Second Exit

by London Lampy

Chapter 30

I think it's starting to occur to Jack that while handcuffing himself to me seemed like a good idea last night, it's proving to be nothing but an huge nuisance this morning. He had to take me with him to see his captain to once again try to justify him walking me to Shelly rather than one of the others doing it. Captain Samuels suggested that he should simply transfer me to the wrist of one of the privates so Jack had to think fast to come up with as many reasons as he could why it must be him, none of them were very convincing. The sandy haired man then got distracted by the now just about upright plantation owner appearing to berate him for the fact that his slaves had escaped, his house had burned down and his crops were all but ruined so the captain dismissed Jack without insisting he make one of the others take me.

Breakfast wasn't too much trouble for us, sargents don't seem to be required to cook and someone brought us bowls of lumpy porridge and tin mugs of tea. We also somehow managed the latrines with the least loss of dignity possible under the circumstances.

Jack had to pack his backpack one handed, and I wasn't at all helpful. Of course he could have simply attach me to the tent pole or something or someone else, but either that hasn't occurred to him or he doesn't trust me because we stayed chained together. Although if he did attempt to take his part of the cuffs off he'd get a rather nasty surprise, the key that he thinks is in his pocket isn't, it's in mine; I took the opportunity to pickpocket him while he was cleaning his teeth. Once he's finished packing he gets a couple of the other men to help him buckle the pack on, it's really awkward, and very funny to watch and I have to try extremely hard not to laugh.

As Jack says his goodbyes to the rest of the soldiers I stare over at the house, or at least what's left of it. Even from this distance it's clear that no one is ever going to be able to live there again without more or less completely rebuilding it, the roof has fallen in and the walls are partly collapsed. It's still smouldering and I'll be glad to get away from the smell, in fact I'll be glad to get away from the whole damn place. The events of last night will haunt me for some time to come, not least of all knowing that Ev must have died inside the house. With a bullet in his leg I doubt he'd have been able to get himself out, and no one could have survived that fire. I can't see what choice I had other than to shoot him or get shot myself, but the knowledge that my actions have almost certainly killed him is not going to be easy to live with.

My ankle is still hurting but not as much as it did last night. I can walk on it without too much difficulty especially as we're on a cart track rather than struggling through bushes and swamps. Jack and I walk in silence until the camp is completely out of sight and we're swallowed up by the trees. I know that any moment soon he's going to want to know what I'm doing here, and I'm trying to decide how much to tell him. I'm not quite sure he'd even believe the truth, and if he's here to rescue Sampson I don't want to give anything away about Barney and the village, I don't want to be responsible for them getting attacked by Twin Island soldiers. I occasionally glance up at Jack, he seems lost in thought, and we've walked for what must be at least a mile before he speaks. When he does open his mouth it's not to ask the questions I've been expecting, but to apologise.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly.

"Good," I reply.

"Do you want me to let you go?"

"I can let myself go," he looks slightly puzzled at this. "But I actually need to get to Shelly so I'm going to let you take me there because I don't know how to get there from here."

"If I had know it was you last night I wouldn't have chased you down the way I did, and if it helps I had no intention of shooting you. I only fired a warning shot and it went nowhere near you, all I wanted was for you to surrender. I really am very sorry for capturing you."

"That's what you're sorry for? For taking me prisoner?"

"Yes," he sounds confused. "I can tell you're angry with me, you've made that very clear."

"You were doing your fucking job!" I retort. "I'm not angry with you for that. I didn't want to get caught, but I do need to get to Shelly so you're almost doing me a favour."

"Oh," Jack stops walking so I have to as well, and he looks down at me frowning. "So why are you angry, is it the handcuffs? I can take them off."

"Do you really not know?" I ask incredulously.

"Look," he sighs. "I know some of the lads called you a monkey, but they don't mean anything by it. Half of them have only just come over from the Twin Islands and they've never seen echobacks before."

I can't believe he doesn't get it. "Jack, I don't give a crap about any of that stuff," I say in frustration.

"Than what is it?" he asks.

