Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
The eternal white lights that stab down into my eyes, so many insects swarming that they drown out any other sound.
I can't hear if the Wolves are nearby. Even my sense of smell is capped, the stench of Elle's horrid cigarette drowning out everything else.
She alternatively takes a sip of water and a puff.
I'm pacing. To fight off the tight ball of pain in the center of my forehead, to give my legs something to do. To trick my brain into thinking we're still moving.
I glance back to the clear walls separating us from where Sean and Bon are inside the strange building. Bon had to relieve herself and Sean didn't have an explanation to give.
He never does.
I retrieve the map from my pocket, carefully unfold it and scanning the foreign scrawl.
Red lines intersect blue lines. There are blue shields with numbers. A line cuts through the middle, and on top of it in bold black lines is the word, OKLAHOMA. Below in equally emphasized letters is TEXAS.
This map is so different from a Never map. Never maps are separated into multiple sections depending on the type land and who's territory it is. Fox territory is separated from the Swamp by a thick forking branch of the river. On the other side of the Thicket is the Woods which Rabbit Burrow is located at the very bottom of.
It's all very straight forward.
"We're right here," Elle says, interrupting my pacing and steps close, pointing to a spot with the words Russet Fields is stamped in dark blue.
I scowl at her, stepping a foot or so away and refolding the map, pressing it back into crisp lines. I make my tone match, "I don't need your help,"
Her eyebrows raise and she looks away, puffing more.
My eyes snap up from her cursed cigarette as two beaming yellow lights appear and stop not a tree length away, staring at us.
Involuntarily, I take a step back as the twin globes die and another light ignites, illuminating a human woman.
I tuck the map into my pocket before I crush it in my fist.
Elle laughs, the sound grating my shooken nerves.
I feel my face twitch, though I try to set it to stone. Be polite. Use my Fox manners.
I should know enough by now to keep a blank face. But I'm frayed, tearing apart in places where I should be strong. I snap at the girl I no longer know.
"Spit it out."
She shakes her head, a smile on her startling lips, tossing the spent cigarette to the ground where she stomps on it with a strangely built shoe.
"Is this real?"
I keep it cordial, turning back to watch as the woman climbs out of her car and hurriedly passes us, clutching a sort of embellished bag to her side.
I feel blind, the incessant lights glaring into my eyes. And I don't understand anything these stupid humans do. I don't understand what I'm supposed to be doing.
Mother said it so clear. I should remember more than I do.
"You're different. You're all so different. Why are you here?"
I'm not sure what I should tell her. I would prefer to say nothing at all. "Royal business."
She gestures behind her to the doors, "Frog Prince?"
She's as quick as she used to be. Eyes almost as sharp as a Foxes, though they don't refect.
"If you must know, yes."
"You don't like me,"
I bite my tongue. Mother would be proud.
"You're different." She says it with an air like she knows something. Something about me.
I hiss out a breath and turn on her, "I'm not your friend. Not anymore."
Her eyes are dark and they study me for a long second. I study her as well.
She takes another drink, then repeats herself, "You're different." Then she takes a step towards me, I hold my ground, staring down at her, "What happened to you?"
"If you would ple-"
The door swings open and Bon slings out, hair flying into her face, "Come!"
She darts back inside and I catch the door before it slams close.
I don't look at Elle, pushing past her to inside.
It's bright. White walls, not marble like the palace, but something else. Something dingy, disgusting smells wafting up. Its bright and unlike any place I've ever been before.
Distasteful. No wonder Sean knew of a place like this.
There's a man asleep behind a counter. I can smell him, sour gathering in my nose so harsh I gag.
I take hesitant steps, catching all the exits before I go any farther. Elle passes me, pokes her head around a shelf.
I do as well, though it's against my principals.
There are shoulder high white shelves and lining each side in rows are packages to bright to be healthy, though they look to be food.
Sean's squatted down between two of them, a variety of items laid out before him and he's winding some type of reflective paper around the stick.
He's trying to fix it.
