Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dia's: Part Three.

And then there was just three. I wanted to end the previous post on a lighter note but... There's no hiding the fight we had. I won't hide information unless it is necessary and requested to remain in silence.

We got back to the house and didn't even make it inside before we were at one another’s throats.

Dia became irrational, boiling with anger that emotions clouded her thinking. I had the opposite reaction; I became closed off and analytic towards Dia. Towards Josie. Towards everything. Dia was more compassionate and fiery, I was cold and vengeful. And we clashed, because with the Caged One now manifesting herself (behind Dia) I knew things were becoming more dangerous. And at that point I was about ready to murder Gallows and Graves just to save us all from future trouble. Dia argued against it, which heightened the tension. It brought it back to the root of the issues, people dying, Road Runner, which finally came down to the bottom line... The masks she still wore. Which prevented me from telling her everything as well. And we fought until Josie intervened, separating ourselves. Josie and Dia took to inside and I remained outside until nightfall.

Josie cooked and played mom, despite the tension being high. I spent most of my time wandering the perimeters of the property, ended up finding a pile of dead mockingbirds behind a tree. The same blue feather there, partially shoved down the highest bird's throat. I kicked the tree in frustration, rustling above alerting me. Looking up I saw birds perched within the tree, a horde of them staring down upon me. Watching intently, it was eerie but familiar. Given the hints that have been piling up I came to the conclusion it was something that needed confronting. I plucked the blue feather and slipped it into my back pocket, moving back towards the house once the sun began to set.

Dia spent her time in her room while I positioned myself near the window Graves frequently stood before. I looked for what she was watching for, hours passed and Josie eventually fell into a slumber leaving me by myself. I figured Dia fell asleep as well, which left me time to focus on these sorts of things. Looking for whatever my worries were screaming at me to find. The Caged One paced behind me, manifesting outside of mere reflections now which only began to tell me the two of us were growing closer in some way or another. Did that mean we were to merge? Or were we switching places as time went on? Or would we just spiral into madness instead?

She never answered when I asked. I decided there was no point in wasting my breath on such things anymore. Truth is, something is happening and I don't know what to expect. My mind is memorizing things, data is saving rather than doing the opposite, combat reflexes both mentally and physically have undergone transformation of sorts, adapting to things in those senses has been good but progress ceases when all things come to the Caged One. She's either a blockade or a enhancer at this point, and I can't quite figure out which. Watching her glide across the floor nearly, I can't figure out either whether I'm the blockade or enhancer to her either. It's our body, but she has the memories and experiences from before, she locked herself away within this brain as a means to regain herself. Our-self? So what does that make me? Apart of the plan, or a fluke? Are we the same piece to the puzzle, is this our same equation? Or am I the odd number out?
As usual, he never answers. Her eyes stare at me inquisitively, as if curious as to my behavior. Like I'm some experiment to her, and I can't help but see the connections between the two of us. Which makes me hope really I'm not some fluke in this universe, and this is a part of the plan after-all.

And then Dia exited the shadows at the shut of a door, walking right through the Caged One. I watched her dissolve away until nothing was left. Dia came to stand next to me, looking me over briefly. I hadn't cleaned up since before. I could hear her take a deep breath, "So, when are we going to talk about this? You can't keep putting it all off. Your reasons have run out, Shady. I think... There's been some things you've been hiding from me, and I want to know about them."

I adjusted to look at Dia from the corner of my eyes, quirking a brow at her words. "You'd know a thing or two about hiding things, no offense." I said bluntly, but earnestly meant no offense despite my indifferent tone. "What is it you want to know exactly, Dia? Dead animals? The flickers in the corners of your eyes? Why the duo didn't end up killing us -sooner-? Sources of information?" I listed off one by one before turning onto Dia, facing her directly with my arms tightly crossed beneath my chest. "Because I'd damn well would like to know why these signs of the Fears are showing up all around you, where your information comes from as well, just what you have been doing behind closed doors. I think we need a session of twenty questions, Dia." I glanced out the window, thinking something was seen. It was brief, I returned my gaze to Dia patiently a moment later. "Ask your question."

