Viktor stepped back from the rough wooden cross driven into the earth, leaving behind a cluster of white flowers heavy with cloying scent. His fingers skimmed over the time-splintered point of the cross before he turned, bidding farewell without words. He returned to where Flik waited in silence, his blue eyes downcast.
"I think that one was my mother's," Viktor said conversationally.
Flik's gaze snapped up to meet his. "But you're not sure?" he exclaimed, shocked.
Viktor shook his head. There was a lump in his throat but he was able to reply, "It's been a long time, Flik." But that wasn't all. "The bodies...they weren't exactly in good shape by the time I got around to burying them."
"Oh." There was no reply for that.
That was all right, because Viktor preferred silence for now. He had been avoiding the City-States of Jowston for the longest time for just this reason; a part of him would have been happy never to return to North Window. Yet here he was making peace with old ghosts. Now that the Neclord had been defeated...
"Hey! Are you two going to stand around all day, or do you plan on moving out?"
The sharp voice startled Viktor, and Flik jumped. Viktor swore something explicit and vicious under his breath and put a hand to his sword-hilt.
The hilt of his talking sword.
"Well, I dunno, Star Dragon Sword," Viktor replied, turning away from the rows of crude graves. "Did you have a purpose in mind, or did you just want us to go around randomly fighting evil?"
"If there is great evil in the world to be fought, then the sooner you start, the better off the world will be," the Star Dragon Sword replied sententiously, and Flik rolled his eyes. "Besides, the Blue Lightning is still on his journey to manhood, is he not? Great deeds must be performed!"
It was Viktor's turn to roll his eyes. It would be a very long time, if ever, before Flik returned from his "journey of manhood," but he wasn't about to tell the Star Dragon Sword that. Some things were a little too personal to divulge to a hunk of enchanted scrap metal. "Night Rune reincarnated, my ass," Viktor muttered.
"What was that!?" the Star Dragon Sword demanded.
"Uh, I said night will come fast," Viktor improvised, looking over his shoulder at Flik. "Let's get out of here. South Window isn't too far off, and maybe then we can see about finding a place to make our base of operations."
Flik was obviously trying to stifle a comment about the sword, which had been their constant companion since they had left the Toran Empire, now the Toran Republic led by their old friend Lepant. It didn't look like a complimentary comment, and rightly so...the damned thing had been snarking since the day it had fallen into Viktor's hands.
Sure, it had helped him defeat the Neclord...but was it really worth the pain and constant running dialogue ever since then?
"I agree, I'd like to be under shelter before we stop for the night," Flik said, giving Viktor a layered look that could have been sympathy or dyspepsia. "Shall we go?"
Behind the pair of heroes-turned-mercenaries, the graveside flowers gave off their scent where Viktor had placed them. The dead rested for now, and the quick continued.
"Viktor...your sword is staring at me."
Viktor finished up spitting a couple of fine rabbits and staking them out over the fire and gave the Star Dragon Sword a hard look where he had propped it against their packs. It wasn't the only thing Flik had issue with this evening; they had been forced to camp out far short of their destination because of the monsters that came at them in seemingly inexhaustible droves. Flik had reminded him at that point of his decision not to rent horses at KusKus. The weather had turned ugly and they had taken shelter in a drafty cave. Now Flik was sitting beside the campfire -- and the Star Dragon Sword -- giving him accusatory eyes.
All of that amounted to one earthshaking fact that disappointed Viktor to the core of his chilled being: he was not getting laid tonight.
"Excuse me for staring," the Star Dragon Sword said huffily. "It's not as if I have a premiere choice of view. I look where I've been placed, I don't have a whole lot of latitude."
"Stare at the wall, then, you don't have to stare at me," Flik retorted, obviously preparing to work himself up to a fine argument...with Viktor's sword, if not Viktor himself.
"Fine, then," Viktor said amiably, getting up from his haunches and plucking his cloak from his shoulders. "I can take care of both of your problems." And he tossed his cloak over the Star Dragon Sword, draping it in its rust-colored folds.
"You upstart--" the Star Dragon Sword began to squawk, and cut off as the muffling folds descended over hilt and scabbard.
"Better?" Viktor said, and not waiting for an answer, he seated himself behind Flik, keeping an eye on the roasting meat as he settled his large hands on the younger man's shoulders.
"Viktor, I'm not in the mood..." Flik began, irritated, then trailed off as the big man's hands began to rub and chafe at the tense lines of his shoulders. "Umf. Oh. Ahh... There's a knot..."
"I know, I can feel it," Viktor replied, walking his thumbs up and down the other man's neck and shoulders. He worked at the taut flesh and tendons, expertly seeking out the areas that held the worst aches and pains and drawing them out. He worked at Flik's shoulders for a good five minutes until he smelled flesh searing. "Better?"
"Mmm...yeah," Flik said grudgingly. He had begun to lean back into Viktor's touch. "Almost makes up for your decision not to rent horses, and getting us caught in the rain."
"Oh, just let it go," Viktor replied, getting up to tend to the meat. He was an easygoing man, but sometimes Flik tried his patience. He turned the meat over. "In a minute or two you'll have a full belly and everything will feel better. It's called making the best of a bad situation."
