"Excel is very proud that she managed to figure out this riddle all by herself," Excel cheerfully announced to no one in particular as she tied a belt around the ends of a wool blanket conveniently left folded neatly on the hearth of the fireplace, forming it into a bundle.
She dragged the bundle over to a chair positioned before the fireplace. As the bundle bounced roughly over the floor, its contents twitched slightly groaned faintly in protest before falling still and silent once again.
"It occurs to Excel at this point," Excel commented to the fourth wall, "that Lord Ilpalazzo has been unconscious for an awfully long time, considering the sign that fell on him wasn't that heavy. A contrivance, perhaps? In fact, this whole thing smells faintly of contrivance."
Here, she trailed off and gazed shiftily around the room for a moment before breaking into a humungous grin and rubbing the back of her head.
"But that don't matter, 'cause it's warm and it's dry, and when contrivance is the only thing keeping you alive, along with the capricious laws of anime physics and an utter disregard for logic that can just as easily turn on you and kill you in a really, really stupid way, like being devoured by toast demons, you don't fight it!"
Thus deciding, Excel went on her merry way, dragging the bundle over to the chair, hopping up onto said chair, and tying the belt holding the bundle closed to the ceiling beams.
"There!" she said proudly, hopping lightly down from the chair. "Now Lord Ilpalazzo won't get even more chilled sleeping on that cold wooden floor!"
It had just begun to occur to Excel's brain to put into words the faint concept of old carpentry jobs not being as sturdy as they once had, as well as the concept of belts maybe not being quite enough to safely support the weight of the average man, let alone a considerably-taller-than-average man, when the door slammed open and a swirl of snow blew into the room to reveal, once it had cleared, a figure covered in snow from head to foot.
"EXCEL!" the snow-covered figure exclaimed. "What are you doing?!"
"I'm keeping Lord Ilpalazzo warm!" Excel replied happily, the question of who this was not yet occurring to her.
"Yeah, I can see that," the figure grumbled, removing her coat and revealing herself, predictably, to be Rhianwen. "But…dude, there are better ways."
"I'm afraid, Ms. Annoyingly Persistent Author, that Excel isn't completely sure what better ways you're talking about," Excel admitted slowly.
Rhianwen sighed heavily.
"Okay; you have a hot guy alone in a cabin, right?"
Excel smiled wickedly.
"I sure do!" Then she frowned. "At least, I would if you'd go away."
"And there's a fireplace, right?"
"Yup! See the nice fire I started with the pile of erotic literature mysteriously left out on the fireplace next to the blanket? Although, as a believer in the glorious ideals of the idealistic organization of ACROSS, Excel does not approve of nudie pictures and titillating literary descriptions of body-contorting acts of male and female communion, or female and female communion, or male and male communion – as she thinks there's no point in reading about it when you can be doing it – they did come in very handy to save these two thoroughly clothed people from certain death by freezing!"
"Uh, right," Rhianwen agreed nervously. I guess my plan to get them in the mood by leaving my…eheh…collection in a conspicuous place didn't work out as well as I thought it would, she thought mournfully before continuing briskly."So, you've got him alone, and you've got the fireplace. And you've got the bearskin rug, right?"
"Yeah," Excel agreed, scratching her head. "This place out in the middle of nowhere has strangely nice furniture."
"You've got one blanket, right?"
Excel struck a dramatic pose.
"Excel is glad to surrender her own comfort to allow Lord Ilpalazzo to regain his health! Even if Excel freezes to the ground, it will be worth it if he is able to live!"
Rhianwen sweatdropped hugely.
"Y'know, you don't have to freeze. There's a way you can both keep warm."
"Did you by chance bring us another blanket, Ms. Annoyingly Persistent Author?" Excel asked excitedly.
"No, and I wish you'd stop calling me that. No, there's another way. From Step 1, again. He is freezing, right?"