Dia snickered at my irritation as she sat down with her back against the wall, next to the window and myself. She drew her knees up to her chest, looking up to me. "I see you've been doing your homework, though I'd love to know where you found the time to keep an eye on all of us, the situation, and our sleeping arrangements. I suppose my first question will be this: Who is Joshua? And don't lie. I'll know if you do."

I felt my rage nibbling away at my insides, it didn't surface beyond that. I focused back on the outdoors, trying to catch sight of one of our many watchers. "Just like I'll know if you're lying to me Dia." I stated flatly, a warning, perhaps even a threat at this point. After earlier I wasn't about ready to have us skip into one another’s arms, I don't easily forgive. I communicate and learn better through explanations and facts. This was the time where I had to learn whether or not Dia was trustworthy still like I had imagined she possibly could be before. "Joshua is a boy I grew up with. Apparently. I know this to be certain by looking back through my old shit. There were four of us, him, the blonde girl I mention in previous posts, and Billy. The latter killed by Road Runner's schemes. Blondie is missing. Joshua is pissed." I smiled bitterly. "They were my family away from my family, and my family before this family, you can say. The people who know me better than I know me, apparently. And that's Joshua." I narrowed my gaze outside at the reminder. The person who knew me best hated me the most right now. "I saw the notebook, Dia. What is your game?"

I heard Dia suck in a breath, cursing to herself when she realized how careless she must have been lately. Which made sense, given the nightmares and company. Her sloppiness was my advantage. "The notebook is the last piece of (insert real name here). Pictures, confessions, visions, artwork... Hell, even a prophecy or two. But mostly it's just my way or reaching out to all the people I know will read it. Don't worry. I'll get rid of it soon." She paused, looking at me curiously. "How much did you read?"

I didn't even look at her. I didn't need to. "Everything." I bluntly admitted. "I know all of it."

Dia stood and put her hands into her pockets, she was trying not to hyperventilate. "When the FUCK did you get the time to look over 150 pages of my insane shit? Does that mean you know about yours, Josie's, Gallows' and Graves' pages?" Her eyes grew wide, realizing something. "You read the ways I was supposed to die. And that means... You read the back."

I turned my head to look at Dia fully, not even trying to hide my observing and analyzing of her. "When you can't sleep you come to make time for things." I said offhandedly. "And when I choose to apply it I can be quite stealthy." I didn't try and hide that there was more I was capable of than I allowed myself to use. "As I stated before, everything."
"...Well, fuck. Why didn't you say anything before?" I didn't reply, just watched as she calmed down. I was glad she wasn't denying anything I had seen, I was prepared for her to try such. "Fine. Fine. I want to leave a piece of myself behind, so that there is a chance people will remember me for who I was behind the mask. I doubt it, but I have to at least try." Dia stiffened as a flock of birds slowly grew within a tree outside. "Tell me how you're really doing your research on the Darklings."

"Then you shouldn't wear a mask to begin with. More people will see you as you are than they will read that book." I didn't let the previous topic go off without stating as much. I relaxed some and calmly thought where to start with that answer. A small smirk forming as I chuckled, shaking my head. "You don't want to know." At the look on her face I shrugged lazily. "First time was on accident. When I fell into their horde. By fell I mean was dragged." I mused. "But two plus two... And well, if you can't read about them you have to talk to whoever knows them. Mystery was a prime person to give me information, but there was also the Darklings themselves. Not all are in hordes. Some roam alone or in smaller parties. Which makes them easier to target and interrogate." I said without an ounce of remorse, despite looking back on those times mentally. "They are interesting creatures. And doing what I did saved Gallows' and Graves' lives." I stared at Dia flatly. "Which I'm sure you're pleased with, given the unique relationship you have with them."

"I wouldn't call it pleased; though I'm sure I'd mourn if they died. Far away from me. My moral compass doesn't exactly point straight, especially when it comes to people like him." Dia shook her head, almost as if to shake her thoughts back into place. "Besides, I've also already started showing people the lady beneath the mask, they just won't get to read it about it on Be Wary." She hesitated for a minute before asking her next question. "I can't imagine being dragged into a nest of Darklings was exactly good for your health. Are you trying to tell me your experience with them hasn't changed you any?"

