It's the oldest story in the book, of course. We were drunk. We were in the army. The next thing we knew, we were naked. I'm just glad that the story didn't end there. I never would have been able to live with myself for being that cliched.
I'm not going to nag you to wake up. You need your sleep. Doc Huan says that once you wake up, you'll be fine. I'm just glad that those Highland soldiers hit you in the head and not anyone else in your battalion. That kind of thing could kill someone else, you know?
That was a joke. You're supposed to laugh. No, never mind. I'm not funny. That's your job. I'm the one who rolls his eyes and tells you when the jokes are inappropriate. With you, they usually are.
That was my first impression of you, you know. Cleo and Pahn told me later how you'd gotten them out of trouble with those Imperial soldiers, and I had to laugh at that -- that was certainly your style. But the first time I met you, you were half-drunk and had just called Odessa "sweetheart", and I was still trying to decide whether or not to be upset about that. It didn't take long for you to realize that I was in love with her, of course. It didn't take long for anyone to realize that.
We all knew back then that we were walking on the edge. I don't know about you, but I accepted the fact that I could die at any moment. It was a Cause, and I Believed. You almost never hear tales of revolutionaries living to a ripe old age. You hear the stories about what they did, and how they did it, and why they did it, but you never hear what happens after the happily-ever-after.
I always smile when I hear stories of the Liberation Army. They say that we died in that castle, you know? Two men staring down the jaws of death and laughing as they spit in its face. It's such a good story that I don't have the heart to tell them that yes, I am that Flik, and yes, you're that Viktor. Let the story rest in peace. Things like that are always better as a story, anyway. Let them have their heroes. I don't have the heart to tell people about the bawdy songs you come up with when you're drunk.
This isn't a bad fight to get into, anyway. We might just find our way back into the history books. The kid's no McDohl, but that's okay. When you think about it, this isn't anywhere near as important as the last war. Oh, if we get killed in it, we'll still wind up dead. But this time, we're fighting for land, not for freedom. It's not personal.
I told you that, a little while ago. I still remember how you looked over at me, then back out the window. "Speak for yourself," was all you said, and looked back out over the town where you grew up. I felt like such a shit for bringing it up. I hadn't remembered -- oh, I'd known, but it never really quite made its way into conscious thought. You never talk about yourself. We used to talk back then about going home someday. I guess you are home, now. What's it like? How many old ghosts keep calling your name? Oh, I know that you wouldn't tell me if I asked,, but I still wonder.
Gregminster's like that for me. Every time I turn around, I hear her voice. You know how that works, I'm sure. It's been three years since she died, and I still keep expecting to look up and see her there. I blamed you for her death for a little while, you know. You said that you'd take care of her, and the next thing I knew, she was dead. It's okay, though. Cleo saw what I was doing, and she took me aside and smacked some sense into me. I'm glad she did. I didn't really blame you, not down at the core of it. I was just hurting. Still am, in a way. You never really get over it.
The first time that you touched me, really touched me -- yeah, okay, like I said, we were drunk, that's my story and I'm sticking to it -- I looked up at you looming over me and saw her face for half a second and I almost panicked. I didn't know what I was doing. I don't think you did, either. But you didn't seem to notice, and you kept going, and after a little while I realized that I didn't mind it at all. The worst part of it all was waking up the next morning with the hangover and having to pretend that it never happened. We never did talk about it, do you realize? Neither one of us wanted to actually go ahead and put words on it all.
Yeah, all right, of course I liked it. What man wouldn't like a good raging orgasm or three? I wouldn't have said it, of course. You would have smirked until I was tempted to drown you in the lake. I get that temptation enough as it is; no need to add to it.
Once or twice since then, I've wondered -- when I had the time to wonder, of course -- whose face you see. Because I know you do. I catch you looking at me sideways sometimes, when you've got your teeth closed around my neck and you're doing your best to make sure I'm going to have to wear turtlenecks for the next week and a half. I can see the same look there that I know I've got in my own eyes. It's okay, though. Neither one of us are pretending about any of this. We both know what it's all about.
Looking back at that first night, I can't remember much. I was drunk, after all. But I do remember noticing that you're covered in scars just like I am. I've learned each and every one of them since then, of course, bandaged some of them and chewed on others. Yours are more prominent than mine, for the most part. For some reason -- I certainly can't imagine why -- enemies seem to think that you're the bigger danger and try to hit you first. They usually don't notice I'm there until I've already drawn first blood. We make a good team, I guess. I taught you finesse, and you taught me when it's necessary to just drop the formal sword training and punch the other guy in the solar plexus.
There are a thousand different styles of swordplay, and everyone picks up bits and pieces of all of them as they get out of the dojo and out into the real world. My kyoshi would be horrified to see what I've done with the techniques that he taught me. The sword-forms of the Warrior's Village have been handed down from generation to generation for as far back as I can imagine, and here I am out in the hinterlands of the known world letting my perfect formal technique get sloppy. I'm a better swordsman than I ever used to be. But 'better' doesn't really count for much when it's weighed against all that tradition.
