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Young and Beautiful
Topic Started: Jan 19 2014, 02:07 PM (1,031 Views)
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((Mirabella Strong continued from Blown off Course))

What little remained of Bella’s composure had rapidly ebbed away as she fled from the clubhouse. Thick pockets of roots had torn though her sneakers as she’d run, leaving them in utter tatters, and sharpened twigs and shrubbery had ruined her socks, pockmarking them with holes and plastering dry mud over her legs. Her sweater and skirt had taken damage too, dirt and tears peppered all over her clothing. Her barrettes had fallen away as she’d run, the only one remaining miraculously pinning back her bangs. Her blouse had survived the brunt of the damage, but had managed to become stained with sweat and lose a button or two along the way. Scratches and bruises marred her pale skin, resultant of tripping one time too many in the harsh environment, and her face had become perpetually flustered, tears and heat mixing together to leave her face a glistening red.

She didn’t know how far she’d ran, or for how long. Adrenaline and fear had driven her there, fear of what’d happen to her, to Ian and to everybody else. She hadn’t wanted to leave him, not when he’d helped her so much so far, but if she’d stayed she didn’t know she’d have done next, she really didn’t.

She didn’t want to hurt them.

The rational part of her mind insisted that was just her anxieties speaking, that there was no way she could’ve hurt him of Juhan or Takeshi, but her anxieties insisted that she would’ve hurt them, that she would’ve destroyed everything they’d built so far. And their voices were steadily getting louder and louder. And they were right, weren’t they? She’d fucked everything up so far - what was there to stop her from doing it again? In fact, losing her medication made that even more concrete; she was sure of it. Megan had excused what’d happened - blamed herself for Aria’s theft, and for the girls in the tower, and for Francis... but that was just her taking on Bella’s own issues, own problems.

Own mistakes.

Eventually she came to a halt, resting against the brickwork that flanked one of the enclosed alleys of the southern town, as the stitch she’d been refusing to acknowledge tore through her insides. She slowly slumped down beside it, her bags slipping limply from her arms and landing with a soft thump on the concrete beside her, any lingering energy sapped from her being. Birds of all sorts whirled above her, their cries blasting through her ears in unison with the thumping in her chest and her ragged breathing.

Everything was so loud.

She lifted her hands to her head and pressed them against her ears, blunted fingernails digging into her scalp as she attempted to repress the noises that spun all around her, eyes clenched tightly shut. She sat like that for awhile, trying to ignore the whirlwind of thoughts that raced through her mind and retain some semblance of rational thought. Time passed - it might’ve been three minutes or three hours, she couldn’t tell - and she eventually opened her eyes again, hands dropping limply into her lap.

Any movement she made felt so very difficult, as though she were made entirely of lead. She hadn’t eaten or drunken for what seemed like forever, though her last meal couldn’t have been that long ago. The past few hours were nothing but a hazy fog in her memory, and though she tried her hardest to remember everything that’d happened thus far, her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp pain in her stomach. No, she had to eat. Just a swig of water and a bite of one of those bars, that was all she needed. Then she could get up and find her Garrett and her medicine. It all seemed so simple, so optimistic. Bella shook her head as her hand slowly slid from her lap and towards her bags. Optimism wouldn’t help her. It’d caused her nothing but pain so far.

Her hand grasped around the handle of her bag, dragging it roughly across the ground, leaving a trail of debris in its wake. A look of confusion marred her face, until she saw what’d happened. The seam had split, spilling the bag’s contents over the concrete. Her breath caught in her throat and her teeth bared in frustration as she bent down, her fingers scrambling across the earth as they retrieved her belongings. She didn't want to risk anybody taking anything. It was all too precious. She didn’t know what could come in useful, and with Aria having stolen her one means of defence she couldn’t risk losing what might be a potential weapon.

And she needed as many forms of defence as possible.

Bella shoved her remaining belongings roughly back into her bag, before leaning back against the wall and trying to regulate her breathing. No, it wouldn’t do to get panicked or angry. All the same, she couldn’t help it. The barrier she’d maintained for so long, the one that’d prevented any negative emotion from coming forth, was gone, shattered into a million pieces.

