Sydney yawned. It was slightly later then when TJ usually went for hikes, the sun already revealing itself, but it was still way to early for his usual standards. TJ, naturally, didn't seem to think so, and paced around excitedly as a certain figure blended into the similarly coloured sunlight.
"Syd, you look like absolute shit" Flynn said, waving towards them.
"Takes one to know one" Sydney answered, pulling his best friend into a tight hug.
"Glad you decided to join us" TJ said, unsure if he should hug Flynn as well.
"Its just normal outdoors stuff, might as well do it with you bitches today" Flynn said, patting TJ on the shoulder.
"You do know we're not going fishing or shooting pictures, right?" Sydney said, leaning on Flynn and pressing down to annoy him.
"I do lots of other stuff out here" Flynn said, effortlessly tripping Sydney with his tail.
"We're also not going to fap alone" Sydney said, wincing as he got up.
"I know you two don' fuck but damn, no need to project" Flynn retorted.
TJ rolled his eyes. Putting the two of them together would be an infinity of this, but high school and Flynn's aunt conspired to keep the three of them from hanging out together, and this day couldn't be wasted.
"So, have you seen the Frond?" Flynn said to TJ.
"You mean the grove?" TJ said, calming down a bit, "I can't seem to find it."
"That won't do" Flynn said, shaking his head, "True, its no canyon, but its still a good place to relax. Do you wanna go there first or do you wanna see other spots first?"
"Sure, lets go right away!" TJ said excitedly.
"How far is that?" Sydney asked nervously.
"What, aren't we gonna hike all day?" Flynn asked.
"Yeah, but you know..." Sydney trailed off.
"But what?" Flynn asked again, "I don't know how you go 'bout hikes."
"We can take our time" TJ said, "No pressure, alright?"
"None on my part" Flynn shrugged, "but you might wanna get your boyfriend fixed. He seems broken."
"Fuck you" Sydney said, "Its just that I won't feel right until Toby gets to see that. Can't wait to see him happy."
"Aw" TJ said, pulling Sydney into a brief kiss.
"Suit yourself" Flynn shrugged, "No need to get anxious the whole day."
"Jesus fuck, the whole day!?" Sydney asked incredulously.
"We could talk about things we like in the meantime" TJ offered, "Syd, didn't you enjoy go treasure hunting with Flynn?"
"Yeah, but now that I know that the treasure doesn't exist my dreams are ruined" Sydney said dramatically.
"Yet you still like wrestlin'" Flynn said, "That's 'bout as fake."
"Wanna bet?" Sydney said, hunching in a tackling pose.
"We should probably get going, though?" TJ asked, trying to not sound irritated.
"Yeah, I don't feel like whooping your ass right now Syd" Flynn said, touching Sydney's chest with the tip of his tail.
"I get it Flynn, you're scared now that I'm jacked" Sydney said, flexing his muscles.
"When you're done masturbatin' you can join us the grown ups" Flynn said, motioning TJ to follow.
Sydney bumped into Flynn, running away before the gila's tail got him. He still tripped on a bottle.
By midday, Sydney was miserably lagging behind. Though not as fast as TJ, Flynn did a better job at keeping up, seemingly less affected by the heat. Eventually, however, even he took out a bottle and poured it over himself.
"I thought you were born for the desert?" Sydney said.
"Yes, I can still get a fucking stroke" Flynn said.
"And so can you" TJ said, taking out a bottle.
Before Sydney could protest, a jet of water fell on him.
"Damn it Toby" Sydney said, "We talked about this."
"S-sorry, its just that I thought you might get distracted and not take care of yourself" TJ said, trying to stiffle a giggle.
"Don't act cute you little devil" Sydney said, shaking his hat, "You thrive on my sufering."
Just then, Flynn poured another bottle on Sydney.
"Just makin' sure" he smiled smugly.
"You guys suuuuck" Sydney whined.
"You wish" Flynn retorted.
Several water bottles on Sydney later they made it to the "Frond", a remnant of the forests that were burned down a century ago. It was well hidden in a slope not far away from the canyon and the reservation, a patch of aspen trees that extended from the rivulet to halfway into the mountain.
"Beautiful" TJ said, leaning on a rock outcrop near the stream.
"Found it in the files" Flynn said, "A bit too far away for my tastes but so is for everyone else."
"Eh, still not as cool as the forest" Sydney said, surpressing his own awe at the place.
"It reminds me of back in Wasatchua" TJ said, "You don't find many aspens growing this far south, let alone in the desert."
