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Cat? Landon raised a single eyebrow at her hesitation and the name she offered up. He wasn't the only one to catch on. Bell called her out, but offered up his name readily enough. Landon snorted.
Maybe he ought to have a code-name too. In the end he just shrugged. Being the only one with a working bank-card inscribed with his name, Landon really didn't see the use in lying -it'd only complicate things for Bell.
"Landon, and this one's Spot," he pointed out their pet-goat. She'd probably have a heart-attack when she found out either Bell or Spot were goats; or that they were copies of the same shell. Or that he had a little goatling stuck inside capable of doing funny things. Or that Bell could actually use the goat's abilities to his favour.
Actually. The latter was going to raise more questions than it'd answer -such as 'why hadn't her parents' goats fought back'?
Then again, a bat and pipe were enough to off a goat most of the time lately and where at first it'd seemed the goats learned from one another through some hive-mind construction, that too seemed to be malfunctioning. Landon hoped it wouldn't get reinstated any time soon. It'd complicate things.
Landon chewed his lip in thought. With him changing sides of that coin nearly daily, maybe that was the thing she should know first. Landon didn't feel keen to explain. He'd leave that part for Daniel. Actually, she'd met Daniel before, hadn't she?
Because he was the one who'd shown her the goatling.
"You're driving," Landon said with a yawn.
He didn't even really care where to. No. Wait, he cared.
"We need to find a place with internet -I need to know what happened, with, you know..." Their bank-accounts. "Especially since our living-costs just went up."
It was a little cloudy in comparison with yesterday. Maybe it'd clear later on. Landon didn't mind. The heat had been oppressive yesterday, so this was a nice change of pace.
And hopefully his stomach would agree with driving around, since Bell mentioned Daniel hadn't been a happy camper. His stomach felt fine now though. Better. Still nervous though. Still shaky. Still craving a drink. Even at this hour.
Cat would need a weapon, wouldn't she?
Did they even trust her to have one on her? That aside, she was young and scrawny. Not really an able attacker. Maybe a fire-arm would be best then.
Landon turned away. End of the conversation. Bell looked at the girl one last time, then turned and followed Landon down the scaffolding.
The girl hesitated, standing frozen on the building. After a moment, she plucked distractedly at the orange. Stay or go? These men were insane. If she hadn't seen her own father become...one of them, hadn't seen the blonde man... do that thing, she would've written them off entirely. But they knew. They knew about the men and the creatures. They'd just confirmed that she hadn't been crazy, seeing those things, that it was real, it had really happened. If she wanted answers at last about her parents' death, they were the ones who held them. And who else would know? Who else? The hunters who'd tried to kill her. Those creatures--she shuddered at the very thought. No. This was her only chance. Was she really going to pass it up?
"Wait," she called for the second time that day, and scrambled down the scaffolding after them. Spot turned and growled, but when Bell put a hand on the dog's back, it glanced up, then quieted. "I'll--I'll come with you. Please."
Bell nodded. At least, the way she was living, she wouldn't expect luxury. And he was pretty sure he couldn't offer anything like luxury, not even steady food, anymore. Landon's money had been steadily dwindling, like he'd always known it would; it'd come a little more suddenly than he'd expected, was all.
"Um, my name is--you can call me Cat," she feinted at the last second. A nickname? A street name? Whichever, Bell didn't care. Even if he'd known her real name, it wouldn't have mattered.
"Bellwether," he replied.
She frowned at him. "Is that a real name?" she asked. She'd started to eat the orange, dropping a trail of orange peel behind her as she ate. It was squished, but it was more food than she'd had in days, so she didn't let that stop her.
"Real enough for you, Cat," he replied, bored.
She turned to Landon, giving him an expectant look. Bell looked at Landon as well, a thought coming to him suddenly. And how would Cat react to Daniel? He was not looking forward to that.
