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It took years of growth, struggle, entanglement for the vines to grow the way they did. They guarded his tender heart - one that suffered heartbreak and pain far too many times.
How was it that [they] made it seem so easy to take down his defenses?
How was it that [they] exposed the tender organ, leaving it naked and exposed?
He wasn't sure he could handle heartbreak again.
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The solitude was a comfortable one; one Vinny had to learn to enjoy. The whispers of the trees, the hum of the songbirds - though the sound was beautiful, it could get old, after a time. The elf shook his head, sitting on the forest floor among a bed of golden leaves. He'd rather grow tired of birdsong and forest gossip, he decided.
It was far nicer than the whispers of those you thought you knew.
He smiled as a bird landed on his pant leg; he watched as it pecked at him for a moment before taking flight again. Life wasn't terrible as a recluse - no one but Mike ever bothered him, and even that was once in a great while, when the great bastard needed a place to crash. Vinny would give him hell, but would never tell him no. Mike was the only real friend he had.
Would he stay that way if Vinny stopped being useful?
The Forest Druid shook his head vigorously, trying to rid himself of the thought. He knew Mike was better than that, yet he hated that he still thought these things. Vinny was grateful that his friend was patient. Honest and unfiltered, but patient.
Vinny jumped to his feet as a crash sounded in the distance. Turning his head toward the sound, he saw a large cloud of dust hanging through the trees not terribly far from his home. Instinctively, he wanted to turn away and ignore whatever was out there, but he found himself walking briskly toward the site instead.
Fuck him for being so fucking nice.
He stopped as the dust became thick, waiting for it to settle before moving forward at a slower pace. Vinny stopped as a dark figure came into view, blocked by more dirt that had yet to settle. When the air cleared, he held his breath, taking a step back.
What had Mike said about encountering demons again?
Had Mike even warned him about demons? Why was it suddenly Mike's responsibility to teach Vinny about demons?
He shook his head. Now was not the time.
Vinny took a tentative step forward to get a better look at the demon in question. Long, messy brown hair, a short, stubbly beard on his face. As the demon moved, rubbing his head from the landing, he saw a pair of sharp, ivory-white horns on his head.
With him was a… What was that? The… creature… was small, wore a bright fucking green onesie, and had a - admittedly adorable - tiny helmet on its small head. The creature had landed next to the demon, and had yet to move.
The demon seemed to care for the small green creature; he had looked around wildly for a moment before spotting it, his eyes red-tinted blue eyes widening. A fire demon. "Fren!" The accented voice held a concerned tone. He picked the creature up gently. “Vakna!”
Vinny watched with interest as the green creature moved and the demon relaxed. The little he'd heard about demons made them out to be heartless, soul-crushing monsters. Seeing this demon care for such a small, strange creature in such a tender way - one he'd never seen even from humans - made his heart ache.
He'd been wrong too.
"Are you okay?" The words flew out of Vinny's mouth before he could stop himself, and suddenly, the demon was looking at him. Not glaring, just looking, but even that was enough to make Vinny want to dig his own grave. He wasn't a fighter; if this demon and it's pet lime wanted to kill him, they could-
Breathe, Vinny. Don't be a dumbass.
The demon looked at him for another moment before saying “Why do you care? What's in it for you?”
Vinny blinked. Oh. Oh. His heart sank further. "I… get why you'd ask that, but nothing. You don't have to tell me, I won't ask again." He bit his tongue, realizing that he could quite literally end up being roasted if he pissed off the fire demon, but to his surprise, the arrogant bastard smirked at him. “What the fuck-”
"You're ballsy. I think I could like you." He struggled to rise to his feet, glancing over to Vinny as the elf offered him a hand. He stared for a moment before cautiously taking it, shielding the strange creature with his other hand pressed against his body. “Thanks…?”
“Sure. By the way, what the fuck were you doing to crash land here?”
The long-haired male stepped back, growling. “I don't even know your name and you're asking me personal questions?”
Rolling his eyes, Vinny grumbled “Fine. Hi, I'm Vinny. What the fuck caused you to crash land in the fucking forest?”
A brief moment of silence passed before the demon broke out in a mad, cackling laughter, only being careful not to jostle the creature in his arm. "You're fucking hilarious, Vinny." Once he calmed down, he cradled the green creature. “I'm Joel. This is Fren. He took a hit when we fell but he's doing better.”
"Yeah, about 'him'. Vinny glanced at Fren. While he couldn't deny the little creature was kinda cute… “What is he?”
"I have no idea." Joel placed Fren on his shoulder; Fren clung happily. “I met him while traveling; he wasn't doing so great and I couldn't just leave him.”
Vinny frowned. “You could have, though. I'm sure it wasn't easy taking care of him and dealing with your own problems.”
"I guess?" Joel raised an eyebrow. “I could have, but why?”