"YOU FUCKING LEFT ME!!" I shout loudly enough to make a flock of small green birds take squawking flight from a nearby tree.

"That?" he frowns.

"THAT?! I was in the fucking orphanage for nearly two years more after you disappeared, and the whole time I kept on thinking that you might come back for me, or get in contact, or something, and the only reason, the only fucking reason I even knew you had joined the army and were off to the northern continent was because Fletcher told me. I HAD TO FIND OUT FROM FUCKING FLETCHER! You knew how badly I wanted to get out, how unhappy I was, but you still ran off and left me behind and you didn't even say goodbye." My heart is thumping and I'm breathing fast, I've been waiting a very long time to say that to him.

"Oh," he blinks at me. "But Fletch told me you were alright."

"What? How the fuck would Fletcher have know how I was feeling?"

"Because I asked him to ask you, he did, didn't he?"

"Did you honestly think I was about to tell someone I don't even like very much how fucking much I was hurting?"

"Oh," he says again. "I didn't know you don't like him."

"Well I don't, he's annoying, all that knowledge all power crap, but that's not the point. You should have come yourself, or at least written me a letter, not sent your stupid friend."

"I couldn't have come to the orphanage, there's no way they would have let me in and I did try to write something but..." he rubs his free hand over his head. "You know...it turned out a mess."

I remember Jack struggling to write with a pen, his hands covered in ink. "You could have used a pencil," I point out.

"I tried that too but I'm not good at writing. I didn't know what to put and I can't spell."

"I wouldn't have cared, sending Fletcher wasn't enough."

"Sorry," he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. "I know it wasn't but...you were scared of me, I didn't want to see you again and see you looking at me like that...like you did after...you know."

"After you beat Father Frederick to death," I provide.

"Yes...after I did that. I don't remember much from that night...I don't want to remember, but I looked at you and you were terrified. When I walked toward you, you backed away from me. I thought you were scared I was going to do that to you, and so was I."

"Are you saying you might have killed me too?" I feel a small sliver of fear, we're out here alone and I've done nothing but annoy him and shout at him. I know how strong he is, I know what he's capable of, but he's wrong about the night he killed the priest. I wasn't scared of him then, I was scared of what was going to happen to him, I was scared of what he had done, he was covered in blood and worse, that's why I backed away from him. I was scared of going into the bedroom and seeing what was left of Father Frederick, but I was never one bit scared of Jack, until he just said that.

"No...no, not then," he tries to reassure me. "What I mean is I lost control, I wanted to get as far away from all the people I cared about in case I hurt one of them like that. I was disgusted with myself, I let my temper win," he sighs. "I always knew...I was always told to be careful. Nanny always said I had to be careful as I was so much bigger and stronger than the other children my age and I had to learn to control my temper," he looks at me, his hazel eyes connecting with mine. "And then one day I couldn't control it, and a man died and I just wanted to run as fucking far and fast as I could."

All this time I never once tried to see what happened from Jack's point of view. I could only ever think about how much him going hurt me, of being almost overwhelmed with hopelessness at the thought I'd never get out of the orphanage and that no one else would ever like me as much as Jack did again. I never realised that Jack was suffering too, and that he did what he did because he didn't think he had any other choice.

"Father Frederick raped Jane, she was only thirteen," he winces slightly at my words. "I think most brothers would react with anger if that happened to their little sister. Maybe you went further than most would, and maybe you did loose control, but I don't see why that would mean you'd suddenly start being violent toward other people, people you liked."

"The thing is, I didn't know for sure, in a way I still don't," he looks up into the trees. "I like to think now I'm older I have more control, but there have been other times..." he tails off sighing deeply.

This seems to bring our conversation to an end, Jack clearly doesn't want to explain what he means by "other times" and he starts walking again so I have no choice but to trot along beside him. I find myself thinking back, trying to fit the things he just told me into my memories. It makes sense, Mother Hardigan offered him an escape and he took it. I've never truly understood why she didn't have Jack arrested for murder, but even in those dark days I was grateful that she didn't, that she faked his age and had him join the army instead. Then something else occurs to me, we were so young, neither of us were even sixteen, at that age should I have expected Jack to behave more responsibly? I don't know, but what I do know is that I put far too much trust in him, and I'll never do that again.

