A Matter of Waking Up

Now

My sky is the ground, and my ground is the sky. A baseball field coated in settled snow, a set of swings, and a plastic jungle gym form my sky. My ground is gray and clouded with that fog that sometimes follows snow, and a single vulture hovers through the fog, patiently riding the air currents. I’m upside down with my bare hands planted firmly in the snow and my new boots shifting lazily in the air to maintain balance. A red-hot sun zips into view, blocking out the gliding vulture.

“How’s things look from there?” it shouts before turning into Fitz with his red hair, bitter breath, and snappy freckles. My hearing aid shouts just as loud, and I’m thrown off kilter, so I let myself fall.

I’m on my back, now looking up at the real sky, lying on the real ground. A foot of snow surrounds me on all sides, walling me in and stifling sounds, so for a moment, all I hear is the dying buzz of my hearing aid. Fitz’s small body hovers over me, his scarf tickling my nose as it sways. Past the scarf and the muffling sounds of the snow, I make out his words. “What’s with the handstand?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

Fitz’s feet flip up in the air as he mimics my handstand, his bare hands making frantic prints in the snow as he kicks around, fighting to keep his balance. I watch and wait for the inevitable. He tips over, shouting and laughing all the while, and flops over onto his back with a satisfying crunch of snow. His loud, nasally laughs break up and trail off as he turns his attention upward and focuses on the gray sky. We both lay there with our arms and legs outstretched, his scraggly, brown scarf rippling out like two crooked branches. Fitz with his red face and drunk smile, and me with my lidded eyes and straight mouth, just giving ourselves a moment to breathe.

“Hey. You awake, Delly?” he slurs drowsily, making him hard to understand.

“Yeah,” I turn to read his lips.

“I don’t know, man. I’m not so sure.”

“I am. Are you?” I ask coolly.

“How do you do it? Handstands, I mean. With your long-ass legs and twig arms for support. Gravity’s on my side here. But I can’t do it, man. My balance is all Jell-O-like.” He demonstrates by lifting his arm and wiggling it around. He lets it fall back to his side with a thump. “It’s not fair.”

“I’m sober. You’re plastered,” I say simply.

“Heh, not enough,” he snorts before trailing off. The fog above us floats by, and drops of moisture form on my face. I can feel the redness of my nose, and the way the frigid air smothers my body heat. I blink as the vulture drifts into view again and circles overhead. I crinkle some snow in my hand.

“Fitz.” He doesn’t reply. Just sighs a puff of hot air. I focus on the steam as it dissolved into the misty backdrop of the sky. I repeat, “Fitz.”

“Yeah, Delly?”

“Did you apply to any more colleges?”

No reply. Not even vapor.

I breathe out my own stream of air and wait for it to melt away. “I can help you.”

“No.”

He rolls over, and I let him. I reach over to the handprints in the snow near Fitz’s head and try to trace the indents of his fingers and knuckles. Everything’s too jumbled, and my hands are too numb anyway.

.

Then

Our hands are frozen, our hair wet and our clothes soaked. We trudge into the foyer, tracking snow onto the carpet. We are young and unprepared and unconcerned, but Mrs. Fitzgerald isn’t.

“What are you boys wearing?” she shouts, already in the entryway.

Fitz takes a moment to sneeze, and I take another to shut the door behind us. The whirl of the wind fizzles into a small whistle as it tries to sneak through the cracks in the doorway.

“Ah, it’s fine, Gran.” Fitz waves her off, already jumping up and down on one leg in a battle with his boot.

“No, it’s not fine! No coats, no gloves, no hats, no anything!”

“Delly’s wearing his scarf! That’s something!”

Mrs. Fitzgerald crinkles her already crinkled face and shifts into the Disapproving Parent Pose––hands on her hip and weight on one side. “Look at yourselves! Your lips are practically purple, and your hands are already starting to crack! With those soaked shirts, you probably already have pneumonia!”

Fitz loses his balance and drops to the ground, but he manages to yank his one shoe off and grin his half-grin. Victorious, he holds the shoe up for a second and turns, waiting for my approval. I smile back, and he moves on to the next shoe. I glance at Mrs. Fitzgerald, feeling guilty.

“Sorry, Mrs. Fitzgerald,” I say, still standing at the doorway and fiddling with one of my shirt buttons.

