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Falling Into a Dream

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The party’s in full swing, Jason however isn’t paying attention to any of it, he’s only a third through his second beer and the blunt in his hand is half burned but only a single drag’s been taken. The sickly sweet smoke is starting to become heavier, muskier, less like marijuana and closer to a fine cigar. Inwardly Jason groans because he knows what that means, he knew when he accepted Riley and Keith’s invitation that he’d be dealing with this shit all night. It’s more surprising that it took them this long to come out and play.

“This is how you rich punks party?” Hoyt’s ragged voice comes from to his right. Jason just continues to stare at the ceiling, if he doesn’t react they’ll go away faster. “No hookers, no gambling, weak as piss drugs and booze,” Hoyt continues smoke from his cigar flowing out the ragged gaping hole in his neck. There are card tables in the basement, people gambling, but it’s for chump change, no guns, no private islands, and no slaves. Hoyt would be just as bored if Jason went down and indulged. Worse he’d be a distraction from the game.

“I can’t believe this is what you came back too,” Jason counts down he doesn’t even get from three to one before a much smoother voice comes in from his left. “I never thought I’d agree with Volker on anything but this is one place where our views align. Jason, look at you,” he doesn’t react doesn’t move, he’s practiced in this, Citra doesn’t care as she continues unabated.

“You are a warrior Jason, you hold the power of the tatau within your soul and on your flesh, here you waste away going soft and fat. Like a farm animal.” He doesn’t he runs, he hits the gym, and sometimes he’ll court danger in a bad area hoping to get accosted so that when he gets violent it’s on someone who deserves it. That violence is a part of him now, embedded in his soul snuggled up next to Citra’s island magic and the devotion he still feels towards her.

“Oh agreeing with me, how fucking magnanimous of you Citra,” maybe he’ll get lucky and Citra and Hoyt will start arguing with each other. He can ignore that easily enough. Maybe he’ll get really lucky and Keith will stay on the other side of the room with Riley. Keith’s been avoiding him since Rook, not that Jason can blame him, because Jason’s been avoiding him too. Though for different reasons, Keith’s lucky he gets to remain oblivious. Jason frowns at that thought, it’s selfish, particularly since Keith endured something he didn’t.

He can see them talking, hear them a bit too, they’re going to send someone over to check on him. What sucks the most is its Keith’s turn, he hopes Keith manages to talk Riley or Daisy into coming over not come himself. He really should learn to stop hoping for things because Keith walks over, and leans on the back of the couch, Jason’s eyes flick over to him and confirm he’s not alone. Bambi fucking Buck Hughes is right behind him, as soon as Keith leans over he makes a lewd gesture and pelvic thrusts. Hoyt glares at Keith’s arms which are currently bisecting his own ethereal ones, his gaze flicks up to Keith and he looks so completely affronted Jason breaks. It’s a small chuckle but it’s enough that Citra, Hoyt, and Buck all have eyes on him now.

He groans, “go away Keith, I’m fine,” he’s pressing his palms into his eyes, Keith sighs, “Jay it’s fine we’re all just wondering if you wanted to join us at…”

He doesn’t hear the rest because Hoyt’s in his ear now, “I know you can hear me Jason, I want you to know that every day I’m stuck in this fucking limbo shit show watching you and your dumbass entitled pissant friends go about your boring tedious fucking lives is a day I plan something new and creative to do to you when you join us on this side. It won’t be long now either ‘Jay’” he uses the affectionate nickname with clear mockery “you’ve been courting this side pretty often. Maybe I’ll let Buck have the first go at you.” The Australian replies to this, “now, now Hoyt, much as I would love that, I have my own piece of property to reclaim once this gets going, and if this is anything to go on he’ll be with us sooner than pretty Miss Snow White.”

Jason looks over to see that some guy looming over Keith. Keith’s shrinking away from him, he’s making some excuse about Keith messing with ‘his girl’ which is bull, Keith hasn’t been interested in anything close to sex since Rook, since Buck, it’s something Jason will take to his grave. He’s seen Keith fake flirting to keep up appearances, the women usually go home alone, with someone else, or occasionally if they’re only in it for a one night stand, with Jason. Never with Keith, Keith can’t even touch or get touched by either sex without freezing a bit. So this guy is not only mistaken but pushing buttons he shouldn’t. The world blurs a little.

“Well looks like this party’s interesting after all,” Hoyt’s voice snaps him back to reality, someone’s screaming, someone else is pulling on his arm, his knuckles have blood on them and the big guy’s holding his nose blood is spilling down the front of his shirt.

“I guess I should go home then,” Jason says blandly, he steps over the guy on the ground and out the door, Daisy, Riley, and Keith following on his heels. “How about I take you guys home?” Daisy suggests, Jason doesn’t care. He’s already getting in his car turning on the ignition and pulling out of the driveway. He probably shouldn’t have left them behind. None of them want to be in the car with him, he doesn’t want to be alone with any of them. He wants to be alone. He’s never alone.

On cue Hoyt speaks up from the back seat, arms slung casually over the back seats, legs crossed in front of him as though this were his limo. “While we’re on the subject of mad dogs, I am curious Citra, where is your worthless fuck-up of a brother? Should he not be with us here?” Citra is sitting rigid with her hands clasped in front of her, Vaas is a poor subject between her and Hoyt.

“I wouldn’t know Hoyt, you were my brother’s keeper not me.” Hoyt laughs, and she glares at him, Jason tunes out her reply, whatever it is it pisses Hoyt off because they’re arguing again.

Jason steps out of the car at a rest stop looking over the pacific and lights up another blunt, this one cut with some special plants from the area around Rook, getting them is expensive and he doesn’t like to use them except when he needs them. Liza has said he’s the worst judge of what he needs, fuck Liza it’s his life.

Exhaling the smoke, the normal smell of weed mixing with the spicy smell of the flora from Rook. Ollie had apparently learned a thing or do from their weird doctor host about his homemade remedies. Liza told him under pain of death not to sell any to Jason, apparently Riley had ganged up with her to do it. Jason frowns, but the sky is starting to look less like a hazy light polluted sunrise and more like a Van Gogh painting, waves of the different light shades blending. Small discharges of light flickering to life and going out across his vision. Where does the sea end and the sky begin?

Who fucking knows, not Jason, Jason doesn’t care, he takes another drag. “You carry the island in you now Jason, this world isn’t yours anymore and never will be.” Citra is perched on the guard rail next to him looking out over the cliff. “Where’s Hoyt?” She looks at him, “shouldn’t you know that answer?”

“Admitting you’re just a product of my irrecoverably fucked brain chemistry? What happened to all that ‘this side’ crap.” He stares hard at her, and the infuriating person she is, the person he fell in love with, the person who used that love to manipulate him, the person who died for him. “What do you think I am?”

Jason looks back out over the ocean, “not here, not in a way that matters.” She frowns, “you could have been a king, brought the new generation into this world, continued the flame of the warrior and been consumed by it.”

