A/N: Hello all! Thanks for continuing to read!
I have some very unexpected news to announce. One of my e-mail reviewers, Eriamjh, had mentioned wanting to write a TV Tropes page for this story and actually did it, telling me about it fairly soon after he first posted it. Like I said earlier, I was not prepared for this at all. When I had written Breaking the Deal, I had similarly been unprepared when one of my reviewers created a page for it as well. It is always an honor to have impacted a reader enough that they feel compelled to write something like that. I'm not a fan of relentless self-promotion (I have a bad history of dealing with pride, and I'm working on denying myself, and as we've seen here that doesn't always work out in my favor), but this is a pleasant surprise, one I am very undeserving of. For those curious about the page, it is located on TV Tropes under Literature/Pyrrhic. (I haven't figured out how to link websites here. Whenever I save this page in the Doc Manager, it keeps erasing it.)
If there are any grammatical, spelling, or continuity errors then please feel free to let me know.
Mary Jane Sanderson ducked underneath the thick roots of a nearby tree and tried not to look at the person that she thought was near her. She couldn't risk looking, even if she knew that it wasn't Joshua, because she couldn't trust her feelings then. If she wasn't careful, then the next thing she would see was someone's head explode, and not even the bulletproof vest that covered the majority of her body could prevent her from sustaining any damage.
An animal's cry let MJ know that she'd been wrong in her assessment, as she then turned to look out, daring to suffer the consequences if she was too impetuous. Seeing the cry and those noises she'd heard was only a monkey, MJ gave out a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank God," she said aloud, wiping the sweat from her forehead, as she sent a stray red hair back behind her face with the other hand. "It wasn't him."
She sighed, content in the knowledge that she hadn't just killed her best friend. He was in danger whether he knew it or not, and unless MJ found a way to finally annul the potential time bomb, Joshua Carpenter was as good as dead if she saw him again.
A stray tear left her face and MJ brushed it away, knowing that she had to keep her mind focused and strong if she was ever going to figure out a way to make sure that when she did see him again, it would be without incident. Angered at the decisions forced upon her by her former teacher, MJ snuck through the forest floor, recalling exactly why she could never see Joshua again.
Darren had called every student out of the room in as slow a manner as possible, causing her to wonder if she would even be able to reach Joshua and Hanako at the place he'd indicated on time. When she'd found herself the only student left in the room, she realized exactly why she'd been "randomly" summoned last.
"Quite alone in here," Darren said, gazing at her in a manner that MJ hadn't liked.
"May I leave now, Corporal?" MJ asked, trying not to look directly into his eyes.
"Oh, I don't know, I think we have a few things to discuss first before I can let you go, Ms. Sanderson."
"Let's talk about Joshua."
MJ's eyes widened, as she thought, He knows I passed a note to him. He has to; otherwise he wouldn't be treating me like this. Oh well, I'm not ashamed of it, because Josh needed to see it. To hell with what this freak wants.
"What does 'Meet you at the AB' mean?" Darren asked.
MJ tensed up, feeling that it would be a good idea not to lie for fear of what he'd do to her or Joshua if Mr. Hawke found out. "As kids we'd always talk about the places we wanted to go, and the Aurora Borealis was one of them. After a while, it just kind of became our code for going north. I don't remember who came up with it first; it was a long time ago."
Darren nodded. "Thank you for your honesty. Had I thought you were lying to me, I would have activated Joshua's collar and killed him immediately."
MJ tensed up, barely succeeding to prevent a gasp from exiting her mouth.
"I can do that at any point in time, Ms. Sanderson," Darren said with a smirk. "At any time I want."
"Please don't threaten him," MJ said. "I'll do anything to keep him safe."
MJ shuddered, and knew exactly what she would say, because she knew that it was what Joshua would say if he were in her situation and the roles had been reversed. "Anything."
Darren nodded and smiled. "I see. You're a good friend, aren't you?"
MJ didn't answer him.
"Ah, the silent treatment," Darren remarked. "Ms. Sanderson, I'm going to give you a choice, one that you must agree to or I will kill Joshua right now."
"And what would that choice involve?" MJ asked, trying to conceal her fear.
"I want you to kill yourself right now."
MJ's eyes widened and a cold chill ran down her spine. "How?"
"How do you want me to kill myself?"
"You'd actually do it?"
"A thousand times over if it meant he was safe!" MJ roared as she stood up and slammed her fists on the desk. "I know that idiot by heart and he'd do the same thing for me without batting an eye, so who am I to act any different?"
Darren stared at her for a moment, an unknown emotion dominating his face as he nodded again. "Just kidding," he said.
"What?" MJ asked.
"I was just kidding. Magnificent performance, though. I'm sure the people who will watch this later will be touched by your selflessness, Ms. Sanderson."
MJ sat back down, knowing that she had just been tricked like a child into acting for the cameras. Darren, seeing her face, began to laugh, causing her anger to flare up instantly.
"But not fully, though, I'm afraid," Darren said, still smirking.
"What do you mean?" MJ asked.
"I'm going to give you a challenge, Ms. Sanderson, since I still am your teacher, and is it not the responsibility of the instructor to challenge their students?"
"I'll never agree to it if it means that I can't join up with Joshua and Hanako. You might as well shoot me now and get this over with if that's what you want. I will never abandon them."
Darren smiled. "Oh, do you really think I'm that heartless, Ms. Sanderson? No, I must confess that I am a romantic at heart, so I would never tell you that you could never see him again. No, what I have planned for you is so much better than that. You see, Ms. Sanderson, I'm going to give you the chance to see Joshua."
