“Are you sure about this?” Nikki murmured, in the throes of last-minute jitters.
“Absolutely,” Serge returned with no hint of doubt. “As sure as I was when we confronted the Time Devourer.”
“Oh.” Nikki let himself be tugged up the rough dirt pathway. That was awfully sure of himself, Serge was.
The unseen war was over. Lavos was defeated for good, the two worlds integrated without either knowing the difference, except those who had been involved. Nikki considered himself fortunate, because it meant he remembered every detail of what had passed between himself and Serge. Every step from their first tentative kiss to the glorious consummation of their relationship.
“Hey,” Serge tugged on his hand, blue eyes thoughtful. “Are *you* sure about this?”
“O-Of course I am!” Nikki replied, stepping close and putting his free arm around Serge. But was he sure? He’d fought Sidesteppas and CatBurglers and fiendish Dwarves and even three time-lost wizard Knights, but this was the hardest thing he’d ever done.
“Nikki?” Serge questioned.
“Really!” And he leaned over and kissed him, all wet mouth and probing tongues. When he drew back Serge was breathing a little harder. “Okay. Let’s go meet your mother.”
Serge chuckled, squeezing his hand. “You’re nervous.”
Laughing, Serge dragged him into the village. Of course, they didn’t get very far. At the very entryway they were stopped by an old man.
“Welcome to Arni Village-oh, it’s you, Serge.” Beady dark eyes moved appraisingly over their joined hands, then he arched his brows at Nikki. Nikki shifted, beginning to feel uncomfortable. “So, who’s your friend?”
Old men made the worst gossips. Nikki hoped that Serge wouldn’t say anything too incriminating - otherwise it would be all over Arni Village before they’d even reached Serge’s house.
“This is Nikki,” Serge replied, resuming forward motion with a polite nod to the old man.
“Oh?” The old man’s brows raised higher, impossible as it seemed. “The Nikki all the girls prattle about? Nikki from Magical Dreamers?”
“That’s me.” Nikki tossed red hair out of his eyes, flashing the man a smile.
“Oh...” The man looked dubious, turning to Serge. “Be careful, Serge. You might not wanna get mixed up with a rock band.”
They snickered. Obviously the ojiisan hadn’t yet heard about the concert in Termina.
“Come on,” Serge urged him. “It’s just up this way.”
Nikki let himself be led. He could admit in the privacy of his own thoughts that he did feel nervous. Not having a family of his own - Fargo and Marcy didn’t quite count, yet - he didn’t really know how to deal with someone else’s. Now he was meeting someone else’s, officially as that someone’s boyfriend. He had no idea what to expect, or how to act.
“Mom?” Serge called out, pushing aside the rushes that formed a curtain for the door. “Mom, I’m home!”
Nikki’s eyes had to adjust to the dim interior of the hut. He could make out a woman at the far end, turning away from the sink.
“Serge?” the woman said incredulously, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, clutching it almost. She looked at her son and tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Serge!”
Nikki stepped aside discreetly as the boy hurried across the hut, and Marge threw herself into her son’s arms. “Oh, my baby!” the woman sobbed. “I thought I would never see you again, Serge!”
“Mom, it’s okay,” Serge soothed her. “I’m fine, I’m me again, and we won!”
A succinct wrap-up of the situation, if you asked Nikki. It was skimpy on the details, but enough to reassure Marge that her son was okay and the world wasn’t going to blow up anytime soon, which was all she cared about. He watched as mother and son reassured each other, feeling separated from the whole thing. Is this how he would feel if his mother were still alive, and he were coming home to her? Would she be worried like this, smoothing his hair back like thus, asking him when was the last time he had a good meal?
“And who’s this?” Marge stepped back at last, hands lingering on her son’s face, then drawing back and twisting them in her apron. She smiled hesitantly.
“Mom.” Serge took a deep breath, making a small gesture to Nikki that meant ‘stand next to me, will you?’ Nikki obliged, feeling terribly self-conscious. “Mom, this is Nikki Slash, from Magical Dreamers.”
“Oh, Nikki the singer!” Marge’s face expressed polite surprise. “Even this housewife from Arni Village has heard of you, Nikki...it’s good to meet you.” She was perfectly polite, but of course there was something questioning in her face and voice...and why shouldn’t there be? Nikki the rock singer, showing up here with her son? There was something missing from the equation.
“Mom...Nikki and I are...” Almost shyly, Serge put his arm around
Nikki’s waist. “I brought him home because we’re together.”
Nikki’s stomach sank into his high-heeled boots.
“My... Serge, why couldn’t you give your mother some advance warning?” Marge scolded. “And not a single thing cooked in the house! It will take me at least half an hour to rustle up some dinner, I’m afraid... I’m terribly sorry, Nikki, the house is in a terrible state...”