"He should be pretty warm by now," Excel said thoughtfully, hopping up onto the chair and allowing the bundle of blanket and bishie to fall to the floor.
Shaking the blanket free, she hesitantly poked him in the side of the face.
"Oh, no! He's still freezing!" she wailed.
"Of course he is," Rhianwen said calmly. "That's because the Laws of Bad Fan Fiction dictate that there's only one thing that's going to warm him up right now, and I'm here to help you figure out what it is. Step 1, once more. He is freezing, right?"
"I don't know how," Excel whimpered. "I tried my hardest! Lord Ilpalazzo, your Excel tried for you! She did! But all for naught! Now we shall both perish in this barren wasteland that is not the future!"
"Step 2," Rhianwen continued mercilessly. "You are very, very warm, yes?"
"Hmm," Excel said thoughtfully, sticking a hand up her shirt. "Ack! Nope, my hands are freezing!"
"Your hands are freezing," Rhianwen said through gritted teeth, "but you are warm, right?"
"I guess so," Excel said hesitantly.
"Step 3: you have one blanket. Now. If you place a warm object, or body, if you will, next to a cold body, the cold body will become warm, if the warmth from the warm body is kept in by, say, a blanket or something," Rhianwen said.
"Wow! Did you go to university to learn that?"
"Nope," Rhianwen replied proudly. "Fanfic Biology 101! Anyway. We have all the necessary components to carry out this plan. A warm body, a blanket, and even something warm and soft to lie on. Now, Excel, do you understand?"
Excel turned from the dust bunny she had been chasing across the floor. She cocked her head to one side adorably.
"Gah!" Rhianwen exploded. "Am I gonna have to take Lord Ilpalazzo's clothes off myself?"
The unfortunate author uttered a pained squawk as, the next moment, she found herself gripped by the throat and lifted into the air. She glanced down slightly…into the furiously blazing eyes of Excel.
"Not if you like bein' alive!"
"Okay, okay, fine," Rhianwen wheezed. "He ain't my type, anyway," she finished once back safely on the floor. "I guess you'll just have to do it, then. So, get to it! You have an unconscious, unsuspecting man to strip!"
"Okay," Excel agreed faintly, clamping a hand to her face to slow her nosebleed.
"Well, I'll just be going now," Rhianwen chuckled, heading for the door. "You two crazy kids have fun!"
Once the door had slammed shut again, Excel stared at the prone figure of the man on the ground. A wide grin stretched across her face.
"Hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."
Seconds later, once the flurry of flying clothes had stopped, Excel tucked the blanket around Ilpalazzo with the hand that wasn't still attempting to stem the flow of precious blood from her nose.
"And now," she said, straightening up, "for the warm body."
Ilpalazzo woke to the sensation of very comfortable warmth. Considering his last memory of severe cold, he thought hazily that this was a curious thing indeed. Still, when circumstances had taken a sudden and unexpected turn for the better, it was sometimes better not to ask.
The next thing that came to the somewhat fuzzy attention of the man of indeterminate, but probably youngish age, was that he seemed to be at a severe lack of clothing. A glance over at the fireplace a few feet away solved that mystery effectively in the sight of several wet garments hung up on hooks before it.
The third, and perhaps the oddest thing, was the greater intensity of warmth nestled against his side. Now, this did warrant investigating. He touched the shape lightly, prompting a sleepy murmur and an equally sleepy cuddle.
How very odd.
Lifting the blanket carefully, he peeked underneath…
…and started back in surprise and horror at the sight of a strange-looking badger/human hybrid, definitely male, nuzzling against his chest.
"Damn it!" a voice oddly like Rhianwen's called from the sky.
"Who in the hell are you?!" Ilpalazzo demanded, ignoring the mysterious voices from the sky and leaping to his feet and retaining the presence of mind to take the blanket with him.
The badger/human stared up at him strangely, then acquired a knowing look.