She hoisted her bags onto her lap and hugged them close, rocking forwards slightly on the harsh ground as she sifted through it, attempting to locate her ration bars and water bottle. The first thing she pulled from it was neither; instead it was the compact mirror she kept on her person - she didn’t use it much, but had always kept it with her just in case. She stared at the compact blankly for a second, almost returned it to her pack, but as she rested her head on her shoulder and rolled her fingertips around the edge, she couldn’t resist opening it.

Although Bella cringed at her appearance, squinting as she surveyed the blemishes and marks that marred her face, she didn’t pay them much mind. Instead, her eyes focused on her fringe, and what’d happened to it. She’d liked the way it framed her face and covered up her rather wide forehead, but it was admittedly rather inconvenient on occasion, especially if she didn’t have anything to pin it back, like her headband or barrettes. She’d misplaced her headband back on the beach, and had lost her barrettes over the course of her run from the clubhouse, but she was sure she’d still had one left, one that’d managed to prevent her hair from outright blinding her. Her fingers traced through it, eyes widening as it fell down in front of her eyes. She must’ve lost that last one too, somehow, in the last few minutes or so. A gasp passed through her lips as she shakily stood up, eyes darting wildly over the area around her feet, desperately trying to locate it.

If it been there at all then it was gone, already invisible under a layer of dirt and dust.

Bella slumped back down to the ground, panic steadily building in her chest as ideas whirred within her head. She couldn’t want her eyesight obstructed for any more than a second. If she couldn’t see, then it was all the more likely that the killers could sneak up on her and stab her in the back. She had to get rid of it if she wanted any chance of getting out.

She dropped the compact onto the earth as her fingers snaked back into her back, emerging holding the first-aid kid she’d been provided with. They shook violently as they sifted through it, eventually withdrawing a small pair of scissors. It would be so simple, and then everything would be better. If she could just do this one thing, then everything would be better, at least for a little while. Part of her told her that there was a more logical way to deal with it, that she might find that missing barrette if she looked a bit more, or that she might still have something hidden away in her bag, but she ignored it. That would require just a little ounce of hope, hope that she’d tried to find - and though she’d found too many times - and she wasn’t going to take that risk. A smile quirked at her lips as she levelled the scissors, delicately prying them open and encasing them around her fringe, her other hand lifting her hair in the air.

One cut was all it took; a violent slash through her hair, the blades slicing harshly and unevenly through the tangled mess as her fringe fell apart and fell into a small heap on her lap, the remaining hairs hanging limply in a haphazard diagonal line. She retrieved her mirror from the ground and flipped it open once more, a wide grin stretched across her face as she took in her new appearance. It looked terrible, but that didn’t matter. She’d eliminated one threat to her life. It was a minor threat all the same, and part of her told her that she didn’t need to do that, that it was just her hair and that it couldn’t harm her, but that was the same part that told her to comfort Aria, to mouth off at Francis. Why the fuck should she trust it again, when it’d brought her nothing but pain?

She tossed her compact casually back into her pack and breathed in deeply. She hadn’t noticed how fast her heart had been beating, or how much her hands were shaking. All of a sudden she became aware of where she was. This street was a dangerous place, far too exposed. Why had she lingered here for so long? She was so stupid. She hadn’t been cautious enough, and she always used to be so cautious, scared of so many things. Her parents and her Garrett and everybody else had always told her that she didn’t need to be scared, that everything would be fine, but they’d been wrong. They’d reassured her and calmed her down, and she’d finally let her guard down, left herself open to be hurt.

“Liars,” she whispered as she stood up ungracefully, their faces flitting rapidly through her mind, their smiling reassuring lying faces. “You’re all liars. Liars, liars, liars.” Her voice increased in volume with each word, cracking as tears began to stream down her face once again. Her hands grasped around her bags, and a snarl formed across her face.

“Liars!”

She threw her bags across the length of the alleyway, their contents spilling out once more as they landed only a few feet away from her.

Mirabella Strong cupped her face in her hands and screamed.
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((Garrett Wilde continued from Picking It Clean))

He hadn't expected to find Joey's body.

He assumed it was Joey's, at least. The clothes looked the same. It was a little bit difficult to identify him beyond that after the explosion.

He couldn't tell what he felt staring at the long cold corpse. There was regret, and responsibility, and sadness. Above all of it was anger, though. Anger at...something. Himself? Joey? Rosemary?

