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Thanatophobia; Day 3, Afternoon - Open
Topic Started: Nov 12 2016, 08:01 PM (1,198 Views)
Aloha
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((Jasper Bustamante continued from St. Patrick’s Purgatory))

He hadn’t found his peace.

Peace was a word often combined with quiet, but the oppressive silence of loneliness was anything but. After leaving the girls at the cove, he wouldn't see another person for a full day. He supposed he would have been considered lucky. After all, he hadn't seen any enemies. But it also meant he hadn’t found any allies, either.

He couldn't stand being alone. He needed company. Not like the girls at the cove, who only caused him grief. He needed to find allies, people who hadn’t let cynicism or bloodthirst get to them. But Fire Girl’s voice kept coming back to him as he kept on.

”What’s the point?”

The point didn't need to be grand or complex or even that altruistic. Jasper didn’t want to die alone, that’s all. He just needed hope, a last light to cling to before it was all over. Somebody like Henry, who could let him live his last moments in peace. Someone who proved that there was still some good in a godless place like this.

But his hope wavered as dawn came. The announcements came, bringing with it the names of the dead. The names meshed together in Jasper’s mind, as he couldn't tell who died and who killed. To him, they were all people from school, people who didn't deserve any of what happened to them. People he'd never see again.

For such a large building, Jasper hadn't seen anyone else while inside the asylum. He was beginning to feel uneasy as he traversed the halls. By his estimates, between seventy or eighty of his classmates were still alive. Where had they all gone? Was nobody else in the asylum, or even on this part of the island? The thought of being the only person in the building was nauseating, to say the least.

He eventually stumbled into the group therapy room, looking for a place to rest. He collapsed into one of the chairs, looking around at the empty ring. This had once been a safe place, where someone could share their fears and insecurities with a group. But Jasper was decades late, and there wasn't a soul around.

He leaned back and sighed, staring up at the ceiling. Maybe somebody would show up.
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Ciel
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"That’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler.”
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And that's when the door flew open and -

(Audrey Reyes continued from Hideaway.)

- oh hey she didn't know anyone was in this dump.

"Holy fuck!"

Suffice it to say Audrey stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes went wide, she took a step back. She damn near tumbled over her own shoelaces. Her hand took hold of the door frame though so she ended up sorta slumping against it.

"Jasper!" Audrey let out a gasp of relief. It did not sound particularly relieved. "You scared the crap out of me!"

Audrey straightened her shoulders. She furrowed her brows together and she narrowed her eyes at Jasper. Audrey felt suspicious, though the life of her she could not determine why. There was really nothing to be suspicious of. It wasn't like Jasper was restricted from this area of the asylum or whatever, employees only. It was just, like, it was WEIRD. And kind of creepy. Sitting around in a big room all by yourself. Had Jasper been trying to sleep? No way was he getting any in that chair. The floor looked more comfortable!

Maybe it was just the shock of finally running across someone and not having a clear cut way to avoid them. There were probably worst people to stumble across. Jasper was harmless -- at least, Audrey always figured he was harmless. He looked harmless. The logical part of Audrey's brain made it clear that looks weren't everything. But, like, she had her nunchaku. If Jasper tried anything she could just boink him on the head and run away.

She felt her stomach churn for what felt like the tenth time that day -- and the sun was still out! Well. Sorta. The sky was turning to shit, which was why she sought shelter in the asylum. Whatever, semantics.

"What the heck are you doing in here?" Audrey asked -- then, with a swift clearing of the throat, "Did you come in here to beat the rain? Because it looks like it's going to start pouring."

How's the weather on Butcher Island Audrey? Oh, so-so, y'know?
V6

G052 - Reed, Jasmine - 0% - Falchion - START END
G060 - Pfeiffer, Scout - 100% - Sawlaska Thunderfuck 5000 - START
G025 - Reyes, Audrey - 0% - Nunchaku - START END

releases greatest hits album, is an one-hit wonder
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frogue
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[Raina Rose and Johnny Ray McKay continued from Needless and Pins]

A change’d come over Raina. She was colder, Johnny thought. More professional in a way, though what that professional was he couldn’t say. Survival, perhaps, where your wages are paid out in hours, and you only have to fuck up one little order to get fired.

