Chapter 6: Pressing On
"I think we've been this way before," He said irritably, trying for a reaction from Ares. "I recognize that tree."
Ares only grunted in response, not wanting to grant Cada the pleasure of seeing him annoyed. The pair had been wandering through the forest for nearly a day, and it had begun to wear on even Ares' nerves, even if he didn't show it. In truth, he was about ready to shout with frustration, but simple pride wouldn't allow such a reaction to bubble to the surface.
Cada grumbled under his breath, supremely irritated by the whole situation and not at all adverse to showing it.
"It's going to get dark soon. Where exactly do you plan on sleeping tonight?"
He was tired of walking and tired of following Ares. He wondered (only slightly vindictively) how long it would be before the other boy's leg gave out.
Almost as if reading the other boy's mind, Ares turned to smirk at Cada.
"Who said anything about sleeping tonight, Cada? We're not stopping until we're out of these damn woods. My leg should hold out until sunrise."
"Oh no we are not. I refuse to walk all night."
That said, he sat down in the leaf-strewn grass, looking defiantly up at Ares. The other boy was crazy. There really was no other explanation. Not for the first time, Cada found himself wishing that he had never seen Ares and his money.
Ares paused in mid-step, the crunch of leaves beneath his feet stopping, and he turned to look at the half-fae, eyes narrowed just slightly, but enough to make Cada flinch.
"And what happens when the wild animals come out to play, and find us asleep on the ground? They wake us up and ask us politely to leave? I don't think so. You're more likely to wake up, entrails spilling from a grievous wound in your side made by a wildcat who decided you'd make a good scratching post. Now stop acting like a petulant child and stand up. There's a stream nearby, we'll bathe and refill our skins there."
Cada leaned back into the leaves, resting his head on his arms.
"Oh, they won't hurt me. One of the few benefits of being a half-blood."
He watched the sky through the leaves, looking completely relaxed. Stupid human, thinks he knows everything. And he was not acting like a petulant child. He was tired. Anyone would be. Humming softly just to irritate Ares, he didn't move.
Cada didn't as much as twitch.
Ares frowned. Cada was being immature, which was odd, considering he was the older of the two. Not that Ares really counted his age anymore. It's not as if he had birthdays, let alone birthday parties. Regardless, they needed to go, and Cada was being impossible.
"Cada, stand up, now."
Cada glared at Ares, getting slowly to his feet.
"We've been walking for hours, Ares. Is a little rest too much to ask?"
He didn't wait for an answer, stalking past Ares in the direction they had been walking before he stopped them.
Watching Cada go, the teenager followed slowly, a mix of amusement and disdain spreading in his stomach. Cada's reactions were amusing enough, but his constant whining was beginning to take its toll on Ares' nerves.
"Stop at the river, Cada," he called. "And start refilling the skins."
Cada grumbled something unintelligible and walked faster, holding up Ares' water skin in acknowledgement that he'd heard. He was quickly out of sight among the trees.
Following at his own, much slower pace, Ares stepped over bramble and brush and briar, and through the fallen foliage. As he walked along, Ares couldn't help but feel that Cada had taken the shrubbiest route he could find, just to spite Ares. And he couldn't blame Cada for wanting to. Ares knew he wasn't the friendliest of people out there, and wasn't the greatest traveling companion. Aside from the constant stream of complaints coming from the half-Fae, Cada had been very compliant so far, and it wasn't just the binding magic, either.
Cada reached the stream within a few minutes and knelt beside it, filling the water skin as Ares had asked. Yes, asked. Cada didn't only obey when he was compelled. He didn't see what good refusing would do. He was stuck with Ares either way, and things would probably go better if the other boy wasn't angry with him. Setting the full water-skin down, Cada listened to the water falling over stones. There was a deeper pool just upstream, and the trees crowded close to dip their roots in the water. Cada looked at it longingly, then he grinned. Ares had said they could bathe in the stream and now he was nowhere in sight. Shrugging, Cada shed his clothes and slipped into the chest-high water, sighing happily.
A good ten minutes after Cada had arrived, Ares finally wrestled his way out of the brush, and, seeing the water skins, approached them to make sure they were full. After confirming they were, Ares set his bag down, and slowly and carefully slipped his clothes off. The young man folded his shirt, pants, and undergarments, and stuffed them into the bag, then lowered himself into the stream, sighing as the cool water touched his skin. While Cada bathed further upstream, Ares began washing away the various bits of dirt and dead foliage that had collected in his hair during their trek. He had no doubt they would be dirty again in a matter of hours, but it was nice to have some relief. Who knew? Maybe getting clean would improve Cada's deplorable temper.
