They walk through the night, then the next day, and make camp as dusk begins to fall. Boone stretches out a few feet from John, unfolding sore arms and legs, wriggling his hips into the soft warm soil. At first he can't sleep. He keeps seeing Shannon's body on the rocks, keeps running his hands along his shirt collar in the dark, blind fingers seeking blood that isn't there.
"It gets easier," John says.
Caught, Boone stills. "Right."
"Do you know what a walkabout is?"
"Like Crocodile Dundee?"
"It's a rite of passage. Practiced by the Aborigines of Australia. The way it works is, a young boy leaves his tribe for a few months, goes out into the wilderness, figures out how to survive on his own. If he comes back alive, he's reached manhood."
Boone's head spins. "Is that what you were trying --"
"No. It's what you're going to do now. And you're not coming back until you're ready." Before Boone can speak, John's hand comes out of the darkness to wrap around his wrist, strong and purposeful. "Shhh." Boone's hands are still propped on his chest, tangled in his shirt collar. He can feel John's fingers against his breastbone. "Listen."
"What? Is something --"
"No. Listen. To the island." And his voice seems to fade and magnify on the last word, both sounds at once.
Boone tries. He holds absolutely still, frozen beneath John's hand, reaching out into the night with nothing but his puny underdeveloped senses. Listening. He can hear the soft brush of wind, and the faint crash of the ocean against the beach. Nothing else. "What am I listening to?"
"Can't tell you that just yet." John's voice is quiet in his ear, but warm. "It's something you have to figure out for yourself."
In the morning, maybe, Boone will have the energy for John. Not now, though. Now the riddles and enigmas are too much -- his head still hurts and it's darker out here than any night he's ever been in. All he wants to do is sleep, to forget about Shannon, to let his hands fall peacefully at his sides.
"Right," Boone says again, and John holds on for another breath before letting go.
He manages sleep after a while, but it's a restless rest. He keeps waking through the night, listening for something that's been whispering in his ear.
At dawn he lifts his head and looks around, blinking into the pink light of morning, and sees that John has left in the night.
Shannon didn't get gorgeous until she was in her teens. At age eight she was as spoiled and self-centered as she'd ever be, the world a jewel on her finger. But she was scrawny and flat-chested and really, nothing special -- just a bratty little kid whose dad had married Boone's mother.
He's known her since they were children. Known the sight of her just awake or before bedtime, across the dinner table, on holidays and trips to Europe. He's lived with her, fought with her, bargained with her for favors and parental notice and stupid, unimportant, meaningless little things.
He's known the changes of her body (all surreptitiously studied), the proud toss of her head, the evolution of her ability to get whatever she wants with an arsenal composed entirely of herself.
The sex is only a blur. The smooth gold of her skin. The bite of alcohol on her lips. The shuddering, queasy feeling in his stomach as she pulled him down.
He has better memories of her after her father's death. Then, for once, she was different. For once no getting in his face, the sneer wiped from her mouth, her eyes dull and downcast. She wore a black dress, and when she turned to follow Boone's mother to the car he noticed a few silky blonde strands of hair, clinging just below her shoulder blade.
He remembers her grabbing his hand when the plane began to fall.
"You don't want to eat that," John said. "Not unless you care to spend the afternoon turning your digestive system inside out."
Boone dropped the...whatever it was: round, fuzzy, peach-like thing. He asked the same question he'd been asking for days. "How do you know?"
John squinted up at the branch, reached with his knife, and handed Boone another fruit. It looked exactly the same. "A wise man studies before committing to a thing. He makes sure to understand all the possible consequences. He doesn't rush in to bite. He...contemplates." Then John snipped off another fruit and sank his teeth into it.
The juice dripped down Boone's chin, tangy and rich. The smell of it nearly tangible, tangled up in its taste.
He thought of Shannon, kissing her, the different tastes of her body, memories faint like ghosts --
He saw John watching him. Scarred squinty eye piercing straight through his thoughts.
"Bad habits are hard to break," John said.