"And the catch is?"
"You must make sure that he is not the first person you see when you leave this building, and no, Ms. Heyerdahl does not count."
That's way too easy, MJ thought. There's more, isn't there?
"Ah, yes, I can see it in your eyes that you don't believe me fully," Darren said, as he nodded his head. "And you would be right. Not only must you find someone else other than Joshua and Hanako, but you must also stay with that person for at the very least two minutes of time. That sounds reasonable enough, right?"
MJ frowned. None of what he'd just said sounded any bit reasonable. She knew just what he wanted by enforcing this upon her: To make sure that Joshua was isolated from his other friends in an effort to make sure he could never gather enough allies to help craft a plan that could endanger what Darren had put into place. The condition that made her have to stay with another student was ludicrous. She trusted her instincts that she held for the mental states of the other students, but it would be better to have Joshua back them up, as he was more psychically-attuned to their fellow classmates' states of mind than she could ever hope to do. But she had to do as he'd instructed; there was no other course of action to take. If she was ever going to make it safely to both Joshua and Hanako, then she needed to be able to find someone else and stay with them for the two minutes Darren had required. If providence was with her, she would end up finding one classmate that could even help her out and ally with her to eventually help enact whatever plans Joshua had come up with in the time it took to get to him. It was risky, but MJ had taken more than enough risks in her life to know that when they involved her friend, they always had a way of working out in their favor.
"I accept," MJ said as she stood up, took the last backpack, and then walked away from Darren, knowing she at least had a chance to get off the island safely.
Mary Jane pushed aside her thoughts and focused on her present woes. The jungle around her was dark, much darker than she'd thought possible, so much that it almost felt like she could feel the darkness. It reminded her of a piece of narration she'd read in "The Most Dangerous Game," which caused her to shiver involuntarily when her mind began to dwell on its subject matter.
Get a grip, MJ, she thought, balling her fists. You're not helping anyone if this is what you're doing with your spare time. Get up, move on, and find a way to help out now.
Agreeing with her thoughts, MJ stood up, feeling the strap that held the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun that had been in her pack, alongside her bulletproof vest. In the pack had been a note describing how Darren had wanted to provide some drama to the experiment by providing some students with both offensive and defensive weapons. MJ didn't particularly care about his reasons, although it might backfire against some of the more levelheaded students if people like Ryan Gomez or Danson Macabre were given similar backpacks to hers. MJ wasn't a fan of guns, but knew enough about the weapons from her experience with Sister Grace, Joshua, and his brothers to be considered a "crack shot" by Don Carr, the family's resident military expert at least two years ago. However that had involved sniper rifles and handguns and not her present armament. It felt odd in her hands when she brought it around to the front of her body, and the feeling made her grimace, as she knew well enough that the weapon was deadly, even if the one who held it had little to no experience with its use. She wasn't planning on killing anyone soon, but she knew well enough that there would be students in her class that would listen to what Darren had told them and would probably attack her if she wasn't careful when she met them.
A light downpour of rain began to fall once again from the sky, as it had done in sporadic arrangements ever since MJ had left the school to reach Joshua and Hanako at the point they had wanted to rendezvous at, but due to the restrictions place upon her by Darren's commandment, she couldn't be anywhere near there. It hurt her to avoid the one place she desperately wanted to be at—even if there had been gunshots close to it several hours before—but she still hadn't been able to fulfill her part of the agreement.
I'm pathetic, MJ thought, frowning. I'm not like him. I just can't figure out ways to get rid of my problems the moment I face them. I can't see into the future…I can't even feel his presence near me, not like usual. I can still sense him, but he's far from me. He's afraid of something, but I don't know what it could be. Josh, why can't I find a way to be with you? I need to be with you. I love you.
She paused, knowing she'd just thought about something that she had sworn to never dwell on again. Shaking her head, MJ continued down the muddy path to try and find someone else to be with for the correct amount of time, but the thoughts persisted.
It had taken her a very long time to figure out that she was in love with Joshua, as the two of them had always held a bond that was filled with love. As the two had both gotten older, MJ had started noticing that she was beginning to feel different kinds of loves than what she suspected he held for her. She guessed that it was almost impossible for her to not have at least a crush on Joshua. She'd known him longer than anyone else in his life, save for his guardian and family, and had been with him during the best and worst parts of their lives. Joshua was a constant source of help for her, and she had returned the favor as best as possible. He was always nice to her, even when they'd had the few arguments that had ever plagued their friendship. If she was ever in need, he would always be there to talk to her and confide in her the problems that were on his mind as well, and the two would always strive to better themselves with each other's help. Joshua could also be the most selfless person she'd ever known in her life, always putting her needs before his if he felt it appropriate. He was never afraid of letting her know that either, and on many occasions had proved it several times over.
But MJ had been bothered lately by what she assumed was the lack of love that she felt for him. If she could trace back how far she'd fallen in love with him, she would surmise that it had occurred right before the two had entered high school together. Their fellow students had always assumed that the two were in a relationship, based on their closeness with each other, but they had always been wrong in their assumptions, a fact that made MJ regret bringing it up at all. While Joshua had shown interest in her before, it was never in the way she wanted their relationship to develop. She secretly wondered if he was trying to stop such a thing from happening because he didn't want to potentially harm their friendship, and that he might actually love her the same way she loved him, but that he was scared of taking the next step, knowing that it could never be taken back.