They'd chased her. What were the odds that she wasn't entirely human? Pretty big, but then, he'd never minded Bellwether being a goat either. Or maybe she'd ran from the scene before the hunters had been able to explain themselves. The girl hadn't ever told them about what'd happened to her mother, which was cause for Landon to figure she hadn't stayed around to witness the final blows to her. Or maybe the older woman had instructed her child to flee. That seemed fairly likely as well.
Whatever had happened to the mother, there was a more complex barrier keeping the girl from talking about that.
Bell's offer stopped Landon in his tracks. He gave the man a look -really? They were offering to bring her along? It was hard enough to take care of themselves and Spot, let alone bring along someone as fragile as the girl. If they were lucky, she'd stay out of the way, but there was no telling how she'd respond when shit really hit the fan. Not that they were experts at that.
It was hard to explain the duality of their mission.
Even the hunters had had a hard time comprehending that the world of goats was far from black and white.
"It's not that simple," Landon ventured when the girl reasoned that the monsters should die.
"Just like mankind can't be judged by the actions of one, neither can these beings," he explained in a way he hoped she'd understand. It was the closest he could get to explaining the difference and their choices.
"The hunters, they don't distinguish between good and bad, they just kill. They would've killed you too, probably, if they suspected you were a goat too."
Bell put the final notes to their conversation and Landon shrugged. It was her choice in the end. He gave Bell a stern look. What were they going to do with a girl? Stick Spot and her in a second hotel-room so they could get their rock on? Awkward didn't come close to expressing how their little party was going to work. If there was even enough money to go around, because they still hadn't had the opportunity to check.
Landon looked at the squished orange and then sighed. Couldn't get much worse for the girl in terms of accommodation.
"You may want to eat that instead," he suggested and turned for the scaffolding. He was keen to get to the truck and actually sleep, if his mind remained clear for long enough.
She drew away from Landon when he mentioned the word 'kill' as though he'd flung a dagger at her. Bell watched her hands clutching the orange and had to wonder how the poor fruit was holding up. It had never been meant to be held so tightly.
The girl did seem to settle a bit when Landon said that her father had been human, though Bell doubted she fully understood what they were saying. Or was even absorbing all of this. It was a lot to take in at once. When Landon offered an easy way out, she sniffed and nodded, wiping her tears. "They were, but they stopped. I shook them," she declared, pride coming through even despite the tears. Bell exchanged a glance with Landon; that meant nothing. He and Landon both knew that the hunters could track a goat from one end of the country to the other, if they so desired, but maybe a girl ranked lower than the pair who'd murdered half their members. And maybe they'd been following the girl to recruit her, or because the streets were no place for a girl. It wasn't as though the hunters were without compassion; just without compassion for goats.
"We're fighting those hunters," Bell offered, suddenly. Maybe it was stupid, maybe there was no place for some scrawny girl in the battle plan , but she was the daughter of two goats. It was more than possible that she was some kind of hybrid--perhaps a more natural version of Alice. And equally possible that she was just some scrawny kid. But it was too late now; he'd started the offer, he'd see it through. "You can come with us, if you want. If you want to be useful, and help us fight."
She looked at him, confused. "But they kill the monsters, don't they? Isn't that good?"
"They killed your parents," Bell said.
"The monsters that replaced my parents, according to you. The monsters should die, right?"
Bell gave her a hard look. She could take that spunk and shove it. "Come or don't. I don't care one way or another." Could they even afford to support the girl? Maybe he should've asked Landon first. Too late now, though.
"Thanks for pointing that out -really, really missed that detail," Landon scoffed, rolling his eyes at the girl. Not like he could deny it. Inevitably, the goatling would take it all. Way beyond the hand, parts of his intestines and who knew what part of his heart after he'd gotten shot there. All the way down to his leg. If the goatling did abandon him for another 'vessel', then he'd be fucked. Unless Bell-goat could heal him through it; which was a shoddy chance at becoming extremely vulnerable once more. He'd had enough of Bellwether-goat's blood to last him a lifetime.
They weren't aliens.
"They don't live inside most people," Landon corrected her false assumption. They actually had become the people they portrayed as. A perfect copy, to differentiate in a same manner any human would, with some minor adaptations for some. Landon looked from Bell to Spot. They were the odd ones out, really.