“I killed for the Rakyat, I would have died for them and you, in a way I already did,” Vaas’ ranting about being reborn and crucified through Jason echoes in his mind. “But I wasn’t going to kill the reason I destroyed myself, my friends, my brother, I wasn’t going to give up the rest of myself. If you had let them go you would have had me.”

Citra just shrugs, because in the end Jason realizes, it doesn’t matter, delusion, ghost, hallucination, psychic projection, aliens, what the fuck ever she is. Citra is gone, the knife wound in her gut killed her and he’s adrift. He can’t go back, can’t bring her back, can’t bring Grant back, can’t bring anything of himself back. He’s not the wide eyed innocent little party boy anymore. He can’t be, He puts out the remainder of the joint and packs it up.

The Citra of now is gone too and the sun is rising, he’s supposed to be at a job interview in three hours. Citra, Hoyt, and Buck might be gone but they’ll be back they never leave him alone for long. Never long enough.

*


Jason arrives home long enough to take a shower, the hot water cascading over his sore muscles. Citra, Hoyt, and Buck have all been mercifully silent, the first time Citra had ambushed him had been in the shower and he’d avoided taking one for almost a week. It wasn’t until his mom made it clear he was not welcome in the house unwashed that he bit the bullet and ignored Citra’s presence.

Mechanically he goes through the motions of cleaning himself and brushing his teeth, Rook didn’t allow for the amenities of modern life. He’d be lying if he said they weren’t something he’d missed, even something he’d hoped to regain even if he’d stayed. Staying wasn’t an option though. Citra had used him, imposed her cosmology on him, forgotten he was a person who could make his own choices. He still loved her, or maybe it was closer to an addiction, a fixation, not something totally in his control, doesn’t matter. She’s gone, stabbed in his place.

Stepping out of the shower Jason looks himself in the mirror dark bags under his eyes, stubble, his hair flattened against his head, he almost looks how he did after Rook. Sighing he picks up a razor and starts shaving, he realizes with irritation he’s managed to cut himself. Small nicks have gotten easier to notice, but after losing a finger, the small pains just aren’t as noticeable. Still it’ll be marked as ‘unprofessional’ oh well he’s only doing this to appease his parents. He’s allowed to take time off from school but only if he holds an internship.

Fuck this, he thinks as he laces up his shoes, ‘business casual’ interview outfit, he looks almost civilized. Anyone who looks him in the eye can see he’s anything but. Still he might as well go and see if he’s gotten any better at faking it.

*


He hasn’t, the man conducting the interview flinches when he locks eyes with Jason, they shake hands but he hesitates to actually take Jason’s hand. Most people don’t know why they hesitate when Jason’s involved. But they do. Jason doesn’t even know, he suspects, suspects they can see, like his friends could see, the parts of him that were carved away by Rook only for the island to insert it’s savage wilderness into those missing gaps.

The interview goes form there, to the man’s limited credit he schools his expression not letting his discomfort show. Jason still knows though, Hoyt and Sam were much better poker players than this asshole. Hoyt decides to take his errant thought as an open invitation. “Look at this prick, thinks he’s king shit because he’s, what is this position for? Bank or something? Whatever, he’s just a tool a cog in a machine he’s incapable of seeing. I was at the top of an empire Jason, you know that, goddammit I ruled Rook, I operated the fucking machine that eats spineless assholes like this for breakfast.”

He looks at Jason, “you aren’t getting this job, it’s beneath you, frankly, he’s not going to give it to you. He’s afraid of you, you killed me Jason and I was three times the man he is. No simpering little prey animal’s going to willingly invite a lion into its den.”

Hoyt might have a point, and Jason’s feeling kind of malicious right now. “You’re not giving me the job,” he says it bluntly and plainly, cutting off the latest in a string of asinine interview questions. The interviewer is stunned, clearly not used to being interrupted or talked to that way by someone who’s ‘lower’ than him. “You flinched when we met, you hesitated to take my hand to shake it. All this,” he gestures, “this is bullshit pageantry,” hey word-a-day calendars are another point in civilization’s favor, and at this point it needs all the advantages it can get. “This pageantry is just window dressing, you aren’t going to hire someone you’re afraid of. So I’m going to stop wasting my time.”

He stands up doesn’t bother shaking the guys hand again, just leaves the interview and the man sitting slack jawed and embarrassed. Hey who says he hasn’t learned to kill in the ‘civilized’ way.

*


Arriving home comes with it’s own set of trials, because of fucking course it does, he can hear Riley and his parents talking. “I can’t believe he’d be so arrogant!” His dad’s yelling, he’s pissy, probably because the interview toady decided to call them. Fuck them, they don’t know anything, though Riley’s a disappointment. Riley should know better.

“Honey, you don’t know what happened,” his mother. “Oh don’t I? Jason didn’t care about his future before that whole incident,” incident, he can’t even bring himself to say it. It’s almost funny, “after he got back he’s just gotten worse, now it’s not like he’s too fucking clueless, now he just doesn’t care.”

Hoyt’s taken a place next to his mother on their couch one arm casually slung behind her like he’s consoling her. A gross parody meant to infuriate Jason, too bad for him his family’s already managed it. “Incident?” Jason speaks and everyone in the room flinches, fucking typical, “incident’s a pretty funny word for, kidnapped by human traffickers I had to kill my way through to get free.” His father is quietly fuming, his mother sighs, “Jason, isn’t that a little dramatic?”

Jason laughs and it causes everyone to make a sour face, “no, dramatic is asking your boyfriend to kill his friends and family to stay in a relationship with you.” Riley shrinks a bit and his mom looks at him, “Riley sweetie, what is he talking about?”

Jason glares, “you didn’t tell them? You said you’d take care of it.” Riley returns his glare, “what’d you want me to say? That your crazy girlfriend had us all tied up and you so drugged up you held a knife to Liza’s throat? Fuck you Jason.” His mother is looking alarmed, “at least a version of the truth, that I killed people Riley.”

He looks at his father, “I wasn’t going to get the job, your good buddy was pissing himself being in the same room as me. He wasn’t going to give me jack shit.” He looks Riley in the eye, “I’ve killed people, I’m not sorry, I did that and you all came home safe.” He turns and stalks to the guest room above the pool house.

It used to be Grant’s after he moved out Jason got it. Some of Grant’s things are still in there, he couldn’t save Grant, he couldn’t save Citra, couldn’t even save Doctor Earnhardt, that weird old man that sheltered them. Fuck, he couldn’t save himself. Riley, Ollie, Liza, Daisy, Keith? They’re all home safe and sound, but he might as well be dead to them, they have nothing left in common. Well Ollie at least knows the value of Rook’s flora.

He grabs a signed football, one of Grant’s treasured items, tossing it up and down, up and down, losing himself in the movement of the ball. “Jason?” His mother, because of course it is, did Riley bother to say something to her. Tell her anything about what he’s dealing with? He’s a monster in human skin, and he can’t even say if he dislikes the change. It doesn’t matter, it’s who he is.

