A/N: I've been working on something else enterely (darkest ficverse ever), but then, fluff ensued. Seriousness is merely hinted at. The title is Marry Me Harder. The title for the ff.n main page is A Second Pair Of Boots.
Summary: Watch our neurotic twosome as they do their darndest to honour a wedding invitation. Trees are climbed in the process. PollyxMal, ShuftixPaul.
A Second Pair Of Boots (Secretly: Marry Me Harder)
"Flowerpot," said Polly, somewhat cryptically, as if by naming the enormous thing she just lifted up she could prevent herself from toppling over. "She usually puts it under a flowerpot. I think she said so."
Somewhere in the impenetrable dark behind and twelve feet above her, she suspected a raised eyebrow.
"There's at least thirty," said Mal. "Shufti's taste is a wee bit baroque, non?"
Polly considered asking, but didn't. Even after several years, Mal still seemed to catch bits and pieces from places that weren't the Borogravian hinterland. And she never tuned in to the enemy's clacks, either. Polly tried to to set the pot on the ground without making too much noise, and her inevitable failure to do so manifested itself in, of all things, a fallen-over flowerpot. Someone'd have to clean up the spilled soil in the morning, she thought. Certainly not now.
"That's the point," she said. "Can't just have a burglar come up and get the key and burgle us all in our sleep, now, eh? Best if they have to make some bloody noise first. It's like a whatchacallit, automatic guard thing, they have it in Ankh-Morpork, it involves a rope and some bells and a thingaling." She yawned hugely. Three days on a bumpy ride in the lousiest mail carriage she had ever seen, an unfortunate incident regarding very impolite highwaymen (who quickly became very polite highwaymen after Mal had properly woken up from her nap), and a carriage horse that had fallen over dead in the middle of the not very eventful plains of Borogravia had taken their toll.
And now, at three in the morning, her quest for a warm bed to sleep in was being thwarted by a herd of impertinent flowerpots. And a Mal.
"You could help, you know?" she said, adding something about supernaturally strong people with really good eyesight not making themselves useful by lifting heavy things in the dark.
She heard a swish of black vampiric cloak as Mal jumped off the tree branch she had occupied until then, and was glad that Mal didn't comment on the fact that the reason for her being in the blasted tree in the first place was Polly's previous suspicion that the key may have been hidden in the abandoned birdhouse that Paul had put up there when he was eight. That was after they had failed to find it in the rain gutter. Polly had to admit she was rather impressed with Mal's patience - she suspected that a mere half year ago, there'd be a lot more irony directed at her.
The moon had the grace to come out for a bit, and in the dim, eerie light, Mal was lifting flowerpots with all the grace of a very tired bat. When she was up to six (Polly counted), she said, "we could knock. They're supposed to be glad we made it back safe, aren't they?"
"Mal," said Polly, although her resistance to just knocking and getting it over with was dwindling, "They can be glad in the morning! Night like this, you don't go around impolitely waking people -" and upbeat though she was about it, she didn't feel like explaining the presence of Maladict at this time of night. She felt it was a big thing.
"No," said Mal. "That would be the wedding night. Which, assuming it's Friday, which we have not entirely settled, would be tomorrow." Turning over another flowerpot, she added something that sounded suspiciously like, 'silly humans'. She said it almost fondly. "Admittedly," she added, slowly, "this is Shufti we're talking about -"
"It's also my brother we're talking about," said Polly, "so you shut your mouth - today is Friday, isn't it?" She wasn't fretting, she had merely asked the date about one or two thousand times today. Mal's answers had become vaguer the deader the horse was.
"Friday is, as we have established, one of several candidates for the position of today," said Mal. "Would you like me to list the arguments and counterarguments again?"
They turned over flowerpots in silence for a while with no success. Then they got got to the last one.
"Typical," said Polly with a sigh, "it's always the last one."
They tackled it together.
"It's not the last one, either," Mal observed.
"Well," said Polly, "weeell. It could be worse. It could be raining."
