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South -because it was warmer? Really? Winter was approaching and unless they left this soggy island entirely, shit wasn't going to get much warmer. As if reacting to that thought, Landon shivered and merely shrugged. If Bellwether didn't care where they were going, neither would he. Finding goats appeared hit-and-miss more so than actual educated guesses based on probability and prevalence. Why didn't that surprise Landon?
Bell looked young, had he even completed any form or shade of education before a goat interrupted that future from happening?
Deciding to fetch tickets first, Landon man-handled one of the machines, walking through the digital menu while squinting at the instructions, willing them to make sense. Whatever headache the painkillers had suppressed was now back in full-swing and Landon rested his head against the machine as it shat out a couple of tickets.
That done, he walked over to get coffee and almost forgot he looked and smelled the way he did. Inquisitive, prying, eyes followed his gait towards the store and kept trained on his hands to make sure no theft was taking place. It was rude, really, and Landon considered saying something but decided it wasn't any use. He had no qualms about his 'better half' stealing at any given opportunity. Without realizing, Landon had kept Bellwether in his field of vision, just to make sure that -what? A goat would take his place, in the middle of such a public area? One day, Landon decided, he would stop being afraid of being left to fend on his own. He could go back to his cushy life, as Bell described it. Forget anything about goats. Well, until the world ended.
"Sir?" the clerk started, eyebrows raised and hinting at the queue behind Landon wordlessly.
Raising his head, Landon faltered before startling back into reality.
"Two coffees, black," Landon ordered softly, putting the cash on the counter.
It was taken with slight apprehension and while the bandages wrapped around his head weren't oozing pink this time, they weren't a pretty sight either. The mixture of concern and fright started to bore Landon.
As if any vagrant needed to be treated with pity and caution.
Taking the styrofaom cups, Landon returned to Bell and offered him one of the coffees. Another shiver tore down Landon's spine when the heat of the cup finally radiated through his frigid fingers. Soon, he promised himself, soon they'd be in a nice heated train, enjoying the rush of scenery drifting by.
"Here," Landon produced Bell's ticket, holding it between two fingers as he waved it in front of the man. "Don't ask me where that place is," he sort of apologized for not sticking around squinting at destinations he actually knew.
"Leaves in fifteen minutes," Landon mentioned as he sipped from the hot brew. His body hadn't even known what it had craved for so long until caffeine hit his tongue. Like an addict receiving his fix, Landon sighed out in relief. The platform numbers at least were easier to make out and he started for the one their train departed from slowly. There was no rush. Landon's eyes didn't remain still though. He felt paranoid.
Anyone could be a goat. Lily could be one.
She hadn't noticed the difference.
Being with Lily had just been a nice excuse. No questions asked when the life you could present seemed perfectly ordinary, but Landon hadn't ever loved her. He hadn't considered love to be a prerequisite for the 'perfect' life.
The walk to the train station was short, at the very least; Bellwether's mood being what it was, he was grateful that Landon decided not to chat on the way over. He was somewhere between mildly irritated and wanting to rip out the man's throat with his bare teeth, and even the slightest platitude could have triggered an attack.
The street musicians eyed him and Landon up, then dismissed the pair as more of their own, unlikely to spare coin they didn't have. Bellwether let his bell ring a little more loudly than usual as he passed, to irritate anyone who was trying to produce music at the moment. He was in a bad mood, therefore everyone else should be in a bad mood as well. Laughter sounded like an attack on his person, smiles were jokes made at his expense. The world was against him, and Landon most of all.
He knew it was illogical. He was the one in control. He chose where they went, who they fought, what they did. And it wasn't as though he'd forgotten how to fend for himself, how to read the glyphs other homeless people would carve into doors and poles as warning or invitation, how to eat half-rotten food from a trashcan, how to sleep with a park bench for a mattress and a newspaper as a comforter. He wasn't reliant on Landon. He could survive without him. It was just nicer to have him along. He wasn't reliant on Landon--Landon was reliant on him. And he was...he was manipulating Landon into using Landon's money for his cause.
Putting it like that made it much more agreeable. He smiled a little to himself, mood improved. Maybe he was only telling himself that, but...he liked the way it sounded. And it was definitely a way to interpret their relationship, right? In fact, most softies would say that was what was happening--they wouldn't pause to cast Bellwether the vagrant as the bad guy, Landon the ordinary guy as an innocent bent to his will. And that was just fine by him.
"Coffee's perfect," he said, a note of irritation in his voice. He was feeling better, but it hadn't quite resolved everything yet. "And grab us some tickets to somewhere warmer. Somewhere south. I don't care where."
Why was he so bothered by Landon? Why did he care what their relationship was, when it boiled down to him taking advantage of Landon one way or another?
[i Probably because he's the first guy to be kind to you in a long time,] a voice in the back of his head admitted grudgingly. [i Probably because you don't know how to handle that without hating him...or falling for him. And you already know he isn't going to fall for you.]