I shrugged, "Truth find a way out either way." I leaned against the wall next to the window, unfazed by her question. "I have the Caged One speaking in my head, Executor occasionally, things implanted in my brain, flashes of things I can't remember, mental training to strengthen defenses, Thuggee's previous fuckery. Then there are the things Mystery has been keeping from me." I cracked my neck, relieving some stress. "When the Darklings had me in their nest I had some experience with head shit, you can say. But all of them... It's like a legion all talking in your head at once. And it doesn't stop, ever. All individual Darklings, all speaking at once, and trying to separate one voice from another could drive you mad." I paused, my eyes focusing on Dia. "But it didn't, the Caged One made sure of that. That isn't what changed me, though. It perked my interest on things, at best."

"Did you find anything specific about Mister Creevey? Anything you've been keeping from the class?"

"I'm not sure." I scowled. "I need to test some theories and things. I will not give out false information. If it's proven and factual it's open season."

The temperature had begun to slowly drop throughout our conversation I noticed, and it seemed Dia did too. She walked into the hallway and tried adjusting the heat, moving then to grab extra blankets. I left my post at the window, calmly following her as she brought a thick one into the spare room where Josie slept. Dropping the comforter over the girl she smoothed out its edges, an unnecessary act to distract herself. "What will you do if you find out it's true? And... Have you decided what you're going to do about Ferus?"

I looked at Josie's sleeping form, knocked out completely after the day. "I will take drastic measures. Mister Creevey can't be allowed to grow." I paused, chuckling. "But that's all based on lies, theories, among other things. So who's to say?" My gaze narrowed at Josie at the mention of Ferus, remembering the strange reactions she's been having at his name or through any association with him. "What can I do? Wait and see. If he comes around to fuck me up he can damn well try. I knew he was coming last time and I let him take me. Now I have insight, and insight just means I know how to handle the situation better. Speaking of which, we should go over that shit since you got yourself on his list. Good job with that, by the way."
Dia gestured towards Josie, a silent way of asking about the Ferus thing. I shrugged; she was already turning away as I did so. A quiet laugh leaving her lips as she walked out of the room and into the room I was using. Another heavy blanket fell onto the bed I barely used. Dia turned to me, "I don't have any reason to fear Ferus. I can't quite say I'm sorry for anything that's happened, though I am a bit guilty of the inability to keep my mouth shut or my temper in check."

"Agreed. Fear is a waste of time in any case." Something better to just get over and gain control of before it kills you. And with Ferus I agreed fully. Sitting on the bed I looked up at her, "You need to tell me if there is something serious going on between you and Gallows, Dia." I said evenly. With the information I have been collecting, if things panned out a certain way I'd have to be aware and prepare for certain... Reactions. 

"Gallows? We fucked. He wants to kill me, and he's gone. What is there to draw 'seriousness' from? I'd be masochistic and have some kind of death wish to pursue anything beyond this point. I managed to prevent my death, one of those times being ironically enough thanks to him. I don't want to die anymore."

"There are plenty to draw seriousness from behind closed doors." I sighed. "Especially now, he attempted to kill us and broke the truce made. I've got more than half the mind to not even bother with given them the Darkling information, should I even bother with it."

Dia motioned for me to follow her, we walked quietly into her room. She shut the door nervously, I noted. Moving to the wall she began removing the tacks to a rather large poster, removing it and rolling it up to put on top of the dresser. What I saw behind the poster was a vivid, scarlet red outline of a heart drawn over Dia's bed. The color faded a bit, but that kind of red was obvious. It was done in blood. I looked at Dia who gave a lopsided grin. "Yea, you're right. It's easy to read into things that aren't there." She flopped down onto the bed sadly, turning away from the outline as if to leave it in the past. "You don't break your promises, Shady, I know better. I'm sure they had a good reason for what they did, even if it left my city in a bloodbath." She paused, looking at me from the corners of her eyes. "You'd know more about what's happened with them than I would, wouldn't you? Tell the truth."

