All other avenues of entertainment now officially exhausted, he glanced over at the silent, barely moving shape that was Vincent lying to the side. The shadow had the right outline to the torso but after that it became jagged and misshapen. "Okay, seriously, you have to talk to me some time."
"I mean, what if you want the water? You're gonna have to say 'Hey, Nikko. Please can I have the water?' Or," Nikko lowered his voice to an exaggerated rumble, "'Nikko. Water.'"
Vincent's head moved and Nikko could just about see his eyes; the dying glow stick gave them a green-tinged glint that did nothing to improve his state of mind. Vincent stared at him for long enough that Nikko had to fight the impulse to check for spinach between his everything and then, with a special kind of eloquence, the man reached out and took the water bottle.
Nikko rolled his eyes, knowing the effect was a little lost when no one could see it. "Fine. Okay, I'll talk." He glanced up at the carved ceiling far above, somewhere in the darkness. "Maybe I'll read."
He coughed and borrowed the lecturing cadence Cal took on when he was really hitting his stride. "And then Sektet, Lord of Bagels, said 'who is it that hath lain with my wife.' And The Timmy said, 'it was thy evil twin who hath awakedeth from hith - sorry, his - coma and is not dead. Eth.'"
"I thought 'Passions' was Juliet's secret vice." Vincent's voice was rasping but strong, to Nikko's relief.
"Yeah, well, you try spending three days in quarantine with her and see if you come away without lingering side-effects."
Nikko shook his head. "Oh no, you talked. No take backs, man. I said I was sorry. And it's not even like it's my fault." Except in all those ways it really was.
At last, Vincent replied. "You shouldn't be down here."
Which with all the recriminations Nikko knew he had coming, really wasn't what he'd been expecting. Not that he was complaining.
"What, you're the only one who gets to fall thirty feet down a hole?"
"That was the general idea, yes. You were foolish not to cut the line."
"It's not like I could have done anything anyway. Even if I'd made it out, the jeep blew two tires on the road up here and Mikhail's probably half way back to Latvia by now. Maybe Dad'll find us."
"Perhaps. Solomon is a man of many talents, although I don't believe clairvoyance to be one of them."
"Yeah, well, that's because you've never been around him when you're twelve years old."
Vincent's shadow nodded. "Accurate."
Nikko let the silence fall but spoke before it could settle. "Bring any cards? No, I know, too dark. Never mind. Hey, we could play I Spy. I Spy, with my little eye, something beginning with S."
"Sand." Vincent's tone suggested he was trying to remember if Nikko had hit his head on the way down, but at least he'd given up on the silent treatment.
"We are in a sand trap."
"Something beginning with N, then."
"Nothing. We are in a sand trap."
Nikko laughed under his breath. "Okay, I get it. It's your turn."
Now Vincent's silence had the texture of thought, so Nikko gave him a moment and began to build another shapeless pyramid with the sand under his hand.
He'd almost managed something like a point when Vincent finally said, "S."
Maybe he'd decided not to play along after all. Nikko sighed and brought his knees up enough that he could fold his arms around them. It would only get colder. Much colder - he could remember that from when he was a kid, when the fire and his mother's arms felt like the only warmth left.
Vincent coughed and Nikko realized he hadn't answered. "Sand."
"No." Vincent sounded faintly smug. Nikko frowned and engaged his brain, possibly for the first time in the last couple of weeks. There'd be some kind of trick. As far as he could tell, Vincent hadn't met anything he couldn't turn into some kind of weird Zen koan.
"The columns are fired sand; there is no stone." There was a hint of a question in Vincent's tone and Nikko grinned.
"Sand used to be stone."
"True." There was the barest suggestion of approval and Nikko couldn't help appreciating it. "But, no."
After silica, sandstone, soil and sub-particles, Nikko gave up when he realized he was seriously trying to work the different minerals that were making up their own personal death trap. "I give."
Reflex made him look up but there was nothing above them but the endless darkness of the vaulted ceiling. "Where?"
"They're up there."
He frowned. "You're not spying them with your little eye."
"How can anyone know what another is truly seeing?"
"Fine, Yoda. P."
Nikko debated denying it but curiosity won out. "How the hell did you know that?"
"The magazines you've been subtly leaving around for the last month. A father's love is boundless, but his expense budget has accountants and they have very precise definitions of 'necessary'. K."
He'd been about to protest that he just liked the pictures, but the answer slid into his mind like the can had slid into his hand. "Katrina."
And then there was only the huff of breathing and the whisper of sand shifting.
"Your turn." Vincent's voice was perfectly inflectionless and slipped into the quiet smoothly, barely causing a ripple. Nikko was almost glad there wasn't enough light to see his expression.
He shook his head and knew his own voice would sound too loud, too brittle. "Nah. Twenty Questions? I know we got minerals and-"
"You haven't told your father, have you?"
Nikko rested his forehead on his folded arms and hoped his muffled response would put Vincent off asking anything else. "I didn't mean to tell you."
"He should know, Nikko."
It hadn't really been much of a hope. "Yeah, that conversation would go well. 'Hi, Dad. How's it going? Good, good. Hey, I'm a circus freak.'"
"When did it begin?"
"Last month. I wanted my soda and then I had my soda." Nikko raised his head and looked across their, what? Cell? It was that or grave, so he had to say 'cell' worked for him. "I know you do inscrutable, but this is pretty relaxed even for you."
"It is not an unexpected development." Awkwardness had underscored Vincent's hesitation and it had star billing in his answer.
Nikko narrowed his eyes. "It was unexpected to me! Why didn't you say anything? Is my father waiting for me to grow a third eye or something?"
"I believe we have all come to expect the unusual from you."
The quietly patronising amusement in Vincent's tone would normally have sharpened Nikko's last nerve beyond safe limits; this time it felt like a reprieve for both of them, so he took it.
