Climate change was no joke it seemed.
Vinz awoke drenched with sweat, his blanket -the one with little tigers leaping around, his favourite- pooling at the foot of the couch. He groaned in faint disgust as he hurriedly sat up, hating the sensation of moist fabric against his back. Gross. He rubbed the crust out of his eyes and looked towards the window; the sun had barely began to peek out over the horizon. Uuuuugh. Only in DMC one could wake up to suffocating heat at 8am in the middle of november. The world truly was going to shit. Good thing the flames atop his skull were only hot if he wanted them to be, however that worked.
He sighted. Even with their new president doing her best to undo a decade’s worth of damage on environmental laws, it would be a long time until things started to change for the better.
“Wow, you look like death!”
The hothead turned around to huff at the other couch, or rather the half-alien laying upside-down on the back. His socks don’t match, Vinz noted distractedly. Heh. What an airhead.
Angelino flashed him a shit-eating grin, seemingly unbothered with the humid heat taking over the neighbourhood. Vinz glared back; his roommate’s freaky genetics must’ve granted him some kind of resistance to high temperatures. Lucky bastard. “Dude, shut up. S’too early for your sass.”
“What? I’m just being a concerned friend. You don’t look so hot after all.”
“Oh my fucking god.”
The skeleton jumped to his feet and hurried out of the room, eager to get out of earshot of his best friend’s terrible puns -the dumbass radius as he called it- and cool down in a cold shower. Which one he wished for the most right now was up for debate.
He didn’t step from under the delightfully freezing water until his fingertips turned blue and his body seized up in uncontrollable shivers. He should be set for a couple of hours. The young adult entered the kitchen in a much better mood, finding Lino munching on cereals right out of the box, not-so-sneakily dropping some on the floor for his roaches to feast on. “Took you long enough, thought you drowned or something.” the hybrid stated, passing the half-empty box to Vinz’ awaiting hands. He smirked, a teasing glint in his inky black eyes. “Did you have fun in there?”
The hothead half-ground half-snickered. Christ, the hothead could almost hear the italics. What was he, fifteen? “Well I didn’t die. Glad you still care.”
“I always care!”
“I know. Remember that storm back at the orphanage? I went outside to see and you got so scared my flames would go out and I’d die. You cried for like an hour.”
Angelino tensed up in protest. “What? Bullshit, I didn’t cry!”
“You so did. You didn’t want to go outside cuz you’re scared of thunder -don’t give me that look, I know it still makes you flinch-, and when I came back you were screaming about Charmander. Ring any bells?”
His best friend looked like he just bit into a particularly sour lemon. He was fidgeting with the edge of his sleeve and was definitely avoiding his gaze now, his cheeks a darker shade than the rest of his pitch black face. Vinz wished he could take a pic to immortalize one of the rare moments he managed to shut his roomate up.
The image of a much smaller, younger Lino sobbing into his shirt, his tiny fists clutching the fabric came to the forefront of his mind. S’okay Lino, don’t cry! he remembered laughing. My flames are magic, see? Stupid water can’t hurt me!
He felt himself smile. Granted, he couldn’t actually smile with his lack of skin (and facial muscles. And lower jaw.), but the way his eyes squinted and his flames turned to a vivid green were good enough indicators. He teasingly grabbed his pouting roommate and trapped him into a ruthless noogie. “Don’t worry you lil’ shit, I’m not kicking the bucket anytime soon. Someone gotta watch out for your scrawny ass.”
The hybrid hissed in discomfort and wrestled out of Vinz’ grip, rubbing this head. “‘Scrawny’?! Fuck you, yours is bony!”. He then proceeded to trip the other with a swift little kick. The hothead yelped as he hit the ground –thank god for the shitty carpet-, his rival cackling evilly. Angelino used the other’s stunned state to sit cross legged onto his back -earning a strangled oof in the process-, grab his right arm and, with a triumphant smile, twist it against his clavicle.
“- Ack! Lino, the fuck?!
– That’s what you get for screwing with me! Now yield!