I took a seat beside Dia on the bed. "They are from a city that doesn't seem to exist to us. What that means I can't say. All I know is they weren't supposed to leave, but they did." I scowled, "And it's only a matter of time before Mister Creevey leaves it to drag them all back."

"...Shady, would you care to tell me about the frying pan thing? Or the deal with them? Or about those hushed conversations you have with Gallows and Graves when you think no one's looking?"

I ran a hand through my hair, a low sigh escaping my lips. "The prior I'd prefer not to, but there isn't much point in ignoring what's obviously there." I muttered. "The truce was as long as no one went stab happy I'd gather Darkling information and provide them with it, specifically go back to Keystone on a fun and possibly suicidal mission." I started with, "Hushed conversations revolved around that, Josie, Mister Creevey, and connections to their non-existent city. The frying pan is what happens when certain lines are crossed and my patience is thinned to the point of no repair. He was right about one thing, Dia. I'm about ready to snap, and given the hushed conversation with Graves post-frying pan incident, it only furthered that. Road Runner has been stalking the grounds." I sneered.

Dia nodded, looking at her hands as hair fell across her face, obscuring part of it. "I thought as much. Do you think you are a danger to Josie and I, or just everyone with a death wish? Road Runner... That would explain your newest fascination with that blue feather."

"If I was a danger to you both you'd know it by now." I flexed my hands, examining them calmly. "Matter of though, though, I fear. But really, it's directed towards Road Runner. Gallows was just a... Casualty of war, minus the casualty. I recognize this from my studies and previous writings, on top of which experiences with those hell-bent on revenge. This is no different. I won't be relieved until she is dealt with." I paused, contemplating on my own meaning. "And I worry because I don't know how far I must go for such relief to be felt."

"You know unless that intervention is found, you'll find her and fight her and pursue her until one of you is dead. The Caged One may scream for her blood, but I implore you, please... Please think. Everything you're feeling is amped up and mixed up. I don't think you're thinking clearly. And trust me, if I was worried, this little talk of ours would have come much sooner."

I glanced at Dia from the side, cracking a small smile. "I'll only do what's necessary. If I become unable to handle my own functioning I will have Brood cuff me and keep me in a room under surveillance. I already plan for maintenance to be done in care we house such people." I mused dryly before looking down. "But, eh... Guess only time will tell what comes to pass?"

She smiled back, but I could see that uncertainty. I knew Dia's head games, pushing buttons, getting people to think what she wanted them to, to get them to say what she wanted to hear. Methods I used on people she was using on me, despite our honest heart-to-heart conversation. I nearly rolled my eyes, nearly smirked, we were alike and it was pleasant. I suspected her uncertainty circled what bothered Mystery, how I could become calm despite the shit flying around. Perhaps even how I shrugged off or returned the brain-play. "Alright... So what are your questions? You've been honest as hell with me, and it's making me nervous. Like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop." That made me want to grin, because really she had more reasons to be nervous than I wanted to even say.

"What's with all these signs of the Fears being present, exactly? How much trouble are you really in?"

She froze; I watched her intently as she giggled nervously and closed her eyes. Taking in a deep breath before looking up at the ceilings as if it held all the answers she needed. "Depends on what you call 'trouble'. I'm not likely to die any time soon, despite my repeated attempts otherwise." She pulled back her shirt's sleeves to reveal her forearms, heavily bandaged to the elbow. "You know, it's funny. When I thought I didn't have a choice, I'd have done anything to avoid dying. When I found out otherwise, it's all I wanted to do for a while." She slipped the sleeves back down, effectively blocking out the sight of the bandages once more. "But as far as 'how deep in their shit have you gotten yourself, Dia?' I'm... in a whole fuckton of trouble. I don't see a way out, either."