And there wasn't a 'right way' to kill goats. There was only Bellwether-goat's will and their inability to effect the way Bell-goat asserted that dominance over their actions.
She did raise a good point.
A child of a goat and a human? No. A child of two goats, presumably. Would said child be human? It might be. Might not be. Bell-goat had at one time pointed out that DNA was easily manipulated, but it was human. The goat could act, in its human form, as an incubator for a child. But also for a goat and a child at the same time.
Would such a being abuse the growing fetus to settle into?
There was no way they could check, short of killing the girl. And Bell mentioned there hadn't been any reason to suspect the girl.
"We don't know if you're human or not and the only way to find out..." Landon shrugged. "The only way to find out is to kill them, most of the time. There are...other methods." Like the methods the hunters used; whatever they were. And the goatling could coax the goat out. Neither of which were good ideas right now.
"We know your dad was once a human, before a goat took his place." Landon shrugged. That was really all they knew. Of course, that didn't cover their understanding a tween's emotional turmoil.
"Are these men chasing you?" he asked, deciding a change of topic was due. It was important to know whether the hunters found her a worthy target -because she'd be a goat for sure then. And the hunters would be close to boot.
Called his bluff, didn't she? Despite everything, he found himself smirking. He liked this girl. She had spunk.
Two men. One big, one armed. And they changed her dad into "something." Bell glanced at Landon, almost against his will. If a hunter had that kind of ability, they'd truly be fucked. Landon's scream was enough to bring him to his knees, regardless of any strength or effort he put in. Hopefully she simply meant that the hunter had hacked her father's head open and brought the goat out the old fashioned way.
What about her mother? She'd said both her parents, so what had happened to the other one? Bell opened his mouth to ask, then shut it. He didn't really want to hear more of the girl's sob story today.
And now she wanted to know about Landon. Or rather, the goats. It was amusing, that she thought Landon was the dangerous one. He was kind of enjoying it. Landon turned away, uninterested in continuing the conversation, and left Bell high and dry to explain. He sighed and shook his head. "We call them goats, but it's not as though we know what they are. They... they aren't from here. Can't survive long in the atmosphere. So they build shells to keep themselves safe." He looked her in the eye. "These shells are human. Exactly human. There's no way to tell them apart from any real person, until you kill the shell and the goat pops out. Anyone could be one. You, me..."
"Him," she interrupted, pointing at Landon.
"Could be," Bell allowed, smirking more broadly. "The problem is that they replace humans. And the humans who get replaced...don't survive the replacement."
She frowned, processing it, a hand to her mouth as she thought. Then she looked up, meeting Bell's eyes. "So they're aliens that live inside people, and my dad was... what about the men? What were they?" she asked.
Bell sighed. "They aren't aliens. They don't come from outer space in saucers and they aren't little grey men with big eyes, they're... something else. And the men are hunters. They kill the goats, but they do it wrong. By putting bits of goat inside themselves. We hunt goats, too, but we don't..." he glanced guiltily at Landon. "We do it right."
"So my dad was a monster?" she demanded, angry tears glistening in her eyes. "What about me? My parents were--aren't I the same? So you do want to kill me, then!"
"Your dad--your dad is the human who got replaced, not the monster! Your dad had been dead for a long time when the hunters came along!" he snapped, annoyed. Though...a bit of his brain ticked along, coming to its own conclusion. The kid cans to his mind, the kid who'd been a goat. When had her parents been replaced? Five years ago? Ten? ...Fifteen?
The girl was crying in earnest, tears flowing down her face. "What do you know!" she snarled. What did he know? This stupid man! What did he know?
"Friends? You assume too much," Landon muttered. In the time they'd worked with the hunters they hadn't made a single friend. Killed both parents?
Now that was interesting. Did that mean both of them had been goats? Unlikely. The odds of that were -well. Landon looked down at Spot and then back at Bell. The 'one that was closer than others'. Could've been.
And then Miss Hannah and the hippie as well.
