'THE END OF THE WORLD PARTY’ Sock read on his way into the opening of a building that was falling apart. There was a broken neon sign hanging up in the right corner by one side reading ‘Lust’s Garden’.
“This must have been a nightclub before it all happened,” Sock concluded, raking his eyes over the structure to see just how many holes he could find in the brick.
“Maybe…” Jonathan said, looking up to where Sock was looking.
Sock, after a few more seconds of checking the building over, pulled on Jonathan’s sleeve. “Come on.”
They stepped in, and were immediately assaulted by the sheer volume of the music. It was louder than a metal concert in the space, and Sock could only assume that it only got louder from there. The music was techno, and while Sock liked the genre, every beat punched into his head, his brain immediately rejecting the intruders. He clutched his head, “Agh, this is giving me a headache. We better be quick about this.”
Jonathan sharply nodded, heading off to the left of the club while Sock took the right.
The longer Sock ventured further into the old club, the more unsettled he was. He had been shocked that there were people in the club in the first place due to it’s structural integrity’s reliance being obviously doubtful. Still, the number of people was overwhelming, as well as the… supplies they had with them. There were drugs all over the place. Everywhere Sock turned, somebody was popping a pill, smoking anything known to man, or relying on a needle to pump them with substances. Sock wrinkled his nose in discomfort when he saw an energetic boy—maybe in his late twenties—do a line of cocaine. He hurried his steps a little until he was past the entrance to the room the boy was in.
Every step, every beat was painful. Sock had no idea why it was affecting him so much. He’d heard loud music before, this wasn't that big of a deal… so why was his body treating it like it was?
The pounding in his head got so bad at one point that he felt his knees give out, reaching to grab the end of a nearby table in another one of the odd side-rooms that branched off the main area. He clutched his head, feeling a groan rip through his throat without hearing it, just that damn music.
He was panting, sweating under all the body heat hitting him from nearly every direction. He thought that maybe he deserved to take a few moments to steady himself before he went back to searching again.
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale… Sock found that he was struggling to breathe, his body rejecting the hot, humid, drug-laced toxin that was the air surrounding him. His lungs found tiny bits of oxygen here and there, almost not enough. He coughed his carbon dioxide out every time; so much for the exhale.
… A few more minutes of that.
He got up, left the room. The pain was getting worse by the second, growing, mutating until climactically, agony reared its ugly, sinister face. Unlike its origin’s less-effective, stagnant form, agony was a shape shifting thing. One moment it was a monster, the next it flooded through his head like water, fluidly. Every movement he made triggered it to move along with him. His vision was getting blurry around the edges.
He got to his third room. It got worse, the agony was rising in level, taking up his thoughts in its wake. He heard their final cries as they drowned: I wonder how Jonathan’s doing? Is it affecting him like it’s affecting me? I have to keep looking! It’s not safe here… I have to find him… The pain… Oh god, the pain… Each thought a separate entity, emotion behind them varying as they were snuffed out.
He screamed, as the liquid agony shaped a dagger in his head, twisting around until all that remained of him was carried away by the music.
Meanwhile, the perimeter was at least partially safe as Jonathan walked it. He encircled the main room, inspecting faces and the grunge-y décor from a distance. He only ran into one couple doing god-knows-what against the wall. He made a wide circle around them, pushing past dancers.
The main area was clear, no sign of it. He ducked into a side-room. He was greeted by the overwhelming smell of alcohol. He found a beer-pong game in full swing when the strong smell wore off enough to open his eyes. He wiped away the tears that had sprung from his baby blues and sniffed. Let’s get this over with.
He spotted a guy who looked particularly red-faced from the wall. For one reason or another, Jonathan sensed something off about him. He kept his eyes on him, and moments later, the man’s body ripped away from him. Jonathan’s eyes widened, witnessing the transformation from man to monster as the skin tore itself away, revealing a marble-like appearance to a beast with incredible muscles—muscles that the man had not had—and ram horns on either side of his head. He climbed the wall like an insect, claws digging into the brick. What disturbed Jonathan the most was the grin that was the only connection between the man’s previous form and his new one.