Flik pulled his boots off and tossed them to the side. "Yeah, seems like it's just about all I do when I go places with you."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Viktor said evenly, settling himself cross-leggedbetween Flik and the Star Dragon. He stared into the bright, tiny fire for a moment, then closed his eyes. It had been...a long day. He couldn't even remember where his mother's grave was, or his sister's, or Daisy's...
Hands settled tentatively on his shoulders.
"Flik, wha...?" Viktor began, surprised. Rare was the occasion when he was treated to a backrub.
"Shut up and let me do this," Flik said, sounding wry. "I guess I've been a bit of a bastard."
A bit? Viktor thought, but for once, wisely kept something to himself.
Flik's technique, he noted abstractly as conscious thought dissolved happily into pure appreciation, was markedly better than his own rough-and-ready approach to massage. Then, when the knots in his back had warmed and his muscles were loose as cotton, Flik gave him a hesitant, very experimental caress.
If Viktor had been drinking sake he would have thought he felt flushed. This was one of the first gestures Flik had made toward initiating sex, or at least intimacy, between them and he took it as a good sign. More than that, it encouraged Viktor, made him think that his partner was finally meeting him at least halfway in this as he did in the easier things like fighting and arguing and deciding what course they should take next.
Viktor half-turned and dragged Flik into a rough embrace, awkward from that angle but fueled by raw emotion, the need to touch and appreciate something living and immediate. "I'm glad you're here with me," he conceded that one thing to Flik before covering his mouth to drown out any reply the man might make.
Flik's fingers dug into his arms as he returned the kiss, scooting on his butt to make the angles of their necks less awkward. Then he opened his mouth and sucked Viktor's tongue into play.
"Excuse me...excuse me...? I don't mean to break in on what is surely a sickeningly intimate moment, though of course I wouldn't know seeing as you have shrouded my eyes, but I smell meat burning."
Flik tensed in Viktor's half-embrace, no doubt undoing all of the good that the quick neckrub had done him. Viktor broke away from Flik's unexpectedly inviting mouth with a muttered curse for enchanted weapons in general and this misbegotten heap of salvage in particular. "I'll take care of it," Viktor announced, pulling away to tend to the meat.
To add insult to injury on his string of failures for the day, the rabbit was burned on one side.
Viktor ate in silence, eyeing the sharp outlines of the Star Dragon Sword beneath his cloak. Flik, for his part, made a point of ignoring both of them as he ate, chewing down the burned bits without comment. At length Viktor got up and disposed of the remains of their dinner, burying them outside of the cave. The rain had stopped but the earth was dark outside.
Within, the wind whistled eerily and the fire crackled sharply as it bit a log in half. Flik was sitting close to the fire, blue cloak drawn closely around him, his eyes turned into shadowed pits by the fire. He angled his chin up at Viktor. "Sit down, then," he said, sounding testy. "Stop hovering."
"Who's hovering?" Viktor demanded, plunking himself back down in his place. He settled his chin onto his fist and glared at the Star Dragon Sword. This wasn't the first time that hunk of metal had ruined a perfectly good interlude for him... "Piece of junk...now Flik's not in the mood..."
"I never said I wasn't in the mood," Flik corrected him. "You're assuming that all on your own."
Viktor looked over at him with interest. "You mean...you *are* in the mood?"
"Not exactly," Flik muttered, pulling his cloak around him tighter.
"Oh, make up your mind, will you?" the Star Dragon Sword snapped. "My servant isn't exactly the brightest lamp on the block, and if you two are going to start making those ridiculous grunting noises, the sooner the better so that all of us can get in a decent night's sleep and resume the good fight in the morning."
Flik looked over at him with an evil glint in his eye. "I *could* be in the mood...if you'd get rid of that sword, first."
Viktor leapt to his feet. "My thoughts exactly," he said grimly, bundling his cloak around the sword -- particularly around the hilt area -- before he picked it up.
"You wouldn't dare!" the Star Dragon Sword exclaimed, muffled and indistinct. "Over something as petty as a tumble with the kid from Warrior Village?"
Viktor looked up and down the windy cavern. "You'll see soon enough what I dare," he replied ominously.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Flik said dubiously, standing at the mouth of the cavern as Viktor did his level best to shove the Star Dragon Sword point-first into a chunk of stone at the heart of the drafty, interconnected complex of caves.
"You'll regret this!" the Star Dragon Sword threatened as Viktor retrieved his cloak, unmuffling it. "Mark my words, mortal! You'll be back some day, begging for my power!"
"Who's gonna beg?" Viktor retorted, settling his cloak on his shoulders and turning to join Flik. "This is your fault, you know. You just couldn't keep your yap shut. Well, now we're through!"
"You'll regreeeeet thiiiiiis!" the words of the Star Dragon Sword echoed after them in the wind-twanging caves as they left it behind them. "Yoooou haven't seeeen the laaaaast of meeee!"
"Good riddance!" Viktor said with a heartfelt eye-roll, settling his arm about Flik's shoulders.
"What if we need it again some day?" Flik asked practically, not seeming particularly happy, but not shrugging his arm off either.
"The Star Dragon Sword? Bah," Viktor said dismissively. "That thing's only good for killing the Neclord...why would we need it again?"
His main concern now was getting back to camp...and capitalizing on this bright spot in his day by scoring with Flik. Who needed a talking sword, especially when it provided a running commentary when a guy was trying to get lucky with his partner? After all, the Neclord couldn't be killed twice...