After the defeat of the Ice Princess, the opening up of the fourth stratum, the beautiful Petal Bridge, and…and the events at Ginnungagap, Fafnir decided that everyone needed a well-deserved rest. A day or two off to recharge and get ready for the many battles ahead. And to, well, simply be together again and try to find a small sense of normality after a forced separation.
Sitting at a table at the bar, one that seemed reserved just for them, Flavio did what was second nature to him; cautiously scan their surroundings. He could hear a few of the bar patrons gossiping amongst themselves. Most of them, however, were talking about them, about how they managed to get past the strange ‘incidents’ on the fourteenth floor and make it to the fourth stratum. Higher and further than any guild. Officially, at least.
They were simply known as the Midgard Library Guild and, well, that was their guild name anyway. Midgard Guild. Ok, so they weren’t very good at coming up with names. So what? They hadn’t anticipated in creating a guild in the first place!
So much had happened since arriving in High Lagaard that it was becoming increasingly hard for Flavio to keep up with it all. He was doing his best, though. For Fafnir’s sake.
Turning his attention back toward his guildmates, Flavio couldn’t help but feel a light frown tug at his lips. He really had more important things to think about. But with Fafnir’s full attention on Arianna as she talked and Bertrand keeping a watchful gaze on Chloe as she ate, Flavio abruptly remembered something. Something that made his chest ache painfully.
However, it was something he had known about for quite some time now.
He was the odd one out.
“Oi, kid,” Bertrand said as he suddenly nudged him with his elbow. “Get Cass to get us more drinks, yeah?”
“I’m not your servant,” Flavio said with a half-hearted glare, but he pushed his chair back and climbed to his feet nonetheless. He already felt like the fifth wheel. He didn’t need to be seen as one as well.
Ever since Fafnir and Arianna remembered their meeting many years ago when they were just children, Arianna had been insisting that they spend more time together. In order to see if there were any other memories that could be useful for them in their current circumstance. At first Flavio also participated in these talks, but he felt as if he was somehow intruding, so started making excuses.
They were…growing quite close. Romantic even. Probably. Envied by many others.
Flavio always knew that one day it would happen. They may have grown up together, but Fafnir had always been better, stronger and more talented than he was. He never could keep up, let alone match him. He always knew (and feared) that Fafnir would get so strong, too useful, that he would leave him behind.
But it was for the best, right? Fafnir getting close to other people. Fafnir didn’t need him anymore. Not with Arianna. Not with Bertrand. The two of them…would be able to better understand Fafnir more than Flavio could ever hope to do.
“Be with yeh in a sec,” Cass said in his usually rough and terse manner. “Got to deal with this idiot, first.”
Flavio simply nodded his head as he folded his arms atop of the bar, glancing from the corner of his eye at the drunk patron slumped against the bar. “Take your time,” he said as he abruptly returned to his thoughts.
It was only a matter of time, right? Fafnir was her knight, after all. Arianna had chosen him when they were just kids. Besides, who wouldn’t fall for a princess? Arianna was pretty, polite and talented. Cheerful, even if she was a bit airy. Even if she couldn’t read the atmosphere. She was a nice, good girl.
Flavio unintentionally sighed aloud. He had been trying not to feel resentment toward Arianna. It wasn’t her fault that Fafnir had to carry such heavy burdens of being a Fafnir Knight. She hadn’t done anything wrong. Not on purpose. Never intentionally. She had been suffering, too, from the legend of the Fafnir Knight.
But there was a part of him, a small part that he tried to squish down every time it arose, blamed the princess for the pain that Fafnir was going through and he felt bitter that she was constantly pushing her way closer to him.
Unfair and unreasonable. He knew it was. He didn’t like feeling that way. Feeling such negative emotions. He didn’t hate Arianna. Not at all.
It was just…hard. For years it had been him and Fafnir. The two of them surviving together. Fafnir doing all the heavy work while Flavio did all the nurturing and caring. No one really knew, but that Fafnir could be such a slob sometimes. He was always far too truthful at the worst of times. Take when he first met Minister Dubois. Instead of introducing himself, he chose to comment on his beard!
Of course, Flavio flailed in trying to explain to Minister Dubois that Fafnir was just joking and not to take him seriously. And Fafnir, that jerk, was smirking the entire time. He totally did that on purpose.
