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The Twilight of Our Youth; Endgame is here.
Topic Started: Nov 29 2012, 12:31 AM (2,980 Views)
CondorTalon
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this avatar satisfies me so well
[ *  *  *  * ]
It burned.

Karl had not realized his mistake until it was too late. He was too aggressive. He let his guard down. He shouldn't have paused. So many justifications ran through his mind like empty chatter, that were quickly taken over by the pain in his stomach. His breathing became ragged. He blinked. He coughed. His hand felt so hot, but everything else felt cold.

He had to finish this. That's it. It wasn't over yet. He could still win. He brought his fists down again at Nick, but this time his hands felt sluggish, his punches didn't have the same impact.

This won't work. I need... I... need...

He broke away from the boy on the ground, standing and backing away before quickly falling to his knees. He only had one destination.

His gun.

It was okay. He could still win. It wasn't... over... yet. He shuffled towards the gun on his knees.

He fell onto his hands, broken shards strewn across the floor cutting his hands. But that didn't stop him. He just had to get his gun, and he'd be fine.

It was getting harder to breathe, to move. His vision was fading, but... he could still see it. He was inching forward now, on his stomach. His pace slowed with every movement. His thoughts were slowing. But he was almost there.

He just had to get his gun.

He just...

had to

















His right hand finally found the barrel of the gun.

B03 - Karl Chalmers: DECEASED
EVERYTHING I TOUCH DIES!!!

Second Chances V2:
Clair Belvedere - Box of Condoms - Hanging back in Earth Sky From Venus
Christopher Schwartz - Macuahuitl - Catching his breath in I Jumped Out and I Pranked Him to Death with a Tire Iron

The afterlife
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Rattlesnake
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I used to be a player-hunter just like you, 'til I took a shotgun to the knee.
[ *  *  * ]
I've won, then.

That was the thought that occupied his mind's stage, twirling and dancing as his knife sliced deep, forcing any other rumination back into the wings as the blood came trickling down over his hands. Karl broke off while again and again he repeated the words to himself, hoping they'd somehow sink in. He'd won. That was that. Done. Finished. Achieved everything he'd set out to do. Karl was dead, and he wasn't the only one, oh, far from it. And an innocent was still alive, which meant-

He interrupted himself to watch Karl die.

He'd seen it all before, of course. Made it happen over and over. It wasn't even something that should catch his attention any more. They all gasped and sputtered and crawled and bled their guts out in the end. And they'd all deserved it, that he could say firmly where all else was uncertain. They'd all known what it was to kill and then gone ahead and killed again. Except Sally, of course. And they'd all turned right around and gone straight to shooting. Except Adam. But they'd all done it in sound mind. Except Jennifer. Nothing they'd done had inspired any pity from him, at any rate. Except April. If nothing else, they'd all meant it personally. Except...

He swallowed that thought, and his gorge, and looked at the freshest body on the island, fingers clenched around the barrel of his gun. The surge of longing nearly overwhelmed him. They were at the end now. The finale of the finale. The 50% of the 10%. And it could have been any one of them. Sally, Jennifer, Karl, the others, they'd had the drive and the means to be exactly where he was at that moment, except maybe they wouldn't have screwed it all up and gotten themselves killed in their last struggle. Yet he didn't blame himself. Couldn't. He pushed himself up, forcing his body into a crawl and then a kneel. It wasn't personal, at least not when it counted, the harrowing chases and firefights where all bets were off and only one could walk away. He'd thrown himself into trouble, he rationalized, and when trouble came knocking he'd knocked back. And at the end, at the raw, bloody end, they were all fighting for the same thing. Could you really blame anyone? And if you did, what did that make you?

How nice and self-servingly poetic it would be for the murderer murderer to die with his last murder. But that wouldn't do, not at all. There wasn't any blame, not on himself and not towards anyone else. And they hadn't blamed him. Wanted to kill him? Oh, certainly. But they'd had their reasons. And he wasn't just like them, because he was working for something else. Someone else.

