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They made it back to the cabin just as the sun was setting. John sighed with relief and Kelly slipped the burden of her rucksack off her shoulders. She set out towards it before John swept his forearm in front of her to block her path.
‘I need to check.’
Kelly looked at him, her eyes widening as a prickling apprehension ran through her like she had been drenched in ice water.
‘Can you smell something?’ she said.
He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the cabin and wrinkled his nose, tilting his head to the left as he sifted through the cornucopia of signatures and chemicals smeared over his property. Kelly caught the faint traces of the explosion and glanced away as she contemplated her culpability in this. He caught her expression and gave a small smile.
‘I can rebuild, Kelly, the main thing I’ve got to hold onto is -‘ he patted his chest for emphasis.
Kelly looked up at him. She knew people, even counted herself amongst them, who would have been devastated at being a victim of someone else’s decisions and yet John seemed possessed more by caution and curiosity than anything so mundane as self-pity.
He stepped towards the cabin and took a deep inhalation as he crouched and ran his fingers against the ground, then sniffed them before looking over his shoulder at Kelly and walking up to the front door.
He sniffed around the frame of the door and opened it with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. Kelly heard him call her name and she followed him into the cabin.
They had tossed everything in their examination. Drawers and cupboards were open, their contents heaved and smashed onto the floor. Kelly smelled the dust and flour, fighting the urge to sneeze as she looked everywhere but at John.
‘I’m sorry, John.’ she said.
He grimaced and walked through to a closet and got out a broom and a dustpan and brush.
‘Two hours and I can get all this replaced with one trip to the store.’
Kelly smiled as she arched her back and rolled her shoulders.
‘Two clicks on the internet, but I’m guessing it’s not your thing?’
‘It would be easier but I’ve never been one for what’s expedient. Still, we might eat what I can forage or hunt for tonight.’ he said
Kelly’s stomach growled with hunger but a lassitude muted her responses and she nodded as she picked up tins and bags from the floor.
John sighed as he looked into an open drawer. Kelly asked him what was wrong and he glanced up at her.
‘Nothing here is in my name. There’s a company I own, and I lease this property from them. Someone saw past my wild man look and didn’t believe it.’
Kelly’s heartbeat quickened as she pressed her hands together.
‘And it leads back to you? Jesus, John I’m so sorry.’
He shook his head and walked over to her.
‘I can’t say anything puts a target sign on me above anything I’ve done to protect you. Still, it’s nothing I can’t fix.’
Kelly bit the inside of her lip and shook her head again as she fought to keep the begrudging smile from her face.
‘Does anything upset you?’
Kelly expected a smile and another shrug but John looked at her as his forehead furrowed with a quiet frustration.
‘I’ve killed more people in three days than I have in the last three years. It’s not your fault, but I save my energy for the things which matter.’
Kelly’s chest hurt with the implied insult and she turned to hide the tears building in her eyes.
‘This is all my fault.’ she said
She turned to leave but John strode over and took her left arm by the elbow as he stared at her.
‘No, you lived through a plane crash and people coming to kill you. If there’s a debt, you paid it a few times over.’
She went to turn her head, but he held onto her arm as he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth. Their lips drew blind, powerful comfort from one another and he let go of her arm as he wrapped his arms around her. Kelly went up on her toes to accommodate the height difference between him but he lowered his centre of gravity to give the kiss another minute before she drew back.
Kelly’s eyelids fluttered as she took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of him as it made her head swim with a headedness as powerful as the exhaustion.
She gestured to the dustpan and brush and he passed it to her. She stared at him and smiled.
‘Let’s get things straight then we can talk, ok?’
He nodded as he looked down and sighed with a melancholic frustration.
‘Assholes.’ he said.
He looked down and swept the mess into a pile at his feet. The kiss had expressed feelings he had put aside for fear of having them destabilize his control, but she had been close to him for days and he paid attention to the smallest things about her, finding a quiet pleasure in her despite not knowing too much about her beyond the circumstances under which they met. John had worried about telling her but the honesty was a balm.
John was trying to be good but his assertions about being human held a deeper truth than he cared to admit. The act of restoration, seizing order from chaos appealed to him and it would allow him to articulate what resisted his analytical mind.
Kelly looked at him, wondered what he was thinking and then considered how not knowing scared her more than knowing before she carried on picking up broken items from the floor.
Olivia and Jasper sat in the restaurant before the maitre’d passed them a phone. Jasper put it to his ear as he hid his confusion from Olivia, who glowed with an arrogant acceptance. She frowned as he put the phone in his jacket pocket and pushed his chair back.
‘There’s a car waiting.’ he said.
She swallowed and raised her eyebrows as she set her glass down on the table.
‘Is that normal?’ she said.
He shook his head as a fresh crop of sweat beaded along his hairline. His nerves were unusual and she got up without waiting for a reply.
A car was waiting, they got in and it drove off.
Jasper and Olivia did not talk to one another. They sat there, at war with their own instinct and the mutual, unspoken concern with this turn of events. The car pulled up outside a massive, Spanish styled villa on the beachfront and they got out as the car.
‘Are you armed?’ she said.
Jasper shook his head and reached for his cigarettes.
‘You think this is something we could shoot our way out of, On?’
She sighed and looked around, took in a deep lungful of the warm, salty air
‘No, I guess not.’ she said
The front door opened and a young gentleman in a black t-shirt and trousers came out, asked them to follow him inside. Jasper and Olivia exchanged mutual looks of confusion before they followed him inside.
They were led upstairs to a set of double doors before the young man opened them and stepped aside.
‘Your privacy is assured. So is your discretion.’
Jasper nodded and Olivia repeated the gesture. A blast of damp chill air came from the room and it made Olivia shiver despite her efforts to remain nonchalant. Her curiosity had been directed ahead of her, but she never considered what was looking over her shoulder before now.
There was a wet, gurgling sound which made Jasper frown as he stepped inside the room. Olivia slipped in beside him as the doors were closed behind them.
The room fell into blackness and the pair moved towards one another, whether for comfort or an opportunity to put the other person in front, neither of them could have answered.
There was a crackling sound before a voice echoed around the room.
‘Forgive the theatre, but please come further into the room. It’s for medical reasons, but I can see how it looks to the uninformed, can’t you?’
Jasper muttered his agreement as he stepped forwards. Olivia looked around her, sniffed the air and wondered if there was a fish tank in the room before the recollection of the phrase ‘medical reasons’ made her regret asking.
They walked a few feet before they saw the tank set against the length of the wall. It was impermeable in the dark, but they heard bubbling breaths being taken and transmitted over the tannoy before the voice resumed.
‘We have spoken before, Jasper, but never met. I have not had the acquaintance of Ms Nixon either but we’ll remedy that.’
Olivia and Jasper as the water in the tank rippled and bursts of photoluminescence lit up the tank from within. A humanoid shape swam towards them before righting itself to stand vertical, treading water as the light resisted defining it.
‘I think you’ve found something of great interest to me.’
The figure swam forwards, revealing more details and Olivia slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the cry of alarm.