Again, Flavio sighed as he spared a glance over at their table, to see Fafnir and Arianna still talking intently. He wanted to be a martyr and step back, ease himself away from Fafnir so that he wouldn’t feel guilty, wouldn’t feel obligated to stay with him. He wanted to leave Fafnir in Arianna’s hands, give the two his blessing.
Augh, as if he could! He loved him too much. He can’t help but fuss over that idiot. It was in his bones. Fafnir can’t, for the life of him, take care of himself. Flavio had being guiding him for far too long to simply step aside now. Even if it was the best thing to do for everyone involved.
“Oh, excuse me.”
Flavio straightened when he felt someone bump into him. Immediately pulling himself out of his thoughts, he turned to see a man a few years older than he standing next to him, looking apologetic. He was quite tall and had a strong build. His hair was a sandy blond, pulled back into a low ponytail at the base of his neck. His eyes were a dark blue and he had a roughly shaved, somewhat rugged look to him. He looked like a handsome man. He was probably a big hit with the ladies.
“Sorry for bumping into you,” he said as he shuffled awkwardly on his feet.
“Oh, no problem,” Flavio said, giving the other man a reassuring smile. “No harm done.”
The man looked relieved. “I’m Ascott,” he introduced himself as he leaned casually against the bar next to him. “I’m new here, I’m afraid. Are you a local?”
Flavio made a slight movement with his hand. “Sort of. I am a legal citizen.”
“Ah, an explorer then?” Ascott said with a somewhat sagely nod of his head.
The guy suddenly paused and seemed to stare at him. Getting a real good look at him, which made Flavio instantly nervous. What was he looking at? He wasn’t sizing him up to rob him or something, was he?
“I suppose you get told this all the time,” the guy, Ascott, said with a grin that appeared somewhat shy but charming nonetheless. “But you’re really beautiful.”
Flavio blinked. No, no one had ever told him that before!
The guy must be drunk.
“Oh, ah, thank you,” Flavio murmured, not entirely sure on how he should respond, if at all, to an obviously drunk man. “I guess…?”
“You didn’t tell me your name,” Ascott suddenly commented. “You do have one, right? Unless you’re happy with me calling you Beautiful all night.”
Flavio raise an eyebrow. Ok, that was sorta smooth. The guy was either a very charming drunk or he was a habitual flirt and was trying to chat him up. Why? Who knows? Must be a dare or something.
“It’s Flavio,” he said, introducing himself quickly. “And, sorry, my guild is waiting for me.”
Ascott looked pitifully disappointed. “Can’t you stay and chat for a while?” he practically purred at him.
“Only until Cass gets my drinks,” Flavio retorted, glancing over at the bar-keep to find him arguing with another patron, one who seemed surprisingly sober. What they were arguing about, he could only speculate, but it seemed that the patron was lecturing Cass on something. If the notable twitch of his right eyebrow was anything to go by.
“You know, it’s a shame that a natural beauty like you is alone,” Ascott unexpectedly said, causing Flavio to turn his attention back toward him, a slight frown on his lips. “Ah, but that’s what happens when a princess is involved, isn’t it?”
“Some things can’t be helped, I suppose,” Flavio muttered in return, his frown only deepening as he felt uneasy. How did he know about a certain princess? “I better get back to my guild,” he said as he turned to push away from the bar.
“If you can’t stay, maybe tomorrow you could show me around town?” Ascott suddenly suggested.
Before Flavio could turn around to regard the suspicious charmer, Ascott snared him by his wrist, turning him around and pulling him uncomfortable close toward him. “I’d like to get to know you better.”
Flavio instantly tried to pull his arm back, gripping at the bar with the other to give himself some kind of leverage. But the guy was surprisingly strong. “Sorry, I’m busy,” he said firmly.
“There’s no need to be so skittish, Beautiful,” Ascott said, his charming grin taking on an almost predatory feel to it.
“Let go,” Flavio demanded as he continued to tug at his arm.
Ascott smiled at him. Not a kind smile, but not quite a smirk either. “What if I don’t want to?”
“You will if you want to keep your hand.”
Flavio felt as surprised as Ascott looked when Fafnir’s voice cut through the tension between them. As Ascott released his wrist, Flavio turned to find Fafnir standing right next to him, his eyes narrowed and his presence quite menacing. He then reached an arm toward Flavio, silently pushing him behind him, as if they were in a battle stance or something.