As long as she kept it together it didn’t bother Johnny.

He’d asked his brother, once, why Tom still kept chasing Jerry. Didn’t he know he could never catch him? Darren had asked him whether it mattered, and Johnny had taken that as a brother’s dismissal of a stupid question and left it alone. As Raina withdrew though, keeping more and more to herself, Johnny found his thoughts turning to Darren more often.

Did it matter, whether Tom thought he could catch that fucking mouse, or not? He’d always thought that it did, that Tom had to think he had a chance or he wouldn’t try, he’d just give up, right? Why bother trying something if you know, if you know you won’t succeed?

Now, Johnny saw things differently. What else was Tom to do? He didn’t have a job, he didn’t have friends, it didn’t seem like he really had hobbies, either. Maybe some cats had goals and dreams, but this one certainly didn’t He was waiting out the clock, basically, and when you’re waiting out the clock, you may as well do whatever. Even if you know it won’t work, even if the chance of success is tinier than the tiniest feather on the tiniest wing of the tiniest sparrow, because, still… maybe, right?

Could Raina get them out of there? Johnny had told the others she could, not that him saying that had stopped them from running off and getting themselves killed of course, but he’d told them. Anyone else they’d meet he’d tell the same, though for the past day it had just been the pair of them. He’d have told Raina that too, had she asked, though she was saying less and less and the days drew on. Could he tell himself that, though?

Johnny couldn’t. There wasn’t a way out, they were going to die here, any sane person would realize that, and maybe the fact that Raina hadn’t said she was further gone, more deluded than he wanted to believe. He kept following her, though, because he liked her, he liked her company, because nobody should die alone, and because, still… maybe, right?

Going after the tiniest chance was still better than sitting around, watching Jerry eat all your cheese or whatever. If anything could be done, it was worth doing something.

He’d seen mice running through the corridors. The mice were running, not him; Raina and he moved slowly, making as little sound as possible. The mice were long and skinny, shaped like furry little sausages, and looked nothing like Jerry.

Johnny missed his brother.
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Jasper jumped at the doors flinging open, instinctively shielding himself. The newcomer’s voice was loud, but it was surprisingly friendly...and somewhat familiar. Jasper slowly lowered his arms and peered at the person. Audrey was another junior he was on fairly good terms with, but they were never friends. But in times like this, his standards of friendliness weren’t particularly high.

“H-hey,” he squeaked out, trying to relax and ease back into the familiar flow of conversation “Is it supposed to rain today? I wouldn’t know, since I’ve been in here for, uh, about a day now.” Jasper straightened up in his chair, trying to appear casual. “I’ve just been hanging out here, taking a break, yanno?”

Jasper may not have been as lively as usual, but he still was genuinely happy to see her. She’d been the first person he’d seen since yesterday morning, and she already seemed like much less of a downer Junko and Fire Girl had been. Exhaling, he forced a smile and looked at Audrey.

“How about you? What’ve you been up to?”
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Johnny had been uncharacteristically quiet for the last day or so, Raina thought. Maybe it was the dwindling responses he could get out of her and the lack of anybody else. Maybe he was just doing his best to keep it all together and keep soldiering on, like she was. She didn't want to ask and open that particular can of worms.

They worked their way down to the first floor of the asylum, which they'd bypassed on their first day. Raina wasn't sure what, if anything, they'd find in this old shell of a building, but it was better to scour the place now than overlook something essential. There had to be something on the island. She had an inkling that threatened to become a certainty - the first Danger Zone had been the supply depot, and now the utilities compound. There had to be something there, for the people pulling the strings to keep them out of those places one after the other. Raina wasn't sure if she and Johnny could make it to the supply depot before the next day, but that was the next stop on her list once they finished with the asylum.

There was still frustratingly little here. It wasn't like she'd been expecting some kind of technological treasure trove, but this place was still supposed to be like a hospital, right? A leeches-and-lobotomies style hospital, yes, but still a hospital. There should have been something. She was loathe to return to the basement, but if all the equipment was there...