– Hell no, you motherfucker!”
Vinz didn’t quite know how it had come to this, him face planted into the faded orange carpet with his best friend sitting on top of him and basically asphyxiating him. It was all in good fun though, he could feel the tremors of uncontrollable giggles rattling his chest.
“- You gonna say ‘uncle’ yet? No rush, you make a good seat.
– Ngh… thought I was bony?
– A bony seat is still a seat.
– So deep. Ten outta ten, truly inspiring. You gonna write a book on that?”
The half-alien just smiled wider, pulling on his arm a little harder. “Ow, ow, okay ow, fine, you win!” the hothead wheezed from under him. “You win! Now lemme go before I burn your ass!”
Lino let go of his arm, chuckling. “You wouldn’t dare. My ass is a national treasure.”
Vinz repressed a certain thought immediately after it came to existence, letting out a deep sigh and glaring over his shoulder. “Right, keep thinking that. You gonna get off or what?”
His roommate didn’t respond, still sitting crossed legged in the small of his back. He was staring right ahead, head tilted to the side and brow furrowed, like he was trying really hard to figure something out. The skeleton squinted. “Lino, not that I don’t appreciate you, but it’s a little hard to breathe here and I’m getting sweaty again so-”
“You think that place is still there?”
The hothead’s voice trailed to a stop at the interruption. The young hybrid had turned to look at him, something fuzzy and familiar in his bug eyes. He blinked. “…Well, it’s not like a place can actually go anywhere… else… than where it’s at. You talking about the orphanage? Cuz I’m pretty sure it’s still where it’s always been.”
“Not that, dumbass. I mean the stream.”
Vinz’ eye sockets widened, a glint of recollection in his yellow pupils. “Wait, that stream? The one with the little waterfall overhead?”
“The one where we ran off to when it was too hot and we wanted to piss off the old broad?”
“The one where you hit your head while trying to do a flip and you almost died of hypothermia?”
“Uh, I don’t-”
Now Vinz was just fucking with him. The skeleton’s tone took a teasing edge. “The one where I went to get some water and came back to find you-”
“YES. Yes Vinz, that one.” Angelino quickly cut him off and jumped off him, voice going up an octave. His victim dramatically rolled onto his back and took a much-needed gulp of air, as the other sneered from above him. “Fucker.”
“Bitch.” Vinz responded, flipping him off. He sat up against the bottom of the couch and cracked his joints. “So, our old secret place. What about it?”
His friend grimaced. “Don’t call it that, what are you, five ?”
Yeah, five inches deep in your MOM. Oh how Vinz wanted to quote that iconic vine. But he refrained from doing so, given who stood in front of him.
“I was thinking…” the hybrid began, plopping down next to him. “It’s early, it’s warm as all hell and we got fuckall to do today. Maybe we can go back. To see if it’s still there. And not, y’know, bulldozered and shit.”
The skeleton stared at him. “…What, ten years later? Why?”
“Why not? It’s a bit far, but I remember how to get there. And with how we originally found it by complete accident and all, pretty sure no one but us knows it exists. Could be worth it.”
Vinz hummed. Maybe it would, as the alternative would be to spend the day either under cold water or complaining about global warming. Why the fuck not. He turned to an expectant roommate, determination steeled in his features. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Angelino finally stopped at the edge of a huge grey rock, chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath. He didn’t remember the way up being so steep. Vinz wasn’t far behind him, his heavy breathing and cursing catching up to him. Given the colorful words leaving his mouth about the “fucking piece of shit trees that don’t have anything better to do than fuck up my day”, he guessed his companion must’ve had tripped on a root at some point. In any case, the hothead finally hauled his way up the rock and bend forward, panting in exertion as his best friend sat down, legs dangling over the edge.
“Shit.” Vinz wheezed out, wiping the sweat off his skull. “I think we need to work out more, I feel like passing out.”. The hybrid snorted, not tearing his eyes away from the scenery below. “Yeah, fuck that noise. I’m doing fine, you’re the one who needs to go out more.”
