There is a curt, heavy, distinctly bearish sound, and Freckle looks up from the car seats he's supposed to be scrubbing clean. Viktor is staring at him in disbelief from the other side of the vehicle, green eye wide as the boy had ever seen it.
"All of it…? As like baby?"
An embarrassed simper dances at the corner of his lips. He nods again.
This time it's a long, loud, booming laughter, strong enough to shake the entire car and him along with it. Calvin stays silent as it rages on, positively mortified as with every time he shares that particular story, yet somehow cannot help but smile along. Ivy often makes him feel that way, too. It's the weirdest thing.
It had taken the Slovak nearly three whole months, but on that slow midsummer afternoon of idle wash work he had finally asked the dreaded question: this nickname, it is stupid. Not scary, or- eeh, intimidating, at all. Vhy they call you that, anyvay?
Just as Viktor's laugh begins to bed down, his eye rests back on the kid. He forms the mental image, then doubles over to a new wave of ragged howls.
Calvin thinks, absently, how incredibly nonsensical it is to be feeling proud over having caused this.
"So he does good things too, vhen he is small. Hah!"
"My mom didn't think it was very good," Calvin interjects. "She nearly killed him that time." He pauses for some more of that rare, violently raucous laughter. A little mean-spirited, but enjoyable nonetheless. "He actually didn't dare come home for the night. He slept by the bushes." Viktor lets out a wheeze. "And I wasn't allowed outside for a month. I still remember her face every morning I-"
He is interrupted by a heavy slap that lands square on his back, knocking the air out of him. For a moment both are left wheezing amid the wetness and bubbles.
"Okay, Decko. It is done," Viktor declares as he straightens up, still coughing out tiny mirthful noises that are not quite as tiny as they'd be coming from a smaller man. "Now I must see it."
Freckle shakes his head at that. "Ha, I… I don't think so."
"You try to stop me! Next time you are slow to work, I grab a razor."
Viktor smiles at him broadly as he says that, and now it is that smile, his usual one. This one definitely is scary, and intimidating, and all those other things a gangster's smile ought to be; just not as much as Freckle recalled it being.
Perhaps this is why these next words find the grit to escape his lips, almost without his consent.
"If you can catch me."
Viktor freezes mid-crouch, just as he was dipping his sponge in a nearby bucket of soapwater. He turns his head towards the boy, and for the time being there is only genuine surprise on his face. "Vhat you say?"
A shiver runs down Freckle's spine and up his tail. It's out now, though, so he figures he may as well go all the way.
"I'm… I'm much faster than you, Viktor."
Viktor eyes him in silence for a second, unmoving. The second becomes two, then three, then four; and Calvin is staring right back at him, not daring to look away, feet bracing to dart away from the car and prove his point. At least, that's what he hoped would happen.
Mistake, mistake, mistake-
In the end, Viktor is the one to look away. He stands up with a grunt and starts calmly rubbing the sponge across the dirty windshield. Freckle begins to breathe again.
"Ya, vell, I can still corner you, Decko. I am good hunter. You vill see."
Decko. He's been calling him that from the beginning, among many other things, but lately he appears to have settled for this particular one. Freckle hasn't asked what it means –he fears the answer won't be too flattering- but somehow, it doesn't sound as hostile as it used to. Might be he's just heard it so many times now that it simply lost its sting.
In any case, it sounds a lot better than that "opice" one, that's for sure.
Freckle leans inside the car and resumes with brushing the back seats, filled with relief and entirely satisfied with himself. He feels exactly like someone who has just fed a wild bear out of their hand and lived to tell the tale.
"I dunno. Rocky says I'm slippery," he quips, emboldened by this new sense of camaraderie which he had previously thought impossible.
"And yet, he catch and he shave you," comes the response from the front of the car, along with rough, grating chuckle.
"No, he… he talked me into it, I think. I was very little."
