Silk and Steel
Xander let his scowl answer the Yag’s question.
“Nine man’s Morris then?”
“I’ve told you. I don’t play games.”
More’s the pity Vraxi thought, with an inward sigh, but he pressed on anyway, ever hopeful that one day, some day, the clamshell that was Xander Dumarle would open up, just a crack, and show a softer, more vulnerable, more human aspect to his painfully up-tight persona.
“Chase the lady?”
“No. Games.” Xander growled.
Vraxi shuffled the cards, returned them to his belt pouch and shrugged. “Knuckle bones it is then.” he said, removing the bag from his pocket and scattering the bones on the tavern table.
Xander picked them up in one swift motion and dumped them unceremoniously into the Yag’s tankard of kvass.
“Fine…” Vraxi sighed theatrically and held up his hands in surrender. Finally folding his fingers together and resting his chin on them to regard his friend with those deep black eyes.
Xander scowled back and for a long while they just sat there, staring at eachother.
At length Vraxi sighed again and went to bring his mug to his lips before catching himself and grimacing at the bobbing bits of bone. He gingerly returned the tank to the table and let his gaze wander around the tap room in search of alternative amusement. He allowed himself a debonair grin at a couple of ladies seated together in the booth across from theirs, a sly smirk at a young cutpurse he knew who tapped her forehead in return and finally a wink at the handsome barman who gave him a promising smile and so, feeling his spirits lifted once more, he turned his attention back to the serious problem that was his friend.
“What are you about?” Xander spat. And Vraxi was slightly alarmed at the venom in his companion’s tone.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, perhaps a little too defensively because Xander suddenly leaned forward so that their faces were barely inches appart.
“I mean what I say. You play dangerous games, Yag, and forget that not everyone is your little toy.”
Vraxi looked hurt, “You wound me to the core.” he protested. “You are my friend, Xander, I would never consider you with such frivolous disregard.”
“You ought not to consider me at all” Xander growled “other than as a cold steel cage for a beast that will one day likely break loose and rip you to shreds. There is no room for anything else so stop. Pushing.”
The Yag’s large black eyes swelled and softened with sympathy.“Are you certain,” he said gently, “that what you are trying to hold back from the world – this thing inside you that you fear is too monstrous for us all to see and still…accept you…”
Xander gave him a warning glare but he ignored it and pressed on. “this thing you are fighting every second of your life to contain, is not your inner demon perhaps, but your own fragile and hurting human soul?”
Xander’s knuckles whitened visibly as he grasped his kvass.
“And do you not think,” Vraxi continued, “that we, all of us, in this divinely forsaken abyss, battle daily with the same fears? But you and I have walked the same path side by side for longer than I can begin to remember – at some point in our acquaintance, will you not concede that whether you were to laugh or cry or break down or flare up or profess your ardent love or hatred for anything under the dying sun, I am not for turning tail and fleeing from you, Xander.” He spread his palms, “is that not what friendship is?”
Xander pushed his pint away from him and stood up. “We are thieves and cut-throats and blades for hire,” he said coldly, “and we would as soon put a knife in each others backs as anyone else’s if the pay was right. Friendship has nothing to do with it. Nor will it ever,” and he stalked out of the tavern letting the door bang shut behind him.
Vraxi tried hard to ignore the bitter sting of disappointment. He toyed with his tankard for a few moments as he stared at the vacant seat in front of him and pondered Xander’s reaction… no, he thought finally, he was not going to walk away from this battle no matter how hard the demon-bound sod pushed him. Xander deserved better than the life he would allow himself, and Vraxi was determined to make sure he got it.