It was a cold autumn evening, almost not too late for daylight to pass through the trees of the forest. The mist made the visibility even worse, covering everything that was more than twenty feet away. The trees kept emerging out of it like they were appearing out of nowhere and made the running through the forest hazard.
Winter and Keith were up for a gamble. They were both running between trees, trying to avoid trunks and bushes suddenly appearing out of the mist. Air was painfully cold but it didn´t slow down the two teenagers. Winter almost collided with a tree which he didn´t see because of the mist and dodged it in the last moment. Keith, running few feet behind his friend dodged to the other side and jumped over a fallen trunk. They didn´t slow down despite the mist was so thick now that the wet grass was slipping under their boots and thinner branches were almost invisible and they kept hitting Winter and Keith as boys ran through them. Cold wet air uncomfortably whistled in Keith´s chest. He had to blink to get rid of tiny white dots dancing in front of his turquoise eyes. He wasn´t used to running so fast, but now, he didn´t have for choice.
It was all because of Lyann. They just had to catch her. This was the best chance they had in weeks of tracking her and the Element which she stole from Keith. And now, she was almost at their reach. Just few hours later, they found her abandoned camp with still warm embers. Since then, they rushed through the forest to catch up with her and now, they could see her tracks and broken branches clearly showing the way she took.
Winter was faster and more agile and he took the lead from Keith. He didn´t waste time turning around to check on his green haired teammate. So close to Lyann, Keith wouldn´t let anything to stop him. Even if wasn´t good runner, he would keep pursuing Lyann until he would fall down with exhaustion, so Winter didn´t worry about him. He was sure that Keith would run after him, no matter what.
Despite Winter was wearing long leather coat, he could feel the cold sneaking under his clothes. The mist wasn´t only making the tracking harder but it almost brought wet coldness that got to your skin no matter what. Winter´s red hair was falling into his eyes and he had to push it away to see in front of himself. Another branch would painfully hit his head if he didn´t duck down, but then he slipped on the wet moss and almost fell. Winter ended on one knee but he quickly jumped up to his feet and hurried forward. The branches were a real problem and Winter was losing his patience with them.
“Move aside!” he yelled, raising his right hand in front of himself. His violet eyes lightened up with the magical power awakening and the branches all turned up. Now, Winter could run under them without having to slow down to avoid them. He smiled a victorious smile and speeded up.
Keith was slowly lagged. He didn´t have Winter´s form nor his magic, so he could only rely on his knowledge of Lyann. Before, they used to be teammates. They spend a lot of time together, searching for the Element and before she took it for herself and abandoned Keith, they used to be even friends. He knew her. Keith frowned and slowed down even more. If Lyann didn´t change too much, she wouldn´t be running straight. She would…
“Oh,” Keith exhaled and took a sharp turn to side. If pursued, Lyann would change directions. Keith just hoped that he chose well when turned to left, but that way, it was down the hill, so running would be easier for Lyann. Keith though about calling on Winter but the other boy was too far and if Keith yelled on him, Lyann could hear it too and change direction again. Keith decided to rely on his knowledge of Lyann. Winter would notice that her tracks changed and catch up with Keith later. Winter wouldn’t leave him like Lyann. He was real partner.
Lyann, still far in front of Keith was running as fast as she could. She heard that Keith paired u with Maverick with magical abilities and didn´t want to face her ex-partner´s new teammate. She was turning more and more leftwards, taking advantage on the down the hill path. Running this way speeded her up so much that it was hard to avoid trees appearing out of the mist, but Lyann didn´t dare to slow down.
Suddenly the tree opened up in front of her and Lyann had to suppress triumphant exclamation. She got out of the forest! But then she gasped and tried to stop as fast as she could. She halted herself just at the edge of a cliff over the wild river. She cursed under her breath and turned around, searching for a way out of this dead end. The cliff was part of rocky wall at the edge of the forest, so she probably could climb down the rocks if she had to but the mist would make the climbing terribly dangerous.
Lyann didn´t have time to consider her other options, because in that moment, Keith ran out of the forest.
“Lyann!” He screamed and then noticed the cliff and launched himself on the ground. Slipping on the wet stones slowed him just in time and he ended lying right in front of Lyann.
