they seen her crying? Did they see her kiss Ivan? The boy she had only really known for under a week?



D-did they?



"He-hey Ivan...d-do-do you k-kn-know...if...if...o-our p-parents are watching...If they are watching...ar-are they...Do they wan-want us to..."

Tabi closed her eyes, trying hard not to break down. She had to know...

"Do they want us back home or...or do they want us to...to..."

Tabi couldn't finish the sentance. If she said anymore, she knew that she wouldn't be able to stop herself...
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After all that he had to say, Ivan could only hope that Tabi took it all in and made some sense of it. Her momentary silence was telling of something, but just what it said was a bit of a mystery. Perhaps he didn't make the point he was getting at across, which made him frown a little bit. She would be easily forgiven, though, considering just how much each of their minds had to take in right now. While he was fantasizing about the skies of home, her mind could have been completely elsewhere. Strangely, it was this 'elsewhere' that Ivan found himself dying to know. For the moment, with Tabi, his old ally, 'silence', was now his enemy. What she was thinking about or feeling, he wanted to share.

When the girl next to him began to stutter uncontrollably, Ivan's focus dropped from the sky to her. This wasn't good... when Tabi began to speak like this, she was likely on the verge of crying. Before she could even finish asking him her worries, Ivan felt like kicking himself for having mentioned home. Now it seemed like a terrible course of action; he was getting rather homesick, and there was no reason to assume anything but the same case for her. The further Tabi stammered, though, she made him concerned more and more as if that were even possible.

Every time he saw a camera early on, he thought of his family. He felt so self-concious even if he hadn't let it on. No matter what he was doing, somebody was watching him do it. And so, it came as a bit of a distressing matter when he began to notice the cameras less and less, losing focus of the possibility of him being watched. It couldn't be that he was actually acclimating to this terrible game, could it? His motions had become more natural, which was something that couldn't be denied. He had opened up to Tabi, become somebody that nobody else at Bayview had ever seen except his brother. Was that... wrong? Did he do something wrong?

"Do they want us back home or...or do they want us to...to..."

"Don't say it", Ivan finished for her, turning his entire body on its side to face her. "You can't... honestly think..." He had started off so strong, but Ivan's tongue started to feel heavy in his mouth. His mind started to pull itself into a pit of doubt and, while he knew it was someplace he didn't want to be, there were a few questions and facts to be faced. He had killed, a morally condemning act. Would his parents really want him back home? Could they trust him around his little brother? The two used to wrestle and play-fight all the time. If he went back home, those days of innocence repeated might look like a bout of PTSD. He'd be branded as dangerous for the rest of his life, and that's not counting if he was sent to prison. Or worse... if, for some reason, he really did lose his temper and kill his brother...

No, that isn't me. That isn't us, we aren't killers!

This wasn't a road he wanted to go down again. Both of them had been running down it for far too long and if they continued, they may likely find themselves at that road's dead end. It was time that they found a different path, and Ivan would be the one to find it if he had to. He owed Tabi that much, a girl who he had joined to himself with the shackles of murder. She blamed himself for having to save his life, and it was his own failure that necessitated that sacrifice. For as long as she blamed herself, he would not be able to find peace.

And so before he could say anything else, a trembling boy on the beach reached out to a girl on the same road as him. Ivan draped his injured arm across her stomach and onto her far arm, holding on to her as though to keep her from being pulled away by some irresistable tide.

"What you did wasn't your fault... they know that. Anybody who saw knows that, Tabi. There's still a place in that world out there for you!" Ivan said, though his jaw was quivering between his words. "And if anything else... I need you to understand that... j... just hold on to that, please!" He didn't know her family, and how could he? It wasn't like he had ever been to her house before... hell, before this whole incident, he didn't really know Tabi. Just like the others, she was a face in a hall of an establishment that he only went to in order to learn and better himself. But now, this girl had become part of his life and, while he still knew so very little about her own, there were some things he could just feel. Nobody in their right mind could ever want Tabi dead. If anybody at all did...

They'd have a lot of pent up fury to go through.