It didn't matter. All that mattered was making sure Joey's death wasn't wasted. He looked over the body as well as he could in the dim light. "Victim is Joey Caputo," he choked out as he rounded the corpse, "presumed. Killer is Rosemary Michael. No wounds outright wounds other than the visible damage from the collar." He didn't know if that was true. He wasn't about to strip him down and check, but there wasn't anything as obvious as there was for Gabby. "Not much of a struggle, if there was any."

There was no need to edit his notes. He didn't have enough data yet. If Rosemary appeared in the announcements again, he'd have something to work with. For now, the best thing he could do was move on.

While searching the surrounding area he'd come across Joey's bag. It appeared some of his food and water was still inside. As with Gabby, he shifted everything into his own bag without a second thought, and remained silently thankful that his killer hadn't taken his resources for herself. Something else to consider, when the time comes.

He stalked through the streets quietly, trying to avoid contact with anyone else. He didn't want to see anyone until he met up with the others, and even with them he had reservations. Until then, he would lay low, scout around some more, and hopefully head out without incident.

A scream tore through the still air. Garrett's muscles tensed at the thought of people nearby, and he prepared to flee. A note of familiarity stopped him, though.

I know that voice.

Bella.

He bolted towards the sound as quickly as he could. His plans, paranoia, and carefully crafted facade of control melted away in second as he broke down, screaming her name as he ran.

"BELLA? BELLA? WHERE ARE YOU?"

He turned a corner and saw her collapsed. Panic locked his heart in a vice as he charged forward. Please be okay, please be okay, please-

Something snagged his foot. As he went sprawling, he glanced down and noticed the bag in his path. He crashed onto the street hard in front of her, slamming his head into the pavement as he stumbled. He struggled to get his bearings and pushed himself up, staring up at her with blurred vision. Something red dripped onto his nose from the corner of his vision. He was bleeding, but he didn't care. His focus was locked on the girl before him. The shock of finding her combined with the pain from his fall left him too stunned to say a word at first. Instead, he stared up at her as his arms shook underneath him, trying to gather some semblance of rational thought. His constricted throat let out a hoarse rasp as he struggled to contain the flood-gate of emotions that he'd been holding back for days.

"Bella..."
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She screamed for a long time, letting out everything she needed to - every emotion, every regret, everything she’d buried deep down for the past four days, until her voice ran hoarse and she trailed off, doubling over as she desperately struggled to return air to her constricted lungs. She was sobbing openly now, no attempts to restrain her tears or cover them up with some flimsy veneer of cheerfulness and optimism. Everything that could’ve gone wrong had; there was no coming back, now.

Escape? The fact that she’d even entertained the notion made her want to laugh. There’d been nothing about it on the announcements, but that didn’t matter anymore. In hindsight, it’d been little more than a distraction, some semblance of hope that she’d foolishly allowed herself to become swept up in. She hoped the others were okay, but that didn’t matter much now. They soon wouldn’t be. She didn’t know who’d win, who’d escape this place, and frankly, she didn’t care. It wouldn’t be her, it wouldn’t be her Garrett, it wouldn’t be anybody that she cared about. Beneath her, her legs began to shake, knees knocking together as what she’d denied for so long finally emerged to the surface.

She was going to die.

She wanted to scream again, but her throat felt like sandpaper and her head felt so heavy, and before she could do anything her legs gave way beneath her, the world inverting on itself as she slumped to the ground.

For the first time in a long while, Bella was alone.

She started listlessly ahead of her, her vision clouded and her hearing muffled, barely even noticing the panicked shouts and sound of nearby footfalls, let alone acknowledging them. It was only when the figure emerged into her line of vision, calling her name, that she realised what was happening. She’d known she’d lingered for too long, that she should’ve fled when she had the chance. And now she was going to die; the new arrival was going to snuff her out, and maybe she’d let him. There was nothing left for her now. Maybe it’d just be easier to let someone take her out.

Then her eyes met his, lingering there for the briefest of seconds, and she clenched them shut, disbelieving what was happening. He couldn’t be here now; that was impossible. It required some level of luck that she refused to believe existed in this place. Or maybe it wasn’t luck, because Garrett was the last person she wanted to see right now. He was the one that said that everything would be okay, and he’d turned up just when she realised that nothing could ever be okay again.