Bellwether ground his teeth irritably. He wasn't in fucking love with Landon. That was fucking ridiculous. The man was attractive, but an attractive asshole, and the last time he'd fallen for one of those he'd ended up raped and dumped, beaten half to death in the back of an alley. He'd learned that lesson--learned it and a half. And Landon was straight besides. Maybe Bellwether was physically attracted--and after a dry spell like the one he'd had, he was physically attracted to just about every john that strutted by--but that was all. That was where the emotional attachment ended. If Landon died tomorrow, the only thing he'd mourn was the loss of funding.
Despite his silence, Bell chased away the quiet and Landon merely waited for the other to muck about until he pronounced they were going. Landon hadn't dared sit down, fearing he'd fall back asleep. Actually, it would probably be good to just take a day to rest up. He had no idea how many goats a day spawned however. Were they even making a profit on killing goats? Steadily sipping from the bottled water, Landon followed after Bellwether complacently enough, barely comprehending the other's mutter. Blinking as understanding dawned, Landon decided not to ask. Something about asking Bell questions before midday approached being dangerous popped up in Landon's less than impeccable memory of the last few days. The man was obviously not a morning person.
The light outside made Landon's nose itch and a sneeze tore itself from his lungs. For the sake of practicality, Landon had tied his belt around the baseball-bat during his wait, so it was partially hidden underneath his potato-sack coat much like Bell's pipe. That wouldn't stop onlookers from glaring in their general direction however, what with the bell's noise. Not even the painkillers could keep out the headache completely as his ears were over-stimulated by the bell's sheer volume.
Wiping a still soggy sleeve by his nose, Landon sighed out his misery and shivered for good measure before making his way towards the town's train station on auto-pilot.
Their little parade didn't stand out there as much. The run-down building was host to many vagrants who terrorized the local supermarket for their free coffee. It was technically against the law to beg, so most carried obscure musical instruments to make a living, effectively promoting them from beggars to street-musicians.
Bellwether's 'I can leave whenever the hell I want' started to sound more and more petulant to Landon's imagination. Like a twelve-year-old kid telling his parents that he'd manage fine on his own, please and thank you, and for them to leave him alone. Landon imagined it couldn't be easy being dependant on someone else, but he'd never thought of Bell as being dependant or the sort of person who was bothered by free food and lodging. Frankly, there was a thing or two the other could teach him about life on the streets.
Not that Landon cared extremely much. Yesterday's rain would've been better when avoided. That said, they wouldn't have been able to deal with the goat as quickly as they had if they'd found shelter.
Staring at the many destinations on the boards, Landon squinted, the lights not settling the characters into anything he could swiftly make sense of. Even if he could, he didn't know where they were going. He felt hung-over with no party to excuse feeling that way. Coffee would be nice actually. Spotting a cash dispenser, Landon figured it was high time to add some surplus cash to the hoard which wasn't stolen from a mashed woman-faced goat. Shielding his pin, Landon took the maximum amount, so he wouldn't be traced as easily across locations and stored the wads in different places. Even his wallet hadn't fully dried.
"I'm getting coffee," Landon pointed at a small kiosk.
"Would you like some?" he asked casually.
Bellwether was dozing by the time Landon finally got up and opened the door, resolution not to sleep or no. He sat upright, away from the wall, and blinked at the daylight as though it had somehow snuck up on him by surprise, then yawned loudly and stood. "I don't care. I'm used to it."
He passed Landon on his way indoors, nodding at the man's suggestion. "Yeah," he agreed, and that was that. He didn't want to talk to Landon. He didn't want to admit his weakness. He wasn't going to talk about his dreams or his nightmares or his feelings with anyone, much less Landon the soft. Moving on would be just the distraction he needed.
His feet were filthy from walking around barefoot, and putting them in socks sounded like the worst idea right now, so he ran the water in the bath until it was warm, then stuck his feet in it to rinse them off. The water swirled black, then grey; the dirt on his feet faded several magnitudes but didn't wash away entirely.
[i I can forget, but I can't undo.]
He stared at the water for another second, as it ran clear off his feet, then slammed it shut and stomped out, tearing a towel off the rack as he came. Stupid dreams reminding him of stupid things that were better off forgotten.
"Let's get going," he snapped, suddenly eager to be anywhere but here.
He got dressed in a foul mood, nearly tearing a few of the older, more delicate layers in his haste. He wolfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, barely tasting it and giving himself mild heartburn at the same time. He was pissed at himself for having that old, stupid dream again, irritated that Landon had seen him so weak. The bell clanged loudly as he slapped it into place, the steel bar smacking extra hard against his thigh today. His shoulder still hurt when he used it, and he still had to rely on Landon for money. That alone left a bad taste in his mouth. Relying on a softie? Ugh, he could just about puke. He hadn't realized it, had he, in all his excitement over getting a meal ticket, but that was what this really was. He wasn't stuck with Landon because of Landon's insistence--he was stuck because of his own weakness.
"I can leave whenever the hell I want," he muttered, glaring in Landon's direction.
But wasn't that what all the junkies said?
Arms folded tightly around his chest underneath his duvet, Landon merely stared and watched as the shaky figure of Bell stood and then went out the door. The slam of the door closing behind echoed like realization smacking him in the face: alone once again. And thanks, random nightmare. Swallowing down the fear welling up, Landon tried to reason that the probability of a goat recognizing and attacking Bellwether would be low without the man's clanking bell. Actually, encountering anyone on the premise at this hour had low odds.