Something tickles the back of my mind, something about how it's the saddest thing is to live a life without love because of being afraid of being hurt. Someone said that to me recently, but who? It was a woman, but it wasn't Vio, I can't imagine her saying that kind of thing, not without a few choice swear words thrown in anyway. Was it Sora? I don't think it was, but it was...someone like her, but not her, an echoback woman though, I'm almost sure of it, why can't I remember? I shake my head, making Jack look down at me and ask if I'm alright.

"Fine," I answer, feeling annoyed at the way the memory of the woman seems to slip away from me every time I almost place her.

"Do you live in the forest now?" he asks, pulling me out of my thoughts.

"No," I reply. "Do you?"

"No. I've been stationed north of here for a while and we got sent down here to find that Sampson man your lot kidnapped." I decide not to put him right, not yet anyway. "So do you live in Shelly? You said you wanted to go there."

"No, I don't live there either," Jack sighs in irritation at how unhelpful I'm being. "I still live in Parnell," I say eventually, and I swear I can almost hear him thinking, trying to work this out.

"If you live in the Twin Islands then..."

"Why am I in the middle of the forest, and why did you catch me attacking a plantation?" I finish for him.

"Yeah, that," he nods. "Do you work for Father Barnaby?"

"If I said yes what would you do? I know he's a wanted man, would you try to get me to tell you where he was?"

"No, the government over here and the cartel want him, not us. Our only orders were to get Sampson back. Captain Samuels was very clear on that, we were only to take prisoners to interrogate them, not to hand them over. He said that the politics out here are not our business, and that he has no love for slave owners, said we weren't to help them in any way."

"Oh." That's good to know.

"So I take it you do work for Father Barnaby then?"

"No, I don't, I just wondered what you'd say if I said I did."

I hear him sigh again. "So who the fuck do you work for?"

"The man you're all running around trying to find."

He thinks about this for a bit. "You work for Sampson?" Jack sounds very confused.

"Yep."

"Do you know where he is?"

"Kind of."

"Where?"

"Right now?" I pretend to think about it. "On his way back to Shelly, he might even beat us there."

Jack stops walking abruptly, causing me to stumble on the other end of the handcuffs. "Have you know that all this time?"

"Of course I have," I look up at him.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"You told me not to let on I understood, remember?" I don't think I've ever seen anyone look more puzzled.

"But...I though you were with the attackers, that's why. If you work for Sampson why the hell were you raiding the plantation?"

"Long story," I say smugly starting to walk again, towing Jack behind me.

I can tell Jack's still trying to work it all out, and several minutes later he asks. "Was it real, the kidnapping, or was it some sort of set up?"

"It was real. I was knocked out, tied up and taken along with with Sampson and Vio."

"Where you hurt?" he sounds concerned.

"No."

"Good," he nods.

We lapse into silence once again, and I can't decide if we've said too much to one another, or not enough. After another hour or so of walking Jack suggests we stop for some food. It's not even close to lunch time and I find myself smiling, something I'd forgotten about him comes back to me, he's always hungry. Beside the track are a pile of craggy boulders and we sit down on then, Jack putting his hand in his pocket and rummaging around, looking for something, which I take to be the handcuff key. When he can't find it he frowns and reaches awkwardly across his body to search the other side.

While he's distracted I slip the key out of my own pocket and discreetly uncuff myself, he doesn't notice, so I jump off the boulder and look up at him. "What have you lost?" I ask grinning.

"Fucking handcuff key, I was going to take them off..." it takes him a few seconds. "How the...?" he stares at me in amazement as I hold the key up.

"I've learned some tricks in the past few years."

He looks me slowly up and down. "Yeah, I guess you have," and I have to try very hard to ignore the tingle his words send through my body.

Talk about this story on our forum
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily. Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]