Astonished, Nikki glanced over at his lover. Serge was wearing that expression that meant he was fighting to contain a grin. ‘I’ll get you later,’ Nikki vowed. ‘I’ll dunk you in the ocean.’ He hadn’t been expecting a warm reception...he’d thought it would be something more along the lines of getting chased out of the house with the frying pan El Nido housewives seemed to favor as a weapon, with more than a few curses over trying to turn her son queer.
“Thank you,” Nikki managed. “I wasn’t expecting much of a welcome. Thank you very much.”
“Nonsense,” Marge stepped close, taking his hand and squeezing it. “If Serge brings you home, I expect to treat you as part of the family.” Her matronly face was sincere.
“This means a lot to me,” Nikki murmured.
“Run along.” Marge made shooing motions. “Show him around Arni, Serge, while I get dinner started. Okay?
“Of course, Mom,” Serge replied, taking Nikki’s hand. He gave him that special little smile that made Nikki’s heart jump, as if to say ‘See? Everything’s fine!’
They pushed aside the rushes to return to the path. The bright sun was blinding outside, brighter than it seemed in Termina, Nikki was thinking, as his eyes struggled to adjust again. And maybe it was even brighter than it had been a few minutes ago, because a great weight had been lifted from his heart.
“See?” Serge was saying, clasping his hand again, “There was nothing to worry about. Now, there’s not much to see in Arni Village...not compared to Termina, at any rate...”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Nikki said, “I’m with you, after all.” At the risk of sounding too horribly sappy, that was really how he felt.
“I can show you the docks, and-”
The firm, clear girl’s voice arrested them in their tracks. It was a tone of voice that could’ve felled an angry Taurusaur at twenty paces. The boy beside him cringed, obviously none too pleased.
“Leena,” Serge replied, sounding unapologetic for whatever faults, real or imagined, the girl was holding against him.
Leena? Nikki’s ears perked up at that. So this was Leena. He looked her over with keen interest - this was the girl who’d tried to force his boyfriend into a relationship. She had long red hair confined back from her oval face, and intense blue eyes that were currently snapping with anger as she squared off in the middle of the path, hands planted on her hips.
“Exactly where have you been? What’s going on here? You disappear from the beach, then you come back with a garbled story and two strange people, then take off again while the world shakes around our ears, weird lights fire off in the sky,” Leena paused to take a breath, “and the next thing I hear, you’re in a rock band with...with...” She stopped in the middle of her rant and stared at Nikki. A shaking finger lifted to point at him.
“With Nikki and the Magical Dreamers?” Serge supplied helpfully, still holding on to Nikki’s hand.
Dumbly Leena nodded. She kept staring at Nikki, while the color drained out of her face.
Nikki stepped forward, executing a small polite bow - Serge still wouldn’t let go of his hand - and gave her a reserved smile. “Yoroshiku ne.”
Leena’s blue eyes tracked down to their joined hands, and her wide eyes went even wider. “Y-You... Masaka.” Her voice was wobbly. Her gaze returned to Serge, and now it was accusatory. “You’re dumping me for THIS? For a man!?”
“Leena, we were never together.” Serge’s voice was firm, but Nikki could feel his fingers trembling. It must take a lot to overcome the expectation of years, and all the villagers planning a future for the two of them.
“But you...but I...” the girl sputtered. Her hands flew up to a necklace around her slim throat, three fiery rainbow scales threaded with tiny shells. “What about my Kodomo Scale Necklace that you got for me?”
“Any friend would do the same,” Serge averred stoutly. “I got it for you because you were expecting me to, and wouldn’t take no for an answer - remember?”
“That’s because you stood me up that morning!” Lena shot back. Her tone was confident; she was sure she was on firm ground now. “We had a date for that morning, and you overslept. You owed me a token of love.”
“If you took it as a token of love, I can’t help that,” Serge said, now sounding apologetic. “I didn’t mean it that way. As for oversleeping...well, I couldn’t really help that. Mom didn’t wake me up, and you didn’t try to, either.”
A foot stamped in the dirt path. “But we’ve been dating for YEARS!” the girl screeched, red color flooding her face. She was not prepared to be reasonable about this, now that it was finally seeping in. “How can you just suddenly start dating a man like this, with no warning? I don’t understand! And you leave me to find out from the town gossip!”
Ah, so that had been why the girl showed up so promptly.
“When I saw you onstage at Nikki’s concert, I had no idea...” Leena continued. Her eyes flicked to Nikki and widened. “Wait a minute, that means NIKKI is gay, too!”