"Funny. Very funny. Who's Katrina?" He'd been trying for a safer topic of conversation and had to admit, just about as soon as he'd spoken, that this was not it.
"She is - was - a friend." Vincent's voice held only quiet reserve and Nikko couldn't think of what to say - let alone how to say it - so he said nothing. To his faint surprise, Vincent spoke again. "It was a long time ago."
"So, you were...close?"
"Not as you imagine, no."
Nikko waved hands in automatic horror. The gesture was more for his benefit than Vincent's, who probably couldn't even see them attempting to ward off any sudden visual. "I wasn't imagining anything. Imagination free zone."
"I was thinking she would have liked it here. She would have found the temple fascinating."
"And the whole being buried alive thing wouldn't have worried her at all."
"Not appreciably. She was a dedicated woman."
Nikko smiled and it tasted a little bitter. "Like my mom."
"Yes, like Haley. Though Katrina had no prize greater than her research. Your mother, of course, had you."
"Right." Yeah, the bitter sometimes lingered. He decided it was time to change the subject again. Maybe with a little less panic involved. "You want some water?"
"No. Thank you."
He leaned forward to reach for the bottle and then let his hand go beyond it, to feel around the curve of the chunk of column that had rolled in after them and on top of Vincent's legs. The sand was cushioning the man from its weight, but it pinned him but good. "If I dig under this, it might roll off you."
Vincent grunted as he tried to reach forward. "Or it may crush me. Leave it alone."
Nikko sat back. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"In an ancient trap, under a fallen temple dedicated to vengeful gods whose names time has forgotten."
Sure, when he put it like that. "I really am sorry."
"It isn't your fault. I know it's not easy to cut the line."
"I meant about sneaking out here."
"I know." The smile was back in Vincent's voice. "There are many kinds of line and as many ways to cut them - many reasons to cut them." He paused and then coughed; his voice took on a note of reproach. "However, I'm not sure flying across two continents and blackmailing Mikhail into guiding you back here qualifies as 'sneaking'."
Only it kind of was, with stealth packing and the climbing out of his window at midnight. He could have used the front door but he didn't want to chance no one being there - it would have been a little anti-climactic.
He hadn't left a note, either. Hadn't even been sure that he wanted to be followed or if he'd go back. And, okay, he'd been the one starting the arguments but it was a code and "you don't understand" meant "ask me until I tell you" and every "I hate you" meant "Jesus, I'm a freak and I'm scared", and wasn't a father supposed to get that?
So, fine, maybe he had wanted to be followed. A little.
And that reminded him. "How did you find me out here? I mean, buried temple."
"I told you up there: you don't want to know."
"No you didn't, you started to tell me and then the floor disappeared. Anyway, I asked."
"Under the false impression that you wanted an answer."
Nikko took a moment to mentally collate all the answers he might not want to hear and then started at the top. Maybe they could play Twenty Questions after all. "Am I being watched?"
"No. Which will be rectified as soon as we get home." It was possible Vincent could have sounded a little more acerbic if he really, really tried but Nikko was impressed with the effort anyway.
He snorted. "Right, I'll be hard to keep track of while I'm grounded in my room for eternity. Is there a chip? Am I a blip on Maggie's radar somewhere?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
Another thought struck him; questions breeding questions. "Did you tell Dad where I was?"
"No. I was hoping...no. But you were right. He will find us, Nikko. It's not so difficult to work out that you would return here after the visions of your mother - to the place where she left you. Did you find what you were looking for?"
Good question; he let his head drop again. "I don't know what I was looking for. I remembered it differently, you know. It was...bigger. Brighter. Warmer."
"You were only a child."
"I know. But it's just like every other place like this we've gone into, even right down to trying to murder us. There's nothing here. She's not here."
Nikko cut in, sharper than he'd intended. "Searched for months, I know."
Vincent continued, unperturbed "- used to come yearly. More often, if he could. And then, one day, he realised what he was searching for wasn't here. It's natural you would make the same journey. Laudable you reached the same conclusion."
Nikko laughed quietly because the other option wasn't appealing; big boys don't cry in front of vengeful gods. "Great, 'cause I'd hate to think I was going to die in a sand trap for no reason."
"He found her again. In his work. In you."
He just wished the harsher note in Vincent's voice would come back, this gentler one was unnerving.
"Where will I find her?" His voice sounded too soft, too plaintive and was it too much to ask that the sand would swallow him whole right now?
"Nikko?" Solomon's voice echoed, thundered, around the chamber above them and Nikko thought he could hear Maggie's voice in the background, calling his name.
He scrambled to his feet, slipping and sliding and ignoring the fine rain of sand he was causing. "Dad! Don't come in, the floor will give out!"
"Nikko." His father's voice was a rush of relief. "Is Vincent down there as well?"
Vincent coughed sand and then shouted up. "Solomon, Nikko is correct - the flooring above is crumbling, it won't take any weight. Stay in the corridor."
Nikko stood, listening to the sound of activity above. Cal was there, as well. He could hear him bickering with Juliet, probably about winches.
Two green arcs of spinning light appeared above and then dropped down to land with two soft thuds on the sand. Nikko flinched away and shut his eyes against the sudden glare, the soft glow like a neon brand. Once the blaze banked and his eyes adjusted, he could see the column resting over Vincent.
He winced; it was probably just as well he hadn't tried to move it - Vincent seemed pretty fond of his legs.
Finally his father's voice found its way down to them, relief still overriding the anger that would inevitably have its moment soon. "I'm lowering a line."
Vincent spoke quietly, so his words wouldn't escape the sand trap. "I would suggest you consider carefully before cut this one."
Nikko watched as it snaked down towards him and thought maybe, sometimes, it was better to fall.