She turns to me, her muscles relaxing and eyebrows unfurrowing. She’s always good at facing me so her voice projects toward my hearing aid and I can fill in anything my good ear misses through lip-reading, but the sudden attention makes me squirm. I want to look away, but she has the same soft blue eyes as Fitz. So I don’t.

“Oh, love. I know it’s not your fault.”

She turns back to Fitz, who has won the battle with his shoe and now struggles to tear his saturated shirt off his head. Mrs. Fitzgerald has a playful glint in her eyes as she watches him, and I realize she isn’t actually mad.

“Gran,” Fitz mumbles from somewhere in the mess of his shirt. I know that tone of voice. It’s the one he uses when he has something to say, so I buckle down and hone in with my good ear. “We were making tracks in the snow. We were stepping in footprints at the school playground, like people’s boots and their dogs and random deer and other things’ paws like probably a wolf’s or even a bear’s or something, but then we got bored and made our own prints in new snow, like, just our shoes and hands at first but then some angels and just ourselves, like, Delly’s print had his scarf and glasses and everything, but then the wind got really strong and it started to snow more and all the prints were disappearing and covering his stuff, so Delly said we had to come back here so we didn’t get too cold, you know? So we came back. It was fun, though. Like super fun, and I loved it, and Delly.” He pauses to drop his arms. Still half lost in his shirt, he turns with his one visible eye toward me. “Well, Delly, you loved it too, right?”

I can’t make out half of what he’d said, but I catch my name and the question.

“Yeah,” I smile at the boy with a shirt for a face.

“You shouldn’t have gone out without telling me.” Mrs. Fitzgerald reaches out to her grandson and rescues him. “Especially not all the way to the school! You’re going to give me a heart attack, child.” She grabs a blanket off the railing and wraps it around him. He grins at her with bright eyes and sniffs in the trail of snot running down his lip. She sighs, smiles back, and cups his cheek.

“Go grab some fresh clothes for Wendell.” She pauses. “And a tissue.”

“Okay,” Fitz nods and the next second he shoots up the stairs with the blanket flapping behind him like a cape.

“Come here, love,” Mrs. Fitzgerald grabs a second blanket from the railing. It occurs to me that she put them there for this exact reason.

“I was just making sure Fitz got home. You don’t have to.” I move to grab for the door handle, but my hands are too cold and it takes a moment to grasp it properly.

“But I want to.” She steps toward me and gently unravels the ratty scarf from my neck. For an intense moment, I freeze. She throws the blanket over my shoulders and bunches the folds around my neck to replicate my scarf.

Fitz shouts something down the steps. A barrage of stomping feet creaks through the house as he makes his way back to us.

Mrs. Fitzgerald touches my disheveled hair, places a delicate kiss on the top of my head, and pats my hair again. It takes until the third pat for my body to unfreeze and to register I am okay. More than okay. I release the door handle, not even realizing I’d been clenching it.

Fitz flies down the stairs in fleece pajama bottoms and wool socks, hopping the last few steps and skidding across the floor to a stop in front of us. His fire hair shoots up in random spikes, like he rubbed a towel over it but did nothing else. From within his blanket-cape, he pulls out a T-shirt and fleece bottoms and presents them to me.

“Oh, God, Aidan. Your nose…” Mrs. Fitzgerald trails off as a fresh glob of snot makes its way down to Fitz’s upper lip. Fitz reaches up, squishes his nose with the end of his sleeve, and says nothing. Mrs. Fitzgerald pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Let’s get you two some hot chocolate.”

.

Now

Steamy breaths wisp from between Fitz’s purple lips and dissolve into the air. At this angle, I can make out his nasally snores. A stream of snot moves down his lips and seeps into his scarf, and his wet hair clings to his forehead. The alcohol did nothing to preserve his usual coloring. His closed lids, usually a peachy tone, are a mixture of grays that gives his eyes a sunken, bruised look. Apart from his red cheeks and ears, he looks sick. Sicker than I do.

I look past Fitz to the bright colors of the plastic tunnels and slides. The red, blue, and yellow rubber seats of the swings shift slightly with the breeze, but most other things on the playground either fade into the dull landscape or hide under layers of snow. With no nearby trees to land on, the vulture perches on a metal bar above the slide, his neck bent, and his body hunched. Beady eyes stare right back at me. I blink as a snowflake lands on my glasses and blurs all the colors together, even the bright red of the vulture’s head. Time to go.