Being left alone still made Landon nervous but there was some reassurance in the fact that Bellwether had always returned so far and that his gear was still in the room. Before long Bell would come knocking on the door in violent attempts at being let back inside and Landon felt the painkillers kick in with that thought. The silence grew boring quickly and sleep finally pulled him under.
This time it wasn't his wayward companion, but Richard calling him awake. Dawn had since passed into day-time, light creeping into the motel-room and Landon dazedly blinked to wakefulness, numb hands fumbling with the phone to shut off the sound. Bellwether hadn't returned. The pipe was still here, with the scratches. So was the bell, and the man's clothes. Had he left despite of that? No, that'd be stupid.
"Morning," Landon answered the phone.
Richard was quick about affairs: he needed just a few numbers to complete several transactions. Oh, and Lily had tossed the engagement ring into his face, whether Landon wanted the diamond ring back. Shrapnel couldn't have more value at that moment and Landon told Richard to stuff it some place dark before hanging up.
He hadn't mentioned the incident at the house, only that forensic evidence concluded it had been some type of animal and that whatever it was, wasn't exactly of any type they recognized so they couldn't even bring up charges of animal cruelty for lack of species.
The hallway would need to be painted over before the house could be sold however and the news wouldn't do anything for the price either. Lily was already moving out and taking most of the items from the house. Landon pondered whether returning there would be necessary but nearly dying put priority to practical matters.
Putting his head on the couch's arm, Landon sighed out, the painkillers still quite effective. After yesterday's rain, a shower wasn't on his wishlist and so Landon slowly mucked about getting dressed and eating a peanut-butter sandwich in hopes of venturing out and finding where Bellwether went with the motel's sheets and blankets.
He didn't have to look far.
Landon leaned against the door-frame.
"You should've knocked," he said listlessly, still tired and quite content with not feeling much of anything. Why hadn't the man knocked anyway? Was it because of the nightmare? Landon didn't care much for seeing Bell that way -having had his own portion of scary dreams for the night. Actually, it made the man more approachable. Guess that wasn't a feature Bellwether appreciated as much as Landon did.
"Figured we leave today," Landon commented on his state of readiness. Yesterday's rain hadn't really cleared up from the soil and neither were the majority of Landon's clothes dry, but he just failed to care. Leaving behind this place would make leaving behind the gruesome memories easier. Moving made things easier. It felt like running away, but for now that was a viable option and one which would get them far enough. That didn't mean Landon hadn't reached a number of questions he wanted answered during the time he'd failed to sleep. It wasn't likely Bell had the answers. To get those, it was important to play the game differently and to do that, Landon needed to know the current rules better.
He started at the voice, eyes staring wildly into the darkness. Bell made out motion, someone walking across the room, and held completely still. Who was that? Who the hell was--
Landon. It was Landon. He'd taken the man in, and now they were sharing a motel room, and he was human, and everything was alright, and she wasn't--
He swallowed, trying to calm himself, and pushed sweat-soaked hair back out of his eyes. When Landon set the bottle down beside him and quipped, he made a face. "Fuck off," he muttered, picking up the bottle with shaking hands and taking a halting gulp. It was the closest he'd get to 'thank you.'
Slowly, the shadows became transparent, revealing ordinary appliances instead of terrifying monsters, and he stood, still clutching the bedsheets to himself. He couldn't sleep anymore--didn't even want to sleep--so he walked outside, shuffling along under the blankets and sheets. It had stopped raining some time during the night, but there were still puddles on the ground, the ground itself still thoroughly damp. His hands were still shaking, his body possessed by nervous energy, so he went for a walk around the motel, bare feet slapping on the concrete sidewalk, sidestepping broken glass. It occurred to him after the door slammed shut behind him that he didn't have a key to the room. He'd have to count on Landon to let him back in. He wasn't used to that. To relying on other people. Made him feel...weak.
"Damn," he muttered aloud, pulling the bedsheets tighter around himself. "Fucking dammit." Landon had seen. He didn't have nightmares regularly anymore. Once every few months. But the day after he got a big old softy, here he was. Looked damn weak. Looked pathetic. He snorted. No way Landon would have any respect for him after all this.
He finally sat down behind the building, propping his body up against the wall and tipping his head back tiredly. Why had he brought Landon along? Why bother himself with that problem? He shouldn't have. He should have just left him to his perfect little house, his perfect little fiancee. He could always just run away and disappear. The thought occurred to him, as he watched the sun rise. He didn't have to stay.
But then he'd have to go back to the way he'd been living. No meal ticket. No more hotels or hot showers. He rose and headed back towards their room. Better that than living on the streets. Better put up with Landon than beg. He paused before the door, then sat down outside it. His pride wasn't about to let him knock and ask to be let in. He'd just wait.