But she'd think of something. She would.

Raina was so lost in her thoughts that she'd almost reached the group therapy room before really registering that voices were coming from within. She scolded herself to pay more attention, to not get so wrapped up in the details this early that she ran them right into disaster before they accomplished anything. One step at a time.

A glance at Johnny with raised eyebrows only got the expression mirrored back at her, and Raina nodded more to herself than to him. The voices sounded calm, if not relaxed. She placed one hand on the door and pushed it further open. "Hey... hello?"
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Oh.

The way Jasper responded made Audrey shrink back, as though she were somehow imposing on hanging out in a room all by yourself. He's been here a day though? Maybe Audrey overreacted. Maybe he's been wandering the halls, searching? With the shock of running into someone the way she did dissipated, she relaxed. Her shoulders loosened. She smiled a sheepish smile. Gosh, she made things way more awkward than it needed to be. It was like she was back home!

"Well. It's gonna rain. At least, I think it is. You how it is."

Audrey did not, in fact, know how it was. She didn't even know what she meant by 'it'. She felt a little guilty about being so suspicious about Jasper of all people. Okay, Audrey, stop. She breathed in through her nose. She walked further into the room, dropped her bag onto the nearest seat she could find. She exhaled through her nose. Audrey did this two more times, in, out. Gotta compartmentalize, compartmentalize, compartmentalize.

Audrey turned back to Jasper. Her smile was easier, felt lighter on her face. "A break? Heck, we all need one of those. Don't mind if I join you?"

She had the nunchaku out, spinning one end around slowly. She spun her head around, attention focused on the open doorway. She was about to answer Jasper but now she had -- someone else? She recognized the girl in the half-open doorway. Not her name though. It's hard to forget that shade of cobalt.

"Oh?" She waved at the girl with her free hand, since her other hand was busy being tangled with the chain of the nunchaku. "Hey, what's up? We're just chilling! Jasper and me! I just, uh," she turned to look at Jasper, "just spent the past day exploring the island and haven't really... talked to anyone. And Jasper's been... here. I guess.

"So... Hey!"

She waved before realizing she just said hello to the girl. Ugh.
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Audrey decided to plop right down next to him, and Jasper was glad she did. It was a little too presumptuous to presume that she'd buddy up with him immediately, but then again, it was the best course of action in a situation like this. Audrey was friendly, and that was enough to make them allies.

Or at the very least, good company.

But the company soon turned into a crowd. Jasper heard the newcomer before seeing them, and he was glad for that. He recognized the girl's voice immediately, and if he'd seen her, he might've mistaken her for another blue-haired girl.

A much scarier blue-haired girl. Jasper pushed the thought out of his head.

"Raina!" He shouted, grinning as he waved. Another familiar face, and to his relief, a friendly one. He couldn't recall talking to her a whole lot, but he did remember eating at Cheryl's with her and their sisters. It was a fond memory of his, and he tried his best to forget the fact that it wasn't going to happen ever again.

"Yeah, we're just chilling. You could always join us, y'know," He added, gesturing towards the other empty seats. The old adage 'the more the merrier' applied to this situation.

But so did 'safety in numbers'.
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Back in high school, back in the real world, Johnny had always struggled with probability. With math as a whole, really, but there was something in particular about odds and percentages and all of that which eluded him. Shit just happened, didn't it? All shit did was happen and nobody saw it coming, and the people who sat around afterwards and told themselves "oh, there was a 17.86% chance of that occurring" were just fucking liars, as far as Johnny was concerned. Nobody'd seen this coming, after all.

Johnny's uncle'd been a gambler. He still was, Johnny supposed, though he took a strange and savage pleasure in thinking of Uncle Toby in the past tense. His father's brother had never been a fan of Johnny, nor Johnny of he, and Toby was one of many things in this life that Johnny was looking forward to being rid of. Would his death affect his uncle, he wondered. He hoped it would.

Toby'd been a gambler, Johnny recalled again, bringing his thoughts back on track. He would study horses and jockeys and trainers and quote odds like scripture. He'd spend day after day and paycheck after paycheck down at the track in Phoenix, and for all his efforts and money and research, Johnny wasn't sure if he ever got a single dollar back.

