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Rivers in the Desert
Topic Started: Sep 10 2017, 11:57 AM (6,096 Views)
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((Min-jae Parker continued from When I grow up, I want to be Nothing At All))

Jae had to stop about two-thirds of the way up the stairs so that he could throw up.

His progress had been slow and shaky to begin with; the splint on his leg was coming apart and he had nothing left to fix it with, so he had turned to using the rifle as a crutch and hoping that the safety didn't turn off on its own and end up blowing off what was left of his hand. He'd had half a mind to not even get up off the kitchen floor, especially once it registered that there were going to be stairs involved in herding the last few stragglers together, but well...

God, he didn't want to die with Kimiko's corpse staring at him. Not in the spot where Fiyori had loomed over him and mockingly deemed him fit to live a few hours more.

Fuck Fiyori. He had vaguely recognized the other two names listed off, but hadn't really cared about them. If he was going to do this, throw her sarcastic mercy back in her face, he had to do it in her presence.

So he shambled along, stopped to vomit on the stairs like the kind of drunken hobo he probably resembled at this point, and then shambled on some more, slowly and painfully making his way up to the roof.

The rain was cold on Jae's face, drawing trails through the grime and dried blood on his skin and waking him up a little from the lingering warm fuzzies of the alcohol-and-painkiller cocktail he'd been indulging. He still felt sluggish, but there was enough cognizant thought now to wonder about what sort of damage he had been doing to himself and whether it had a further toll to take than he was yet feeling. Even the small amount of weak painkillers he'd had left would probably do something adverse with the drink, right?

Four people left, himself included. Jae, Fiyori, and two nobodies.

Okay, it was actually just four nobodies. But Jae was still the star of his own show, so he got top billing as the chief nobody of the who-gives-a-shit primetime hour.

He was breathing hard after forcing himself up the stairs and he shuffled to the side so that he could lean against the roof to the side of the door. Nobody in sight yet. He couldn't be the first one up, could he? Fiyori at least hadn't been in worse shape than Jae when he had last seen her.

Maybe there was nobody here at all. Maybe he had actually died in the kitchen and his body just hadn't figured it out yet.

Maybe Hell and Purgatory were the same thing and you never left.
"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 sat by the door, rifle resting across his lap. Occasionally, he thought that he could see figures moving through the rain, people that he ought to recognize. The roof was oddly sloped and peaked in places; it seemed like it might have been some kind of house before it was a hospital.

The shadows in the rain slid through his vision but didn't come any closer. Jae wondered if his body would shut down before any of them decided to approach.

He was certain now that he was dying. He had probably been dying for at least a day, maybe longer. At least since the fight with Jon, definitely since the disaster in the kitchen.

At this point, he really just wanted to hurry up and get it over with but not yet, not yet. Not until Fiyori was in front of him and he got to see the look on her face when he snatched the opportunity out of her hands.

Jae opened his eyes. He wasn't sure when he had closed them, or if he had nodded off.

There was a figure moving towards him through the rain, a shape that he only vaguely recognized. It wasn't Fiyori.

Jae didn't have anything to say to her as she drew near, watching her with silently questioning eyes.
"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 supposed that he probably looked like an easy target as Candice drew nearer, though she still looked uncertain. She hadn't killed anyone, if he was remembering correctly and the last announcement hadn't been mostly a fever dream. He considered whether she might be trying to work herself up to kill him until she went and opened her mouth.

Ah.

Candice was a dumbass.

Good. The shock of encountering someone with anything approaching something like common sense at this point might have actually, literally killed him. He wasn't quite prepared to die like that, at any rate.

"Yeah," he rasped. "Yeah. 'M doin' fucking great." It took more effort than expected to raise his voice enough to be heard over the rain.

"Whataya want?"
"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's brow furrowed in irritation. His eyes threatened to close again but he kept them open, watching Candice with a half-lidded, vaguely disdainful gaze. "That's my name, don't wear it out," he drawled.

Was there a point to her questioning? Probably not. Maybe she was trying to psych herself up to kill him - did he have more on record than Fiyori did at this point? He wasn't sure. Anyhow, maybe Candice had decided to just lay in wait until the end and then take out whoever she deemed the biggest threat. Jae doubted it, doubted anyone who would walk up to a half-corpse and ask if they were okay would consider anything approaching strategy.

Maybe she had beef with him because he'd killed a friend of hers. Maybe she really was just deadass stupid and wanted to make conversation when she ought to have shot him in the face as soon as he opened his eyes and confirmed he wasn't quite dead on the outside.

Jae might have been able to articulate these points to her if his tongue hadn't felt so heavy with the lingering effects of alcohol. But fuck it, who really cared about her ulterior motive? He didn't.

