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Five Finger Death Punch; B015 - Start
Topic Started: Aug 13 2016, 05:07 PM (1,685 Views)
dmboogie
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((Cass.))

G001. It was funny to think how just a simple combination of a letter and three numbers conveyed the end of Cass's life, topping it off with two lies just to add a petty insult to the death sentence.

Girl.

Number one.

Cass sighed, staring blankly at their bag. They couldn't afford to feel slighted. They couldn't afford to feel. For the first time in their life, they embraced their familiar, consuming numbness, embraced cold, mechanical motion. There was a stairway in front of them, so they climbed. Focused on putting one foot in front of the other, the texture of the wall as their fingers brushed against it. It'd be easy, if they could just climb it forever. No thought. No emotion. Wishful thinking.

Eventually, the stairway ran out and Cass emerged onto the roof. They did not recognize the boy sitting by the edge from behind, but he cut a striking figure, outlined against the horizon, looking out towards the rising sun. He had probably heard their approach, but Cass didn't want to ruin the pocket of tranquility he had built for himself. Still, the words he had spoken to himself as Cass had intruded felt like they needed an answer. He wasn't wrong. Under any other circumstances, Cass would be overjoyed to be here, surrounded by crumbling buildings and scenic vistas, but art was a dangerous thing to consider right now. Art, emotion, and thought were intrinsically linked.

Well, Cass was already here. You can't unring a bell. If they retreated now, they were sure that Travis would be distressed by the thought of someone sneaking around behind them. Best to lay that worry to rest.

"Yeah," Cass said.
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That was frighteningly close. Even though they hadn't exactly tried to hide their presence, Travis hadn't noticed Cass until they had spoken up. Having been on the receiving end of that scenario more than often enough, Cass could emphasize.

All it meant was that speaking had been a mistake, though. Cass could have left like a ghost without ever having had disturbed Travis, but instead they had almost scared the poor boy straight off the edge of the building. Cass hadn't been awake for ten minutes and they had already almost killed a man through sheer carelessness. Stupid. Unforgivable.

He didn't seem to mind so much, though. "Sorry about that," Cass said, awkwardly rubbing the back of their neck. Now that they had a clear look at Travis's face, he still didn't ring a bell. A schoolmate, obviously, but he meant nothing more. He seemed to be inviting Cass to stay, strangely enough.

They almost refused based just on instinct, every inch of their body screaming for them to just leave, now, don't make things worse, don't presume that you matter to someone you've never met before. Just keep walking. Just stop thinking.

What happened after that, though? Would Cass run from everyone they saw for the rest of their pitiful existence? Spend the rest of their life walking blindly until they finally stumbled from the top of a treacherous cliff and saved everyone the effort of finishing them off? There was no future, there.

So Cass forced themselves to stay. Forced themselves to carefully settle down next to Travis, making sure not to jostle him and avoid slipping, themself. They watched the sunrise together. Cass nodded at his comment. "Yeah. Wish I could paint this." The terrorists had taken Cass's sketchpad. A minor offense in the grand scheme of things, but it somehow stung the most. Maybe everything else was still too big to register clearly.

Silence, for a while. Cass was never typically one to break it, but right now, it felt like the only thing to do. "I'm Cass, by the way."
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"Dunno."

They were acquainted now, at least. Trav laid down, and after a few moments of hesitation, Cass followed suit. It seemed a bit too casual, too unguarded, but Cass had already fought against their natural defenses tooth and nail just to get this far. Besides, out of context, there was something romantic about two near-strangers, thrown into hell together but still taking the time to breath to talk and watch the sunrise together. It was easy to rest your eyes on the blue sky above, clearer than it was at home. Let your mind wander, pretend you were safe.

It couldn't have lasted forever, but Cass wished that Trav could have waited longer to bring them back down to reality. Their transient peace hadn't been worthless; their numbness had faded away, but their mind-numbing terror and sorrow hadn't come back to replace it. Maybe it was the presence of another person, maybe it was the time and distance from their initial shock, but Cass felt like it was safe to exist now, however passively.