No, Johnny had no faith in probabilities and even less in his own ability to calculate them, but he'd tried his hand at one nonetheless and the results did not make him happy.

Twenty kids had died, give or take. That meant there were eighty or so of them left, and of those eighty, twenty were murderers. That was one in four, he could do that math at least, and when Raina opened a door to two voices, as far as Johnny could figure it the odds of someone in there being a psycho was basically... what? 50/50? They weren't inspiring odds, but Raina had forged ahead anyway, and Johnny slipped into the room after her with a half-hearted, almost sheepish wave to the couple standing inside.

What the fuck, right? His calculation'd probably been all wrong anyway - he could run it by Raina later, to double-check, and what was the worst case scenario anyhow? That they died?

Shit, they were basically all dead already.

It was Jasper and Audrey in the room. Names and faces he recognized from Cochise, though if his life depended on it, Johnny couldn't've paired personalities to match with them. He hoped it didn't.

As far as he could recall these weren't names that'd come over the announcements, though Johnny'd hardly been making much of an effort to track those names, which was stupid, clearly. He added that to the mental list of things to talk to Raina about.

Later. When they were alone.

Johnny'd tucked a cigarette up behind his ear on the walk over. It'd been Raina's suggestion not to light it, not wanting the smell to attract any attention, but now they had attention already and Johnny needed something to put his nerves at ease. He put it in his mouth and lit it, inhaling deeply.

As he had with Aiden, Johnny held out the pack to the room. Sure, his supply was finite, but he'd always felt it was good karma to share your cigarettes, and right now he needed all the karma he could get.
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The relief she felt was a surprise. Raina couldn't help but smile at Jasper's bright greeting; a tired and faintly strained smile, but still a smile. Familiar faces, friendly faces, faces which belonged to people that she knew were smart and at least somewhat capable. It was probably the best encounter they could hope for right now.

"Hey Jasper, Audrey," she said, raising her hand in a half-wave back at them. "We've been looking around for supplies, actually, haven't been up to much. I dunno about taking a break yet." More sitting and doing nothing would become more excuses, more putting off her responsibilities. "I don't suppose you guys have found anything really useful around here, huh?" She asked, wrinkling her nose a bit to express her distaste for the old building. The labs in the basement nagged at the back of her mind again.

Basement, supply depot, utilities compound. She brought the map into her mind, drawing a little dotted line from destination to destination. There was a radio tower in the utilities area, she remembered. Probably useless, probably picked clean by anyone who had come before them. But if she could get her hands on something like a radio elsewhere and get it to the tower...

She didn't voice her plans. Cameras and microphones everywhere, and she didn't want to have to answer questions on the fly when people started poking holes in her ideas. Like they had come up with anything better.

"...Have you seen anyone from the robotics club? Penny, Al, Lily? Johnny and I have been on our own since the first day." Since Beaks and Scarlett ran off to Nancy and her axe. An unpleasant knot twisted in Raina's stomach as the realization that she would never see Scarlett again settled over her. Where had Beaks gone after that?

She did her best to keep her face neutral. Don't dwell on it. Big picture.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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He heard voices.

((Alvaro Vacanti finally came out of the closet))

Silent, at first. He didn’t hear them. He wasn’t aware. Then they appeared; quiet, with every step making them louder and louder and louder. He had jumped, when he first heard them, because there were people nearby. Who were they? He didn’t know. What were they doing? He didn’t know. He didn’t know what they were planning or what they were going to do and he didn’t know if he knew them or if he didn’t know them or if they knew him or if they knew what he did and all the possibilities all the things that could happen they all played in his head as he stopped and heard the voices and his hands shook and clutched the gun and he didn’t know what to do he didn’t know how he’d do this who were they what were they doing he didn’t know he just needed to- no.

He shook his head. Clutched the gun harder. Took a couple steps forward. There were people in there. He had a gun. He had to do it.

But could he?

He didn’t know.

