It had taken Andarada—el two weeks, two long, long, weeks before he reported back to Maradalel about a very secluded swimming spot. A part of the river that was relatively far away and hidden in a thicket of trees.
Maradalel really needed the relaxation. He felt like the tension in his body would snap his bones. He'd been nearly unable to sleep for ages.
He grabbed himself an extra set of clothes and then out the door he practically flew. He'd been practising his fighting every day, he deserved this.
"Someone's eager," Andarada—el commented.
Maradalel glared at him. "I haven't done anything close to fun in forever. I've only just been allowed some time to myself."
"All you ever do is train, it's annoying! Even my father lets me have free time."
Maradalel frowned. "I'm not allowed to have much free time because if I do, I could choose to do something feminine, or reveal my secret. That's why I'm so limited."
Andarada—el laughed. "It's uh-, a bit late for keeping your secret a secret, though."
Maradalel frowned slightly. "You're special though. I know you wouldn't reveal it to anyone else."
Andarada—el flushed purple, yellow, and orange. "Oh."
Maradalel smiled at him. "So, how long will it take to get to where we're going?"
Andarada—el's lips twitched. "About one and a quarter hazokil."
Maradalel gaped. "You've gotta be kidding me! That's so long!" He groaned.
Andarada—el turned red and glared. "Well, you told me it had to be hidden!"
Maradalel gulped. "I-I did. I'm sorry."
Andarada—el turned blue, cyan, chartreuse, and orange. "No, no, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have yelled."
Maradalel flicked his eyes down, not looking up at his friend. "But, you were right."
"Doesn't mean I should have yelled though."
Maradalel bit his lip. "Okay."
His friend sighed. "Just because I'm right and older doesn't mean I have a good reason to be angry. You had a reason to be annoyed and I should have just explained without yelling."
He grabbed Maradalel's hand, who raised his eyes to look at him. "Now…" Andarada—el smiled. "…Let's get going. We only have so long to swim after all."
Maradalel felt himself blush, though he wasn't quite sure what colour it was. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Andarada—el had led him to a thicket of willow trees, their thick drooping branches acting like curtains that secluded this calm curve of the river from everywhere else.
Andarada—el dropped his spare clothes next to the base of one of the trees and then jumped into the water, spreading his limbs to float on the surface.
"So! What do ya' think? Pretty sweet, right?"
Maradalel looked around as he placed his extra clothes next to his friend's. The leaves were a pretty shade of pale green, and sunlight glittered across the surface of the water.
"Yeah," Maradalel said softly. "It's pretty sweet."
Andarada—el kicked over to the edge of the water and patted the ground next to him. Maradalel hesitated only a moment before sitting down, legs criss-crossed.
Andarada—licked his lips and opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again.
"I-, uh, you've never swum before, right? Cuz, I doubt your parents would have let you."
Maradalel shook his head. "Of course not. The only water I've been in is the public baths and the rain."
Andarada—el was orange and chartreuse now. "W-would you let me t-t-teach you?"
Maradalel felt himself turn cyan in surprise. "Um, yeah, s-sure. Why not."
A yellow smile shone up at him. "G-great! Then hurry up and get in here!"
Maradalel grinned widely and hurriedly untied his binding, throwing it behind him when he was done. He then looked down at his friend, his skin turning orange, yellow, purple and chartreuse. Andarada—el was cyan, cerise, and yellow, his mouth gaping.
Maradalel stared as cerise took over his friend's entire skin. "I-, uh, I've never been able to just do this, you know? Just bare my chest like this." He then looked down, feeling embarrassment fill him.
"W-well, um-, I, uh, I think it's cool that you trust me like th-that!" Andarada—el sputtered out.
Maradalel bit his lip and jumped into the water with a splash that completely soaked his friend.
"Aw, What! Why'd you do that!?"
Maradalel grinned playfully. "Because it's fun!"
Cyan flashed across Andarada—el's face. "W-w-w-well then take this!"
Andarada—el swung his arms back and then forward again, sending a giant wave towards his friend.