"Lay here until I die or I can think of a good reason to leave, I guess," Cass said. Planning to survive meant making a conscious choice to consider that your life alone was the most valuable, that you deserved to live more than any other person on the island. Cass didn't, plain and simple.
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"Wish we could hang a sign on the door. 'Dreamers only,'" Cass said, glad that Trav hadn't called out the morbidity of their earlier 'plan'. It was a signal saying that it was alright to go back to their escapism for as long as they could, until some faceless menace came along to drag them both back into the cover of darkness and stain the ground with their blood. Maybe they'd elect to throw them off the roof, instead. It'd be quicker for everyone involved.

Thinking about the end of escapism defeated the entire purpose of escapism, so Cass searched for anything else to occupy themselves with. The clouds above were beautiful and comforting, but you can only contemplate beauty for so long, and comfort by its very nature is not something you can focus on. Maybe when night fell Cass would be able to realize how the sky had changed, how such a short distance had changed their perspective on the infinity that stretched above them, but a cloudy blue sky looked like a cloudy blue sky, no matter where on Earth you laid your head down to rest. An idle mind couldn't help but wander towards darker places. So instead, Cass decided to focus on their new, unfamiliar companion.

"What are your dreams, Trav? What do you want out of life?" Cass asked. It was still too soon to think of their future in the past tense.
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"Nothing wrong with generic. It means that a lot of people have that same dream, right? Wanting something that amazing isn't anything to be ashamed of."

Cass had never been one for most sports, but there was something about combat sports that instinctively drew their eye. Whether it was with a fencing blade or a boxing glove, it was easy to romanticise the thought of fighting with everything you got against a single opponent. They circle each other and the entire world becomes just them and their foe, each carefully, carefully watching for any sign of weakness, analyzing their style, learning their personal ticks and tells, eventually knowing them even better than they know themselves so that when the climactic moment comes and you strike the final blow victory comes so, so sweet, and if you snapped a picture of that exact moment it would probably be one of the most beautiful and human things in existence, bodies weary and damp with sweat but filled with determination that fuels them until the moment of release until it's finally over and they can collapse, secure in their victory.

Cass read a lot of fanfic, and that scenario typically ended in makeouts. They felt it rather missed the point of the whole endeavor.

"Art's all I'm good for, so going to school for that's the obvious thing to do. It'll help me build connections and a profile..." Cass trailed off. That was a plan, not a dream. "I guess what I really want out of life is to paint pretty shit and have people look at it. Maybe even like it. Make something that the world might remember, y'know?" Left unspoken was their wish to be fully accepted for who they were, the ability to live freely as themself. Trav seemed like a sweet guy, but even with all their soul-baring Cass was not willing to chance playing the Tolerance Roulette with a stranger.
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"Yeah. Art's pretty much the only way to really live forever, but I don't think I ever expected to get to that level of success? It's more like the principle of the thing. Like, when a couple carves their names into a tree or something, just to shout to the world, 'We were here! We existed!' Even if no one listens or cares at first, and even when anybody who could have recognized their names is gone, it's still there, y'know? Years down the line, someone might stop for a minute, and look, and wonder about who those people used to be. I mean, looking at life moment-to-moment, I make art because it's what I love to do, but the whole permanence thing still plays a part, I think? Argh, I'm rambling, sorry," Cass finished, blushing at the realization that they had monopolized the conversation.

Impending death was one hell of a social lubricant. Cass didn't usually talk this much even around people they actually knew and were comfortable with. Maybe those words had been boiling inside them for so long that, now that Cass's life had a clear end date, they had to use the first chance they had to speak, leave nothing unsaid? It was what they truly believed, after all. Art's something that can transcend millenia, something that can be admired and analyzed long after its creator has passed. When you view something old, maybe you'll feel the same feelings as the long-dead people who first saw it and argued over purpose and meaning. Maybe you'll feel something entirely new, with your life experience that is so, so far removed from the artist's or author's. Both outcomes are beautiful.