If he'd been able to sleep, Landon would've woken up for the third time that night by Bell's thrashing around on the bed, muttering and at the end of it screaming before a thud came in the darkness and there was some scrambling. Landon wasn't sure whether he ought to have interrupted the nightmare while it was in full swing. In the midst of his throws, Bellwether would've just attacked him and Landon cared little to exacerbate his concussion by receiving a random punch. Now that the man appeared close to awake, Landon still wasn't sure whether he should interfere. One: Bell's pride wouldn't stand for anything sappy like concern or care, and two: the man was very likely to lash out if he failed to recognize Landon upon getting within reach.
From what he could see however, Bell was still genuinely scared and it seemed cruel to Landon to keep the situation as it was. He could feign sleep, of course, pretend nothing ever happened.
"Whatever it was," Landon finally started with a drowsy, gruff, voice, "'s gone now. You're back in a crappy motel, having such a lovely time with yours truly," he added. Heaving a sigh, Landon got up and shuffled unsteadily over to the night-stand on the opposite corner of Bell and flicked the light on. The bottle of water Landon had left there was still half-full and he uncapped it before putting it down near Bellwether.
"Do you want me to tuck you back in and sing you a bed-time song?" Landon asked. "Didn't think so," he replied his own inquiry before standing back up and manoeuvring to the table.
His back felt broken, but then, so did every other muscle he'd never heard about. How many painkillers would it take to subdue the headache again and get some genuine sleep? By the dim light of the night-stand, Landon picked up the small box from the table and squinted at the small figures suggesting the general dose for a regular adult.
One every so many hours?
Two had been barely successful in cutting back the pain, so maybe three would make him feel drowsy enough to sleep? Cracking a yawn, Landon figured two might get him to give up on being awake for another hour or two. With luck, they'd take a train tomorrow to get out of dodge and he'd be able to get another hour or two in during the ride.
Checking what time it was using the phone, Landon pressed out the new dose of painkillers and swallowed them dry. He did finally reach into the small fridge for another bottle of water. It probably didn't help his headache if he kept abstaining from nourishment. Sitting back down on the couch, Landon found the dents he'd been semi-comfortably lying in and laid back again. A single night had never lasted quite so long before.
Even when he'd been sick, there'd been Lily to take care of him, to offer at least some solace.
He was vaguely aware of Landon leaving the bed, and stretched out to occupy the whole bed. A part of him wondered if he shouldn't be offended, but the rest of him was just happy to have the whole, huge bed to himself. And it was already warmed up, too! Pretty sweet bonus, by his estimation. Let Landon have the stupid couch. It wasn't his problem.
Sleep came quickly, lulled along by the patter of rain against the window. He rolled onto his bad shoulder once and didn't make the mistake twice; the renewed pain had shocked him to near-awareness, and he'd rolled away quickly.
His dreams, when they came, were of her.
She had a mouth that never seemed to stop moving, a face constantly in motion, her emotions broadcast to anyone who might care to look. She barely came up to his chest, and that was before he'd stopped growing; she'd been a tiny little thing. Her hair had been auburn, eyes hazel-blue, skin perpetually a shade too pale. And heavy, he remembered that. Not overly so, not obese, but a little chubby, in an endearing sort of way.
She leaned towards him in the back of the class, eyes locked on her work, a curtain of hair between him and her, and whispered, "So, did you see the news? They're remaking Live Fantasy: 5."
"No way, that game was shit," he whispered back, leaning across his desk towards her. The scent of her perfume hit him like a punch to the nose. It was a floral scent that had always seemed cloyingly sweet to him, but she liked it; or she'd worn it every day, anyways.
"Yeah, well, maybe you've just got poor taste in games. Anyways, they say you can play as the princess this time, but I don't really see what that's adding. I mean, who wants to be locked up in a castle all game? I hope they don't make it mandatory."
"It's a shitty game one way or the other," he grumbled.
She slapped his arm playfully, and he could smell something else under her perfume--something sickly sweet and rotten. He leaned in closer to get a better whiff, and she turned to face him.
Her face was pale, bloodless except where it ran down from the ruined, crushed crown of her head. He jumped up, chair clattering against the floor behind him, but he couldn't run. Her hand had closed around his wrist, strong as a metal vise. "What did you do to me?" she asked, voice rattling in a caved-in throat, and he watched helplessly as other injuries opened on her body. He knew them before they appeared, knew them by heart. Ligature marks darkened her wrists. Her ribcage was shattered, bones shoving through flesh. Dirt and blood splattered across her face, her skin; her leg broke with a snap, forearm following shortly: she'd raised her bound arms to defend herself. Her eyes went dark with bruises, lips dry and pale where they weren't tinged with dried dark blood. And still she breathed, still her heart thudded in that ruined chest!
"Let me go!" he shouted, wrenching against her fingers. They broke, came off with dry, brittle snaps, coming free of her body but still curled around his wrist. He staggered back, sickened to death, and she rose, walking somehow, impossibly, on her broken leg.
"Why run?" she asked, voice more demure and sweet than he'd ever heard it in life. "You liked it, didn't you? It was a rush. All that power, that strength--it made you feel alive, didn't it? Better than alive. You were a god. You were [i my] god."