"You ever think of goin' back there?" Flynn asked.
"Maybe" TJ said, "Don't me wrong, I would never leave you guys, but it'd be neat to set a life there."
"Whever you go, I'll follow" Sydney said, kissing TJ in the cheek, "Coming with us Flynn?"
"Not sure" Flynn said, sighing, "You know I haven't gotten everythin' figured out like you buttbuddies have."
"As a future pirate wrestler bodybuilder I will travel far and wide so you can count on me visiting you" Sydney said, patting Flynn on the back.
"Thanks" Flynn said semi-sarcastically, "Fuck, now I'm in an existential dread and shit."
"You and us both pal" Sydney said, masking his own uncertainty.
"Like I said, I would never abandon you guys" TJ said, "You and Leo and Chase and Jenna and Carl are all family to me. I'd preffer to return back to the north, but I can stay."
"Baby, no, you deserve to follow your dreams" Sydney said, hugging TJ on the side, "I'm pretty sure we're all gonna end up millionaires and have all the time and money to teleport into each other's ships."
"You into sci-fi now?" Flynn said.
"No, I mean teleports into actual ships docked on water" Sydney said, "Pirate man-o'wars!"
"Of course" Flynn said, shaking his head but still smiling.
Even when Flynn thought Sydney grew up into an obnoxious edgelord, the otter still had a sense of child like imagination and wonder. The lizard supposed that explained why Sydney and TJ were a couple: two different forms of childish mental stunting, making each other grow as people while not taking away what made them special. That introspection quickly made him bored, however, so he began to climb a tree.
"Watch this" he said.
The aspen trunks were bent, angled from the slope like hairs on a forearm. Thus, with some effort, Flynn managed to jump clumsily into another trunk.
"Alright!" Sydney said excitedly, "Go Flynn, go Flynn go!"
"J-just don't hurt yourself!" TJ shouted worriedly.
"Shit!" Flynn said, almost losing balance.
He kept going until there were no more trunks to jump, ending halfway into the mountain slope. He waved back at his friends down below, but as he looked he saw a strange form move amidst the trees. It seemed of a bone white, its movements more like branches of fog than walking.
"Hey guys, are you seeing this!?" Flynn shouted.
"Seeing what?" TJ asked, loudly but coming to Flynn as almost a whisper.
"Between the trees!" Flynn said.
A slithering sound was heard, and Sydney approached, an arm in front of TJ. Squinting their eyes into the forest, the couple managed to see it: a strange waving creature, at once light and shadow, white as death and with voiding black eyes.
"What the hell is that?" Sydney asked.
"I don't know" TJ said, "But it seems familiar."
"I mean, I guess we're constantly ending up with these things like at the cave, but-" Sydney said
Suddenly the white turned to visceral red and the fogginess into burnt flesh. TJ screamed and tripped into the stream, Sydney screaming after him and plunging in. As he carefully laid his lover on the bank and hugged him he began shaking violently, his eyes darting in all directions.
"You alright love?" Sydney asked concernedly, holding TJ protectively.
"A-a-at t-the l-lake!" TJ whimpered, diving his head on Sydney's chest and crying.
"Shhh, its okay" Sydney reassured TJ, rubbing his back softly with his webbed fingers and kissing his forehead, "It won't hurt you."
Just as Sydney raised his head the thing was staring right at him and he screamed. TJ disentangled in a panic, both staring at the silent monstrosity.
"A-at the lake!" TJ said, "I saw this when you and Chase were fighting!"
"Oh, so it likes a show" Sydney growled to conceal his own fear, "Good. I'm gonna kick its fucking ass!"
"Syd no!" TJ begged.
Before Sydney could spring at it, Flynn shouted, and both Sydney and TJ couldn't resist turning around to stare at him, puffing at the monster and taking out a knife. Just as they turned back around, however, it was gone.
"T-thanks Flynn" Sydney said, "You being an complete hick clown spooked it away."
"Fuckin' hell that was creepy" Flynn said in a half-shout, "You guys alright?"
"Yeah" Sydney said, before turning to TJ.
TJ nodded, but he was too shaken to give any other response. Sydney pulled him into an embrace, prompting TJ to sob into his chest, in turn leading to the otter's eyes watering as he couldn't stand his boyfriend being that terrified. Flynn sat down next to them, patting Sydney on the back.
"We got you" Sydney cooed gently, "We got you."
TJ babbled senselessly, incapable of forming coherent sentences, before gradually settling down and purring into Sydney's chest. Eventually, he rose his head, staring into Flynn's eyes.