“Hello, Keith. Still clumpy as ever?” Lyann asked mockingly but she quickly glanced to sides, looking for an escape route. Keith climbed back on his feet and glared at her.
“Give me back the Second Element!”
“Or what?” Lyann asked, gripping the bag handing at her side.
“Or I´ll make you!” Winter said from behind Keith angrily. He eventually noticed that his partner wasn´t behind him and decided to run after Keith than after Lyann.
Lyann defiantly bit her lips and glanced over her shoulder. Winter walked to Keith´s side, both of them cornering Lyann on the edge of the cliff. She glared at them.
“Like I´d give up on the fame and money. Sorry, guys.” With those words, Lyann turned around on her heel and jumped of the cliff.
“No!” Winter screamed and threw tying hex after her but he missed.
“Lyann!” Keith yelled, trying to catch her when she turned around. But he didn´t got to her in time and she jumped off. “No!” Keith screamed, digging his fingers into his green hair. He was so close to get the Element back and gain respect from his father, the King. He felt on the edge of crying and furiously paced around. He quickly looked over the edge to see where Lyann landed. In that moment, lose stone gave up under Keith´s feet and he fell of the cliff after Lyann.
“Keith!” Winter shouted, horrified. He ran forward, trying to catch Keith but in vain. Without hesitation, Winter jumped off the cliff and summoned strong wind. The spell slowed down his fall and he desperately searched for Keith over the wild river.
The current was so strong that it created waves splashing the water up into Winter´s face but he didn´t care. He just wanted his partner to be all right, nothing else mattered to him now.
Finally, Keith emerged from under the water, desperately struggling to stay over the surface. Winter exhaled in relief to see his friend alive and navigated the wind to Keith. When he was above Keith, he leant down and fished his partner out of the water and pulled him into the wind spell. The wind than carried them on the shore, making them both fall into wet grass.
“Are you all right?” Winter asked worriedly and leant over Keith. He reached to push wet hair out of Keith´s face but stopped by reflex. Despite he was wearing his inherent gloves, touching other people still felt too frightening.
“I´m fine,” Keith said huskily. He spat out some water and tried to sit up. He couched a bit and panted. When he bent his leg in knee to get up, he hissed in pain. “Ow,” he moaned and Winter reached to him again, ready to catch Keith if he fell. Keith sniffed and rubbed his chin. He looked shocked and a bit beat up but otherwise unharmed but Winter didn´t relax yet.
“It´s all right,” he shushed Keith calmingly. “The most important is that you´re not hurt.” He bit his lips, his arms still outstretched towards Keith. He wanted to hug his friend and calm him down, but a single skin to skin touch would mean losing another year of his life span. Winter never curse Life Long Curse as much as when he was with Keith. With the other boy, he forgot to be over secretive and unfriendly. Keith got under his skin and into his heart and Winter curse the fate which didn´t even allow him to touch Keith. He bitterly swallowed and let his hands fall to his sides. “It´s all right,” he repeated mechanically, trying to keep the calming tune.
Winter looked around. The mist was still around and there was less and less light with every minute. Winter knew that Keith wouldn’t be able to continue the travel now and they had to find some place to set down for the night. He just hoped that it would be further from the river, so Keith wouldn´t be worried by it.
“Look,” he said suddenly, pointing between the trees. Through the mist, he could see small yellow light further in the forest. Keith looked that way without much enthusiasm. “Come, maybe we can spend a night there,” Winter said, trying to sound hopeful and rise Keith´s spirit up.
Winter helped Keith stand up, carefully placing his gloved hands around Keith´s shoulders. He supported his friend on the way through the forest, towards the yellow light. It appeared that the light was just a reflexion of small cabin´s windows. Winter gratefully patted the side of small building and lead Keith inside.
Cabin was very simple, consisting of singe room with wooden walls, fireplace, roughly shaped table, few chairs and a bed. The floor was made of stamped ground and everything was covered with dust.
Keith coughed again and Winter quickly helped him to sit down on the bed. He let Keith to make himself comfortable and kneeled down at the fireplace. Cabin was abandoned and poor, so it was almost as cold inside as it was outside. Winter slowly pulled down one of his leather gloves. He gently touched the wood in fireplace with the tips of his fingers and the wood sparkled into fire. Winter smiled on the spreading fire and put his glove on again. Then he turned back to Keith who was still sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Lie down, Keith,” Winter said softly. “You should rest a bit.”