In order to test out her hypothesis, MJ had done something that she regretted the most in her long list of mistakes in her life. Figuring that she could potentially make him jealous if she dated someone else, she had attempted one such relationship with someone from another high school, one that she wasn't fond of recalling. When she had told him that she was dating someone else, MJ had noticed subtle changes in Joshua's facial cues that other people would not catch, but he'd surprised her by saying that he was okay with it, so long as her boyfriend treated her well. Knowing that Joshua approved of her dating someone else had made MJ agonize over her petty reasons for doing so and she had tried to end the relationship immediately, which hadn't gone over well with her new ex, which had ended up with Joshua beating him up in a berserker rage that MJ knew all too well.
The shame she had felt in seeing what she had done to enforce this change in him made her feel wretched inside, especially since she knew that it never would have come to pass if it hadn't been for her. Joshua was prone to acts of extensive violence when he knew that someone he cared for was in danger, which MJ had seen through several times in their lives. When they had lived in Charlotte, Joshua had been walking her home when some random men had tried to mug them. Both of them had just turned thirteen and they had immediately entered one of the many defensive stances that Sister Grace had taught them. However, Joshua had taken it one step further, and, before MJ could even stop him, he'd cracked the spine of the closest mugger by causing him to be knocked into a passing car, and had finished off the other one with the swift use of a garbage can as an object to repeatedly bash the mugger's head against, ending the small threat that he'd posed to them. At the time MJ had been very scared for Joshua, thinking that he would kill the man if she didn't stop him, and had thrown him into a nearby bush to prevent him from following through with his attack. When he'd recovered from his fall, Joshua had been horrified to see what he'd just done, even if it had meant protecting them from being assaulted.
Joshua had had many cases of anger control problems, which very few people besides MJ and Sister Grace knew about, having witnessed them firsthand. Sister Grace had fallen victim to one as well; one that had almost broken Joshua when he'd realized what he'd done to her.
However, what happened had happened, and there was nothing that MJ could do to get rid of it. She had accepted her shame and worked to make sure that she never put any of them in such a situation ever again, which had been very hard to do once Hanako Heyerdahl moved into Lincoln County, and caught Joshua's eye the first night that they had met. She supposed that it was natural for him to be interested in Hanako, as she was the only person who had ever beaten Joshua at something he excelled in, something that MJ could never claim in any area, except for mathematics, which Joshua was prone to not getting at all. Everyone in school had talked about the students that were coming from the faraway land of Japan to be schooled there, and that they were supposed to be the twins of an American ambassador, which she had later found out to only be a rumor. However, the two had never had to show up to school, as they came far too late in the year to do so, so the first time that Joshua and MJ had met them had been at the local aikido club that the two were also enrolled in. MJ had noticed Shinji and Hanako immediately, and had been mesmerized by Hanako's gentle beauty, so much that she had begun to doubt her own appearance compared to her, especially when she saw the looks Joshua had given her. When the instructor had asked Joshua if he'd mind having a friendly bout with Hanako to see how good she was, he'd volunteered almost immediately, and met her on the mat to begin the bout. He had then lost less than twenty seconds later, to everyone's surprise, especially MJ's, who had never seen anyone beat Joshua before, save for his brothers. Joshua, instead of sulking, had laughed and then congratulated Hanako on her performance, as she had used several moves he wasn't experienced with, and that he needed to work to counter them better. The looks the two gave each other after that had sent several warning signals into MJ's mind, and immediately she began to have thoughts that she was less than proud of.
Despite her best attempts otherwise, MJ was jealous of Hanako, and was just now coming to terms with it, as she had once hated Hanako for arousing Joshua's interest. She knew why the two had started their relationship and why they worked so well together, because the majority of the time they involved things that Joshua and MJ enjoyed doing together.
But before Joshua and Hanako had started dating, MJ had decided that she would see what she could do to push the two into a relationship, as she was willing to part from him if he meant he was happy. This had culminated with an incident that had indirectly led to their relationship. One that MJ had unwittingly instigated.
For as long as she had lived with her mother and father, MJ had always been the only child, and had been lonely whenever she couldn't be around friends like Joshua, so much that Joshua had given her a cocker spaniel for MJ's ninth birthday to help assuage her loneliness. MJ had named the dog—a very young female puppy—Soter, one of the short forms for Joshua's middle name, Soterios, as thanks for the gift. Her parents had been a bit wary of having a dog inside of the house, but MJ had promised them that she would take full responsibility for whatever Soter did.
Soter was a well-behaved dog, and never caused MJ too much grief from her exploits. She was an easily pleased canine, one who enjoyed playing with MJ, and was also a constant source of security whenever MJ was having a bad day.
As MJ and Joshua grew up, Soter did as well, and when both the Sandersons and Joshua had left Mecklenburg County for Lincoln County, Soter had found a beau in one of the neighborhood dogs, which had led to her getting pregnant a little more than two years before the experiment. MJ had been excited at the prospect of having puppies, but her parents were beginning to wonder if they could financially support more, which had been solved immediately by Joshua once he'd found out that they were talking about the possibility of selling the puppies. Unlike everyone else in his life not in his immediate family MJ knew that Joshua was insanely rich, due to the money that Sister Grace had gained over the years. Because of this he had a little over four million dollars in his bank accounts, a fact that he had purposely kept as secret as possible, since he was afraid that people would start trying to be his friends for the wrong reasons. MJ had never asked him for the money, even though he had told her many times that all she needed to do was ask for it and he would get it for her, because she didn't want to take undo advantage of their friendship just to get what she had wanted. However, Joshua had found out—most likely due to his psychic connection to her—and had anonymously sent some extra money into the Sanderson's account, giving them the chance to keep all of the puppies once they were born, something that almost didn't happen.