My brain is fuzzy but getting clearer. Not fast enough. Not near fast enough to keep up with what's happening.
They're real. My childhood imaginary friends.
Who knew? Not me. Never me.
And different. My age. Troubled. Dusky more so than the others. He's nothing like the mischief making boy he was. He has a line that cuts between his copper eyebrows that tell a story of sternness, and the sharp way his eyes catch on things but says nothing.
I guess it makes me feel less alone.
Knowing they went through shit too.
From what I can tell, it's working.
Every second or so the end jolts. Hard enough that he's having trouble holding onto it.
He's taping a package to the missing end. It smells like some sort of meat though it doesn't look like it.
Bon grabs me by the arm so tight that my fingertips tingle.
He bites the metal paper, tearing it, and just like that, it hops out of his hands.
I jump out of the way, knocking into one of the full shelves as it flies past me and skirts around the end of the isle.
Sean jumps up, Bon grabs my hand, hauling me behind her as we chase it zig zagging through the aisles.
It shoots behind the counter and down a hall on the other side.
Everyone but Sean screeches to a halt.
The man jolts awake with a yell as Sean barrels past, shooting over the counter and down the hall, knocking over a rack of things that go crashing to the floor.
I'm already darting to the side, out the invisibal door and around the corners of the building where it's quiet and dark.
Sean struggling on the ground with the stick in a patch of dry grass, trying to throw his body over it to weight it down but it jerks to the side.
He's being dragged around by a stick.
Bon and Elle skid around and stop beside me. Seeing Sean, Bon breathes out, "Oh,"
I'm smiling, hand coming up to hide my mouth, as the stick does a roll, flopping Sean around, and then shoots straight as an arrow to a tree.
Between one second and the next he's disappeared.
"What? Where'd he go?" I'm not sure who says it.
I run forward to the tree, hesitate before touching my hand to the rough bark.
We have to follow him. As much as I hate the idea and as absurd as it is, I have to go into the tree.
I glance behind to Bon and she shakes her head, eyes huge.
I touch my fingers to the bark and it sucks me in.
I must be on something, I decide as a tree eats both Frog Prince and Dusky. I must've ate something laced with drugs.
I must've breathed them in.
This is crazy.
Honey Bunny, no, Bonnie, she runs up to the tree and throws herself at it.
I'm the only one left, standing behind a gas station, feeling stupid. I'm an idiot. Such an idiot.
I should just be smart and turn around. Just go home. Get some rest.
But no, I walk up to the tree as well and kick it with the toe of my scuffed up leather boots, halfway hopeing whatever happened to the other's not going to work on me because I'm normal.
No such luck.
I groan, my insides shaken up and frothy feeling.
My head is rested on something hard and I swear I can hear my headache.
I look over, wincing at the light in my eyes, when I hear Sean spitting words I only know him to use.
He's staggering to his feet a little ways off, brushing leaves off of his blue human pants.
Before my eyes, Bon appears, flying out of the air, tumbling head over heels to a stop.
I push myself up and shake my head, brain bouncing against the sides of my skull. I brings my hands up and push my knuckles into my eyes.
It's purple. The space between trees a dusty color. The air's warm, humid, and I think I know where we are.
"Fur." I curse, rubbing my eyes.
We were back in Never.
I could smell it.
The air's clean in Never, like by a river. The human world just smells like smoke and dust.
I get to my feet, stagger a step, but don't reach towards a tree for support. You can't trust trees.
A short scream bursts and Elle falls, smacking her head against the moss blanketed trunk of one.
I believe I know where we are.
I rush over to help Bon up, grabbing her hands and pulling her to her feet where she sways head swiveling around. Sean goes to Elle.
"Are we..." Sean trails off, I nod, finishing his sentence, "In the Woods."
"Wait, where are we?" Elle's voice is breathy.
I ignore her, frowning down at Bon. She's picking the leaves off her clothes, "Are you okay?"
Bon shakes, more leaves raining down, "Fine. Do you think we lost them?"
