It was midday when he saw the newspaper. He'd been planning on taking a break from strenuous activity for a little while, just quietly doing some research to calculate his next move. The pass percentile, he felt, was still a bit unfairly skewed. Scott liked to consider himself to be a fair man, so he planned on adjusting it.
The newspaper changed everything.
"ORIGAMI KILLER CONTINUES HIS RAMPAGE!" The headline leapt out from the front page. He suddenly froze, the cursory glance he'd made as he passed the newsagents becoming a long stare of submission. A stranger's face stared from the front page, a child with a beaming smile that reeked of accusation.
He bought a copy. The lady over the counter must have noticed his startled stare, as when she handed over his change, she added, "It's awful, isn't it? Poor little dear."
"It's terrible," Scott agreed as he pocketed the change, still frowning.
And it really was terrible, he mused. A child drowned with no hope of escape, just the sky above them to stare at as the blue bled into black. It was almost unthinkable. It made him think of a boy, trapped and at the mercy of a pathetic man, and the boy's stupid brother who honestly thought he could lift that deadweight, who spent so long failing that then all the chances were gone.
(John, he thinks for an instant, then ruthlessly crushes it before it sprouts into things he can't think of. He's just a boy without a name, with no feelings attached, a film burned into memory by agony. Thinking about him doesn't hurt at all.)
At least the kid had company now. Scott hoped he'd appreciate the effort.
He wanted to believe the newspaper was lying, a false trail laid to paint a portrait of the police's incompetence, to make scathing remarks behind a believable story, but they'd never be allowed to print such blatant lies. The case preyed on too many people's fears, and the backlash would be ugly.
What Scott did know was that he'd never seen the kid before in his life, so that just left a drowned kid found bedraggled in a wasteland somewhere, a flashing sign of the Origami Killer.
But everybody was wrong. Scott hadn't killed this one.
Scott didn't think of himself as much of a killer. He'd worked cases before, been a damn good cop, and had seen sights nobody should ever have to see, jagged smiles of brimming blood across the jugular, children's limbs crumpled like a poorly manufactured doll.
(The bruise near his shoulder twinges; a reminder of past deeds, of a little boy with desperate eyes. It's the imprint of tiny hands, time melting away the last stamp this boy had made on the earth to prove he'd existed.)
He'd learned not to let his emotion show, not to let himself really feel it in the first place. You could drive yourself mad with empathy, he thought. He could look at those bodies without outwardly flinching.
(He does not, does not remember anything when he sees bodies, especially not the kids. Not his kids. They're just symbols of failure, of deadbeat parents who shunned their duty in favour of their own pleasure. It makes Scott sick.)
He didn't even mean to kill the kids, he told himself. He gave clear cut clues. He provided incentive (a world of fathers watching the futile struggle of their children, time ticking down until the life drained out of them). If they were too pathetic to get up off their backsides and risk it all for their own kids, then they deserved to face the consequences.
He was still ironing out the kinks in his plan to give a bit more of a sporting chance, but really, that was to be expected. Practise made perfect. If he could make this perfect parent, so self-sacrificing and desperate and loving, it would all have been worth it.
(He isn't bitter. There is nothing to be bitter about.)
Scott was incensed.
He paced what felt like miles across his apartment, resisting an urge to sink his fist into the wall. Everything had got so much more complicated, now. He could pretend that was the root cause of his worry, but it was more of a minor inconvenience. He certainly wasn't at risk.
The Origami Killer. It was a tabloid name, a carefully constructed identity that consisted of shredding the parts of his past he regretted and scattering them around the city. One day, he knew, it would be his memoir.
This. This was somebody trying to put together the puzzle of his life while missing half the pieces, jamming pieces that barely fit together with all the skill of a toddler. Of course it wasn't his work, even if everybody else was too stupid to realise it. His old colleagues obviously hadn't hit on any consistencies then, at least.
It was like a bad parody. Somebody was trying to copy his work, and he felt incredibly offended that somebody had just gone and drowned a kid as if it was the greatest entertainment in the world. They didn't know… they'd never felt… they had nothing to prove and no challenges to give. Nobody would have been able to help that boy. Where's the humanity in that?
(Scott's killings aren't personal.)
His children had hope.
Scott's incentives didn't stop with the parents.
Scott didn't say much to the first child he lured. He shed his policeman personality with the clothes, once a part of him, now just a costume, a boogieman who should scare kids but really doesn't. He was a silent spectator behind a camera, watching a film. It wasn't real. (It isn't John.)
The boy died alone, far too soon for the father to stand much of a chance saving him, but that was okay because the man took one look at Scott's instructions and turned to drink. (Scott can see his father's face, pinned over another man who is unable to face reality. Pathetic, he sneers.) An alcohol related accident, of course, ensued.