“Garrett,” she croaked in reply, eyes slowly opening once more as disbelief continued to course through her system. Then she saw the blood, the trail of red dripping from his forehead, just like with Francis, Francis and the stairs and the blood under his head. He’d hurt himself, and she didn’t know how she felt about that, because she was his girlfriend, and she had to feel horrified, and yet she didn’t, and that was disgusting.

“Garrett,” she repeated, voice trembling as emotions surged within her once more. “You lied to me.”
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In and out.

He managed to sit up and stare back at her. He could use her as a focusing point. Everything that didn't involve her was suddenly unimportant.

In and out.

He had so many questions that had built up over the last five days, but even they were getting squashed down by the clear panic she was in. He was trying to remain in control. He had to remain in control. Everything he'd done, every way he'd endangered himself and others, every horrible thought that had echoed in his mind, had been heavily bolstered by the thought of protecting her.

In and out.

The blood didn't bother him. Their exposure didn't bother him. The unpredictability of the situation didn't even register with him. In his mind, there were only her words.

"When did I lie to you, Bella?"

No fear. No judgement. Only curiosity, and slow, even breaths.
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Bella shrunk back against the wall, crossing her legs beneath her as Garrett spoke. She instinctively motioned to brush back her fringe, her fingers tracing over the roughly cut baby hairs that lined her forehead. Her heart still thumped loudly within her chest, but she could feel her breathing begin to slow, begin to regulate as Garrett’s words whirred within her head. He’d always had a calming aura; just being in his presence was enough to dampen whatever fears she’d had.

It was only now that she realised just how dangerous that was.

She knew Garrett loved her, and she knew how much she loved him. She knew that he wasn’t a bad person, like she knew Juhan or Megan or Ian weren’t bad people. That wasn’t optimism returning, that wasn’t her slinking back into the idealistic trance she’d been in for the past few days; that was the truth. In spite of those facts, however, she couldn’t shake the feeling of unease that flowed through her system. If anything, it made it worse; she’d fought back her anxieties for so long, that it felt uncomfortable to have any sense of calm returned to her system. She didn’t want to become complacent, didn’t want to believe that everything would turn out alright, because it wouldn’t. It’d all come falling down once more, and she’d get caught in the aftershocks, and she didn’t want to have that happen ever again. So she had to face the facts, and it disturbed her how easily that came to her.

“You told me everything was going to be okay. You always said that everything would be okay,” she said, replying to Garrett’s question and attempting to keep her voice as level as possible, despite the battle between calm and anxieties being fought in her head. “But it’s not. We’re going to die here, Garrett. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

She tensed and slouched forward, crossing her arms and digging her nails into her flesh as her body was once again wracked by sobs.

“We’re going to die,” she repeated, her words barely audible beneath her tears. “We’re going to die.”
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The pamphlet flew out of his pocket and onto the floor in front of her without hesitation.

"I'm fixing it."

This was the center he'd been searching. Seeing her like this made him realize the plan would work. It would work because it had to work. There wasn't another option. There wasn't anymore room for second-guessing and planning.

Everyone involved in escalating the game was responsible for doing this to her. She'd seen at least as much as he had, and it had driven her to a place where she couldn't trust even him anymore. It was the absolute bluntest way the reality of the system could have been confirmed for him, and the last thing needed to push him over the edge.

People were going to die here. That much was inevitable now. His job was to try and make sure the right people died to prolong their chances of survival.

"I made you a promise in a different place that everything was going to be okay. I'm sorry that something beyond my control broke that promise. I've spent the last few days trying to survive and make a new one, not just for you, but for everyone left struggling to break out of this."

He knelt closer to her. "I can't promise that everything is going to be okay here. I can only promise to keep you safe. To take you to people willing to work with me to get things back under control. To involve you in something that's not just going to save us, but everyone here who hasn't completely lost it already. I'm going to keep us alive until someone on the outside finds us and comes to rescue us, Bella. I know I can. You know I can. Remember..."

His voice steadily dropped into a hushed whisper as he spoke, reaching into her memory to bring back the beginnings of a well-worn mantra he'd given her in a library that felt worlds away.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer..."
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Bella withdrew against the wall as Garrett began to speak, lowering her head and glancing up at him through her eyelashes. Her eyes fixated on him beneath a lingering layer of bleariness and tears, his familiar litany bringing forth memories of a safer time, a time of naïveté and happiness, where the only worries afforded to her were whether she’d get an assignment done on time, or what food she was going to bring to the next swim meet. Did such a thing have continued relevance in a place like this? Bella couldn’t tell, but despite her doubts she felt her mouth begin to move in unison with his, repeating the words she’d heard and half-memorised what seemed like a lifetime ago.

