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Anywhere and Else *Me (Thestarjar) and That Guy*

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Theida's tail twitched. "I guess. Welcoming guests probably wouldn't be a responsibility I'd get, though." She looked up and saw the uncertainty on his face. "Hey, though, you let me--"

"S-Sorry to keep you waiting!" Spindle re-entered the room, making Theida straighten up in startlement. "I'm not sure wh-when you typically go to sleep? But the sun's getting low, so I-I figure we should at least show you w-where you can rest."
 
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thea ante hominēs
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"Oh, that's..!" Hother fumbled for a moment, to try to arrange his thoughts into something coherent. "That makes sense...and...so considerate. Thanks so much!"
 
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Theida nodded. "That would be great."

Spindle stepped past them and through the doorway at the back of the dining room, and led them into a cozy room with a couple of nests set up made sturdily out of branches and leaves. He looked them over for a few moments before opening his arms in welcome.

"Th-they're a little dry, as I--as I thought, but we can get that fixed shortly. F-feel free to make yourselves at home, um, in the meantime. Give a shout i-if you need anything, and..." He struggled for a way to conclude, looking about as though the answer would be on the walls. "Oh! And, um, I-I hope you don't mind sharing a r-room? If you, uh, if it's a problem, w-we can... can certainly figure something out..." Spindle began to pace as though he'd already gotten the negative answer and was trying to find a solution.
 
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"It's fine!" Hother found himself replying without even thinking, and once the words left his muzzle, he turned his gaze to Theida, wearing a look of evident and apologetic concern at-- potentially-- having spoken out of turn, or too forcefully, or any other myriad ways his thoughtlessness might be considered reprehensible. "...It...is fine, right..?"
 
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"Oh--yeah, yeah," Theida said, seeming a little surprised to even be asked. "Slept at your place, didn't I? And I'm small, anyway, you'll barely notice me." She rolled her eyes, but it seemed mostly a friendly gesture.

Spindle squinted slightly, but he refrained from the urge to comment, and instead said, "W-Well, that's--good! Good. Glad it works out. I-I'll go, um, I'll get the...yeah." He lingered a split second more before quickly walking out of view, not wanting any more opportunities to embarrass himself.
 
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thea ante hominēs
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After holding his tongue for more than a proper length of time, the dog finally exhaled in what might have been halfway towards actual mirth.
"Hah... Spindle really does remind me of myself-- all cautious and anxious and stuff. It's kind of reassuring to see I'm one-hundred percent definitely not the only one." His ears twitched. "...It's not, like, irritating, is it? --He says, knowing entirely too well that, if it is, commenting on it and phrasing it as a question will only make it worse..."
 
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Theida pressed down on one of the nests with her forelegs. Seemed fine to her, frankly, being plenty used to dry bedding. But if their hosts wanted to make it softer, then they could go right ahead.

She looked up at Hother and tilted her head. "...Nah," she said honestly. "Maybe kind of silly. Seems like a lot of effort to care that much about what other people think. But not in a bad way, it just feels... genuine." She turned her eyes to the ceiling--it looked weird, made of woven and overlapping plants. "So by extension, I guess maybe I'm not as suspicious of Spindle as I thought. Bristlecone, though... I dunno. I guess Spindle likes him. Do you really think he--uh, these guys are trustworthy?"
 
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thea ante hominēs
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Hother turned the question over in his mind, shifting his weight as anxiously as absentmindedly.
"Well... Someone as imposing as Bristlecone... and-- and I don't mean that in an insulting way; just... someone like him could probably defeat us easily through raw strength alone, and he hasn't. Or... not yet, anyway." Swish, swish. His tail proclaimed its restlessness in no subtle order of magnitude. "But if they were waiting for us to fall asleep before attacking... wouldn't that be a waste of time? --And supplies, for that matter, after going to the trouble of giving us food and so forth..."

Finally, he forced himself to sit, tensing enough to manually implore his body to still its myriad twitches and tics long enough for him to at least trick himself into thinking he felt at total ease, and afforded himself a steadying breath.
"...But that's just my, uh... landslide of thoughts. Maybe I'm just kidding myself. Am I-- is this... have I..? --Okay, forget everything I said. Do you trust them? I'll just... follow your lead. Anyone's judgement is more reliable than mine-- to... to me, anyway."
 
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"No, those are good points," Theida decided. "Doing all this for people you're going to kill would be... dumb. Or sick." She stepped off the bed and started slowly pacing the room. "I thought... I kind of thought Spindle was scared of him, at first. So Bristlecone acting all friendly was putting me really on edge. Even more than I already was about someone so... big." She turned around and walked back the other direction. "But Spindle's just anxious about everything. And I haven't seen Bristlecone do anything scary, yet. So I guess it's a tentative 'okay' from me...?"

She paused in her pacing to give Hother a closer look, and a frown. "But are you okay? You're allowed to have your own opinions."
 
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"Ah?!" His ears pricked up at the question, thoroughly disarmed. "No, yes, I'm... I'm fine. It's just... I don't want to risk being wrong, you know? ...About anything. ...Ever."
 
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"Pfff. I guess." She shrugged. "People don't tend to care if I'm right...? I mean, that sounds sadder than it is. It's just that none of my work had anything to do with what I thought of anything. Uhhh." Too much. Bring it back. "I mean, it's a good thing to care about whether you're right, yeah? Not to get all anxious about it, maybe, but worrying means someone cares. Or that you care. This is... I'm bad at being encouraging, Hother. Dammit. You can be wrong. It's fine!"
 