This one was real bright. She was one up on Miki.
“Um...” Serge’s face was turning scarlet. Curious villagers were beginning to group around them. “Leena, this really isn’t the time or place.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!” Leena continued, working herself up into full voice. But neither of them saw what was coming next.
“Serge no BAKA!”
The next thing they saw was the blur of an outstretched hand flying at top speed for Serge’s face as Leena dashed forward, taking them by surprise. The first blow cracked him across the cheek and tore his hand out of Nikki’s, knocking him a step back. The backhand caught him across the face and made him stumble again, as Leena pressed the hysterical attack of her MaidenHand. And the third blow made him pitch off his feet where he lay motionless on the path as Leena dusted off her hands, breathing hard with indignation.
“You horrible, deceitful boy!” she spat, before flipping red hair over her shoulders, turning on her heel, and marching off. “You should never represent yourself as something you’re not!”
Nikki was in shock for a moment; he’d been unable to do anything but watch the scene unfold. He knew girls could get vicious, but he’d never thought... For a moment he stood in awe of the woman scorned. Leena almost had a point somewhere in there, and Serge shouldn’t have let her think they were together for so long. Then in a panic, he turned to his toppled boyfriend. “Serge! Serge, are you all right?” Now they had a substantial audience, probably comprised of the entire village. Some of them were shaking their heads, but others looked like they were trying to hide smiles or smirks. None of them seemed particularly concerned, or sympathetic towards Leena.
Casting an annoyed glance at them, he kneeled beside Serge. His eyes were closed and he didn’t seem to be breathing. “Dammit, Serge! You’d better not be dead; I traded my last Revive to Kid for my Prism Pick!” Using a strength that was belied by his skinny frame, Nikki hefted Serge into his arms and carried him back to the nearest hut, Marge’s home.
Marge held aside the reeds for him without comment; from the sympathetic look in her eyes she had seen the whole affair from the doorway. He carried her son inside, into the back of the hut where there was a small room, and a rickety bed. Then he laid Serge down on it while trying to avoid evil thoughts - this was *not* the time!
“Leena?” Marge’s voice floated to him.
“Yes,” Nikki looked down at Serge’s still face. “I think he might be dead. I don’t have any Revive equipped right now.”
“Oh no!” There was a staccato of feet rushing off.
Serge’s eyes fluttered open and he sat up with a mischievous grin curling his lips. “Thought I was dead, huh?”
“Serge, you jerk!” Nikki punched his shoulder and Serge winced, lapsing onto his elbows.
“Hey, that hurts. She really did a number on me,” Serge complained. He sat up fully again, one hand going to his face where a livid handprint stood out clearly. “I never thought she’d use a Tech attack on me.”
Laughing with relief, Nikki kicked off a Cure in a blossoming rush of cool blue, spilling over Serge’s body, making him straighten up and erasing the smudge of scarlet from his skin. He smiled up at Nikki.
“You made me worry, baka,” Nikki stepped into him, hands on the boy’s shoulders. Serge’s hands drifted to his hips. “Lying like that in the middle of the path, pretending to be dead...”
“Yeah, well, Leena needed a satisfying kind of closure,” Serge shrugged, blue eyes dancing up at him. “There’s nothing more satisfying than leaving me temporarily for dead, I guess.”
Nikki traced a cheek with his thumb. “You’re really too damned tempting, you know that? Your mom’s going to be back any minute with a handful of Revives and all I can think of is...”
“The bed would break in half,” Serge grinned, but his fingers were moving along the top edges of Nikki’s leather pants. “This bed hasn’t seen anything but solo action, ever.”
Nikki bit his lip, the alluring image of Serge with his hand tucked between his lean thighs floating in the mind’s eye. Serge bending double on the tiny cot, panting as he rushed closer to coming... “Don’t tempt me,” Nikki whispered. Ohh, he’d like nothing more than to push Serge back, looping muscular long legs over his shoulders, pressing...
“Nikki? Serge?” Marge’s frantic voice reached them. “Nikki, is he all right?”
Nikki drew back hastily, Serge’s fingers clinging to the edge of his pants. They released with a little ‘snap.’
“I’m fine, Mom!” Serge turned his head to call. “Leena knocked me a good one, but I wasn’t dead!”
“Serge Cerulean, I just spent 250 gil on a Revive for you!” Marge’s voice came back to them, sounding stern now.
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m sure she’ll give you a good trade - or refund your money!”
“I’m just glad you’re okay, Serge,” Marge called to them, resigned. “I’ll finish making dinner.”
Serge looked up at Nikki innocently, blue eyes shining.