Cada floated lazily on his back, watching the clouds turn gold through the gap in the leaves above the pool. Sure that Ares wouldn't be paying any attention to him, he allowed a smile to curve his lips.
At about the same time, Ares' eyes turned skyward, towards the golden clouds that hung there, silently soothing all who looked at them. They're pretty...' he thought to himself, smiling. After he felt he had watched long enough, Ares went back to his cleaning.
Cada ducked his head back and scrubbed his hand through his hair, making sure there wasn't anything caught in it. The sun was sinking rapidly and the air would start to cool soon. They would be very cold if they weren't dry by then. Sighing, he got out of the water and headed for his clothes.
Ares, whose eyes had fallen closed as he relaxed in the gently running water, snapped back to attention as he heard the splash of someone getting out of the water.
"Getting out already?" he asked, not bothering to turn as he addressed Cada.
Cada turned to look over his shoulder as he pulled his pants on. His eyes fell on the sculpted chest visible above the water and he turned away, snatching his coat up.
"The sun is setting. You should get out. It will start to get cold."
He pulled his thin coat up over his shoulders.
Cada? Being thoughtful? The idea of it nearly made Ares laugh, though he stood, water running in rivulets off of his muscled body.
"You're right. The temperature's going to plummet in the water, and it'll drop noticeably in the woods."
He stepped onto the riverbank, and shook himself, water scattering off of him. Undoing the clasps on his bag, Ares pulled his clothes out, then a large blanket, and tossed it to Cada.
"Hold that. We'll need it."
Cada turned to catch it and froze, staring for a moment before he tore his eyes away. He folded the blanket neatly and held it in his arms. "Are you almost ready?" His voice was sharper than he meant it to be.
"Cada, I'm naked and dripping. Do you think I'm almost ready?"
Cada turned away, flushing. "Just get ready."
"Last time I checked, I was the one giving orders." Ares said calmly, and began pulling his clothes on. "You know, Cada, you have real issues dealing with authority. You should learn to-" he was cut off, however, as Cada slapped him across the face.
Cada set the blanket down, turning as Ares spoke. It infuriated him, this boy's unbending arrogance. But the criticism was the last straw and he couldn't stop his hand.
"That's it!" He hissed. "I may be forced to stay with you, and you may be the one with the binding magic on your side, but I will not stand for being treated like dirt!"
Finishing his speech, he stood his ground, breathing quickly, expecting to be hit back, but was surprised when Ares, his cheek red and hand-marked, turned slowly and deliberately to face him, and spat a glob of blood at his feet. Nose wrinkling, the half-Fae took a step back.
Gods, that one hurt.
Ares waited for the stinging sensation in his cheek to fade somewhat. Despite his slim appearance, Cada had some strength in those arms. Though...Ares was unsure what hurt more. The actual stinging sensation of the slap, or the fact that he had, yet again, made an enemy of someone who, at one point, could have been a friend. So, Ares did something he really didn't want to do. He apologized.
"You're right, Cada. I was being unfair, and I'm sorry."
Cada, his face flushed nearly as red as Ares', took a shaky breath. "Thank you," He said stiffly. He turned and picked up the dropped blanket.
"Look, Cada, we're going to be stuck together for a while, and it's become clear that we don't get along terribly well, so we're just going to have to make the best of things, and try not to kill each other, alright?" Ares' voice was tired, as if he'd just watched a friend die. While this wasn't quite accurate, his apology certainly took a hefty chunk out of his pride.
Cada, kneeling with the blanket in his hands, paused. He knew that Ares was right. They would have to come to some sort of compromise, because if they didn't, this was going to end very badly. He finished his motion and stood, turning.
"I'm sorry I slapped you."
Ares shook his head, bending to sling the bag over his arm.
"Don't be, I deserved it. I shouldn't have said those things. Now, enough with the apologies, and let's get going."
Cada offered him the blanket he was holding.
"Do you want this back?" He asked quietly.
Ares looked at the blanket silently for a moment, then took it, and draped it over his shoulders. What was unexpected, however, was when he unfolded the thick quilt-like blanket, and tossed it over Cada.
"We'll walk like this for now," he said, holding one end of the blanket to keep it from flying away.
"If we keep walking away from the wind, we should be warm."
Cada stared at him for a long moment before taking the other end of the blanket and holding onto it.
"Thank you," He said softly, his eyes straight ahead.
Ares nodded, though he didn't respond, not trusting his mouth enough. He might say something ridiculously nice, like 'you're welcome' or something along those lines, and Ares had already deflated his own pride enough today. Silently, the two began the trek