IN A CABIN ‘NEATH A TREE (II)
Lino sat on top of a half-way bridge looming over the river that he himself had built, his legs heaved over the edge, a fishing rod in his hands extending into the rapid current beneath. He wore only pants reaching down to his knees, ripped by the edges, letting the somewhat chilly wind augment the sun’s blistering warmth.
He hummed a low tune freely, looking at the distant mountains stretching into the sky’s mist. A sense of serenity had washed over him, causing him to even drop his usual alertness. It truly felt for a moment as though he was free from everything, from every linking chain leading back to the Empire, to the Devils, to the Writs and Bearers and Gaia and the Holy Grounds and the rest of the world at large.
Living inside a self-imposed bubble made his breaths calm, full and free, washing away the worries from his mind. Yet, deep down, he still knew it was but a temporary tranquility -- like all others which life generously gifts from time to time.
Behind him, still donning the mask, Hannah left the house with two pots of stew, walking toward the somewhat loose-looking bridge. Despite having seen them before, the scars extending over the rather wide back still startled her. Though most of them were from the recent battle, she also saw more than a few dozen that were over ten years old at least.
She took a small breath and walked over, slowly sitting down next to him, heaving her legs of the edge as well and handing him a pot. Lino only then awoke from his daydream, putting the rod down and taking the pot and the spoon, eating it slowly.
“Oh, it’s spicy today.” he exclaimed softly. “What’d you put in?”
“Red chili,” she replied. “You like it?”
“Yeah, it’s really good. Gives quite a bit of a kick. What do you want to drink?”
“Here.” Lino reached into the void world and took two gourds, handing one over.
“... just how stacked are you with booze?” she asked, taking it.
“Let’s just say I could live for a long-ass time here without ever running out.”
“Damn, you have a problem.”
“Not a problem,” Lino glanced and smirked. “But lots and lots of problems.”
“What do you want? Pity or encouragement?” she asked, smiling back.
“Yeah, coming from you? Neither.”
“Aww, that’s just mean.”
“Have you ever heard yourself speak?” Lino rolled his eyes at her. “You know, words hurt.”
“Are you really the one who should be saying that?”
“My hypocrisy is half of my character. You can’t compare us.”
“Of course I can’t compare us,” she said. “You’re insane and I’m the greatest woman in the world.”
“Oh, wow,” Lino exclaimed, chuckling. “Your back must have some deep dents considering how much you were patted on it throughout your life.”
“Eh, what are you trying to say? That self-love is your exclusive thing?”
“Naturally. I own the patent on it.”
“Yeah, sure you do buddy.” Hannah finished the pot of stew and put it down, slowly sipping the ale. “It’s a very nice day.”
“... yeah.” Lino said, taking a few sips too. “Have you been living here the whole time?”
“... you just made me crazy jealous.”
“What? You like this place?” she glanced at him. “But the nearest brothel is like two hundred miles away.”
“... it feels very dehumanizing that you’d assume I care for brothels so much.”
“But you do.”
“How’d you even conclude that?”
“Because for the past three days you’ve done nothing but “think” out loud all the ‘faire maidens’ you’ve bedded in hopes of seeing me react to one of the names.”
“... oh. So I was found out?” he chuckled lightly, glancing at her from the corner of his eyes.
“Oh, no, no way. Your scheme is too clever for someone as lowly as me to uncover it.”
“Heh, that’s what I thought.” Lino said. “Truth is, half of those names were made up.”
“I know,” she chuckled. “I mean, I know a lot of people who hate their children, but I’ve never heard any single one of them saying they hate their children enough to name them ‘Boozedslutana’. How’d you even come up with that shit?”
“Just combine my two favorite hobbies into one.”
“... so, like the most gorgeous woman in the world,” she said. “Who, instead of milk, has tits full of booze-on-demand?”
“Why do you look like someone who’s trying to think really hard about how to make that a reality?”
“Because every man alive would immediately declare me their god?” Lino glared at her for a moment.
“... I’ve never understood it, you know? The guys’ whole obsession with women. We aren’t an entirely different species. We’re largely just like you.”
“Except, you know, in places in which you’re not.” Lino said. “Which makes you an entirely different species.”
“Oh, right, so my tits draw a line between me being a human and not being one, huh?”
“... eh, honestly, it’s hardly ever that simple,” Lino said, lowering his head and gazing into the river. “Sure, swaying your hips like your legs are constantly walking through an earthquake makes our heads spin, and bouncing tits can bring the dead back to life... but, you know, all of that’s just the eye-candy.” he smiled lightly. “You bewitch us with your bodies, but you entrance us with the small things.”