“Honey, I want you to see someone,” ah, so either his outburst convinced her that he needs help or Riley did bother to say something. Doesn’t really matter at this point though. “This is doctor Rosenthal’s card, she’s very good, she’s got experience with soldiers coming home.” Huh, maybe this is something his mom actually put thought in herself, it’s a disconcerting notion. His mom usually having been a present but largely passive figure in his life. She encouraged him to follow his dad’s wishes. Is it because they want the same thing or because she’s the ‘good wife’?

“I’m worried about you Jason, so is your father, he just… He just doesn’t know how to show it.” His father’s worried about himself, Jason knows that maybe there’s a bit of genuine worry for his son in there but Jason’s a threat to him. Which, yeah Jason could kill him, easily, but god, he wouldn’t, he’s not the way he was true, he’s killed people, even enjoyed it. But he’s not some kind of rabid animal.

“Okay,” he’s not sure why he agreed to it, then he’s been running on instinct and autopilot for so long it’s not like this will change. Besides, his mom’s taken some initiative, he might as well put in some sort of effort. She smiles, “thank you Jason,” he takes the doctor’s card from her and she hugs him. “We really are happy your safe Jason, I don’t think I could stand losing two of you.”

She did though, the Jason that went to Rook is not the Jason that came home not even close. Still he returns the hug, he’s a monster, a murderer, he’s killed and he’s enjoyed it. He’s not going to torture his family though. He’s going to at least try.

*


The waiting room for the doctor’s office is neat, clean, and utterly inoffensive. He’s flipping through a magazine, he’s been sober for the last forty eight hours, he promised his mom he’d be ‘in his right mind’ for this. “I haven’t been in my right mind for the last seven and a half months,” god he’s counting the days since he’s been off Rook the way an addict counts days he’s been clean.

Eventually a man leaves the doctor’s office, shakes her hand and gives Jason a once over. He’s got a shaved head and angular face, it could easily be called attractive. Even with the large burn scar, fuck especially with the scar. His eyes are striking, bright blue contrasting with the dark stubble on his head. The look in them mirrors of Jason’s own, Jason realizes he’s sizing up this guy too.

There’s a tension in the air, two monsters in the same territory. There could be a fight, instead the man just nods to him and they pass neither breaking eye contact, Jason does get a look at his dog tags, ‘Walker’ maybe he’ll ask about him. Someone who might get him.

“Jason Brody?” The voice shocks him out of his thoughts, the woman in front of him is shorter than him. Unassuming face, reddish brown hair, older than him, in her fifties probably, the thing he notices though is she doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t hesitate. She looks him in the eyes and offers her hand, she doesn’t smile, there’s no patronizing falsehood to her. Jason takes her hand and gives a firm shake. She nods and gestures for him to come in.

“Who was that?” She doesn’t stop or turn, “none of your business Jason, if you want to meet people in the same boat as you I can give you that kind of information but I somehow don’t think that it’s what you want.” She’s right, Jason doesn’t want a support group, there’s only one person who really understood him. Citra he thought she did but she didn’t, it’s why he left ultimately, why he didn’t go along with her plan. That person killed his brother, killed him, and was in turn killed by him. God isn’t that just fucked up. Some circle jerk of violent insanity. It’s almost funny.

“Nah doc,” he says, he throws himself on the couch, “so where do we start?” She takes a seat in a chair, “where do you want to start?” He laughs, “I don’t want to start anywhere, but that sounds like a shitty way to spend an hour.”

He looks at her, “how about you tell me what you think? I know my mom’s probably called you, given some tear filled heartfelt spiel about her son who came back changed.” She nods, “I don’t know if I would phrase it that way, but yes, she is worried about you. Though I don’t think she understands that anyone who’s been through what you have will be changed by it.”

He gives a derisive snort, then he looks at her, really looks at her, her eyes are calculating, she’s observing, she’s not intimidated by him. “What have I been through doc? Kidnapped by human traffickers and drug lords? Managed to escape from them and get most of my friends and family home right? How do you think I managed it?” The two stare each other down, the doctor blinks first but it’s not a flinch so much as an acknowledgment.

“You killed people, I’m not going to ask how many, but you have blood on your hands Jason, you did what you felt you had to and robbed more than one person of their future. I wont pretend I know the situation, I don’t know it’s necessity or lack of. I’m not judging you I’m stating a fact, you saved your younger brother, your girlfriend-”

“Ex girlfriend” he interrupts, she nods, “not surprising, most relationships wouldn’t survive that kind of trial.” Jason shrugs, “it was probably on it’s way out before Rook.” She nods, “you killed people but you saved others.” Jason smirks, “I didn’t just do it because I had to, doc, I learned something on Rook, and coming home from Rook. I liked it, I was free there, everything was life and death there, it was kill and survive or not. None of this,” he gestures to the office.

“No fakeness, no, I don’t know, responsibility? Nah, more like, you were responsible for you, if you couldn’t take it you died.” She leans back and looks at him he smiles, “so how fucked up am I doc?”

“You can’t shock me Jason, I’ve met people who’ve been through and done what you’ve been through and done. Your honesty is refreshing but not surprising, you’re testing me. I don’t doubt that you enjoyed your time on Rook.” She stares him down and this time he’s the one who acknowledges her, “you weren’t free of responsibility though, you were responsible for at least five other people. You also aren’t fooling anyone, you were responsible for the people you killed. Though let me say this, you aren’t responsible for the people who you couldn’t save.” Jason glowers, “you haven’t adjusted, it will take a lot of time and energy to adjust, and you’re right, I don’t think you would be capable of a corporate job how you are. I’d recommend something outdoors, something relatively solitary, until you can comfortably be around people.

“No military service?” He’s mocking he knows that’s what he’s doing. She doesn’t rise to the bait it’s annoying, “no, you wouldn’t be eligible for service, you’re mental state bars you from service.”

“What if I told you I want to go back?” He asks, now she’s glaring, “Going back? you might want that, but you want it the same way and addict wants a fix. You need to distance yourself from it, not wallow in what you did but grow past it.”

“I felt free there, I felt... whole.” She nods, “there are better ways to get that feeling.”

He nods, “yeah I know.”

“Logically you do, but nothing about your situation is really logical is it?”

*


The bar is dark, it works for him, it’s also quiet, very exclusive, there’s rumor about organized crime meeting in here. He hopes it’s true, he worked his ass off to get an invite to somewhere there wouldn’t be an actual bar crowd and if there was dangerous elements keeping people out? So much the better. Jason smiles to himself turning away from the embers in the fire place set in the center of the bar. He himself qualifies as a dangerous element, even if he is trying his hand at being tame.

Citra is hanging off of him, he can smell her, the oils she anointed herself in, the heady smell of her. He stares down into the glass of whiskey in front of him, one small sphere of ice in the middle of it, it makes a satisfying clink whenever he rotates the glass. He listens to Citra rant about the doctor and her medicine.

