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How Easy it was to Lie to Strangers; (Private)
Topic Started: Mar 3 2017, 03:58 PM (550 Views)
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"Nadia."





((Min-jae Parker continued from The Scarlet Garden))

Jae tried to keep his shivering under control, but the temperature had been steadily dropping for the past few days, and now his hair was damp, as was his shirt. The privacy afforded by the underside of the bridge had been worth the annoying scramble down and even more ridiculous trek back up the slope by its side; the water hadn't done much for the bloodstain down the front of his shirt and the saltwater had stung like hell in all of his myriad injuries, but he was clean-ish for the first time in nearly a week now and soaking his shirts had at least done something for the smell. Re-doing the splint on his leg had been an issue, with only the tape from Samuel's first-aid kit to use, and it was a bit loose now. Not as good as when Vanessa had done it, but it was holding him up. Something had felt loose in his shin when subjected to his first actual exploration of his injured leg since the first day, and though Jae was no anatomy expert, he knew that shouldn't be the case.

When he finally dragged himself back up to the bridge, he had seen her. Even with her back turned to him at a distance, Nadia was instantly recognizable.

She turned at his call and he took a hesitant step forward, absently working his jaw. He had taken all his piercings out; the skin around them was starting to get irritated thanks to six days without removal or cleaning. His tongue felt odd without the weight of the barbel in it, and he kept running it over his teeth expecting to feel the familiar click.

He had reflected on the announcement while bathing. Alvaro was dead, and there was an about time. Michael was dead, and there was an I told you so. Lizzie Luz was dead, and though they had been in school together for a good six or seven years, all he could remember of her was the sight of her tear-stained face as she huddled in the radio tower shack.

Lily Caldwell was an interesting name, more for when and with whom it had been announced than for its own merits. He filed it away along with the other important ones.

None of it felt good like he had thought it might. Alessio and Isabel were still alive, and he still intended to make sure that stopped being the case if (when) he saw them again, but then he would still be here and half-crippled and Henry and Asha would still be dead and Hazel would still exist in that nebulous space where they would probably never see each other again.

But Nadia was here. His last friend.

It was obvious that she wasn't exactly thrilled to see him.
"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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Well, wasn't this just a warm and fuzzy reunion. It wasn't like Jae hadn't expected it; out of everyone he considered friends, Nadia gave him the most shit and he gave it right back. It was how they got along. The fact that she hadn't outright rebuked him was almost like welcoming him with open arms under normal circumstances.

Normal circumstances. Now, her face was deliberately expressionless and her voice guarded.

He moved forward, grimacing as the bridge creaked. Crossing it the last two times had been bad enough - if he had any cause to go back to the other side of the island again, he might just take the long way around. Keeping a grip on the staff for balance, his steps were slow enough that they hopefully made it clear he wasn't a threat.

"Scraping by, yeah. You could say that." His voice was still hoarse, but not as strained as yesterday. Nadia looked like she had been doing a bit better than scraping by. Funny to think there might be anyone in an enviable position when they were all in the same shithole, but there it was.

"What about you?"
"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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"Heh." It was a sarcastic exhale of a laugh. "Tell you what happened. Haven't you been paying attention?" No, no, he knew what this was about. Yet another person poised to pass judgment on him, when they hadn't seen what he had to see, done what he had to do. But it was still Nadia, still the last friend he had anywhere, so Jae wouldn't blow her off completely.

"Alvaro happened, and then Samuel happened, and then Alessio, and Michael, and Isabel and that little bitch helping her out, and Brendan, and Caedyn, and Jasmine." Jae bit off the end of his sentence sharply, not entirely on purpose; his teeth were starting to chatter. "Asha and Henry are dead. That happened."

Jae's eyes drilled into Nadia, searching her for any hint of a reaction. Asha and Henry had been her friends too. They deserved more than some veneer of cold composure.
"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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End them. She made it sound so simple. Jae was momentarily taken aback, both at Nadia's phrasing and how bluntly she got to the point. She hadn't changed either, it turned out.