But Keith shook his head. “My clothes are completely soaked. I have to dry them up.”
“Sure.” Winter frowned. He didn´t like to see his friend like suffering. Keith probably already caught some cold, so it would be stupid if he stayed in soaked clothes. “Take them down,” Winter said after small hesitation. “I´ll hang them around fireplace so they could dry up.”
“But I don´t have any spare clothes,” Keith said worriedly. Winter had to smile because of his innocent worry. He knew that while growing up in the palace, Keith never experienced problems of travelling like this. He was way too used on comfort.
“You´ll stay in the bed anyway, covered with the blanked,” Winter reasoned. “And it´s just going to be one night.”
Keith bit on his lips and pouted a bit. He sighed, accepting the situation and started to undress. Winter watched him for a moment, before hastily turning away. He could feel the blush spreading over his cheeks. It was stupid to feel like this over another boy. But Winter was seventeen and he started to think about thing which never concerned him before.
Because of his curse, he could never touch other people and he got somehow used to it, but now it was different. The curse meant he would be never able to simply hold bare hands with anyone. He would be never able to kiss anyone unless he wanted to lose one year of life for every kiss. He would never hold anyone in his embrace. How can you love someone without touching them? Winter bit on his lips. He could feel tears in the corners of his eyes and tried to fight them of. He would be never able to touch Keith. How can he love him?
“What?” Winter asked, tore out of his sad thoughts.
“I undressed,” Keith said, sounding a bit embarrassed. “Could you put my clothes to fire?”
“Sure.” Winter took a deep breath to calm down before he turned back to Keith. He avoided looking on the other boy while he came closer and picked up the pile of clothes which Keith placed next to the bed. Winter hung the clothes on the chairs set around the fireplace so the clothes would dry up soon.
Keith coughed behind him and Winter walked to his bed. Keith was lying down, covered with blanked up to his chin. Thankfully, the blanked seemed warm, bur Keith was shivering a bit anyway.
“How do you feel?”
“A bit cold,” Keith admitted and Winter´s face saddened again. He couldn´t do anything for Keith now. If he wasn’t cursed, he could hug Keith to keep him warm, but this way, it was too dangerous.
Winter slowly sat at the edge of the bed next to Keith. He wanted to run his hand through Keith´s dark green hair. His eyes fell down to his leather gloves. He could risk it, after all, it wouldn´t be skin to skin, but after all those years of keeping away from other people, Winter was simply too scared to try.
“Thanks for saving me,” Keith said and tore Winter out of his thoughts again. Winter smiled on him.
“You´re welcome,” he said. He raised his hand to touch Keith´s hair but stopped in the mid-air. He hesitated, swallowing with his hand outstretched. “We´re a team, right?” Winter clumsily patted Keith´s hair and pulled his hand away again. He could feel his heart beating up in his throat. Keith shyly laughed. It wasn´t that bad, Winter thought. “Sleep now. It was a rough day.”
Keith nodded and pulled the blanked closer to himself. But then he stopped and worriedly looked on Winter.
“Where will you sleep?” he asked. “There´s just one bed.”
“I´ll sleep at the fireplace,” Winter said casually. “I´ll be warm and I´m used to sleep on ground from the travels.
“Okay.” Keith sad after a moment of hesitation. Winter could see on the other boy that Keith was thinking about offering to share bed with Winter but then he remembered Winter´s curse and realized that it wasn´t possible.
Just another reason why he deserves someone better than me, Winter thought. He went to the fireplace and made himself comfortable on the ground, using his coat as a blanket and his travelling bag as a pillow.
In the morning, Keith woke up to the smell of herbs. He sniffed and sat up on the bed. When he moved, hi blanked slipped down a bit and Keith immediately catch it and covered his bare chest again.
“Good morning,” he said, making it sound as a question. Winter, leaning over the table, didn´t even turn.
“Good morning,” he said. “I went to pick up some herbs that are good on cough. Here,” he continued and carried a small glass to Keith. “I made you tea. It should help you with that cold.”