"I guess you don't remember," he said wisely. "You was pretty out of it, after all. Well, I'm Bob. That cute li'l lady you's with came tearing past me camp a while back, babbling somethin' 'bout how she needed a warm body. That got me attention pretty quick, and I came back wit' her. I was a li'l disappointed when it turned out she wanted me to warm you up and not her, but I figure, me mum raised me to never turn me back on a person in need, so I crawled in here wit' you. You never stirred, so I figured I'd explain when you woke up."
"Well, I'm awake now, and I've heard this story. Now would you be so kind as to leave?!"
"Yeah, yeah, sure, but keep your voice down!" Bob hissed. "She's still asleep."
Ilapalzzo rolled his eyes as Bob gestured to a sleeping Excel, curled up on the other side of the rug, and covered, for some reason, with four mittens, a toque, a scarf, and nothing else.
"Oh, good grief," he muttered, ignoring the badger-man scurrying from the cabin. "The only things that have dried yet, I suppose."
The door clicked shut softly, and Ilpalazzo glanced again at Excel, who had begun to shiver slightly.
"Honestly, if that girl had a brain, she would sit on the floor and play with it," he sighed, stalking over to her.
Picking her up and tucking her under one arm, he stalked back to his previous position in front of the fireplace. He dropped her to the ground with a thunk that prompted a sleepy protest, but nothing more, and hesitated for a moment.
"Well, I suppose it can't be helped," he grumbled, settling down on the rug next to her. "I know enough of these ridiculously contrived little stories to know that this one won't end until I do this, so in the interest of getting out of here and back to my conquest of the city as soon as possible, let's just play along."
In the act of spreading the blanket over both of them, he paused and looked down for a short moment at Excel. Her expression was peaceful, and she was notably silent. Verily, he thought hazily, much like a small child, she was decidedly cute when she wasn't apologizing in far too many words for failed missions, or declaring in far too many words her undying loyalty to ACROSS and to him. In other words, during those precious moments when she was silent.
However, much unlike a small child…
His eyes wandered, seemingly through no participation from his brain, downwards.
A short moment turned to a long moment.
Finally, with much less reluctance than had previously characterized his participation in this greatest of fanfiction clichés, he pulled the blanket over both of them and wrapped one arm around her. After all, once out of the open air, she had become something of a little human furnace…
"Hey, check it out!" Iwata, still extra-giddy with relief at finally being rescued by his friends from the freezing-cold Hell…or something…that he had been trapped in for the past sixteen hours, sent by Misaki's very forceful punch, giggled as he followed that same lovely Misaki, Sumiyoshi, and Watanabe into the small, oddly placed cabin. "I think they're naked under there!"
Misaki's eyes grew wide as she watched the two under the blanket, sleeping peacefully and not paying any special attention to keeping their hands to themselves. The strange amnesiac girl they had found in the middle of the desert and taken back to look after, and the man responsible for turning the city into wreckage populated by mindless drones! Not that the damage had turned out to be lasting – it was rather odd, in fact, that the damage had as good as vanished mere hours after they had all run screaming from ACROSS's floating fortress. Still…
"Iwata," she began very slowly and calmly as Watanabe proceeded to make strange gurgling noises of hope that Miss Ayasugi might be nearby. "Do you recognize him at all?"
Iwata shook his head, his grin never fading.
"No, but look! It's Miss Undercover!"
"Why even bother?" Misaki groaned, head buried in her hand.
Did you expect anything different? Sumiyoshi asked silently, gesturing to his subtitle.
"No," she replied flatly. "I never do. Still, the point remains the same. We should probably help her, shouldn't we?"
"She looks pretty happy to me," Iwata shrugged. "So, Misaki…are you feeling a little chilly at all? Think you might need me to help you get warmed up?"
The next moment, Watanabe and Sumiyoshi stared at the Iwata-shaped hole in the door, then back at the pair snoozing blissfully under the blanket, and reflected with more than a little envy that some people really could sleep through anything.
