Prompted by readera with the prompts ‘dealing with self harm’ and ‘summer treats’. I hope you don’t mind I did both in one!
Warnings: Contains mentions of self-harm, discussions of un-ideal childhood safety, a semi-graphic depiction of using visual substitutes for self-harm including fake blood, and brutal violence against ice chips. Current environment is supportive, but consider your headspace.
Zita pushed her glasses up her nose and squinted at the semi-sentient shadow that her girlfriend brought into their apartment in lieu of a pet.
"Nimbus, what in the full and actual fuck?" she asked as it twisted and danced across her kitchen counter like a particularly agile cat. "You know you aren't allowed on the counters, shoo."
Nimbus didn't listen, but bapped her in the face with a tendril of shadow. She spluttered out a few strong curses in Spanish and reached for the spray bottle of blessed sun-water to administer a teaching spritz, but Nimbus flowed down off the counter and took the form of a large, shadowy dog. Darkmatter used this ability sometimes to send a message if she didn't feel like going out to smack the hands of the petty crooks edging her turf herself, and Quest liked it marginally better than Zita liked the usual cat-form. Dividing her opinions like that, Quest versus Zita, superhera versus engineer, tended to give her friends headaches, but it was better than the headache of forgetting who she was and what she was supposed to know.
"What now?" she asked, as Nimbus locked ephemeral jaws on her skirt. She sighed and let the crazy shadow drag her to the bedroom, where her girlfriend was curled into a ball. "Dacia?"
"Go 'way," her girlfriend muttered sulkily.
"Nope. no can do,” she sighed. “You made me promise to help you when you needed it. What’s going on?”
“It’s a hurting day,” Dacia muttered, her voice still sulky, but holding a tiny note of hope. “I really want to, but I can’t. I promised not to. But the feeling is under my skin and I just want to pry it out and smash it.”
“Oh, mi querido amor, lo siento,” Zita said, sighing into the words. “Tell me about it, maybe I can find a way to help you beat this without hurting yourself.”
“It’s like this cold, hard feeling in my chest, and cold water in my veins instead of blood. It’s like a cancer made out of snowmelt and ice. I want to be warm, like you, but how can I when my own body is trying to convince me I’m an iceberg? That I’m cold and hard and horrible? It doesn’t stop, either. It just gets more manageable, and I’ve only found one thing that helps any, but nobody likes it when I do that!”
“We don’t like it because we’re scared for you,” Zita reminded her. “Hey, it’s summer, we could go sit outside, see if being in the warm helps you any.”
“It won’t work,” Dacia said flatly, “but we might as well. It’ll make you feel better to try, I guess.”
“It will make me feel better,” Zita confirmed, and pulled out a pair of shorts made from microfiber material and really intended for sleeping. “Put these on, the fuzzy might also help.”
Dacia got dressed, wearing a longsleeved shirt of dark gray and black cotton washed practically transparent over a purple tank top, not even bothering with the eye makeup or jewelry that made Zita’s aunts tutt at her. It clashed a bit with the spring green of the shorts, but they didn’t go with anything and she liked them anyhow. She petted her thighs as Zita pulled her out to their favorite park to sit and watch the neighbor kids play.
“What’s your favorite structure on the playground?” Zita asked, and Dacia curled into her side, not minding the fact that on days this sunny, Nimbus had to stay behind. She liked cuddles, even if she didn’t like much else.
“I like the pirate’s nest,” she said, pointing to the crow’s nest accessible only by climbing nets and sporting a black flag with a parrot skull. “It’s a safe place to go when the world is too scary. It’s good to have that for kids, because they’re so much smaller than the worst of it.”
Zita frowned and Dacia bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to make Zita sad, it’s just that the world was so much darker than the superhera in her girlfriend wanted to admit.
“I always liked the spray tree,” Zita admitted, pointing to the tall pole with it’s fine cool mist pouring from the outstretched branches of metal piping and fat drops clinging to the wide, flat ‘leaves’ of colored glass. “It’s good for cooling off on days that it’s too hot and the air-conditioners aren’t working in the apartments. Also, this park uses potable water, so it’s safe for the kids who don’t have good pipes at home to bring out jugs and fill them.”
“I… didn’t know that,” Dacia said slowly. “It sounds like you’ve done that.”
“I used to,” Zita admitted. “I wasn’t always who I am now, and my family has come a long way. But I remember when heat was dangerous. A good spray tree can help everyone stay a little safer.”
Dacia shivered in the warm summer air. “Sounds scary.”
“It was,” Zita said with a smile. “And then I picked up my cousin Ernesto’s tool kit one day and rewired a handheld fan to one of those little dashboard flowers to make it solar powered. After that, I went from scared to stubborn, determined to learn how to fix all the things.”
“Your life makes so much more sense now,” Dacia muttered, thinking of her girlfriend's superhera alter ego.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Zita drawled. “Come on, I want a snow-cone, let’s go get some.”
Dacia followed her girlfriend to the little concession stand and waited for the paper cone of shaved ice and syrup to be passed to her.
“Black cherry, your favorite,” Zita said with pride. Her memory was sometimes a little spotty, so when she did recall favorites, she got all happy and shiny, like a puppy or a small child who’d been praised.
“Thanks,” Dacia said, trying to keep up the face she used in public. She didn’t want to start crying here. Vulnerability was fine in front of Zita, but not in front of random strangers. “What did you get?”
“Lime and coconut,” Zita reported, licking the toxic-looking neon green ice. “Could use salt, though.”
“Ew,” Dacia said, wrinkling her nose. “Salt on ice cream?”
“It’s not ice cream,” Zita insisted. “It’s just ice. Salt on ice can be good!”
“You’re a freak,” Dacia said. “But you’re my freak, so I guess it’s okay.”
“You know you love me,” Zita teased, sticking a lurid green tongue at her. Dacia laughed in spite of herself, and it felt good, warm like sunlight and rolling down inside her like a drop of fudge sliding over a sundae’s top. “Oh, you spilled.”
Dacia looked at her hand, where the paper cone had crumpled under the pressure of her fingers and a drop of cold cherry syrup ran from hand to wrist and down, down. Her eyes tracked it greedily, watching the blood-colored liquid roll across her skin, raising goosebumps behind it. “Wow”
“Dacia?” Zita asked, shaking her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just realized that I could use the visual to substitute the reality,” she said vaguely, licking up the streak of red. “Remind me to go by the magic shop for prop supplies later.”
“I’m glad you found a safe way around that,” Zita said carefully as they passed a group of children playing with a bucket of ice chips, shrieking as they put them down each other’s shirts and batted them along the sidewalks. A stray ice node of several cubes frozen together sailed past a boy’s hand and toward Zita. Dacia darted her hand out and snatched it, dropping it when she realized what she’d done.
“Lady, are you okay?” a girl asked. “I didn’t mean to throw that hard!”
“I’m fine,” Zita said, reaching out to hold Dacia’s hand. “I think it was just bigger than you thought so it had more force when she caught it.”
“May I play with this one?” Dacia asked softly. “I really want to see if it’ll smash when I step on it.”
“Yeah!” cheered the boy who’d fumbled the catch. “Stompy boots, stompy boots!”
The kids cheered again and Dacia slammed her heel down on the clump, snapping free a chip. The sharp snap echoed into the hard, cold lump in her chest, like an iceberg sheering off.
“That was… really fun,” she said, looking at Zita, who was smiling at her again. “I’m going to go get more ice at the gas station down the street, I’ll be right back!”
Zita licked her sour and sweet ice as Dacia peeled off. “Get a packet of salt from the food section while you’re there,” she called, “and have fun!”