"Come here... and l... l-look at me..." Ivan's voice fell into a near-whisper as he gently tugged on Tabi's arm to draw her onto her side and square with him, the pain in his right shoulder be damned. His dampened eyes looked to hers, showing that he shared every bit of pain she was right now. His hand fell down to her unprotected side without him even realizing it, as he just continued looking at those eyes ready to cry.

"We've..." He cleared his throat to steady himself. " ... been through so much, here, struggled so hard. We have so many fears and r-regrets, but we have to be stronger than that. You've done nothing wrong... Tabi." All of a sudden, he couldn't remember the last time he had called her out by her name. "It was an accident... you were only trying to protect me, and you did. You saved my life... you stopped me from being killed when I was protecting you. And I'm going to go on protecting you for as long as I'm alive, because... if there's anybody who deserves to go back home, anybody who needs to be back in the arms of her parents... who WILL accept her... it's you."
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Ivan had commanded her to not finish her sentence. It had made her to arch her body in fright. Her lips were sealed though, pressing against the cuts on her chapped lips. It was better than saying it and hearing the truth from her own mouth.

"You can't... honestly think..."

Tabi felt the gaze coming from beside her. She dared not look at it though. She didn't want him to see the answer.

She was thinking exactly that. Nobody would get the commentary of what had happened. Nobody wanted the commentary when watching television. They just saw what they saw and they knew what it was they had seen. Tabitha Gweneth was a murderer. Micheal and Dana Gweneth had spawned a murderer. If she made it back, it would be after everyone had seen what happened. Her mother was in the newspaper! She would be asked by thousands upon thousands of letters as to how. How could she not have seen the signs? Her father wasn't safe either. Just because the newspaper got the majority of the letters didn't mean he would be immune to them.

If she made it back...it would get so much worse. She would have outlasted her entire class. The ire they would receive would be so much worse.


On the other hand...




A warm hand gripped her arm tightly. Her eyes darted bellow to see the pale arm of Ivan draped across her belly. Her body squirmed, wanting desperately to free herself from its owner, but he wouldn't let go of her. Tabi moaned in complaint, but said nothing. The arm had locked her down and Ivan was going to see it all.



"What you did wasn't your fault... they know that. Anybody who saw knows that, Tabi."

Tabi's squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. No. That was impossible. Ivan didn't know what he was saying. He just didn't understand the words that were coming from his mouth. His words were punches into her gut. The pain had grown again and was spreading all over the aches in her body. She wanted to scream at him that he was wrong and that Clio had died because of her. Nobody could accept what she had done. They had already convicted her back in St.Paul. There was no room to appeal.

"Come here...and l..."

She felt Ivan's firm hands rolling her onto her side. She fidgeted and wailed in resistance. But Ivan had out-muscled her. Her eyes were still wedged shut.

"l-look at me..."

Tabi tried to resist. Her eyelids were trying to keep her blinded. Ivan's face would be too much for her to handle right now. And yet, her lids lifted up and stared out into Ivan's face.

She regretted opening them. The look in his eyes was soft and he was on the verge of tears. There was no malice to be found on his, only a look of pained look of pity.

Water was starting to pool up in the corner of her eyes. Why was he looking at her like that? She didn't deserve such a look from him. She was guilty. Why could he look at her the way he was now?

Ivan's voice was so quiet that Tabi barely heard him. His eyes were still intently focused on hers. Waves of discomfort were washing over her as she couldn't look away from him. His ice blue eyes had ensnared her own and now she found it difficult to blink.

"...but we have to be stronger than that. You've done nothing wrong... Tabi."

Tabi froze. She had done nothing wrong. He had said it as if it was a law. She had done nothing wrong. It had been said with such authority, such certainty.

"It was an accident..."

Tabi couldn't believe that. An accident was when you had run into someone at Bayview. Or if you had spilled something on a friends shirt. A murder couldn't be an accident.

And yet he had said it so vehemently.


You were only trying to protect me...

and you did....



You saved my life...