As a bolt of lightning illuminated the scene for a split second, as the clouds burst open and rain poured down on them, Polly finally remembered that she was with someone who had some unfortunate weather affinity and was also very tired and who you really shouldn't say things like 'at least it's not hailing' around. Or maybe it was bad luck. But why not blame it on Mal?
Mal closed her eyes for a moment. "I. Want. A. Cellar," she said, emphatically.
"And I want my bed," said Polly. "If you don't stop whining, I'll make you sleep outside." It was meant to sound playful, but she couldn't quite hide the fact that what she wanted, now, was Mal's full cooperation. And to find the bloody key already.
They were standing next to each other in the rain, and there was another, convenient flash of lightning in which Mal's face was illuminated to look like the unholy terror from beyond the grave that she secretly was, and Mal grabbed Polly's already sodden collar and brought their faces really close, her mouth almost on Polly's, and then it curled into a wicked smile, and the rain pounded down even harder. It also seemed to be oddly centered on Polly's head.
"I don't think so," Mal emphasised in an act of clarification.
Polly swayed forward the half inch it took to kiss Mal, partly as some kind of an apology (only no apologist in the history of Borogravia had ever been so smug about it) and partly because she could, finally, and some corner in her brain would always be giddy about the fact. Even now, in the pouring rain, at approximately three in the morning, on what was probably a Friday.
Well, Saturday now.
"The luggage is getting wet," said Polly, when she felt that she had sufficiently kissed Mal for the moment and also, couldn't take the rain another second. Water was trickling down the back of her neck and went on to be invasive somewhere beneath her two undershirts.
"Oh yeah," said Mal. "Can't let our ingenious wedding present get ruined."
Mal had suggested a coffee engine; Polly, having just come back from the field and feeling uninspired, a flowerpot. Together, they got monogrammed stationery! And coffee-scented ink, scented anything being the newest fad in the capital, and a spelling book. Polly thought they'd done rather well.
"Don't worry, I wrapped the package in the tent," said Polly. There was a moment in which they both reminisced in the memories of the myriad ways in which the tent had proved it wasn't waterproof. They looked at each other urgently.
"I'm knocking," said Mal. "I feel we have exhausted politeness."
They hoisted their packs, joined hands and walked around the inn to the kitchen door, and, as one man, they discovered it wasn't locked.
Polly had barely had time to wriggle out of her drenched clothes, the long grey overcloak and the rotten red uniform underneath, and to put on a well-loved and rather granny-esque greyed frilly nightshirt. She was wringing out her hair over the dusty chamber pot when there was a knock on the door.
Blast, she thought, we've woken someone -
It turned out to be Mal, which she thought was nice, even if it wasn't part of the plan.
"Hi, you have my coffee engine, and also can I sleep here?" said Mal and took up a lounging spot against the doorframe.
"What's wrong with the cellar?" asked Polly.
There were a lot of things Polly hadn't figured out yet about this recent development. Like, who to tell, when to tell, who could stand details, who would want details and who would just be standing there politely when Polly was showing off her awesome vampire, where to sleep when they weren't in the field, sleep together for comfort vs. sleep apart for decorum, what the hell was the big deal about decorum anyway, did Mal actually sleep in beds or did she just lie there to humour Polly... She'd been discovering some of these things in the last few months, piece by piece, and she actually did want to shout it from the rooftops to everyone who'd listen and especially to Father Jupe, who sadly was necessary for the ceremony tomorrow, but possibly not this time. She didn't want to steal her brother's thunder at his own wedding. Very noble of her, she thought.
"There's buckets of pig blood down there," said Mal. "The smell is... rather intense."
Polly grimaced. "That'll be for the soup tomorrow," she said. Scubbo this, horsebread that, despite her diet for the last year she thought she had the right to be picky when it came to blood soup. She hoped there'd be something to eat tomorrow that didn't look like it could have been cooked on a battlefield using local resources. Some nice greens or something. A hard-boiled egg. A cake with raisins in it.