He gathered himself to speak again, words slurring slightly. "If you're gonna kill me, hurry up. I don't have anything t'say to you."

He wondered where Fiyori was.
"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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Candice was not hurrying it up.

"I've killed five people," Jae offered. "Y'know, if that helps."

Why Jae ever thought to rely on other people to get things done for him, he didn't know. Would've made more progress just holding his mouth open and waiting for the rain to drown him.

There was movement in the corner of his vision. Someone approaching.

He knew that shape, that half-formed nightmare.

Maybe he wouldn't have to wait on Candice after all.

Jae gripped the rifle and used it as a crutch, levering himself to his feet.
"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 didn't return Fiyori's greeting, didn't stop to wonder if she intended to toy with him or Candice or whatever else it was that Fiyoris did.

His fingers felt slower than he wanted, clumsy, his left hand still dully throbbing in pain with every movement, and he thought of that for just a second, thought about how some parts of him would never be right again no matter how he ended up and he could have screamed if he'd had the energy and enough air in his lungs




but he didn't.



Clumsy slurring thoughts and the rain running down his face and for an instant it felt like a dream-


He found the safety, and the rifle came up. Fiyori only deserved one answer. Jae wasn't interested in whatever she had planned.

He didn't take the time to aim, firing somewhere over Candice's shoulder at Fiyori and not caring whether he hit Candice in the crossfire or if that finally motivated her to shoot back at 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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Nobody fired back at Jae. Nobody seemed all that interested in killing him right at the moment, ironically enough.

If you want something done right...




He didn't like having his back to the wall, waiting on whatever bloody conclusion Fiyori and Candice would inevitably come to. He could guess what it would be, but he wasn't going to wait around and watch.

Moving as quickly as he could - which was not very quickly, between his leg, impaired balance, and the wet roof tiles - Jae started limping away as soon as Fiyori's attention shifted.

He didn't have a plan. He just didn't want to be cornered again.



It was cold out here.




The scream pulled him back to reality, made him realize that he had even drifted away from reality in the first place, and Jae slipped.

As the world tilted, he was struck with a sudden, terrible certainty that if he fell, he would never get back up again, and it wasn't time yet, he wasn't ready yet-

He flailed with the rifle, trying to use it to catch his balance, and a stray shot rocketed off somewhere to the side, sending up a small spray of chipped tile as it went. The muzzle of the rifle went down into the ground again and Jae doubled over it, grasping the butt with both hands and panting. Still standing, barely.






"...Oh. Hey."

There was rain running into his eyes, but he recognized that shape. Maybe the scream too, now that he thought about it.

He wondered if he seemed crazy now, finally. Probably.

A gun went off a short distance behind him. He didn't turn to look at who might have taken the bullet. All the focus he could muster was fixed in front of him. Everything was coming back around in one way or another.

Or maybe that was the crazy talking.

"I..." Jae forgot was he was going to say as he tried to say it, licked his lips, and tried again.



"I forgot your name."
"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, that was a response. Second gun in a few minutes that he'd had pointed in his face. Jae swayed, clinging to his own gun for support as he stared down the new gun's barrel. He didn't trust his balance enough to try raising the rifle again.

A weight on his shoulder was gone, and Jae dug through his fuzzy thoughts to come to the conclusion that he had left his bag, with the crossbow and his remaining supplies, back near the stairwell when he left Candice and Fiyori to their fight. Just the rifle, which was more use as a crutch than a gun at this point and... yeah, the knife.

Jae absently patted himself with his bad hand until he located the shape of the knife still tucked into the back of his belt. The small jolts of pain that shot up his arm seemed to be fading. Maybe he was getting used to them, or maybe he was losing feeling in his arm.



It took another minute or so to realize that he hadn't said anything back after the gun was pointed in his face.

It was... getting hard to tell just how quickly or slowly time was passing.

"I remember you," Jae clarified, words slurring. "Jus'... not your name."


Come to think of it, had he ever learned this kid's name in the first place? He'd probably known it around school.



It had been a million years since he was in school.



Once again, Jae only realized that his vision and hearing had gone out of focus when they returned to normal, zeroing in again on the boy with the gun.

Would he pull the trigger? He hadn't yet. Like Candice. Seemed like the only person who actually wanted to shoot him was the last remaining person that he wouldn't allow.




"You gonna sh.... shoot me or what?"

Killed five people. Would've killed you too. No reason.



Come on.
"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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Did Jae care that everyone was dead now?

Maybe. In a way. He wouldn't have been drunk and half torn to pieces, asking people to shoot him, if he didn't care. Fiyori seemed more likely to be the one who didn't care.

There was more gunfire back in that direction, though Jae barely registered it.