The skeleton made a noncommittal grunt and popped his back into place, sighing in relief. He opened his eye sockets and took in the sight below them.
It felt… weird. It was the same old place he remembered, but not? Kinda? The thin waterfall dropping down the red stonewall was the same. The deformed bean-shaped basin at the bottom was the same. The clear water (hallelujah, it was still clear after all those years) overflowing from said basin was the same. But everything else seemed to have shifted slightly, and the whole place felt scaled down. Smaller.
Eh. After more than ten years it was probably normal.
They stood still for another minute, silently letting fleeting memories and faint nostalgia wash over them. Then Angelino looked up at his best friend and smiled softly. “Wanna go down?”
“- I remember it being a lot bigger, don’t you?
– Nah dude, you were just short.
– Shut up, you were even shorter than I was, and that’s saying something.”
The hybrid ignored the jab at his petite frame, staring at the sky peeking out from between the foliage. He was floating on his back, half immersed into the basin. Cold water lapped at his ears now and again, drowning the world the low hum of moving water.
The basin wasn’t that deep, two meters at most, and only wide enough for about two grown adults to do the starfish without bumping into each other. So, wide enough for two of each of them. Thanks to that and the sun heating up the stones all day, it wasn’t too cold, juste pleasantly chilly. Vinz had insisted on preparing some heating runes and sigils for some reason, and Lino had indulged him with a shrug. And even though, deep down, the hothead had been intrigued by the strange (worried?) look Angelino kept giving him while he worked his magic (heh), he decided not to ask.
The half-alien closed his eyes and filled his lungs with relatively pure air, at least compared to DMC’s usual smog.
In. Out. In and out, again.
His lead felt clear, quiet, a welcome reprieve from the constant outside noises and the numbing buzz of his own thoughts. It was nice.
Had it been worth the two-hour long bus trip full of rude and sweaty people? The forty-minute trek through the wilderness that left them breathless, dusty and bloody in some places?
“Vinz?” he called out, eyes still closed. His voice was quiet, most of his energy having been sapped by the heat and the climbing. His friend only acknowledged him with a hoarse, inquisitive hum. Sounded like the hothead wasn’t faring much better. Angelino took a deep breath.
“Why did we stop coming here?”
A few seconds of silence. Thinking Vinz needed him to elaborate, he kept talking. “I mean, this place is amazing. S’always been this way, our own little thing, you know? It was hard to get there, I remember that much, but it was always worth it in the end. Sure, we got older and life kinda kept kicking us into the ground, but it was still here, just a few hours away. So why-”
“You mean you don’t remember?”
Angelino cracked his eyes open; Vinz was staring at him with a tired but sharp look, slowly drifting onto the surface of the water. He blinked in confusion. “Remember what?”
His roomate let out an airy laugh, running a now chilly hand against his face. “Figures. Don’t worry it’s fine, s’not a life-or-death kind of info. Uh, do you remember earlier when I told you you almost died here once?”
The hybrid lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, when you were fucking with me this morning.”
“I wasn’t. It happened, for real.”
His best friend was staring at the sky now, hands folded casually in his lap. He continued. “I think we were like, ten? Yeah, sound about right. We knew this place like the back of our hands by then, so we stopped paying attention to everything so much. We got uh, reckless.”
Hid hands fidgeted with the hem of his soaked shirt. “It was kinda cold and rainy that day, so not the ideal weather to go for a swim, but we didn’t give a shit. It was still better than being with the other stupid brats.” He lifted his arm and pointed to the top of the thin waterfall, about four meters above them. “Happened riiiight there, on that ledge. Take a guess at what happened.”
Angelino rubbed the back of his head, an uncomfortable ache pooling under his palm. “Knowing us, we probably did something stupid and someone fell down.”
“Close enough. Some dumb bets were made, doesn’t matter what they were about, I slipped off the ledge and we both fell. Cuz you tried to catch me.”
