“Are you ready?” he asked.
She shook her head. She was never ready for this. For before, or during. After would be okay. After was always okay.
“Have you ever wondered what things would be like if things weren’t like this?”
She sighed. “All the time.”
He finished pouring the rest of the ice into the pool. It was halfway filled at this point, enough for them right now. She stripped to her bathing suit. Biting inside of her cheek, she climbed down into the ice. It was cold, of course. Colder as she moved the tiny pieces aside and proceeded to bury herself, much like everyone in the country was at this point. Unless they had better air conditioning.
She managed to cover her head, hearing him doing the same. “A minute!” he told her. She heard him throw his watch back up.
Her teeth chattered. “Longest minute ever.”
“Better this than otherwise.”
Summer hit, the hottest wave ever. The ice melted very quickly, despite the tent blocking direct sunlight. But in five seconds, it was over. Her sweat vanished in the cool water.
“We survived another summer,” he commented.
The ash had fallen for month, piling up like snow. They wore a kerchief over their mouth, often wet to catch the ash before it could enter their mouth. The water dripped down their chin. They didn’t remember the last time they were dry. They didn’t remember the last time they had breathed good air.
“Is the mountain going to fall down?” their friend asked, as they had every morning.
They pushed the branches aside, ash sliding off to float to the ground, as it had every time the branches moved. They looked out, as though the mountain might actually move. It stood there, silent. As silent as the ash.
They tried not to swallow. Water, ash. Tired of both. “Not today.”
He held his hand, trying not to crush it. Never before had the other man felt so brittle. Never before had he felt so strong. He hated it. It was all in comparison.
He tried to at least smile, because that was what the man beneath him was doing. As he looked down, he realized how ageless his friend looked. They were the same age, yet for some reason the other didn’t look young, didn’t look old. He just looked.
He would have kissed him, but then he wouldn’t be able to talk. More than anything, he needed to hear his friend talk.
A rasping breath. A smile. “Just… keeping doing it. Without me. Okay?”
He agreed, because he’d never been able to deny his love anything.
For a moment, everything was quiet. Then a tooth dropped from the beast’s mouth. It landed for a moment on Toiréasa’s cheek, then slid off and into the icy ground. She saw where it came from and the larger tooth underneath that had pushed it out.
Just a pup? She considered, kneeing the bottom of it’s jaw. With another snarl, those teeth went to close down on Toiréasa. Perhaps it was by luck that she had thrust her sword forward, but the teeth bit down on the blade and not her arm. The beast retreated at that, though taking Toiréasa’s weapon with. Toiréasa struggled to her feet.
Slowly, she backed away until the beast was out of sight. As much as she wanted to fight, she would be defeated. As much as she wanted to run, the beast would be faster.
When Toiréasa got home, she had to get a new blade.