Clink, “I can’t believe that bitch!”

Clink, “She knows nothing of you, of us.”

Clink, “Yet she thinks she’s in any position to judge us?”

Clink, “Jason, you are a warrior, you are not some pet to be paraded around or kept in a pretty little nature reserve.”

Clink, he’s about to tell her to shut up, consequences for talking to himself in public be damned when someone behind him says, “Jason Brody?”

He turns and scowls at the newcomer which is usually enough to make people go away, another nice thing about the shady types. They keep to themselves. The guy is in a nice suit, obnoxiously he isn’t the least bit intimidated by Jason which only worsens Jason’s mood. The guy has short brown hair and a completely uninteresting face, bland office worker type, probably one of his dad’s lackey’s. “Yeah?” He responds, throwing every ounce of annoyance into the word.

“I’m agent Reynolds from Interpol,” Shit Jason’s scowl deepens. There’s a tension in the air now, the shady types in the bar are watching them warily, great now he’s going to have to work at getting back in assuming he can.

“The hell do you want?” He’s not drunk, but he is getting close to angry. He’s been exonerated for anything he did on Rook, and he wants the people here to know this is not his choice. The agent lays a file down in front of him, “when you returned from Rook Island,” the tension in the air gets even thicker and now the shady types are focused. Yep Jason’s prospects in this bar and all affiliated establishments just got torpedoed.

“You mentioned the deaths of three prominent figures on our watchlists,” he lays down pictures, Hoyt Volker, Bambi ‘Buck’ Hughes, and Vaas Montenegro.” The photos are old, the latest time stamp from a year before he’d landed on Rook.

“What’s your point?” He takes a swig of his drink and motions for a refill, fuck this guy he might as well enjoy the last few minutes he has in this fine establishment. A fourth photo is placed before him this one of a funeral being held, Hoyt’s wife in black with two kids, “we’ve confirmed the death of Mister Volker, while Mister Hughes hasn’t been confirmed he’s remained missing since the time you left the island.” Aw, no burial or funeral for Buck? How sad. Jason’s not bitter, not really, the look of fear he saw on Buck’s face once her realized that this was one person he wouldn’t get away fucking with was satisfying. Hearing he’s going unmourned? That’s just icing.

“However,” a fifth photo, this one makes Jason’s pulse quicken, it shows Vaas with a number of his pirates directing the unloading of a bunch of cargo. The date on it is from earlier this month. “Would you like to change your story?”

Jason looks up at the guy, sure he’s rattled finding out that Vaas is alive but that doesn’t mean this slick little turd needs to know that. “Nope,” he draws the word out and pops the ‘p.’ “Like I told your buddies in the feds, I was blitzed out of my brain when I confronted Vaas.” He waves the man off like he’s a pest and it clearly annoys the agent. “If he’s alive then good for him, sucks for you, but it’s got fuck all to do with me. Now I’d like to finish my drink before these fine gentleman encourage me to vacate the premises.”

“Are you saying that you were unaware that the person in this photo was alive? If it is discovered that you were lying here it would go quite badly for you in court.” Jason stares him down and the man flinches, he doesn’t look away but he doesn’t hold his ground.

“Heh, my fucking shrink has bigger balls than you, I’m saying I didn’t know jack shit, now fuck off.” The agent makes a sound of annoyance but collects his photos and leaves. “This isn’t the last time we’ll see each other Mister Brody.”

Jason gives him a jaunty wave, “alright it’s a date, don’t worry sweetheart I’ll bring protection.”

He slams the rest of his drink and gets up as soon as he’s sure the agents gone, waving off the bouncers that come in to stare menacingly at him. They don’t even have chain guns he’s not intimidated, “yeah, yeah, I’m leaving untwist your undies.”

*


He’s spooked, not by the fed, fuck that pansy ass, but by Vaas being alive, he was almost certain he’d killed the fucker. Seeing Vaas’ eyes with the knife, the knife who’s comforting weight is planted in the middle of his chest, still burn in his vision every time he falls asleep.

“What are you going to do about it?” Citra’s laying next to him, the bed has no sign of her weight, the cigar smoke wafting through the room belying Hoyt’s presence in his desk chair.

“Can’t believe that scrawny fuck managed to outlive me!” Hoyt sounds more offended than outraged, but a lot of things offend Hoyt so Jason decides not to give a fuck.

Citra reappears over him, her face hard and unreadable, no warmth from her closeness, “Jason. What are you going to do about it?”

Chapter Text

Daisy knew something was up when she meets Jason for drinks that Friday, it’d only been about a day since he’d gotten the news Vaas was still alive. Jason looks like shit, like he hasn’t slept, or at least not well, since the party. That’s not the only thing though, despite the clear exhaustion written across his face he has a fire in his eyes. A fire that had slowly dimmed into a sort of soulless unfeeling dullness since they’d gotten home. She remembers though, she was there for his full transformation. She remembers when she’d first seen him on Rook after- after Grant.

 

That listless quality after his brother’s murder, which was the first time she’d seen the fire. At the time she didn’t know it for what it was, not until it had become a raging inferno and her friends were whispering about the gleeful way that Jason dispatched pirates. The worst thing is, she can’t say if it was a problem, that fire brought him to the edge of sanity, probably over it, but it let him cut a swathe through the pirates that stole Grant from her and Jason. So yeah, unlike the others, she doesn’t dislike that fire, she respects it like any dangerous force. If Jason was as unhinged as they thought he wouldn’t have put her feelings about Grant’s death before his own. He did, he asked her if she was okay first.

 

He’s quiet for a while, they sit in silence while Jason gathers his thoughts in order, “Vaas is alive.” Daisy leans back and lets out a soft breath, she realizes exactly why Jason needed time to broach the topic, needing it herself. She’d been there first, been the one who got his rants about Vaas, some drug fueled some not. She’s not sure Jason can ever really be called ‘sober’ anymore. Liza, bless her, she tried, but, well only Ollie really tried any of Earnhardt’s ‘island magic.’ He’d given her some as a painkiller, it worked, well, it helped take a lot of edges off. Vaas is alive, Jason wouldn’t even contemplate talking to her about it unless it was true.

 

Thank god Ollie decided to learn a thing or two from the old guy, thank god his parents still didn’t monitor his spending, and if anything they actively turned a blind eye. Liza may have forbidden him from selling to Jason, but not to her, and if she slipped Jason a few when he clearly needed it on the sly. So much the better.

 

Still, Vaas, when she’d learned Jason killed him she thought she’d be happier, she barely saw the man though. He was just a mostly faceless villain, there wasn’t really the closure for her that there was for Jason. Or more accurately the way there should have been, Jason’s feelings for the pirate were clearly twisted up into a ball of weirdness that the bitch queen of the Rakyat had only fed on and twisted further. He’d been ecstatic when he’d killed Vaas, fell deeper into Citra’s web, then she asked him to kill them. He still barely seems to be able to look Liza in the eye. Certainly he doesn’t argue with her the way he used to, but that, well that was how everyone knew they were done as a couple.