“Your mother is such a good person,” Nikki said to him, feeling a little envious. But he knew Serge would gladly share his mother, and Marge would be equally happy to have another ‘son’ to practice her mothering skills on. “And you’re terrible to play such a trick on her - on both of us!”
“Well then, you should punish me, shouldn’t you?” Serge blinked up at him, eyes wide.
“Ohh, now you’re really tempting me, brat,” Nikki replied, unable to look down into those intense blue eyes without having equally intense evil thoughts.
“Why not give in to temptation?” Serge inquired, tone ingenuous. “After all, it will be at least twenty minutes until dinner...that’s enough time, isn’t it?”
“I’ll assume you don’t mean fighting komodo dragons at Lizard Rock,” Nikki said dryly. “But otherwise, I think I’d take offense that you would think it would take only twenty minutes.”
Serge’s eyes widened. “We can’t take too long, my mother is still home!”
“So you really are serious!” Nikki was kind of shocked. After all, Marge was just in the next room, and she would surely hear any sort of noise that escaped this room... His hands drifted back to Serge’s shoulders. “You know I won’t complain if you really want to.”
“I can’t think of a better way to kill twenty minutes,” Serge said seriously, that little smile on his lips. It was the one that made Nikki’s heart flutter, and he had no immunity for it.
“You asked for it,” Nikki replied. With one push, Serge fell back to the flimsy rush mattress. He was smiling, hands tucked behind his head. Nikki bent down and undid his wide leather belt, tossing it to the floor. Then he paused, leaning over Serge, biting his lip thoughtfully. “Maybe I should spank you, then?”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Serge protested, reaching up with strong, long legs to hook them around Nikki. “Aren’t I punished enough, having to be quiet with my mother in the next room?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Nikki conceded the point. “And now...” He settled his full weight onto Serge at the same time his lover tightened his legs, pulling him forcefully down to join him.
They tumbled to the floor in a tangle as the flimsy rush-and-wood bed broke cleanly in half.
“Ouch!” Serge yelped as Nikki landed on him, hard, crushing him to the floor amongst the remnants of the bed. It almost would’ve been pleasant, being so closely entangled - that is, if the landing had been cushioned.
“Boys!?” Marge called in alarm. “Are you all right? Should I bring a couple of Cures?”
“Ah, no, we’re fine!!” Serge shot straight up, dumping him to the ground. “No, Mom, don’t come in here!”
Nikki lounged on his elbow in the middle of the broken bed, struggling not to laugh. He had to cover his mouth.
“Are you sure!?” Marge called, sounding ever closer. “That sounded bad...”
“NO!!” Serge hollered back, panicked. “We’re fine, I promise, just DON’T COME IN!”
Now Nikki was laughing, trying to smother the sound with his hand. This was *too* much. The thought of Marge bursting in on them was vaguely discomfiting, but it wasn’t a patch compared to Serge’s hysterical reaction right before his eyes.
“Okay, okay.” Marge’s voice retreated. “Just wanted to make sure.”
Serge buried his head in his hands.
Nikki patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Perhaps we should go to Lizard Rock, after all.”
Serge lifted his head and glared.
Marge ladled out the simmering Sandsquirt stew generously into the three bowls, then seated herself at the table with them.
“So, Mom...I think I’m going to be moving to Termina,” Serge said, glancing over at Nikki.
Nikki gave him a small encouraging nod, then tasted the stew. Delicious!
“Termina? Oh, sweetie, that’s so far away,” Marge protested, biting her lip. “I suppose it’s not as bad as the main continent...but, well, how will you support yourself?”
Serge glanced at him again. “Well, I’m the percussionist in Nikki’s band now. And Nikki and I will be living together, so my living expenses won’t be so bad.”
“Serge! I thought I raised you better than that!” Marge sounded shocked and disappointed as she turned to her son with a mixed expression.
Nikki’s heart sank into his stomach, where the stew boiled it merrily. Maybe Marge wasn’t as open-minded as she’d seemed.
“A percussionist? Sweetie, you know that’s not a very stable source of income...”
Nikki breathed easier and his heart resumed its rightful place.
“Mom...” Serge complained.
“I always pictured you’d go into the Element business; there’s a continuing demand for product in that industry...”
“Mom!” Serge exclaimed, frustrated. “I’ll be fine.”
“All right, dear...” Marge lapsed off, concentrating on her stew. Her expression was dubious.
Serge dug into his own bowl, looking aggravated. “You could always move to Termina, too. I...I don’t think I’ll be able to come back here, after today...”
“We’ll see,” Marge replied. “You know I don’t like to rush into things, dear. Are you staying the night?”
Serge turned red. “I-um, I don’t think so, Mom. I...um...” He looked over to Nikki for help.
“There’s a little problem with the bed.”