To you, swordplay is more of a brawl. You hold that monster of a sword of yours like it's part of your fist, and just wade right in and start punching. To me, it's a dance. I can feel you watching me, some mornings when I'm out in the courtyard, just me and the sword and the last remnants of the morning mists. I still practice every morning. You know that. I know that you do, too; I just don't know where or when. But sometimes, when I'm deep in zanshin and letting myself follow the flow -- breathe in, breathe out, whirling in circles and patterns, each strike neat and precise against the exact same spot on a phantom target, flowing like water running downhill and just as inexorable -- I can feel your eyes on me, watching me with that scary sort of intensity that only you seem to be able to summon at will. Like so much else, we never seem to talk about it. Do you like what you see?
Of course, those mornings when you're awake that early are usually because I'd woken you while trying to crawl out of your bed unnoticed. I don't know why I bother; we've both got the kind of instincts that come from spending years in a war zone, the kind of instincts that translate an attempt at stealth into an attempted attack. There's no quicker way to wake you than to try not to wake you. I make the effort anyway. I don't know why. Perhaps it's some last remnants of courtesy. It's tough to summon courtesy when my every move reminds me that several hours before, you were digging those oversized hands of yours into the muscles of my asscheeks and roaring as you came. But I try anyway. And as reward -- or penance, I suppose -- I get to feel the weight of your gaze, as tangible as your presence beside me, while I'm working to maintain that serenity.
You're perfectly capable of being gentle, of course. You know that as well as I do. I like it when you are, and I like it when you're not. And you always know when to use both. Indulge me in a bit of memory, if you will: remember back in the mercenaries' outpost, early on, maybe a few months into our self-imposed exile? We were all bunked two to a room and tripping over each other every time we turned around. You and I had been getting on each others' nerves about as badly as we had when we first met, and I'd been seriously contemplating sneaking up on you while you were asleep and dropping you out the fucking window, or dragging you outside, tying you to a tree, and leaving you there for the squirrels. That would have been bad for morale, though, and so I gritted my teeth and sprawled out on my bed face-down with a volume of Harmonian poetry, trying to ignore the whole world.
You'd been taking your aggressions out on the punching bag in the corner, punctuating my reading with the occasional grunt and hiss, combined with the steady thump, thump, thump of fists against sandbag. We hadn't been saying more than two words to each other at a time for days, and even then only the necessities. I'd mostly tuned you out when I realized that the noise had stopped, and lifted my head to quirk an eyebrow at you watching me.
You always make fun of me for reading. Can I help it if I like poetry? I braced myself and expected a wisecrack, but all you did was ask, "What are you reading?"
"Poetry," I'd replied, shortly, waiting for the snide comment.
You looked thoughtful for a second. "Read me some?"
I watched you for a second to make sure that you weren't preparing to mock me again, before looking back down and flipping through a few pages. I'd been reading a section that was full of love poetry, and I really didn't feel like hearing what you'd have to say about that. It took me a few minutes to choose one that I thought had a choice of being well-received.
You stood there and listened as I read, with that thoughtful look on your face that shows you're thinking about something. I'm used to reading out loud, of course. I'm used to all sorts of public speaking. But it's always different when it's just the two of us. "Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind / That from the nunnery / of thy chaste breast and quiet mind / To war and arms I flee. / True, a new mistress now I chase / The first foe in the field; / And with a stronger faith embrace / A sword, a horse, a shield. / Yet this inconstancy is such / As you, too, shall adore; / I could not love thee, Dear, so much, / Lov'd I not Honor more."
I didn't really need the book to read from -- it's one of my favorites, always has been, since way back before all of this started -- but it was easier to look at the page than at you. And when I finished and looked up, you were watching me again, and you just nodded. That's all; no words, no other reaction, just that nod. And you turned and went back to attacking the sandbag, and I went back to reading, but that night when the lights were out, your footsteps on the wooden floor were surprisingly soft as you slipped from your bed and into mine.
Do you remember that? I've got such a clear mental picture of you at that one moment -- your hair in disarray, your knuckles reddened from your assault on the sandbag, dirty and sweaty and looking for all the world like you needed a bath, a shave, and about fourteen hours of uninterrupted sleep, and you were listening to me read poetry like we were in some sort of tearoom somewhere. And you understood. I guess that's why I keep you around. Or why you keep me around. It doesn't really matter who's doing the keeping, really.
So look. You've got to wake up soon. I'm at loose ends without my best friend around to keep me from going nuts. Or without my best friend around to drive me nuts. Sometimes, with you, I can't tell. I'm headed off to bed now, but when I'm back in the morning, I expect to walk in here and find that you're threatening Huan with grievous bodily harm unless he lets you out of bed, okay? The kid and I need you.
Sleep well, Viktor. I'll see you in the morning.
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