Cass knew that they would never produce a Gilgamesh, or even something akin to the subject of Ozymandias. They just weren't special enough, didn't have the drive or spark needed to live forever. All they could ever have hoped for was for even one other human being to look at their art, years down the line, and think. Maybe feel something new or even just look at the world for a slightly different way for a few minutes. It'd be an impact, however small, and it'd prove that Cass existed, that even when they were gone that their ideas and creations would not die with them, they would stay in the world for as long as there was a safe, dusty corner for them to call a home, waiting to be seen again and live. When Cass felt empty, when nothingness filled them to the brim and they felt that they didn't matter, that they barely even existed, it helped to look at their old paintings. Look at what they had birthed unto the world with countless hours of thought and concentration, wrought a living image where before there had only been blank canvas. If they hadn't stopped existing, it had to mean that Cass was real, too.

They supposed that the art they had posted online would get an increase in viewers, after the news broke out. Cass hated the idea. It wouldn't be due to any merit their art had, or any genuine admiration. All it meant was that they had died in a highly-publicized way. It wouldn't be deserved, it wouldn't be earned.

Dwelling on a future none of them would live to see could only do Cass harm, they knew. All they needed was to live in the present, to wait for Trav's response and to just continue talking as if they'd never need to stop.
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"I guess that's the best we can hope for," Cass said, bittersweet smile on their face. That was one upside of living in the information era - all of their internet presences would outlive them by a wide margin. Not forever, of course; social media networks and image hosting sites would grow and decay, bringing entire universes down with them when they failed. However, it was nigh-impossible to cleanse the web of a single image even if you wanted to, so traces would always remain, somewhere in the forgotten corners of the internet. Maybe, over the years, there had been people who liked Cass's art enough to try and save and preserve it, even if it was just for their own viewing. No one truly dies until their name has been forgotten and every trace of their existence wiped from the earth.

Cass's contemplation stopped in its tracks as Vanessa burst through the door with a greeting that was far too cheery to fit any mood; whether it be the prior melancholic conversation between Travis and themself, or even just the general appropriate behavior for someone who was gonna die. Was she mocking them, then, approaching with ill-intent and laughing to herself all the while? Cass would've liked to think that no one would have descended into sadism that quickly, but people always had the capacity to disappoint you.

That theory sunk when Cass saw Min-jae, standing behind Vanessa. He, frankly speaking, looked like absolute shit. Cass didn't know him well, beyond holding an admiration of his aesthetic whenever they crossed paths, but it was still alarming to see him injured so badly. The fact that Vanessa hadn't robbed him blind and dumped his body in a ditch probably meant neither were looking for a fight, at least.

All the same, their safe haven had finally been breached. Trav had been a stranger, but the scenery and dreamlike conditions of their meeting had combined to let Cass feel safe, to let them open up. Confronted with two relative strangers, Cass began to withdraw inside themself once more. "We're... existing," they said quietly.
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Neither Vanessa nor Jae seemed inclined to back away with a laugh and an awkward apology for intruding, so Cass supposed they'd just have to live with their presence. "Live" being the operative word, there. Cass tensed up a little as the two drew closer; no need for a fight if you can just speak softly, get real close, then shove someone off of a roof and laugh when they hit the pavement. Cass quickly dismissed that line of thinking as both uncomfortable and unproductive, and Jae did seem legitimately friendly; but they still scooched away from the edge just to be safe.

Trav didn't seem too worried, which did make Cass feel better. It was a small upside, at least, now that they had been forced to actually think about worst case scenarios instead of immediately dismissing them and staring at the sky. Years of biking meant that Cass wasn't exactly out of shape, but they had never even taken a self-defense class. Given Trav's evident passion for MMA, he'd be a lot more useful to have around in a fight.

Cass realized with a mental start they had already slipped, had already started thinking in lists of possible helpful and harmful traits instead of people. Despicable.

It seemed like a much better idea to forget the ramifications of that for the moment, and just try to focus on Vanessa's words, not that they were any prettier. Cass frowned as she mentioned Nancy's fear, along with the clear psychotic break Alvaro must have suffered to try (and, evidently succeed) to fuck up Jae like that. Human misery and desperation were beautiful when they lived on a canvas, but it hurt Cass to think of all their classmates who were already broken, whether it be physically or mentally. They tried to picture their faces in their mind - You couldn't deny Nancy's enthusiasm for... whatever it was she did, and Cass had occasionally visited the cafe where Alvaro worked. It was both easy and very hard to imagine either of them being pushed to their breaking points.