Right before when the due date for the puppies came in the summer, Soter had run away from the house and gone missing, causing MJ to panic, as she didn't have any idea of where Soter could be. Although Joshua had tried to search for the dog with her, and the police had said they'd do whatever they could to bring her back, Soter was nowhere near them.
Heartbroken at the loss of her pet, MJ had stopped going outside and participating in the things that she loved, especially the aikido club, which she was less than pleased to go to anyway, due to Hanako being there. Despite Joshua's attempt at an intervention, MJ had refused to leave the house, causing him to give up on her to try and find a way to get her mind off Soter's disappearance.
That same night, Joshua had been scheduled to have a match against Shinji, and he had almost canceled it, but when MJ had brushed him aside, he'd gone anyway, where he'd gotten beaten up indirectly due to her influence. Due to her closeness to Joshua, MJ was part of the inner circle who knew all about his connection with seeing into the future, and, had she been there, she would have noticed that he was having an episode where he was actually glimpsing a possible path, one that involved the location of Soter. However, he couldn't have had a worse time to have such a vision, and it caused him to lose focus of the fight with Shinji, ending up with Joshua getting beaten up tremendously. However, true to form, he shrugged off his injuries and left the aikido club behind, determined to go out and find Soter.
MJ hadn't know what had happened next until after she heard if from the source, but what she did know was that at midnight, the doorbell had rung, causing her to go check it out, her curiosity aroused. Before then, she had decided to do some laundry in order to take her mind off of worrying over Soter, which had been mildly therapeutic to her, but not enough to keep her fully happy. The entire night had been enveloped by what the locals had later called the worst summer storm to ever hit Lincoln County, due to the flash floods, pulled trees, and deaths it had caused. MJ had never enjoyed the sound of thunder or the sight of lightning, and the storm had done nothing to assuage those fears, but somehow she had found the courage to head to the front door—as she still carried the laundry basket of freshly-clean clothes in her hands—and look into the peephole to find a bloody and battered Joshua with moving animals in his hands looking right back at her. Frightened at the sight of her best friend in trouble, MJ had instantly opened the door and let him in, noticing for the first time that the animals she'd seen in his hands were Soter and newborn cocker spaniel puppies. Before she could react, Joshua had put them on the laundry basket, causing her to look at them.
"Are the puppies okay?" Joshua asked her, his voice weak.
MJ, not looking at him to verify what he'd asked, found the puppies and their mother remarkably healthy and vibrant, and said, "Yes they are."
Then MJ heard the sound of a body hitting the hardwood floor inside her house and found Joshua completely limp, causing her to gently place down the laundry basket and cry out his name. The moment that she did that, her parents emerged from the top of the stairs, and her father—seeing Joshua unconscious on the floor—had called 911, as MJ and her mother checked his pulse, finding that not only did Joshua have a healthy pulse for a man who had cuts and flowing blood all over him, but that he was also contentedly asleep, a large smile on his face. The paramedics had all arrived minutes later, and MJ's father had accompanied them to the Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville.
MJ, worried about Joshua, had wanted to leave immediately for the hospital to check up on him, but her mother had reminded her that they also had to take care of the dogs as well, so she had tended to their needs, finding that Soter's legs had been broken, as if she had fallen from a great distance. After caring for the dogs for a good hour, MJ had heard the doorbell ring yet again in the middle of the night, and, when she tried to find out what was going on, had found a taxi driver that said that a man claiming to be Joshua Carpenter had called him for a driver to come and pick her up to take her to the hospital at that exact time. Puzzled by the seeming coincidence, MJ had a vague recall of the time that Sister Grace had called 911 to report her own fall, and went with the driver to Huntersville, while her mother stayed behind to deal with the police that had been sent to figure out what had happened.
Arriving at the hospital, MJ found out that Joshua had already paid the man using his credit card when he'd called him, and that he was supposed to take her father back to their house, while she stayed behind. Growing more in awe of Joshua's predilection for being able to put things into motion that far in advance, MJ had gone to the room where she found her father and Joshua, who was still sound asleep and wearing the same content smile on his face. Explaining the situation to her father, MJ watched him leave and stayed there for the night by Joshua's side, wondering what had happened to him and how he'd found Soter, as well as how the puppies had been born. She knew that Joshua had been taught many things in his life that seemed highly unlikely that they would ever be used in his life, but she had seen him use these seemingly mundane skills in many creative ways to say that they were worthless to learn.
Joshua had slept through the entire night, never once making a sound, and looking like he'd done something so extraordinary that he was immensely proud of himself. This being a facet of his personality that MJ knew he had to keep in check, as his ego could grow to frightening lengths if not balanced by his self-control. MJ had dozed off several times during the night, but always caught herself when she did, as she wanted to remain up and alert just in case he ever woke up. However, she failed to keep her mind focused and had fallen asleep, not waking up until noon the next day.
When she did wake up, MJ saw a vibrant and grinning Joshua looking back at her. Surprisingly, the many wounds and cuts that she had seen on his body not twelve hours before were mostly gone, as if his body had rapidly healed them all. However, on a closer look of his body, she found that the majority of them were just sealed up into small scabs on his skin, and were almost impossible to see.
