Thirty

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Reece reacts before I do, crossing the distance to Jackson before landing a blow to the center of his nose, sending him flying in one direction and his syringe in the other.

Even from here I can see the red liquid pouring from Jackson's nose. He barely has time to recover before Reece is advancing on him, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and thrusting him over and over into the side of the car, the sound of his back cracking against the window with every blow.

Jackson manages to land in a punch but Reece doesn't stop, not even to protect himself from Jackson's hits. He is like a machine that has been programmed to kill, and I wonder if he can even feel Jackson's hits or if he is too far gone in his anger to feel much of anything.

"You sick son of a bitch," Reece says, pulling his arm back in order to land another blow.

"In case you've forgotten," Jason interrupts, his voice eerily calm under the circumstances, "I have a gun to your girlfriend's head."

Reece freeze's mid-punch, turning his head to look at me in a move that allows me to finally see the damage done. Bloodied knuckles, swollen lip–but it is nothing in comparison to Jackson, whose eye is already twice its size, his nose a swollen mass that merges with his upper lip.

"If you had orders to kill her, she'd be dead by now," Reece says, but he lets go of Jackson's shirt and steps aside anyway, his eyes like two narrow slits. "Do you even know what he did?"

"I don't care what he's done," Jason replies, unfazed by his accomplice's bloody condition. There is only one reason I can think of that would make him bring Jackson along, and it is because Jackson knows how to administer the anaesthetic. "You are the only thing that concerns me, Reece. As long as we get her back to Marine World, they're willing to forget any of this happened."

It slowly dawns on me that Jason is still trying to save his son, still trying to find a way to absolve Reece of any responsibility, and for a moment, I am able to see my captor for what he really is. Not a monster, like I'd been imagining him to be, but a man. A man who can hate as strongly as he loves, and who exploits as fiercely as he protects. A man who is simply human–a mixture of good, evil, and everything in between.

Jackson's eyes shift to the gun on the ground, his body no doubt preparing to reach for it before Reece gets a chance.

"Try it and it'll be the last thing you do," Reece warns.

Jackson falls still before finally focusing his gaze on me. "Aura," he says in that same tone he's always used: Gentle, hypnotic, as though I am the only person in the world that he cares about.

I used to fall for it, once upon a time. That voice, that caring expression. I used to believe he loved us as much as he said he did, and even after all I know, that voice is enough to take me back, to make me want to believe those lies all over again.

"Just come home, Aura. Please. We won't be angry at you for what you did. It wasn't your fault."

I hate the way he says my name. I never want the word to leave his lips again. "You hurt her," I say quietly, my legs beginning to shake. "You're the reason she disappeared."

Jackson furrows his eyebrows, as though he has no idea what I'm talking about. Doesn't he even remember the people he hurts? Or has he hurt so many that each name, each face, blurs into the next?

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