But no. He had to. He knew that. He killed Barry. They knew that. They were going to make him pay for it. Even though he didn’t mean it and even though all he wanted was to just undo what he did and bring him back he knew they wouldn’t listen to him. They were going to be like all the people who saw him before. All the people burned into his mind. Min-jae. Scout. Lily. Jonathan. They hated him for what he did. Everyone else did, too, and they going to make him pay for what he did. They were on the right. He was on the left. They were all around him, so he had to act first. That was what he told himself. That was one of the hundreds of things ingrained into his mind and one of the things he knew he had to listen to now. Do. Use the gun again. He had already done it before and failed, and now he knew that he had to succeed with it.

But no, he couldn’t. They were people. They were just like him, weren’t they? They were scared and they were tired and they had likely fought just like he had.

He shook his head, as he took more steps forward.

They probably were.

But he had to.

He was on the path that he had led himself. He had to see though what he had done. He killed Barry, and he knew that he had to do it over and over again. That was his punishment. That was the only way he could get past, get away from what he did.

He couldn’t, but he had to. He just had to be brave. Stand up.

Do what he needed to do.

He was right next to the doorway at this point. The voices were loud and clear now. They were familiar. People from before. Maybe they were his friends. Maybe they were his enemies, from before this happened. He didn’t know.

He closed his eyes. Clutched the gun. Opened them, again.

He had to do this.

His body spun, as he stepped into the doorframe. The gun raised. The gun pointed.

The sight of a friend he once knew made the gun quiver.

“...Jasper?”
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((Taking over Jasper with Aloha's permission.))

Jasper realized how chilling, how offset it was that he'd thought of Raina and the unfamiliar boy following him as 'safety'. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of framing his time left on Earth like that. He didn't like pinning the remnant ethereal wisps of hope's flame and warmth that he hugged close to his chest onto an idea as violent and alien as 'safety'. He wanted to trust these two, so he would. He'd trust them as earnestly as he could.

"Uh, thanks, but I don't smoke." Jasper definitely couldn't see himself starting now. That awkward rejection aside, conversation seemed easier and more familiar by the second. "Well, if that's what you guys have to do." Jasper knew that was Raina's prerogative. Next she asked for any leads. "I haven't seen anything, no." It was a bit unfortunate that he had nothing to offer in terms of information. She asked for more, for people this time. He didn't know much about the robotics club or it's members, maybe he recognized some of the names, but he hadn't yet met a soul from their ranks. "I don't think I've seen any of them, sorry." Jasper's voice struck a note of earnest sympathy as he recalled everything he'd suffered after losing Arthur and Henry. The loneliness, the primal fear of the dark he'd had to nurse. "I'm so sorry you guys haven't been able to find your friends yet. I know how awful it is, wandering around without allies..."

There was someone still outside! Jasper glanced their way, ready to greet them. Maybe they were friendly. Maybe even a friend. Maybe...

“...Jasper?”

"A-... Alvaro!"

It was a genuine laugh that Jasper greeted his old friend with. Genuine, but pained. The first thing he could think of was those familiar raw nerves, those adrenaline spikes he suffered around things that were like weapons. Sharp kitchen knives. Arthur's not-so-real paintball gun. Jasper feared that the gun pointed at all of them was all too real. He was staring right down the barrel almost, right into the void that was like the one that hid behind his eyelids.

He forcibly mastered the impulse of fear with flips of his stomach that were queasy and desperate. Alvaro was his friend. Jasper knew Alvaro had appeared on the announcements once before, with a kill to his name. But. Jasper also knew that Alvaro was sweet, kind, almost painfully shy. Jasper knew that he was a good worker and always had something to say when Jasper stepped into his cafe. Jasper knew that Alvaro was pretty and beautiful and Jasper had never had the courage to say that to his face. Jasper knew the island made them all suffer. Those who died. And those who had killed them.

So he extended his hand, gently as he could.

"Alvaro, hey." Maybe, some tiny part of Jasper mused, this was where he proved them wrong. Fire Girl, Junko. "It's me, Jasper. You're safe here, you can put the gun down." They didn't believe there was peace left in their lives. They didn't believe that there was even point left in their lives. "Just like at your cafe, right? You don't always have to be working and worrying." Jasper believed, with whatever he could muster to defy all the odds, that they were wrong. "You can take a break. C'mon." Jasper patted a spot near himself, keeping his eyes firmly soft, gently inviting.