Unable to believe his swift recovery, MJ had stared at him with her mouth open, prompting him to ask "See something you like?"
MJ shook her head at his query and responded with, "You wish, ace."
Joshua laughed, sending a warm feeling into MJ's skin. She had always loved it when he laughed, especially when he was really in a good humor.
"What in God's name happened to you, Josh?" she asked, still not believing her eyes. "Why aren't you…Why don't you look like you did last night?"
"Oh, you know me, sweetheart; I'm too stubborn to let a little thing like being just a bit injured to ruin my appearance."
" That doesn't answer my questions, idiot." She rolled her eyes.
"No, I suppose it doesn't."
"Then quit avoiding it and answer me, Joshua," MJ demanded. "What happened to you last night?"
"All right, all right, just calm down, MJ," Joshua said, holding up his hands and not showing any sign that it hurt him to do so. "Well, what would you like to know first?"
"Just start at the beginning, ace."
"Okay, well, I was having that match with Shinji—you know, the one that I was telling you about earlier yesterday—and during it I had a vision of where Soter was and I tried to stop it, but Shinji wouldn't listen to me and he fought and beat me up when I tried to tell him I had to leave. I think I remember feeling a tendon or something snapping, but I don't feel anything except for some minor pain in my face and arms from that fight, so it must not have been that bad."
"That—That asshole! How dare he do that to you!"
Joshua smiled. "Language, sweetheart. It doesn't suit you."
MJ furrowed an eyebrow at him. "How can you be so calm about that, Joshua? Shinji doesn't listen to you when you tell him you have to go and then he beats the crap out of you, and you're joking about this?"
"Mary Jane, if you haven't learned by now that I just don't hold grudges against anyone, then you never will. Then again, I do hold them against people that hurt you, but that's just because I'm too overprotective for my own good."
"You idiot. You're unbelievable, you know that?"
"It's a character flaw."
"Just keep telling the story, ace."
"All right, well, as Shinji was beating me up, I saw Soter trapped in a storm drain in what looked like the quarry near Lucia Baptist, so once Shinji was done using me as his private punching bag, I was going to head straight there. However, I couldn't get my body to defend myself good enough, and I was beginning to think I'd end up the fight in a vegetative state, but Hanako came and pinned Shinji to the mat, so I picked myself up, told her thank you, and left.
"After that, more visions kept pouring into my mind, and I was barely able to stay focused on where I was going, but I knew that I had to call a taxi service to pick you up a couple hours from then and did that. By that time I figured out that I had somehow been able to walk to exactly where I needed to, even though my body was screaming to me, and telling me to stop and rest. But I just couldn't, MJ; I had to keep going. I knew that something bad would happen to Soter if I didn't keep moving, so I ignored my body and told it to shut up, because I was in charge and it was my opinion that mattered.
"It was then that I located the storm drain, where I heard some very faint barking noises, which sounded distinctly like Soter, so I located her there, and found that she had fallen and broken her legs inside of the storm drain. Trying to gage its depth—you know me, sweetheart, I suck at math, so it was hard—I then slid down the pipe to reach Soter, who seemed happy to see me there. Unfortunately, there was something I hadn't brought into any of my calculations."
"And what was that?"
Joshua lifted up his arms and turned them around, revealing immense gashes that had to have been caused by a very sharp object, or objects, as the number of lines that ran down his arms suggested.
"There seemed to have been bunch of glass and barbwire down there, and it also seemed to have taken a liking to my skin, so I lost a lot of it when I foolishly slid down the storm drain," Joshua said. "Guess I really should watch out for my impetuous nature. Sister Grace always said it'd be the death of me."
He laughed again, causing MJ to smile, even though she was trying to figure out how she hadn't seen the gashes on his arms when he'd collapsed in her house the night before. She figured that the shock of seeing him in such a dangerous position had caused her to forget exactly where all the damage had been on his body.
"So there I was, glass and barbwire ruining my wonderful complexion, with an injured pregnant dog in the middle of a very intense thunderstorm, and without a way to figure out how to get her out of there safely," Joshua said.
"Us," MJ corrected.
"Get us out of there safely, you mean, considering that you were with her too."
"Oh, well that too, I suppose."
MJ gave a weak laugh. "Josh, do you ever think about yourself?" she asked. "I mean, do you ever think about your own safety when someone else is in danger?"
"Every now and then," he admitted. "Once I'm sure the other person's okay and can make it out safely."
"You are something else, you know that? You really are what they call you at school, you selfless idiot."
"That's my name; don't wear it out."
MJ rolled her eyes. "That doesn't explain how I have seven new perfectly healthy puppies waiting for us back at my house. You didn't…Josh, you didn't deliver them did you?"
Joshua winked at her.
"You did deliver them!" MJ grasped. "How? I never knew you could do anything like that!"
"Not easily, I'll tell you that," Joshua said. "It wasn't exactly the most ideal place to perform childbirth, especially since there wasn't anything close to sterile equipment near me to do a caesarean."
"A C-section? Why would you need to do that? Couldn't it be done regularly?"
"There was too much damage to Soter's lower regions due to the fall she had to do it regularly."
"Then what did you use for surgical tools?"
Joshua winced for a moment, clearly recalling something he didn't want to. "You have to understand that if I didn't do it then, Soter and the puppies would have died. I had to do it in a way I wouldn't recommend. Certainly Jessie would've killed me for doing it that way. I'm still surprise that it worked. It defies all logic."