He stumbled back, shaking his head mutely. No. No, no. It wasn't true. It wasn't. He hadn't--he didn't--
Her broken arm snaked out, using the break as an extra joint; she snatched up his hand, too fast to avoid, and pressed it into her too-soft flesh, into the valley between bloodstained beasts. "Tear me apart again. Do it. It'll make you feel good again. Better than you could do yourself. Don't you want to feel alive?"
He shivered. His fingers clawed into her chest of their own accord, and she moaned, a passionate, not pained sound. "More! More!" she begged, tugging away from him, pulling her own flesh away from the broken bones that held it.
With a great heave, as though pulling a limb from quicksand, he wrenched his hand free. She screamed in pleasure, and he kicked her to the floor and ripped her apart, chunks of red flesh flying off in his hands, blood spraying, her body arching underneath him, screaming and moaning until, tired of her noise, he ripped out her throat. He was powerful, all powerful. Her god. She was nothing before him. And she wanted it. She wanted him to tear her apart as much as he wanted to tear into her. He found her heart and tore it out, bit into it, blood squirting out under his teeth. Still she shuddered and twisted beneath him until red flesh was replaced with black, until flat, rectangular pupils stared up at him, until black skin bounced his fingernails away.
"My turn," the goat rasped, and with a great heave, it flipped him over so it was on top, so its fingers bit into his flesh and tore him apart. He screamed until his throat went dry, then kept screaming anyways, his voice cracking and breaking in his throat. His back bucked, and it wasn't from pleasure but from pain. He wanted to pass out but he couldn't. The pain was too intense. And it was endless, endless, the goat tearing and tearing until he was sure nothing more could be there to tear. He watched his own blood pool around him, saw flesh and skin piling up beside him. He was being unmade.
And then the goat offered him a hand, and he stood. He felt as though a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and when he looked back, he saw a pile of bloodied flesh and skin--his body, his flesh. He looked down and found his hands were black, misshapen, skin taut and dark.
"Welcome, brother," the goat said, and he smiled.
Bellwether woke up in a pool of sweat, sheets tangled so tight around him they were nearly strangling him. He sat up, still disoriented and frightened from the dream, and struggled out of bed. His legs caught in the sheets, and he flopped to the ground like a fish out of water. It was still dark. Before dawn. He crawled blindly into the corner, wrapping blankets around him as he went. No. No. That wasn't him. That wasn't. That--it wasn't. No.
The moment the bed sank with the weight of another body, hands nudging him, Landon started awake. He dazedly blinked with wide-spread eyes at the unfamiliar ceiling before the day's events came crashing back down to his memory. Slowly relaxing, he turned in the bed to give Bell more space and exchanged the ceiling for the wall. The nightmares only slowly dissolved and left trying to get more sleep as an insurmountable task to perform. Despite feeling exhausted, Landon failed to get comfortable enough to give in a third time and after a while he just surrendered to being awake. He'd promised Bell the bed anyway and so Landon vacated it.
Paranoia made him check the windows, where nothing could be seen other than a stormy night which had rain whipping against the cold pane of glass. A shiver tore down Landon's spine as the cold air cooled off his limbs. Finally, Landon ended up rooting through a closet for extra blankets and found a thin surplus duvet. Draping it across his shoulders, the man pilfered his phone from his soggy coat. The plastic had worked to safeguard the phone from the watery onslaught outside and he dispassionately sank down on the couch to sift through the machine's messages.
There were a couple messages from Lily, the first of which contained concerned questions and later angry messages -probably from the time just after Richard had contacted her. Then she had regressed into throwing around accusations and Landon simply deleted whatever came after. At least that side of his oh-so-perfect life was over. Bellwether would no doubt be proud.
His work too had left e-mails and messages. Richard knew what was going on, of course, but the man wouldn't rat him out to his boss and would likely fake ignorance. There was an ultimatum in there as well. Two weeks before his job forsook him, which suited Landon just fine. That's probably where Richard's deadline came from.
After those two weeks he wouldn't be in their system any longer and forking over money became increasingly harder. Landon didn't care if that raised suspicion either. He'd be long gone by then anyway.
Wiping at the excess moist threatening to drip from his eyes as a result of staring too closely to a small yet brightly lit screen, Landon shut off the machine and sighed out. How had he managed to sleep that first night anyway? Painkillers despite, the headache slowly returned to make his life even more miserable. Playing the market right then would be a bad idea. The concussion would diffuse his focus and open the door to mistakes. Never mind that the majority of his money wasn't on any of his accounts yet.
Landon laid down and ended up watching Bell. He could get that shower and do as Bellwether suggested to 'jerk off', which was likely what the other had been up to anyway. No surprise there. The amount of times Bellwether joked about Lily was insane. There had to be some frustration there. They would no doubt have to come up with some sort of arrangement to see to those needs other than five extra minutes of privacy in the shower. Presupposing they'd always have a shower available.
Tearing his eyes away from the other man, Landon rolled onto his back and pondered whether his muscles ached because of mashing a goat to bits twice in a row, or whether the couch was really that deplorable.