Seemed people like those were teaming up. They'd know if the girl was a goat though, right?
Now it was the girl's turn to become impatient. She huffed out a sigh and rolled her eyes.
"Don't act like you don't know! He's one of them," the girl gestured. Landon crossed his arms, giving her an unimpressed look.
She changed her mind only a few seconds later.
"They were these men, two of them, one tall and broad and the other carrying a weapon. One of them-..." Her story faltered for a second and she blinked, then swallowed. It was a painful memory, Landon concluded.
"One of them changed my dad into 'something'," she said, hesitant towards the end. She wasn't sure now whether what she'd seen and concluded was right. What if that 'something' had already always been inside her father?
Landon glanced over at Bell. How much more did they want to know, other than where these hunters were now? Going off the state of this girl however, it was fairly obvious that it'd been a while ago. Those hunters would be long gone.
Was this where Bellwether was going to recruit her or whatever? He had with him -perhaps out of loneliness, but more likely Bellwether-goat had known it would be able to successfully imbibe him with its little goatling.
"What is that-? That...blackness?" she ventured, stepping closer. Oh, sob-story done and now she wanted answers from their side? Landon let out an amused snort. What it was? They weren't even sure. They'd called them goats, but that wasn't exactly an accurate description for the properties of their now anti-matter inflicted bodies. He shrugged.
"What?" the girl pressed, trying to look Landon in the eye.
"You get to explain this one," Landon muttered at Bell, turning away from the conversation. He was tired.
She drew back when Landon reappeared. It was a cute kind of irony; the one who was more human was the one she was most afraid of. Bell wondered if she would have called out to them, if she'd known the truth about him as well. The orange seemed to almost be a shield, to her, something that might stand between her and them. Even if they were both fully human, it would have made a flimsy shield. She startled at the sound of his voice, retreating further into her room.
"I--" she mumbled, glancing between them. He could almost see the wheels in her head turning; she glanced between them, uncertain. "If you are, I..."
Landon blurted out something impatient, and the girl jumped and twitched away, ready to run. Bell rolled his eyes. What was with Landon acting like the tough guy all of a sudden? Did that mean he was supposed to be the good cop? "Spit it out, or we're going to go," Bell said. If Landon was getting pissy, that was reason enough for him to leave. It wasn't as though he was really invested in this girl's story--though he had to admit he was mildly interested. Most people who ran into goats didn't live to talk about it, as Landon had nearly experienced.
"You aren't going to kill me?" she blurted out suddenly. Bell blinked at her, confused. She wasn't a goat, was she? Wait...kill her? And she didn't sound scared, but almost..curious. As though the why they weren't going to kill her was more important than the killing her.
"Should we?" Bell asked her. He hadn't ruled it out, anyways, and if that was what she wanted...
"The--your friends, the other ones who could--" she pointed at Landon and gestured with her hand "--they killed my parents, but I ran, but I thought you'd come to finish the job, but then you didn't chase me, and--"
Bell put up his hand to stop the sudden outpouring of words. Goodness, it never rained but it poured. "Wait, who killed your parents?" he asked, playing dumb. If they were the hunters...but who else could it be? "What did they look like?"
Bell turned at the top of the scaffolding. Spot was down below, wagging his tail. Landon held still for a moment; he could hear the girl's voice echo against the concrete slabs a second later. Softer this time. Mumbling. Landon narrowed his eyes and started to climb back up, holding still to watch their exchange. Was she trying to play them?
Get their money?
She'd already gotten food, it'd be a good play if she tried for more. After all, why be satisfied with a finger when you could have the whole hand?
Bell's voice was loud and clear: 'one of them?'.
Bell said Daniel had shown his hand to someone -the girl? Why? It didn't make any sense. Little did, but this was. Weird. Why expose their, well...affliction? Their... Landon wasn't sure what to call it. But exposing their secret could never be beneficial. So far, everyone who'd found out tried to kill them or worse.