A pause, followed by a scoff. Freckle cannot see it through the soap-covered windshield, but Viktor's hard-won smile has morphed into a wan, knowing simper.
"… You are still little, Decko," he says to the boy on the inside of the car, and the shift in his tone gives him away. "A little man. And he still talks you into things."
Another brief pause, filled only with the sloshing of wet sponge against glass and the scratching sounds of a hard brush as it diligently, almost compulsively, runs up and down the leather seats. Viktor doesn't need to look inside to know the kid is no longer smiling. He frowns at the distorted reflection on the windshield.
Suddenly he thinks back to the words of another battered, world-weary old tom, a sagely figure from a literal lifetime ago, imparted upon him then in a different language and on a different continent. The wistful smile returns at the memory, and before he can realize it he hears the words echoed aloud in his own hoarse, gravelly voice.
"It is okay to be simple. But you cannot be stupid."
Calvin shuffles out of the car, brush still in hand, and juts his head over the roof. He looks troubled, but there is no offense to his expression.
"Am I stupid?"
Viktor drops the sponge in the bucket with a splash, and doesn't pick it up again. He stares back at the boy, but gives no answer.
Calvin lets out a sigh. "That's fine, I guess," he says, circling around to the front seats to continue his work. "There are worse things to be than stupid."
Viktor follows him with his eye as he approaches. "Oh? As like?"
Freckle thinks on it a moment, then faces the older tom with a tentative smile. "… A criminal?"
Viktor barks out a dry laugh.
"Or a coward."
The boy lingers outside the driver's door, brows furrowed in thought, lips set tight as if he's just tasted something bitter. Viktor observes him wordlessly.
Finally Calvin shakes his head and goes back to brushing. "I didn't like being a coward," he mumbles as he works. "I don't like being a criminal either, but… I don't think it's any worse, really."
Viktor reaches for the hose he had left running by his feet. He aims it at the hood and windshield, letting the stream of clear water wash away all the bubbles and goop. "Mm. Coward is no good," he says in a neutral voice, as if conceding a point. He can see Calvin through the now transparent glass, and waits for the boy to stop brushing before he continues. "It is a mistake, all this. For you, as well. You know that?"
Their gazes lock. "That is okay?"
Calvin doesn't answer right away. He considers the question deeply, earnestly, even though he's been telling himself nonstop, for the longest time now, that it isn't okay, and knows full well that this is true. But in the end, he decides, he might really be just a dumb, stupid little man who gets talked into things. And so be it.
"… Yeah. I think so."
Viktor stares on for a long moment, then gives a single, slow nod. "Okay."
And with that he turns away and limps over to the hose's valve at the nearby wall while the scrubbing behind him resumes, noticeably less frantic than it was a minute ago. There's nothing more to add, he knows; it's the best one can do to simply choose their own mistakes, especially when they're little, and simple, and a complete pushover who's somehow far too stubborn and single-minded for their own damn good.
But then another thought crosses his mind, and he turns back to Calvin.
"You tell Ivy this?"
Calvin looks up at him and blinks. "Hm?"
"About the story. The nickname." Viktor gestures to his face. "She must have asked, yes?"
A bashful chuckle bubbles out of Freckle's throat. He's smiling again. "Oh. Oh, yeah, early on… she's been saying that if I don't get around to dancing with her soon, she'll shave it off herself to compensate."
"Hah!" Viktor smirks to himself as he bends down and grips the rusty bronze valve. He twists it off in a single motion, and immediately the water stops flowing.
I notice these are becoming increasingly dialogue-heavy and OOC... but I suppose if you go far along down a timeline, this is more or less inevitable. Also, Tracy's dialogue is downright impossible to emulate, and you'll give yourself an aunerysm trying. Stay safe, kids.
This concept was an early reject I brought back on a whim. I'm not entirely satisfied with it -it feels a bit more self-indulgent than I'd like- but can't seem to come up with any ways to improve it, and I thought some of you might enjoy it regardless.
Thank you for reading!