"Josh," MJ said, holding his hand and smiling at him once he looked back at her, "if you thought that it was best, then it was the right choice in my book."
Joshua smiled back. "All right, but it's a miracle they're alive. I used the glass that had just ripped open my arms to do it. It was all required reading to know how to be able to perform simple surgery just in case it came up in my household. Jessie taught me how to do it, even though she was more of a veterinarian than a surgeon. Animals are just a bit different than humans internally speaking, but similar premises can be used to patch them up or cut them open if need be. Jessie also taught me a little on the side about how to properly help a woman during childbirth, but then—seeing as this is my family we're talking about—she took it a step further and added a lesson on worst case scenario births, which meant I was schooled heavily in C-sections and the like. Fun times."
"And you remembered all of that to save Soter and the puppies?"
"And myself too; did some risky stitching with some barbwire to patch up my more serious wounds, which I wouldn't recommend either, seeing as it could have killed me if the wounds got infected. I seem to remember hearing all that in the minds of all the doctors as they worked on me while I was asleep. In hindsight I have no clue how that worked."
"Wow, Josh," MJ said. "Thank you."
"Oh, 'twas nothing, sweetheart."
"No it wasn't, Joshua. It wasn't just nothing, imbecile. You got yourself in all of this trouble to help me out and got hurt because you were too worried about getting Soter back to me because you knew that I was hurt by losing her. And what did I do for you at that time? I didn't even come to see you fight Shinji. I completely blew you off because I couldn't handle it! If I was there when you had the vision I could have helped you save Soter and get her to the vet by getting the fire department or someone else to go down the pipe to make sure you didn't get hurt!"
"Mary Jane, please calm down. This isn't your fault; it's mine for being an idiot. You were not in the best emotional state at the time, and, frankly, I feel better knowing that you didn't see me get my ass kicked in front of God and everybody because I was too worried about the vision. Maybe you're right, but that doesn't matter, because what happened, happened. I don't mind getting hurt if it means that I can see you smile again."
Before Joshua could react, MJ hugged him and tried not to cry. No matter what he had just said to her, Joshua had gone through too much pain just for her, and she would let him know that she appreciated it.
"You damn selfless idiot," MJ said, hugging him tightly. "I love you."
However, just as she started to hug him, the door to the hospital room opened and Hanako Heyerdahl entered. Seeing them in an embrace, she blushed and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I should have knocked."
MJ pushed herself away from Joshua, who smiled at Hanako and said, "Oh, don't worry about it, Hanako. You're fine."
Hanako looked at the two of them for a moment, knowing that she had just killed a private moment between them, but that Joshua was too polite to make her leave. "I can go if you two need to talk," she said, her face flushing red.
MJ and Joshua looked at each other for a moment and then reached a nonverbal consensus on what to do.
Turning to Hanako, MJ said, "It's all right, Hanako. I was just thanking Josh for what he did for my dog and, well, my new puppies as well. I'll leave you two alone, and no, you're not making me leave, I want to. I haven't had anything to eat since late last night. I'll pick you guys something up too if you'd like."
"Sounds wonderful, MJ," Joshua said. "Nothing too big for me; just something real simple from the vending machine."
"That's what I was talking about, numskull."
"Actually my skull's quite sensitive to the touch, thank you very much."
"Keep the snark up and those words will be prophetic."
Hanako laughed at the banter and said, "I'll keep things simple for you, Mary Jane. I just finished eating, so don't worry about me."
MJ and Hanako traded smiles as the former walked out of the room, wishing that she could find some way to go back in there and talk to Joshua, but her instinct told her that she needed to stay away from them for now. Shutting the door behind her, MJ sighed as she walked down the hall to find the vending machines.
Why's she here? MJ asked herself. How did she find out about what happened to Joshua last night and where he was? Shouldn't she be getting rid of that damn brother of hers so that he doesn't pull another stunt like the one he did to Joshua? No, Mary Jane, just calm down. If Joshua doesn't hold a grudge, then neither should you, but there's no rule that says I can't "accidentally" punch that punk in the groin the next time I see him now is there?
Selecting the food she wanted from the vending machines, MJ collected it and left the machines behind as she returned to the room.
Is Hanako apologizing for what Shinji did to Josh? MJ thought. That's sweet of her, but…what if that's not it? Is there another reason why she's here? She isn't…could she actually be talking to him about…please no…don't let it be true. Calm down, Mary Jane, it's been what, like maybe three minutes since you left them alone? Nothing has happened to them. It's all going to work out.
MJ reached the door, where she found Joshua and Hanako having a quiet talk as she sat close to him, just as MJ had done not too long ago. MJ noticed that Joshua knew that she was outside and silently cursed the mental connection the two of them had with each other. Although it wasn't strong enough to where they held no secrets from each other, it was able to let them know if one of them was near the other. Sighing, MJ then opened the door, and shut it behind her as she approached the two, who both shared an amiable tone.
"Oh, sweet, chocolate doughnuts!" Joshua said as he gave a weak fist pump. "I knew you wouldn't let me down, MJ!"
"Josh, you really shouldn't be moving too much in your condition," Hanako said as she smiled and looked over to MJ. "I got the abridged version of what he did for you last night. I always knew he was brave, but I never knew that he was also completely and utterly incapable of looking after himself when he wants to make someone he's close to happy again."
"Sometimes I wonder if he even realizes that sometimes it's okay to think through everything he does before he actually does it," MJ said, handing Joshua the doughnuts. "What's the Japanese word for idiot? Baka?"