Just to be contrary, even though the fact that he hadn't heard Watanabe and Sumiyoshi's very similar thoughts made that reason for it impossible, Ilpalazzo chose that moment to wake up.
He raised himself up on one elbow and gazed up coolly, refusing to be disoriented for even a moment, at the group of young people surrounding his happy little nest of bearskin rug, warm, woolly blanket, and warm, cuddly, very naked girl.
"Might I ask what you people are doing in my…hold on. Where's my bedroom? And…Excel?! Hmm…this reminds me vaguely of morning after the ACROSS Non-Christmas Party…"
"I think I've seen enough. She can rescue herself, if she likes," Misaki said decisively, starting for the door.
"Hey, hey, hold on! How can you say that, Misaki?" Iwata, who had just dragged himself back in through the him-shaped hole in the door, demanded.
She crossed her arms.
"Think about this: what if that blanket slips?"
Run, Iwata. Run, Sumiyoshi said silently.
"Okay, look! Is this going to go anywhere?" Watanabe demanded. "Because if we're just going to stand here while Rhianwen tries to make something interesting happen, I'm not giving up the chance that Miss Ayasugi might come outside and walk past my door at some point today, waiting for the impossible! I'm leaving!"
With that, he turned on his heel and left, slamming the door shut behind him with an emphatic bang. As he did not in fact open it first, but rather simply stepped through the hole that his spiky-haired chum had left in it before both opening and shutting the door in immediate succession, this looked quite silly, and prompted Sumiyoshi to proclaim in subtitle as he left,
Surrounded by idiots…but they're our idiots.
Misaki smiled tiredly at this as she followed him from the cabin.
"Do you think someone would buy them for cheap?"
"Well," Ilpalazzo said rather lamely once quiet had settled once more. "That was…odd. But strangely mundane, compared to the last few days. Not that there's anything wrong with a bit of mundanity," he hastened to add, scanning the skies – or rather, the ceiling – nervously.
"Wha'z mundiny?" a muffled voice demanded sleepily against his chest.
He rolled his eyes as the source of the slurred question carefully poked her oddly-textured pillow and found it to be rather…fleshy.
This established, Excel busily began putting two and two together.
Waking up to Lord Ilpalazzo's voice was not something that happened to her often. Usually only when she lost to whatever he kept down in the pit that week, and he went down through the back way to retrieve her…simply to avoid the problems of her rotting corpse creating a nasty smell in headquarters, he would hasten to explain.
Waking up naked happened quite often, particularly in summer when pajamas became uncomfortably warm.
Waking up naked, nestled against another person, also naked, was a little abnormal, but had been known to happen. After all, there were times when she and Hatchan got unexpected visitors, occasionally on these particularly hot nights, and had to share one futon. And one couldn't always control what one cuddled while one slept, after all.
Waking up naked, nestled against another person, also naked, and decidedly male, was where all sense of normalcy went flying out the window, whereupon it hit and killed a defenseless gopher, which quite annoyed local animal rights activists. At least, until even more normalcy came flying out the window to hit and kill them.
Waking up naked, nestled against another person, also naked, and decidedly male, after being woken in the first place by Lord Ilpalazzo's voice was so far from normal that it defied all laws of logic, gravity, nuclear physics, and pudding concoction.
As it began to slowly occur to Excel that there might be a connection between all these facts that, on their own, were each rather strange but together made up one terrifying and yet oddly arousing whole, she raised her head and glanced about as one in a trance.
Her eyes lighting upon Ilpalazzo and his definite state of undress, her face grew very red and took on a horrified expression.
Ilpalazzo frowned. This was not a reaction he had expected. Surely, after all her blatant statements to the contrary, the idea of ending up in this situation had no right to be as repulsive to her as it her expression suggested that was. It was one thing for him to have no interest in her; it was quite another to see her equally indifferent to him!
Just as he was about to remark upon this, although without any clear idea of exactly what he was talking about, Excel gave an ear-piercing squeal and bounced up from the rug and proceeded to behave rather like a human gas molecule and shoot about the room at a dizzying rate.