"Can I come in?" asked Mal. Her more obscure vampiric habits tended to come through when she was especially exhausted (and Polly was suddenly glad that in a land like Borogravia, no-one was throwing rice at weddings anymore), and now Polly noticed that, in the weak light of a single candle, Mal was still very wet, very unkempt, and very pale. Polly waved her approval, and Mal, after removing her boots and leaving them outside, stepped into the room, sat down on the bed as the only chair in the room seemed to have been stolen for wedding-related purposes, and proceeded to draw a nervous hand through her hair, which had mostly escaped from its formerly neat long braid and was also wet.
"It wouldn't bother me normally," muttered Mal from somewhere beneath that dark curtain of soggy hair.
"Mal," said Polly.
"It isn't actually bothering me all that much," added Mal. "Just so you know."
"Mal, it's okay," said Polly. She went over to Mal, put a hand underneath her chin to make her look up, and dropped a kiss on her forehead, which was a lot gentler than the kiss they'd shared outside. It occurred to her that there were a lot of kisses of all shapes and sizes looming on the edge her future, and her heart sang even as she abandoned Mal on the bed for the moment.
From her pack, she got out Mal's coffee engine and her own emergency stash of coffee beans, and went through the mechanical motions of making a cup of coffee. She had to admit the thing fascinated her, newfangled technology that heated up the water and ground the beans all by itself by means of a crank, a spring, and eventually carpal tunnel syndrome.
Mal was watching her, and seemed to have been cheered up already. "Also," said Mal, "there was an appalling lack of Polly in the cellar, I couldn't stand it."
"Isn't that rather too sappy, coming from you?" asked Polly.
"Ha," said Mal. "I remember someone giving someone flowers for their birthday."
"It was dandelions, and it was just two, and someone should have seen the look on someone's face."
"Dream on, tiny mortal, I was very composed," said Mal, receiving her cup with every indication of thorough gleefulness. Polly hadn't succeeded in training her to say thank you yet, possibly because Mal didn't regard coffee as a favour. She thought people handing her coffee acted in their own best interest.
Polly watched her drinking for a bit. "Better now?" she asked.
Mal gave the cup back to her, nodding. She looked around. "So this is your room, right?" she said.
Polly considered feeling self-conscious for a moment, but gave up after a bit on account of the time of night. It was a room. Table, mirror, painted wardrobe, picture of the Duchess that she hadn't got around to taking off, courtyard window, wooden floor, bed. It was already slightly messy, it must be her presence that did it. She'd never thought it'd have to hold up to scrutiny by a vampire, but now she felt that something she'd grown up in could really stand bearing a little more significance.
"Not what you're used to, isn't it?" she said.
Mal snorted. "Like the tents? Or the godawful barracks? The house of easy virtue in Plim?"
"No, dear," said Polly. "I meant your godawful manor in the capital -"
"It's not mine, I just knew where the key was!"
" - with it's velvet curtains and dark red carpets, dear, and its confusing bathroom installations -"
" - a bidet for which I am not responsible, and let me tell you, running water is the height of civilization, you utter ignoramus -"
" - and its bed as big as a ship, dear." Polly paused. "Which would put it in the category of certain houses in Plim, actually. Dear."
"Dear," said Mal thoughtfully.
"Darling sweetheart honey poppet baby," said Polly. "I like 'dear'. It's nicely monosyllabic. Now get out of your clothes this instant, you're dripping on the bed."
Polly got up to turn the key in the door, lest they'd be disturbed by inquiring three year olds.
"When does this wedding thing start tomorrow?" asked Mal, discarding her jacket and shirt and trousers with untroubled ease.
Watch, turn the key, answer question. Polly didn't feel she could do all three at the same time, so she decided to take turns. Watch, turn the key, say "at dawn,", watch some more.
Mal stopped still in the middle of buttoning open her practical long undershirt. Blast. "Oh no, it doesn't," she said.
"Well, it does," said Polly, "but that bit only involves the bride and groom and Father Jupe and a pail of holy water -"
"Whoa, kinky," said Mal, possibly because she was Mal and it was expected.
"We only have to appear presentable at eleven." She stalked over to Mal and settled down into her lap. "Better get to sleep now," she said, bending down to kiss her where the shirt was so invitingly open. She couldn't resist.