Yet another familiar face he was pitted against. Jasper hoped against all hope that he'd win the battle this time, without a single shot fired.
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His name was the first word to break the silence.

A laugh. His body tensed. It was different, he knew, but there was still the feeling that it had. The meaning. The idea behind the words. Jasper was friendly. Was. He didn’t know now, anything could have happened since he had woken up that could have changed anything and Alvaro knew that and Alvaro didn’t help that and he knew that Jasper could have changed and he knew that Jasper had changed just like everyone else but he didn’t know. Good or bad? He wanted to believe. The laugh was familiar. The laugh was different from all the others, from the bullies and the jerks who Alvaro knew laughed at him. Used him for what he had. No. Jasper wasn’t like that. He was a friend. He was a teammate. The laugh was different. It wasn’t at him. It was…

Was it? No, couldn’t be. There was nothing to laugh at. There was nothing to laugh with. Why was he laughing, then? What was he laughing at?

He didn’t know.

But the silence was once again broken. More words. A smile. It didn’t matter. Jasper had laughed at something before, but that memory could leave. It didn’t matter. Jasper was here. Jasper was Jasper. He wasn’t like Lily. He wasn’t like any of the other people he knew who were put on the speakers. He was here. He was him. He didn’t know what Jasper had done, he didn’t know what had happened to Jasper, but he could believe, he could let down his arms, he could finally find comfort and happiness and rest and peace and maybe things could be okay again maybe he didn’t have to play this game be on this island maybe he didn’t have to do-

Cold room. Water at his feet.

A friend. Two. In front. Gun pointed.

He could have, they were friends. They were friendly. He could have let his arms down.

A shape, charging towards him. Familiar.

A friend, who knew.

A friend, gone.

A friend, standing in front of him.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Breathe in, breathe out.
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Jasper couldn't make sense of Alvaro's heavy, troubled breathing.

But no, he could.

Jasper realized each breath, each tremble, was a pained one. Alvaro was suffering, just as much as any other kid on this island who was alone and scared and thought that God had forsaken them. When Jasper had felt at his lowest he'd been alone and without a soul to share the burden of the fear with. And heaven help those others who dealt with that. All those people from his school who dealt with that, every single one. Even those faces who had already come and gone, back on the beach. They were all without friendship and alliance. All they knew was the world around them that was hostile, the voices of terrorists who declared their sins so cruelly and mercilessly.

Jasper's heart was racing, from zero and through the glass of the speedometer. It was some sort of divine revelation, he realized. One that carried the barbs of terror and adrenaline that burned his veins from the inside out. But maybe that fear was somehow clarity. And it was also the courage to do what needed to be done.

To reach out. So Jasper's hand stayed outstretched as an offering even as he began to stand slowly from his chair. "I'm so sorry Alvaro. I know how afraid you must be now." He knew he couldn't try to signal surrender. If he did anything with his hands besides offer them in good faith it would tell Alvaro more than words ever could. It would tell him that Jasper didn't trust him, when that was now the furthest thing from the truth. "No one is trying to understand you, to help you." Really Alvaro and Jasper were no different. All they wanted was someone to hear what they had to say. A friend, the sort of friend who knew being a friend meant being there no matter what. That, Jasper knew, was what he wanted to be. Here and now, for Alvaro.

"I just want to listen, Alvaro." Jasper was fully standing now. Still smiling as loud as he was speaking, so his voice and his intentions rang clear as possible. "I know there's so much you need to say but you don't because you're afraid no one else will try to hear you out, but I will." And once more Jasper remembered those quiet moments in the cafe, and Alvaro's equally quiet voice, and the quiet patter of a heartbeat in his ear. "You know I will. It's what I've always done for you."

It was so strange. Jasper swore he'd never felt this strong, this confident before. All the weakness and the timidness was melted away. All he'd had to do was open his heart, and realize the most important thing was to not leave others to that horrific fate of being alone.

