[proposing we get a bit anarchic with the posting order to set a more chaotic, natural scene, especially since we're kinda already there.]
The players return to their stage, and the game begins anew. Let the mask settle in. Remember: it has to feel exactly like your face.
Jordan gave his stuttering, stumbling reply. Alex arched his eyebrows and glanced at Jeremy, as if to say, Do you believe this guy?. Jeremy responded in his own face, and Alex's look of disbelief turned to quiet amusement, as he pursed his lips as though to keep himself from smiling.
"I meant, I wouldn't be so plebian as to phrase it that way," he said. "Hurt my feelings, but-"
But then Hazel was stepping forwards, Hazel was speaking, Hazel was-
"You were....sort of you know, on the announcements."
He was ready for it this time: the sharp chill, the reminder that everything had changed because of his carelessness, that the only path forward was the path he'd chosen, the path that could well end with these people he'd once known so very well running in fear, just as they had before. But as prepared as he was, it still took a moment to steady himself, to make sure his mask didn't falter, and by that time Hazel was in front of him with her hand on his shoulder.
He stared into her eyes. He forced himself to keep his slight amusement, because he didn't know how Alexander David Tarquin was supposed to react here. He was fumbling blind.
Jordan spoke, stumbling all over himself again. Alex chuckled, and there was nothing forced about it. He turned briefly from Hazel to study Jordan. "Which is it, Jordan?" he asked. "Did you not know? Or were you afraid?" He shook his head slightly. "Apologies, I should stop picking on you. You weren't the one playing sick. You were just backing up your friend." He looked back towards Hazel, and now his face was confident, though he still felt weak inside, like he might collapse at any moment. "All that really happened was that Hazel was a better actress than you. Which, let's be honest, we all knew."
He looked down at the machete in his opposite hand, and then lifted his eyes back to Hazel. He rested his own hand comfortably over hers.
"Doesn't that scare you?" he asked. "That we're all the same? Just kids from school? Me, Isabel, Kimiko, Nancy, just to name a few." He jerked his head back down the halls of the Asylum. "You should see what Isabel did to Conrad. It was..." He shook his head and closed his eyes. His hand tightened on Hazel's.
"It doesn't matter what happened to Rea," he said, his eyes opening, his smile fading. "At the end of the day, she died because I intend to win this game. I intend to survive, as the fittest among us. On my terms, of course. I won't play their idiotic games of betrayal. I will not become less than I am."
As though you're not already less. As though you're not the kind of monster who tells a woman she can believe in you, poor dead Sabrina, and then kills a woman because she surprised you while you were playing pretend. As though you're anything bigger or better than a scared kid acting as hard as you can, playing pretend because you don't know what the fuck else you're supposed to do.
But Jeremy believes you, doesn't he? Is there any reason Hazel and Jordan shouldn't? Is there any reason the madmen who build this lunatic game shouldn't? Is there any reason every person who ever sees this awful broadcast shouldn't?
What's your closing line, Alex? How do you end this monologue so Hazel and Jordan believe you? Because what bothered you wasn't the fear, was it? What bothered you was that fear was in no way different from how they'll look at every other killer. What bothered you was that you weren't distinct. That they were running because of the Announcements, not because of you. You don't just want their fear. You want their awe, their sympathy, their pity, their understanding. You want to be awful and awesome, all at once. So how do you get there?
His face softened. He studied Hazel as though he were looking for meaning. "Hazel," he said, and then he looked over and said, "Jordan. What does it matter how she died? I killed her, and I'm not the only one who's doing it. At this point, I'm a footnote, building a crazy Home Alone hobo maze while the real monsters eat their fill with bloodsoaked jaws."
There it is Alex, there's the throughline, bring it back to the original conversation, make that last line more.
"We knew each other, didn't we?" he said. "Cochise wasn't exactly a big school. You'll know the faces of every killer. You'll have memories. This was in them all along. In us all along. Just waiting for the crucible. Waiting to prove that they're the Fittest."