Landon climbed back up the scaffolding onto the platform. The girl grew shy at his presence, retreated, if only by a few steps. That didn't stop Bell from pushing her for more information and she wasn't exactly forthcoming. Landon caught the same tell Bell had; her fingers were tight around the orange. She was nervous. No. Scared maybe? With right.
She ought to be scared. Goats weren't something you messed with.
He had. If it weren't for Bellwether, Landon would've regretted everything about it. Not that he'd had a choice when that freshly born goatling tried to replace him.
Landon put a hand to Bell's shoulder.
"So what if I am?" He wasn't entirely up to speed, but hadn't they tried to find people who were, like the hippie, aware and actively against the hunters' practise of killing off people who were goats? Or goats who were people.
It was a matter of perspective.
What was a scrawny little girl going to do anyway?
"This is useless. I thought you wanted us gone and now that we're leaving you want to talk? Make up your mind," Landon muttered. Spot barked from down below, restless and curious, feeling left out. Landon agreed. Loitering here wouldn't amount to anything. Unless she was keen to get this new information to the hunters.
In that case, she was a liability.
"Could be," Bell allowed. She'd reacted with fear at Daniel's transformation, but then again, who wasn't afraid of the goats? It was an instinctive thing, something in the reptilian hind brain that screamed "this is wrong. This is not one of us." More likely the girl was simply one of the many unlucky homeless. A girl her age, it'd be her parents chasing her out. Could be she'd gotten into drugs, or got pregnant; that was a common enough reason to end up on the streets as a young girl, but she didn't seem pregnant. An abusive family, or maybe it was the opposite of being pregnant; maybe she'd discovered she preferred women to men, and was chased out for that particular predeliction. The list went on and on, and there was no telling what she fell under.
Just... scrambled up, huh? As though he hadn't noticed. Still, he gave a small smile and nodded. Better to let Landon retain that much of his dignity, if he thought Bell was unaware.
"Wait," the girl called. Landon was halfway down the scaffolding already; Bell turned to look at her, prepared to field an attack. Instead, though, she was looking at him, just him. The orange was clutched tight in her clawed hands, nails almost biting through the peel. "Is he..." she glanced down at Landon, then back at Bell, then moved closer, so as to speak softer. "Is he...is that black hand, it was--it was real, right? He's one of them?"
Bell gave her a look. Was this why she'd come back? Been that curious about the hand? Or... wait, one of them? Did she know? Had she seen one before?
Or maybe she was just mentally ill, like so many others who'd found themselves on the streets. "One of them?" he prompted, looking her in the eyes for the first time. At the very least, he didn't see that distant, crazed look he often saw in Landon's, but maybe she was a different kind of crazy. Or had a different tell.
"One of [i them,]" she insisted, as though he should know. And he did know, but he had to know if she knew. What she knew.
"One of what?" he asked, trying again.
No goats. That was good. Landon relaxed a hair, but the nervous feelings remained. Repaint? -oh. So he'd been sick after all. Explained his stomach's soreness and feeling sick in general. Wait, did that mean Bell had been driving all this time? Landon furrowed his brow, regarding Bell for a second while eating.
"Just? Normal?" Landon filled in Bell's dismissive gesture.
A stray girl then? Homeless? At that age? It seemed weird to be homeless that young. Bell had been the same though. Landon ponderously chewed on the orange, considering whether the girl wasn't in a similar situation. Probably not. What were the odds, right?
Besides, she wouldn't have some 'girl' she'd killed in a shack in the middle of nowhere. Or whatever had happened between Bell and his friend at the time.
"Right," Landon muttered. They were leaving.
He wouldn't miss their current hide-out, depending on what the next looked like. Where Landon was concerned, it'd be a hotel, but first he had to see what kind of money they had. He'd let everything slide too much lately.
But then his mind was a mess to begin with.
She was there when they left, glaring at them as if they might torch the place, after raping her or whatever else. Landon shook his head at the exchange. Like feeding a dog. Good thing they'd brought Spot down; the mutt wouldn't like seeing food go. Maybe he'd fetch it. For the sake of fetching, most likely.