Some part of him still drunk on reptilian instinct screamed that the others could ruin his efforts. Audrey, Raina, Cigarette Guy. Even without intending to, if they did even one thing misguidedly out of the wrong emotion like fear...? But no, Jasper steeled himself and knew without knowing that he could trust them.

They were good company.
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His hands were shaking.

His body was trembling.

Jasper’s words hit. His smile - his voice - was felt through Alvaro. Jasper was his friend. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t pull the trigger. He knew he had to and he knew that there wasn’t any way he couldn’t but his finger couldn’t move and his body couldn’t move and he knew he had to but he couldn’t but he knew and they knew and he knew he was on this island and he knew he had to play this game but it was like before. This was Nate. This was the room downstairs all over again. He couldn’t do it. He knew he couldn’t. He knew that. He knew that he had repeated the fact a billion times in his head but it was the only thing there. It was the only thing he could think of. He knew he had to but he couldn’t and as the gun stood in front of him it was the only thing within his mind.

He had to do it.

It was easy.

He had done it before. Twice. Shot once, killed once. He had done it. He knew how. He just had to

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. Jasper was there. Jasper was smiling. Jasper was speaking to him. He had to shoot he knew he couldn’t do anything else he knew that putting it down was pointless but Jasper’s voice was right there talking to him telling him that it was going to be okay and he wanted to believe it above all he wanted to be okay not on this island not playing this game but he knew he couldn’t and he knew there wasn’t any chance of it being okay and he knew that he had to do it. There was no choice. He had to. Even though he didn’t want to he knew that it was something necessary.

He had to do it.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Breathe in, breathe out.

He forced himself to look, before he did it. The finger wasn’t pulled. There was still a chance. There was still a time, to look into his eyes. Let Jasper see his. Let Jasper see what he wanted, before he did it.

But there was a sight. Familiar, past Jasper. Someone he had seen before. Someone who he had met before.

Audrey.

Why was she here? Why was she with Jasper? What did she think of him? What did she think of what he had done?

What did she think about what he was about to do?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know what the answer was and he didn’t know what to think and he didn’t know what to do and he couldn’t he couldn’t do it he couldn’t fire he couldn’t kill Jasper. He knew that now. He knew what he had to do.

And slowly, the gun lowered.
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And just like that the whole situation had gone, as Raina's older brother might put it, tits up. It was a good thing she hadn't launched into some grand explanation of her not-quite-plan, actually, because getting shot in the head in the middle of a pompous speech was pretty far up there on ways that she did not want to be remembered. That was a politician's death.

She'd frozen up as soon as she saw Alvaro with the gun. In a way, that was good. It gave her time to assess the situation, since apparently there was a situation to assess and not just a drive-by (run-by?) shooting going on here. So. Alvaro, gun, his name on the announcements. Looked like he'd taken a beating, looked half an inch and some nudging from getting his name on the announcements again. And Jasper - sweet, well-intentioned Jasper, Raina didn't think she'd ever have pegged him as brave before this - stepping forward to try and save all of their miserable lives.

And the craziest thing? It looked like it might work.

But "might" wasn't good enough.

Big picture. Pragmatism isn't cowardice. High-risk, high-reward doesn't mean much if the only reward is not getting filled with bullets.

Slowly, very slowly, Raina slid one step back away from Alvaro, Jasper, and Audrey. None of them noticed. Good. She shot a glance over at Johnny, trying to make sure they were on the same wavelength. He knew a little something about guns, didn't he? Not that it would come much in handy if he wasn't the one holding it, she supposed. Raina had never actually seen a real big gun like this up close, and all she needed to know about it was what happened if it was pointed at you when someone pulled the trigger.

Still keeping her movements slow so as not to attract attention, Raina reached over and grasped Johnny's bony wrist. There was another exit behind them, not blocked by Alvaro like the first one they'd come through. At an angle, they might be harder to hit.

Raina looked back at Audrey and Jasper. She liked them. She didn't want them to die, not like this.

Let them go.

Without saying a word, Raina spun and ran, dragging Johnny out the door with her.

They weren't far gone when the gunfire exploded behind them.

((Raina Rose and Johnny McKay continued in Coward Mont Blanc))
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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