I think we might have a new problem.
"Where's the stick?"
"Goddammit," Sean kicks the leaves, "Which way do you think it went."
I laugh. I can't help myself, though I try to stiffle. Doesn't work. Bon's patting me on the back, and that makes me crack up more.
Sean's hands are on my chest, shoving me back. I grin, tossing my hair out of my eyes, "Lost your stick?"
His face is rock hard and he grits out, stepping into my space, "Why don't you quit being you for a second and fucking help?"
"Hey! Stop it. Just stop. This isn't helping anything, you imbeciles." Bon squeezes between us, pushing us back.
I jink an eyebrow up and brush my hair from where it's fallen into my eyes, "How about it?"
The look I get from him could burn. But he steps back and I scan the sky.
It's hard to tell the time. The shadows are disrupted by the thick canopy overhead, the lichen on the side of the trunks unhelpful at best. I can't tell what direction I'm facing, which is disorienting because that was one of the essentials I learned before I was set loose on the world.
If this were the Thicket, I wouldn't even need the sun. I could recognize the trees themselves.
She frowns, small nose trembling as she sniffs around, "I dunno. It doesn't smell right. Do you smell somethin'?"
I think about it, getting another whiff, "A creek, maybe a river."
Just nods, turning around, "I smell it too, but doesn't it seem off to you? And I don't know these trees..."
"Ah, excuse me? Can't we just go back the way we came?" Elle cuts in, fear seeping from every word.
I'm not the one that snaps at her, Sean is, "Do you see the stick? Please tell us when you do, because otherwise we're stranded."
Bon puts up a hand, "Wait, maybe we can if we find the well? There has to be somebody around here..."
She was right. We were in someone's territory. Most likely we've already been spotted.
By who is the question though.
Fox's aren't in decent running with all the clans, not like the Rabbits. Or even the Frogs for that matter.
"We have to move, find a land marking we recognise." I say, the shadows of anxiety creeping in the corners of my mind and the rest of my brain throbbing like it's been shooken to pulp. We can't rely on others. It was too dangerous.
"And then I can go home? I never agreed to this."
"Oh, shut your mouth." I hiss at Elle and Bon punches my shoulder with her sharp knuckles. Hard. "Apologize. She's scared, Dusk."
I eye Elle. She has a green smudge across her cheek and a crazed look in her eye. Strands of her dark hair are stuck to her mouth.
My jaw clicks when I set it, but I know better than to let pride get in the way, "I'm sorry, Elle." Then, because I'm feeling generous, I hold a hand out, " Sean, please choose what way to go so we all don't get gutted or something equally unpleasant."
Sean rolls his eyes, ignoring my hand, and stomps past the fallen tree.
Bon smiles at me, a wide spread of her pink lips, "That was very considerate."
My smile is tense, but I sweep out the hand I had just raised, for Bon to follow Sean. I even allow Elle to pass to show her just how considerate I am.
I'm back in Never Never Land.
I'm so stupid.
Something's getting on his nerves. I can tell, I've known him since forever.
Even if we haven't been that closest recently.
Something's dug deep into his skin, making his fingers tap his legs fast, his tail quivering and ears swiveling. Dusk gets a headache when he's stressed, and he has one now. The skin around his mouth is tight, the line between his arching eyebrows severe.
I wish he would tell me what it is. I don't believe it's Elle, or atleast not just her. He's been like this for weeks now, figgeting in his own skin.
He needs to just get it over with and tell me.
But knowing him, he'd never speak a word.
No, he'd probably recite something about Fox intergerity.
He's an asshole.
Always has been. Always will be. He never apologizes. And when he does, it's with that look on his face. The one that makes me want to slug him in the face to finally wipe it off.
The only reason I've put up with him all these years is because he and Bon get along somehow. She's too nice, she doesn't want to see the person he actually is.
And Bon's my only friend, so there's not much I can do.
Though I'm not entirely sure that after what happened we're still friends.
I can't think of it now.
I push on through the forest.