Well, that was three people fucked already, tentatively excluding Vanessa from the count; and that's just the ones they had heard about. Cass knew that similar situations had to be already breaking out all over the island. Not as many as there would be later, no, but friend would still turn against friend, self-absorbed bastards wouldn't think twice about putting their own survival before any definition of morality. Good people would die.

"Well, we're safe and alive for the moment. That's something, at least," Cass said, looking down at the roof beneath them. If they gazed into Jae's, or Vanessa's, or even Trav's eyes, what would they find there, now that the effects of the island had come knocking? They didn't want to know the answer.
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Trav's comment hit Cass a lot harder than he had probably intended. Cass hadn't missed the sunrise, but it was still over and done with, wasn't it? How many more would Cass live to see? Would this be their last? Cass's remaining time as a living, breathing human person was constantly slipping away; each moment bringing another unceremonious "last" along with it. The hourglass of their life had been crushed by a sledgehammer, leaving only a single shard.

Jae had sat down, meaning that any hope of Cass feeling safe again was long gone, but at least it removed most ambiguity about if he was gonna try anything. Cass had spent enough of their life shifting uncomfortably in their seat, surrounded by strangers; so it only stood to reason that they wouldn't be truly free from it even during their last days.

They seriously considered his offer of a cig, but only for a moment. Cass had always admired its aesthetic purposes; painting scenes of listless self-destruction filtered through a smoky haze, wistfully staring at the horizon the plumes you blew flew off to, far, far out of your reach.

Cass had tried a pack once, after they turned 18. It was fucking gross. Some things are best kept on a conceptual level, neatly separated from your own, personal existence. They supposed here, at least, someone with more of an action hero's mindset could make a clever quip about hey, at least I don't have to worry about the cancer killing me anymore! Raucous laughter all around, followed shortly by gunfire.

When Vanessa started laughing, all that Cass could do was stare awkwardly at her, wondering if she was having a breakdown or just coping with the situation in a very distressing way. They couldn't take it. "Got something else you'd rather be doing? 'Cause I'm pretty alright with where we're at right now," Cass said quietly. Didn't want to seem confrontational.
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Trav's support gave Cass a welcome feeling of solidarity, relief from this new alienation; until Jae joined Vanessa in cackling like a madman. Desperate, ugly laughter, like screaming static that drowned out all your thoughts until the only thing left in your head was white noise. Cass looked from Jae, to Vanessa, back to Jae, praying they'd stop; shot a silent, wide-eyed plea for help in Trav's direction but couldn't find any words, looked down, made themselves small, stared at the roof below as that terrible laughter continued and continued, closing in on Cass, surrounding them, wanted to run, wanted to scramble backwards just to get away but was frozen by whatever part of their brain had it together enough to remember that they were mere feet away from an undignified death over the edge of the roof.

Vanessa quieted, for a moment. Cass took a nervous breath, thinking the worst was over. They flinched as she then started screaming and swearing at Cass, and though she didn't actually blame Cass for anything it still felt like an attack, an accusation for trying to forget about everyone else's pain and fear and misery, for living it up and watching the sunrise instead of giving that precious, precious time to someone whose feelings actually mattered. Even when Vanessa stopped, her words remained imprinted in Cass's head, anguished cries piercing their heart.

Cass stared down at their trembling hands, too shaky to even hold a pencil, if they'd had one. God, they really were useless. Pathetic.

"Sorry. You're right. Sorry. I'm sorry, I'm so..." Cass choked, tripping over their words, not understanding what they were apologizing for. They just wanted it all to be over, wanted to disappear, wanted everyone to leave and stop being so goddamn loud and angry, but they didn't deserve that, no, didn't deserve any peace at all. They hadn't deserved to stop and breath and enjoy life with Trav earlier, either, so this was just how things should be, because they'd prompted this, hadn't they, couldn't have just kept their worthless mouth shut and let Vanessa laugh and cope in her own way, couldn't respect the pain she was feeling, everyone was feeling. Just had to put their own feelings first.

Stupid. So goddamn stupid.
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Cass quietly watched the storm die down around them, knowing they'd already done too much. Crossed their arms, gripped them too tightly in an effort to stop their trembling. Mostly, it just hurt. That didn't stop them. They had seen the way that Trav looked at them before he had argued against Vanessa, knew the pity he had to be feeling for them, knew they didn't deserve any of it.