He enjoyed his shower quite thoroughly. It was warm, and stayed warm for impossibly long. His fingers and toes tingled with the heat as blood rushed into their tips, leaving them flushed. The water pounded on his sore back rather nicely, and the heat went a long way to wash away the pain from his wounded shoulder. The tender bruises protested even the water's relatively gentle touch, but if he let the water hit the back of his neck and run down his arm, he got all the benefits of the warmth without any of the pain from the pounding shower. This time, it wasn't just about getting clean; it was about enjoying the experience, relaxing. It felt like forever since he'd been able to really relax and unwind, just be comfortable and enjoy himself.
He was enjoying the hot water so much that he almost forgot why he'd meant to take a long shower in the first place--but only almost. When he left the shower at last, he was clean, steaming hot, skin reddened and wrinkled by the water, and significantly less sexually frustrated. With quick motions, he toweled off in front of the steamed-up mirror, then dressed again in his usual clothes and went out to check on Landon.
The man was asleep and in the bed.
Bellwether stared at him annoyedly, one eyebrow cocked. You can have the bed, was it? This didn't look like "you can have the bed" to him. Looked more like "I can have the bed," quite honestly. Or...had that been meant to be an invitation? "We can have the bed," instead?
"Only in my nightmares," he muttered to himself.
Landon twitched in his sleep, face contorting into a distressed expression, and Bell sat heavily on the couch and watched him. Nightmares. He'd had nightmares, at first. For weeks and months, until he was sure that nightmares were the only kind of dream he'd ever have again. When had they stopped? He couldn't remember.
He laid down on the couch, tucking an arm under his head. The couch was lumpy and uncomfortable, the cushions broken down from years of use. He shifted a few times to get comfortable, then groaned, giving it up as a lost cause. He cracked an eyelid and gave the bed a good, hard look, then stood and walked over to look down at it, at Landon laying in it. Landon had said it was his, right? So why the hell was he on the couch? Landon didn't want to share the bed, he shouldn't have damn well slept in it.
So resolved, he climbed under the covers and relaxed into the mattress, nudging Landon over onto his half of the bed. Let the man moan about it in the morning. He wasn't going to sleep on the couch, not when there was a bed available.
"Doesn't feel good," Landon acknowledged, pressing out a couple of pills as Bell prepared the alcohol and swallowed them dry, barely having enough spittle to do so. Rather than not eating, Landon realized he hadn't drunk anything either and it'd break him up more so than forsaking food. This time the stinging alcohol felt satisfying as it burned, though Landon had to pay attention to sit still and not shirk back from the onslaught. The snug bandages offered some counter-pressure against the headache and it didn't feel half-bad. Opening his eyes though was more of a hassle than he'd expected.
"Thanks?" Landon quipped when Bellwether remarked he started to look like he belonged. Rubbing at the one eye that was willing to open to coax the other into following suit, Landon waited for Bell to retreat to the shower before getting up and finally peeling the water-logged pants from his legs. The sweat-pants underneath were soaked as well, no surprised there. However Landon's shorts had come away fairly unscathed. Hanging the jeans to dry from the chair, Landon spotted the mini-fridge and pilfered a bottle of water from it, taking careful sips until he could feel the painkillers start to work.
It was like lowering yourself into a warm bath.
Landon could get used to that.
Jerking off didn't sound as tempting as it ought, but rather like work, and Landon was cold to boot. The blankets on the bed were the only ones they had since it was a double, but Landon figured Bell would have no issue sharing, if he wanted their perks. Slipping underneath, leaving the water on the bedside table, the bat underneath the bed, Landon carefully put his head on the pillows and had to admit this was a step up from sleeping on the couch in soaked clothes.
The water running in the backdrop was enough to set his nerves at ease with their staccato rattle, knowing Bellwether was there but quiet, was a good place to be. Sleep engorged him like a trap killing a mouse, exhaustion given free reign to rejuvenate his body. Landon wasn't aware that his cold limbs warmed the bed at last a good few hours later, that the infected cut was setting his body on edge with a simmering low-grade fever. What he did experience were the nightmares which were a result of that.
[i He was seated at the diner, his boss raising the champagne glass in a toast to his achievements, when Landon noticed the man's eyes. They were square, dark, and ominous. Fear gripped his chest tight as hands reached out for him, their voices asking him whether he was alright but each and every one of them had the same eyes. Were the same goat, somehow, and when Landon pulled away he nearly smashed into himself. The bat was in his hands as if by miracle, such as those happening in dreams only and he swung, but missed. The alley he was standing at had the goat standing over Bellwether's corpse. Or something similar. The man was always a fidgety mess in Landon's experience, and seeing Bell so still got him frightened on a whole different level. ]
What if he was the only one left fighting these goats?
Landon struggled against the blankets in reality, restlessly turning from side to side, hands clutching the invisible tool just inches away from where he rested.
"Well, don't expect the special package unless you're paying extra," he snarked back. He was special? What did that mean? Nothing. Nothing, damn it, and he knew it. Goddamn, he was way too fucking desperate, too lonely. Landon was straight, and they hated each other anyways. He needed to find someone to bed...not that that was particularly likely any time in the next century, with Landon hanging over his shoulder. He sighed heavily.