"You think she's homeless because the hunters or due to a goat in general?" Landon asked softly, knowing that half his concern was most likely paranoia. Plain and simple.
She was just a stray girl, unlucky. She'd end up selling herself on the streets or going back to a home that wasn't constructive. Better that than having your father kill you. Landon caught himself and snorted.
"I'm just..." he gestured at his head.
Jumbled. His head was a jumbled mess.
Landon heaved a sigh and started for the scaffolding. Time to ditch this place. Maybe if they went back to their usual routine, he'd find a sense of balance again. Something that beat sitting alone in the dark, drunk, watching the egg germinate another version of Bellwether, without knowing whether any of the man's memories would be restored.
But they had. Everything was fine now.
Landon's hands were shaking. At this point, Bell wasn't sure if it was alcohol withdrawal or pure nerves. At least he ate the orange without complaint, which was better than they'd been doing lately. Bell scratched his head and yawned. When had he started thinking of Landon and Daniel in the plural? Since they'd started acting so much alike, his brain offered, even through the morning gloom. Used to be Daniel was the bubbly one who ate and was usually mad at Bell for some reason, while Landon was quiet, demure, and loving. Now they were both kind to him, both nervy, both shaky-handed and sick and prone to mad delusions. The real difference, he supposed, was that Landon was still more pliable, and Daniel still better in bed.
"No," Bell confessed. No goats. "Just stopped here because Daniel was going to repaint the car's interior with vomit if we kept going." And, of course, he'd been interested in preventing that at all costs. "The girl is just..." he shrugged. Just a girl. How weird was their life that it was actually stranger that the girl not be a dark, inhuman creature than that she be one?
"No reason for us to stay," he said with a shrug. Might be a goat if they went looking, but in a town this small, the chances wouldn't be worth the effort of looking. He sighed and stretched. Sleeping on wood over concrete had not been good for his back, not even a little.
The oranges were almost gone. At this rate, they'd eat them before they could rot, unlike the last batch, which had been abandoned in the car to die a hot death of decay. He stepped outside into the early sunlight. The girl peered at them, suspicious, from her room. Bell grinned and tossed her an orange, which she dodged as though afraid it'd bite her. "For your hospitality," he said sarcastically. She gave him a suspicious look, but disappeared into the room to fetch the orange nonetheless.
While she was gone, Bell gestured at the scaffolding. "After you," he offered, gesturing for Landon to go first. He'd feel safer if Landon got down the scaffolding and away from the girl before Bell left the upper level, in case she tried something stupid.
"It's fine, don't think I would've slept anyway," Landon said with a faint shrug. Might be he'd be able to get some sleep during the ride -if they were leaving today. He kind of hoped they would, because a concrete floor did not a bed make.
And he'd gotten some sleep, probably. Since he'd started awake at some point. When Bell rose, Landon followed, if only to stretch out and work the kinks out of his back. It felt strange with Bell so far away. Landon wanted to give chase, even though Bellwether would be back in just a second, after Spot had gone about his business.
He held pace by the door, lingering and casting skittish glances down the sparsely lit hallway. Some sunshine was filtering through, but it did little to give light to everything. Dark corners shifted, as they always did. Landon glanced down, then back to 'their room'. Go back, follow Bell? Push through?
Bell's return prevented Landon from being forced to choose.
"No idea. Water?" Landon tried. Apparently there were oranges.
He gave a solemn nod. Bell would throw a fit at him not eating again and Landon wanted to prevent that sort of embarrassment. Shaky fingers struggled to keep hold of the orange and peel it decently, though Landon got there simply by applying more force.
It became painfully obvious Daniel hadn't eaten much either. He felt hungry after the first bite and slightly confused as well. Everything was a mess. Nothing new there.
"They're good," Landon said, more to stifle the silence than anything. Now that Bell had breakfast, asking questions was a lot less likely to be countered with snapping.
"Did we find a goat?" he pitched.
What other reason did they have for staying in a place like this -and for Daniel to use the goatling? "Is the girl one?" Landon nodded. She gave off a weird vibe, but then concrete walls gave him the exact same emotion, so Landon wasn't sure what to feel or assume no more. It wouldn't make sense for the girl to be one though; they'd have killed her last night if that was the case. Ample opportunity and everything.