Short hiccup-like sobs were the only sounds Tabi could make. Her body was starting to shake once more, but Ivan's hand had moved to her left side. It no longer grasped her, it was gently placed, only serving as a gentle hand.

"You stopped me from being killed when I was protecting you. And I'm going to go on protecting you for as long as I'm alive."

He didn't have to say anything, Tabi wanted to say, but the lump in her throat kept her still.

"Because..."

Because...


"If there's anybody who deserves to go back home...



anybody who needs to be back in the arms of her parents...





who WILL accept her...







it's you."





Her right hand shook as she lifted up. She placed it over her face, trying, unsuccessfully to hide her mouth and eyes from Ivan. Her body shook in time with her muffled cries.

A warmth was leaking inside of her, trying to destroy the aches that were in her body. Her mouth was starting to curve upwards and as she sobbed, it grew louder and louder, breaking free from her self-imposed muzzle.

She inched over to Ivan, feeling his arm draping behind her back. Her head gently touched Ivan's forehead and now her hand had wrapped itself on his shoulders. Restraint had been sucked away by Ivan's words and now, she wailed to him, feeling the warmth of his body against her own until her sobbing ceased.

"I-Ivan..." she said, pressing her cheek to his brow, "It hurts...a-am I supposed to hurt, Ivan?"

She felt her hand pushing him forwards, trying to keep him close.

"D-do you hurt...too?"
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MK Kilmarnock
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Ivan said what he had to say and, while Tabi still suffered, he felt that his words had made an impact. While the tears flowed, something in the air seemed to have lightened, and Tabi's sobs were just her letting the pain out. Lord knew there was a lot of pain to be letting out thanks to their stay on this island, and he would let her release it in any way she needed to. Though he may have wanted to hug her tight, Ivan kept his draped arms relaxed to allow for her to breathe, shake and sob to her heart's content. He'd be right there if she needed him.

"... It hurts...a-am I supposed to hurt, Ivan?"

I know it does, but how am I supposed to answer that? She's not 'supposed' to hurt. I don't want her to hurt.

Ivan laid as still as he could and tried to steady his breathing. The task became far easier if he only thought about the smooth, warm patch of skin his forehead brushed up against. He could feel Tabi's breath on his ear, tuning in to all her trepidation and fear, but also the relief that he hoped he interpreted correctly. After her long sobbing, he could hear her breathing slow down to a near rest, allowing him to relax more. Tabi had one more question for him, though.

"D-do you hurt...too?"

If only he could forget the answer to this. While still keeping his arms over and under Tabi's sides, he pulled back to try and get a look at her face. Even though he could crane his neck far enough, she seemed to be doing her best to hide her face with her hand as its only clothing, as if there were no other way to keep their emotions locked up from flowing freely... he almost mentioned just how cute it was. Even with her best attempt, though, there was nothing either of them could hide from the other. Every inch of their feelings and soul had mixed between them at some point of the night or another, which was why he would have to let the rest of his pain out as well.

Any tear he shed would have been for her, though, as there were none left in reserve for himself. As her sniffles had already stopped, it looked like there would be no reason to cry... not yet, anyway. Ivan leaned back in, nuzzling ever so slightly against that cheek once more, and whispered the answer to Tabi's question in her ear.

"Every day."

And it was true. Nothing would ever let him forget about what had happened, and if he ever saw Keith again, the best he could ever hope for was forgiveness. When the inevitable finally came and Ivan was dragged away to judgement, it would be all he could ask just to beg and receive Keith's forgiveness, to be absolved of his sins in the name of a mortal mistake. If he could receive that, that and the peace of knowing that he protected Tabi the best he could, he could rest easy.

Even if protecting her isn't going to save my soul, I'll still do it. Ivan spoke to his heart, firming up the embrace for just a moment. Six... seven... however many days ago, hell, I wouldn't have cared less about her. But now I'm willing to do just about anything, and sometimes I don't even know why. I don't even CARE why. ... Do I...

"It's funny..." Ivan said, moving one of his hands up and down Tabi's back again. "... How the world becomes a far less scary place when you're not alone."
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