His mood perked up immediately and he grinned gleefully when Landon started unwrapping the bandages. He stood and turned to dig the bag of medical supplies out of the semi-leather coat he'd hug up on the bathroom door. "Damn straight we do," he said, and swallowed another pair before passing the pills to Landon. "I'd have bought them before peanut butter if we'd been out."
He took over the unwrapping from Landon once the bandage got close. He was careful about unwrapping the last few winds of the bandage, not because he cared how Landon felt, but because he didn't want to have to redo the stitches. That he'd done them once was already a miracle.
The cut looked a little sick. He wasn't an expert, but the cut itself was dark red, the skin around it raised and irritated. It was seeping blood gently, the cut not fully closed. Landon's forehead immediately under the cut was bruised, the bruises only now blossoming to their full, ripe potential, dark shades of red and purple mingling with maroon and even black. "Well," he said, then shrugged his good shoulder. "It doesn't look good, not that I'd know." He pulled out the bottle of alcohol and pressed a clump of tissues to its mouth, upending it into the tissues. The bottle glugged wetly; he turned it back upright and pulled the tissues away.
"This is going to burn," he warned, then dabbed the wound with the alcohol-wetted tissues. "Should probably get some anti-septic cream or something," he muttered, mostly to himself.
Once the wound had been cleaned to his satisfaction, he wrapped it again--more tightly this time--and clipped it shut. The fresh white bandage stood out against Landon, dingy and bedraggled as he was, wet clothes mottled dark where the water had soaked through, and he almost laughed. Landon was already almost unrecognizable from the trim bossman he'd followed earlier--was it just yesterday?
"You're starting to look like you belong out here," Bellwether said, an odd smile on his face. Then he smirked. "Just look like it, though. I'm getting a shower. Go ahead and jerk off out here or whatever the hell you business types do. I'm gonna take my time so you should have an hour, hour and a half to yourself if the water stays hot." He smirked lewdly at Landon, then disappeared into the shower. So long as he was getting spoiled like this, he'd take advantage of it. Hot showers every night, sleeping on beds in climate-controlled rooms...a man could get used to this sort of treatment.
Bellwether's reaction set Landon at ease. Any goat wouldn't have an injury they didn't even know the existence of, so until Bell either noticed or the grazes healed, it was a sure way to tell whether Bell was human and Landon wasn't going to explain either to keep things that way for a little while longer.
"You're special," he dead-panned semi-seriously.
Closed eyes slowly opened, staring ahead unseeingly. Bell wouldn't shut up. Landon just needed a minute of silence to fall back asleep. Just a minute. But no, first there was the sandwich making, the jibes and insistence he undress. Actually, that was probably a good suggestion. Changing the bandages was long overdue as well.
Landon had almost forgotten about the painkillers. Were there even any left?
Sitting up slowly, Landon let go of the pillow he'd held and struggled out of his hoodie. The black fabric was heavy, especially the hood itself was saturated with water. The shirt underneath was equally useless, but the t-shirt underneath only had some wet patches. That and Landon shivered from the cold without the soggy clothes.
Standing at Bell's invitation for him to see about the head-injury, Landon left the clothes on the couch and took the chair that had kept his bat and dragged both to sit opposite Bellwether. His eyes landed on the remainders of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"Pretty sure," Landon remarked.
It struck him again how young Bell actually was. The man was lean, and it was apparent that richly covered sandwiches such as the one on the desk happened far too rarely. Hazel eyes took in Bellwether, the pupils still off, but less so than they had been the other day. It hadn't bothered Landon much aside from those first few hours, before sleeping anyway and there hadn't been a mirror since that morning.
Landon wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He could've been on the couch back at home, trying desperately to forget about the bloodied hallway and dead animal he'd mollested on the floor there. Sagging in the chair, Landon glanced down at his pants and wiped his hand down the length of his upper leg, squeezing some of the excess moist from the jeans. It didn't work to get rid of anything and just made the palm of his hand wet. He'd finish undressing once Bell was done fixing his bandages, or head, though if only that were possible. One request for oblivion please, and thank you.
"Do we still have painkillers?" Landon asked demurely. The skin on his fingers was raw from clutching the bat so tightly. Distracting himself, Landon sighed and reached for the clips keeping the bandage on semi-tightly. They had sagged because he'd exerted himself and came loose readily enough. One end of the long strip of gauze fell in front of his face and Landon started to unwrap it until he reached the point where the soaked bandage wasn't as soggy, but rather sticky, and clinging to his stitches.
Landon's rather affectionate welcome--hand wandering the back of his neck, bat dangling loosely in the other hand--left him unsure whether he ought to smile or frown, so he stared blankly until Landon backed down, nose furrowed and eyes blinking in confusion.
"The hell was that?" he asked, rubbing a hand at the back of his own neck as he kicked the door shut. Nothing back there, as far as he could tell...how weird. "You greet everyone like that, or am I special?"
When Landon pried off his shoes and sat tiredly down on the couch, Bellwether sighed. "Yeah, alright," he said. He'd be the one more used to couches and floors of the two of them--unless Landon's chick had been a little more pissy than she'd looked--but he'd never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "You ain't gonna sleep in those wet clothes, are you? Catch your death like that."