 

“What are you going to do about it?” Because this is Jason, he’s going to do something, how insane, stupid, and possibly sociopathic that something was is up for debate. He laughs it’s a mirthless hollow noise, she’s heard it before, Keith makes sounds like that. Something happened before Jason got him, everyone’s noticed it, Ollie’s noticed it, Jason knows. Liza suspects, Daisy has decided that Keith is not going to be her problem. He can talk to Jason or Liza, hell Liza seems hellbent on fixing their problems in this post Rook world. Let her deal with it, since she’s dealing with Jason now.

 

“What do you think I’m going to do?” He’s got that damn cocky smirk, the thing that made her hit on him when they’d first met. Asshole. “I think, you’re considering making some shady deals and charging back to that island, which is now probably wholly under Vaas’ control, to try and kill the SOB.” At least that’s what she hopes he’s thinking because that’s something she can try and talk him out of. Even if a very prominent part of her really wants to bankroll this whole operation, see Grant’s killer fully brought to, if not justice, something close. Maybe even let Jason finally figure out what he wants, even if it means he just vanishes into the jungle forever.

 

Jason looks at her, really looks at her, it makes her feel like she’s staring down a predator, she can feel herself stiffen but she’s been around him long enough to know what he’s like. That in the end, he wouldn’t hurt her, he had the choice to, had been encouraged to, he broke free of it and saved them all again. She sighs, “Jason, I’m not even going to consider what you’re contemplating, really I’m not the team mom or therapist and I don’t want to be.” He laughs it’s a warm sound much closer to his original laugh, to the one before Rook, then he says “I wouldn’t be talking to you if you were.”

 

Damn him his cocky smile and that soft look, because that’s just it, she’s not trying to fix his damage and that’s the only reason he’s here talking to her now. “Take some time to think about it, whatever you do, don’t go in halfcocked,” she pulls out an envelope, “Ollie got a special batch cooked up. You look like you can use them, don’t take the pink ones until you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.” He grabs the envelope, “aye aye doc.” She glares, “I’m serious Jason, you clearly haven’t been sleeping well enough as it is and I don’t need Liza on my ass about this okay?”

 

He nods, she sighs, then they start talking about something blessedly normal, her swim meets were postponed which is good because that means she’s not going to get caught with any of Ollie’s stuff in her system. Jason listens with polite silence, she can tell he’s bored out of his mind by the conversation, but it’s something they both need. Her the normalcy, him the boredom. Jason spends simultaneously too much time in his head, and not enough time thinking about his actions.

*

 

 

Talking to Daisy helped out a lot, but Jason’s still unsure, he retreats to a small place he’s found outside the city, a little private botanical garden or something similar, the arching glass dome above him filtering light to the lush green. He can almost imagine a monitor lizard or a tiger stalking through the brush around him. He takes a puff of some of the stuff Daisy provided him. Trying to sort through his feelings is not something he’d ever been good at, he spent a lot of time avoiding thinking about his future.

 

Not too much has changed, it’s the why, before it was because he couldn’t see a future. Every time he’d looked it was like watching a cartoon, a parody, a joke of his life, not his actual future. Anytime he’d look for something real there was just an obfuscated mess of haziness, no real plan, just the suggestions and wants of others. Now he can see a future for himself, see it clearly, and the future is a hostile island filled with feral dogs, tigers, pirates, and savagery. Rook is his future, or at least, it’s the only one he can see. The one concrete thing he knows.


He needs to go back, he needs to beat Vaas, then what though? Rule it? Become a new pirate king? Live there among natives that probably wouldn’t tolerate him, even ignoring the drama with Citra and Dennis. He wants to kill Vaas, then what? He’ll figure it out when he gets there.

*

 

 

Rock music drifts out from Ollie’s apartment, close enough to campus to be accessible his parents seem truly enthused by his sudden interest in biochemistry. That he seems to be readjusting to life with more ambition and drive, that he’s using that drive to produce what is arguably some of the best and completely new brand of narcotic probably hasn’t crossed their minds. Jason chuckles, still he knows that Ollie has some form of connections to Rook, or the surrounding islands, he knows that flora. Ollie’s going to help him with his plan. He bangs on the door and shouts, “police open up!”

 

Jason gets more than a small bit of satisfaction from the cursing and scrambling before Ollie opens the door trying to look nonchalant only to begin scowling. “Jason you fucking asshole!” Jason just laughs and walks past Ollie, “that’s what you get for making Daisy play drug mule for you.” Ollie sighs and throws himself into a beanbag chair, “Liza would kill me if I gave you drugs and honestly man; she fucking scares me.”


Jason sits at a desk chair and looks at Ollie mildly, “more than me?” Maybe Jason shouldn’t poke so soon after his prank. But if he’s honest he’s curious, Ollie sighs and drags a hand down his face, “I don’t know Jason. I mean, you saved us, but you’re dangerous you pick fights, and I don’t know. Yes Jason you scare me, but more I’m worried about you. Jay, Liza told me you’ve been picking fights. I hope you’re not getting yourself into trouble.”

 

Jason nods, “right, that’s why I need your help,” Ollie looks startled at this. “I want to know how you’ve been getting the plants.” Ollie backtracks, “no. Jason no! NO! Liza would fucking kill me.” Jason merely waits until Ollie’s done. “I’m not asking for you to tell me how to get or make this stuff I just want to know who ships it too you.”

 

Ollie shifts a bit before he sighs relenting, “if Liza gets on my case about this I’m blaming you entirely.” Jason smiles, it doesn’t seem to reassure Ollie, so he stops. Letting the smile fall. “They’re called the consortium, I know, I know they sound like James Bond villains.” He texts something, Jason scowls at it, because he’s seen this before, once in Hoyt’s compound, again in the photo of crates Vaas was unloading. Which means that Vaas has probably secured the islands for himself. That will make things more difficult.

 

He stands up and smiles, genuinely, Ollie remains skittish, “thanks Ollie, this is a huge help.” Ollie starts, “help? Help with what? Jay? Jason!?” But Jason is already out the door, renewed purpose filling him.

*

 

 

Dealing with Keith is not something Jason wants to do, not just because Buck. Buck is a major factor, true, because fuck him. But also because only Jason knows what happened to Keith on Rook, no one else seems to appreciate what kind of scars he came back with. He avoids Jason who does the same, it’s not fair to either of them. Everyone’s aware of Jason’s scars, the hair trigger temper, the near fugue states when he incites violence, Jason’s scars are loud and bombastic.

 

Keith? Keith has withdrawn, he only participates in parties as a token gesture, and fears intimacy, contact of any kind makes him cringe or flinch. When he gets quiet in response to those around him. Buck killed Keith almost the same way that Vaas killed Jason. The difference is what crawled out of their respective graves. Jason is a monster wearing the skin of who he was, a predator born in the jungles of rook. Keith’s barely a ghost.