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There was some melancholic spark in his eyes, for just a moment, that betrayed something on a vast spectrum between fear, apprehension, surprise, and safety. After digesting the thought for a moment, he inclined his head.
"Thank you... I think..?"
 
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"Yeah," Theida said. "Uh... yeah."

"Um, h-hope I'm not interrupting anything!" Sounded a familiar voice from outside, and then Spindle stepped into view, a fair-sized basket of greens and branches held tightly on his head until he put it down. "Um. D-Don't mind me, I'm just going to, uh..." He started fiddling with the nest nearest Hother (or rather, the one that Theida wasn't halfway occupying) and plucked out drier pieces while laying out a mat of fresher stuff.

Theida stared at him for a few moments before catching ahold of herself and stepping off of her claimed nest. She turned to look at Hother instead, suddenly feeling supremely unsure of what do do with herself.
 
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He returned her look with one of his own, hoping that his blank expression radiated some kind of considerate politeness as he shuffled aside, himself.
"Is there... Like, should we... do... anything..?" he managed, his tail flicking back and forth at an unsteady pace. "You've been great hosts so far... a-and we appreciate it so much."
 
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Spindle paused to look at Hother, startled. Then he gave a brief, small smile and returned to swapping out pieces of the nest, more quickly now. "No, no, i-it's no trouble. M-My pleasure, really." After several more quiet seconds of work, he dragged the basket over to the other nest and started working on that one. "J-Just! Pretend I'm not even here!"

Behind him, Theida shrugged at Hother. "Uhh, okay."

Spindle worked through the second nest even faster, though he also seemed to make more mistakes, readjusting pieces of the new layer every other moment. When the basket he brought in was just about empty, he pulled it back onto his head and walked right up to the door before remembering to speak. "I--uh! Bye! I mean--have a good night, and--and of course, d-don't be afraid to let us know if there's anything you--if there's anything! Um. Good night!" And before they had a chance to respond, he was out of sight of the door.

"...'Night," Theida said falteringly.
 
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Once Spindle had gone, Hother felt himself instinctively relax his posture, only now realising just how much tension he had built up within himself up to this point; and exhaled all of it in one last sigh as he took to his own designated nest, cautiously lying down.

"I guess I really do worry too much about nothing." He even went so far as to allow himself a modest smile as he made himself comfortable-- or, as much so as the materials would allow, which, he found, was more so than he had been anticipating. "We'll... We'll be fine. Everything's... going to be fine."

A yawn climbed out of his mouth.
"So... yes. Good night, then..."
 
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"Yeah... yeah." Theida patted down the bedding with her feet for a few moments, then curled onto it. "G'night." She shut her eyes and pretended to be asleep until she actually was.
 
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...

It surprised Hother, in a multitude of ways, just how comfortable this arrangement actually was. For a wadded mass of plants, it made for a startlingly satisfying bed, given the circumstances-- so much so, in fact, that he hadn't even noticed he had fallen asleep until his own twitching ears woke him up.

It was nothing physical, or visible, or logically perceptible in any way, and yet the air was palpably tense; like the world itself had tethered itself to that hot, cold rush of guilt-steeped blood that follows a misdeed but precedes, anticipates, its oncoming punishment; hurting, in expectation of further hurt. Muffled shouting, a few rooms away..? But their hosts had been so considerate thus far; surely they wouldn't throw all of that away now, all of... however long they had been left to sleep?

Perhaps there's a good reason for it, the dog mused as his mind, against its better judgement, began to wake up in full, still hearing the noise but not quite parsing its tone or subject. Perhaps it's some kind of local ritual. Just, whatever it is... please don't tell me I was right to be worried after all. Everything was going so well up until now...

A nagging feeling in his mind assured him that he pleaded with the world in absolute vain.
 
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The voices in the other room, though too muffled by several walls' worth of barriers to be distinct, belonged to the two hosts and one unfamiliar presence. Mildly bothered but not quite awake, Theida rolled onto her back and made some indistinct vocalization. Within the minute, footsteps could be heard approaching from down the hall, and then the door to the guest room slammed open. The frame of an alligator was silhouetted by the lighting coming down the hall from the next rooms.

"You two, visitors," the word dripped from her tongue like she was angry at having to say it, "You need to come with me."

Just outside the door, out of sight but not out of earshot, Spindle could be heard whispering--presumably to Bristlecone--with shaky gasps for breath between sentence fragments, "D-Do you think--I mean, c-could this really--i-if they're just--god, what d-d-do we even--"

Theida's eyes snapped open when the door did, and although her head was still in a haze, she managed to register that 'someone big is mad at me,' and rolled off the next. In the dirt, she pressed herself down as flat as she could, tail curled around her body. A bow.
 
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Despite everything, a very modest part of Hother's mind-- the only part not racing at this point-- took some level of comfort in knowing that he wasn't facing this alone, nor was he alone in his instinct to remain low. He could feel-- as if any other indicators weren't evident enough-- just how far his eyes had widened, and how flat, how far back, his ears had pushed themselves.

Amidst his internal turmoil, he could at least make out Bristlecone's voice; again, indistinct, but offering something in a comforting tone, then a pause, then something louder and more confrontational.
"I told you, they've been here all night!" By his footsteps, he seemed intent on accosting the other alligator; and yet, Hother detected, there was still some hesitation in his movements. "Why isn't that good enough for ya?!"
 
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