"I'm sure it is the only reasonable thing to do," said Mal. Her slender hand tangled somewhere in Polly's hair as Polly looked up, and Mal lowered her head to Polly's, and said, "I kind of liked the dandelions, actually," into her ear.
This kiss was the nicest they had so far, thought Polly, still just a little amazed that she'd found something beautiful on the edge of human existence, in the midst of all the smoke and noise.
The knocking on the door was loud, it was obnoxious, and it was entirely too early. Still, Polly was awake and upright like a coiled spring. You don't sleep through the sound of cannon fire, at least not more than once.
"Polly," came Shufti's enthusiastic voice from outside, "open up, I'm so happy you made it -"
After a short check that told her she was lying in a bed and there were no casualties yet, she wearily got gave up the warmth to go unlock the door. Outside, Shufti babbled on, enthusiastically. Well, thought Polly, she probably was allowed to, on her wedding day. Still! The sun was barely up.
"- I didn't know until this morning when I noticed your boots and oh, you brought a second pair -"
"Oh," said Polly, as the door swung open. "That. Yes." They may still escape with all of their dignity.
"What is this ruckus about," complained a muffled voice from somewhere beneath the tangled bedsheets, Mal being considerably worse with early mornings than Polly, "sergeant, can you go out and - oh hello Shufti whoa didn't notice you there how do you do." From the bedsheets, a dark ruffled head rose, attempted a focused glare, failed, attempted a sheepish grin, and sank back. A hand was produced from the depths of the bed to shield the eyes from the cruel light.
"Maladict," said Shufti, apparently somewhat surprised. No wonder, thought Polly, since the last two times Polly'd been here Shufti had been at length debriefed on the subject of what an insufferable git the vampire corporal was. With details and examples.
"You could have RSVPed," added Shufti, apparently taking these revelations in stride, though she was already taxing the heap of bedsheets as if she had something on her mind.
"No point," said the sheets, "we came with the mail coach. Stop looking at me. Is there a duck on my head or something?"
Shufti seemed to be coming to the result of whatever mental calculations she was engaging in.
"Maladict, do you think you could be best man?"
"What?" said Polly.
"What," spoke the bedsheets.
"It's just that cousin Vlopo is drunk already and Paul has a distinct lack of male relatives. And I trust you to pull it off with style."
The heap of sheets tried to get up, and fell off the bed in a tangle of limbs and blankets. "Fucking beds, never could figure them out," said Mal, sitting up against the bed and not attempting any further movement for now. At least, thought Polly relieved, she'd had the sense to put on a nightshirt before falling asleep, otherwise this'd be a game of how many shocking revelations can Shufti stand on her wedding day.
"More style than Vlopo, at least," said Shufti. "Please?"
"Wouldn't Father Jupe object?" asked Polly.
"I don't care," said Shufti hotly. "Only this morning, he dunked my head in ice water at the ass crack of dawn for what he assured me was symbolic reasons, and last week Paul had to write the motivational letter three times! I think I'm entitled to not having the best man vomit on my dress."
"I won't turn up on the wedding iconographs," said Mal from the floor.
"That's cos you run away from the iconographers, dear," said Polly.
"That's your interpretation, dear."
"Dear," said Shufti, and broke into a huge grin. "Oh, I'm so happy you came!"
Polly, who suddenly found her arms full of a happy, glowing bride, looked at Mal, who looked back and winked, the 'and did we ever' clearly conveyed by facial expression. Polly didn't know how she did it.
Shufti broke the embrace and proceeded to not pounce Mal, which was a relief. "Downstairs in ten minutes, Paul is waiting for you," said Shufti, and enthusiasmed her way out of the door, probably to do some more bride-related things.
"Get up, soldier," said Polly to the scandalous heap of vampire on her very own bedroom floor. "This appears to be a team effort."
Unanimous opinion had it later that this day was, on the whole, a great big fish. No-one fell asleep during the wedding vows, the best man turned out to look very fashionable, there was a cake with raisins in it, the monogrammed stationery was duly admired by all, the scented ink was sampled by an inquiring three year old, Mal's dance with Aunt Hattie would be talked about for years; and when everyone was properly intoxicated, the sister of the groom punched the priest.