Jonathan couldn’t ignore the memory of Sock telling him about what other, more-experienced demons looked like. The beast before him was a near-perfect match to the description.
I’ve gotta find Sock.
He hurried out of the side-room and tapped a woman on the shoulder. With pursed lips, she turned to him.
“Excuse me! Have you seen my friend?! He’s got a weird hat--?”
“I’m your friend too, darling...” she purred in his ear after inspecting him, uncaring of what he’d initially said and the urgency of it.
Jonathan gently pushed her away from him, “No thank you.”
She shrugged and turned back to her old partner, dancing again.
He gave up on asking anyone else for help. The more he looked, the more they all seemed to be entranced, not even noticing him as he passed directly in front of them.
He ducked into another side room at the far end of the club, seeing an even weirder sight there. A beautiful blonde woman sat atop a throne, people kneeling at her feet. She locked eyes with Jonathan as he stepped in, and as she smirked and Jonathan blinked, she changed. Her horns came in dark gray while her body grew as well as colored itself an unnatural pink. Jonathan blinked; she was back to normal.
He shook his head and ran out of the room, fleeing to the one next door.
The room was thick with many things: body heat, cologne, a horrible smell he couldn't place and moving bodies. He coughed as a break in the group he was standing in front of revealed a sight that made his blood run cold.
Sock laid sprawled on his back on a pool table from the waist up, his legs hanging down the side of the table. His hat was partly off, hands limp beside either side of his head. He was unconscious.
Jonathan shoved his way through as fast as he could with the restricted movement, not taking his eyes away from his unconscious companion. When he got there, he stood between Sock’s legs, trying to inspect him with little care of exactly where he was standing. He placed two fingers to the side of Sock’s neck for a moment. Pulse. Good. He shook him.
“Sock, wake up,” he mostly told himself this, his speech getting swept away into the beat of the music pulsing in the floor and the walls and everywhere.
“Sock, come on.” He shook him harder, careful not to bang Sock’s head into the table beneath him.
“Sock, come on, talk to me!” Sock’s head was swinging limply on his neck, and Jonathan found after that third try that it was no use, he had to try something else.
Come on, Jon, think of something! You’ve gotta get him out of here!
He got an idea. It wasn't the best idea, but he hoped that it would work. He knew that he wasn't strong enough to carry Sock out, and dragging him all that way to the main entrance would be very near impossible.
He bit his lip, I hope you can forgive me for this… and without a second thought, smacked the side of Sock’s face as hard as he possibly could.
Sock shouted, and flung his hand out to grab the son of a bitch who just—he examined the clothing in his fist, and then the face of the person wearing it. His eyes widened considerably. “Jona—?”
“No time, come on.” Jonathan hurried them both out, Sock hunched against his body the whole way to the door.
It was incredibly strange how the music wasn't sensed in any way once they were completely outside of the club. No vibrations in the ground, no remnants of the sound outside. However, considering what Jonathan had seen inside, he wasn't surprised. He couldn't remember if they had heard the music on the way in or not now.
They ran from the club until they were a good distance away before finally stopping, panting under the summer sun.
Jonathan stumbled when a sudden weight on his body triggered a response. He looked down into the blinding sunlit reflection of Sock’s goggles as the ex-demon embraced his middle. He acknowledged the boy say his name, felt the edge of his mouth form the word lightly against his shoulder, and Jonathan knew that he’d never heard anyone, especially Sock, sound so distressed. It was different from when he whined; here he sounded weak, vulnerable.
“That was awful…” Whimpers dotted Sock’s breathy response, and he turned his head and lowered himself to his normal height from the tips of his toes to bury his face in Jonathan’s chest rather than his shoulder.