"Excel knows exactly what this means! She has finally gotten lucky with her wonderful, beautiful, brilliant, amazing, and altogether perfect Lord Ilpalazzo, and SHE WAS TOO BUSY BEING UNCONSCIOUS TO REMEMBER IT!!! Oh, forgive me, Lord Ilpalazzo! There's still plenty of time! Please, allow Excel to get lucky again! She promises that she'll stay awake this time!"
"Excel! Will you kindly shut up?!" Ilpalazzo requested loudly once able to shake off the mesmerizing effects of a naked young woman dancing crazily around a really rather romantic (and contrivedly so) setting. "Now, before you go any further, you will listen well to this. We. Did. Not."
Excel came to a dead stop and drooped forward rather dejectedly.
Then she frowned.
"But…if we didn't do…uh, that, why were we in the blanket like that?"
"As far as I can tell, you thought it necessary to warm me up this way."
"No, I got Bob to do that. I was sleepin' over there."
He rolled his eyes.
"Yes, and that is why it became necessary for me to warm you up."
"Oh, Lord Ilpalazzo," Excel murmured, eyes wide and shiny, hands clasped adoringly, "Excel thanks you so much for your monumentally generous concern for her!"
"Concern? I was simply unwilling to let all this trouble we have gone to in the repair of the pit, go to waste."
"But…may Excel ask a question?"
The man in the blanket gave a barely perceptible nod, eyes still glued on two particularly bouncy parts of the girl now energetically saluting him.
"If we didn't do…stuff, why is Excel so sore?"
A moment of uncomfortable silence overtook the cabin as one man's face grew slightly red and just a wee bit sheepish and one girl's face, in response, grew a shade of red hitherto unknown to visual artists.
"How on earth should I know?" Ilpalazzo demanded with exasperation far too theatrical to be genuine.
"Well, it would make a few other things make sense," Excel said thoughtfully. "Like, why I kept having those dreams. I don't usually have that dream more than once a night."
"Too much information, Excel," Ilpalazzo said flatly, head buried in his hand. He looked up, expelling a long breath. "Very well. It was the most effective way to warm up quickly."
An expression like a ray of sunshine broke over Excel's face.
"Yes, but it was only—"
"YEAH! WHOO! EXCEL GOT SOME! EXCEL GOT SOME! EXCEL GOT SOME! La la-la la-la!!"
Ilpalazzo, still making very certain to keep the blanket wrapped around him in a manner that might preserve his dignity in addition to hiding his increasing…discomfort, grumbled about everything under the sun as Excel continued to whirl around the room, singing ecstatically.
"I don't have a gun," he murmured to himself. "And there's nothing that I can very efficiently and effectively throw at her. Oh, if only I had my pit right now…"
His eyes grew wistful and shiny, and within his head, the background music that accompanied him everywhere he went swelled dramatically.
After a moment of indulgence in theatrics, Ilpalazzo looked up to find that Excel had not yet grown tired of dancing around the cabin and singing little nonsense songs that really, really clashed with his background music. He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed.
"Will you get back here?" he said impatiently, holding up the edge of the blanket.
Once again, Excel stopped short, this time taking on an expression of someone who has just spied a feast left in the open, unattended, after they have been lost in the wilderness without sustenance for several weeks: incredibly tempted, but wary, fearing that they will be met with repercussions if they should dare to take Fate up on its offer.
Finally, warily, she crept across the room and under the edge of the blanket that he held out, where she proceeded to sit, curled into a little ball, blushing madly and avoiding looking at him.
"So, Agent Excel," he began conversationally. "What do you suggest we do now?"
"Although Excel would like to think of her own desires and suggest that we make mad, passionate love on this nice, soft rug again, so that maybe Excel could remember it this time, she thinks it would be far more practical, not to mention more useful to the ideals and goals of ACROSS if we got dressed and pressed on toward our goal! The pit will be repaired soon, and once more I'll be plummeting downward into tentacle hell for the sake of your divine wish!"