"Sorry, stupid question. I guess -we're going then?" Landon offered instead.
He looked at Landon and smiled, letting Landon put his hair back into place. Didn't look like Landon had slept at all. He should've swapped with Landon earlier. But he'd been so tired. "Sorry I didn't swap," he said, apologetic. "Should've let you get some rest."
Spot got up and paced around by the door, giving Bell an expectant glance. Looked like he wanted to go out. Bell sighed and stood, climbing to his feet. "I'm gonna take Spot out," he said. The dog probably had to poop.
Leading Spot, he headed out into the open area of the building. The girl was there, squatting by her room. She jumped up when she saw him, then scowled. Wasn't pleased to see them, huh? No surprises there. Being territorial was probably all she had left. "Thanks for the hospitality," he joked, a bit of meanness missed into his voice as well. She stuck her tongue out and disappeared into her room.
"Alright, Spot, come here," he sighed, kneeling. Somewhat to his surprise, the dog trotted over obediently and let himself be picked up. Probably still had enough intelligence to know that Bell was trying to help him. It was a little harder to climb down with Spot than it'd been to climb up, but he managed to make it work. At the bottom, he let Spot go, and the dog wandered off, sniffing at the floor. Rather than wait, he headed back upstairs. He didn't want to leave Landon and the girl alone for long.
"What do we have for breakfast?" he asked with a yawn. Oranges, it looked like. Ah, that was alright though, oranges were tasty.Maybe he could even get Landon to eat one, if he was lucky.
The girl glowered from the doorway of her room. Bell ignored her and headed in to check on Landon. Hopefully nothing had come unhinged while he was gone, like Landon's sanity. He grabbed an orange from the bag on the floor and started peeling it. "Want a piece? Or maybe a whole orange?" It'd worked to get Daniel to eat yesterday, after all, might as well give it a second try. After all, Landon didn't share Daniel's memories.
At least Bell wasn't angry he'd chosen to wake him up from a nightmare over properly chasing off the girl. A thank you was preceded by a kiss, which Landon reciprocated.
"Love you too," he said softly, not wanting anyone other than Bellwether to hear. Not even by accident. He put a hand to Bell's shoulder as the man settled and rested his back against the wall. It was going to be a long night.
Sometimes he saw someone walk outside their room, but Spot didn't react a single time, so Landon was fairly certain there wasn't actually anyone there. It was only in his head. Spot was a good tell, but when the delusions came closer, close enough to touch, Landon almost found himself wishing Spot would chase them off regardless.
One time Landon saw Lilly, with hybrid Alice.
Lilly didn't approach however, she just smiled. Somehow, it was a content smile. And then Alice looked at him with dead eyes, so close. So close. Hybrid Alice leaned in, those blue baubles dry and lifeless. In the fading morning, Landon could see the fine veins in the whites of her eyes. His breathing was shallow and fast.
His hands shook. Even as he reached out and touched upon air and only air. There was nothing. It was all in his head.
He kept his other hand on Bell. An anchor. Steady in the stormy expanse of faux reality.
And then Bellwether shifted. Landon's breath caught. A delusion? No.
No, just the man waking up.
Landon let out a shaky sigh and smiled at Bell. Finally.
Bell waking up meant the night was over. They could go out into the light, where nothing could touch him.
"'morning," Landon greeted Bell, voice hoarse from disuse. He pulled away a little to grab the water and took a few long sips. The water hadn't seemed safe before, but now that Bell was awake, it seemed fine.
His stomach was definitely feeling better than before, though he still felt shaky. And nervous. A neurotic kind of weak and restless at the same time. Landon wished they'd had a hotel-room, with privacy. Maybe he could've gotten some sleep then.
Turned out wooden boards weren't his first choice of mattress-making.
Distracted hands roughly sorted Bell's hair so it didn't look like an exploded mess.
"You get some sleep?"
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