For a moment she felt safer, for a moment she almost forgot what was happening, for a moment her anxieties and fear subsided. But only for a moment. No matter what, she couldn’t stop the unevenness of her breath and the palpitations in her chest, even as Garrett’s previous words whirred through her mind. Escape? Did Garrett still think that’d happen? Had he really retained some shred of optimism; the same optimism that she’d clung to and searched for for so long?

Bella didn’t know whether that was a good thing or not.

After a moment, she closed her eyes tightly shut. She was getting too antsy. This was her Garrett, and so there had to be some modicum of truth in his words - no matter how naïve as she felt he was being. All she wanted was to be safe, to no longer be scared, and if there was one person in the world who could do that, then it had to be her Garrett.

All she needed was for them to stay together. She couldn’t think of much she could offer him in return for his companionship, but that wouldn’t matter much, would it? He was her Garrett, her sweet compassionate Garrett. The island hadn’t changed that, and she would do everything in her power to make sure it remained that way. If they stayed together, then everything would be fine. That’s what she’d keep telling herself, at least. Just so long as they stayed together. That was all she needed. The half-true mantra kept repeating itself in her head, over and over and over.

“I don’t know what to do, or what’ll happen,” she said, her voice wavering. “But I know if I’m with you, then everything’ll be alright.”
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Garrett should have felt warm and relieved as he pulled Bella up off the ground. He should have felt fulfilled and confident as he whispered to her again and again that everything was going to be okay. The tears in his eyes should have been from joy that she was still alive and safe, despite everything she must have been through in the last five days.

But he didn't feel warm. He was cold. He didn't feel fulfilled. He felt empty. His tears weren't tinted with relief, but tainted with disappointment, because this time he really was lying. He couldn't promise that everything was going to be alright. All he could promise is that things were going to get much, much worse before they got any better. That they were both going to see and do things they never thought imaginable before this place let them go. That if they did make it out alive, they would never forget everything that had been taken from them while they were here.

Early on in his education, Alexander had instilled in him one of the core tenets of rationalism: That which can be destroyed by truth should be. It had been easier to adhere to when dealing with abstract thoughts and concepts, things which couldn't really be destroyed or damaged, merely discarded. Now, though, truth could quite literally be their destruction. The yawning maw of inexorable hopelessness that surrounded them had nearly swallowed them both up. He couldn't risk that again. So as he wrapped his arms around her and held her close against his chest, he also wrapped them in a comforting shell of deception. He clung to her as tightly as he did his faulty notions of control, order, and salvation, because together they were all he had left.

He made his promises knowing that they would be broken, and hoped that he would get a chance to earn her forgiveness. For good measure, before he gathered his things and led her away, he whispered one more promise in her ear.

"I love you, Bella..."

That, at least, wasn't a lie.

((Garrett Wilde Continued in Pre-Game))
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Ever since waking up on the island, Bella had imagined what her reunion with Garrett would be like. She imagined them finding each other at opposite ends of a path, running to each other with arms outstretched and promising to never let go. What’d just transpired was nothing like that at all, though Bella didn’t care. She had her Garrett again, and that was all that mattered.

Bella rubbed the backside of her wrist against her face, wiping away the tears that continued to linger there as Garrett took her other hand, gently tugging her to her feet. Her legs continued to shake beneath her, though she was a great deal steadier on them than not even three minutes earlier.

She swallowed firmly as she followed in Garrett’s footsteps, biting back her continued pessimism and darkened thoughts. She was with her Garrett again, and though her mind still protested - pointing out the myriad of possible fallacies in Garrett’s plan, and that they could die at any moment - she dismissed them easily. She was with her Garrett again, and she knew assuredly that so long as they were together then nothing could go wrong.

And if anything reared itself as a possible threat to her reunion with her Garrett, or to disrupt the ever-so-fragile state of mind she’d built up for herself over the past few minutes, then she’d just have to deal with it, no matter what - or who - it was.

((Mirabella Strong continued in Pre-Game))
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