Their feelings weren't any more deep or valid or intense than what anyone else's on the rooftop; or anyone else's in the island-wide-morgue, period. Cass had just flinched first, hadn't been strong enough to keep everything safely bottled up where it wouldn't affect anyone else, wouldn't make them worry. Wouldn't interrupt Vanessa perfectly justifiable ranting, wouldn't force her to apologize when she had done nothing wrong. It was too late to take any of it back now, though, Jae and Vanessa were already leaving; driven from a safe haven back into a universe of unfriendly eyes and sudden ends. Whatever happened to them next, it'd be Cass's fault, all because they couldn't have just bit their tongue for one goddamn minute.

Vanessa's farewell was too gracious, too forgiving. Cass wished they could have responded, but their veins were ice and their hands were still shaking even now that they were leaving marks on their arms and they did not trust themself in the slightest to speak and be redeemed, to taint the air with their ill-thought words that would betray a new quiver in their pathetic voice, on the verge of tears for no discernible or sane or rational reason, not when everyone else had it together, not when everyone else was strong, always stronger than them, how could it ever be different, why would it, now, why would the introduction of death to their environment change or free Cass in any way or give them any strength at all beyond the manic flailing of a brain firing off neurons during its last moments?

Years of familiar self-hatred passed through Cass's mind in minutes. They inhaled. Exhaled. Unclenched their hands, winced a bit at the pain. It was quiet, now, at least. They felt a bit silly. Everything they thought had been a familiar truth. No need for dramatics, no need to stress out over what was already known.

Cass glanced in Trav's direction, still unwilling to look at his eyes. Was scared to see themself reflected in them. "...So. What now?"
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We.

Worlds of meaning and implication, there. Cass was flattered, really, but Trav was being far too kind, extending such an invitation to a complete stranger. That pure trust was beautiful, but Cass knew it'd only be wasted on them. The peaceful moments they had shared were priceless, but it was better they quickly turned into a good memory and stayed that way, before Cass inevitably messed up and tainted them, shattered whatever illusion it was that was causing Trav to think so fondly of them.

Art was Cass's single redeeming factor, but it was worthless here, even if they could find a pen and paper. All they could do without it was, well, exist. Take up space, both physically and in people's consciousnesses. It was clear that Trav was a good person, so why should Cass force him to care about them? To waste his thoughts and time on a nobody, instead of any of the people he actually knew and loved?

Wonderful as it would be, people weren't infinite founts of empathy and devotion. Realistically, you could only really care about a small, finite amount of people; so what made Cass deserving at all of that precious place in a person's heart? Even Cass's dearest friends, people who did already care, like Clarice and Bernadette, were better off without them. Any time they spent concerned for Cass would be time spent not considering their own perilous states, cracked plates in their armor that anyone with ill intent could exploit; and Cass knew their friends. They would worry.

More than anything else, Cass didn't want to be anyone's weakness.

"I... think I need to rest a little longer. You should just go on without me," Cass said, making their excuses. "I'm sure you've got other people you want to be finding."
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Honestly? Cass hadn't expected Trav to resist. They'd vaguely thought that he would have come to his senses once Cass had rejected his initial offer. That he would have taken another good look at the situation, remembered what he had to lose, realized that there was really no worthwhile reason for him to stick around. Cass had been thoroughly convinced that was what should have happened, but they now realized that they'd been doing Trav an extreme disservice.

Just judging from the short time they'd known each other? Of fucking course Trav wouldn't just cut and run like that. Even if they still didn't fully accept it, who was Cass to try and forcibly convince Trav that he was wrong to care about them? If they had really, truly wanted to live out the rest of their life alone, without causing anyone else trouble; Cass would have turned around as soon as they had seen Trav on the roof for the first time.

Maybe, just maybe, it really was okay for Cass to feel happy, just for a while. It wasn't an easy concept, hell, even now they still wanted to apologize for forcing things to come to this, for existing; but they shushed those doubtful inner voices, for now. Cass had lived with them long enough that they knew everything they had to say, could probably sing and dance along with the Greek chorus from memory if they tried hard enough.