“Thanks,” Keith said. “It´s so thoughtful of you.” Winter smiled caringly. Maybe he couldn´t touch Keith but he could do at least something for him. He sat at the edge of bed and handed the glass to Keith who drank it up obediently.
“It´s bitter,” Keith complained but he kept drinking. Despite the tea tasted foul, he trusted Winter´s knowledge of herbs. If Winter said that it would help, then it would help. “DO we have any food?”
“Yeah,” Winter nodded. He opened his travel bag and browsed through it until he took out a biscuit packed in small cloth. He unpacked it and broke into halves. “Here, eat up,” he said, offering the biscuit to Keith.
Keith took a half and bit into it. It wasn´t what he was used for, but he was slowly getting used to food like this too. The tea´s effect was already working, making Keith´s throat less sore.
“Thanks, Winter. You´re my best friend,” Keith said with his mouth full of the biscuit and smiled on Winter. Winter returned him the smile, despite he was already sure that he didn´t want to be just Keith´s friend. But until he finds a way to break the curse, he can be only Keith´s friend. It was still better than nothing.
“Dress up,” he told to Keith. “You´re clothes are already dry. I´ll go out and try to pick up some more herbs.”
Winter went outside and leant against the wall next to door for a moment. He just hoped that they would find the cure to his curse soon. He sighed and went to look for more herbs. After picking a lot of them, to be sure that Keith fully dressed up in the meantime, Winter returned into cabin. Keith was already sitting at the table, wearing his dry clothes.
“Wanna more tea?” Winter asked and Keith nodded. Winter prepared two more glasses and sat at the table next to Keith.
“Thank you,” Keith said, gently touching Winter´s forearm with Winter handed him the tea. Winter flinched so much that he almost spilled the tea. “Sorry!” Keith exclaimed and jumped up from his chair. Winter put the glasses down and tried to catch up his breath. He shook his head.
“It´s all right, don´t worry.” He quickly ran his hand over his sleeve, checking for any holes in the fabric of his coat, but it was whole.
“I was supposed to pay attention!” Keith said. He seemed to be feeling guilty and angry with himself. Winter felt sorry that he was making Keith feel like this. Only if he could allow Keith as much touching as he wanted. He sighed and sat down.
“It´s fine, it´s not like you touched me skin to skin.”
Keith sat down too, but he was still looking guilty. He didn´t want to hurt Winter. After being betrayed by Lyann, he had hard time trusting anyone but then he met Winter and the two of them teamed up. It was different with Winter than it was ever with Lyann. Keith immediately trusted Winter despite he didn´t know why. The other boy was same age as him, but they were very different. And despite those differences and despite Winter´s curse, Keith slowly grew close to him.
It wasn´t fair, Keith thought. No one should be cursed like Winter. It had to be terrible for him not to be able to touch anyone directly. Even now, when Keith unconsciously touched him through clothes, Winter freaked out. He wasn´t used to the simples touches, to caressing, to hugging, to kissing… Keith shook his head to stop this way of thoughts. He shouldn’t be having thoughts like this about his teammate. Winter was boy too, after all. not to mention the curse.
There just had to be a way to break that curse. And Keith was determined to help Winter find a one. Even after they catch up with Lyann and take the Second Element from her. It would mean that Keith would be able to return to the palace, but lately, the thought didn´t make him as happy as before. He didn´t want to leave Winter all alone.
“We´ll get rid of that curse,” he said aloud, very seriously.
“I hope so,” Winter retorted, a bit surprised by the change of the topic. He usually saw Keith this serious only when Keith was talking about Lyann betraying him and that wasn´t often.
“I´ll help you get rid of it,” Keith continued, looking into Winter´s eyes. “I´ll definitely help you with it.” Winter blushed a bit and lowered his head.
“Okay,” he said. “But shouldn´t we find Lyann first?”
“I don´t care about the order,” Keith said, shaking his head. He sat straight and hit his fist against the table. “We´re going to get Second Element from Lyann AND we´re getting cure on your curse. It doesn´t matter to me what we do first.” Winter had to smile, encouraged by Keith´s determination.
“I couldn´t agree more, my friend,” he said, his violet eyes lighting up.