At the end, I'll meet up with whoever comes out on top, and they'll get to go home, as long as they've killed at least one person.

There was one last order of business. If he simply bled out, it would all be worse than pointless. One more murder had to occur, or nobody was going home at all. He pulled the revolver out of his pocket and immediately ratcheted back the hammer. It was a symbol more than anything. Like as not it wouldn't be needed, but he didn't know if Megan had scavenged anything useful. He could only hope desperately that she had. It would make it all so much easier, so much less complicated. And that smooth cocking action was a symbol. There was one way to reverse it, and it meant action. He was committed now. He couldn't falter now, he told himself, and he had even halfway convinced himself. He had life to respect.

And so he moved back towards the his only other company. He wished to walk after that saccharine declaration, but his knee wouldn't cooperate. Crawling felt so bloody melodramatic, but you took what you could get. Drawing himself back up, he cupped his hands around his mouth against the vast, sound-eating expanse of the mall.

"Megan? Megan! I think it's just- It's just us now.

Just, let's get this over with."
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Casey the Undead
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[ *  *  *  * ]
Everything lasted for ages and flew by in seconds.

There was shooting and shouting and swearing and then there was nothing at all. Megan felt her breath stop, felt herself gasp involuntarily.

She remembered, briefly, a conversation with her brother. He'd pointed out that his least favorite thing of all time ever was when people would be hanging out in large groups and slowly disperse one by one, and whenever there were two left, one would turn to the other and go "And Then There Were Two" in a sinister voice, and "goddamnit Megs, if that isn't the worst, laziest joke ever written I don't even know what is."

And yet, here Megan was, clutching a gun and hiding in a corner, and all she could think was -- And then there were two.

Megan didn't know who won. She didn't know who was left standing out there, in the silence. If it was Karl -- if it was Karl he'd be on her any second, killing without mercy. If it was Nick --

Megan didn't know what would happen, actually, if it was Nick. She had never killed anyone before, but she couldn't tell if that was an advantage or a disadvantage. Every line was blurred and grey, and everything around her was silence.

There was a quiet, selfish part of her that wanted whoever was left to be dead already. The fight had sounded bad, so bad, she'd thought she'd heard bones breaking and so many gunshots that maybe they were both dead. Maybe they'd killed each other, and Megan could emerge from behind the wreckage and go home and sit in her bed and never, ever come out again.

In the silence, she heard Nick's voice.

She bit in the inside of her cheek to keep herself from sobbing. Maybe she could hide, forever, maybe she could find a way to cheat the game. Maybe they could both walk away. Not that Nick even deserved it, not that any of them deserved it. What was worse, killer or coward? Someone who fought tooth and nail to live, or someone who bumbled through by luck and misfortune of others? Both rode to the finals on the backs of dead friends, so the question came down to one simple thought: killer or coward? Both were poison. There was no winner, Megan thought, not really.

There was no winner, but there was living, and Megan had always been fond of that.

She took and breath and stepped out into the open, gun held in front of her, ready to shoot.

Nick looked like shit. He looked half-dead, broken in a dozen places, his body held all sorts of wrong, covered in blood that was probably mostly not even his. Megan's secret selfish wish didn't seem so far off, she thought. Maybe now it was all a waiting game.

She stared at Nick for a second, at a loss for what to say entirely. She swallowed thickly, straightened her posture, met his eyes as best she could.

For all this game had done to them, for all the blood they wore on their sleeves, Megan knew one thing: they were goddamned civilized people. Karl may have needed a gunfight to go down, but Megan and Nick could do this the right way. They could have a conversation. They could be peaceful, or peaceful enough, at any rate.

"So," Megan managed, voice cracking. "How does this go, now?"
Edited by Casey the Undead, Apr 13 2013, 09:52 PM.
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Rattlesnake
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[ *  *  * ]
He raised the gun in one shaking hand.

"Only one thing left, isn't there?"

Beat.

"We reject it all and go frolic in the woods like civilized people."