Maradalel covered his face and closed his eyes, but the water still hit, soaking him completely.
Maradalel licked his lips dry as water dripped from his hair onto his face. "This means war, you know."
His friend smiled. "I'm aware."
"I thought you were going to teach me to swim."
Andarada—el shrugged. "This seems like a much better use of my time."
Maradalel looked him up and down and then slapped the surface of the water, spraying them both. "War!" He shouted.
A crest of water was instantly in his face, filling his open mouth.
Another splash interrupted him.
Maradalel narrowed his eyes and crouched down, bursting out of the water in front of Andarada—el, grabbing his wrist with one hand and splashing him with the other.
"Ha hah!" Maradalel cheered.
Andarada—el's captured fist hit him in the chest, knocking him into the water. Hands then grabbed his hair, holding him under.
Maradalel kicked out and slipped an ankle behind his friend's knee, pulling back to knock him over.
Maradalel smiled and stood, holding his friend under by the shoulders. Palms weakly slapped against his forearms and feet kicked too slowly to do any damage. The movements then began to slow and Maradalel frowned, feeling orange and chartreuse take over his skin.
He weakened his grip and Andarada—el burst out of the water with a spin that not only made a wave as tall as Maradalel, but caused Andarada—el to accidentally backhand Maradalel across the face.
They both froze. "D-, did you just slap me?" Maradalel asked.
Andaradalel blinked twice, face turning cyan. "I, uh, yeah, I think I did. Sorry."
Maradalel looked his friend up and down and then splashed him with a flick of his wrist. Andarada—el only blinked in response, so he did it again. And again. And again.
"What are you doing?"
"Splashing you, clearly."
"You're more spraying me than anything."
"It's my revenge, I'm being a minor annoyance."
A resigned sigh. "Of course."
Andarada—el brought his hands together, a small aura forming around them. He smiled and jumped up, crashing his glowing hands into the water with enough physical and magical force to make a wave so big it not only splashed all over Maradalel, but also made the riverside soaking wet.
Maradalel spit water out of his mouth as his friend laughed so hard he nearly fell over. "Okay, that's enough. Using magic was clearly cheating."
"Y-y-y-your h-hair! It's so f-flat! Hahahaha!"
"Did you hear me!?"
Andarada—el just continued to laugh.
The two of them were laying on the grass, panting and enjoying the sun as they dried off a little.
"Hey, I have a question," Andarada—el said, breaking the silence.
"If you hate your parents so much, why don't you just run away?"
Maradalel froze up, his mind blank except for the vicious edges of terror sneaking in.
"Wh-where would I go?" He whispered. "My parents are the only reason I have clothes, have food, have a home. Running away would mean leaving those behind and not knowing if or when I would have them again."
His friend hummed. "But running away means you might find a place where you would have all of those without being afraid. The chance might be low but at least there would be one."
Maradalel shook his head. "It's not worth it, not right now. I'm happy, relatively speaking."
Andarada—el sat up and looked down at him. "Are you really? The only times I ever see you smile, see you yellow, is when you're alone with me. You're not happy, not while you're here in Dammaga."
Maradalel gulped. "But I can't leave," he said with a cracking voice. "Not without you."
Andarada—el's face fell as his skin turned a mix of purple, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, and chartreuse. "Fuck, Mara…"
Andarada—el then reached over and hugged him, wrapping Maradalel in his arms as he shook. But Maradalel refused to cry, he was stronger than that. He was supposed to be a good strong soldier boy after all. Crying was for the theatre, for the weaker men.
"Hey," Andarada—el said softly. "It's only me here. You can cry if you want to."
Maradalel nodded, rubbing his nubby little antlers on his friend's chest. His hands and ears were glowing now, but he still refused to cry.
A palm landed in his hair and began to gently pet him. Maradalel let out a shuddering breath and let one tear trace a path down his cheek.
"I don't wanna be here anymore," he said brokenly.
"I know. I don't wanna be here either."
Neither of them was talking about the river.
Maradalel spent the rest of their free time shaking in his friend's arms, until they had to go back home, to the places they dreaded the most.