 

Jason hates it, hates seeing this empty withdrawn fake walking around with Keith’s face. What pisses him off the most about it is that little voice in the back of his head that says this is what his family and friends feel about him. That by losing patience with the person Keith is now he’s a hypocrite.

 

Hypocrite, thief, murderer, druggie, lunatic, just another notch on the list of reasons Jason can’t stay. Keith’s parents let him in, surprised to see Jason they smile and go through the motions, the way everyone does. He goes up to the second floor to find Keith in his room playing some online game at his computer. Buck is lounging on his bed and gives a fluttering wave pursing his lips in mock seduction. Or at least Jason hopes its mock, the line with Buck has never been very firm.

 

Keith gives a smile, it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’m leaving,” it’s the only thing he can say Keith’s smile drops and he looks conflicted.

 

“Why are you telling me?” Keith’s tenses like a startled rabbit, Jason quickly squashes the part of him that relishes it.

 

“Because you aren’t going to have someone who knows anymore, you should probably stop forcing yourself to go to parties until you’re ready.” His voice is flat, even to his own ears it sounds like he’s making the token of a gesture towards what would placate Liza who’s probably the closest thing he has to a moral compass now.

 

Keith’s angry he stands up, “the fuck Jason! You’re just going to come here and drop this shit on me?!”


Jason rounds on him and he flinches back like he’s about to dive for his phone, Jason looks at him the eyes that have been dull for months suddenly sharp and glittering. “Look at us Keith, all I’ve done is turn around and you’re acting like I pulled a knife. You flinch from contact and I wake up with blood on my hands, everyone looks at me like a tiger on a leash.”

 

Jason lets out a breath trying to control himself, he’s a man, not an animal, and the slightest hint of flight will not trigger him. “That’s why I can’t stay.” He’s going to pay for this one, he knows that, he curses himself as he leaves, Buck leaning over the bed in pantomime of a teenage girl watching gossip.

*

 

 

Jason realizes just when and how he’s going to pay for his interaction with Keith when he’s driving down route sixty to a small private airstrip. His phone has been ringing off and on for the last fifteen minutes, it’d started after Liza sent him roughly eight texts. Texts increasingly angry and worried, Jason sighs as he pulls into the air strip lot. “What is it Liza,” he braces the phone against his shoulder, he’s got a few things for his first couple steps, rope, pliers, chemicals ranging from household to something a bit more caustic.

 

“Don’t you dare Jason, I’ve been trying to get ahold of you for the last hour.” She’s angry.

 

“I’ve been on the freeway for a while, phone was in the back seat.” Jason’s ambivalent, that makes her angrier.

 

“Jason, what are you doing, I just got off the phone with Keith and Riley’s out of phone range with your parents. So I guess I’m the one that has to talk you off this ledge?” There’s a desperate tone to her voice.

 

“What ledge Liza? This is just something I have to do.” His phone dings, the message confirms that the rest of what he needs will be waiting for him in Bangkok. “Gotta go Liza, I have a flight to catch,” just like a few nights ago he’s watching the sun from the shore, this time the sunset, reflecting off the smog from LA and making the horizon look like it’s burning.

 

“Yo, we’re ready to go,” the pilot yells to him, Jason chucks his phone off the cliff into the water and turns to his pilot with a thumbs up.

 

“Alright,” he tosses his keys to the mechanic, “keep the car and whatever’s in it, think of it as a tip.”

*

 

 

Riley shambles back through the door to his room, Liza’s been texting him nonstop something about Jason needing sense talked into him. He decides to deal with it later. That is until he finds the note, Jason’s hand writing, jagged and blocky his brother still adjusting to missing a finger.

 

Riley, sorry I don’t have the balls to tell you this in person. I found some shit out, and I got to go deal with it. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll be coming back, whether or not I’m alive.

-Jason

 

Riley pulls out his phone and immediately texts Liza.

*

 

 

The music pounding through the club has enough base to make those too close to the speakers feel like their chests are cracking. It’s part of the reason Doug loves his job, the other reason is the money he gets from his ‘referrals’ he smiles amiably as he hands the skydiving information to a small group of European tourists. They giggle and titter, high, drunk, maybe both, doesn’t matter means the thought of diving out of a plane sounds good to them, recommended by a nice trustworthy white American DJ. Vaas gets some new flesh to peddle and Doug gets a cool grand a head. His replacement comes in and the two fist bump as Doug head out the door/ Doug goes out into the alley to smoke one of the unique blunts the Rook pirates send him as a bonus. Inhaling deeply he pulls out the keys to his car.

 

He’s probably one of the only people here who could possibly walk around secure in the knowledge that no one would be stupid enough to fuck with him. Sure he’s a bitch, but being the bitch of the biggest nastiest predator in these waters means security. Doug’s never been a man with a great deal of dignity…

 

His lack of dignity is the reason he’s not afraid to invoke the threat of the pirate lord when he wakes up somewhere with a bag over his head, which is pounding like the worst hangover possible.

 

“You know who I am? Who I work for? Clearly you don’t or you wouldn’t be pulling this shit fucker!” He thrashes, then he flinches when the sack gets yanked off the light overhead blinding and doing nothing to help his headache.

 

A voice from the blur of a face in front of him says, “I know exactly who you are Dougy, and who you work for, that’s why I’m doing this.”

 

The face comes into focus, Doug wishes it didn’t, he recognizes the guy, Vaas has had a hate boner for this kid for what’s gotta be damn near a year.

 

Snow White, Jason fucking Brody is crouched in front of him, and he notices he’s on a large amount of plastic sheeting, tied to a metal support beam. Jason smiles at him, “I’m gonna need you to help me with two things Doug. First I need a bit of a Rook update.”

 

Doug swallows, “what’s the other thing?”

 

Jason gestures to the line off tools and chemicals on the ground next to him. “Not much, I just need to get back into the swing of how things work on Rook. I figure since I also need to make sure you aren’t bullshitting me I’d kill two birds with one stone.”

 

Doug is not a proud man, if he was he wouldn’t have rolled over to Vaas so readily, Doug screams.

Chapter Text

            Jason steps out onto the pier, a boat set to go to Rook, largely sail, having a motor for when he needs to book it. Jason would rather he didn’t enter the islands noticed, but if he is, well… He smirks, snapping his bubblegum while double checking his stock of ammunition and weaponry. By now they’d be finding Doug, or what’s left of him. Just a few hours Vaas would be getting his message. He’ll be approaching the islands from the northwest, near what’d be left of Earnhardt’s mansion. He snaps a fresh magazine into the AR he brought tosses it into the copilot’s seat. Next to Louise, the fond name he has as a surprise for the boat patrols. “You’re really going through with this?”