Jonathan had been embracing Sock back around the waist for a few moments now, he hadn't realized it. When he did, it took him a minute to bring an arm up to grab Sock’s shoulder from behind, forearm between the smaller’s shoulder-blades. The position, hopefully, made Sock feel safer, as it pulled him closer to his body, and Jonathan hoped he wasn't weird for thinking that it should.
Jonathan dumped string after quiet string of what he hoped were comforting phrases from his lips, hoping that Sock would stop shaking. Before he could begin to think of how to ask Sock about what he remembered, the bare skin of his arms began to grow frigid beneath him.
“Woah, you okay?”
Sock only responded with, “It’s so cold all of the sudden…”
Jonathan pushed Sock back gently and began stripping himself of his hoodie. He handed it to Sock, who gave a tiny smile and a quiet “Thank you, Jonathan” before zipping it up.
It was so incredibly big on him. The gray material drowned his small frame in something akin to a bear hug, one that discharged body heat in copious amounts while dispelling any feeling of being alone or afraid. Sock had never felt anything like it before. That combined with the intake of proper air again, Sock was the closest he’d ever be to heaven. If… if he fucked this up again.
Jonathan popped his thought bubble, “Better?”
Sock’s throat hurt from all of the screaming, and he met Jonathan’s eyes without a quick enough answer.
“What happened in there?” Jonathan asked, eyebrows linked and concern evident in his every fiber.
“I… I don't know. The music… Something with the music got to me. Which was weird, I’ve heard music that loud before and I’ve never had a problem. It was just…”
Agonizing wouldn't have been a stretch, but Sock didn’t want to sound like he was exaggerating. “Painful.”
Jonathan took him by the shoulders, “Are you alright? You haven't answered my question.”
“Yeah, yeah I’m al-“
A shudder rocked Sock’s body. Even though warmth was slowly moving itself into his body from the gray hug surrounding him, the cold still rattled him from deep within. It reminded him that he had been dead once, and that his body, without him inside, had been this cold, especially with that late-September air on it in the cemetery behind his house…
Jonathan saw, and wrapped Sock in another hug.
Sock felt that cut into him, into the desolate cold, feeling it dig deeply beneath a few layers of himself that the hoodie hadn't helped. That was him, Jonathan, the knife that didn't hurt. Not just his warmth, but also his concern, his companionship. Jonathan could have run when Sock told him about what happened, what he chose and why; he could have run so far away and Sock could have never seen him again. But he hadn't. He’d stayed. Sock didn't know what it meant, but his body felt it as the cold released his core and raced for his skin, only to become the other half to a stalemate of fronts. Sock’s eyelids closed, scrunching up when he hugged back.
Jonathan realized how human Sock was with how tightly he’d reciprocated the gesture. He was a pest, yes, but he was also so vulnerable at points, you could knock him down with a single remark. This human needed him, Jonathan was his stability right then. Regardless of Sock’s state of being, they were still stuck with each other. Not because they had to be now, but because they felt an obligation to the other to make sure they were okay. And there he was, Jonathan Combs was admitting to himself that he cared about Sock.
Sweet Jesus, what happened to the apathy?
Sock made adorable little sounds in his throat unknowingly as he shifted his head and tightened his grip. They caught Jonathan’s ears, and he resisted the urge to sigh. He felt himself caving; into what, he didn't know. “Still cold?”
“Not really. My head still kinda hurts though…”
Jonathan hummed in understanding before letting go. “C’mon, we’d better get home.”
Sock nodded despite the pain and walked quietly by his side for awhile.
The crunching of the ground beneath Jonathan’s feet was comforting. The fact that Sock really wasn't alone was comforting. He didn't even care that Jonathan had smacked him to wake him up before; he knew that waking him up was a feat.
Regardless, Jonathan broke the pensive yet comforting silence by bringing it up, “I’m sorry I hit you earlier…”
Sock looked confusedly at him, “What?” Sock kept his gaze on him for a moment.
“What?” Jonathan asked.