“... like what?” Hannah asked with a faint curiosity.
“... eh, you know, simple stuff. Smiling at our stupid jokes,” he said. “Validating our grossly inflated egos, always encouraging us to do our best despite the fact that we keep repeatedly fucking things up... and, you know, occasionally stripping naked.”
“Ouch. You almost had it.” Hannah laughed briefly, lying down onto the bridge. “Be honest, what’s the first thing you see in a woman? Tits or ass?”
“... neither.” Lino said, lying down as well, soaking in the cloudless, blue sky.
“Yeah, yeah, you don’t have to lie, alright? This is a safe space for honesty and no judgment whatsoever.”
“None of what you just said is true. You’ve done nothing but lie and judge me ever since you dragged my ass here.”
“I never said all those things apply to me.”
“Fair enough.” Lino chuckled.
“... so? What is it then?”
“’Cause I know you’re gonna use it to bewitch me.”
“... there’s so much wrong with that statement I don’t even know where to begin.” Hannah grunted.
“See? Nothing but judgment. You’re like my mother,” Lino said. “You know, if I ever had one.”
“Aww, poor boy, do you want to lie on my lap so mom can caress your hair and whisper how special you are?”
“You had me at lying in the lap!” Lino exclaimed as he shifted his head over quickly and laid it onto Hannah’s thighs.
“Ha ha ha, w-wait, ha ha ha,” she burst out into laughter, quickly sitting up and trying to push him away through mild effort. “Fuck, you said lap! Where do you think you’re trying to stuff your head?!”
“... uh... the jungle? Or maybe the well-paved plaza?”
“... your body tells me you’re an adult, but every single thing you say convinces me otherwise.”
“Oh? So you like my body, eh?~~” Lino chuckled. “You’ve got nice legs...”
“... uh... thanks?” she said, smiling bitterly. “Have you ever thought about cutting your hair?” she asked as she saw it spilling over onto the wood beneath in a large amount.
“My hair is my defining feature! How could you even say that?!”
“... you sure as hell have got a lot of defining features. If I wasn’t rolling my eyes I’d actually be impressed.”
“You should be impressed regardless,” Lino said. “Men like me are quite difficult to come by, you know?”
“Hm? You mean drinking sleazebags who sleep around with any woman who says ‘sure whatever’? Yeah, sorry, I don’t think you’re that special.”
“Oh, and women like you are?” Lino questioned back, shifting his head over until he was directly looking at her masked face from below.
“Of course we are,” she replied confidently. “Where else can you find such a charming, funny, smart, humble, drop-dead-gorgeous, strong, well-intentioned maiden such as myself?”
“... well, I sure as hell don’t know what woman you’re talking about, but I’d very much like to meet her. She sounds perfect.”
“I am indeed.”
“Really? ‘Cause I just imagined some with far larger assets.”
“I’ve got quite a few mansions to my name, though.”
“... your deflection game is sure on point,” Lino grinned. “But, I’ll crack you. Just you wait.”
“... I’m not sure whether that’s euphemism for killing me or, you know, killing me. Either way, I’m feeling very uncomfortable at the moment.”
“... hey, I know it’s coming a bit late,” Lino said after a short silence. “But, you know, thank you. For saving my life and all.”
“... nice try.” she grinned, causing Lino to groan lowly and sit back up.
“Seriously, just how far up are your defenses? I’ve had easier time killing the God-Devil for crying out loud.”
“Want an advice?”
“Yes, please!” he exclaimed.
“Charming and funny guys are great,” she said as she slowly got up, straightening her dress. “After all, they’re good at making the world seem a bit better than it actually is. But, from time to time, everyone likes seeing the world for what it is... and, in those moments, charming and funny guys just... don’t fit.”
“... so, uh, you want me to be gloomy, broody and overall sort of pathetic?”
“Hey, on the off-chance you figure it out one day,” she said, slowly walking away. “You’ll have finally grown up, Lino. And that day, ah, I imagine a whole lot of people will pop open the bottles of their most expensive champagne and celebrate.”
“...” Lino watched her disappear into a small house in silence, a faint smile on his face. He shook his head lightly and chuckled, picking the rod back up and throwing the hook into the river. “Honesty, huh?” he mumbled faintly into the wind. “You’ve really grown, haven’t you...”