I was frowning, my mind working through all the losses so far. The departure of the family crossed my mind, back at the mansion over the last few months people left (and died mostly) to find their own answers. Things just fell apart. And in all honestly, Dia was by far the closest one I dared to admit to having. Mystery, of course was always my partner. But she was solving her own personal battles and demons, and there was little I could do. "There is always a way out. It's a matter of manipulating your own odds, and theirs. Have to make your own luck, dear." I muttered. "I don't believe the strings of fate apply here. But... Your troubles matter. Your burdens are my burdens. I'd rather not see you die." I admitted to her beneath my breath, waiting several seconds before lifting my head and nudging her with my elbow. "So you call on me if you are worried or want the help. I'm not going to throw myself into your life's problems unless it's completely necessary. You're a big girl. So yea. There's that." I ended awkwardly, giving a slight cough.

I could see Dia blushing from the corner of my eye, laughing self-consciously. It eased me from the awkwardness, I might be able to play with words well but Smiles always said that I had the right intentions but I kind of sucked at the words. Her bluntness made me smile... Looking at Dia I could see plenty of shared qualities, and catching myself at thinking such I shunned the thoughts. "Even the blandest night can be terrifying when you feel all alone. Thankfully, I have people like you to help me remember who I am." She stared at me, a moment longer than what I was used to which alerted me to the words. I simply gave a curt nod, sitting with her long into the night as we discussed various things. And we finally got my injury properly wrapped.

I cooked that morning, letting the ladies sleep in. I, on the other hand, was unable to. I found an eye drawn on one of the new windows in the kitchen, in the condensation. It was strange; I took a picture before wiping it off. Looking out the window I flipped off whatever may be watching before grabbing a cup of coffee. Scanning the newspapers I read through the damage done, and the casualties. I shook my head at the amount of damage the duo caused.

"What are you shaking your head at?" Dia asked as she finally awoken, I slid the paper across the table to her. She scanned it and sighed, throwing the paper against the trashcan as she sat down. I smirked at her. "What?"

I opened the picture on my cell and slid it across the table at her too. "More morning bullshit." She glared at the picture sleepily. "Don't even think about chucking it, either." Dia slid it back my way, both of us taking a sip of our drinks. We decided to scope out the damage done in town, passed by the funeral of the officers and captain. I caught sign of the auburn haired woman from the day before arguing with her fellows, it sounded bad. As in hunting down the duo bad. Dia was concerned, I caught her look. "They can't leave their jurisdiction." I murmured to her quietly.
"People die. They did the jobs they signed up for." Josie said, surprising both of us. Her doe eyes stared at us, innocent face betraying nothing.

We didn't reply to that.

That day we just collected ourselves and over the course of the next few days (between Dia working) we resumed their teachings.

Josie attacked me, I'd step back and dodge around her punch. Swiping an arm out and hooked around the back of her head and caught her off balance, her own stumbling body and poor balance sending her down. Dia planted a few nice bruises on me. I think she knew I needed to relieve some tension by physical means, and did what she could to provoke me into doing so. I warned her it wasn't the best idea in the world. She took a mock Boxer stance and I lifted an eyebrow, humoring her I did so too. Except I know how to box and gave her an example of that. Hehe, oh her face. Huffy, and then moments later we were grinning like idiots, dirt smudged across our faces and a few shallow cuts to match. Josie didn't get it, she'd branch off to go cook or got distracted by a butterfly. Sigh.

We had a fun surprise visit from Dia's family as well. It was an... Uncomfortable situation. Josie seemed disinterested, despite the smile. The behavior behind the friendliness was detached. I remember what Dia's blog said, and what she briefly mentioned again. This wasn't her real family, a false, bribed family that came. They played their dirty tricks of attempting to guilt trip their 'daughter'. When turning onto Josie and I they flashed fake smiles, Josie played along and I merely analyzed them.  Dia was unhappy with them in her house, let alone on her property. I interjected in conversations, attempting to steer away attention from Dia. Despite the tedious situation we managed to be free of them after a short while. After attempts to make Dia feel guilty for not seeing them more often. As she was seeing them out the door I stood off behind it, making faces and inappropriate gestures. She shut the door and shook her head, grinning somewhat which was good enough for me.