The two simultaneously fumbled over words in their own mouths and tripped over the words of the other. Jonathan explained how he thought he knew about the hit because he’d grabbed him afterward, and Sock tried to explain over him how it was okay. Finally, Sock got a word over Jonathan’s wall of over-explanation, “Don't worry about it. I don't care.”
“You don't?” Jonathan returned his confusion with his own expression.
“No. I know that waking me up is a challenge…” Sock admitted, slightly sheepish.
Jonathan didn't look convinced, even though Sock gave him no reason to think that what he was telling him was a lie.
Oh wait. I'm a compulsive liar. Of course there is.
“Besides,” Sock continued, “if I get a bruise, it would make me look tougher, right?” Sock walked backward to show Jonathan the other side of his face, the one he’d hit. He cocked his head, modeling the potential.
Jonathan smiled, bringing his gaze back up to ensure that he wouldn't walk into something.
Sock had succeeded in making Jonathan’s conscience a little less heavy. He grinned: mission accomplished.
“C’mon, wouldn't it?” Sock pushed, walking a little faster to keep up with the blonde’s longer legs.
“You couldn't look menacing if your life depended on it.”
Sock closed his eyes and cocked his head upward proudly, “On the contrary. You underestimate me. I can look very scary, if need be.”
“Show me,” Jonathan dared, slowing his pace absentmindedly.
“Nah… My fear factor is too much for you. You’d piss yourself if I showed you.”
“More like piss myself laughing.”
“Out of fear,” Sock added.
“People do that?”
“Laugh out of fear?” Sock nodded, “Yeah. I do, at least. But it’s more like an awkward chuckle than anything else, so it would be unlikely that you would piss yourself doing that…”
Jonathan scoffed, “You’re weird.”
Sock smirked up at him and countered with the classic response, “You just noticed?”
With an amused smile, the blonde replied, “I noticed that you suck faster.”
“Hey!” Sock shoved him.
Jonathan stumbled, but didn't stop chuckling. Then he turned, and looked Sock in the face when he pushed him back.
The two were gentle as they began to knock into each other with their shoulders. Looking each other in the eyes with light smiles, they travelled further away from the decomposing area just outside the city.
“It’s weird…” Jonathan began, “Now that you have a body and I can touch you and stuff…”
“Yeah…” Sock absently agreed, staring into the space of thinking of so many things at once and not all of them appropriate.
“Are you… Are you used to it yet? After being dead for so long?”
Sock snapped out of it, looking back at the boy next to him. “Well, I mean… It’s kinda… I don't know… Yes. But a year’s not that long, remember.”
“To not be alive?”
“Well that’s a different story…”
Jonathan paused… Curiously, he asked, “Sock?”
“Yeah?” his smaller companion answered.
“What’s it like to be reborn?”
Sock froze… “Well… You feel lighter, you feel… a little less disgusting to the rest of humanity…” He shrugged.
Jonathan shrugged as well, not knowing what to say.
“I’m so glad that you don't wear one of those light hoodies…” Abruptly switching topics, Sock nestled further into the hoodie around him.
“Are you still cold? It’s warm out.”
“So you should be grateful to have such a heavy hoodie off of you then…”
Jonathan rolled his eyes, “Seriously though, are you cold?” He tried to cover it up, but concern laced the air around him. He hoped that Sock was oblivious enough to have it go unnoticed.
“A little, not really. But I hope you aren't planning on getting this back…”
“You better be kidding...” The darkness Jonathan descended quickly into at that moment had Sock laughing out of fear. “I will kill you again before I let you take that from me.”
“So I mean less to you than a piece of clothing… Ouch,” Sock joked, “It’s nice to know where your priorities lie.”
Jonathan rolled his eyes again, a smile pulling at his lips. Jonathan had no idea what would happen down the road, but he did know one thing: when he was with Sock, nothing felt like the end of the world. Nothing felt urgent or lethal, and honestly, he couldn't be more calm during a demonically-apocalyptic scenario if he were with God herself.