He decided to be honest with the next kid, peering down at him through the grating while the boy thrashed in desperation, the shadows playing across Scott's face making him look like some sort of demented murderer (he's not, not really, he's rescuing these kids from a shitty existence and giving the parents the chance to clean up the act; it's not his fault that the last guy couldn't follow simple instructions and exercise a bit of common sense).
"Your father's coming to get you." He smiled, all even voiced and reassuring in the way he'd been trained to treat children. It didn't seem to help. (It isn't a lie, not really, it's a present of hope, and the child reciprocates by living for a glimpse of the face of his father, a message of love that words cannot convey.)
The kid still died alone, the product of another failure. (He lays the sleeping kid in a dump, while the father rots in an air duct. Scott can't retrieve him, but that's okay too, because that layabout doesn't deserve a grave anyway. The kid can stay alive for the father in a far more precarious position, but the man just lets himself die, knowing it was sentencing his own kid to death.)
"I've told your father where you are," he told the next kid, and if by 'told' he meant 'left obscure clues', the kid didn't really need to know.
"He won't come," the kid said dejectedly, and it turned out to be true. Scott's cameras all around his deadly obstacle course never even showed the man's face once. He watched through a grainy screen as the kid breathed his last, and his rage bubbled to the surface. He didn't even make an attempt! The fury left him breathless, so offended on the behalf of this child that for a moment it almost felt as if he hadn't dumped the kid in a life-or-death situation in the first place.
(He's dragging his father to his brother, and the man slaps him away, eyes unfocused and his breath smelling like a brewery. The weight of the world is against him, he's too small to help and his chest is sore and – and – he isn't thinking about that!)
"I've given your father an opportunity to clean up his act," he said next time. "Let's see if he takes it, shall we?"
(It's like Chinese whispers. Each time he speaks the message, the more it distorts.)
Scott had fallen back into a comfortable routine. He found a kid who met his requirements, no picture perfect families because this wasn't about revenge… It wasn't about people who had more fortunate lives than he'd lived, it was about people from broken homes standing up and taking back their life with their newfound motivation. It was about people who wouldn't dare go the police and tell them about their correspondence.
When his trials were over, and the kid moved to a more suitable location, he'd start researching again. Before, it'd just been for new families, but now he had to start the other part of the plan earlier than expected: evidence retrieval. He could dust off his badge – and he'd been missing his job, he needed a hobby other than drowning kids (no, no, his hobby is reforming terrible parents and that's all) – and talk to the families, and also fish for info on the copycat.
(This faker, he thinks, really needs to be taught a lesson for stepping on his territory, for giving that kid no fighting chance at all. He's watched the fight drain out of kids for long enough that he can picture it when he closes his eyes.)
He even had his next kid planned out. This one was special. This one was based on a distant memory, somebody who should have no problem gathering the courage to do anything in his power for his son. After all, Scott had seen him display such prowess before.
After that, things were almost simple again, but then he met Lauren, and she forced herself into his life.
He didn't want to think about Lauren. She certainly hadn't impressed him when they first met, but she'd shown some actual logic, came to find him with her information… and then refused to let it lie at that.
This woman, he could see, had fire in her veins and justice in her heart. She would do anything for her son. Her job. Her help, in his investigation. He thought that, if she'd been the one to get his instructions, she'd get the job done in a quiet, angry determination.
But she didn't, and her son lay dead, and she was looking into the eyes of the last person he'd seen with an exasperated sort of fondness.
(He likes Lauren. Beneath the brash exterior, she's a real catch. He respects her, and so he opens his mouth and speaks in half-truths. She looks into his face, trusting his leads, and sees a tough cop with unexpected dashes of empathy. But even that's not a lie. He understands how she feels about her son more than she could ever know, and he knows how her son felt about her, too. He keeps that confession of forbidden knowledge to himself, a dying message that will never be delivered.)
Lauren was too intelligent. Lauren was spotting inconsistencies in his story. He couldn't dismiss her worth anymore.
(But when he sees her trapped in his car, a sinking weight, he can't let her die; the sudden surge of sentimentality startles him. He scoops her out, but he has to make her leave. She leaves with a kiss that will burn her lips like acid when she realises what he's done, who he is.)
Lauren had chosen to live through her sorrow, however much it hurt, and she hadn't retreated to the fantasy of safety. She was incredibly dangerous, but his lips still quirked into a fond smile.
("I want my mom," Johnny whispers. His voice is weak, his throat is swollen from sobbing, and the dark circles around his eyes indicate bleary eyed exhaustion. He's barely treading water, legs leaden from having been trying to survive for too long already.