I had also noticed her tendency to disappear out or sneak off. I never brought it before, I merely stared out the window and watched as she faded into the blackness or drove off. While Gallows and Graves were present I didn't do anything about it, with just us three then I began to pay more attention now without Graves stalking eyes. I was suspicious; I think anyone would be in this situation. Especially when you just had a truthful conversation stuffed with information. I sat and considered my options, I never followed her at the chances I could have. My mind demanded I do so, but it only knew the negatives of humanity and I had to force the positives.

I had to trust I was not placing my trust into someone full of shit.

Luckily, I was right. Having caught one of the bags she kept bringing with her. I peeked inside and saw the supplies, classic Runner supplies for on the road. My lips quirked into a humorous smirk before I fell back into the shadows of the room, watching as she snatched the bag and left to meet whoever.

And then the inevitable came. We went out to train and one of the trees had twenty-seven mockingbirds just hanging. Josie was disgusted, Dia was disturbed, and I was pissed. A single blue feather was pinned to the tree, eye-level to me. I pulled out my knife and began cutting down the birds, demanding Josie fetch a shovel before unfriendly animals were attracted here. She gladly left.

"What is with the blue feather?" Dia inquired as I swiped the knife across a few strings, ignoring the corpses as they fell.

"Blue feather, she has the same kind on her mask. And her mask is from Limeport Asylum, Prosper made it for her the night he nearly killed her." I chuckled bitterly, "Would have been so much easier."

She was surprised, "Is that information from the files you have?"

"Yea." I muttered. "It all connects, and Road Runner is all about connections to that place."

Josie had come back with a shovel; I dug a small ditch and put the dead birds in it. Afterwards I climbed the tree and cut off the rest of the string, throwing it away. Dia and Josie were sparring out of the corner of my eye, I sat on the porch to watch occasionally. The feather in my hand, enough of a distraction.

My cellphone alerted me to an email. I opened it and found nothing but a wall of text and knew who would recognize it. "Josie." I alerted her, she brushed aside a bead of sweat and scurried over. Leaning down and reading the email I watched as her face began to slowly pale. It was her email and Mister Creevey sending a threatening message about hunting her down, trying to persuade her how she was his host. His property. Josie began hyperventilating; her body shaking violently at what I could only assume were the memories of her time as his host before.

We caught her before she hit the ground, blacking out of fear alone. Dia and I shared a similar look that clearly said: This isn't good.
Josie had a meltdown when she woke up, screaming about how she can't let him find her. She insisted on leaving right then and there, that he knew where she was. We had to chase Josie down into town and drag her to the parking lot to try and calm her. Dia was trying to get in her head, persuade her. I, on the other hand, pinned her in a hold so that she couldn't get anywhere. We managed to get her calm enough that she got into the backseat of the car and laid down.

"We need to do something about this." Dia said the moment the door closed. I glanced at her briefly before rereading the message. He was going to leave the city it sounded like. Which only alerted me further. "He's going to kill her with stress alone."

I nodded, "I'm aware." I put the cellphone away. "Her mental defenses are absolute shit. And she'll need them if he's so intent on possessing her until he can meet up with the duo."

"Josie needs to be able to fight him."

I shook my head with an small laugh. "A little more than that. Prime example is what happened the last time all three of them tried to fight him. Physical harm didn't stop him or tire him, least not the extent they used. When you've got an intruder in your body you have to be able to wage war on them. It's similar to how your immune system assaults a virus. When something is possessing you or is in your head..." I sighed. "Going to need a method she can learn. She has no confidence in her abilities to do harm on another, let alone him. Wasting all her time on fear."

"Shady, she's scared." Dia's compassion leaked into our conversation.

I rolled my eyes. "She's being pathetic. Wants to do better, doesn't apply the effort. It's like school all over again." I paused. "That's the proper term, right? Because kids do that shit. Last I check, anyways."

Dia chuckled, her head shaking as she walked around to the other side of the car and got in. I got behind the wheel and drove us back, Josie's hysterics silenced by due to sleep.
But how would we help Josie? That was the big question, usual methods would not work with the fuckjob Mister Creevey did to her head.