He let the barrel fall back down, let his mouth twitch into a smile that was really a grimace. It went without saying that that course of action was off the table, but it was so nice to think about. He had, at any rate, hoped there would be some small relaxation at the end. A murder a day, that was the rule. Which meant a day of rest, a day of peace, a day to get everything in order and prepare themselves to go their separate ways with no regrets. They'd probably get a warning to hurry it up, of course. And maybe it was better in the end that events had conspired against that route. The chilliest region of Hell would still burn you - or the other way around, maybe. Wasn't the lowest level supposed to be bitter cold?

He shivered. And not, for once, because of any unsettling thought. His head was starting to spin as well. Not a good sign. You could only delay the inevitable a short while, it seemed. It may even then be too late for it all to work out, he thought, depending on if Megan was up for cooperation. She had her gun, though, and that was good.

"No, one of us murders the other. Can't go home without someone on your belt." He paused, trying to compose himself against the ever-rising tide of agony flooding in from a dozen bleeding wounds. "And quickly, if you don't mind."

Something about the words just felt all wrong. Or maybe, he reflected, not simply wrong but not quite right, either. He was holding back where he should be honest, did it without even thinking about it. That stupid semiformal tone he never dropped. It felt like a barrier now, not just some idiosyncrasy. A dying man should be able to speak smoothly, directly, shouldn't he? He opened his mouth to try again.

"It all just sucks, doesn't it? I'd kill - well - screw it, I'd kill someone for a nice pillow, or a good hug, or a freaking proper grave." That felt good, cathartic, cutting through the situation like the knife on the floor beside him. It was a wonder he could keep his voice remotely level, but maybe he was just past that. It was such a bloody inconvenience to go warbling and crying all over the place. One he didn't have time for. He looked down at the pool of who-really-knew-whose blood, and back up again.

"If we don't hurry, though, I'm Karl's kill."
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Casey the Undead
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[ *  *  *  * ]
Nick let his gun lower, and after a second of hesitation, Megan did too. There was no point in Clint Eastwooding all over the place, was there? They were civilized people. They could have a civilized conversation, and then one of them could die.

Megan wanted to cry, but she bit her lip and told herself to be brave. She'd spent her whole life crying. No point in crying her way to death, too.

Nick was dying, or at least he would be without proper medical attention. He knew as much, Megan knew as much. Nothing to be done about it. He was also right about the rule Megan had forgotten -- she couldn't win by default. There was no such thing as an unmarked victor. Nick had racked up his kills, but Megan hadn't, and if she wanted to go home she'd have to pull the trigger at some point.

Her finger twitched involuntarily. The gun, pointed at the ground, did not go off, but Megan could feel the hammering of bullets in her heart, anyways.

"Hugs," she said, trying to distract herself. "You know, I'm pretty shitty at most things. Like, hey, couldn't ever figure out Calculus. European history was mostly a mystery. Don't even talk to me about Covalent bonds, or whatever, every science class was, like, a total mess. And, fuck, even Murder Death Island here -- I fucking sucked at this too!" She bit out a laugh that sounded half-mad. "God, the only objective of the game is to hurt people, and I couldn't even do that. Guess you really can't weaponize a biting sense of wit, huh?" She coughed. "But, uh. Hugs? I've always been pretty good at hugs."

She held her arms out a bit awkwardly, aware that Nick was probably just hyperbolizing or something. Because, really -- who wanted to hug the person who was inevitably about to kill you?

"If you really wanted a hug, I mean, I could do that, that much I can do, even if I can't save anyone or hurt anyone or help anyone, even if I'm useless all of the time, and I don't know what the fucking noble gasses are to save my fucking life, I can hug you. I can do that."

Megan knew she was crying, even though she had wanted to be brave, because Megan was weak and sad and pathetic, as always. Because Megan cried at the news when little kids got hurt or when people got shot or when bad things happened. Because Megan cried at Tumblr posts about cancer patients, and Facebook photos of newlyweds. Megan cried and cried and cried and she hugged and hugged and hugged and she never did anything worthwhile in the interim.