"I know, kid," Scott says from his vantage point, well out of earshot. He doesn't move to help. "I know.")
Scott didn't want to think about Lauren.
The copycat killing had made him angry, and when evidence started to suggest it was Gordi Kramer, he'd felt another surge of that anger. A spoiled rich man, whose father did everything for him (and, God, it rankles more than he expects, a raw open wound on his heart when it he knows it should have scabbed over by now, but he's been picking it open with his recreation of that night without even realising). The more he saw of their relationship, the more he despised them – he couldn't even bring himself to respect the father's desperate protection, love to a boy who clearly didn't deserve the chances he kept being given. He didn't think he it could get much worse.
(He is wrong.)
He attended his brother's grave reluctantly, not wanting to mix his past with the life he'd been building, his past should stay buried (the Origami Killer drags his past into his present with such ease it's entirely unconscious).
(Scott lies to keep himself sane.)
Kramer showed up there, the father this time. At Scott's brother's grave, like he knew him! The thoughts spun through his head, all culminating in one question: "why?" Was this a mockery of him? It was impossible, Kramer had no idea who he was, but the thought still burrowed into his skull, paranoia that refused to be shaken off.
The fact that Kramer had such freedom to go to John's grave (no, he can't think about him or the dam will break and it's not already broken damn it) smarted, because Scott was aware he couldn't give away his identity, not now. It was so close.
(Ethan Mars is getting so close it's scary.)
He knew the charade couldn't keep up, and apparently the Kramers knew it too, because it wasn't long after when his car was bashed into the lake and for a long instant they were trapped and he and Lauren were drowning and the irony, oh, God, it choked him and –
(They are alive. They are alive, and this is the end.)
Scott watched in disbelief as Ethan Mars wrenched his son away from his watery grave, the boy lying unresponsive and Ethan sobbing over his son's chest as if the world would never be right again.
This was how it should be, a father giving up everything for his son, who fought until the very end through the hopelessness. For a moment, he was happy, it was everything he wanted and more. The man had past his trials, and it was wonderful.
Then Shaun coughed, and it was less wonderful.
(A lie: Deep down, Scott wants the children he kidnaps to be rescued by their parents, alive and well, and to rebuild a new life.
A truth: Deep down, Scott wants to create the perfect self-sacrificing father, but he wants them to feel the pain of it being too late, to care a way his father never cared, to know what their poor parenting has cost them. John never got a happy ending, so nobody else deserves one either.
Scott's not a killer, except when he is.)
This wasn't supposed to happen! (He isn't in denial.) It was all wrong, a distorted image of his childhood, not the mirror it was meant to be. He became aware that he couldn't simply stand still, not now; the reunion was actually making him feel nauseous.
He stalked away from his vantage point, looking down at the man cradling his son in faint bewilderment.
"My father didn't lift one finger to save his son."
He opened his mouth, and a rant came pouring out.
(Ethan doesn't even get it. He dismisses Scott's reasoning because he doesn't understand that self-sacrificing fathers aren't a 'just', they're rare. And he's already needed to find one, a burning necessity that grew with his retirement, with his distractions removed. It's what he lives for.)
"I suffered just as much as my victims," he explained, willing the man to understand, but he just didn't want to.
"You're mad!" The man spat at him. "You're completely fucking mad!"
His emotions were all draining out of him, leaving him empty and confused.
(A truth: This is Scott's prize project, performing just as he expects. He couldn't save one son, and he fights to the ends of the earth for the other. It's not a bad result, and maybe they deserve a chance to live happily. Reformed. That had been the original plan, before his thoughts twisted around each other with all the new complications and got lost in the tangles.
A lie: He doesn't want this to happen. He doesn't want to have to stop these killings, a hypothesis now proved.
Scott is losing himself in his revenge. He's losing himself in his little experiment, as if people are puppets he's made to control. Hasn't he done enough? Isn't this over now?
In his heart, John is pleading for him to stop.)
Ethan had pointed a gun at him. It didn't even matter anymore. He'd accomplished his goals. He'd nothing else to live for. He'd sacrificed everything searching for a man like Ethan Mars.
"Go ahead. You can kill me now," he said, and he was despair personified. "It doesn't matter any more. You've accomplished what I wanted to see."
But the man turned away, a dismissal after everything he'd done, and for the first time he let himself feel the weight of guilt. He retreated. He had lots of thinking to do. The irrational obsession was leaving him, and he could think clearly for the first time in a long time. (It's the first time he recognises how clouded his thoughts had been, now that he's finally free of it.)
He heard the crack of a gunshot, and he knew who it was. Ethan.
It figured his hero was a man who could save his son, but couldn't save himself.