Hanako smiled. "That's it."
"Growing up with her, I thought that idiot was my middle name," Joshua said as he continued eating his doughnuts.
"And there's a big reason for that, ace: You don't think," MJ said, rolling her eyes as Joshua smiled at her. "You're one of the dumbest smart people I know."
"Ha-ha, Varsity Blues."
"No that's not what he said on Varsity Blues, moron. It was 'You got to be the dumbest smart kid I know.'"
"Everybody's a critic."
"Well, everyone wouldn't have to be a critic if that brain of yours worked right."
"It's helped me get this far in life, so I guess that it must be doing something kind of right for me," Joshua said.
"Kind of right doesn't mean it's right," MJ said.
"All right, I give up. You win this round, MJ."
"And that makes it one thousand five hundred and eleven to nothing."
"You've kept count?" Hanako asked.
MJ smiled. "If I didn't, then he'd start to make up a couple of wins to even things out a bit."
Hanako nodded. "Well, I'm glad to know he has someone like you to keep watch over him, Mary Jane," she said, standing up. "I'm also glad to know that you're feeling well, Joshua. I'm praying for your speedy recovery."
"Every little bit helps," Joshua said, smiling at Hanako as she left them alone.
A silence passed before MJ spoke up, "Well that was sweet of her to come by and check up on you."
"Yeah, it was. She wanted to apologize for Shinji, but I told her that it's not her fault that he beat me up last night. I had to thank her too, you know, seeing as she was able to keep him away from me. Now that was impressive to see."
Looking out to the window, Joshua dwelled on the memory, a hint of a smile on his face. MJ stared at him as he kept gazing out into space, knowing through one of their involuntary memory sharing that he was thinking exclusively about Hanako, and how good she had looked today.
It won't work between us, MJ decided the moment she heard Joshua think about Hanako more. He doesn't love me the way that I love him. He's got to realize that, and I've got to accept it. It's for our own good.
"Josh, do you like Hanako?" MJ asked.
"Huh?" he asked before he registered what she'd said. "Do I like her? Well of course I like her. I like just about everybody."
"That's not what I asked, Josh. Do you like Hanako in…that way?"
"That way? What do you—Oh, that way. I, um, well I, uh…"
"It's not like you to be speechless, Josh."
"Well, I, uh…yes…I do."
"Ask her out," MJ stated.
"Do what now, MJ?"
"Ask Hanako Heyerdahl out or so help me God I'll do it for you."
Joshua scratched his head, barely registering the pain in his temporarily scarred arms as he did so. "I don't…I might…I…what if she says 'no' to me?"
MJ laughed, unable to help herself, causing Joshua to frown. "I'm sorry, Joshua, I don't mean to laugh at you," MJ said, wishing that she wasn't laughing so genuinely at him. "It's just that I've never seen you so awkward and scared in my life."
"I'm not scared."
"You think so, ace? That's not what your mind says right now."
Joshua frowned again, knowing she was sensing what he was thinking then. "All right, you've caught me. I am scared…I'm scared that she'll reject me. I mean, she's nice and pretty and just amazing, but what could she possibly see in someone like me?"
"Because there's absolutely nothing to see in someone who's so selfless that he's brave enough to get beaten up, rescue a dog and deliver its puppies as he's suffering from massive cuts and bruises, and does this while walking miles through the worst storm of the decade just so he could make his best friend smile again," MJ said.
"Well, when you say it like that I sound just about perfect," Joshua said. "But we both know that I'm not…I've got a bad history."
"Joshua, who doesn't? Granted, yours is different from everyone else's, but that doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. She likes you; I can tell. Just ask her out. She'll say yes to you."
Joshua looked into MJ's eyes. "You really think she will?" he asked.
"It's a guarantee."
Joshua smiled. "You know what I love best about you, Mary Jane?"
MJ's heart simultaneously rose and sank. "And what's that, Joshua?"
"Only you could be able to deal with me emotionally like what you just did for me. No one else could ever comfort me the same way you do. You're a one of a kind woman. The best kind there is."
MJ blushed. "And you're a one of a kind man. The best there is. So…are you going to talk to her soon?"
"I'll do it the moment they discharge me."
"Well don't rush things, Romeo. I'd rather you were fully healed before you run out to meet her."
"Are you kidding? The way I'm feeling I'm going to discharge myself right here and now."
MJ sighed as a soothing wind rushed through the jungle and while a green and black poison dart frog landed into a small puddle of water that had formed during the rain from the later part of the night before. Standing up straight, MJ frowned, wishing that she could have chosen another time to dwell on the past, especially when she needed to stay focused on finding someone and ending the curse that Darren had cast on her. However, the thoughts remained, and she focused on them, despite wishing to do anything but listen to arguments she had been in with herself one too many times.
I want to find him, MJ thought. I want to be with him. I don't care if she's there with him, I just want to help him in the same way that he's always helped me. Hanako, I want to hate you for taking him away from me, but I can't hate you…it's not like I had any claim on him before you came. Maybe if I was stronger…if I could admit my feelings better, things would be different, but they're not. What happened, happened, and I will not let that get in the way of helping Joshua. Screw what I want; I need to be with him, even if he doesn't love me back the same way that I love him.
Her decision made, MJ walked down one of the pathways created by some of the larger creatures of the island, and listened to the jungle, hoping that she could catch some trace of human encroachment. Her hopes were answered once she began to notice a loud and blundering noise that came from several yards behind her. Ducking behind a tree just in case it was Joshua, MJ tried to calm her breathing, but she failed miserably, just as she heard a man's voice send an obscenity to a mosquito that was plaguing his face.