If Jae hadn't cared, he wouldn't have shot Lily for the crime of watching Asha die, or Brendan for daring to live when everyone Jae loved was gone.





"I do care. That's why..." Why what? Why everything.


It made sense inside his head, but the words to explain were gone even as he grasped for them.





"What..."

Was there still a gunfight going on over there? Was someone dead yet?




"What're you gonna do, since you care?"




Who gave a fuck about Fiyori and Candice? The world was Jae and the other boy now, their mutual caring that did nobody any good. And Jae was still standing.

"If you don... don't shoot me, I can shoot you."

A reasonable offer.
"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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"I think," Jae said. It took a moment to remember what he thought before he continued.

"I think if you were gonna do it, you'd've done it already."

Even so, he reached out and wrapped his good hand around the barrel of the gun, steadying it so that it pointed directly at his face. He could be helpful, sometimes, if he felt like it.




The area had quieted. He hadn't gone far from Fiyori and Candice, but the peaks and slopes of the roof and the pounding rain had helped him slide out of sight.

Maybe someone was dead now. Maybe someone else would be dead soon too.

But whoever was left would catch up soon.

Even if he had been able to run on his bad leg, the footing would be too treacherous. If he was still standing when the victor arrived, escape wasn't an option a second time.




If the finger didn't tighten on the trigger, they both knew how this would end. Fair's fair.




And all the while, the predator out for Jae's blood prowled closer.
"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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Nate couldn't do it.

Jae had hoped. Some time before, he would have been angry with Nate for making him hope, but there was nothing inside of him now but the last few scraps of stubbornness and spite to cling to.

Nate had let him down, and though he had hoped, he had also expected it. He knew how to respond.

Nate couldn't do it, but Jae could. He'd proven it five times over.





He never got the chance to lift the rifle.

Fiyori hit Jae like a train, and he offered all the resistance of a rag doll. The breath was driven from his lungs as they crashed to the tile together, the gun flying out of the grasp of his mangled hand without his good one there to steady it. It tumbled off somewhere among the peaks and valleys and weeds, long gone by the time he grasped for it again.

There was an instant of pressing, crushing darkness after the collision, and then Jae was torn out of his fog and into a dazzling final rush of fury and pain. His numerous injuries sang with deep, dull pain, and he breathed again. Jae twisted in Fiyori's grasp with a hiss and sank his bared teeth into the nearest part of her.

He didn't know what Fiyori intended to do, but he wasn't about to make it easy for her.
"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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The punch wasn't especially powerful, but Fiyori's knuckles dug into the raw, split skin of Jae's cut cheek and what little breath he could draw in was exhaled again in a thin screech. He gave back to her an elbow in the gut, equally weak and equally vicious.

They rolled over the slick tiles, Fiyori clinging to Jae's back and pressing close like some kind of gross mockery of a lover's embrace. She was wounded, bleeding; Candice had hit the mark at least once.

Fiyori struck him again, another ripple of pain through his head, and he reached back with his good hand to grab a fistful of her hair and yank as hard as he could.

Dorothy's knife was still stuck through the back of his belt, just out of reach.

All he needed was some distance.
"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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Cheap shot.

Jae yelled and lost his grip on Fiyori's hair, though his fingers were still entangled and surely pulled at it painfully one last time as he tried to jerk away. Fiyori held fast, though. There was nowhere to go.

She kept hitting him, almost regular spikes of pain that faded into a dull throb, but she wasn't doing any real damage.

She was toying with him. Just trying to hurt without making any progress.

Growling with frustration, Jae elbowed her again. She wouldn't let up, and hitting back wasn't doing any good.

Instead, he reached back, fingers questing until they found the warm wetness of blood where Candice had shot her, and dug in.
"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 almost didn't register the gunshots until after they had already echoed and faded. He was momentarily preoccupied with relief that Fiyori had stopped hitting him in the crotch.

Fiyori's grip loosened and he wrenched himself out of her grasp.




The gunshots echoed and faded. Jae just breathed and waited for the follow-up.




Maybe it was a case of "better late than never".

Go on then, with your epiphany. Tell me.

Show us.
"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 almost could have appreciated that.

All of it. The anger, the conviction, the look in Nate's eyes as he stared them down, reminding them that they were nothing.

Jae understood.

They weren't quite the words he himself would have chosen, but the sentiment rang true:

Fuck all of this. Fuck everyone involved in it, and especially the people who had put it in place. No more playing by someone else's rules.

Live and die on your own terms.

Nate had laid out his terms.

Jae would do the same.

The decision almost a lifetime ago: Jae wasn't going home.




And neither was Fiyori.

Fiyori began to move and perhaps to respond, but Jae moved first, pulling the knife free from the back of his belt and levering himself up to lunge at her.
"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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