“Ah, sorry,” Ascott said hastily as he pushed away from the bar, an apologetic grin on his lips. “The booze makes me overly confident.”
Fafnir, however, didn’t seem to care what his excuses were. “Leave.”
Without another word, Ascott raised his hands in front of him in a mocking surrender motion as he backed away. He then quickly disappeared amongst the patrons of the bar.
Flavio sighed with relief as he scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. He felt somewhat guilty that he had pulled Fafnir away from his conversation with Arianna in order to rescue him. From a flirty drunk. Talk about embarrassing.
“Flavio,” Fafnir said his name in a lightly concerned tone as he tore his eyes away from the spot Ascott disappeared in.
“Just some drunkard, Fafnir,” Flavio said in response, hoping to ease his friend’s concern and protectiveness.
“Let me see your arm,” Fafnir suddenly demanded.
Flavio blinked. “My arm?”
“Your wrist,” Fafnir reiterated as he reached out with his hand to physically, but gently, take a hold of his wrist. “Where he grabbed you.”
Flavio sighed. “It’s fine, Fafnir,” he insisted, but allowed his friend to pull back the sleeve covering his wrist nonetheless. He, however, winced when he realised that the skin around his wrist was slightly red. He hadn’t realised that Ascott had grabbed him so harshly.
Fafnir scowled as he tenderly trailed his thumb over the red skin. “Let’s get Chloe to look at it.”
“Fafnir, it’s fine,” Flavio insisted again. Still, he didn’t struggle when the other pulled him back toward the table where the rest of their guild was waiting. Struggling would only prove fruitless, after all. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t argue back. “It’s only slightly red. It’ll fade in a minute or two. It doesn’t even hurt!”
“I don’t care,” Fafnir said as he pushed Flavio back into his seat.
“Fafnir…” Again, Flavio sighed. He couldn’t help but smile, though, when he realised that Fafnir was still holding into his arm. “Talk about stubborn.”
Of course, Fafnir stubbornly ignored him as he tried to get Chloe to stop eating long enough to look at his arm. Still, his protectiveness was what made Fafnir endearing. And it promptly reminded Flavio that while he was always fussing over Fafnir, Fafnir in turn was always protecting him.
Seeing that part of Fafnir hadn’t changed a bit made Flavio feel more relaxed then he had felt in a long time and he immediately pushed the unpleasant encounter to the back of his mind. It wasn’t like he was going to see him again, right?
… … … … …
“We meet again, Beautiful.”
Flavio groaned in annoyance. He was also somewhat surprised. That voice sounded familiar. It was that guy again, wasn’t it? The one from the bar last night.
With a loud sigh, Flavio turned in the direction of the voice to find that, yep, it was Ascott. That far too persistent guy from the bar. He thought he had seen the last of him when Fafnir scared him off.
Dressed in explorer’s gear, clothing akin to those worn by gunners, Ascott stood in the middle of the Regent Café, unconcerned of the chatting diners or the bustling atmosphere of the popular restaurant. He scratched his cheek idly as he all but stared at Flavio, causing him to feel uneasy yet again. He did, however, look somewhat sheepish.
Still, he wasn’t exactly in the mood to fend off a repentant drunk. He was just on his way to the counter to ask Regina if she had any spare rice for his teammates’ meals, who of which were happily munching away at their reserved table, indulging in some quality down time before returning to their mission.
“Sorry about last night, yeah?” Ascott said as he looked surprisingly remorseful. “I tend to become over confident when I have a drink or two,” he explained.
Flavio simply nodded his head. That much was obvious. Anyone who thought he was even remotely ‘beautiful’ had to be roaring drunk.
“Ok, sure,” Flavio said with a small smile as he tried to continue his way.
“How about I make it up to you?” Ascott offered as he once again stepped in Flavio’s way, falling just short of the counter where Regina was busy cooking. “Maybe a dinner together? A few drinks even.”
“Sorry, gonna pass on that,” Flavio said as he took a step to the side, only to find Ascott once again stepping right in front of him. An annoyed tick appeared under his right eye. He was starting to get really quite irritated…
“I’m sure it would be to your benefit if you agree,” Ascott went on to say, that expression that once appeared charming was now smug and over-confident.
“Look, I don’t know what you want,” Flavio started by saying. “But I’m not interested in anything you have to say or offer. You get that? No, to everything.”