He had expected her to ask him why. The answer would have been "Does it matter?", and that probably wouldn't have satisfied her. But did it matter? When it was all over, everyone here would be dead except for one, and it wouldn't matter what they died for.

Jae recalled his words to Caedyn from yesterday and felt a hot rush of shame. I got my one. He hadn't meant it, or hadn't thought that he meant it. But he had said it, and then the thought wouldn't leave him alone. All it took was one. How many people were left now?

If he went home, would anyone even want him back?

Would it really be better to fight for the chance to pick up the pieces, when he could just hit the reset button and start over again from the beginning?

Obviously, he was still here, so something was winning out. Whether from cowardice or defiance, he was still alive. And one was all it took, but that wasn't his plan at all, was it?

"Yeah," he said finally. "When I find them... yeah." No questions asked, no reasons why. Jae might not be playing to win, but he could make sure that some of the people who were didn't get there.

"They deserve it."
"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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"Samuel was..." A mistake. Random, senseless violence. Self-defense. The worst mistake of his life.

At least if he hunted someone down with intent, he would be consciously making a choice.

"It was dark. He shot at me. We fought, I won." Jae sighed and fought back another shiver. "That's all."

"I"m not... I won't pretend it was the right thing, but he did start it."
"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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She... got it. Jae let out a breath he hadn't realized it was holding. No accusations, no further grilling. Nadia got it.

"I was heading for the vehicle depot. I... left some stuff there. Hazel and this Jordan guy might be around there too, that's where I last saw them." More fudging, but he had already spilled his guts about all of this to one person. He didn't need to do it again and Nadia most likely didn't care to hear it. He adjusted his grip on the walking stick when Nadia gestured to his splinted leg. "I've been making it around okay, I guess. It's just slow."

He managed a faint smile. "But if you want to stick together, that's fine with me."
"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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Jae nodded and made sure he had a sure grip on both the crossbow and the staff as he started walking again. Nadia agreeing to stick together for a while didn't lift his spirits as much as it should have. One last friend to cling to until one or the both of them died, that was all it was. What a bitter thought about friendship.

He wondered if her thoughts were as morbid. She seemed to have gotten through the last few days relatively unscathed, despite running into both Brendan and Caedyn and even bearing witness to Caedyn's killing someone. Running into Alvaro right off the bat had shaped his entire stay here, leaving him with a half-wrecked body and a deep mistrust of almost everyone he came across. Most of the time, it had proven justified.

Jae glanced over at Nadia as they made their way across the bridge in a not-quite-comfortable silence. She had slowed to keep pace with him, absently turning the table leg that was her makeshift weapon over in her hands, expression unreadable. They had always been similar, but on different enough wavelengths that it was difficult to guess what was going on with each other a lot of the time.

"What are you thinking about?"
"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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"Because people are shit, Nadia." It came out harsher than intended, but that particular sentiment had been building up ever since he first woke up here. There were the people like Hazel and Asha who kept trying to see the good in others or ease their passing, but when it came down to it? The students of Cochise had more than proven what sort of things polite society was just holding back day to day.

"People are shit, they've always been shit, and they always will be. We didn't need fucking Murder: The Reality Show to prove that to anyone!" Jae swung his arms wide to indicate the island all around him, narrowly missing Nadia. "Think about any one of them: are you actually surprised someone like Isabel would kill and that she gets a kick out of it? I've seen her - she's having the fucking time of her life. Fucking Michael Crowe talking big like he's some kind of action hero and then hiding behind someone when he might actually have to put his money where his mouth is, Brendan thinking he can just say 'sorry' and make it all better when he stabbed someone in the back - they've all been like this their whole lives, every single one!"