 

Jason’s blood runs cold, he’d been hoping that he’d dodged a ghost, that it was just the people he’d killed directly that torment him. He ignores it getting the boat up and running, he’ll be motoring out into the deep before switching to wind power. “Jay; I know you too well. You can hear me. Now stop pretending you can’t, you’re not six anymore dude.” Jason stands up straight his face falling into the careful neutral of when he’s hunting. He turns, and there he is, standing there like the last time he saw him. Same shirt, same pants, same hole in his throat spilling away his long-spent life blood. “Grant.” His brother just shakes his head, “Jesus Jay, you can’t actually be doing this.”

 

“You aren’t really here.” Jason’s voice sounds cold even to him, like the last of his humanity is spent. Grant looks hurt, “then what am I Jason?” Jason shrugs, “my self-doubt, my inner Liza, fucked if I know, fucked if I care.” Grant hops off the railing he was sitting on laughing a bit, “I know Liza’s prettier than me. And I know you Jason, you aren’t that far gone.” He reaches out Jason snaps, like an irritable animal, “Don’t.” Grant recoils. “Just, please,” his affect returns, with it too much emotion. He’s sick to his stomach and he’s shaking like he hasn’t eaten. Grant gets that sad desperate look he had when he’d first broken Jason out.

 

“Don’t. You’re not here. Not you. Not Hoyt. Not Citra. You’re all dead and my broken drugged up imbalanced FUCKED brain chemistry is just fucking with me. So just, go away.” Grant sighs, “maybe I’m your conscience then Jason, trying for the last voice you might actually listen too.” Jason snorts, “you sound like my shrink.” Grant frowns, “how would you know? You only went once.” Jason starts prowling across the deck, Grant follows him. “What are you thinking Jay? Going to go in guns blazing? Kill Vaas? Die trying?” Jason turns on the boat, “it’s better than withering away back there. Better than killing someone I won’t get away with.” Grant looks sad, “you wouldn’t-” Jason cuts his hallucination off, he can’t think of it as Grant, that road is worse than him being insane. “I would, I almost have.” Grant’s pleading now but his voice is fainter, “you didn’t though! Jason just please list-” Jason turns on the engine drowning out whatever the figment was trying to see.

 

Jason looks to the south, the hazy light of Bangkok mixing with the dawn, “shut up.”

*

 

 

            Vaas storms through his compound like an angry tiger, his small lithe frame alive with menace. He’s alive, for the first time since his bitch of a sister tried to kill him. Organized, not sober, he’d never be that well-adjusted, but less unhinged. Less erratic. Ever since his rebirth, the scar in his chest aches but his mind is on fire with ideas and focus. He’d barely survived his fight with Jason Brody, if Snow White hadn’t been blitzed out of his gourd Vaas probably would have taken it in the heart and not nicked a lung. He also found out who was truly loyal to him. They brought him to the medical bay, patched him up, kept him hidden while Citra and Hoyt used Jason to try and destroy each other. He can feel the quickening in his pulse that comes whenever he thinks about Jason, he thought maybe his sister would have him wrapped around her finger. Until that final fight, he saw the savage devotion Jason had for those he loves. Jason burns everything he has for the people he cares about, and it was nothing short of amazing. Citra was always going to get burned trying to use something so dangerous so recklessly.

 

Now’s not the time to get lost in thoughts of his best quarry, no he’s got a war to manage and suddenly one of his resources got fucked with. Not Dennis, Dennis is trying to bring the Rakyat to bear but he can’t he’s too much of a dickless pussy to have a hope command the way Citra did. Influence on the island sure but nothing off it. No Doug going dark immediately after calling in a meat drop? Had to be Aria trying to cut off his means of taking on the consortium. She’d swooped in and managed to consolidate Hoyt’s holdings. Not all of them, too many petty warlords. Some of them still out in the jungle holding their own turf. Most either he or she or Dennis killed off and made examples of. The only ones left were those too stubborn and too clever to die. He’d been laid up too long after getting stabbed. To bad he can’t hate Jason any more, it’s already transcended what he thought hate really was.

 

 “You dumbass fuckers better have actual news.” He storms into the riveted industrial complex, some factory or some shit. Now it’s his personal party palace, drugs, raves, weapons, and his war room. There’s only one face, Darius, his intel specialist, fucking nerd knew his shit and it made him valuable, value made him mouthy. But he was also loyal so Vaas doesn’t beat him unless he steps out of line in front of the others.

 

“You got a letter from your admirer,” Darius holds out a picture on his phone, “just got this off a crime scene photo.” Bangkok police, Doug’s head, it’s almost unrecognizable, his lips and eyelids had been removed, it was artistic in its brutality. It’s message, Vaas is about to call up that bitch on the South Island and tell her how numbered her days are when he sees the other half of the message. A birthday invitation, a cutesy thing all pink and pastel, Disney’s Snow White with the words ‘see you soon’ a heart instead of a period.


A complex and disturbing cocktail of emotions buzz around Vaas’ brain like a mixture of amphetamines. He’s not sure what his face is doing but it must be impressive because Darius has backed up several paces. “Cute” is all he says.

*

 

 

            Aria looks over the compound, the repair job is patchwork as all fuck, Hoyt had years to hunker down, she had months. Vaas coming back to life like some evil fucked up Lazarus was not ideal at all. Hoyt’s mercenaries respect her but the pirates and bandits and locals fear Vaas. With him having seemingly comeback from the dead he’s got an almost mythology built around him. The only person who’s got as many boogieman stories is Jason fucking Brody. The man who took the complex wargame board that was the Rook Islands and up ended them like a petulant child.

 

Worse, Vass has started getting erratic again, he’d managed to become, not predictable, but more militaristic in his actions. He doesn’t have Hoyt but that was only a stumble, he seized two thirds of the North Island. Dennis, Citra’s little lap dog has been a useful bulwark. As were the petty warlords and wannabe pirate kings. Now they sat on land and resources that would make her life much more comfortable they were targets. She was finally ready to move against one of the more obvious ones in the east when her spies and scouts informed her that Vaas sent a unilateral order to scramble his forces. Vaas was hunkering down with his personal forces. The bulk of them though, including her informants, have been sent to the fringes, he’s doubled the number of boats and instructed that any planes passing his territory be shot down.

 

“What is that maniac up to? It’s like he’s expecting a military to invade.” Something’s kicked the hornet’s nest and she doesn’t like it, not after all the effort she’s put into the putting the board back together. She gets on the intercom from Hoyt’s office, the stain on the floor where he’d bled all over was hosed down, painted over, and covered. His spine severed by the knife shoved through his throat. Her hand drifts to her own neck. She gets on the line, “I want our Dark Forest operations in full effect. Something’s got the game moving and I want everyone ready to take down any insurgency. Reroute our supply drops around Vaas territory, tell them to come in from the south. I don’t care if they must reroute through a different fucking country no supply lines are cut.”

 

She walks out onto the balcony looking out over the compound her arms folded one hand resting against her dark lips. “What’s got you excited Vaas?”