Well, we spent a few days trying to boost her confidence, teaching self-defense, having informative conversations with one another, and relaxing. On top of which finished the rest of the repairs and cleaning. Especially the scorch marks Ferus left on the side of the house. Sigh. I double checked all the windows, all was good there. Dia's house was all put together by the end of our time spent there. And unfortunately, home was calling and I wanted to return to DeMii and little Lullaby before Christmas. Dia helped me picked out a little present for each of them, considering it was not something I really ever had to do. Made sure Dia was back home and secure. We left in the evening, which brought about a fun drive back home.

And my oh my, how that is so heavily filled with sarcasm. Josie and I had a bit of a quarrel.

"You're speeding." I didn't even glance at the meter. Nor did I dictate a response. "Do you want to kill us?" I glanced at her. "Do you want to die?"

My eyes met the meter. "I don't care much for living. So..." I pressed down on the gas, looking at her with a smile as the car accelerated. The look of fear that crossed her face was unmistakable, one of the few real emotions I've seen her present to us.

"Well I actually like living, Shady!" I let up on the gas and began swerving the car from left to right in small jerks. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

A dry laugh left my lips. "Seeing what you value."

"I value my life!" I accelerated the car again and made a buzzer noise, as if she answered incorrectly. She was clinging to the door of my Jeep, staring wide-eyed at the bend coming up.

I turned up the radio, tapping the steering wheel at the music blasting into our ears. She was staring back and forth between me and the road. "Ya know..." I called over the movie, "If you valued your life you'd apply more effort into protecting yourself."

"I have-"

I lifted a finger. "You aren't even clinging to us like you do when danger is around. And you only do that cause' it keeps you alive. There isn't any real value between us, is there?" I grinned as her face paled. "I'm not mad or anything, it's a clever little technique. But ultimately, it will get you more fucked over than it will us." I motioned for her to look forward; she did as the bend was right there. She screamed as the tires squealed across the pavement, the car shuddering as it skidded around the turn. A swerve getting us back on track. "Especially when the others find out."

She lowered the volume of the radio, her breathing slow and deep. "Are you insane?" I gave a one shoulder shrug, wasn't worth answering. "Did I do something to piss you off?"

"I'm going to be blunt, Josie. I don't like being used. Ah, ah, ah... You shut up." I shot her a glare when her lips parted. They promptly pressed back together. "People are always using each other. What I mean to say is, I don't like it when people are sneaky about it. If you're going to use me you will damn well say so face to face. You don't have to pretend to give a damn when you don't. Quite frankly, I find it insulting. So enough of that." She remained silent, I put on a smile. Good girl. "If you want to protect yourself I've got no qualms teaching you. Need information? I got no problem giving you answers. Just be straight with me and I'll be straight with you. Cause right now, I'm suspicious of you and that won't do while you're taking residence with me."


"Right!" I beamed, slamming the car to a halt. Her belt caught her in time before she hit the dashboard. Lucky. "So, we're going to solve all this tension right now before we go any further."


I unbuckled myself and got out of the car, shutting the door behind me. I waited until she got the memo and exited the car too. "If you're coming to stay at the mansion you will abide by some guidelines." I said, motioning for her to come around the car to my side. "We've had some people die. Good friends of ours. We've had people leave for their own personal matters as well. We've had enemies enter the fort. We have a history. And right now there is a teenage mother and a baby growing at an unusual rate. I really think the last thing my adopted family needs is stress." I told her flatly, unzipping the jacket and carelessly tossed it on top of the car. "You see, I care about these people. Do you know what that's like?"

"I..." Josie didn't respond after that. Her brows simply furrowed, if she had to think on it then it wasn't anything she's honestly valued.

"It's this nagging feeling that makes you... Heh, well, FEEL. It drives me crazy, really, but I enjoy it. Feelings and me have a love/hate relationship, you can say. But I'm going to tell you now, harm brought unto them in any form will incur my wrath."  I watched as she uneasily looked at me, yet her body remained motionless and alert. It interested me. "So it's fine you aren't sentimental, or that it's hard to go on or even express such feelings. But if danger comes forth I expect you to act accordingly, not for yourself, but for the whole. Especially for the mother and child."