Jae's voice had been steadily rising as he went on, pouring out the thoughts he had kept to himself around Asha and Dorothy and had no audience for afterwards. "Most of them probably wouldn't do anything like this in real life, maybe none. But they've made their choice here. That's who they are, really. That's the point the sick fucks that put us here are trying to make, I guess, like we really needed proof that humans are assholes."

He stopped for a moment, breathing hard. "I don't care why any of them did it," he said finally. "The important thing is that they did, and they're going to fucking pay. Every single one I can get my hands on."

It was the first time he had said any of it out loud, the first time it was more than dark thoughts when he had no distractions. I've got my one was a sick fucking rationale, and it wouldn't be his. He wouldn't let it become the truth. After six days here, Jae was just starting to come to terms with the fact that, in all likelihood, he wouldn't be going home. Even if he did, he couldn't see anything in the future but desolation. It hurt, it hurt like hell to even consider either option. Jae still didn't know where he would end up, body or soul, but he knew how a few stories were going to end if he had anything to say about it. He could endure Hell knowing that others were there who deserved it just as much, if not more, and that he had put them there.

Nadia's expression said everything he needed to know about what she thought of his outburst. He turned away.

"Let's just go."
"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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There was a movement in the corner of Jae's vision.

He paused, started to turn and ask what was up, and as he turned the sharpened end of the chair leg tore into his side.

People kept proving him right in all the worst ways.

Jae let out a short, sharp yell of pain and swung the crossbow out like a bludgeon, feeling the impact as he stumbled back. He lost his balance and fell backwards, landing hard on his ass, the staff clattering off to the side somewhere.

In the confusion, he half-saw, half-sensed Nadia reel back and go for another swing, and he jerked the crossbow up and fired.
"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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God what was happening, why this, why now-

Nadia sat up.

Oh god no please I didn't mean it

That was... it wasn't fatal. She was getting up, she would be fine.

They would kill each other.

Nadia was hurt, badly, but she was still getting up faster than Jae could. He let go of the crossbow and scrambled backwards out of her reach, not bothering to respond as she made some quip. He could hear the pain in her voice. He could see the blood running over her fingers.

Jae reached for the baton in his belt, keeping his eyes fixed on his last friend, who had betrayed him.

"Nadia-"
"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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"Wait-!"

But then she had disappeared over the edge of the bridge, before Jae could even reach out to her.

The only sound on the bridge was the rush of the water and the distant crying of gulls, slowly over taken by Jae's incredulous, half-hysterical laughter.

Wasn't it fucked, that the last thing he ever expected now was for someone to own up and let go peacefully?

He pressed his hand over his mouth, but he couldn't keep the laughter from bubbling up. It was everything coming apart at the seams, now that he was out of tears and his throat still too raw to scream. Jae slammed his fist into the bridge, feeling the skin on one of his knuckles split and start oozing blood, before letting himself fall back and curl onto his side, the other hand still pressed over his mouth, still shuddering with hysterics.

Fucking Nadia, of course she got to go out with her middle fingers up and on her own terms. And she had forgiven him. His last friend, whom he had murdered.

You couldn't ever take anything back.

...He had to keep moving. God, if nothing else, be a selfish dick and think about how fucking cold it is up here. Once his shaking laughter had subsided, Jae crawled over to where the staff had rolled and used it to work himself back up to his feet. He moved to retrieve the crossbow but paused, and then picked up the table leg Nadia had been holding instead. He could see his blood on the sharpened edge of it, and the cut along his ribs stung in reminder.

"See you around," he muttered, and tossed it over the edge.

He stared after it for a long time, but he eventually turned away and gathered his things up, resuming his trek to the other side of the island.

Whatever choice he ended up making, he doubted Nadia would consider it the right one. None of his friends would, most likely. But he had made his bed, and he would have as many lifetimes as he needed to deal with the consequences after the fact. Just so long as he did something in this one that counted.

That was a choice too.

((Min-jae Parker continued in I know my soul's freezin', Hell's hot for good reason))
"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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