“I don’t like it when people say no to me,” Ascott unexpectedly retorted, the flirty, charming expression on his face suddenly darkening.
Regardless of how his unease toward the other was growing, Flavio narrowed his eyes. “No means no,” he said as he defiantly brushed past him. “Get that through your thick head.”
Ascott unexpectedly lashed out with his hand, snaring Flavio by his arm much like he had done the previous night, but the grip was rougher, more menacing. “You don’t seem to understand what’s good for you,” he hissed to him as he unexpectedly tugged him closer toward him.
Flavio felt himself freeze from the ominous words. He winced, however, when Ascott tightened his hand around his arm, gripping painfully tight. Flavio instantly felt even more uneasy by the way the guy was glaring at him, irritated and annoyed that he wasn’t playing along.
What the guy really wanted from him, he didn’t know. And honestly, he didn’t care. He just wanted distance between them.
“Why the cold shoulder?” Ascott unexpectedly asked him. “Your guild doesn’t mind, right? Oh, only when it’s convenient, I suppose they do.”
“What are you talking about?” Flavio asked him surprisingly nervously, blatantly ignoring the possible truth to his words.
Ascott gave him a pitying smile, as if he knew and saw something that he didn’t.
However, before Ascott could say or do anything more, a ladle made out of heavy-duty steel appeared, clocking the guy harshly on the head. A metallic sound rung out as Ascott yelped in pain, instantly releasing his hold on Flavio’s arm. Flavio immediately stumbled back a couple of steps and rubbed his arm where Ascott had gripped him at as he turned to look over at the counter, to where Regina was standing, a ladle in her hand and a scowl on her face.
“What the hell, woman?” Ascott hissed at her as he rubbed his head.
“No touching the goods,” Regina retorted sharply, her expression angrier than usual. “You heard him. He’s not interested. Get out of my café.”
Ascott glared at Regina for a few intense moments, Regina holding his glare with one of her own (which was a lot fiercer, by the way). He then scowled and seemed to mutter something incoherent under his breath before abruptly glancing off to the side, to where Fafnir and the others could be seen eating.
Flavio quickly glanced over as well, watching from the corner of his eye as Fafnir pushed back his chair with a telling, and somewhat ominous, scrape and took to his feet. His face was stoic, but his eyes were narrowed. He wasn’t happy.
“Fine,” Ascott said, almost hastily, causing Flavio to turn to look at him again. “See ya later, Beautiful.”
Flavio found himself bristling in annoyance as Ascott sent him a rather determined smirk before turning on his heel and quickly making for the exit. That guy…was a dick. Seriously. What the hell? He told him no countless times. Why didn’t he get the hint already? Sheesh!
“I’m ok,” Flavio immediately replied as he turned to regard Fafnir, finding the other looking mildly annoyed and wholly worried. “Really.”
Fafnir frowned slightly as his eyes flickered in the direction the man disappeared in. “He’s the one from the bar, isn’t he?” he asked as he turned his gaze back to Flavio.
Flavio sighed before nodding his head. “Yeah, unfortunately. He’s name Ascott. Well, that’s what he told me, anyway. Could be fake as far as I know.”
“The bar?” Regina questioned, her face set in her usual resting scowl. “He’s bothered you before?”
Reluctantly, Flavio told the chef what had happened at the bar just last night, about how the guy just wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was so persistent that Fafnir had to intervene. After listening intently, Regina nodded her head and frowned.
“Some admirers are too persistent for their own good,” Regina said as she turned back toward the stove. “Better watch yourself.”
“Indeed,” Fafnir muttered before Flavio had the chance to respond. He then took him by the elbow and proceeded to guide him toward the table where the rest of their guild was sitting.
Flavio, however, resisted lightly. “I forgot to ask Regina if she had any more rice,” he said, which was the reason he was at the counter in the first place!
“I’ll get it,” Fafnir said, his grip on his elbow not faltering for a second.
“He’s gone now,” Flavio said, wanting to sigh with exasperation at his friend’s protectiveness, but internally amused by it nonetheless. He had managed to provoke his friend’s protectiveness twice within 24 hours!
“I don’t care,” Fafnir said stubbornly, pushing Flavio into a chair situated next to Bertrand.
“Aren’t you Mister Popular?” Bertrand commented with a smirk as Fafnir all but stalked back to the counter.
Flavio gave the protector next to him a half-hearted glare. “Shut up, Old Man.”