"I, uh..." Cass started, trying to verbalize just a fraction of what they were thinking. Gratitude, shame, maybe even a little serenity that'd gotten lost and found its way to Cass's brain. They settled for a simple "Thank you," which was a pitiful speck of what they really, truly meant; but was at the same time the whole of it at once, really.

Cass hadn't been entirely lying when they said they didn't want to leave the roof. It had lost most of its fairy-tale magic, even now that Jae and Vanessa were gone, but it was still the only shred of familiarity they had to cling to. Cass hadn't even looked at their map yet, so the rest of the island remained a shadowy haze in their imagination, besides the bits of it they could see from their perch on high. They would have preferred a berth in the bell tower; higher and even more artistic, but that would require too much travelling through unknown territory for Cass's tastes.

So instead, they remained on the roof, passing the time with idle chatter. Trav didn't seem to mind. Eventually, it started getting dark enough to get rid of any question of leaving, and they decided to sleep in shifts. Not that there was much either of them, even Trav, could really do against someone with a weapon and a mind to use it, but at least it meant they wouldn't die in their sleep; a fate that terrified Cass more than anything else.

They had a lot of time to think during their first watch, idly laying on their back and staring out at the stars, hearing Trav's soft breaths close by. Time to think about a lot of topics they'd been avoiding, before. The shock had lost its grasp on them, over the course of the entire day, but it had been replaced with a quiet, numb mortal dread. Cass didn't deserve to live more than anyone else did, but they didn't deserve to die either, goddammit.

Cass had never been much for religion, but they'd never been able to actively reject it, either. They didn't believe in anything specific, but they did believe in a vague something, some mysterious force that'd preserve their consciousnesses and souls after death, just because the alternative was too terrifying to even consider. They guessed they'd be finding out the truth behind it all a lot sooner than they'd hoped.

They thought of their family and friends back home, too. There it was again, their instinctual self-loathing clashing with what they knew to be true. Cass didn't often feel like they mattered, but they knew how much they meant to their parents. They didn't often feel like anyone cared, but they knew that Marco and Christine would miss them. How would they react to their death? How would they recover? Cass couldn't find the heart to speculate, but they knew they owed it to them to say something, at least.

It wasn't hard to find a camera, much to Cass's begrudging gratitude. "Uh. Hey?" They started off tentatively and quietly, trying not to speak loud enough to wake Trav. "You're... probably watching this, aren't you Marco? Maybe you dragged Chris into it too, I dunno." Marco could never leave well enough alone, and Cass had had to endure lots of well-meaning prodding whenever he felt like they were acting "weird", or otherwise down. Even though they usually brushed him off, tried to awkwardly change the subject, Cass really did appreciate it, especially now.

"First off, I know Mom and Dad would never watch this. I mean, judging by how many times I've had to help them out with their facebooks and shit, they probably wouldn't be able to find a video even if they tried? Well, like... god, I know this is a lot to ask, sorry, but you guys have always told me that I need to try and be a bit more selfish, yeah? So, could you please... pass this on to them? Even just the important bits?" Cass said, sitting cross-legged directly in front of the camera. They kept their eyes closed as much as they could, tried to pretend that their friends were right there in front of them. Tried to tune out the thousands of strangers listening to their most intimate thoughts.

"All I wanna say is... thank you. Right here, on camera, so it never goes away, okay? I'm gonna be dea- no, fuck, not going there, sorry. Okay. Okay. Just, I need you guys to know, and know forever, so there's never any doubt in your minds, okay? I love you, so much, and the proof's gonna live on, right here, forever. I'm sure as hell not gonna be changing my mind. So... thank you. For everything. For caring. For being my friends for all these years. Life would have sucked a whole lot more if I didn't have you guys, just saying. Mom, Dad, god, where do I even begin? I mean, those words kinda capture it all, don't they? At least ideally? "Mom." "Dad." You were always there for me. You always tried to understand, at least. Nothing I say can ever live up to what you deserve, but... thank you."