“Fitz,” I say, reaching out and shaking his arm lightly. “Time to get up.”

His eyebrows crinkle, and he grumbles as he pulls away from me. I let his arm go, and he rolls away, half of his face now in the snow and the other half accumulating falling flakes.

I turn away from him and the vulture. All I see is the thick gray of the mist, extending into the fields and creating a never-ending vastness. The way it washes out all the trees and trails and the line between sky and ground makes me want to fade into it and disappear.

“Hey.” I roll over to face Fitz again, pulling myself into a sitting position as I turn. “Come on. You’ll freeze.”

“Maybe to death.” Fitz curls in on himself. I said the wrong thing.

“Stop that.” I reach out and try to turn him over, but he pulls his arm away. I frown. “Fitz,” I say.

With his face away from me, I catch a few words: “Go back” and “staying.”

Beyond him, the vulture shifts on his perch above the plastic slide.

.

Then

I was hiding behind the slide, under the jungle gym, away from the recess aides and the other kids. A click beetle lies on its back, looking dead with its hunched-in legs and stone-gray body, but once I reach out, its head snaps forward and back, propelling it into the air and back on its feet. I wait for it to crawl or fly away, but it doesn’t. So I flip it over again and watch it snap back onto its feet.

It’s mesmerizing, the way it flicks up and how if I turn my head just right, I can make out the light snap of its movements. How it continually gets back up so quickly that if you blink, you miss it. And how it never runs away, even though it should have, because moments later a sneaker slams down, crushing its body.

I hear a voice from above and catch my name. It sounds far away. Distant. I stare at the little body. It’s not disfigured. The wooden chips must have had something to do with that, boxing it in on either side and offering what little protection they could. In the end, it wasn’t enough. The beetle looks like it did before with its hunched-in legs, but I know it’s dead now.

“I said, whatcha doing, Wendell?”

Courtney’s voice drags me back to where my body sits frozen. There’s something about the way she says my name that makes my neck hairs stand on end.

“Nothing,” I say. I try not to look at her. I don’t want to hear what she has to say. Instead, my eyes search for a way out, but everything is plastic walling. My only escape route is the side of the slide, but two kids block it and the little light that usually sneaks in.

Rory, a pudgy girl, says something I miss. She tosses a red kickball in the air and catches it, that light, rubbery bing biting like a precise pin to the back of my neck. Aidan is here too, sporting bright red hair and a freckled face. He stands toward the back, a fourth grader shadowing the fifth graders. He watches the others, not making eye contact with me.

“You’re not doing nothing, so how ’bout you play with us?” Courtney grins.

She can’t speak too well, but at least she can speak. I was never good with words, so I do the only thing I can and stand up. I’m small for my age, not even coming up to Courtney’s shoulders. She towers over me, yet she steps back. I notice her surprise and maybe even some fear. The other kids do too.

Courtney recovers with, “So you can’t see, hear, or talk, huh?”

I unconsciously reach up to my left ear. I’ve had glasses for two years, but the hearing aid was new. Not only does everything from my left ear sound strangely filtered and muffled, but people act differently when they’re around me now. Some people, like Courtney, bully me. Others pity me, and others no longer see me. Sometimes, it didn’t feel worth it.

I fight the surging panic and move toward the exit. I get halfway there before the unmistakable rubber of the ball pegs me in the side of the head. I fall to the side, scraping my hands on the chips and hitting my back on one of the metal bars. Images fracture through a broken left lens, and both eyes fog as I try to reposition myself. Sounds warp in and out of my right ear, but I can’t hear much through the piercing buzz in my left.

I catch someone say, “Why’d––that––,” and a shout from Courtney. Despite the haze, I aim for where the light shines in from the slide. This time, Courtney grabs me and shoves me down. My head crunches against the chips, but I don’t snap up. I can’t with Courtney on top of me. She says something I can’t hear.

I have the image of that stone-gray body, flicking its head back and snapping onto its feet, and I so want to be like that beetle. So I try. I flail and twist. I let everything go and scream, but nothing comes of it. Rory rushes over and helps Courtney pin me down, and someone covers my mouth. I can’t see, I can’t hear, and now I can’t breathe. I come to the realization that they have complete control over me. I have no power over what happens next, and I am just like the click beetle.