Ilpalazzo slipped further out of character than he had previously been long enough to pout.
"You make it sound so pointlessly cruel, Excel."
"Oh, no! Excel would never ever EVER think that, Lord Ilpalazzo! There's nothing more I could ask of life than to happily accept your punishments and know between times that you're pleased with me!"
"Yes, well, I'll let you keep that dream," he murmured, rubbing the bridge of his nose wearily. "So. What were we talking about?"
"Excel don't know," Excel admitted, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly and grinning widely.
He sighed again.
"Of course. Now, although we could attempt to continue our journey, it does sound as though the storm is getting worse."
"There's no storm I wouldn't brave to bring ACROSS's grandiose plans to their realization! Snow storms and icy hills and Yeti attacks and scary half-crazy sexually-starved trappers and hunters and falling spikes of ice! Excel will persevere through it all! Her body might have something to say about it, but if it crumbles to dust – really snowy dust – and cannot go on, Excel's spirit will just give it the slip and keep going without it! She might have a little trouble doing anything substantial without a body, but darnit, Excel will try! It's the thought that counts after all, isn't it?"
"Which would explain why you are generally of little importance wherever you go," Ilpalazzo said smoothly. "However, Excel, although I appreciate your…enthusiasm, I do not wish to foolishly risk my own life out in that blizzard right now. Thus, I believe we shall wait in here, where it is safe, for the storm to die down, simply because I do not trust you to complete the mission on your own."
After all, he did not add, a pit with no one to drop down it is a sad, sad thing.
"So…what do we do until then?" Excel asked, arm turning oddly bendy as she scratched her head.
He considered this for a long moment.
To be trapped, alone, in a cabin with Excel for who-knew-how-long, and to actually talk to her all that time was quite unthinkable.
Particularly with her tendency to fidget enough for her half of the blanket to continually fall away.
When combined with the even more annoying tendency that this in turn had to distract him beyond mortal powers of concentration, conversation became quite impossible.
To be sure, their clothing would likely be dry now…
He shoved the unwelcome thought back rather guiltily.
"Well, I, for one, am not entirely convinced that we have warmed up sufficiently. Now, I do believe that we were on the right track earlier when we…er, yes. At any rate, it was not an ineffective method of regaining warmth; it may simply be that it requires more than one repetition. One would not, after all, claim that an antibiotic medication was ineffective simply because it failed to bring about the desired result after one dose."
Growing very red as the implications of what he was talking about hit her, Excel shook her head rather dizzily. Still, if one were to be completely honest…
"But I've gotta say, I'm feeling pretty warm right n-mphgphgh!!!"
As a pair of lips, rather chapped and cracked from their journey through the barren wasteland that was not the future, although gloriously warm and soft and moist in her mind, pressed insistently against hers, Excel's arms flailed wildly and she continued to make incoherent noises until, somewhat breathless, Ilpalazzo pulled away and glared at her.
"Would you kindly refrain from the sound effects?"
She nodded dazedly.
He nodded in satisfaction.
"Very good. Oh, and Excel?"
He cupped her chin in one hand.
"You will tell no one about this, do you understand?"
She grinned toothily as, recovering powers of speech and, more importantly for the act being currently discussed, motion, she shoved him backward onto the rug.
"Hey, I didn't tell about the time at the Party That Happened to Coincidentally Fall Around Christmas Which Enlightened Members of ACROSS Don't Celebrate, did I?"
End Notes: Whew! Well, that wasn't how I meant for it to end! Also, I'm wondering if I need to kick this up to an R-rating for the implications of…ahem…shenanigans occurring while one participant was asleep. Oy… :o)
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed One of the Few Multi-Chapter Stories that Rhianwen has Ever Finished, even though it kinda fell apart at the end. :o)