That isn't Josh's voice, MJ thought. I have to risk it. Lord, be with me as I do this. Watch over me and protect me if this is Your will, which I sincerely hope it is, because I really want this to work out.
Moving out from behind the tree, MJ found that the man was none other than an old cause of problems for Joshua and her during their first days in attending East Lincoln: Benjamin Rogers. In her mind, MJ began a countdown, praying that she could make it to zero seconds without losing her life or causing Ben to prematurely lose his.
"I guess he was right then…you are here," Ben said, a malicious smile forming on his mouth.
One minute and forty-eight seconds, MJ thought.
"Who are you talking about?" MJ asked, as she made sure Ben could not see any of the items she had in her possession.
One minute and forty-four seconds.
"Doesn't matter, does it? I found you and now I'm going to make sure I get what I want from you."
"And what would that entitle, Ben?" MJ asked.
Ben smirked. "Gonna mess you up, you little bitch for what you and that no good loser Joshua did to me."
"We both know that you deserved that, Ben," MJ said. "I told you no and you just didn't like that, did you? No, you had to try and make an example of me, but we got the best of you, didn't we?"
Too soon, Mary Jane, she reprimanded herself. Keep him complacent for another minute and you're home free. Do whatever it takes.
"Got a mouth, don't you, bitch?" Ben asked. "I wouldn't mind shutting it up right now. Would you like that? Bet you'd like it better if Joshua was doing it, but he left you for another skank, didn't he?"
"Hanako is not a skank!" MJ yelled, but realized her folly and said, "But maybe I can show you how a real skank acts. If I let you do what you want with me, will you let me go?"
Oh Lord, I don't want to do this, MJ thought. Give me strength. Help me through this. Please let me be able to make him think my words are genuine.
Ben seemed genuinely amused by the change of attitude she showed him. "Now that's more like it! Sure thing, ginger, you can leave once we're done."
Hating herself for not finding some other way to appease Ben that didn't involve degrading herself, MJ began to unbutton her shirt, revealing the natural curves that she had inherited from her mother, but thanks to what was underneath her shirt, he couldn't see too much. It had taken a lot of time to position the vest just right. If anything, it was an incomplete model that she had barely salvaged. Ben salivated as he watched her, and approached her, but she held up her hand.
"Not just yet, Ben," she said. "I need a little more time to unwrap your present for you."
I did not just say that, did I? MJ asked herself. If I wasn't dealing with such a big Neanderthal, I wouldn't be getting away with such cheesy dialogue.
Ben crept closer to her anyways, but there was enough of a distance for MJ to move backward in a way that suggested that she was playing hard to get.
"Oh, man, I've always wanted to do this to you," Ben said, his green eyes almost shining as the smallest signs of the sun began to show through the forest floor. "You're in for a good time."
"Oh, I think that I am," MJ said, wishing time would hurry itself up and let her run away from him immediately.
It'll work out, MJ, she told herself. He hasn't noticed the strap on your body. He's way too busy looking elsewhere. Man, I knew he was stupid, but I never figured that he was this dumb. Does he really think that I believed him when he said that he'd let me go once he'd had his fun? Idiot.
"Oh, to Hell with it!" MJ shouted out as she entered a defensive posture, causing Ben to almost stumble as he approached her. "You take one more step near me, Benjamin Rogers and you're a dead man!"
"What did you just say to me?" Ben asked, as he growled and brought out a large bayonet that was surprisingly separated from a gun.
"I said stay away from me or you're dead!"
"Like Hell I will! You've just got your hands! I've got a knife thing!"
"Wow, that is probably the last intelligent statement you're ever going to make."
"Looks like you're mine, bitch!" Ben shouted as he leapt toward her.
"Tell that to Heckler and Koch, asshole," MJ said as she whipped her MP5 to meet Ben in the air and shot him repeatedly in his stomach, forcing him to collapse when the bullets hit him and fall to the ground, dead.
MJ looked down at the forest floor and realized what had just happened, as her hands shook. Ben's bullet-riddled body started to bled profusely onto the muddy ground, as it also started to twitch, the result of his body's post mortal muscle twitches. MJ stared at the corpse, as she let go of her gun and it fell to her side.
I killed him, she thought. I didn't want to kill him. I wanted to make sure he didn't hurt me. I know I said he'd be dead, but I was bluffing! Oh God what have I done?
Hands still trembling, MJ made them connect and grasp one another and focused her mind on forcing them to stop moving, as she turned away from the corpse.
It was self-defense, MJ thought. I had every right to shoot him, didn't I? No court would ever convict me for that, right? It's kill or be killed here on the island, and I did what I could to survive. Get a grip, MJ, and focus on the task at hand. You just killed a man…one that probably had no right to exist in the first place, but that doesn't matter right now. What happened, happened. There will be plenty of time to worry about the moral repercussions for this once you're off the island with Joshua, Hanako, and anyone else we can save. Deal with this later and find them now.
Finding that her hands had stopped shaking, MJ began to breathe again at a more normal pace, and put the safety in place. Looking up and away from the body, MJ walked away into the jungle, ready to find Joshua Carpenter and do whatever it took to help him save the others from doing what she had just been forced to perform.
23 students left
A/N: And that's that. Next week will focus on Jackie Jones, as she seeks to find a way to avoid hurting others in the experiment.
Until next time...