"I'm not --" Boone stopped, lowered the fruit, looked at it and tossed it away. "She's not just a habit. She's my sister. I've known her practically my whole life."
"That life is over." His voice was full of quiet conviction.
Boone looked at him. "You don't think we'll ever get back."
"Even if we did," John said, "that life is over." He turned away, cleaving through the leaves like a tiger.
Passion fruit on the vine. Boone reaches up to cut a few down.
He's lost count of the days -- a week, maybe? -- but somehow he knows exactly where he is. John had said, when Boone suggested using the compass, "That won't work here." Not explaining, of course, because John only ever explains too much or too little. But Boone believed him, and didn't ask again.
It's the angle of the sun. The sounds of the island. The shapes of the leaves. He's been here before. He runs his hand over the bark of the tree, finding the cuts in the wood from his knife throwing.
"Good," John had said. "You're a quick study. You start slow, but when you get it, you get it. No falling back."
He reaches the hatch a few days later, circling through the jungle in a slow, careful spiral. He beds down next to the silent white door, pulling the night over himself like a blanket. He doesn't dream, but when he wakes he's surprised to find he's not walking.
Fruit for breakfast, the moisture sweet and heavy. Boone sits back on his haunches, studying the metallic white surface of the door, the grooves promising an opening but leading nowhere.
The hatch has ceased to frustrate him, he thinks. It's just here, just a part of the island, a place marker for his walkabout until one day it becomes something more. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe the next.
It's equally possible that nothing will happen. That he'll be sitting here forever, staring at the door staying closed.
The morning is sweltering already. Sweat drips from his hairline along the side of his face. His shirt is sticking to his back. He pulls it off, letting the humid air touch his body, and wipes his face.
-- wedding dresses, silk and white, softly smooth beneath his hand --
If they never get back, he'll have to stop waiting for things to happen.
This is the problem; Boone sees it clearly now. Everyone's waiting. Everyone still thinks help or disaster is just around the corner. No one's figured out yet how to just sit, how to stretch out and sleep, how to wake up without thinking, This isn't where I was before.
He's sweating like a stuck pig. He'd like to be by the beach with John, feeling the wind and watching the waves come in.
He draws his knife from its belt sheath. The metal fogs up immediately, blurring his reflection. He looks like a wild man, the effect intensified by the slim blade trembling in his hand: eyes pale and fierce, beard growth from a week in the jungle, shaggy sweat-limp hair.
Boone runs a hand along his scalp, dragging his fingers through the locks. He raises the knife, pulls a bit of hair straight, and slices through.
Some of the strands stick to his damp fingers, but some of it falls to the ground, disappearing into the dirt and weeds. Brown hair, like his mother's. He wonders if she's held a memorial service already. She's a practical person -- she'd move on with the business of life.
The island thrums and shushes around him.
He reaches up and cuts off another handful of hair.
John doesn't say anything when Boone comes back to the camp. He just looks, one eye squinting, and gives Boone a silent nod.
Shannon steps in front of him. The skin of her cheek reminds him of a peach. Then her mouth twists. "Where the hell were you? How could you just disappear like that?"
He bends to fill his water bottle, then dunks his newly-shorn head under the stream. The water hits his scalp that much faster, sluicing down his neck and shoulders and bare chest, washing off dirt and sweat.
"God, you look just like him -- like you're his --" Shannon's voice is distant through the sound of water.
Boone stands up again, pulls the dirty t-shirt from where it's tucked into his sachel, and tears off a long skinny strip. He wets it in the water and ties it around his forehead: cool along his brow, around his naked scalp, the ends dripping water down his neck.
He lopes over to where John is perched on a rock, whittling out a shape from a piece of wood. As he crosses the clearing he can feel the other castaways turn to track his progress, multiple pairs of eyes watching, narrowing.
Boone crouches down at John's feet, upper arms balanced on his knees, and John hands him a cleaning cloth for his knife.
He rubs the steel into a sharp sheen, freeing it of the traces of his journey, then slides the knife back into its sheath.