"I've only got one real request for you, but it's important, alright? Please. Whatever else happens, just... don't you fucking dare let anybody call me Cassandra, alright?" Cass said, spitting the name out like poison, sudden fire in their eyes. "I'm not a girl. Make sure they get it right." They sat there and fumed for a moment, letting those words echo out into the night.

From there, they spent the next few hours engaged in aimless chatter, recounting fond memories they'd shared with everyone over the years, small things they'd always wanted to say but had never found the courage to, tiny things like a cool dog they had seen last week. They didn't want to let go.

Eventually, though, Cass struggled to keep their head up and their eyes open. They knew that if they pushed it any longer, they ran a very real risk of putting Trav in danger, so soon after he'd decided that they were worth something. They couldn't let that happen. They turned to the camera one last time, sad smile on their face. "It's about time for me to sleep. This... this is goodbye, alright? Nothing good is gonna happen from here on out, and I don't want any of you to get hurt by it. So... I love you. Good night." They repeated that phrase several times before finally tearing themselves away to wake Trav up for his watch.

They hoped their sleep would be dreamless and deep.
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A Delicate Machine
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When the harsh light of morning accompanied by a gentle shove came to dissolve Cass's nightly dreamscape, they rarely remembered their dreams; and the new day brought no exception. It irritated them, honestly. What better place to draw inspiration from than a world with no rules, no limitations, a blank canvas they could effortlessly shape however they wanted? They'd looked up techniques on how to lucid dream, had tried their damnedest to follow them. Nothing ever worked. At best, they'd be left with faint, scattered impressions; like what you'd get if you drew a landscape in pencil and then erased it, staring at the ghosts of lines to try and piece them back together again into one coherent whole but it just stays barely out of your grasp, and fades and fades out of your memory until you've never even known what you lost; except for maybe stopping in the middle of the day to wonder why the hell dream-you had been so convinced that being on fire was normal, then you shrugged and go on with your real life.

None of that mattered, did it?

Cass only managed a halfhearted "Morn" at Trav before the announcement came on. They numbly listened to Tracen speak; weren't sure whether to be offended at his careless jab at them, or grateful that they'd even merited noticing. 'Unspecified gender.' What an absolute asshole, even on top of being a murderous bastard. They briefly wondered how Vinny was doing, with their ever-admirable confidence in themself, being themself, before the announcement continued.

Jae and Vanessa had been right. Nancy, Alvaro - both killers. That revelation paled to what came next, though. Cass's fears for their friends hadn't been unfounded. They were still alive, thank god, but Clarice's boyfriend had killed one of her close friends before being killed himself. They couldn't imagine what she was going through. How hard must it have been to lose someone you loved twice? Once when they became someone, something else, a comforting presence turned to mortal dread in the blink of an eye and a failing heartbeat, and then again when they themselves become a victim, when you still haven't let go entirely? All Cass could only hope was that Clarice hadn't been there to witness it all, to have those dying moments imprinted on the back of her eyelids and robbing her of any peace she could have had. Better to leave it an abstract grief.

Trav said nothing. Cass followed suit and tried not to let their distress show.

"Not yet, at least," Cass said in reply to Trav's oddly blithe remark. The food in his hand reminded Cass of their own empty stomach, and they fished their own bread out. The food and water would likely only last them another day, two at the most. What was left to them, then? Die of thirst alongside the ocean? Become vultures, picking through the remains of their dead classmates? In the end, it was a problem for the future, and Cass tried to turn their mind towards more pressing matters.

"But I'm, uh, probably as fine as I'm going to be with heading out whenever you're ready. You did say you other people to find, yeah? Not gonna have much luck if we just stay up here." They still weren't ready, not really; but if Trav (bless his heart) was going to remain with Cass, they couldn't weigh him down and prevent him from finding the people who actually mattered to him.
a tribute for the dead and dying

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A Delicate Machine
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
"Just wandering sounds good to me," Cass said in between munches. It wasn't like they had any idea on where anyone was, so no point in thinking too hard about it. Even if they did know, Cass wouldn't have been able to make the choice of what friend to rush to first, to try and calculate who mattered more to them. At least this way, the decision was out of their hands.

They ate an unsatisfying breakfast. They talked about nothing in particular. They killed what time they could.

((Then, Cass left with cautious steps and a doubtful heart.))
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