"I'm really glad that we know each other," Megan found herself saying. "Because, like, it probably seems like this would be easier if we were strangers, but. I don't think it would be, not really. Because." She paused. "Jesus Christ, Nick, I'm really scared right now. I'm really scared and if you were a stranger I would be so, so alone but --"

She looked at him, wiping the tears from her eyes with her empty hand. "But I'm not alone, you know? We're not alone. We're together." Her voice broke. "At least we're together." And then Megan was full on crying, tears pouring down her face, hot and salty and embarrassing. She rubbed her eyes, trying to gain some control.

Megan took several shuddering breaths. "Jesus. Jesus. This is so fucked."
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Rattlesnake
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[ *  *  * ]
Nick looked back up at Megan as she said her piece, concentrating on etching that final scene into memory, attempting unsuccessfully to blink back the haze descending before him. He felt so cold. And he'd left his jacket behind, back in a place where he could never go again. Now there, he thought, was a concept. Thinking about that bloodstained arena with remembrance bordering on wistful. But there, and he struggled to maintain a thread amongst his thoughts, was someone who'd deserved it. Deserved it, and a heck of a lot more. But she didn't hate him for taking it all away, or so he hoped. So he'd decided, because indecisiveness just got you killed. He'd go in her place to the final conflict, and he'd fight for both of them.

But he was so cold.

He cocked his head at Megan, at the offer she'd pronounced with her voice verging on hysteria. How could he deny that sort of comfort, hospitality? The bare hint of a smile crept across his face. Someone who didn't explicitly want him dead was a novelty, legitimate caring a discovery too precious to turn away from.

"I wouldn't mind."

He put his arms out, folded them around Megan and let her reciprocate. She was warm. He pulled her in, squeezed her. Maybe a bit too tight if his muscles were even capable of that any more, but she wouldn't mind just like she didn't mind the filth down his front, the blood on his hands. She was glad to be there. With him. He half-expected the eagles to come swooping in to save them, to provide the return journey neither of them had truly anticipated. None showed themselves, of course. There was only one ticket out, and they were both painfully aware of it. They were together in that instant, but all too soon they'd have to part. Quickly, he reminded himself. The agony radiating from his leg and half a dozen other places besides was threatening to overwhelm him, rising and rising like a room filling steadily with water. They had to act soon - it may even then have been too late.

"Fuu-augh..."

He panted heavily, pulled back and let his arms fall away. His gun, still in hand, impacted the floor with a hearty thunk. He groaned, shuddering, the burning pain tapering his swear into a strained gasp. They were only hurting themselves with that display, but it hurt so damned good. A nod of acquiescence was all he could give to her evaluation of it all, but he had his own proposition to lay down. That they move on, get it all over with. Get to the last part of the whole thing. The part with the murder. He was so bloody cold, but he knew he could follow through, knew what to do if Megan could do it or if she couldn't. There was just one question, one final question that needed answering.

"Ready?"
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Casey the Undead
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[ *  *  *  * ]
Megan winced as Nick groaned. Of course hugging him was a pain in the ass, of course the one nice thing she tried to do all game was more hurtful than anything else in the end. What else was an apt summary of her life? Hurting people with hugs, that was the fucking Jacobson way.

Nick looked her in the eyes, and asked if she was ready. She didn't know if she was, really. She didn't even know what she was supposed to be ready for. Killing? Dying? Waking up in her bed and realizing this was all some twisted, fucked up nightmare? How was she supposed to answer that question? Ready? No. No. No one ever is, right? Ready. Not ready to die, not ready to kill, not ready to take the first step into something new and scary and unknown. You do what you have to, and you step where you need to step, but no one is ever ready for the moment that changes their life. It just happens. 3, 2, 1, ready or not, here I come.