Then there’s a sudden, high-pitched shriek, and the weight tumbles off me. I ignore the prisms of my left lens and search for something more telling through my right. A few feet away, the small fourth grader, Aidan, sinks his teeth into Courtney’s arm. She screams for help, but Rory’s already gone. A solid fist to the head from Courtney dislodges Aidan, and within seconds the older girl is crawling past the slide and out into the light.

Aidan rubs his head, scowls at the exit, and turns toward me. He takes in my broken glasses and torn hands and abruptly looks away. I grab a fistful of chips and dig them into my tender palms. It does nothing to calm the pounding in my skull. Heat rolls off me, and I glare daggers at the boy crouched five feet away.

With his face to the side, Aidan whispers something soft. It takes him a moment to realize his mistake, and I feel a twisted satisfaction at his shame. But then he peeks back toward me and says, “I’m really sorry.” His eyes meet mine for the first time, and he instantly starts crying.

“I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” He pauses to suck in shaky breaths. “I should’ve gotten an adult and I shouldn’t’ve let them come in here and I know they’re mean and bad. I should have done something, but I just let them hurt you and kill that bug.”

Tears pour from Aidan’s eyes, snot leaks from his nose, and he wipes his face with the cuffs of his sleeve. I try to hold my glare. I want to, but I can’t.

“It’s okay.” At first, I think I say it because I’m used to accepting apologies, but I realize it’s the bit about the beetle.

“No,” Aidan practically whispers. “It’s not.”

There’s an awkward silence where I decide he has enough heat to fill our cramped alcove, and there’s no need for the glare or the chips biting into my palms. I let them go.

“We messed up your glasses. And your jeans,” Aidan says suddenly. He pauses to draw in a sharp sniff and rub at his nose. “Will your parents be mad?”

“My dad won’t notice.”

“Oh. Okay.” He pauses, trying to come up with a response. He gives up and changes the subject. “When Courtney says your name, your face squishes together. You like your name?”

“No.”

Aidan looks me in the eye, and this time, it’s my turn to look away. I focus on the hole in my jeans and the way my left lens fractures to repeat the image over and over. I peel back a thread and let it fall. It makes no sound as it lands delicately, balancing on the tip of a chip. I feel something break in me then. “I don’t know. She just says it weird.”

Then I start crying. Not as openly and earnestly as Aidan’s snot and tears, but something more than what I usually allow myself. He lets me rub my face until it turns as raw and red as his hair. I suck in a breath that rattles at first but fills my lungs until I feel like I can breathe again. I peek at him from between my fingers as a hot shame burns my skin. He sits cross-legged now with his hands in his lap, watching me with his soft eyes and a shy smile that dispels some of my shame.

“I could call you Delly.”

“That sounds like a girl’s name,” I say, uncovering my face and giving it one final wipe.

“Then Wendy?” Aidan’s smile widens.

I let out a sudden, light laugh. For a moment I sit there, shocked that it snuck out of me and even more shocked at its sincerity. “No. Delly’s fine.”

“All right.” His voice has more energy now, like he’s finished testing the water and is ready to dive in. “What about me then?”

“What?”

“A nickname. I gave you one, so you can give me one. My name’s Aidan Fitzgerald.”

I know his name, but I don’t say that. “Um, Dan?”

He blows a raspberry. “Booooring.”

“You picked Delly!” I stand up and point a finger.

“Delly is cool. It like, makes Wendell––,” he glances to the side and throws his hands up. “I don’t know. It makes it cool.”

I make a face, but he ignores it. “Fine. How about Gerald?”

“Boring.”

“Okay!” I throw my hands up as well. “Fitz? Cuz you’re crazy.”

“Fitz. Fiiiiitz,” he says. He licks his lips like he’s tasting the sound of it. Then one side of his mouth pulls back in some weird half-grin. “Yeah! That’s great. That’s perfect!”

.

Now

That grin was as much of Fitz as his blue eyes and speckled face, but with his back to me and his face buried in the snow, I can’t see any of those things.

“We’re not doing this,” I say as I reposition myself. I grab Fitz under his arms and pull up. He usually doesn’t fight me, but this time he grabs at the snow and kicks. I don’t know what to do, so I place him back on the ground. Fitz stops flailing and hugs snow close to his body. Flakes land on his varsity jacket and that ratty scarf, and his body starts to shake.