*

 

 

Dennis has been stuck running between the temple and the outer villages, the idea that he’s not a capable leader, the people who compare him to Jason Brody still whisper. Oh never to his face not since he gutted the first and last person to do so. But he can still hear them, hear the whispers. People blaming him. His fault for bringing Jason. His fault Citra’s dead. No, no it’s not. Not his fault. It’s Jason’s fault, Jason killed her, he would have been a king, a paragon sitting at the table of the gods. Instead he betrayed them all. For what? Outsiders! He could have been one of them, one of the true people. The chosen people. But no once an outsider always an outsider.

 

Now Vaas’ mobilizing and that’s got Aria up in arms, which of course means that he and the other warlords, the natives, the people who are the TRUE rulers of Rook. Not a traitor or pretender or invader. They won’t suffer invasion. No. They won’t stay on the defensive, they will use this. They will strike at the heart of those cancerous vermin. Those snakes and rats. Let them come, let them try to make their home a battleground. The Rakyat will take and build a paradise on earth out of their bones.

 

He chews his lip, blood dripping down onto the floor below him. The voices die the minute he enters the room. His eyes flicker around the room. These Rakyat, they might be the people but they’re seditious the whisperers. Backstabbers just waiting for a chance to say that it doesn’t matter who his grandmother was. He’s an outsider and they can start up their susurrus questioning him. Turning the younger warriors against him. Bastards, ungrateful bastards all of them. None of them know how loyal he was to Citra. How much he gave. How much he did for her. She was his everything and she groomed Jason. A stupid outsider with no real power of his own. All stolen form the Rakyat. And he repaid them by stabbing the high priestess and sending them into chaos. Refugees in their own home.

 

It doesn’t matter, Citra knows what to do, she has a plan for everything. And she knows his value, speaking to him from beyond. Because he knew he was among the true faithful and now she tells him that he was right. That he’s first among them. He’ll win, he’ll drive the invaders form their shores and skin the traitor Vaas and all his pirates and leave them hanging from trees for the hogs. They will all see soon enough, they will understand that he was always meant to lead the Rakyat. Citra will show them the way to paradise.

*

 

 

Jason grins wildly when the first couple patrol boats start moving in. They stand up and wave, happy islanders here to welcome a rich sailor in his yacht. Then take him prisoner and sell him to the highest bidder while also ransoming him. They’re pirates. Jason doesn’t recognize the colors, green and blues decorate them, not Vaas’ striking red. The color of a lord and a warrior. He knows they have guns, but it doesn’t matter. He brings up Louise and releases the rocket propelled grenade. The kickback bruises his shoulder and the boat lists but it’s a satisfying pain. A reminder of where he came from. Where he truly came from. Where he was burned away and reborn.

 

The pirates barely have time to be surprised before the first boat goes up. They are stunned for a moment before they start swearing. It doesn’t matter Jason’s already brought up the assault rifle and is peppering the second boat, making sure to hit the gas tank. He throws a flare into it and whoops happily when it goes up behind him, he guns the motor heading towards the secret cave. But there’s already another boat, these ones have brilliant red adorning their chests and head. Jason swings towards them, he throws a grenade, some jump they don’t make it. The blast has crippled the ones that lived, and Jason picks them off.

 

He makes for the cave before the smoke attracts the rest of whoever’s out here. Interesting that Vaas doesn’t own the whole island. He knows Vaas, he wouldn’t settle for anything less than total dominance. Even when he was working for Hoyt he owned his turf. Being subservient only when he had no other choice.

 

“You really are getting back into form. I wonder what little shit-stains have made a mess of my kingdom.” Hoyt’s sprawled across the back seat. “You have my full encouragement to fuck these panty-waist pricks straight to this side Jason. If you fucking die, I’ll kill you again when you get here.” Hoyt’s got a cigar. Jason doesn’t care, he pretends he doesn’t see or hear him.

 

“You know they know about this little hidey-hole yeah? Citra managed to get your little bitch brother and friends. Secret’s out.” Jason knows that, he has no intention of sticking around. He ties up the boat and keeps his main arsenal with him. But Louise will get a swan song when they root through this place thinking he’s here. A clever booby trap hidden behind some less clever ones. It will be a beautiful blast. He applies some grease paint, leaving him with a pattern like the tigers of the jungle. He grins at his reflection, there’s a feral wild glint to his eye.

 

Jason ascends, Hoyt cackling at the deadly gift left for whoever finds the boat behind him. Jason doesn’t look back emerging into the overgrown grounds of the burnt shell of the mansion. He inhales it, letting the island infuse him. He stalks off into the jungle someone will be around to find him soon.

*

 

 

            Vaas follows the scout, the second boat sent out after the first failed to report in, the boats are burnt husks. One of the faceless wannabes that tried to rule the islands in Hoyt’s absence. They don’t have the power or authority to hold their kingdoms. They’re speed bumps between him and Aria. Neither willing to waste the forces to oust them. Not when the other would swoop in when they’re weakened. Vaas lights up a blunt his eyes glittering with barely restrained ambition. A new player has entered the game. Snow White’s returned to Wonderland. This destruction, the pure efficient ruthlessness here is all Jason. There’s a certain artistry to the havoc.

 

“There’s a cave under where the old fuck used to live. Check it out.” Less than half an hour later and Vaas is radioed, they found a boat in the caves. Vaas stands at the entrance to the cave and whistles. Look at that, probably cost mommy and daddy an arm and a leg Jason. One of his minions is slinking towards it and Vaas spits. “If you shit for brains so much as touch this boat, I’ll fucking kill you. Assuming whatever Snow White left behind doesn’t.” They back off. He turns and leaves the cave a smile on his lips. Hell, he’s whistling by the time he’s in the open air walking towards his convoy. The lieutenant of the portion of his turf that borders on this area runs to meet him. “What should we do with the boat sir?”

 

Vaas takes a long drag from another blunt, “leave it, Aria and the idiots here don’t know Jason, let them blow themselves up on whatever’s rigged to it.” Vaas gets into his car and looks at his current second who has yet to piss him off enough to get shot. “Get word out, we keep patrols and our compound at high security. I want any changes in the power structure reported to me immediately.”

 

The second passes on his orders, “what about the rave sir?” Ah yeah, the anniversary rave celebrating Hoyt getting his ass shanked by an angry tiger in human skin. “We hold it. Snow White wants to come to the ball let him. I’ll save a dance.” Vaas can imagine it, the pounding music, fluorescent neon paint and clothes, the smoke, the drugs, Jason wouldn’t be able to resist reuniting with him then. He can almost feel Jason, feel the jungle pulsing in both their veins. They’d both been Citra’s little warriors. Both been fucked by her, but Jason managed to kill the bitch and Hoyt too. He smirks, the thought of breaking the man who’d been able to do all that.

*

 

 

Jason looks out over the compound, one of Vaas’ pirate bases coopted by someone else, he’d just tripped over it really. His blind is in the jungle high up and near the mansion. The soldiers of the warlord patrol it and already a plan is formulating.