Megan held up her gun, trying to keep it level at Nick's eyes. She needed to say something, she knew. This was it, this was her movie moment, this was the Oscar Winner right here. This was, quite possibly, the last thing anyone would ever say in this game. She had to make it good, right? Make it matter?

Naturally, all Megan could come up with were other people's words, movie quotes recycled from AFI lists and Prime-Time specials. Tom Hanks was crouched in the mud in WWII, grabbing Matt Damon by the lapels. You gotta earn it, James, you gotta earn it.

You gotta earn it.

You gotta earn it.

Now what, exactly, did earning it even entail? What was defined as "earning it?" Who could judge that, who held the meter that determined whether you'd earned it. God? Like Megan had ever believed in God, nonetheless a merciful one who gave a shit what she was doing with her life. Society? What did society know about right and wrong? It differed in every place, it changed with every tide, with every century. Who the fuck got to say if she earned it, if Matt Damon earned it, if Nick earned it? Who the fuck got to the decide that, because real talk, Megan had some words for them.

Like, first off -- what the fuck is the point of life if you're going to die young and violent? What's the point of every good deed Megan ever did if went sour right after? If sparing April meant watching others die, if forgiving Nick meant having to put a bullet in his brain? And secondly, if Megan had to earn her life by killing another person, what was the point of society at all? Why not just go the Hobbes way, brutish and short? Why bother making people puppets to goodness if the only answer was stepping over other peoples bodies so you could be happy?

What does earning it entail? Did Megan earn it by not killing anyone? By not doing anything? By not being helpful, or smart, or clever? By not trying? By sitting on her ass and sobbing? By watching as Glen died? Sure, she sang him a pretty song, and let him die a little bit loved, but he was still dead. He, who fought harder than Megan ever had, he was dead. Was that earning it?

No.

No, it wasn't.

Megan still held her gun level at Nick's eyes. Nick. Nick. Nick. Nick who'd fought. Nick who'd tried. Nick who killed killers, who hugged her even when it hurt him. Nick who was dying, who was sitting here and dying because he'd gotten up to fight Karl while Megan had ducked behind a corner and put her fingers in her ears and begged for it stop. She'd sat by and honestly, truthfully hoped that two boys she'd once called friends would murder each other so she could go home and die and shitty shame-filled coward.

Nick who fought, and Megan who hadn't.

You've gotta earn it.

This was it. This was the Oscar Moment. Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. This was Megan's chance to go home, or to say something brilliant, or to be something brilliant.

She looked at her gun, all bright with bullets and safetys and recoils. Something bitter crawled through her, bitter and cowardly and oddly freeing.

"You know," she said hollowly, "I don't even know how to use this thing."

She met Nick's eyes. She lowered her gun. Her fingers uncurled, and with a clatter it fell to the floor.
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[ *  *  * ]
Nick hesitated. One second, three, a few too many. Megan raised her gun first, pointed it right at his face. A sudden compulsion washed over him. It had been good that she'd had that gun. He hoped she'd had one all along, because it gave him a nice excuse to use his own. But now, at the very end of it all, leaking blood onto the floor and gazing down a barrel so close he could see the rifling, the desire to kill was suddenly absent.

Truth be told, he'd never really fired first. Oh, he'd gotten the first swing or popped off a couple potshots to open things up, but there had always been some nice excuse. A gun or a sword in his face, the sound of automatic gunfire and a target coated in blood. He had, to put it simply, been on his back foot when hostilities arose. Watched the situation build until there was no other reasonable course of action. Maybe that was what stayed his hand now. He was looking into Megan's eyes as she was looking into his and trying, trying and obviously failing, to find the guts to pull the trigger. Anyone could kill when their back was to the wall, but to look someone right in the eyes and squeeze off the round that would take the life from them, that was a whole new level of courage. One, looking back, he had to admit that he admired. Perhaps it was just a matter of respect. The murderers he'd murdered, they'd taken the initiative. They weren't spineless. It was only right, then that he show the same resolve. It wouldn't be right otherwise. It wouldn't be earned.