"D-did you feel it?" TJ said, his ears lowered.
"Yeah" Sydney said, "Its always the same."
"You mean the 'not real' shit?" Flynn asked, with a slight voice break.
"Yeah" Sydney nodded, looking at him.
"Shit, this really is fuckin' you up isn't it?" Flynn said, pained to see his friends cry.
"Uh duh genius!" Sydney snapped, before sighing, "Sorry bro, this has been beating down on us for so long. Its like a fucking monkey's paw: I get the love of my life, and now the universe tells me this is some sick dream or illusion or whatever. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!"
"I can't even imagine what it'd be like" Flynn said, his eyes sheening with small tears, "And the worst part is that I'm gettin' this."
"What do you mean?" TJ asked, wiping the tears from his eyes.
"That thing.... I think that was me?" Flynn asked confusedly.
"The hell?" Sydney asked, "Last time I checked you looked like a normal lizard, not like a red version of The Black Dweller."
"What bullshit are you referencing today?" he asked, tears of joy running down his face.
"Pirates of the Black Water" Sydney said nonchalantly, "Its a good show."
"You and your fuckin' pirate cartoons" Flynn shook his head, "Bitch, I'm barin' my soul to you. I'm tellin' ya, that thing was me somehow, like I was burned or something."
"So you travelled back in time?" TJ asked, "Three times?"
"Well well Flynn, who knew you'd turn into an evil time travelling robot?" Sydney teased, punching Flynn in the shoulder.
"Unfuckin' believable!" Flynn said, raising his arms, "We just got attacked by a thing that might be me and you're crackin' jokes!"
"Do you really want to give that fucker what he wants?" Sydney said, "This whole town is clearly cursed by a demon or a god or whatever. Let it whine all it wants, I'm alive, you're not a charred monster and I'll punch it again and again until it gets the memo!"
"You're dumb as bricks" Flynn said, "But yeah, no need to get our panties twisted over a hallucination."
TJ didn't quite agree that it was a hallucination, but he decided to keep those thoughts private.
As the sun set, the trio had run out of water bottles. A good chunk of their contents was on Sydney, still dripping wet and now beginning to feel particularly frigid as the desert air grew colder. The streets were mostly empty, bits and pieces of gold amidst the houses indicating occupation.
"Thanks a lot guys, now I'll probably die of pneumonia" Sydney grunted.
"Not likely" TJ said, "I mean you still have the fur oils to keep warm. Especially without deodorants to break them down."
"In other words, you're a muskshit" Flynn teased.
"Your hatred towards my person is really making me sad" Sydney said dramatically.
"Oh quit that" Flynn said, punching Sydney in the shoulder, "T'was for your own good."
"All villains say that" Sydney pouted, "I should know, I'm a heel."
"You're a softie" Flynn said, "Deep down like to be nice, even when your boyfriend isn't around."
"Its true" TJ said, kissing Sydney on the cheek.
"Whatever" Sydney shrugged, "It will make my inevitable betrayal all the more heartbreaking. Though maybe you should have seen it coming, given how you treated me today."
Flynn made Sydney trip with his tail. As TJ came to help him up, Sydney dragged him down, their wet shirts now muddy with dust and god knows what else the road substrate was made off. The two of them laughed, rolling about as TJ made some disgust expressions at his state. Flynn shook his head, before joining in, pinning Sydney to the ground before TJ kicked the otter free from the gila's grasp.
"Cheaters" Flynn grunted, rolling away from some broken needles.
"That's why we make a good team" Sydney said, kissing TJ.
"Though let's maybe not cheat too often" TJ said guiltily.
"Yeah, you have a reputation to maintain" Sydney said, his hands petting TJ's cheek tufts softly.
"Well, I have to leave right about now" Flynn said, "Cars don't fix themselves."
"Can we visit at work?" TJ asked.
"Nah" Flynn said, "Too distractin'."
"Why, afraid you'll get a boner?" Sydney teased, posing sexily amidst the trash.
"You wish" Flynn shook his head, "Well, see ya around."
"Do you still want to go on more hikes?" TJ asked.
"Sure, if I have time" Flynn said, "I did have a lot of fun today. And probably shat more pants than ever before."
"Oh, that reminds me" Sydney said, "We could go to Southwest Adventures next meetup. Has both pirate shows and rollercoasters."
"Ugh" Flynn ughed.
"We'll see" TJ said, "Either way it will be fun."
"True" Flynn concluded, "See ya."
They waved, and Flynn walked in the direction of the setting sun.