“Hey.” I crouch in front of him. “Come on. Let’s go warm up. Get coffee or cocoa or something.” When I reach out this time, he lets me turn him over, and that’s when I see his wet face. Sunken eyes, dilated and glossy. His lips are quivering, and more snot trickles from his nose and mixes with his tears. They fall sideways off his face and melt pellets in the snow.

I’d seen Fitz cry plenty of times. He cries whenever he disappoints Gran. He cried when his neighbor’s cat caught a mouse for him and left its dying body on his porch. He cries especially hard at this one scene from the movie Billy Elliot, where the main character dances more at his father than for him, and for some reason it makes Fitz lose control of his entire face. Every damn time.

This cry was different. It was raw and taxing. I remember him crying like this just once before today, two years ago.

.

Then

I’m supposed to go home with Fitz that day. We’re making our way to his bus when I hear the whistle. We both turn to see Gran standing in the pick-up lane outside of her idling Taurus.

I know what this is. Fitz’s grandfather had been fighting dementia for seven years. We are as prepared as can be, but that doesn’t prevent Fitz from freezing midstride. A kid bumps into his backpack and moves around him without a word. The rest of the crowd forms a stream and washes over his stone-statue body.

“Fitz,” I say. No response. I touch his arm, and his body jolts awake. I walk him the rest of the way to the parking lot.

Gran says her husband is in the hospital again, that she’s taking Fitz to visit him. She wears a sad sort of smile. Her worry lines crease one over the other and her eyes grow big and bright—like something beautiful and tragic has happened or is about to. I know that smile’s code for goodbye.

Gran looks at me and says, “Another time, love.”

Fitz says nothing and lets his grandmother usher him into the car.

The day after, Fitz isn’t in school. I walk to our old elementary school’s playground to wait on one of the swings, my mammoth-sized mittens shoved in my pockets. I don’t swing, just stare at my thermal sock, peeking through a hole in my shoe. I wiggle my big toe, a wave to myself. My breath catches in my ratty bird’s nest of a scarf, and my glasses fog. I can’t see much. I can’t feel much.

I sit for an hour until finally, I see him. A red figure, kicking up clouds of snow as he runs out from the trees and past the orange, plastic snow fences. I stop fidgeting and wait for him to make it through the baseball field and up to my swing. When he gets there, he wheezes out a “Hey.”

“Hey,” I say, watching him clutch his knees and gasp for breath. He only wears a long-sleeved shirt, sweatpants, and sneakers.

He says something I miss.

“What was that?”

“So,” he breathes out louder, raising his voice but not his face.

“So.”

“I ran all the way from my house.”

“I can see that.”

“Your dad’s not home,” he notes between breaths. It isn’t a question.

“Yeah. He has work.”

“In this?”

I shrug. We both know what work means. My dad works and works and then drinks and drinks. He disappears for days at a time, and eventually, he’ll stumble home long enough to notice the ripped jacket, worn shirts, and taped glasses. He’ll apologize, and I’ll accept it. He’ll promise to get better. I once believed him, but now, I’m used to wiggling my toes and waving at myself through the holes in my shoes.

Fitz knows that’s how things are. He knows sometimes I can’t stay there, that some days the clanking of beer bottles is too much and other days the white noise of the empty house is worse. So I come here to sit, and he does too.

“What an asshole.”

I shrug. He gulps breath after breath, slowing his pace with each exhale but jerking more and more each time.

“You know, breathing would be easier if you’d straighten up,” I say.

“Heh, yeah, wouldn’t it?” he says, but he doesn’t move. He knows I can hear better if I can see his lips, but he keeps his face hidden. His body shudders with each passing breeze, and the freckles on his hands stand out like mud splatter on his snow-burnt skin.

“Okay.” I shimmy out of my jacket and throw it over his shoulders. He reaches up to adjust it, but his eyes focus low and to the side. His face is a deep red, a sort of red that only comes from fighting back the rush of blood and shame and heartache. I know that feeling. I unravel my scarf and wrap it around him to form a protective cocoon.

“Let’s go home.”

He pauses to draw in a sharp sniff and rub the scarf into his face with both hands. When he finally pulls down one of the layers, he lets me see his soggy eyes and nose like I knew I would.

“Won’t you get cold?” He pulls the scarf down enough to expose his lips, but he still won’t look at me.

“I’m fine.”

He nods, pauses, then looks up. “I got snot in your scarf.”

“You can keep it.”

