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Juniper awoke with a startled jolt, her bright hazel eyes flashing in the dark. She had another nightmare, and the feeling of dread still hung heavy in her chest even after she pushed it to the deepest darkest corner of her mind. Licking her lips, she let out a soft groan and sat up in the dark, dusty hovel she and a few other homeless called their own. Brushing herself off, she turned her head to the sound of panicked whispers. That’s all she heard nowadays, panic and fearful mumbles of old, gruff voices. She missed the gentle breathing of her closest friend, the person she had trusted most with her life… She shook her head, clearing it of those painful memories.
Stepping out into the common area, she seated herself by one of the elderly women struggling to hold a spoon up to her mouth. Juniper let out a gentle sigh and took the bowl and spoon, and proceeded to help feed the woman, who gratefully ate every bite as it rested against her cracked lips. The others crowded close to the firepit centered in the hovel, bright and illuminating the quiet home. “It wasn’t stolen… You just misplaced it” grumbled one of the younger men, who was glaring daggers at a fumbling old man searching his bags. “I couldn’t have lost it! I wouldn’t… My lovely Eliza gave it..” He lost himself in his mumblings as his movements grew more frantic. Juniper listened carefully from nearby, her eyes occasionally shifting to watch the two before returning their gaze to the task at hand.
She knew what the old man, Harold, had lost. It was a beautiful golden watch that no longer ticked, but still had millions in regards to sentimental worth. It was engraved with a loving note from Harold’s late wife, Eliza, who had given it to him on his birthday shortly before her death. He loved that watch, and even when he lost everything due to the depression of his dear wife passing, he still wouldn’t give up that watch; even if he were starving to death. Everyone understood how much it meant to him, hence why they never urged him to pawn it in return for the wellbeing of the group, but Juniper could tell that the younger man, Aaron, was growing impatient with the search.
“You need to relax, Harold. It’ll show up when it wants to, you know how these things go” Mumbled a woman in her late 60’s, her face once beautiful now crinkled with lines of age. Her name was Rosalie, named after her grandmother who was a famous actor. She was essentially a know it all, who had it all until last year when she lost it to a gambling husband who beat her nearly to death. She chose to leave and live there in that dirty little hovel, than die by someone she loved surrounded by jewels.
Juniper gently cleaned up the woman she was helping, Emma, and turned to clean the dishes, all the while remaining silent. If she spoke, what would come out wouldn’t be very pleasant. She loved this family of hers, but she had underlying resentment.
They had let him die.
Later that day Juniper left their hovel to beg for coins on the street, sitting there pitifully with dirt on her face and tangles in her hair as she had done since she was a child. It wasn’t anything more than a means to survive at this point. She knew how to bathe and brush her locks, but it tugged at the heartstrings of those around her when she looked as if she were on her way to the grave. After a bit of begging and sitting, she had enough for a stale loaf of bread and some cheap, nearly rotted cheese. A feast.
On her way to the store she was stopped by some punk children she had known for a few years. Bullies they were, and she had no time to bother with them. Spoiled rich brats rubbed her the wrong way, and when they made a grab for her money she recoiled. “Lookit the ugly b****, when was the last time you think she's cleaned herself?” they taunted, shifted and reaching their pudgy fingers toward the old little coin purse she had been given a few christmases ago by Emma.
“Probably sooner than you stinking brats!” She snapped back, her temper boiling. As one managed to grab onto the coin purse, she snapped and punched him right in the face, reeling him backwards. The other boys gasped out, before growing angry “Ey! What right did you have to do that?” They spat, rallying together and rolling up their sleeves for a fight. That was when Juniper was swept away by a stranger in a dark black hoodie, her legs nearly crumpling beneath her before she began running in time with the hidden person.
The boys chased behind the pair for a bit, before growing tired and slowing down, screaming insults and spitting at them as they ran off down the street and into an alley. Juniper took a moment to collect herself before stepping away defensively, her eyes narrowing and her lips pursed, silent. The stranger let out a soft chuckle, one of his hands fidgeting in the hoodie pocket as he mumbled “Not even a thank you..? June, you gotta be more polite to your savior..”
That was when Juniper’s heart stopped and her body tensed, face going pale as if she had just seen a ghost. “Fae..?” she whispered, pulling back farther. The man simply grinned, and pulled back his hood to show that familiar face she had missed so much. She shifted to hug him, but stopped herself. The warmth in her eyes turned cold “You’re supposed to be dead..”
“Ah well… I suppose. After all, you did bury me” Fae chuckled, his fingers repetitively shifting in his pocket as he stepped closer to her. Juniper was frozen in place, emotions rushing her head and chest and making her nearly dizzy. She wanted to strike him, to hurt him for all the hurt he had given her, but another side cherished that he was back. Her wish had come true. “Well… It was just an act.”
Those words shattered her thoughts and drew her back to reality. An act? This wasn’t the Fae she remembered. Fae wasn’t cruel, calculating.. He was warm, kind, thoughtful. “Why… Wha..” Juniper began, only to be cut off “Why? Because June, aren’t you sick of this… This rotten life you have? Begging for your next meal, which you might never get? Aren’t you tired of being so… Pitiful?” His grip tightened on whatever was in his pocket, his jaw clenching angrily. “So…” He breathed, calming himself “I took my chance. My way out… No one would look for a dead man..” He murmured, pulling the object out of his pocket.
“Harold’s watch” Juniper mumbled, her own fingers trembling as she stared at it. Fae had stolen it, and planned to use it to his own advantage. As if able to read her thoughts, Fae spoke up with a lighthearted tone “Not just for me, June… Us! We can both be free!” He exclaimed, spreading his arms. “We can be off the streets! This could afford enough for a ticket to somewhere new! A new start!” He grinned, his eyes bright and his voice light.
Fae paused, his elation immediately vanishing as Juniper spoke out firmly. “No?” He repeated softly, his gaze exploring her face for any sign that maybe she was kidding, playing a joke, but she was serious.
“We need to give it back Fae… It isn’t right… His wif-” Juniper reasoned, reaching out for the watch. Fae snapped, pulling his hand to his chest and glaring at her “F**k his wife, June! She’s dead! And he’s halfway into the grave himself! He would want this for us! Not to waste our lives… Here!” He snarled, eyes blazing with anger.
Juniper shook her head, stepping closer “Fae, no” she murmured, reaching out again. Fae aggressively stepped back, as if to distance himself from striking her. He was unstable, and she knew he had been for a while now. She had always tried to keep this from happening, but he was from a broken home. A dead whore mother and a raging abusive alcoholic father. All that anger built up in his beaten and broken body, and now he was snapping.
“June! Don’t ruin this! Don’t ruin the friendship we have! Come with me!” He gasped out, his eyes softening for a moment as he gazed at her, holding out his free hand to her. Juniper watched him for a moment, before carefully reaching out to take his hand. A warm look returned to his face… Her Fae.
But the moment ended as soon as it came. She grabbed his hand and pulled him roughly away, reaching out for the watch. In his surprise, his grip softened and she was able to snatch it away from him, only for him to lunge at her for it back. She ducked her head and turned away, narrowly missing his larger frame; and as she turned to look at him her vision blurred.
The sound of screeching tires, a snapping thud, the honk of a car. As Juniper’s vision cleared, all she could see was the motionless, bloody body of her dearest friend. She knew she couldn’t stay there, and after the grieving she had already went through for months… It wasn’t as hard to leave him. She turned toward the alley and ran, hopping over tall fences and cutoffs until she had reached her home.
That night, all she could hear was the sound of sirens in the distance, and the happy mumbling of Harold as he caressed his treasure.