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Kids and Boring Lives

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They drift for a week after losing sight of Rook Island. Daisy spots the cargo ship first, and for an instant they're all terrified that it's more pirates or privateers come to drag them back to the Hell they escaped from.

But no. It's a rescue. They're going home. Everyone's ecstatic.

Jason just stares off into the distance, trying to catch one last glimpse of the jungle.

***

When they see Mom again, she holds Jason and Riley like they're all she has left in the world. Then she sees the empty space where Grant should have been and starts to cry all over again.

***

Jason never stops dreaming of the jungle. The air, warm and wet and alive, and the moist earth under his feet.

Then he wakes to dead concrete shells and the grey city, its air stinking of smog and its ground marked with green only where arrogant mankind permits it to exist. Jason remembers wrestling with tigers. Back in Los Angeles, he's lucky to see the occasional stray cat.

***

It's all instinct. Jason sees the man in red; he's smoking a cigarette, oblivious to anything else. There's no one else around.

Jason drops into the hunter's stance that used to be as natural as breathing. It's not until he's inches from his target and reaching for the empty air where his knife used to hang that Jason remembers he's back in LA and that's not a pirate. It's just some asshole waiting for the bus.

***

He stays with Liza. But when they're together he imagines bronze skin and a warrior goddess who writhes under him like a panther.

Not this pale weakling who clings to him and cries into his shoulder. Not this demon, who dragged him back to a dead world.

But he holds her anyway, and they make love instead of fucking like jungle warriors. It's enough for Liza, at least.

***

Daisy writes the book and dedicates it to her late boyfriend, Grant. Their true story of survival against all odds.

"I'm going to leave out the stuff about your magic tattoos," she tells Jason. "No one's going to believe it anyway."

He's half relieved, half offended. As though she could erase the Rakyat from their pasts so easily. "Yeah," he says, eventually. "You're probably right."

But the tattoos on his arm burn, sometimes, to remind him of what they once meant. Of what was taken from him when he turned away from Citra's offer. Now they're just lifeless black lines marring his skin.

***

A reporter for some gossip rag asks Liza if she's going to play herself in the adaptation of Daisy's book.

And the studio had, in fact, offered her the role already. "Oh, no," she says, her smile starting to fray at the edges. "I've been through it once. I don't need to do that again."

She tries to laugh it off.

That night, she means to stop at just one glass of wine. She really does. But before she realizes it, she's sobbing into an empty bottle. The city lights shine like diamonds through her tears. Jason's working late tonight; she calls him and tries to calm her voice long enough to ask him to come home.

***

One night, Keith doesn't answer his cellphone. Something's wrong; Jason feels it like a knife in his chest. Keith's been distant and growing worse.

The lights are off at Keith's place, but the door's open. Jason finds him in the bathtub, and the long, narrow slices in Keith's wrists.

There's a pen and a notepad by the tub. The top sheet is blank. In the corner is a pile of crumpled paper, and Jason unwraps one to reveal lines of crossed-out scribbles. As though he simply couldn't decide how to say goodbye. As though the message spelled out in red droplets on the cold white tile didn't say it all.

Jason kneels, looks into his friend's eyes one last time. Then he brushes them shut forever.

***

Everyone tells him that this is no one's fault. That the jungle broke Keith.

Jason can't shake the guilt. If he'd been faster, stronger, he might have been there in time.

But he knows the truth. Saving Keith once had not been enough.

***

Oliver tries to drug the pain away. He falls into a pit of depravity and never comes out. Jason has to hear about the overdose from the goddamn evening news.

***

The world continues around him. There's war in the Middle East, war in Russia, war in Africa, war in some Himalayan country he's never heard of.

It's someone else's fight, he has to remind himself. The world won't crumble to nothing because Jason Brody wasn't there to stab all its problems away.

***

They still go on vacation. But now their outings are tame affairs; weekends on the beach, cruise ships packed with bored tourists. No more drinking until dawn. And no more skydiving.

***

"Yeah? You killed me and my sister, and you gave it all up for this?" Vaas says, brushing the fabric with fingers. "Fucking purple drapes for your little girlfriend? Was it worth it? I hope it was fucking worth it."

They're French lilac, and his fiancée picked them out.

Jason doesn't realize he said so out loud until he sees the lady down the aisle, and the way she's staring at him.

***

Baby Grant has his uncle's blue eyes. He's heavier than he looks; when Jason holds his pink little son he feels like he's trying to hold an entire world in his arms.

Jason closes his eyes and he sees, clear as crystal, another life and another world where he ruled the jungle as Citra's warrior king. Then he hears little Grant crying. And Jason's no one again, just some loser kid dreaming of what he could have had.

For good or ill, this is the life he chose and this is the life he'll have to live now.

Jason just wonders if he'll ever want it.