"I just…" He shook his head. “I'm being an asshole. Forget I said anything.”
“You can't just-”
Joel raised his arms in surrender. "Fine, whatever. I can't make you do anything." Fren squealed as he struggled to hold onto the demon's arm. Joel pushed him back onto his shoulder, getting a sharp poke in the cheek. “Ow. Förlåt, Fren.”
Vinny sighed. “I'm sorry, I'm a hot mess at the best of times.”
“Don't mention it.”
"Done." He smirked, getting a toothy grin back from Joel in response. “You, uh, still haven't told me why you're out here?”
Joel huffed. "Teleportation gone awry, and I don't exactly know how to get back…" Fren gave him a pat on the head, which he chuckled at. “Probably should've studied the damn spell before trying it.”
“Are all demons this stupid, or just you?”
He snorted. “God damn, hopefully, just me.”
Vinny bit back a laugh. He was being so open with this man he'd just met. Why? What was it about this sharp-witted fire demon that left him feeling…
Joel speaks again after a few moments. “You know of a good place to crash? I don't know when I'll get back home or what part of the fucking planet I'm on, but I'm exhausted.”
Fren replicated Joel's tiredness by yawning, holding onto one of his horns with a sleepy look on his face.
"If you don't mind a futon, I have space for a night." Would it be worth it?
"Are you sure?" Joel seemed shocked at the offer. “How do you know I won't kill you in your sleep?”
Vinny shrugged. "I don't get that vibe from you. Either take the offer or don't - I'm going home." Part of him hoped the demon would accept his offer; his lifestyle was simple. Safe.
Part of him wanted Joel to think him arrogant and take off. It would be easier; Vinny didn't need anything more.
“Fine, but if you end up barbecued, it's on you.”
"I'll risk it."
God fucking dammit.
Mike rested against the back of the bar stool, lazily swirling the last of the beer in the bottom of his glass. The tavern/inn was small but well-kept, keeping its fair share of town regulars and travelers like himself. There was a bard singing to the sound of a slightly out-of-tune ukulele - if he didn't want to stay in the innkeeper's good graces, he'd have told the bard where to shove the damn thing.
It had been six moons since Mike had been home. A bit longer since he'd last seen Vinny, checking in with the Druid to make sure he hadn't done anything too reckless. The older male was decently book smart; he could give most any information anyone asked for.
But by the fucking gods was he an idiot sometimes.
Vinny was hardly useless; having seen him fight once before, the elf was handy with plant magic and quick on his feet. He lacked focus, which often tanked his motivation. If he had no motivation, he would eat every three days and maybe pay attention to his surroundings when he was out.
In conclusion, Vinny hardly gave a fuck about anything.
The two had met an old bar on accident, Mike having spilled a beer on a slightly tipsy Vinny. He'd been moving through the busy establishment and stumbled on someone's foot; the elf had unfortunately been in range. Mike had been surprised when Vinny didn't lash out, but instead started silently sobbing.
The Shifter had never truly felt like shit before that moment.
After the most awkward apology Mike had ever stuttered, he'd offered Vinny a hand, and the two had settled into a comfortable friendship. Sort of. Was it friendship if a cranky elf lets an even crankier Shifter sleep on their couch for six weeks out of the year in exchange for reminders to eat every day?
It was something.
Pounding back the last of his beer, he left the glass - along with a few extra gold - on the bar. He hopped off the bar stool, grabbing his axe from the corner before pushing his way out the door, the cool Autumn air sending a chill through him.
Mike glanced up at the sky, the afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees. It had been almost seven moons since he'd seen Vinny. His jobs had been successful this half; he carried a hefty sum of gold and his reputation shone. There were always people of all kinds asking for jobs to be done; there was no shortage of work.
He shook his head. It had been seven moons. It was time to head home.
"Why the fuck is there a dead cockatrice in my house?!" It was Vinny's fault, really, for daring to take a nap with a fire demon and a sentient fucking avocado in his home, but it didn't take the surprise of seeing the dead carcass of an oversized chicken on his floor.
Thank fuck he hated rugs.
Joel looked up from the cockatrice, holding a knife in one hand and a severed leg in the other. “Oh, hi Vinny.”
"Hej~!" It was the first time he'd heard Fren speak - his voice had a lower pitch than he'd imagined, but was quite a few notches higher than his own. The green orb-shaped creature was holding up a severed wing that was nearly twice his size - how strong was he?
"Oh, hi Vinny." The cranky Druid crossed his arms. “That's it? What the fuck are you doing?”
"…gutting a cockatrice?" Joel looked at him like he asked the stupidest question in the world. “I was hungry, and you didn't have shit.”
Vinny wasn't sure if he took in a demon or a child anymore. "You went through my-" He shook his head. "Whatever. You couldn't have done this outside, at least?"