Everything else was just instinct now. He'd found his peace, his reason. Maybe he wouldn't be so disappointed if Megan pulled the trigger now. He wanted to live, wanted it more than anything else because what was there to enjoy without the life to enjoy them with? His heart hammered, spilling even more of his precious blood through his shoddy tourniquet. Sweat trickled down his temples. There was no peace at the end of the barrel of a gun, even if there was understanding. Despite his body's doubts, he knew what happened next.

The gun wavered, dropped from Megan's hands with a clatter that barely beat out the incessant whine in his ears. She couldn't do it, brushed it all off with a statement that was half apology, half solemn declaration.

"That's fine," he said softly. "I never expected you to."

He wasn't sure if that was good or bad now. Maybe it just was. She was no killer, that was abundantly clear. She hadn't the audacity, the courage to step over than moral line. Or maybe she was right, and Nick was going insane. Maybe dying innocent was better than living a murderer, and he was so far down the rabbit hole he'd turned it all upside-down just so he didn't die of cognitive dissonance. But in the end, there were two types of people on the island. Those who killed, and those who couldn't. And he knew exactly where they both stood. But even as he readied himself, prepared to follow through with what he'd planned since the girl in the hotel had died in his arms, he had respect to pay. One final, unadulterated truth.

"It's been... well, it's sucked horribly. Better than it could've been, I guess."

He raised the gun to her temple and pulled the trigger.
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[ *  *  *  * ]
There's a lot of things Megan might have thought, if she'd had any time before the bullet hit her brain.

After her gun fell to the floor, there was a split second of heart-wrenching regret. Here she stood, throwing her life away when so many others had fought tooth and nail just to die. She shook it off furiously, unable to let it consume her. There wasn't time, there wasn't anything left in her for regret, for coulda, woulda, shoulda. She had dropped the gun. She had let go.

It was time to let go.

Nick understood, of course Nick understood. There was a level of strength involved in pulling a trigger that a girl like Megan could never have possessed. Nick understood, and he was going to kill her, but it was a mutual agreement. It was a compromise.

She, bizarrely, thought of Abraham Lincoln. I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. Her Dad had loved Lincoln, the way History lovers with Civil War fascinations could only love Lincoln. Megan had mostly been apathetic before, but she got it now, she thought. He had a good point or two, in there. She was ending with a friend, not an enemy. Never an enemy.

None of them were, in the end. Not April, or Karl even, or anyone. They could not be enemies. As much as Megan didn't understand, could never have understood before, there was a sudden, painful clarity in the moment before death where she could see it laid out before her. Not enemies. Never enemies. Desperate, struggling kids, in a world without happy endings. Kids who did what they had to do.

Nick pulled the trigger.

If Megan had time, she might have thought about the ever-expanding mess of the universe, how little she mattered in the grand scheme of things. She might of thought of her parents, of Nick's parents, of all the parents in the world kissing their children goodnight and laughing in parks and crying and dying, all over, again and again and again. She might have thought of music and love and laughter, or of Heaven and God. She might have thought of all the kids in her class who lost this game and vanished into the ever-expanding universe.

But bullets travel fast, and Megan didn't have the time. She blinked, and she was dead, crumpled onto the ground in a pool of her own blood. Vanished into the ever-expanding universe.

I am loath to close.

Everyone is, really.

G11- Megan Jacobson- DECEASED
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[ *  *  * ]
The smell of sulfur in the air lingered longer than Megan's life.

Nick's hand wrenched cruelly backwards. His wrist cracked like a whip. Every muscle not already knotted in agony tensed in sudden shock as he brought the gun to life for one final time. In the same instant, when the jolt of recoil was sunk into his joints and his fingers were unraveling already their grip around the gun, he gave a shout, not from any unexpected jolt but rather from the depths of fear, for it seemed in that instant that a new competitor had appeared. An unknown force with one desire and one desire only, to smash him round his throbbing head until his vision flickered black and he drowned in the panic of it. But his breath came in, sharp and pained, and it went back out, squeezed through gritted teeth, and he knew he was alone except for the body that folded limply before him into a puddle of itself. The rolling blast, too, echoed out and died in the expanse of the mall and then only the pain and the blood and the ringing of his ears kept him company.

