Thirty-one

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The rain comes down in buckets now. I shiver against the metal of the barrel, fighting the urge to wrap my arms around myself in a bid to stay warm.

"I know you're just trying to protect her, Reece, but I'm trying to protect you," Jason says. "If you don't let us take her back, it's not just going to be Marine World who come after you."

My eyes flitter back to Reece, whose own shirt clings to him like a second layer of skin, revealing every taut, contracted muscle beneath the thin, wet material.

"I don't want to hurt you," Reece says, extending an arm as though trying to pacify his father, but something tells me the man behind me won't be swayed. "Just let us walk away, dad. Please. It's what mom would have wanted."

"No," Jason growls, his expression darkening. "Your mom would have wanted you to live. If I let you walk, they'll come for both of us. They'll never stop coming until you're dead, whether that's in a year or five years. Is that how you want to live the rest of your life? Having to constantly look over your shoulder because you're protecting a murderer?"

Reece clenches his jaw before dropping his gaze, fixing his eyes on mine. I can tell up until now he hadn't believed Jason's accusation, but he falters when he looks at me, no doubt able to see the guilt all over my face. A small crease forms between his eyebrows, his once defiant expression now replaced with uncertainty, that slither of doubt beginning to make its way through his mind.

"Aura?"

I don't look at him, I can't, so instead I turn my head away, praying the rain will mask the tears beginning to stream down my cheeks. Jason abruptly grabs me by the jaw, forcing my head toward Reece.

I can feel a lie brewing on the tip of my tongue, knowing how easy it would be to convince him his father is wrong, but I can't bring myself to do it, even if such a lie might well save my life. To lie would be to choose my freedom over Reece, and he is the one price I'm not willing to pay.

"I did it," I say, my voice barely audible, and I catch the way Reece tenses through the dark, his body like a statue as he works hard to avoid my gaze. "I killed her."

His eyes dart to mine now, as cold and as lifeless as Muriel Two's had been, before they briefly flicker over to the syringe on the ground, which sits meters from where I stand. Just as quickly, his eyes are on mine again, slightly wider now, almost impatient. I realize he's trying to tell me something.

The syringe. He wants me to somehow get to the syringe. I stare back at him for some kind of direction, a clue as to how I'm to grab the syringe with a gun currently pressed to my temple, but his now blank expression gives nothing away, his eyes like two sparks on their way to fizzling out.

"I trusted you," he says, his voice barely audible and yet strangely calm–the kind of calmness used to veil an underlying darkness. "I put you before my job, my family–"

He advances toward me, tucking his gun into the waistband of his trousers before grabbing me by the shoulders. Panic sets in and I skim Reece's face, praying this is part of an elaborate plan and not proof his allegiance is wavering.

"Reece," I manage to croak through his grip, still struggling to process his sudden change in attitude.

I'd known the truth was going to hurt him, would perhaps make him question the extent of my humanity, but I hadn't considered it might make him want to hurt me, because for some reason, I'd convinced myself Reece was on my side no matter what.

"I had to. I had no other choice. She was–"

"Don't," Reece snaps, his fingers tightening around my skin, and I am certain he can feel my pulse racing beneath his fingers. "It's over, Aura. I'm taking you back."

I stare back at him with childlike eyes, his words suffocating me more than his grip ever could. He wants to take me back. Back to a place where men like Jackson can rule without consequence, where the feeble word of a mermaid means nothing against the word of a trainer. He wants to take me back, which means Reece is the worst of them all, because a man who stands by and lets evil continue is not a man, but a monster.

"You're doing the right thing, Reece," Jason says from behind me.

I briefly shift my gaze toward Jackson, who watches me carefully as he rubs at the swollen bridge of his nose.

"I had no choice," I say, tears trailing down the curves of my cheeks, and now that the rain has mostly eased up, they leave marks for each captor to revel in.

"Neither do I," Reece replies.

In one quick motion, he is grabbing the gun by the barrel and yanking it to the side. I don't waste a second. As soon as the barrel is pulled from my temple, I'm diving for the syringe at the same time as Jackson, both of us scrambling to reach it before the other. I'm only seconds from grabbing it when I feel him latch onto me, dragging me backward before wrenching me around to face him.

He traps my body between his own and the concrete, slamming his palm over my mouth in a bid to stop my head from jerking about. I bite down hard in retaliation, the taste of salt crossing the tip of my tongue as he retracts his hand with a growl.

"You bitch," he hisses before slapping my face, sending a flurry of pain across the width of my jaw.

I scream out, vaguely aware of Reece shouting my name as I fight against Jackson in any way I can. Clawing, scratching, kicking my legs, but it is as though my attacks seem to bounce off his skin, and he smirks as he positions a knee against my stomach, drawing the air from my lungs.

I manage to move my head to the left, ignoring the pulsating pain in my jaw as I look toward Reece and Jason, two blurred, upside down figures still fighting to gain control of the weapon.

I crane my neck upward as Jackson continues to grip me, locating the syringe around an arm length away. I reach out to grab it, the tip of my finger almost grazing its side before Jackson pins my hand back down again.

"You know," Jackson says, his breath warm and ragged against my cheek, "Muriel never fought this much."

His other hand slowly reaches for the syringe, his eyes still hungrily fixed on my own, and something primal begins to take over at hearing him say her name.

"I'm. Not. Muriel," I say, leaning forward before head butting him straight in his already swollen nose.

He cries out, retracting his arm before taking me by the shoulders and repeatedly slamming me into the concrete. My eyes widen as his hands fall to the curves of my neck, his fingers clamping down against my skin.

My fingers dart out in a last panicked attempt, barely able to graze the syringe as his hands restrict the blood flow to my brain. Jackson's face blurs as I fight to stay conscious, the pads of my fingers almost touching the syringe. He smiles down at me, his movements almost sluggish, as though we are moving in water.

"Say goodnight, bitch," he says, his hands squeezing tighter, and just as black spots begin to dance across my vision, my fingers finally latch onto the end of the syringe.

"Goodnight, bitch," I croak, before plunging the needle straight into Jackson's neck.

A/N

Next chapter is already edited but as I just updated, I don't know if you guys want it now or if you would rather wait a few days! Comment with which you'd prefer ❤️🧜🏼‍♀️

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