The hybrid’s eyes widened. He truly didn’t remember these events at all. And the ache wasn’t going away, even if it wasn’t getting worse either.
“So yeah, we both got knocked the fuck out. Think I busted my ankle too, it hurt like a bitch for days afterwards. Anyway, I think I woke up about ten minutes later? It wasn’t too bad really, just a concussion.” Vinz distractedly ruffled a tree branch hanging low over the basin. “Still, I was pretty damn cold, and the wind had picked up so it wasn’t making anything better. But uh, I realized pretty quickly that I was just peachy compared to you.”
“That bad, huh?”
“Dude. You slid into the basin when you fell and just, soaked there in freezing water for ten minutes. Good thing you were on your back.” He shook his head. “But the thing is, spending that amount of time in the cold is bad for everyone, okay? If you’re really unlucky you get a pneumonia or some shit. You looked like you were dead. Blue skin and everything.” The hothead slid a knowing glance at his friend. “Yeah, that shade of blue. Even without the uh, context we know about now, this was pretty fucking terrifying. Also your nose was bleeding, so there was a nice big head trauma on top of everything else.”
Lino stayed silent.
“I’m not sure how I managed to get us back to the main road, because I was so numb and cold and feeling like puking my guts out. And bro, no offence but you weren’t exactly a lightweight for me at the time. But we made it somehow, so that was good! But then I uh, passed out again.”
Vinz linked his eyes with Lino’s again, his tone lighter. “But hey, someone found us and got us back to the orphanage, so no one died! …Obviously, I know, shut up. I was really sick for a few days after that -heck we both were, you were out for like a week- but I got over it. The whole incident thing.”
He looked up again. “You uh, didn’t. Not completely. After that, everytime I mentioned this place, or what happened, you got really weird. Like, all distant and jumpy and not all there, you know? Some serious PTSD shit, but I was ten and dumb so I didn’t know shit about that. So I stopped mentioning it, and then you just uh, came back to normal at some point.”
The young man hummed, squinting. “…Aaaand that’s it. We never brought it up again, life kinda happened, freaky shit happened, and now we’re back here. So yeah, I was a bit worried when you told me you wanted to come back. But it went well in the end, right?”
Vinz reached out, lightly touching his best friend’s shoulder with his fingertips. His flames were a cold blue, anxiety radiating from every inch of him. “You aren’t gonna freak out on me, right….?”
Angelino hadn’t stopped looking right at him. Something warm settled onto his features. “Nah. I’m good.”
“Oh thank fuck.”
Vinz let out a nervous chuckle, covering his eye sockets with his arm. “That’s, that’s great. Because I missed this place so fucking much and I’m really glad we came back.”
The half-alien bumped their shoulder together with a small smile. “Yeah, me too. Sorry I got you in trouble.”
“No you’re not.” his childhood friend replied without malice before turning back to the sky, eye sockets slowly closing.
Angelino did the same, darkness filling his vision. The headache was gone. Not in a “I just had an epiphany and remembered everything” kind of way. He still didn’t remember. But that was fine. He was fine. He had to be.
And he sure as shit intended to stay that way, because he knew that that moron would get himself killed trying to help him if he didn’t. He understood the reasoning behind the heat sigils now (watching your friend almost die of cold twice would make anyone paranoid he guessed), but that didn’t mean he had to accept it.
He wasn’t stupid. Coming home one day to find Vinz drained and barely conscious on the couch, the very same day one of his little voodoo -wicca or whatever- thingies stopped a truck from hitting him? It didn’t take him long to put two and two together. That shit could kill him, he knew that.
He wouldn’t let Vinz put his bony ass in danger for him, not if he could help it. By not ending up at death’s door every few days like the dumbass he was.
A quiet hum. Quieter than before.
“…Dun mention it. Didja ‘member?”
Vinz was slurring. Count on this weirdo to fall asleep anywhere.
A short silence. Their hands almost touched.
“…can ‘member for th’both of us.”
The water was cold, but the sun kept his core warm. Vinz’ slow, even breathing, not far, never far.
He was fine.