He stared down at what had a second ago been Megan. Two seconds ago. Five. He sat and he watched and he marveled at the swiftness of it all. She'd been gone before her body even started slipping sideways through the still air. Gone before she could think or scream or cry, before her brain could register the metal slug tunneling through it. He'd seen it before, far too many times already. The division between life and death, where a mind flickered out for the very last time. A soul still in reach of his fingertips if only he knew where to grab for it. It was haunting. Terrifying. Disgusting. And now... fascinating. How vulnerable they all were. How resilient. He stared and bled and tried and failed to count his wounds but there he was, still sitting, shivering, whimpering. And for the girl before him, just one flickering instant. That's all it took. A burning hole through the weave and structure of synapse where her mind had made its home, and suddenly Megan wasn't anywhere at all.

Nick shivered, and then he started as the speakers crackled to life one final time.

"Congratulations, boy number eight. You've won the game."

He started at the sound, turned and looked dizzily up for the words that came from nowhere to interrupt his reverie. The sound was muffled and indistinct in his ear, as if it were coming from underwater, but there was no mistaking the voice that haunted his waking hours and narrated his nightmares. The only constant on the island other than the smell of blood. The man behind it all, and his sickening jovial tone. This time he spoke directly to Nick, and his voice carried the unmistakable note of amusement. A game, he called it, and that more than the possibility he'd just won the man a bet sent Nick shivering. His fingers were stiff and white and the warmth of his body was dripping out over the floor, but it was the last truth that hit him harder than he could bear.

Danya continued after a brief pause, spilling out instructions in an uninterested tone. "The extraction team is currently making their way toward the North entrance of the mall. Should you be unwilling or unable to meet them there, they will be able to find you by the signal emitted from your collar." Another pause, and then a measured, personal aside. "Now, their job is to get you out alive, and we're running on a pretty tight schedule there. So unless you're feeling like a martyr, I suggest you get moving while you can."

Nick looked back down at himself. The edges of his vision returned. He had no illusions as to why he'd been asked to hurry. There was no hiding it, no denying it, no pretending otherwise if he wanted to get out of the battlefield that was quickly becoming a tomb. No qualms or issues about going along with any command the men who'd made him a murderer handed down if there was a chance it might help him get out alive. The ache was there again, and if it rose less sharp between the fire in his leg and the deadness in his chest, it made up for it all in quiet desperation. His goal was there, his real honest goal, if only he could force himself to reach it. Fall down seven times, stand up six, and drag yourself the rest of the way on your knees if you had to, just as long as there was something on the other side to reach.

He grabbed onto the floor and heaved himself forward. Then he stopped and looked around, and tried to fight the feeling of rising panic. Things looked a bit different from the ground, but even from his usual vantage he had no notion of which direction lay where. He knew where he'd entered, but was that East or West or somewhere else entirely? The bag, he thought suddenly, and braced himself for the trip past Karl's body.

"Your other north, Mr. Reid," the voice cut in dryly. "That's the way you came in, since you asked so nicely."

The noise of the speakers cutting out was beyond his hearing, but he supposed they must have gone with that parting shot, leaving him all alone once more. The only living human on the entire island, in fact, unless the extraction team was already lurking around. It sounded like they weren't, given that they apparently hadn't reached the mall yet, but the details didn't really matter so much as the thought. Nobody was going to sneak up behind him or jump around the corner at him. Nobody wanted to murder him at all, and he felt his head spinning as he thought it.

He could think on the move, though. His destination was behind him, but there was one thing that made him pause briefly as he shoved and sweated and gritted his teeth against the pain. Sa - his sword, the katana he'd carried with him for so long, was lying on the floor nearby. He seized it, even if it was heavy and awkward and even though he knew they wouldn't let him keep it, because it seemed so important to him as he set his sights on the exit.