Josie nodded, "Of course I will."

"Ok. Because I saw what you did when Gallows and Graves broke our truce." I said sternly, my hands clasping behind my back as I flashed her a bitter smile. "You didn't attempt to help Dia nor I because we were in close proximity to the dangerous duo attacking. You stood on the sidelines without making any effort to assist, and was more than ready to flee." I leaned towards her, seeing her becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the confrontation. "If I ever... EVER catch you do such while Lullaby and DeMii are present I will personally see to it you have nothing to ever fear again, because you'll be dead."


"You can stand there with your doe eyes and innocence, with all your fears. But if you flip on that coward switch in their presence I will hunt you down. And who knows, maybe I'll tell Mister Creevey where your corpse is. He might be able to still use it still if you aren't too rotten." A hard slap met my cheek.

"That's going too far."

"Did I get my point across?" I drawled, neck cracking as I looked back at her.

"I don't want to die for anyone else and I'm not going to." She said, once more that seriousness surfacing. "I just want some help."

I straightened, nodding at her words with some understanding. And then I punched her, giving her what would turn into being the first black eye during her stay with us. "Then let me help you." I said, watching as she stumbled back and held her eye. I approached calmly, following as she moved further and further into the road.

"This isn't going to make me bend to your wishes, Shady."

I shrugged. "Not trying to make you conform to anything, Josie. I respect you want to look after you. So I'm going to help you do that more effectively."

She snorted, backing up. "By beating me up?"

"Well, that's what will happen if you don't fight back."

I threw another punched, we had a fun little brawl in the middle of a nearly vacant highway, surrounded by darkness and woods. She did better this time, more effort. More aggression. By the end of it she was stumbling away, panting heavily. Bloody and bruised we were, but I continued egging her on to punch me. She was frustrated, on the verge of tears screaming she couldn't anymore. I grabbed the front of her shirt and slammed her against the Jeep, pinning her between myself and it. Told her the enemy wouldn't stop, they would hold her like I held her by the throat, which they would rip and tear her apart until there was nothing left. She needed to stop sniffling before the crying even started. We stared at one another; I wouldn't let her move until she willed the tears back and regained control over herself.

Exhausted, I told her to get into the car. We drove the rest of the way home and made it there in time for Christmas Eve. I passed by Brood and immediately embraced DeMii, nearly two months away. The munchkin walked over and I snatched her off the ground, grinning. After introducing Josie and giving them an early Christmas present we were able to sit down and relax. It was only a few minutes until Brood insisted we needed to speak. That was fun. Mr. Sunshine mauled me the moment I stepped away from Brood, as we sat around together he fell asleep partially in my lap, the rest of him curled at my side. It's strange, being away made me feel so detached. It was pleasant to have some familiarity again.

I took the next day off to relax with everyone and help out with Lullaby, catch up on the events. After that Brood and I laid out plans to make upgrades to the mansion as well as up some defenses. Mr. Sunshine took straight to helping. The cellar he used to be in which now became my area since he started sleeping in the tree we covered up more, added a hatch door and some stairs inside. For the MASC soldiers we worked around the stonework of the building, making slots to shoot from the inside. Oh testing that out was so much fun!
Little things like that was done around the mansion.

I woke up to the Caged One hovering over me a few nights later. "Fear is the strongest emotion."

Immediately I rolled over, having no motivation to get into a debate with her. "Strongest emotion and the one that wastes the most time. It can make or break a person." I muttered, pulling the blanket over my head. She didn't leave.

"Most fear the unknown. You gravitate towards it and fear what is known."

"Keeps me prepared."
"We should have been more concerned of the unknown. We underestimated it. It caught us and blinded us from what was known."

"And here we are. Mistake after mistake. It's a learning process, Caged One."

"You missed a call."

"What?" I pulled the sheet down and looked at her, but she wasn't there. Fed up I grabbed my phone, checking it and found I indeed had a voice.
And it was from the Advocate.
Ha. Ha. Hahahahahaha... Ah. Fuck. Perfect timing that was.
More on that in the next post.

Stay safe,

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