He kicked off his own shoes and sat down at the little desk that also held the television, such as it was--a bulky CRT machine that looked as though it'd been gathering dust for decades, multiple--and started putting together a peanut butter sandwich, slathering the peanut butter and jelly on thick. The scent of the peanut butter hung thick in the air, and he glanced over at Landon, chewing loudly. "Sure you don't want any? Tastes heavenly."
"Well, I know you've been looking forward to this," he yawned, as he peeled off his outer layers, hanging them up to dry, "but now we've got nothing to do but screw with your head, so come here and let me fix that nasty-lookin' mess."
He wasn't quite down to the t-shirt and gym shorts of last night when he finally got all the wet layers off and hung, but he might as well have been. The longsleeve that covered the t-shirt had been ripped apart--apparently he'd grabbed rags off it more than once. The jeans he wore over the gym pants were similarly distressed, crotch and knees both worn to nearly nothing. He'd have looked a right sight if he'd had only the outer layer on: midriff and back bared, junk barely hidden from sight, a rip up the butt revealing most of a butt-cheek. Luckily for Landon the lower layer was more-or-less complete.
"And take off those wet clothes, you'll catch a cold," he said. A second later, he paused; wasn't that what he'd wanted? But then again, a sick man would be a pain to take care of. Maybe it would be better to actually look out for him, instead of try and get him sick. Still, the second option appealed to him, so he added, "or don't, I don't give a fuck."
Nodding a faint consent, an action Landon almost immediately regretted, he grabbed for the woman's abandoned purse, numb hands prying loose the zipper. The bat rested on Landon's lap as he watched gruff fingers pick out the cash and pocket the wads before tossing both purse and wallet in the middle of the pool of blood and rainwater. The bandages would need changing, definitely. Whatever stitches Bellwether had done were irritating the skin underneath the soggy cloth, itching and stabbing at his skull, it felt like. Grappling to an unsteady stand using both the tree and the bat for support, Landon gained some momentum and followed after Bellwether. The rain washed away most of the blood, and whatever was left was camouflaged by dark, wet patches.
When Bell stopped walking Landon nearly collided against his back. Small streaks of blood were trickling into Bell's clothing. Landon took it all in dispassionately and blinked up at Bell when he mentioned food.
Letting out a nauseated sigh, Landon just let him talk.
He'd need to eat something eventually. Might as well give sandwiches a shot. It could be worse. They could be the greasy sausages Bellwether ate that morning.
"Yeah," Landon sighed out, entering the office. Again he received some dubious looks of mingled concern and worry for lack of monetary resolve but that was swiftly eased by the cash Landon coughed up to cover their expenses. They were less than fortunate. At this hour, all the motel had available was a single king-size bed, two-person room. It was better than being on the streets so Landon decided that it'd be fine.
Finding the room was a pain in the neck. The numbers of the rooms after he'd crossed the facility's hallways all started to look alike, dancing in place. Eventually Landon squinted and waited for his vision to clear after a few minutes and then just counted which room was likely theirs. A quick swipe of a card gained him entrance. At least it was warm. Being alone however unsettled Landon more than he'd care to admit to anyone, let alone Bellwether. What if the other got replaced on route? Would the cuts have healed in that short span of time? His doppelgänger still managed to show up with a cut, a cut his fiancée had no trouble treating.
What were the odds though?
Landon realized he was standing still in the room, doing nothing other than dripping on the floor, when he finally came to himself and gently pushed the door shut behind him. Everything ached. Every muscle felt as if it'd been strained. Carefully Landon started peeling off the coat, leaving the bat on a chair within easy reach. Aside from the large bed, there was a couch. Sinking down on it, Landon tipped his head back and woke what felt like a second later to impatient rapping on the door.
His heart beat in his chest, startled eyes warily eyeing the door. Hearing Bell's voice was both a relief and cause for paranoia to flare up. Was it still Bellwether?
Only one way to find out.
Taking up the bat, Landon carefully opened the door and let his eyes run over the other man, reaching out a hand to feel for the man's injuries at the back of his neck. He wouldn't expect Bell to be very appreciative, but at least those details made it far less likely a goat had replaced him. The injuries wouldn't be there on a fresh goat.
Letting go of Bell, he waited for the man to enter and shut the door behind. There were more cuts on the man's back -the bark from the scene. It eased Landon's mind and something gave in to trust, he simply had no other choice. Rubbing at his face, Landon put the bat back and realized he'd just fallen asleep in his wet clothes on a less than comfortable couch, in an awkward position. He wouldn't ever have managed that feat scant days ago. His hands were still trembling.
"They didn't have singles," Landon remarked in a tired voice, trying to limit the noise. He sank back on the couch, reaching listlessly for his shoes, prying the worn laces out of their knots. Once his feet were free and drying, Landon picked at the filthy bandages wrapped around his head. Maybe he could leave it all and just go back to sleep. That seemed like a reasonable agreement to himself and Landon tugged one of the ornamental pillows against his chest, pulling his feet up to rest his head on the couch's arm. The headache almost immediately died down a notch. Bell could have the bed -courtesy of the woman-faced goat.
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