There really wasn't any good way to do it. Trying to hop around was out of the question, and each time he pulled himself forward, he felt a sharp tearing sensation in his leg. His bleeding knuckles screamed each time he squeezed them between the hilt and the floor, and he wouldn't be surprised to look back and see a tattered calf laying by itself behind him. His mind felt slippery as he pressed on through the pain. Nothing seemed to stick very long, but wasn't that the truth of everything. The three fresh corpses laying at the site of the final struggle were just that. Not gasping or screaming or dying, but simply dead. The moments of their passage, the culmination of their entire lives, were just memory now, and not even theirs.

He'd cried before. Was crying now, but just from the pain. The whole bus, he thought. The whole freaking bus. And tears dripped freshly down his face. Everyone but him in that lively crowd dead, and himself responsible for a good portion of them. They'd ran around and laughed, changed buses because one was full or their girlfriend was in another one, and had no idea how quickly they swapped their fates around.

Getting closer. His head wouldn't stop spinning now. He laughed suddenly, and it sounded like some sort of injured dog because he tried to scream at the same moment. Maybe they'd let him into Valhalla if he asked nicely, came the thought. He had a sword right there in his hand. Or, he thought a bit further, maybe they'd let him in if he didn't ask nicely. Maybe that was the whole point of having to have a weapon on you. He felt dizzy and weak and not quite up to that sort of activity at the moment, and then he laughed again at how silly that thought was.

Not too much farther. There was a rumbling from overhead, but it came up just as strongly in his fingers through the floor. It sounded extremely familiar, and then he realized why. The whine that went with it, the part of the screech that wasn't coming from within his own ears. Something about the tail shroud on Coast Guard helicopters. He didn't really care what about it that was, or really for much else. He needed to keep going, knew it was worth his life, but he just wanted to lie down and sleep. Maybe he was dreaming already, and he just didn't know it. That would be nice, except that meant he'd wake up back on the island again, didn't it? Nobody could dream six whole days. It wasn't like that movie they'd watched in history class that one time.

He blinked, and some of the scenery seemed to stick to his eyelids, leaving dark spots in his view. Every time he pulled forward, it sparked out entirely for a moment, but he was almost there. The door loomed up before him. They weren't even there yet. Had he really saved himself? He floundered in rising panic. It wouldn't have been good for him to do all that. Could he open the door? That wasn't what he was trying to focus on, though. Had he really saved himself? That thought seemed familiar. Focus. It wasn't very quickly that he'd moved, but it had been a decent distance. It was hard to tell any more. Had he r-

A shiver ran through him, and it echoed and reverberated until his entire frame shook. Only a couple minutes, he'd saved the team, he thought gasping with a remaining shred of coherency. With his head bent he could see beneath the billow of his shirt the trail of red he oozed behind him like a slug. "Only" a couple of minutes.

The door swung out before him, and he looked back up. Two men filed in, along with a loud pulsing roar, the throb of rotors beating air. They carried rifles and wore some sort of body armor. The men, not the sound. That was good to keep straight.

The one to his left swooped in, pointed his rifle right at him.

"Drop the weapon," he said in a harsh tone. Nick stared at the end of the gun, but his eyes wouldn't focus.

"Now."

He didn't even have a weapon, did he? Just himself and all his blood and the sword in his hand. He shivered again.

The second man pushed forward, pressed his hand on the others' weapon and pointed it down at the ground. He mumbled something Nick couldn't catch, and then knelt down close to him.

"Hey, let's go. We need to get you out of here."

Nick nodded slowly.

The man sighed, reached out and grasped the hand clenched around the katana.

"You don't need this any more, kid."

Nick looked up at the man and he blinked and he suddenly relaxed and let gloved fingers pry apart his trembling, whitened claw.

"Oh," he said. "Thanks." and let his eyes fall shut.

((Continued in Second Chances Epilogue))
Second Chances v1:
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