"I was kinda hoping to be done before you woke up, honestly." To Joel's credit, he did look sheepish. He set the knife on the body of the bird, watching Fren pluck feathers off the cut pieces. “I'm going to clean up, if that's what you're worried about. I even made sure this bastard was big enough for you, too.”
It was Vinny's turn to feel like an ass - here he was yelling at the guy, and Joel had actually bothered to think of him while hunting. Sure, he could do without the mess, but… "You didn't… uh…" Fuck.
He wondered if he'd see Joel again after tonight, with how much of a prick he was being.
"I know, but you're letting me sleep here." Joel shrugged. “I'm sorry, I'll-”
Why is he apologizing? I'm the- He shook his head. “No, it's… it's fine. Just… don't leave any blood on the floor?”
Vinny had a feeling he wasn't the only one in this forest that was slightly fucked up.
Just a feeling.
Joel considered Vinny a mystery.
The elf was nice enough, despite the fact that he was crankier than a child that missed its nap. He hadn't said anything when the one night had turned into two, then three, six… Joel admittedly felt a bit like was taking advantage of Vinny, but the Druid didn't seem to be in a hurry to get rid of him. In fact, despite how much the other complained about him, he seemed to rather enjoy Joel's presence.
Not that he'd ever admit it.
Fren seemed to approve of Vinny, though it was often hard for Joel to tell what the strange blob-like creature was thinking. He hovered around the elf often, watching what he was doing with great interest. Vinny and Fren couldn't communicate verbally; Fren didn't know English or Elvish and that's all Vinny knew.
Instead, the two had found their own… odd… way of communicating via hand signals and Fren's occasional whines and grunts. Joel found it endlessly amusing; Vinny claimed that his small companion was 'an annoying, walking head of lettuce and he needed to just leave him alone already', but it was easy to see that Vinny was becoming quite attached to Fren.
Joel would almost call it adorable if it wouldn't make him puke in his mouth.
Part of Vinny was also a bit upsetting, but Joel wasn't sure he had words for it. The brunet seemed to simply exist, each day dragging by for him as if he couldn't wait for it to end. It wasn't often he saw Vinny leave his small home - he'd yet to see him leave the forest. It had only been six days; perhaps he was looking into it too much.
The only times he'd seen Vinny eat were when he brought food back. Joel had seen birds with a better diet. He slept a lot, more than any Orc he'd ever met. When Vinny did go out, he didn't go far, choosing to sit either underneath a set of trees just outside the house or at a small pond west of Joel's landing site. The elf would sit there for hours at a time just staring into space, sometimes humming a slow, melodic tune.
Was he waiting for someone? Why did he seem so sad?
Today was shaping up to be a 'Vinny was going to sleep for half a day' type of day; Fren had tapped on his bedroom door with no response. Joel was hardly awake himself, stretched out as far as he could on a futon that was slightly too small. His companion continued to harass Vinny, even shouting the occasional "Vakna" at the door in an annoyed tone.
Vinny might not have known the language, but Joel was sure he knew what that word meant by now.
After the third or fourth shout, Joel heard an annoyed "Fuck off" from the other side, followed by the sound of something being thrown at the wooden slab. Fren shrieked and ran toward Joel, jumping onto his stomach and forcing a winded 'oof' out of the fire demon.
"Försiktig, Fren," Joel choked out, pushing the creature upright as he toppled over.
"Förlåt." Fren gave the demon a pat on the head. He then looked to Vinny's door and pointed, frowning. “Han är sovande igen.”
Sighing, Joel nodded. "Yeah. I know." When Vinny woke up, he'd try and talk to him. Joel knew what it was like to feel empty.
No one else deserved that.
How long had it been since she'd gone? Four years? Five?
Vinny had stopped keeping track once the days started blending together.
She had been his first friend; they'd met when he was very young. Vinny had never had much; he lost his parents early and didn't have many friends. His remaining family rejected him and he had little money. Throughout his hardships, only she'd been consistent.
Had she finally grown tired of him? Vinny tried his hardest to keep from being bothersome, yet he knew he could be a lot. Had he made her angry, and she didn't care to fix it? Vinny had a tendency to speak without thinking; he'd do anything to fix whatever he'd said. Did she even have a reason? It's not like he could tell her what to do.
It just hurt to feel left behind by someone he thought cared about him.
Vinny faced his bedroom door, glancing at the book he'd thrown just moments before. He'd felt awful the second he'd done it, knowing he'd scared Fren. He'd find a way to make up for it, and the little creature would ultimately forgive him, but why?
He hardly deserved it.
He rolled onto his back, eyes focusing on a knot in the wooden ceiling. For how nasty he felt he'd been to Joel, he was surprised the demon had bothered putting up with him. Vinny was hardly good company; he knew he frustrated Joel, especially when he scared Fren. So why the fuck hadn't he left yet?
Why the fuck was he still trying?
And why the fuck was Vinny so scared that he'd leave?
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