He nods again, and we walk the hour to his house. I don’t know how to calm his heaving sobs and shaking body, so I lean over and touch my shoulder to his.

.

Now

“It’s not fair,” Fitz chokes out. “It’s just not fair.”

Tears and snot pour off his face. He trembles between sobs, not bothering to wipe his face. I lay down beside him.

“I know,” is all I say as I blink through the flakes on my glasses. It does nothing. Everything’s still blurry.

“Why’s this have to happen? Senior year. Whole life ahead of you and all that crap. You’re supposed to be going to Columbia or Princeton and helping people and shit. Why you?”

I don’t know how to respond. I try not to think about it, but the burning in my mouth warns me of oncoming tears. I close my eyes and take in a long breath through my nose.

“It happens all the time. To anyone,” I say. Fitz huffs out a noise I recognize as a laugh. A chill trickles up my spine, and I look over.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he half chuckles, half whines. “How can you say that? It’s like… like you don’t even care!”

“I do,” I say too quickly.

“Yeah,” he draws in a sniff, “but it’s like—like you’re numb to it.” His voice cracks. “You’re always like that.”

My fingers dig into the snow. I look away from him and the playground and the vulture and into the gray nothingness. There was a quiet solitude to it before, but now it feels empty.

“Delly?”

I hear him but pretend I don’t, and Fitz taps my arm. I don’t want to, but I turn back toward him. His blue eyes look through the condensation on my glasses and into mine, and it doesn’t matter that the walls of snow around my head act like earmuffs. I can hear those eyes loud and clear, asking me “why?”

I want to say it’s because nothing can be done. Because this isn’t something I can fight, and it sure isn’t something he can just bite on the arm and send scampering away. So instead I say, “I’m not surprised, is all.”

“You’re such a drama queen,” he spits, “and a liar.”

Heat boils up in my chest. A harsh heat I’ve never felt before, like a searing star, threatening to explode and burn everything and everyone around me. I want to stop it, but the deeper I compress it, the heavier it grows.

I’m the drama queen?” I shoot up, my ears now free of the muffling snow. The new clarity of the surrounding area only fuels me.

“Yes!” Fitz copies me, sitting up, his red face now exposed and his scarf clinging to the snow. Heat radiates off him. “You know what? Fuck you. You and your numb bullshit with your ‘I’m not surprised’ and all that crap about college applications. I don’t care about that. I care about you!”

He sucks in a breath, and the sharpness of it makes me hold mine.

“But you’re the one hiding and ignoring all of this—” he jabs a finger at his own temple, “—and pushing the focus onto me and pretending you’re already gone when you’re still here and you haven’t done anything. You haven’t cried or screamed or laughed or punched your dad or some shit! He finally bought you new boots, and you still haven’t punched him. You’re dying, dude, and you’re asking me about colleges?”

Fitz’s voice wavers as he says it aloud, and my vision blurs from more than just snow-dampened lenses. A stinging in my eyes tells me the burning got the best of me, but I draw in deep, chilling breaths through my nose, not knowing what will spew out if I open my mouth.

“Say something!” Fitz snaps.

“Like what?”

A shrill scream tears from Fitz before he dives on me, and we’re sent rolling. Smacks fly at me from all sides, one sending my hearing aid into a buzzing fit that does nothing to overpower the shrieks coming from both of us. My glasses crunch under my shoulder, and I’m bombarded with a flurry of blurred color. Dull grays and whites and loud reds rocket past.

The rolling stops, but we don’t. I’m attacking left and right, not knowing which way is up or down. There’s fists and teeth and nails, and next thing I know I’m on top, throwing one punch after the other. I keep punching and punching until blood warms my knuckles, and I realize Fitz’s face is redder than usual.

I slide off him to kneel in the snow. I look at my hands, and a swell of fire ripples up my wrist when I register the exposed flesh of my cut knuckles. The buzzing dies off, and I make out Fitz’s rapid panting. A shape of an arm reaches up, and Fitz wipes at his bloody face.

Fitz doesn’t sit up, so I fall on my back next to him. When I notice his cracked inhales, I move closer so that our shoulders touch. When he grabs an end of his scarf and throws it over my face, I let the burning in my body take over.

We lay there for a while. Him, a sniveling mess of red heat and shivers. Me, a melting stone, exposing the burning star within. We lay there long enough that a layer of snow coats our bodies.

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